Archive | February 2012

Bradley Manning and the military’s perverted sense of justice

Private Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of providing embarrassing U.S. state secrets to WikiLeaks, was on Thursday formally charged with 22 counts. The charges come after Manning’s extraordinary 22-month pre-trial detention, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. The most serious charge he faces is “aiding the enemy,” which carries a possible sentence of life in military custody. Manning declined to enter a plea at the hearing, and despite his attorneys’ attempts to set a trial date for April, it looks like the trial won’t begin until August.

His lawyer David Coombs has argued that Manning’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated by the prolonged military detention, filing a motion to dismiss on these grounds in January. On his blog, Coombs noted that the right to a speedy trial – enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution – applies to military personnel as well as civilians:

The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is applied to military jurisprudence through two separate and distinct provisions — Rule for Court-Martial (R.C.M.) 707 and Article 10 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) (10 U.S.C. § 810).  While both provisions seek to protect the same constitutional right, and while there is considerable overlap between the two, each provision has separate rules regarding when the protections attach and when they are breached.

It could also be pointed out that Manning’s extended pre-trial detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which contains the following provision:

Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

Manning’s case has garnered substantial international attention, with demonstrations being held on his behalf from Canada to England to Hungary to Australia. Earlier this month, members of the Icelandic parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In January 2011, while Manning was still being held in prolonged solitary confinement, Amnesty International sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, calling Manning’s detention “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” and in “breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties.” According to Amnesty:

The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be “subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons …”.

In an open letter to President Obama, members of Congress and top officials at the Pentagon last November, more than 50 members of the European Parliament expressed concern “that the US army has charged Bradley Manning with ‘aiding the enemy,’ a capital offence that is punishable by death,” and that the United States government has refused to allow the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture to meet privately with the imprisoned veteran.

The letter states:

We are troubled by reports that Mr Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture. And we are disappointed that the US government has denied the request of the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to meet privately with Mr Manning in order to conduct an investigation of his treatment by US military authorities.

We call upon the United States government to allow Juan Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, to conduct a private meeting with Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower. Mr Méndez has made repeated requests to American officials to meet privately with Mr Manning in response to evidence that he was subjected to abusive confinement conditions while he was detained at a facility in Quantico, Virginia. Mr Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day during the eight months he was incarcerated at that location. It appears that he was at times forced to sleep and stand at attention without any clothing. His legal counsel has documented additional incidents which indicate the possibility of other rights violations.

The letter also criticized the military for conducting an internal investigation that was marked by bias and conflicts of interest, especially the fact that its findings of wrongdoing were overturned by a military prison official who was directly implicated by the report:

Hundreds of US legal scholars have signed an open letter to the Obama administration, arguing that the conditions of confinement endured by Mr Manning at Quantico may have amounted to torture. Following worldwide calls for an end to the abusive treatment, Manning was moved to a facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his conditions are said to have improved. The US military conducted an internal investigation into the allegations of mistreatment at Quantico. The preliminary results of this investigation found that Mr Manning was improperly placed on “prevention of injury” status, against the recommendations of qualified medical personnel. However, these findings were ultimately overturned by a military prison official who was implicated by the report. Therefore, the US military’s internal investigation has been compromised by clear conflicts of interest. This so-called “prevention of injury” status was the justification for a number of extraordinary measures, such as denying Mr Manning comfortable bedding and not allowing him to exercise.

By preventing UN officials from carrying out their duties, the United States government risks undermining support for the work of the United Nations elsewhere, particularly its mandate to investigate allegations of torture and human rights abuses. In order to uphold the rights guaranteed to Bradley Manning under international human rights law and the US constitution, it is imperative that the United Nations special rapporteur be allowed to properly investigate evidence of rights abuses. PFC Manning has a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. People accused of crimes must not be subjected to any form of punishment before being brought to trial.

The British government has also protested Manning’s treatment. British diplomats raised concerns last year to the State Department that his human rights were being breached.

British Labour MP Ann Clwyd objected to the military’s conduct because of the message it sends to the rest of the world about what kind of treatment the U.S. government thinks is acceptable for imprisoned people throughout the world.

[This case] matters in places where human rights are not nearly so well observed. People will pay attention in China and in Russia – and in Libya, where we want to be on the side of those fighting for freedom from state repression. And most of all in Afghanistan: it matters to those UK and US service personnel fighting in Afghanistan what kind of image Britain and the US have in the world.

