Friday, August 22, 2008

War resisters: An open letter to Stephen Harper

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

In general, we Canadians are very proud of our unique historical traditions. I think most Canadians are proud of the ways in which we helped Americans who refused to serve in the Vietnam War. We provided them with an alternative to death and destruction. There is a strong sense in this country that it was the right thing to do and it has become a proud part of our national identity. For a moment in history, we stood up for a justice that transcends borders and nationalities. We stood up for humanity and decency and our actions were an accurate reflection of the collective Canadian spirit on the issue.

I am now concerned that this Government is moving us farther away from some of the positions that made Canada the envy of the world. You are beginning to change the face of Canada in ways that many of us are uncomfortable with. I am beginning to feel like the Government of Canada is attempting to adopt an ideology as our national identity and I am very disturbed by that. I feel that some of your polices are beginning to depart from deeply held traditional Canadian values. And you are transforming the face of Canada with the limited mandate of a minority Government. You also have a majority in the House of Commons who voted, on behalf of Canadians, to support the request made by American War resisters to remain in Canada. I believe you are turning your back on a majority of Canadians on an issue that is very important to us. That is not the sign of a democratic Prime Minister. Somehow Canada has always been a little bit different and we have always been proud of that. We don't want to be more like anyone else.

Sir, I believe that the war in Iraq lacked any legitimate justification. The evidence now makes this painfully clear. America has lost its credibility at this time in our history. In terms of respectability, this war in Iraq is only a notch above the Vietnam War in terms of its sheer brutality and the lack of any meaningful justification. The main difference is that the "lies and the spin" this time around have convinced some people otherwise. Others have just concluded, "Well, there is no justification for it that I can see, but there must have been a good reason for invading." However, most people are now wising up and recognizing the truth about this war and we are all hearing about the unbelievable toll it is taking on young American soldiers and their families. Many returning veterans, especially those who have been subjected to the psychological torture of the "stop loss program", are coming back completely destroyed. Many of them are beyond the reach of those who would like to help them. The number of suicides amongst returning vets of the Iraq War is so very high. This tragedy has to cause your heart to sink, as it does mine. Would you really want your own son or daughter to serve 2 or 3 tours of duty in Iraq sir? Wouldn't you worry terribly about his of her physical and mental health?

Sir, in the name of decency, compassion, and a higher justice, I implore you to allow American war resisters to remain in Canada as conscientious objectors . Please don't send them off to have their lives and families destroyed by an unjust war or imprisonment. Your decision to begin deporting American war resisters lacks decency and compassion. I strongly urge you to reconsider your position.


Spencer Spratley

The world is not buying it anymore

The success of the Bush Regime's propaganda, lies, and deception with gullible and inattentive Americans since 9/11 has made it difficult for intelligent, aware people to be optimistic about the future of the United States. For almost 8 years the US media has served as Ministry of Propaganda for a war criminal regime. Americans incapable of thinking for themselves, reading between the lines, or accessing foreign media on the Internet have been brainwashed. As the Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, said, it is easy to deceive a people. You just tell them they have been attacked and wave the flag. It certainly worked with Americans.

The gullibility and unconcern of the American people has had many victims. There are 1.25 million dead Iraqis. There are 4 million displaced Iraqis. No one knows how many are maimed and orphaned. Iraq is in ruins, its infrastructure destroyed by American bombs, missiles, and helicopter gunships.
We do not know the death toll in Afghanistan, but even the American puppet regime protests the repeated killings of women and children by US and NATO troops. We don't know what the death toll would be in Iran if Darth Cheney and the neocons succeed in their plot with Israel to bomb Iran, perhaps with nuclear weapons. What we do know is that all this murder and destruction has no justification and is evil. It is the work of evil men who have no qualms about lying and deceiving in order to kill innocent people to achieve their undeclared agenda.

That such evil people have control over the United States government and media damns the American public for eternity. America will never recover from the shame and dishonor heaped upon her by the neoconned Bush Regime. The success of the neocon propaganda has been so great that the opposition party has not lifted a finger to rein in the Bush Regime's criminal actions. Even Obama, who promises "change" is too intimidated by the neocon's success in brainwashing the American population to do what his supporters hoped he would do and lead us out of the shame in which the neoconned Bush Regime has imprisoned us.

This about sums up the pessimistic state in which I existed prior to the go-ahead given by the Bush Regime to its puppet in Georgia to ethnically cleanse South Ossetia of Russians in order to defuse the separatist movement. The American media, aka, the Ministry of Lies and Deceit, again accommodated the criminal Bush Regime and proclaimed "Russian invasion" to cover up the ethnic cleansing of Russians in South Ossetia by the Georgian military assault. Only this time, the rest of the world didn't buy it. The many years of lies – 9/11, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, al Qaeda connections, yellowcake, anthrax attack, Iranian nukes, "the United States doesn't torture," the bombings of weddings, funerals, and children's soccer games, Abu Ghraib, renditions, Guantanamo, various fabricated "terrorist plots," the determined assault on civil liberties – have taken their toll on American credibility. No one outside America any longer believes the US media or the US government.

