Truthout Stories Tue, 26 May 2015 11:54:04 -0400 en-gb An Open Letter to Obama: If You Want Money for the Climate, Tax Wall Street

An innovative new tax could fund climate transition and help rebuild the social safety net. So why is the White House knocking it?

When John Hurley, the U.S. Treasury Department’s director of international debt and development, said in April that the U.S. wouldn’t support taxation as a way to raise money to help communities working to claw their way out of poverty and cope with climate change, he raised the hackles of anti-poverty and climate justice advocates.

The context for Hurley’s controversial comments was a Financing for Development discussion at the United Nations headquarters. As the name implies, this process is meant to help make sense of the different streams of money flowing from national budgets, public financial institutions, development banks, and private companies to sustainable development efforts.

Developed countries have made promises, and in some cases signed legal treaties, to deliver development and climate finance to poorer states. But some countries, like the United States, are reluctant to identify specifically how they plan to generate new revenue to meet outstanding aid and climate funding commitments.

All the more alarming was Hurley’s singling out and trashing of one of the most promising forms of innovative finance — a small tax on trades of stock, derivatives, and other financial instruments called a financial transaction tax, or FTT. “Financial transactions taxes in particular are an inefficient way to raise revenues,” he said, “and have a distortionary effect on financial markets.”

The thing is, numerous countries — including many with robust financial markets, such as the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, and India — already have FTTs. In addition, 11 European governments have committed to implement the world’s first regional FTT next year, and are expecting to raise tens of billions of dollars in new revenue annually.

That could spell real relief for people facing austerity cuts in those countries and go a long way toward meeting international funding obligations. And FTTs enjoy huge global public support. Over a million people from around the planet have signed a petition calling for a financial transactions tax to fund job creation, public health, clean energy, community resilience, and much more.

An FTT could be a big deal here in the United States too, where our bloated and politically powerful financial sector remains largely untaxed.

That’s why on the on the opening day of the May round of informal negotiations over the Financing for Development outcome, 20 environmental, development, health, and public interest groups and small businesses sent an open letter to President Obama urging his administration to support a financial transaction tax.

The least the White House and its representatives could do, they demanded, is to keep their mouths shut during these critical conversations and not undermine the bold action of more visionary countries. We’ll see if the U.S. can resist the temptation.

The letter is available here.

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: New York Will Use Bank Settlements to Give Homeless Families Housing, and More

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In today's On the News segment: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office will use $1.2 million from bank settlements to help get homeless families off the street; conservatives only want to privatize the profitable sections of our rail system; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's tax cuts are causing two-year budget deficit of more than $1 billion in the state; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. Ever since the tragic Amtrak accident earlier this month, many on the right have claimed that privatizing parts of our national rail system will solve all of our problems. Not only is this claim ridiculous, but we have plenty of evidence to prove that it's completely wrong. First of all, conservatives only want to privatize the profitable sections of our rail system. The rest of our nation's railways will still be owned and operated by the government – free market be damned. And, we didn't hear a single one of these Republicans talk about lifting the liability cap that limits how much compensation victims could ever receive in a future accident. Currently, that cap is set at $200 million – the maximum that Amtrak may have to pay out – despite the fact that the victims' medical bills alone could exceed that limit. Just like we've seen after oil spills and chemical leaks, Republicans are just fine with private companies pocketing all the profits, and sticking taxpayers with the cost of their disasters. From our high-cost, inefficient healthcare system, to our private, insanely-expensive universities, we have plenty of examples to show a profit motive doesn't make every industry function better. In fact, the need to make a profit often directly conflicts with needs like caring for the sick or providing a quality eduction. And, just like those industries, our national railways serve needs that should not come second to profit. Our infrastructure allows businesses to operate and allows us to shop, travel, and get to work. There is value in our roads, bridges, and railways that can't be measured by profit margin, but Republicans don't give a damn about anything that isn't measured in dollars and cents. It's up to us to stand up for our nation, and demand that our infrastructure is about more than making a profit. Our national commons belong to all of us, and the value we get from modernizing and protecting our roads, bridges and railways should never be marginalized.

What do you do with the settlement money from the banksters that fraudulently foreclosed on peoples' homes? Well, if you're New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, you use it to get people back in to affordable housing. Last week, Schneiderman announced that his office will use $1.2 million from bank settlements to help get homeless families off the street. In conjunction with the anti-poverty group Robin Hood Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing developer, this new project will help hundreds of families move from New York City's shelter system into permanent apartments. The new program is known as "Come Home NYC," and it is just one of many programs that the city's leadership is taking to deal with their growing homelessness problem. It is pretty much impossible to undo the damage caused by banksters illegally kicking people out of their homes, but using the resulting fines to fight homelessness is one of the best outcomes we could hope for after that disaster. And, we can keep hoping that some of these banksters find new homes behind bars.

Every day that Kansas lawmakers can't agree on whether to repeal Gov. Sam Brownback's budget-destroying tax cuts, it costs the voters the equivalent of a brand-new luxury vehicle. Thanks to Brownback's tax cuts and his elimination of small business income taxes, that state is facing a two-year budget deficit of more than one billion dollars. While that amount may seem small compared to our national budget, it represents a substantial portion of the total $6 billion that Kansas spends every year. The governor's policy is so unpopular that even Republicans have turned on him and admitted that his tax plan is "unworkable." In order to finance his tax breaks, which mostly benefited the wealthy, Brownback has slashed education, moved funds from other services, and stopped funding other programs, but he is still about $400 million short of covering his deficit for this year alone. It's clear to everyone but Sam Brownback that his tax breaks are unsustainable, and it's time for him to recognize his trickle-down nonsense is destroying the state of Kansas.

Another city has joined the list of places that workers will soon earn a living wage. Last week, Los Angeles, California, voted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Although that amount won't go into effect right away, it will eventually lift the wages of about half of that city's entire workforce. And, the entire county is considering a wage increase, which would help thousands more workers in unincorporated parts of the city. Of course, opponents of the pay increase say that it will lead to job losses, but that has not been the case in city-after-city that has already increased pay. The pay hike will go in to effect gradually, and if history is any guide, it will likely increase demand and strengthen the workforce in Los Angeles. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been pushing for a higher wage since last fall, said, "We're leading the country; we're not going to wait for Washington to lift Americans out of poverty." Congress continues to block an increase to minimum wage – despite some lawmakers asking for their own pay hike – but thankfully, cities all around this country recognize that workers can't wait on the dysfunction in Washington, DC.

