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The international criminal court's decision to investigate allegations of war crimes places the UK in the company of countries such as the Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.
Allegations that British troops were responsible for a series of war crimes following the invasion of Iraq are to be examined by the international criminal court (ICC) at the Hague, officials have announced.
The court is to conduct a preliminary examination of around 60 alleged cases of unlawful killing and claims that more than 170 Iraqis were mistreated while in British military custody.
British defence officials are confident that the ICC will not move to the next stage and announce a formal investigation, largely because the UK has the capacity to investigate the allegations itself.
However, the announcement is a blow to the prestige of the armed forces, as the UK is the only western state that has faced a preliminary investigation at the ICC. The court's decision places the UK in the company of countries such as the Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.
In a statement, the ICC said: "The new information received by the office alleges the responsibility of officials of the United Kingdom for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008.
"The re-opened preliminary examination will analyse, in particular, alleged crimes attributed to the armed forces of the United Kingdom deployed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.
Responding to the decision, the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said the government rejected any allegation that there was systematic abuse carried out by the British armed forces in Iraq.
"British troops are some of the best in the world and we expect them to operate to the highest standards, in line with both domestic and international law," he said. "In my experience the vast majority of our armed forces meet those expectations."
Grieve added that although the allegations are already being "comprehensively investigated" in the UK "the UK government has been, and remains a strong supporter of the ICC and I will provide the office of the prosecutor with whatever is necessary to demonstrate that British justice is following its proper course".
The investigation also means that the British police team responsible for investigating the allegations, as well as the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA), which is responsible for bringing courts martial cases, and Grieve, who must make the final decision on war crimes prosecutions in the UK, can all expect to face a degree of scrutiny from The Hague.
Coming just days before a European election in which the UK Independence party (Ukip) is widely expected to perform well – in part because of its scepticism about European institutions such as the ICC – the court's decision is also likely to trigger considerable political turmoil.
The decision by the ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, was made after a complaint was lodged in January by Berlin-based human rights NGO the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, and Birmingham law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), which represented the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in 2003, and which has since represented scores of other men and women who were detained and allegedly mistreated.
The process of a preliminary examination can take several years.
The newly-appointed head of the SPA, Andrew Cayley QC – who has 20 years experience of prosecuting at war crimes tribunals in Cambodia and at The Hague – said he was confident that the ICC would eventually conclude that the UK should continue to investigate the allegations.
Cayley said the SPA "will not flinch" from bringing prosecutions, if the evidence justifies it. He added that he did not anticipate any civilians – officials or ministers – facing prosecution.
Any war crime committed by British servicemen or servicewomen is an offence under English law by virtue of the International Criminal Court Act 2001.
The ICC has already seen evidence suggesting that British troops did commit war crimes in Iraq, concluding after receiving a previous complaint in 2006: "There was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhuman treatment." At that point, the court concluded that it should take no action, as there were fewer than 20 allegations.
Many more cases have emerged in recent years. Currently, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), the body set up by the Ministry of Defence to investigate complaints arising from the five-year British military occupation of the south-east of the country, is examining 52 complaints of unlawful killing involving 63 deaths and 93 allegations of mistreatment involving 179 people. The alleged unlawful killings include a number of deaths in custody and the complaints of mistreatment range from relatively minor abuse to torture.
PIL withdrew allegations of unlawful killings arising out of one incident, a firefight in May 2004 known as the battle of Danny Boy, although an inquiry continues to examine allegations that a number of insurgents taken prisoner at that time were mistreated.
The ICC will examine separate allegations, mostly from former detainees held in Iraq.
Following the death of Baha Mousa, one soldier, corporal Donald Payne, admitted being guilty of inhumane treatment of detainees and was jailed for one year. He became the first and only British soldier to admit a war crime.
Six other soldiers were acquitted. The judge found that Mousa and several other men had been subjected to a series of assaults over 36 hours, but a number of charges had been dropped because of "a more or less obvious closing of ranks".
The MoD admitted to the Guardian four years ago that at least seven further Iraqi civilians had died in UK military custody. Since then, nobody has been charged or prosecuted.
