At Day 1 of the Julian Assange extradition hearing
On the night before the hearing began, one dedicated Assange supporter in London told me that she planned to arrive at Court by 6 a.m., ahead of the throngs that she expected based on the turnout at Assange's hearing last November. No doubt the freezing February temperatures kept large crowds at home this morning; instead of the masses anticipated, there were only a few orderly lines segregated into cameramen, sign-wielding protesters, and the courtroom audience -- a mix of media representatives, Assange faithfuls, and the curious. I was in the latter line, which was also peppered with a few Occupy London luminaries. During the next hour of collective shivering, I met journalists from all over Europe and the U.S., who now braved frigid weather to witness this historic proceeding. Arriving at around 8:30, one hour before the Court opened to the public, I witnessed the expectant crowd devolve into a chorus of complaints as the early-morning, late-winter wind chill robbed our fingers of almost all feeling.
But, mercifully, 9:30 at last arrived -- as did Assange, soon after. The white-haired WikiLeaks founder offered a spirited hello to the crowd and preceded us into the Court.
At the entry, Court staff had handed out a media briefing, which included the following details:
"Issue: Whether a European Arrest Warrant ('EAW') issued by a public prosecutor is a valid Part I EAW issued by a 'judicial authority' for the purpose and within the meaning of sections 2 and 66 of the Extradition Act 2003.
"Facts: The Appellant, a journalist well known through his operation of Wikileaks, visited Sweden to give a lecture in August 2010. He had sexual relations with two women. Both women went to the police who treated their visits as the filing of complaints. The Appellant was interviewed by police and subsequently left Sweden in ignorance of the fact that a domestic arrest warrant had been issued for him. Proceedings were brought in the Swedish courts in the Appellant's absence, although he was represented, in which a domestic warrant for the Appellant's detention for interrogation was granted and upheld on appeal. Subsequently, an EAW for the Appellant was issued by the Swedish Prosecution Authority that set out allegations of four offences of unlawful coercion and sexual misconduct including rape. The EAW was certified by the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency under the Extradition Act 2003. The Appellant surrendered himself for arrest in the UK and, following an extradition hearing, his extradition to Sweden was ordered. The order was upheld on appeal to the Divisional Court."
Inexplicably, the wifi in the entire court building died right after my third live-tweet, about 2 minutes into the proceedings. Also, this being England, no power outlets were in sight; and since, for the past 5 years, none of my laptops has held a charge for more than an hour or so, I was stuck taking hand-written notes throughout the hearing. Thus handicapped by the snail's pace of writing with benumbed fingers, lack of internet access, and minimal familiarity with EU law, during the next five hours I nevertheless took the following notes:
Assange, the Appellant in the 2-day proceedings, was represented by attorney Dinah Rose, who displayed stamina as she held the floor during a four-hour virtual monologue, interrupted only by questions from the seven Lords of the Court.
At the outset, Rose characterized the case as a "simple issue of law." Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden following the issuance of an EAW by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny. The Extradition Act 2003 requires any arrest warrant to be issued by a judicial authority. Since, Rose asserted, Ny is not a "judicial authority," then there exists no legal basis for Assange's extradition. Though the term appears to be ill-defined, Rose averred that a "judicial authority" must exercise independent power granted by law; and, as a party to the proceedings, a Swedish prosecutor cannot be independent and is thus not competent to issue an EAW. The next five hours consisted mainly of exploration and variations of this theme.
Assange's team noted that the 2003 legislation (enacted soon after the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks) restricted the ability of EU nations to refuse to extradite persons of interest to requesting nations. This new system, Rose argued, depends on mutual trust and confidence -- confidence that is undermined if arrest warrants can be issued by a prosecutor, rather than the authority of a court. Moreover, she stated, the new streamlining, simplification, and acceleration of the extradition process must be balanced with protection of individual rights. Those subject to extradition under an EAW can suffer severe deprivations including detention, loss of employment, and separation from family members. Given the severity of the possible restrictions on individual freedom, Rose stated, substantial safeguards must be in place to make the pan-European system of arrest warrants acceptable, and only a court should hold authority to issue an EAW.
Also problematic, according to Rose, is the inconsistent application of the law in different EU nations. She stated that Sweden and other countries that allow issuance of an EAW by a public prosecutor or other person other than a competent judicial authority are in breach of the system. Assange's counsel argued further that, although nothing in the EAW framework decision prevents a state like Sweden from issuing a non-judicial EAW, other states are not obligated to honor that EAW; and legally, therefore, extradition is effectively discretionary. Nevertheless, in order to be valid, an EAW must have specific features. In addition to being a "competent judicial authority," an official who issues an EAW must be independent from both the executive and the parties. According to Rose, since Swedish prosecutors do not meet the independence requirement, by definition they cannot qualify as competent judicial authorities. Throughout the proceeding, Rose exposed the balancing act involved in reconciling the different legal systems within the EU and the 2003 Act's requirement of consistency regarding the necessity of an independent, competent judicial authority to issue EAWs.
Over the course of the day, Rose ran through statutes, case law, and legislative history supporting her argument regarding the inability of a public prosecutor to fulfill the independence requirement. Assange's counsel pointed out that the initial draft of the EAW's framework decision did allow for prosecutors to issue EAWs, but this provision was omitted from the final, enacted version; Rose argued that this indicated that the EU member states deliberately rejected the idea of a public prosecutor acting as a judicial authority competent to issue EAWs. She averred that the "insistence on a true judicialization" of the EAW process demonstrated a concern for the seriousness of the individual rights that are impaired by the issuance of an EAW.
The Assange extradition hearing is scheduled to conclude tomorrow; according to the media briefing, opposing counsel Clare Montgomery will argue for the first 2.5 hours, followed by the Assange team's one-hour reply.
But no one expects a quick decision once the hearing wraps. The Court has signaled that it will likely reserve judgment for several weeks. In the event of an adverse decision, Assange may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg -- which may or may not decide to take his case. And whether or not Ny's EAW is upheld by a court, the U.S. may still seek Assange's extradition and prosecute the journalist in the US.
Asked last month whether the U.S. government will follow this course, U.S. Attorney General responded only: "We will see."
Authored by Joe B.
Today I received another large stack of LEGAL from the Privy Council Office regarding WikiLeaks. Back in July of 2011, I wrote about the DFAIT WTF, where I got the e-mails from the various diplomats who headed the WikiLeaks Task Force in Canada. Unlike the PCO, DFAIT gave me a CD, and sent me back my cheque because I hopped on someone else’s ATIP. However, this was probably the worst ATIP I have received from the PCO, most likely in revenge for the PROFUNC ATIP that I requested earlier.
I’ve lost about 10% of the documents to the scanner as I scanned this thing in. However, there’s still a lot of information remaining regarding the impact Cablegate had on Canada, and this includes the redactions. At first, it seems that the WTF was scouring the web for news articles, and they even visited wlcentral.org for information on the cables. The first PDF is old news, and contains the same e-mails that we already had from DFAIT. However, as we progress we get into relatively newer material.
There’s an e-mail about the CSIS/Judd cable which had the infamous quote about Omar Khadr (which was the basis for the name of paroxysms.ca). They then produced the transcript of CBC-NN which talked about the cable. Following that, they report on the other Canadian leaks of notice. However, the main issue of concern by DFAIT is Omar Khadr. However, one the cables relevant to Canada truly start appearing, so does the redaction square.
The silliest part of the document is the fact that all the actual Wikileaks cable names are redacted, but the dates of the release are still on. This means that someone with the time can figure out what exactly the Canadian Governemnt was concerned about. This level of secrecy is even dumber than the US Government, especially since DFAIT insists numerous times that “These cables are not of Canadian Origin”.
As usual, here are the documents as produced by the PCO. The reference number is A-2011-00235, so others can request the same document and fill in the blanks that my scanner produced by eating the crap paper that the PCO provided. Here’s an interesting side note. I mentioned the other ATIP departments to Normand Sirois of the RCMP ATIP when talking about V2010ISU docs, and he seems to think I should file a complaint for this nonsense. After the misadventure with the scanner, I’m thinking he’s most likely right about that one.
Authored by Nikolas Kozloff
As the Venezuelan presidential election approaches in October, Washington is undoubtedly hoping that Hugo Chávez will go down to stinging electoral defeat and that the populist leader's geopolitical alliance will crumble and come to an ignominious end. Of particular concern to both the Bush and Obama administrations has been Nicaragua, a country which moved into Chávez's orbit when Daniel Ortega, a leader of the Sandinista Revolution, captured the presidency in 2006. According to secret cables recently released by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, the State Department has been furious with Ortega for conducting an independent foreign policy, and U.S. diplomats have resorted to threats and intimidation in order to head off the Venezuelan-Nicaraguan alliance.
American diplomats in Managua would have surely preferred to see a continuation of the Enrique Bolaños administration, which predated the Ortega regime and proved much more amenable to Washington's conservative agenda. In early 2006, prior to Ortega's election, the Nicaraguans told the U.S. ambassador that they would not back Venezuela for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and would support Guatemala for the spot instead. In fact, Nicaragua went so far as to act as a kind of ringleader against Venezuela, rounding up Central American support for Guatemala in an effort to "forestall" Chávez's rising influence.
As the election neared, the Bush administration became increasingly concerned about what an Ortega win might mean at the regional level. In Managua, the American ambassador complained to the Nicaraguans about "the pattern of harassment directed by the Venezuelan government" against U.S. diplomats. The Nicaraguan Foreign Minister sympathized, adding that he was worried about "Chávez's interest in Sandinista (FSLN) leader Daniel Ortega's winning the November election." In a follow up meeting, the Americans told the Bolaños government that Washington was closely monitoring Chávez, who had proposed an oil deal with the Sandinistas.
Washington Loses a Key Ally
With the re-election of Ortega in late 2006, who had previously served as president of Nicaragua at the height of the U.S.-funded Contra War of the 1980s, the Bush administration's foremost fear had come to pass. Flying down to Managua, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon met with President elect Ortega in the conference room of the FSLN Secretariat. After Ortega announced that he would seek a trade agreement with Venezuela, Shannon remarked sternly that "President Chávez knows what he has to do to improve relations. He is the author of the present confrontation."
If that was not clear enough, U.S. diplomats later warned the incoming Ortega administration that Washington would respect Nicaraguan sovereignty, but "if the FSLN government were, for example, to recruit hundreds of Venezuelans to man its ministries, we would be concerned." The main purpose of such advisers, noted the U.S. ambassador to his superiors, would be "to indoctrinate Nicaraguans against the United States and democracy." It would be absolutely "essential," the ambassador noted, to convey a sense of U.S "red lines" toward the Ortega regime such as the need to follow the directives of large, international financial institutions.
If the Americans hoped that Nicaragua would distance itself from Chávez, however, they got a shot in the arm during the Ortega inaugural in early 2007. Singing the praises of his Bolivarian "twin" Hugo Chávez, the new Nicaraguan president proclaimed the failure of so-called "neo-liberal" economics. During the ceremony, Ortega pledged to bring Nicaragua into Venezuela's ALBA alliance and end privatizations of public companies. In another jab at the Bush administration, Ortega said he would like to "revisit" certain elements of the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA. Both Chávez and Bolivian leader Evo Morales were at the inaugural to proclaim the "death of imperialism."
Divide and Conquer in Latin America
With the alarm bells going off, U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua Paul Trivelli invited fellow Central American ambassadors over for breakfast and a discussion. During the get together, the conservative dignitaries said they were "startled by the populist rhetoric and procession of infamous guests surrounding the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega," and were "dismayed" by Ortega's accession to agreements with Venezuela. Perhaps, they opined, Nicaragua's neighbors could help to "offset the negative influence" of Chávez.
Not content to stop there, Trivelli then organized yet another breakfast, this time inviting the Spanish, Mexican, Chilean, Brazilian and Colombian ambassadors to Nicaragua, respectively. All the diplomats echoed the previous chorus of concern, declaring preoccupation over Chávez's "destabilizing" influence. The over the top pro-U.S. Colombian ambassador was particularly worried, declaring hyperbolically that Chávez could cause mischief in Central America and thus "open the door to drug trafficking and the movement of terrorists."
Ratcheting up International Pressure
The atmosphere became increasingly poisonous by March, 2007 with Trivelli going into overdrive in an effort to recruit international allies against the incipient Ortega-Chávez alliance. The campaign bore fruit as both Spain and Germany joined the fray and warned Ortega not to issue "contradictory statements and actions regarding foreign affairs, press freedom, and investment." Hosting yet another breakfast, Trivelli invited the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, Economics Minister and Presidential Advisor as well as the Spanish and German ambassadors.
Trivelli quickly let the Nicaraguans know who was boss, opening the breakfast "by remarking that the administration's moves to centralize government, criticize the press, scapegoat international investors, and engage pariah regimes...raise questions about the new government's commitment to maintain an open democracy and friendly relations with all."
The breakfast, Trivelli wrote, served to put the Nicaraguans on notice. The U.S. ambassador intended to issue a warning to the government's more moderate faction that "we and other embassies are monitoring investor relations closely, a message they can use to push back against party radicals urging Ortega to strengthen alliances with Venezuela." Nervously, the Nicaraguans blamed the "sensationalist press" for distorting Ortega's record, adding that all new governments go through a "period of adjustment."
Push and Shove over Economic Policy
In an effort no doubt to mark a line in the sand or "red lines," Trivelli also met with the new Minister of Finance. In light of Ortega's recent actions, including the signing of important economic deals with the likes of Chávez, what kind of economic model was Nicaragua planning to pursue, Trivelli asked? The Finance Minister responded that his country's foremost concern was maintaining macroeconomic stability and holding talks with the likes of the IMF. Trivelli seemed skeptical of such claims, noting that "U.S. investors had begun questioning what sort of economic model the new government plans to pursue."
From there, the discussion got somewhat frosty with the ambassador pressing the Finance Minister about the need to resolve property claims stemming from expropriations that took place in the 1980s during the height of the Sandinista Revolution. Trivelli personally handed over a list of "high profile" expropriation cases. The Minister responded defensively that Ortega had no plans to expropriate property as in the 1980s, "nor do anything that will damage the favorable investment climate that currently exists."
Despite such assurances, Trivelli pressed on. Would Ortega limit foreign investment in sensitive sectors such as energy and coastal property, Trivelli asked? Seeking to placate the ambassador, the Finance Minister replied that "Nicaragua is not going to shut the door on anyone (nor) obstruct investment in any sector."
Unconvinced, Trivelli prodded Nicaragua's Central Bank President about Nicaraguan economic policy in a follow up meeting. Testily, Trivelli asked the Nicaraguan how a closer relationship with Venezuela would facilitate a sensible business climate. In a game of cat and mouse, the official responded that recent economic agreements with Chávez did not represent "a reflection of a political vision for Nicaragua, but rather an acknowledgment that Nicaragua depends upon [Venezuela's] largesse ... for oil."
Still skeptical, Trivelli brought up Ortega's recent statements attacking "neo-liberalism" and calls to end "dependency" on the International Monetary Fund. Ortega's desire to review privatization of the telephone and power sectors was likewise a concern, and the ambassador prodded the Central Bank President as to the particulars of ALBA economic aid for Nicaragua.
Game of Cat and Mouse
U.S. Embassy staff continued to press the Nicaraguans, hoping to identify moderate factions within the government which could help to reel in Ortega's pro-Chávez leanings. By speaking with Magda Enríquez, a high level official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Americans hoped to make their case. Within the Sandinista hierarchy, Enríquez appeared to be "aligned with the FSLN moderates, recognizes the value of positive engagement with the United States, and probably lends a voice of reason to balance the more extreme views of the Sandinista hardliners."
When the Americans complained that Ortega's discourse regarding the U.S. had become "increasingly belligerent and unconstructive," Enríquez nodded in agreement and promised to urge the president to dial back his rhetoric. Hoping to calm tempers at the U.S. Embassy, Enríquez added that while Ortega saw Chávez as his "friend and ally," Nicaragua did not see eye to eye with Venezuela on all issues.
Nicaragua's Business Community vs. Ortega and Chávez
Having made overtures towards other foreign powers as well as moderates within the Sandinista government, the Americans proceeded to court the Nicaraguan business sector. At an economic roundtable, Trivelli hosted heavy hitters linked to international investment such as Alberto Chamorro of the Bank of Central America, which was almost 50% owned by GE Financial and Joaquim de Magalhaes of Esso Nicaragua. Speaking with the Americans, the businessmen complained about Ortega, who in their view was intent on regaining his standing as a Latin American revolutionary by praising Chávez.
Venezuelan oil diplomacy surely did not go over well amongst the ambassador's guests. According to them, Venezuelan petroleum shipments to the Ortega government were arriving faster than Nicaraguan state oil company Petronic could handle them, and this in turn was creating difficulties for local fuel distributors. Even worse, Ortega had undertaken a nationalistic energy policy by seizing fuel storage tanks owned by Exxon. Overall, the guests believed that the Ortega regime saw Petronic and Venezuelan oil as a "giant ATM" from which it could withdraw cash at any time.
Investors grew even more jittery when the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation cancelled more than $60 million in U.S. economic assistance to Nicaragua as a result of alleged election fraud marring the November, 2008 municipal contests. As Ortega railed against the U.S., arguing that Washington was unduly interfering with Nicaragua's own sovereignty, local businessmen lamented the cutoff in aid.
Obama Era: Tensions Continue
If the Americans, however, hoped that such punitive measures would dissuade Ortega from cozying up to Venezuela, they would be sorely mistaken. Indeed, if anything the cutoff encouraged Nicaragua to look for alternative funding, and by 2008 Ortega had already received more than $1 billion from Venezuela in the form of loans, grants, and foreign direct investment. According to the U.S. Embassy, the FSLN used part of the assistance to invest in party building and propaganda. To add insult to injury, Ortega also lambasted the Bush administration, claiming that the Americans had conspired to assassinate Chávez.
WikiLeaks cables hint at the further deterioration of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations during the Obama era, and underscore Ortega's growing ties with Venezuela and ALBA members such as Cuba. Joining with his left allies in Latin America, Ortega called for the development of a new regional organization which would exclude the U.S. and resist the political influence of "the Empire." Speaking on Cuban television, Ortega criticized Obama for maintaining Bush era policies such as freezing of the Millennium Challenge Account for Nicaragua.
In private meanwhile, Sandinista officials told the Americans they were becoming frustrated with the Obama administration and would deepen joint projects within the ALBA alliance, thus leading the U.S. Embassy to further lose patience with Ortega and his clique, which displayed a "skewed" world view "claiming a moral right to demand more resources, without conditions, while at the same time denouncing the very countries that provide such aid."