And finally... Right now, there are seven countries around the world where Americans can get a free, quality college eduction. Sadly, the United States isn't one of them. Thankfully, Sen. Bernie Sanders is working to change that. Last week, the 2016-Presidential candidate announced new legislation to make four-year public universities free for all students. With outstanding student loan debt exceeding one trillion dollars and more students falling in to default everyday, it is absolutely vital that we do more to address this problem. During a speech at Johnson State College in Vermont, Senator Sanders said, "Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people. They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same."

And that's the way it is - for the week of May 25, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Former Congressman Ron Dellums: Organizing for Peace Forces Us to Challenge All Forms of Injustice

Ron Dellums was elected to Congress in 1970 during the height of the Vietnam War. In one of his first acts in office, he took a small annex room to his office in the House and mounted an exhibition of the atrocities committed by the United States in Vietnam. Dellums would rise to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee. Later he became mayor of Oakland. "Peace is the superior idea, that the umbrella movement for—of all movements, the peace movement, because to come together under the banner of peace forces us to challenge all forms of injustice," Dellums said at the recent conference, "Vietnam: The Power of Protest."


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Memorial Day, "Vietnam: The Power of Protest." We go back to the conference recently held in Washington, D.C., at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González moderated the panel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ron Dellums is a legend in this country in the progressive movement. I just want to remind you of one thing you may have forgotten. One of his first acts when he was sworn in as a U.S. representative was to take a small annex room to his office in the House of—in his office in the House of Representatives and mount an exhibition of the atrocities committed by the United States in Vietnam, as a freshman congressman. And he has continued to stand for social justice, labor rights, environmental rights. He is a true champion of our movement. Ron Dellums.

RON DELLUMS: Sisters and brothers, I come from the Bay Area—Oakland, Berkeley. Unlike many other places in the country, virtually every movement of the '60s emerged in close proximity and great simultaneity. So, unlike many other places, we were forced to sense each other's anger, to feel each other’s rage, to listen to each other’s analysis, to feel each other’s passion, to listen to each other’s music. And I maintain that out of that incredible cauldron of activism, a unique group of people emerged. So we heard—we had to hear each other—the civil rights movement, the nationalist movement, the Brown Berets, the Black Panthers, the Gray Panthers—all of the various movements. I remember in 1966 a young guy by the name of Bob Scheer, a journalist, who ran against the person that I ultimately defeated four years later. I remember we used to come back from meetings where we would hear this young guy lay out an extraordinary analysis of why we should oppose the Vietnam War. We used to come back and say, "Man, that’s a bad dude!" White guy, too, you know, wow!

But in 1967, something magical happened. This brilliant, prophetic, articulate, eloquent minister mounted the podium, 1967, Riverside Church in New York, and laid out his reason for opposing the Vietnam War. It was courageous and historic. He laid out his moral opposition. He saw it as unjust, illegal and immoral. When he stepped away from the pulpit, he was attacked by people in the civil rights movement by saying, "Martin, stay in your lane, brother. You’re a civil rights activist. Don’t water down the movement. You’re going to invite new enemies. You’re going to detract from what we’re doing. Stay in your lane." Whites attacked him essentially the same way, by saying, "Reverend Martin Luther King, stay in your lane. You’re a civil rights leader. What do you know about foreign policy and national security and war and peace? Stay in your lane."

So Martin Luther King begins to criss-cross the country to answer his critics. He comes to Berkeley, California, Sproul Hall steps, University of California at Berkeley, crowded literally with thousands of people. A young black guy, Ron Dellums, standing way in the back of the several thousand people, hanging on every word, didn’t realize at that moment that my life would be changed forever.

And I would comment on four points that he made in that speech and speeches going forward challenging the war in Vietnam. First, he said, "Why did I stand up?" His response was, "I cannot segregate my moral concerns." That said to me that we must challenge all forms of injustice, because Martin Luther King said we cannot segregate our moral concerns.

Secondly, he said there are two kinds of leaders, one who waits until the consensus is formed and then run swiftly to the front of the group and declare leadership, but then he said there’s a second kind of leader, who has the audacity and the courage to risk attempting to shape a new consensus. I interpreted that to mean we had carried the burden of racial, cultural and economic oppression, but we did not have to carry the burden of ignorance, that we had the obligation, the right and the responsibility to enter the arena and be educative, to educate our people, to help them to understand the interrelatedness, the interconnectedness, the relationships between and among all issues of oppression and injustice.

One of his lessons of education was a statement that was so vivid, so powerful: "We are dropping bombs in North Vietnam that are exploding in the ghettos and the barrios of America." How incredibly poetic! How incredibly powerful, the vision! He was saying to people, understand the relationship between the billions of dollars that are being spent to wage war and the inability to address the injustice that is taking place in the ghettos and the barrios of America, the issue of priorities. Very powerful.

But, to me, the most powerful statement, that shaped my life forever, was this comment: "Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the presence of justice." I interpreted that to mean, wow, the peace movement is the ultimate movement. Peace is the superior idea, that the umbrella movement for—of all movements, the peace movement, because to come together under the banner of peace forces us to challenge all forms of injustice.

I want you to consider this point. I don’t make it in criticism; I make it simply as a matter that we must reflect upon, because I have come to this moment many times. Suppose everyone—because I believe that the movement to end the war in Vietnam ultimately became the largest and most powerful movement in the country. But when the war in Vietnam ended, many of the people went home and left us to fight racism, poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, helplessness—went home. And my great lament in my life has been: What would have happened in this country and in this world if people had heard Martin Luther King and said, "Now that we’ve ended the war in Vietnam, let’s get on with dealing with other forms of injustice"? What would the world look like?

Pat Schroeder will recall, I tried to, on the floor of Congress, to tweak that comment just a little so my colleagues could understand it. I didn’t mean it quite that way; I’m sorry about that. Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the absence of conditions that give rise to war. OK? So that if we stayed together, what would the international community look like? What would the world look like globally? What would America look like? Would we still be seeing the Baltimores, if we had challenged on these issues? But it’s not too late.

