Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba

9780745330402Few global conflicts illustrate the vindictive character of US power as dramatically as Washington’s ongoing war against the people of Cuba. The latest episode in this war was unveiled in an AP report detailing a USAID program designed to destabilize Cuban society. Using a social media website named ZunZuneo, the program’s stated objective was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society,” by organizing “smart mobs” willing to overthrow the revolutionary government of Fidel and Raul Castro. This transformation would be made possible through the dissemination of propaganda aimed at discrediting the government. Apart from exposing the geopolitical goals of a purportedly “humanitarian” organization, this story has served as a fascinating case study into the historical amnesia that prevails in some of the most respected sectors of American intellectual culture. Responding to the mild, tactical criticisms made against ZunZuneo, the editorial board of the Washington Post published a statement praising the operation as necessary to undermine Raul Castro, a leader “who [insists] on a level of political control that has gone out of style everywhere except Havana and Pyongyang.” ZunZuneo was, according to the board, simply another strategy in “the Obama administration’s efforts to relieve the Cuban nightmare.”

Conspicuously absent from this statement, and others that mirror it in ideological commitment, is the long history of state-sponsored terrorism directed at Cuba traceable to power centers in Washington. Understanding this record of terror is crucial in developing a more honest and coherent picture of US-Cuba relations. Keith Bolender’s examination of this violent history and its devastating effects on the people of Cuba Voices From the Other Side stands out as a dramatic example of the moral and intellectual courage required to divorce ourselves from the myths propagated by outlets like the Washington Post. Far from a phenomenon unique to the 20th century or Cold War politics, US hostility towards Cuban independence can trace its origins back to the 19th century when the island was a colony of Spain. In 1832 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote that “Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union.” This myth–that the Cuban people are “incapable of self-support”–is a defining feature of US policy towards Cuba that has been embraced by virtually every American President from Kennedy to Obama. It was this myth that allowed the US to fulfill Adam’s desire to subjugate Cuba to American power after the Spanish-American war (often falsely portrayed as the “liberation of Cuba”) and legitimize this annexation through a series of deceptive amendments and treaties, none of which granted Cubans any meaningful degree of independence. Take for example the Teller Amendment of 1898 which declared that the US did not impose its military might on Cuba to seize its territory or economically exploit its people. Instead the US intervened to “leave control of the island to its own people”, words that carry a predictability which should only elicit uncontrollable laughter, at least when they are not being uttered in the presence of more disciplined audiences as when President Obama recently justified Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a war that left this target of first world savagery to “its own people.”

Luis Posada Carriles, 82, walks with his lawyers after leaving the court in El Paso, Texas
Luis Posada

Doubtless, similar sentiments were articulated by President Eisenhower and Kennedy when they laid the groundwork for what Bolender accurately describes as the principal threat in Cuba’s multi-decade war on terror, a war on terror that radically differs from Bush’s “war on terror” in that it doesn’t entail the unleashing of horrific amounts of state-terror against civilians in other countries. While conventional narratives restrict examples of US force in Cuba to the Bay of Pigs failure, the historical record tells a far more gruesome story. Since the initiation of the US assault on the Cuban revolution in 1960 “the personal toll has been calculated at 3,478 dead and 2,099 injured.” Furthermore, “the [Cuban] government has documented approximately 800 terrorist acts inside Cuba since 1960”, the majority of them organized in Miami, often with the cooperation (if not direct participation) of the CIA. Alpha 66, Omega 7 and Commandos F4 are some of the more prominent terrorist organizations responsible for these atrocities. Tactics used to destabilize Cuban society ranged from the bombing of hotels, ammunition ships, civilian airliners, department stores, and movie theaters, machine gunning defenseless neighborhoods, the murder of literacy activists, chemical warfare, psychological warfare and even biological terrorism. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Bolender’s study is that it is not satisfied with mere statistics about these US-backed atrocities. Embedded in this defense of historical memory are several deeply touching and humanizing portraits of the victims of these attacks, how they have dealt with the loss of loved ones and endured in the face of overwhelming odds. Take for instance the story of Jorge De La Nuez and his mother Niuvis. On October 6, 1976 Jorge’s father was murdered on Cubana Airlines Flight 455 after a bombing orchestrated by Luis Posada Carilles, a terrorist who currently resides in Miami, sent Jorge Sr. and the 72 other passengers aboard plunging to their deaths in a ball of fire. Jorge Sr. was the head of a delegation of shrimp fisherman. On the day of his death he was planning to make a surprise visit to his wife as it was their wedding anniversary. Jorge Jr.’s childhood recollection of the moment he discovered his father was murdered is enough to make one tremble with rage:

“So I got home and went upstairs, at the top of the stairs I saw my mother, and she was crying. It was a shock, a hit, to see her crying. I thought ‘why would she be crying?’ My dad is home and she should be happy. When I got to her she grabbed me and gave me a hug, she hugged me hard. She gave me a kiss. She said ‘oh my son’ and I replied ‘what’s the matter mom?’ She said once again ‘oh my son, something terrible has happened.’ And I start screaming ‘What happened to my dad? Why are you crying? You have to be happy.’ My mother told me my dad was not coming back. I thought, well he is not coming home today, when is he coming home? But she said my dad had been in an accident. She said my father would not be coming home ever.”

