News Releases

Is the Cuba Twitter Story Part of Broader Pattern?

AP reported on Friday “U.S. Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest,” which stated: “Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through ‘non-controversial content’: news messages on soccer, music and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ …

“The Obama administration on Thursday said the program was not covert and that it served an important purpose by helping information flow more freely to Cubans. Parts of the program ‘were done discreetly,’ Rajiv Shah, USAID’s top official, said on MSNBC, in order to protect the people involved.”

In an update to the story over the weekend, Reuters reported: “Cuba said on Sunday the United States continues to use social media to ‘subvert’ the island’s government and that the revelation this week of a U.S.-created, Twitter-like service for Cuba was just one of several examples.”

KIM SCIPES, kscipes at pnc.edu
Associate professor of sociology at Purdue University North Central in Indiana, Scipes is author of AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? He said today: “The AP’s report about the U.S. government using Twitter accounts to inspire political dissent is just another example of the on-going U.S. war against Cuba.

“The statement by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is simply absurd; his denial of it not being covert defies belief for any one more developed than an amoeba. The AP’s documents clearly establish it was another covert U.S. attack on Cuba.

“As my research on developments in Venezuela have shown, the U.S. government has been found acting against governments with which it disagrees. Where it previously supported dictators in the countries U.S. leaders wished to control — Mobuto in Zaire, Somoza in Nicaragua, and Marcos in the Philippines, for example — since the mid-1980s, they have shifted their efforts to support civil society groups in countries they wish to control, trying to support groups who advance policies and actions with which the U.S. agrees, no matter how bad they are for the local population.

“Thus, prior to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the U.S. was supporting a peasant organization that opposes land reform; an educational organization that has suggested no education reform; and organizing seeking to incite a military rebellion; a civic association that was working to mobilize middle class neighborhoods to ‘defend themselves’ from the poor; a civil justice group that opposes grassroots community organization because they support the Chavez government, etc. Altogether, Venezuelan and American groups operating in Venezuela received $4,039,331 from U.S. government organizations between 1992-2001.

“Further, reporting on the National Endowment for Democracy alone — a U.S. government initiated and funded organization that claims to be ‘independent’ but is not — showed that the NED provided $1,338,331 to organizations and projects in Venezuela in 2012 alone: they provided $120,125 for projects for ‘accountability’; $470,870 for ‘civic education’; $96,400 for ‘democratic ideas and values’; $105,000 for ‘freedom of information’; $92,265 for ‘human rights’; $216,063 for ‘political processes’; $24,962 for ‘rule of law’; $45,000 for ‘strengthening political institutions’; and $153,646 for the Center for International Private Enterprise.

“In short, despite any rhetoric to the contrary, the U.S. continually engages in attacks on and operations within any country it deems acting against its interests, no matter how democratically supported and politically engaged that government is with its own population.

“The U.S. government prattles on endlessly about its love for democracy around the world, but we see again and again — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — that it continues to seek to undermine governments with which it disagrees and which it believes it can bully. Ironically, it continually seeks to undermine governments seeking to improve the lives of their people, while supporting repressive regimes such as those in Egypt, Honduras, Saudi Arabia and the Ukraine.

“This behavior is despicable — and so very hypocritical.”

Can Mangroves Protect Against Global Warming Vulnerability to Disaster?

On Monday, the CBC reported: “Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun.

“‘Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in a Monday news conference.

“Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, says a massive new report from a Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists released early Monday. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report’s authors said.”

CNN reported Thursday: “Strict building codes and the preparedness of millions of Chileans who live along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines likely kept the death toll — only six by Wednesday afternoon — low after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake rumbled offshore and prompted a tsunami, observers said.”

ALFREDO QUARTO, mangroveap at olympus.net, @MangroveProject
Quarto is executive director of the Mangrove Action Project. He said today: “Mangroves typify the important role that coastal wetlands play in protecting coastlines from erosion and natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, one of the main reasons the hurricane turned so deadly and destructive was the earlier loss of natural coastal wetlands because of reduced sedimentation resulting from the dike system which was itself set up to prevent seasonal flooding. The tragic irony was the fact that these same dikes caused the deadly flooding which took so many lives when they broke, inundating the city and nearby towns. The earlier loss of miles of once protective salt marsh lands and mangroves was a serious loss for the people of New Orleans that few have paid attention to.

