Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:19:50 -0400 en-gb Clinton and the Coup: Amid Protests in Honduras, Ex-President on Hillary's Role in His 2009 Ouster http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32098-clinton-and-the-coup-amid-protests-in-honduras-ex-president-on-hillary-s-role-in-his-2009-ouster http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32098-clinton-and-the-coup-amid-protests-in-honduras-ex-president-on-hillary-s-role-in-his-2009-ouster

In Honduras, as many as 25,000 people marched Friday demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The protests come six years after a coup ousted Honduras's democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. In an exclusive interview, Zelaya talks about the new protest movement, the fallout from the 2009 coup, and Hillary Clinton's role in his ouster. "On the one hand, [the Obama administration] condemned the coup, but on the other hand, they were negotiating with the leaders of the coup," Zelaya said. "And Secretary Clinton lent herself to that, maintaining that ambiguity of U.S. policy to Honduras, which has resulted in a process of distrust and instability of Latin American governments in relation to U.S. foreign policies." While the United States publicly supported Zelaya's return to power, newly released emails show Clinton was attempting to set up a back channel of communication with Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as Honduran president after the coup. In one email, Clinton referenced lobbyist and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis. She wrote, "Can he help me talk w Micheletti?" At the time, Davis was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup. In another email, Thomas Shannon, the State Department's lead negotiator for the Honduras talks, refers to Manuel Zelaya as a "failed" leader.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Imprisoned in Ethiopia for 438 Days: Journalist Recounts Facing Arrest, Mock Execution and Terror Charges http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32096-imprisoned-in-ethiopia-for-438-days-journalist-recounts-facing-arrest-mock-execution-and-terror-charges http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32096-imprisoned-in-ethiopia-for-438-days-journalist-recounts-facing-arrest-mock-execution-and-terror-charges

While President Obama visited Ethiopia on Monday, he made a passing reference to press freedom, calling on the Ethiopian government to "open additional space for journalists, for media, for opposition voices." The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Ethiopia as one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent. At least 11 journalists and bloggers are currently in prison. Six others were released just before Obama's visit. We look at the remarkable story of two Swedish journalists who traveled to Ethiopia in 2011 to report on the actions of the Swedish oil company Lundin Oil in the Ogaden region, where there has been a fight for independence since the 1970s. Five days after crossing the border from Somalia to Ethiopia, the journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were shot and captured by the Ethiopian army. "We were both shot during the arrest. We were kept in the desert,” Schibbye said. "They brought in some Steven Spielberg figure, who turned out to be the vice president of the region, who made a mockumentary about what happened when we were arrested. They brought in fake rebels, who they gave guns, and it was a total surreal episode where we, under gunpoint, had to participate in the movie that was supposed to be shown on Ethiopian state television and also used in court to sentence us for support of terrorism." Schibbye and Persson ended up spending over a year in prison, which they chronicle in their book, 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia's Most Infamous Prison.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
In Ethiopia, Obama Hails Democracy Despite Recent Election Where Ruling Party Won 100 Percent of Seats http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32095-in-ethiopia-obama-hails-democracy-despite-recent-election-where-ruling-party-won-100-percent-of-seats http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32095-in-ethiopia-obama-hails-democracy-despite-recent-election-where-ruling-party-won-100-percent-of-seats

On Monday, President Obama made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia. But he is facing criticism after twice describing Ethiopia as having a democratically elected government despite the fact human rights groups have denounced Ethiopia's democracy as a "sham." In a recent election, for example, Ethiopia's ruling party won 100 percent of the country's 547 Parliament seats. Human Rights Watch criticized the government in a recent report, writing, "Authorities use arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and perceived supporters of opposition political parties." We speak with Horace Campbell, professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics. His new piece for CounterPunch is called "Obama in Kenya."

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Academic Workers' Union Calls on AFL-CIO to Terminate Police Union's Membership http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32094-academic-workers-union-calls-on-afl-cio-to-terminate-police-union-s-membership http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32094-academic-workers-union-calls-on-afl-cio-to-terminate-police-union-s-membership

United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union representing 13,000 teaching assistants and other student workers throughout the University of California, called on the AFL-CIO to end its affiliation with the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) in a resolution passed by its governing body on July 25.

