Hillary Clinton and Her Hawks Gareth Porter / Consortium News
(July 29, 2016) — As Hillary Clinton begins her final charge for the White House, her advisers are already recommending air strikes and other new military measures against the Assad regime in Syria.
The clear signals of Clinton’s readiness to go to war appears to be aimed at influencing the course of the war in Syria as well as US policy over the remaining six months of the Obama administration. (She also may be hoping to corral the votes of Republican neoconservatives concerned about Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.)
Last month, the think tank run by Michele Flournoy, the former Defense Department official considered to be most likely to be Clinton’s choice to be Secretary of Defense, explicitly called for “limited military strikes” against the Assad regime.
And earlier this month Leon Panetta, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director, who has been advising candidate Clinton, declared in an interview that the next president would have to increase the number of Special Forces and carry out air strikes to help “moderate” groups against President Bashal al-Assad. (When Panetta gave a belligerent speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, he was interrupted by chants from the delegates on the floor of “no more war!”
Flournoy co-founded the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in 2007 to promote support for US war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then became Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration in 2009.
Flournoy left her Pentagon position in 2012 and returned to CNAS as Chief Executive Officer. She has been described by ultimate insider journalist David Ignatius of the Washington Post, as being on a “short, short list” for the job Secretary of Defense in a Clinton administration.
Last month, CNAS published a report of a “Study Group” on military policy in Syria on the eve of the organization’s annual conference. Ostensibly focused on how to defeat the Islamic State, the report recommends new US military actions against the Assad regime.
Flournoy chaired the task force, along with CNAS president Richard Fontaine, and publicly embraced its main policy recommendation in remarks at the conference.
She called for “using limited military coercion” to help support the forces seeking to force President Assad from power, in part by creating a “no bombing” zone over those areas in which the opposition groups backed by the United States could operate safely.
In an interview with Defense One, Flournoy described the no-bomb zone as saying to the Russian and Syrian governments, “If you bomb the folks we support, we will retaliate using standoff means to destroy [Russian] proxy forces, or, in this case, Syrian assets.” That would “stop the bombing of certain civilian populations,” Flournoy said.
In a letter to the editor of Defense One, Flournoy denied having advocated “putting US combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad’s forces or remove Assad from power,” which she said the title and content of the article had suggested.
But she confirmed that she had argued that “the US should under some circumstances consider using limited military coercion — primarily trikes using standoff weapons — to retaliate against Syrian military targets” for attacks on civilian or opposition groups “and to set more favorable conditions on the ground for a negotiated political settlement.”
Renaming a ‘No-Fly’ Zone
The proposal for a “no bombing zone” has clearly replaced the “no fly zone,” which Clinton has repeatedly supported in the past as the slogan to cover a much broader US military role in Syria.
Panetta served as Defense Secretary and CIA Director in the Obama administration when Clinton was Secretary of State, and was Clinton’s ally on Syria policy. On July 17, he gave an interview to CBS News in which he called for steps that partly complemented and partly paralleled the recommendations in the CNAS paper.
“I think the likelihood is that the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground,” Panetta said, “to try to assist those moderate forces that are taking on ISIS and that are taking on Assad’s forces.”
Panetta was deliberately conflating two different issues in supporting more US Special Forces in Syria. The existing military mission for those forces is to support the anti-ISIS forces made up overwhelmingly of the Kurdish YPG and a few opposition groups.
Neither the Kurds nor the opposition groups the Special Forces are supporting are fighting against the Assad regime. What Panetta presented as a need only for additional personnel is in fact a completely new US mission for Special Forces of putting military pressure on the Assad regime.
He also called for increasing “strikes” in order to “put increasing pressure on ISIS but also on Assad.” That wording, which jibes with the Flournoy-CNAS recommendation, again conflates two entirely different strategic programs as a single program.
The Panetta ploys in confusing two separate policy issues reflects the reality that the majority of the American public strongly supports doing more militarily to defeat ISIS but has been opposed to US war against the government in Syria.
A poll taken last spring showed 57 percent in favor of a more aggressive US military force against ISIS. The last time public opinion was surveyed on the issue of war against the Assad regime, however, was in September 2013, just as Congress was about to vote on authorizing such a strike.
At that time, 55 percent to 77 percent of those surveyed opposed the use of military force against the Syrian regime, depending on whether Congress voted to authorize such a strike or to oppose it.
Shaping the Debate
It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for figures known to be close to a presidential candidate to make public recommendations for new and broader war abroad. The fact that such explicit plans for military strikes against the Assad regime were aired so openly soon after Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination suggests that Clinton had encouraged Flournoy and Panetta to do so.
The rationale for doing so is evidently not to strengthen her public support at home but to shape the policy decisions made by the Obama administration and the coalition of external supporters of the armed opposition to Assad.
Obama’s refusal to threaten to use military force on behalf of the anti-Assad forces or to step up military assistance to them has provoked a series of leaks to the news media by unnamed officials — primarily from the Defense Department — criticizing Obama’s willingness to cooperate with Russia in seeking a Syrian ceasefire and political settlement as “naÃ¯ve.”
The news of Clinton’s advisers calling openly for military measures signals to those critics in the administration to continue to push for a more aggressive policy on the premise that she will do just that as president.
Even more important to Clinton and close associates, however, is the hope of encouraging Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been supporting the armed opposition to Assad, to persist in and even intensify their efforts in the face of the prospect of US-Russian cooperation in Syria.
Even before the recommendations were revealed, specialists on Syria in Washington think tanks were already observing signs that Saudi and Qatari policymakers were waiting for the Obama administration to end in the hope that Clinton would be elected and take a more activist role in the war against Assad.
The new Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim, however, made a statement on July 13 suggesting that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan may be considering a deal with Russia and the Assad regime at the expense of both Syrian Kurds and the anti-Assad opposition.
That certainly would have alarmed Clinton’s advisers, and four days later, Panetta made his comments on network television about what “the next president” would have to do in Syria.
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.
(June 20, 2016) — The woman expected to run the Pentagon under Hillary Clinton said she would direct US troops to push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria and would send more American boots to fight the Islamic State in the region.
Michele Flournoy, formerly the third-ranking civilian in the Pentagon under President Barack Obama, called for “limited military coercion” to help remove Assad from power in Syria, including a “no bombing” zone over parts of Syria held by US-backed rebels.
Flournoy, and several of her colleagues at the Center for New American Security, or CNAS, have been making the case for sending more American troops into combat against ISIS and the Assad regime than the Obama administration has been willing to commit.
Since Russia’s increased involvement, the facts on the ground in Syria, she said, “Do not support the kind of negotiated conditions we would like to get to.” US policy should be the removal of Assad even if that meant “using limited military coercion,” Flournoy said, at Monday’s annual CNAS conference in Washington.
What might that look like?
Last week, three CNAS authors, in a new report, call for the United States to “go beyond the current Cessation of Hostilities.” The United States should press Syria and Russia to agree “not to treat the Southern Front as an extremist group and to cease air attacks on the territory it controls,” wrote Ilan Goldenberg, Paul Scharre, and Nicholas Heras.
CNAS says those views are not the entire organization’s, but noted the report was “informed by deliberations of CNAS’ ISIS Study Group, chaired by CNAS CEO MichÃ¨le Flournoy and CNAS President Richard Fontaine,” a former foreign policy advisor to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
If Syria’s bombing continues, the United States should consider instituting what the paper dubs a “no bomb zone.” If the Assad regime bombs areas that are held by the Southern Front, an opposition alliance that the United States supports, then the United States would retaliate, using standoff weapons like cruise missiles to hit targets associated with the Assad regime, but not airbases housing Russian forces.
The retaliatory strikes might include Syrian forward operating bases or “security apparatus facilities in Damascus that are fixed regime targets and would require less invasive reconnaissance.”
The targets need not be ones that are directly tied to Assad strikes on US partners, so long as the message is clear to Assad.
“It’s not a traditional no-fly zone so you’re not having air craft drill holes in the sky. You’re not having to take out the entire civilian air defense system,” Flournoy told Defense One. She called the bomb zone idea a declaratory policy backed up by the threat of force.
“If you bomb the folks we support, we will retaliate using standoff means to destroy [Russian] proxy forces, or, in this case, Syrian assets.” The no bomb zone could “arguably slow the refugee flows. It would stop the bombing of certain civilian populations,” she said.
Flournoy called the no-bomb zone worthy of more examination. “The analysis that needs to be done is playing out the concept, two, three and four steps down the road. What if the Russians do test it? What would the response be?” she said.
Flournoy served as Obama’s under secretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012. On Monday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius described her as being on “short, short” list for the job. So what would she do in the job?
Last 2015, Flournoy delicately condemned the Obama administration’s ISIS policy as ineffectual. “The military dimensions of the strategy have been under-resourced, while many of the non-military lines of operation remain underdeveloped,” she wrote.
She outlined several key steps to increase pressure on ISIS. They included: increased numbers of combat missions; embedding US military advisors in the Iraqi Security Forces at the battalion level and allowing them to advise Iraqi commanders during operations; deploying forward air-controllers to call in air support during combat missions; and direct arming of Sunni tribes and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
The strategy would “hold out the prospect that arms will flow through Baghdad if and when the central government establishes a reliable process for their transfer.”
In Syria, the United States “should cease its insistence on the Islamic State as the sole target and begin training and equipping moderate opposition fighters who wish to take on the Assad regime as well,” she said.
Response from Michele Flournoy To the Editor of Defense One:
I am writing in response to your piece on June 20 that fundamentally mischaracterized my views on the role US forces should play in Syria. Both the headline and article erroneously suggested that I advocate sending more US troops to “push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria” and “remove Assad from power.” I do not.
I have argued for increasing US military support to moderate Syrian opposition groups fighting ISIS and the Assad regime, like the Southern Front, not asking US troops to do the fighting in their stead.
I further argue that the US should under some circumstances consider using limited military coercion — primarily strikes using standoff weapons — to retaliate against Syrian military targets in order to stop violations of the Cessation of Hostilities, deter Russian and Syrian bombing of innocent civilians and the opposition groups we support, and set more favorable conditions on the ground for a negotiated political settlement.
In short, I advocate doing more to support our partners on the ground to make them more effective; I do NOT advocate putting US combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad’s forces or remove Assad from power.
— Michele A. Flournoy
Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Joseph Gerson / The International Peace Bureau Newsletter & William Boardman / Reader Supported News – 2016-07-31 01:33:35
Special to Environmentalists Against War
ACTION ALERT: Remembering
Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6-9 Joseph Gerson / The International Peace Bureau Newsletter
(July 30, 2016) — With the Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations approaching, here are my responses to an inquiry from the International Peace Bureau’s newsletter. It addresses three questions: the meaning of Hiroshima, the growing great power tensions in the Asia-Pacific, and the problems with “deterrence.”
1.) What does Hiroshima mean today?
The A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among the world’s worst war crimes, marked the most fundamentally important turning point in human history. Humans now possessed the capacity to exterminate all life as we know it. Einstein was right that everything changed except our thinking.
The A-bombs, killed more than 200,000 people by year’s end — many in most painful and horrible ways. Hundreds of thousands more died over time and to this day with a host of radiation inflicted diseases. As the surviving Hibakusha (A-bomb witness/survivors) teach us as urgently as they can that the meaning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.
Joseph Rotblat, the sole senior Manhattan Project scientist to quite for moral reasons and founder of the Pugwash Conference explained that after Hiroshima, our species faced the stark choice of either completely eliminating the world’s nuclear weapons, or they would eliminate us.
The A-bombs illustrated the degree of brutality that ostensibly rational people can inflict in the drive for power, domination and as a consequence of “othering” and racism. The determinative reasons for the A-bombings were to bring the war against Japan to an immediate end and to send an early Cold War message to Moscow. One goal was to win Japan’s surrender before the US had to share power and influence with the Soviet Union in northern China, Manchuria and Korea.
The A-bombings were also designed to intimidate Stalin and his coterie, demonstrating the power of the United States’ new super weapons, and the will to use them, even against innocent civilians. As Truman wrote, with the A-bomb, he would have “a hammer over those boys.” These actions were reinforced by the widespread wartime racist propaganda that Japanese were “vermin to be exterminated.”
The outrageous propaganda myth that the A-bombings were necessary to end the war with Japan, and that it saved hundreds of thousands of US and Japanese lives continues to serve, in the US, as the ideological foundation for the ostensibly “legitimate” preparations and threats to initiate nuclear war.
In fact, Japan was attempting to surrender on the terms ultimately accepted by President Truman. And his Secretary of War had advised that Japan’s surrender could be arranged on terms acceptable to the United States.
Senior generals and admirals, from Eisenhower and Leahy, to (firebomber) to Le May and Nimitz advised that Japan was already defeated, that its surrender was merely a matter of time, and that the A-bombings were unnecessary. This and much more information has been systemically kept from the majority of US people.
2.) How do you assess the danger of a nuclear war in South Asia?
We need to heed the warning of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists whose Doomsday Clock remains set at three minutes to midnight. As in Europe, the dangers of catastrophic nuclear wars in South Asia are serious, and they emanate from more than the traditional great powers.
With both the United States and China upgrading their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, there is a nuclear dimension to the world’s most intensive arms race. With growing tensions, military buildups, operations and exercises in the South China Sea (now the geopolitical center of the struggle for world power) and the East China Sea (Japan and China) there is the danger that an accident or unanticipated incident (for example a panicked soldier shooting down an adversary’s plane) could lead to escalation that cannot be contained.
To a lesser degree, the same applies to continuing tensions over Taiwn, which is again ruled by a pro-independence party and — as in 1996 when the US and China both engaged in nuclear “signaling” — remains backed by the United States.
India and Pakistan are also engaged in a nuclear arms race. During the 1999 Kargil War they each threatened the other with nuclear attack, and tensions ranging from Pakistani-backed acts of terrorism to the struggle for control of Kashmir could trigger yet another Indo-Pakistani war.
Worse, a study initiated by Physicians for Social Responsibility informs us that fires from a nuclear exchange of 50-100 Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons could lead to global cooling, famine, and the deaths of up to two billion people.
With simulated US nuclear attacks against North Korea and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the dangers of nuclear weapons accidents, miscalculation and even intentional nuclear warfighting remain.
3.) In your opinion, does nuclear deterrence contribute to global peacekeeping and international security?
The concept of nuclear deterrence is misleading and extremely dangerous. Since they were first deployed, these weapons have been used for more than what most people understand as deterrence: preventing nuclear attack by other nuclear powers.
As Bush the Lesser’s Pentagon informed the world, their primary purpose is to prevent other nations from taking actions that are inimical to US interests, for example ensuring US hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East or defending successive South Korea dictatorships.
Former Secretary of War Harold Brown testified that they serve another purpose. With nuclear weapons, he testified, US conventional forces became “meaningful instruments of military and political power.” Noam Chomsky explained that this means “we have succeeded in sufficiently intimidating anyone who might help protect people who we are determined to attack.”
Thus, as I detail in my book, Empire and the Bomb, on more than thirty occasions during international crises and wars, the US has prepared and/’or threatened to initiate nuclear war.
In analogous circumstances, every other nuclear power — even those whose policies seem to be more rooted in classical nuclear deterrence than those of the United States – has prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war at least once.
Classical deterrence needs to fail just once — with incalculable human consequences — to demonstrate its fallibility. As we learned during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the unexpected happens, and things can go wrong.
When the odds that the United States would initiate nuclear war were already estimated to be 50-50, the danger of nuclear cataclysm was heightened by the actions of rogue US military officers and by orders to fire nuclear armed missiles that were mistakenly conveyed to US troops in Okinawa.