“Though there are no mangroves in Chile, the issue that comes to mind when this earthquake and tsunami disaster happened there on April 1 is the rising threats from natural disasters we all face because of the increase in global warming, the rising sea levels and the continuing rise in human settlements and infrastructure along our more vulnerable coastlines. The region in Chile where the tsunami hit is more arid, with hills rising behind the coast. The Atacama region just south of the quake center is an extensive desert. I think people in Chile are somewhat conditioned by frequent quakes to seek higher grounds during major quake events.

“Our coasts are more vulnerable now to these natural disasters, whether they be from hurricanes, tsunamis or wave surges because of the loss of natural coastal barriers, such as mangroves, sea grasses, corals, salt marshes or other coastal wetlands. Even sand dunes play an important part in acting as natural barriers against the occasional, but devastating ravages of Nature.

“Mangroves are especially important today in reducing the adverse effects from climate change, because they sequester more carbon dioxide and store more carbon than any other plant species. They can store carbon in their peat soils for millennia if left undisturbed. Mangroves also are the last line of defense against the present rising sea levels that pose immense threats to coastal cities, towns, and villages. Mangroves actually accrue sediments, thus building up the shoreline, which itself is a vital defense against rising sea levels.

“Though the work of Mangrove Action Project focuses on the importance of mangroves, MAP’s work does directly involve what is called Disaster Risk Reduction. In fact, increasing evidence of the importance of reducing the levels of climate change bring the mangroves and related coastal wetlands into clear view as vital to conserve and restore. But this effort to conserve and restore the mangroves and other coastal wetlands must also highlight the need to rethink our management plans for all of our planet’s coastal zones, perhaps better planning for creating buffer zones between the human settlements near the coasts and the protection of the natural bio-shields that might mitigate damages from natural disasters. Conserving and restoring our coastal wetlands will not stop climate change, but will help lessen the adverse impacts that we now expect. We still need to reduce our CO2 emissions and commit ourselves duly to this urgent, life-saving need. Sailing on a sinking boat is bad enough, but continuing to widen the rupture in the hull of humanity’s ‘vessel’ rather than repair the existing damage is appalling.”

See the recent piece “The World Must Invest in Mangroves” in The Ecologist by Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy.

Testimony from Fort Hood

Multi-lane drive-through pharmacy on Ft Hood. Photo credit: Civilian-Soldier Alliance.

NBC is reporting: “The gunman in the Fort Hood shooting was an active-duty enlisted soldier who served four months in Iraq and was being evaluated for PTSD, military officials said Wednesday night.”

MATT HOWARD, mattwhoward at ivaw.org, @ivaw
Howard is communications director for Iraq Veterans Against the War, which recently organized the People’s Hearing on the Lasting Impact of the Iraq War, see righttoheal.org. The group will be releasing a report centered around Fort Hood on Memorial Day (May 26) tentatively titled “Operation Recovery: Testimony from Fort Hood.”

Howard spent three months at Fort Hood in 2012. He said today: “During our time organizing at Fort Hood we discovered they had a base policy that mandated against commanders overriding doctors orders to deploy troops with PTSD, TBI [traumatic brain injury], etc. but that commanders were in fact doing so regularly.

“Some of the issues our report highlights include the legacy of multiple deployments where troops are deploying and medicated (sometimes with psychotropic drugs). In Fort Hood, they have a drive-through pharmacy that has five or six lanes with the bank teller suction machines. Long story short there is a lot of need for mental health support and not enough help.”

DRAKE LOGAN, drakepurple at gmail.com
Logan is with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, which “works with veterans and active-duty service-members to build a GI resistance movement towards a just foreign policy.” She is an author of the forthcoming report and has spent several months in Fort Hood the last two years.

She said today: “This story is obviously heartbreaking, and enraging given all we know about how mental health issues — and physical health issues — are actively ignored, neglected, stigmatized, and punished.

“While the major news agencies initially reported the shooting as an issue of ‘base security’ and ‘gun control,’ those of us who have been paying attention to the effects of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military’s long legacy of overriding soldier’s medical and mental health needs, know that the issue is much deeper.