Source: The Guardian
A hallway dispute that could become a real public debate: Companies and FCC in Net Neutrality Scuffle
By Alfredo Lopez
As the FCC hurtles towards what seems like an approval this coming Thursday of new proposed rules that would, effectively, allow establishment of a second high-speed, higher-cost Internet, we've caught a glimpse of an interesting and infrequently noted split in the circles of power.
It's a minor scuffle but, if it continues, it could open up debates that would involve genuine free-Internet forces and that would quickly put the need to protect the Internet on the national agenda.
"5. (C) Ukraine and Georgia's NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia's influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face."
There are those claiming that Obama never wanted to send missiles into Syria. Thus they explain that public pressure against those missile strikes was pointless and unnecessary, as opposed to effective and successful. However, Obama made a hard pitch to the public and Congress in favor of the strikes, and it's on video. Watch him try to sell the public:
Watch him try to sell Congress:
Watch the videos he showed Congress and the public:
On May 14,2014 President Obama will be in New York City for a fundraiser at the home of a major financier of deals worth billions of dollars. Let's be a visible presence saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline and all the other outrages against humanity and the planet. Sponsors (list in formation): World Can't Wait, 350NYC, 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Sane Energy Project.
Meet on the corner of 79th St. and 5th Ave, Manhattan NYC 10075
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Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
After generations of state control, Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves will soon open for business to the international market.
In December 2013, Mexico’s Congress voted to break up the longstanding monopoly held by the state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos — commonly called Pemex — and to open the nation’s oil and gas reserves to foreign companies.
World Can't Wait is presenting four great panels at the Left Forum.
We look forward to meeting you there.
May 31-June 2014 - John Jay College New Building - 524 W. 59th St. New York, NY
Panal 1 - Vast Surveillance of Whole Populations: The NSA Revelations One Year Out
By Deanna Gorzynski, World Can't Wait volunteer
The palpable excitement and satisfaction of the Rutgers students success
with exiling war criminal Condoleezza Rice from their commencement
exercises didn’t take long for me to see. Hours before the teach-in I was
at a Staples making copies for World Can’t Wait posters, some 50 miles
north of Rutgers, and as I left a young employee ran up to me excitedly, “She’s
not speaking at Rutgers, we put an end to it!”
Look who’s calling voting ‘divisive’ and ‘illegal’: The Blood-soaked US Has No Business Opposing Sovereignty Plebiscites
By Dave Lindorff
The rot at the core of US international relations, domestic politics and the corporate media is evident in the American approach to the Ukraine crisis.
Remarks in Los Angeles, May 10, 2014.
Thank you to Pat Alviso and all the individuals and groups involved in setting this event up. Thank you to Lila Garrett for doing twice what I do at twice my age, including hosting the best radio show around. And thank you to our friend, recently lost, Tim Carpenter, for whom there is a memorial event today in Massachusetts. We will not forget you, Tim, and we will carry on.
Now, about ending war.
This goes deeper than the usual war lies.
We've had plenty of those. We weren't told the Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to a neutral nation to stand trial. We weren't told the Taliban was a reluctant tolerator of al Qaeda, and a completely distinct group. We weren't told the 911 attacks had also been planned in Germany and Maryland and various other places not marked for bombing. We weren't told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn't support 911 but never heard of it. We weren't told our government would kill large numbers of civilians, imprison people without trial, hang people by their feet and whip them until they were dead. We weren't told how this illegal war would advance the acceptability of illegal wars or how it would make the United States hated in much of the world. We weren't given the background of how the U.S. interfered in Afghanistan and provoked a Soviet invasion and armed resistance to the Soviets and left the people to the tender mercies of that armed resistance once the Soviets left. We weren't told that Tony Blair wanted Afghanistan first before he'd get the UK to help destroy Iraq. We certainly weren't told that bin Laden had been an ally of the U.S. government, that the 911 hijackers were mostly Saudi, or that there might be anything at all amiss with the government of Saudi Arabia. And nobody mentioned the trillions of dollars we'd waste or the civil liberties we'd have to lose at home or the severe damage that would be inflicted on the natural environment. Even birds don't go to Afghanistan anymore.
OK. That's all sort of par-for-the-course, war-marketing bullshit. People who pay attention know all of that. People who don't want to know any of that are the last great hope of military recruiters everywhere. And don't let the past tense fool you. The White House is trying to keep the occupation of Afghanistan going for TEN MORE YEARS ("and beyond"), and articles have been popping up this week about sending U.S. troops back into Iraq. But there's something more.