The rest of the world reported the facts – an assault on Russian civilians by American- and Israeli-trained and -equipped Georgian troops. The Bush Regime, overcome by hubris, expected Russia to accept this act of American hegemony. But the Russians did not, and the Georgian military was sent fleeing for its life. The neoconned Republican response to the Russian failure to follow the script and to be intimidated by the "unipower" was so imbecilic that it shattered the brainwashing to which Americans had succumbed.

McCain declared: "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." Imagine the laughs Jon Stewart will get out of this on the Daily Show. In the early years of the 21st century the United States has already invaded two countries and has been beating the drums for attacking a third. President Bush, the chief invader of the 21st century, echoed McCain's claim that nations don't invade other nations. This dissonant claim shocked even brainwashed Americans, as readers' emails reveal. If in the 21st century countries don't invade other countries, what is Bush doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what are the naval armadas and propaganda arrayed against Iran about?

Have two of the worst warmongers of modern times – Bush and McCain – called off the US/Israeli attack on Iran? If McCain is elected president, is he going to pull US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as "nations don't invade other nations," or is President Bush going to beat him to it? We all know the answer. The two stooges are astonished that the Americans have taught hegemony to Russians, who were previously operating, naively perhaps, on the basis of good will. Suddenly the Western Europeans have realized that being allied with the United States is like holding a tiger by the tail. No European country wants to be hurled into war with Russia. Germany, France, and Italy must be thanking God they blocked Georgia's membership in NATO.

The Ukraine, where a sick nationalism has taken hold funded by the neocon National Endowment for Democracy, will be the next conflict between American pretensions and Russia. Russia is being taught by the neocons that freeing the constituent parts of its empire has not resulted in their independence but in their absorption into the American Empire.

Unless enough Americans can overcome their brainwashed state and the rigged Diebold voting machines, turn out the imbecilic Republicans and hold the neoconservatives accountable for their crimes against humanity, a crazed neocon US government will provoke nuclear war with Russia.
The neoconservatives represent the greatest danger ever faced by the United States and the world. Humanity has no greater enemy.

Paul Craig Roberts

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The tragic case of Omar Khadr

According to Unicef, a child soldier is defined as any person under the age of 18 who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group. These child soldiers are viewed by most Governments and world institutions as victims who require varying degrees of trauma healing, rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities. According to the South African Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, the healing process for child soldiers involves an intensive three stage process:

1. The establishment of safety
2. A process of remembrance and mourning, and
3. Reconnection with ordinary life

According to their website, the overall focus of treatment is to "provide opportunities for restoring normal and whole-life childhood experiences, to experience loving and supportive communities and thus draw heavily on the cultural and social environment resources that have meaning to the individual child soldier."

Most sane and decent people would agree that a humane and compassionate response to child soldiers is most appropriate. And these types of rehabilitation programs have proven to be very effective when they are given adequate support and financing. One living example of this success is the story of Ishmael Beah. At 15 years of age he was rescued from the battlefields in Sierra Leone by UNICEF and rehabilitated in a facility run by a nongovernmental organization known as "Children Associated With the War." Eventually, Beah made his way to the United States, where he graduated from college and wrote his poignant memoirs, which received international acclaim. Beah is now a UNICEF advocate for children affected by war and travels the world to lobby governments to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers into society.

Now contrast this with the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was taken from Canada to the Middle East by his family when he was a teenager. Khadr was also removed from the battlefield when he was 15 after his father was killed and he was wounded during a firefight with U.S. troops. Instead of being returned to Canada for treatment and care, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant and held for years without charge in cruel and unusual conditions. And rather than coming to his aid, successive Canadian Governments ignored their moral and ethical responsibilities by leaving him to rot.

In fact, Canada was aware as early as 2003 that Khadr had been subject to torture. We know this because the documents ordered released by the Supreme Court of Canada to Khadr's defence team confirm it. As early as 2003, Khadr complained to Canadian interrogators that he had been tortured by American personnel in Afghanistan and that he was giving false statements and confessions out of fear that the torture would resume. The Canadian diplomat interviewing Khadr apparently had some kind of unmentioned psychic powers and dismissed his allegations out of hand and chose not to pursue the matter. The Canadian official, R.S. Heatherington, wrote in a report dated February 20, 2003:

"On the second day...he was despondent, alleging that everything he had said was lie and only said because he feared a resumption of the torture he had undergone while in American custody in Afghanistan. To a non-professional interviewer Mr. Khadr's allegations and protestations - including tears and the removal of his shirt to show the scars he said were inflicted in the course of the torture - did not ring true. Rather it looked as though he had been coached overnight to cast doubt on the things he had said the day before."

This was a colossal failure on the part of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Government. Why did Canada send a so-called "non-professional" interviewer to assess Mr. Khadr's condition? And why was this "non-professional" permitted to simply dismiss Khadr's allegations of torture at the hands of his American captives? Why were these allegations not investigated further? Omar Khadr was a vulnerable and defenceless Canadian child being held in isolation outside of the normal course of justice and when he complained about torture, the Canadian investigator simply concluded he was lying. This response was shameful and woefully inadequate. Particularly when you compare it to the treatment that Brenda Martin received from the Canadian Government during her imprisonment in Mexico. Jason Kenney (Canada's Secretary of State for Multiculturalism) personally visited the country in order to secure her release back to Canada.