Eric Schlosser’s definitive study in Command and Control demonstrates that such mistakes, miscalculations and accidents didn’t end in 1962.
“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?
We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past.
We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.”
— President Obama at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, May 27, 2016
(June 5, 2016) — The sterile language of a detached president illustrates how far we are from facing the reality of our own government’s deliberate atrocities. Hiroshima was certainly destroyed, abstractly, with “a terrible force unleashed” — but by no one? In the president’s passive parsing, it’s as if he thought it was an “act of God.”
More honestly told: President Truman approved the atomic bombing of Japan, which was carried out on August 6, 1945, by a Boeing B-52 named Enola Gay, after the pilot’s mother, that dropped a uranium-235 fission bomb cutely nicknamed “Little Boy” on a largely civilian city, killing an estimated 140,000 people (thousands of whom were vaporized without a discoverable trace, while thousands more died from radiation effects over ensuing years, a death toll made worse by US denial of radiation danger and strict censorship of any public discussion during the occupation).
Hiroshima was one of the greatest military massacres in history, eclipsing American massacres of Native Americans by several orders of magnitude.
In his initial announcement of the Hiroshima bombing, President Truman said, misleadingly, that the bomb had “destroyed [Hiroshima’s] usefulness to the Army.” In a radio broadcast three days later, Truman falsely characterized Hiroshima as “a military base.” Hiroshima was not a military base, though it had some relatively unimportant military installations.
Hiroshima was chosen as the A-bomb target in part because it had so little military significance that it was one of the few Japanese cities that had gone almost un-attacked by the daily American bomb runs. Because it was largely intact, Hiroshima was ideal as a place to demonstrate the A-bomb’s total destructiveness.
The US chose an almost undamaged city full of civilians as the target that would best bring the Japanese to their knees. Now that is something to “ponder,” as Obama suggested, but chose not to do. It doesn’t take much pondering to begin to wonder whether incinerating thousands of civilians might not be a war crime. It would be, if it happened today.
During World War II, the laws of war made it a war crime for armies on the ground to attack, harm, and kill civilians. The laws of war did not specifically apply to aerial warfare, and so all sides cheerfully murdered civilians from the air with the kind of legalistic self-righteousness only corrupt lawyers can create. That’s why there were no war crimes trials for any of the horrendous bombings of the war — Rotterdam, Shanghai, Coventry, Cologne, Warsaw, Tokyo, to name a few.
Are war crimes actually war crimes until they’re illegal?
The Anglo-American firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 burned tens of thousands of people alive, including mostly civilians and prisoners of war (one of whom was Kurt Vonnegut, who survived). The actual death toll is unknown, with good faith and politically-motivated estimates ranging from 25,000 to 500,000.
The US firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 killed more than 100,000 people and destroyed more than 15 square miles of the city. By any reasonable moral reckoning, all these air campaigns were war crimes, crimes against humanity in the most obvious sense. American history teaches us that World War II was a just war, “the last good war,” and there’s a case to be made for that. It was also, on all sides, a ruthless criminal enterprise.
None of this very real history was part of Obama’s speech in Hiroshima. American presidents are not expected to be truthful, and would likely be crucified if they were. Once Obama acknowledged the “terrible force unleashed” out of nowhere by nobody, he shifted to a conventionally maudlin but politically shifty call “to mourn the dead,” whom he listed by category.
First he somewhat lowballed the Japanese dead, consistent with US policy for 71 years now. Then he mentioned “thousands of Koreans,” a reference to Korean forced labor that would play well in Seoul if not Tokyo. And then he referred to those 12 “Americans held prisoner,” for decades — an official secret, in part because other POWs who survived were suffering from radiation sickness and the US government didn’t want anyone to know about that.
Now the first sitting president of the US has visited Hiroshima, has solemnly visited a scene of American crime, and has been greeted with equally hypocritical solemnity by a Japanese government whose own hands are just as dirty and whose own current ambitions are as imperial as America’s in Asia.
Obama’s speech would have you believe that that his goal is to “eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons” and to mark “the start of our own moral awakening.” That doesn’t fly when he’s making nice with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose goal is to re-militarize Japan and eliminate all pacifist tendencies from its constitution.
Obama is an enabler of Japanese militarization, not only for the sake of arms sales, but also as a “response” to China’s agitation over US provocations under the strategic umbrella of Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”
Why does Obama address Hiroshima in the passive voice?
The conventional wisdom and mainstream media call Obama’s trip to Hiroshima “historic” because he’s the first US president to go there, not because there’s anything actually historic about the visit. Politically, the Hiroshima event appears to be pretty reactionary on both sides.
Before Obama in 2016, Richard Nixon went to Hiroshima in 1964, before he was president, and former president Jimmy Carter went there in 1984 when he, too, pledged to “eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of this earth.” Early in his presidency in 2009 in Prague, Obama echoed this sentiment:
So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. [Applause.] I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, “Yes, we can.” [Applause.]
But this was only a sentiment, expressed in campaign rhetoric. America had made no such commitment, even if the president was sincere. America is a long, long way from making such a commitment. American presidents and candidates still talk about using nuclear weapons as if that were a sane option.
Yes, the Obama administration negotiated a new treaty (START) in which the US and Russia each agreed to deploy no more than 1550 strategic nuclear warheads and bombs each. That’s a cap, but a high cap. And it applies to no one else, leaving the UK, France, Israel, China, India, Pakistan, and even North Korea a rational basis for each having its own 1550 nukes.
The US currently says it has 1528 warheads and bombs deployed, ready to use. The US also says it can”maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed nuclear weapons from the level established in the New START Treaty.” [Emphasis added.]
Both Bushes reduced nuclear weapons more than Obama
At its peak in 1967, the US had more than 30,000 nuclear warheads, both deployed and in reserve. By September 30, 2014, the total was 4766 warheads. This represents roughly a 10% reduction since Obama took office.
Among other presidents, Reagan maintained the US nuclear arsenal at well over 20,000; George H.W. Bush cut the greatest number of warheads of any president (41% of more than 20,000); and George W. Bush cut the greatest percentage, 50% of slightly more than 10,000 when he took office).
To get Republican support for the START treaty in 2010, President Obama had to promise to improve and expand the US nuclear arsenal in other, creative ways. Obama’s nuclear “modernization” plans, insofar as they’re known, will cost the US an estimated $1 trillion over the next 30 years (more than $30 billion a year).
“Modernization” includes things like nuclear-tipped cruise missiles or new, “smaller” bombs that might be politically easier to use.
By today’s standards, the Hiroshima bomb is “small.” (Nuclear modernization is also intended to upgrade “a command and control unit tasked with coordinating the operational functions of the nation’s nuclear forces [that] still uses 8-inch floppy disks and runs on an IBM / Series 1 computer â€¦ first produced in 1976” even though the Pentagon says “it still works.”)
Factors like these — the slow pace of reducing redundant weapons and the willingness to risk a renewed arms race with nuclear “modernization” were enough to arouse one Democratic senator — but only one, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts — to criticize the president:
If Obama wants to keep the pledge he made in 2009 to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security,” he must rein in this nuclear spending insanity. The lesson of Hiroshima is clear: Nuclear weapons must never be used again.
If the United States wants other countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and restrain their nuclear war plans, it must take the lead. It cannot preach nuclear temperance from a barstool.
Preaching nuclear temperance has been done to inebriation, as it were. Picturing Obama preaching from a bar stool might seem harsh. But the United Nations’ Open-Ended Working Group on multilateral nuclear disarmament, with more than 100 countries, has been working for two years — without US participation.
Also without participation by China, France, Russia and the UK — and they don’t even preach from barstools. Nor do many of them visit Hiroshima. The vision of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is the complete international abolition of all nuclear weapons and the promotion of world peace. It’s where officials go to engage in lip services.
If Obama had wanted to be genuinely historic, he could have visited Nagasaki. There was no excuse for Nagasaki; it was a pure war crime. Unlike Hiroshima, there’s no credible military argument that Nagasaki had to be destroyed to get Japan to surrender. Hiroshima on August 6 was probably enough.
The Soviet invasion of Manchuria and declaration of war on Japan on August 8 was surely enough. The class was done, all the grown-ups had to do was collect the papers and start grading them.
Japan’s Emperor Hirohito publicly accepted the terms of unconditional surrender on August 15. The Soviets, who had been begged by the Allies for months to enter the war, continued fighting till the official surrender on September 2.
Some historians argue persuasively that the US used the atomic bomb more as a warning to the Soviet Union than as a military necessity, although these are not mutually exclusive — not for Hiroshima in any case.
The bombing of Nagasaki was gratuitous overkill with no demonstrable military value in the field. But testing the Nagasaki bomb had real value as a military experiment.
Unlike the uranium fission bomb that obliterated Hiroshima, the Nagasaki bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man,” was the last atomic bomb the US had, and it was different: it was an implosion bomb with a plutonium core. Its prototype had worked in the first atomic explosion in a controlled test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, less than a month earlier.
But would it work operationally? Military planners wanted to know and, without any order from the president, they successfully destroyed Nagasaki and some 70,000 people (even though the bomb was two miles off target). The experiment proved that the US could build two kinds of atomic bomb, and both worked.
Truman had his fill of killing “all those kids,” as he said
Apparently surprised by the gratuitous wiping out of Nagasaki, Truman issued an order that no more A-bombs be used, apparently unaware that the entire US atomic arsenal had been expended.
Obama seems to hope, like any rational person, that nuclear weapons will never again be used, but he has done little to change the governmental reality that holds nuclear weapons high on its list of final military solutions. Obama could have gone to Nagasaki and talked about Truman’s order to use no more.
He could go to Alamogordo and express sadness that the first test worked. He could go to Bikini and finally make things better for Marshall Islanders who were victims of US nuclear testing. He could go to the Nevada proving grounds where the US government used American soldiers as guinea pigs in assessing the effects of ionizing radiation, and he could apologize for that and so much more.
But he didn’t, he hasn’t, and probably he won’t. Crocodile-tear rhetoric is the best we’re likely to get. And maybe that’s because the dream of nuclear disarmament is impossible to realize in a world where the US can’t be trusted.
Even as the president was all hopey-changey in Hiroshima, his government was in its second year of participating in a criminal war in Yemen, where the US is helping the Saudis and their allies slaughter civilians from the air. It took over a year for the US to stop selling internationally condemned cluster bombs to the Saudis.
And every time this president orders another drone strike on someone he decides with no due process is an enemy, he commits another of his own war crimes. “We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil,” Obama said at Hiroshima — a homily he illustrates with his failure to confront evil.
As the country approaches the 2016 election, Obama has created a context where the president can act as assassin-in-chief with impunity and where the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads for drones is a possibility. Sounds like the ingredients for making America great again.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
In the Hillary Clinton Era, Democrats Welcome Lobbying Money Back Into the Convention Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons / The Intercept
(July 29, 2016) — By quietly dropping a ban on direct donations from registered federal lobbyists and political action committees, the Democratic National Committee in February reopened the floodgates for corruption that Barack Obama had put in place in 2008.
Secret donors with major public-policy agendas were welcomed back in from the cold and showered with access and appreciation at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
Major donors were offered “Family and Friends” packages, including suites at the Ritz-Carlton, backstage passes, and even seats in the Clinton family box. Corporate lobbyists like Heather Podesta celebrated the change, telling Time: “My money is now good.”
What was going on inside the convention hall was also reflected outside, at costly events sponsored by the fossil fuel industry, technology companies, for-profit colleges, pharmaceutical companies, and railway companies, to name a few.
Craig Holman, an elections financing expert at Public Citizen, said that the end of the lobbyist contribution ban as well as Congress’s 2014 termination of all remaining public financing of the party conventions has served to undermine democracy. “The implications of these changes are that we have opened up access to the parties and the conventions to just the very, very wealthy,” he said.
He pointed out that Congress originally passed the law to publicly finance presidential conventions after a 1972 scandal where President Richard Nixon terminated an anti-trust investigation eight days after the telecommunications company ITT donated heavily to that year’s Republican convention.
For the more than 1,900 Bernie Sanders delegates at the convention, the dependence on high-roller lobbyists was particularly galling. Sanders’s campaign was built on a simple promise: he would shun big-ticket fundraisers and corporate lobbyists in favor of a legion of small donors. And it worked.
By the end of April 2016, Sanders’s campaign was actually raising more money than Clinton’s, which was welcoming support from corporate lobbyists and bundlers.
But an overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers we spoke to at the convention didn’t seem troubled by the rule change at all.
At a posh event hosted by The Atlantic and paid for by the American Petroleum Institute oil lobby, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shrugged off concerns about the influence of special interest groups.
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the DNC on that,” he said in response to a question whether lifting the ban was the right move.
“Do you think that lobbyists have undue influence?” we followed up.
“I don’t know.”
“What about energy lobbyists? What about oil lobbyists?”
“What about ’em?”
“Do you think they have undue influence in the United States?”
“I think they’re just like teachers, like firemen, like everybody who contributes.”
“What about the Koch Brothers, who spent $400 million on an election?”
“You’ve gotta go talk to the Koch Brothers,” he replied, ending the conversation.
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia offered a Willie Sutton justification for lifting the lobbying ban. “The lobbyists, that’s where the money is,” he said.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made attacks on special interests a cornerstone of his short-lived Democratic presidential primary campaign — decrying Hillary Clinton’s “cozy relationship with Wall Street.” Just a few short months later, his concern about moneyed interests influencing the Democratic Party seem to have evaporated.
“I’m really kind of agnostic on it,” he said. “I really don’t care one way or another.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland ducked the question. “It’s above my paygrade,” he quipped.
Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said he would never have banned lobbyists like Obama did in the first place. “I wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “It’s not a matter of wrong or right. It’s a matter of making sure we have the resources to put on a convention.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the chair of the DNC’s Host Committee, has refused to disclose donors to that committee until 60 days after the convention.
In an interview with The Intercept, Rendell insisted there was nothing wrong with keeping the committee’s donors secret until just a few weeks before the election, and he downplayed the influence of big donors. “I never made one decision where I was influenced by a campaign contribution,” he said.
“So why are lobbyists giving money to the DNC now again,” we asked. “Are they doing it just because they have extra money to give?”
“They want access,” he acknowledged.
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan avoided the question. “At this point I want to focus on the basic issues. I’m in favor of getting money more and more out of politics,” he said. When we followed up by asking whether lobbyists should be able to fundraise for the DNC, he walked away.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California stopped to talk to us, but after hearing the subject, briskly walked away as a fleet of staffers blocked off access to her.
A staffer for Rep. Adam Schiff of California asked the subject of our interview question. She then informed her boss, who told her, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said he was unconcerned with the policy shift. “Unfortunately, we’re in a world today where we have to raise private money,” he said. “I don’t get too concerned about who and what groups you take money from. It’s up to you.”
There were, however, a few dissenters to the new policy.
Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said he favored the Obama-era ban. “I think the president had it right,” he told us.
When informed of the new policy, Rep. Jerry McErney of California was blunt. “Yeah, that’s probably a bad idea,” he said.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said she wanted to see a return to of the ban. “That would be something that I would encourage,” she said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut also objected to the change. “I think they should not have done that,” she said.
When informed that lobbyists could give six figures to the DNC, former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin was taken aback.
(July 22, 2016) — AT THE AWARD-WINNING seafood restaurant in downtown Cleveland that The Atlantic rented out for the entire four-day Republican National Convention, GOP Rep. Bill Johnson turned to me and explained that solar panels are not a viable energy source because “the sun goes down.”
