Thursday, August 28, 2008

Torture As Official Israeli Policy

Torture As Official Israeli Policy - by Stephen Lendman

The UN Convention against Torture defines the practice as:

"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain and suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity...."

The US and Israel are the only two modern states that legally sanction torture. An earlier article covered America. This one deals with the Jewish state, but let there be no doubt:

Although its language in part is vague, contradictory and protects abusive practices, Section 277 of Israel's 1977 Penal Law prohibits torture by providing criminal sanctions against its use. It specifically states in language similar to the UN Convention against Torture:

"A public servant who does one of the following is liable to imprisonment for three years: (1) uses or directs the use of force or violence against a person for the purpose of extorting from him or from anyone in whom he is interested a confession of an offense or information relating to an offense; (2) threatens any person, or directs any person to be threatened, with injury to his person or property or to the person or property of anyone in whom he is interested for the purpose of extorting from him a confession of an offense or any information relating to an offense." However, Israel clearly discriminates against Palestinians, (including Israeli Arab citizens), denies them rights afforded only to Jews, and gets legal cover for it by its courts. More on that below.

Nonetheless, the Jewish state is a signatory to the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and other international laws banning the practice. It's thus accountable for any violations under them to all its citizens and persons it controls in the Occupied Territories.

US statutes leave no ambiguity on torture. Neither do international laws like The (1949) Third Geneva Convention's Article 13 (on the Treatment of Prisoners of War). It states:

They "must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited....(these persons) must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation...."

Third Geneva's Article 17 states:

"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war" for any reasons whatsoever.

Third Geneva's Article 87 states:

"Collective punishment for individual acts, corporal punishments, imprisonment in premises without daylight and, in general, any form of torture or cruelty, are forbidden.

The (1949) Fourth Geneva Convention's Article 27 (on the treatment of Civilian Persons in Time of War) states:

Protected persons "shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof...."

Fourth Geneva's Articles 31 and 32 state:

"No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons."

"This prohibition applies to....torture (and) to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents."

Fourth Geneva's Article 147 calls "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment....grave breaches" under the Convention and are considered "war crimes."

All four Geneva Conventions have a Common Article Three requiring all non-combatants, including "members of armed forces who laid down their arms," to be treated humanely at all times.

The (1966) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 7 states:

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Its Article 10 states:

" All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity...."

The (1984) UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is explicit in all its provisions. It prohibits torture and degrading treatment of all kinds against anyone for any purpose without exception.

Various other international laws affirm the same thing, including the UN Charter with respect to human rights, 1945 Nuremberg Charter on crimes of war and against humanity, the (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the (1988) UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any form of Detention or Imprisonment, the UN (1955) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and (1990) UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So does Article 5 of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Rome Statute with regard to crimes of war and against humanity. Torture is such a crime - the gravest of all after genocide.

Israeli Torture Violates International Law

From inception to today, and especially since its 1967 occupation, Israel's military and security forces have willfully, systematically and illegally practiced torture - as official state policy against Palestinian detainees called "terrorists." Yet Israel always denies it, and its 1977 Penal Law prohibits it.

In 1987, the Landau Judicial Commission addressed the practice after two among many revelations became public:

-- defense minister Moshe Dayan's 1979 statement to Israel's Maareef daily regarding Arab prison detainees: "We will make of these detainees parasites in their societies, and we will not release them until they become like mummies, empty and full of holes from inside like Swiss cheese;" and

-- the 1980s torture scandals tarnishing Shin Bet's reputation as a respected internal security agency.

The Landau Commission condemned the practice but approved the Penal Law's "necessary defense" provision (in violation of international law) and sanctioned "psychological and moderate physical pressure" to obtain evidence for convictions in criminal proceedings. It said coercive interrogation tactics were necessary against "hostile (threats or acts of) terrorist activity" and all expressions of Palestinian nationalism.

Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ) legitimized coercive interrogations in three 1996 cases - by plaintiffs Bilbeisi, Hamdan and Mubarak for interim injunctions against abusive General Security Service (GSS - now the Israeli Security Agency or ISA) practices. Ones cited included violent shaking, painful shackling, hooding, playing deafeningly loud music, sleep deprivation, and lengthy detainments. After due consideration, the HCJ ruled painful shackling illegal, but not the other practices.

Israel claims it never uses torture and complies with international laws and norms. International law experts, the UN Committee Against Torture, and sources like B'Tselem, United Against Torture (UAT), and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) disagree.

So does Dr. Afi Rabs in testimony to Israel's High Court on 14 Palestinian prisoners. They were all detained for trivial offenses like stone-throwing and tire-burning and weren't "ticking bombs." Yet they all were tortured as one detainee explained:

"I was shackled in iron cuffs that entered my flesh, and a bag was put on my head as a certain music roared in my ears and almost deafened me. They used to beat me up and kick me, and my body was full of wounds and bruises. After that I was sent to a doctor who asked me if I was tortured, and I said yes, but he didn't reply or say something. Then I was taken back and tortured again."

PCATI petitioned the HCJ, and it responded with a landmark September 1999 ruling. It reversed the Landau Commission's recommendations, barred the use of torture against detainees, but left a giant loophole. It ruled that pressure and a measure of discomfort are legitimate interrogation side-effects provided they're not used to break a detainee's spirit. But it sanctioned physical force in "ticking time bomb" cases in direct violation of international laws allowing no exceptions under any circumstances. Moreover, Israeli security forces routinely claim detainees are security threats enough to justify its interrogation practices.

In November 2001, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights disagreed. It issued "Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture" and addressed the 1999 HCJ ruling in the case of the Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. the State of Israel. It held that: "the use of certain interrogation methods by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) involving the use of 'moderate physical pressure' was illegal as it violated constitutional protection of the individual's right of dignity....While recognizing the right of Israel to protect its citizens from violence, it reiterates that no exceptional circumstances may be invoked as justification of torture" or abusive interrogation practices.

Since its 1967 occupation, the Palestinian peace and justice group MIFTA estimates that over 650,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned - or the equivalent of about one-sixth of today's Occupied Palestinian population. Currently, Israeli security forces hold around 10 - 12,000 Palestinian men, women and children detainees under deplorable conditions and many administratively without charge. According to human rights organizations like B'Tselem, Hamoked, UAT and PCATI, up to 85% are subjected to torture and abusive treatment.

PCATI's June 2008 Torture Report

PCATI is a 1990-founded "independent human rights organization" that monitors and decries "the use of torture in (Israeli) interrogations (and works for its) complete prohibition." It also provides legal counsel, aids victims, and helps lawyers representing them.

Its June 2008 report is titled "No Defense: Soldier Violence against Palestinian Detainees." It begins with a question asked Brig. General Yossi Bachar (former commander of Israel's Paratrooper Brigade) at the trial of one of his soldiers accused of abusing a Palestinian detainee: "How common is the phenomenon of beating shackled Palestinian prisoners?"

His answer: " Unfortunately I want to admit something that we are not fully aware of. These cases are not all that exceptional in their my great regret. Many of them are not the subject of any complaint and are cloaked in various kinds of conspiracies of silence," only revealed years later and "usually only through anonymous statements...."

PCATI and other human rights organizations break the silence publicly:

-- "to describe the scope and frequency of (torture);"

-- its "moral, legal, and practical gravity;

-- to publicize (it);

-- to examine how (those responsible) address (it);

-- to clarify (its) absolute prohibition under Israeli and international law; and

-- to demand" its prohibition "by providing the relevant bodies with useful information and tools."

PCATI based its report on 90 testimonies: from Palestinian detainees and soldiers who arrested them. Also from published media information and comments from Israeli military and political figures. It covers the period June 2006 through October 2007 and is symptomatic of a broader phenomenon, largely unrevealed because most abused Palestinians "refrain from submitting complaints." As a result, PCATI's cases reflect the tip of the iceberg that's been "particularly severe over the past eight years" since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000. From then until now, PCATI describes a pattern of abuse that begins from the moment of arrest.

It's done by force in violation of the prohibition of the practice and the responsibility of soldiers to guarantee detainees' (in their custody) safety, dignity and physical integrity. Instead they expose them to "ill treatment and humiliation" - on arrest and immediately thereafter, in transit, and at military bases and installations pending transfer to detention facilities.

Abuse Begins at the Start

Most often, soldiers beat Palestinians during and right after painfully shackling them. Plastic handcuffs are used that can only be tightened, not released or loosened, and subjects are kept that way (generally for hours) long enough to cause permanent injury.

In response to PCATI requests, the IDF Spokesperson provided no regulations, procedures or orders regarding use of plastic handcuffs. However, Chief Military Police Officer Order No. 9810 discusses shackling in detention facilities and states: "only metal (devices) are to be used, (and) the tightening of the shackles should be prevent injury to the detainee (particularly to blood vessels)."

Violence and threats are also common from the start. Besides painful shackling, subjects describe being blindfolded, threatened with weapons and death, accused of harboring suicide attackers, shouted at, beaten, kicked, punched in the face, and in at least one instance told his house would be destroyed and burned. Complaining did no good. It incited more abuse.

Treatment During Transport - From Place of Arrest to Detention Facilities

This is stage two of abuse and humiliation - inside military vehicles. Subjects are made to sit or lie on their floors and at times are thrown on them. They're bare, hot, and when soldiers step on detainees' heads or bodies (a frequent practice) abrasions and injuries result. PCATI again found no orders or procedures regulating transport, so detainees are subjected to the whims of their captors while on site commanders look the other way.

Treatment in Temporary Army Base Detention

Here, too, abusive practices continue the way one detainee described: "I was put in a small room and they beat my legs. They put me on the floor. Then I felt one of the soldiers take something from the floor and beat me on my head and shoulders....Then they took me out into a concrete yard and tied my handcuffs to a concrete pole and made me sit on the ground and they beat me. Every hour or half hour they would beat me on the face."
Lack of oversight and procedures invite ill treatment, and soldiers take full advantage. It's painful, protracted and humiliating - sometimes so extreme that subjects lose consciousness or require hospitalization.