In another report by Foreign Affairs dated February 17, 2003, Khadr stated that he didn't want to fight the Americans but that "he had to". This is not difficult to envision. Surrounded by adults with guns in a foreign land would naturally make a child vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation. That is all quite logical. Khadr also stated that he was staying with "bad people" in Afghanistan who were killing Americans instead of fighting the Northern Alliance. This hardly sounds like the hateful rhetoric of a jihadist and a terrorist.

A report filed by Canadian officials on April 20, 2004 describes Khadr in a way that suggests he was emotionally and psychologically disturbed by his long captivity. The diplomats report that when he was given a picture of his family and left alone, he managed to undo his pants and urinate on the picture. After he was cleaned up and his shackles were tightened, Khadr manged to remove his pants again and urinate on the picture a second time. Later that day, he put his head down beside the picture and appeared to express affection towards the image. In a videotape of one of Mr. Khadr's interrogation by Canadian officials, it appears that Khadr is repeating to them, "Kill me, kill me". He also states that he didn't kill anyone and he pleads with the Canadian visitors to "protect him from the Americans". This doesn't sound like a child who is enjoying optimal mental health and Canadian interrogators suggested it may be an issue if he was ever returned to Canada.

These reports also confirm that Khadr was placed in the "frequent flyer" program before one visit by Canadian interrogators in order to "soften him up". The "frequent flyer" program involved weeks of isolation and extreme levels of sleep deprivation. In other words, he was tortured. Why the Canadian Government did not step up its efforts to protect Omar Khadr is a complete mystery. They simply abandoned him to several additional years of imprisonment.

And what is the position of Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper today? He takes the view that Canada has no option other than letting Omar Khadr face the sham of a military tribunal conducted by the Americans. No attempt to repatriate Khadr to Canada will be made and the Government is not eager to discuss the matter any further. This position flies in the face of many expert opinions that the Canadian government does have options when it comes to Omar Khadr. It is also worth nothing that all other "Western Nations" have managed to have their citizens who were imprisoned at Guantanamo brought home. Canada stands shamefully alone in this regard.

In response to Harper's comments, Kadhr's military appointed lawyer (U.S. Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler) has lashed out with great force. He has made the following statements in recent days:

"I think it's deplorable that he would say that there's nothing to be done. This Canadian prime minister refuses to stand up to the Bush administration and protect the rights of a Canadian citizen."

"You (should) stand up for the rights of a Canadian citizen, you follow the law, you do the right thing, you stop taking your orders from the Bush administration. You should also stop being the last Western leader to subsidize a clearly failed policy at Guantanamo Bay."

"The prime minister, through his cabinet members, particularly Mr. (Peter) MacKay, have long said that they have been assured that Omar Khadr was being well treated, when in fact the Canadian government well knew that was not the case."

Indeed, they did know that this was not the case. The Government has known since 2003 that Kadhr was being mistreated and they chose to do nothing. The question is why. And will anyone be held accountable for this miserable failure? The life of a Canadian child lies in ruins because of their inaction. Shame on them.

Spencer Spratley

Friday, June 20, 2008

Broken Laws, Broken Lives: The Consequences of Torture

Physicians for Human Rights, based in Washington, D.C., has just published a report entitled Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture and its Impact. It presents a very detailed and exhaustive study of the medical evidence of torture by U.S. personnel and its impact on the victimized detainees. The group has effectively documented the systematic use of torture during interrogations at Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere and they call for an immediate end to the use these illegal and immoral practices. The report is a damming indictment of the Bush administration and the use of so-called “enhanced” interrogation tactics. The opening paragraph of the preface sets a powerful tone for the rest of the report:

“This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individual’s lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors”.

The report focuses on the experiences of 11 former detainees who were subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment as well as barbaric physical and sexual abuse. It is worth noting that none of these individuals were ever charged with a crime and no reparations have been made to them. Among other things, these men were subjected to a wide variety of sadistic indecencies, including: prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, forced nakedness, beatings, sodomy, electric shocks, severe stress positions, being forced to drink urine, and witnessing the desecration of the Koran.

The consequences for these men (who were never charged with any wrong doing) have been severe. Many of them are experiencing lasting problems with their physical health and some have developed severe psychiatric problems as a result of their experiences. The medical evaluations conducted by the group involved two day clinical interviews and the review of medical records (where available). These evaluations provide medical evidence that confirms the first hand accounts of men who were tortured by U.S. personnel in places like Iraq , Afghanistan , and Guantanamo Bay.