The WikiLeaks cache ends in early 2010, so we don't know the inside story of U.S. diplomacy in the region during the recent past. Yet, it's no secret that the Obama administration, like the Bush White House before it, views the Latin populist left as an irritant and would like to be rid of Chávez and his allies. If the cables are any indication, American diplomats in Managua most likely continued to pursue their earlier approach of cultivating support within the Nicaraguan business elite, peeling off Sandinista moderates and drumming up conservative support in the wider region against Ortega.
Unfortunately for the State Department, such tactics have not yielded concrete results. Indeed, it would appear that Ortega has now consolidated his political grip on Nicaragua following the Sandinista's recent reelection to a third presidential term. Yet, 2012 will be a momentous year in the region, as Chávez too risks everything on his own reelection bid. If Chávez should go down in defeat, Nicaragua would be deprived of a key political and economic benefactor and suggest further problems for the populist left in Latin America.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left. Visit his new web site, The Revolutionary Handbook.
During the second and final day of the U.K. Supreme Court's hearings on Julian Assange's extradition, Matrix Chambers attorney Clare Montgomery offered her rebuttal to arguments made yesterday by Assange's counsel. (Dinah Rose is representing Assange in his fight against extradition to Sweden for questioning on sex crime allegations.)
The week's proceedings have highlighted disparities of law among EU countries and the legal challenges involved in reconciling these conflicts. Assange's case may test the extent to which EU nations can maintain their legal autonomy under the rubric of a unified European system. It may also raise the question: to what degree will EU states have to harmonize their conflicting legal regimes in order to avoid this sort of continued legal wrangling in the future?
Montgomery presented Sweden's case against Assange for about four hours, during which time she appeared to reject EU-wide legal standardization -- essentially arguing that respecting state sovereignty requires preserving the status quo. If it agreed with Montgomery's position, the Court would have to accept significant differences among EU nations in implementing EU-wide legal standards. By contrast, Assange's legal team largely took the position that, while allowing for some variation and inconsistency, the Court should mandate certain universal principles in the extradition process, because of the seriousness of the potential risk that extradition may pose to individual rights.
Under EU law, only a competent "judicial authority" may legitimately issue a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). As presented by Montgomery, Sweden's case boiled down to two core arguments: (1) a Swedish public prosecutor qualifies as such a "judicial authority"; and (2) a state requesting extradition (the "issuing authority") should have sole discretion to decide who qualifies as a "judicial authority." Montgomery rejected Rose's argument that extradition requires court involvement. Stating that parties seeking arrest are partial by their very nature, she dismissed Rose's position that a person requesting extradition must be impartial and independent.
The heart of Montgomery's argument was that, because an EU state has discretion to determine who can issue EAWs, and this determination varies from state to state, "judicial authorities" in the issuing and responding states don't have to have the same qualifications. Montgomery stated that English custom that requires a court to issue arrest warrants is outside the norm; and she advocated for an expansive definition of the term "judicial authority" that could include anyone "who exercises authority under domestic law in connection with" the ministry of justice -- from public prosecutors to police officers.
However, Montgomery's argument begs the question: if the U.K. is obligated to recognize Swedish custom -- which, unlike the U.K., allows interested prosecutors to issue extradition requests -- then isn't Sweden likewise obligated to recognize the U.K.'s right to refuse to extradite, based on the U.K.'s own application of the law? Logically, Montgomery's argument should make extradition discretionary on both sides. But Montgomery argued the opposite: she stated that, since the 2003 Extradition Act was intended to streamline the process, complying with an EAW is basically automatic and mandated upon request.
In response, the Court asked Montgomery: because of the nature of the individual rights potentially harmed by extradition, shouldn't issuance of an EAW demand a bit more than is needed to arrest someone domestically? One of the Lords opined that "anyone would think" that issuing an EAW should require the involvement of some kind of judge. But Montgomery responded that issuing a domestic arrest warrant -- which is a prerequisite for issuing an EAW -- involves enough court process to validate an extradition request.
Rose spent the final hour of the hearing mostly reasserting her arguments made yesterday -- that, because Sweden's public prosecutor Marianne Ny is not a qualified "judicial authority," Ny's EAW demanding Assange's extradition is invalid. Her position echoed that of former Assange counsel Geoffrey Robertson, who wrote earlier this week:
"The notion that a prosecutor is a ‘judicial authority’ is a contradiction in terms. ... Judges must, as their defining quality, be independent of government. Police and prosecutors employed and promoted by the state obviously cannot be perceived as impartial if they are permitted to decide issues on the liberty of individuals. They are expected to be zealous in working up evidence against a suspect, so they are the last people who can be trusted to weigh up impartially the evidence they themselves have drummed up. That is a matter for a court."
As Robertson also notes, Montgomery's insistence on an expansive definition of the term "judicial authority" is necessary to serve "the international purpose of ... allowing a system that does not have harmonious practices and procedures." Robertson continues:
"It will be inconvenient if Assange’s appeal succeeds, because 12 European countries will have to change their extradition procedures if they want to get their hands on suspects from the U.K. But the argument from inconvenience is the classic way for civil liberties to be lost."
The 2003 Extradition Act that lies at the heart of this hearing was a post-9/11 statute intended to facilitate the process of extraditing "persons of interest." One question raised by the week's proceedings is how well this post-disaster measure of expediency will hold up against future challenges based on encouraging legal consistency and protecting human rights.
A host of manufactured chemicals in the food and water supply is wreaking havoc on our health. One common characteristic among the effects of many of these substances is a decrease in fertility, accompanied by a rise in afflictions affecting the reproductive system. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is one such hormone-disrupting chemical that has been identified as a cause of a global decline in fertility that some scientists currently refer to as a "fertility crisis." Meanwhile, most national governments have failed to adequately curtail the use of BPA and other toxins. Some believe that this neglect is the deliberate continuation of a century-old eugenics program that has now extended to what are perhaps the greatest sources of human vulnerability: the food and water we consume and the air we breathe.
Mass-produced since the 1950s, the industrial compound BPA has been called an "everywhere chemical." Recent reports show that, in 2006, more than 4 million tons of BPA were produced annually worldwide, 25% of that in the U.S. Used to harden plastics and line tin cans, BPA is found in everyday items such as plastic food and beverage containers, food and drink cans, baby bottles, mobile phones, eyeglasses, compact discs and cases, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, dental fillings, and more. High levels of it have also been found in 40% of the cash register receipts from businesses including Mc Donalds, Chevron, Walmart, and the U.S. Postal Service. One study found significant levels of BPA in 46 out of 50 grocery store cans. From these products BPA readily leaches into food and beverages, and then into human consumers; it has been shown to be absorbed into the body by ingestion and through the skin and lungs. Measurable amounts of it have been detected in tap and river water, as well as in the air. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has discovered BPA in the urine of 93% of Americans tested; the chemical is estimated to exist in more than 90 percent of all people.
Belonging to a class of chemicals called "endocrine disrupters," BPA can mimic the body's natural hormones or interfere with how the body processes hormones. Imitating the female sex hormone estrogen, BPA has been shown to cause early puberty and "gender bending," alter breast tissue, and damage sperm. BPA and other endocrine disruptors including the artificial sweetener aspartame, fluoride (which is widely added to tap water), and genetically-modified (GMO) foods have been found to alter long-term hormone response and damage the reproductive system. Hundreds of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to such substances can cause male and female infertility, miscarriages, gender confusion, breast and prostate cancer, and drastic decreases in birth rates and sexual activity.
Numerous research studies have shown that BPA ravages the reproductive system. A Harvard-University of Michigan study revealed that men with the highest exposure to BPA had sperm concentrations 23 per cent lower than others, as well as a 10 percent increase in sperm DNA damage. Scientists from Kaiser Permanente recently found that BPA reduced not only sperm count, but also killed sperm or reduced its quality, causing impotence and infertility. According to the study's lead researcher Dr De-Kun Li: "Compared with men without detectable urine BPA, those with detectable urine BPA had more than three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality, more than four times the risk of a lower sperm count, and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility." An animal study discovered that male mice exposed to BPA behaved like female mice; and female mice were only half as interested in BPA-exposed males as they were in non-exposed males. The chemical is also said to damage the eggs and other reproductive organs of females. Even low levels of BPA reportedly cause genetic defects that are reportedly passed down to later generations; animal trials indicate that the children and grandchildren of those exposed to BPA also experience reproductive disorders.
A variety of hormone-related health problems are now linked to the chemical. Researchers have tied BPA exposure to the recent rise of early puberty among girls. It is thought that the rise in breast cancer rates, which have roughly tripled in the past 50 years, is partially attributable to widespread exposure to BPA, which appears to cause the disease in laboratory animals and to reduce the effectiveness of breast cancer drugs. Similarly, human prostate cancer rates, which rose 85% from 1975 to 2002, are thought to be increased by BPA, which has been shown to increase the risk of this cancer among males who were exposed to the chemical during infancy or in the womb. Additional animal studies have found a causal chain between BPA and heart disease and heart attack, diabetes, obesity, hyperactivity, anxiety, and other afflictions.
Exposure to BPA and other endocrine disruptors is thought to have led directly to a current infertility crisis. Said one researcher: "Evidence has indicated that for the past few decades, sperm counts have been declining in some human populations — and that this might be related to exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA is very reasonable." Scientists note that human sperm counts have dropped by about 50% in the past 50 years, accompanied by high infertility rates. As many as 20% of healthy men from the ages 18-25 produce abnormal sperm counts, with only 5-15% of their sperm qualifying as normal. Researchers recently estimated that almost one-third of Danish men are subfertile. The problem has become so pronounced that some scientists are calling the male infertility epidemic a "public health issue" that is "as important as global warming" and could indicate total male sterility within several generations. Eight million U.S. couples are said to experience infertility, which many now believe begins with pre-natal exposure to environmental hazards. Despite BPA's ubiquity, most likely it represents only one contemporary source of concern; for instance, endocrine disruptors found in Monsanto's GMO food (introduced on the market during the 1990s) have been found to cause animal infertility, miscarriages, high infant mortality rates, and near-complete sterility in animals after three generations.
The U.S. and some other governments have responded mildly to this public health threat. In 2008 a program within the U.S. National Institutes of Health indicated "some concern" about BPA's deleterious effects on childhood development. At first stating that BPA is safe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later reversed its position after receiving criticism for having relied largely on data obtained from studies funded by chemical manufacturers. Although now expressing some consternation regarding BPA's effects, the FDA has done little to reduce human exposure to the substance. Researchers have stated that human intake levels of BPA that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency characterizes as "safe" are in fact hazardous. The U.K.'s Food Standards Agency avers that BPA is not harmful, although Elizabeth Salter Green from the Chemicals, Health And Environment Monitoring Trust pointed out: "There are now hundreds of research papers that indicate BPA is not good for our health, linking exposure to fertility problems, cancer, diabetes and obesity." However, the U.S. government has noted in return: "Today there exist hundreds of different formulations for BPA-containing epoxy linings"; and that the chemical's prevalence would make the chemical's removal from the market a long and arduous process. Another difficulty appears to be the fact that, although more than 100 government studies found adverse effects, about a dozen did not. However, some posit that this could result from a failure to take into account the facts that some strains of lab animals appear impervious to BPA, and that males and females react differently to the substance. There have also been assertions of conflicts of interest. For instance, one government study was allegedly directed by an outside contractor that has worked for "at least 50 industrial firms, including BPA manufacturers Dow Chemical and BASF."
Certain others suspect that motives more macabre than mere greed or bureaucratic inertia underlie governments' failure to act on the demonstrated harm of BPA and other hormone disruptors. Pointing to a long history of eugenic practices, some believe that widespread exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals -- and the resulting mass reproductive damage and infertility crisis -- merely represents an extension of more than a century of programs deliberately aimed at reducing fertility, especially among targeted populations. One media organization recently circulated a 1969 Planned Parenthood memo appearing to support some of these fears; the document, written by Planned Parenthood Vice President Frederick S. Jaffe, suggests reducing global fertility by, among other means, adding contraceptive substances to the water supply, discouraging marriage, encouraging homosexuality, and providing for forced abortions.
The U.S. government's long history of secret and forced sterilization is well-documented, as is its support of Nazi eugenics programs. For generations it has also implemented other eugenics measures -- such as the Cincinnati Radiation Experiments and syphilis experiments in Tuskegee and Guatemala -- often disguised as scientific research. Some have alleged that, as recently as the 1990s, an ostensible World Health Organization-Rockefeller tetanus vaccination program in Central America and the Philippines was in fact intended to secretly study the effectiveness of inoculations in coercing abortion. The International Planned Parenthood Organization was itself allegedly created as a sub-group of England's Eugenics Society. World leaders have long focused on the mechanics of population control and depopulation. A 1975 National Security Council report on the dangers of overpopulation asserted that "mandatory programs may be needed and ... we should be considering these possibilities now." Only three years ago, a U.N. Population Division policy brief asked: "What would it take to accelerate fertility decline in the least developed countries?" Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who encouraged UN involvement in population control measures, was supposedly so preoccupied with contraception that he gained the nickname "Rubbers."
Others view as significant the fact that John Holdren, who serves as President Barack Obama's advisor for Science and Technology and White House "science czar," has long advocated population control -- by force, if necessary. A proponent of both zero economic growth and zero population growth, Holdren has promoted a decline in fertility far below replacement level. During the late 1970s, Holdren co-authored a book, Ecoscience, that presented a number of possible solutions, both voluntary and coercive, to a perceived overpopulation crisis. Some of these proposals included adding sterility-inducing chemicals to the water supply, injecting sterilizing implants into young females (removable "with official permission, for a limited number of births"), and implementing a program of compulsory abortions, particularly among those who had had several children or were deemed to contribute to "social deterioration." As the authors of Ecoscience queried: "... no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?” Much of this is typical eugenics theory, but Ecoscience adds its own twist by also proposing an armed, UN-based "Planetary Regime—sort of an international superagency" or "global ... police force" that would oversee distribution "of all natural resources" and enforce fertility-control measures. In the face of later criticism, Holdren and his co-authors, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, have since described Ecoscience as nothing more than a "textbook"; Holdren's staff has reportedly stated that he does not promote forcible sterilization. Nevertheless, Ehrlich has written in another publication: "[We need] compulsory birth regulation... [through] the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size." Both Holdren and Ehrlich have consistently expressed Malthusian viewpoints throughout their careers.
In actuality, the UN has projected that the world population growth has passed its peak and "the twenty-first century is expected to be one of comparatively slower population growth than the previous century ... characterized by declining fertility and the ageing of populations"; in fact, some view underpopulation as a longer-term problem than overpopulation. Within the U.S., the role that BPA and other endocrine-disrupting agents have played or will play in the infertility epidemic has yet to be officially addressed.
While the U.S. federal government wavers on the issue, Canada has declared BPA to be a toxic substance, and EU countries recently banned its use in children's food and drink containers. At least 10 states in the U.S have passed legislation for similar BPA bans. Many manufacturers of baby bottles and other plastic bottles have halted BPA use in their products. Food and beverage manufacturers including Nestlé, Heinz, Campbell Soups, and Coca-Cola have stated plans to change the chemical content of their food packaging to eliminate BPA; and Appleton Papers, the largest thermal paper manufacturer in the U.S., removed the chemical from its products. The American Medical Association has issued a statement “recognizing BPA as an endocrine-disrupting agent and urging that BPA-containing products with the potential for human exposure be clearly identified.” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California suggested passing laws that would require companies to prove that chemicals they use are safe for the food supply, before they can enter the marketplace. Noting that not all plastics disrupt the endocrine system, University of Texas neurobiologist George Bittner believes in the possibility of developing less-toxic plastics.
As the gears of science and government grind slowly toward a solution to this toxic problem, people are encouraged in the meantime to take steps to help protect themselves from BPA and other endocrine disruptors by avoiding food and beverages packaged in cans or plastic, refusing or discarding (not recycling) receipts, and storing food and drinks in glass or stainless steel containers. Studies have shown that a strictly fresh-food diet can reduce human BPA levels by at least 60% after just 3 days. And increased consumption of zinc, ascorbic acid, calcium, and protein has been repeatedly shown to halt, or even reverse, reproductive damage caused by the hormone disruptor fluoride. Some swear by the benefits of probiotics. Consumers can also contact companies and request that they remove BPA from their products.
(Photo by Real Democracy GR – MultiMedia Team )
Greece’s political establishment trembles as banks and government offices burn amid violent anti-austerity riots. Has the country finally reached a tipping point?
Exactly ten years ago, the crisis-ridden country of Argentina spiraled into a bout of social unrest that would eventually lead to the largest sovereign default in history. After three years of being forced to swallow the bitter pill of IMF-imposed austerity, a tipping point was finally reached: foreign creditors and neoliberal governments had pushed the people too far. They rose up in defiance and ousted five successive Presidents in the space of just three weeks.
With the incredible images of flame-engulfed buildings and policemen emerging out of Athens, it now looks like Greece may be headed down the same path. The country has become ungovernable. Even though a majority of traitors was found to pass yet another deeply unpopular austerity package through Parliament, this weekend’s violent protests indicate that the ‘Argentina moment’ may have arrived. The Greek people simply can’t take any more austerity.
This weekend’s 48-hour strike and mass demonstration witnessed some of the largest mobilizations in Greece to date. Even our weathered comrades inside Greece reported that the scale of the protests and the severity of the violence were some of the worst yet. With over 100,000 descending onto Syntagma Square, riot police desperately clung on to their perimeter as they were pelted with rocks and firebombs. The Guardian reported that:
More than 40 buildings were set ablaze in an orgy of looting that left scores injured as protesters vented their anger at the caretaker government and parliament’s ordering of a further €3.3bn of savings by slashing wages and pensions and laying off public sector workers … Meanwhile street battles between police firing rounds of teargas and demonstrators hurling firebombs and marble slabs left Syntagma square, the plaza in front of the parliament building, resembling a war zone.
“The rebellion has begun,” the Greek resistance hero and veteran left-winger Manolis Glezos told reporters. Indeed, as students and anarchists fought back waves of riot police assaults on the occupied University Law Department, as hundreds of outraged protesters took over a TV station, and as plumes of smoke and clouds of teargas filled up the Athenian night skies, one thing became overly clear: the social situation in Greece has spun entirely out of control.
Just before the weekend, the Guardian’s veteran Greek correspondent, Helena Smith, wrote that she feared for a “social explosion”, warning that the “Greeks can’t take any more punishment.” With poverty deepening, social inequality worsening, protests persisting and the economic situation only spiraling ever deeper into despair, “it is easy to see why, among politicians at least, there is little stomach for more.”