Johnson had just stepped off the stage where he was one of the two featured guests speaking at The Atlantic‘s “cocktail caucus,” where restaurant staff served complimentary wine, cocktails, and “seafood towers” of shrimp, crab cakes, oysters, and mussels to delegates, guests, reporters and, of course, the people paying the bills.
The event was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.
Johnson, a climate denier and influential member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, spoke of a future when American scientists “solve these big problems” and “figure out how to harness the sun’s energy, and store it up, so that we can put it out over time.” His hypothetical invention, of course, is called a battery, and was invented over 200 years ago.
Instead of balancing Johnson with an environmentalist or a climate scientist, The Atlantic paired Johnson with another notorious climate denier: Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is an energy adviser to Donald Trump. Cramer has called global warming “fraudulent science by the EPA,” and once told a radio audience in 2012 that “we know the globe is cooling.”
Both congressmen went nearly unchallenged by the moderator, The Atlantic‘s Washington Editor Steve Clemons, who said he wasn’t able to find an opposing speaker, but went ahead with the event anyway.
Lewis Finkel, a top lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute gave the opening remarks. “We are pushing forward for a robust energy discussion during this election cycle,” he said.
Evidence of human-made climate change is so conclusive that it’s wrong for journalists to treat its denial like a reasonable point of view. But it is a new low for major media groups to sell their brand to lobbyists and let climate truthers go unchallenged.
And The Atlantic was hardly alone. At the Republican National Convention, the American Petroleum Institute also paid the Washington Post and Politico to host panel conversations where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientist, or Democrat.
At The Atlantic‘s event, Cramer and Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe its real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it, . . . there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”
Johnson told the audience “climate change is probably not in most American’s top 10, top 20 issues.”
Clemons offered only limited pushback. When Johnson argued that alternative energy should not receive federal subsidies, Clemons pointed out that “the natural gas and the oil industry and the fossil fuel sector also have massive subsidies built into them,” and asked Johnson, “Would you remove all of those? How do you have that discussion?”
Johnson replied with a non-answer: “You let the energy market drive the innovation. I am not against incentives . . . for companies trying to pursue energy-efficient projects.” Clemons did not press him on the point.
Judge for yourself:
After the event, I followed up, asking Johnson why fossil fuel companies get tens of billions of dollars a year in federal government subsidies but alternative energy must be “market-driven.”
Johnson denied any knowledge of the highly controversial subsidies, the protection of which is a top priority for the oil lobby. “The American government subsidizes fossil fuels . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t voted for that,” he said.
At the Washington Post‘s discussion, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that in the past 15 years the earth was, on average, “cooling down,” but stressed “the point is that it’s not a settled science.”
Stephen Stromberg, an opinion writer moderating the panel for the Washington Post, registered his protest but quickly moved on. “I think there would be a vast bulk of climate scientists who would disagree,” he said, “but we don’t have to litigate the science of it this morning.”
The Washington Post‘s discussion was hosted at a swanky brewpub the newspaper rented out for the week, a stone’s throw from the main entrance to the Quicken Loans Arena where the convention was held.
The American Petroleum Institute was also an underwriter for the rental, and the brewpub offered guests free hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, and complimentary massages in a side room. API literature was stacked on tables, including the check-in desk.
Not to be outdone, Politico rented out the entire 21st floor of a high-rise hotel and offered guests hits from a prominently featured “flavored oxygen bar.” At Politico‘s API-sponsored event, the oil lobbying group’s CEO, Jack Gerard, opened the event by telling the audience that “the United States has become the superpower of energy in the world.”
Rep. Cramer, who was also a guest at the Politico event, joked with the audience that in his home state of North Dakota, “we’re for a warmer climate.” When discussing the EPA’s new standards to reduce methane emissions, a greenhouse gas far worse than carbon dioxide, he remarked “we’re not going to put diaper on cattle, let’s get real.” Both lines were met by roaring laughter.
Steven Shepard, a campaign editor at Politico, barely pushed back in his role as moderator. Instead of asking about the legitimacy of climate science, he asked the panel whether Donald Trump’s position on climate change — that it does not exist and is simply a Chinese conspiracy — would hurt the party in regional elections. None of the panelists said it would.
AMERICAN JOURNALISTS HAVE long held that editorial independence is essential to hard-hitting, trusted reporting. News organizations build strong institutional barriers to prevent advertisers from influencing their journalism. But as revenue from traditional advertising has declined, newsrooms have been finding new ways to drive revenue from sponsors.
The Atlantic was a pioneer when it came to holding sponsored events. It’s always been controversial — but there have been some spectacular embarrassments as others tried new variations on the theme.
Washington Post, for instance, announced in 2009 that it would sell sponsorships for “off-the-record salons” — gatherings of D.C. elite that cost as much as $25,000 a seat.
The plan violated many newsroom rules — it was aimed at single sponsors with vested interests, it involved selling access to editorial personnel, it was off the record and “confrontation” was banned. The Post eventually dropped the plan, and its ombudsman at the time, Andrew Alexander, described it as “an ethical lapse of monumental proportions.”
So how could this week’s single-sponsored events featuring editorial talent without dissenting speakers not have violated the editorial standards of The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Politico?
Anna Bross, the senior director of communications for The Atlantic wrote in an email “The Atlantic has full control over speakers and panels produced. We do not defer any of that control to event underwriters.”
Steve Clemons, who moderated The Atlantic event, said there was no environmentalist on his panel because he couldn’t find one within the time deadline.
“I find it very important, no matter what the event is, to build in a diversity of perspective,” Clemons said. “So why didn’t we have that here? Because nobody would accept. I asked so many players, both different parties, different perspectives, private sectors players, to balance it out, and within the time we have, it didn’t happen.”
Then why not just cancel the panel? “Because I had trust in my own ability to be the alternative, and I had trust that the audience would ask questions to provide balance,” Clemons said.
“It is incumbent on us [journalists], to do what we can, to either create the debate or create the balance of views,” Clemons said. “You could argue we should have done more, and I, actually, would agree with that. I could have been more robust, and said ‘are you an idiot, do you not understand science?’ I did that in my own way, without being completely offensive.”
Washington Post Vice President for Communications Kris Corrati insisted that the sponsors had no influence on the makeup of the panel — and said the Post, too, had tried and failed to find speakers with different views.
Representatives from all three news organizations told The Intercept that the presence of journalists provided an adequate check on the views of climate-denying congressmen.
They also all noted that the American Petroleum Institute is paying for three more events — at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Politico‘s Shepard said his company’s event will have “the same exact sponsor, with a number of lawmakers that probably don’t line up with the sponsor on the issues.”
But consider the makeup of those panels. The Atlantic‘s DNC event will feature Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., a strong advocate of renewable energy. But it will also include Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, a vehement defender of fracking.
Politico‘s DNC event will feature Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a defender of fracking, and Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who crossed party lines to vote in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as energy advisers from the White House and Clinton campaign.
What were once blurred lines in the journalism business are becoming increasingly clear — because they have been crossed.
Earlier this month, for instance, The Intercept obtained a brochure from the Beltway newspaper The Hill in which it offered to sell interviews. For $200,000 sponsors would be granted an interview for “up to three named executives or organization representatives of your choice.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Industry Events Left an
Oily Sheen on the Democratic Convention Oliver Milman / The Guardian UK
PHILADELPHIA (July 30, 2016) — A series of events sponsored by the oil and gas industry are “polluting” the Democratic national convention with climate denialism and should be boycotted by leading Democrats, according to environmentalists.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) has underwritten five events hosted in Philadelphia during the convention by media organizations Politico and The Atlantic.
The events, which promote API’s Vote4Energy campaign, provide delegates and other attendees with literature and signage extolling the benefits of oil and gas drilling.
While both Politico and the Atlantic said that API, the US’s leading fossil fuel lobby group, does not hold any sway over the content of the panel discussions, green groups claimed the events have allowed the denial of climate science to seep into the Democratic gathering.
“These polluting events have a complete disrespect for the scientific facts and we are very concerned about the influence that fossil fuels have here,” said Brad Johnson, executive director of Climate Hawks Vote, a political action group which has a 10,000-strong petition urging Democrats to boycott the events.
The group said it was disappointed the Atlantic and Politico had accepted the lobby group’s money. “API deliberately disseminate misinformation and journalists should have ethical and professional qualms about that,” Johnson said.
A batch of documents released earlier this year showed that API was made aware of “serious worldwide environmental changes” caused by the burning of oil and gas more than 45 years ago. Despite this knowledge, the industry funded and encouraged climate denial groups for several decades before finally acknowledging the realities of climate change.
The 2016 Democratic platform calls for the Department of Justice to “investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change”.
Despite this stance, several leading Democrats have agreed to appear at the API-sponsored events. On Wednesday, a Politico event featured Trevor Houser, Clinton’s top energy adviser, alongside John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee, Democratic governors of Colorado and Washington, respectively.
During a somewhat fraught debate, which included several attempted stage invasions by anti-fracking activists and a threat by one Bernie Sanders supporter to pour soup over Houser, each attendee was given booklets produced by API.
The literature, called “Principles for American energy progress”, hails a “new era” in free market energy in which increased domestic oil and gas production has lowered energy and gasoline prices. The booklet cites unsourced research that shows 77% of Americans support increased production of oil and gas, including 64% of Democrats.
The booklet, which does not contain the words “climate change”, criticizes regulation and the “shifting of standards to levels that achieve no demonstrable health benefit”. An accompanying website cites the activities that oil and gas make possible, such as picnics.
Jack Gerard, president and chief executive of API, addressed the crowd before the panel talk and praised the impact of “abundant, affordable, clean-burning natural gas” for bringing down America’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“When you look at the science and data, we can help consumers, help the country and lead the world in environmental protection,” he said, ignoring a cry of “that’s a lie” from a protester.
Politico and the Atlantic also held API-sponsored events at the Republican national convention in Cleveland last week. According to the Intercept, the Washington Post also hosted a climate event, in which Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn claimed the world was “cooling down”.
In fact there is a clear trend of warming temperatures, with 2016 highly likely to be the warmest year on record. It will beat a mark set in 2015, which itself topped record heat in 2014. Scientists estimate that about three-quarters of all discovered fossil fuels must remain unburned if the world is to avoid disastrous climate change. While natural gas is far less carbon-intensive than coal or oil, it can still lead to significant emissions, particularly if methane is released during drilling.
Politico pointed the Guardian to its events policy, which states: “We welcome suggestions from sponsors, however, final decisions about event content remain with the Politico newsroom.” It adds that Politico “does not permit sponsors to sit on panels that they underwrite”.
A spokeswoman for The Atlantic said the publication has “full editorial control of what’s on stage at our events; the underwriter plays no role in that part of the process. We make all decisions about our content: speaker and moderator selection, the experience on stage, the questions asked.”
She added that the events “bring a range of viewpoints to the stage and never promote one point of view or another”. Neither Politico nor the Atlantic would disclose how much API paid for the sponsorships.
A spokesman for API said: “Energy is our candidate, and that is a message we continue to share with all candidates as energy is a major issue for American voters. “We can continue to lead in providing low-cost energy to consumers while improving the environment. They are not mutually exclusive.”
Many of the API-funded events have featured politicians and commentators who are in favor of expanding drilling for oil and gas. The Politico panel on Wednesday was more focused on attacking Donald Trump, with Inslee calling the Republican nominee “part of the Flat Earth Society” and Houser labeling the Republican position on climate change “insane.”
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said API was trying to “fool the public”.
“That’s their business model and they will do all sorts of things to mislead and misinform people to push their own survival as a dirty, dangerous source of fuels,” he said. “We wish that the media could do what they do with their own resources. The API is deceiving the public, acting like climate change doesn’t exist at a time when we are seeing it’s an amazing threat right now with the heatwaves and droughts and forest fires. They are pushing propaganda.”
Karpinski, who will speak to the DNC on Thursday before Clinton’s headline speech, said the Democratic platform was “the most aggressive on climate change ever seen”. The platform proposes a swift transition to 100% renewable energy and a price on carbon, although Clinton has yet to fully embrace either of these goals.
“We have to make sure that [Clinton] wins and has a Senate that will work with her,” Karpinski said.
“Donald Trump would be a disaster for the climate, we can’t let that happen. We will either have a climate change champion or a climate change denier as president. The stakes are that high. I’d argue they’ve never been higher.”
According to the New York Times, the moneyed interests have descended on Philadelphia big time. [See story below. — EAW] Some big donors have even been granted time backstage or in the Clinton family box with former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.
“This is a good place to be,” said former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a Democrat now running for Congress, as he glided through Philadelphiaâ€™s Ritz-Carlton. “We must have set up five fund-raisers today. This is the bank.”
As a protester walked with a sign denouncing big money outside the hotel, two stocky men inside were heard debating the merits of the different ambassadorships they hoped to get under Mrs. Clinton.
Even a low-ranking posting meant having “ambassador” on a childâ€™s wedding invitation, the two agreed, and would be helpful in wrangling invitations to sit on corporate boards.
Earth to Democratic leaders: The Bernie campaign may be over and Donald Trump may be the devil incarnate, but the public is still angry as hell about big money corrupting our democracy. If Hillary is elected president in November and the moneyed interests arenâ€™t brought to heel, she wonâ€™t be reelected.
PHILADELPHIA (July 28, 2016) — In a luxury suite high above the convention floor, some of the Democratic Partyâ€™s most generous patrons sipped cocktails and caught up with old friends, tuning out Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Monday as he bashed Wall Street in an arena named after one of the countryâ€™s largest banks.
On Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major party, a handful of drug companies and health insurers made sure to echo the theme, paying to sponsor an “Inspiring Women” panel featuring Democratic congresswomen.
And in the vaulted marble bar of the Ritz-Carlton downtown, wealthy givers congregated in force for cocktails and glad-handing as protesters thronged just outside to voice their unhappiness with Wall Street, big money in politics and Mrs. Clinton herself.
“This is a good place to be — for a lot of reasons,” said former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a Democrat now running for Congress, as he glided through the room on Tuesday. “We must have set up five fund-raisers today. This is the bank.”
After a wrenching yearlong nominating battle with searing debates over the influence of Wall Street and the ability of ordinary citizens to be heard over the din of dollars changing hands, the partyâ€™s moneyed elite returned to the fore this week, undeterred and mostly unabashed.
While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth.
“The Clinton people would always argue, â€˜Well, thereâ€™s no connection between the money and the actions that we take,â€™ ” said Jonathan Tasini, a liberal organizer and Sanders delegate from New York. “Thatâ€™s what these cocktail parties and receptions are all about. Itâ€™s about access and whose phone calls get answered.”
For many Clinton donors, particularly those from the financial sector, the convention is a time to shed what one called the “hypersensitivity” that had previously surrounded their appearance at Mrs. Clintonâ€™s fund-raisers or at her political events, during a period when Mr. Sanders repeatedly attacked Mrs. Clintonâ€™s connections to Wall Street and her six-figure speaking fees from financial institutions.
“I think weâ€™re past that,” said Alan Patricof, a longtime donor to Mrs. Clinton, when asked about the need to lie low during the primaries.
In Philadelphia, donors were handed preferred suites at the Ritz-Carlton and “Friends and Family” packages created for longtime Clinton hands — some of them also longtime benefactors. Some were granted time backstage or in the Clinton family box with former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.
Blackstone, the private equity giant, scheduled a reception at the Barnes Foundation on Thursday with its president, Hamilton E. James, one of the leading Wall Street contenders for an economic policy post in a future Clinton administration.