The resolution came in the wake of a letter written by the UAW's Black Interests Coordinating Committee (BICC). The group formed in December 2014 in response to the acquittals of police officers in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and is largely inspired by recent actions in the Black Lives Matter movement. With the letter, BICC aims to "start a really difficult conversation that the labor movement has had in the past and needs to continue to have around the intersections of race and labor, economic privation and racial disparity," according to BICC member Brandon Buchanan, a graduate student currently studying Sociology at UC Davis who serves as Head Steward.

The letter charges that police associations operate in ways that are antithetical to the mission statement of the AFL-CIO, particularly its stated goal "to fulfill the yearning of the human spirit for liberty, justice and community; to advance individual and associational freedom; [and] to vanquish oppression, privation and cruelty in all their forms."

It provides historical evidence to its allegations, saying, "Police unions in particular emerge out of a long history of police intervention in labor politics and its complicity in racial violence," before referencing deadly disputes with activist workers in the 19th century, the defense of Jim Crow segregation, the lobbying that enabled the circumstances of Freddie Gray's death and the crackdown on the Occupy movement across the country as examples of American police acting as a "violent supressive force."

The letter can be read in full here.

The letter was presented by Buchanan on behalf of BICC to the joint council of UAW Local 2865, the local's governing board. According to Buchanan, the letter and its call to the AFL-CIO were endorsed overwhelmingly.

"The AFL-CIO is an enormous part of the labor movement. It has a lot of say, it influences elections, it is an organization which serves to build a lot of solidarity between a number of different unions," Buchanan told In These Times. "But at the same time, one of the things that we noticed is that it also has these police associations which are a part of it—police associations who have consistently worked not necessarily in the interest of workers, in particular black workers, but instead have upheld a capitalist status quo as well as white supremacy."

The endorsed letter echoes the sentiment made by Shawn Gude last year at Jacobin:

When there's mass resistance to poverty and inequality, it's the cops who are summoned to calm the panic-stricken hearts of the elite. They bash some heads, or infiltrate and disrupt some activist groups, and all is right in the world again.

Such is the inherent defect of law-enforcement unionism: It's peopled by those with a material interest in maintaining and enlarging the state's most indefensible practices.

Earlier this year, in an article entitled "Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions," human rights attorney Flint Taylor gave an overview of such sordid practices for In These Times.

Buchanan says that while the endorsement came with an overwhelming majority of the governing board voting in favor, there was concern from certain members who questioned whether the endorsement would alienate those who had relationships with people in the police force.

"This is not about individuals. We're not talking about or calling out individual people. We're calling out structures of power," Buchanan stresses in response. "We're not saying that [police officers] are individually bad. But what we're talking about is things like vilifying black bodies to protect police officers who brutalize and kill black people and then get away with it with the support of these police associations."

UAW 2865's governing body made similar waves with its activist streak last year when it became the first American local to endorse the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

While numerous American unions have held actions against police brutality in the past year (such as the May Day port shutdowns by ILWU Local 10 in Oakland and ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina), UAW 2865 is the first local to explicitly call for disassociation between police unions and the rest of organized labor currently operating under the umbrella of the national federation.

In a story detailing the history of police unions and organized labor for Al Jazeera America in December, Ned Resnikoff reported that an AFL-CIO spokesperson downplayed any tension between the two sides, saying, "The AFL-CIO is like any family. … With 57 affiliated unions and a diversity of membership there is bound to be some disagreement."

Buchanan believes that disaffiliation between the AFL-CIO and IUPA would mean that the IUPA would lose legitimacy as an organization and thus transfer AFL-CIO support from police associations and instead towards people of color and their communities, who he says have been traditionally locked out of organizing spaces.

"It's a question of legitimacy. Having [the AFL-CIO] disaffiliate demonstrates that if our union organizing is meant to address the interests of workers—and black workers are included in that—then these police associations are inimical to those interests," Buchanan says.