A series of resignations by ministers on Friday, unwilling to support the latest measures, not only underlined the panic of the political class – in a country where MPs no longer feel safe walking in the streets – but proved how tenuous public support is for the bailout. If there is to be a social explosion, many said that it would come because Greeks had been pushed too far.
In my own PhD research, which compares the Argentine crisis of 2001-’02 to the Greek debt crisis, I am paying particular attention to the process through which the “impossible” at some point becomes “inevitable”. In Argentina, two factors conspired to make a default and a massive devaluation of the peso — both of which previously seemed heresy — inevitable: massive popular protests combined with a willingness of foreign creditors to let Argentina fail.
In Greece, we appear to be approaching a similar tipping point. Six government ministers resigned this weekend, the far-right Laos party deserted the coalition, and over 40 lawmakers were sacked after they rebelled against the terms of the EU-IMF bailout. As the Guardian rightly concluded, “the scenes of mayhem on the streets of Athens and all across the country leave big questions unresolved regarding Greece’s capacity to stick with the savage austerity.”
Unlike two years ago, “when the angry graffiti demanded that the ‘IMF go home’ and ‘reject austerity’, it now exhorts protesters to ‘murder bankers’ and ‘rise in rebellion’ and ‘never be slaves’. The spirit of resistance shows no sign of abating. With support for the left … growing by the day, opposition to any cost-cutting reforms is bound only to increase.” As one opposition leader put it, “Martial law has to be imposed for these measures to be implemented.”
At the same time, Greece’s foreign creditors appear ever more willing to allow the country to default. Helena Smith has pointed out that, “as the talks [between Greece and its creditors] rolled on last week, a growing number of voices in the single currency’s more stable “core” countries suggested they could manage without Greece … Some investors, too, argue that, because a default has been a possibility for many months, financial markets would take it in their stride.”
Dutch Prime Minister Rutte — who throughout this crisis has been playing hard-ball with Greece, usually followed a few weeks later in his radical neoliberal footsteps by Angela Merkel — has already raised the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. So have EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. All in all, Greece’s creditors appear to be preparing the ground for what they previously told us was “impossible”.
Yet as the elites persist with their scaremongering just to buy themselves a little more time, at least the 82-year old WWII survivor Stella Papafagou won’t be afraid of the “apocalyptic” consequences that Prime Minister warned of in Parliament today. “We’ve fought several times for liberation,” she told the New York Times. “But this slavery is worse than any other. This is worse than the ’40s. I would prefer to die with dignity than with my head bent down.”
Submitted by The Global Square
TheGlobalSquare aims to be the first massive decentralized social network in the history of the Internet. We are aware of the difficulties we must overcome, but we believe the Internet Community has reached a point where such an initiative is possible. It is possible because we are more united; censorship and repression have created stronger bonds between those who care about freedom and the free flow of information. How can we achieve this goal?
Structure: Organizing humanity in a single collective
The Global Square is to be an easy to use social and work platform for individuals and groups. One of the main goals is that it should have very low barriers of entry for inexperienced users, making it as easy as possible for them to contribute work, interact and use the various tools at their disposal. Another goal is that the Global Square be expandable to allow global coordinated and efficient work in every system. TheGlobalSquare recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems.
The Global Square is not exclusively for activists. While it will assist activists with the correct tools and virtual meeting areas, it will also be available to the global community. Although the structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more. As systems are added that encompass more aspects of daily life and political topics of wide interest, experts and users from all walks of life will be able to use the Global Square to discuss, create and learn. A first example of this is the News Commons, which will be a source of verified, crowd sourced and peer reviewed news on all topics. Other early basic systems to be created on the Global Square are the Global Market for establishing new methods of exchange and the Renaissance and Evolution Forums for testing principles for governance and law. Future systems could include topics such as communications, healing, food, arts, sports, sciences, trade, housing, and energy.
This is an open community where everyone is welcome. It is peer-to-peer, horizontal and non-hierarchical. This is a space where coders, designers, itechs, artists, activists and philosophers are invited to collaborate together. We believe it is necessary to concentrate and focus our energy, so if you are already in a group planning something similar or with the same objectives please participate to enrich both projects.
With the support of Delft University of Technology, TheGlobalSquare will mainly be developed based on the existing peer to peer technology provided by the renowned file sharing software Tribler. Tribler is a project focused on decentralized social networks with years of expertise in peer-to-peer communication. By using this particular existing P2P technology it becomes virtually impossible to break or censor our network. The content files are not centralized in any physical server, so the network belongs to its users - a basic principle of participatory democracy applied to the on-line space. It encourages input from users from countries with censorship and blocking; with an 'unblockable' space to share all kinds of information and work collaboratively. It has been proven that WEB, as we know it, each day is more closed and subject to arbitrary and illegal blocking. A step beyond it is more than needed.
TheGlobalSquare will include authentication mechanisms, relational schema and communication protocols. Authentication and communications are up to whoever implements this specification to build a system. That will allow a project to be "TheGlobalSquare compatible" while supporting semantic data, currently visualized as RDF. The RDF vocabularies we develop to represent meaning and relationship are the common thread that enable uniting a variety of platforms. Any network is the sum of the technology supporting it as well as the actual connections made between individuals and groups within it. To succeed, we must be able to both leverage whatever currently exists as well as develop anything needed to build bridges between systems and people. There will be a blend of network protocols, web services, data stores, P2P clients etc. Tools for people across the planet to meet, share ideas and develop proposals must enable coordinated, effective, global action. TheGlobalSquare system will provide a unified way to manage communications between people within a radically heterogeneous vocabulary system.
Build something, get a real-world community to use it, and ask how we can improve it. Instead of detailing the design out from zero, we propose to build software and incrementally improve it. This requires a designed-for-evolution type of modern software engineering approach.
Our goal is to have a functional prototype by March 2012. The Global Square will be a featured project at the Berlin Bienale from April 27, 2012 until July 1, 2012. To have something working in March, we need to be modest. We will start with a simple PC app. The first feature to create is an operational skeleton for an attack resilient social network: Users can add friends and send them messages in private. You can also leave messages on the people's public walls. This first prototype should already have robust security and use Elyptic Key Crypto to secure all communication. Each user creates a public key upon installation. All private messages are encrypted for that person only. All friendships are initiated using spoofing-free mechanisms.
Features after the March release
Using the Agile method we will focus on one feature or module for a few weeks, conduct tests, do a release and then focus on the next feature. By releasing in a 6-8 week cycle we can focus on coding and improvement.
A goal is to have a smartphone app later in the year plus a standalone app with a usable GUI. We will start with the stand alone PC app, which later can be turned into an .apk for mobiles. Once the basic prototype is up and running, we can add features beyond social networking, for instance, Squares, Task Groups or Events with communication systems. Once that is up and running the focus could be on "distributed decision making and voting" and the various Systems such as News Commons.
The global square needs developers to turn ideas and dreams in reality!
For such an effort, we must count on the community of coders and developers. We are going to use a Tribler kernel based on Python. We urgently need the help of the community in order to implement all the features planned for The Global Square. If you have expertise in Python and P2P protocols you still have time and opportunity to join our project, a project which will hopefully change the dynamics of interaction among global society.
Various jobs require a combination of the following:
General-contact: Pedro Noel firstname.lastname@example.org
Press Contact: Heather Marsh (spokesperson) email@example.com
Developers Contact: Johan Pouwelse and Ed Knutson (development coordinators) firstname.lastname@example.org
The investigation, which had been active since 2008, has been moved from Warsaw to Krakow, several Polish news outlets report. According to Piotr Kosmaty, the spokesperson of the Prokuratura Apelacyjna Krakow, the case files have already arrived. He declined to comment on the reasons behind the transfer.
This is not the first unexpected development in this investigation. Earlier last year, Warsaw prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski was removed from the case, after it emerged that he had planned to file charges. His case files were subsequently obtained by daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. In turn, Gdansk prosecutors opened an investigation into this leak.
Gazeta Wyborcza state that Mierzewski had evidence proving the existence of an extraterritorial US area in breach of the Polish constitution and of international law; moreover it proved that those kept in this area qualified as victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
See this link for our previous coverage.
Upcoming Dates & Events:
February 19: Final day of the “Occupy the Truth” whistleblowers conference at UC Berkeley.
February 19: The 500th episode of 'The Simpsons,' guest starring Julian Assange airs 8:00PM on FOX.
February 23: Bradley Manning's arraignment will be held at Fort Meade, beginning at 1:00PM.
February 26: The announcement of Academy Awards. "Incident in New Baghdad", a documentary on 'Collateral Murder,' is in the running for 'Documentary Short Subject.'
March 1: Julian Assange will host a Q&A on "Europe's Last Dictator," 6:30PM at The Old Vic Tunnels, London.
April 25: Kristinn Hrafnsson to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.
May 23: Julian Assange to speak at Enterprise Information Management Congress 2012 in The Netherlands.
May 27: "Incident in New Baghdad" to air on The Documentary Channel, 8PM.
WikiLeak's rise to prominence as the world's first stateless media organization has carried it into the center of a massive storm of controversy. On one hand WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have widespread global support and have won numerous journalism awards. On the other hand, the US government portrayed them as a criminal entity, as a sort of spy organization and certainly not a member of the press protected by the First Amendment. Some top US officials called Assange a high-tech terrorist and should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.
With inflamed rhetoric, many in the mainstream media have negatively framed the narrative of this new journalistic force and tried to distance themselves from it. By doing so, they attempted to deflect perception of WikiLeaks from the appearance of legitimacy associated with the word 'journalism'. One tactic was sensational personal attacks, with classic tabloid character assassination of Assange to distract the public from asking questions about the real actions of WikiLeaks. The other was sophisticated intellectual persuasion, where the corporate media criticized the organization, particularly questioning its journalistic status.
Among others, Bill Keller of the New York Times strongly disapproved of calling Assange a journalist, though he finally admitted it while maintaining his distance. The New York Times tried to treat WikiLeaks as a source and not a partner. The decision to exclude WikiLeaks representatives from the UNESCO international conference, discussing the future of media after WikiLeaks is a prime example of the establishment's attempt to discount WikiLeaks.
In February, Julian Assange went to the British Supreme Court for the final appeal of his extradition to Sweden. Allegations of sexual misconduct have been sensationally reported. Behind the Swedish hype, the US Attorney General has conducted an unprecedented criminal investigation against WikiLeaks. The looming question at hand is whether Assange will be extradited to Sweden and then immediately to the US to be tried for espionage. He has been under house arrest for more than a year without any charges. Along with all the sensation and international legal procedural irregularities, the general public has been distracted from the real issues. Many remain passive spectators, as if waiting to see the sequel of a daytime soap opera.
All this has preempted the public from asking real questions about WikiLeaks’s journalistic status, with the established media controlling most of the discourse. Yet, the question of whether WikiLeaks is a journalistic enterprise is extremely important for the future of journalism and for freedom of speech worldwide. It is true that in many ways WikiLeaks appears radically different than the established media. But what is it that really sets them apart from other news organizations?
In general, the focus has been directed toward Assange as an individual. Some have criticized the polarizing effect of Assange's personality and methods. Controversy emerged around the release of Collateral Murder video, with the intentional slant in its sensational title. One might recall Assange's interview on Comedy Central's Colbert Report back in April 12, 2010 where Colbert's right wing character challenged Assange with a sarcastic tone on the framing of the Collateral Murder video: “You have given it a title called Collateral Murder. That's not leaking, that's a pure editorial”. Assange responded, saying “The promise that we make to our sources is that …. we will attempt to get the maximum political impact for the materials they give to us.” Colbert continued: “That way you have manipulated the audience into the emotional state you want before something goes on the air. That is an emotional manipulation ….” with an added tongue-in-cheek “That's journalism I can get behind.” This sentiment delivered by Colbert’s satire was taken as real by some and for them, WikiLeaks' action seemed to be intentional manipulation. But is this really so? There are obvious differences between WikiLeaks approach and that of traditional journalism. When these differences are simply judged and framed from the prevalent view, what is essential about WikiLeaks's approach is not revealed. This requires a new framework for defining journalism.
The Myth of the Creed of Objectivity
What is really the basis behind the accusation that Wikileaks is not a member of the press? Their apparent agenda and modus operandi is called into question as if they are violating some basic rule. First we must look at common assumptions in this profession. The notion of objectivity is something employed by conventional journalism. It can be traced back to the epistemology of physical science, which was extended into the field of journalism and psychology in the form of social science. The creed of objectivity supposedly promises unbiased reporting, and journalists are expected to be neutral and objective. In fact, this creed appears to have become a doctrine. Those who step away from it are met with consequences. A recent example is how web designer Caitlin Curran was fired from her job with Public Radio International's The Takeaway on WNYC for participating in an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
Contrary to the convention of claiming journalistic objectivity, Assange admits and discloses WikiLeaks agenda. He has said, “We are an activist organization. The method is transparency. The goal is justice” (April 18, 2010). WikiLeaks stands for a passionate value and one can see their principles in the actions of the organization. For instance, Assange described how by naming the gunship video Collateral Murder, WikiLeaks wanted "to knock out this 'collateral damage' euphemism, so when anyone uses it they will think 'collateral murder.'" (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). This explicitly challenging attitude is contrary to the neutral position claimed by 'professional' journalism’s creed of objectivity. Indeed, passion and conviction are what fuels the engine of WikiLeaks.
If Assange’s actions were to be examined under the generally accepted definition of journalism, his seeming audacious principle and ethical framework might be called into question as interference of his subjectivity in the process of framing and reporting the news. In this view, one could easily conclude that Assange is not a journalist as he seems to violate this supposed golden rule of objectivity in journalism. Yet, is this really true?
In his weekly column in Truthdig -The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News Chris Hedges (2010) brought up the potential hazard of the stance of objectivity:
This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists.
Before journalists become professionals, they are first citizens within society. The creed of objectivity indoctrinates those who seek for career with a status of a profession. One is taught to distrust what dwells in the realm of subjectivity such as emotions and intuition. They are trained to see passion in their work as unprofessional; that allowing personal conviction to enter the process would cloud their 'lens of objectivity'. Individual success in the consolidated corporate media world depends on the ability to trade ones own critical thinking with one of outer authority in exchange for access to power. British investigative journalist Robert Fisk spoke of how the media has become a closed circle with only appointed journalists invited by the White House press conferences to ask questions that are often pre-approved by officials. Many journalists kneel before the profession's creed of objectivity as a kind of religious guide. This concocted frame preempts real questioning or challenging the agenda of people in power whose actions they are reporting on.
So the question is more nuanced: At the expense of passion, can the creed of objectivity grant this promise of unbiased reporting? Or does it simply set up unspoken and unconscious obeisance to a deeply entrenched system of power?
Just claiming objectivity does not magically eliminate subjectivity. Sociologist Gaye Tuchman has termed objectivity a 'strategic ritual' that journalists use to turn facts into truth (as cited in David S. Allen, 2005, p. 58). In fact though, reporter objectivity can never be attained, according to communications consultant James Moore. He dismantled the creed of objectivity thus:
The craft of reporting has surrendered most of its sense of balance and fairness. Objectivity has never existed. Stories have always been framed for purpose and over-dramatized because reporters want to lead a newscast or be above the fold on the front page …. Reporters cannot be objective because they are a product of their experiences. They cannot ignore their upbringing, socioeconomic status, circle of friends, personal self-interests, and the viability of the employers they serve.
Reporting through this filter conjures hidden agendas into empirical facts in public perception, often bypassing critical examination. Ted Diadium in the article Should Journalists Never Be Activists? pointed out the possible hidden motivation behind the trend of separation of the news report and oped; that it was made to remove appearance of “biases from reporting on political issues, drawing a solid line between news reports and opinion columns and protecting the paper's credibility through strict ethical barriers”. This practice helps to create a perception that reported news is grounded, objective and legitimate.
Yet, the mainstream media quite often shuns a critical issue if it appears to question corporate and government agendas. Outlets like CNN or the NYT strive for control of either the content or the framing of an issue. Constitutional attorney and author Glenn Greenwald shed light on one media blackout of investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. Greenwald described how Scahill’s revelation about a CIA’s secret black site in Somalia was largely ignored by the establishment media and a few status quo journalists acting as a mouthpiece for the CIA attempted to discredit Scahill’s story. Investigative journalist, John Pilger elegantly summed up the corporate journalist's code of conduct; “Do your job as it should be done and you are traitors; do your job as we say you should and you are journalists."
There is no such thing as true objectivity. The creed of objectivity is often simply a pretense to cloak private agendas and construct simplistic emotional soundbites that obscure some aspect of what is really happening. Whether they know it or not, most journalists have become stenographers of power to defend a pre-manufactured perception or hidden agenda.
What is behind this false creed of objectivity? Its influence is invisible and subtle, yet for those who are willing to look deeper, it reveals a powerful force to govern and control public perception. This creed has become an unspoken law to define and confine journalists and what they might say. Media that serves for the authority in Washington is disguised as a professional class and perceived as a moral institution. In the article The Dangerous Cult of the Guardian Jonathan Cook shed light to this blind faith in the established media where readers accept content at face value.
Mainstream media holds itself out as a moral authority, providing a lens through which to see and validate outer events and perspectives. Individuals that follow this governance are discouraged from engaging in critical thinking. While conventional media holds firmly to this doctrine of objectivity as a professional standard, what is fueling the action of Wikileaks lies in something considered taboo by conventional journalism. Could it be that they are not violating the rules, but simply working under a different creed?
The Creed of Transparency
When people talk about unbiased reporting, they fail to recognize that the framework in which reporting is done is itself not neutral. The truth of the matter is that in the established paradigm, the vast majority of people are not granted an equal voice. Here it is natural for perspectives to be dominated by those with power. Corporations increasingly control the airwaves and significantly influence what is offered as news. In this situation, how can fair reporting be achieved?
If the press were to really to work for people instead of moneyed interests, then in a sense they must strive for justice by bringing voices and perspectives that were pushed into the margins. John Pilger once asked Assange about his passion. He responded with WikiLeaks' motto: “Our goal is justice. Our method is transparency.” He emphasized the importance of not mixing up the two.
On their website’s about page, WikiLeaks spelled out the philosophy behind the aim and method: “Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations”.
How does this creed of transparency differ from the creed of objectivity? In the current climate of secrecy, transparency is largely talked about in the context of revealing concealed information. Yet, transparency in general just implies openness and communication. It is an act of honest sharing. Transparency in this sense has two meanings. One is disclosure and sharing when transparency is brought forth voluntarily. Another is exposure of secrets when transparency is demanded from outside of an inner circle. This forced transparency is what WikiLeaks does in holding powerful organizations accountable.
