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US Ramps Up Military Provocations along Russia’s Border

March 31st, 2015 - by admin

RT News & ITAR-TASS Russian News Agency – 2015-03-31 02:39:39

http://rt.com/news/244317-usa-poland-thunderbolt-drills/

Russia Warns NATO Drills a ‘Problem’
As US Attack Planes Buzz Poland

RT News

(March 26, 2015) — Four US A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes are taking part in war games in Poland, as the nation expects about 10,000 NATO forces at drills this year. Moscow says the military build-up at Russia’s borders will have a negative long-term impact.

The A-10 aircraft are based in western Poland, at an airbase in Powidz, where they will be involved in a series of training missions until Friday, Polish army spokesman Artur Golawski said, as cited by Reuters.

The planes — designed to attack tanks, armored vehicles and other ground targets — arrived at the 33rd Powidz Transport Air Base on Tuesday, according to The Aviationist. They followed two C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft.

On Wednesday, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak (who is also deputy prime minister) said that he approved of the constant presence of NATO troops in his country. “We are striving for it and we are talking about it. We are preparing ground for the constant presence,” TASS quoted him as saying. Around 10,000 allied forces are expected to take part in this year’s drills.

The military exercises are supposed to come as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which aims at “reassuring NATO allies and partners of America’s dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region” following the recent developments in Ukraine.

Last Saturday, Lithuania’s capital Vilnius saw the start of operation Dragoon Ride — a convoy of US military vehicles, mostly IAV Stryker APCs, heading to a base in the German town of Vilseck in Bavaria via Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic. Lt. Gen Ben Hodges, the commanding general of US Army Europe, described the route as NATO’s Eastern European allies “that live closest to the Bear.”

In the Czech Republic, where anti-war activists launched the ‘Tanks? No thanks!’ campaign in order to protest against what they called a “provocative victory parade” near the Russian border, people were instructed not to throw tomatoes or eggs at a US military convoy, as they could face charges of up to three years behind bars.

Dragoon Ride demonstrated its weapons and military equipment, including Stryker armored fighting vehicles and Humvee military automobiles, in Lithuania, making stops in six cities. It continued its procession in Poland, where it was accompanied by military gendarmerie and military helicopters.

This week, the air forces of Finland and the US have started joint military exercises, later to be joined by Sweden, TASS reported. The drills are mainly taking place in the skies above the sea, not far from the western coast of Finland, and will also occur in international airspace.

At the beginning of March, six NATO warships participated in naval drills in the Black Sea. The operation, headed by the US, included anti-air and anti-submarine exercises. The 3.5-month series of joint exercises commenced in Bulgaria. About 350 US army officers, as well as US tanks, helicopters and armored personnel carriers, came for the drills.

The US also delivered over 120 armored units, including tanks, to Latvia this month. The country’s defense minister, Raymond Vejonis, welcomed the move, saying on Twitter that “the presence of our allies (US and NATO) in Latvia is a confirmation of solidarity and security in the region.”

Last month, the US deployed twelve A-10s in Germany, and in January NATO stationed additional troops in the three Baltic states — Romania, Bulgaria and Poland — as part of its new strategy.

Poland is one of the closest US allies in Europe, in addition to being one of the leading heralds of the so-called “Russian threat” in eastern Ukraine. The crisis there broke out last spring after Kiev sent its military to the Donbass region to suppress dissent against an armed coup in the capital. The internal conflict has already claimed over 6,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

Russia sees the recent actions as additional proof that NATO is an anti-Russian military bloc that has taken advantage of the Ukrainian conflict, using it as a pretext for a military build-up in Eastern Europe.

“NATO is developing its rapid response forces and is boosting its infrastructure near our borders, we are registering attempts to violate nuclear parity and the creation of the European and Asia-Pacific segments of the missile defense systems is being sped up,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an address to the FSB collegium on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich reminded that Russia has all the means to counteract nuclear threats. He said at a regular media briefing that “it’s high time the US renounced destructive unilateral moves in the sphere of missile defense, then there would be no need to worry about their consequences,” TASS reported.

“Consistent US military build-up at the Russian borders in line with NATO’s plans to strengthen military presence and develop infrastructure at the so-called eastern flank . . . not only provokes tensions in the region, which has been considered one of the most buoyant,”

On Wednesday, Russia’s envoy to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, pointed out in an interview to Germany’s Das Erste TV that Russia hasn’t substantively increased the number of its military drills, while the military activity of NATO has escalated, “shaping a new military reality.”

“Today’s problem is not Russia’s military activity, but the increased military activity of NATO. Every other day new military exercises take place within the framework of The Readiness Action Plan of the alliance. The number of NATO drills has exceeded 200.

The total number of tactical flights of the NATO air forces over the Baltic and Barents Seas, as well as bordering Russia regions last year exceeded 3,000, which is the double number of 2013 drills,” Grushko said, adding that the figures estimating Russian military activities in 2013-2014, along with current activity, have mostly remained at the same level.

The Pentagon acknowledged that over 1,000 American troops based in Europe have recently been moving across Eastern Europe to participate in the military exercises. The operation is set to “demonstrate the freedom of movement that exists within NATO,” according to military spokesman Steven Warren.

Another point of Russia’s concern is the possibility of US weapons deliveries to Ukraine. The conflict-torn country is already facing large-scale international drills instructed by the US this April, which are set to last until November. President Poroshenko said they mean “integration to the biggest defense structure in the world,” Interfax reported.

“Weapons supply activities from the US to Ukraine are fraught with a failure of a shaky truce in Donbass and outright threaten Russia’s security,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, pointing out that it undermines the Minsk agreements and calls into question the plans of the US, as well as NATO.


Snap Exercises: Russian
Northern Fleet Begins Military Drills

(March 16, 2015) — Around 38,000 military personnel, 3,360 units of military equipment including 110 aircraft, 41 ships and 15 submarines will be taking part. Destroyers, frigates, missile boats, submarines, tanks, fighter jets.