The following is a harrowing excerpt from the report of one man’s experiences while in U.S, custody. Unfortunately, it does not represent an isolated incident. It is typical of the way that many detainees have been treated by the American government and its personnel:

“Amir is in his late twenties and grew up in a Middle Eastern country. He was a salesman before being arrested by US forces in August 2003 in Iraq . After his arrest, he was forced, while shackled, to stand naked for at least five hours. For the next three days, he and other detainees were deprived of sleep and forced to run for long periods, during which time he injured his foot. After Amir notified a soldier of the injury, the soldier threw him against a wall and Amir lost consciousness. Ultimately, he was taken to another location, where he was kept in a small, dark room for almost a month while being subjected to interrogations that involved shackling, blindfolding, and humiliation. Approximately one month later, he was transferred to Abu Ghraib. At first he was not mistreated, but then was subjected to religious and sexual humiliation, hooding, sleep deprivation, restraint for hours while naked, and dousing with cold water. In the most horrific incident Amir recalled experiencing, he was placed in a foul-smelling room and forced to lay face down in urine, while he was hit and kicked on his back and side. Amir was then sodomized with a broomstick and forced to howl like a dog while a soldier urinated on him. After a soldier stepped on his genitals, he fainted. In July 2004, he was transferred to the prison at Camp Bucca , where he reported no abuse. He was returned to Abu Ghraib in November 2004 and released two days later."

Amir continues to experience physical symptoms consistent with the abuse he reported. Physical examination revealed features consistent with his account, including tenderness of one of his testicles and rectal tearing. Psychologically, he continues to suffer from debilitating symptoms of severe PTSD, disturbed sleep, moodiness, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, hostility and outbursts of anger, and very frequent suicidal thoughts. He has changed from a stable provider for his family to an unemployed man. Although stressors related to the war in Iraq may exacerbate his symptoms, his most debilitating symptoms are attributable to his experience of torture and sexual violation. “No sorrow can be compared to my torture experience in jail,” he said. “That is the reason for my sadness.”

The authors of the report make a number of important recommendations, which include:

1. The executive branch of the U.S. government should repudiate:
1. all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It should explicitly and in writing establish a uniform standard of conduct for all agencies that prohibits any of its military, intelligence or other officials, including all forms of contract personnel, from engaging in torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including but not limited to any of the following interrogation or conditions of confinement methods, either alone or in combination:

• Stress positions
• Beatings and other forms of physical assault
• Use of extremes of temperature
• Waterboarding or any other form of simulated drowning
• Threats of harm to the detainee, his family, or friends
• Sleep deprivation
• Sensory bombardment through the use of extreme noise and/or light
• Violent shaking
• Religious, cultural, and sexual humiliation, including, but not limited to, forced nakedness
• Prolonged isolation
• Sensory deprivation, including but not limited to hooding and blindfolding
• Use of psychotropic, mind-altering, or other drugs for the purpose of decreasing resistance or gaining information
• Mock execution
• Exploitation of phobias, psychopathology, or physical vulnerability
• Rape and sexual assault
• Electric shocks
• Deprivation of basic necessities and sanitary conditions
Congress should enact into law the prohibitions listed above and establish criminal liability for their violation

2. The executive branch and Congress should establish an independent commission to fully investigate and publicly report on the circumstances of detention and interrogation in Bagram, Kandahar, and elsewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, and other locations since 2001. This independent commission should have subpoena power to compel witnesses and have full access to all classified materials concerning interrogation techniques and conditions of detention, including medical records and documentation by behavioral health science consultant personnel, in order to establish a full public record. The investigation should extend to individuals in the position of making policy as well as those who carried those policies out, including all healthcare professionals who were in the position of providing care or supporting the interrogation of detainees.

3. All individuals who played any role in the torture or ill-treatment of detainees, including those who authorized the use of methods amounting to torture or exercised command authority over them, should be held to account through criminal and civil processes (such as disciplinary action). Officials at every level should be held accountable for crimes they committed or for the acts of officials subordinate to them. Health professionals, both civilian and uniformed, who engaged in or facilitated the abuse of detainees and/or failed to report torture and ill-treatment should be investigated, appropriately sanctioned, and disciplined via the Department of Defense, other executive branch agencies, and state licensing boards.

4. The government should issue a formal apology to detainees who were subjected to torture and/or ill treatment as part of US military and intelligence operations since fall 2001 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

5. The government should establish a fair process for compensation and victim assistance, including access to rehabilitation and re-integration services, for individuals subjected to torture or ill-treatment in US custody.

6. All places of detention operated by the United States should be subject to monitoring by international bodies that investigate detainee treatment and are capable of reporting findings to the public and government, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. These organizations tasked by treaties to which the United States is a party must be granted full access to detainees, their medical records, and all other pertinent files documenting past and current treatment of detainees during their incarceration. Furthermore, Congressional and executive branch oversight of US military and intelligence activities relevant to detainee treatment and interrogation should be immediately strengthened and improved.

7. The US Department of Justice should publicly release all legal opinions and other memoranda concerning standards regarding interrogation and detention policy and practices.

Broken Laws, Broke Lives leaves no doubt that prisoners in American custody were brutalized and tortured. The only remaining question is whether or not anyone will be held to account for what happened. Will anyone have the courage and moral fortitude to hold people in positions of power responsible for the grave injustices and outright savagery that occurred in U.S. prisons?
The report can be viewed here:

Spencer Spratley

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ongoing American Interference in Latin America

It may have been naive to think that the United States would eventually stop meddling in the affairs of Central and South America. However, it did seem to be an obvious and logical conclusion that the will of the people in that part of the world would not be suppressed indefinitely by manipulation and violence. Unfortunately, it would appear that the horrifying spectacle of bloody civil wars and murderous dictatorships have not dampened America's appetite for undermining democratically elected governments and for supporting regimes which oppress and murder their own people.