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News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Salvador's Draconian Abortion Laws Are a Miscarriage of Justice http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32093-salvador-s-draconian-abortion-laws-are-a-miscarriage-of-justice http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32093-salvador-s-draconian-abortion-laws-are-a-miscarriage-of-justice

"We are here to speak for them, to call for their release. When there is an injustice, silence is complicity," said Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch and a decades-long advocate for human rights in Latin America. He was referring to the 17 women, known as Las 17, who are currently serving 30-year sentences in prison for having miscarriages in El Salvador.

Father Roy Bourgeois is one of the six human rights activists who staged a sit-in at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC on April 24, 2015 calling for the release of the women. Four of the protesters were arrested by the Secret Service.

"It was an honor to go to the embassy and be arrested in solidarity with the women in El Salvador" said Father Bourgeois. "Our greatest enemy in the United States is ignorance, so our job is to tell the stories."

An overwhelming number of women in El Salvador--particularly poor, unmarried, uneducated women--face outrageous human rights violations as they are denied autonomy over their bodies. El Salvador has one of the strictest and most archaic anti-abortion laws in the world; it has a total ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies. Women who have miscarriages or stillborn births are confronted with suspicion from authorities. The legal system has an built-in "presumption of guilt," making it virtually impossible for women to prove their innocence. Instead, these women are charged with manslaughter and imprisoned. All too often Salvadoran women are forced to live a life of overwhelming stigmatization and marginalization.

This past March, Father Roy Bourgeois led a delegation of human rights activists to El Salvador where he met with Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén, human rights leaders, and five of the women in prison. Father Roy discovered a common theme among the women's  stories: they are all lower-class, poorly educated, single women who work domestic jobs for wealthier families. What led to the miscarriages? A lack of access to healthy food frequently leads to malnourishment among the impoverished in El Salvador. Tragically, that could have caused the miscarriages. As the women recounted their stories, they painted a grim picture: fainting as a result of blood loss, waking up in a hospital handcuffed to a bed, and ultimately being transferred to prison.

For the first year of their sentence, the women were forced to sleep on the floor of their cell like sardines, pressed next to each other. They were given only a gallon of water every two days for both drinking and bathing--water that is not drinkable by U.S. standards. Father Bourgeois  was haunted by the stories of the women he met. When he returned to the United States, he couldn't sleep. "I have never been more affected by a group of people than I was by this group of women," he told CODEPINK.

Amnesty International put out a petition calling for the release of Las 17, a petition that received an incredible 700,000 signatures and counting. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas Director, stated, "For almost two decades women in El Salvador have suffered the consequences of this outdated, draconian law and...now voices from the global community join their struggle to stop the injustice. This is now a deafening chorus of concern that cannot be ignored. President Cerén must heed this call."

The Salvadoran government, a progressive government that emerged from the guerrilla struggle in 1998, is feeling the heat. The government, however, does not have the power to overturn the ruling of the conservative court, nor does it have the power to combat the  powerful conservative lobby in the country's congress. Members of El Salvador's  leftist government fear easing the anti-abortion law, as it could affect the party negatively by alienating its voters and the Church. A change in the law, therefore, seems unlikely in face of omnipresent Catholic values throughout the country.

For decades, Latin American women have been fighting repressive anti-choice laws--laws that lead, every year, to the death of over 1,000 women and the hospitalization of over one million due to complications resulting from backstreet abortions, according to the World Health Organization. In El Salvador, one of the most prominent pro-choice organizations is La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (The Salvadoran Citizens' Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion), which has been combatting the abortion ban for years while exploring legal avenues to achieve the release of Las 17. Activist Sara Garcia stated, "We live in a misogynist, machista society … with prejudices about how a woman should behave and the punishment she should receive for not fulfilling those expectations."

As the women of Latin America continue to struggle for autonomy over their bodies, freeing the Salvadoran 17 is a critical step in addressing this gross miscarriage of justice.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Conservative Advice http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/32092-conservative-advice http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/32092-conservative-advice ]]> Art Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Iranian Dissidents Explain Why They Support the Nuclear Deal http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32091-iranian-dissidents-explain-why-they-support-the-nuclear-deal http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32091-iranian-dissidents-explain-why-they-support-the-nuclear-deal

The debate on the nuclear deal with Iran has revolved mainly around the geopolitics of the agreement. Is it good for the United States? Does the deal represent a defeat or a victory for the Islamic Republic? Does it make Israel more secure, or less? How will the Saudis respond? Will they pursue a nuclear program of their own? What will Washington do to placate its nervous allies in Riyadh (and other Gulf capitals) and Tel Aviv? What broader implications might the nuclear deal portend for US-Iranian relations, and for the regional politics of the Middle East?

