Hospitals Are Under Fire in Yemen’s War Civilians and doctors are no longer safe in the places they need the most Jason Cone / TIIME
(January 29, 2016) — As Yemen’s bloody conflict continues, medical facilities and personnel are repeatedly coming under fire, which drastically reduces the country’s access to desperately needed emergency medical care.
As the wreckage of hospitals and clinics indicate, the war launched by a Saudi-led coalition against Houthi militants is being fought with utter disregard for international humanitarian law — with the silent consent of the US, the UK, France, and other members of the UN Security Council.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), of which I’m the executive director in the US, has treated more than 20,000 people in Yemen since this war began last March.
Over the past three months, three MSF-supported health facilities in Yemen have come under attack, and an ambulance driver working alongside MSF was killed by an airstrike in Saada province as he attempted to reach people wounded in an earlier strike on January 21. All of these incidents were clear violations of the laws of war and the protections those laws afford medical spaces and personnel.
On January 10, a projectile hit Shiara Hospital in northern Yemen, killing at least six and injuring seven. MSF had been helping rebuild the facility — coalition airstrikes had struck it twice before — and providing emergency and maternity care.
After this latest attack, though, some patients didnâ€™t come back because they were certain the hospital would be hit again. Some pregnant women decided it would be safer to give birth in nearby caves.
A month earlier, on December 2, 2015, three airstrikes targeted a park in Taiz’s Al Houban District in southern Yemen. MSF staff from a clinic in the area evacuated the wounded and informed coalition officials that airplanes were still attacking. Soon after, MSF’s clinic was hit. Nine people were wounded, including two MSF staff members.
And on October 26, coalition fighter jets repeatedly bombed a Ministry of Health hospital in Haydan District, in the north, where MSF teams were treating war-wounded patients, pregnant women and children.
After the first strike, the staff evacuated just ahead of subsequent bombing runs that succeeded in destroying the only emergency care facility for roughly 200,000 people in the area.
MSF maintains constant dialogue with both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi-led militias, providing GPS coordinates of medical projects and calling on them to fulfill their obligations to preserve access to medical services. But between March and November of last year, bombs were dropped on or near medical facilities nearly 100 times, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The three MSF-supported medical structures hit were known and clearly marked.
Such is the nature of this war.
The Saudi-led coalition is waging a military campaign that treats civilians and civilian structures as legitimate military targets; in May, for example, it declared that the entire Sadaa governorate was a military zone.
Coalition fighter jets and artillery have repeatedly hit homes, roads, bridges, schools, gas stations, markets, medical sites, ambulances, supply trucks and displacement camps, killing upwards of 2,800 civilians, according to the United Nations, and wounding many more.
Houthi forces have also repeatedly shelled civilian areas and medical facilities, and they have blocked shipments of medical supplies as well. For the past five months, Houthi fighters have besieged an enclave of Taiz, forcing nearly 100,000 people to endure recurrent barrages of mortar fire and sniper attacks while running desperately short of food and water. The few city hospitals that remain open barely function due to shortages of supplies and fuel.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was referring to Yemen in part when he said last year that “violations (of international humanitarian law) have become so routine that there is a risk people will think that the deliberate bombing of civilians, the targeting of humanitarian and healthcare workers, and attacks on schools, hospitals, and places of worship are an inevitable result of conflict.”
But the UN Security Council, through Resolution 2216 — authored by Jordan, co-sponsored by the US, the UK, and France, and passed last April — provided diplomatic cover for what weâ€™re seeing today.
The resolution made pro-forma calls to end violence in Yemen and imposed an arms embargo and travel restrictions on the Houthis, but it made no mention of the Saudi-led coalitionâ€™s aerial attacks and demanded nothing of the coalition in general.
In effect, it provided a license to bomb at will and enforce a widespread blockade of goods entering the country. This set an â€œanything goesâ€ tone that all sides have embraced.
The warring parties pay little heed to the Geneva Conventions, and their backers say nothing. The US, the UK and France actively support and supply weapons to the Saudi military.
Just last week, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said heâ€™d seen “no evidence of deliberate breach of international humanitarian law,” in Yemen, ignoring the fact that even if medical facilities are not targeted intentionally, failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets is itself a grave violation of international humanitarian law.
And the attacks have continued. That is why MSF has now called for the mobilization of the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission, a body born of the Geneva Conventions to independently assess violations of humanitarian law, to investigate the January 10 attack on Shiara hospital.
That should be just the start. The warring parties and their international backers must honor international humanitarian law and be held accountable for violations. And the wounded and sick must be permitted access to health care.
MSF’s effort to treat the sick and wounded in Yemen will continue. And Yemeni medical personnel are doing their best under the circumstances. But if more medical facilities are destroyed, there may not be anyone left to provide the care that Yemenis will doubtlessly need in the days ahead.
Jason Cone is executive director of Doctors Without Borders – USA.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation & Foreign Press Center Japan & Hajimu Takeda / Asahi Shimbun – 2016-01-31 02:00:48
“Toward a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World:
One Billion Citizens’ Appeal” Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation & Foreign Press Center Japan
(January 25, 2016) — An Open Letter from Mayors for Peace to all United Nations Member States:
In August 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reduced to ruins, each by a single atomic bomb, and more than 210,000 people from the two cities lost their precious lives. Those who barely managed to survive had their lives totally changed and their endless suffering ha s continued to this day, 70 years later.
Having lived through an experience too cruel to be put into words, the hibakusha — atomic bomb survivors — have continued to appeal for nuclear abolition and to convey their desire for peace to the people of the world. Their dedication stems from their deep humanitarian conviction that “no one else should ever again suffer as we have.”
We, Mayors for Peace, are an international nonpartisan non-governmental organization with members who profoundly empathize with the spirit of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and strive to establish a world free of nuclear weapons, as well as to realize peace and sustainable development.
These aims are based on the mayoral responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of our people. We are writing today on behalf of all members of our organization, which is currently composed of over 6,900 member cities from 161 countries and regions, representing over a billion citizens from around the world. Our members keep growing.
We are deeply concerned that, even a quarter of a century since the Cold War’s end, nearly 16,000 nuclear warheads still exist in today’s world, which is filled with violence and countless seeds of conflict. Declassified documents have revealed that the risks of inadvertent nuclear weapons use due to accident or miscalculation are quite high.
We also cannot ignore the danger posed by nuclear terrorism. Given the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, every State and every citizen has a stake in the total elimination of these repugnant weapons.
This is why we must insist that this issue be addressed immediately. We do commend the limited but welcome progress that has been made, such as a reduction in deployments of some strategic nuclear weapons and the continuation of moratoriums on nuclear testing. These are important efforts, but unfortunately, inadequate.
With about 2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert, the threatened use of nuclear weapons that is euphemistically called “deterrence,” and the unspeakable horror it implies, is still the mainstay of the international security regime.
This stance itself holds elements of danger, potentially inducing nuclear proliferation, such as problem s similar to North Korea’s nuclear development. There may be a need to question if nuclear deterrence can offer any effective solutions to the global security challenges we face today. In this context, we believe that the international community needs to join forces and discuss how we can address real issues.
It is urgent for nuclear-weapon states and those under the nuclear ‘umbrella’ to conduct earnest dialogues to plan for their security without reliance on the concept of nuclear deterrence. In pursuit of such efforts, we must not forget the important role civil society can perform to overcome mutual distrust and nurture a shared sense of awareness that we belong to the same human family.
On one hand, we understand that many differences exist in the world community over the timing, scope, and modalities for achieving nuclear disarmament. Yet it is clear that we cannot ignore the existing threat of nuclear weapons.
That is why we are calling on the world leaders to advance such policy discussions at once. In this regard, we believe that every leader would benefit from visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and listening intently to hibakusha.
As a concrete step to spur such discussion, we strongly urge all States — especially those possessing nuclear weapons and their umbrella states — to participate actively in the Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament that the UN General Assembly established last year, and to start engaging in constructive deliberations regardless of their political sensibilities.
We do not believe it is necessary to have a global consensus on all matters prior to commencing the activities of this Working Group. In fact, prospects for future progress will only diminish by failing to engage in constructive deliberations on ways to build common ground and overcome differences.
Global nuclear disarmament can only be achieved if it is universal in scope; this will require the participation of all States in the process of achieving that goal. Non-nuclear-weapon states have a stake in nuclear disarmament in the sense that they could be the victims, themselves, of a nuclear weapon attack, even if they are committed to non-proliferation.
This Working Group will provide a good opportunity for the nuclear-weapon states and their umbrella states to listen to a wide range of voices from civil society and non-nuclear-weapon states seeking nuclear disarmament.
Furthermore, the Working Group will also provide a superb opportunity for the world community to address practical concerns during the disarmament process, including such issues as verification, transparency, and irreversibility.
It will also be an appropriate forum to commence a serious discussion of the risks and benefits of realizing a world free of nuclear weapons and the legal framework needed to achieve it. We should take this valuable opportunity to deepen the world’s understanding of the challenges ahead in realizing this great and historic goal.
Mayors for Peace appreciates the opportunity to participate in the discussions of this Working Group as a member of civil society seeking a nuclear-weapon-free world. We assert that a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons will mark a significant turning point toward a world without nuclear weapons.
At the same time, we are keenly aware of the role and responsibilities of civil society in creating a foundation for sustainable peace.
If we can cultivate a sense of global community as one human family and transcend our differences, it will lead to a society where diversity is treasured and disputes are resolved through peaceful means. We will work together with civil society partners around the world to cultivate mutual understanding in the pursuit of this sustainable peace.
In closing, once again we strongly urge all countries to participate actively in this Working Group and start constructive deliberations. We ask the policymakers of the world to work with sincerity and in good faith.
As an important part of civil society, we shall spare no effort in working cooperatively with you. Instead of another year of setbacks, deepened rivalries, diminished expectations, and lost opportunities, let us make 2016 a year of significant progress in global nuclear disarmament.
Consolidated efforts by state and city governments, together with diverse civil society partners, such as women, youth, lawyers, religious leaders, medical workers, entrepreneurs, scholars, educators, artists, and athletes, can change the world. It is time for us to transcend our various positions and work together for the common good of international society. Let us work together to finish this important job.
Contact information: Mayors for Peace Secretariat c/o Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation 1-5 Nakajima-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima 730-0811 Japan
Tel: +81-82-242-7821.Fax: +81-82-242-7452
TOYKO (January 28, 2016) — Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the Lower House plenary session Jan. 22 (Shogo Koshida)
Tokyo, in a sharp reversal of policy, will now join a UN nuclear disarmament group even though it still does not want a treaty banning weapons of mass destruction.
Japan, the only nation to suffer the horrors of a nuclear attack, now ironically sits beneath the nuclear umbrella of its ally the United States so it originally abstained from the vote to set up the disarmament working group along with 33 other nations, including NATO members.
Tokyo’s decision to now participate shows that it wants its own opinions on nuclear disarmament reflected in the group’s discussions, such as its hope that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will be ratified by the nations that have so far refused to do so.
The establishment of the Open-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament was approved last autumn as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly.
The first session of the working group will be held in Geneva in February, with two more sessions scheduled for May and August.
In addition to the 34 abstentions, 12 countries voted against the proposal for setting up the working group, including the nuclear powers of the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.
The new working group plans to present a recommendation on nuclear disarmament at a meeting of the UN General Assembly in October.
Japanese delegates are expected to attend a preliminary meeting in Geneva on Jan. 28, which will pick the chair and decide how the group’s sessions should be managed.
In the meeting, they will argue that any recommendation made by the working group should be based on a unanimous endorsement, and not a vote.
“As far as numbers are concerned, the group of nonnuclear powers demanding legal measures is overwhelming,” said a senior official with the Japanese Foreign Ministry. “If a vote is adopted to decide on the planned recommendation, Japan’s argument will likely be ignored.”