Manning, an Iraq War veteran, is accused of leaking thousands of classified documents, some of which provide clear evidence of U.S. violations of international law, including spying on UN officials in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as well as the commission of brazen war crimes in Iraq, as revealed in the “Collateral Murder” video.

Despite the extensive evidence of crimes allegedly provided by Manning, he is the only individual facing criminal charges related to the revelations.

Click here to get involved with the campaign to save Bradley Manning.

Pentagon issues yet another hollow apology

U.S. Marines posing with Nazi SS flag in Afghanistan, the subject of a recent Pentagon apology.

Over the past several weeks, the Defense and State Departments have been compelled to issue three high-profile apologies and explanations, regarding the desecration of corpses in Afghanistan, a photograph depicting U.S. Marines posing with a Nazi SS flag, and now, an incident in which copies of the Koran were burned by U.S. personnel at a military base north of Kabul.

The latest apology, on the Koran burning, was issued by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who called the incineration of the Muslim holy book by U.S. occupation forces “inappropriate.” He pledged to “carefully review the final results of the investigation to ensure that we take all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again.”

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Marine who commands Western forces in Afghanistan, reiterated the apology, saying, “I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and, most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan.”

The apologies don’t appear to be having the intended effect of pacifying the country, however, with at least five dead and others wounded Wednesday in violent protests across Afghanistan. As the New York Times reported,

Protests against the burning by NATO personnel of an undisclosed number of Korans spilled into a second day on Wednesday and seemed poised to widen as the American Embassy here suspended all travel by its staff, and NATO soldiers in the capital appeared to be restricting their movements, keeping military vehicles off the streets. …

Protesters trying to break into the NATO base at the Jalalabad airfield set fire to six fuel tankers in a nearby parking lot.

In Kabul, protesters threw rocks at Afghan Army vehicles and shouted anti-American slogans as they blocked the main road to eastern Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “even some Afghans who said they believed the action had been the result of error, not malice, found it difficult to accept” the U.S. apology.

“They are careless with our holy things, and they are careless with our country,” said Wali Aziz, an Afghan shopowner.

The expressions of regret must have a familiar ring to Afghans, who have been occupied by U.S. forces for more than ten years and have heard more than their share of Pentagon apologies. Just last month, the Afghans were assured that a video depicting the desecration of Afghan corpses does not reflect America’s “core values.”

After a video of Marines urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban fighters went viral, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”

A Pentagon spokesman emphasized that “the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney later echoed these remarks, telling reporters, “We apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the theme, saying that she condemns the “deplorable behavior” of the Marines and that “it is absolutely inconsistent with American values.”

Then, less than a month later, Pentagon officials were scrambling to explain the release of a photo of Marine snipers posing with a Nazi SS flag.

“I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines,” Marine Corps Commandant James Amos said. “On behalf of the Marine Corps and all Marines, I apologize to all offended by this regrettable incident.”

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that racist and anti-Semitic symbols have no place alongside U.S. service members. It was claimed that the Marines in the photo mistakenly believed the “SS” in the shape of white lightning bolts were a nod to “sniper scouts,” not members of Adolf Hitler’s Schutz-Staffel unit that murdered millions of Jews, Catholics, and others.

The veterans’ antiwar organization March Forward took issue with this explanation. In an article posted on March Forward’s website, Kevin Baker, a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry who served 28 months in Iraq, drew a connection between the Nazi SS photograph and the video of the Marines urinating on dead Afghans:

These two situations emerged in different times and locations in the country, but are completely bound together. They are bound with the racism, sense of superiority and sense of nationalism that the military itself embraces and promotes.

Racism is embraced, coddled and on full display by the top leaders of the U.S. military. We see it everywhere, in plain sight.  …  Anyone who has served in the U.S. military knows that, despite the official line of its “Equal Opportunity Program” and official rules and regulations against racism, use of racist terms to dehumanize Muslims and the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia are so common they are part of the everyday vernacular.

Baker noted that “Nazi paraphernalia is not uncommon” in the military.

“In my time as an infantryman,” he says,

I saw Nazi paraphernalia regularly. Soldiers complained to me that in the barracks of Ranger Regiment on Fort Lewis, Nazi flags being hung in soldiers’ rooms without repercussion. My first tour in Iraq was the first time I remember seeing the “Deaths Head” pin, a symbol of the Nazi SS, placed on the front of soldiers’ vests. It was not the last.

Especially in Special Operations units—such as the Marine snipers in the photo—Nazi symbolism is revered. Why? Quite simply because the Nazis are famous for mercilessly killing and terrorizing millions of people. It fits right in to the mentality expected of Spec Ops.