Perhaps the world could be forgiven for thinking that America, with all her rhetoric about freedom and democracy, might be ashamed and haunted by the memory of their henchman General Augusto Pinochet and the multitudes of Chileans who were murdered by his sadistic death squads. The specter of the Pinochet years should hang like a dark and somber rain cloud, perpetually darkening the skies over Washington. His dictatorship should serve as a constant reminder of the evil and folly of American imperial designs in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere.

The human and economic costs of American intervention in the South can never be fully measured and it's unlikely that there will ever be an adequate reckoning for what occurred in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Chile. However, if the United States refuses to acknowledge its moral and financial debt to the region, they could at least honour and respect the inherent rights of the people there to self-determination and freedom from outside interference.Some have argued that a revolution has taken root in Latin America and that the indigenous people have begun a process of reclaiming their continent from oppressive oligarchies which selfishly hoarded the wealth and resources of these nations. Rather than engaging in a colonial style backlash, America might do well to remember its own revolutionary roots and help the people of the South cast off their chains of oppression.

Unfortunately, America is doing what it has always done in Latin America: engaging in diabolical schemes to destabilize nations, undermine governments, and support wealthy elites in their quest to retain economic control and political power.The central playgrounds for American misadventure and bad policy at present are Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador. It is in these countries that the hypocrisy and immaturity of the great United States is most evident. Its actions in these nations reveal that America is still suffering from a pathological selfishness and an obscene kind of bullying mentality. This immaturity in the American world view is exposed in its deeply rooted insecurity about anything other than the status quo. Progressive movements which advocate meaningful change, real social justice, or a new way of doing things are always met with American suspicion and hostility. Unfortunately, the results of this childish view of the world are anything but child's play. The consequences of this lack of sophistication and vision are very serious, and often ominous, for those who fall prey to it.

Just ask Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, who was the victim of an American backed coup attempt in 2004. It was a stark reminder that America and its would be puppets just haven't grown up yet. Like the school yard bully who steals the lunch money of his class mates, America and its ideological brethren would still prefer to steal what doesn't belong to them. And they insidiously disguise their unethical and immoral behaviour under a self-righteous banner of protecting freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, the American government only supports democracy when it likes the outcome.

When it comes to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, America is forced to concede that he was democratically elected. However, they take the desperate position that he doesn't govern democratically. Evidence would suggest that the reverse is actually true. The Bush administration has distinguished itself as one of the most undemocratic governments in American history. It is a government that rules for the benefit of the few and ignores the real needs of its people. It is also one in a long line of American governments which seems determined to bring down other more democratic and representative governments. When his referendum (which included provisions to end presidential term limits) was voted down by the majority of Venezuelans, Chavez did not roll the tanks into the streets to impose a Cuban style of Government on the country. He respected the will of the people.

America's problem with Chavez is actually rooted in his ideas about social justice and equality for the largely poor and previously marginalized indigenous people of Venezuela. They are offended by his strong conviction that all Venezuelans should benefit from the country's enormous oil wealth. Hugo Chavez is quickly replacing Fidel Castro as enemy number one in the region. Is this because he is an enemy of freedom and stability in the South? Or is it because of his ideas about land reform, access to health care and education, lifting people out of poverty, and reclaiming the country's wealth and resources from the few and giving them to the many? This is simply not the American way. In America, the vast wealth and resources of a nation are not for everyone to enjoy. They are reserved for a select few that continue to gobble up more and more as if they had some divine right to control anything of value. And the American government continues to feed this insatiable monster with little or no regard for the people who need help the most. And they dare to criticize other nations and leaders who hold a different view of what freedom and justice really mean. It would be funny if it weren't so sickening.

In any case, rather than allowing the embarrassment of their failed coup attempt to direct them elsewhere, the American government has decided to step up its efforts to destabilize Venezuela and engage in traditional American gunboat diplomacy. The U.S. government recently decided to resurrect its 4th Fleet in Latin America and the Caribbean after a 60 year absence. This naval deployment was not intended to announce the dawning of a new golden age in American foreign policy. It was a show of strength that was designed to bully and intimidate the forces of change in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. The United States is clearly feeling uneasy about the wave of left wing governments being elected across Latin America and the spread of real freedom.It is clear that America wants to assert complete military domination over the region, particularly the big oil and gas producing nations like Venezuela. However, this kind of "muscle flexing" only serves to further diminish America's stature and reputation on the global stage. It tells the world that America is intent on protecting a resource that doesn't even belong to them.
Again, it is a case of the bully who self-righteously believes he has the right to steal your money simply because he is bigger and stronger than you are.

The Americans have also stepped up efforts inside Venezuela to destabilize and undermine the government of Hugo Chavez. The CIA and the State Department are very active in this effort to subvert the will of the people by toppling Chavez. It is a simple and obvious question, but it's an important one to consider: How would the American Government, and Americans in general, react if a foreign power was operating on its soil as part of an ongoing effort to bring down their government and facilitate the ascendancy of a regime that was friendly to the foreign power? The reaction would likely be swift and decisive. The response from the Government would undoubtedly be a military one and the consequences would be severe.