These are hugely important questions, to be sure. But what does the nuclear agreement mean for internal Iranian politics? There's been some excellent reporting on Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif's diplomatic craftsmanship, which has inspired comparisons—arguably exalted—to Mohammad Mosaddeq, and speculation about whether Hassan Rouhani can parlay the nuclear deal into a domestic agenda, pursuing the kinds of reforms that the Iranians who voted for him in 2013 desperately crave and eagerly await.

But how does this historic development look from the perspective of Iran's grassroots? We saw the jubilation in Iran's streets, the euphoric popular reaction to the news of the deal. But these scenes lacked context. What do Iranian dissidents and civil society activists actually think of the nuclear deal? An in-depth report issued by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran provides a refreshingly vivid sense of what such Iranians have to say, in their own words.

The report, High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations, features interviews with an array of Iranians—former political prisoners, filmmakers, political scientists, civil rights lawyers, playwrights, journalists, actors, economists, novelists, publishers, theater directors (some of them belonging to two or more of these categories, former political prisoner being the most common). In other words, these are not big fans of the Iranian government. Indeed, for personal security reasons some agreed to participate in the report only on condition of anonymity.

And the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran itself is anything but enthusiastic about the Islamic Republic: the vast majority of its reportsvideos and activity document the regime's brutal repression and condemn its systematic rights violations in unflinching terms.

This report thus provides a vital perspective, one that's been largely absent in the global debate about the nuclear deal—and in some cases misrepresented (for example, by neoconservative pundits who claim the deal is a gift to the regime and sells the Iranian opposition short). This report reveals what the regime's critics, opponents, and victims, inside the country, actually think about this critical issue.

Take a Breath and Demand our Rights

"All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran's international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society," the report's authors note, "negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata."

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure."
—Shahla Lahiji (Publisher, Roshangaran and Women Studies Publishers)

"Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now."
—Ahmad Shirzad (university professor and former member of Parliament)

"[M]any of our patients have problems obtaining their medication and medications are expensive. … [M]any of our passenger airplanes have … no repair facilities … and we can't [get] spare parts."
—Abbas Ghaffari (film director)

"[An agreement] will have its first impact on society's collective mental state. While many predict this might be short-lived … the psychological impact of this victory in the different sectors of the society will definitely not be short-lived. Such a positive impact can even move people to take action to improve their conditions."
—a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities in every area will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings." 
—Mahmoud Dolatabadi (author)

"[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities. The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups." 
—Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour (civil society activist and wife of a political prisoner)

"[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly."
—a civil rights lawyer in Tehran (anonymous)

"Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. … The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. … The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. … [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent." 
—a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

This last comment echoes the sentiments of Akbar Ganji, one of Iran's leading democratic dissidents who almost died on a hunger strike behind bars. "As a former Iranian political prisoner who spent six years in the Islamic Republic's jails and whose writings have been banned in Iran, I support the [nuclear] agreement," he has written. Reaching a nuclear deal, he argued, would "gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran." The Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam recently made a similar point.

No More Excuses

61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue "should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties" and that "the nation's attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran," according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

That is, on the real issues in Iran. Or, to use an old-fashioned phrase, removing the nuclear issue—and the concomitant economic sanctions and threats of external military action—could "heighten the contradictions" within the Islamic Republic. To wit:

"There are a lot of things that have all been on a waiting list in the hope that first the nuclear issue would be settled."
—Ahmad Shirzad (physics professor and former member of Parliament)

"After the topic of nuclear negotiations dims, [Rouhani] will have to focus on human rights and civil rights, which were parts of [his] initial programs. … Cultural and political issues must be addressed side by side with economic issues."
—Issa Saharkhiz (journalist and former political prisoner)

"Following the nuclear and economic issues, the Rouhani administration will have to tackle the issue of political freedom. Political parties, universities, and the media will be serious demands Mr. Rouhani will have to face, and he will have to take visible steps and present them to public opinion. … [Priorities must include] the serious pursuit of citizenship rights."
—a journalist in Iran (anonymous)

'Necessary Even if Not Sufficient'

The respondents interviewed for the report harbor no illusion that the nuclear agreement is a panacea that will magically end the regime's human rights violations or produce democratic pluralism in Iran overnight. But they do believe, as the report's authors note, that a resolution to the nuclear issue is "a necessary even if not sufficient requirement for any progress toward greater rights and liberties."