The Philadelphia convention offered other symbolic contrasts to the partyâ€™s last two gatherings, when President Obama sought, with mixed success, to restrict his party from raising money to pay for the conventions from lobbyists or political action funds. Those shackles were thrown off this year, waving a green flag to Washingtonâ€™s influence industry. Lobbyists and corporate representatives flooded the city, where much of the Democratic Partyâ€™s elite — and potential senior members of a future presidential administration — had gathered.
The railway giant CSX brought in old railroad cars for a reception led by Rodney E. Slater, the former United States transportation secretary turned lobbyist, who also headlined a panel on transportation policy in a future Clinton administration. At the Loews Hotel bar on Tuesday night, old Clinton hands, some now working as lobbyists, caught up with Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a longtime family friend and one of the partyâ€™s most prolific fund-raisers.
At a private luncheon on Wednesday at El Vez, a Mexican restaurant, over a dozen Democratic governors mingled with representatives from a host of labor unions and companies, among them the Apollo Education Group, an operator of for-profit colleges that has faced a series of state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.
“Itâ€™s business as usual,” said Libby Watson, who monitored lobbying events in Philadelphia on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.
The biggest players gathered at the Ritz-Carlton, where a line of sport utility vehicles and limousines deposited waves of men in suits but no ties and elegantly dressed women bearing expensive handbags.
At first-come-first-served seats near the bar, assistants huddled around lengthy spreadsheets, figuring out which donors were entitled to which passes to which events. Outside, a protester walked with a sign denouncing big money. Inside, two stocky men could be heard debating the merits of the different ambassadorships they hoped to earn under Mrs. Clinton. Even a low-ranking posting meant having “ambassador” on a childâ€™s wedding invitation, the two agreed, and would be helpful in wrangling invitations to sit on corporate boards.
A few feet away, Mary Pat Bonner, a gatekeeper to many prominent liberal donors, chatted with her most important client, David Brock, the founder of a cluster of outside groups that has raised millions of dollars to help elect Mrs. Clinton.
The longtime Clinton friend and fund-raiser Maureen White strode through the lobby, just missing Rajiv K. Fernando, the Chicago securities trader and Clinton donor, who resigned his appointment to a sensitive intelligence advisory board after questions were raised about his qualifications. Nearby were Heather Podesta, the Democratic lobbyist and Clinton fund-raiser, and Philip D. Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, now running for governor of New Jersey.
Occasionally, as bellhops leapt to open the lobby doors for another guest, the chants of protesters outside could be dimly heard.
John Graham, a New Jersey insurance executive and Clinton backer, said that after seeing the demonstrators outside the hotel, he had taken his daughter for a walk to meet some of them.
“Itâ€™s a little awkward, because guys like me are in here,” Mr. Graham said. “And we need to do something for the young people who are out there.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Air Force Seeks Proposals for Over $60 Billion in New Nukes Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 29, 2016) — The US Air Force has issued a press release today seeking proposals from military contractors to provide the next generation of nuclear weapons, including both ICBMs and air-launched nuclear cruise missiles, a pair of contracts that will cost well in excess of $60 billion.
Indeed, the Air Force estimate was that the new ICBMs alone would cost $62.3 billion, more than even most major countries spend on their entire military in a given year. The replacement for the AGM-86B cruise missiles did not come with an estimate, but is also expected to be substantial.
This comes amid growing debate about the “modernization” scheme, with one group of senators, including Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine (D-VA) demanding more or less unlimited spending, while a second group argues that the program needs to be dramatically scaled back, both because it is too expensive and because it is not in keeping with US talk of arms reduction.
Official estimates of the final costs of these schemes have also been called dramatic underestimates by several NGOs, with some studies suggesting that all told, the three-prong system is going to cost in excess of $1 trillion and take 30 years to complete.
Air Force Seeks New Land-based and Air-launched Nukes Robert Burns, National Security Writer / Associated Press
WASHINGTON (July 29, 2016) — Advancing what could become a near-total rebuild of the US nuclear weapons arsenal, the Air Force on Friday solicited industry proposals to build a new fleet of land-based nuclear missiles as well as replacements for its air-launched nuclear cruise missile force.
The two projects are part of a broader modernization of the nuclear arsenal expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars over 30 years. The plans have broad support in Congress, although some, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have questioned the need to replace all three “legs” of the nuclear triad — the submarines, long-range bombers and land-based missiles that were developed by the Pentagon during a Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union.
The Air Force operates two of the three legs the nuclear arsenal — the bombers and the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, that are ready for launching on short notice from underground silos in five states.
On Friday the Air Force asked that industry contractors submit proposals for a new-generation ICBM, and said it plans to award the first contracts next summer. It would replace the existing fleet of about 450 deployed Minuteman 3 ICBMs, starting in 2027. The estimated cost is $62.3 billion, according to Leah Bryant, spokeswoman for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.
An Air Force press release quoted Gen. Robin Rand, who heads Air Force Global Strike Command, as saying the Minuteman 3, which was first deployed in 1970, will have “a difficult time surviving” air defenses foreseen for 2030 and beyond.
The Air Force also requested contractor proposals for a new-generation nuclear cruise missile to replace the existing AGM-86B cruise missile, which was fielded in the early 1980s. It provided no cost estimate for the replacement missile.
Critics of buying a new nuclear cruise missile include a former secretary of defense, William Perry, who has called on President Barack Obama to scrap the project.
The Navy wants to build new nuclear-missile submarines to replace its aging fleet of Ohio-class subs, and the Air Force is planning a new fleet of nuclear-capable long-range bombers to replace the B-52.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the broad rebuild of the nuclear arsenal is financially unsustainable.
“The Air Force could save billions by refurbishing and extending the life of the existing Minuteman 3 well beyond 2030 rather than building a completely new and more deadly missile,” he said, adding: “The Air Force does not need a costly new and more capable nuclear-armed cruise missile, especially if the new long-range penetrating bomber is truly penetrating. We are seeing a return to the days of nuclear excess and overkill.”
WASHINGTON (July 22, 2016) — In competing letters this month to the Obama administration, US lawmakers dueled over plans to upgrade the military’s nuclear arsenal.
On Wednesday, a group of 10 Democratic senators urged President Barack Obama to restrain spending on nuclear weapons by “scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans, adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, and canceling launch-on-warning plans.”
The July 20 letter cites independent studies that estimate upgrading and sustaining the nuclear arsenal may cost $1 trillion over three decades.
It was signed by Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Al Franken of Minnesota, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
The current US nuclear arsenal stands at less than 1,600 warheads, according to a March report from the Congressional Research Service.
That includes about 440 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); some 336 Trident II (D-5) submarine-launched ballistic missiles carried in 14 Trident submarines (each carries 24 missiles); hundreds of B61 bombs for B-2 Spirit bombers and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters; and hundreds of AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles for B-52 Stratofortress bombers, according to CRS.
In the letter, the Democratic senators urged the cancellation of the Air Force’s plans to develop a new nuclear cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff Weapon, as a replacement to the AGM-86B beginning around 2030. The program would cost $20 billion and “provide an unnecessary capability that would increase the risk of nuclear war,” they wrote.
Military leaders want the weapon in part to give Air Force bombers a better “standoff capability,” thus extending their effective range, especially as potential adversaries such as China and Russia develop more sophisticated air defenses.
The Defense Department has proposed spending $8.5 billion on missile defense programs in fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, an 6.5 percent decrease from the current year, according to Pentagon budget documents.
The letter came a week after a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in favor of nuclear modernization.
“The three legs of the nuclear triad combine to form a very effective deterrent,” they said in the July 12 correspondence. “The three legs — land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear submarines — are aging and must be modernized to ensure this interlocking triad continues its decades-long record of protecting the nation.”
It was signed by John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota; Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana; Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana; Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah; Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana; Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia; David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana; Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico; John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming; Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia; Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska; and Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
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(July 29, 2016) — The New York Times published an astonishing article last week that blames green power for difficulties countries are facing to mitigate climate change.
The article by Eduardo Porter, How Renewable Energy is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course, serves as a flagship for an on-going attack on the growth of renewables. It is so convoluted and inaccurate that it requires a detailed response.
As Mark Jacobson, director of Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, pointed out to me via email: The New York Times article “suffers from the inaccurate assumption that existing expensive nuclear that is shut down will be replaced by natural gas. This is impossible in California, for example, since gas is currently 60 percent of electricity supply but state law requires non-large-hydro clean renewables to be 50 percent by 2030.
This means that, with the shuttering of Diablo Canyon nuclear facility be 2025, gas can by no greater than 35-44 percent of California supply since clean renewables will be at least 50 percent (and probably much more) and large hydro will be 6-15 percent. As such, gas must go down no matter what.
In fact, 100 percent of all new electric power in Europe in 2015 was clean, renewable energy with no new net gas, and 70 percent of all new energy in the U.S. was clean and renewable, so the fact is nuclear is not being replaced by gas but by clean, renewable energy.
“Further, the article fails to consider the fact that the cost of keeping nuclear open is often much greater than the cost of replacing the nuclear with wind or solar. For example, three upstate New York nuclear plants require $7.6 billion in subsidies from the state to stay open 12 years.
To stay open after that, they will need an additional $805 million/year at a minimum, or at least $17.7 billion from 2028-2050, or a total of $25.3 billion from 2016 to 2050.
If, on the other hand, those three plants were replaced with wind today, the total cost between now and 2050 would be $11.9 billion. Thus, keeping the nuclear plants open 12 years costs an additional $7.6 billion; keeping it open 34 years costs and additional $25.3 billion, in both cases with zero additional climate benefit, in comparison with shuttering the three plants today and replacing them with onshore wind.”
Gideon Forman, climate change and transportation policy analyst at David Suzuki Foundation, also shared his dismay on the Times piece: “The notion that non-renewable power sources are necessary is questionable at best. Some scientists believe that, over the next few decades, renewables could provide all our power. One is Stanford Prof. Mark Jacobson. He has done modeling to show the U.S. could be entirely powered by renewables by 2050.
“Porter is wrong to claim that nuclear produces ‘zero-carbon electricity.’ If we look at the full nuclear cycle, including production of uranium fuel, we find it involves considerable carbon emissions. Jacobson and his co-author, Mark A. Delucchi, have written, ‘Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.’
“Porter says if American nuclear plants were replaced with gas-fired generators it would lead to 200 million tons of additional CO2 emissions annually. But it’s wrong to suggest that nuclear could only be replaced by natural gas. A full suite of renewables — along with energy storageand conservation programs — could meet demand, certainly in the not very distant future.
“Porter suggests that nuclear power can ‘stay on all the time.’ But of course, nuclear plants, like all generators, are sometimes out of service for maintenance. This downtime can be considerable. For example, it is expected that from 2017 to 2021, Ontario’s Pickering nuclear station will require back-up almost 30 percent of the time.”
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, called the Times piece “outrageous.” He told me: “The Times piece continues the paper’s long record of minimizing and downplaying — not recognizing and indeed often denying — the deadly impacts of nuclear power. It’s been a shameful journalistic dysfunction.
As Alden Whitman, a Times reporter for 25 years, told me, ‘there certainly was never any effort made to do’ in-depth or investigative reporting on nuclear power. ‘I think there stupidity involved,’ he said, and further, ‘The Times regards itself as part of the establishment.” Or as Anna Mayo of The Village Voice related: ‘I built a full-time career on covering nuclear horror stories that the New York Times neglected.'”
So where do I stand on the Porter piece? Here are my eight biggest complaints:
1. Though viewed as the “journal of record,” the Times has been consistently pro-nuclear. Its slanted coverage has served as an industry bulwark for decades. A long-time atomic beat reporter, Matt Wald, went straight from the Times to a job with the Nuclear Energy Institute, the primary public relations front for the reactor industry.
The Times has a long history as a cheerleader for nuclear power dating back to the atomic bomb era, when it consistently denied health problems from radioactive fallout. It also denied health problems resulting from radiation releases at Three Mile Island, and much more. Now it has taken a major role in defending the nuclear industry from the renewable energy revolution that is driving it to bankruptcy while bringing a tsunami of reactor shut downs. It’s these shut downs that now seem to worry the paper.
2. The primary technological transition in the world of electric power today is from fossil and nuclear fuels (King CONG: Coal, Oil, Nukes, Gas) to a Solartopian system based on green power. But there’s a deeper shift going on: from centralized, grid-based corporate control to decentralized citizen-based community control.
When nuclear power and its apologists defend continued operations at dangerously deteriorated reactors, they are more broadly defending the power and profits of huge corporations that are completely invested in a centralized grid. When they argue that renewables “can’t do the job,” they’re in fact working to prolong the lives of the large generators that are the “base load” basis of a corporate grid-based supply system.
3. But that grid is now obsolete. What strikes the ultimate terror in utility boardrooms is the revolutionary reality of a decentralized power supply, free of large generators, comprised instead of millions of small photovoltaic (PV) panels owned by individuals. Industry sources have widely confirmed that this decentralized, post-grid model means the end of big utilities. Thus when they fight against PV and for nuclear power, they are fighting not for the life of the planet, but for the survival of their own corporate profits.
4. Some utilities do support some renewables, but primarily in the form of large centralized grid-based solar and wind turbine farms. Pacific Gas & Electric said it will replace the power from the Diablo Canyon nuke plant with solar energy.
But PG&E is simultaneously fighting rooftop solar, which will allow individual homeowners to disconnect from the grid. Germany’s transition from fossil-nukes to renewables has also been marked by conflict between large grid-based wind farms versus small community-based renewables.
5. PG&E and other major utilities are fighting against net metering and other programs that promote small-scale renewables. The Koch Brothers’ American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC) has spread a wide range of taxes and disincentives passed by the states to make it ever-harder to go solar. All this is being done to preserve the grid-based monopolies that own large fossil/nuclear facilities.
6. The idea that nuclear power might fight climate change, and that environmentalists might support it, is a recent concoction, a disgraceful, desperate load of utility hype meant to defend the status quo. Fukushima, unsolved waste problems and the plummeting price of renewables have solidified the environmental community’s opposition to nuke power.
These reactors are dirty and dangerous. They are not carbon-free and do emit huge quantities of heated water and steam into the ecosphere. The utility industry can’t get private liability insurance for them, and relies on the1957 Price-Anderson Act to protect them from liability in a major catastrophe. The industry continually complains about subsidies to renewable energy but never mentions this government protection program without which all reactors would close.
7. Not just nuke power but the entire centralized fossil/nuke-based grid system is now being undermined by the massive drops in the price of renewable energy, and massive rises in its efficiency and reliability.
The critical missing link is battery technology. Because the sun and wind are intermittent, there needs to be energy storage to smooth out supply. Elon Musk’s billion-dollar Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada and many other industrial ventures indicate major battery breakthroughs in storage is here today.
8. Porter’s NY Times piece correctly says that the massive amounts of cheap, clean renewables flooding the grid in Europe and parts of the U.S. are driving nuclear power plants into bankruptcy. At least a dozen reactor shut downs have been announced in the US since 2012 and many more are on their way. In Japan 52 of the 54 reactors online before the Fukushima disaster are now closed. And, Germany has pledged to shut all its reactors by 2022.
But Porter attacks this by complaining that those nukes were supplying base load power that must be otherwise — according to him — shored up with fossil burners. Here’s his key line:
“Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power.”
But as all serious environmentalists understand, the choice has never been between nukes versus fossil fuels. It’s between centralized fossil/nukes versus decentralized renewables.
Porter’s article never mentions the word “battery” or the term “rooftop solar.” But these are the two key parts in the green transition already very much in progress.