Sting dogs are also used and trained for one of five purposes: "assault, identification of explosives, scouting, weapons and ammunition searches, or rescue and release." Mere contact with dogs terrify and humiliate detainees who feel "dishonored whenever (these animals are) close to" or touch them.

Officially, sting dogs never attack "innocent persons," according to the IDF Spokesperson. But one soldier explained that they're trained for assault and "seek humans (by) their scent." Another sergeant confirmed that these dogs attack people, "more than once," because they're trained to do it:

-- on indicators like gunshots or scent; no human order is needed;

-- they move at some distance from their handlers, alongside soldiers not trained to control them; and

-- they're trained to be highly aggressive and capable of causing serious injury.

A Sting unit commander confirmed that these dogs "neutralize and attack hostile elements....seizes a subject and won't let go." They present a serious and imminent danger to any designated target - in some cases children identified as "wanted persons." Without oversight and procedures, soldiers can easily abuse them with Sting dogs.

Under Israeli law, minors are of special concern - defined as persons under 18, or under Occupied Territory military orders, youths under 16. Israeli law affords special protection to minors, yet, in practice, it's solely for Jews.

Nonetheless, Israel is a signatory to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child that's explicit and binding in its provisions:

-- that "every human being" below 18 is a child;

-- that the state must ensure that their economic, social and cultural rights, safety and welfare set forth in the Convention are protected "without discrimination of any kind" with regard to "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status," including their "right to life....survival (and) development;"

-- that all measures shall be taken to protect children from physical and mental violence, exploitation or ill treatment; and

-- that children deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and not subjected to torture or other abusive or degrading treatment, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Nonetheless, clear evidence shows that soldiers exercise no special caution in arresting and detaining minors. At times, they exploit their weaknesses - beating, abusing and terrifying them for merely throwing stones. PCATI characterizes this treatment as "just one link in a chain" of abuse beginning with arrest - in violation of international law and "accepted legal and moral standards in....Israel."

A Yesh Din human rights report showed that Occupied Territory Palestinian minors are prosecuted as adults under Israeli military law since no military juvenile courts exist. Prosecutors and judges make no distinction or reference to age nor did the IDF Spokesperson when asked to clarify special orders or procedures regarding minors. As a result, they're treated no differently than adults. No monitoring or procedures are in place, so the "grave consequences of this action can be anticipated in advance."

PCATI describes abusive practices throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and "not confined to one or two military units." Evidence obtained confirms a much broader phenomenon than testimonies revealed, and other human rights organizations concur - a pervasive, systematic practice going back "many years."

Israel Radio military correspondent, Carmella Menashe, discussed it in one broadcast:

"How can it be that....these events keep repeating themselves one is bothered....And this is the morality of the IDF; these are the most basic values to which soldiers should be educated from the (start); it isn't (about) Palestinians....(it's) about normative behavior, the most basic things....(how) a soldier in the IDF (can commit such abusive acts); it (comes down to) some kind of disregard for the lives of Palestinians" who simply don't matter to these soldiers.

For their part, military officials don't recognize the phenomenon and thus end up encouraging and reinforcing it. So do the Knesset, courts and respective governing administrations.

Treatment After Arrest

Israeli military law contains the specific offense of "ill treatment" that prohibits soldiers from abusing persons in their custody. Those found guilty face up to three years in prison and under "aggravating circumstances" up to seven years. In many of the instances PCATI uncovered, abuse amounted to "torture."

According to military law, "ill treatment" may be committed by one soldier against another or against someone "in custody for which the soldier is responsible" - characterized by denying the person's liberty.

A vast discrepancy of power exists between captive and captor. It's exploited whenever soldiers use violence and abusive practices against shackled, blindfolded and defenseless detainees denigrating their human dignity. Also when they endanger their lives or health or deviate from standard procedures.

In nearly all cases examined, this, in fact, happened as soldiers committed assault or assault in "aggravating circumstances." These are military "ill treatment" offenses and civilian ones under penal code articles 378 - 382. Other penal code offenses as well such as injury, battery, forcible extortion, ill treatment of a minor, and so forth. In all cases, soldier-committed violence against shackled detainees is a "criminal phenomenon (subject to penalties) under an entire system of offenses in Israeli criminal law."

Even so, in the few cases where soldiers were prosecuted, penalties imposed were minor compared to similar civil court convictions. And rarely are commanders charged even when they order detainees harmed, or they simply witness or know abuses occur but fail to intervene. At most in these cases, higher-ranking officers go before a disciplinary hearing, get charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, and receive suspended sentences. Never do senior commanders answer for ill treatment charges against their subordinates.

Coercive Field Interrogations

The Military Justice Code authorizes no operational need to beat or ill treat detainees under arrest. But enforcement, in fact, is lax and international law dismissed. It results in what PCATI discovered in spite of military investigatory bodies responsible for interrogation and prosecution. Three exist under the Military Justice Code:

-- an examining officer;

-- the Military Police Investigation Unit (MIU); and

-- an investigative judge.

In most cases, alleged offenses are examined by an examining officer or investigative judge (in cases of death) before offenders are prosecuted in a military court. Examining officers hear witnesses, examine evidence, order suspect arrests, and recommend if prosecutions are justified. In practice, investigations are inadequate so few cases, in fact, enter the legal system and few offenders end up convicted.

According to Knesset member Ophir Paz-Pines: Unaccountability for abusing Palestinians is no "small problem - it is a big problem." It was so bad during 2003 - 2005 that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's Preparedness and Routine Security Subcommittee described operational debriefings as "out of control." Most complaints charged go unaddressed, and most that are end up dismissed for "lack of evidence" or because accused soldiers are believed over complainants.

The result - almost no prosecutions or convictions. At most around two a year throughout the Intifada period when abuses were rampant and extreme. Furthermore, months go by before complaints are examined during which time many accused complete their service, return to civilian life, and end up free from prosecution or conviction.

Military courts are supportive. They:

-- abstain from most investigations;

-- rely on non-professional debriefing institutions with clear conflicts of interest and histories of false reporting;

-- manage their few investigations unprofessionally with no regard for justice; so

-- allow criminal abuse to go unpunished or barely so while absolving perpetrators of their responsibility; even rare convictions show leniency and send a powerful message: Palestinian rights don't matter so act with impunity; an obvious concern is raised; Palestinians face enormous obstacles getting justice in all Israeli courts; in military ones (against their own soldiers) it's near impossible; solution: an international law requiring:

-- civilians to be tried in civil courts;

-- soldiers as well when their victims are civilians; and

-- military courts for their own personnel solely in cases of military offenses.

Further, binding rules, procedures and guidelines must be in place as well as proper training, supervision and monitoring to insure that arrests, detentions and prosecutions are justly handled. Israel's military relies solely on the "values (spirit and norms) of the IDF." They're woefully inadequate, unresponsive to Arab rights, and always produce injustice. PCATI puts it this way: "Given this reality, it is hardly surprising that an examination of the actual behavior of the military, as distinct from its declarations, also reveals denial, evasion, and obfuscation."

Thousands of Palestinians are arrested, detained and abused. With little or no accountability, here's how one Israeli soldier put it: "When you deny thousands of people a day (free) movement, it is impossible to do it in a nice way." Nonetheless, government and military officials deny there's a problem. Examples of publicly exposed abuse are called exceptions or errors in judgment that are "dealt with exhaustively," according to the IDF Spokesperson. In fact, testimonies and reports reveal a widespread phenomenon.

Denial and cover-up assure its continuance, legitimization, and destructive consequences. And guilt goes right to the top - to senior Defense Ministry generals and Ministers of Defense. To Knesset members as well and ruling party officials. A review of unclassified Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee materials from 2003 - 2008 reveals no discussion of Palestinian detainees ill treatment - in spite of "countless reports in the soldiers," and by human rights organizations like PCATI, B'Tselem and others. The Committee "failed to fulfill its function and obligation" to supervise the security establishment, identify problems and propose solutions. As a consequence, human rights abuses continue unabated.

PCATI Recommendations for Change

International law is clear. As an occupying power, Israel is obligated to assure Palestinians' welfare, safety and rights:

-- recognizing the existence of the problem comes first; widespread ill treatment exists and must be addressed equitably;

-- reporting, inspection and enforcement mechanisms must be established to do it;

-- military and security forces must take the lead - through "tangible objectives for securing a drastic reduction in as short a period of time as possible (toward) the ultimate goal of completely eradicating this phenomenon;

-- high level examination of the problem should be made public, shared with commanders and soldiers, the media, and members of the Knesset - to send a clear message that this behavior won't be tolerated;

-- Defense Ministry orders, directives, procedures and guidelines should be established:

(1) to assign responsibility;

(2) define its range;

(3) how it's transfered;

(4) the command and residual responsibility for abusers to avoid the excuse that they can't be located;

(5) identify weak spots where ill treatment occurs;

(6) neutralize them by command presence or through a controlled physical space;

(7) allow no contact between dogs and detainees;

(8) give special attention to the arrest and detention of minors; and

(9) define arrest, transfer and detention procedures; the nature of an "imprisonment facility" as well as other defined guidelines and allowed procedures and practices.

In addition:

-- everything must be in writing and available to every soldier;

-- they should be fully briefed and trained;

-- no deviations should be tolerated;

-- adequate resources should be available for arrests through incarceration;

-- all arrests should be documented in detail;

-- training and procedures must assure detainee well-being, absolutely prohibit ill treatment, and require it be reported when observed;

-- assure binding and meaningful monitoring and enforcement of the rules; and

-- have the Knesset, administration and appropriate government bodies and officials involved to assure ill treatment won't be tolerated, and when it happens, those at the top share culpability.