"As a defense lawyer for individuals who are pursued or imprisoned for political reasons, my work will be positively impacted … and society will enjoy more freedom as a result. … Unlike those who believe that a decrease in foreign pressure would increase pressure inside the country, I don't believe this."
—Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht (lawyer)

"If the sanctions are lifted … another impact … I believe would [be] a big opening in the human rights discourse. … the human rights issue, God willing, will find more flexibility after this agreement … if the nuclear issue is resolved, [many other] issues will be influenced."
—Massoud Shafiee (lawyer)

"Whether lame or legitimate, I hope that after a nuclear agreement there are no more excuses … and that it would be possible to expect, to demand things."
—Hamid Amjad (playwright, theater director, and publisher in Tehran)

The report's respondents voiced an array of perspectives on the likelihood of these demands actually materializing—some expressed deep skepticism, given the structure of power in the Islamic Republic, while others were more hopeful. Yet "[s]trong support for the nuclear negotiations and hope for an agreement was unanimous and unequivocal among all of the respondents, and was held regardless of the respondent's expectations regarding the actual benefits of an accord," the report's authors note.

"It is incumbent upon the international community," the report's authors conclude, "to reinforce these voices of reason, patience, and hope, by similarly supporting the peaceful resolution of conflict with the Islamic Republic—and by doing everything it can in a post-deal environment to stand by the people of Iran in their efforts to achieve the most basic rights and freedoms."

Indeed it is. Thanks to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, we have a much clearer sense of what some of these voices sound like.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32090-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-just-changed http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32090-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-just-changed

Don't sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.

Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama administration negotiated alongside China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, which means Iran and five other governments must approve the detailed 159-page "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action." The U.N., which also had to sign off on the deal, has already agreed to measures to end its sanctions against Iran.

If we're not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months - during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement - we'll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his "delusional" secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president's past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)

There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.

Here's what actually matters most: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. Understanding how significant that is requires a look backward.

A Very Quick History of U.S.-Iranian Relations

The short version: relations have been terrible for almost four decades. A slightly longer version would, however, begin in 1953 when the CIA helped orchestrate a coup to oust Iran's democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. A secular leader - just the sort of guy U.S. officials have dreamed about ever since the ayatollahs took power in 1979 - Mosaddegh sought to nationalize Iran's oil industry. That, at the time, was a total no-no for Washington and London. Hence, he had to go.

In his place, Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. assisted him in maintaining a particularly grim secret police force, the Savak, which he aimed directly at his political opponents, democratic and otherwise, including the ones who espoused a brand of Islamic fundamentalism unfamiliar to the West at the time. Washington lapped up the Shah's oil and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative, which had kicked off Iran's nuclear program in 1957.

In 1979, following months of demonstrations and seeing his fate in the streets of Tehran, the Shah fled. Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take control of the nation in what became known as the Islamic Revolution. Iranian "students" channeled decades of anti-American rage over the Shah and his secret police into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months.

In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein (remember him?) in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. (Washington claimed it was an accident.) In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington, following American military successes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush declared that country part of the "Axis of Evil."

Iran later funded, trained, and helped lead a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. As Washington slowly withdrew its military from that country, Iran increased its support for pro-Tehran leaders in Baghdad. When Iran's nuclear program grew, the U.S. attacked its computers with malware, launching what was in effect the first cyberwar in history. At the same time, Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector.

In short, for the last 36 years, the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and often just plain mean. Neither country seems to have benefited, even as both remained committed to the fight.

Iran Ascendant

Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that "co.")

Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran's key enemies on its eastern and western borders - Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America's military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country's military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.