In my final remarks—I have one minute; I may go slightly a few seconds over—but young people have asked me, "What is the difference between your generation, when you were our age, and our generation?" I won’t give you my total answer, because I think it’s a good question. But I’ll deal with two. Martin Luther King told us to raise our voices in the name of peace and justice and equality and peace, because it was the right thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing, the principled thing to do. This generation must do it because it’s now the only thing to do. It has now become the imperative. So what was principle for our generation now is the imperative for this generation, because we know that the price of war is too high. We know that the price of neglect of the issues that affect the human condition, we do it at our peril, so that we have a responsibility now to address the imperative.

A second difference is, Martin Luther King never told us we couldn’t do it. He said go out and change the world. Remember, he said, "I may not be with you at the end, but I have reached the mountaintop, and I can tell you this: We will achieve." So we felt that we could change the world, and we went out to change the world. But this generation is being told 24 hours a day the system is broken, you can’t fix it; the system is bought and paid for, you can’t get it back. So how can people move to change the world when they are constantly being fed a diet of cynicism, of superficial political analysis rooted solely in partisan politics or the shaping of personalities as if this individual or that individual can change the world all by themselves, without dealing with the substance of the problems of policies that have to be addressed, but we narrow it down to very parochial, shallow analysis?

So what we have to say to this generation of young people, out of a sense of urgency, out of a sense of the imperative: You now must emerge. I’ve been doing some lecturing at Howard University with young people, and I’ll tell you what I found out—last point—is not that this generation does not get it; it’s that they don’t always hear it. But when they do hear it, they get it, because they listen carefully. And if I had to bet my last dollar, I would bet it on this generation of young people, because they’re not carrying the same baggage we carry, and if they ever stand up, they will change America and change the world for their children and their children’s children.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Oakland congressmember and chair of the Armed Services Committee, Ron Dellums, speaking at a conference recently in Washington, D.C. It was called "Vietnam: The Power of Protest."

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Advocates Say Black Women Left Out of Freddie Gray Conversation

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

More attention is needed to Black women in the policing debate.


TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the scene where Baltimore's penchant for violence against women and the reality of the little attention it receives can be told in the starkest terms. On this deserted patch of road near Baltimore's Leakin Park, two women were brutally assaulted on the exact same spot nearly five years apart. One woman raped and disfigured in 2003 survived. The other, Yolanda Brown, died in 2008 shortly after she too was raped and discarded on the side of this road.

But in between the two cases of extreme violence, something occurred that speaks to the special plight of women in Baltimore, caught between an onslaught of crime and a seemingly indifferent police department. DNA from the same man was found on the victim of 2003 and two other women killed that same year. It was evidence that sat untouched until Yolanda Brown and four other women were strangled in 2008. Then the police decided to test and found this man, William Brown.

Brown plead guilty to two murders and one rape in 2003. But of the five women who died in 2008, four of their cases remain unsolved.

HANI BELLOW, ORGANIZER, BALTIMORE BLOC: All the names, all the lost souls, we want to give them light. We want them to have a voice today.

GRAHAM: Which is just one of the reasons advocates gathered beneath the Billie Holiday statue on Pennsylvania Avenue, to call attention to a topic that has been overlooked in the continued debate over violence and policing in Baltimore.

COREY JOHNSON, ORGANIZER, BALTIMORE BLOC: And the more that we allow for this national narrative to structure how our community is run, the more that we're able to gloss over the violence that happens to black women. It's sad. I literally want to cry.

GRAHAM: Here they held a discussion about how the daily onslaught of violence and proactive policing affects women in unique and often untold ways.

CARMEN SHORTER, WOMEN'S HEALTH ADVOCATE, POWERINSIDE: And watching our city explode, and watching black women spill out into the streets and be traumatized by that just as much as men were, but being ignored in the public dialog--having worked with women as long as I have, I knew we needed to be here to speak for the women who couldn't be here tonight.

GRAHAM: They say too often the concerns of women are left out of the discussion, or ignored altogether.

MYLA GORHAM, CONCERNED COMMUNITY MEMBER: I think it is a reflection of how black women are treated. I think different injustices that happen against black women, they're not paid as much attention to. They're not given the same amount of press as black men.

GRAHAM: The events of the last month since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody show the real outcomes of our policing. But women are also victims of a neglectful, even aggressive, criminal justice system.

Case in point was a Baltimore Sun investigation that found the Baltimore City Police Department dismissed rape reports at one of the highest rates in the country. Four in ten phone calls to 911 about rape resulted in no report at all. In fact, Baltimore City classified the reports of almost 40 percent of women who said they were raped as unfounded, a baseless accusation without facts.

It's an issue advocates say still exists today, and it is one of many reasons that women's voices need to be heard in the discussion about violence, policing, and making Baltimore a safer and healthier place for women to live.

SHORTER: We only have a certain role for black women. As a nurturer or as a lover, but not as a colleague, not as someone that we care about and love unless they are personally known to us. Until we start taking care of women in our conversations, we're going to lose this struggle.

GRAHAM: Taya Graham reporting with Megan Sherman in Baltimore, for The Real News Network.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
SDS Leader Tom Hayden on Vietnam: We Must Challenge the Pentagon on the Battlefield of Memory

As the nation celebrates Memorial Day, we look back at the Vietnam War. Fifty years ago, on March 7, 1965, 3,500 U.S. marines landed in South Vietnam, marking the start of the U.S. ground war in Vietnam. That same day, in Alabama, state troopers beat back civil rights protesters in Selma trying to walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Weeks later, the first teach-in against the Vietnam War was held at the University of Michigan. By 1968, the U.S. had half a million troops in Vietnam. The war continued until April 1975. Some scholars estimate as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the war, up to 800,000 perished in Cambodia, another one million in Laos. The U.S. death toll was 58,000. Today we spend the hour airing highlights from a recent conference titled "Vietnam: The Power of Protest." We begin with Tom Hayden, who helped to found SDS, Students for a Democratic Society.


AMY GOODMAN: As the nation celebrates Memorial Day, we look back at the Vietnam War. Fifty years ago, on March 7, 1965, 3,500 U.S. marines landed in South Vietnam, marking the start of the U.S. ground war in Vietnam. That same day, in Alabama, state troopers beat back civil rights protesters in Selma trying to walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Weeks later, the first teach-in against the Vietnam War was held at the University of Michigan. By 1968, the U.S. had half a million troops in Vietnam. The war continued until April 1975. Some scholars estimate as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the war, up to 800,000 perished in Cambodia, another one million in Laos. The U.S. death toll was 58,000.