Baker pointed out that when the U.S. military was experiencing a recruiting shortfall in 2005, the Department of Defense changed its policy against allowing self-avowed Nazis to join, and adopted an official “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding members of neo-Nazi and white-supremacist organizations.

It is little wonder that in a military so infused with racism that scandals such as the corpse desecration video or the incineration of Korans emerge from time to time. But while there seems to be a flurry of scandals in the past several weeks, it is worth remembering that apologies from the military brass are nothing new, particularly in the “war on terror.”

Over the past year, there have been numerous apologies issued from the Pentagon on matters such as the emergence of gruesome “kill team” photos and the apparently accidental killing of nine young Afghan boys last March.

The apology over the massacre of the young boys was rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said that excuses by the U.S. cannot relieve the pain caused by these incidents.

There have also been apologies for scandals that hit closer to home. Last March, the Pentagon was criticized for likening the Seminole Indian tribe to al-Qaeda in court documents. The government “in no way questions or impugns the valor, bravery and honorable military service of Native Americans, past and present,” military lawyers wrote, adding that the Pentagon “does not, in fact, equate the conduct of the Seminoles in 1817-1818 with that of al-Qaida and its affiliated terrorist group.”

In December, the Air Force was compelled to apologize to the families of fallen American soldiers after it was revealed that the remains of hundreds of troops had been dumped in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had earlier acknowledged.

“We regret any additional grief to families that past practices may have caused,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, an Air Force deputy chief of staff.

It remains to be seen whether apologies directed to the American people will continue having the desired effect, or whether, like the Afghans, Americans will begin to reject these expressions of regret as shallow half-measures from a Defense Department that appears to act beyond any bounds of accountability.

With the apologies becoming so routine and predictable, the question must be asked whether they carry any weight at all or if deeper, more systemic changes are needed within the military establishment.

Under Obama, Americans abandoning commitment to international law

Whether they realize it or not, Americans are increasingly embracing policies that undermine the international rule of law, with self-identified liberals, in particular, seemingly reversing their positions on matters such as the Guantanamo prison camp, extrajudicial assassinations and arbitrary detention.

While just six years ago the U.S. public was ranked among the world’s most enthusiastic supporters of international law (falling just behind the Germans and the Chinese in global surveys), it now appears that vast majorities of Americans reject the applicability of international law when it comes to the actions of the U.S. government in the “global war on terror.”

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, found that 70 percent of the American public approves of President Barack Obama’s decision to indefinitely keep the Guantanamo prison open, despite widespread international condemnation of this policy. This figure includes 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats, “even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of President George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed,” noted the Washington Post.

In fact, the Post-ABC findings indicate an almost complete reversal of American attitudes on this subject across the political spectrum since the years of the Bush administration. The most pronounced difference has become noticeable in just the past couple years.

In a 2006 poll, for example, 63 percent of respondents said the United States should follow international conventions regarding Guantanamo Bay, while just 30 percent said the U.S. should not be bound by these obligations. The survey also found that Americans generally support giving international courts broad authority to judge U.S. compliance with treaties, with 70 percent rejecting the idea that the United States should receive exceptional treatment under such treaties.

A 2009 survey reconfirmed the strong public support in the U.S. for these principles, finding that 69 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “Our nation should consistently follow international laws. It is wrong to violate international laws, just as it is wrong to violate laws within a country.”

Only 29 percent chose the converse position, “If our government thinks it is not in our nation’s interest, it should not feel obliged to abide by international laws.”

Yet, this is precisely what the U.S. has been doing for over a decade at Guantanamo Bay. On last month’s ten-year anniversary of the prison camp opening, there was a flurry of renewed criticism over the continuing violations of international law by the United States.

On the eve of the anniversary, Human Rights Watch reminded the U.S. of its international obligations:

The practice [of indefinite detention] violates US obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch has strongly urged the US government to either promptly prosecute the remaining Guantanamo detainees according to international fair trial standards, or safely repatriate them to home or third countries. We have also called for investigations of US officials implicated in torture of terrorism suspects and for adequate compensation for detainees who were mistreated. Human Rights Watch will continue to press for compliance with these obligations. Failure to do so does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.

Arbitrary detention, however, isn’t the only area in which Americans are increasingly willing to disregard principles of international law.

Regarding torture, a survey conducted last year by the American Red Cross found that 59 percent of American teenagers and 51 percent of adults believe that it is acceptable to torture enemy fighters in order to attain important military information.