I've just read an excellent new book by Anand Gopal calledNo Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes. Gopal has spent years in Afghanistan, learned local languages, interviewed people in depth, researched their stories, and produced a true-crime book more gripping, as well as more accurate, than anything Truman Capote came up with. Gopal's book is like a novel that interweaves the stories of a number of characters -- stories that occasionally overlap. It's the kind of book that makes me worry I'll spoil it if I say too much about the fate of the characters, so I'll be careful not to.
The characters include Americans, Afghans allied with the U.S. occupation, Afghans fighting the U.S. occupation, and men and women trying to survive -- including by shifting their loyalties toward whichever party seems least likely in that moment to imprison or kill them. What we discover from this is not just that enemies, too, are human beings. We discover that the same human beings switch from one category to another quite easily. The blunder of the U.S. occupation's de-Baathification policy in Iraq has been widely discussed. Throwing all the skilled and armed killers out of work turned out not to be the most brilliant move. But think about what motivated it: the idea that whoever had supported the evil regime was irredeemably evil (even though Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld had supported the evil regime too -- OK, bad example, but you see what I mean). In Afghanistan the same cartoonish thinking, the same falling for one's own propaganda, went on.
People in Afghanistan whose personal stories are recounted here sided with or against Pakistan, with or against the USSR, with or against the Taliban, with or against the U.S. and NATO, as the tides of fortune turned. Some tried to make a living at peaceful employment when that possibility seemed to open up, including early-on in the U.S. occupation. The Taliban was very swiftly destroyed in 2001 through a combination of overwhelming killing power and desertion. The U.S. then began hunting for anyone who had once been a member of the Taliban. But these included many of the people now leading the support of the U.S. regime -- and many such allied leaders were killed and captured despite not having been Taliban as well, through sheer stupidity and corruption. We've often heard how dangling $5000 rewards in front of poor people produced false-accusations that landed their rivals in Bagram or Guantanamo. But Gopal's book recounts how the removal of these often key figures devastated communities, and turned communities against the United States that had previously been inclined to support it. Add to this the vicious and insulting abuse of whole families, including women and children captured and harassed by U.S. troops, and the revival of the Taliban under the U.S. occupation begins to become clear. The lie we've been told to explain it is that the U.S. became distracted by Iraq. Gopal documents, however, that the Taliban revived precisely where U.S. troops were imposing a rule of violence and not where other internationals were negotiating compromises using, you know, words.
We find here a story of a bumbling oblivious and uncomprehending foreign occupation torturing and murdering a lot of its own strongest allies, shipping some of them off to Gitmo -- even shipping to Gitmo young boys whose only offense had been being the sexual assault victims of U.S. allies. The danger in this type of narrative that dives deep into the crushing Kafkan horror of rule by brute ignorant force is that a reader will think: Let's do the next war better. If occupations can't work, let's just blow shit up and leave. To which I respond: Yeah, how are things working out in Libya? The lesson for us to learn is not that wars are badly managed, but that human beings are not Good Guys or Bad Guys. And here's the hard part: That includes Russians.
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Yet another article in the mainstream press with people whingeing about the fact that they have to -- gasp! -- pay a few extra bucks to carry on and/or check their luggage.
Originally Posted at PopularResistance.org
If this were happening anywhere else in the world, Americans would be justifiably horrified:
The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the worlds prison population.
It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that each human being has a more or less identical range of emotions. This is not so. Just as each human individual is physically unique while fitting into a general physical shape (that usually, but not always, includes four limbs and an adult size of between 1.5 and 2.5 metres) so, too, the range and intensity of emotions felt by human beings varies from one individual to another.
Twenty days have now elapsed since the martyrdom of a Bahraini youth, Abdul Aziz Al Abbar, but the Saudi-backed Alkhalifa rulers are still refusing to liberate the body for burial. The family has refused to accept the Death Certificate imposed by the regime which gives the wrong cause of death. Martyr Al Abbar had been shot at the end of February while taking part in a procession at the end of the funeral service of an earlier martyr. He was taken to the Salmaniya hospital where he received poor medical care until he passed away on 18th April. The regime wants to falsify the cause of death but the family is adamant that the Certificate says that he died of bullet wounds. The detention of the corpse is counter to the Islamic and human values and decency and has caused a wave of anger among Bahrainis.