It's up to the entire Israeli establishment to own up to the problem, recognize its gravity, and establish strong binding measures to eliminate it. Toward that end, PCATI and other human rights organizations and their supporters will continue to "expose and highlight this phenomenon" that continues to inflict great harm on defenseless Palestinians.

United Against Torture (UAT)

UAT is a (2005 established) "coalition of Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs (united) against the practice of torture and ill-treatment in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)...."

In December 2007, it issued its second annual report on "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" - through the period ending October 2007. It's based on questionnaires "to various stakeholders in Israel and the OPT, including the EU Tel Aviv Delegation (ECD), European Commission Technical Assistance Office for the West Bank and Gaza (ECTAO), EU Ambassadors and/or other relevant EU contact persons in EU Missions, and NGOs particularly active in this field."

UAT states that its report doesn't address specific instances of torture and abuse. Its purpose is to provide an overview of how "the EU and its Member States contribute to the prevention and eradication of torture" in Israel and the OPT.

It cites "EU guidelines against torture and ill-treatment." Some are as follows:

--"prohibit(ing) torture and ill-treatment in law, including criminal law;

-- condemn(ing), at the highest level, all forms of torture and ill-treatment;

-- tak(ing) effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures (against torture and ill-treatment);

-- adher(ing) to international norms and procedures....;" and

-- "combat(ing) impunity to hold perpetrators liable, establish(ing) reporting procedures, and provid(ing) reparation and rehabilitation for victims."

UAT cites various international laws against torture and abuse to which Israel is a signatory, including:

-- the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);

-- the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and

-- the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

International laws are clear. They not only prohibit torture and abuse, they legally bind states to undertake independent, impartial, and effective investigations into allegations and suspicions of these practices. They also require perpetrators be prosecuted and punished, that redress be afforded to victims, and that continuance of these crimes are banned.

UAT states: "if there is something (all) humanity (can) agree (on at least theoretically), it is that (preserving individual dignity in difficult situations requires that) we all conform to some elementary (common) standards of conduct." Otherwise, we risk "perishing in a mutual spiral of non-ending violence."

Israel on the Issue of Torture

Israel is a self-professed democracy, yet defines itself as a Jewish state, treats Jews preferentially, and affords them special rights and privileges denied those of other faiths. The country has no formal constitution. It's governed by its Basic Laws that guaranteed no human rights until the 1992 "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom" passed. It authorized the Knesset to overturn laws contrary to the right to dignity, life, freedom, privacy, and property as well as to leave and enter the country. The law states:

"There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person. All persons are entitled to protection" of these rights, and "There shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise."

Another Basic Law deals with "The Right to Life and Limb in Israeli Law." It implies that life is sacred and states: "Israeli law has abolished the death penalty for murder (and corporal punishment)." The 1998 "Good Samaritan Law" requires assistance be given in situations "of immediate and severe danger to another." These provisions are for Jews only because Basic Law provisions deny equality for non-Jews in spite of the following language:

Israeli law affirms "Fundamental human rights....founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free." Israeli Basic Law exists "to protect human (life,) dignity and (assure that) All government authorities are bound to respect (these) rights under this Basic Law" - with one proviso: Israel is a Jewish state so all rights, benefits, privileges and protections are for Jews only. Others are unwelcome, unwanted, unequal, and afforded no protections under the law.

Further, and in spite of unambiguous international laws, torture, abuse, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment aren't designated crimes under Israeli law. But the 1977 Penal Law prohibits torture and provides criminal sanctions against it in language similar to the UN Convention against Torture.

Nonetheless, Israel maintains that it "officially proclaimed (a) state of public emergency from 19 May 1948, four days after its founding, until the present day." It remains in force "due to the ongoing state of war or violent conflict between Israel and its neighbours, and the attendant attacks on the lives and property of its citizens." It thus illegally deviates from international law provisions that differ from whatever means it chooses to protect its liberty and security. By implication, torture and ill treatment are permissible. Exceptional conditions are normal, and temporary is permanent in direct contradiction to accepted norms and standards.

UAT states: freedom "from torture and other forms of ill-treatment or punishment may not be violated under any circumstances (and) states of emergency" allow no exceptions. The right to be free from torture and abuse is sacrosanct. Permissible "temporary" deviations allow no basic human rights violations. Such acts are strictly prohibited under accepted international laws to which State Party signatories are bound at all times, under all conditions, with no exceptions.

Yet Israel inflicts torture and ill treatment "in the context of the arrest and interrogation of persons suspected of being security threats" even when no charges against them are brought and no substantiating evidence exists. So practices like the following are common:

-- beatings;

-- sleep deprivation;

-- painfully tightened hand cuffs;

-- violent shaking;

-- kicking;

-- sharp twisting of the head sideways or backwards as well as painful twisting of arms, wrists and hands under conditions when they're tied to backs or other parts of chairs;

-- the painful and injury prone "frog" crouch on tiptoes with hands cuffed behind the back;

-- the "banana" position involving bending the back in a painful arch while extending the body horizontally to the floor on a backless chair - with arms and feet bound beneath it;

-- cuffing behind the back and shackling legs in the "shabah" position - a prolonged, painful binding of detainees' hands and feet to a standard-sized unupholstered, metal frame, rigid plastic chair fixed to the floor with no armrests;

-- using informer-collaborators to get information;

-- prolonged isolation, including psychologically harmful solitary confinement in tiny cells under painfully oppressive conditions designed to crush human resistance; as well as

-- cursing, humiliating and degrading treatment, strip searches, physical threats, and other practices designed to soften up detainees for questioning.

NGOs also harshly criticize Israeli prison conditions and family hardships faced to visit loved ones. Restrictions are onerous:

-- only first-degree relatives may come; and

-- male visitors between 16 and 35 are severely restricted; brothers get only one visit a year and sons only two; wives are also restricted; and

-- families need ICRC transport help to visit prisoners inaccessible to them otherwise because of distances involved and travel prohibitions.

UAT believes that human rights violations "are at the heart of the Middle East conflict" and directly affect "Israel's own stability and security." Yet Israel won't discuss them, and little compliance pressure is applied because of the country's "special status" with the EU and, of course, Washington. As a result, in spite of persistent human rights violations, the US turns a blind eye, and EU countries prefer dialogue to punishment, including sanctions against Israel with teeth.

Palestinians throughout the Territories lose out, but Hamas and Gazans under siege feel it most. They believe the international community and fellow Arab states abandoned and betrayed them and are leaving them to rot in spite of EU member states pledging billions to help build a Palestinian state at the December 2007 Paris Conference. Given Israel's alliance with the West, past pledges made and broken, and current conditions in Occupied Palestine, it's hard to imagine any of these funds going for meaningful improvements on the ground. It's easy to believe they'll finance Israel's security state and harm Palestinian interests.

UAT underscores the problem this way:

"Israel's sensitivity (in) dealing with....human rights (issues) and the problem of torture and ill-treatment makes any dialogue on these matter particularly slow and complex...." So much so that EU member states "may become overly reluctant to raise such issues systematically, consistently and firmly, notwithstanding their legal and political duty to put human rights in the centre of their foreign and security policy."

Dialogue nonetheless is ongoing. Human rights are addressed, but "apparently not the subject of torture and ill-treatment....Given the political realities in Israel and the OPT, progress in preventing and eradicating torture and ill-treatment must be regarded as a mid-and-long-term goal" in spite of modest NGO successes.

Overall, challenges to ending torture are formidable and numerous. In dealing with Israel, "there is never a good moment to raise human rights questions (and) always a reason for not doing something...." But UAT is forthright: despite Middle East tensions, political reality, and complexity of tough issues, no excuses justify EU member states for not "strongly and consistently promot(ing) full compliance with basic and absolute legal obligations to protect individuals' most fundamental rights." Action must overcome challenges on issues like these:

-- Israel's "extreme sensitivity" to criticism of its human rights record;

-- its security argument and state of war to justify abuses and disdain for international law;

-- its lack of political will to end 41 years of occupation;

-- its lack of accountability on issues of "necessity," including sanctioning torture and abuse;

-- its abusive detention conditions, including;

(1) denying Palestinians access to legal counsel during interrogations;

(2) interrogation methods used;

(3) overall policy brutality, including torture and abuse;

(4) horrific prison conditions;

(5) inadequate medical care and unseemly role of doctors during interrogations; and

(6) highly restrictive prison visitation rules. Also:

-- limited contact between NGOs and the Israeli government and practically no chance to exert influence;

-- the EU's lack of political will to "interfere" in Israeli "affairs;" member states have practically given up because "it is not worth having a fight with Israel;"

-- EU-Israeli economic ties relegate human rights issues to second tier status; and

-- mistaken EU Middle East policy allied with America instead of forging an independent one.

UAT notes that various human rights organizations have lost faith with the international community, including the EU and UN. They prefer their own efforts and resources, legally and politically, for whatever modest gains they can get rather than none at all from ineffective nations.

UAT conclusions are as follows:

-- information on guidelines and their implementation is essential to eradicating torture and abuse;

-- NGOs are highly respected, and their information is considered accurate; but some of them have more contact with EU members than others;

-- given Israel's sensitivity and growing economic ties, EU states have considerable discomfort raising issues of torture and abuse; however, to some degree (if inadequate) they've engaged on matters of administrative detentions, the Separation Wall, and West Bank settlements; yet their efforts come down to this: with minor exceptions, no successes have been achieved and Israeli policies continue unabated; so EU efforts amount to little more than a "balancing act" - to maintain good relations with Israel for appropriate political and economic gains; and

-- on a positive note, EU states have contributed "financial assistance to civil society actors in Israel and the OPT;" but it doesn't substitute for positive pressure and action.