This stomach-turning story and others like it lend Bolender’s study a unique quality that separates it from traditional academic work on US power which may satisfy all the demands of empirical research and analytical rigor but, for various reasons, fail make the suffering of the victims truly palpable. By doing this, Bolender sheds much-needed light on the severe moral costs attached to criminal policies and how we should position ourselves when evaluating the US role in these atrocities. For instance, Bolender’s description of how Dengue 2, a deadly mosquito borne disease, was introduced in Cuba as a form of biological terrorism finds meaning in a mother’s distress dealing with the loss of one child to the disease only to confront what at the time appeared to be the imminent death of her older child by the same plague. Ariel Alonso Perez, a leading authority on biological terrorism, states “there have been a minimum of 23 events of biological terrorism against Cuba,” a record that has resulted in “more than 100 dead children.” Although there isn’t 100% certainty that the CIA was responsible for this outbreak, strong reasons exist to suspect the agency was behind it, like the fact that “the United States conducted various research projects into biological warfare, including Dengue fever in 1959 at Fort Derrick in Maryland,” or that “Pentagon officials suggested a chemical and bacterial program to contaminate Cuba’s food supplies, and part of the sabotage criteria under Operation Mongoose was to induce failures in food crops.” In 1984 Eduardo Arocena, a Miami-based Cuban terrorist and member of Omega 7, confessed that he was sent on a mission to Cuba in 1980 to introduce “some germs” to the country.

While the imposition of terror through bombing and biological warfare stimulated disorder throughout Cuba, no other attack directly affected as many Cubans as the psychological terror behind what was called Operation Peter Pan. Under this covert operation, run by the CIA and the State Department with the decisive participation of Father Bryan O. Walsh, the Catholic Church in Miami and the Headmaster of Ruston Academy in Havana James Baker, thousands of I-20 student visa applications were illegally processed leading to what Bolender describes as “the exodus of more than 14,000 children from November 1960 to October 1962.” Underpinning this criminal operation was the mass circulation of black propaganda alleging that Fidel Castro and his comrades were plotting to “transfer parental authority to the state.” The foundational source of this psychological operation was a manufactured document called La Patria Potestad or the Act of Parental Authority. Unless Cuban parents sent their children out of the country, prominent members of the clergy argued, “they’d be subject to 15 years in jail, or simply made to disappear.” Also enlisted to take part in this propaganda coup was a radio program called Radio Swan. Radio Swan was created by the CIA in 1960 and was behind the first example of Peter Pan propaganda. In October of 1960 the following message was sent across the airwaves in Cuba:

“Cuban mothers don’t let your son be taken away from you. The new government law is to take your children away at five years old and give them back to you when he is 18 years. And by then he will already be a monster. Attention mothers, go to church, and follow instructions from the clergy.”

Bolender interviews the children, now adults, who were victimized by this psychological operation. Two of the victims are unambiguous in describing the operation as an act of psychological terrorism. Marina Ochoa, a Cuban native who lost her brother at the age of 10 to the operation, stated “there is the instillation of fear, the targets are civilian, there is a purpose to disrupt government functions, and the act is designed to achieve political aims. What else do we need to call it an act of terrorism?” Incidentally, we can ask the same question about the Obama administration’s “Cuban Twitter” program as it also meets this standard criteria only with a human cost that is , thankfully, much less devastating. As late as the 1980s, decades after the program was initiated, the US State Department rejected a request from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees “to help reunite Cuban children with their parents.” Other examples of US defiance of the international community include the refusal to lift the economic embargo against Cuba despite overwhelming opposition (in October 2013 the UN vote on the embargo was 188 to 2 with the US and Israel voting in favor of maintaining the blockade) and the imprisonment of the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five

In September of 2001 the Cuban Five–Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guererro and Fernando Gonzalez–were sentenced to four life sentences and 75 years for “conspiracy to commit espionage, being unregistered agents for a foreign power and holding false documents.” In a revealing precursor to the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers the Cuban Five were actually punished for infiltrating and blowing the whistle on Miami-based terrorist organizations. When the Cuban Ministry of the Interior provided a FBI delegation with “detailed accounts of actions and plans, recording of phone conversations, videos, samples of explosive substances and other information their agents had gathered from infiltration work in Miami,” the FBI responded by using the material to reveal the identities of the Cuban agents and arrest them. Much like the response to Chelsea Manning’s release of the Collateral Murder video, this incident is a glaring indication of just how low a priority preventing terrorism is to the power elite especially if that terrorism is directed towards official enemies. The real criminals under this imperial logic are those who expose this gangsterism. Despite the fact that the case of the Cuban Five holds the ignoble distinction of being “the only judicial proceeding in United States history condemned by the Work Group of Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights”–the Commission described the sentences as “not impartial” and “excessively severe”–when the case was presented to the Supreme Court in June of 2009 they “refused to hear the case.” Reflecting on the absurdity of the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, the wife of Rene Gonzalez, Olga Salanueva, noted “We had no choice but to prevent these [terrorist] acts by sending men for the sake of our country and family … We couldn’t invade Florida, like America did to Afghanistan.”