And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran's real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran's leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

Why Iran Won't Have Nuclear Weapons

Now, about those nukes. It would take a blind man in the dark not to notice one obvious fact about the Greater Middle East: regimes the U.S. opposes tend to find themselves blasted into chaos once they lose their nuclear programs. The Israelis destroyed Saddam's program, as they did Syria's, from the air. Muammar Qaddafi's Libya went down the drain thanks to American/NATO-inspired regime change after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions. At the same time, no one in Tehran could miss how North Korea's membership in the regime-change club wasn't renewed once that country went nuclear. Consider those pretty good reasons for Iran to develop a robust nuclear weapons program - and not give it up entirely.

While, since 2002, Washington hasn't taken a day off in its saber-rattling toward Iran, it isn't the only country the clerics fear. They are quite convinced that Israel, with its unacknowledged but all too real nuclear arsenal, is capable and might someday be willing to deliver a strike via missile, aircraft, or submarine.

Now, here's the added irony: American sabers and Israeli nukes also explain why Iran will always remain a nuclear threshold state - one that holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make such a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called "breakout time." If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be a near inevitability. Iran is not a third world society. Its urban areas and infrastructure are exactly the kinds of things bombing campaigns are designed to blow away. So call Iran's nuclear program a game of chicken, but one in which all the players involved always knew who would blink first.

The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Accord

So if Iran was never going to be a true nuclear power and if the world has lived with Iran as a threshold state for some time now, does the July accord matter?

There are two answers to that question: it doesn't and it does.

It doesn't really matter because the deal changes so little on the ground. If the provisions of the accord are implemented as best we currently understand them, with no cheating, then Iran will slowly move from its current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn't have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won't have nukes with the accord. In other words, the Vienna agreement successfully eliminated weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

It does really matter because, for the first time in decades, the two major powers in the Middle East have opened the door to relations. Without the political cover of the accord, the White House could never envisage taking a second step forward.

It's a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That's how adversaries work together: you don't have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama's description of how the deal will be implemented - based on verification, not trust - represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase "trust but verify" in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.

The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of "you're either with us or against us," is called compromise. It's an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the four Americans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).

It's All About the Money

While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.

Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.

Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubled their investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.

The Real Fears of the Israelis and the Saudis

Neither Israel nor the Saudis ever really expected to trade missile volleys with a nuclear-armed Iran, nor do their other primary objections to the accord hold much water. Critics have said the deal will only last 10 years. (The key provisions scale in over 10 years, then taper off.) Leaving aside that a decade is a lifetime in politics, this line of thinking also presumes that, as the calendar rolls over to 10 years and a day, Iran will bolt from the deal and go rogue. It's a curious argument to make.

Similarly, any talk of the accord touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is long out of date. Israel has long had the bomb, with no arms race triggered. Latent fears that Iran will create "the Islamic Bomb" ignore the fact that Pakistan, with own hands dirty from abetting terror and plenty of Islamic extremists on hand, has been a nuclear power since at least 1998.

No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo - hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh - just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world's most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
A Supreme Threat to US Democracy http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32088-a-supreme-threat-to-us-democracy http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32088-a-supreme-threat-to-us-democracy

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a book signing, January, 2014.Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a book signing, January, 2014. (Photo: Shawn/Flickr)

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Here's a little quiz you won't find on the LSATs: Which Supreme Court justice called a recent ruling by the court a "threat to American democracy"? And what decision was it?

A. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote it of the Citizens United decision, which armed corporations with the political free speech rights of human beings.

B. Justice Sonia Sotomayor included this phrase in her dissent to the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

C. Justice Elena Kagan said it while reflecting on the Bush v. Gore case, which shut down the counting of more than 100,000 ballots in Florida - handing George W. Bush his first presidential win.

D. Justice Antonin Scalia penned these words when he objected to the recent Obergefell ruling, which struck down marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans.

The answer is D.

I made up the rest, but they'd all be far more accurate than what Scalia said in real life.

It's hard to think about the state of American democracy without pondering the Supreme Court. As the least democratic branch of the federal government, it's always had outsized importance in shaping the opportunities for citizens to participate in our political institutions and social life.