“Through our testimony collection at Fort Hood and accompanying original research we have documentation of the system of abuse and neglect of health care needs at that base, with much evidence that the situation elsewhere on other U.S. posts are similar. The situation at Fort Hood (and nationally) is upheld by a system of policies which allow for commander discretion over medical and mental health needs; informally allow doctors to prescribe ‘band-aid’ prescriptions instead of providing real treatment; and ignore the need to enforce their own policies against stigmatizing health care needs. That system of policies includes base/command policies, Department of Army policies, and Department of Defense policies.

“Notably, Fort Hood has had a command policy in place for at least three years now which orders commanders to obey doctor’s orders as to soldier’s work restrictions (including whether or not they should deploy) instead of taking these as ‘recommendations.’ With no enforcement or accountability measures in place, this policy is violated rampantly.”

The forthcoming report was done in conjunction with Under the Hood Cafe & Outreach Center which is a community space for soldiers and veterans.

Note: Producers may wish to use George Carlin video on Shell Shock and PTSD

Supreme Court Establishing “Plutocrat Rights”

USA Today reports: “The Supreme Court took another step Wednesday toward giving wealthy donors more freedom to influence federal elections. The justices ruled 5-4, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that limits on the total amount of money donors can give to all candidates, committees and political parties are unconstitutional. The decision leaves in place the base limits on what can be given to each individual campaign.”

JOHN BONIFAZ, jbonifaz at freespeechforpeople.org, @FSFP
Bonifaz is president of Free Speech For People, a group that has sought to overturn the Citizens United decision.

JEFF MILCHEN, jeff.milchen at gmail.com, @JMilchen
Milchen is co-founder of the Montana-based American Independent Business Alliance, which was party to briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. He said today: “This decision, expanding the Supreme Court’s ‘money equals free speech’ doctrine has made the democratic republic, promised to us by our Constitution, impossible. Citizens’ votes are stripped of power when the wealthiest few have pre-determined which candidates and parties are acceptable for the rest of us to choose among.

“The Court majority also does immense harm to America’s independent businesses. Their ruling allows corporate executives and lobbyists to easily convert their economic power into countless political favors. These favors consistently harm our small business constituents by extracting subsidies for the largest corporations, stifling enforcement of anti-trust laws, and systematically giving anti-competitive advantages to the largest donors.”

RAHNA EPTING, via Adam Smith asmith at Publicampaign.org, @publicampaign
Deputy executive director at Public Campaign Action Fund, Epting said today: “The Supreme Court once again sided with the wealthiest among us at the expense of ordinary Americans. … This makes it more important than ever that Congress moves forward on legislation like the Government By the People Act to ensure people unable to write big checks have a voice in the political process.”

ROBERT WEISSMAN, via Angela Bradbery, abradbery at citizen.org, @Public_Citizen
Weissman is president of Public Citizen, which notes in a statement: “Today, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on the aggregate amounts people can donate to candidates, political parties and political committees. Demonstrations that Public Citizen helped organize are scheduled to take place throughout the country in response.” For more information, visit: citizen.org/mccutcheon and moneyout-votersin.org.

Weissman said today: “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission strikes a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.

“This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights. The Supreme Court today holds that the purported right of a few hundred superrich individuals to spend outrageously large sums on campaign contributions outweighs the national interest in political equality and a government free of corruption.

“In practical terms, the decision means that one individual can write a single check for $5.9 million to be spent by candidates, political parties and political committees.

“Even after Citizens United, this case is absolutely stunning. It is sure to go down as one of the worst decisions in the history of American jurisprudence.

“Until today, nobody could contribute more than $123,000 total in each two-year election cycle to political candidates and parties.

“Citizens United allowed Big Business to spend literally as much as it wants – predominantly in undisclosed contributions filtered through the likes of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – distorting our elections. But Citizens United money can go only to outside groups.

“Now McCutcheon removes meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. …

“There are literally only a few hundred people who can and will take advantage of this horrendous ruling. But those are exactly the people our elected officials will now be answering to.

“That is not democracy.

“It is plutocracy.

“Today’s reckless Supreme Court ruling threatens so many of the things we love about our country.