The working group was founded following a strong push from Mexico, Austria, South Africa and other countries without nuclear weapons, which called for “legal measures” to achieve nuclear disarmament. The proposal was approved by 138 nations, about two-thirds of the UN member nations.
Mexico and other nonnuclear nations are expected to work together to foster momentum toward a nuclear ban treaty.
Japan is not in favor of a nuclear ban treaty. The nation’s defense policy remains unchanged in that it needs to benefit from the U.S. nuclear deterrent in the immediate future.
But it apparently decided on joining the working group on the condition that a variety of views should be reflected in the group’s debate, including a view that legal measures refer not only to a treaty banning nuclear weapons, but also one banning the testing of nuclear weapons.
In that context, Japan concluded that Washington would not oppose its bid to join the working group.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is from Hiroshima, has pledged that Japan will lead global efforts toward a nuclear-free world.
In April, the nation will host a Group of Seven Foreign Ministers meeting in Hiroshima, the first time such talks have been held in the city leveled by a U.S. atomic bomb in 1945.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(December 17, 2015) — In The Rise of the Military Welfare State, Jennifer Mittelstadt offers a disturbing view of the armed forces as a high-value target in political clashes over public assistance.
Investigating the military is “vital to any full history of social welfare in the United States,” Mittelstadt writes, because politicians have pitted the military against civilians in the battle over social benefits, while barely attending to the needs of service members and their families.
The battle over support dates back to the shift to an all-volunteer army in 1973 and continues to roil our politics. Among the recurring issues are the size and scope of government, the applicability of market principles to social policy, the determination of just benefits for military families and ordinary citizens, and the role of women in the military.
The decisions taken in those years have radiated out like the halo of a chronic migraine, undermining our nation’s delivery of welfare and education and its support for gender equality.
* * *
The headache flared up during the later years of the Vietnam War. Military experts worried that the army — auxiliary personnel were essentially volunteer and less symbolic of the war — could implode under the weight of its many angry and alienated soldiers, some of whom were murdering their commanding officers, abusing drugs and alcohol, and brutalizing Vietnamese civilians. Upon returning home, veterans suffered unprecedented adjustment problems, and some are still struggling.
At the same time, the families of servicemen below officer level were often supplementing their salaries with food stamps and welfare. When the draft became the focus of the rage over a misbegotten war, politicians recognized that it had to go in order to appease the middle class.
Mittelstadt’s comprehensive narrative shows the long reach of some familiar figures. Shortly after his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon created a commission whose members included Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman to plan an all-volunteer army based on the free-market ideas of the Chicago School.
The commission proposed discontinuing the traditional benefits that officers received — including support for housing, family, and transportation — and replacing them with better salaries and cash bonuses for all personnel so that volunteers could buy what they wanted, and the army could get out of the business of provisioning and caretaking.
On the other side of the debate, Gen. William Westmoreland, the army chief of staff from 1968 to ’72, thought that military service could not and should not be, as we might say now, monetized. Soldiers were called upon to die for their country, and a little money, more or less, was not a dignified way to reward that commitment.
Westmoreland wanted the army to take care of its own so that volunteers understood they belonged to a responsive institution. He advocated extending many of the officers’ benefits to all enlistees.
Whereas Nixon’s economists saw WestmoreÂland and his ideas as paternalistic, most soldiers preferred an army that provided housing, medical care, job training, and supports for families to one that dispensed cash handouts.
Westmoreland won this round of the battle with the Chicago Boys, and his Army Family model was reaffirmed in 1976, with an expansion of benefits for volunteers. These changes helped improve the reputation of the army after the terrible years of Vietnam and eased its transition to an all-volunteer force.
No policy is implemented in a vacuum, Mittelstadt emphasizes repeatedly. As the army’s personnel shifted from draftees to volunteers, its members also began to shift from partially middle class and white to largely poor and minority. The educational level of the volunteer force also dropped, a sign that poor and minority youths were trapped in substandard schools.
Army accounts of chaotic behavior reflected the military’s dim view of its volunteers, blaming them for being unable to shed the problems of poverty that had followed them from civilian life. In 1978, even with better salaries, servicemen and -women were redeeming a large number of food stamps at commissaries.
Relatedly, in 1979, 50 percent of military wives were working — an increase of 20 percent from 1970. These women generally thought that the army saw them as problems rather than as committed partners working to supplement their husbands’ poor wages. Their employment led to an increased demand for childcare and other family services.
* * *
As if this weren’t enough, critics of the all-volunteer force argued that the volunteers themselves were compromising the manly ideals of military service. At the same time, the growing number of African Americans in the ranks prompted worries that the nation was heading toward having a majority-black army. But the apparently more intractable anxieties were about the military’s “feminization.”
Soldiers’ families increasingly wanted and needed social services for the same kinds of difficulties that other American families faced: debt, divorce, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and raising children in a family where both parents were working.
The free marketers countered that social services bred dependency and furthered feminization of the institution and the volunteers themselves. Former Marine Corps officer and Virginia senator James Webb feared the menace of single-mother soldiers and wondered whether the country was about to “turn the Army into a baby sitting service.”
The small but growing number of women volunteering also allegedly interfered with discipline and eroded the soldierly ideal. Webb’s solution was to keep women out of combat.
* * *
Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a mudslide of money to the army. Reagan made the armed forces an active part of a foreign policy aimed at restoring military brawn and heating up the fight against communism. The demographics of the all-volunteer army continued to tilt toward a disproportionately high representation of African Americans and growing numbers of women.
Meanwhile, army wives, especially officers’ wives, started to express their own version of feminism. They no longer wished to be dragooned into serving as the unpaid drivers of the welcome wagons, the organizers of daycare, the managers of bake sales, and the purveyors of advice and hand-me-down clothing. Nor did they wish to quietly fume any longer about bad housing and schools, expensive medical care, and long deployments.
They were fed up with the assumption that army wives had to take anything and everything for the team or risk being ostracized for having a bad attitude, thereby jeopardizing their husbands’ chances for a promotion.
As much as these demographic, educational, and attitudinal changes perturbed the powerful, they still had to, as Donald Rumsfeld would say in a different context, work with the army they had, because the draft would not â€¨be reinstated.
Reagan responded to the volunteers’ concerns, but by providing services infused with evangelical Christian beliefs about the structure and purpose of family life. Gen. John Wickham, in charge of the army’s family programs after 1983, worked closely with James Dobson and his Focus on the Family organization to deepen the role of the church in the army overall, and particularly to strengthen “the institutions of marriage and parenthood for those serving in the military.”
Wickham, Dobson, and others supported a model in which husbands made the decisions and wives complied. Prayer and Christian support groups worked to keep families together in the face of separations, violence, alcoholism, and child abuse. Dobson and his foundation also did a brisk business selling his books, tapes, and audiovisual presentations to the army in the 1980s, and although Dobson was eventually sued for conflict of interest, he was not convicted.
* * *
Wickham and others thought that military families, imagined as traditionally Christian, were deserving of their services, whereas civilians were not. Conservatives “both in the military and outside” contrasted a “supposedly moral army family and a putatively immoral, decaying civilian family.” And within the military, the help offered to women held them to ideals of behavior in direct conflict with their professional responsibilities and needs.
With Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, the allegedly immoral and decaying civilian family ran head-on into the new administration’s promise to shrink government and enforce a standard of “personal responsibility.” Clinton ended welfare as we knew it, but he also reduced military benefits.
The “Washington Consensus,” to which Clinton fervently subscribed in those days, insisted that the market did everything better. It’s well known that Clinton privatized combat (thereby “growing” Blackwater and other corporations supplying mercenaries) and many in-house military services like food and laundry. But he also privatized many of the military’s family benefits, including housing and medical care.
After waiting in the wilderness for years, the free marketers had finally found their champion. Psychologists, in step with the economists, argued that families would be better off solving their own problems than being dependent on a government agency. Westmoreland’s Army Family model quickly changed from being a well-cared-for family to a self-reliant one.
Privatization schemes typically promise savings but rarely deliver. In the case of military housing, the army gave large amounts of government property to real-estate developers, at the same time guaranteeing them platoons of customers. On the books, the giveaway wasn’t counted as an expenditure and looked like a substantial cut in military expenses.
But it was, of course, a large transfer of valuable real estate. Furthermore, the policy change took housing out of the military’s control and put it in the hands of one of several multinational corporations.
At the same time, the large overall government department that had provided meals and snacks, game rooms, and counseling for married couples turned itself into a private corporation that opened a chain of restaurants and even a number of gambling parlors outside the United States.
* * *
Probably the most hallowed benefit that the services receive is the version of the GI Bill that Reagan reactivated with great ceremony, and at significant cost, in 1986. Its purpose was less to entice men and women to join, or to reward them for their sacrifices, than to refurbish the image of the army as a respectable institution.
Army brass, knowing full well that the bill would not improve recruitment rates, nevertheless thought it worth the expense because, as Mittelstadt writes, it would “dislodge the ‘dummy’ and the ‘dregs’ images plaguing the army.”
Its consequences have been numerous, some intended, many of them terrible. Reagan used the cost of the new GI Bill to justify large offsetting cuts in education grants to civilians, even as he increased their “opportunities” to borrow. His goal was not only to legitimate the army but to make the cost of higher education a private responsibility.
In the 1980s, grants dropped from 80 percent of the federal money spent on education to 50 percent, even as college costs were rising precipitously. The value of Pell Grants also declined — whereas the grants had more than covered the cost of college tuition in the 1970s, they covered less than 54 percent of it in 2011.
A perhaps less well-known consequence of Reagan’s GI Bill has been the sudden flourishing of for-profit colleges and their scores of abusive practices. Suzanne Mettler’s Degrees of Inequality (2014) is an invaluable study of this distressing phenomenon.
A permanent GI Bill guaranteeing federal money to veterans making the transition to civilian life was irresistible to entrepreneurs — just as it had been after World War II, when regulations had to be passed to stop the shady practices of the schools that the bill had spawned.
Students attending these for-profit institutions on the GI Bill have been paying as much as four times what a community college would have cost, often unaware that the educational credits they were earning could not be transferred to traditional schools. In 2011, lobbyists for the industry and their colleagues in Congress repeatedly blocked Representative Maxine Waters from regulating institutions that preyed on poor people from districts like hers.
The emergence of online classes in the 1990s brought new financial opportunities, such as eliminating the need for a physical campus and reducing the role of teachers, and generated even more profit. In 1992, Congress stipulated that an institution of higher education had to offer at least 50 percent of classes on a campus to receive federal aid.
Congress dropped that rule in 2006, and during the following five years online colleges doubled their enrollments and their profits; the loan-default rate of their students also doubled. For-profit colleges took to recruiting veterans to recruit other veterans on the GI Bill. Although these institutions only enroll 8 percent of all US college students, 30 percent of the 1.4 million vets who have used the bill have enrolled in for-profit schools.
For-profits collected $8.2 billion from the 2009 GI Bill. Several have failed recently, and others are under investigation. Veterans who attended schools that failed are considered to have used up all of their GI Bill benefits.
* * *
If the current disreputable educational policies and institutions have their roots in Reagan’s agenda for a respectable military, so too does the military’s ongoing unwillingness to take steps to protect the women — and men — in its ranks from sexual assault. This failure is particularly acute at a time when women are volunteering in record numbers and are poised to take on combat duties.
The military’s continuing enthusiasm for submissive Christian wives and commanding husbands, and its admiration for women who stoically endure hardships, are important factors in its failure to discipline the disproportionate number of serial rapists in its ranks. It refuses to move the adjudication of rape cases out of the regular chain of command, as New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed with her Military Justice Improvement Act, under which victims would report to an officer other than the unit commander.