At its best, the Supreme Court has upheld the principle of "one person-one vote," struck down whites-only party primaries, and invalidated educational apartheid. It did those important things when less enlightened views might have been more popular.

At its worst, the court has upheld poll taxes and literacy tests, okayed restrictive photo ID requirements for voting, knocked the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act, and intervened in the 2000 election to stop vote counting.

For better or worse, the Supreme Court defines the rules of engagement of American politics. So what's at stake in the 2016 presidential race?

A whole lot.

With several justices already over 80, the next president could nominate as many as four new members of the court. Will the new justices bolster the conservatives, who favor legislative power only when it violates minority rights, or the liberals, who have demonstrated a serious commitment both to voting rights and to the legislative process?

With the plutocratic Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia leading the way, the conservatives pose as outraged populists regarding marriage equality. They pretend, ludicrously, that they don't believe in the court reviewing and invalidating popularly enacted laws.

What a joke. The same justices have no problem with nullifying laws that implement affirmative action, produce majority-minority legislative districts, or exclude corporations from spending money in political campaigns.

These so-called conservatives strike down almost any law that curtails the power of corporations. They just don't like the idea of equal protection and due process applying to people.

Here's the principal question facing the court for the foreseeable future: Who is the Constitution for? Is it for corporations, or the rest of us?

Right-wing forces want to scrap all limits on campaign spending and contributions. They want corporations to be treated as free speech actors in elections, but they don't want workers to have any free speech rights in the workplace.

They also embrace elaborate photo ID requirements, narrow registration laws, and endless barriers to voting for communities of color and young voters.

If a future Republican president replaces even a single liberal justice with a conservative, we could wind up with a democracy of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Regardless of Justice Scalia's fantasies, this is the real threat to American democracy.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ex-IAEA Official Uses Misleading Claims to Attack Iran Deal http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32087-ex-iaea-official-uses-misleading-claims-to-attack-iran-deal http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32087-ex-iaea-official-uses-misleading-claims-to-attack-iran-deal

Foes of the US-Iran nuclear and sanctions agreement are alleging that the agreement's system of verification is inadequate to detect Iranian cheating. Their arguments rely heavily on the assertions of Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Dr. Olli HeinonenDr. Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking at a CSIS conference. (Photo: CSIS)

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Foes of the US-Iran nuclear and sanctions agreement are alleging that the agreement's system of verification is inadequate to detect Iranian cheating. Their arguments rely heavily on the assertions of Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A New York Times article last Wednesday cited Heinonen as the main authority challenging the Obama administration's claims that the agreement "provides for airtight verification procedures." But an investigation of Heinonen's assertions reveals that they are either misleading or completely false.

Heinonen, now a fellow at the Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, has long had a personal interest in portraying Iran as carrying out covert nuclear weapon work. He began pushing that line as Safeguards Director as early as 2005.

Heinonen's main argument against the Iran agreement's verification system is that it would allow Iran too much time to remove evidence of illicit work before proposed inspection visits could be carried out. The agreement's provision for disputes over IAEA requests for inspections of undeclared sites would allow up to 24 days before a disputed request for inspection that has been approved by a majority of the eight members of the Joint Commission created by agreement must be carried out.

Heinonen did not claim that Iran could evade the agreement's system for IAEA inspections to the extent that it could actually produce enriched uranium covertly, which had been the main argument made by many opponents of the agreement. He told the New York Times, "It is clear that a facility of sizable scale cannot simply be erased in three weeks' time without leaving traces."

Heinonen suggested, however, that Iran will be able to "pursue smaller-scale but still important nuclear work, such as manufacturing uranium components for a nuclear weapon," according to the New York Times. "If it is on a small scale, they may be able to clear it out in 24 days," he said.

In a presentation to the Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Heinonen said the equipment involved would not be heavy and could be removed easily, and if the IAEA requested an inspection of the site, "You would have four weeks to redecorate the room."

But there are serious problems with Heinonen's scenario involving the cleanup of a site after the manufacture of uranium components for a nuclear weapon. Such a process involves converting high enriched uranium from the enrichment process into metal, as the IAEA observed in its November 2011 report, and this process necessarily leaves a residue of enriched uranium particles. As Stephan Vogt, who heads the IAEA's Environmental Sample Laboratory, declared in 2013, it would be extremely difficult to remove every particle of enriched uranium, despite whatever cleanup might be attempted. "You cannot get rid of them by cleaning, you cannot dilute them to the extent that we will not be able to pick them up," Vogt said. "It is just a matter of time." And Heinonen acknowledged to Reuters at the same time, "Complete sanitization is very difficult to achieve if nuclear materials were actually used."