More than 400 prisoners of conscience at the notorious Jaw Prison have continued their hunger strike despite being subjected to horrific repression including torture. A recently released former detainee, Baqir Al Sha’bani has been given a video message from the Bahraini prisoners confirming their strike and detailing the horrific injuries many have received after the attack last month by the regime’s Death Squads.
The US-based Freedom House has given very poor ranking to Bahrain in its latest report. Out of 197 countries, Bahrain ranks 187 in terms of freedom of press. This is a big blow to a regime attempting to use huge oil money to bolster its image abroad after three years of serious human rights violations.
Reporters Without Borders have listed a Bahraini photo journalist among 100 Information Heros. Ahmed Humaidan’s plight has been highlighted by the organisation’s report saying: ” He was arrested on 29 December 2012 for supposedly “storming” a police station on the small island of Sitra, in Bahrain, although he was not there at the time of the incident. This well-known photographer has languished in a cell ever since, subjected to death threats and psychological torture. No doctor has been allowed to examine him. He was given a 10-year jail sentence on 26 March 2014”. It ranked Bahrain at 163 out of 181 countries.
The Islamic Commission for Human Rights (IHRC) has published a report on the use of foreign mercenaries to repress native population. Entitled “Bahrain 's recruitment of foreign mercenaries to curb anti-regime protests” the report highlights the dependence of the ruling Alkhalifa family on foreigners to enforce its rule over the native population. It also gives facts and figures about the increasing numbers of Pakistanis in the security, military and police forces and how the people have paid high price in terms of human lives for this.
The Alkhalifa terror machine has continued its intimidation campaign against Bahrainis. Arrests have continued unabated. On 6th May, Mahdi Saleh Farhan, 16, was snatched in a savage raid on the family’s home at Hamad Town. Another under-aged Bahraini, Ali Jaffar, 17, was arrested in a similar raid on his house in Karzakkan Town. Mohammad Abdul Nabi Yaqoob, a teacher at Rafaa School was arrested yesterday. From Malikiyah Town Bahraini youth, Hussain Abdulla Bu Rashid was arrested.
Meanwhile the Alkhalifa judicial machine continued to sentence Bahrainis to harsh prison terms for taking part in anti-regime protests. Yesterday at least eight people were sentenced to jail terms ranging between three and ten years on trumpeted charges. While the Palestinian Ministry of the Detained and the Liberated reported this week that 5100 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, the acceptable figures of Bahrain’s prisoners are around 3500. The regime has confessed to the delegation of the UN Human Rights Commission which visited Bahrain last month that it was holding around 2000 Bahrainis in its torture chambers. This is far from the reality according to the Bahraini human rights activists.
The Supreme Council of Scholars has written a letter to the Alkhalifa-sponsored “Dialogue of Civilisations” which has been held this week condemning the hypocrisy of the regime. Dialogue with the outside comes after an internal dialogue which is lacking in Bahrain. Instead of promoting harmonious relations among Bahrainis, the regime has ignited sectarian wars and suppressed the majority Shia natives. It destroyed their mosques, banned the Supreme Council of Scholars and exiled senior religious figures.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
7th May 2014
A petition to the President and the Attorney General has just been posted by several organizations, including one I work for, asking that the Department of Justice stop threatening New York Times reporter James Risen with prison if he refuses to reveal a confidential source.
This story, among other stunning features, I think, threatens to expose an unknown known of the highest magnitude -- by which I mean, not something lying outside Donald Rumsfeld's imagination, but something that everyone paying attention has known all about for years but which would explode the brains of most consumers of corporate media if they ever heard about it.
Here's a great summary of the matter at the Progressive. The focus there and in the petition is on the threat to freedom of the press. But read this offhand bit of the explanation carefully:
"The information concerns a source for a chapter in Risen’s terrific 2006 book, 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.' That chapter dealt with a scheme to give the Iranians faulty blueprints for a nuclear weapon."