Next stop is Bolivia where the 2005 election of a left-wing former coca farmer in Bolivia was clearly unsettling for the US government and the wealthy elite in the country. President Evo Morales quickly introduced constitutional changes which promised to expand the political and social rights of the country’s indigenous majority. This was one of the pledges that helped Morales win a landslide victory. The response of the right wing elites has been to organize the first of three planned separatist referendums in the lowlands of Bolivia. The wealthy elite, who are heavily concentrated in this area, would like to divide the country and take the country’s large reserves of natural gas with them. The first referendum went ahead in Santa Cruz on May 4, 2008 and the illegal vote went overwhelmingly in favour of splitting the country and stealing its natural gas. There have been many credible allegations that the referendum and a larger separatist effort are being funded by the American government through organizations like USAID and the NED. President Morales has responded by subjecting himself to the will of the people once again in a recall referendum. He will be hoping for a convincing victory that will help to silence the country's increasingly vocal right-wing opposition.

Perhaps the most egregious and heinous display of American interference in Latin America has been unfolding in Columbia since the mid-1990’s. Under the watchful eye of America, successive governments in Columbia have supported or tolerated right wing death squads who have been steadily killing off labour leaders and members of leftist opposition groups. In addition, the American backed war on drugs in Columbia has involved the spraying of massive amounts of dangerous chemicals in a futile attempt to eradicate the coca plant in the country. These chemicals have damaged other legitimate crops and had negative effects on the health of people in the region. Columbia has consistently been one of the biggest recipients of American financial and military aid. The fact that they have enjoyed an atrocious human rights record during this time period has not been an issue for American administrations. The money just keeps on flowing.It should come as no surprise that more Colombian School of the Americas (SOA) graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses than SOA graduates from any other country. U.S. trained officers have also been accused of being directly or indirectly involved in many atrocities, including the Trujillo massacres, the 1997 Mapiripan massacre and the massacre at Alto Naya in 2001. Clearly the introduction of Plan Columbia has not been a welcomed gift for all Colombians.

In Ecuador, it is worth mentioning that the United States has been operating a military/air force base inside the country for almost a decade. The lease is due to expire in 2009 and the left wing president of Ecuador clearly has no intention of letting the Americans stay on. President Rafael Correa, who seems to have an appreciation for humour and irony, has stated that he would allow the Americans to continue their operations in Ecuador if the United States would consent to a reciprocal agreement which would see an Ecuadorian air base operating out of Miami, Florida. President Correa has also purged his military of its top leaders, claiming that the intelligence services had been totally infiltrated by the CIA. So far, the armed forces (which played a key role in the ouster of three Presidents in recent years) have bent to the will of the President who seems determined to stand up to the military and assert greater state control over the country’s petroleum and mining industries. Only time will tell if America will allow President Correa to force its troops out and introduce his planned reforms for the country.

So, how is Latin America responding to this long standing pattern of American interference? It would appear that a two pronged strategy is emerging to counter American influence in the region. The first has been to increase military spending and to purchase leading edge technology in order to bolster the armed forces. Military spending in Latin America has exploded in recent years to unprecedented levels. The second prong appears to be a concerted effort to coordinate deeper integration between Latin American nations. The UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed by 12 nations on May 23, 2008, at the Third Summit of Heads of State, held in Brasilia, Brazil. The agreement seeks to facilitate greater economic development, infrastructure development, the free movement of people, and cooperation on security matters. Throughout the years, many progressives in South America have been calling for a social, political, and economic union capable of standing up to the American empire. UNASUR is intended to be a crucial step towards the achievement of such a union. Venezuela and Brazil have also put forth a plan for a South American Defense Council which would develop shared policy and serve as a mechanism for regional defense and security. The proposal is currently under discussion by the member states.There is a widespread recognition that the time of American plundering in Latin America is over.

It's time that America herself woke up to that reality and did some long overdue growing up. America must learn how to respect the will of the people in sovereign nations and put an end to its destructive meddling. Central and South America would be a good place to begin demonstrating a more mature and sophisticated worldview in which American interests do not always take center stage at the expense of all others. Instead of being at odds with its Southern neighbours, it might actually make a few friends in the region. This would go a long way in helping to restore American credibility and integrity on the world stage.

Spencer Spratley

Fulfilling the Vision of Gush Emunim

Officially found as a political movement in 1974 , the Gush Emunim (Block of the faithful) advocated the expansion of Israel into occupied Palestinian lands through the construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Heavily influenced by the Rabbi Abraham Kook, and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the movement espoused a belief that Jewish people enjoyed a divine right to all the land between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. They believed this land was promised to the Jews by God in the Hebrew bible. This vision of conquest and expansion has been the policy of every Israeli government since the end of the Six-Day war in 1967. The removal of Palestinians and the incorporation of their lands into Israel is seen by many settlers as a religious duty.