This would have several effects, including making the reporting of such incidents more likely by eliminating the embarrassment of revealing it to a commander. (According to estimates, only 25 percent of such incidents are currently being reported.) Changing the reporting procedures would also help keep complaints from being ignored in order to preserve the unit’s reputation or to protect the accused.
The military argues that doing so would weaken its authority, although Canada and many of our other allies have adopted the practice. In 2012, several US servicewomen who had been assaulted filed suit against the military for not providing them with a safe work environment. The military successfully defended the position that rape was an occupational hazard.
Revelations of the high levels of sexual assault have coincided with women beginning to overcome the barriers to serving in combat positions. By 2010, some were already effectively participating in ground combat, although regulations still prohibited it.
That year, Adm. William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Operations Command, officially requested female troops to accompany Army Rangers in Afghanistan on the raids of houses where suspected Taliban members were hiding. These raids had violated the customary seclusion afforded Muslim women and were creating rising hostility among the Afghans.
Trained female soldiers, called “cultural support troops,” were to be attached to units to minimize the possibility of cultural ofÂfenses, while also gathering information from local women. Gayle Lemmon’s >i>Ashley’s War (2015) details the military’s attempts to make home invasions culturally acceptable, including having female soldiers search Afghan women for weapons and give Jolly Ranchers to frightened children.
Last summer, two women completed the infamously brutal training program for Army Rangers. Now, with the Pentagon’s recent announcement that, starting in January, combat roles in all branches of the armed forces will be open to women, military commanders will be working with even more female recruits. Wars will inevitably continue to involve more and more civilians, giving women’s presence and experience a particular value.
To integrate women successfully — and safely — into equal combat positions, the military will need to transform its culture so thoroughly that sexual predators will stand out as deviants, not just as good ol’ boys. That will be no easy feat, given the military’s reliance on training that typically taunts recruits with the fear of performing “like a woman.”
In addition to taming the historic misogyny of the military, the Pentagon and Congress must come to some humane consensus about the material, psychological, and medical support that soldiers require.
In March 2012, in Kandahar Province, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales covered his uniform with an Afghan shawl and attacked two villages near his base. He executed 16 people: four women, four men, and eight children.
While it’s not at all clear that a social worker or a Christian counselor could have prevented Bales from committing murder and then desecrating many of the corpses, the military’s decision to stick “self-reliant families” with the burden of producing and nurturing its servicemen and -women has left them to struggle with their own demons.
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty and had been in trouble for violence and alcohol shortly after he joined the army in 2002, and again in 2008. He suffered from PTSD and a brain injury from his time in Iraq. He and his wife could not manage their mortgage payments and had put their house in Tacoma on the market.
The recent US Army report on Bales says that he had “expressed some unhappiness in his marriage and some financial challenges.” He was also drinking heavily, using sleeping pills and steroids, and behaving erratically and violently.
Debt, marital problems, drug and alcohol abuse: Bales and his wife were supposed to solve these problems by themselves. The large number of suicides, and the even larger number of men and women deeply damaged by our wars (as well as by others in the service), attest to the callous use that presidents, military commanders, elected officials, businessmen, and economists have made of these soldiers over the years.
Politicians and military leaders have draped themselves in yellow ribbons and exhorted us to support the troops, while busily advancing their own careers.
Martha Saxton is a professor of history at Amherst College and the author of Being Good: Women’s Moral Values in Early America (Hill and Wang).
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(January 26, 2016) — As you read this, JNF bulldozers are preparing the first stage of building the Jewish community of “Hiran” on the rubble of the Israeli Negev Bedouin community of “Umm Al-Hiran.” The government plans to expand the Yatir forest to overrun Atir.
A week ago, the Israeli High Court removed the last legal hurdle preventing the immediate expulsion of over 1,000 men, women and children from their homes. The mayor of the artificial Bedouin township of Hura, where the Israeli government wishes to move them, says he has that Hura’s inadequate zoning plan leaves no place to put them.
You can act, and also read more background regarding Umm Al-Hiran and Atir, at www.dontdemolish.com. Here is some more general background about the Negev Bedouin.
While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens goes unnoticed, or is deemed an “internal matter.” For people of conscience, there can be no “internal matter,” and these approximately 250,000 Israeli citizens are also created in God’s Image.
Until 1948 the Negev served as home to 65,000-100,000 Bedouin who inhabited, worked and claimed ownership to somewhere between 2 and 3 million dunams of land (four dunam to an acre), as documented by the pre-State Zionist movement in 1920 In almost every case, the proofs of ownership cited were traditional Bedouin documents based on their internal system of land ownership.
Although the Ottomans, British, pre-State Zionist movement and the early State recognized these claims, today the State does not. Israeli courts do not accept Bedouin documents as proof of ownership.
Whether one chooses to view this dispute as a boldfaced attempt to take over Bedouin lands, and/or as cultural imperialism unwilling to recognize the land ownership system of a traditional culture, the end result has been massive dispossession.
When I am in the Negev, I often reflect upon the Biblical story of Abraham and his nephew Lot recounted in Genesis 13: 5-12. A conflict arises between Abraham’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds because they were living together and there wasn’t enough pasture.
Abraham is the senior, and can clearly lay down the law. He doesn’t. Rather, he bends over backwards to avoid conflict within the family. “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my shepherds and ours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate if you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north.”
We, the descendents of Abraham struggle mightily to claim the land he bequeathed us. Were we to exert a fraction of the efforts we invest in fighting over that physical inheritance in living up to the moral example Abraham bequeathed us, Israel/Palestine would look much different than it does today.
After the 1948 War only about 10% of the Bedouin population remained, living under a military regime unti 1966. The Bedouin were moved out of the Western Negev in the 1950’s, and into a triangle between Beersheva, Arad and Yeroham.
In the 1960’s-1980’s Israel created 7 townships that radically alter the Bedouin lifestyle and destroy their social fabric. These townships have become magnets for poverty, crime, drugs and despair.
In the 1970â€™s the State of Israel allowed the Bedouin to submit claims of land ownership. Perhaps there were those who thought that Bedouin know nothing about land ownership, and that the results would be so jumbled that it would be easy to dismiss them.
The some 3,100 claims submitted fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The Bedouin asserted they owned about 1,250,000 dunams of land. Of those, about 500,000 dunams of communal pastureland were immediately taken off the table.
Subsequently somewhere between 200,000 to 350,000 dunams have been resolved in court or through arbitration. They Bedouin have always lost because their proofs of ownership aren’t recognized. About 650,000 dunams of land remain unresolved.
Today approximately 120,000 live in the seven Bedouin townships. The rest of the community lives in 11 “recognized” villages and 35 “unrecognized” villages. While most of the unrecognized villages existed before the State of Israel, and the remainder are located where the State moved them, they are literally not on the map.
For the most part, they have no water, electricity, schools or master building plans allowing them to build legally. Over 1,000 homes are demolished every year. Crops are destroyed. When the village Khassim Zannih went to court to stop a planned highway from destroying it, the State’s response was “What village? There is no village there.”
A series of plans of how to deal with the Bedouin have been promulgated since 2008. The latest was the Begin Bill, that we believe would have led to the demolition of tens of villages, the transfer of some 40,000 additional Bedouin into the townships, and the loss of most of their remaining lands. It was frozen in 2013 not only because the Bedouin and their supporters opposed it, but because the Israeli right thought it to be too generous!
Subsequently, the Israeli government has been implementing elements of the Begin Bill without legislation. Over 1,000 Bedouin homes are demolished yearly, even as the State plans tens of new Jewish communities in the Negev and intends to move most of Israel’s army bases there.
“Hiran” is one of ten new planned Jewish communities that are part of the “Arad Area Development Plan.’ It is the first that was literally planned on the rubble of an existing Bedouin community, but not the only one. Again, you can find more information about Umm Al-Hiran and Atir, and send a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, at www.dontdemolish.com.
The tensions created by this injustice are harmful to both the Jewish and Bedouin residents of the Negev. Mistreatment also sends a message to Palestinians that they have nothing to expect from Israel if this is the way Israel treats her own citizens.
There is another way. An Israeli television movie documented the identification of Bedouin with the State in the mostly recognized villages in northern Israel, versus the anger and rage in the Negev. You can click here for a brief clip from the movie with subtitles
In 2013, Rabbis For Human Rights conducted a poll demonstrating showing that 90% of Israeli Jews subscribe to the statement that “The Bedouin are taking over the Negev.” Some 70% believed that the Bedouin claimed at least 25% of the Negev. The median was 43/9%.
When informed that if remaining Bedouin land claims were recognized and honored, they come to only 5.4% of the Negev, the majority said, “We are not sure we believe you, because that is not what we have heard in the media. However, if that is the case, that sounds fair.”
Have we Israelis all too often in our short history been oppressors, transferors and dispossessors? Sadly, yes. Is it who we are in our souls? No.
This poll is one of the pieces of evidence that gives me hope, and allows me to maintain my faith in the goodness and decency of my fellow Israelis, even as my job is to deal on a daily basis with the darkest corners of the society I am a part of and the people I love.
It teaches me that our job is not to rub the nose of the naughty puppy in the mess they have made, but to hold up a mirror and say, “We know that you are good and decent people striving to do justly. However, you need to look in the mirror, in order to get back on track.” Our word in Hebrew for prayer is “tefillah,” a reflexive verb meaning to “judge one’s self.”
Created in God’s Image, God is in the mirror into which we gaze in order to look deeply into ourselves, and understand what we must do in order to return to our highest and truest selves. Tikkun Olam is partnering with God by helping to hold up the mirror.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the President and Senior Rabbi of Rabbis For Human Rights. He is currently on trial for standing with the “unrecognized” village of El-Araqib when Israeli forces the demolished structures built inside their cemetery fence in June 2014, because the cemetery perimeter had been sacrosanct during the tens of previous demolitions.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is one of our great contemporary heroes. His work to save the Israeli Bedouins from being obliterated by the Israeil government deserves your fuill support. Please read his call to you below!
Standing up for the humanity of everyone on the planet is part of the goal of Tikkun magazine and our interfaith and secular-humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives.
â€“ Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Russia Says US Expanding Bioweapons Labs in Europe Russia Insider & The Washington Free Beacon
(January 21, 2016) — Russia recently charged the Pentagon with expanding a network of biological weapons laboratories in Europe, a charge the State Department denies.
A new Russian national security strategy document describes the United States and NATO as threats and warns of the “uncertainty about instances of foreign states’ possession of biological weapons and their potential for developing and producing them.”
“The network of US military-biological laboratories on the territory of states adjacent to Russia is being expanded,” says the strategy, made public Dec. 31.
US officials and arms analysts said the Russian charge is false.
Blake Narendra, a spokesman for the State Department’s arms control, verification and compliance bureau, said the United States is in full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention, which bans production and stockpiling of germ weapons.
“The United States government supports public and animal health laboratories around the world whose mission it is to safely and securely detect and report the outbreaks of diseases,” Narendra told the Washington Free Beacon.
“There is no research or storage at these facilities involving biological or any other kind of weapon,” he said.
“Activities for peaceful purposes, to include the prevention of disease, are explicitly permitted under the BWC,” he continued, using an acronym for the Biological Weapons Convention.
Russian Embassy press spokesman Yury Melnik said the strategy does not accuse the United States of developing bioweapons.
“Paragraph 19 of the document mentions our concern related to the Pentagon’s bioactivities in neighboring countries,” Melnik said, noting a laboratory in the Republic of Georgia near Tbilisi. “US military professionals conduct research there,” he said.
Melnik said “press reports” did not specify identified Pentagon laboratories in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, West Africa and other states.
“That is obviously concerning,” Melnik said. “There is absolutely no transparency in US biological activity abroad. Mere involvement of the military personnel raises questions whether [the] US government’s actions are consistent with the BWC.”