Not only is the Justice Department (universally understood to take its orders from the White House) trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source, but it's trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source who told him that the United States gave Iran plans for building a nuclear bomb.
Imagine if the general public had a clue that this had happened!
Rather than reporter, I should probably be saying author. And I should stop attaching the insulting modifier "New York Times" in front of "reporter". Because this was a story published in a book. The same book included several interesting stories that I don't think ever made it into major media outlets.
One exception was a story about NSA mass-surveillance. The New York Times had sat on that story for over a year and explained that failure as a desire not to inform the public of what its government was up to prior to an election (the 2004 election). When the book came out, the New York Times finally reported the story. But if the Times or other outlets have informed the public that the CIA gave Iran nuke plans, I've missed it. This shocker certainly has not been extensively covered.
The genius plan was to give Iran nuclear bomb plans with some little portion altered. But reportedly it was quite clear to scientists -- yes, even in Iran they have scientists -- which bit had been altered.
The result was not the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb program. As Gareth Porter's new book documents in detail, Iran has never had a nuclear bomb program, and we've simply been lied to about that fact for 35 years.
But, here's the point: if your Uncle Homer knew the sort of moron stunts the CIA was engaged in with a nation marketed for 35 years as a force of evil, the result would out-do by far the outrage heard last summer when Obama and Kerry proposed joining a war in Syria on the side of al Qaeda (which everyone had been told was Evil Inc. up to that moment).
Don't Obama and Holder risk bringing more attention to this lunacy by prosecuting James Risen? Can they really trust the Press Corpse (sic) to bury the substance of the story?
More to the point: Will we let them? Please sign the petition to the President and the Attorney General.
Right-wing sets fire at House of Labor, Odessa
UNAC, along with other groups and antiwar leaders has called for actions against US intervention in Ukraine. The call is below with an initial list of organizations and antiwar leaders who support the call.
Please add your group and your actions to the list by clicking on the links below.
Call for Emergency Antiwar Actions – May 9 to May 26
US/NATO war moves in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea, and the Baltic Sea – the borders of Russia – are a danger to the whole world. Positioning destroyers and missiles, scheduling war games, and imposing sanctions (an act of war) risk wider war.
We are deeply disturbed by the expansion of the U.S.-commanded NATO military alliance and U.S. recognition and speedy grant of billions in loans to a right-wing coup government in Ukraine, which overthrew the elected government. This illegal government has used fascist violence against all forms of peoples’ resistance in Ukraine.
By more than 2 to 1, the population in the U.S. is against another war and opposed to US military moves or aid to the coup government in Ukraine (4-28-14 Pew/USA Today poll).
We must make our voices heard.
The time to act is now!
We need jobs, health care and social services, not another war.
We urge nationally coordinated antiwar actions across the U.S. and internationally - protests, vigils, teach-ins, antiwar resolutions and visits to offices of elected officials.
From May 9 to May 26 let us act together, in unity, as a powerful voice against the threat of another war.
Ukraine National Actions May. 9-26 endorsements (list in formation):
National and International groups:
United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC)
International Action Center
U.S. Peace Council
Veterans For Peace
Alliance for Global Justice,
Black Agenda Report
International League for Peoples Struggles,
Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamel
May 1 Worker & Immigrant Rights Coalition,
Lynne Stewart Defense Committee
Colectivo Honduras USA Resistencia,
Pakistan USA Freedom Forum,
Fight Imperialism Stand Together - FIST,
People's Power Assembly
People's Organization for Progress
The Move Organization
International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamel
Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report
Suren Moodliar, Massachusetts Global Action & Green shadow Cabinet
Bishop Filipe Teixeira – OFSJC – CCA
Steve Gillis – Vice Pres. USW local 8751 Boston school Bus Union
Leila Zand, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace (Albany)
Chicago Anti-War Committee
MN Anti-War Committee,
Women Against Military Madness - WAMM,
Minnesota Peace Action Coalition,
Jersey City Peace Movement,
Philly Against War
Peace Action – Manhattan
Michigan Emergency Coalition Against War & Injustice (MECAWI)
Chelsea Coalition on Housing
Women’s fightback Network – Boston
Rochester Against War
US Friends of The Soviet People (Minnesota Chapter)
Veterans for Peace (Twin Cities chapter 27)
Massachusetts Global Action
Northhampton committee to Stop Wars
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Bipartisan Members, Introduce the War Authorization Review and Determination Act
... to Limit Executive Branch’s ‘Blank Check’ for Military Force
Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the bipartisan War Authorization Review and Determination Act (WARD Act), to reinsert Congressional oversight and determination into any future use of military force, as well as repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). As the House prepares to take up the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, Congresswoman Lee introduced this legislation to end the executive branch’s “blank check” for military action.