-- hearts and minds on all sides must be changed to eradicate torture and abuse;

-- America's moral leadership is defunct so EU states must take the lead and stick to their legal, political and ethical principles;

-- they must overcome individual differences and "act as one entity;"

-- they must press their advantage with Israel; economic gains have a price - improving the country's human rights record, particularly regarding torture and abuse, and complying fully with international law obligations;

-- NGOs should press for laws penalizing torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; they should also lobby for independent, impartial and competent remedies to these practices in accordance with international law; and

-- they should address all other violations and enforcement of international laws prohibiting them.

Ending the cycle of violence is challenging. Time and will are needed. It starts by respecting everyone's equal rights and their intrinsic human worth. If agreement on not resorting to violence can be achieved, "the magic key to peace, justice and true security" may be at hand, but it'll take a determined effort to turn it constructively and no time to waste doing it.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reinventing the Evil Empire

Reinventing the Evil Empire - by Stephen Lendman

For the West, everything changed but stayed the same, hard-wired and in place. Things just lay dormant in the shadows during the Yeltsin years, certain to reemerge once a more resolute Russian leader took over. If not Vladimir Putin, someone else little different.

Russia is back, proud and reassertive, and not about to roll over for America. Especially in Eurasia. For Washington, it's back to the future, the new Cold War, and reinventing the Evil Empire, but this time for greater stakes and with much larger threats to world peace. Conservatives lost their influence. Neocons are weakened but still dominant. The Israeli Lobby and Christian Right drive them. Conflict is preferred over diplomacy, and most Democrats go along to look tough on "terrorism." Notably their standard-bearer, vying with McCain to be toughest.

Ten former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics are part of NATO: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition, Georgia and Ukraine seek membership. Russia is strongly opposed. And now for greater reason after Poland (on August 20) formally agreed to allow offensive US "interceptor missiles" on its soil. A reported 96 short-range Patriot ones also plus a permanent garrison of US troops - 110 transfered from Germany, according to some accounts. Likely more to follow. In addition, Washington agreed to defend Poland whether or not it joins NATO, so that heightens tensions further.

The Warsaw signing followed the Czech Republic's April willingness to install "advanced tracking missile defense radar" by 2012. In both instances, Russia strongly objected, and on August 20 said it will "react (and) not only through diplomatic protests." Both former Warsaw Pact countries are now targets. The threat of nuclear war is heightened. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock heads closer to midnight - meaning "catastrophic destruction." It's no joking matter.

The US media downplays the threat and hails a pact Zbigniew Brzezinski (a Polish national, former Carter National Security Advisor, and key Obama foreign policy strategist) calls a watershed in the two countries' relationship - "This changes the strategic relationship between the US and Poland. There is a clear and explicit understanding that if there are negative consequences of stationing the missile shield, the US will come to Poland's defense."

On the one hand, a surprising statement from a man critical of Bush administration policies, its failure in Iraq, and the dangers of a widened Middle East war. He fully understands the heightened potential for world conflict but sounds dismissive of the threat. On the other hand, he has bigger fish to fry and apparently willing to wage big stakes on winning. The Iraq war and Iran are distractions by his calculus. The real Great Game embraces all Eurasia and assuring America comes out dominant - not Russia, not China, nor any rival US alliance.

The major media also downplay the dangers and explain nothing about the high stakes. Instead they beat up on Russia and highlight comments from Secretary Rice that missiles aren't "aimed in any way at Russia," or White House spokesperson Dana Perino saying: "In no way is the president's plan for missile defense aimed at Russia. (It's to) protect our European allies from any rogue threats" that suggests Iran, but, clearly means Russia, according to Hauke Ritz's recent analysis in Germany's influential Leaves for German and International Politics journal.

He explained that Iran's missiles can't reach Europe, and that Washington rejected Russia's proposed Azerbaijan-based joint US-Russian anti-missile system - to intercept and destroy Iranian missiles on launch. He thus concluded that Washington's scheme is for offense, not defense. That it targets Russia, not Iran, with Alaskan and other installations close to Russia as further proof. He wrote: "The strategic significance of the system consists of intercepting those few dozen missiles Moscow (can launch) following a first strike. (It's) a crucial develop a nuclear first strike capacity against Russia. The original plan is for....ten interceptor missiles in Poland. But once....established, their number could be easily increased."

According to Ritz, Washington wants a missile system that "guarantee(s a) US (edge) to carry out nuclear war without (risking a) counter-strike." It can then be used for geopolitical advantage "to implement national interests," but it highlights the dangers of possible nuclear confrontation and the catastrophic fallout if it happens.

In an August 20 Veterans of Foreign Wars convention address, Bush was essentially on this theme in focusing on "terrorism" and saying: "We're at war against determined enemies, and we must not rest until that war is won." Georgia "stands for freedom around the world, now the world must stand for freedom in Georgia" - clearly linking Russia's response with "terrorism" and suggesting from his September 2001 address to a joint session of Congress and the America people that: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Any that are "will be a hostile state." Clearly, Russia is on his mind just as Moscow is carefully evaluating his threat.

The BBC echoed the US media, covers all the bases, mentioned the Iranian threat, singles out Russia, obfuscates facts about the conflict, sides with Washington and Poland on the new missile deal, and quoted Polish President Lech Kaczynski saying: "no one (with) good intentions towards us and (the West) should" fear the missiles. It also cited a miraculous turnaround in sentiment saying two-thirds of Poles now favor them. Astonishing since overwhelming opposition was recently evident, so it's hard imagining it shifted so fast.

High-Octane Russia Bashing - The Dominant US Media

The Wall Street Journal asserted that Poles "see the US as their strongest ally" given "two centuries of invasions and partitioning by Russia" and other European powers. It also highlighted Russia's "nuclear threat" (not Iran's) in a Gabriel Schoenfeld article painting Russia as an aggressor and America aiding its European allies.

Schoenfeld (a senior editor of the hawkish, pro-Israeli Commentary magazine) cites "Moscow's willingness to crush Georgia with overwhelming force (and claims) the Kremlin has 10 times as many tactical (short-range) warheads as the US." The "shift in the nuclear imbalance....helped embolden the bear." He ignores America's overall nuclear superiority, but it hardly matters as both countries combined have around 97% of these weapons (an estimated 27,000 world total) according to experts like Helen Caldicott - more than enough to destroy the planet many times over.

Nonetheless, Schoenfeld supports the Polish agreement in the face of a "pugnacious Russia (determined to acquire) economic and military power (and) not afraid to use threats and force to get (its) way (with) nuclear weapons central to the Russian geopolitical calculus." It's reminiscent of "the dark days of communist yore (and captures the threat of what) we and Russia's neighbors are up against."

For the moment, anti-Iranian rhetoric has subsided with Russia the new dominant villian. En route to the NATO Brussels August 18 meeting, Secretary Rice called Russia's action against Georgia a "very dangerous game and perhaps one the Russians want to reconsider." Russian "aggression" is the buzzword, and the media dutifully trumpet it.

So do the presidential candidates. John McCain was especially belligerent in denouncing "Russian aggression" and calling on Moscow to "immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory." He called for emergency Security Council and NATO meetings in hopes condemnation would follow and "NATO (can act) to stabiliz(e) this very dangerous situation." He also wants Russia expelled from the G-8 nations and an end to 10 years of partnership and cooperation.

Barak Obama first said that Russia's "aggression" must not stand and denounced "Russian atrocities." He then softened his tone somewhat with: "Now is the time for action - not just words....Russia must halt its violation of Georgian airspace and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia, with international monitors to verify that these obligations are met." But expect those comments to harden as Democrats meet in Denver, and the party's nominee will likely match his opponent's tough stance. Or at least try under a slogan of "Securing America's Future" to advance the nation's interests in the world. Beating up on Russia is now fair game and made easier with lockstep media support.

The Wall Street Journal is more hostile than most, and practically frothed in its August 16 - 17 weekend edition. It called for "Making Putin Pay (and) Turning Russia's Georgian rout into a political defeat." It cited Russian aggression "to remove President Saakasvili from the office to which he was elected in 2004 (and to) overthrow a democratic government."

It called on "western authorities (to) explore the vulnerability of Russian assets abroad (or) at least make life difficult for the holders of those assets." The Journal might remember the billions of US fixed income and other investments Russia holds - although the country's Central Bank reported late July that it pared its $100 billion in US "mortgage bonds" to $50 billion early in the year. The US Treasury reports that Russia holds around $36 billion of Treasury securities with considerably more in private hands.

The Journal then compared Russia to China and managed a slap at both. It said: "In the world of global commerce....China calculated that....staging an Olympic extravaganza (could enhance its) ambivalent reputation....By contrast, the Putin government....seems to believe its power grows in sync with its reputation as an international pariah, an outsider state," and George Bush added that "Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world" - with the Journal writer hardly blinking at such brazen hypocrisy.

Nor did Journal editorial board member Matthew Kaminski in his headlined piece: "Russia Is Still a Hungry Empire" without a hint about the Soviet Union's bloodless 1991 dissolution now down the memory hole in light of today's inflammatory headlines.

Kaminski highlights "Russian tanks rolling through Georgia (with) images of Chechnya in 1994 and '99, Vilnius '91, Afghanistan '79, Prague '68, Hungary '56" and before that Poland, the Baltics and other Eastern European states. "The war in Georgia marks an easy return to territorial expansion and attempted regional dominance."

Boris Yeltsin "tried to give Russians an alternative narrative. (He) put forward democracy as a unifying and legitimizing idea for the new Russian state." But that was swept away when "Putin took over." He's unresponsive to the idea of "partnership with the West and freedom at home." He aims to force "young democracies around Russia....back into Moscow's sphere of influence....The worldview of a Russian nationalist is hard for outsiders to comprehend," and for Kaminski one that mustn't be allowed to stand.