“No matter what five Supreme Court justices say, the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us.

“Our only hope of overturning this McCutcheon travesty — along with Citizens United — is if millions of Americans band together in saying ‘Enough!’ to plutocracy.

“We couldn’t face a starker choice: Accept rule by the few, based on wealth. Or join together to protect and reclaim our democracy – the notion that We, the People decide.

“Today, people across the nation will be responding with protests to this outrageous decision. We, the People insist that our government and our country remain of, by and for the people – all the people, not just those few who have amassed billions in wealth.

“A vibrant movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and reclaim our democracy has emerged since the 2010 issuance of that fateful decision. The demonstrations today – unprecedented as a same-day response to a Supreme Court decision – are just the latest manifestation of how that movement is now exploding across the country.

“We refuse to cede control of our country and our government to amoral multinationals and morally comprised plutocrats

Is NSA “Reform” a “Trojan Horse”?

The Guardian reports: “NSA Performed Warrantless Searches on Americans’ Calls and Emails — Clapper“. Glenn Greenwald recently wrote: “NSA Blows Its Own Top Secret Program in Order to Propagandize“.

TREVOR TIMM, trevor at pressfreedomfoundation.org, @trevortimm
Timm is executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and recently wrote “Beware the Surveillance Reform Trojan Horse: What’s Not in the New NSA Laws?” in the Guardian, which states: “Stopping the government from holding onto of all Americans’ phone metadata would undoubtedly be a good thing for American privacy, but if you read between the legislative lines, the government might not be curtailing mass surveillance so much as permanently entrenching it in American law.

“Rep. Justin Amash, one of the NSA’s leading critics in the House, said of the Intelligence Committee bill: ‘It doesn’t end bulk collection but actually puts more Americans in danger of having their constitutionally protected rights violated.’ While the Obama plan is undoubtedly more promising, with court requests and much more, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union has several important questions about the proposal that need to be answered before anyone will really be able to judge. And the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez detailed why neither of these proposals are as good as the USA Freedom Act, which may now be getting boxed out.

“To be sure, neither of the two new proposals would actually ‘end mass surveillance’, as this National Journal headline proclaimed, or even ‘end bulk collection’ entirely, as most of the other reports suggest. Even the authors know it: the title of the House Intelligence bill was the ‘End Bulk Collection Act’ for just one day before it was changed, perhaps because, as Techdirt’s Mike Masnick wrote, ‘[Rep. Mike] Rogers and his staff realized that … was so bogus that they couldn’t go forward.’

“Curiously, a large majority of the House bill focuses on new ways for the government to collect data from ‘electronic communications service providers’ — also known as the internet companies. Why is a bill that’s supposedly about ending bulk collection of phone-call data focused on more collection of data from internet companies? And then there’s this clause, pointed out by the eagle-eyed Marcy Wheeler, which seems to try to head off court challenges to the bill once it’s passed into law.”

ACA “Conscientious Objector”

CBS News reports: “March 31 has finally arrived, and with it comes the last official day for people to sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange websites.”

MARGARET FLOWERS, M.D., mdpnhp at gmail.com, @MFlowers8
Flowers is a pediatrician in Baltimore and co-director of PopularResistance.org. She just wrote the piece “Why I Am A Conscientious Objector To The ACA,” which states: “I have been an outspoken advocate for a Medicare for all health system. During the health reform process, I did all that I could to push for single payer, including being arrested three times for civil disobedience. I was one of fifty doctors who filed a brief in the Supreme Court which expressed opposition to forcing people to buy private health insurance, a defective product. It pains me to see that the Affordable Care Act siphons billions of public dollars to create more bureaucracy and transfers hundreds of billions of public dollars directly to the private insurance industry when I know that those dollars should be paying for the health care that so many in our country desperately need.