Voluntary transparency is what we used to have when things were more localized, before industrialization and corporate globalization. People used to be able to trust products in the stores in their neighborhood, as they knew the owner and farmers and they could talk and interact with them. Nowadays services and products have increasingly become abstracted, with corporations taking up many critical aspects of our life and community. We no longer know the owners and producers.
When people are distanced from each other and disconnected, it is harder for them to see the effect of their own actions. Real people have become faceless consumers where human relationship is no longer required. Commercial interests and profit motives have come to permeate all of society. With the rise of the advertisement industry, the veil of abstraction has caused people to become and more susceptible to false representation, divorced from genuine relationship.
We are surrounded by cosmetic, artificial images. From outside, products can look beautiful, news stories register as credible. Glorious pictures and beautiful or friendly models accompany the new antidepressant pill and blind ones eyes to the fine print of the side effects. Blood of innocent Iraqis are covered by patriotic images of American flags. Monsanto, a large bio-tech corporation that produces over 90% of genetically modified foods (GMO) portrays a positive image of an agricultural company helping farmers grow food. Yet, in reality it is the opposite, destroying the life force and killing farmers around the world, all the while producing poison for people and the Earth. The company actively hides decades of agricultural poison and extreme monopolizing behavior and suppression of clinical data showing the harm of their products on living beings. Another example is the media's portrayal of war as rosy and successful when in fact the war in Afghanistan is a disaster.
Sophisticated ads veil profit motives and transform the real nature of products into elevated manufactured images. Many don’t even see the depth of dishonesty permeating our lives. Images packaged with lies and deception, often disguised as the opposite and break down what should be direct, genuine communication.
When human relationship is mediated by false images, the foundation of society itself is artificial and relationships becomes false. Honesty is a essential aspect of human relationship and its degradation in society is a sign of devolution of civilization, where people move away from the sense of brotherhood and shared responsibility and inevitably toward power over others and despotism.
With this decay of honesty, forced transparency has become more and more necessary. In the 60's, consumer advocacy groups fought for ingredient labeling. That was a call for transparency, a form of check and balance on abuse of power by profit-driven corporations. It was also an attempt to demand honesty when genuine human relationship is no longer possible.
Before corporate consolidation and control, the press was more effective in fostering honesty and basic human communication. They were not just reporting an event that happened in the community, but also had more true investigative journalism. By utilizing the Freedom of Information Act, newspapers and magazines more often exposed the corrupt actions and secrecy of those in power. This way they demanded honesty from institutions and held them more accountable.
Nowadays, journalism has fallen into the role of advertisement and distraction. When ads become an essential avenue for financing newspapers, reporters of course tend to turn away from news that would upset their sponsors. The moral spine of the press has been bent toward commercial interests, which are also taking over government. The creed of objectivity is utilized as a tool to lend a veneer of legitimacy and conceal the true control over perception by those in power. Now this creed itself is being questioned and the public has begun to look for or create a press that acts in the interest of the people.
Some have recognized transparency and disclosure as a vital part of journalism. San Francisco Examiner columnist, Jeff Jarvis paraphrased David Weinberger:
"Transparency is the new objectivity". Transparency about one’s investments and personal affiliations should be standard in presenting content to one’s readers, and is what readers should expect. But it not......really "objective", at least in the way the term is used by many journalists today.
From this view, there has also been criticism surrounding the lack of transparency in WikiLeaks’ own operation. Aside from prominent spokesmen such as Assange and Kristinn Hrafnsson, the identities of most who work for the organization have been kept secret. In the 2011 Melbourne panel, WikiLeaks: Its Impact on Journalism and Government, Hrafnsson addressed this need for anonymity, saying that identities are protected due to the political climate where incitement for assassination is repeated in US political circles. He noted that because of this, for now this approach is justified.
On the other hand, WikiLeaks is eminently transparent in disclosing the motives behind their work. Assange said at the Sydney Peace Prize award ceremony: "We're objective but not neutral. We're on the side of justice – objectivity is not the same as neutrality." This commitment to justice was manifested in the very operation of WikiLeaks. He described how WikiLeaks is most interested in particular information among various types; that concealed information has great potential for just reform because those who hide that information spend a lot of energy and resources in concealment. He pointed out this signal of suppression is a sign of opportunity, showing that “there something worth looking at to see if it should be exposed and that censorship expresses weakness not strength”.
WikiLeaks laid out the website’s publishing policy, saying that they accept material that is of “diplomatic, political, ethical, or historical significance, which has not been published before, which is being suppressed …”
Where does this suppressed information come from? The answer was found in whistle-blowers as refuges for those information. Internal documentation put forward by whistle-blowers bridges a gap between the portrayed image of an institution, corporation or government and the actions of the inside circle held behind a veil of secrecy or deception.
The act of whistle-blowing in a higher sense is an effort to reach out to public in honest communication. Whistle-blowing is a fundamental aspect of true journalism. WikiLeaks’s offers an avenue for those voices that are likely to be persecuted or ignored, making it the publisher of last resort. It applies existing legal structures to publish and guarantee a freedom of speech not filtered by private interests. The website founders saw that the best way to secure protection for a source is not to know who they are in the first place. Therefore, the infrastructure is built so no one can trace the communication path and they can protect anonymity at the source. The system of anonymous drop-boxes provides a secure platform and helps those who are inside an organization to step forward and reveal wrongdoing and not be exposed. The foundation of WikiLeaks is built on a system of justice that provides an unfettered avenue of dissent, so oppressed voices can emerge from the margins.
With their ethos of justice, WikiLeaks incorporates the scientific basis of objectivity within the very infrastructure of their website. The technological system does not play favorites or target specific groups or governments. It is striving to practice neutrality in a commitment to the sources themselves. They are indeed source driven and do not actively seek out information.
The website is not meant to serve a personal opinion or need of Assange or the WikiLeaks staff. Its job is to simply verify the authenticity of the materials submitted, then find a way to best represent and manifest the wishes of the source. As part of effectively bringing the voice out into the world, Wikileaks makes what Assange calls some editorial work. He made it clear that it was not enough to release raw data. “When the material is more complex…especially military material which has lots of acronyms…it's not even enough to do a summary ….” (Assange, April 18, 2010). He described how source material needs at least a summary for journalists to pick it up. Otherwise, it falls into the gutter and buried. He stated the need for some journalistic work by WikiLeaks and others.
WikiLeaks follows the journalistic convention of fact-checking or expects their media partners to do so. Yet, one of the things that makes WikiLeaks different from most mainstream outlets is another level of transparency. They always release the full source material related to a story. Assange emphasized the importance of a scientific approach in this process:
... everything we do is like science. It is checkable, independently checkable because the information which has informed our conclusions is there, just like scientific papers which are based on experimental data and must make that experimental data available to other scientists and the public if they want their papers to be published. (Assange, April 18, 2010)
When information that formed the conclusion is made available to the public, people can examine for themselves the validity of the presented disclosure.
Transparency of full disclosure is not simply stating one's motives, but requires actions to be known to the public, where people can discern honesty from empty rhetoric and lies by making a link between stated motives and actual deeds. It is a simple science of matching words with actions. For instance, John Esposito in the article Rhetoric vs. Action in American Diplomacy described the gap between reality and rhetoric in American diplomacy in the Arab world. Obama’s campaign speech of hope and change that was welcomed by the Muslim world stands now in stark contrast with the hypocrisy of the real actions of this administration with its drone attacks and assassinations.
Unlike many governments and corporations, WikiLeaks has an impeccable track record of integrity in this and in protecting the vulnerable. Since the beginning of its existence the organization's massive US government releases could not been shown to have harmed a single individual, yet have contributed to positive reforms in numerous oppressive countries. The body count that resulted from Pfc Manning's alleged leaks has amounted to zero thus far, while his accusers stand bloodied from head to toe.
This creed of transparency does not negate the importance of objectivity. Instead of a false pretense of neutrality where one's actions and words do not match, WikiLeaks gives honest disclosure of motives and agenda and puts the information they receive out for public scrutiny. Objectivity cannot be attained through simply claiming to be bias-free. It can only be determined in an open space of dialogue that forms the court of public opinion, engaging people freely in the science of matching rhetoric with action.
Indeed, this transparency brings a new kind of objectivity. It is objectivity that understands what can be objective and what cannot. Once this objectivity is reached, those engaged in transparency move to the next step, what I call the art of editorial freedom.
The Art of Editorial Freedom
Once the limits of objectivity have been established, then the creed of transparency can move beyond the limits of operating under a false creed. Publishing all source material and stating ones bias and affiliations makes journalism honest. This situates the event on an agreed upon objective physicality. "Because Assange publishes the full source material, he believes that WikiLeaks is free to offer its analysis, no matter how speculative" (Khatchadourian, 2010). Only when this scientific approach is taken does a space open up for real editorial freedom. This freedom allows one to move in and incorporate aspects of the subjective field such as opinions and value judgments, which are often considered taboo in modern journalism.
Instead of pretending to be neutral and bias free, honest disclosure of motives allows journalists to connect with their convictions. What guides WikiLeaks’ technical infrastructure is their untamed passion for justice. The release of the Collateral Murder video was a good example. In Assange's words, it needed to be communicated in a manner that could bring maximum political impact. Thus, the creative approach to the title, Collateral Murder. It was intended to replace the military-created euphemism of collateral damage which up to this point often excused the war crime of targeting civilians. Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers said at the whistleblowers conference in Berkeley that the titling of the video was called extreme by many, but said, "it wasn't. It was murder".
In the Manning-Lamo Chat Logs, alleged whisteblower Bradley Manning wrote:
i cant separate myself from others... i feel connected to everybody… like they were distant family... i… care?... we’re human… and we’re killing ourselves… and no-one seems to see that… and it bothers me .... i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public...(bradass87)
Manning wanted us to regain connection with humanity as a distanced family rather than separate and detached by dehumanizing rhetoric. By publishing the photo of the two Reuters news employees, Saeed Chamagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen in the Collateral Murder video, WikiLeaks remained true to the wishes of the source: to help the world see those who have been portrayed as enemies are actually human.
Indeed this was so effective that WikiLeaks' site crashed from the traffic overload and the release gained massive attention from the public. Now the film Incident in New Baghdad has been nominated for an Oscar and the collateral damage euphemism that was used so much after 9-11 seems to have quietly fallen out of favor. In addition, many have credited seeing the Collateral Murder video as turning them actively against the wars.
When this conscious editorializing and the motives behind it are disclosed, the perceived political slant actually falls under a kind of artistic license. Assange was honest about this slant and at the same time, the organization released the full video for public examination. Contrary to the criticism that Collateral Murder was an act of manipulation, it was indeed a unique example of creative rendering, meant to break down the Orwellian framing of casual slaughter in the public mind and awaken the sense of humanity that has been numbed by this euphemism.
Transparency is an invitation for a certain quality of relationship, while the lack of it invites exploiting the relationship for one-sided purpose. It serves informed consent as opposed to manufactured consent.
Mainstream media has become a wing of corporate propaganda, perpetuating lies and entanglement in systemic dishonesty with the public. Using the Internet and social networks and guided by passion, ordinary people are stepping forward to take up the slack. Wikileaks is a non-profit effort in helping form a new peer to peer border-less global 4th estate. As “the intelligence agency of the people”, they perform as a vehicle for evidence of lies and corruption. The online collective Anonymous is going after the misdeeds of illegitimate authority and mobilizing actions to shed light on the gap between rhetoric and actions of politicians and any Corporation that tries to control information flow. Documentary film makers are revealing the true face of deadly corporate commodification of life behind the sheen of glorious advertisement. Citizen journalists, with live-streams, blogging and crowdsourcing are also breaking down the walls of deception.
In the 90s the WTO became the place where the richest 1% negotiated deals that impoverished millions without people knowing that their goose was being cooked. Current worldwide online and street protests against SOPA, PIPA and now ACTA and TPP are examples of how knowledge shared and free communication are currently fueling collective action to stop backrooms deals. After WikiLeaks release of the secret draft of ACTA in 2008, the intentions and motives of policy makers and powerful corporations were exposed. When people can see what is concealed, they can act on what they know. People in Europe took to the streets and this conspiring of ACTA was effectively stalled.
How does one explain the passion and push for direct common control of information that underlies such effective global movements? Is it really undermining legitimate authority, as Washington would have us believe? Or, is it simply a new kind of journalism?
What this whistleblower website is doing is nothing different than what the Press was supposed to be in the spirit of the First Amendment before the advent of modern corporation. Indeed, WikiLeaks is working directly with the same ideal of press freedom that the US Constitution was based on.
The Founding Fathers understood that all governments have an inherent tendency toward corruption and that the role of the Press is to counter that corruption with sunshine. They envisioned the Press to be a watchdog of power, and a servant of the people. In fact it was the only occupation that was given protection under the US Constitution for this very reason.
When governments and corporations abuse their power, it is the journalist's responsibility to side with the common man and with justice. From the onset, the journalist's role was never meant to be neutral and was actually intended to take an activist stance. WikiLeaks is a continuation of the great tradition of a free Press.
'How do you prosecute Julian Assange and not the New York Times?' a former administration official told Reuters. You can't. What WikiLeaks does, bringing out information from a source is what journalists do and have done for decades as common accepted practice. The New York Times and WikiLeaks in this regard are fundamentally no different.
The real difference lies not in the releasing of sensitive materials, but in their allegiance manifested in their root affiliations and actions. The New York Times, under the banner of 'professionalism' only released 'government approved' materials. At one point, they even showed their pride in being praised by the White House after obeying orders not to publish material.
Over 40 years ago, The New York Times released the Pentagon Papers, and the 1971 Supreme Court decision made it clear that its publication was protected by the Constitution. The Times and The Guardian once defended the public right to know. Yet, now their treatment of WikiLeaks shows how they are betraying the foundational principles of the US Constitutional legal and political system. By violating their true professional ethics of commitment to justice and speaking truth to power, the established media has fallen from grace.
WikiLeaks as an organization follows an inner conviction that what is just must be allowed to speak for itself, independently of outer filters or influence. The fact that one small non-profit organization released more important documents than all the media combined in the past decades is simply a testimony of their commitment to the true role of the Press. WikiLeaks honest and brave admission of what cannot be objective, transformed the false creed of objectivity into a new ethic of transparency. They are here to provide to the public vital information that reveals the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality in the actions of a pompous elite. Such information allows everyone to confront reality and actively engage in altering the course of history.
George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit speaking truth to power is a revolutionary act.”
This act of holding the powerful accountable is always revolutionary. In time, the media lost its roots, becoming an arm of power. WikiLeaks reconnects with old traditions of the Press and has blazed a new ground in the global age, where interconnection is more important than nation-state divisions and affiliations. This budding new journalism along with social media are bringing back the virtue of honesty as the higher foundation of human relationship.
Over 200 years ago, the Signers of the US Constitution were branded as the traitors and terrorists of their time by King George III, just as Assange and Manning are today.
Recently, Rolling Stone's contributing editor Michael Hastings acknowledged that what Julian Assange is doing with journalism is truly revolutionary. With a global financial industry run amok, the passage of the NDAA and the drumbeats of potential world war, people around the world are rising up against illegitimate authority. WikiLeaks is revolutionary journalism in a time of universal deceit. It is here to stay because the only true journalism is revolutionary.
Allen, D. S. (2005). Democracy, Inc.: The press and law in the corporate rationalization of the public sphere. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Scott, D., & Usher, R. (Eds.). (1996). Understanding educational research. New York: Routledge.
Note: This article is a shortened modified version of an upcoming article Open Future Manifesto: Breaking the Spell of Orwell's Dictum, and contains edited excerpts from my previous articles, Freedom of Speech in the Age of WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks: The Global 4th Estate.
Special thanks go to Asher Wolf for her crowd-sourcing, Shota Anonyveli and Mary Mullarkey for meticulous editing, idlewild606 for the creative transformation of the image, and Gabriele Müller, Ian DeBaron, Winston Weeks and Alissa Johanssen for creative input on the title. Without your help this article would not be what it is.
The RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), a 10-year old military pact that requires the Philippines to service the logistics needs of the US military when they are in the country, is set to expire by November 2012. The MLSA, along with the VFA and MDT, is a vital cog in the permanent and continuing US military presence in the country. Its expiry this year occurs at a time when the US and Philippine governments are in negotiations for additional US troop presence in the country in line with the new US defense strategy of “re-balancing” towards Asia.
Not as well known as the Visiting Forces Agreement, the MLSA is an executive agreement entered into by the Arroyo regime in 2002 and was in effect for five years. It was renewed in November 21, 2007 after a review that was not disclosed to the public. It is set to expire on November 21, 2012.
The MLSA allows the US military to access Philippine facilities for a wide array of services such as refueling, re-supply, billeting of troops, transportation and so on. It practically allows the US to avail of the services that are typical of US bases, so long as these are during “approved activities”.
Under the MLSA, the Philippine government provides supplies such as food, water, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, ammunition, spare parts and components.
Support and services include billeting, transportation (including airlift), communication services, medical services, operations support (and construction and use of temporary structures incident to operations support), training services, repair and maintenance services, calibration services, storage services, and port services. Storage units and ports shall at all times remain under the control and supervision of the host state
While the MLSA, on paper, does not allow the setting up of permanent US structures, the agreement allows the US military to be serviced by the Philippines during approved activities such as joint military exercises. These access and service arrangements allow the US to have all the benefits of formal bases, minus the potential political backlash in a country that booted out US bases in 1991.
Another advantage of the agreement is that it shifts the burden of spending for the hosting or servicing of US troops on countries like the Philippines. For example, the US has announced that more that some 8,000 troops in Okinawa will be redeployed to Guam, Australia and the Philippines. At the same time, the US announced that it will cut $21 billion in spending for the US base in Guam.
With the US unable to transfer the entire 8,000 troops to Guam, it will rely on “allies” like Australia and the Philippines to share the burden and at some point, pick up the tab, of hosting some 4,000 troops. Of course the US will “pay” for these services, “in cash or in kind” as the MLSA says. Payment for services rendered to the US can take the form of “logistic support, supplies, and services of an identical, or substantially identical nature.”
Activists have assailed the VFA as an affront to Philippine sovereignty. It transforms the country’s facilities into virtual US bases. It has also been branded as one-sided since in practical terms, only the US military is provided service under the pact.
Calling it ‘mutual’ or reciprocal doesn’t really make sense since Philippine troops and ships do not travel to the US or any other US facilities to avail of similar services from the US government.