Nor for other Journal contributors daily (in op-eds and editorials) with some of the most outlandish attack journalism heard since before Gorbachev. Claims that "Kremlin capitalism is a threat to the using its market strength in oil and gas resources to strong-arm its neighbors and outmaneuver the US and EU." And that Russia's real aim "is to replace a pro-western government with a new Russian satellite....reminiscent of the Brezhnev doctrine. (It's) part of a broader campaign (to annex new territory, expand the Russian empire, conduct) cyber attacks against the Baltic states, (assassinate enemies, and use) economic intimidation (through) cutoffs of Russian oil and gas shipments to Ukraine and the Czech Republic....It is important that Moscow pays a concrete and tangible price for its latest aggression, at least comparable to (what) it paid for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan."

The New York Times is more measured but, on August 19, highlighted "Survivors in Georgia Tell of Ethnic Killings" with suggestions of "ethnic cleansing" - a practice that "haunted the borderlands of the old Soviet bloc." Villages were "burned and houses broken; unburied bodies lay rotting; fresh graves were dug in gardens and basements....most victims interviewed (were) ethnic Georgians....(In central Georgian) villages, some killings were carried out for revenge....some (involved) theft (and still others) seemed to be that the power balance was shifting, away from ethnic Georgians to the Ossetian separatists and their Russian backers."

Independent reporters on the ground contradicted The Times and similar US media accounts. One wrote: "Georgians living in several of the villages said the Russians occupying their land had treated them well, done nothing to encourage them to leave and offered the only protection available from the South Ossestian militias they feared most" and perhaps their own army in an effort to inflict harm and blame it on Russia.

On August 21, The Times headlined: "US Sees Much to Fear in a Hostile Russia (by) usher(ing) in a sustained period of renewed animosity with the West....problems extend(ing) far beyond (arms deals with) Syria and the mountains of Georgia." Others with "anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela." Pressuring US "military bases in Central Asia....counterterrorism, Hamas" and numerous other issues. Obama's chief Russia advisor, Stanford University professor Michael McFaul, was quoted saying Russia appears intent on "disrupt(ing) the international order" and can do it. They're "the hegemon in that region and we are not and that's a fact."

"Russia has all the leverage," according to Carnegie Moscow Center's Masha Lipman (with) potential for causing headaches" if it chooses - in the region, the UN, on Iran, Zimbabwe, and to halt "any kind of coercive actions, like economic sanctions or anything else," according to former National Security Council advisor Peter Feaver. An old post-Cold War concern is now arisen. Russia is now "a spoiler."

An August 21 AP report cites an example in its headlined piece" "Russia blocks Georgia's main (oil) port city" of Poti and continues to hold positions around Gori and Igoeti....30 miles west of....Tbilisi."

Reports from Other Sources

On August 21, Russia Today reported that "Abkhazia rallie(d) for independence (and) the Abkhazian Parliament has approved an official appeal to Russia to recognize its independence." Tens of thousands rallied in support, and on August 23, Reuters reported that South Ossetia did as well and its president, Eduard Kokoity, plans to ask Russia and the international community for recognition. Russia's Deputy Federation Council Speaker, Svetlana Orlova, told the rally that "Russia is always with you and will never leave you in the lurch."

On August 23, The New York Times reported that "the Kremlin is nearing formal recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, possibly as early as next week." Apparently likely according to Russian Regional Development Minister, Dmitry Kozak, who told Itar-Tass "support is likely (and) that after all the events that have occurred, one should not expect otherwise."

On August 21, Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh "appealed to Russia and to governments of other countries to recognize Abkhazia's independence," for both his province and South Ossetia. On August 20, Interfax reported that the Russian Federation Council (Russia's upper House of parliament) is prepared to recognize both provinces' independence if their people "express such a will....and if the Russian president makes a relevant decision on this score," according to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov.

On August 25, Russia Today reported that (in emergency session) the Federation Council unanimously voted to ask President Medvedev to recognize Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence. Both province presidents addressed the chamber and "again said they will never agree to remain within Georgia" and are more entitled to independence than Kosovo. Konstantin Zatulin, deputy head of the Duma Committee for International Affairs in Russia's State Duma, its lower chamber, stated that his body "most probably" will go along.

At the same time, tensions remain high. Both sides continue hostile accusations. Russia maintains it's conducting an orderly withdrawal "in accordance with the international agreements (to their) previous (places) of deployment," according to Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of Russia's General Staff. US military officials at first said they saw no significant pullback. On August 22 with a clear withdrawal underway, the International Herald Tribune reported that the "US and France say Russia is not complying" with the cease fire.

Russia is observing a 1999 joint Russian-S. Ossetian-N. Ossetian-Georgian agreement prepared by the Joint Control Commission, an international South Ossetian monitoring body. It lets Russian troops secure a corridor five miles beyond either side of South Ossetia's border that extends into Georgia. It also allows Russian peacekeepers to operate under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

On August 23, RIA Novosti reported that Nogovitsyn said Russian forces will patrol Georgia's Black Sea Poti port as "envisaged in the international agreement. Poti is outside of the security zone," he said, "but that does not mean we will sit behind a fence watching them riding around in Hummers." Nor allow Georgia to rearm for more aggression as Russia suspects, and that Georgia's deputy defense minister, Batu Kutelia, admitted doing initially. On August 22, he told the Financial Times that his government attacked the S. Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, and attempted to seize it.

On August 22, Nogovitsyn heightened tensions by claiming Georgia is now preparing for new military action against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "We have registered an increase in (Georgian) reconnaissance activities and preparations for armed actions in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone." As a result, he said that Russia reserves the right to maintain peacekeepers in both provinces. For its part, RIA Novosti reports that America now refuses to participate with Russia in "NATO's Operation Active Endeavour naval antiterrorism exercise," according to a Russian Black Sea Fleet source. The announcement came after Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, said his country was "temporarily suspending military cooperation with NATO until a political decision on relations" between the two nations had been resolved.

Also on August 22, the Israeli published a Russian daily Kommersant interview with Washington's new Moscow ambassador, John Beyrle, sure to embarrass his superiors. He called Russia's response justified after its troops came under attack. "Now we see Russian forces which responded to attacks on Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, legitimately...." He went on to criticize Russia's over-reaction and warned about its impact on US - Russia relations as well as investor confidence. Nonetheless, his first comment is telling and quite contrary to everything from Washington and biting anti-Russian media responses.

Finally on August 23, Russia Today reported that the "local (S. Ossetian and Abkhazian) population (said) they fear Georgia might repeat its regional aggression. They also (want) Russian troops to stay in the area to shield them from any possible attacks." Russia has set up 18 S. Ossetia peacekeeping posts and plans a similar number in Abkhazia "to deter looters and the transportation of arms and ammunition."

All the News Not Fit to Print

Not a major media hint that Georgia is a US vassal state. That its military is an extension of the Pentagon. That its aggression was manufactured in Washington. That it's well-supplied and trained by America and Israel. That pipeline geopolitics is central. Beating up on Russia as well. Diverting Moscow from any planned intervention against Iran. Even enlisting Russia's cooperation - not to sell Iran sophisticated S-300 air defense missile systems and agreeing to tougher sanctions in return for perhaps Washington deferring on Georgian and Ukrainian NATO admission and recognizing S. Ossetian and Abkhazian independence. Perhaps more as well to put off greater confrontation for later under a new administration.

Clearly, however, the fuse is lit. It has been for some time. It relates to everything strategic about this vital area with its immense energy and other resources as well neutralizing Russia's power as America's top rival and key Eurasian competitor.

Controlling the region's oil and gas is crucial and what Michel Chossudovsky explains in his August 22 article titled: "The Eurasian Corridor: Pipeline Geopolitics and the New Cold War." He calls the Caucasus crisis "intimately related to the control over energy pipeline and transportation corridors (and cites) evidence that the Georgian (August 7) attack....was carefully planned (in) High level consultations (between) US and NATO officials" months in advance. On August 23, RIA Novosti said a Russian security source accused Georgia of involvement a year ago in "coordinat(ion) with NATO's plans to strengthen its (Black Sea) naval presence."

Chossudovsky discusses America's (1999) "Silk Road Strategy: The Trans-Eurasian Security System (as) an essential building block of (post-Cold War) US foreign policy." Proposed in House legislation but never enacted, it was for "an energy and transport corridor network linking Western Europe to Central Asia and eventually to the Far East." It aims to integrate South Caucasus and Central Asian nations "into the US sphere of influence." It involves "militariz(ing) the Eurasian corridor," much like Security and Prosperity Partnership plans are for North America.

Efforts are largely directed against Russia, China and Iran as well as other Eastern-allied states. It's to turn all Eurasia into a "free market" paradise, secure it for capital, assure US dominance, control its resources, exploit its people, transform all its nations into American vassals, and likely aim to dismantle Russia's huge landmass if that idea ever comes to fruition.

Russia, however, isn't standing idle and is partnered in two strategic alliances:

-- the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) since June 2001 along with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan with Iran in observer status. It defines its goals as: "good neighborly relations;" promoting "effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology" and more as well as "ensur(ing) peace, security and stability in the region." Given NATO's potential threat, its main purpose is military; and

-- the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) since 2003 "in close liaison with the SCO" with a heavy emphasis on security against NATO Eurasian expansionism; its members include: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The stakes are huge as both sides prepare to confront them. All part of the new Cold War and Great Game. Reinventing the Evil Empire and beating up on Russia as part of it. Risking a potential nuclear confrontation as well and what a new US president will inherit with no assurance a Democrat will be any more able than a Republican. And with a global economic crisis unresolved, either one may resort to the age old strategy of stoking fear, going to war, hoping it will stimulate the economy, and be able to divert public concerns away from lost jobs, home foreclosures, and a whole array of other unaddressed issues.