READ MORE:
‘Russia supporting political settlement in Ukraine, Kiev needs to step up to the plate’
Monster US warship anchors off Portsmouth, defense chiefs downplay British shrinkage
US military convoy parades through Eastern Europe (VIDEOS)
Massive surprise drills launched in Arctic on Putin’s orders (VIDEO)

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

1,200 Soldiers to Practice Martial Law Exercises in Seven US States

March 31st, 2015 - by admin

Truthstream Media & NextNewsNetwork & The Daily Mail – 2015-03-31 02:17:26

Military Helicopters Descend Over Central Texas for Mass Civil Unrest Drill

Military Helicopters Descend Over Central Texas
For Mass Civil Unrest Drill

Truthstream Media

(March 26, 2015) — We’ve seen at least four or five military helicopters (and heard more that we couldn’t see due to cloud cover) in the Round Rock/Hutto/Georgetown/Taylor Texas area today, including two giant chinooks flying in tandem low enough and loud enough to rattle windows. We’ve been told there’s a mass civil unrest drill going on here that involves 3,000+ soldiers. . . .. Gee . . . What do you think the government knows that we don’t?


Jade Helm 15 Military Exercise Lists Texas as “Hostile”
NextNewsNetwork

(March 24, 2015) — Unclassified documents from the US Army outline a massive “Realistic Military Training” exercise to take place across 10 states over eight weeks this summer. The area in question spans across the southwest United States.

The now widely public PowerPoint document reports that the operation will be run by US Southern Command and involve only Special Forces operators. What’s the real purpose behind the training?


Special Forces Set to Swarm Southwest and Operate
Undetected among Civilians in Massive Military Exercise

The Daily Mail

(March 26, 2015) — Seven Southwestern states will soon be infiltrated by 1,200 military special ops personnel as part of a controversial domestic military training in which some of the elite soldiers will operate undetected among civilians.

Operation Jade Helm begins in July and will last for eight weeks. Soldiers will operate in and around towns in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado where some of them wil drop from planes while carrying weapons loaded with blanks in what military officials have dubbed Realistic Military Training.

But with residents of the entire states of Texas and Utah dubbed ‘hostile’ for the purposes of the exercises, Jade Helm has some concerned the drills are too realistic.

Headlines like Freedom Outpost’s ‘Operation Jade Helm—military trains for martial law in American South-west’ abound across the Right-leaning blogosphere and Info Wars warns that Jade Helm is simply ‘an effort to test the effectiveness of infiltration techniques’ on the American public.

‘They’re having Delta Force, Navy SEALS with the Army trained to basically take over,’ Info Wars’ Alex Jones said Sunday. ‘Texas is listed as a hostile sector, and of course, we are . . . . We’re here defending the republic.’

The Houston Chroniclereports that, among the planned exercises, soldiers will attempt to operate undetected among civilian populations.

Residents, in turn, will be asked to report suspicious activity in order to gauge the effectiveness of the soldiers.

Military officials say they’ve gotten the go ahead for the operations from local authorities such as mayors and county commissions.

And sheriff’s deputies told the Houston Chronicle they would ensure residents living near where aircraft were slated to create disturbances and drop soldiers, civilian and military vehicles will barrel through and where blank rounds would be fired.

Jim Stewart with the Brazos County, Texas Sheriff’s Office told the Chronicle that such exercises are far from anything new.

‘Special ops for years have trained off-post for years, where they go out and have folks that are role players out on the economy,’ said the Army intelligence veteran. ‘They’ll have a scenario they’ll be following and they’ll interact with these role players as if they’re in another country.’

However, the US Army Special Operations Command themselves say Jade Helm is different.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

NYT Corrects Itself: Iran Didn’t Renege on Shipping Uranium

March 31st, 2015 - by admin

Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy – 2015-03-31 02:03:32

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/rumor-control-iran-didnt-_b_6971290.html

Rumor Control: Contra NYT, Iran Didn’t Renege on Shipping Uranium
Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post

(March 30, 2015) — US, European, and Iranian negotiators are working against a self-imposed Tuesday deadline to secure a “framework agreement” which will outline the parameters of a comprehensive agreement to be achieved by June on international limitation and supervision of Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of international sanctions on Iran.

On Sunday night at 9:15 pm ET, the New York Times sent me a scary email:
Breaking News: Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal

Here’s what the NYT reported:
With a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.

For months, Iran tentatively agreed that it would send a large portion of its stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would not be accessible for use in any future weapons program. But on Sunday Iran’s deputy foreign minister made a surprise comment to Iranian reporters, ruling out an agreement that involved giving up a stockpile that Iran has spent years and billions of dollars to amass.

This news might have seemed to validate Republican-Netanyahu talking points against the negotiations. There’s no point in trying to make a deal with these people, because they’re people who agree to something but then renege. That’s what’s “backed away,” “no longer willing,” and “tentatively agreed,” imply, right? They agreed, and then they reneged.

But what if the Iranians had never agreed to this demand? What if this demand is not, in fact, “key” or “critical” to an agreement? Then the scary headline that the New York Times emailed me was wrong.

Monday morning, the NYT reported that US officials were pushing back against the previous NYT article:

1. Iran had never agreed to this demand.

2. Shipping uranium out of Iran had not been ruled out in the talks.

3. There are other perfectly good ways to limit the military potential of Iran’s nuclear program.

American officials said on Monday that they were still negotiating with their Iranian counterparts on one of the main issues remaining in their efforts to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program — how to dispose of Iran’s big nuclear stockpile — and that shipping the atomic fuel out of the country was still a possibility. [. . .]

“Contrary to the report in The New York Times , the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” a senior State Department official said in a statement that was emailed to reporters.

“There is no question that disposition of their stockpile is essential to ensuring the program is exclusively peaceful,” added the official, who declined to be identified under the department’s protocol for briefing reporters.

“There are viable options that have been under discussion for months, including shipping out the stockpile, but resolution is still being discussed. The metric is ensuring the amount of material remaining as enriched material will only be what is necessary for a working stock and no more.”

So, the New York Times has corrected the record. Mazl tov! Is the world the same now as it would be if the NYT had never run the scary headline in the first place?