It is possible that the US and Philippine governments may seek the expansion of the scope and duration of the agreement which is renewable after every 5 years. The US and PH governments make want to revise the MLSA to make effective indefinitely, like the VFA.
They may be contemplating making the MLSA in effect indefinitely and applicable at any time, even when there are no joint military exercises or joint activities. They may try to amend provisions which prevent the US from setting up certain structures and facilities. Already the US has expressed interest in gaining access to the northernmost Philippine province of Batanes (which is nearest China) as well as the province of Cebu in Central Philippines. The US may have to set up permanent facilities to host their ships and personnel.
It is clear that under its new strategy, the US is contemplating long-term presence in the Philippines. Wikileaks in the past revealed the US wanted dual-use airports, for civilian and military use, in Southern Philippines. US forces have been stationed in Mindanao for a decade now.
It does not help that any review conducted on the MLSA will not likely be made public. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has never disclosed any of the details of any review, whether the MLSA or the VFA. Details of the negotiations with Washington for the stationing of more US troops in the country have also been kept under wraps.
In March this year, the US State Department and Department of Defense will meet their Philippine counterparts in a meeting in Washington. The meeting comes just before the biggest PH-US joint military exercises called Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) slated to take place in April in different parts of the Philippines. Perhaps then we will get an idea of the future of the MLSA and US military deployment in the country. ###
The Wikileaks Assange and Democracy Public Forum held at the University of Technology, Sydney on Friday February 17 attracted over 400 people who packed the aisles and spilled out into the corridors.
Chaired by Australian journalist and broadcaster Mary Kostakidis, speakers at the forum included socialist historian Humphrey McQueen, Greens Senator Scott Ludlum, London-based human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Christine Assange, the mother of Julian Assange.
On February 18 Simon Butler of Green Left Weekly reported on the Forum:
"Veteran journalist and former SBS broadcaster Mary Kostakidis chaired the meeting. She told the audience WikiLeaks had won several prestigious awards for excellence in journalism. She said the US government is persecuting WikiLeaks for publishing material that other media outlets have also published. The difference was that WikiLeaks has done it better, she said.
McQueen gave historical examples of how ruling elites have always tried to restrict the public’s access to information, lest they learn enough to want to challenge the social order. He said WikiLeaks’ revelations are dangerous to elite interests because they help educate people about the real nature of society.
Ludlum said he was pleased with the big turnout and denounced the Labor government’s attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange. He urged WikiLeaks supporters to put the pressure on the government to choose democracy and freedom of speech over the US-Australia alliance.
Robinson said Julian Assange has been held in custody for more than a year but has been charged with no crime in any country in the world. She also said WikiLeaks has been crippled by an illegal financial blockade by big companies such as Visa, Mastercard and Paypal.
Robinson, who is part of Assange’s legal team, said Assange faces a very real threat that he will be extradited to the United States from Sweden or Britain.
Christine Assange said when she first heard of the charges against Julian, she reacted as any mother would. But since then, she said she had studied WikiLeaks’ releases on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the leaked US diplomatic cables, which gave her a wider appreciation of the importance of WikiLeaks’ work.
She said she was very frustrated at the mainstream media’s misleading reports on WikiLeaks and Julian’s case.
The newly formed Support Assange and WikiLeaks Coalition organised the meeting, with the support of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and Stop the War Coalition, Sydney."
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As the presidential election nears, Republicans are relying on their usual fear-mongering tactics by playing on supposed external threats such as Iran. Already it seems such a strategy seems to have moved Obama to the right with the president going out of his way to issue stern warnings toward the Islamic Republic during his State of the Union address. What is more, in a worrying development the Republicans are doing their utmost to link Iran with the Latin American populist left and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, which could have undesirable and unforeseen consequences on U.S. foreign policy.
According to secret U.S. State Department cables recently released by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, American diplomats from Hillary Clinton on down have little evidence of a significant military alliance between Iran and Venezuela, yet that didn't stop surging Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum from exaggerating the threat from this quarter in a recent debate. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has meanwhile been holding hearings on the supposed Iranian-Latin American threat to the U.S.
Hopefully the Democrats will not seek to echo the Chávez-Ahmadinejad military angle which will only serve to further inflame the tattered state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations, yet it's no secret that the Obama administration, like its predecessor, would like to rid itself of the populist left current in Latin America. Such combative posturing is not only regrettable but counter-productive. Indeed, further cables released by WikiLeaks suggest that, with a little bit of effort, Washington might be able to mend fences with Chávez. Whatever the Venezuelan leader may say in public about the U.S. and its wider objectives throughout the region, in private Chávez has been more than happy to search for common ground and extend an olive branch.
Chávez's Charm Offensive
Judging from the cables Chávez was particularly amenable to friendly diplomacy prior to the April, 2002 coup which briefly toppled him from power. Indeed, U.S. diplomats had numerous opportunities to build a constructive relationship with Chávez but squandered their chances. In 1998, for example, political neophyte Chávez approached the U.S. Embassy in advance of Venezuela's upcoming election.
Then a presidential candidate, Chávez had criticized U.S. free trade and neo-liberalism, yet in private discussions with the American ambassador in Caracas the firebrand politician was on his "best behavior" and stressed that his own political success depended "in good measure on his relationship with the U.S." Buttering up the Americans, Chávez said he admired the U.S., "which he traced to his early love of baseball and his contact with U.S. military officers during his service in the armed forces."
Six years earlier, while still a military officer, Chávez had launched an aborted coup against the pro-U.S. government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, and during his discussion with the ambassador Chávez regretted that his relationship with the U.S. had suffered as a result. In hindsight, Chávez said, the 1992 coup attempt was "incorrect," and the aspiring candidate was careful to stress his commitment to democratic principles.
U.S. Ambassador to Chávez: Don't Push Us
Unconvinced by Chávez's charm offensive, U.S. ambassador John Maisto bluntly informed the presidential aspirant that there was "palpable concern" in Washington about Venezuela's political and economic situation. Foreign investment required clear and reliable rules, the ambassador added, and uncertainty about Chávez's fiery rhetoric had given severe pause to investors.
The Americans were particularly concerned about Chávez's plans to convene a constitutional assembly if elected, which "would stop foreign investment cold" and leave Venezuela "without the foreign capital it needs for economic growth." To be sure, the U.S. ambassador conceded, Venezuela's institutions were "tattered" but nevertheless ought to be preserved. Chávez's rhetoric, on the other hand, was "provocative and confusing." At times, the ambassador remarked, Chávez sounded as if he was "promoting not a constitutional assembly but a revolutionary junta."
Speaking with the Americans, Chávez voiced his support for a reform of the state, which in his view needed to be "re-legitimized" in the eyes of the people. On the other hand, Chávez was quick to add, the new assembly would not be a revolutionary junta but rather an elected body with sharply defined responsibilities. Hardly a strident economic nationalist in private, Chávez also told the ambassador that he was in favor of privatizing all state assets save Venezuelan oil company PdVSA.
In an effort to further mollify the U.S. the aspiring candidate added that he would respect all business commitments and international agreements while working to improve counternarcotics cooperation. "My God," Chávez reportedly declared, "my government's success will depend on attracting investment." In a further over the top remark, Chávez said "I hope God grants me the opportunity" to prove a commitment to democracy, economic reform and privatization.
Going even further, the presidential candidate added that he was keenly aware that whoever he selected for his future cabinet would "send a strong signal to investors" about the tenor of his future government. Hinting to the Americans that they had nothing to fear, Chávez said "you will be surprised. I will pick a very good group."
Skeptical Clinton White House
The evidence suggests that, on balance, Chávez continued to seek good relations with the U.S. Shortly after he was elected president in early 1999, Chávez wrote U.S. president Bill Clinton personally, expressing Venezuela's interest in "renewing and reforging" relations with Washington. "We certainly share the desire for a solid and vibrant democracy," Chávez wrote, "the kind envisioned and practiced by men such as Abraham Lincoln and Simón Bolívar."
Still eager to please, Chávez defended his constitutional assembly and was careful to point out that former U.S. president Jimmy Carter no less had praised Venezuela's "democratic revolution." In the economic sphere meanwhile, Venezuela was "open to all types of U.S. private and public sector initiatives to advance our countries' mutual development." On counter-narcotics, Chávez likewise reiterated his intention to fight drug trafficking and "all crimes related to that disease."
In Caracas, Maisto was apparently still unconvinced by Chávez's charm offensive. Speaking to top Venezuelan officials, the U.S. ambassador declared tersely that Chávez must develop a "concrete agenda of agreements in areas of mutual interest," such as a bilateral investment treaty and expanded narcotics cooperation. Moreover, Washington sought a "clear understanding" permitting U.S. aircraft to overfly Venezuela as part of a forward operating location agreement in Curacao and Aruba. Ultimately, remarked the ever skeptical Maisto, "nice words are fine, but...the substance of the bilateral relationship will be determined by concrete cooperation."
Relations Take a Nosedive
If U.S.-Venezuelan relations were frosty during the Clinton era, they became downright combative in the Bush years. WikiLeaks cables show that, far from seeking to repair tattered diplomatic ties, the Bush White House ratcheted up tensions. In an effort to turn up the pressure on Chávez, Washington sent financial aid to the rightist opposition in Venezuela even as Chávez derided the U.S. drug war in Latin America and sought to exert greater control over his country's oil industry. In April, 2002 a coup launched by rightists who had received U.S. financial assistance briefly unseated Chávez from power.
In the wake of the coup, U.S. diplomats were hardly apologetic for their meddling in Venezuelan affairs. In Caracas, the American Chargé d'Affaires asked Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel how it would be possible for relations to improve in light of Chávez's anti-imperialist declarations. Sarcastically turning the tables, the Chargé asked "how the government of Venezuela could characterize any of us as imperialist, when it was Venezuela, not the U.S. government, that owned refineries and gas stations in the U.S., when it was Venezuela that could say whether we could or couldn't use their air space for the...Forward Operation Location flights?"
From there, the conversation degenerated with Rangel accusing the U.S. of plotting the 2002 coup. When the Vice President added that Venezuela had hard proof of Bush administration complicity, the Chargé shot back that if Chávez had such proof it should publish it. Furthermore, the American diplomat added, the U.S. government had itself already investigated Venezuela's allegations and come up with nothing. Preposterously, the diplomat declared that "our recent investigations...into the WMD issue showed we could do an honest investigation."
Failure to "Reset"
With the election of Obama, Chávez seems to have hoped that relations might be set right. In March, 2009 Chávez told U.S. legislators that he was hoping for a "reset" with Washington and reportedly even expressed interest in renewing counternarcotics cooperation. The following month, Chávez met Obama during a Summit of the Americas summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Reportedly, Obama told the Venezuelan president that "we will have our differences but I will never get involved in things internal to Venezuela." Chávez claims to have responded, "Believe me that we want to talk but it has not been possible." Chávez then added, in Spanish and English, "Look, I am going to repeat the same thing I said eight years ago to your predecessor, 'I want to be your friend. We want to talk.'"
It seemed like a propitious start, yet Obama, like his predecessors, would squander opportunity by pursuing an aggressive foreign policy in the region. Chávez was particularly irked by U.S. handling of the coup in Honduras and Washington's installation of seven military bases in Colombia. During a TV interview, the Venezuelan remarked "Obama may end up being . . . a great frustration . . . he may end up being only a token used by the empire that continues acting against and attacking the world in a manner even more ferocious and aggressive than in the times of Bush, which is a lot to say."
From Clinton to Bush to Obama, the U.S. had numerous attempts to smooth over relations with Chávez but failed to do so. The WikiLeaks cache ends in early 2010, but it's no secret that Chávez continues to feel frustrated by the course of U.S. foreign policy. Will the Obama White House further ratchet up pressure in response to calls from the major Republican presidential candidates? Adopting such a policy would be importunate at any time but particularly self defeating now as Chávez faces a tough reelection battle in October. If he feels that Obama is determined to stamp out Venezuela's so-called "Bolivarian Revolution," Chávez will surely lash out and relations might be tarnished to an irreparable degree.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left and founder of the Revolutionary Handbook.
This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world
While revolutions around the world are in the streets for democracy, we need to look at that very poorly defined and all encompassing word by specifics, to review what we are asking for and why. The above proposal already began to express the need for individual rights and sovereignty in any democratic rule and will explore that in greater detail later; this article will look at the decision making processes in a democracy. There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.
A pure direct democracy is a tyranny of the majority. As in all systems where groups hold the highest power, individual rights are always at risk. When a majority rules, there is no need for the majority to compromise and a minority will have their needs unrepresented, resulting in governance by the majority, not governance by the people.
A direct democracy is impossible in actuality as no one can have the time to participate in every decision concerning them, and certainly not to educate themselves to provide meaningful input in every decision. To make the best decisions, expertise is required on each topic. Direct democracy does not always provide the best solutions, it provides the most popular, the most expedient, or even the most advertised solutions, more frequently as the decision becomes more complex.
Direct democracy gives equal weight to all votes, the expert and the novice, the completely dependent and the unaffected. Expert opinion is overshadowed by volume, which negatively impacts the resulting decisions. Allowing votes by people unaffected by the issue at hand results in not just uninformed decisions but also persecution of minorities.
Direct democracy is very susceptible to a hidden oligarchy, as those at the bottom of the social classes have no time available to represent themselves or to study the issues being debated. Secret clubs, and block voting are difficult to combat and also do not lead to decisions of the most benefit to all.
Aristotle warned of a mob rule form of democracy … in which, not the law, but the multitude, have the supreme power, and supersede the law by their decrees. This is a state of affairs brought about by the demagogues. For in democracies which are subject to the law the best citizens hold the first place, and there are no demagogues; but where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up. For the people becomes a monarch ... At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; ... The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have an things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined. Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. ... So that if democracy be a real form of government, the sort of system in which all things are regulated by decrees is clearly not even a democracy in the true sense of the word, for decrees relate only to particulars.
There is a case to be made that governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just governance under most definitions of the word. And following, there is a case to be made for a constitution and a body of laws. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract in a free society, it is just that they see the constitution of the society they are contracting with.
The two fundamental pillars of representative democracy, the principles that groups can represent individuals and individuals can represent groups, are impossible in practice. Representative democracy is the most dishonest oligarchy of all as it insists on the falsehood that the voice of its oligarchs are the voice of the people and the subsequent falsehood that their rule is rule by the people.
In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy. Representative democracies have not eradicated oligarchy, they have driven it to secrecy, a state of affairs ironically most abhorrent in a democracy. Instead of confronting the problems inherent in an oligarchy, democracy denies it exists while practicing it openly. If oligarchy is necessary, as it seems it must be, it needs to be openly and transparently defined by all and guidelines established to ensure the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all.
Representative democracies do not provide for expertise in governance as representatives are elected by land mass and time span, not system, and are usually elected for charisma, not expertise. Athenian sortition likewise made no attempt at combining expertise with authority. Subjects that the majority is unqualified to speak on are delegated to similarly unqualified political representatives, segregated from other representatives by land mass. These representatives appoint experts who obtain their positions by cronyism with the politician instead of expertise acknowledged by the entire interested population. The politicians and experts in the current system then provide for no meaningful feedback from users of the system, outside of occasional polls; these polls are conducted on test populations which another group have decided shall be considered representative of the population as a whole and used to provide input on only the questions the experts decide. There is no transparency of any meaningful kind that would allow users of the system to audit what the experts were doing.
Problems in representative democracy have been more thoroughly covered in
A proposal for governance: Groups and individuals.
It has become evident that we need to look past the above methods of decision making if we are to protect individual rights, allow input from all and reach decisions using the greatest expertise we have available. This proposal has discussed stigmergy as an efficient form of mass organization for task completion. There is still a need for some form of organization in smaller systems and in decision making to prevent involuntary and unrecognized oligarchy and provide the most efficient and transparent use of expertise.
Governments up till now have acted as the final authority on all topics for an entire region for an arbitrarily specified length of time or until they are overthrown by another group. What these authorities govern is a series of systems, controlled by the state or corporations, and run as dictatorships where workers' individual rights are exchanged for the basic necessities of life. These systems have profit for the top of the hierarchy as their objective; they are not set up to provide an efficient or superior service or product to the users.
If these systems were organized as autonomous, transparent, porous, concentric user groups, they would be far better governed by themselves. The current political structure does not recognize that every system is not of concern or interest to everyone in the region, or that some users have far greater knowledge and expertise in specific areas than others. We need a system where responsibility and control rests with the entire user group and expertise is acknowledged and put to best use.
Autonomous: each user group should consist of all people affected by the system and no people not affected by the system.
Systems should be organized by user groups, not by nations or treaties. International systems would include things such as the internet, telecommunications and knowledge, local systems would include things such as transit, food production and social services, and in any situation where only one family or an individual is affected, the responsibility would lie with only them. Each local user group or individual would have access to outside user groups for trade, shared knowledge, disaster relief, etc., autonomous but networked.
Transparent: all information related to the system must be fully transparent in order for users to participate in tasks or auditing.
Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, but should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation; it is the responsibility of each user in an open system to educate themselves to their own level of comfort using the data and user population at each ring to inform themselves. Their input and decision making impact would then be commensurate with the expertise they acquire. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from attacks from completely uninformed users, the circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles.
Current systems primarily use a supposedly representative sample of the user group to provide periodic feedback. This feedback is delivered as percentages of the population which, as is usual in the current system, ignores the importance of the individual. From an individual perspective, the chance of, for instance, dying of a side effect from a pharmaceutical is either 0% or 100%, group statistics have no effect on individual experience. Transparent user groups allow feedback and ideas from the entire user group, an automatic testing and validation system in place continually throughout development and operation.
Experts are peer promoted based on reputation instead of certification by an external authority. Each user of a system can review the work of the active members both directly and through the expert review of the active member's peers instead of placing their faith in a third party certification. Additionally, experts can be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge, expertise and reputation and move towards the centre. Third party authorities such as universities are no longer necessary.
Porous: contribution at all levels of each user group must be open to all users with acceptance by peer review.
A side effect of these user groups is that they provide workers with the three motivators which arguably provide the greatest job satisfaction, autonomy, mastery and purpose. People can work on anything they like, they are not required to submit resumes, acquire accreditation, seniority, or approval from an individual authority. If their work is good enough it will be accepted by the user group. Everyone can work on the system that interests them, doing the jobs at the level they are capable of, with as much or as little involvement as they choose.
Concentric: user groups should be formed in concentric circles representing levels of expertise.
For example, users: audit and provide feedback, contributors: interested users who periodically present work for acceptance by the members, members: have acquired expertise and been accepted as full contributing members by the user group, and an epistemic core group: recognized by the group as having the necessary level of expertise to provide direction for the system.