Moscow’s charge appears based on Foreign Ministry accusations in June that the Pentagon is covertly researching the weaponization of diseases. That claim, in a ministry statement, followed the disclosure in May that a Defense Department laboratory in Utah mistakenly sent live samples of anthrax, a contagious bacteria found in sheep and cattle that is deadly in humans, to numerous laboratories in the United States and several abroad.
The ministry stated that the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public and Animal Health Research, set up under the US Cooperative Threat Reduction Program near Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, is a secret US research facility.
“American and Georgian authorities are trying to cover up the real nature of this US military unit, which studies highly dangerous infectious diseases,” the ministry said, according to state-run Russian press reports. “The Pentagon is trying to establish similar covert medico-biological facilities in other countries [in Russia’s neighborhood],” the ministry said.
Those charges also appeared to be a Russian response to the State Department’s charges that Moscow is violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty with development of a new long-range cruise missile.
The State Department’s annual arms compliance report said Russia has not fully disclosed its past biological weapons programs. During a House hearing in May 2014, Christopher Davis, a biological weapons expert and former member of the British Defense Intelligence Staff, testified that Russia covertly has maintained a biological arms program he called “the elephant in the room.”
“The elephant has remained in the room for 18 years, but just because we choose not to see him does not mean he is no longer there,” Davis said. Davis stated that “Russia did not admit to the real size and capability of its biological weapons systems, that it did not get rid of all of them.”
According to Davis, Russian leader Vladimir Putin “like all his antecedents, would never give up such a key strategic military and diplomatic card.”
The Russians also have accused the US government of undermining the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
A Pentagon report issued in July on the improper anthrax lab transfers stated that the samples are part of defense research into countering anthrax bioweapons. “It is critical for the department to have a strong countermeasures program to protect our warfighters against this dangerous organism,” the report said.
Former Pentagon strategic analyst Mark Schneider said the Russian assertions border on paranoia. “The Russian claim of a ‘network of US military-biological laboratories’ in NATO Europe is absurd and paranoid even by Russian standards,” Schneider said. “We have not had an offensive biological weapons program since Richard Nixon,” he added.
Schneider said he agrees with the State Department that the claim is a distortion of the Threat Reduction program. “Russian paranoia is dangerous,” Schneider said. “Overall, their new National Security Strategy signed by Putin on December 31, 2015, reads like a blueprint for a militaristic authoritarian state. NATO has finally recognized the significance of the Russian threat, particularly the Russian nuclear threat, but we are still doing little about it.”
The strategy also states that Russia’s “independent foreign and domestic policy” has prompted opposition for the United States and its allies that are “seeking to retain their dominance in world affairs.”
“The policy of containing Russia that they are implementing envisions the exertion of political, economic, military, and informational pressure on it,” the strategy says.
Russia has annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and is covertly destabilizing eastern Ukraine. Additionally, Moscow is aggressively building up its nuclear forces while Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have issued unprecedented threats to use nuclear arms against NATO and the United States.
Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the biological weapons claims contained in the Russian strategy document may seem bizarre, “but for Russia’s rulers, such threats seem real.”
Felgenhauer wrote in a report Jan. 7 that Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Kremlin Security Council, alleged in October that US “bio-war labs” had increased “20-fold,” and that the Pentagon is “deploying bio-weapon production labs in some [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries.”
“Today, Putin has underwritten into law these and other similar threat evaluations,” he stated in a report published by the Jamestown Foundation. “Russian countermeasures are surely forthcoming.”
The strategy “correctly reflects the overall Kremlin notion of Russia being besieged on all sides by the US and its proxies, which purportedly seek to isolate, subvert, and cause internal political and social upheaval to bring about regime change in other countries,” Felgenhauer stated.
“In turn, Putin’s Russia is ready to defy and push back on all fronts — in Syria, in Ukraine, in the Arctic — and by all means available.”
Deadly Virus Leaked from US Laboratory in Donbass
Says DPR Army and Intelligence DNI News
(January 22, 2016) — More than 20 Ukrainian soldiers have died and over 200 soldiers are hospitalized in a short period of time because of new and deadly virus, which is immune to all medicines.
Donetsk People’s Republic intelligence has reported that Californian Flu is leaked from the same place where research of this virus has been carried out. The laboratory is located near the city of Kharkov and its base for US military experts. Information from threatening epidemic is announced by Vice-Commander of Donetsk Army, Eduard Basurin.
Leak of deadly virus in Ukrainian side was published first time on 12.1.2016:
“According to the medical personnel of the AFU units (Ukrainian troops) there were recorded mass diseases among the Ukrainian military personnel in the field. Physicians recorded the unknown virus as a result of which the infected get the high fever which cannot be subdues by any medicines, and in two days there comes the fatal outcome.
Thus far from the virus there have died more than twenty servicemen, what is carefully shielded by the commandment of the AFU from the publicity”, said Basurin in daily MoD situation report.
Outbreak of deadly virus continues and Friday 22.1.2016 Vice-Commander told new information from epidemic:
“We keep registering new facts of growing the epidemics of acute respiratory infections among the Ukrainian military. Just since the beginning of this week more than 200 Ukrainian military have been taken to civil and military hospitals of Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk.
“It is important to repeat that the DPR intelligence previously reported the research being carried out in a private laboratory in the locality Shelkostantsiya, 30 km away from the city of Kharkov, and involving US military experts. According to our information, it is there where the deadly Californian flu strain leaked from,” Basurin said.
UN Official: Iran, Israel Could Ratify Nuke Test Ban Treaty Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press
VIENNA (January 29, 2016) — The head of the UN nuclear test ban treaty organization says arch-enemies Iran and Israel are “the closest” of the eight holdout nations to ratifying the treaty and assuring the world they will never conduct a nuclear test explosion.
Lassina Zerbo said this week that having Iran and Israel ratify together would “certainly” lead to Egypt’s ratification, and pave the way for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT, has 196 member states — 183 that have signed the treaty and 164 that have ratified it. But the treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996: the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Zerbo, speaking during a week-long conference marking the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing, said he doesn’t expect immediate results on ratification, but is hoping to visit both Iran and Israel and talk to their leaders because “I think that they’re the ones who can unlock what is stopping the CTBT from moving.”
In a briefing and an interview, he said that implementation of last summer’s deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program — and confirmation from Israeli and international scientists that Tehran can’t produce nuclear weapons — would mean “the biggest threat for Israel is gone and over.”
Zerbo said the next step should then be to ratify the CTBT, which both Iran and Israel signed in 1996. He called this “a low-hanging fruit,” toward the goal of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.
“Israel and Iran can make a huge difference for this treaty, and they have nothing to lose … absolutely nothing,” Zerbo said. “Both of them can take leadership and show carte blanche to the world to say we have together decided to ratify the CTBT.”
He said ratification by Iran and Israel would help defuse tensions between the countries, build trust, and provide momentum — first for Egypt to ratify the CTBT and then to start negotiations for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.
Zerbo said a nuclear test-free zone is an achievable step toward the much more difficult goal of establishing a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East.
“You can’t jump and get a weapon-free zone in the Middle East if the CTBT isn’t ratified,” he said.
Arab nations have been calling for a nuclear-free zone since the mid-1990s but efforts to hold a conference to discuss the possibility have failed. One key issue has been differences with Israel, which is widely believed to have an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons but has avoided confirming or denying their existence.
But if Israel, Iran and Egypt ratify the CTBT, Zerbo said this will put pressure on the United States to ratify as well.
President Barack Obama wants to ratify the treaty, he said, but his hands are tied by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Zerbo said ratification by the three Mideast countries should convince conservative Republicans in the US Senate to reconsider their opposition and support the treaty.
Looking at the current world situation and the other holdouts, Zerbo said, China won’t ratify before the United States, India won’t ratify before China, and Pakistan won’t ratify before India — which means US action is also crucial.
North Korea, the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century, is least likely of the eight key countries to ratify the CTBT, he said.
Zerbo said the international community needs to change the way it engages with North Korea, which earlier this month said it exploded a hydrogen bomb in its fourth nuclear test, which has not been confirmed.
“What they need at this point in time is … maybe a bit of respect and dignity in the dialogue we have with them,” he said. “Instead of bang, bang on their head, maybe we have to come to sit with them around the table and say: ‘Hey guys, if this is confirmed that it’s the fourth test, we don’t want this to happen again. How can we work?'”
Zerbo said this should have happened after North Korea’s first test in 2006.
(January 29, 2016) — The Obama administration imposed new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities on Jan. 17 — the day after all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran were lifted in conjunction with “Implementation Day” of the nuclear agreement.
The reason was supposedly that an Iranian missile test had violated a United Nations Security Council resolution. But by the time the new sanctions were imposed, the UN resolution in question was no longer legally valid or relevant to the concern that had prompted it.
That contradiction is only one of a set of false and misleading claims surrounding US policy on sanctions and the ballistic missile test Iran carried out in October 2015. The arguments that the test was somehow illegitimate or threatening turn out, on closer examination, to be both dishonest and hypocritical.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, have clashed over Iran policy, but not over the new sanctions announced immediately after Implementation Day. Clinton called for new sanctions against Iran over its missile test after the lifting of the old sanctions. Sanders has not made a specific statement on the issue.
The Obama administration had planned to punish Iran for its October missile test from the beginning. Echoing the arguments by opponents of the administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) administration officials claimed in December that the Iranian missile test violated Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted in 2010. That resolution banned any “activity” by Iran “related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
But on Jan. 16 — Implementation Day — all Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program that had been passed in previous years were officially null and void under the agreement. In negotiating the JCPOA, the United States and the other powers involved were acknowledging that Security Council Resolution 1929 and all the other nuclear-related resolutions would cease to be relevant when the agreement was implemented.
In explaining on Jan. 17 why the United States had adopted new sanctions on Iranians in conjunction with its missile program, President Obama said, “Iran’s recent missile test, for example, was a violation of its international obligations” — an obvious reference to Security Council Resolution 1929. “And as a result,” he continued, “the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
But the suggestion that Security Council Resolution 1929 was the reason for the new sanctions was false and misleading. The Treasury Department did not base its “designations” of 11 Iranian entities or individuals for helping procurement for the Iranian ballistic missile program on any UN resolution.
The Treasury Department announcement cited only Executive Order 13382 of June 28, 2005, issued by President George W. Bush, which was directed broadly at the Iranian missile program in general. It authorizes sanctions on any foreigner deemed to have contributed to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery (including ballistic missiles capable of delivering such weapons). . . . ”
Executive Order 13382 was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, based on the claim that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. However, now that the International Atomic Energy Agency has acknowledged that it has no evidence of any ongoing Iranian nuclear weapons program, the Bush executive order is directly at odds with the basic premise of the JCPOA and the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.
The entire administration effort to get the Security Council to impose new sanctions against Iran employed an argument about the missile test in question that was also false and misleading. US Ambassador Samantha Power declared that an “independent panel of experts” associated with the Security Council Sanctions Committee had “concluded definitively” that Iran’s missile test was a violation of Security Council Resolution 1929.
In fact, however, the expert panel had not done any technical analysis of whether the Emad missile tested was “capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” As British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft revealed at the Dec. 15, 2015, Security Council meeting, the expert panel report had relied on criteria from the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to reach that conclusion.
The criteria used were whether the missile has a range of more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a payload of more than 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). The Emad exceeded both criteria and was therefore deemed capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, according to Rycroft.
But the MTCR, an informal arrangement of states providing missile technology, has never used those criteria to determine whether a specific missile is capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. The purpose of those criteria has always been to determine whether an export license for a generic missile technology should be approved. The MTCR simply assumes that any missile with sufficient range and lift is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.
In fact, the United States has ignored those criteria when the missile at issue belongs to a US ally. In 2012, for example, the Obama administration agreed to allow South Korea to extend the range of its ballistic missiles from the previous limit of 300 kilometers to 800 kilometers (500 miles) and to have a 500-kilogram payload.