So here is what the Times obviously can’t bring itself to say: “Cheap solar panels on rooftops are now making the grid obsolete.” The key bridging element of battery back-up capability is on its way. Meanwhile there is absolutely no need for nuclear power plants, which at any rate have long since become far too expensive to operate.
Spending billions to prop up dying nuke reactors for “base load” generation is pure corporate theft at the public expense, both in straight financial terms and in the risk of running badly deteriorated reactors deep into the future until they inevitably melt down or blow up.
Those billions instead should go to accelerating battery production and distribution, and making it easier, rather than harder, to gain energy independence using the wind and the sun.
All this has serious real-world impacts. In Ohio, for example, a well-organized shift to wind and solar was derailed by the Koch-run legislature. Some $2 billion in wind-power investments and a $500 million solar farm were derailed. There are also serious legal barriers now in place to stop homeowners from putting solar shingles and panels on their rooftops.
Meanwhile, FirstEnergy strong-armed the Ohio Public Utilities Commission into approving a huge bailout to keep the seriously deteriorated Davis-Besse nuke operating, even though it cannot compete and is losing huge sums of money. Federal regulators have since put that bailout on hold.
Arizona and other Koch-owned legislatures have moved to tax solar panels, ban solar shingles and make it illegal to leave the grid without still paying tribute to the utilities who own it. Indeed, throughout the US and much of the western world, corporate-owned governments are doing their best to slow the ability of people to use renewables to rid themselves of the corporate grid.
For an environmental movement serious about saving the Earth from climate change, this is a temporary barrier. The Times and its pro-nuke allies in the corporate media will continue to twist reality. But the Solartopian revolution is proceeding ahead of schedule and under budget. A renewable, decentralized energy system is very much in sight.
The only question is how long corporate nonsense like this latest NY Times screed can delay this vital transition. Our planet is burning up from fossil fuels and being irradiated by decrepit money-losing reactors that blow up. Blaming renewable energy for all that is like blaming the peace movement for causing wars.
The centralized King CONG grid and its obsolete owners are at the core of the problem. So are the corporate media outlets like the New York Times that try to hide that obvious reality.
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Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Russia Bolsters Military On
Southwestern Flank Amid NATO Buildup Reuters
MOSCOW (July 28, 2016) — Russia has strengthened its southwestern flank as NATO builds up its military presence and Ukraine remains unstable, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday in remarks the United States called contrary to efforts to lower tensions.
Moscow has deployed more air defense systems in the southwest and has also deployed a “self-sufficient” contingent of troops in Crimea, Shoigu told a meeting at the Defence Ministry broadcast on state television.
“Since 2013 . . . we have formed four divisions, nine brigades and 22 regiments,” he said. “They include two missile brigades armed with Iskander missile complexes, which has allowed to boost fire power to destroy the potential adversary.”
Shoigu said “terrorist” groups were also active in the North Caucasus.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the US State Department, said Washington had seen the comments and “if true, we believe that this would appear to run counter to ongoing efforts to stop violence and de-escalate the tensions in eastern Ukraine.”
Kirby said the United States expected Moscow to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreement to halt the war in eastern Ukraine and the Vienna document that attempts to provide transparency about military movements in the region.
He noted that the reports indicated the Russian buildup included troops in Crimea, which Moscow seized and later annexed.
“Crimea is and always will remain part of Ukraine. We’re not going to allow . . . the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun,” Kirby said, calling for an “immediate end to the Russian occupation there.”
Russia Forms Brand-new Task Force to Counter NATO Buildup in Eastern Europe RT News
(July 27, 2016) — Moscow has been forming a force to counterbalance NATO’s massive military buildup along Russia’s borders in Europe, which will operate along its western and southern borders, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.
Shoigu named NATO’s military buildup in Eastern Europe, the overall situation in Ukraine, and growing terrorist activity in the Caucasus region as the three principle drivers behind Moscow’s military upgrade.
“In the given conditions, we have to take commensurate reaction measures,” Shoigu said, while speaking at a Defense Ministry board session.
Since 2013, the Defense Ministry has conducted over 200 drills in the southern military district, the minister reported.
Four divisions, nine brigades, and 22 regiments have been formed there from scratch, Shoigu said.
Two of the newly-formed divisions are missile units armed with Iskander-M tactical quasi-ballistic missile complexes that have greatly augmented the proven hard-kill capability of the southern task force.
The minister particularly stressed that, following reunification of Crimea with Russia in 2014, the region has been completely re-armed and the troops deployed there have become a self-sufficient task force armed with Bal and Bastion surface-to-sea anti-ship missile systems, S-300V4 and S-400 air defense missile complexes, and Buk-M2 and Pantsir-S1 (NATO designation SA-22 Greyhound) cannon-missile systems, as well as other upgraded systems.
“As a result, the air defense capability in the southwestern strategic direction has grown by 50 percent,” the minister claimed.
The Black Sea fleet has received brand-new Novorossiysk and Rostov-on-Don submarines armed with Kalibr cruise missiles. Both the Black Sea fleet and the Caspian Sea flotilla are now operating fast attack guided missile crafts armed with Kalibr cruise missiles.
Over the last three years, the southern military command has added over 4,000 units of new and modernized military hardware altogether.
In addition, the number of contracted professional servicemen serving in the southern task force has grown twofold, Sergey Shoigu said.
(July 11, 2016) — NATO and Russia are butting heads, with many believing that if the tensions continue, the Cold War-like scenario could turn into a hotter political crisis. [NATO] has also been accused of demonizing Russia while ignoring threats from the South.
NATO Demonizing Russia?
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova fired back at NATO, saying that the alliance “exists in a political mirror-world” that focuses on a “mythical” threat from the East “demonizing” Russia. The relations between the two parties degraded following the annexation of Crimea and have since been followed by a series of tensed and exchanges.
“We’re currently analyzing the decisions made at the NATO summit that took place in Warsaw on July 8 and 9. But even a cursory look at the results of the meeting shows that NATO continues to exist in some political mirror-world,” RT quoted Zakharova.
NATO also said that Russia is guilty of “provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory” and “willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of force.”
“Contrary to the aspirations of maintaining peace and stability in Europe, the Alliance focuses on ‘deterring’ a non-existent ‘threat from the East’,” said Zakharova.
“Attempts to ‘demonize’ Russia in order to justify the steps taken in the field of military construction, to divert public attention from the destructive role of the alliance and some of its allies, who provoke crises and [ . . . ] hotbeds of tension in various parts of the world, has become increasingly tumid.”
NATO Pushes for War
Former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has also fired back at NATO, saying that the alliance is escalating things further. The official noted that NATO has been working on “offensive operations” against Russia.
“All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defense, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations,” he said.
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Diablo Canyon Shutdown Proves People Power Can Defeat Nuclear Power Plant’s closure follows more than half-a-century of sustained citizen action against nuclear energy in California Mark Evanoff / Earth Island Journal
(June 27, 2016) — The story behind the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) announcement last week that it would close down the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is the culmination of a 60-year land conservation and appropriate energy debate between the utility company and the people of California. The point winner is the environmental community and grassroots activists who fought long and hard for the plant’s closure.
The closure of Diablo Canyon, the last operating nuclear plant in California, will effectively bring to an end the state’s more than half-a-century long, contentious relationship with nuclear power.
PG&E’s concession that it cannot afford to continue running the last operating nuclear plant in California effectively brings to an end this state’s more than half-a-century long contentious relationship with nuclear power.
Back in the 1950s the utility company had sought to prove the economics of the emerging nuclear technology as “too cheap to meter” and received the first commercial nuclear power plant license in the United States.
The company’s then president, Norman Sutherland, envisioned “atomic parks” along the California coast in Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo counties, that would produce enough energy to replace fossil fuels and hydro-power — an idea that was vociferously opposed by many Californians.
Conservationists, focused on protecting the California coast as open space, challenged the atomic parks as a threat to the environment. Fishermen feared the parks would lead to loss of fisheries. Dairy farmers worried about radiation impacting milk production.
Thus, a diverse group of citizens came together and organized a campaign to get state and federal agencies to stop licensing nuclear plants. The debate expanded to concerns about the safety of nuclear power, the unresolved issue of waste disposal, and a desire for clean decentralized alternative energy generation.
The Bodega Bay Atomic Park was stopped while under construction when an earthquake fault was discovered under the proposed location of the nuclear plant’s reactor. Bodega Head is now a state park. PG&E withdrew plans for atomic parks in other locations when faced with massive opposition and ever-recurring discoveries of earthquake faults adjacent to planned reactor sites.
Diablo Canyon was the only large nuclear plant the utility finally constructed, though in the face of stiff opposition. A remarkable cast of characters challenged the licensing of the facility in public meetings, courts, mass rallies, and civil disobedience actions, and continued to press for its shut down throughout the plant’s 55 year history.
The Sierra Club was one of the first organizations to push for Diablo Canyon as the location of a nuclear power plant as an alternative to the Nipomo Dunes in San Luis Obispo County. (The Nipomo Dunes are the second largest intact dune ecosystem in California.) Martin Litton, the then director of Sierra Club, who was also a dory oarsman on river trips through the Grand Canyon, urged the Club’s national board of directors to reverse its position.
Litton pointed out that Diablo Canyon was the last stretch of the California Coast south of Humboldt County unmarred by a state highway. Magnificent oak trees, hundreds of years old grew, in Diablo Canyon. Litton and David Brower, the Club’s executive director at the time, worked together to convince the Sierra Club to oppose Diablo Canyon.
Differences among the board members over whether or not to oppose the plant would bring to a head the differences in ideology within the Club that would eventually lead to a split with Brower his allies leaving the organization.
As then board member Fred Eissler (who has since passed on) recalled later: “The Sierra Club was at the height of its success at the time of Diablo Canyon. If the Club had taken a strong stand against the nuclear alternative, it is possible [it would] have held up the entire nuclear program. And that is what they were afraid of. It was at that strategic moment the Club backed out and became so thwarted in controversy [that] it ceased to be effective.”
Brower went on to found Friends of the Earth, and Eissler, along with San Luis Obispo County farmer Ian McMillian, continued fighting against Diablo Canyon through the public interest group Scenic Shoreline Preservation Conference.
“In the early days, the only way to actively oppose Diablo was to become an intervener. Intervention was lonely at the time,” recalls McMillian. “To testify against the plant was heresy. Opposing the plant was the equivalent of being called a communist. Everyone at the hearings was against us. People thought Diablo would lower taxes and that they would get a break on electricity purchases.”
After six years of hearings before the California Public Utilities Commission and the Atomic Energy Commission, PG&E ultimately received the permits required to construct two reactors in Diablo Canyon and construction started in 1968.
The utility had plans to install two additional reactors, but three years after construction on the Diablo plant began, in 1971, an anti-war group called Mothers for Peace produced evidence of an earthquake fault called the Hosgri Fault located off the coast from the plant site that had not been disclosed when PG&E applied for the permit to construct the plant.
Although the legal intervention process pursued by Mothers for Peace provided a means for experts to participate in the licensing process, the group’s founder, Raye Fleming, recognized that another venue was needed for people to challenge the safety and viability of nuclear power.
Fleming envisioned direct action as a method of getting the debate out of the courtroom and among the people who, she thought, should be the final decsion-makers. Working with American Friends Service Committee, she formed the Abalone Alliance. (The name was a reference to the tens of thousands of wild California Red Abalone that were killed in 1974 in Diablo Cove when the plant’s plumbing had its first hot flush.)
Abalone Alliance grew to be a broad network of locally based anti-nuclear organizations throughout California. Alliance volunteers trained people in non-violent direct action and the history and power of civil disobedience as means of facilitating change. It stressed on avoiding the kind of violence that took place during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
McMillian was one of the first people arrested for occupying the Diablo Canyon plant site in 1977. The following year, 487 people were arrested for blockading the site. Abalone Alliance utilized the affinity group structure rather than a mass collection of individual protestors. People trained together in an affinity group, knew and looked after one another.
Decisions were made through a representative “spokes council.” The affinity group structure protected the integrity of the demonstrations and infiltration by adversaries, and helped weed out individuals inclined toward violence and property destruction. Soon, the Diablo Canyon controversy started to receive national attention.
Abalone Alliance held off future acts of civil disobedience pending imminent licensing of the nuclear plant and instead organized a mass rally in 1979. One week before the rally, on March 28, 1979, a massive accident shut down the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania. The accident, the most serious mishap in US nuclear power plant history to date, lent special urgency to citizen’s safety concerns about nuclear power.
People mobilized throughout California to attend the rally in San Luis Obispo. Musicians Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Graham Nash performed. California Governor Jerry Brown arrived by helicopter and asked to speak at the rally. Brown pledged “No on Diablo” and became an intervener in the licensing of Diablo.
His participation as an intervener relieved Mothers for Peace of shouldering alone the financial burden challenging the licensing of Diablo. (Since nuclear plants are regulated by the federal government Brown didn’t have the authority to shut it down.)
The Abalone Alliance planned its the next massive civil disobedience action to coincide with when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would issue Diablo an operating license and PG&E would begin loading the reactor’s fuel rods. Affinity groups pledged to come to Diablo Canyon when the loading of fuel rods was eminent.
Pledged blockaders distributed leaflets at PG&E headquarters in San Francisco announcing their intention. Expecting a massive showdown, staff from the California Attorney General’s office visited local anti-nuclear groups trying to assess to magnitude of the participants and suggested that 60,000 blockaders may show up.
Seven state agencies including the Governor’s office, the California National Guard, and the Highway Patrol prepared for the blockade of Diablo. The Federal Aviation Administration developed plans to airlift 10,000 law enforcement officers onto the site if requried.
On September 8, 1981, the NRC notified the California National Guard that the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeals Board would issue its decision that Diablo Canyon was safe the following day. The California National Guard mobilized into San Luis Obispo the following day.
At Abalone Alliance, Raye Fleming activated the alert asking activists to blockade workers from loading fuel rods into the nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon. Affinity group members arranged to take off work and come to San Luis Obispo County. A large camp was set up near the site with solar powered lights and sound systems. For transport, there were bicycles and wheeled carts.
National media converged in the county, eager to cover the historic event. PG&E provided reporters a media office with phones and typewriters for filing stories. Abalone Alliance placed reporters in a fenced off area in the camp dubbed the “media pen” by reporters.
Alliance policy allowed reporters to visit the camp only under escort. The press corps eventually numbered 2000, larger than for any event at the time since the launching of the space shuttle.
Abalone Alliance member group, The Mother Bear Brigade, meets the Sheriff’s Department inside the main gate of the plant during the two-week long major direct action effort against Diablo Canyon in 1981.Photo by Steve Stallone/Abelone Alliance
Six days after the alert was launched, on Monday, September 14, the Diablo Canyon blockade began. Some people blockaded the blue line in front of the plant gate. Others hiked trails that had been scouted by local organizers in an effort to reach the nuclear power plant. There were 1,900 arrests over the course of the blockade.
The opposition to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant became an international story. Meanwhile, PG&E continued to pledge Diablo Canyon was safe.
Four days after the Abalone Alliance blockade began, John Horn, a new PG&E engineer who had read an Alliance leaflet explaining why they planned the blockade, took a second look at the construction drawings for the nuclear power plant and realized the support beams for cooling fans above the reactor had been placed improperly. The following Monday, the NRC issued a license to begin low power testing of the reactors.
Meanwhile, PG&E investigated Horn’s finding and realized it had a major problem. It had used the wrong blueprints and made the wrong calculations when constructing the support beams. As a result of the misplaced support beams, some parts of the plant lacked the reinforcement required to help it withstand strong earthquakes. The design and construction mistake had gone undetected since 1977.