Ideas can never be furthered if discussion is always at the level of the novice and the ideas of an expert can only be tested by other experts with equal understanding of the topic; in a concentric user group, the receptive field is stronger near the centre, so informed opinions will be heard more clearly by experts in the centre, but full transparency will allow anyone from any part of the system to be as informed as they wish to be by any other part.
In representative democracy we have learned that people in general prefer to place their faith in leaders who are like them instead of leaders who are so expert they do not understand them. In order to avail ourselves of the greatest expertise on each topic, we must place our most knowledgeable experts in a position of transparent authority while also providing a 30 IQ point bridge leading from their ideas to the casually interested observer. According to Leta Hollingworth’s research, to be a leader of their contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than them. A discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ does not allow for leadership, or even respect or effective communication.
Hollingworth notes: A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].
This loss of expertise is a tragedy for both the experts and society. There needs to be a method of organization that will use all expertise at the level it will be most effective and yet avoid an authoritarian hierarchy. Epistemic communities need to be placed at the centre of all systems so their expertise is available to all working within the system. The systems however, must be completely transparent to allow full auditing of information provided by the core group by any interested users and passers by.
Concentric circles bypass the divide between what people say and what they are willing to do, as acceptance is based on performance not accreditation, resumes and interviews. Titles are replaced by jobs and voices are amplified according to the peer group acceptance earned. As in stigmergy, votes are frequently replaced by actions, putting authority in the hands of those doing the work. The jobs discussed in The financial system which offer no benefit to the user group would be eliminated instead of put in a position of authority.
The keys to preventing a concentric user group from becoming a tyrannical oligarchy are full transparency, peer promotion and porous acceptance of work by peer review at all levels. When combined with stigmergy it can be hoped that the work produced in these systems will finally be of the highest standard we can attain and the work environments will be enjoyable and fulfilling for all.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) February 22, 2012
The journalist writing the Expressen article is said to be in Bildt's london hotel. #svpol No WikiLeaks officials have spoken to Expressen.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) February 22, 2012
(Update: Professor Ferrada-noli has released his analysis of the Expressen article.)
(Update: One of the "unreleased" posters is and has been available on WikiLeaks for quite a while.)
Further News Updates:
Upcoming Dates & Events:
February 23: Bradley Manning's arraignment will be held at Fort Meade, beginning at 1:00PM.
February 23: London vigil for Bradley Manning at the US Embassy.
February 26: The announcement of Academy Awards. "Incident in New Baghdad", a documentary on 'Collateral Murder,' is in the running for 'Documentary Short Subject.'
March 1: Julian Assange will host a Q&A on "Europe's Last Dictator," 6:30PM at The Old Vic Tunnels, London.
April 25: Kristinn Hrafnsson to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.
May 23: Julian Assange to speak at Enterprise Information Management Congress 2012 in The Netherlands.
May 27: "Incident in New Baghdad" to air on The Documentary Channel, 8PM.
This transcript was taken by hand at Bradley Manning's arraignment on February 23, 2012 at 1:00 p.m., Fort Meade, MD.
Please send corrections to email@example.com.
Bradley Manning's arraignment was held in same court room as his Article 32 Pretrial Hearing. You can read transcripts from the first three days of that proceeding.
The courtroom for Bradley Manning's arraignment is lit dramatically with incandescent parabolic reflectors, and not fluorescent lights as was his Article 32 Pretrial Hearing.
Military personnel are dressed in full armed service uniforms. They had worn camos during the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing.
Many of the same individuals from the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing, like Lt. Hughes, are guarding the arraignment proceeding.
I went as a member of the public, even though WL Central was considered a credential media organization by the Pentagon "for this hearing." I did so, because I wanted to be in the courtroom.
Captain John Haberland, a spokesman for the Military District of Washington (MDW), sat behind me taking notes and coughing. He had also been at the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing. (I would have brought a hearing aid, but, alas, they don't allow electronic devices in courtroom.)
Military judge Col. Denise R. Lind is presiding. She is middle aged, with blondish coiffed hair, spectacles, and a long black robe.
Prosecution is Captain Ashden Fein, Captain Joe Morrow and Captain Angel Overgaard.
Defense is Mr. David Coombs, Major Matthew Kemkes and Captain Paul Bouchard.
Mr. David Coombs sits to the right of Bradley Manning.
Right of the prosecution table is a small corner desk. Last time I was in this court room (during the the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing), the desk was occupied by an MP named Bradley, not Manning. On his desk stood a router looking device with a enormous antenna. Today the the desk is occupied by a middle age bearded man in a civilian suit with polarizing spectacles. He was also in attendance at Bradley Manning's pretrial hearing. My instincts tell me is court security. In fact the entire campus of Fort Meade is populated with middle aged sunken faces in SUV's and luxury vehicles, or polite, suspicious young military personnel.
Up front, behind Judge Col. Denise Lind's raised bench stand the US Flag, the Army Flag, and the flag for JAG. The chord and tassels indicate they are martial flags. At her right and below sits a young male in armed service uniform. Seated in the jury pews on the prosecution side of the court is a young female in camos, her hair in a bun.
Compared to the Pretrial Hearing, the gallery does not have as many dark suited men with copies of the Washington Post. Today the gallery is filled with youngish journalists. A casually dressed Veteran for Peace and a linen suited David Eberhart, from Code Pink, sit on the defense side of the gallery. I am in the back row of the defense side of the gallery opposite a female representative from the Australian embassy, who was also present Manning's Article 32 Pretrial Hearing.
Most of language today is legal and procedural. The hearing lasted about 50 minutes.
Judge Lindopens the proceedings.
Captain Ashden Fein (prosecution) states the procedural history of the US charge's against Bradley Manning from original accuser Cameron Leikerthru the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing to today's arraignment.
Fein (Prosecution): Prosecution is ready to proceed.
Fein (Prosecution) then names each member of the prosecution and defense team, confirming that the individuals named have been "detailed" to the court.
Fein (Prosecution): Fein..Morrow…Overgaard…for the defense...Coombs…Kempkes…Bouchard…Hunter White…Patricia Williams…court reporter…Cory Brother (spelling).
Fein (Prosecution) then states that all members of the prosecution are certified and qualified under UCMJ (Unified Code of Military Justice).
Military judge Col. Denise R. Lind reads Bradley Manning his rights. As in the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing script, her statement details the defendant's rights, as well as parameters around the military appointed defense counsel. Her statement also advises Manning what his rights are should he request other military counsel than those already provided.
Judge Lindasked Bradley Manning if he understood his rights.
Bradley Manning: Yes, M'am.
Judge Lind then asks Bradley Manning who will represent him.
Bradley Manning: Mr. David Coombs, Major Matthew Kemkes, (He glances quickly down table.) and Captain Paul Bouchard.
David Coombs (civilian defense) rises and states that all members of the defense are "detailed and certified."
Judge Lind asks Coombs (defense) to state his qualifications. He does, and says he has no conflicts of interest. Coombs (defense) is sworn in by Judge Lind.
Next up Judge Lind asks if there are any challenges to her presiding in the case of Bradley Manning. Fein (prosecution) declines. Coombs (defense) asks if he might ask her some questions.
Coombs (defense): What prior knowledge do you have of this case?
Judge Lind: I knew there was case. I knew the case involved classified info. I knew it involved a person named PFC Manning.
Coombs (defense) : Did you view any material related to this case?
Judge Lind answers either "No," or, "Not that I can recall." (I am not sure of her exact words.)
Coombs (defense) : What impressions, if any, do you have of this case?
Judge Lind: None.
Coombs (defense) : Any discussions?
Judge Lind: Not that I can recall.
Coombs (defense) : Formed any opinions about the case?
Judge Lind: None.
Coombs (defense) asks Judge Lind for her credentials.
Coombs (defense): Did you teach at the National Defense University?
Judge Lind said she took (a ?) class(es ?) from 2006 to 2007 at National Defense University and then "I taught at the National Defense University from 2007 to 2008."
Coombs (defense): What courses did she teach?
Judge Lind says taught national security strategy, law of armed conflict. She states she was part of a "think tank, and since I was co-chair some sort of Australia, New Zealand…regional studies."
Coombs (defense): Ever deal with classified information?
Judge Lind: She pauses. She says she thinks two cases either at college or as a military judge, "but I had to have received training on classified information to become a judge...short courses...Army Judge Advocate General School."
Coombs (defense): I taught there. Did you ever take any of my courses? Do you recall me teaching any classes?
Judge Lind pauses. "I think you might have (taught me). You look familiar."
Coombs (defense): Do you have any impressions of me?
Judge Lind to Coombs (defense) politely embarrassed, laughs and states that she "doesn't really remember the class." and "No."
Coombs (defense): No further questions.
Fein (prosecution) then reads charges as groups. e.g. this many violations under Article 134…Fein (prosecution) starts with "aiding the enemy" at another point he states that unauthorized software was put on "two separate systems." Fein (prosecution) describes the procedural aspects of the charges. First accuser was Cameron Leiker. He states after Leiker was the first convening authority…then for MD, Carl Coffman…then for MDW, Linnington.
Judge Lind then explains to Manning what his options are regarding the form of his court martial, by military judge or by jury of officers. (Please refer to the Manual for Court Martial). Judge Lind then describes various rules for jury of officers, "None can be junior to you." She describes that two thirds are required for guilt and sentence, and three fourths if the sentence carries more than ten years of confinement. She concludes, "or a military judge alone can rule and determine sentence."
Coombs (defense) rises and states that Manning defers form (trial by judge or jury of officers) selection.
Fein (prosecution) rises and asks if Bradley Manning will waive the recitation of charges.
Coombs (defense) waives.
Fein (prosecution) goes into procedural history of the US charges against Bradley Manning again, "Cameron Leiker sworn before someone certified to administer oaths…Linnington, convening authority, MDW"
Judge Lind then states for the court record that an R.C.M. 802 meeting with counsel took place telephonically on February 8, 2012. Judge Lind explains to Manning and for the court that the telephonic meeting was to deal with scheduling and logistical matters. She explains that when an Electronic Docketing Request is received the court is required to solicit dates from the defense and prosecution for the arraignment and trial.
Judge Lind then asks the defense and prosecution if they agree. They answer, "Yes, M'am" and "Yes, your Honor"
Judge Lind states for the court record that at the R.C.M. 802 meeting the US prosecution requested army service uniforms. Defense had no objection. Judge Lind states for the court record that both sides provided possible trial schedules. Judge Lind states at the R.C.M. 802 conducted telephonically February 8, 2012 was followed with email correspondence. Judge Lind states for court record that the R.C.M. 802 telephonic meeting with counsel also concerned motions that would be filed at the arraignment. If I am correct, Judge Lind states that there was a question as to how to file motions (meaning by submission or grouped).
The next part relates to a series of correspondences between defense, Judge Lind and prosecution regarding defense motions.
Judge Lind states that the R.C.M. 802 meeting and subsequent email correspondence also concerned a defense motion to compel discovery, a defense motion to compel deposition, and bill of particulars.
Coombs (defense) says that when the defense requested discovery, prosecution said it needed more time, namely three weeks.
Coombs (defense) says in an "email dated February 15, 2012 "the court advised the Government that their request for continuance is denied"
(I missed Judge Lind exact question to prosecution.)
Fein (prosecution) rises and states, "We didn't receive that email."
Coombs (defense) rises and says to Judge Lind "in a prosecution email dated February 21, 2012, prosecution again requested a three week continuance…the email (thread) has your denial."
Fein (prosecution): "We will look at that."
Judge Lind then states that prior to today, defense and prosecution discussed that the next court session was to be March 15 and 16. She states that the date is not firm. The date, she says could be week of March 15 and 16 and would be "solidified next week."
Next up the prosecution raises the issue of "classification spillage" when defense filed original motions.
Fein (prosecution): When the defense filed the original motions there was spillage of classified info. We had to seek clarification from the original classification authorities (OCAs)…only 2 out of three (not sure if this refers to motions or…?).
Coombs (defense): The Government alleges "spillage". Our experts determined there was "no spillage." Based upon…protective order which defense (filed?) the Government unilaterally determines there is "spillage." Coombs (defense) continues and proposes that the court security officer have the ultimate authority, and can consult the OCAs himself.
Judge Lind says the matter will be addressed at the next session. Judge Lind brings up the matter of the trial publicity order, a court modified draft of which has been being proposed to counsel. Judge Lind says the trial publicity order "will be resolved by tomorrow."
Judge Lind acknowledges the order proposing the court security officer (not signed). (I have in my notes that this individual is EB. I also have in my notes that defense mentions the individual Prather (spelling?) related to the protective order.)
Judge Lind then tells defense: Please refrain from ex parte,/em> filing until next session March 15 or 16. She explains to the court that ex parte,/em> filings are where only the judge get to see the motion.
There is a discussion concerning defense filing a motion to compel discovery. The defense's ex parte is for the filing, not the motion. This was clarified in court discussion.
The defense motion to compel discovery was enormous when passed later from Judge Lind to a hand hidden behind a cubical desk in front of bench.
Judge Lind then asks Fein (prosecution) if he wants to address the ex parte filing. FFein (prosecution) has no objection.
I believe Judge Lind then says court will counsel on the ex parte filing.
Coombs (defense) then brings up the matter of the Government not properly disclosing what evidence it will specifically use against Bradley Manning as required under R.C.M. 304 (D1 I believe) and 311 (Needs verification). He describes how that evidence was provided to defense counsel by the prosecution. He states the ranges are not precise, "There are 29 pages of bates numbers. Three pages of bates number ranges. The requirements are that the Government indicate content (statements etc.) they will use. Giving ranges is not proper disclosure…also requirement is to detail items seized that the Government intends to introduce."
Fein (prosecution) rises and states they have complied under 304D1. Mentions there are 41, 821 documents, "Because of the amount of information… most efficient was (their system of finding info). He states that the documents that prosecution included contain statements from "AR from CID." Then he says, there is "no meaningful way to identify these documents so we have ascribed bates numbers…there are 41,000 documents to look at those statements. He continues and states (if I am not mistaken) prosecution did not make exception for duplicates. He says, "US provided individual pieces of seized property by item number from the chain of custody...by bates number…precisely what piece we intend to use."
Coombs (defense): That is not the case.
Coombs (defense) then gives two examples, "random samples…none of these indicate what the prosecution will introduced of the 29 pages of bates numbers. The Government should be forced to be clear on what statements…what evidence."
Judge Lind then says that, "It seems to comply," but she leaves it open for review, "Well I won't say now."
Fein (prosecution) then goes through a description of how seized items are identified. "We will provide as much clarity as we can."
Judge Lind tells defense that they can raise that issue (namely, the prosecution's vague numbering system, lack of specificity) at another date.
Judge Lind then asks the prosecution and defense if they want to supplement court record regarding the R.C.M. 802 meeting, and she brings up seating plans.
Fein (prosecution): Moment M'am...
Judge Lind: Yes.
Fein (prosecution) brings up question of how documents will be marked.
Judge Lind then says something regarding document marks and their being made part of the appellate record.
Next segment in court concerns the filings by the prosecution and defense, as well as Judge Lind's entry of the filings into the court record
Defense lists it's filings. They include: Case Management Order, Protective Order, Motion for Publicity, Motion to Compel Discovery, Motion to Compel Deposition, Bill of Particulars, Ex parte filing in supplement to Motion to Compel Discovery.
Judge Lind asks the defense about the court security officer being introduced to the record of the trial. She then asks Government what they are filing.
Fein (prosecution) lists filings: US Proposed Trial Calendar, and Protective Order.
Judge Lind then says she will handle the filings and then take Bradley Manning's plea.
Judge Lind calls the numbers and title for each filings one through nine, and staples them. After each she passes them to a hand in a hidden cubicle in front of bench. The hand passes them back. The hand belongs to a young thirty something African American woman in civilian garb who was also present in the same spot for the Article 32 Pretrial Hearing. I didn't write down the number of each corresponding filing. I do know that number nine was the defense's ex parte filing for supplemental Motion to Compel Discovery.
Next up Judge states that the defense requests an open file of email correspondence related and subsequent to the telephonic R.C.M. 802 meeting on February 8, 2012
Fein (prosecution) rises and says he will keep a file.
Coombs (defense) rises and states that defense would object to a trial schedule after June 2012 Prosecution has suggested August 3, 2012. Coombs (defense) states the fact that his client has been in pretrial confinement for 635 days, and how many days Bradley Manning will have been in confinement if the proceeding were to occur in August 2012. He states, "Defense has already demanded speedy trial several times. The Government is constantly citing the case's novelty, scale, and difficulty coordinating various agencies." Coombs (defense) then gives an example of when the Government turn around is in 24 hours regarding its own interests. Coombs (defense) states the need for timely progression and his client's due process rights. He concludes, "There is a problem."
Fein (prosecution) rises and mentions "realistic trial scheduling."
Judge Lind then asks if there is anything else before taking Manning plea.
Coombs (defense) rises and stats that Bradley Manning will defer his plea.
Judge Lind orders the court in recess till March 15 or 16. As court closes, guards surround the front of the gallery blocking the public from Bradley Manning At that moment David Eberhart, from Code Pink, asks loudly, "Judge, isn't a soldier required to report a war crime?"
Further Coverage of Bradley Manning's Arraignment:
Upcoming Dates & Events:
February 26: The announcement of Academy Awards. "Incident in New Baghdad", a documentary on 'Collateral Murder,' is in the running for 'Documentary Short Subject.'
March 1: Julian Assange will host a Q&A on "Europe's Last Dictator," 6:30PM at The Old Vic Tunnels, London.
*NEW* March 8: Daniel Ellsberg will speak at Princeton University at an event called "Secrets, Lies, and Leaks: From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks."
March 15: Bradley Manning's next court appearance.
April 25: Kristinn Hrafnsson to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.
May 23: Julian Assange to speak at Enterprise Information Management Congress 2012 in The Netherlands.
May 27: "Incident in New Baghdad" to air on The Documentary Channel, 8PM.
Australia's former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has resigned as Foreign Minister and will challenge currrent PM Julia Gillard on Monday for leadership of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The vote provides an opportunity for Rudd to exact revenge on his former deputy and the "faceless" party faction leaders who supported her June 2010 takeover.
The instability in Canberra is of interest to WikiLeaks supporters for several reasons:
1. If Julian Assange can somehow avoid extradition to Sweden or the USA, he may seek a return home to his native Australia, where polls show up to 92% of the country support him. It is important that Assange's safety and ability to continue working with WikiLeaks are guaranteed.