Further, 37 percent of youth support “Depriving civilians in combat areas of food, medicine, or water in order to weaken the enemy,” a war crime that is also supported by 29 percent of adults. A whopping 71 percent of youth and 55 percent of adults support “Refusing to allow prisoners to be visited by a representative from a neutral organization to confirm that they are being treated well.”

Extrajudicial assassinations are supported by an even broader majority, with the new Washington Post-ABC News poll finding that 83 percent of Americans approve of the use of unmanned aerial drones to carry out targeted killings of terrorist suspects without due process.

This is despite the fact that Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, has raised alarms that Obama’s drone strikes “pose a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law.”

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council presented in June 2010, Alston called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen.

“They are increasingly used in circumstances which violate the relevant rules of international law,” Alston said. “The international community needs to be more forceful in demanding accountability.”

He elaborated:

I’m particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. But this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.

Last month, Obama for the first time admitted that the U.S. is carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan, and in response Amnesty International immediately requested clarification from the administration on the drone program’s legality.

“The US authorities must give a detailed explanation of how these strikes are lawful and what is being done to monitor civilian casualties and ensure proper accountability,” said Amnesty International’s Sam Zarifi on Jan. 31.

“What are the rules of engagement? What proper legal justification exists for these attacks? While the President’s confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan is a welcome first step towards transparency, these and other questions need to be answered.”

So far though, it doesn’t appear that the administration has felt the need to reply, perhaps because it knows it has nothing to lose politically by disregarding these commitments on human rights and international law.

As the Washington Post pointed out, even though “Obama campaigned on a pledge to close the brig in Cuba and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values, [he] has little to fear politically for failing to live up to all of those promises,” due to the fact that his liberal base has reversed its views on these subjects since George W. Bush was president.

Constitutional lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald has attributed these shifting attitudes to “blind leader loyalty,” pointing out that “during the Bush years, Guantanamo was the core symbol of right-wing radicalism and what was back then referred to as the ‘assault on American values and the shredding of our Constitution.’”

But “now that there is a Democrat in office presiding over Guantanamo and these other polices — rather than a big, bad, scary Republican — all of that has changed,” says Greenwald.

While partisan allegiance and liberal hypocrisy may indeed explain the reversal in attitudes to these policies to a large extent, it is also possible that what the shift represents is a subconscious acceptance by the American people of illegal and immoral policies that they would have rejected out of hand ten years ago.

After more than a decade of the global war on terror, and years of legitimization of these policies by the media and an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in Washington regarding these policies, it’s possible that the American public has simply grown desensitized to what arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial assassinations really mean, and how out of step with civilized values these U.S. policies really are.

With the Obama administration’s failures to prosecute the worst crimes of the Bush years as well as its continuation of many of the same policies, the U.S. government’s routine violations of international norms has seemingly become normalized to a broad cross-section of the American people.

Monsanto, the FDA and the Convention against Corruption

The nexus between Monsanto and the federal government

An online campaign to remove Michael Taylor, a former executive and lobbyist for agribusiness giant Monsanto, as senior advisor at the Food and Drug Administration, is exceeding all expectations. With an original goal of 75,000, the petition as of today has over 220,000 signatures.

“President Obama,” the petition reads,

I oppose your appointment of Michael Taylor, a former VP and lobbyist for Monsanto, the widely criticized genetically modified (GM) food multinational, as senior advisor to the commissioner at the FDA. Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. This is a travesty.

Michael Taylor exemplifies the revolving door between the food industry and the government agencies that regulate it, and more generally between private industry and public policy-makers. An attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s, and then in the 80s, a private lawyer at the D.C. law firm King & Spalding, where he represented Monsanto, Taylor returned to government as Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA from 1991 to 1994. He then went back to private industry as Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto from 1998 until 2001.

Before President Obama appointed him to the FDA in 2010, Taylor was a Senior Fellow at the think tank Resources for the Future, where he published two documents on U.S. aid for African agriculture, both of which were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

As the documentary “The World According to Monsanto” makes clear, the conflicts of interest inherent in the revolving door between agribusiness and regulatory agencies produces notoriously bad policy, such as the approval of bovine growth hormone in the food supply without proper testing.

“Taylor was in charge of policy for Monsanto’s now-discredited GM bovine growth hormone (rBGH),” the online petition points out, “which is opposed by many medical and hospital organizations. It was Michael Taylor who pursued a policy that milk from rBGH-treated cows should not be labeled with disclosures. Michael Taylor and Monsanto do not belong in our government.”

Because of the potentially disastrous effects of the revolving door on public policy, the practice is banned under international law.