That meant that South Korean missiles could reach all of North Korean territory from anywhere on South Korean territory and that it could also reach Chinese, Russian and Japanese territory for the first time. But the administration approved the change despite the fact that the South Korean missile would violate the MTCR criteria.
A similar exception has been made for Saudi Arabia more than once. In 1987, the Saudis purchased DF-3 (also known as CSS-2) missiles from China. With a range of about 3,000 kilometers or more and a payload of 2,000 kilograms, the missile far exceeded the MTCR criteria for allowable exports. Furthermore, it was well known that China had designed the DF-3 to carry nuclear weapons. But the United States took no action against the Saudis.
The Chinese had also designed a warhead with a conventional payload to go with the missile sold to the Saudis, and the United States accepted that South Korea had purchased the non-nuclear variant of the missile.
In 2007, the Bush administration secretly supported the Saudi purchase of the more advanced Chinese DF-21 missiles, which also have both nuclear-capable and conventional warhead variants. The administration accepted the deal, with the sole condition that the CIA could verify that the model purchased was the one designed to carry conventional payloads.
If the administration had treated Iran’s missile test the same way it treated South Korean and Saudi missile purchases, it would have concluded that it did not violate either Security Council Resolution 1929 or Executive Order 13382. Although US officials have long demonized the Iranian ballistic missile program as linked to nuclear weapons, its history belies that political line.
Uzi Rubin, who ran Israel’s anti-missile program throughout the 1990s, has long pointed out that Iran’s missile strategy is aimed at fighting a conventional war. He told me in a 2012 interview that Iran was developing missiles that would eventually be accurate enough to attack Israeli air bases, as well as economic and administrative targets. Such accuracy would have been irrelevant had Iran been planning to use them for delivery of a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian test of the newly redesigned Emad missile in October was further evidence of the conventional military role of Iranian missiles. The test showcased the missile’s advanced guidance system, aimed at achieving the high degree of accuracy needed for pinpoint targeting.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan pointed out that now, for the first time, an Iranian missile could be controlled until the very last moment before hitting its target.
Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, arguably the world’s leading independent specialist on the Iranian nuclear program, said in an interview that it would take years of development and testing for Iran to achieve that kind of accuracy. He does not believe that the development of the missile has been aimed at delivering nuclear weapons.
“Was the Emad designed to deliver a nuclear weapon? Probably not,” Elleman said, although he added that Iran is capable of modifying the Emad to carry a nuclear weapon “without much difficulty.” Still, doing so would require some redesign of the missile, according to Elleman. “At least the internal components would be different,” he said.
“The intelligence community says that if the Iranians were to get nuclear weapons, missiles are the way they would deliver it,” Elleman said. But Elleman observed that, because Iran has had no other means of responding to an external attack, it has to rely on ballistic missiles for its defense in any case. “Assuming that Iran decided to forgo nuclear weapons for the next three decades,” he said, “missiles would still be the cornerstone of their deterrent strategy.”
So the Obama administration’s official line that the missile was “capable of delivering a nuclear weapon” is a political dissimulation. It is a way of justifying the continuation of the US denunciation of the Iranian missile program, which is demanded by domestic politics and US alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia — even in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran. It is only realistic to expect, therefore, US policy on that subject to be marked by hypocrisy and duplicity for years to come.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Needed: Gun Control at the Pentagon Obama’s stand on guns does nothing for the victims of US firepower abroad Norman Solomon / Al Jazeera America
(January 29, 2016) — With passion and eloquence, President Barack Obama has renewed efforts to reduce gun tragedies. His proposals to strengthen safety measures and background checks for gun purchasers deserve support. But it’s disquieting to hear a president deliver heartfelt orations against “gun violence” at home while he conveys scant remorse about imposing it on innocent people abroad.
No less than the children whom Obama has movingly described as victims of gun violence in the streets and schools of America, the lives of many kids abroad have been — and continue to be — shattered or ended by US firepower from the air. The fact that they aren’t targeted doesn’t change the predictably grisly human consequences of decisions that continue to be made in the Oval Office.
And even if one accepts the faulty rationales for the ongoing US drone attacks and other airstrikes in several countries, it should give us pause that there has been such a lack of presidential expressions of regret over civilian victims, other than occasional perfunctory statements.
I don’t question President Obama’s sincerity when he sheds public tears over the victims of gun violence. I do wish, however, that he would enlarge his field of compassionate vision to include those directly suffering from what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism” — in this case, US militarism. In 2016, no institution is more in need of gun control than the Pentagon.
Like his predecessors in the Oval Office, this president has not hesitated to lavish praise on young Americans for engaging in the gun violence of warfare. But, hidden in plain sight, a basic contradiction goes unmentioned in public discourse: If using guns to kill people in certain others’ countries is to be encouraged and lauded, how effectively can it be discouraged and condemned in our own country?
The easy answer, of course, is that a bright line separates the illegitimate use of guns in the murderous rampages of Columbine, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino from the legitimate use of US armaments in warfare.
But to alternately condemn and glorify the use of guns in the hands of young Americans is apt to make the line more hazy than bright. And to pretend that the glorification of militarism in our society has nothing to do with its burgeoning gun culture is as convenient as it is dubious.
We routinely confer upon our presidents the psychological and political power to give reflexive absolution — even blessings — to the most violent of sins that include the killing and wounding of innocent people.
The favorable media coverage and commentaries were profuse, for instance, when Obama traveled to Afghanistan early in his presidency, donned a bomber jacket and proclaimed to American troops that “the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.”
In effect, he was celebrating a large-scale form of gun violence.
Shortly before that appearance by Obama at the Bagram Air Base, I visited the Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 on the outskirts of Kabul. There, I met a seven-year-old girl named Guljumma, who talked about what happened one morning when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., a bomb fell and exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.
Since then, a lot of maiming and killing has resulted from US bombing in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Yet President Obama has never tearfully deplored the consequences of such mega-gun violence. Perhaps that is largely because, in political and human terms, the victims of US bombing remain abstractions.
These days, American officials trumpet and praise the US-led bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria, which have involved close to 10,000 airstrikes since mid-2014. It is left to others to count the human costs.
The independent journalistic website AirWars.org, which does meticulous investigations, has scrutinized the available evidence; even a conservative assessment of available data leads to the conclusion that the coalition airstrikes last year killed at least several hundred civilians, including many children.
None of this is to downplay or discount the gravity of the ongoing crisis of carnage from guns in American homes, schools and public places. What we need is a single standard when the bell tolls. Gun violence should be universally recognized and challenged as inhumane — even when those who inflict it are offering lofty rhetoric from high places close to home.
Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and a co-founder of RootsAction.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect ‘s editorial policy.
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Dr. Ira Helfand / TEDTalks & Greg Mello / The Los Alamos Study Group – 2016-01-29 21:29:06
Special to Environmentalist Against War
Can We Prevent Nuclear War? Dr. Ira Helfand / TEDTalks
(January 25, 2016) — Ira Helfand uncovers the threat to human survival posed by nuclear weapons and what we can do to eliminate this threat. Dangers of nuclear war exist. As an existential threat to humanity, Ira asks you to take action to end nuclear in all forms forever. Together, Ira asks, “Can we prevent nuclear war?”
Ira Helfand, MD is co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. As co-Founder and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, IPPNW’s US affiliate, he knows terrible truths about nuclear war.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
Background on OWEG: The Open-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament
In December 2012, the UN General Assembly decided through resolution 67/56 to convene an open-ended working group (OEWG) to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The group met throughout 2013 and produced a final report.
In October 2015, states adopted resolution L.13/Rev.1 to establish a second OEWG (Open-Ended Working Group) to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions, and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. It will operate as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly and under its rules of procedure, for up to 15 working days in 2016.
The Conference on Disarmament (CD) will meet for the first part of its 2016 session from 26 January to 1 April in Geneva, Switzerland. An organizational session of the Open-ended Working Group of the Fourth Special Session on Disarmament will convene on 22 February 2016 in New York.
Perspectives on the 2016 OEWG Greg Mello / The Los Alamos Study Group
(January 29, 2016) — As the first session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) begins, I wanted to convey our profound gratitude to everyone who has helped advance the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons and the prospects for a treaty-based ban on (possessing, developing, manufacturing, transferring, and using) such weapons. Tremendous progress has been made.
We can’t be there but wanted to send a few perspectives about this process as it begins.
There are only 15 working days allocated for the OEWG. We can be sure that the nuclear weapon states and their weasel allies will try to de-focus, dilute, delay, distract, and divide our efforts — now, during the sessions, between the sessions, and afterwards.
Some nuclear weapon states, the US in particular, will promise the moon to prevent negotiations that could lead to any effective disarmament measure, including the very dangerous ban treaty. In the 20 years since the NPT was indefinitely renewed, none of those promises has meant anything.
Empty promises flavored with delicious idealism are a specialty of this US administration. “Mirages,” one author called them. “A world free of nuclear weapons” is one of these empty and dangerous platitudes.
There will be plenty of efforts to broaden the discussion, say to “the risks and challenges ahead,” or to induce irrelevant technical discussions (e.g. of verification), or to otherwise rehash terrain traversed repeatedly over past decades.
Another form of distraction is speculation about a treaty to guide the details of a hypothetical future multilateral disarmament process. Newsflash: the nuclear weapon states will not sign such a treaty — not now, or for the foreseeable future.
There surely also will be efforts, well-intentioned and otherwise, that have the effect of running down the clock.
The nuclear weapon states believe their arsenals are fully legitimate — fully supported not just by international law but also by reason, morality, and their own governments’ responsibilities to prevent war. That is how they see it. Why should there be good faith negotiations to get rid of something as legitimate and important as nuclear weapons (in their view)? So there haven’t been any such negotiations, and won’t be.
Nothing significant will be possible in disarmament diplomacy until this perceived legitimacy is removed.
The voluminous testimony, legal analysis, and activism that has been done so well since the Cold War has not accomplished this.
Facts, no matter how brilliantly they are presented, haven’t availed — and won’t.
The dictates of public conscience, no matter how voluminous, prestigious, and authentic the appeals, haven’t availed — and won’t.
Declarations by “the great and the good” haven’t availed — and won’t.
Legal decisions haven’t availed — and won’t.
Mere gestures by states which cost little and bind nobody — UN resolutions, for example — haven’t availed — and won’t.
Why? Because none of these excellent activities are consequential — that is, binding — decisions taken by states for the purpose of making nuclear weapons illegal.
Only states can remove the present de facto legitimacy, which is very real to the nuclear weapon states and therefore to everybody, and this can only be done by making nuclear weapons illegal.
States can only accomplish this through law, conventional law, which is to say by a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. By definition, there is no other way.
Nuclear weapons will be legal — de facto legal, and de jure legal as well as morally necessary in the eyes of those who possess them — until they are made illegal.
This work of delegitimation has to be done by non-nuclear weapon states, not by nuclear weapon states. The latter will resist.
Without a treaty on the table, the various well-intentioned and indeed excellent statements by diplomats are really just opinions and postures.
Given the short working time of the OEWG, I hope that all involved will make every effort to help leading states focus on negotiating, or more realistically laying the groundwork for negotiating, a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
Anything else will play into the hands of the nuclear weapon states and their weasel allies — again, by de-focusing, diluting, delaying, distracting, and dividing our efforts.
If the OEWG fails to achieve a clear path to make nuclear weapons illegal, there are other ways forward. We think the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit (October 11-12, 1986) would be a good time to unveil a ban treaty for signature.
The nuclear weapon states obviously oppose prohibiting nuclear weapons and can play no constructive part in negotiations. These states have never played any constructive part in multilateral disarmament negotiations over the past 25 years, full stop. Their weasel allies generally also have opposed and will oppose practical disarmament measures, for now.
So calls to make negotiations “universal” are quite premature and misplaced.