In early 2003, it worked. Will 2009 be a repeat? Will it deepen what author Kevin Phillips calls "the global crisis of American capitalism?" Will the Doomsday Clock strike midnight? It moved two minutes closer on January 17, 2007 to five minutes to the hour. It cited 27,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 ready to launch in minutes. It said: "We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since....Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices." It said the situation is "dire." It called for immediate preventive action. Its message went unheeded, and conditions today have worsened. The high Eurasian stakes up things further, and neither side so far is blinking.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Peace Mom" v. "Guardian of Power"

"Peace Mom" v. "Guardian of Power" - by Stephen Lendman

Credit both titles to the book authors. Cindy Sheehan as a mother, peace activist, and now candidate to succeed Nancy Pelosi in California's Eighth Congressional District. Pelosi as both "guardian" and possessor of what Davids Cromwell and Edwards wrote about in their powerful critique of the media.

Both women represent hugely different interests, so let readers choose which ones they prefer. First some background on both candidates.

Sheehan is a peace activist, not a politician, and think how refreshing that is. Here's some background about her from her web site:

-- born in California to working-class parents who experienced the pain of the Great Depression;

-- raised four children, including her son Casey; killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004 at age 24 - five days after he arrived;

-- Sheehan bitterly opposed the war and begged her son not to re-enlist in August 2003: "I begged Casey not to go. I told him I would take him to Canada. (I would do) anything to get him not to go to that immoral war;"

-- as an adult mother, she attended Cerritos College and UCLA;

-- she then worked as a Youth Minister at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vacaville, CA for eight years and coordinated an after-school program for at-risk middle school children;

-- everything changed when Casey was killed; it energized her to action;

-- she founded Gold Star Families for Peace in January 2005, an organization of family members whose relatives were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and that's dedicated "to ending the occupation in Iraq and bringing our troops home;"

-- in August 2005, she organized demonstrations close to the Bush ranch in Crawford, TX - what became known as "Camp Casey;" it drew thousands of activists and celebrities from around the world in protest against an illegal war they want stopped;

-- prior to her congressional campaign, she travelled the world to meet with world leaders about resolving the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts; the US Congress and governments of South Korea, Scotland and Canada paid her special recognition;

-- numerous organizations around the country and world now have her as a keynote speaker and honored guest;

-- she receives dozens of peace awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005; in addition, Dario Fo, 1997 Nobel Laureate for Literature, wrote a play about her called "Peace Mom," the same title as her book;

-- she's also now an accomplished author of three books to go along with her other achievements that have gotten her featured in the mainstream press and alternative media;

-- in sum: major achievements for a once simple "mom" who cared enough to change her life and shake the world; now she hopes to do it as a member of the 111th Congress next January and accomplished the first step toward it - in spite of a determined effort to stop her, she collected enough required signatures (by the August 8 deadline) to be on the November ballot as an independent candidate for Congress.

Nancy Pelosi is the current House Speaker and Democrat Congressional member since winning a special election in 1987. Her 8th Congressional District represents much of San Francisco and is considered one of the most liberal ones in the country. In November 2002, she became the first woman ever in Congress to lead a political party as Minority Leader. After Democrats won control of the House in the 2006 off-year elections, she was elected Speaker in January 2007.

She grew up in Baltimore in a very political family. Her late father, Tommy "The Elder" D'Alesandro, was a local party boss and served in various capacities in the city council, as a state delegate, congressman, and three times as mayor from 1947 - 1959. Her younger brother, Tommy "The Younger" D'Alesandro, also was Baltimore's mayor for one term.

Pelosi's husband, Paul, is a successful San Francisco financier and businessman. Largely because of his wealth, Pelosi is considered the ninth richest person in the House (according to with estimates of their net worth ranging from $25 million to three or four times that amount and a life-style to go with it. Not a model populist in a strongly Democrat district where she's been re-elected 10 times with at least 75% of the vote. Republicans need not apply, so Democrats win by showing up. At least so far.

On examination, Pelosi's record is troubling, especially after becoming Speaker and failing to deliver on promises made in the 2006 mid-term election. Along with Senate Majority Leader (Democrat) Harry Reid, they share most blame for why the July Rasmussen Reports gave Congress its lowest ever approval rating at 9% with only 2% of respondents calling its performance excellent. The other 7% called it good. The majority 91% called it fair (36%) or poor (52%). That presents opportunity for Sheehan.

Pelosi on the issues explains why. She:

-- supported the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Blily Act that repealed Glass-Steagall and allowed commercial and investment banks and insurance companies to combine; it opened the door for some of the worst financial abuses now apparent;

-- voted for the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for "the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States;" it began the "war on terror," the illegal wars that followed, as well as the Bush administration's coup d'etat against the Constitution and establishment of a police state;

-- opposed the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution responsible for launching the war; but she supported the Afghanistan assault and all illegal war funding;

-- on January 5, 2007 (after becoming Speaker), "informed the president" in writing of her opposition to the "surge;" only supported a non-binding February resolution against it and took no effective action to end it or the occupation;

-- supported the 2007 Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act (HR 2956); it passed the House, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took no further action;

-- supported the 2007 US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountabiity Act (HR 1591) - the first legislation for supplemental Iraq and Afghanistan funding; it called for ending the occupation by September 1, 2008; a compromise bill was agreed to by the House and Senate; it passed both Houses; George Bush vetoed it, and House Democrats failed to override; a second attempt also failed; Democrats in both Houses (backed by Pelosi) agreed to approve supplemental funding with no occupation withdrawal timetable and clear evidence that their earlier efforts were more posturing than a determined effort to end it;

-- despite considerable opposition rhetoric, indicated her support for the Iraq and Afghan wars (on December 5, 2006) after the mid-term elections when she looked assured of being elected Speaker; responding to questions said: "We will not cut off funding for the troops; absolutely not; let me remove all doubt in anyone's mind; as long as our troops are in harm's way, Democrats will be there to support them....;"

-- voted for every Bush administration Pentagon budget request since 2001; and also supported:

-- the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act - a thinly veiled scheme to destroy public education and privatize it;

-- the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act;

-- the 2001 USA Patriot Act;

-- the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act - it denied detainees habeas rights and let US forces use cruel, abusive, inhumane and degrading treatment in the interest of national security;

-- the 2006 Homeland Security Department Authorization Act;

-- the 2007 Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendation Act;

-- the 2008 and 2009 Intelligence Authorization Acts to fund 13 intelligence agencies; and

-- the 2008 FISA Amendments Act - to weaken standards of proof and warrants required for surveillance and grant telecom companies retroactive immunity for warrantless spying post-9/11.

She's also fully committed to and well-funded by the corporate interests she supports. She voted against withdrawing from the WTO, for NAFTA and for similar "free trade" agreements with Australia, Peru, Chile, and Singapore. She calls democratic Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez a "common thug."

And when it comes to Israel, she states that she and the US "will stand with (the Jewish state) now and forever." She further contends that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't over the issue of occupation. "This is absolute nonsense. In truth, the history of the conflict is not over occupation, and never has been: it is over the fundamental right of Israel to exist."

Her AIPAC June 2008 conference address highlighted her "commitment to Israel's security;" that passage of the 2008 Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Reform Act will expedite sending defense equipment and services to Israel; that Israel will be "treated like NATO members;" and that America will guarantee that "Israel's qualitative military edge (will) be empirically assessed on an ongoing basis."

She also highlighted Iran as one of her main concerns and said: "Ensuring the security of Israel and the entire world demands that we do more to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and cease its support for terrorist groups." She further suggested that Iran represents an existential threat and that sanctions against it must be tightened - "and by tighten, I mean tighten."

She then added: "Thank you (for) lobby(ing) on behalf of bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Ackerman" by which she meant H. Con. Res. 362. It contains outlandish, unsubstantiated accusations against Iran, and if enacted and implemented, will authorize a naval blockade and be an act of war. AIPAC is committed to its passage. Pelosi is committed to AIPAC. Its 2002 - 04 president, Amy Rothschild Friedkin, (a fellow San Franciscan) is her close friend.

Finally, as House Speaker, she declared that efforts to impeach George Bush were "off the table." Most recently in an August 1 interview with James Carney of Time, Inc., she responded to a question about it as follows:

"I took (impeachment) off the table a long time ago. You can't talk about impeachment unless you have the facts, and you can't have the facts unless you have cooperation from the Administration. I think the Republicans would like nothing better than for us to focus on impeachment and take our eye off the ball of a progressive economic agenda."

Pelosi, of course, turns a blind eye to very clear evidence for impeachment. On January 17, 2003, international law expert Professor Francis Boyle listed them in his "Draft Impeachment Resolution Against President George W. Bush" and presented it to the 108th Congress. It called for impeaching the President for high crimes and misdemeanors for:

-- "violat(ing) his constitutional oath to faithfully execute (his) office;"

-- failing to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution;

-- impos(ing) a police state and military dictatorship;

-- ramming the totalitarian USA Patriot Act (and other repressive legislation) through Congress;

-- trying to suspend the constitutional Writ of Habeas Corpus;

-- mass-round(ing) up and incarcrat(ing) foreigners;

-- kangaroo courts;

-- depriving at least two United States citizens of their constitutional rights by means of military incarceration;

-- interfer(ing) with the constitutional right of defendants in criminal cases to (be represented by) lawyers;

-- violating and subverting the Posse Comitatus Act;

-- (allowing) unlawful and unreasonable searches and seizures;

-- violating the First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion, speech, assembly, and to petition the government for redress of grievances;

-- packing the federal judiciary with hand-picked (totalitarian-minded) judges;

-- violating the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, US War Crimes Act, (UN) Convention against Torture, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," and other violations of US and international laws and norms - "to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."