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

New York Times and Washington Post Endorse Unprovoked Attack on Iran — A War Crime

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

Robert Parry / Consortium News – 2015-03-29 23:24:26

NYT Publishes Call to Bomb Iran

New York Times Publishes Call to Bomb Iran
Robert Parry / Consortium News

(March 28, 2015) — If two major newspapers in, say, Russia published major articles openly advocating the unprovoked bombing of a country, say, Israel, the US government and news media would be aflame with denunciations about “aggression,” “criminality,” “madness,” and “behavior not fitting the Twenty-first Century.”

But when the newspapers are American — the New York Times and the Washington Post – and the target country is Iran, no one in the US government and media bats an eye. These inflammatory articles — these incitements to murder and violation of international law — are considered just normal discussion in the Land of Exceptionalism.

On Thursday, the New York Times printed an op-ed that urged the bombing of Iran as an alternative to reaching a diplomatic agreement that would sharply curtail Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it was used only for peaceful purposes. The Post published a similar “we-must-bomb-Iran” op-ed two weeks ago.

The Times‘ article by John Bolton, a neocon scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, was entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” It followed the Post‘s op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, formerly at AEI and now a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. [For more on that piece, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Admits Plan to Bomb Iran.”]

Both articles called on the United States to mount a sustained bombing campaign against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities and to promote “regime change” in Tehran. Ironically, these “scholars” rationalized their calls for unprovoked aggression against Iran under the theory that Iran is an aggressive state, although Iran has not invaded another country for centuries.

Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, based his call for war on the possibility that if Iran did develop a nuclear bomb — which Iran denies seeking and which the US intelligence community agrees Iran is not building — such a hypothetical event could touch off an arms race in the Middle East.

Curiously, Bolton acknowledged that Israel already has developed an undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal outside international controls, but he didn’t call for bombing Israel. He wrote blithely that “Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”

How Bolton manages to read the minds of Israel’s neighbors who have been at the receiving end of Israeli invasions and other cross-border attacks is not explained. Nor does he address the possibility that Israel’s possession of some 200 nuclear bombs might be at the back of the minds of Iran’s leaders if they do press ahead for a nuclear weapon.

Nor does Bolton explain his assumption that if Iran were to build one or two bombs that it would use them aggressively, rather than hold them as a deterrent. He simply asserts: “Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions.”

Pulling Back on Refinement
But is that correct? In its refinement of uranium, Iran has not progressed toward the level required for a nuclear weapon since its 2013 interim agreement with the global powers known as “the p-5 plus one” — for the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Instead, Iran has dialed back the level of refinement to below 5 percent (what’s needed for generating electricity) from its earlier level of 20 percent (needed for medical research) — compared with the 90-plus percent purity to build a nuclear weapon.

In other words, rather than challenging the “red line” of uranium refinement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew during a United Nations speech in 2012, the Iranians have gone in the opposite direction — and they have agreed to continue those constraints if a permanent agreement is reached with the p-5-plus-1.

However, instead of supporting such an agreement, American neocons — echoing Israeli hardliners — are demanding war, followed by US subversion of Iran’s government through the financing of an internal opposition for a coup or a “colored revolution.”

Bolton wrote: “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

But one should remember that neocon schemes — drawn up at their think tanks and laid out on op-ed pages — don’t always unfold as planned.

Since the 1990s, the neocons have maintained a list of countries considered troublesome for Israel and thus targeted for “regime change,” including Iraq, Syria and Iran. In 2003, the neocons got their chance to invade Iraq, but the easy victory that they predicted didn’t exactly pan out.

Still, the neocons never revise their hit list. They just keep coming up with more plans that, in total, have thrown much of the Middle East, northern Africa and now Ukraine into bloodshed and chaos. In effect, the neocons have joined Israel in its de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia for a Sunni sectarian conflict against the Shiites and their allies.

Much like the Saudis, Israeli officials rant against the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]

Since Iran is considered the most powerful Shiite nation and is allied with Syria, which is governed by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, both countries have remained in the neocons’ crosshairs. But the neocons don’t actually pull the trigger themselves. Their main role is to provide the emotional and political arguments to get the American people to hand over their tax money and their children to fight these wars.

The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the US decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]

Friedman’s Madness
The New York Times’ star neocon columnist Thomas L. Friedman ventured to the edge of madness as he floated the idea of the US arming the head-chopping Islamic State, writing this month: “Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS?”

I realize the New York Times and Washington Post are protected by the First Amendment and can theoretically publish whatever they want. But the truth is that the newspapers are extremely restrictive in what they print. Their op-ed pages are not just free-for-alls for all sorts of opinions.

For instance, neither newspaper would publish a story that urged the United States to launch a bombing campaign to destroy Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal as a step toward creating a nuclear-free Middle East. That would be considered outside responsible thought and reasonable debate.

However, when it comes to advocating a bombing campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, the two newspapers are quite happy to publish such advocacy. The Times doesn’t even blush when one of its most celebrated columnists mulls over the idea of sending weapons to the terrorists in ISIS — all presumably because Israel has identified “the Shiite crescent” as its current chief enemy and the Islamic State is on the other side.

But beyond the hypocrisy and, arguably, the criminality of these propaganda pieces, there is also the neocon record of miscalculation. Remember how the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end with Iraqis tossing rose petals at the American soldiers instead of planting “improvised explosive devices” — and how the new Iraq was to become a model pluralistic democracy?

Well, why does one assume that the same geniuses who were so wrong about Iraq will end up being right about Iran? What if the bombing and the subversion don’t lead to nirvana in Iran? Isn’t it just as likely, if not more so, that Iran would react to this aggression by deciding that it needed nuclear bombs to deter further aggression and to protect its sovereignty and its people?

In other words, might the scheming by Bolton and Muravchik — as published by the New York Times and the Washington Post — produce exactly the result that they say they want to prevent? But don’t worry. If the neocons’ new schemes don’t pan out, they’ll just come up with more.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Real Story Behind the Republicans’ Iran Letter

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

Gareth Porter / Middle East Eye & AntiWar.com – 2015-03-29 23:23:29

The Real Story Behind the Republicans’ Iran Letter

(March 12, 2015) — The “open letter” from Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican Senators to the leadership of Iran, which even Republicans themselves admit was aimed at encouraging Iranian opponents of the nuclear negotiations to argue that the United States cannot be counted on to keep the bargain, has created a new political firestorm.