“I am currently uninsured, so I have to make a choice. I don’t qualify for Medicaid and I’m too young for Medicare. By law, I am required to buy private insurance or pay a penalty. But I find myself in the position of not being able to do either. I can’t in good conscience give money to the health insurance industry that I am fighting to eliminate. And I can’t in good conscience pay a tax penalty that will be given to that industry. So, I am going to be a Conscientious Objector to the ACA. …

“Focusing solely on the number of people who are insured is what the private health insurance industry wants the public to believe is most important. The industry spent tremendous amounts of money and time to get a law that would force people to buy insurance in order to protect and enhance their assets. They want everyone to buy their products and to make people feel reckless or irresponsible if they don’t. This is a massive campaign to distract people from asking the questions that really matter, such as whether people with insurance will be able to afford health care, whether bankruptcies from medical debt will continue and whether overall health outcomes will improve.

“In the United States, having health insurance does not guarantee access to necessary health care. In fact, rather than creating health security, the ACA is degrading health care coverage in the U.S. It is also creating the largest transfer of public dollars to a private industry ever, as UNITE HERE reports, ‘most of the ACA’s $965 billion in subsidies will go directly to commercial insurance companies.’”

Flowers recently debated Dean Baker on the ACA on The Real News.

Leaked YouTube Tape: Turkey Plotting Pretext for War With Syria?

While there was extensive media coverage of the Turkish government cutting off YouTube late last week, just prior to that, there was a posting on YouTube of an apparently leaked tape of Turkish government officials plotting a pretext for war with Syria that has received relatively little attention.

Some exceptions include: Reuters “Turkey Calls Syria Security Leak ‘Villainous,’ Blocks YouTube” and USA Today: “Turkey Blocks YouTube After Audio Recording Leaked,” which reported: “An audio recording leaked on YouTube appears to reveal that top Turkey officials were plotting to fake an attack against their own country as an excuse to wage war on [Syria].

“Turkey on Thursday blocked access to YouTube in the same week it banned Twitter after someone posted the audio recording.

“The audio claims to be a recording of Turkey’s foreign minister, its intelligence chief and an undersecretary of foreign affairs discussing plans to stage attacks on Turkey from Syrian soil to justify waging a counterattack on Syria, says Ilhan Tanir of the Turkish daily Vatanin Istanbul.

“The Turkish foreign ministry said the recording had been manipulated. At a rally in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to confirm the leak was genuine, according to the BBC.”

ALI ORNEK, ornekali at gmail.com, @ornekali
Örnek is a journalist with the daily newspaper Sol in Turkey. He wrote “What You Have Missed if You Read Syria Leaks from Mainstream Media.”

MUSA AL-GHARBI, musaalgharbi at gmail.com, @Musa_alGharbi
Gharbi is a research fellow with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts based at the University of Arizona. He recently wrote the piece “Red Hands Waving False Flags,” which notes that last week “an 8-minute video began circulating on YouTube wherein senior Turkish defense officials, including Defense Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, discuss at length their intentions to have extremist groups in Syria carry out an attack on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the Ottoman Empire’s founder. This attack would then serve as a pretext for a land invasion into Syria. Just days prior to the leak, the Turkish government declared a violation of this site as a ‘red line’ which could prompt such an intervention.

“ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] was to be implicated in the attack, and the Erdogan administration was going to attempt to tie ISIS to the al-Asad regime, claiming the Syrian government was funding these jihadists in order to undermine the rebellion. And so, the response from Turkey would be to assist the ‘good rebels,’ thereby striking a simultaneous blow to ISIS and their ‘patron’ …

“The irony here is that it is the Turkish government which has long supported extremist groups in Syria, especially in the border region. While they have recently scaled back this support under international pressure, the administration clearly maintains links to some of these groups, which they planned to utilize in orchestrating the attack.

“This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the video: it seems to be authentic.

“Shortly after it began to go viral, the Turkish government shut down access to YouTube in order to minimize circulation. PM Erdogan condemned the leakers as enemies of Turkey, and launched an espionage inquiry to find out who released the tape — verifying explicitly and implicitly that the contents of the video are accurate: the Erdogan administration has been caught red-handed in planning a false-flag attack to justify war with Syria.”

See: “Turkey YouTube Ban: Full Transcript of Leaked Syria ‘War’ Conversation Between Erdogan Officials.” DailyKos highlighted a second part of the allegedly leaked tape: “John Kerry Encouraged Turkish Invasion of Syria.”