Cindy Sheehan on the Issues

Her positions on key issues stand in stark contrast to Pelosi's. She's for:

-- "repealing all 'free trade' agreements;" replacing them with "fair trade" ones that respect worker rights and union empowerment to bargain on equal terms with management;

-- enacting "single-payer healthcare and affordable housing" legislation;

-- extending unemployment and food stamp benefits at a time of economic distress;

-- "compassionate and humane treatment for immigrant workers;" their right to join unions; and for an "expedited path to legalization in the form of Green Cards;"

-- ending the militarization of the border as well as funding for ICE and other government agencies that "terrorize immigrant workers (driven here by bipartisan support for unfair) 'free trade' and 'structural adjustment' policies;"

-- making quality free education a "basic human right from infants in day care centers to students in universities;"

-- "bring(ing) home our troops from all countries where (they) promote occupation, corporate greed and empire;"

-- repealing the No Child Left Behind Act and backing government-supported public education;

-- investing in the nation's infrastructure, long neglected;

-- slashing the Pentagon's budget and putting federal money into job creation (and social services);

-- reversing destructive deregulation that enables "corporate profiteers to (avoid) proper oversight and health and safety regulations; reinstating Glass-Steagall that separated investment from commercial banking and insurance operations;

-- regulating the corporate media; opposing the "multiple ownership of newspaper, cable, broadcast, internet and all other media operations;" supporting federally-funded "public labor-community broadcast and internet systems;"

-- reversing the trend to "privatize and contract out jobs (that) threat(en the nation's) workforce;" ending the privatization of federal jobs and letting all government workers join unions;

-- preventing the US Postal Service from being privatized;

-- establishing "a national energy system, for a mass transit system;" alternative fuels as well to end our dependence on oil, gas and nuclear;

-- assuring civil rights and privacy protection; ending harassment and discrimination against union members and unorganized workers;

-- repealing the Patriot Act and other repressive laws;

-- ending pervasive spying - by the government on the citizenry and corporations on their workers; and

-- repealing drug and other repressive laws that jail millions of working people in the world's largest prison population.

Sheehan v. Pelosi. "Peace Mom and supporter of people rights v. "Guardian of Power" and defender of wealth and privilege. On November 3, the people of California's 8th Congressional District will decide which agenda they prefer. So can readers.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Blockades: Acts of War

Blockades: Acts of War - by Stephen Lendman

From July 21 - 31, Joint Task Force (mostly US, but also UK, Brazil and Italy) "Operation Brimstone" large scale war games were conducted off the US East coast in the North Atlantic. Its purpose may have been to prepare for a naval blockade of Iran. Initial reports after its completion were that participating ships were deployed to Persian Gulf and Arabian and Red Sea locations to join up with the present American strike force in the region. The major media cover none of this, and US Navy sources deny it. So precise information is unclear. From what's known, however, redeployment may be planned, and a blockade may ensue. The situation remains tense and worrisome.

Under international and US law, blockades are acts of war and variously defined as:

-- surrounding a nation or objective with hostile forces;

-- measures to isolate an enemy;

-- encirclement and besieging;

-- preventing the passage in or out of supplies, military forces or aid in time of or as an act of war; and

-- an act of naval warfare to block access to an enemy's coastline and deny entry to all vessels and aircraft.

In 2009, it's believed that the International Criminal Court in the Hague will include blockades against coasts and ports as acts of war.

International law expert Professor Francis Boyle is very outspoken on this topic as well as on others of equal importance. He defines blockades under international and US law as:

-- "belligerent measures taken by a nation (to) prevent passage of vessels or aircraft to and from another country. Customary international law recognizes blockades as an act of war because of the belligerent use of force even against third party nations in enforcing the blockade. Blockades as acts of war have been recognized as such in the Declaration of Paris of 1856 and the Declaration of London of 1909 that delineate the international rules of warfare."

America approved these Declarations, so they're binding US law as well "as part of general international law and customary international law." Past US presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy, called blockades acts of war. So has the US Supreme Court.

In Bas v. Tingy (1800), the High Court addressed the constitutionality of fighting an undeclared war. Boyle explained that it ruled that "the seizure of a French vessel (is) an act of hostility or reprisal requiring Congressional approval....The Court held that Congress pursuant to Constitutional war powers had authorized hostilities on the high seas under certain circumstances." The Court cited Talbot v. Seaman (1801) in ruling that "specific legislative authority was required in the seizure...."

In Little v. Barreme (1804), the Court held that "even an order from the President could not justify or excuse an act that violated the laws and customs of warfare. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that a captain of a United States warship could be held personally liable in trespass for wrongfully seizing a neutral Danish ship, even though" presidential authority ordered it. Only Congress has that power. "The Court's position seems consistent with a typical trespass case, where defendants are liable even when they have a reasonable, good faith (but mistaken) belief in authority to enter on the plaintiff's land."

Boyle cites "The Prize Cases" (1863) as the most definitive Supreme Court ruling on blockades requiring congressional authorization. The case involved President Lincoln's ordering "a blockade of coastal states that had joined the Confederacy at the outset of the Civil War. The Court....explicitly (ruled) that a blockade is an act of war and is legal only if properly authorized under the Constitution." It stated:

"The power of declaring war is the highest sovereign power, and is limited to the representative of the full sovereignty of the nation. It is limited in the United States to its Congress exclusively; and the authority of the President to be the take that the law be faithfully executed, is to be taken in connection with the exclusive power given to Congress to declare war, and does not enable the President to (do it) or to introduce, without Act of Congress, War or any of its legal disabilities or liabilities, on any citizen of the United States."

Article I of the Constitution pertains to powers "vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Section 8 relates to powers "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and welfare of the United States...." Two Section 8 clauses relate to this article.

-- clause 14: to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;" and most importantly

-- clause 11: "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning capture on land and water."

The framers believed that no single official, including the President, should ever have sole authority over this most crucial of all constitutional powers because of how easily it can be abused as post-WW II history shows. In 1793, James Madison wrote that the "fundamental doctrine of the declare war is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature." During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, George Mason said that the President "is not safely to be trusted with" the power to declare war. Nonetheless, Congress only observed its responsibility five times in the nation's history, lastly on December 8, 1941 following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor the previous day.

All treaties to which America is a signatory, including the UN Charter, are binding US law. Its Chapter VII authorizes only the Security Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, or act of aggression (and, if necessary, take military or other actions to) restore international peace and stability." It permits a nation to use force (including blockades) only under two conditions: when authorized by the Security Council or under Article 51 allowing the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."

Iran poses no threat to the US, its neighbors, or any other nations, including Israel. Imposing a blockade against it violates the UN Charter and other international and US law. It will constitute an illegal act of aggression that under the Nuremberg Charter is the "supreme international crime" above all others. It will make the Bush administration, every supportive congressional member, and governments of other participating nations criminally liable.

Two more events further up the stakes. On April 3, in spite of strong public opposition, the Czech Republic agreed to the installation of US "advanced tracking missile defense radar" by 2012. On July 9, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement responded: "We will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods."

Then on August 14, Poland defied its own people and most Europeans by agreeing to allow offensive "interceptor missiles" on its soil. Legislatures of both countries must approve it, but that will likely follow. Deployment is reckless and indefensible and will head the world closer to serious confrontation.

For two countries wracked by prior wars, these actions are irresponsible and foolhardy. They further heighten tensions and assure a new Cold War arms race or much worse. Russia's deputy military chief of staff, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, stated: Poland is "exposing itself to a strike, 100%." Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said: "The deployment (aims at) the Russian Federation." Even Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk showed fear by his comment that "We have crossed the Rubicon." Yet he did it anyway. Where this is heading remains to be seen, but the signs are deeply worrisome.

So is the possibility that Washington will blockade or attack Iran before year end. Things won't likely crystallize before Congress reconvenes in September after both parties hold their nominating conventions.

Hopefully a wider Middle East war will be avoided because of what might follow. What Barbara Tuchman recounted in her 1962 book, "The Guns of August," on how WW I war began and its early weeks. Once started, things spun out of control with cataclysmic consequences. Before it ended, over 20 million died, at least that many more were wounded, and a generation of young men was erased.

Igniting another world conflict should give everyone pause. Especially given the destructive power of today's weapons and the Bush administration's design for "full spectrum dominance" and stated unilateral right to achieve it with first-strike nuclear weapons. Avoiding that possibility is the top priority of every world leader. It's unclear if any are up to the challenge.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Corporate Media Bashes New Chavez Enabling Law Decrees

Corporate Media Bashes New Chavez Enabling Law Decrees - by Stephen Lendman

In January 2007, Hugo Chavez announced his "Bolivarian Socialism" project for the 21st century and explained its dependence on five revolutionary "motors:"

-- constitutional reform;

-- "Bolivarian popular education;"

-- redefining and changing the organs of state power;

-- an explosion of communal power at the grass roots; and

-- the "mother (Enabling) Law to make all other "motors" possible.

Under Venezuelan constitutional law, Enabling Law power is legal but limited. So despite media and opposition claims, it doesn't grant Chavez sweeping "rule by decree" authority or make him a "dictator." When the National Assembly (AN) passed the law (unanimously), even US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon, admitted that it's "valid under (Venezuela's) Constitution. As with any tool of democracy, it depends how it is used." Chavez had it two other times and used it responsibly by any standard or measure. He's also the fifth Venezuelan president to request it under the 1961 Constitution and the 1999 one under Article 203. It runs for 18 months and then expires.