As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to taking measures to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption in both the public and private sphere.

In particular,

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials. …

Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.

Not surprisingly, rather than using his position of power in the FDA to provide stringent oversight over Monsanto’s business practices, Taylor is instead going after the agribusiness giant’s competitors, namely small dairy farms that produce fresh milk.

As CREDO points out,

While factory farm operators are getting away with serious food safety violations, raw milk dairy farmers and distributors across the country have been subjected to armed raids and hauled away in handcuffs.

The Food and Drug Administration is running sting operations followed by “guns-drawn raids usually reserved for terrorists and drug lords” as part of a crackdown on unpasteurized milk. Meanwhile, the FDA is letting the highly consolidated industrial meat and factory farm industry off the hook despite growing problems. …

Whether or not you think unpasteurized milk is a good idea, it’s clear that the FDA under Michael Taylor has its priorities wrong. When industrial agribusiness sickens thousands of people, it’s absurd for the FDA to target Amish farmers producing fresh milk, much less to engage in “guns drawn” enforcement raids.

To add your name to the petition to fire Michael Taylor, click here.

Iran or the USA: Who really violates international obligations?

As saber-rattling against Iran intensifies – with a bipartisan group of former U.S. politicians, generals and officials saying on Wednesday that the United States should deploy ships, increase covert activities and use more bellicose rhetoric to make more “credible” the threat of a U.S. military strike to stop Iran’s nuclear program – the question of which side in this confrontation really violates international obligations has largely been avoided.

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama accused the Islamic Republic of shirking its international obligations and repeated a now familiar threat to Iran, which implicitly includes the possibility of a nuclear strike against Tehran or suspected nuclear sites in the country.

“Let there be no doubt,” Obama said,

America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

Viewed in conjunction with the Obama administration’s new defense strategy, published just prior to the State of the Union, this ambiguous warning to Iran that “no options are off the table” becomes more clear. In the official White House playbook, entitled “Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the U.S. nuclear posture is described in a section called “Maintain a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Deterrent.”

“As long as nuclear weapons remain in existence,” it says, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal.”

Further, “We will field nuclear forces that can under  any  circumstances  confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage, both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments.“

There is no mention in the defense strategy of pursuing nuclear disarmament, an explicit obligation of the United States as a state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and as the world’s leading possessor of nuclear weapons.

As the 2010 NPT Review Conference reminded states parties to the treaty:

The Conference recalls that the overwhelming majority of States entered into legally binding commitments not to receive, manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in the context, inter alia, of the corresponding legally binding commitments by the nuclear-weapon States to nuclear disarmament in accordance with the Treaty.

The Conference further regretted that nuclear-armed countries such as the United States have failed to live up to their end of the NPT bargain:

The Conference, while welcoming achievements in bilateral and unilateral reductions by some nuclear-weapon States, notes with concern that the total estimated number of nuclear weapons deployed and stockpiled still amounts to several thousands. The Conference expresses its deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons.

When it comes to disputes over compliance with the treaty, however, for example Western suspicions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons or Iranian complaints that the U.S. is failing to disarm, the Review Conference reiterated the obligation that only diplomatic means should be pursued, and that “attacks or threats of attacks” must be avoided:

The Conference emphasizes that responses to concerns over compliance with any obligation under the Treaty by any State party should be pursued by diplomatic means, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the Charter of the United Nations. …

The Conference considers that attacks or threats of attack on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes jeopardize nuclear safety, have dangerous political, economic and environmental implications and raise serious concerns regarding the application of international law on the use of force in such cases, which could warrant appropriate action in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. The Conference notes that a majority of States parties have suggested a legally binding instrument be considered in this regard.

It should be noted that despite the unequivocal claims from Washington and in the U.S. media that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, there is actually considerable ambiguity over this claim. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern recently wrote an article for, reminding readers of a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from November 2007.

The NIE was issued unanimously by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and included the following conclusion: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; … Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.”

This 2007 joint assessment of the U.S. intelligence community was essentially restated by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month, who stated frankly on national television that Iran is not currently attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

“Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us,” Panetta told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer. “And our red line to Iran is to not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”

For its part, Iran has consistently said its nuclear program is peaceful, for electricity and medical purposes. If the Iranian government decides it is in its security interests to attain nuclear weapons, however, it has the legal right under Article 10 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to withdraw:

Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.

But Iran has not chosen to withdraw, and in accordance with its obligations under the NPT, is continuing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has the sole authority under the treaty to ascertain states parties’ commitments on non-acquisition of nuclear weapons.