While there is periodic speculation about false-flag operations, there are documented instances of such plots. For example, see this 2013 piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “The Lavon Affair: How a False-Flag Operation Led to War and the Israeli Bomb” about an operation in 1954 by elements of the Israeli government to strike Western targets in Egypt to undermine relations between Egypt and the West.

Is Obama Falsifying Legacy and Legality of Iraq War — and Crimea?

Activists and legal experts are criticizing President Obama’s remarks in Brussels on Wednesday on war and international law. Among other things, Obama claimed: “But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

MATT HOWARD, mattwhoward at ivaw.org
Howard is communications director for Iraq Veterans Against the War, which just helped organize the People’s Hearing on the Lasting Impact of the Iraq War on Wednesday night in Washington D.C., moderated by Phil Donahue. See righttoheal.org for video of the event and other materials. Howard can also connect media to other participants in the event.

See from Commondreams.org: “Anger, Disbelief as Obama Defends U.S. Invasion of Iraq” and “#RightToHeal: 11 Years On, Bearing Witness to Iraq War’s Lasting Harm,” which quotes several participants in Wednesday’s event, including Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist (see New York Times story: “Environmental Poisoning’ of Iraq Is Claimed“), Kristi Casteel, mother of IVAW member Joshua Casteel, Rebekah Lampman, IVAW member who spoke about sexual assault and Yanar Mohammed, president and co-founder of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, who addressed how the U.S. invasion fostered sectarian war and other issues. Mohammed recently appeared on the program “Democracy Now!

JOHN QUIGLEY, Quigley.2 at osu.edu
Professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University, Quigley dealt with conflicts between Ukraine and Russia arising from the breakup of the USSR on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He recently wrote the piece “Finding a Way Forward for Crimea,” for the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law.

He said today: “Mr. Obama is failing to focus on what is appropriate as a status for Crimea, which is the center of the present conflict. He is not giving weight to the fact that the population of Crimea considers Crimea to be part of Russia historically, and that it saw no reason why Crimea should be part of Ukraine once the USSR broke up. He challenges Mr. Putin’s point that the population of Crimea was under threat. Whether that is so or not, one still has to consider the right of self-determination of the people of Crimea.”

FRANCIS BOYLE, fboyle at illinois.edu
Boyle is a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law. His books include Foundations of World Order (Duke University Press: 1999). He said today: “In March 2003 the United States launched an illegal and criminal war of aggression against Iraq based on false pretexts, a Nuremberg Crime against Peace. The United States destroyed Iraq as a functioning state and effectively carved-up Iraq de facto into three mini-statelets that are at war with each other today, killing an estimated 1.4 million Iraqis in the process. Suicide bombings in Iraq continue to be a fact of everyday life. By comparison, the Russian annexation of Crimea was almost bloodless.”

Obama, Saudi Arabia and “Reactionary Violence”

President Obama begins his visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday.

TOBY C. JONES, tobycjones at yahoo.com, @tobycraigjones
Jones is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of the book Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia. He said today: “The U.S. must rethink its relationship with Saudi Arabia. While many in Washington believe that our long-standing partners in Riyadh are the least worst option in the Middle East, the reality is that the kingdom is a dangerous and destabilizing actor. Saudi Arabia is a violent place, with an oppressive regime, that has doggedly pursued the path of counter-revolution since 2011. It seeks not stability nor security for residents across the Middle East. Rather, Saudi leaders seek domination and are supporting reactionary violence in places like Egypt, Bahrain and Syria to help them achieve it.”

ALI AL-AHMED, via Chidinma Zik-Ikeorha, externalaffairs at gulfinstitute.org, @AliAlAhmed_en
Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, al-Ahmed said today: “Obama should end the current U.S. policy of ignoring the rights and aspirations of the Arab people in the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. has no credibility on human rights without publicly confronting the Saudi monarchy on its dire human rights record and its destruction of the Arab people’s desire for freedom and progress.”