Godspeed to everybody. Our thoughts and prayers are with those of you who are there.
Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group
Postscript Greg Mello
I would like to add that a ban treaty would be the natural culmination of the decades of brilliant civil society work that have brought us to this point.
Such a treaty would be voluntary and non-coercive, yet ever more normative as more countries joined. It would grow in importance only in the most democratic manner, as more states joined. It would affect nuclear arsenals in an indirect and therefore flexible manner, and only according to the evolving unique security circumstances of each state.
It would not conflict with any existing or future disarmament or nonproliferation agreement or treaty, but rather would support them all. It would not add new obligations for NPT non-nuclear weapon states that are not in nuclear security relationships, i.e. most countries in the world.
All these states have nothing to lose in a ban — apart from whatever nasty forms of leverage some nuclear weapon states (like the US) and their allies might try to apply.
A ban would stimulate and empower civil society in many countries, with benefits across humanitarian issues.
Here in the US, a ban treaty would tremendously empower everything we are doing against nuclear weapons. I would like to explain this further because many people think that a ban would have no effect on US policy, given that the US won’t sign it.
Nuclear policy in the US is not made in a smooth, top-down, confident manner. There are many reversals and problems. The nuclear weapons establishment has many adversaries inside government and outside, not least its own bureaucrats and fat-cat contractors, who struggle to hide the scandals and ongoing fiascos.
Key mid-career people are already quitting early at facilities we know from job frustration, taking their knowledge and experience with them.
At the only US nuclear weapons assembly plant, in Texas, there is just one (1) person capable and certified to do a certain necessary job, and this person has been on the job only a few months.
Snakes and mice infest key buildings, which date from World War II. Rain comes through roofs and dust through doors. In Oak Ridge, huge pieces of concrete have fallen from the ceiling and deep cracks are appearing in structural beams of key buildings. All this may, or may not be, fully replaced. It is all contested, and difficult.
At Los Alamos, the main plutonium facility has been largely shut down for almost three years because of inadequate safety and staffing. Approximately seven attempts have been made since 1989 to construct a new factory complex for producing plutonium warhead cores. All have failed.
Nuclear weapons production may just not be, in the final analysis, compatible with today’s safety and environmental expectations and laws. Transmission of nuclear weapons ideology and knowledge under these conditions is a difficult challenge.
A growing ban would reach deep into the human conscience, affecting everything, including career decisions. It would affect corporate investments as well as congressional enthusiasm for the industry. I have spoken with nuclear weapons CEOs who know it is a “sunset” field with only tenuous support in the Pentagon despite all the nuclear cheer-leading we see.
Modernization of the whole nuclear arsenal is very likely unaffordable, even assuming current economic conditions hold (they won’t).
A ban would also affect the funding, aims, and structure of the US nonprofit universe and think-tank “ecosystem,” as well as media interest and coverage.
Beyond all this, I believe a ban would also help decrease popular support in the US for war and war expenditures in general. Why? There is a tremendous war-weariness in the US, right alongside our (real, but also orchestrated) militarism.
A growing ban on nuclear weapons would be a powerful signal to political candidates and organizations that it is politically permissible to turn away from militarism somewhat, that there is something wrong with the levels of destruction this country has amassed and brandished so wildly and with such deadly and chaotic effects.
Ordinary people here in the US are seeing greater and greater austerity and precarity. They work extremely hard and have less and less to show for it. Polls (decades of them) show the public has never really supported the scale of nuclear armaments we have.
One 1990s poll disclosed that most Americans think we have more than ten times fewer warheads than we do, more like the UK, France, and China! Our economy is in bad shape and our infrastructure is visibly declining, sometimes with fatal results.
A ban could help this benighted country recognize its folly, at least to some degree. It would be a wake-up call signaling that widely-held US assumptions about our place in the world might need just a teensy bit of adjustment.
I hope this helps fill in the picture somewhat for those far away who may not see why a ban would be powerful here in the US. The case for such a simple, totally flexible, and powerful treaty, with relatively low diplomatic cost for most states, is to our eyes unassailable.
In solidarity, Greg Mello
Los Alamos Study Group
2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
505-265-1200 office. 505-577-8563 cell
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The US Intervention in Libya Was Such a Smashing Success That a Sequel Is Coming Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
(January 27 2016) — The immediate aftermath of the NATO bombing of Libya was a time of high gloating. Just as Iraq War advocates pointed to the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein as proof that their war was a success, Libya war advocates pointed to the capture and brutal killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi as proof of their vindication.
War advocates such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Nicholas Kristof were writing columns celebrating their prescience and mocking war opponents as discredited, and the New York Times published a front-page article declaring: “US Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.”
It was widely expected that Hillary Clinton, one of the leading advocates for and architects of the bombing campaign, would be regarded as a Foreign Policy Visionary for the grand Libya success: “We came, we saw, he died,” Clinton sociopathically boasted about the mob rape and murder of Qaddafi while guffawing on 60 Minutes.
Since then, Libya — so predictably — has all but completely collapsed, spending years now drowning in instability, anarchy, fractured militia rule, sectarian conflict, and violent extremism. The execution of Saddam Hussein was no vindication of that war nor a sign of improved lives for Iraqis, and the same was true for the mob killing of Qaddafi.
As I wrote the day after Qaddafi fled Tripoli and Democratic Party loyalists were prancing around in war victory dances: “I’m genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort of grand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country, and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Qaddafi? . . .
When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.”
But the much bigger question was when (not if, but when) the instability and extremism that predictably followed the NATO bombing would be used to justify a new US-led war — also exactly as happened in Iraq. Back in 2012, I asked the question this way:
How much longer will it be before we hear that military intervention in Libya is (again) necessary, this time to control the anti-US extremists who are now armed and empowered by virtue of the first intervention? US military interventions are most adept at ensuring that future US military interventions will always be necessary.
We now have our answer, from the New York Times: Worried about a growing threat from the Islamic State in Libya, the United States and its allies are increasing reconnaissance flights and intelligence collecting there and preparing for possible airstrikes and commando raids, senior American policy makers, commanders and intelligence officials said this week. . . .
“It’s fair to say that we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL in conjunction with the political process” in Libya, [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph] Dunford said. “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”
Just as there was no al Qaeda or ISIS to attack in Iraq until the US bombed its government, there was no ISIS in Libya until NATO bombed it. Now the US is about to seize on the effects of its own bombing campaign in Libya to justify an entirely new bombing campaign in that same country.
The New York Times editorial page, which supported the original bombing of Libya, yesterday labeled plans for the new bombing campaign “deeply troubling,” explaining: “A new military intervention in Libya would represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent.”
In particular, “this significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress about the merits and risks of a military campaign that is expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops” (the original Libya bombing not only took place without Congressional approval, but was ordered by Obama after Congress rejected such authorization).
This was supposed to be the supreme model of Humanitarian Intervention. It achieved vanishingly few humanitarian benefits, while causing massive humanitarian suffering, because — as usual — the people who executed the “humanitarian” war (and most who cheer-led for it) were interested only when the glories of bombing and killing were flourishing but cared little for actual humanitarianism (as evidenced by their almost complete indifference to the aftermath of their bombing).
As it turns out, one of the few benefits of the NATO bombing of Libya will redound to the permanent winners in the private-public axis that constitutes the machine of Endless Militarism: It provided a pretext for another new war.
(January 27, 2016) — The Pentagon is considering fresh military action in Libya more than four years after conducting an air campaign that helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
Officials are currently “looking at military options” to stop the Islamic State militant group from gaining ground in another oil-rich Mideast nation, said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
At present, US efforts in Libya are focussed on identifying local allies to work with, for what a senior military officer has envisioned as a “decisive” confrontation with Isis.
US warplanes ceased operations after rebels killed Gaddafi in Sirte in October 2011, and since then a security vacuum has persisted in the country, prompting lingering questions about the wisdom of the US intervention.
Those questions intensified after four Americans, including a US ambassador, were killed in Benghazi the following year.
They have persisted as one of the intervention’s advocates within the Obama administration, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, campaigns for the presidency. Senator Ted Cruz, a leading contender for Republican candidacy, has said the Libya war made “no sense”.
Cook acknowledged that the “metastasis” of Isis beyond its primary base in Iraq and Syria has prompted the Pentagon to revisit the question of a renewed war in Libya.
A “small group” of US forces had made contact with Libyan militiamen, “simply to get a sense of who the players are”, Cook said, amid a fractured security landscape with multiple and overlapping combatants.
Although the US personnel are likely to be special operations forces, Cook did not specify how many of them had taken part in the mission, nor if they were still operating in Libya. Cook portrayed the contact as closer to a broad assessment mission than the so-called “shaping operations” that precede imminent combat.
“We are extremely worried about the metastasis of Isil in a number of locations, Libya being just one of those locations,” Cook said.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon has forecasted an expanded effort worldwide against a jihadist army whose persistence and reach have taken the world by surprise. Defense secretary Ashton Carter said in a speech that beyond Iraq and Syria, the US would launch a “flexible and nimble response” against Isis in its north African strongholds and elsewhere, citing a November strike in Libya that killed an accused Isis leader.
Last week, the senior US military officer, joint chiefs of staff chairman General Joseph Dunford, said he and his French counterpart were preparing for “decisive military action” against Isis in Libya. Dunford said he desired nesting a military campaign within a political settlement that has eluded Libya and its foreign allies since the downfall of Gaddafi.
In December, the presence of a US special forces unit in Libya was revealed after photographs of the troops were posted on a Libyan military Facebook page. The incident was preceded by an attempt at making contact with potential allies amongst Libyan forces. Cook did not clarify whether the December foray was the only one, but occasionally used the present tense to refer to the outreach.
“They’re trying to get a clearer picture of what’s happening there, and they’ve made contact with people on the ground to try and get a better sense not only of the threat that [Isis] poses there but the dynamic on the ground in terms of the security situation,” Cook said.
“We’re looking for partners who can give us a better sense of the security situation, and it’s not just the United States that has a keen interest here, it is our foreign partners as well.”
A secret US commando mission to Libya has been revealed after photographs of a special forces unit were posted on the Facebook page of the country’s air force.
TUNIS (December 17, 2015) — A secret US commando mission to Libya has been revealed after photographs of a special forces unit were posted on the Facebook page of the country’s air force.
Libya’s air force said 20 US soldiers arrived at Libya’s Wattiya airbase on Monday, but left soon after local commanders asked them to go because they had no permission to be at the base. It was unclear if another branch of the Libyan military had authorized the mission.
Pentagon sources confirmed to US media that the special forces unit was part of a mission sent this week, but it was unclear if the soldiers had left the country.
The Facebook post that revealed the unit’s presence said the 20 soldiers had disembarked “in combat readiness wearing bullet proof jackets, advanced weapons”.
The photographs show the Americans — three with assault rifles slung over their shoulders — posing in the sunshine with Libyan soldiers. Other photographs show the US troops boarding a blue and white-striped passenger plane and driving a yellow dune buggy.
Wattiya’s proximity to Sabratha, site of the Islamic State’s western Libya base, has heightened speculation that the US is poised to launch strikes on the terror group.
The incident marks the first confirmed deployment of American special forces to Libya since July last year, when Delta Force commandos seized Ahmed Abu Khattala, now on trial in New York accused of the 2012 killing US ambassador Chris Stevens.
“They were there, [local commanders] said they were on a training mission,” said one source in the nearby mountain town of Zintan. “Nobody knows details. They are gone now.”
Wattiya is one of the largest air bases in Libya, dating from the era of Muammar Gaddafi who was deposed in the 2011 revolution.
Only open desert separates it from the Isis base at Ajaylat, outside Sabratha, the base that Tunisia says trained Sousse beach gunman Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi.
Libya has been split between two rival governments since Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misratan forces, seized Tripoli, and the elected government fled to the eastern city of Tobruk.