2. Following the release of CableGate, PM Julia Gillard famously declared WikiLeaks "illegal" and demanded investigations from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australia's spy agency ASIO. Both organisations found that there was no breach of Australian or international laws, and yet Gillard (who trained as a lawyer) still has not withdrawn her prejudicial comments. Gillard insists that the publication of US cables was "based on an illegal act", presumably the disclosure of secret US government information by WikiLeaks' anonymous source (never mind the legal obligation to expose gross wrongdoings). Gillard's government has also provided minimal support to Assange during his UK court proceedings, and she appears to have banned ALP party members from publicly discussing WikiLeaks or Assange. ALP MPs and Senators have said next to nothing about Assange and WikiLeaks since December 2010, when a few (including Rudd) spoke out against her ill-judged pre-emptory verdict.
3. As Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd has failed to publicly speak up for Julian Assange, who claims the Australian government has provided him only minimal consular assistance. Nevertheless, Rudd laughed off WikiLeaks revelations from US Canberra Embassy cables, which showed that (a) US officials considered him a "control freak", and (b) several ALP colleagues and Union party-backers were "protected" suppliers of information to the US Embassy in Canberra. As PM, the Mandarin-speaking Rudd also displayed a willingness to defy Washington's agenda, such as when his government abstained from a UN vote condemning Israel rather than voting with the USA. So there is a good chance a second Rudd government would be less hostile to WikiLeaks and Assange than Gillard's government has been.
4. Julia Gillard leads a minority government and the Australian Greens party currently holds the balance of power, along with a few independents. The Greens are the only Australian party who have spoken out consistently in favour of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has been particularly supportive, flying at his own expense to London for the latest Supreme Court hearing and then visiting Sweden to request guarantees for Assange's safe handling. With leaders from both major parties being rejected by voters, there is an opportunity for the Greens to increase their vote share and hold an even more influential position in the next government.
Early polling suggests that Gillard is likely to survive Monday's vote, but even such a victory may be short-lived. Gillard remains deeply unpopular with the electorate and polls predict she will not win the next federal election.
If he loses the leadership ballot, Rudd has promised not to challenge Gillard again. But Rudd remains the ALP's most popular MP. If Gillard cannot improve her popularity ratings quickly, Rudd could yet be called upon to resume the top job.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Tony Abbott is only marginally less unpopular than Gillard. Abbott is a long-time supporter of former PM John Howard, whose right-wing Liberal Coalition government was routed when Rudd won power in 2007. Coalition MPs and Senators have also failed to speak up publicly for Julian Assange, although several did join Rudd in condemning Gillard's "illegal" comments. Maverick MP Malcolm Turnbull, who was toppled by Abbott as Liberal leader in 2009, has also stated that Assange is not a criminal.
Gillard today survived the leadership spill with a convincing 71 to 31 victory. She claims that the ALP's internal problems have now been resolved, but media analysts suggest that the unedifying public battle has done her no favours. 18 months out from the next federal election, Bernard Keane in Crikey suggests that the real winners are other ALP leadership contenders.
While WikiLeaks and Assange did not register as public issues in the leadership battle, supporters were encouraged to see the issue of "faceless" backroom factions given media prominence. This culminated with the shock resignation of faction leader Mark Arbib, who was exposed by WikiLeaks as a "protected" information source in regular contact with the US Embassy in Canberra.
Right now in Australia, the governing Labor party is embroiled in a leadership contest that 'is shaking the nation'. Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd face off for the Prime Minister of Australia tomorrow, Monday, by internal caucus vote. The media commentary is homogenous: Australians are tired, of all things, endless infighting in the Labor party. We are tired of 'faceless men' who decide party leadership. All 'we' want is 'stable government'.
Let us consider for a moment what is meant by this stability. By stable government, the media and politicians mean an orthodoxy, a government in power, delivering legislation 'on behalf of the Australian people', a government with a mandate, free to carry out an agenda, without contests in the media, in the open. What they mean by a stable government is what government in Australia has looked like for 20 years or so.
The line in voxpops on the evening news and opinion in the media is consistent: This 'leadership battle' has 'us' the Australian people as its 'casualties'. Us poor middle-class Australians.
Perhaps if we are strong Labor supporters, or slightly left of centre, we might despise this contest for what it is doing to opposition leader Tony Abbott, making him seem like a stable pair of hands, when he is likely to deliver a government to the right of even former Prime Minister Howard.
The ability of the media to provide an analysis that gives us what we think that we think is insidious. It's at the point where any reasonably intelligent person can read a major paper provided by Fairfax or News Limited and we have a list of ready stocked political positions that will be aired at middle class dinner tables across Australia. Is that really what you think or did you read it in the Herald?
What I am about to say will be obvious to many non-Australian readers familiar with the diplomatic cables, but if you are Australian, it might sound normative and politically opinionated: The stability in Australian politics is nothing but a view held by business and spread by the media to the enfranchised middle class. The middle class hold this opinion because they have little experience of instability, they take the notion of 'stability' as descriptive of 'Australian life'. Business holds the view that stability is better as a norm because political contest means speculative capital is subject to uncertainty. What is a contingent value to the business community becomes a descriptive reality to the middle class. Herein is one way political discourse functions.
Consider the last 20 years of Chinese government 'stability'. Stability in China has meant almost 10% growth year on year, the creation of jobs, the raising of standards of living, all with a strong consensus and widespread support from the Chinese middle classes for the government. This support has come because the factions in the ruling Communist Party have provided government that provides jobs, cars, houses, economic development and education for a new middle-class. But from the outside looking in, the problems in China are obvious, thanks to the media reporting these issues. The repression of Tibetan cultural life, the increasing poverty of peasant farmers still living under the communist system, the repression of Falun Dafa, the violence against demonstrators in Turkestan, efforts to undermine independent labour unions, lack of free speech imprisoning writers, etc. The differing notions of stability is obvious. Stability to the Chinese middle class is instability to many.
To Australians, I'd like you to consider that for each of us invested in the notion of our parliamentary democracy being stable and continuing to offer a large amount of people the chance at a house, a car, a job and continued economic growth, there is also a person in China wishing every bit as passionately for the future stability of their government as we do with ours. Of course, the Chinese middle class are by and large unaware or do not empathise with the victims of Chinese repression. This isn't to pass judgement on whether the oppression in China is better or worse than the oppression the Australian government is responsible for, merely to consider the world from a different point of view.
From the outside looking in, the last 20 years of Australian governance has meant nothing other than the grossest and most inhuman instability to the rest of the world and our poorest citizens.
Let's go 20 years back and start in 1990 to see 'stability' has meant: the first Gulf War, support for sanctions on Iraq that by UNICEF's statistics killed 500,000 children under the age of five and between 1 Jan 1997 and the start of 1999 saw 200,000 combat sorties flown over Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan that has no end in sight and has lasted over 10 years, and the war in Iraq, a domestic military intervention in the Northern Territory that saw the military deployed against our own citizens, the suspension of the racial discrimination act and the resulting queues for 'basics card' holder and 'normal welfare' recipients that amounts to a queue for blacks and a queue for whites in welfare offices all over the regions of the intervention in the Northern Territory. In the future, what does stability mean? Support for a US invasion of Iran, sanctions.
Are we suffering under a leadership contest, or perhap do we suffer more under what is called 'stability'? What this leadership contest means in parliament is nothing but political contest, something we need more of, not less. It's the similarities that are never talked about in Australia, much like political differences are never talked about in China. Political contest to business means uncertainty about what policies there will be, thus less chance to speculate or invest in the policies that are handed to them.
Seen this way, stability, an apparently neutral and universal value, is really only in the interests of a certain segment of society. In the context of geopolitics, it's as neutral as the word 'security'. When we talk of 'us' and 'our' need for stable government, this sort of stability is nothing but a politically expedient notion which we support in order to maintain the status quo. This 'leadership battle' with its 'casualties' isn't a real battle, and the casualties don't exist. Stability means real war, real casualties. We don't want stability, we want contest, we want change.
When the vote for Labor leader and Prime Minister takes place in Canberra on Monday, Australia will receive another 'stable pair of hands' that will enfranchise a dominant voice, restore business confidence, and continue business as usual. The opposition leader will say otherwise, but it's the similarities, not the differences, that are not talked about in Australian politics.
When Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade was booed by hundreds of voters as he cast his ballot Sunday in an election the controversial incumbent hopes will elect him to serve a third term in office, it capped more than a month of popular protests by opposition candidates and their supporters against what many have called a "constitutional coup" by supporters of the corrupt regime.
The protests, that began in late January, have seen at least 6 people killed in clashes between police and protesters. In Dakar, the capital of this westernmost African country of 12 million, the protests have centered on a green square in the heart of the downtown suburb of Plateau a few blocks away from the presidential palace and known as Independence Square. In recent weeks, many of these protests have turned into street battles on side streets as the protesters have attempted to defy a ban against protesting in the square. The protesters, and even people going about their ordinary business, have been subjected to volleys of rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas from riot cops and in at least one case, sonic blasts from a US-made Long Range Acoustic Device. Yes, they are experimenting with the latest in crowd control technology in Africa, naturally. Angry youths have responded by throwing rocks and setting fires to tires and setting up barricades in the roads. These street battles would go on for hours and became widespread not only in Dakar but throughout Senegal.
A week ago, the police fired tear gas into a mosque belonging to the nation's largest Islamic brotherhood, the Tidianes, during Friday pray. This prompted fury among the faithful and a fresh wave of protests last Sunday.
"They violated the mosque by firing teargas into it, and we are here to tell them never again," said Soulaymane Diop, 33, as he watched protesters shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and hurling chunks of concrete at police in full riot gear.
Senegal is 97% Muslim with a history of secular government and religious tolerance. Most Senegalese follow one of four Sufi brotherhoods. The Sunday protested resulted in another death when a man was hit by a rubber bullet while buying bread in a bakery in the suburb of Rufisque. He was an innocent bystander. A protester was killed in another protest 25 kilometers from the capital after he was hit in the head and authorities said a 21 yer-old tailor died in the city of Kaolack, about 190 kilometers southeast of Dakar from injuries he received in a protest.
"Look at these bullets here, they want to kill us, they do this on purpose. Abdoulaye Wade, that's enough, look at your bullets, your teargas, these kill if they touch you,"
cried another young protester at one protest as he held a rubber bullet in his hand.
Wade followed up that weekend with claims through spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, that an unnamed candidate had appointed a retired army colonel to recruit a militia, made up of 200 ex-soldiers.
"Beyond these 200 soldiers recruited and led by the colonel, there are also youths being recruited in the neighborhoods and in the interior of the country," Mbacke said.
"Those who think that we don't know, let them understand that we have formally identified them. We know who's in charge of recruiting, how much they are paid per day, who is financing it," he said. "Those that are behind this plot are after one thing only - blood. That lots of blood be spilled in our country. The fundamental thing for them is that chaos installs itself in the country so that the nation becomes ungovernable."
Many think that Abdoulaye Wade's game plan is to prepare his son Karim Wade, who, at 43, already heads four ministries, to replace him in power. They think Wade is trying to setup a neo-monarchy similar to that accomplished by Assad in Syria and attempted by Ben Ali in Tunisia, Murabak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya.
At 85 years old, Wade is running for a third seven year term even though the constitution limits the president to two terms. Angering many, Senegal's constitutional court has ruled that law doesn't apply to Wade because it came into effect after he became president. In fact, he introduced it, and that is not the only paradox in the way Wade is stubbornly clinking to power.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo who is leading an African Union observer mission in Senegal, has called upon Wade to pull out of the race. Aware of the political climate in Senegal, Obasanjo said Feb 14, when he arrived "If necessary, my role will be more than that of a simple observer."
In 2007, after Obasanjo's supporters in Nigerian failed in their attempt to have the constitution amended so that he could stand for a third term, Wade said it was time for the Nigerian president to go. And although he had been a long time ally of Mummar Qaddafi, Wade that the first of the AU leaders to tell Qaddafi it was time to quit. But when its Wade's time to go, that's a different story.
The same court that ruled that Wade was eligible for a third term, also ruled that the leading opposition candidate, Youssou N'dour could not run because they questioned the authenticity of the signatures on his application form. It is not surprising that the opposition thinks the constitutional court is in Wade's pocket. Youssou N'dour has described the court's decisions as "a constitutional coup." Alfred Stepan and Etienne Smith write in the Times of Oman:
Wade has been tinkering with Senegal's constitution in dangerous ways ever since he was inaugurated in 2000. Of the 15 changes Wade made to the constitution, ten weakened democracy; the others were erratic, if not bizarre. For example, Wade at one point abolished Senegal's senate, only to reinstate it after realizing that it could be put to use as a place to reward political allies. Likewise, he reduced the length of presidential terms from seven years to five, but later restored it to seven.
In February 2007, Wade was re-elected as Senegal's president amid opposition charges that the election had not been free and fair. As a result, the opposition boycotted the June, 2007, parliamentary elections. That was a mistake, because the boycott gave Wade absolute control over the legislature, as well as the ability to appoint Constitutional Court judges unimpeded.
Last June, Wade attempted what would have amounted to a constitutional coup. The most recent credible opinion poll in Senegal, conducted the previous year, had indicated that Wade would receive only 27 per cent of the vote in the next presidential election. Given the existing constitution's provision for a mandatory run-off if no candidate wins 50 per cent, Wade would almost certainly lose if the opposition parties united behind a single candidate.
Wade, recognizing this, tried to have the National Assembly amend the Constitution in his favor once again. Any candidate who won a plurality and at least 25 per cent of the popular vote in the first round would win the presidency. No run-off would be necessary.
Thanks to massive demonstrations, in which many popular artists played a role, Wade backed off.
As this "constitutional coup" was widely denounced by the opposition which adopted the slogan "Wade dégage!" (Wade out!) - reminiscent of "Ben Ali, dégage!" in Tunisia a year ago, it cause some observers to raise the question "An African Spring in Senegal?" The opposition parties formed the June 23 Movement [M23] untied front, some Sufi religious leaders have asked for him to step down and governments of the United States and France also have called upon him to bow out, saying they would like to see a younger man take the job.
About 23,000 security personnel including the police and army voted in early balloting more than a week earlier and amiss many voter irregularities that have already come to light, it is widely feared that Wade is also rigging the election. 13 candidates are opposing Wade for the office and even with no leading opposition figure, Wade is unlikely to get a legitimate majority. His constitutional court had already ruled that the leading unity candidate, Youssou N'dour, ineligible, now there is a strong suspicions that Wade will rig the vote and the count so that he gets more than 50% in any case and doesn't face a run off. If this happens, the opposition vows to make the country ungovernable.
A long democratic history
The revolutionary wave that swept Europe in 1848 bestowed two great benefits on Senegal, which was France's only significant colony in Africa at the time. The first was that slavery was abolished in all French colonies, including Senegal and the newly freed slaves automatically became French citizens. The second was that universal male suffrage was extended to all French citizens, including those newly freed slaves. Before the year 1848 came to a close, the people of Senegal took part in national elections and chose the first person of color ever to sit in the French Parliament. The further decree that the principal that any slave who reached French soil was freed also applied to Senegal made this tiny island of liberty a sanctuary for slaves from all over slave-holding West Africa, a kinda Canada of the African continent, if you will...
While the reality was never as good as the promise, slavery wasn't entirely eliminated from the interior until 1905 and runaway slaves were often returned, nevertheless, Senegal developed strong liberal democratic institutions. Elections have taken place regularly since Senegal became independent in 1960 and there has never been a coup.
France still maintains a permanent base in Senegal, Dakar, Senegal (23BIMa), with maybe 250 permanent personnel and rotating units coming from France. This base stems from a defense agreement Senegal signed while gaining its independence, today it is seen as a way for France to maintain a neo-colonial influence in Africa.
The World Capitalist Crisis Hits Senegal
Now, amiss rising food and fuel prices, and growing unemployment, especially for the youth, dissatisfaction has been rising with a regime that is widely seen as corrupt and self-serving, that is known for lavishing millions on grandiose projects leading to self-enrichment while letting the country's infrastructure rot, and that once boasted of its close ties to Mummar Qaddafi and his Libyan regime.
Probably the most famous Wade boondoggle is his $27 million dollar "African Renaissance" statue he commissioned just outside of Dakar. The 164ft statue is designed to be the centerpiece of a whole new tourist trap with new hotels and restaurants provided by Wade associates. Wade himself takes 35% of fees paid by tourists to see the statue and all merchandising profits and copyright because he considers it his "intellectual property." In a country with a 49% unemployment rate, the project didn't even go to a Senegalese company because Wade paid a North Korean firm, Mansudae Overseas Project Group, to build the statue. Christina Passariello wrote in the WSJ:
The African Renaissance is Mansudae's biggest work yet, measuring 164 feet high and crowning two barren hills in Dakar called "Les Mamelles" at the westernmost point of Africa. That makes it taller than either the Statue of Liberty (151 feet) or Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer (100 feet). The statue depicts a father holding a baby in his left arm. The man's right arm is around the waist of the baby's mother. The three are reaching out to the sky and out to the ocean.
"Its message is about Africa emerging from the darkness, from five centuries of slavery and two centuries of colonialism," says Mr. Wade.
In Senegal, however, the statue has been a beacon of discontent, sparking angry newspaper editorials and protests from religious leaders. The statue's sultry mother figure, dressed in a wisp of fabric that reveals part of a breast and a bare leg, has offended imams in this majority-Muslim country.
There was even a scandal about the land the statue was built on. Diplomatic cables [09DAKAR1069] leaked by WikiLeaks reveals it was built on state-owned land that had been given to a friend of Wade's, Mbackou Faye, who then sold a portion of it back to the government at an enormous profit. According to the cables, Faye is planning to build 270 luxury homes on the remaining portion.
Wade and Qaddafi, Senegal and Libya
Not long after Abdoulaye Wade's monster statue was finished in 2010, he received an email from Mummar Qaddafi asking how he could get one. Wade and Qaddafi had a long history together. Wade was a big supporter of Mummar Qaddafi's concept of a United States of Africa.
At a three day African Union meeting in Accra in 2007 both Libya and Senegal failed in a joint push to immediately establish a continental government. Pascal Fletcher in Reuters wrote:
Libya's flamboyant leader Muammar Gaddafi and octogenarian Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who like to cast themselves as crusaders of African unity, both lobbied noisily for the immediate proclamation of a government for Africa.
But many states, including the continent's economic and political powerhouse South Africa, preferred a more cautious approach which sought to first strengthen regional economic communities before advancing to the political union goal.
In 2001, there was a scandal that saw Senegal recall its ambassador to Tripoli following an alleged attempt to smuggle 100 young women to Libya. The 100 so-called "models" were apprehended attempting to board a charter plane at Dakar airport. The allegation was that they were really prostitutes going to Libya to entertain at celebrations to mark the 32nd anniversary of the coup that put Gaddafi in power.