Meanwhile, outside the plant, the Alliance blockade stretched into its second week, during which nearly 2,000 people were arrested. However, recognizing that participants needed to return to work and to maintain the non-violent integrity of the blockade, remaining affinity groups reached a consensus to end the blockade on Monday morning, September 28, 1981.
Police arrested the remaining blockaders at 6:00 a.m. at the front gate to Diablo Canyon. Later that day PG&E made public its construction mistake. Blockaders in jail cheered the announcement.
Despite this, less than a year later, on March 19, 1982, while PG&E was still working on a two-year seismic retrofit, the NRC decided not to review its earlier decision approving the plant’s safety. And in 1984, the NRC voted 3 to 2 on the matter of issuing a license to Diablo Canyon — a clear indication that at least some of the NRC commissioners had lost confidence with PG&E.
In response, Mothers for Peace member Rochelle Becker founded the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility — a group that has since been challenging the Diablo Canyon license renewals and pressuring the California Public Utilities Commission, the California State Lands Commission, and the California Energy Commission to move away from nuclear power.
In 2007, Becker succeeded in convincing the California legislature to block a bill seeking to overturn the Nuclear Safeguards Act. The 1976 act enforces a moratorium on building nuclear power plants until a permanent storage site for high-level radioactive waste is developed. The US Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the measure.
In 2008, new earthquake fault issues emerged and the safety of the plant was questioned yet again, and in 2010, following a PG&E natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, public confidence in PG&E diminished even further.
Following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan 2011, calls to shut down Diablo Canyon (and the San Onofre nuclear plant in San Diego County) gained further strength, though PG&E still continued to insist, until as recently as last year, that the plant was strong enough to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.
But by 2015 it appears that company executives realized any efforts to extend Diablo’s licenses would not only involve another prolonged fight, it would also further damage PG&Es already tarnished image.
Faced with such odds, PG&E finally joined hands with its longtime opponents like the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, Friends of the Earth, and Natural Resources Defense Council, and crafted a joint agreement to shutter Diablo in eight to nine years and to replace the electricity generation with non-greenhouse gas generating fuels.
The California Public Utilities Commission will play the key role in determining what kind clean energy PG&E will replace its nuclear energy supply with and from where it will purchase such energy. The determination will set the policy tone for who can supply clean energy to the grid.
We have the capacity for enormous safe decentralized electricity generation via rooftop solar, but there are some major roadblocks to setting such a system up. The biggest of these is that current law does not allow PG&E customers to sell surplus electricity generated by rooftop solar back to the utility.
Diablo Canyon is the last nuclear power plant in California. Redwood Alliance forced the closure of Humboldt Bay in 1976 and prevented PG&E from placing the entire financial cost of decommissioning the nuclear plant on the ratepayer. (The decommissioning process, however, is still ongoing.) Ratepayers voted to close Rancho Seco in Sacramento in 1989. Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and Friends of the Earth played a key role in the closure of San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013.
The real irony of the story is that the Atomic Industrial Forum recognized the potential controversy of nuclear power as early on as 1956 and organized a meeting that focused on how to market the technology to the public. The potential of nuclear accidents, disposal of nuclear waste, questionable economics, and local opposition were all discussed.
Sixty years later, the problems identified back then remain unresolved: There is no safe place for nuclear waste; PG&E admits nuclear power is no longer economical; the meltdown in Fukushima and a massive fire and explosion at Chernobyl tragically demonstrate that massive nuclear accidents do happen.
The inspiring thing, on the other hand, is that the closure of Diablo Canyon and all these other nuclear plants prove once again that people working together can put an end to generation and use of nuclear power.
Mark Evanoff bicycled across the United States in 1976, was arrested at Diablo Canyon in 1978 and 1981, wrote for Not Man Apart at Friends of the Earth, served 10 years as the East Bay Field Director for Greenbelt Alliance, became disillusioned staffing the California Legislature, and spent the last 17 years staffing the environmental cleanup and creation of a walkable community adjacent to the Union City BART Station.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION ALERT: Suspend Saudi Arabia from UN Human Rights Council Amnesty International USA
(July 28, 2016) — The evidence is mounting — Saudi Arabia has committed gross and systemic violations of human rights abroad and at home, and used its position on the UN Human Rights Council to obstruct justice for possible war crimes.
Saudi Arabia has executed minors, killed civilians in airstrikes and blocked investigations into possible war crimes, all since joining the UN Human Rights Council. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come together to demand that the international community hold Saudi Arabia accountable.
Raif Badawi, a blogger in Saudi Arabia, withstood 50 excruciating lashes. His full sentence requires a total of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of confinement — all because he published a blog that promoted religious freedom.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s government sits on a key human rights body — the UN Human Rights Council.
This hypocrisy cannot stand.
Saudi Arabia’s government has used its position on the Human Rights Council to shield itself from accountability. That’s why Saudi Arabia should be suspended from the Council.
I am writing to share with you a joint statement by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regarding the position of Saudi Arabia on the UN Human Rights Council, and to urge the United States to support a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling to suspend Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council on the basis of its commission of gross and systematic violations of human rights both domestically and in Yemen.
In November 2013, when Saudi Arabia was elected as a member of the Human Rights Council, it pledged among other things “to protect and promote human rights”, as required of council members in General Assembly resolution 60/251, and to “support the human rights bodies and mechanisms of the United Nations and cooperate constructively with them.”
It made additional pledges during its Universal Periodic Review in 2014, including to consider ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and abolish the system of male guardianship over women.
However, since becoming a Council member, Saudi Arabia has committed gross and systematic violations of human rights both inside the country and as part of the military coalition it leads in Yemen.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud.
The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Koran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution.
In 2011 the country held elections on a nonparty basis for half of the 1,632 seats on the 285 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election; however, women could not be candidates and could not vote. Authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most important human rights problems reported included citizens’ lack of the ability and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers.
Other human rights problems reported included abuses of detainees; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; investigating, detaining, prosecuting, and sentencing lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; holding political prisoners; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence.
Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems.
The government identified, prosecuted, and punished a limited number of officials who committed abuses, particularly those engaged or complicit in corruption. Some members of the security forces and other senior officials reportedly committed abuses with relative impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents were not known to have committed politically motivated killings during the year. Closed court proceedings in some capital cases made it impossible to determine positively whether authorities allowed the accused to present a defense or granted basic due process; however, the law requires a unanimous endorsement by the Supreme Judicial Council for all death sentences.
On February 19, two security personnel and two local residents were killed during an attempt to arrest a wanted man in Awamiya. According to official statements, the police came under fire when attempting to enter the home of the wanted man’s brother. During the exchange of gunfire, a resident of the home and a neighbor were killed.
The neighbor, 34-year-old Hussein Ali Madan al-Faraj, was killed in an alleyway near the house while carrying a camera. Local residents reported he often photographed protests and police actions and had come out of his nearby home to document the arrest.
According to the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia, capital punishment is the prescribed penalty for sorcery. The country lacks a written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1. e.); absent such a code, the punishments for the practice of magic or sorcery are subject to considerable judicial discretion in the courts.
Authorities investigated or arrested several individuals in connection with sorcery during the year. On August 5, the Ministry of Interior announced that authorities beheaded Mohammad bin Bakr al-Alawi, a Saudi national, for practicing sorcery “and other similar offenses” in the border town of Gurayyat in al-Jawf Province, based on a judicial order.
The government reportedly arrested and detained multiple persons during the year, refusing for extended periods in some cases to acknowledge the detention or to provide information about an individual’s whereabouts.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and holds criminal investigation officers accountable for any abuse of authority. sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress; statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.
In contrast with previous years, there were no confirmed reports of torture by government officials. Ministry of Interior officials claimed rules prohibiting torture prevent such practices from occurring in the penal system.
Former detainees in al-Ha’ir Prison, a detention facility run by the ministry’s General Investigations Directorate (Mabahith), claimed that while physical torture was uncommon in detention, Mabahith officials sometimes resorted to mental or psychological abuse of detainees, particularly during the investigation phase when interrogating suspects.
The ministry installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspected persons in criminal investigation offices, some police stations, and in prisons where such interrogations regularly occurred, such as Mabahith prison facilities.
Government officials also claimed representatives from the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the quasi-nongovernmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), supported by a trust funded by the estate of the late king Fahd, conducted prison visits to ascertain whether torture did or did not occur in prisons or detention centers and maintained permanent branches in some facilities. No former detainees, however, have verified independently that such office branches existed.
Moreover, there continued to be reports ministry officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to physical and mental abuse; however, due to lack of government transparency, it was not possible to ascertain the accuracy of some of these reports.
There was no available information on the number of cases of abuse and corporal punishment; however, former detainees in Mabahith-run facilities alleged abuse during detention, including sleep deprivation or long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.
Authorities executed several individuals during the year for crimes such as drug smuggling and sorcery. On August 18, the Ministry of Interior announced the execution of four Saudi men, Hadi al-Mutlaq, Awadj al-Mutlaq, Mufreh al-Yami, and Ali al-Yami, following their conviction on charges of smuggling hashish into the kingdom.
In 2011 security officials reportedly took human rights activist Mekhlef bin Daham al-Shammary from his prison cell at the Dammam General Prison and allegedly poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down his throat, resulting in his hospitalization.
In 2012, officials released al-Shammary from prison, and the Board of Grievances reportedly awarded him compensation for wrongful detention. In November, however, an appeals court in Riyadh ruled that his case was not in the jurisdiction of the Board of Grievances.
On February 17, al- Shammary asked the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh to complete proceedings against him after judicial authorities failed to issue a sentence by the February 10 deadline. Officials at the court reportedly told al-Shammary that it had postponed indefinitely issuing his sentence.
On November 3, the Khobar Criminal Court sentenced al-Shammary to two years in prison and 200 lashes, after he commented on Twitter in support of Shia-Sunni reconciliation and attended a Shia religious gathering.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), a semiautonomous agency — referred to by some as the “religious police” — has the authority to monitor social behavior and enforce morality subject to the law and in coordination with law enforcement authorities.
The courts continued to use corporal punishment as a judicial penalty, almost always in the form of floggings, a practice government officials defended as dictated by sharia. According to local human rights activists, police conducted the floggings according to a set of guidelines determined by local interpretation of sharia.
The police official administering the punishment must place a book under his arm that prevents raising the hand above the head, limiting the ability to inflict pain on the person subjected to the punishment, and instructions forbid police from breaking the skin or causing scarring when administering the lashes.
Courts sentenced several individuals convicted of theft to be punished by amputation, and there was one confirmed case of judicially administered amputation during the year.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards.
Physical Conditions: The director general of prisons announced in February 2013 there were 47,000 male and female prisoners and detainees in the kingdom; noncitizens constituted approximately 72 percent of those held.
Authorities held men and women in separate facilities and staffed women’s prisons with female guards. Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees. Although information on the maximum capacity of the facilities was not available, overcrowding in some detention centers was a problem.
Violations listed in reports by the NSHR following prison visits documented shortages of, and improperly trained, wardens; lack of access to prompt medical treatment when requested; holding prisoners beyond the end of their sentences; and failure to inform prisoners of their legal rights.
An October report criticized prison authorities for allowing some prisoners and prison administrators to exploit other inmates by hoarding supplies sold by prison commissaries.
Some detained individuals complained about lack of access to adequate health-care services. Some prisoners alleged prison authorities maintained cold temperatures in prison facilities and deliberately kept lights on 24 hours per day to make prisoners uncomfortable.
Observers regarded food supplied as adequate; however, in March local media reported prison authorities forced inmates in a prison in Najran to eat a meal that included chicken heads.
The spokesman for the General Directorate of Prisons, Major Abdullah al-Harbi, announced authorities would investigate the incident; however, at year’s end there was no report of the results of the investigation. Human rights activists reported that death in prisons, jails, or pretrial detention centers was infrequent.
Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. There were no reports of prisoners denied access to potable water.
Activists alleged authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated authorities equally mistreated the persons with disabilities. This was the case for political reformist Abdulaziz al-Wuhaibi, who remained in a military hospital’s psychological ward during the year (see section 3).
Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. Local provincial authorities administered some prisons while the Ministry of Interior administered other prisons and detention centers. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners, as there was no enforced policy in place to detain the two groups separately. Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate.
There were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences. In June Nasir al-Yamani, the director of the Jeddah juvenile detention center Dar al-Mulhadh, stated 10 convicts detained at his facility had completed their 10-year prison terms, but authorities had not completed procedures necessary to release them. The Saudi Human Rights Commission registered a complaint with the Ministry of Social Affairs concerning the 10 detainees on behalf of their families.
Penal and judicial authorities used alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, including probation, house arrest, travel bans, and religious counseling. In February 2013, however, the Ministry of Interior launched an “electronic portal” that provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates.
No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC and the NSHR for investigation. Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population.
Authorities permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week; however, there were reports prison officials denied this privilege in some instances. Authorities permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers; however, prison authorities in Mabahith prison facilities reportedly did not arrange for detainees to conduct Friday Islamic congregational prayer services.
There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or whether authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment and made them public.
The families of detainees could access a website for the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Prisons that contained forms to apply for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around the post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Family members of detained persons continued to complain authorities canceled scheduled visits with their relatives without reason.
Independent Monitoring: No independent human rights observers visited prisons or detention centers during the year. There were no reports the government permitted foreign diplomats to visit prison facilities to view general conditions in nonconsular cases.
In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats visited individuals in detention; however, visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may have differed from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.
The most recent prison visit conducted by an independent human rights organization was a 2006 visit by Human Rights Watch (HRW); however, the government permitted the governmental HRC and domestic quasi-governmental organizations such as the NSHR to monitor prison conditions.
The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. The NSHR monitored health care in prisons and brought deficiencies to the attention of the Ministry of Interior.
In August the NSHR announced it had submitted 943 letters of complaint to the Ministry of Interior’s Mabahith concerning prison conditions on behalf of detainees housed between 2009 and the current year. The complaints alleged refusals of temporary release requests and poor healthcare; moreover, they charged Mabahith officers flouted prison regulations.
In September, the NSHR reported it received 1,328 complaints since 2011 concerning conditions at prisons administered by the ministry’s General Directorate of Prisons.
Sixty percent of the complaints concerned substandard health services and the spread of infectious diseases in detention centers. The NSHR report noted that, in some cases authorities held prisoners in facilities with no ventilation or in locations with direct exposure to the sun.
The NSHR report also noted complaints that authorities held individuals beyond their prison sentences and did not provide women detained at al-Malaz prison in Riyadh regular access to legal counsel.
Improvements: The most recently available statistics indicated there were 116 prison facilities run by the General Directorate of Prisons, including 12 reformatories; however, authorities expanded the prison system through the construction of new facilities during the year.
Human rights activists reported health services in certain Mabahith-run detention facilities improved, and prison authorities established commissaries in some facilities that allowed prisoners to purchase additional food in exchange for wages earned at the prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison him, except under provisions of the law. Legally, authorities may not detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention.
Nonetheless, because of the government’s ambiguous implementation of the law and a lack of due process, the Ministry of Interior, to which the majority of forces with arrest power reported, maintained broad powers to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight or effective access to legal counsel or family.
Authorities held persons for weeks, months, and sometimes years and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney.
In December 2013, the government promulgated a royal decree revising key elements of the Law of Criminal Procedure, nominally strengthening some protections of the original law, but weakening some due process protections.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The king and the ministries of defense and interior, in addition to the Ministry of National Guard, are all responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The Ministry of Interior exercises primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings.