The US’s deployment to Wattiya may affect the civil war, because the base is the hub for operations by the recognised government, based in Tobruk, against forces of rival Libya Dawn, which holds Tripoli.
Libyan jets based there have staged airstrikes against Dawn forces, who have launched unsuccessful offensives to capture the sprawling base.
In recent weeks, French and US reconnaissance flights have flown over Sabratha and Isis bases further east at Sirte, Benghazi and Derna.
Western diplomats are concerned that while Libya’s rival governments fighting each other, Isis is advancing without serious opposition. This week Isis units briefly occupied Sabratha itself, triggering fears the town’s noted Roman ruins would be targeted. In eastern Libya, the group is closing in on the country’s key oil ports.
A new UN-brokered unity government, announced on Thursday, is expected to issue a formal invitation for British, French and US forces to strike Isis in the coming days.
A Pentagon statement confirmed US forces were at the base. A spokeswoman said: “With the concurrence of Libyan officials, US military personnel traveled to Libya on 14 December to engage in a dialogue with â€Žrepresentatives of the Libyan National Army. While in Libya, members of a local militia demanded that the US personnel depart. In an effort to avoid conflict, they did leave, without incident.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(Summer 2013) — In February 2010 Tom Jiunta and a small group of residents in northeastern Pennsylvania formed the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC), an environmental organization opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the region. The group sought to appeal to the widest possible audience, and was careful about striking a moderate tone.
All members were asked to sign a code of conduct in which they pledged to carry themselves with “professionalism, dignity, and kindness” as they worked to protect the environment and their communities. GDAC’s founders acknowledged that gas drilling had become a divisive issue misrepresented by individuals on both sides and agreed to “seek out the truth.”
The group of about 10 professionals — engineers, nurses, and teachers — began meeting in the basement of a member’s home. As their numbers grew, they moved to a local church.
In an effort to raise public awareness about the risks of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) they attended township meetings, zoning and ordinance hearings, and gas-drilling forums. They invited speakers from other states affected by gas drilling to talk with Pennsylvania residents. They held house-party style screenings of documentary films.
Since the group had never engaged in any kind of illegal activity or particularly radical forms of protest, it came as a shock when GDAC members learned that their organization had been featured in intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm, The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).
Equally shocking was the revelation that the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security had distributed those bulletins to local police chiefs, state, federal, and private intelligence agencies, and the security directors of the natural gas companies, as well as industry groups and PR firms.
News of the surveillance broke in September 2010 when the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, James Powers, mistakenly sent an email to an anti-drilling activist he believed was sympathetic to the industry, warning her not to post the bulletins online.
The activist was Virginia Cody, a retired Air Force officer. In his email to Cody, Powers wrote: “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”
The tri-weekly bulletins featured a wide range of supposed threats to the state’s infrastructure. It included warnings about Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, pro-life activists, and Tea Party protesters.
The bulletins also included information about when and where groups like GDAC would be meeting, upcoming protests, and anti-fracking activists’ internal strategy. The raw data was followed by a threat assessment — low, moderate, severe, or critical — and a brief analysis.
For example, bulletin no. 118, dated July 30, 2010 gave a low to moderate threat rating in reference to public meetings that anti-drilling activists planned to attend, and suggested that an “attack is likelyâ€¦ and might well be executed.”
The threat assessment was accompanied by this note: “The escalating conflict over natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania may define local fault lines and potentially increase area environmentalist activity or eco-terrorism. GDAC communications have cited Northeastern Pennsylvania counties, specifically Wyoming, Lackawanna and Luzerne, as being in real ‘need of our help’ and as facing a ‘drastic situation.'”
Another bulletin referenced an August 2010 FBI assessment of the growing threat of environmental activism to the energy industry. Because of Pennsylvania’s importance in the production of natural gas, ITRR concluded, an uptick in vandalism, criminal activity, and extremism was likely.
Although the Pennsylvania scandal caused a brief public outcry, it was quickly brushed aside as an unfortunate mistake. In fact, the episode represents a larger pattern of corporate and police spying on environmental activists fueled in part by the expansion of private intelligence gathering since 9/11.
By 2007, 70 percent of the US intelligence budget — or about $38 billion annually — was spent on private contractors. Much of this largesse has been directed toward overseas operations. But it is likely that some of that money has been paid to private contractors — hired either by corporations or law enforcement agencies — that are also in the business of spying on American citizens.
As early as 2004, in a report titled “The Surveillance Industrial Complex,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the “US security establishment is making a systematic effort to extend its surveillance capacity by pressing the private sector into service to report on the activities of Americans.”
At the same time, corporations are boosting their own security operations. Today, overall annual spending on corporate security and intelligence is roughly $100 billion, double what it was a decade ago, according to Brian Ruttenbur, a defense analyst with CRT Capital.
The surveillance of even moderate groups like GDAC comes at a pivotal time for the environmental movement. As greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, opposition to the fossil fuel industry has taken on a more urgent and confrontational tone. Some anti-fracking activists have engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and the protests against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline have involved arrests at the White House.
Environmentalists and civil libertarians worry that accusations of terrorism, even if completely unfounded, could undermine peaceful political protest. The mere possibility of surveillance could handicap environmental groups’ ability to achieve their political goals. “You are painting the political opposition as supporters of terrorism to discredit them and cripple their ability to remain politically viable,” says Mike German, an FBI special agent for 16 years who now works with the ACLU.
The Pennsylvania episode is not an isolated case. The FBI and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a Koch Brothers-backed lobbying group, have both taken an interest in anti-drilling activists in Texas.
In the fall of 2011, according to an investigation by The Washington Post, the FBI was digging for information on the leader of Rising Tide North America, a direct action environmental group, because of his opposition to hydraulic fracturing (Rising Tide has also been active in organizing protests against the Keystone XL pipeline). Ben Kessler, a Texas-based activist, told the Post that the FBI had received an anonymous tip to look into his activities.
The agency also showed up at the office of Kessler’s philosophy professor, Adam Briggle, who teaches an ethics course that covers nonviolent civil disobedience and the history of the environmental movement. Briggle, who has been involved in organizing residents to impose tougher regulations on gas drilling in Denton, Texas, told the Post that, “it seemed like a total fishing expedition to me.”
About a month after he was approached by the FBI, Briggle received a notice from his employer, the University of North Texas, asking him to turn over all emails and other written correspondence “pursuant to City of Denton natural gas drilling ordinances and the ‘Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group,'” an organization Briggle founded in July 2011 whose mission is similar to that of GDAC.
The university had received a request under the state’s Public Information Act and Briggle was forced to hand over more than 1,300 emails. He was later told that the request had been made by Peggy Venable, Texas Director of Americans for Prosperity.
Rising Tide activists had speculated that the anonymous tip came from one of the gas companies active in the region. Although there was no way to prove a connection between the FBI’s investigation and AFP’s mining of Briggle’s emails, both were viewed within the activist community as acts of intimidation. Briggle says, “The message is, you’re being watched.”
During the last decade the FBI and, to a lesser extent, corporations have elevated the threat of eco-terrorism to a top priority even as environmentally motivated crimes have declined. In 2005, John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director, said the animal rights and environmental movements were “one of the FBI’s highest domestic terrorism priorities.”
In the post-9/11 era, the outsourcing of intelligence gathering to private companies has ballooned, the bar for investigating domestic threats has been lowered, and a premium has been placed on information sharing with the private sector.
“What changed after 9/11,” the ACLU’s German says, “was the lowering of the threshold for FBI investigations and the promulgation of these radicalization theories that while specifically written about Muslim extremists — the same theory that people move from ideas to activism to terrorism — justified increased surveillance against activists and against people who were just part of the environmental rights movement but had no association with violence or criminal acts.”
Since 9/11 accusations of eco-terrorism have proliferated and a number of individuals and groups have been prosecuted under new laws, which have profoundly impacted the radical environmental movement. The broad crackdown and subsequent fear and paranoia that swept through activist circles have been referred to as the “Green Scare.”
In public, corporations have amplified the threat of eco-terrorism to influence legislation, such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. In private, meanwhile, they have hired firms to spy on environmental groups. About a month after 9/11, for example, the crisis communications firm Nichols Dezenhall (now Dezenhall Resources) registered a website called StopEcoViolence.com (now defunct), which served as a sort of faux watchdog group and source for media outlets including The New York Times.
Around the same time, Dezenhall — described by Bill Moyers as the “Mafia of industry” — was involved in corporate espionage. Along with two other PR companies, Dezenhall hired a now-defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown International, to spy on environmental activists. One of the targeted groups was Greenpeace.
In 2011, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit charging that Dow Chemical, Sasol (formerly CONDEA Vista), the PR firms, and individuals working for Beckett Brown International (which was founded by former Secret Service officers) stole thousands of documents, intercepted phone call records, trespassed, and conducted unlawful surveillance.
In a story for Mother Jones, James Ridgeway revealed that the security firm obtained donor lists, detailed financial statements, Social Security numbers of staff members, and strategy memos from several groups, and, in turn, “produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.” (In February a Washington, DC court ruled that the claims of trespass and misappropriation of trade secrets could proceed.)
More recently, according to a report in The Nation, the agricultural giant Monsanto contracted with a subsidiary of Blackwater, the private security firm, to gather intelligence on and possibly infiltrate environmental groups in order to protect the company’s brand name. “This is the new normal,” says Scott Crow, an author and longtime environmental activist who was the subject of FBI and corporate surveillance for close to eight years beginning in 1999.
While the above cases involved corporations hiring private security firms to carry out black-ops against environmental groups, the Pennsylvania scandal may be the first time that a state agency has contracted with a private security firm to gather intelligence on lawful groups for the benefit of a specific industry. Although the ITRR bulletins were produced for the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, they were shared with PR firms, the major Marcellus Shale companies, and industry associations.
For members of GDAC and other anti-drilling organizations, the revelations were profoundly troubling. Not only were they being lumped together with groups like Al-Qaeda, but the government agencies tasked with protecting the people of Pennsylvania were, in their view, essentially working for the gas companies.
If a moderate group like GDAC wasn’t safe from the surveillance-industrial complex, it seemed nobody was. “These systems and this type of collection is so rife with inappropriate speculation and error — both intentional and unintentional — that your good behavior doesn’t protect you,” German says.
Tom Jiunta, the founder of GDAC, says the ITRR bulletins had a chilling effect. Attendance at GDAC meetings declined and some members left the group altogether. Organizers assumed that their phones had been tapped and that their emails were being monitored, a common perception among anti-drilling activists.
At meetings, they would leave their cell phones outside or remove the batteries. Jiunta, who has a podiatry practice in downtown Kingston, began to take different routes to work because he was worried about being followed. “We kind of assume that we’re being watched,” he says. “Even now.”
Indeed, the intelligence gathering continues. Although the state canceled its contract with ITRR, the company still works for the natural gas industry, according to GDAC attorney Paul Rossi. “An employee with one of the gas companies has told me that he is willing to testify that ITRR is still conducting operations for the gas companies and they are focusing in on environmental groups,” Rossi says.
(In 2010 GDAC filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ITRR on First Amendment grounds. Because it’s a private company or a “non-state actor,” the judge ruled, claims against ITRR were dismissed. The terms of a settlement with the state have not been reached. ITRR did not return requests for comment.)
Like many of the activists I spoke with, Jiunta underscored the fact that he’s never been drawn to conspiracy theories. GDAC’s code of conduct was designed to weed out those whom Jiunta described as “wackos.”
Jiunta admits that he was pretty naÃ¯ve when he first got involved in anti-drilling activism; he would print out large stacks of information on fracking to bring to state senators, who politely told him not to waste their time. Now, his faith in the role of government has been shattered. “People worried about being on a watch list,” he told me. “It was shocking.”