Today we spend the hour airing highlights from a recent conference titled "Vietnam: The Power of Protest." It was held at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Speakers included former Oakland Congressmember Ron Dellums, who chaired the Armed Services Committee; Colorado’s Pat Schroeder, one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress; Tom Hayden, who helped to found SDS, Students for a Democratic Society; and Wayne Smith, who served as a combat medic during Vietnam. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González moderated the event.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Good morning. I was here last night, as I know many of you were. It was really an inspiring evening to see so many of these elders, who really paved the way to build one of the great mass movements in American history. But a mass movement is not simply built by leaders. It is built by tens of thousands of people who make individual decisions at a certain point in their lives to risk the disapproval of their family, the possibility of derailing their education, the possibility of losing jobs, some even of losing their lives. They make individual decisions that something has to change. So the rest of this conference will be dedicated to looking at those individual decisions that were made by so many people, and the repercussions not only in the Vietnam—in the movement against the Vietnam War, but also in the movement—in the social movements and justice movements that emerged subsequent to the war.

I was a young college student at Columbia University, privileged to be a member of the Strike Coordinating Committee of the Columbia student strike of 1968, where I met many people—a strike against the Vietnam War and racism of Columbia University—and met many of the people who became so influential in my own life, and then, subsequently, after leaving SDS and Columbia, went on to participate in another great movement, the movement for the liberation of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican communities in this country, and where we were one of the first organizations to stand up to the—and oppose the Vietnam War in the Latino community. So many of our members ended up being arrested for Selective Service violations. Pablo "Yoruba" Guzmán, the CBS reporter, spent two years in Tallahassee federal prison. I was arrested in 1972 by 13 FBI agents, who surrounded our offices with shotguns and hauled me out for Selective Service violation, and eventually was convicted. And so many others of our members ended up sacrificing their careers at that point to be able to stand up.

So—and we’re going to discuss now, with an incredibly tremendous panel, what they were doing, how they got involved in the movement against the Vietnam War and the impact it had on their lives. Tom Hayden, co-author of the Port Huron Statement, one of the founding leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, part of the Chicago 8 after the demonstrations in Chicago, state senator and just a general voice of conscience for the American progressive movement for so long.

TOM HAYDEN: I want to start off by saying how many of you I love very much and known for such a long time, and I only hope that there’s enough minutes and occasions here for us to get to know each other again, because we have really been through a lifetime. Today, we’ll have plenty of time for discussion, for panels, for observations. And at 4:00, we’ll gather to march to the King Memorial. And I want to just say a word about that. I know that Ron Dellums is going to speak to this.

But why was that—why was that chosen? It’s because, in keeping with trying to make sure our history is told accurately, we have to tell it ourselves. And we have to recognize that Dr. King became a martyr because of his stand on Vietnam, not only because of his stand on race, justice, economic poverty. And there’s been a tendency over the many decades to make Dr. King a monument to nonviolence alone, and we need to remember that he was attacked by The New York Times and by The Wall Street Journal and by The Washington Post for being out of place. They wanted to put him back in his place and say nothing about Vietnam, take no stand on Vietnam. There were threats that he would lose funding. There were threats of all sorts. And to distort that, to forget that, to ignore that, his monument would be shaped in a certain way to serve certain interests, but not others, is a disservice to truth. And we have to march there and vigil there and commemorate him as a leader and a martyr for all of us, for peace, justice and civil rights, not only in the United States, but around the world, and persist in making sure that his whole story, including the campaign to end poverty in the United States, is told each and every year and in all of our schools and curriculum. So that’s the purpose.

This is a way of saying that the struggle for memory and for history is a living thing. It’s ongoing. It does not end. Even today, people are debating and reassessing the history of abolition of slavery, the role of slave resistance, the role of the Underground Railroad, the role of the abolitionist direct action movement, the role of the radical Republican politicians, the role of international politics in what came about, and the role—how it was derailed by the assassination of President Lincoln, the ending of the possibilities of Reconstruction, which were not taken up again until 1960, and the coming of Jim Crow. Each generation has to wrestle with the history of what came before, and ask: Whose interest does this history serve? How does it advance a legacy of social movements? How does it deny that legacy? We don’t know.

But we do know that we are here for the very first time as such a broad gathering of the movement against the Vietnam War. It’s been 50 years since Selma, 50 years since the first SDS march. So, it was a time that changed our lives, nearing a second Reconstruction before the murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the budget cuts, the end of the war on poverty. Then came the Watergate repression. And we became a generation of might-have-beens. Like Sisyphus, our rock lay at the bottom of the hill.

We gather here to remember the power that we had at one point, the power of the peace movement, and to challenge the Pentagon now on the battlefield of memory. We have to resist their military occupation of our minds and the minds of future generations. Memory—memory is very much like rock climbing, the recovery of memory. Each niche towards the summit is graphed inch by bleeding inch and has to be carefully carved with tools that are precise in order to take the next step. Falling back is always possible. But as Dr. King himself said on his last night, there is something in humans that makes us aspire to climb mountains, to reach that majesty, if only for a moment. We are mountain climbers.

President Obama has reminded us to remember, he said, Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall. But not Saigon, not Chicago, not Vietnam. We have to ask ourselves collectively why that omission exists, and realize that only we can restore a place in the proper history of those times. We suspect that there was a reason, that it has to do with the programming of amnesia, that there are very powerful forces in our country who stand for denial, not just climate denial, but generational denial, Vietnam denial. There are forces that stand for ethnic cleansing, but not just ethnic cleansing, but also for historic cleansing. And that is what has happened. It serves their purpose because they have no interest in the true history of a war in which they sent thousands to their deaths and, almost before the blood had dried, were moving up the national security ladder and showing up for television interviews to advertise what they called the next cakewalks. Only the blood was caked.

There came a generation of career politicians who were afraid of association with the peace movement, who were afraid of being seen as soft, who saw that the inside track was the track of war. Our national forgetting is basically pathological. Our systems—politics, media, culture—are totally out of balance today because of our collective refusal to admit that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the peace movement was right. In the absence—in the absence of an established voice for peace in all the institutions, the neoconservatives will fill the foreign policy vacuum. Am I right? Will it not? Will it not advise both parties? I think, though, that American public opinion has shifted to a much more skeptical state of mind than earlier generations, but the spectrum of American politics and media has not.