It has been harshly denounced by Democratic loyalists as “stunning” and “appalling”, and critics have accused the signers of the letter of being “treasonous” for allegedly violating a law forbidding citizens from negotiating with a foreign power.

But the response to the letter has primarily distracted public attention from the real issue it raises: how the big funders of the Likud Party in Israel control Congressional actions on Iran.

The infamous letter is a ham-handed effort by Republican supporters of the Netanyahu government to blow up the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran. The idea was to encourage Iranians to conclude that the United States would not actually carry out its obligations under the agreement — i.e., the lifting of sanctions against Iran.

Cotton and his colleagues were inviting inevitable comparison with the 1968 conspiracy by Richard Nixon, through rightwing campaign official Anna Chenault, to encourage the government of President Nguyen Van Thieu to boycott peace talks in Paris.

But Nixon was plotting to get Thieu to hold out for better terms under a Nixon administration secretly, whereas the 47 Republican Senators were making their effort to sabotage the Iran nuclear talks to public scrutiny. And the interest served by the letter was not that of a possible future president but of the Israeli government.

The Cotton letter makes arguments that were patently false. The letter suggested that any agreement that lacked approval of Congress “is a mere executive agreement”, as though such agreements are somehow of only marginal importance in US diplomatic history. In fact, the agreements on withdrawal of US forces from both the wars in Vietnam and in Iraq were not treaties but executive agreements.

Equally fatuous is the letter’s assertion that “future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time”. Congress can nullify the agreement by passing legislation that contradicts it but can’t renegotiate it.

And the claim that the next president could “revoke the agreement with the stroke of a pen”, ignores the fact that the Iran nuclear agreement, if signed, will become binding international law through a United Nations Security Council resolution, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has pointed out.

A Clear Violation of The Logan Act
The letter has provoked the charge of “treason” against the signers and a demand for charges against them for negotiating with a foreign government in violation of the Logan Act. In a little over 24 hours, more than 200,000 people had signed a petition on the White House website calling such charges to be filed.

But although that route may seem satisfying, at first thought it is problematic for both legal and political reasons. The Logan Act was passed in 1799, and has never been used successfully to convict anyone, mainly because it was written more than a century before US courts created legal standards for the protection of first amendment speech rights. And it is unclear whether the Logan Act was even meant to apply to members of Congress anyway.

The more serious problem with focusing on the Logan Act, however, is that what Cotton and his Republican colleagues were doing was not negotiating with a foreign government but trying to influence the outcome of negotiations in the interest of a foreign government. The premise of the Senate Republican reflected in the letter — that Iran must not be allowed to have any enrichment capacity whatever — did not appear spontaneously.

The views that Cotton and the other Republicans have espoused on Iran were the product of assiduous lobbying by Israeli agents of influence using the inducement of promises of election funding and the threat of support for the members’ opponents in future elections.

Those members of Congress don’t arrive at their positions on issues related to Iran through discussion and debate among themselves. They are given their marching orders by AIPAC lobbyists, and time after time, they sign the letters and vote for legislation or resolution that they are given, as former AIPAC lobbyist M. J. Rosenberg has recalled.

This Israeli exercise of control over Congress on Iran and issues of concern to Israel resembles the Soviet direction of its satellite regimes and loyal Communist parties more than any democratic process, but with campaign contributions replacing the inducements that kept its bloc allies in line.

Rosenberg has reasoned that AIPAC must have drafted the letter and handed it to Senator Cotton. “Nothing happens on Capitol Hill related to Israel,” he tweets, “unless and until Howard Kohr (AIPAC chief) wants it to happen. Nothing.” AIPAC apparently supported the letter, but there may be more to the story.

Senator Cotton Just happens to be a protégé of neoconservative political kingpin Bill Kristol, whose Emergency Committee on Israel gave him nearly a million dollars late in his 2014 Senate campaign and guaranteed that Cotton would have the support of the four biggest funders of major anti-Iran organizations.

Cotton proved his absolute fealty to Likudist policy on Iran by sponsoring an amendment to the “Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013″ that would have punished violators of the sanctions against Iran with prison sentences of up to 20 years and extended the punishment to “a spouse and any relative, to the third degree” of the sanctions violator.

In presenting the amendment in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Cotton provided the useful clarification that it would have included “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids”.

That amendment, which he apparently believed would best reflect his adoption of the Israeli view of how to cut Iran down to size, was unsuccessful, but it established his reliability in the eyes of the Republican Likudist kingmakers. Now Kristol is grooming him to be the vice-presidential nominee in 2016.

So the real story behind the letter from Cotton and his Republican colleagues is how the enforcers of Likudist policy on Iran used an ambitious young Republican politician to try to provoke a breakdown in the Iran nuclear negotiations. The issue it raises is a far more serious issue than the Logan Act, but thus far major news organizations have steered clear of that story.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the US war in Afghanistan. His new book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

1987 Document: Israel Secretly Working “To Make Hydrogen Bombs”

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

The Jerusalem Post – 2015-03-29 23:06:46

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israel-allowed-for-the-release-of-a-document-detailing-past-nuclear-weapons-work-395397

Israel Allowed for the Release of a
Document Detailing Past Nuclear Weapons Work

The Jerusalem Post

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (March 28, 2015) — Last month, the US released documentation from 1987 of its assessment of Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities, required to do so by law after receiving a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The document, “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations,” was written by Leading Technologies Inc. for the Institute for Defense Analyses, and commissioned by the US Department of Defense. Its contents are based on visits by US experts, in coordination with the embassy in Tel Aviv and with the guidance of the Pentagon, to facilities and laboratories across Israel.

While Israel has never publicly acknowledged having nuclear weapons, foreign sources say it does. Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This document summarizes in detail Washington’s understanding of the nature and purpose of that program as it stood in the 1980s.

Two of Israel’s nuclear facilities at the time, the Soreq Nuclear Research Center near Yavne and the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, “are the equivalent of our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” the US document reads.

“The Soreq center runs the full nuclear gamut of activities from engineering, administration, and nondestructive testing to electro-optics, pulsed power, process engineering and chemistry and nuclear research and safety,” the paper continues. “This is the technology base required for nuclear weapons design and fabrication.”