It’s worth mentioning that these crimes make up a mere fraction of the catalog of murder, torture, lies and exploitation featured in this incredibly penetrating and moving look at the world from the other side of the Godfather’s gun. Simply recommending or sharing a copy of this text with a friend or colleague constitutes a form of humanitarian intervention that regularly escapes some of the most educated members of privileged society who are more concerned with bringing the right weapon to a “flame war” than seriously examining the historical roots of popular discontent with US policies abroad. None of the lessons imparted in this book can be absorbed through articles which praise attacks on sovereignty as worthy or “applause” or a sign of the “imagination” and “ingenuity” needed to put Cubans in their place. Propaganda of this kind encourages thuggish behavior under the assumption that the Castros and their supporters are, in the words of Johnathan Mahler, “not gentle socialists.”  Works like Voices from the Other Side dares us, as citizens of the empire, to outgrow the sanitized, polite, and not coincidentally, psychologically comfortable discourse preoccupied with data retention and defending US “interests.” Bolender compels us to view the world through new eyes, through the lens of the Other. Those interested in waging this authentic war on terror will no doubt consider Bolender’s book, in many ways, unprecedented both in its attention to detail and moral maturity. For these reasons, Voices from the Other Side is a towering achievement in the highest tradition of dissident literature.


The Godfather’s Wish for Ukraine

The Subject:

XB: *Disclaimer: Unless you’re in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or any other country where we want to send drones.

MG: only to preserve their independence. Which of this countries did US anex? none!

MZ: You forgot about Egypt

XB: Bombing Pakistani civilians from the sky does not help them preserve independence. It violates their independence. This is even conceded by the Peshawar High Court in Pakistan which considers drone strikes a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Throughout history military superpowers have reflexively justified their resort to violence by saying they were carrying it out for the good of the country they are invading. Fascist Japan did this, Germany did this, France did this and the British Empire did this. Thinking people ignore such statements because they are entirely predictable.

You also ask which countries did the US annex. Did you forget that the US wouldn’t exist if it were not for the annexation of half of Mexico and the Mexican-American war, a war that continued a genocidal campaign against America’s original inhabitants?

Or if this is too remote, what about the annexation of Hawaii or Puerto Rico? These territories were stolen by the US. In the case of Puerto Rico there is still a Puerto Rican independence movement.

Incidentally, I should note that even if the US annexed zero countries throughout it’s history this is the wrong thing we should be focusing on. What we should be focusing on is the impact of US intervention in other countries.

If we focus on this I think President Obama’s words about upholding ideals of independence become more transparent for the lies they are. The US only believes in independence when doing so conforms with its strategic and economic interests. This is how States and power systems behave. Everything else is public relations.



GC: For a good cause.!! …. is the key!

XB: @GC: Are you arguing that the US bombs other countries for a good cause? I don’t understand your comment.

@MZ: I also forgot about Palestine, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and a host of other countries. Indeed, the list is long.

AI: All those countries governments are typically notified about the drone use prior to any attacks. Their governments coordinate with the US military and often supply the intelligence….. The reason why these governments and their officials don’t announce their cooperation with the US forces is because they will most likely not get re-elected, because the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said….

DS: I have an idea, XB…how ’bout the US stop all foreign aid, and use those wasted tax dollars to fix our own problems? Go back to a policy of isolationism. If the rest of the world can’t keep up, too bad. Adapt, adopt, improvise…or cease to exist.

XB: @AI: What difference does it make that the country being bombed is notified prior to them being attacked? Would you support another country bombing the US and killing American civilians as long as they notified the US government before they did it? Drone strikes are clearly in violation of international law which restricts the use to force those who have received UN Security Council authorization. In the case of Obama’s drone strikes not only has he not received such authorization but he didn’t even try to get authorization.

Then there’s the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA, which runs the drone program, to participate in war. This is even conceded in the Yale International Law Journal. Here scholar Andrew Burt notes the following:

“In what ways, then, are civilian CIA drone operators legally distinct from the unprivileged belligerents they target? A strong argument exists that if civilians are operating armed drones, they assume a ‘continuous combat function’ and thus are unlawfully taking a direct part in hostilities based on their status. If so, then according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), they would be considered an ‘armed organized group’ and apparently legally indistinguishable from the terrorists they target.”