So we can never forget that, of course, it was the Vietnamese resistance and their sacrifice that led to our awakening, along with the civil rights movement at home. It began with handfuls of young people, black students who led Freedom Rides, sit-ins. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first to resist the war. Julian Bond, who’s sitting here, was rejected after being elected to the Georgia Legislature. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing titles. It also began with the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, growing out of teach-ins, out of SDS, that called the first march, the draft resistance. There had never been a peace movement like the one in 1965 that arose out of the civil rights movement and came just weeks after Selma. At least 29 would die at the hands of police while demonstrating for peace.

I’d like here to introduce Luis Rodriguez and Rosalio Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal from the Chicano Moratorium, where four died, including Gustav [Montag], Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar. Rubén Salazar was an early Juan González. Rubén Salazar was a great reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as a journalist in Vietnam before he started critical reporting on the streets of Los Angeles. And he was shot by the sheriff’s deputies. I don’t know if he’s here, but is Alan Canfora here? Alan, please stand. Alan was wounded at Kent State. Four died at Kent State, two at Jackson State two weeks later. And every year, these two groups of people have observed memorials, have fought for their place in history, are coming up on their 50th anniversary commemorations and are here today to learn from us, as we’ve learned from them, the importance of organizing, organizing, organizing around the politics of memory. So, thank you for being here, and we will remember. We will not forget.

We will not forget the eight who sacrificed their lives by self-immolation. We will not forget the students who helped end the war by shutting down so many campuses. We will not forget the veterans who took the risk of standing up to their commanding officers and resisted from within the military. We will not forget this because this was something like a Du Bois characterization of the general strike by slaves who, through noncooperation, walked off plantations across the South when they saw the futility of any other alternative and chose to simply walk away and join the Union army. What happened at the end of the Vietnam War is that people walked away. The campuses shut down. Four million students walked away. The military was described by Marine colonels in military histories as being on the verge of collapse. They walked away. The counterculture walked away. We all walked away.

It might have been otherwise, if King and Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated. We might have been united, at least for a moment, at least for a moment. We might have elected a president. We might have ended a war. But instead, we were relegated to wondering what might have been. We lost any basis for our unity, and thus we have not come together since that time. The question for us is whether today we can unify, when we never could unify before. Can we do that for the memory of our movement and for the meaning that it holds for future generations? I hope so. I pray so. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Hayden was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, speaking at "Vietnam: The Power of Protest," a conference that was recently held in Washington, D.C. When we come back, we’ll hear from a combat medic, Wayne Smith, who served in Vietnam, and former Congressmembers Pat Schroeder and Ron Dellums, who chaired the House Armed Services Committee. Stay with us.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Jen Sorensen | Boko Haram Rape ]]> Art Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Movement Builders Should Listen to Bernie Sanders: Focus on Mass Action, Not Candidates

Is Bernie Sanders a more progressive presidential candidate than Hillary Clinton? Undoubtedly. Will he single-handedly catalyze a united left front in the United States? Probably not.

Unchallenged, Hillary Clinton is likely to run a campaign chock-full of populist optics, but thin on any real engagement with the issues that make progressives most nervous about her bid: foreign policy, welfare, corporate influence and more. Sanders, a registered independent, who caucuses with Democrats yet identifies as a democratic socialist, has been unafraid to talk about class inequality, even — heaven forbid — capitalism. He's even started bringing a long-taboo word back into mainstream American political conversation: socialism.

As Ned Resnikoff points out for Al Jazeera, Americans' stance toward socialism has been thawing since the Cold War. Between Occupy Wall Street, Kshama Sewant's election to Seattle City Council, and — now — Sanders' candidacy, it may finally be possible to de-link the "S Word" from the gulags and authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, and re-associate with such basic amenities as healthcare, education and housing. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 49 percent of 18-29 year olds even have a positive view of socialism. With any hope, this year's Democratic primary debates will challenge Clinton to choose firm sides on these issues, and maybe even build them into her platform in response to the vocal minority more endeared to Sanders' populism than Clinton's smug establishmentarianism.

Likewise, Sanders, with some notable silences, generally espouses views closer to those of activists within today's emergent movements for social justice. Beyond words, though, what could his candidacy as a Democrat mean for organizers on the ground? While a left-of Clinton Democratic contender may help positively shape the debate going into primary season, electing a progressive into the White House doesn't mean anything unless there's a movement infrastructure in place to hold them truly accountable.

Smartly, Elizabeth Warren — maybe in a move to preserve her chances for 2020 or 2024 — has repeatedly declined the left flank of the Democratic Party's calls for her to run for president. Still, as a recent New Yorker profile of Warren pointed out, Warren's role is as the Democrats' squeaky, anti-establishment wheel and a bulldog on Wall Street bankers, Republicans and centrist Democrats alike; there's also no indication she won't make a run in the future. By that time, America's progressives, working together, may be well organized enough to actually put someone into office they can trust — and have enough street heat to make sure they don't go back on their word.

As Joel Bleifuss aruges over at In These Times, candidates are nothing without grassroots supporters ready and willing to take their candidates to bat should they screw up. Sanders himself told MSNBC that "No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody, will succeed [in taking on the oligarchs] unless there is a mass mobilization of millions of people who stand up and say enough is enough."

Looking towards the 2016 elections, those attempting to build or catalyze transformative movements should take Sanders's own advice — part of which might mean putting a little less faith in the man himself.

Focusing on candidates themselves, however aligned with a movement's views, is a flawed way to approach achieving major progressive wins. As Arun Gupta writes for Telesur TV, "go ahead and vote for Sanders and Clinton, but that's all. Spend the rest of your time, energy and money on building militant grassroots activism." Rather than stumping for Sanders or some Warrenite specter of Hillary that will never exist, organizers might devote their time to building out movements that won't just ask for center stage come election time, but make it impossible to imagine candidates who aren't vying for those movements' support, even tapping its leaders for their cabinets.