The report goes on to detail Israel’s experimentation with various nuclear fuels, laser-based nuclear weapons detonation devices and the effects of radiation propagation.

While the assessment concluded that, at the time, Israel’s weapons design was “extremely conservative,” it said the Jewish state was experimenting with coding “which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs.”

The document appears to have been categorized as “declassified” upon its submission, suggesting an assessment within the US government that its findings would be low-impact if made public. That, too, must have been the assessment of the Israeli government in 2014, as it had the opportunity to keep the document secret but declined.

“We did inform the Israeli government of our planned release of the documents and they did not object,” US Army Col. Steven Warren, director of Pentagon press operations, confirmed to The Jerusalem Post.

Upon receiving a Freedom of Information Act request concerning information sensitive to foreign governments, the US informs the relevant partner, giving it the opportunity to formally object.

“The US government was by law required to release the report upon such a FOIA request unless we had a written request from the relevant foreign government — Israel — that the information continue to be withheld,” one senior administration official told the Post on Friday. “Israel did not object to the release of this information.”

Israeli officials declined to comment for this report, neither confirming nor denying concerns over the document, the contents of its assessment or the politics surrounding its release.

While the Freedom of Information Act request was made years ago, the release of the document was first discussed in recent months — in the shadow of debate over Iran’s nuclear weapons work.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called at the United Nations for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, suggesting that his country’s nuclear program may be in response to Israel’s own.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adamantly opposes a working proposal under discussion here in Switzerland that would aim to cap, restrict, monitor and roll back much of Tehran’s nuclear program for a limited period. The deadline for a framework agreement in those negotiations falls on Tuesday.

Privately, those who acknowledge Israel’s nuclear weapons program tout its effect as a deterrent. Israel’s program is understood to have been developed in the late 1960s, after the young country had already been at war with the forces of eight Arab nations.

The Israeli government fears that Iran’s program serves a different purpose: Not deterrence, but embodiment of aggressive behavior and the protection of a regime that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. The Iranian government says its right to develop homegrown nuclear technology — guaranteed by the United Nations — is a point of national pride.

Conservative Israeli and American media, including Fox News, the Drudge Report and The Washington Examiner, have suggested that the timing of the document’s release was an intentional move by the Obama administration to undermine Netanyahu.

The document was indeed released when Israel’s concerns over an Iran deal were first raised at high pitch. The White House considers Netanyahu’s behavior, including his March 3 speech to a joint meeting of Congress attacking Obama’s Iran policy, as disrespectful of the presidency and a politicization of the US-Israel relationship.

US President Barack Obama does not review Freedom of Information Act requests, nor does any president, for unclassified documents. While Israel has not discussed the document or its release, one official did acknowledge that discussion over the matter began in 2014.


UN Nuclear Agency Visits Sorek Reactor,
But Dimona Out of Bounds

The Jerusalem Post

(July 11, 2013) — A professional delegation from the safety and security branch of the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Israel this week to survey the degree of safety compliance at the Sorek Nuclear Research Center. The delegation included IAEA safety specialists, as well as international experts from five countries.

The initiative for the visit came from Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission as part of an IAEA-led global effort to draw conclusions, in the aftermath of the nuclear reactor accident that occurred in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011. However, the delegation was not allowed to visit the Dimona nuclear reactor, as Israel refuses to allow it to be placed under international supervision.

According to foreign reports, Israel’s Dimona reactor produces fissile materials — uranium and plutonium — that can be used for nuclear weapons. The IAEA conducts surveys worldwide to assess compliance with its safety standards for nations that request it to do so.

A statement released by the Commission said that the IAEA delegation commended Israel’s strengthening of national licensing system and its independence, along with Israel’s efforts to maintain a high level of nuclear safety.

The statement added that the delegation pointed out many positives during its visit and gave the Commission advice on possible improvements to the safety standards.

The head of the IAEA Delegation, Mr. James Lyons, said: “The decision to invite the delegation demonstrates Israel’s strong commitment to constant improvement in the field of nuclear safety.”

Israel devotes substantial resources for maintaining and improving nuclear safety. As such, in February 2011 the government approved granting autonomous status to the unit that deals with licensing and nuclear safety.

Israel cooperates with a number of leading countries in the field of nuclear safety, and Israeli experts participate in the IAEA safety committees, which determine international standards for nuclear safety. Israel even conducts regular exercises to improve its preparedness for the possibility of a nuclear mishap.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Sanctions and Fate of Nuclear Talks

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

Gareth Porter / Middle East Eye & AntiWar.com – 2015-03-29 23:03:58

Sanctions and the Fate of the Nuclear Talks

(March 27, 2015) — With the agreed deadline for reaching a “political framework” for a final comprehensive nuclear agreement only a few days away, the fate of the negotiations now hang on closing the gap between the P5+1 and Iran on removing sanctions.

The issues associated with Iran’s nuclear program have now been pretty much resolved, except for limits on Research and Development. But on sanctions relief, all the evidence indicates that the two sides have not advanced beyond where they were last November, when they were very far apart.

Part of the problem is the West’s myopic perspective on the issues. The Obama administration clings to the belief that the only reason Iran is negotiating is that it was so seriously hurt by the sanctions. It fails to grasp the depth of Iranian commitment to removing the sanctions as a matter of national pride as well as to be able to achieve a higher level of economic development.

In fact, Iranian national security strategists have been scheming for two decades about how to accumulate enough bargaining chips to induce the United States to negotiate an end to the sanctions imposed during the Clinton administration.

An independent Iranian analyst told me some years ago that senior Iranian national security officials had been saying in private conversations from 2003 to 2005 that they viewed Iran’s future stockpile of enriched uranium as bargaining chips for the eventual negotiations with the United States.

Iranian negotiators are not about to give up its main bargaining chips now without freeing themselves from the burden of those sanctions. But the United States and its allies have made no effort to hide the fact that they intend to maintain the “sanctions architecture” in place for many years after the implementation of the agreement has begun.