In light of the recent siege of the Gaza strip and continuing efforts to carve up the West bank, it appears that the vision of Gush Emunim is approaching its fulfillment. This project of divine inspiration has been carried out by bulldozing Arab homes, confiscating land, diverting precious water resources, and implementing "security measures" which isolate Palestinian towns and restrict the flow of human traffic and commercial goods. The most egregious of these measures are the walls that Israel has constructed to divide the Palestinians and protect illegal settlements in the West Bank. These walls are an integral part of Israel's ongoing colonization policy in the occupied territories. Rather than acting as a legitimate partner for peace, Israel seems intent on continuing a pattern of theft, segregation, and a complete domination of all aspects of Palestinian life.In addition to being a flagrant violation of international law, the ongoing expansion of settlements are one of the greatest obstacles to establishing a just peace in the area.

The UN security council has passed several non-binding resolutions which address the issue of Israeli settlements. One of the most well-known is resolution 446 which, in part, states the following:

"Affirming once more that the Fourth Geneva convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War is applicable to the Arab territories occupies by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem."

The resolution further states in section 1 that:

"the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

West Bank Settlements

Even while Ehud Olmert claims to be negotiating "peace" with Mahmoud Abbas, his Government is authorizing an expansion in the West Bank settlements of Ariel and Elkana. In addition, Israel is planning new settlements in East Jerusalem which would completely separate the city from the rest of the West bank. Prime Minister Olmert has also vowed to keep many West Bank settlement blocks in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. These actions and public statements clearly illustrate that Israel has no real interest in a "just and lasting" peace with the Palestinians. It more accurately reflects a statement made by Ariel Sharon in 1998:

"Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours...Everything we don't grab will go to them."

Israel and its settlements also continue to divert and gobble up most of the scarce water resources in the West Bank. This is an ongoing source of anger and resentment among Palestinians. An elaborate system roads has also been constructed to connect the settlements. These roads are off limits to most Palestinians. Instead they are forced to traverse substandard roads on which their movements are severely restricted by humiliating "security checkpoints". Some of these checkpoints are equipped with turnstiles which resemble cattle chutes.

The Siege of Gaza

The Israeli strategy in the Gaza strip is clear: destroy it. The siege of the territory, which began shortly after Hamas drove out the military forces of Fatah, has continues to cause unimaginable suffering. Some of the more sadistic components of the siege include:

1. Cutting off fuel supplies. This has made the delivery of food aid almost impossible. It has also deprived much of Gaza of its sources of electricity and refrigeration. One of the more tragic consequences of this move has been the inability of Gazans to run their water treatment plants. Raw sewage has run in the streets and been pumped into the Mediterranean. According to published reports, millions of liters of waste have pumped into the Sea, contaminating the water in the area and killing fish.

2. Withholding tax revenue and the closing of border crossings into the strip. Obviously this eliminates the flow of human traffic and commercial goods, further exacerbating existing problems with poverty, hunger, unemployment, and the delivery of medical care (resulting in avoidable deaths). According to aid agencies, malnutrition has increased at an alarming rate in Gaza and many residents are going hungry.

Israel has stated that it will only consider easing the blockade if there is a complete end to cross-border attacks by Palestinian armed groups. However, in Cairo last month, 12 Palestinian factions ( including Hamas), agreed to implement a six month ceasefire, on condition that Israel end the blockade and stop its cross-border raids. There is no possible justification for continuing this collective punishment. It is not a legitimate military strategy. It is an immoral attempt to cause undue suffering and destroy life in the Gaza strip. The government of Israel is fully aware of the consequences of this siege. Unfortunately, it is a crime of terrifying proportions to which most of the world is either oblivious or shockingly callous in their lack of care and concern. In any case, the situation is threatening to explode into a full blown act of genocide if steps are not taken to lift the blockade. One can only hope that the Israeli leadership will rediscover their conscience and free the people of the Gaza strip. History suggests they may not. The terrible suffering will likely continue and the vision of Gush Emunim may be fully realized.
Spencer Spratley