A high-level IAEA delegation just completed a visit to Iran on Wednesday, and officials intend to travel to Iran again “in the very near future,” said the delegation’s leader. The three-day trip this week was aimed at resolving points of dispute over the country’s past atomic activities.

“We had three days of intensive discussions about all our priorities, and we are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues,” the Associated Press quoted IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts as saying after the team arrived in Vienna, Austria. “And the Iranians said they are committed, too.”

“We had a good trip,” Nackaerts added. Global Security Newswire noted that “The official’s remarks suggested the trip had yielded substantive results.”

“The Agency is committed to intensifying dialog. It remains essential to make progress on substantive issues,” IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said in a statement on the return of the agency’s delegation.

“The IAEA explained its concerns and identified its priorities, which focus on the clarification of possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme,” Amano was quoted as saying. During the talks, the IAEA also discussed with Iran the topics and initial steps to be taken, as well as associated modalities, he added.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency had reported on Tuesday that the spirit of the talks between Iranian officials and the IAEA team was “positive and constructive.”

Yet, despite these promising diplomatic developments, the U.S. and its allies continue pursuing a war-footing posture in confronting Tehran.

Washington has lobbed accusations that Iran is not only developing nuclear weapons, but is also threatening to strike within the United States. According to the Washington Post:

An assessment by U.S. spy agencies concludes that Iran is prepared to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States, highlighting new risks as the Obama administration escalates pressure on Tehran to halt its alleged pursuit of an atomic bomb.

In congressional testimony Tuesday, U.S. intelligence officials indicated that Iran has crossed a threshold in its adversarial relationship with the United States. …

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testified to Congress that the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington last October “shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”

There are also new claims being floated that the Iranian regime has links with al-Qaeda, allegations not unlike the spurious accusations Bush administration officials made about Saddam Hussein in preparing the American public for war with Iraq ten years ago. As the Wall Street Journal reports today under the headline “US fears Iran’s links to Al Qaeda as officials believe country may have provided aid to terror group”,

U.S. officials say they believe Iran recently gave new freedoms to as many as five top Al Qaeda operatives who have been under house arrest, including the option to leave the country, and may have provided some material aid to the terrorist group.

The men, who were detained in Iran in 2003, make up Al Qaeda’s so-called management council, a group that includes members of the inner circle that advised Usama bin Laden and an explosives expert widely considered a candidate for a top post in the organization.

Defense Secretary Panetta is now publicly voicing concerns that U.S. ally Israel is preparing to attack Iran in the near future, which would almost certainly bring the United States into a direct conflict. As David Ignatius wrote yesterday at the Washington Post:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

But as the saber-rattling intensifies, so does the grassroots response to this threat of a new U.S. war in the Middle East. Dozens of demonstrations are planned across the United States for Saturday, Feb. 4, to oppose a potential war against Iran as well as ongoing U.S. sanctions.

A statement by the veterans’ antiwar group March Forward, which is participating in the protests, offers a reminder of the disastrous consequences of the past decade of U.S.-led wars in the Middle East and Central Asia:

We’ve just endured 10 years of Washington’s wars for “national security,” which only seem to benefit those who are making a profit, while on the other hand causing massive bloodshed overseas and severe lack of money for people’s needs here at home.

Like with Iraq, the U.S. government’s sanctions, assassinations, and threats of war towards Iran have nothing to do with self-defense or human rights, but what is best for big business in one of the most profitable regions in the world.

The call to action lists some basic realities regarding nuclear proliferation, international law and U.S. hypocrisy in the Middle East, reading in part:

Fact: Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon.

Fact: Iran has the right, according to international law, to develop nuclear energy for civilian use.

Fact: Iran’s nuclear energy program is regularly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Fact: Iran has never started a war.

Fact: The United States possesses 10,600 nuclear warheads in its stockpile, 7,982 of which are deployed and 2,700 of which are in a contingency stockpile. The total number of nuclear warheads that have been built from 1951 to present is 67,500.

Fact: The United States is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons. It did so when it incinerated hundreds of thousands of Japanese people living in the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Neither city had any military significance.

Fact: The United States has spent $7 trillion on nuclear weapons. The U.S. military budget for 2012 alone is about equal to Iran’s entire Gross National Product.

Fact: Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid (about $3 billion in 2011), unlike Iran, possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons.

Fact: Israel, unlike Iran, refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into Israel to monitor its nuclear program.

To find an antiwar rally near you, click here.