If Barack Obama's hawkish, hardly "change" filled presidency has been any indication, elected officials are only as valuable as the masses holding their feet to the fire. As a legitimate candidate, Sanders has the potential to claw open conversations that organizers have been pushing for years, creating rare opportunities in the national dialogue that grassroots forces can use to their advantage. It may even make the next administration, Republican or Democratic, less devastating to working families, communities of color and the planet. But on issues as pressing as violent, systemic racism, climate change, and severe economic inequality, good candidates won't save us. Strong movements will — and they could make the next election cycle one to get truly excited about.

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Rethinking Our Takes on Memorial Day: Hecel Lena Oyate Ki Nipi Kte

As I glanced through social media yesterday, I was very grateful for some of my friends. Too often, on holidays connected to military service, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of either all out celebration of service or ant-military angst. I understand both, but appreciate neither. To celebrate without also questioning what we’ve done to those who’ve served, or what they were commanded to do in our names, is unacceptable. But I am likewise averse to simply writing these days off with condemnation. To do so overlooks the complexities of surviving the oppressions of this society, and it erases a hard reality – that there are times when being of this society turns us all into something that we probably shouldn’t be.

With the consequences of military service in a time of perpetual war being so severe, I understand why people are protective of those who serve and those who have died. It is in our nature to defend and justify the actions of those we love and respect, and it is in our nature to assign meaning to loss. We want to believe in people and we want to believe that bad things happen for a reason. So, as a country, we tie ribbons around tragedies, and build heroes out the wreckage of the harm we cause. We throw confetti, and never address what warfare really looks like – the inhumanity it produces amongst our young, the rapes, the torture, the indiscriminant transformation of life to rubble, the ongoing tradition of decimating people of color for the sake of financial resources.

I don’t respect why we gloss over any of it, but I understand why it happens.

The other side is a bit harder for me to process, honestly. It’s always hard for me to process the vilification of the oppressed, and many, many people who enlist in the military are coming from a very oppressed place. Indigenous people in the United States, for example, are not only the most likely to be killed by law enforcement, and the most likely to commit suicide at a young age, but also the most likely to enlist in the military. The reasons why are both simple and complicated. Our reservations are not havens of opportunity. Just as the military vacuums up young people in depressed urban areas, it also sweeps up our Indigenous children. But there is, of course, more to our rate of enlistment than a lack of opportunity, because in truth, Indigenous people have a long history of rising to the fight. Standing up and offering to march into the fray is part of who we are, and that willingness is deeply embedded in many of our cultures.

Officials have said that if all races had enlisted during WWII at the same rate as the Indigenous, there would have been no draft. Think about that for a moment. Think about what was done to our people, and what they were still willing to give, and all that we might learn from examining the reasons why.

I remember being told, when I was younger that Indigenous men who returned from wars they fought in on behalf of the United States were often greeted with the same songs and celebrations that had greeted our Indigenous warriors when they were fighting on behalf of their own nations. Some of the women who were builders of community questioned this. The Lakota had long chanted “Hecel lena oyate ki nipi kte” for their departing warriors – it was a rallying cry reminding all that danger is faced, risks are taken, and lives are lost “so that the people may live.”

So that our people may live.

Obviously, there is a disconnect between those words and what it means to send people of color who have been starved of hope and opportunity to a foreign land to kill other people of color for the sake of the empire and its alliances. Women who recognized that disconnect wanted to reclaim those words for their attempts to heal their communities, both physically and spiritually, and they have. These words are now deeply connected to community efforts to treat the afflictions that literally take our lives. In a world built on your destruction and disposability, resilience is resistance.

As we challenge the narrative of days that elevate military service, we should remember those women and their work. I appreciate that some people post more thoughtfully than others, and I think challenging people to support our troops by refusing to send them into another pointless war is definitely a cut above most online discourse about days like yesterday. But it’s not enough. We must be the builders of a different culture. We must address the lack of opportunity, the hopelessness, and the search for purpose and meaning experienced by those who are brutalized from birth in this country. We must address the humanity of those who are weaponized if we ever hope to dismantle the machine. We must do the difficult work of understanding one another, and seeing both the good and the harm that feed into the tragedy of so many oppressed people enlisting to violently serve the oppressor.

I realize these thoughts won’t be popular with everyone. I myself have a father I greatly respect – a proud Indigenous man who enlisted to serve in Vietnam. I do not think poorly of him, and I respect a number of the values that led him to that decision, but I want a world where men and women like him don’t serve this government. To get there, we need to understand why people make these decisions, and we need to re-center our conversations around the places that those harms begin. We need to remember that these are our people, regardless of what we think of these horrible wars.

We need to remember one another’s humanity.

My heart goes out to everyone who sought opportunity, shelter, or purpose in a machine that was only meant to grind people like themselves under. If you have been trained to love and respect that mechanism, I love you no less for that. I understand that it is built to ensure that you are broken and rebuilt into a person who will pledge allegiance unfailingly, and I consider that a great harm and am sorry you experienced it, even if you are not. And if you did things, in the service of that mechanism, things that you struggle with or that haunt you, know that we all survive harm and cause harm, and are scarred by both. We overcome the recreation of those harms in other areas of our lives by coming to grips with the reasons these things happened, and addressing causation at the root. You can do this, if you choose to. You have a home amongst those who are challenging these structures, should you want it. Organizations like Veterans for Peace welcome those who are struggling with these issues, but so do people like me, who are simply building in community, around issues we care about, and learning to live with our own scars.

I too have harmed. I too have survived. And I am constantly learning and relearning not to re-weaponize the tools of survival that applied in some spaces, but that have no place in the life I want to live or the world I want to build. Please know that the places you’ve been, and the things that you have done and seen, are not the totality of who you are. There are other paths, and they are open to you, if you want them.

To everyone else, let’s build better. So that our people may live.

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Senate Moves to Check Executive Spying Power

After a hard-fought congressional debate, the Senate effectively allowed portions of the Patriot Act to expire as previously scheduled, appropriately rejecting a compromise branded as the Freedom Act. It is the first time Congress has meaningfully restrained the national security agencies since 2001. It will not be the last.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 21, 2015. After more than a decade of wrenching national debate over the intrusiveness of government intelligence agencies, a bipartisan wave of support has gathered to sharply limit the federal government's massive sweeps of phone and Internet records. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 21, 2015. After more than a decade of wrenching national debate over the intrusiveness of government intelligence agencies, a bipartisan wave of support has gathered to sharply limit the federal government's massive sweeps of phone and internet records. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

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A revolution came to Washington in the wee hours of Saturday morning, just after the stroke of midnight. After 15 years of congressional deference to mass surveillance, Congress finally took action - ironically, by failing to take action - and did its job to check and balance executive power.