Last November, administration officials explained that US sanctions would only be removed after the International Atomic Energy Agency had verified that “Tehran is abiding by the terms of a deal over an extended period of time” in order to “maintain leverage on Iran to honor the accord”.

In adopting that policy, the Obama administration is following precisely the course outlined by Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the neoconservative think tank whose outputs align completely with Israeli interests.

Dubowitz was the architect of the sanctions against Iran passed by Congress in late 2011 and strongly influenced the administration’s sanctions policy for the entire Joint Plan of Action period. Dubowitz called in a June 2014 paper for “careful sequencing of sanctions relief tied to Iran meeting its obligations under the agreement” and for suspension of only those sanctions that could be quickly “snapped back” as part of sanctions relief.

Officials in the coalition sounded very much like Dubowitz in explaining the P5+1 position in the current round of talks as “insisting that sanctions will only be suspended, not lifted,” so they can be “snapped back” in case of Iranian violations, and the suspensions sequenced over a number of years.

US officials justify spreading sanctions relief over many years by arguing that the “milestones” to which they would be linked, such as the “dismantling of certain nuclear facilities,” would take a long time to “implement and verify”.

The problem with that argument, however, is that Iran has not agreed to “dismantle” any nuclear facility, and the reduction in the number of centrifuges as well as most other commitments they are undertaking would take at most months, not years. That fact would argue for the bulk of sanctions relief coming early in the implementation of the agreement.

The US-led coalition is also proposing to suspend, rather than terminate, the oil and gas sanctions that were adopted by the European Union by arguing that once sanctions are terminated, it would be much more difficult to re-impose them.

But when that same rationale for refusing to end sanctions in the context of an agreement with Iran was first employed by Obama administration officials in 2012, both Paul Pillar, the former US national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, and Peter Jenkins, the British Permanent Representative to the IAEA, argued strongly that it would actually be easier to re-impose sanctions than it was to get multilateral agreement in the first place.

According to a European source briefed by a P5+1 diplomat involved in the discussion of the issue a few weeks ago, the coalition was planning to offer to unfreeze overseas assets worth $100 billion that have been unavailable to Iran because of the banking sanctions as its primary sanctions relief, and to do so early in the process.

That sounds like a tempting offer, but the cost to Iran of accepting it would be very high. It would mean that Iran is accepting the maintenance of the “sanctions architecture” in place.

What Iran fears in accepting such a deal is that with the sanctions regime still in place, potential foreign investors would continue to stay away from Iran because of the fear of US extraterritorial sanctions against them. As a senior Iranian official told the International Crisis Group’s Ali Vaez last December, “[A]s long as the sanction architecture is intact, so is the chilling effect [on foreign investors].”

In other words, Iran will never be free of the pressure from the United States exerted through pressure on foreign businesses until the sanctions laws themselves are terminated.

Further casting suspicion on the P5+1 position on sanctions is the suggestion that sanctions relief would depend on judgments about whether Iran has complied with its commitments under the agreement to be made by the IAEA.

That agency — once an independent and politically neutral party in the politics of nuclear proliferation — has been acting as an arm of US policy for the past several years. This has been keeping Iran under suspicion on the basis of intelligence documents provided by Israel that have never been authenticated and show many indications of having been fabricated.

Even worse, the Obama administration and its allies have been saying that sanctions relief would be held up until Iran satisfies the IAEA in regard to those highly questionable alleged Iranian documents and until the agency is satisfied that there are no undeclared sites or nuclear material in Iran.

The IAEA has indicated to the International Crisis group that the latter could take up to ten years. In other words, lifting sanctions could be denied on the basis of a politicized investigation that is clearly already stacked against Iran.

Iran is well aware that accepting the superficially tempting offer of upfront access to cash does nothing to solve its sanctions problem. Although they are not rejecting the idea of suspension of certain sanctions under certain circumstances, the Iranians insist that any irreversible concessions by Iran must be “reciprocated with termination of sanctions”.

So a political framework is possible in the coming days, perhaps in the form of principles that have been agreed to on both enrichment capabilities and on sanctions relief. But the Obama administration won’t get the signed agreement that it is seeking with the quantitative limits to which Iran has agreed if a detailed agreement on lifting sanctions has not reached as well. And that won’t happen unless the P5+1 makes an extraordinary climb-down from its starting position on the issue.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the US war in Afghanistan. His new book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

A Reality Check on Defense Spending

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

Ryan McMaken / Mises.org – 2015-03-29 00:04:31

http://mises.org/blog/reality-check-defense-spending

WASHINGTON (March 26, 2015) — Time reports that Rand Paul has come out in favor of a sizable boost to defense spending. [U]nder Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016. [1]

Paul, positioning himself for a run in the presidential primaries, is echoing his fellow republicans who seem to be under the impression that defense spending is an endangered species in Washington, DC.

In fact, in January, the always-hawkish Heritage foundation proposed new increases to the defense budget and claimed that “the state of the US military continues to degrade due to recent spending decisions. The several years of uncertainty in the defense budget, the unprioritized cuts, and the magnitude and pace of the reductions have led to a weaker and smaller force today.”

Any serious look at defense spending, however, reveals that spending is basically on a par with spending levels (in real terms) seen during the height of the Vietnam War and during the Reagan military buildup. To claim that defense spending now is experiencing cuts of a large magnitude is disingenuous and requires quite a few splitting of hairs to come up with the number necessary to make the case.

First, let’s look at the basic historical situation in defense spending. The first graph shows defense spending in constant 2005 dollars (in other words, it’s inflation-adjusted). We see that in real terms, defense spending in recent years has been well above the sort of spending Ronald Reagan thought adequate to deal with the Soviet Union.

If the defense levels we’re now experiencing are insufficient for defense against groups like ISIS which has no navy, no ICBMs, and no air force, one has to wonder: why was Ronald Reagan such an irresponsible peacenik? He signed off on funding levels well below what were peak levels back in 2010.

Rand Paul’s proposed new increases on defense spending would [put defense spending back near the all time highs (in real terms) experienced back in 2010.

The truth is, US defense spending is nowhere near being at historic lows, nor is it subject anything resembling draconian or dramatic cuts to the budget. Keep in mind also, that the numbers in the first graph show only what is considered “National Defense” under so-called “function number 050.” That means these numbers here exclude VA spending and Homeland Security spending, both of which should, if honesty matters, be included in any discussion about national defense.