Battle intensifies for free speech and assembly in the USA

As the nationwide crackdown on the Occupy movement intensifies, most recently evidenced by the police assault on Occupy Oakland over the weekend, so too does opposition to the repression.

Besides using excessive force on the streets, Oakland police have also apparently been abusing arrested demonstrators in custody. A post at Daily Kos offers a first-hand account of treatment possibly amounting to torture:

Just got out of Santa Rita Jail last night the prisoners from the Oakland Commune were being denied medications (some had seizures) while the guards said they didnt care if they died. Some people were brutally beaten. The put tear gas in the vents of my cell twice. They were keeping people without restrooms forcing them to shit and piss themselves or puke all over and stay in the same area….

Following the incidents in Oakland, solidarity actions were held in cities across the country, including this ad hoc demonstration in New York City:

The organization World Can’t Wait has initiated a call for nationwide resistance to the nationally coordinated repression of the Occupy movement. The statement reads, in part,

Time and again those who wield power violated their own laws and ordered police to pepper spray, beat with clubs, and shoot tear gas canisters at the heads of people who were doing nothing more than non-violently expressing their dissent and seeking community. This reached a peak in the recent coordinated and systematic attacks of the past few weeks against all the major occupations. In fact, the mayor of Oakland admitted on BBC to being part of conference calls that coordinated national strategy against the occupiers. On top of all that, and in another blatant show of illegitimate force and power, they attempted to prevent journalists and photographers from covering these acts of repression—unless they were “embedded” with the police.

To put the matter bluntly, but truly: the state planned and unleashed naked and systematic violence and repression against people attempting to exercise rights that are supposed to be legally guaranteed. This response by those who wield power in this society is utterly shameful from a moral standpoint, and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one.

Now this movement faces a true crossroads. Will it be dispersed, driven into the margins, or co-opted? Or will it come back stronger? This question now poses itself, extremely sharply.

One thing is clear already: if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand… if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement… if people are once again “penned in”—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.

But as activists intensify their response to the repression of Occupy, the establishment is also intensifying its campaign against the movement.

On January 24, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the Occupy movement, but rather than delving into the serious issues of government corruption and wrongdoing by banks raised by the movement, the hearing focused on shutting it down.

The hearing was entitled “Who Made the Decision to Allow Indefinite Camping?” and questioned the National Park Service’s role in allowing occupiers to maintain a presence in McPherson Square, a park in downtown Washington. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa emphasized that the hearing was not intended “to discuss the merits or demerits of the Occupy movement,” but rather was concerned with the “rule of law,” since there are prohibitions against camping in national parks that he says are being unenforced.

“[DC] Mayor [Vincent] Gray’s description of the conditions at the McPherson Square Occupy DC encampment is a blunt assessment of the situation created by the National Park Service’s decision to ignore laws designed to protect the public,” said Chairman Issa in a statement. “The public health and safety situation is in itself disturbing and the refusal to provide documents about the Park Service’s decision making leaves a lingering perception that long-standing prohibitions against encampments have been ignored to avoid a politically embarrassing situation for the Administration.”

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed his bemusement  that a congressional hearing would be held on a matter such as the Occupy DC encampment, saying that he found it “baffling” that the hearing was being held while there have been no comparable investigations by the oversight committee into allegations of wrongdoing by banks.

As Occupy DC was barred from participating in the hearing, a statement was read on its behalf, which questioned Issa’s assertion that the hearing was not intended to deal with the politics of the Occupy movement.

“Representative Issa’s motivations for this investigation are clearly political,” the statement said. “A vote with him is a symbolic vote for the status quo of money in politics over the value of grassroots democratic expression for the betterment of our country.”

Further, Occupy DC questioned the premise that special permission is needed to maintain a physical presence in public spaces:

Citizens of a free country should not have to ask for permission to occupy public spaces. Our occupation of McPherson Square is an expression of our right to free speech and peaceful assembly. We are maintaining a site of protest — a physical presence that gives visibility and voice to our dissent. We are creating a space in which free speech flourishes — not only the speech of occupiers, but that of the general public, the empowered and the disenfranchised alike.

Like most people, the members of Occupy DC at McPherson Square do not relish being in uncomfortable conditions that humans without housing have endured for millenia. We do so because it has become a necessary tactic to express our concern for the country’s direction in a way that will maintain public attention. Two out of every three Americans, incidentally, agree that our country is headed in the wrong direction. A far smaller percentage approves of the job Congress is doing. And while foreclosures have become a hallmark of modern America, the solutions to our country’s numerous problems do not include suppressing free speech and evicting peaceful patriots from their tents.