The Preemptive Use of Nuclear Weapons: A Less than Grand Strategy

A few months ago, a report was published entitled "Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership". It was written by five generals and it proposes a new vision for the NATO alliance and a strengthening of ties between the United States and the European Union. The report outlines the major security threats facing the world today and it asserts that NATO, in spite of its shortcomings, remains the most effective body for confronting these threats. The five generals outline a strategy for NATO to adopt in its effort to make the world a more "certain" place and for ensuring the dominance of the Western world in global security matters.
The report contains some shocking and alarming statements which demand further attention and analysis. The most unnerving idea put forth is that the preemptive use of nuclear weapons must remain in the NATO toolkit as a viable option for confronting entities which pose an "imminent threat" to global security. The following passages taken from the report clearly illustrate this point:
"The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, in order to avoid truly existential dangers."
"What is needed is a policy of deterrence by proactive denial, in which preemption is a form of reaction when a threat is imminent, and prevention is the attempt to regain the initiative in order to end the conflict."
"Regrettably, nuclear weapons – and with them the option of first use – are indispensable, since there is simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world. On the contrary, the risk of further proliferation is imminent and, with it, the danger that nuclear war fighting, albeit limited in scope, might become possible. This development must be prevented. It should therefore be kept in mind that technology could produce options that go beyond the traditional role of nuclear weapons in preventing a nuclear armed opponent from using nuclear weapons. In sum, nuclear weapons remain indispensable, and nuclear escalation continues to remain an element of any modern strategy."
In short, the publication suggests that NATO should adhere to the Bush administration's credo of "strike first" and that the definition of "proportional" can, and must, include the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The flawed logic is that the Western world should be prepared to use nuclear weapons in order to prevent their "enemies" from developing and/or using those same weapons. It goes without saying that that this position carries with it a whole host of problems. The following issues immediately spring to mind:
1) The naive belief that "mini-nukes" are somehow a safe and proportional response to perceived threats is an unproven and frightening proposition which contains the potential to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust. Reducing parts of the world to a massive laboratory where NATO will bomb first and asses the accuracy of their beliefs in retrospect is frightening indeed. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the use of nuclear weapons would not have grave implications for civilian casualties and massive environmental contamination. The report also offers no comforting assurances that other nations who are "allies" of the targeted country would not respond to the use of nuclear weapons by retaliating in kind.
2) A policy of preemptive use eliminates any real notion of deterrence. If a government felt it was being targeted for attack or regime change, what incentive would there be for that nation to refrain from striking first with WMD's or any other means at their disposal? In addition, what incentive would there be for these nations to refrain from forming strategic alliances with terrorist organizations which may help them retaliate in the event of an attack? If anything, the whole notion of preemptive strikes serves to make the world a less certain and stable place.
3) It's difficult to imagine a scenario where this policy would not, in fact, encourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (and weapons of all kinds). Common sense suggests that nations who feel cornered would likely adopt an attitude of, "If we're gonna be hit, lets make sure we can hit back."
4) The publication does not address the long-term implications of a preemptive attack. Decapitating the leadership of a nation and laying waste to its terrain does not provide any reason to hope that from the ashes of such a calamity would emerge a model state which would pose no further threat to the Western world.The American invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, without the use of nuclear weapons, should illustrate the dangers inherent in this philosophy. Would a nuclear attack on Iran, for example, be based on "intelligence" that was also completely erroneous and deceptive? The world is not any safer as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Adding nuclear weapons to the mix would only make the situation worse from a humanitarian and security perspective.
These issues are only those that spring to mind from a "layperson's" perspective. Other analysts with a more sophisticated understanding of the issue could likely demonstrate innumerable problems with the doctrine of preemptive use. At a basic level, the idea is simply counter intuitive and seemingly immoral. The argument seems devoid of all reason and logic and carries with it some very grave risks for the future of humanity.
The report itself contains other flaws and arguments which only serve to polarize groups and nations and move us further from a spirit of co-operation and understanding. The publication also contains messages that wreak of cultural superiority and arrogance. For example, the report states that, "In some Western societies, faith in purely irrational belief systems has overtaken belief in religions that have moral and rational substance, as well as cultural roots. But symptoms such as the decline of interest in science reflect an intellectual decline that might have more immediately palpable social consequences in areas such as journalism, law, and even public health. It reflects a more general loss of respect for the value of evidence and argument. As a direct consequence of the globalisation of information flows, all kinds of irrational belief or political fanaticism circulate freely in the public domain." Have the generals who prepared this report elevated themselves to the status of experts on which religions are moral and contain "rational substance"? Are they suggesting that religions that are not homogeneous with "traditional" Western belief systems are somehow inferior and contributing to "intellectual decline"? The suggestion, only slightly veiled, is clear and it's obnoxious.
The report further states that, "If the irrational and fanatical get out of hand, there is a risk that, in the long term, the instability of uncertainties, the rise of fundamentalisms and despotisms will usher in a new, illiberal age, in which the liberties that Western societies enjoy – but will not defend – are seriously jeopardised". If the authors had not displayed a clear bias in this report, the reader might be tempted to imagine that they are referring to neo-conservatism and not the Islamic faith.
The author's of the report explore, at great length, the challenges that they perceive as constituting the greatest threats to global security. Unfortunately, they completely ignore the greatest threat to stability and harmony on the planet: poverty. Their complete failure to address this issue in any depth makes it difficult to give the report, as a whole, any credibility. Any discussion of global security must take poverty into account. The widening gap between those who have more than enough and those who have less than they need must be central to any discussion on global security and making the world a safer place for everyone.
On the whole, the report contains an unabashed support for increased militarism and an arrogant endorsement of continuing Western hegemony throughout the world. The "Western way of life" must be preserved at all costs and those groups and/or nations which pose a threat to Western dominance must be wiped off the face of the earth. For these, and other reasons, the report is disturbing and presents a strategy which is something far less than grand. It is time for military leaders, security elites, and Western governments to engage in a level of thoughtfulness, creativity, consultation, and broad-mindedness which might result in perspectives that truly serve to unify the nations of the world and create greater harmony among its populations. No-one likes a bully and this report simply encourages the Western world to continue to threaten other nations into submission and to destroy them when they will not bow down. For the rest of the world, these bullies are not just after your lunch money. They are after your culture, your beliefs, your resources, your right to self-determination, your territory, and, ultimately, your life.
Spencer Spratley