Since her lone vote against the AUMF in 2001, Congresswoman Lee has consistently called for the repeal of this legislation, which has been used as legal justification for a wide range of activities, including targeted drone killings, warrantless surveillance and wiretapping, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, joined Congresswoman Lee in introducing the WARD Act and advocating for stronger congressional oversight in authorizing military force.
“As the only Member of Congress to vote against the AUMF on September 14th, 2001, I have been deeply concerned about this overly-broad blank check for endless war,” said Congresswoman Lee. “I knew then, as I know now, that it gives any president the nearly unlimited authority to wage limitless war at anytime, anywhere, for any reason, in perpetuity. Regardless of how you perceive the AUMF, the fact remains that it is overly broad in scope and runs contrary to Congress’s constitutional role in war making and oversight.”
“The AUMF has been the underlying legal justification for countless acts of federal overreach and abuse, including: targeted drone killings of American citizens, broad warrantless surveillance and wiretapping activities, and indefinite detention. This attack upon our Constitutional liberties must stop – and I was pleased to work across the aisle to put forward a bill which would curb these instances of gross federal overreach,” said Congressman Broun. “While the AUMF originally passed in 2001 to allow the government to pursue Al Qaeda – it has expanded far beyond its originally intended scope. The WARD Act works to address this dramatic growth of power by restoring transparency and the Congressional oversight role. I urge my colleagues to work immediately to pass this common-sense, bipartisan bill.”
According to a CRS report from July 2013, there are 30 known instances where the AUMF has been invoked by Presidents Bush and Obama for the purposes of deploying troops in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Georgia, and Yemen, justifying detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and conducting military commissions.
Original sponsors of the WARD Act include Representatives Louis Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Rules, Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a member of the House Rules Committee, John Garamendi (D-CA), a member of the Committee on Armed Services, Ted Yoho (R-FL), a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Thomas Massie (R-KY), a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Steve Stockman (R-TX), a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
It appears that the weak, spineless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may finally have realized that his place in history is not going to be assured by functioning only as the puppet of the U.S. and Israel. As the latest round of so-called peace talks, sponsored by the U.S. which has no interest in any real negotiations between Israel and Palestine, has crashed and burned, Mr. Abbas has applied to join fifteen international treaties and conventions, with others expected. All this, it is said, is merely a lead-up to joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), which could then investigate and charge Israel with war crimes.
Washington's Pivot to Ignorance: Will the State Department Torpedo Its Last Great Program? By Ann Jones
Often it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run. Items that scarcely make the news, or fail to attract your attention, or once noticed seem trivial, may carry consequences that endure long after the latest front-page crisis has passed. They may, in fact, signal fundamental changes in Washington’s priorities and policies that could even face opposition, if only we paid attention.
Take the current case of an unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut in the State Department’s budget for the Fulbright Program, the venerable 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students, and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries. As Washington increasingly comes to rely on the “forward projection” of military force to maintain its global position, the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world. Yet, long advertised by the U.S. government as “the flagship international educational exchange program" of American cultural diplomacy, it is now in the path of the State Department’s torpedoes.
Right now, all over the world, former Fulbright scholars like me (Norway, 2012) are raising the alarm, trying to persuade Congress to stand by one of its best creations, passed by unanimous bipartisan consent of the Senate and signed into law by President Truman in 1946. Alumni of the Fulbright Program number more than 325,000, including more than 123,000 Americans. Among Fulbright alums are 53 from 13 different countries who have won a Nobel Prize, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, 29 who have served as the head of state or government, and at least one, lunar geologist Harrison Schmitt (Norway, 1957), who walked on the moon -- not to mention the hundreds of thousands who returned to their countries with greater understanding and respect for others and a desire to get along. Check the roster of any institution working for peace around the world and you’re almost certain to find Fulbright alums whose career choices were shaped by international exchange. What’s not to admire about such a program?