On May 23, after a hard-fought congressional debate, the Senate effectively allowed portions of the notorious Patriot Act to expire as previously scheduled, appropriately rejecting a compromise branded as the Freedom Act.

It is the first time Congress has meaningfully checked and balanced the national security agencies since 2001. It will not be the last.

Where Did This Come From?

Congress approved the Patriot Act in 2001 with neither debate nor an understanding of what it entailed. Since then, it has accepted - from both the Bush and the Obama administrations - secret legal interpretations contorting statutes into mass surveillance programs recently held illegal by a federal appellate court, as well as lies under oath by senior officials aiming to hide domestic spying programs from congressional and public oversight.

The American people have never gone along quietly.

During the Bush administration, years before the Edward Snowden revelations amplified mass outrage in 2013, nearly 500 cities and eight states issued official declarations decrying mass surveillance. Cities from Lexington, Massachusetts to Bisbee, Arizona (including others in between like New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas), and states as politically diverse as California and Idaho raised their voices.

Since the Snowden revelations, Americans from coast to coast have taken action to challenge domestic spying. We have taken action online, from online petitions shaming the absent chair of a crucial congressional oversight committee, to campaigns promoting mass encryption to force constitutional compliance on the agencies technologically, despite their disdain for legal limits. We have taken action in the streets, outside NSA headquarters, outside the White House, at rallies on Capitol Hill and in our state legislatures. We have fought back with music, sculpture, DJ mixes, poetry and comedy.

While the domestic phone metadata program's days may be numbered, this drama is just beginning. Hawks may force another Senate vote on Section 215 on the eve of the phone dragnet's expiration. Beyond their desperate effort to save the program, the Freedom Act's rejection paves the way for further surveillance reform to address other legal authorities under which unconstitutional and ineffective domestic spying will continue even after this authority finally expires.

What Happened?

Congressional allies of the intelligence agencies failed to muster enough votes to extend Section 215 in the face of opposition, including a dramatic bipartisan filibuster initiated by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

The Freedom Act, proposed as a compromise after negotiation with the administration (which launched a failed 11th-hour blitz to ram it through) fell three votes short of the required minimum to force a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) then tried to force votes on a short-term reauthorization without proposed reforms, which several senators from both parties flatly rejected.

While the Freedom Act would have imposed some limits on domestic spying, the compromise it embodied was profoundly unambitious. The bill was built in relative secret, without nearly enough public input, and ignored most of the issues raised by the Snowden disclosures two years ago.

Having failed to sustain either the proposed compromise or several short-term reauthorization attempts proposed by the Senate majority leader, Congress need not waste further time considering whether to resuscitate Section 215. A federal appellate court recently ruled that its prior incarnation was illegal, anyway, reducing another potential vote to bickering over "yesterday's news."

The political shift indicates a direction for future reform.

Who Wins and Who Loses?

The most obvious losers are the NSA and FBI. After 15 years of breaking already permissive laws, yet not congressional blank checks, the agencies must finally start complying with constitutional limits.

Within the agencies, senior leaders of the intelligence establishment also emerge looking like clowns. Section 215 survived this long only because agency officials - including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former NSA Director Michael Hayden - lied under oath to evade oversight. The Senate's decision to end a program that senators learned about from whistleblowers, instead of those officials, further discredits their legacies.

Even if they remain above the law by evading the prosecution for perjury sought by multiple members of Congress, their careers will be defined by congressional and judicial rejection of illegal programs they built in secret.

To the extent intelligence officials are clowns, the many congressional leaders from both parties who supported them are stooges. Establishment Democrats and Republicans alike uncritically accepted lies, deferred to them and went along with the Beltway consensus - in sharp contrast to their populist colleagues who proved willing to uphold their oath of office to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Several winners also emerged from this drama.

Congressional rejection of mass spying vindicates several principles at once, including transparency, oversight, checks and balances, the separation of powers and constitutional rights enshrined in the First and Fourth Amendments. Each of those values is cherished across the political continuum, making them especially powerful during a presidential election year.

Senator Paul is another clear winner. He demonstrated leadership, surged among the crowded GOP field of 2016 presidential hopefuls and effectively seized control of the Senate from the majority leader. With its senators leading both the surveillance/secrecy/corruption caucus, as well as the competing constitutional/privacy/accountability caucus, Kentucky could also claim victory.

The US Constitution may be the most important winner. By proxy, "We the People of the United States" actually scored two victories at once.

Narrowly, the expiration of Patriot Act Section 215 advances Fourth Amendment privacy interests. Even though mass surveillance will continue for now under other legal authorities, one program through which our government monitors phone calls and tracks everyone's behavior, regardless of wrongdoing, will end.

More broadly, this vote begins a long-overdue process of limiting executive powers, expanded during a period of seeming emergency, which grew entrenched despite proving ineffective as well as constitutionally offensive. In this sense, congressional assertiveness supports democracy in a long-running battle to avoid the erosion from within foreseen by both Alexis de Tocqueville and President and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower.

What Comes Next?

With reformers having triumphed in Congress, the debate over surveillance reform must expand. Further reforms are necessary to enable an adversarial process and greater transparency at the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and also to limit other legal authorities - like Executive Order 12333 and FISA Section 702 - used to justify unconstitutional domestic surveillance.

It's a good thing that a bipartisan measure, the Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 1466), is poised to do exactly that. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) introduced the SSRA to force the agencies to justify the expansion of any powers from a constitutional baseline, rather than one contrived by a decade of executive lies.

Congress has long abandoned its role of checking and balancing runaway executive power, but the Senate's recent vote suggests an overdue awakening. Members should heed the political wind, and embrace bipartisan calls for aggressive limits as the starting point for comprehensive surveillance reform.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pentagon Report Predicted West's Support for Islamist Rebels Would Create ISIS

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these "supporting powers" desired the emergence of a "Salafist Principality" in Syria to "isolate the Syrian regime."

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the 'Islamic State' as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the "Syrian opposition" — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated "Salafist Principality" as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.