I should add Burt is not an opponent of drone warfare but even he can see that drone strikes, in their current form, expose the US to credible accusations of criminality (he calls the argument I cited above “strong.”) Aside from this, drones disproportionately murder innocent civilians. UN official Ben Emmerson recently cited 30 separate attacks that require “public explanation.”

You are also ignoring some other relevant facts. Last December the parliament in Yemen “called for a stop to drone attacks in a symbolic vote that reflected growing public anxiety about Washington’s use of the unmanned aircraft to combat al Qaeda in the impoverished country.” In this same month the UN “adopted the resolution calling on US … to comply with international law.” President Obama most recently boycotted a conference on drones. Why do you think he boycotted the conference? If it’s a legitimate exercise of military force why would he do this? The answer isn’t obscure.

Your comment that “the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said,” is also worth examining. A brief look a global public opinion reveals that clear majorities or pluralities in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North Africa are opposed to drone strikes. 90% of Greeks are against it. 59% of Germans are against drones and 76% of Spanish citizens oppose drone strikes.

To quote the Pew report “A 2012 survey of 19 countries plus the U.S. found that, in 17 of them, more than half disapproved of the U.S. conducting drone strikes to target extremists. The policy was particularly unpopular in majority Muslim nations, but it also faced disapproval in Europe and other regions as well.” Would you include the populations of all these countries in the “ignorant” public that “attaches to statements” like the one I just said?

Now with this wealth of legal analysis, rulings and global public opinion data it’s worth asking why this information is not well known. The answer is unambiguous and quite ugly namely that the Obama administration doesn’t give a damn about what the victims of US policy think or what the populations in other countries think, even when opposition is as overwhelming as the figures I just cited.

If any public is filled with “ignorance” on this topic it’s the American public, where a majority of citizens (65%) support drone strikes, a real outlier in global public opinion. I should say it’s not entirely the fault of the American public. I think the vast indifference in America to drone strikes is a natural consequence when we have a corporate media that fails to or inadequately covers any of the relevant information I just mentioned .

In a free society the views of the public should have some influence in policy making. It’s in this spirit that I criticize the drone policy, not to lead on an “ignorant” public. By the way, your argument that Obama’s drone bombings are legitimate because he notifies the government of those countries carries an interesting logical conclusion.

If it’s fair for Obama to bomb Pakistan, Yemen or any other country because he notified the government, was the Russian invasion of Crimea also legitimate? The Russians have claimed that Yanukovych requested they intervene in Crimea. If true, would this justify Russia’s intervention? I don’t think it would.

@ DS: I think what you are calling US “aid” is a bit misleading. I also think your statement has an underlying assumption that the US is a benevolent empire constantly sticking its neck out for the poor and dispossessed. I don’t agree with this portrayal. Much of the aid the US provides to the world is military aid. If the US dramatically cut back on military aid I would support it enthusiastically. I also think we should be giving reparations, not aid, to the several countries in the world we have devastated. Iraq would be a good start. After this is done then I would accept an isolationist policy.









Policing “Irresponsibility”: Crimea, El Salvador & the Fight Against Public Participation

yatsContrary to preferred myth, it’s quite natural for political elites to despise democracy. Democracy threatens their wealth and privilege therefore it is to be avoided at any cost. The historical evidence for this assertion is overwhelming. From the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, Guatemalan democracy in 1954, Chilean democracy in 1973 or Haitian democracy in 1990, there are few principles in international relations as enduring as this. Even the Founding Fathers made known their distaste for democratic norms. James Madison, one of the framers of the US Constitution, defined the purpose of government as “[protecting] the minority of the opulent against the majority.” John Jay, author of the Federalist papers, asserted those who “own the country ought to govern it” while Thomas Jefferson endorsed the concept of a “natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.”

It therefore should come as no great surprise that the Obama administration embraced this tradition in its refusal to raise a critical word when Ukraine’s democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, was deposed in a coup. Less surprising is the fact that the Obama administration welcomed Yanukovych’s successor, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, into the oval office as if he were Ukraine’s legitimately elected leader. Whatever one thinks of the legality of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the referendum to determine its national status, one cannot take seriously the statements coming out of Washington. President Obama’s statements concerning international law and “illegal elections” not only invites ridicule in lieu of the historical record but current events as well.