Before that, Qaddafi's Libya had trained many Senegalese rebels. One of the most important was Ibrahim Bah. His story tells us much about how Qaddafi was able to use his control of Libya's oil billions to influence events in Africa and around the world.
After fighting with the Casamance separatist movement in Senegal in 1970's, Bah trained in Libya under the protection of Mummar Qaddafi. In the early 1980s he spent several years fighting alongside Muslim guerrillas against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, then he joined the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia to fight Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, returning to Libya at the end of the 1980s to train others who would go on to lead rebellions in West Africa, including Charles Taylor of Liberia and Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone, founder of RUF. Bah himself later fought in both of these countries. More recently he is said to be the king maker in the West African blood diamond trade.
Part of the social displacement being felt by Senegal now is caused by the return of newly displaced Senegalese immigrate workers and mercenaries from Libya. Wades story about a mysterious "colonel" putting together a militia of 200 ex-soldiers was, no doubt, designed to play on the fears created by this situation.
Wade may have been good buddies with Qaddafi in the AU and in other areas as well but once the saw he way the chips were going to fall, he wasted no time in jetisoning him. Under Wade's direction, Senegal recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate opposition that should be supported in May of 2011 when the African Union was only calling for a ceasefire. The next month violent protests were breaking in Senegal over his attempts to create a vice-president's post because people feared it was part of a scheme to put his son in power. Wade wasn't too concerned. He was in Benghazi meeting with NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and publicly urging Qaddafi to quit, saying "the sooner you leave the better." Now those are words he doesn't want to hear said to him.
"Its time for Wade to go."
While the various western governments may be trying to distant themselves from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade now that he is faced with rising opposition to his rule, he has been able to maintain his position because he has been very useful to them. The changes he made to the constitution to increase his power and ensure his rule were accepted by them because they also further opened up the country to foreign investment. Similar in many ways, to the situation in Ben Ali's Tunisia or Mubarak's Egypt, this exploitation by world imperialism has not benefited the people as a whole but it has given rise to an internal business class that has benefited and is therefore willing to defend the regime and the status quo.
Toby Leon Moorsom, an editor of Nokoko Journal of African studies, elaborates:
Wade's primary skill seems to have been signing cheques to foreign companies. By far the most significant achievement for Wade has been opening up mineral exploitation in the country's Toumbacounda region, facilitated by a $527m project to build the largest port in West Africa.
The port is being built in a public-private initiative with DP World - an affiliate of the Dubai World Group, a company that also took on an $800m deal to build and run a special economic zone, based upon the Jebel Ali free-trade zone in Dubai. The port facilitates the extraction of gold by a Canadian and Saudi company, Oromin Venture Group, and two other Canadian companies; Sabodala Mining and Lamgold Group. They are joined by Jersey-based Randgold, and the multi-national Arcelor Mittal. Numerous other valuable metals are found in the area, such as copper, chromium, lithium and uranium. The quantities seem to be less significant than the rare properties they offer for blending in new metal composites.
These minerals will make their way to port via massive road rehabilitation and construction projects, which have been doled out to companies such as Swiss-based SGS Industrial, and China's Henan Industrial Cooperation Group and APIX, the government investment agency. Many Senegalese find it painfully insulting that, after 50 years of independence, they still cannot even build their own roads.
Under pressure from the World Bank, Senegal has also been involved in the protracted process of privatising its water services, with an early electricity privatisation that initially involved Hydro-Quebec and later Vivendi, among others. Vivendi is the company so loathed in South Africa for its pre-paid meter system. These privatisation processes lead to rising household bills for working people whose wages have been stagnant.
These conditions have led to the development of a protest movement with some surprising strengths. Not only has it been strong in Dakar, it has gained a lot of support in smaller towns throughout the country. 77% of the labor force still works in agriculture in Senegal.
A growing strike movement
There has also been a arising tide of labor struggles in Senegal since Ben Ali lost power in Tunisia and these have become more political. For example, recently there was a three day work stoppage by taxi and transport workers with near 100% participation to protest the rise in fuel prices, police harassment and bribery.
Before that, the union at the national broadcast company carried out a demonstration and brief labor disruption to protest the misuse of the company as a Wade propaganda machine in violation of journalistic ethics. The workers at Fox News could learn something from these Africans.
For the past three months there has also been a nationally coordinated strike of college and university professors that face growing class sizes but can't even afford decent housing.
In spite of these and other growing facets of the people's struggles, the leadership of M23 has been unable to really forge them into a unified struggle, provide the analysis to show how they are all connected, or provide a viable alternative. This is because most of these opposition candidates are themselves opportunists that have not stood on any principal and have been in and out of Wade's PDS party as the political climate suited them. They tend to limit their complaint to the whine "Wade's too old."
More recently a new group Y'en a Marre ["Had enough"] has emerged as an alternative to M23. Moorsom writes:
Y'en a Marre members reveal a greater interest in popular education and grassroots action, but are highly marginal in society and as a result face heavy police repression. They draw inspiration from a long history of non-violent anti-colonial resistance - especially as it existed among the Mauride Brotherhood - but they haven't been able to extend it beyond symbolic gestures into actions that actually obstruct the economy or galvanize large crowds prepared for police violence.
So the mass opposition to the current regime has been growing but the organization and leadership of those masses is still badly limited.
Even in the early days of the Arab Spring, some of us, i know we had these discussions around WL Central, look forward to the spreading of that movement from North Africa south. We especially thought that the fall of Qaddafi in Libya would lead to dynamic and revolutionary change throughout the continent, such was the retarding effects of his meddling and control. Steven Cockburn raised similar questions in a blog he wrote over a year ago, on February 23, 2011 and titled Tunisia, Egypt, Libya...Senegal?
It's a question on people's lips, consuming many a column inch here. Could the dramatic scenes witnessed in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli be played out in Dakar, Abidjan or Harare? Could the revolutions engulfing countries north of the Sahara spread their way south ?
So stay tuned to developing news from Senegal!
UPDATE: Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM PT: As of this hour there has yet to be an official announcement of the results of Sunday's presidential election but early results give Wade about 32% of the votes, meaning he should definitely face a runoff election. If the opposition unites around Macky Sall, who looks to come in second with 25% of the vote, Wade will not survive the runoff. As we await the official result, EU observers are questioning why the government is not publishing real-time results from the polls.
On the 27th of February 2012, Wikileaks released the following statement:
"LONDON—Today, Monday 27 February, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example:
"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.
The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the "Yes Men", for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.
Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees: "We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either."
Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to "utilise the intelligence" it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS: "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like". The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested "substantially" more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff: "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor... we are already working on mock portfolios and trades". StratCap is due to launch in 2012.
The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and "other government intelligence agencies" in "becoming government Stratfors". Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division. Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates "without ideology, agenda or national bias", yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.
Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused "gravy train" that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures:
"[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ’leak-focused’ gravy train? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet... Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information... In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution."
Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Izzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).
Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s "Confederation Partners", whom Stratfor internally referred to as its "Confed Fuck House" are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.
WikiLeaks has also obtained Stratfor’s list of informants and, in many cases, records of its payoffs, including $1,200 a month paid to the informant "Geronimo" , handled by Stratfor’s Former State Department agent Fred Burton.
WikiLeaks has built an investigative partnership with more than 25 media organisations and activists to inform the public about this huge body of documents. The organisations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks are conducting journalistic evaluations of these emails. Important revelations discovered using this system will appear in the media in the coming weeks, together with the gradual release of the source documents.
Also named are the main press partners working on this release:
- Al Akhbar – Lebanon – http://english.al-akhbar.com
- Al Masry Al Youm – Egypt – http://www.almasry-alyoum.com
- Bivol – Bulgaria – http://bivol.bg
- CIPER – Chile – http://ciperchile.cl
- Dawn Media – Pakistan – http://www.dawn.com
- L’Espresso – Italy – http://espresso.repubblica.it
- La Repubblica – Italy – http://www.repubblica.it
- La Jornada – Mexico – www.jornada.unam.mx/
- La Nacion – Costa Rica – http://www.nacion.com
- Malaysia Today – Malaysia – www.malaysia-today.net
- McClatchy – United States – http://www.mcclatchy.com
- Nawaat – Tunisia – http://nawaat.org
- NDR/ARD – Germany – http://www.ndr.de
- Owni – France – http://owni.fr
- Pagina 12 – Argentina – www.pagina12.com.ar
- Plaza Publica – Guatemala – http://plazapublica.com.gt
- Publico.es – Spain – www.publico.es
- Rolling Stone – United States – http://www.rollingstone.com
- Russia Reporter – Russia – http://rusrep.ru
- Ta Nea – Greece –- http://www.tanea.gr
- Taraf – Turkey – http://www.taraf.com.tr
- The Hindu – India – www.thehindu.com
- The Yes Men – Bhopal Activists – Global http://theyesmen.org
- Nicky Hager for NZ Herald – New Zealand – http://www.nzherald.co.nz
A press conference is going to take place at noon at the Frontline Club in central London.
The first press coverage to be announced appeared on Publico.es.
David Leigh, who is mentioned in the press release, has now commented on Twitter: "I'm told #Assange now says I'm a Mossad agent, along with top journo Yossi Melman. Same old conspiracy theories at #wilkileaks, then". In another tweet, which also indicates that he has not read the press release, he calls the accusations "nutty".
Yossi Melman has now commented, too.
Authored By: Nikolas Kozloff
I have always been a bit skeptical about some of the more salacious claims made in John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the story of one man’s life working for the secretive National Security Agency or NSA. When he was a young man, NSA interrogators interviewed Perkins and explored his “frustration about the lack of women, sex, and money.” Perkins’ fit the NSA’s psychological profile, and after being accepted into the organization’s shadowy ranks, he landed a corporate job working as an economist with a major consulting firm. It was all a cover, however, for Perkins’ real purpose: as a self-described “economic hit man,” the youth was dispatched to poor Latin American countries such as Panama and Ecuador where he was tasked with cheating governments out of money and funneling cash from the coffers of the World Bank into the hands of major corporations and wealthy elites.
No doubt, U.S. intelligence agencies partake in such activities all the time, yet some of Perkins’ stories strained my credibility. For example, the author discusses a mysterious woman “consultant” at his firm named Claudine who came to be the young man’s teacher. “My assignment is to mold you into an economic hit man,” she tells Perkins. “No one can know about your involvement --- not even your wife.”
Later, Perkins remarks of Claudine, “Beautiful and intelligent, she was highly effective; she understood my weaknesses and used them to her greatest advantage.” “Her approach,” Perkins wrote, was a “combination of physical seduction and verbal manipulation.” The author adds, “My time with Claudine already represented the realization of one of my fantasies; it seemed too good to be true.”
From Claudine to Stratfor’s Modest Analyst
I might have dismissed such stories as mere spicy embellishment, but after reading internal e-mails emanating from within the Stratfor intelligence firm, I’m not sure. The e-mails, which were apparently stolen by hacking group Anonymous, were later disclosed by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks. The cache, which reportedly numbers a whopping 5 million e-mails, reveals the inner workings of a company which provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations but also key U.S. agencies such as the Department of Homeland Defense, the Marines and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Some of the e-mails are strikingly candid and provide insight into Stratfor’s slippery and underhanded psychological methods which are not so far removed from what Perkins describes in his book. Today, Washington is not so focused on Ecuador as in Perkins’ day but Venezuela, a pesky populist ringleader of the left in Latin America. Stratfor president George Friedman, who is interested in long-range geopolitical trends, requested that one of his analysts, Rheba Bhalla, find out more about Hugo Chávez’s state of health and the larger political ramifications for Venezuela if the country’s firebrand president should falter.
Some of the Stratfor e-mails could have been lifted right out of a sensationalistic scene from Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. one e-mail exchange, Bhalla explains that the Venezuelan military had been “most cooperative with us lately.” “These guys have been living the good life. They love women...lots of women. They love booze. They love bora bora. They are easy to bribe. They dont care about Chávez. they care about maintaining their current lifestyles. We've seen a lot of these military elite reach out to us lately, trying to insulate themselves in a post-Chávez scenario.” On the other hand, Bhalla concedes that her contact, a “well-connected VZ source working with Israel,” isn’t too reliable. In terms of trust, her source only rated a modest “B-,” though “I've gotten better at reading him over the years to tell when he's feeding me shit and when he's giving useful info.” In something out of John Le Carré gobbledygook, Bhalla adds that her “alpha” source required “special handling.”
From Modest Analyst to John Le Carré
Friedman, who had just returned from Caracas, then expresses skepticism about Bhalla’s source. In a further riff on spook terminology, Friedman says the source “could be valuable humint or pure rumint,” but “we can’t evaluate accuracy.” Always the Godfather, Friedman adds, “One of the reasons I want you to execute missions is to learn how to evaluate sources. This is a very difficult art but one you must learn. The gut is to be trusted only after its well trained.”
Defensive and eager to please, Bhalla writes back “Yes, I have much to learn and I may be just an analyst, but i'm not 100% incapable of evaluating a source i've known for a while.” Seeking to prove her meddle in the bizarre psycho babble of Stratfor, Bhalla adds “I've listened to waht you've told me about reading a source (the Turk with the twitch.) I figured out what this source's twitch is in reading his eyes. I've gotten much better in evaluating what info to take more seriously and what info to disregard.”
Perhaps, Bhalla had grown weary of being a mere analyst and, like Perkins, yearned for more power. If that was the case, then it seems she finally got her wish. In a follow up exchange, Friedman explains over his blackberry that it was time to “start our conversation on your next phase.” In the event that a given source was deemed to have value, Friedman writes, “You have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control to the point where he would reveal his sourcing and be tasked.”
Further indulging his penchant for spook speech, Friedman then declares that “The decision on approach would not come from you but from your handler. This is because you're position is too close to the source and your judgment by definition suspect. Each meeting would be planned between you and your handler and each meeting would have a specific goal not built around discussing the topic of interest which would ideally be hidden but in analyzing him personally and moving toward control.”
Georgetown Alma Mater
Perhaps, Bhalla was gunning for more psychological “control” at her job all along. According to her online bio, she is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies program of the School of Foreign Service, a haven for spooks and intelligence folk. One associate professor, Elizabeth Stanley, worked as a U.S. Army captain in military intelligence. According to the Georgetown web site, Stanley has experience in something called “mindfulness techniques” and created “mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) to build warrior resilience and optimize individual and team performance.” As the founder of the “Mind Fitness Training Institute,” Stanley instructed soldiers as well as “organizations operating in high-stress operational environments” in psychological methods.
On its web site, Georgetown proudly hocks its spook books which stress unsavory methods such as “guile and theft” no less. According to the blurb for one book, Analyzing Intelligence, “Decision makers matching wits with an adversary want intelligence—good, relevant information to help them win. Intelligence can gain these advantages through directed research and analysis, agile collection, and the timely use of guile and theft. Counterintelligence is the art and practice of defeating these endeavors. Its purpose is the same as that of positive intelligence—to gain advantage—but it does so by exploiting, disrupting, denying, or manipulating the intelligence activities of others. The tools of counterintelligence include security systems, deception, and disguise: vaults, mirrors, and masks. In one indispensable volume, top practitioners and scholars in the field explain the importance of counterintelligence today and explore the causes of—and practical solutions for—U.S. counterintelligence weaknesses.”
The Georgetown program helps its students acquire employment at various entities specializing in destabilization and intelligence work in Latin America, including the CIA and FBI. In addition, students may gain employment at private corporations which have played a role in Venezuela such as SAIC or alternatively work for the public/private International Republican Institute linked to Senator John McCain [for more on both of these outfits see my first book]. In opting for Stratfor, however, Friedman analyst Bhalla seems to have done quite well for herself. In a few short years, the young woman became a sought after commentator on Latin America and Venezuela, being featured in and cited by diverse media outlets including CNN, National Public Radio, FOX News, The O'Reilly Factor and The New York Times no less.
From Cable Gate to Global Intelligence Gate
Though surely bizarre, Friedman’s talk about psychological control over sources shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Whether it is individuals acting from within the U.S. government or outside, such techniques have been widely embraced. Indeed, if anything the Stratfor cables echo many of the revelations stemming from earlier WikiLeaks disclosures. To be sure, U.S. diplomats are not instructed to sleep with their sources, but many of them display the very same curious interest in domination and control.
Within the State Department, for example, staff personnel from the very top down express interest in psychological profiles. As I wrote in this piece dating from 2010, U.S. officials went on a tear trying to get as much dirt as possible about Argentina’s power couple, Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Prior to Néstor’s recent death, Secretary of State Clinton personally wrote to the American Embassy in Buenos Aires, remarking that the U.S. was drawing up “a written product examining the interpersonal dynamics between the governing tandem.”
Clinton added that State had a pretty “solid understanding” of Néstor’s style and personality, but Cristina remained a mystery. Specifically, Clinton wanted to know how Cristina, an Hugo Chávez ally in the wider region, managed “her nerves and anxiety.” Somewhat bizarrely, Clinton then asked her subordinates whether Cristina was taking any medications. Again and again, the Secretary of State pressed for details about Cristina’s psychological and emotional profile.
Other revelations stemming from the so-called “Cable Gate scandal further underscore the State Department’s peculiar penchant for psychological manipulation in Latin America. Take for example U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa Charles Ford, who held Honduran president and Hugo Chávez protégé Manuel Zelaya in low regard. In one cable disclosed by WikiLeaks, Ford remarks almost casually, “Always suspicious of American intentions, he [Zelaya] inexplicably submitted to a psychological profile at my Residence -- twice.” There's got to be more to this story. Are we to believe that Zelaya would simply show up at Ford's house and take a psychological test? Why would this have occurred to Zelaya in the first place? What kind of test was it? Interestingly enough, just like Clinton Ford was very interested in personal medical matters. At one point, he wrote “Zelaya almost assuredly takes strong medication for a severe back problem and perhaps other drugs as well.”
Though Stratfor’s methods are extreme, the WikiLeaks cables reveal that psychological control is very much on the minds of official U.S. policymakers as well. Will further WikiLeaks disclosures embarrass and shame Stratfor employees, prompting them to come clean and abandon their unsavory work? The track record is hardly encouraging. In the wake of the earlier Cable Gate scandal, not a single U.S. diplomat operating in Latin America came clean to the public and the media about their role throughout the wider region. Perhaps, such officials were afraid of losing their jobs, or alternatively saw nothing wrong in what they were doing. Whatever the case, it suggests that brave figures such as John Perkins are in the minority.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left and is the founder of Revolutionary Handbook.