The revelations contradict the official line of Western governments on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home.

Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as "secret," dated 12th August 2012.

The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community.

So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.

Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community's internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria.

Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said:

"Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it's unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West's governments and media in their support of Syria's rebellion."

The West's Islamists

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies.

Noting that "the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria," the document states that "the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition," while Russia, China and Iran "support the [Assad] regime."

The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the 'Islamic State in Iraq,' (ISI) which became the 'Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,' "supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media."

The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the "rise of the insurgency in Syria" has increasingly taken a "sectarian direction," attracting diverse support from Sunni "religious and tribal powers" across the region.

In a section titled 'The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,' the DIA report predicts that while Assad's regime will survive, retaining control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate "into proxy war."

The document also recommends the creation of "safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command centre for the temporary government."

In Libya, anti-Gaddafi rebels, most of whom were al-Qaeda affiliated militias, were protected by NATO 'safe havens' (aka 'no fly zones').

'Supporting powers want' ISIS entity

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of "an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria."

Nevertheless, "Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts" by Syrian "opposition forces" fighting to "control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)":

"… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)."

The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist "Salafist Principality" in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this "Shia expansion."

The establishment of such a "Salafist Principality" in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is "exactly" what the "supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want." Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those "supporting powers" as "the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey."

Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.

The establishment of such a "Salafist Principality" in eastern Syria, it says, would create "the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi." Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.

Such a quasi-state entity will provide:

"… a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of territory."

The 2012 DIA document is an Intelligence Information Report (IIR), not a "finally evaluated intelligence" assessment, but its contents are vetted before distribution. The report was circulated throughout the US intelligence community, including to the State Department, Central Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, among other agencies.

In response to my questions about the strategy, the British government simply denied the Pentagon report's startling revelations of deliberate Western sponsorship of violent extremists in Syria. A British Foreign Office spokesperson said:

"AQ and ISIL are proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK opposes all forms of terrorism. AQ, ISIL, and their affiliates pose a direct threat to the UK's national security. We are part of a military and political coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and are working with international partners to counter the threat from AQ and other terrorist groups in that region. In Syria we have always supported those moderate opposition groups who oppose the tyranny of Assad and the brutality of the extremists."

The DIA did not respond to request for comment.

Strategic asset for regime-change

Security analyst Shoebridge, however, who has tracked Western support for Islamist terrorists in Syria since the beginning of the war, pointed out that the secret Pentagon intelligence report exposes fatal contradictions at the heart of official pronunciations:

"Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West's mainstream media, promoted Syria's rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West's support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it's significant that the West's media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them."

According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion in Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that:

"US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset."

Hoff, who is managing editor of Levant Report — an online publication run by Texas-based educators who have direct experience of the Middle East — points out that the DIA document "matter-of-factly" states that the rise of such an extremist Salafist political entity in the region offers a "tool for regime change in Syria."

The DIA intelligence report shows, he said, that the rise of ISIS only became possible in the context of the Syrian insurgency — "there is no mention of US troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State's rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits." The report demonstrates that:

"The establishment of a 'Salafist Principality' in Eastern Syria is 'exactly' what the external powers supporting the opposition want (identified as 'the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey') in order to weaken the Assad government."

The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West's commitment to "isolating Syria."


Critics of the US-led strategy in the region have repeatedly raised questions about the role of coalition allies in intentionally providing extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups in the drive to destabilize the Assad regime in Syria.

The conventional wisdom is that the US government did not retain sufficient oversight on the funding to anti-Assad rebel groups, which was supposed to be monitored and vetted to ensure that only 'moderate' groups were supported.

However, the newly declassified Pentagon report proves unambiguously that years before ISIS launched its concerted offensive against Iraq, the US intelligence community was fully aware that Islamist militants constituted the core of Syria's sectarian insurgency.

Despite that, the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.

As Shoebridge told me, "The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria's rebellion" — namely, the emergence of ISIS — "but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West's public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria's rebellion was overwhelmingly 'moderate.'"

Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer who blew the whistle in the 1990s on MI6 funding of al-Qaeda to assassinate Libya's former leader Colonel Gaddafi, similarly said of the revelations:

"This is no surprise to me. Within individual countries there are always multiple intelligence agencies with competing agendas."

She explained that MI6's Libya operation in 1996, which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, "happened at precisely the time when MI5 was setting up a new section to investigate al-Qaeda."

This strategy was repeated on a grand scale in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, said Machon, where the CIA and MI6 were:

"… supporting the very same Libyan groups, resulting in a failed state, mass murder, displacement and anarchy. So the idea that elements of the American military-security complex have enabled the development of ISIS after their failed attempt to get NATO to once again 'intervene' is part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing."

Divide and rule

Several US government officials have conceded that their closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition were funding violent extremist Islamist groups that became integral to ISIS.

US Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, admitted last year that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.

But he did not admit what this internal Pentagon document demonstrates — that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.

The strategy appears to fit a policy scenario identified by a recent US Army-commissioned RAND Corp report.

The report, published four years before the DIA document, called for the US "to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world."

The US would need to contain "Iranian power and influence" in the Gulf by "shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan." Simultaneously, the US must maintain "a strong strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government" despite its Iran alliance.

The RAND report confirmed that the "divide and rule" strategy was already being deployed "to create divisions in the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical level."

The report observed that the US was forming "temporary alliances" with al-Qaeda affiliated "nationalist insurgent groups" that have fought the US for four years in the form of "weapons and cash." Although these nationalists "have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces," they are now being supported to exploit "the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both parties."

The 2012 DIA document, however, further shows that while sponsoring purportedly former al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda, Western governments were simultaneously arming al-Qaeda insurgents in Syria.

The revelation from an internal US intelligence document that the very US-led coalition supposedly fighting 'Islamic State' today, knowingly created ISIS in the first place, raises troubling questions about recent government efforts to justify the expansion of state anti-terror powers.

In the wake of the rise of ISIS, intrusive new measures to combat extremism including mass surveillance, the Orwellian 'prevent duty' and even plans to enable government censorship of broadcasters, are being pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, much of which disproportionately targets activists, journalists and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims.

Yet the new Pentagon report reveals that, contrary to Western government claims, the primary cause of the threat comes from their own deeply misguided policies of secretly sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400