Yet the Fulbright budget, which falls under the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), seems to be on the chopping block. The proposed cut amounts to chump change in Washington, only $30.5 million. But the unexpected reduction from a $234.7 million budget this year to $204.2 million in 2015 represents 13% of what Fulbright gets. For such a relatively small-budget program, that’s a big chunk. No one in the know will say just where the cuts are going to fall, but the most likely target could be “old Europe,” and the worldwide result is likely to be a dramatic drop from 8,000 to fewer than 6,000 in the number of applicants who receive the already exceedingly modest grants.
For the U.S., that’s not a saving, it’s a foolish blunder. Only about 1% of American college students ever study abroad. Fewer than 20% speak more than one language -- a figure that includes immigrants for whom English comes second or third -- but all students benefit from the presence of international “Fulbrighters” on their campuses and the return of their own professors and grad students from study and teaching in other countries. Those Fulbrighters chosen according to standards of academic excellence may seem to be an elite group, but their presence on campuses from North Dakota State to Notre Dame is thoroughly democratic. Their knowledge gained abroad, unlike money in our economy, trickles down and spreads out.
Cutting the Fulbright budget also sends a dangerous message to allies around the world: that the U.S. is not truly committed to its biggest and best international exchange program. That news comes as a kick in the teeth to 50 partner countries that have established Fulbright commissions of their own to fund their share, or more than their share, of the mutual exchange. (Norway, for one, funds 70% of it.) What are good friends to make of “cultural diplomacy” like this?
Developing a Twitter-Worthy Worldview
Given what the program achieves, and what it contributes to American prestige abroad, the budget cut is a terrible idea, but the scheme behind it is worse. It hinges on the difference between thinking long and thinking short. With decades of experience, the Fulbright Program clearly welcomes the positive effects of the regular exchange of scholars and educators of proven excellence on broad issues of cultural diplomacy like peace, the progress of democracy, and economic cooperation over time. But it’s not so heedless of history as to think it can determine those outcomes.
The State Department, on the other hand, is headed largely by short-term political appointees, many without specialized experience, most fixated on their own competitive careers. Their thinking leans quite naturally toward the quick fix consistent with an alarmist and historically suspect worldview, quite possibly derived from CNN, inscribed in the justification of the federal budget proposed for 2015: “Global events and trends now start, spread, and shape countries in an instant.” For them, history now only happens on the fast track.
Given this Twitter-worthy worldview, the laggard State Department had to make some “strategic shifts,” according to Susan Pittman, a spokesperson for State’s ECA, the office now responsible for all of America’s “cultural diplomacy.” She claimed the shifts had to be made “in order to be able to take a different angle of doing some short-term targeted programs” in instantaneous crises like that now occurring in Ukraine. “To that end,” Pittman said, “there was the desire to be able to redistribute things.”
What the State Department desires to redistribute is Fulbright funding. It can’t kill the program, but it can starve it. Ukraine, however, is a bad example to cite as a target for redistributed fast-action funds, since the Fulbright Program, thinking long, has been operating in Ukraine for all 23 years of that country’s independence, exchanging about 1,200 scholars and educators. The spokesperson did not seem to know that, or chose not to mention it. Or perhaps Ukraine sprang to mind because her brand-new boss, Evan Ryan, a former special assistant to Vice President Biden and now -- as if by magic -- assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, happens to be married to President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, who had just appeared on all the Sunday talk shows speaking about... you guessed it: Ukraine. Well, I’m just guessing, too, but such things happen in the crowded and intimate little space inside Washington’s Beltway.
Anyway, the State Department actually has its eye on other prizes. In fact, the “strategic shifts” in State Department programming coincide miraculously well with the Obama administration’s militarized “pivots” in foreign policy. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will spend $10 million in Southeast Asia and $20 million in Africa on brand new quick-fix programs to “increase outreach” to “young leaders... shaping the... future.” That’s $30 million drawn from the Fulbright budget and dispatched instead to follow the ships, drones, Navy SEALs, and other Special Forces types to unpublicized points in Asia (for the containment of China) and Africa (for who knows what).