* * *
In the wake of the surveillance scandal Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director James Powers resigned and the state terminated its $103,000 no-bid contract with ITRR. Then-governor Ed Rendell called the episode “deeply embarrassing” and a one-day Senate inquiry was held.
In testimony before the committee, Virginia Cody, the retired Air Force officer who had become a critic of gas drilling, said: “For the first time in my life, I do not feel secure in my home. I worry that what I say on the phone is being recorded. I wonder if my emails are still being monitored.”
The hearing sought to answer questions about how the contract was awarded, why citizen groups exercising their First Amendment rights were included, and, crucially, who received the information. Powers explained that the information was distributed to various chemical, agricultural, and transportation companies mentioned in the bulletins.
At least 800 individuals were on the distribution list. In the case of gas drilling activism he explained, “It [the bulletins] went to the security directors of the Marcellus Shale companies and DEP (Department of Environmental Protection).”
This is only partially true. A list of the individuals and groups who received the bulletins shows that industry associations and PR firms that have nothing to do with protecting the state’s infrastructure were also included.
For example, one of Powers’s key contacts on Marcellus-related activity was Pam Witmer, then head of the Bravo Group’s energy and environmental practice as well as president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, a business advocacy group. The Bravo Group is a public relations and lobbying firm based in Pennsylvania. Its clients include Chief Oil and Gas, Southwestern Energy, and People’s Natural Gas, all of which are deeply invested in Marcellus Shale production.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, was also on the distribution list. In 2010 the coalition signed a $900,000 lobbying contract with Ridge Global, a private security firm founded by Tom Ridge, former head of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush.
As part of its energy consulting services Ridge Global offers “advisory support for natural gas and other infrastructure security.” Ridge is just one of many former security officials who now have private consulting services. Others include John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, and Richard Clarke.
The blurring of public and private spying is what Dutch scholar Bob Hoogenboom calls “grey intelligence.” In a 2006 paper of the same name, Hoogenboom noted that in addition to well-known spy agencies like MI6 and the CIA, hundreds of private organizations involved in intelligence gathering have entered the market to meet corporate demand.
“The idea was to do for industry what we had done for the government,” Christopher James, a former MI6 officer who founded Hakluyt, a private intelligence company whose clients have included Shell and BP, told the Financial Times. Many corporations now have their own private intelligence networks, or “para-CIAs,” to gather information on consumers, critics, and even their own shareholders.
Walmart, for example, has an office of global security headed by a one-time CIA and FBI official with a staff that includes former State Department security experts. As Eveline Lubbers writes in her recent book, Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists, “Because these business firms hire former spies and analysts from the ranks of government, the informal links with government intelligence increase.”
This is a global phenomenon. Corporations in Europe and Canada have also spied on environmental groups. In 2006 French energy giant EDF, the world’s largest operator of nuclear reactors, hired Kargus Consultants, a private intelligence gathering agency run by a former member of the French secret service, to spy on Greenpeace.
Kargus hacked into a lead Greenpeace organizer’s computer and compiled a dossier on the organization’s European campaign strategy. In 2011 a French court fined EDF 1.5 million euros and sent two of its employees to jail on charges of illegal spying.
Although it was not raised at the Pennsylvania Senate hearing, the ITRR bulletins also were shared with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In January a Montreal paper reported that the RCMP itself has been tracking anti-shale gas activists in Quebec.
The Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team, a branch of the RCMP, produced two reports that described the possibility of Canadian activists collaborating with “extremist” groups in the US, such as Earth First! and Occupy Well Street — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street opposed to fracking. According to Jeff Monaghan, a researcher with the Surveillance Studies Center at Queen’s University in Ontario, the Canadian government likely shares intelligence with the energy industry.
Since at least 2005, the Canadian government has held biannual intelligence briefings to share sensitive information with the private sector. In 2007 Gary Lunn, former Minister of Natural Resources, admitted his agency had helped more than 200 industry representatives obtain high-level security clearances. “This enables us to share information with industry and their associations,” Lunn said at a pipeline security forum.
Similar arrangements have been uncovered in the UK. In 2009 it was revealed that the British police and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform had provided information about Climate Camp demonstrations to E.ON, the company that runs the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. E.ON also hired private security firms like Vericola and Global Open to spy on protesters; both companies are staffed by former intelligence agents.
The specter of environmental extremism has been used to justify information sharing between law enforcement and the private sector. Last year, Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, warned that environmental groups “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”
“It’s the new politics of the petro-state,” Monaghan says. “Anything that’s remotely linked with direct action or nonviolent civil disobedience is being described as extremism, which is the new code word of security agencies.”
The fossil fuel industry’s targeting of its critics goes beyond mere surveillance. Natural gas drilling companies have also flirted with using the dark arts of psychological warfare, or “psy ops.”
In comments recorded by an anti-drilling activist at a 2011 natural gas conference in Houston and leaked to CNBC, Matt Pitzarella, director of corporate communications at Range Resources, said Range had hired “several former psy ops folks” with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania [sic],” Pitzarella said.
At the same conference, Matt Carmichael, a PR specialist with Anadarko Petroleum, referred to the anti-drilling movement as an “insurgency” and advised industry representatives to download the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual. “There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable,” he told his colleagues.
The oil and gas industry has good reason to feel besieged. Opposition to fracking, especially, is on the rise. New York State has in place a moratorium against the drilling technique, and legislators in California are considering a similar ban.
A white paper prepared by FTI Consulting, a DC-based PR firm with ties to the shale gas industry, recently warned, “Environmental activists are looking to undermine the strategies and operations of energy companies . . . . Adding to the activists’ momentum is the fact that a growing number of mainstream shareholders are supporting their proposals.” But given the absence of any physical attacks against drilling company assets, the industry’s view of its opponents smacks of paranoia.
In August 2012, iJET International, a private security firm founded by a former National Security Agency operative, issued a risk assessment of anti-drilling protests in New York State. In one of its daily intelligence bulletins distributed to corporate clients the firm observed, “Protests against hydraulic fracturing have gained considerable momentum over the past few months . . . . While most demonstrations have been peaceful, participants say they are hoping to intensify actions in hopes of disrupting operations at targeted facilities.”
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The US Army Counterinsurgency Manual that was offered as suggested reading for shale gas industry representatives includes an appendix on Social Network Analysis, defined as “a tool for understanding the organizational dynamics of an insurgency.” In an age of digital networks and online activism, this often means using data-mining software, cyber surveillance, and in some cases outright computer hacking to track opposition groups.
At the 2011 natural gas conference in Houston the CEO of Jurat Software, Aaron Goldwater, gave a presentation on the subject of data mining and stakeholder intelligence.
In his presentation he emphasized the importance of knowing the communities you work in, of tracking and mapping relationships, and compiling a sophisticated database that includes all offline and online conversations. He pointed to the military as a model. “If you look at the people who are experts at it, which is the military, the one thing they do is gather intelligence,” he told the audience.
Corporations have already taken advantage of network forensic software to keep tabs on their own employees. The new technology, which allows companies to monitor an employee’s activity down to the keystroke, is one of the fastest growing software markets. There is a fine line, however, between data mining — which is perfectly legal though largely out of view — and cyber surveillance, or hacking.
While it is difficult to prove hacking, many activists are convinced their computers have been tampered with. Kari Matsko, a professional software consultant and director of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative in Ohio, says her computer was hacked after she began to push for tougher regulation of the natural gas industry.
Matsko got involved in environmental activism after hydrogen sulfide gas was released from a well site near her home. In 2008 she started helping a group of citizens who had filed a lawsuit against one of the larger energy companies in Ohio on grounds of nuisance violations and loss of property value. She spent many months doing research and collecting files related to the case, some of which she described as damning.
Because of her profession Matsko has very strong computer security and says that prior to working on oil and gas issues she had never had problems with malware. But while assisting with the lawsuit Matsko’s computer was attacked by a sophisticated virus. Matsko was able to remove it and everything seemed fine.
About a month later, though, she unsuccessfully tried to open the computer folder that contained the sensitive files related to the lawsuit. The files were either missing or corrupted. “I remember I was so terrified by it that I didn’t even tell people unless it was in person,” she says.
Other activists have described similar cyber security-related issues. Around the time the ITRR bulletins were made public, Jiunta told me, members of GDAC experienced persistent problems with their computers. “Everybody was getting suspicious,” he says. “I had computer issues. Some are still having issues.”
John Trallo, a 61-year-old musician and guitar instructor whose communications were also featured in the ITRR bulletins, has been an outspoken critic of shale gas development for several years. In 2007 Chief Oil and Gas offered him a signing bonus of $1,400 to lease his mineral rights. Trallo, who lives in a modest two-story home in northeastern Pennsylvania, refused. He’s been fighting the industry ever since.
“This is something that’s bigger in my life than I ever wanted it to be,” he says. “Five years ago, when I first started getting involved in this and I started talking to people, I would say to myself, ‘these people are a little crazy.’ Five years later I sound like them.”
Immediately after the intelligence bulletins were made public Trallo’s computer became nearly unusable. Documents were corrupted and irretrievable; photos were disappearing and programs wouldn’t work. A relatively new machine with a high-end operating system, Trallo had it serviced at a Best Buy in nearby Muncy.
He was told by the Geek Squad at Best Buy that a highly sensitive program that acts like a Trojan Horse had been installed on his computer. According to Trallo, “They said that the program monitors every key stroke, every email, everything you do on the computer.”
Nearly all of the activists I spoke with said the Pennsylvania Homeland Security revelations, while giving them pause, had not changed their behavior. They continue to speak out, to attend public meetings, and to push for greater oversight of the industry.
Still, “it leads to some scary possibilities in the future,” says Eric Belcastro, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. “I don’t sit around being paranoid about this stuff. I just try to do what I have to do and get along with my life. But I admit the playing ground is rough and I think people need to be careful.”
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Even as corporations expand their surveillance of citizen-activists, they are seeking to obstruct public oversight of their own behavior. It’s a bit like a one-way mirror of democratic transparency — with corporations and law enforcement on one side looking in and activists on the other.
Pennsylvania is a case in point. In early 2012 legislators there passed “Act 13,” a set of amendments to the state’s Oil and Gas Act, which essentially stripped local municipalities of the authority to regulate drilling activity through zoning ordinances and other measures.
The law also requires doctors who treat patients exposed to fracking chemicals to sign a confidentially agreement before receiving information about the substances. The gag rule would prevent them from sharing that information with the patient or even other doctors (GDAC’s current president, Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, is challenging this provision).
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania legislature that would make it a felony to videotape farming operations in Pennsylvania — so-called “ag-gag” legislation that has already passed in Utah and Iowa, and has been introduced in several other legislatures.
Many of the ag-gag bills draw on language crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” (In recent years ALEC has received considerable support from the natural gas industry).
Section D of the ALEC bill defines an animal or ecological terrorist organization in broad terms “as any association, organization, entity, coalition, or combination of two or more persons” who seek to “obstruct, impede or deter any person from participating” not only in agricultural activity but also mining, foresting, harvesting, and gathering or processing of natural resources.
The proposed law has many anti-drilling activists worried. If such language were included in the bill (it is currently in committee and will be revised before it comes to the floor) it would greatly limit the ability of residents to photograph or video well sites, compressor stations, and pipeline development — all of which could be considered part of the “gathering or processing of natural resources.”
“It’s clearly legislation that could be easily expanded in any particular case to include folks like me who do whatever we can to get as close to some of these sites as we are able,” says Wendy Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University who regularly photographs the industrial impacts of gas drilling and then posts them on her Flickr page.
Lee says that among anti-drilling activists there is a sense that 2013 is a do-or-die year. The state Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of Act 13. As the drilling boom moves into ever more populated areas, activists are gearing up for more focused organizing and larger nonviolent protests. With tens of thousands of wells yet to be drilled, at least this much is clear: The industry will be watching closely.
Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.
This story was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with support from The Puffin Foundation.