Reacting to the 93% of Crimeans who chose to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the Obama administration passed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Russian officials, stating “Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation.” Based on this comment one could get the impression that the Obama administration is in favor of free and fair elections, not “illegal referendums.” Nevertheless, at the same time that the Obama White House was condemning the referendum in Crimea they were “threatening to withhold development aid” from El Salvador unless the winner of its presidential elections, the FMLN’s Sánchez Cerén, adopted “economic policies that are anathema to the ruling coalition of left and center forces that have been working together over the last five years.” Furthermore, the election in El Salvador was declared to be free and fair by the Organization of American States. According to journalist Madeleine Conway the OAS described the election as “the most transparent in El Salvador’s history.” Brigitte Gynther of School of Americas Watch described the election as “very transparent, with important new electoral reforms being carried out such as neighborhood voting.” SOA Watch’s sponsor, the Center for Exchange and Solidarity, “characterized them as the most efficient and transparent elections they’ve seen in all 10 election observer delegations they’ve done since 1994,” while election monitor Richard Hobbes described the election as “clean and transparent”, attributing the FMLN victory to “significant advances made during the past 4-5 years.”
83464673b7875a2d7dc07ce038c487d72d133cabAmong the significant advances the FMLN made were the “implementation of a healthcare program that includes primary clinics throughout the country, regional hospitals and government funding for preventive health measures.” Currently, 80-85% of the population receive free healthcare, just one intolerable crime among many others, like the fact that “other reforms [included] free school uniforms and a glass of milk every day for schoolchildren.” In the place of these policies Washington favors imposing a “Public-Private Partnership” that will essentially deliver El Salvador’s economy to the corporate sector. Not only are unions deprived protection under this policy but “If fully implemented, the law would threaten the job security of over 120,000 public-sector workers, who have seen wages drop as services have become privatized.” US Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte has now decided to delay US commitments to the Millennium Challenge Corporation–“a US agency that provides foreign assistance on a competitive basis”–unless the Salvadoran leadership accedes to Washington’s demands. That this naked act of economic coercion will be overlooked should be taken as a given, assuming, of course, that those in the intellectual class continue in fulfilling their institutional task of upholding the Madisonian ideal to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

One graphic example of the reigning ideology within certain dominant sectors in Washington can be found in an article that appeared in the Miami Herald titled High stakes for U.S. in El Salvador’s election. In this article former South Carolina Senator Jim Demint warns “An election is taking place in Central America in three weeks that will affect how safe we are here in our homes and on our streets.” What is the cause of this alarm? “El Salvador may be about to turn into a gang haven that will act as a transit point for drugs plunging America’s inner cities further into crime and despair,” and more ominously, this threat can be “laid at the White House’s door.” Demint proceeds to describe Sánchez Cerén as “no friend of the United States,” and someone who “celebrated al-Qaida’s attack on us on 9/11 by leading a street mob that burned an American flag.” Under Cerén’s un-“friendly” leadership, Demint warned, El Salvador would be converted into a “narco-principality.”

Putting aside the blatant attempt to fear-monger the American public by perpetuating Reagan era stereotypes about “violent Hispanic narcotraffickers,” (an “unwanted animal at a garden party” as George H.W. Bush described Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega) it’s worth examining why Cerén might be “no friend” of Washington. Could it be that throughout the 1980s the US subjected El Salvador to a massive campaign of state-directed international terror, killing thousands of civilians? This terrorist campaign included the killings in El Mozote where “the Salvadoran army’s elite Atlacatl Battalion, which was created, funded, trained and armed by the United States, massacred more than nine hundred peasants… Most of the victims were women and children.” Throughout this bloody period in El Salvador’s history the US “provided more than four billion dollars in military and economic aid,” aid which increased as atrocities mounted. The principal aim during this period was to create a “centrist, non-communist government in El Salvador”, “non-communist” maintaining its conventional ideological definition of anyone who follows US orders. So for those not afflicted with historical amnesia, the cause of Cerén’s animosity towards Washington, if there is any, is not only unambiguous but quite rational. Just imagine if a fraction were done to the US.
Stop Frisk BTIncidentally, one doesn’t have to look to El Salvador or Crimea to observe the myths of power at work. Equally revealing examples can be discovered at home. Last week a UN human rights committee in Geneva condemned the United States on a range of domestic and international abuses from NSA spying, drone warfare, gun violence and racial inequality. In a report ignored by the establishment press, the committee raised objections to the “enduring racial disparities in the [US] justice system, including large numbers of black prisoners serving longer sentences than whites”, “racial profiling by police, including the mass surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York police department”, and “segregation in schools.” The Obama administration was also criticized for its “failure to prosecute any of the officials responsible for permitting water-boarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques under the previous administration.” Instead of responding to these criticisms constructively through policy proposals the head of the US delegation Mary McLeod deflected scrutiny, saying “While we are certainly not perfect, our network of federal, state and local institutions provide checks on government.”

In regard to the committee’s criticisms of drone strikes, the US delegation responded that the bombings were “conducted in manner consistent with domestic and international law.” This is despite serious questions raised by UN official Ben Emmerson, who cited 30 drone strikes that require “public explanation,” or the uncontroversial fact that the UN Charter prohibits the use of military force against other countries without Security Council authorization, a principle reflexively invoked by US officials when faced with Russian crimes. Following this UN critique Rania Khalek published a report on a US drone strike that “murdered a child for suspected links to Al Qaeda based on evidence no one, except for President Obama and his inner circle, is allowed to see.” Obad Abdulla Al-Shabwan, a 16-year-old from Yemen’s Al-Shabwan tribe, was killed in a US drone strike on March 10th despite protests from his relatives that Al-Shabwan had no involvement in Al Qaeda. The Yemen Times reported that Al-Shabwan’s relatives informed them that his “friends and relatives have also been recently targeted by drone strikes.” Perhaps the political class would categorize these acts of attempted murder alongside the rest: “conducted in manner consistent with domestic and international law.”