The semiautonomous CPVPV, which monitors public behavior to enforce strict adherence to the official interpretation of Islamic norms, reports to the king via the Royal Diwan (royal court) and to the Ministry of Interior. As of June the CPVPV had 12 branch offices, 129 subcommission offices, and 345 information centers throughout the kingdom. Regulations require the members of the CPVPV to carry official identification and have a police officer accompany them at the time of an arrest.
In 2013, the king issued a royal decree curtailing some CPVPV powers and transferring responsibilities to other competent authorities. While the CPVPV may detain suspects for brief periods, it must transfer suspects directly to police authorities to complete legal proceedings against them. CPVPV agents have authority to investigate only certain categories of offenses, including harassment of women, alcohol and drug-related offenses, witchcraft, and sorcery.
On February 19, the chairman of the CPVPV, Sheikh Abdullatif Al al-Sheikh, announced that CPVPV staff regularly monitored electronic websites to forward to the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) cases of individuals who promoted “witchcraft and immorality” on social media sites such as Twitter.
On August 29, CPVPV officials ordered an internal investigation after a witness filmed CPVPV employees in a video posted on the Internet violently assaulting a British national and his Saudi wife in a parking lot in Riyadh. The CPVPV employees reportedly suspected the British man of gender mixing with an unrelated female. Authorities announced they found the four CPVPV employees guilty of abusing authority; the CPVPV employees appealed the judgment.
On August 17, a judge upheld a sentence of a month-long prison term and 50 lashes for a businesswoman convicted of insulting CPVPV officers during an argument after the men entered her cafe to verify no immoral activity was occurring. Also on August 17, the CPVPV disclosed it requested the Ministry of Interior to arrest a number of persons it claimed committed apostasy or blasphemy. Human rights activists alleged the ministry likely originated the list to target critics of the government.
On September 22, the CPVPV president announced the CPVPV had fired an unspecified number of employees who engaged in corruption or used their power to harass persons with whom they had personal disputes.
Ministry of Interior police and security forces were generally effective at maintaining law and order. The Board of Grievances (Diwan al-Mazalim), a high- level administrative judicial body that specializes in cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the only formal mechanism available to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station, to the HRC, or to the NSHR.
The HRC and the NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases and information was not publicly available. During the year there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations, but the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing.
The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, security forces, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.
The BIP and the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) are the two units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts.
Officers of the Mabahith, however, also have broad authorities to investigate, detain, and forward to the judicial authorities “national security” cases which ranged from terrorism cases to dissident and human rights activist cases separate from the Board of Investigation and Prosecution.
A June, Ministry of Justice decree formalized and reaffirmed the role of the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), founded in 2008 to try terrorism offenses, following the promulgation of a new counterterrorism law in February.
In 2011 the Council of Ministers consolidated legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offences within the BIP; however, the CIB continued to be responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. All financial audit and control functions were limited to the General Auditing Board.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the Law of Criminal Procedure, as amended in 2013, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.”
Authorities may summon any person for investigation, and authorities may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence, but authorities frequently did not use warrants, and they were not required in cases where probable cause existed.
The law requires that authorities file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the Law of Criminal Procedure and the new Counterterrorism Law (see section 2.a.). Legally, authorities may not detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator.
Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights. Judicial proceedings began after authorities completed a full investigation, which in some cases took years.
In November 2013 the government promulgated a royal decree revising key elements of the Law of Criminal Procedure. While some of the amendments offered nominal improvements, other changes weakened due process protections contained in the earlier law. For example, an amendment to the law removed the ability of the presiding judge in a case to transfer it to another court before a sentence was issued.
Another amendment altered language in a manner that might deny defendants the automatic ability to appeal. The law specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused subject beyond the initial five days. The amended law expands the number of individuals empowered to renew pretrial detentions for periods of up to six months to include the president of the Board of Investigation and Prosecution and his designated subordinates.
The amended text allows authorities to approve official detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely.
Another amendment to the law extends from three months to six months the deadline for the BIP to gather evidence against the accused and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, summons, or detention. This provision is also contained in the new Counterterrorism Law, subject to the approval of the extension by the SCC. Another amendment explicitly allows an individual to represent himself in court.
There was a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. In normal cases the government typically provided lawyers to defendants; however, human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them, out of concern the lawyer would be biased.
Incommunicado detention was sometimes a problem. Authorities reportedly did not always respect detainees’ right to contact family members following arrest, and the new Counterterrorism Law, as amended, allows the Ministry of Interior to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel.
Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in detention for long periods before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.
Following the April detention of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al- Khair, his wife, Samar Badawi, reported prison authorities did not grant any of multiple requests to visit her husband (see section 2.a.). Authorities repeatedly transferred Abu al-Khair multiple times while in detention during the year.
On October 31, authorities detained Souad al-Shammary, a Saudi women’s rights and human rights activist. Her detention came after she published remarks on Twitter criticizing Saudi religious clerics. As of year’s end, she remained detained without charge.
In October authorities also detained Hassan al-Maliki, a Saudi secondary school teacher. Al-Maliki was active on Twitter, where he called for sectarian reconciliation and criticized intolerant language contained in Saudi textbooks. As of year’s end, he remained detained without charge.
In response to protests by family members of long-term security detainees, many of whom were suspects held on terrorism or security grounds, in February 2013 the Ministry of Interior created a website designed to connect detainees with their families “for humanitarian reasons.”
According to the ministry, the government provides family members of detainees with user names and passwords to access a website to send emails, make calls, and arrange direct video-conferencing sessions with detainees. Detainees could use the portal to apply for short periods of release to attend family weddings or funerals.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. The law no longer prohibits detention without charge for periods longer than six months, but it permits longer detention with a court order. During the year authorities detained without charge security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, and persons who violated religious standards.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Before authorities disestablished them, local officially unlicensed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA) and the Adala Center for Human Rights, challenged the Ministry of Interior publicly and in court on cases considered to involve arbitrary arrest or detention; however, authorities disestablished them, and they ceased operating in 2013 and 2014. ACPRA claimed the ministry sometimes ignored judges’ rulings; judges appeared powerless to take action against the ministry.
There was no available information on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the average length of time held; however, local human rights activists knew of dozens of cases. Human rights activists reportedly received up to three calls per week from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily.
In March 2013 the Ministry of Interior’s BIP released statistics accounting for those detained on suspicion of terrorism since 2001. The data indicated that of 11,527 such persons arrested, authorities had released 8,755. Of those released, according to the ministry, 551 were foreign nationals and 2,221 were Saudi citizens.
Those not released had either been referred to “the competent criminal courts,” or were still “being tried,” according to previous announcements by the ministry. The differences in these legal designations were unclear.
In 2012 the ministry also reportedly paid compensation of 32 million riyals ($8.5 million) to 486 detainees for being detained longer than their jail sentences and provided 529 million riyals ($141 million) in monthly assistance to the families of suspects.
During the year the ministry announced it had detained hundreds of additional individuals for terrorist acts following a campaign against alleged material supporters of and ideological sympathizers with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with detentions escalating after July.
In September the ministry reported 1,100 persons involved in terrorist cases “have so far been referred to pertinent courts and around 500 cases have been reviewed and appealed according to legal procedures.” The beginning date for these referrals was not clear.
Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: As of year’s end, three Eritrean military officers who defected to the country in 2012 and 2013 and attempted to claim asylum remained in detention in Jazan.
The officers defected in separate incidents in military jets and subsequently claimed human rights abuses in their country; the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Riyadh continued to monitor their cases.
Amnesty: The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. The details of the cases varied, but the demonstration of royal pardons sometimes included reducing or eliminating corporal punishment, for example, rather than setting aside the conviction.
The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to his release. There were general pardons or grants of amnesty on special occasions throughout the year.
On June 30, the king pardoned and released at least 128 prisoners on the occasion of Ramadan, upon the recommendation of a special committee in charge of studying the cases of prisoners.
Additionally, authorities did not detain some individuals, despite their receiving prison sentences. The February Law on Countering Terrorist Crimes and their Financing contained a provision that allows the interior minister to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. Moreover, the minister can release individuals already convicted on such charges.
In April the NSHR stated 45 percent of crimes addressed by courts were switched to alternative penalties such as community service, religious guidance, and behavioral counseling courses. In June the Reconciliation Committee in Mecca Province issued its annual report, which documented 715 cases in which it successfully secured pardons for prisoners sentenced to death.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides that judges are independent and are subject to no authority other than the provisions of sharia and laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary was not independent, as it was required to coordinate its decisions with executive authorities, with the king as final arbiter.
Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely if ever acquitted suspects.
Human rights activists reported SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformists, journalists, and dissidents, although they were not engaging in terrorist activities.
On June 16, the Ministry of Justice announced inspectors tasked by the Supreme Judicial Council and the ministry with “verifying judges discipline” in dealing with defendants subjected regular courts to regular and unannounced inspections.
In August, the government pressed charges against a judge for acquitting a religious teacher convicted for having ties with al-Qaida. There were no reports during the year of courts exercising jurisdiction over senior members of the royal family, and it was not clear whether the judiciary would have jurisdiction in such instances.
In December 2013, however, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz announced he would not pardon an unnamed Saudi prince whom authorities had sentenced to death for his alleged role in the death of a man. The family of the victim in the case had refused to accept diyah or “blood money” as compensation for their relative’s death.
Allegedly there were problems enforcing court orders from courts in the regular court system, particularly against the Ministry of Justice. On August 10, the Ministry of Justice announced electronic linkage of ministerial departments and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Fund designed to increase efficiencies in implementing financial rulings, in particular rulings related to alimony for divorcees and providing child support.
In December 2013, 200 judges sent a letter to the king to complain about the slow pace of reform and the “poor performance” of the Ministry of Justice.
The law states defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. In the absence of a written penal code listing all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties by legal interpretations of sharia. The Council of Senior Religious Scholars, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.
Additionally, sharia is not solely based on precedent. As a result rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case. According to judicial procedures, appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges do not affirm judgments, appeals judges, in some cases, return the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion.
This procedure sometimes makes it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differs from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitate to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia.
Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties; however, either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which use Sunni legal tradition.
According to the law, there is neither presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. The law states that court hearings shall be public; however, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion, and as a result many trials during the year were closed.
In December 2013 and throughout the year, foreign diplomatic missions received permission for the first time to attend nonconsular court proceedings (that is, cases to which neither the host nation nor any of its nationals were a party).
To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, the court administration, and the presiding judge. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused.
Court officials at the SCC sometimes prevented individuals from attending trial sessions for seemingly trivial reasons, such as banning female relatives from attending due to the absence of women officers to inspect the women upon entry to the courtroom.
According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses.
Representatives of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Justice, and sometimes representatives of the state-controlled media regularly attended trials at the SCC in Riyadh.
According to the HRC, the government may, at its discretion, provide an attorney to indigents at public expense. November 2013 amendments to the Law of Criminal Procedure strengthened provisions stating authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense.
Nevertheless, the new Counterterrorism Law limits the right of defendants to access to legal representation — in cases defined by the government as terrorism — to an unspecified period “before the matter goes to court within a timeframe determined by the investigative entity.”
The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the investigation and trial. There is no right to access government- held evidence. Defendants may request to review evidence and the court decides whether to grant the request. Defendants also have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and call witnesses on their behalf, but the court presents the witnesses.
The law provides that an investigator appointed by the BIP questions the witnesses called by the litigants before the initiation of a trial and may hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. A defendant may not be compelled to take an oath or be subjected to any coercive measures. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.
sharia as interpreted by the government extends these provisions to all citizens and noncitizens; however, the law and practice discriminate against women, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, foreigners, and persons of other religions.
For example, judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.
Among many reports of irregularities in trial procedures was the case of Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, a political dissident and founding member of ACPRA. In August 2013, a week after his release following more than two years in detention, authorities re-incarcerated him.
Originally, authorities arrested al- Bajady in 2011 for his leadership role in ACPRA and for publicly demanding political and legal reforms, including calls for a constitutional monarchy in the kingdom and protection for freedom of expression and association.
In 2012, authorities sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and a subsequent five-year international travel ban. During al-Bajady’s trial, the court denied observers access to hearings and refused to allow his lawyer access to the courtroom.
It was unclear whether al-Bajady would be required to serve the remainder of his four-year sentence. In October authorities announced they would retry Bajady before the SCC in relation to his human rights activities. The first hearing in his trial took place on December 18.
In January authorities retried human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair before the SCC after a Jeddah Criminal Court had sentenced him to a three-month prison term on a virtually identical set of charges (see section 2.a.).
In May, the SCC invalidated a royal amnesty previously given to Qatif activist Fadhil al-Manasif, despite arguments by al-Manasif’s legal counsel that only a royal order could invalidate an amnesty issued by the Royal Diwan.
Judicial authorities permitted local human rights activists and foreign diplomatic personnel with prior permission to attend the trial of Fawzan al-Harbi, whom authorities sentenced on June 25 to seven years in prison and a subsequent seven- year international travel ban for criticizing government authorities. On November 19, authorities detained al-Harbi and announced his resentencing to 10 years in prison subject to appeal.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The number of political prisoners or detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge could not be reliably ascertained.
In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and there was not sufficient public information about such alleged crimes to judge whether they had a credible claim to being political prisoners. The SCC tried a small number of political prisoners each year for actions unrelated to terrorism or violence against the state.
International NGOs, in particular Amnesty International, criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to arrest some members of the political opposition.
Authorities generally gave security detainees the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. High-profile prisoners generally were well treated. Certain prisoners, held on terrorism-related charges, had the option of participating in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs.
The new Counterterrorism Law allows investigating agencies to order internment in these programs’ rehabilitation facilities of “anyone who is arrested or reported on.” The Counterterrorism Law describes these individuals as those who are “surrounded by suspicions or those who represent a threat . . . as a substitute for arresting or detaining them.” Authorities sometimes restricted legal access to detainees; no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.
On August 13, the SCC sentenced Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Aamer to an eight-year prison term, a subsequent 10-year travel ban, and a ban on publicly delivering sermons or speeches. In July 2013 an appeals court increased his prison sentence from three years in prison to four years and upheld the five-year international travel ban.
Authorities detained al-Aamer in 2011 for comments critical of the government and charged him in 2012 with calling for political change, libeling the country’s religious scholars, and collecting illegal religious donations, among other offenses.
On October 15, the SCC sentenced Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr to death based on charges of inciting terrorism and sedition, interfering in the affairs of another country, disobeying the nation’s guardians, attacking security personnel during his arrest, and meeting with wanted criminals.
Authorities detained al-Nimr’s brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, following the conclusion of Nimr al-Nimr’s hearing that same day, presumably for releasing a statement on behalf of the al-Nimr family condemning the sentence and for revealing the details of the sentence to the international press, in contravention of a court order.
In March 2013, the public prosecutor in the BIP asked for Nimr al-Nimr to be sentenced, executed, and his dead body publicly crucified (hiraba). Authorities allowed family members to visit Nimr al-Nimr at Ha’ir prison during the year, where he remained at year’s end.
On May 27, authorities also sentenced Nimr al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, to death for crimes he allegedly committed when he was a legal minor. Ali al-Nimr alleged authorities tortured him during detention to obtain a confession.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases.
The HRC generally responded to complaints; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations also may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances except in compensation cases related to state security where the SCC handles remediation.
The new Counterterrorism Law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms.
In some cases the government did not carry out in a timely manner judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions. In February 2013 the Specialized Criminal Court awarded Abdulrahman al-Dosary compensation of 350,000 riyals ($93,330) for detention for 102 days in excess of his sentences; however, as of year’s end, the award was not paid.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search.