A few days after Issa’s hearing, tensions flared at the Occupy DC encampment with the arrest of a demonstrator who was unnecessarily tased by police. Protesters accused the police of using excessive force, saying that “without provocation, present threat to any officer, or any signal of intent to use additional force,” police shot taser darts into a restrained individual’s back. A statement at reads:

Sunday morning, U.S. Park Police restrained a participant in the occupation of McPherson Square who was behaving non-violently, fired taser darts into his back, and continuously tased him while he lay face down and handcuffed. This comes just one day before Park Police say they will begin arrests of individuals currently maintaining the 24-hour daily occupation of the square.

Earlier in the day, police had left notices indicating the intention of the National Park Service to enforce anti-camping regulations on tents around the site. After they departed, individuals began removing the notices from their tents. Park Police in turn singled out a specific individual, followed him in a large group and grabbed his arms. Shortly thereafter, Officer Jennifer L. Lemke (Badge #398), without provocation, present threat to any officer, or any signal of intent to use additional force, shot taser darts into the restrained individual’s back. As he fell to the ground, police handcuffed him and he became motionless, yet Lemke continued to tase him.

As he was carried to the police vehicle, with taser darts still embedded in his back, he collapsed and had a possible seizure. After 15-20 minutes of a growing crowd chanting for the individual to receive medical assistance, police took him away.

The impasse over Occupy DC continues, with members of the National Park Service on Tuesday giving the protesters at McPherson Square notice that they must take down a tarp that had been draped over the General McPherson statue, and that the occupiers must comply with new regulations against bedding material.

Other cities are implementing much more stringent restrictions on the Occupy movement and protesting in general.

Authorities in Charlotte, N.C., have just passed a law to restrict demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this September.

The legislation empowers the unelected city manager to declare an event “of international or national significance” to be an “extraordinary event.” The city manager may then establish times and locations in which demonstrations are allowed to take place.  The city may establish a designated “free speech zone,” and those who demonstrate outside of these confines may be subject to arrest and prosecution.

In addition to curbing protest rights during the DNC, the measure also empowered the city to evict Occupy Charlotte. In opposition to the bill, dozens of Occupy activists packed the City Hall chambers and following the passing of the measure, the crowd broke out into chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

On Monday, the day the law took effect, police entered the Occupy Charlotte protest site, arrested at least seven people and dismantled the campground.

Charlotte’s assault on free speech follows similar ordinances adopted in Chicago in preparation for a joint NATO/G8 joint summit meeting in May.

Last week, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly approved tight restrictions on parades and protests ahead of the NATO/G8 meeting. As the vote was cast, protest organizers nearly drowned out the roll call vote on the security measures proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

As In These Times reported on Jan. 19,

The marble floor in Chicago City Hall vibrated as labor union members and other protesters stamped their feet and loudly chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after the council overwhelmingly voted for two ordinances Wednesday related to police powers and protest restrictions in advance of the simultaneous G8 and NATO summits in Chicago in May. …

[O]pponents … say the ordinances are still a serious attack on basic civil rights. Among other things, they allow the city to deputize police officers from outside Chicago for temporary duty, change the requirements for obtaining a protest permit and allow the city to enter into no-bid security contracts without city council approval. (The ordinances can be read here and here.)

At a press conference before the vote Wednesday, representatives and advocates of unions, disability rights, community groups, veterans and mental health patients said the ordinance could mean a reprise of the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago—where police viciously attacked demonstrators—and seriously gut free speech rights.

The nationwide crackdown on Occupy has for months been attracting the attention of the international community, which has expressed concern that the protesters’ fundamental rights are being violated.

Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has said said that the crackdowns are in violation of the U.S. government’s international obligations.

“I believe in city ordinances and I believe in maintaining urban order,” he said. “But on the other hand I also believe that the state — in this case the federal state — has an obligation to protect and promote human rights.”

La Rue said that the protesters have a right to occupy public spaces “as long as that doesn’t severely affect the rights of others.”

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement calling on police to respect the fundamental rights of Occupy demonstrators.

“The United States’ tradition of peaceful protest is protected not only in U.S. law but also under international law,” said Alison Parker, U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. “Even when protesters’ actions warrant police intervention, force should only be used where strictly necessary and then only to the degree necessary.”

Relevant international obligations to which the U.S. has subscribed include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

More than 6,000 Occupy protesters have been arrested in 110 cities since the demonstrations against corporate greed and political corruption began last fall.

To sign the “Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement,” click here.

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