Comparing the silence which surrounds these reports to the feigned outrage over Russian crimes, the obvious consequence of elite hatred for democracy is made clearer. Crimes of official enemies are magnified while crimes for which the US is responsible are routinely overlooked. Both the knowledge and victims of these crimes are immediately suppressed as well. This is why President Obama can denounce “illegal referendums” in Crimea and no one laughs or Salvadoran democracy can be undermined and few, if anyone, protests. Anticipating Salvador Allende’s electoral victory in 1970 National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is recorded to have said “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” This myth–that public participation in governmental decision-making encourages disorder–is at the heart of the powerful’s hatred for democracy. The US stance towards human rights at home, in El Salvador and in Crimea is just the latest example. Surely those victimized by these policies find Washington’s contempt transparent. The question for those of us willing to struggle for a democratic society at home is “do we?”

Greenwald, Glenn. With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. New York: Metropolitan /Henry Holt and, 2011. Print.
Herman, Edward S. The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda. Boston: South End, 1982. Print.
Leech, Garry M. Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia. Boston: Beacon, 2009. Print.
Elections in El Salvador.” Presente! [Washington DC] 2014, Vol. 19 ed.: n. pag.

Can the Gangster Recruit the Pope?

The Subject: Source: Mediaitehttp://www.mediaite.com/online/obama-trying-to-recruit-the-pope-as-ally-in-push-to-address-inequality/

AJ: They are both liberals…

XB: When you say Obama is a “liberal” in what sense are you using the term? In terms of his economic policies and his foreign policy he has been very right wing. For example, his Affordable Care Act was modeled after a healthcare program first proposed by the Heritage Foundation. In terms of civil liberties he has been more right wing than George W. Bush. This includes his defense of the NSA, record deportations, a pardon record worse than Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., and a refusal to do anything of value on the ecological front. For example, he has not ratified the Kyoto Protocols, a protocol 192 other countries have assented to. In the realm of foreign policy one can just look at his extrajudicial assassination campaign where he murders terror suspects without charge or trial. Bush kidnapped and tortured suspects which is damnable but not as bad as outright murder. I think it is an insult to actual liberalism to call Obama a liberal. I agree that he may be more liberal in terms of things like gay marriage and reproductive rights but on core policy issues that determine the organization of power in the US he is very right wing.

Here are some sources:


EB: @ XB: Keep in mind he didn’t start the Wars that brought down all the hate against Americans.

XB: @EB: It’s true that Obama did not start the war in Afghanistan and Iraq but I think it’s a mistake to say “all the hate against Americans” that we are now witnessing across the world is simply the product of the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legitimate resentment that many oppressed populations of the world have toward the US can be attributed to US support for repressive dictatorships and its consistent opposition to democratic change in strategically significant areas of the globe.

Long before Bush launched the so-called war on terror there was a reservoir of hatred for US policies in the Middle East. The difference with the Bush administration was that the September 11th attacks finally forced many Americans who were otherwise indifferent to the suffering of others to start paying more attention to what underlies the hatred.

So I think it doesn’t tell us much to ask who started the disastrous situation the US and the world now finds itself in because every administration has been identical in its belligerence in this respect. Rather the question should be if President Obama, when presented with this history of oppression, chose to rectify for past wrongs or expand upon the criminality that characterized his predecessors.

I think at every turn Obama has done the latter. Maybe the most illustrative example of his decision to continue in the tradition of criminality was when he advised that we “look forward, not backwards,” when faced with the question of investigating the Bush administration for torture.

EB: @ XB: Keep in mind. US presidents that have gone too far in exposing the wrong doings by the US were killed. Kennedy comes to mind. I think Obama is well Ware of that he can only do so much. The money machine that profits from war is very powerful

XB: I think it’s incorrect to characterize Kennedy as someone who was killed because he went “too far” in “exposing the wrongdoings of the US.” A reading of US history demonstrates that Kennedy played a decisive role in perpetuating crimes. This includes supporting the military dictatorship in Guatemala and the bombing of South Vietnam, which was an act of military aggression by the standards of the United Nations. He also attempted to murder Fidel Castro and authorized covert terrorist attacks against Cuba.

But suppose your assertion is true and any President who dares to challenge US criminality is bound to be assassinated. Does this in any way justify the resort to criminality? All this suggests is that President Obama is not only a war criminal but a coward. If you think murdering innocent men, women, and children in illegal wars is worth continuing in order to prevent your own assassination I think you don’t deserve any respect as a leader. People in the so-called third world stand up for what they think is right under far more severe forms of repression with the near-certainty that they will be murdered.