VA spending is a cost built into defense spending, and Homeland Security is nothing more than “defense” operations in domestic settings. The purpose of it is the same. This category also excludes the money spent on foreign aid and on embassies and other “international affairs” functions.

VA benefits are merely the deferred costs of compensation for military personnel. In other words, military personnel volunteer partly as a result of the promise of VA benefits later, meaning that VA benefits are a form of compensation for active duty personnel spread out over the lifetime of the veteran. VA benefits also help keep down current salary costs for the DoD.

By employing the accounting gimmick of putting VA benefits under a separate department, we ignore that total cost of military personnel. Meanwhile, a look at the mission statement of the DHS — the main purposes are “security” and anti-terrorism — reveals a rather gray area between “national defense” and homeland security.

So, if anything, this numbers in graph 1 are low-ball numbers.

In fact, if we take a look at the combined total of DHS, DoD, and VA spending, we find that as of 2014 — a period of military “decline” according to the Heritage Foundation — that military spending was up 50 percent from 2004 to 2014. Now, the second chart is not adjusted for inflation, so if we go in and check the CPI numbers, we find that the rate of growth was twice that of the CPI.

In other words, true defense spending, including all the relevant agencies, increased by twice the inflation rate from 2004 to 2014. And, if we look at growth from 2004 to 2010, a year before all those draconian cuts Heritage says we have, then we find that over that period, defense spending increased 60 percent, or three times the inflation rate over that period.

In nominal terms, defense spending, including VA, and DHS has ranged from $700 to $850 billion since 2008.

Conservative politicians would have us believe that the military has somehow been gutted since then, but the numbers hardly show this. Military spending is alive and well, and will soon be raking in over a trillion dollars per year if the hawks in Congress get their way.

This is not a picture of decline by any means. Indeed, any household would be happy to see its own revenues increase by three times the inflation rate over a six year period or twice the inflation rate over a ten year period.

Moreover, the Heritage Foundation’s January report claims that defense spending has been cut by 31 percent, but this is an absurd number by our metric.

Heritage has simply decided that 2010, the peak year, is obviously the “correct” amount of military spending because it is the highest amount ever. Thus, any decline from that peak amount counts as some sort of drastic cut. Meanwhile, back on planet earth, we look at these numbers in a much larger context.

We must ask ourselves how much spending has increased over the past decade. But even if we adopt Heritage’s method of counting defense spending since the magical year of 2010, we find that totals have been cut by only 8 percent, not the 31 percent that Heritage claims.

Heritage gets away with this by conveniently excluding those VA and DHS numbers. But if we take a more honest view of defense spending growth over time, we find that spending totals are up considerably, and the inclusion of VA and DHS numbers are indeed significant since VA and DHS spending increased by more than 100 percent during the period.

On the other hand, I could remove VA and DHS spending and still come up with a 33 percent increase from 2004 to 2014, which also outpaces the 25 percent total inflation over the same period. Any way we look at it, defense spending is up and has outpaced inflation over the past decade, and in real terms, it remains at Reagan-Cold-War levels.

The national security state is in no danger whatsoever of being de-funded any time soon.

[1] Politico reports that the Paul proposal, which included cuts elsewhere in the budget to offset the increase in defense spending, was an alternative to a Rubio/Cruz proposal to make similar funding increases without any corresponding cuts.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

It’s OK to Leak Government Secrets — As Long as It Benefits Politicians

March 29th, 2015 - by admin

Trevor Timm / The Guardian & Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian – 2015-03-29 00:01:08

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/its-ok-to-leak-government-secrets-as-long-as-it-benefits-politicians

WASHINGTON (March 25, 2015) — When it comes to classified information, some leaks are more equal than others. If you are a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, who tells the press about illegal, immoral or embarrassing government actions, you will face jail time. But it’s often another story for US government officials leaking information for their own political benefit.

Two stories this week perfectly illustrate this hypocrisy and how, despite their unprecedented crackdown on sources and whistleblowers, the Obama administration — like every administration before it — loves to use leaks, if and when it suits them.

Consider a government leak that ran in the New York Times on Monday. The article was about 300 of Hillary Clinton’s now notorious State Department emails, which had been hidden away on her private server for years and were turned over to Congress as part of the never-ending Benghazi investigation.

“Four senior government officials” described the content of her emails to New York Times journalists in minute detail “on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to secret information”.

Surely the Obama administration will promptly root out and prosecute those leakers, right? After all, the emails haven’t gone through a security review and the chances of them discussing classified information are extremely high. (Even if they don’t, the Espionage Act doesn’t require the information to be classified anyways, only that information leaked be “related to national defense”.)

But those emails supposedly clear Clinton of any wrongdoing in the Benghazi affair, which likely makes the leak in the administration’s interest.

But that disclosure was nothing compared to what appeared in the Wall Street Journal a day later, in the wake of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s underhanded attempts to derail a nuclear deal with Iran.

The Journal reported on Tuesday that not only did Israel spy on Americans negotiating with Iran, but they gave that information to Republicans in Congress, in an attempt to scuttle the deal.

How does the US know this? Well, according to the Journal and its government sources, the US itself intercepted communications between Israeli officials that discussed information that could have only come from the US-Iran talks.

The disclosure of this fact sounds exactly like the vaunted “sources and methods” — i.e. how the US conducts surveillance and gets intelligence — that the government continually claims is the most sensitive information they have.

It’s why they claim Edward Snowden belongs in jail for decades. So while it’s apparently unacceptable to leak details about surveillance that affects ordinary citizens’ privacy, its OK for officials to do so for their own political benefit — and no one raises an eyebrow.

We can be quite certain that no one will be prosecuted for the leaks given that they benefitted the administration’s powerful former Secretary of State, and bolsters its position in its public dust-up with Israel.

When it comes to leaks, the powerful play by different rules than everyone else — despite the fact that they’ve violated the same law they’ve accused so many other leakers of breaking.