VIJAY PRASHAD, Vijay.Prashad at trincoll.edu, @vijayprashad
Edward Said chair at American University in Beirut, Prashad is co-editor of Dispatches from the Arab Spring. He said today: “Obama is going to Saudi Arabia because the Sultans of Arabia have gone at each other’s throats. The Qatar-KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] feud has damaged the fragile unity built up since 1979 with the creation of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and the coordination of their policy over the past three decades. Qatari gas gives the little emirate independence, which allowed it to become the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood — a group that the KSA does not support. Disputes between these countries predates the war in Syria and the Arab Spring. Some of it has to do with KSA’s very strong position against Iran which is not shared on the peninsula. Will the U.S. be able to patch things up? Unlikely. The transition in Qatar did not solve the KSA’s grouse, and nor will Obama’s visit.”

Petitions for Snowden Encounter Officialdom in Washington

  • Former NSA Director Hayden Responds to News Conference
  • State Department Rebuffs Effort to Deliver Petition
  • Justice Department Accepts Documents With 100,000 Signers

The Department of Justice accepted a pair of petitions with more than 100,000 signers on Wednesday ­­– several thousand pages urging restoration of Edward Snowden’s passport and an ironclad U.S. government commitment not to interfere with political asylum for the National Security Agency whistleblower.

Acceptance of the petitions by the Justice Department at its Washington headquarters followed an attempt earlier in the day to deliver the passport-­related petition to the State Department, which declined to accept that 2,670-page petition.

Both petitions, sponsored by the activist organization RootsAction.org and posted online, include thousands of individual comments. (Petition regarding Snowden’s passport, addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry. “Hands Off Snowden” petition addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama)

Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA as well as of the Central Intelligence Agency, responded to criticism voiced at a Tuesday news conference by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, whose responsibilities for the agency included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. McGovern blasted Hayden’s portrayal of the Fourth Amendment and said that “NSA” seems to stand for “No Such Amendment.” (McGovern’s comments and Hayden’s response in the Government Executive article “Should Edward Snowden Get His Passport Back?”)

Another speaker at the news conference was former whistleblower Coleen Rowley, a former FBI special agent and division counsel who was named one of Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. On Wednesday, she responded to Hayden’s comment with this statement: “Hayden’s partial response seems to be an attempt to obfuscate the fact that even the lower relevancy standard ingrained in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 and also in Section 215 of the ‘Patriot Act’ was explicitly written to apply for use only in particular investigations of targeted suspects.”

Rowley added: “This is why the authors of the ‘Patriot Act,’ such as Congressman James Sensenbrenner, were themselves surprised and angered to discover that officials had secretly reinterpreted key terms of Section 215 to do away with all of the legal and pragmatic limitations that had previously existed to open the doors to their new post-9/11 policy of ‘collect it all.’ The ‘collect it all’ policy unfortunately includes all information about American citizens and other innocent people held by telecommunication companies, internet providers and other third-party data collection entities. This ‘nearly Orwellian’ massive vacuuming up of non­relevant information and metadata has already been determined as ‘unreasonable’ and therefore unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment by at least one federal district judge as well as by President Obama’s own constitutional and privacy law review panels.”

Video of the Tuesday news conference

Justice Department public affairs official Peter Carr accepted the boxes of petitions on the front steps of the Justice Department on Wednesday after the presenters ­­ McGovern, Rowley and RootsAction.org co-­founder Norman Solomon ­­ were told to leave the building. (photo)

Rowley said today: “It wasn’t easy to deliver the 105,000 petition signatures relating to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. So we were relieved this morning when the Department of Justice finally sent out an official to receive our boxes of documents. We can now hope that Eric Holder, John Kerry and other officials will read the thousands of comments from people who realize that post-­9/11 secret surveillance and ‘collect it all’ policies on American citizens and innocent people throughout the world need to be curtailed in order to preserve the American form of constitutional democracy.”

“President Obama seems yesterday to have finally committed himself to beginning some reform, but Congress should now realize that it too needs to regain effective oversight over a system that is viewed by nearly everyone as being out of control,” Rowley added. “Just as the number­-three FBI official at the time, William Sullivan, became the star witness to the Senate Intelligence Committee, disclosing the truth about J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal COINTELPRO operation in the latter years of the Vietnam War, so should Edward Snowden and other intelligence community whistleblowers be invited to testify. As Sullivan testified in 1975, U.S. officials engaged in secret surveillance and disruption activities never asked themselves whether their activities were ethical or legal.”

McGovern, Rowley and Solomon are available for a limited number of interviews.

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