The current one ended July 31 and empowered Chavez in the following areas, all related to the country's internal functioning:

-- to transform sclerotic bureaucratic state institutions to make them more efficient, transparent, honest and allow for greater citizen participation;

-- reform the civil service and eliminate entrenched corruption - still, a major problem;

-- advance the "ideals of social justice and economic independence" through a new social and economic model based on equitable national wealth distribution in areas of health care, education and social security;

-- modernize Venezuela's financial sectors, including banking, insurance and tax policy;

-- upgrade science and technology areas to benefit all sectors of society;

-- reform public health, prisons, identification, migration regulations, and the judiciary to improve citizen and judicial security;

-- upgrade the nation's infrastructure, transport and all public services;

-- improve and enhance the nation's military;

-- establish territorial organization norms in states and communities relating to voting and constituency size; and

-- permit greater state control over the nation's vital energy sector.

In all the above areas, Chavez was given limited constitutional power for 18 months - over only National Assembly (AN) authorized areas. He had no power to harm civil or human rights, weaken or remove his opponents, expropriate private property, or interfere with the legal right of citizens to rescind all laws by popular referendum if 10% or more of registered voters request it and only 5% for laws passed by decree. In addition, the AN may change or rescind decree-passed laws by majority vote. Unlike in America, checks and balances work in Venezuela - but not according to the hostile US media. More on that below.

On the Enabling Law's final day, Chavez enacted 26 new laws by decree - related to the armed forces, public administration, social security, agriculture, tourism, reform of the National Banking and Finance Law, and to nationalize the Bank of Venezuela. It was privately owned until 1994 at which time the government became its majority stockholder. Then in 1996 it was again privatized when Banco Santander, Spain's largest bank, bought a controlling interest.

The company wanted to sell it and asked permission as required by law. Chavez responded by reclaiming the bank's resources for all Venezuelans. He assured Santander it will receive fair compensation as was done for previous nationalizations and told bank depositors not to worry: "You will be more than guaranteed in the hands of the Republic (and) You know the banking sector of Venezuela is one of the most solid in the world." Perhaps good as gold compared to shaky US banks in serious trouble.

Chavez announced that the new laws will enhance the "great public sector," long "subordinated" in the past, to prioritize social areas in line with national and international standards. But opposition leaders weren't convinced. They called the measures "autocratic" and "non-consultative" and urged their followers to respond in the upcoming November regional and local elections.

Despite opposition claims, all the new measures comply fully with constitutional provisions and are entirely legal. Many were proposed early in the Enabling Law period, debated for over a year in the AN, and 16 additional laws weren't enacted because they're still under consideration. In all, 67 new laws were decreed from January 2007 through July 2008 covering a broad range of areas, including:

-- monetary conversion;

-- steel, cement, oil, banking, and electricity sector nationalizations;

-- the new Law on Intelligence and Counterintelligence - now revoked and to be rewritten to eliminate potentially controversial provisions;

-- promoting small and mid-sized industries as well as new types of state and community-run enterprises;

-- reorganizing the military;

-- national finance institutions as well;

-- reforming public administration laws; as well as measures on

-- price controls, agricultural policy, and food security and sovereignty.

Staged Venezuelan Street Protests Erupt

In what's now common under Chavez, "Venezuelans protest(ed his) new socialist push," according to the AP, but it was hardly a resounding denunciation. In Caracas, at most 1000 turned out chanting "freedom," and "Riot police used tear gas as they blocked hundreds of Venezuelans protesting what they call new moves by President Chavez to concentrate his power." Their charges were baseless and ludicrous and cited "blacklists barring key opposition candidates from elections and socialist decrees destroying what's left of their democracy."

The so-called "blacklist" was, in fact, a Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) August 5 ruling barring 272 government and opposition candidates from running in the November elections because of corruption charges and convictions. The Court held that their ruling "is acceptable in accordance with the laws that are given for reasons of general interest, for the safety of others of society and for the common good, in accordance with the provisions of Articles 30 and 32.2 of the American Convention on Human Rights. This requirement is fully compatible with the provisions of Articles 19 and 156....of the National Constitution." The TSJ also affirmed the constitutionality of Article 105 regarding the Comptroller General's office because it assures defendants have full due process rights.

Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russian is legally empowered as Venezuela's top anti-corruption watchdog. He submitted a list of 368 names to the country's National Electoral Council (CNE) and asked that they be barred from running in November because they're being investigated for or were found guilty of corruption and misuse of public funds. CNE approved the list and asked the Supreme Court to rule on it. The Court then disqualified 272 of them.

The (2005-launched) UK-based Venezuela Information Centre (VIC) stands "in solidarity with the people of Venezuela." Its members include NGOs, academics, students, members of the media and trade unionists. It aims to provide "objective and accurate information about all trade union, social movement and political organisations in Venezuela," counteract distorted reporting, and "support the right of the Venezuelan people to determine their own future free from external intervention."

VIC's assessment of the Comptroller General's disqualification process was as follows:

-- it was "conducted strictly on legal and administrative grounds;

-- carried out as part of the constitutional and legal obligations of the Office of the Comptroller General;

-- taken following" TSJ 2005 rulings;

-- authorized under Venezuela's Organic Law of the Comptroller General's Office and Venezuelan Constitution; and

-- those on the list were kept fully apprised throughout the process.

The Corporate Media Responds - Hostile As Always

In the lead was The New York Times and its on-the-scene reporter Simon Romero in an August 5 article headlined "New Decrees From Chavez Mirror Spurned Measures." Romero reported that Chavez "is using his decree powers to enact a set of 'socialist-inspired' measures that seem based on a package of constitutional changes" voters previously rejected. It sets the stage for new "confrontation between his government and the political opposition."

He quoted opposition publisher Teodoro Petkoff saying: "When the government acts, as it has now, without respecting the Constitution, and the word of the president is the law, then an act of tyranny is being committed." Romero seemed to agree.

He then objected to "a wave of takeovers of private companies," including nationalizing "a large Spanish-owned bank." He was unconcerned about "relatively minor" decrees but took aim at more far-reaching ones and some he called efforts to "formalize socialist-inspired policies on the margins of the formal economy, like a measure declaring barter a legitimate system of payment." Romero seems hopeful that "the coming regional elections have the potential to erode the president's power base," and we'll be hearing more from him in its run-up.

AP reporter Fabiola Sanchez criticized Chavez's "move(s) toward a social economy," plans "to set up neighborhood-based militias....state control over agriculture," new powers over the military, small business loans, and quoted critics saying laws were "pushed through" without "consult(ing) major business groups."

AFP reporter Carlos Diaz referred to "Chavez enact(ing aggressive) new laws with (an) iron fist increasing the state's power over the economy ahead of key regional elections." It's a resumption of his "drive to create a socialist state, significantly increase his power and resemble proposals included in a constitutional reform narrowly rejected by voters in a December referendum."

Even the Financial Times (FT) weighed in with Caracas reporter Benedict Mander headlining "Chavez accused of reviving old reforms" and citing government opponents "up in arms over a raft of decree laws they say replicate constitutional reforms" that voters rejected. He mentioned critics "warn(ing) that they'll "further scare off private investment," claimed they're "typical of Mr. Chavez's authoritarian streak (and will let him) expropriate private property without the need for the (AN's) approval." Mander also (on August 2) criticized the disqualification of opposition candidates and quoted Carter Center director of the Americas Programme, Jennifer McCoy, worrying about perceptions of clearing the way for government-backed candidates.

The Wall Street Journal was even more hostile in a Jose De Cordoba, Darcy Crowe article headlined "In Enacting Decrees, Chavez Makes New Power Grab." They called them "ambitious....decrees which formalize the creation of a popular militia and further consolidate state control over key areas of the economy such as agriculture and tourism." They referred to his "bypass(ing) Congress in making laws (and being) back on the offensive after suffering a humiliating defeat in December (that might have let him) stay in power for life."

They cited "accusations that Mr. Chavez is evading the will of the people" and quoted opposition figure Luis Miquilena saying "We are in the presence of a dictatorial government which has given a coup d'etat to the constitution. Here we have no constitution, no law and the president does exactly what he wants." It sounds like he's confusing Chavez with George Bush because he describes conditions under him accurately in stark contrast to Venezuelan democracy.

The Journal writers see things differently. They compare Chavez's government to Iran and take him to task for it. They also cite public opposition to the "Cuban Model," suggest he follows it, and quote Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue saying "Everything (he's doing) is related to the upcoming election, and it's hard to imagine he doesn't see this as important in his efforts to keep power."

Far and away the most outlandish and unfounded Journal diatribes show up in Mary O'Grady's columns. Her latest was on August 11 headlined "Chavez Sees Cuba as a Model" in which she states "The Venezuelan dictator acts more and more like Fidel" and lots more. Her accusations include "annihilat(ing)" his political competition, "put(ting) down all challengers to (his) power forcibly if necessary," transforming the country into "a centrally planned economy," using "his own version of the law," declaring opponents "guilty (of corruption) by fiat," "expanding (his) collection of political prisoners," and near excoriating Jimmy Carter and Senator Chris Dodd for calling "Chavez's Venezuela a democracy." According to O'Grady: "Get in the way of Mr. Chavez's caudillo aspirations at your peril."

These type comments aren't surprising from someone with her background: years at Wall Street as an options strategist for Advest, Inc., Thomas McKinnon Securities, and Merrill Lynch & Co. She also once worked at the hard-right Heritage Foundation before joining the Wall Street Journal in 1995 and becoming a senior editorial page writer in 1999 for her weekly America's column. It's long on the worst kind of agitprop and very short on reporting the truth.

No wonder then that neither O'Grady or other Chavez critics explain Venezuelan law or how TSJ rulings interpret it. Nor do they report how the Enabling Law works, that the nation's Constitution authorizes it, that four other presidents used it, that Chavez scrupulously complies with its provisions, and that the National Assembly (by majority vote) and Venezuelan people (by referendum) can override his decrees. How can they? It would expose their false accusations and discredit their entire argument that will heat up soon again in the run-up to November's state and local elections. Stay tuned.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.