That’s why David Petraeus was given a sweetheart plea deal with no jail time after leaking highly classified information to his biographer and lover. (He’s apparently already back advising the White House, despite leaking and then lying to the FBI about the identities of countless covert officers).

It’s also the same reason why investigations into a leak suspected to have involved General Cartwright, once known as “Obama’s favorite general”, have stalled. As the Washington Post reported: the defense “might try to put the White House’s relationship with reporters and the use of authorized leaks on display, creating a potentially embarrassing distraction for the administration”.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling faces sentencing next month after being found guilty of leaking information to New York Times reporter James Risen. Sterling’s problem is that he leaked information showing a spectacular and embarrassing failure on the CIA’s part — which did not help a powerful politician score points. He is also not a general.

As a result, he faces decades in jail.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Army Report Confirms Bergdahl Never Intended to Desert

March 28th, 2015 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Peter Maass / The Intercept – 2015-03-28 23:54:23

Army Report Confirms Bergdahl Never Intended to Desert

Army Report Confirms Bergdahl
Never Intended to Desert

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(March 27, 2015) — The charges leveled against freed POW Sgt Bowe Bergdahl this week are making less and less sense the more details of Army reports emerge, as the Army had apparently concluded that Bergdahl did none of the things he’s being charged with.

Bergdahl is facing two main charges, desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The later was seen as particularly strange at the time, since the Army had already cleared him of misconduct during his near five years as a hostage months prior.

The latest details are that the Army report explicitly says Bergdahl never intended to desert, either. Bergdahl left his outpost in July 2009 to report wrongdoing, planning to walk to the nearest base to report it to senior officials.

The details of what he intended to report still haven’t come to light, but officials called them “disturbing circumstances,” adding that he “wasn’t planning to desert.” Charging him with desertion, then, makes no sense at all.

Hawks were objecting to the POW exchange last year when it happened, and have attacked Bergdahl for getting captured in the first place. It seems that this political bias against him is fueling a lot of the momentum behind the charges, as the facts that have come to light so far don’t support the charges at all.


Why Should Bergdahl Suffer More
Than Generals Who Did Far Worse?

Peter Maass / The Intercept

(March 27, 2015) — What punishment should Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl receive for allegedly deserting his post in Afghanistan? The answer comes by asking another question: What punishment has been handed out to American generals and politicians whose incompetence caused far more bloodshed and grief than anything Bergdahl did?

A key thing about justice is that it should be fair — people should be punished no matter their rank or title. The problem with the bloodlust for more action against Bergdahl — beyond his five years of horrific suffering as a Taliban prisoner — is that inept generals, rather than being court-martialed or demoted or reprimanded, have been rewarded and celebrated despite their dereliction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This duality is crystallized in a now-famous article written by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling in 2007 for Armed Forces Journal. After describing the failures of general officers after 9/11 as well as in the Vietnam war, Yingling, who served three tours in Iraq and is now a teacher in Colorado, wrote a stinging sentence about justice and responsibility in the military: “A private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

Let’s be clear about what it means to lose a war in the context of Iraq. It does not only mean that America failed to achieve its political or military goals. It means that more Americans and Iraqis lost their lives than needed to, and it means that war crimes were committed for which general officers bear command responsibility.

Due to failures that Yingling and many others have noted — not anticipating the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, not recognizing the emergence of an insurgency, not figuring out the right strategy to respond to it — the war in Iraq ground on and the bloodshed has been enormous on all sides. Afghanistan is yet another graveyard of failures by general officers.

Two generals, in particular, have been criticized but not punished for serious mistakes that they and their subordinates made — Tommy Franks, who commanded US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and Ricardo Sanchez, who led US forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. The military writer Tom Ricks has done the best job so far of exposing their battlefield failures and the failure of our political and military leaders to do anything about it.

Sanchez oversaw, among other disasters, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, for which low-ranking soldiers were sternly punished, such as Specialist Lynndie England, who served a year and a half in prison for her role in abusing Iraqi detainees. Ricks has noted, in a startling case of military chutzpah, that Sanchez was indignant he didn’t receive an extra star for his Iraq service.

“As far as I can tell, no general has been fired for incompetence in combat since Maj. Gen. James Baldwin was fired as commander of the Americal Division in 1971,” Ricks has said. “Since then, others have been relieved for moral and ethical lapses that are embarrassing to the Army, but not, to my knowledge, for combat ineffectiveness.”

If firing generals for incompetence is too much to ask for, how about retiring them at a lower rank? As Yingling noted, “A general who presides over a massive human rights scandal or a substantial deterioration in security ought to be retired at a lower rank than one who serves with distinction.

A general who fails to provide Congress with an accurate and candid assessment of strategic probabilities ought to suffer the same penalty.” Yet even that modest level of reprimand has almost never occurred. Holding generals to account for war crimes committed on their watch is like waiting for Halley’s Comet — it happens with excruciating rarity.

Instead, dereliction is rewarded. In Oklahoma, for instance, there is the General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum. Franks is a frequent public speaker (here’s his bio at the speakers bureau that represents him) and was tapped as an adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

In Texas, Sanchez was sufficiently celebrated and popular to mount a primary run for an open Senate seat (he pulled out before the election), he has a school named after him, and like so many other retired generals, he gives a lot of speeches to admiring audiences.

So we circle back to Bowe Bergdahl, who could spend the rest of his life in prison for desertion and misbehaving before the enemy, unless there is a plea deal. If he is guilty, he should be convicted. But punishment beyond his torment at the hands of the Taliban would be unfair, even if it is true, as some allege, that G.I.s were killed while searching for him.

Whatever blood he might have on his hands — and it’s far from clear there’s any — is minor compared to the generals and politicians who made far graver errors. It would be particularly unfortunate if Bergdahl became another sort of pawn, this time in the partisan polemics over President Obama’s decision to exchange five Taliban prisoners for him.

I reported on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the conflicts in Bosnia, Somalia and Sudan, so I understand the sense of betrayal among soldiers who served with Bergdahl, even if my understanding is that of a civilian who watched rather than fought.

Their anger and desire for justice are not unreasonable. I share it, but my anger is directed upwards at the unpunished and unapologetic, rather than downwards at men and women who have suffered enough.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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