While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications, and the government used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.
There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking mobile telephone or Internet usage before planned demonstrations. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons who engaged in certain political activities, such as direct public criticism of some senior royals by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration.
Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas Ministry of Interior informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.
The CPVPV monitored and regulated public interaction between members of the opposite sex. On February 26, Tabuk governorate ordered members of the CPVPV in their jurisdiction not to contact women’s families when they arrested them for “moral cases,” which included those involving contact with the opposite sex. The governorate claimed reporting these cases “prematurely” would create problems for the women and render them unable to marry.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Civil law does not protect human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press; only local interpretation and the practice of sharia protect these rights.
There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech. The Basic Law specifies “mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity.
The media is prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security.
On February 1, the Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Terrorist-Financing (CT law) went into effect following its approval by the Council of Ministers in December 2013.
For the first time, the law officially defines and criminalizes terrorism and terrorist financing in the criminal code; however, the legal definition of terrorism is extremely broad, defining a terrorist crime (in part) as “any act . . . intended to disturb the public order of the state . . .or insult the reputation of the state or its position.”
Saudi human rights activists and international human rights organizations criticized the law for its vague definition of terrorism and complained that the government could use it to prosecute peaceful dissidents for “insulting the state.”
The new CT law allows the Ministry of Interior to access a terrorism suspect’s banking information and private communications in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by criminal procedure law.
On February 3, a subsequent royal decree set prison sentences for broadly defined terrorist crimes for the first time in the criminal code.
The Press and Publications Law states violators can be fined up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) for each violation of the law, which is doubled if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing.
Formally, the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Culture and Information has responsibility for the law; however, sharia court judges, who consider these issues regularly, exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law, which made it unclear which expression accords with the law.
Government-friendly ownership of print or broadcast media led to self-censorship, and there was relatively little need for overt government action to restrict freedom of expression. The government, however, could not rely on self-censoring in social media and the Internet. Accordingly, to control information it monitored and blocked certain Internet sites.
On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the Internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the Internet to express dissent with subversion, blasphemy, and apostasy.
Freedom of Speech: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict those verging on the political sphere. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.
The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which legally can carry the death penalty, although there have not been any recent instances of death sentences for these crimes. Statements authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or the al-Saud family resulted in criminal charges for several Saudis advocating government reform.
The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. On July 6, the SCC sentenced lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair to a 15-year prison term, a subsequent 15-year international travel ban, and a 200,000 riyal ($53,300) fine for activities related to his human rights work.
These activities included public calls for reform, criticisms of government policies and officials, and his role in founding an unlicensed NGO, the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. In January the Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Abu al-Khair to a three-month prison term on a nearly identical list of charges; however, in late January the Ministry of Interior remanded the case to the SCC to be retried.
Following the July judgment, Abu al- Khair announced he would not appeal his judgment since he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the SCC, a tribunal ostensibly created to deal with terrorism cases, to handle his case, and he did not want to lend legitimacy to the SCC or its proceedings.
The government has prosecuted and intermittently detained al-Khair since 2011 for criticizing the government. Additionally, the government banned him from travel starting in 2011.
In December 2013 the Buraydah Criminal Court sentenced Umar al-Sa’id, a member of ACPRA, to 300 lashes and four years in prison for calling for a constitutional monarchy and criticizing the country’s human rights record; however, authorities subsequently reversed his sentence and ordered that he be retried before the SCC. As of year’s end, al-Sa’id remained at Buraydah prison in al-Qassim Province.
In October authorities referred the case of Abdulaziz al-Shobaily to the SCC for prosecution. Al-Shobaily was active on Twitter and published comments critical of the government. He was also a member of ACPRA.
On September 1, the Jeddah Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier judgment by the court on May 7 sentencing Ra’if Badawi to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes following Badawi’s decision to appeal his July 2013 sentence of a seven-year prison term and 600 lashes. The judgment also banned Badawi from international travel for 10 years after completing his prison term and banned him from corresponding with international media.
The Appeals Court ruled that Badawi violated Islamic values, violated sharia, committed blasphemy, and mocked religious symbols on the Internet. The presiding judge in the original case ordered the Internet forum closed, although it had been inactive since 2012.
A human rights activist and the founder of the online social forum Saudi Liberals Network, Badawi was detained by authorities in 2012 after his father charged him with “disobedience” in connection with the online forum. At year’s end Badawi remained in custody in Burayman prison in Jeddah and was still awaiting administration of court-ordered lashes.
Press Freedoms: The Press and Publications Law, which extends explicitly to Internet communications, governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; and foreign media offices and their correspondents. In 2011 a royal decree amended the law to strengthen penalties and created a special commission to judge violations.
The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia; inciting disruption; serving foreign interests that contradict national interests; and damaging the reputation of the Grand Mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”
The Ministry of Culture and Information may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication — defined as any means of expressing any viewpoint that is meant for circulation — that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity as set forth in the 2011 royal decree.
Because of their self-censorship, print and media authorities did not frequently prosecute print and broadcast media. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers such as Ash-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat. The government owned, operated, and censored most domestic television and radio outlets.
Satellite dish usage was widespread. Although satellite dishes were technically illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on satellite dishes. Access to foreign sources of information, including the Internet, was common, but the government blocked access to some Internet sites it considered objectionable. Privately owned satellite television networks headquartered outside the country maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.
Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country, in English and Arabic, including foreign news channels such as CNN, Fox, BBC, Sky, and al-Jazeera. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Culture and Information and could not operate freely.
The Ministry of Culture and Information must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provides guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. A 1982 media policy statement urges journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news.
In February, the Saudi Gazette, a prominent English-language daily print and online newspaper, appointed Somayya Jabarti, a Saudi woman, to the position of editor in chief. Jabarti is the first woman to lead a Saudi newspaper.
All newspapers in the country must be government-licensed. Media outlets legally can be banned or have their publication temporarily halted if the government concludes they violated the Press and Publications Law.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists to arrests, imprisonment, and harassment during the year. On March 4, the SCC of Appeals upheld the sentences of two journalists from the Eastern Province, Habib Ali al- Maatiq and Hussein Malik al-Salam, and increased their prison terms to two years and five years, respectively. Authorities originally detained the two journalists in 2012; they had reported on protests in Qatif for the Al-Fajr Cultural Network news websites.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned, operated, and censored most domestic television and radio outlets. The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.
Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media, effectively censoring these publications. In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.
On January 7, the government banned Ali Al al- Yani, a television anchor, from his talk show on Rotana Khalijia TV, a private channel owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Authorities banned Al al-Yani after he interviewed Abdulaziz al-Otaishan, a member of the Consultative Council, the country’s unelected parliament, during which al-Otaishan criticized the government’s decision to send 11.25 billion riyals (approximately three billion dollars) in military aid to Lebanon without seeking approval from the Consultative Council.
The Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.
Libel Laws/National Security: There were no reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.
There were government restrictions on access to the Internet and credible reports the government monitored e-mails and Internet chat rooms. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications. Internet access was widely available to and used by citizens of the country.
The Press and Publications Law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued “Implementing Regulations for Electronic Publishing,” setting rules for Internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. Security authorities actively monitored Internet activity.
The Press and Publications Law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CI
Wild Turkey With H-Bombs: Failed Coup
Heightens Calls for Denuclearization John LaForge / AntiWar.com
(July 28, 2016) — An explosive cocktail of political instability mixed with 90 US H-bombs raises the specter of accidental or suicidal nuclear detonation in or near Turkey. This risk was brought into sharp relief by the attempted military coup there in mid-July.
In June, I warned that the Pentagon’s 180 thermonuclear B61 gravity bombs deployed across Europe — 50 to 90 are at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey — are too dangerous deploy in the age of terrorism. Turkey’s B61s are 100 miles from Islamic State territory, a war zone. Now the Los Angeles Times, the Japan Times, Foreign Policy, the San Antonio Express News and other major papers see the Pentagon’s outsourced B61s in Turkey as a hot topic.
As Tobin Harshaw reported July 25, “Until recently, the question of whether the United States should continue to station nuclear missiles [sic] in Turkey was of interest only to a passel of national-security geeks and nonproliferation advocates. One failed coup later, the discussion has spread to CNN, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere.”
Jeffrey Lewis argued July 18, that in the wake of the botched coup, “Turkey is not a sensible base for nuclear deterrence.” But in the irrational realm of nuclear war planning, US B61s are being stored at Incirlik, where the coup was planned, because US hawks insist, Harshaw wrote, on “maintaining the capability to attack Iran” with H-bombs. Never mind the ensuing cataclysm as Russia and Pakistan could retaliate with nuclear weapons if the US used its own against Iran.
The bloody, hapless coup inside Turkey amplifies the reasons why US proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries amounts to nuclear madness. The B61s’ uselessness and vulnerability have been reported by major news outlets from New York to Tokyo. Antiwar protesters have often snuck past security into NATO bases where they are stored. After 20 terrorist attacks inside Turkey, reasons for its denuclearization have gone mainstream:
1) The Los Angeles Times saidJuly 23 that Incirlik AFB “was an operational center of the attempted coup,” which, US military experts said, demonstrated “a worrying level of instability in Turkey’s military command close to the B61s.” The base’s top commanders were all arrested.
2) US B61s stored at Incirlik are designed for the McDonnell Douglas Corp’s F-15E jet fighter and for Lockheed Martin’s F-16, according to the Washington Post. Yet, “The US does not have aircraft at Incirlik qualified to deliver the weapons,” the LA Times noted.
“In order for the weapons to actually be used, the US would have to fly a squadron of aircraft into Incirlik to load the bombs, all of which would be observed by Russia and possibly make the base a target for a first strike.” These bombs only endanger their owners and everyone around them!
3) The B61 bombs are designed with safeguards to prevent unauthorized use known as “use controls” and “permissive action links.” But the LA Times reports that Robert Peurifoy, who “designed the first use controls on weapons based in Europe” while at Sandia National Laboratory warns that “use controls may only impede and delay a terrorist. . . . Either you keep custody or you should expect a mushroom cloud.”
4) General Eugene Habiger, USAF Ret., a former commander of all long-range nuclear weapons who led Strategic Command from 1996 to 1998, told the San Antonio Express News July 22 “the [B61] bombs no longer have any military usefulness.”
And Habiger said, “It’s a very, very dangerous weapon in terms of military consequences, political consequences, and I think what happened in Turkey highlights the potential unintended consequences of having nuclear weapons forward deployed if there is no military requirement.”
Because conventional bombs are devastating enough, Gen. Habiger asks, “Why does NATO need nuclear weapons?” As Jeffrey Lewis noted: “After the events of the past weekend, leaving them in place seems positively terrifying.” Terrifying to us that is, since the B61s in Turkey have no delivery system. As such, wild Turkey becomes that latest and best reason ever to permanently remove US nuclear weapons from Europe.
(June 19, 2016) — “A little more than 60 miles from Brussels airport,” Kleine Brogel Air Base is one of six European sites where the United States still stores active nuclear weapons, William Arkin wrote last month.
The national security consultant for NBC News Investigates, Arkin warned that these bombs “evade public attention to the extent that a post-terror attack nuclear scare in Belgium can occur without the bombs even being mentioned.”
At the Kleine Brogel base, there are an estimated 20 US B61 nuclear bombs to be carried and delivered by the Belgian Air Force’s F-16 fighter jets. Yet these weapons “did not come up in news coverage following the [March 22] Islamic State bombings in Brussels,” Arkin wrote for NewsVice. The B61s weren’t mentioned in reports of the shooting death of a Belgian nuclear reactor guard, Arkin said, or in stories about lax security at Belgium’s power reactors.
Today, only 180 — out of more than 7000 US nukes once deployed in Europe — are still kept at the ready: in Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and Turkey. “And,” Arkin notes, “Soviet nuclear weapons have even been removed from Eastern Europe.”
If “nuclear weapons could be removed from the Korean Peninsula, certainly they don’t need to be physically present in Europe,” he said. “Other NATO nuclear partners have denuclearized. In 2001, the last nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Greece. US nuclear weapons were even withdrawn from Britain in 2008.”
Other experts have also spotlighted what the commercial press treats as taboo terror scenarios. Hans M. Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, warned last month that, “Suspected terrorists have had their eye on one of the Italian bases [two of which house US B61 bombs], and the largest nuclear stockpile in Europe [the 90 US B61s at Incirlik] is in the middle of an armed civil uprising in Turkey less than 70 miles from war-torn Syria.
Is this really a safe place to store nuclear weapons?” The answer is No, especially considering that since 9/11 terrorists have hit Belgium three times, Germany and Italy once each, and Turkey at least 20 times — and all four NATO partners are current B61 outposts.
Big Business Behind New H-bombs
Large majorities of Europeans, prominent NATO ministers and generals, and Belgian and German parliamentary resolutions have all demanded permanent removal of the B61s. The holdup is not public opinion, security needs or deterrence theory, but big business.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico reports that the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) receives around $7 billion a year for maintaining and “enhancing” nuclear weapons.
The Air Force wants 400-500 new B61-12s to be built, 180 of which are scheduled to replace existing versions known as the B61-3, -4, -7, -10, and -11 currently in Europe. In 2015, NNSA estimated the cost of replacing the B61s at $8.1 billion over 12 years. Budget increases are sought every year.
Our nuclear weapons laboratories promote and feed from this gravy train, as Nuclear Watch NM notes, specifically the Sandia National Lab (a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp.) and Los Alamos National Lab, both in New Mexico, which oversee the design, manufacture and testing of the B61-12.
William Hartung, a Fellow at the Center for International Policy, reports that major weapons contractors like Bechtel and Boeing reap huge profits from weapons upgrades.
Lockheed Martin “gets two bites at the apple,” Hartung says, because it also designs and builds the F-35A fighter bomber, “which will be fitted to carry the B61-12, as will the F-15E (McDonnell Douglas), F-16 (General Dynamics), B-2A (Northrop Grumman), B-52H (Boeing), Tornado (Panavia Aircraft) and future long-range striker bombers.”
Although the United States has promised not to build new nuclear weapons, Kristensen, and Matthew McKinzie, the Nuclear Program Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, report that, “The capability of the new B61-12 . . . seems to continue to expand, from a simple life-extension of an existing bomb, to the first US guided nuclear gravity bomb, to a nuclear earth-penetrator with increased accuracy.”
These complex nuclear weapons changes cost enormous amounts of tax money. And the money keeps coming because it fuels and rewards the perceived power and prestige that nuclear weapons workers carry up to corporate, academic, military and political elites.
Summer-long Protests Underway at
Buchel Air Base, Home to 20 US H-bombs
The German group Nuclear-Free BÃ¼chel has launched its 19th annual series of actions against the 20 B61 bombs deployed at BÃ¼chel Air Force Base in West-central Germany. This year’s rallying cry for the 20-week-long event: “BÃ¼chel is Everywhere.”
The occupation began March 26 — the anniversary of the German Bundestag’s 2010 resolution calling for withdrawal of the B61s — and continues through Aug. 9, Nagasaki Day.
Just outside the main gate, oversized banners, placards and artwork recall a successful effort 30 years ago that ousted 96 US nuclear-armed Cruise missiles from HunsrÃ¼ck, Germany: On Oct. 11, 1986, more than 200,000 people marched there against NATO plans to use nuclear detonations inside Germany against a Warsaw Pact invasion, i.e. the military genius of destroying Germany to save it. It seems the more things change . . . .
John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.