These new ECA programs speak of “partnership,” but they are not like the Fulbright Program’s mutual exchanges. They are unilateral projects whose aim is to identify and cultivate the locals we can do business with in countries that may or may not welcome our outreach, or our handpicked young leaders either. Recall that Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the 2012 coup that overthrew the elected government of Mali, started a war, and destabilized a vast region of Africa, was selected and trained in the United States under another State Department scheme: the International Military Education and Training program.
The ECA also plans to spend $2.5 million next year in Vietnam on what seems to be a consolation prize: a new American Fulbright University, named in honor of Senator J. William Fulbright who created the flagship program that bears his name and ushered it through Congress back in 1946. Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, was then a first-term senator whose experience as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford had fostered his international perspective. He went on to spend 30 years in the Senate, becoming the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the twentieth century’s most influential senators. Yet if the State Department has its way, the proposed university to be named in his honor will be paid for by money cut from the international exchange program he considered his most important achievement.
In fact, there’s no good reason why the ECA budget should be balanced on the back of the Fulbright Program in the first place. Overall, the federal budget for international exchange programs will actually increase by 1.6% in 2015, to a proposed $577.9 million, while the total proposed budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be $46.2 billion.
Surely that’s money enough to fully fund the Fulbright Program as well as those short-term, shortsighted, potentially explosive unilateral ones. So you have to ask: Why, with all those billions in pocket, must $30 million be snatched from Fulbright and its priceless reputation discounted?
At her confirmation hearing, Evan Ryan gave the game away, signaling to the senators that she knows perfectly well what she’s doing. She assured them that her office was “working closely with regional bureaus to ensure exchange programs are in line with U.S. foreign policy priorities and that they meet the needs of the changing global landscape.”
Soldiers, Not Scholars
There, of course, is the catch. The Fulbright Program was never meant to be a tool of foreign policy, much less a tactic of military intervention. It was and still is “designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Senator Fulbright himself thought Americans had the most to learn. Asked near the end of his life what he had intended by the exchange program, he said, “Aw, hell, I just wanted to educate these goddam ignorant Americans!”
In the aftermath of World War II, he hoped that both the educational and humanizing effects of an international exchange program would promote peace and that within peace would be found authentic security for everyone. At the time, all nations counted and the world was round.
Now the landscape has shifted, and the globe has tilted to match the slant of America’s exceptional (and mostly classified) interests, as well as a version of “national security” dependent upon secrecy, not exchange, and war, not peace. You can see how the land lies today by tracing the dispersal of U.S. troops around that badly bashed and lopsided globe or tracking the itinerary of President Obama, just back from an Asian trip that included a new agreement extending the reach of soldiers, not scholars.
You can search hard and find little trace of those quaint old notions of international understanding and peace on the American agenda. Consider it a sign of the times that a president who, from his Nobel acceptance speech putting in a good word for war to his surges in Afghanistan to the “kill list” he regularly mulls over in the White House, has hardly been a Nobel Prize-quality executive, yet must still repeatedly defend himself against charges that he is too slow and far too wussy to go to war, perhaps as a result of his own “un-American” international childhood.
This is scarcely the moment for Washington to knock one nickel off its budget for international exchange. Longstanding educational partners of the U.S. in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and elsewhere now have other excellent opportunities for intellectual, scientific, and artistic exchange. Meanwhile, the dysfunctional, militarized, pistol-packin’ United States has lost much of its global allure. It was precisely this sort of isolation from the ideas and experiences of other cultures -- self-imposed by our own overweening ignorance -- that Fulbright feared. In his classic book The Arrogance of Power, published in 1966 in the midst of another unnecessary American war, he warned against the historic tendency of powerful nations to mistake military might for moral and intellectual strength and, by overreaching in an attempt to impose their views upon the world, to bring themselves to ruin.
Fulbright was hopeful that the United States might avoid this trap by “finding the wisdom to match her power,” but he was not confident because, as he wrote, “the wisdom required is greater wisdom than any great nation has ever shown before.” It is certainly greater than the wisdom in evidence in Washington today.
Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, and War Is Not Over When It’s Over, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013). She encourages interested readers to check out the website http://www.savefulbright.org.
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Copyright 2014 Ann Jones