But quite apart from these speculations can you cite any period from President Obama’s presidency that hinted that he was someone who opposed US criminality outside of the quite standard tactical objections to savagery that is commonplace in imperial society? Take for example Obama’s so-called critique of the Iraq war. He called it “dumb.”

Murdering an estimated 500,000 people in an illegal invasion and occupation is not a “dumb” decision, it’s an international crime which would have landed weaker leaders in the Hague to be tried and possibly executed. Even when Obama withdrew from Iraq he only did so because the Maliki government wouldn’t grant US soldiers legal immunity (the so-called zero option.)

I think it’s the task of informed citizens to harshly criticize the criminal policies of national leaders. We shouldn’t be making excuses for them. There’s a huge and immensely influential media apparatus that does this for every president. If we discard the rhetoric and simply look at Obama’s policies I think you’d arrive at a similar conclusion.

MR: They speak the SAME language and I LOVE IT!!!

XB: You do know that Obama is the same guy who said “I’m really good at killing people,” in regard to his international campaign of extrajudicial murder? What do you think Pope Francis would have to say about murdering people from the sky without charge or trial?http://www.slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2013/11/03/double_down_obama_said_he_s_really_good_at_killing_people.html

MR: @ XB: I live in a community where crime is normalcy and black and brown children are numb to it. This was waaay before President Obama took the oath of office.

XB: What does this have to do with the question that I posed? I simply asked what the Pope would think about extrajudicial murder. Also where in my comment did you sense any undertone on race relations? My point wasn’t a comment on race. It was a comment on morality. Can you expand upon your comment because I’m having a hard time figuring out why it’s relevant to my comment about drone strikes.

Amnesty International’s May-saying

The Subject:

EH: AI’s may-saying is tiring to hear. We didn’t hear such may-saying when their reports involved other states.

XB: Yes. Amnesty researcher Mustafa Qadri begins this interview by saying “we’re not saying that the entire program constitutes war crimes,” but if the UN Charter means anything the drone program (in its entirety) is a massive war crime. Further into the interview Qadri reiterated this point saying “We’re not saying that drones should stop. We’re not saying drones as a weapon are unlawful. What we’re saying is this program the U.S. has, the U.S. has not provided a satisfactory legal basis, and these cases may be unlawful.”

Even if they are going to treat the UN Charter as completely irrelevant, which really defeats the purpose of having an organization dedicated to upholding human rights, a respect for democracy should compel them to look at public opinion polls where there is overwhelming opposition to this terrorist campaign. This alone should be enough to demand the immediate termination of this program.

Pew Research reported this past May that “About three-quarters (74%) of Pakistanis said the drone strikes killed too many innocent people.” The Pew report went on to say “A 2012 survey of 19 countries plus the U.S. found that, in 17 of them, more than half disapproved of the U.S. conducting drone strikes to target extremists. The policy was particularly unpopular in majority Muslim nations, but it also faced disapproval in Europe and other regions as well.”

Why can’t they bring themselves to denounce the entire program as unlawful? It’s a good thing that the savagery of drone warfare is finally beginning to penetrate elite discussion but the limited nature of the critique is quite shameful especially if you imagine how this “may-saying” sounds to the thousands of people on the receiving end of US terror.



If Frost Could Interview Obama: A Call Against Bombing Syria

Veteran British journalist David Frost has died at the age of 74 from a heart attack. Frost is widely remembered as the journalist who in 1977 conducted the historic interviews with President Richard Nixon. It’s instructive to revisit the Frost/Nixon interviews as they give us rich insight into the reigning  ethos that influences decision-makers in Washington today. In an effort to justify the crimes exposed in the Watergate Scandal, Nixon memorably said “when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” It’s worth noting that  Nixon wasn’t articulating some new, exotic principle. Rather he was reiterating a long-standing doctrine of American imperialism, only in more brazen terms. That doctrine, simply put, is that the president is above the law. Indeed, Watergate was one of Nixon’s lesser crimes. Another illegality that defined the Nixon presidency was the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected government headed by Salvador Allende and the installation of the tyrannical regime of Augusto Pinochet. Central to this US-organized military takeover was an effort to impose conditions that would “make [Chile’s] economy scream,” to borrow the Nixon administration’s phrase. This is to say nothing of the thousands of tortured, murdered, and “disappeared” Chileans made to join the economy in its anguished screams.

9226403_448x252Coupled with Nixon’s crimes in Latin America was an intensification of the aggressive war in Indochina–in particular the terror bombing of Cambodia–and his participation in the illegal domestic surveillance program known as COINTELPRO, a grievous assault on first amendment rights of assembly. None of these much more egregious crimes elicited the same accusations of criminality in high places as those which characterized the Watergate Scandal.  Reviewing how these crimes have been made invisible throughout history, one can’t help but consider it a tribute to this culture of impunity that Nixon’s doctrine–“when the president does it that means that it is not illegal”–endures in more virulent form within today’s policy circles. President Obama is inching closer to war with Syria after reports of Syrian president Bashar Assad allegedly using sarin gas against civilians in the country’s ongoing civil war. “We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large-scale against its own people, against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency,” Obama piously stated in a recent interview.