Furthermore, any effort by Iran to manufacture parts for a bomb would suggest that it has already completed all the other steps necessary to have a nuclear weapon. By then it would be too late to do anything about it, as R. Scott Kemp, assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, pointed out in an e-mail. "By the time weapon components are being fabricated," he said, "only a handful of days are left and any international response would be effectively moot."

In any case, Heinonen's premise that Iran is waiting for the opportunity to manufacture nuclear weapons parts is contradicted by Iran's behavior for the last several years, during which it could have enriched uranium sufficiently for a bomb, but has instead chosen to limit its enrichment and then agreed to reduce it sharply.

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee last week, Heinonen claimed such a cleanup of an Iranian site to frustrate IAEA inspection had occurred in 2003 and had "left no traces to be detected through environmental sampling."

But the one documented case of Iranian efforts to defeat environmental sampling through cleanup of a site, which did occur in 2003, contradicts that claim as well. It involved an effort by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization to remove all traces of the introduction of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into centrifuges at Kalaye Electric Company by putting in a new floor and painting the walls. And contrary to Heinonen's claim that the cleanup left nothing that could be detected by environmental sampling, the IAEA did detect the uranium particles. The IAEA's laboratory was capable of identifying uranium down to one trillionth of a gram.

Another objection Heinonen raised in his congressional testimony is that some of the US negotiating partners might not find the rationale for a particular IAEA request for an inspection persuasive. "What happens when a situation arises when 'evidence' provided does not meet the standards of all of the P5+1 members?" he asked. He expressed the fear that "the bar will be set substantially high to begin with, that may not allow for 'gray' areas where intelligence may not be foolproof but sufficient suspicion remain nonetheless."

Heinonen's concern about rejection of requests based on "suspicion" is undoubtedly related to the fact both Heinonen and his predecessor as Director of Safeguard, Pierre Goldschmidt, applied a standard for requesting inspections that assumed that mere suspicion was sufficient. That much is evident in the IAEA's first request for an inspection at Parchin military base in 2004, at the insistence of US Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

The Safeguards Department submitted a document to Iran justifying an IAEA request to visit Parchin, dated October 22, 2004, one page of which was provided to this writer in September 2014 by an Iranian official who had been involved in the Parchin request. The document said the IAEA wanted to visit certain buildings with features similar to a building at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, UK that housed high-speed camera and flash X-ray photography. The implication was that the possible presence of such equipment would be indicative of possible work on nuclear weapons at Parchin.

However, those technologies are standard equipment for conventional weapons testing by militaries everywhere in the world. That reasoning would constitute a potential justification for requesting access to any Iranian conventional weapons testing facilities.

Heinonen's credibility as a source on alleged Iranian efforts to cheat in a nuclear agreement was further undermined by his claim in a paper published by the right-wing U.K.-based Henry Jackson Society last year that the Arak reactor, which is to be used to produce medical isotopes, could be used as the basis for a covert weapons program. It could do so only if Iran had a plant for processing plutonium, which it had pledged not to build. But Heinonen said Iran could covertly build "a small reprocessing plant" that "could be difficult to detect." He cited as the source for that sweeping conclusion a paper published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2005.

But the paper he cited, "Nuclear Proliferation Trends Analysis Trends Analysis," which was provided to the author by PNNL, reached no such a conclusion, nor did it provide any evidence to support it. In fact, it noted that a North Korean reprocessing facility under construction had been detected in 1987. It concluded that, "In the current atmosphere of non-proliferation, ten years would be very optimistic" for a country trying to build a reprocessing plant without foreign assistance.

The opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement have sought to exploit Heinonen's past position to give credibility to their argument that Iran can use the terms of the agreement to cheat. But the pattern of false and misleading statements by Heinonen indicates that it is going to be difficult to make that argument without stumbling over the facts.

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News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400