This statement is coming from the same leader who carries out extrajudicial assassinations via drones on a regular basis, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including between 168 and 200 children in Pakistan, all in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. Yet the president is morally undeterred in condemning the atrocities of official enemies. In a public announcement of the war-plan in the White House rose garden he informed the nation that even though he was making the decision to get Congressional approval, he had the authority to go to war without the stamp of the legislative branch, pure nonsense. The president has a right to bomb Syria “no matter what Congress does,” asserted Secretary of State John Kerry. It may puzzle some why the president would seek approval from a parliamentary body he has already declared beforehand as powerless. The answer to this puzzle can be traced back to the Nixon doctrine. Even if a president makes gestures demonstrating respect for law it’s much more important to assert the broader ideology that the law simply does not apply to imperial warlords, that “it’s not illegal when the president does it.” President Obama must project the image of a “wolf” that “doesn’t need to cry wolf”, of an “American eagle” that stands for “restrained moral powerpower that is absolutely lethal and purposeful when it is unleashed . . .” These are excerpts from the erotic musings of Time magazine’s liberal columnist Joe Klein, an enterprising analyst who showcased his capacity for “restrained moral power” when he soothed the consciences of drone war opponents by reminding them that what really matters is “whose four-year olds are being killed.” Somehow this commentary escaped the corporate media’s obsession with “moral monstrosities” that violate not only international norms but much more sacred “standard’s of decency.”

“But something must be done.” “Assad violated long-standing international norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.” “He didn’t just use chemical weapons against anybody. He used these odious weapons against his own people!” These are common arguments for military intervention and putting aside orientalist phrases like “his own people” they aren’t completely unpersuasive. But why not take this reasoning to its logical conclusion? If the United States–the ultra-violent, hyper-militarized, self-proclaimed “indispensable nation” of the world–has a right to bomb Syria should not lesser powers be entitled to do the same to us? Should not the Maliki government in Iraq be making “initial preparations” to bomb Washington for its use of white phosphorous on Iraqi civilians during the criminal siege of Fallujah, a siege whose effects continue to reverberate in the city’s general hospital in the form of horrific birth defects courtesy of the depleted uranium unleashed from US munitions? No sensible person would advocate this not only because of the transparent barbarism of this response but because such an act would be a flagrant violation of he UN Charter which restricts the use of military force to acts of self-defense, which can’t possibly be argued in the US case against Syria.

Even establishment publications have been forced to recognize the lawlessness that would lie behind a military attack on Syria. “So, unless the [United Nations] Security Council authorizes action, the United States and its participating allies would be in violation of international law in using military force against Syria,” affirmed David Kaye in Foreign Affairs magazine. “No international law supports a U.S. attack on Syria, even in the face of mass killing by internationally prohibited weapons.” Incidentally, the question of UN approval has been completely excised from the national conversation about bombing Syria, another sign of the resilience of the Nixon doctrine. Also excised from the national conversation are cogent, non-militaristic and, crucially, legal solutions to the ongoing crisis in Syria. Take for example the position of Amnesty International who advised that “the best way for the United States to signal its abhorrence for war crimes and crimes against humanity and to promote justice in Syria, would be to reaffirm its support for the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court.” Amnesty also advises that the US “increase support to neighboring countries where refugees are fleeing; offer resettlement and humanitarian admission programs and robustly fund the United Nations’ Syria Regional Response Plans.” Again, sensible alternatives to war but unmentionable because they are incompatible with the religiously mandated resort to violence which is “absolutely lethal and purposeful when it is unleashed . . .” Questions can also be raised about stopping US supply of weapons to the opposition or the refusal of the US to confront petromonarchs in Saudi Arabia who are undoubtedly funding a large share of the violence in Syria. Perhaps these questions would annoy president Obama just as he was “annoyed” by UK prime minister David Cameron’s “stumbles” when he committed the heresy of following the will of his domestic population by accepting the parliamentary vote against intervention in Syria when he should have gotten down on his knees and kissed the godfather’s ring.

Faced with this unambiguous record of US criminality and hypocrisy it only becomes more fascinating to contemplate what David Frost, had he not succumbed to a heart attack, would have asked Obama were he granted a final interview, an interview on a topic of much greater national import than a president bugging the offices of his Democratic rivals. Would he ask, as he asked Nixon, whether or not the president of the United States was invested with the authority to decide that an act was “in the best interest of the nation . . . and do something illegal.” One can only speculate but Obama’s answer would plausibly be identical to Nixon’s: “when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” Prominent media organizations would also most likely rationalize the president’s response as yet another example of an “American eagle” exercising “moral restraint” in the service of national “credibility” but I doubt anyone would argue that such brazenness would fall within the bounds of generally accepted “standards of decency”.