Monday, July 29, 2013

Verdict First Trial Later: Edward Snowden

Just another day in week then.

A Shameful Day to Be a US Citizen

By Dave Lindorff
July 28, 2013

I have been deeply ashamed of my country many times. The Nixon Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong was one such time, when hospitals, schools and dikes were targeted. The invasion of Iraq was another. Washington’s silence over the fatal Israeli Commando raid on the Gaza Peace Flotilla--in which a 19-year-old unarmed American boy was murdered--was a third. But I have rarely been as ashamed and disgusted as I was Saturday reading that US Attorney General Eric Holder had sent a letter to the Russian minister of justice saying that the US would “not seek the death penalty” in its espionage case against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, promising that even if the US later brought added charges against Snowden after obtaining him, they would not include any death penalty, and vowing that if Snowden were handed over by Russia to the US, he would “not be tortured.”

So it has come to this: That the United States has to promise (to Russia!) that it will not torture a prisoner in its control -- a US citizen at that -- and so therefore that person, Edward Snowden, has no basis for claiming that he should be “treated as a refugee or granted asylum.”

Why does Holder have to make these pathetic representations to his counterpart in Russia?

Because Snowden has applied for asylum saying that he is at risk of torture or execution if returned to the US to face charges for leaking documents showing that the US government is massively violating the civil liberties and privacy of every American by monitoring every American’s electronic communications.

Snowden has made that claim in seeking asylum because he knows that another whistleblower, Pvt. Bradley Manning, was in fact tortured by the US for months, and held without trial in solitary confinement in a Marine military brig for nearly a year, part of the time naked, before being finally put on trial in a kangaroo court, where the judge is as much prosecutor as jurist, and where his guilt was declared in advance by the President of the United States -- the same president who has also already publicly declared Snowden guilty too.

It is incredibly shameful that we US citizens have to admit that we live in a country that tortures its prisoners, that casually executes people who are mentally retarded, who are innocent, who had defense attorneys who slept through their clients’ trials, whose prosecutors slept with the judge, who were denied access to DNA evidence that could have proven their innocence, or who were convicted based upon the lies of prosecutors and prosecution witnesses.

This country’s “justice” system has become so perverted and politically tainted that the rest of the world, including Russia, knows that Snowden is telling the truth when he says he cannot hope to receive a fair trial here. Indeed, Congress has passed laws, and the President has signed laws, giving this government the power to lock someone like Snowden up indefinitely without trial, to torture him, and even to kill him, not through a jury decision on capital punishment, but simply on the basis of a secret “finding” by the President that he has aided or abetted terrorism.

No wonder Russia and several other countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, have offered or are considering offering Snowden asylum.

And no wonder that, in its obsession with getting its tyrannical hands on him, this government is willing to promise not to kill him or torture him (for what a promise from the US government is worth, especially since when Holder makes his promise of "no torture" we have to remember that Holder and the US don't define such horrors as waterboarding, stress positions, keeping someone naked in an unheated cell, or employing prolonged sensory deprivation are not "torture").

Shame and anger are the only appropriate responses to that letter from Holder.

If this were a country that honored the rule of law, Attorney General Holder would not need to promise not to torture. He would need only to point to the US Constitution, with its ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” He would not need to promise a fair trial to Snowden, with no capital punishment on any charges. He could point instead to the Constitution’s promise of a presumption of innocence and of a public trial by a jury of the accused’s peers, to make the case against the granting of asylum.

In such a country, someone like Snowden, with the help of a crack legal team, would have a fair shot at proving to a jury his innocence of the government’s frivolous espionage charges. He’d have a fair chance of convincing at least one juror of his absolute innocence of any crime, making his conviction impossible.

But that is not what this country is, especially today.

In today’s US courts, we know the “Justice” Department would seek to bar testimony about Snowden’s motives in leaking the documents he downloaded from the NSA’s computers. They would ask the judge to limit defense arguments and testimony in the case to the narrow issue of whether or not he downloaded and leaked files, not to whether those files exposed Constitutional violations and needed to be brought to the public’s attention. Our judges, nominated by presidents and confirmed by senators, Democrat and Republican, who want jurists who favor government secrecy and who generally side with the government against the people, can be counted on to grant the government’s motions.

In such circumstances, a defendant like Snowden, facing charges of espionage or theft of government secrets, has no ability to defend himself. The trial would be like in a Lewis Carroll event: “Verdict first, trial later!”

Hopefully President Vladimir Putin will not be pressured by the US into pretending that Snowden has nothing to fear in going back to face “justice” in the US.

It is bad enough that we Americans have to hang our heads in shame as our Attorney General pretends, against all evidence to the contrary, that there is still a fair legal system operating in the US, and that the US respects human rights and the rule of law.

We should not have to also endure yet another kangaroo court trial, this time of Edward Snowden.

Snowden should be granted asylum in Russia, or should be allowed to travel to one of the other countries of his choice that have had the courage to offer him asylum.

If we’re going to have trials on the issue of spying in the US, let them be of Holder himself, and of President Obama. This Can't Be Happening

Puttin’ the Pressure on Putin

Puttin’ the Pressure on Putin
By Ray McGovern
July 28, 2013
Exclusive: The Obama administration continues to compound the diplomatic mess around former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The latest blunder was announcing that the U.S. wouldn’t torture or execute Snowden, a reminder to the world how far Official Washington has strayed from civilized behavior, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
The main question now on the fate of truth-teller Edward Snowden is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will see any benefit in helping stop the United States from further embarrassing itself as it prances around the globe acting like a “pitiful, helpless giant.” That image was coined by President Richard Nixon, who insisted that the giant of America would merit those adjectives if it did not prevail in South Vietnam.

It is no secret that Putin is chuckling as Attorney General Eric Holder and other empty-shirts-cum-corporate-law-office-silk-ties – assisted ably by White House spokesperson Jay Carney – proceed willy-nilly to transform the Snowden case from a red-faced diplomatic embarrassment for the United States into a huge geopolitical black eye before the rest of the world.

Reminding the planet how out of step the United States has been from most of the civilized world, Holder offered a written promise to the Russians on July 9 (and released on Friday) that Snowden would neither be tortured nor put to death for disclosing secrets about how the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans and pretty much everybody else on Earth.

Holder assured the Russian Justice Minister that the U.S. “would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States.” Holder also saw fit to reassure his Russian counterpart that, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” Wow, that’s a relief!

The United States is so refined in its views on human rights that it won’t torture or execute a whistleblower. Of course, that only reminded everyone that the United States is one of the few advanced societies that still puts lots of people to death and was caught just last decade torturing detainees at CIA “black sites,” not to mention the brutal treatment of other prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

And, there was the humiliating treatment afforded another American whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, whose forced nudity and long periods in solitary confinement during eight months of confinement at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. prompted international accusations of torture.

Holder’s strange promise may have been designed to undercut Snowden’s bid for asylum, but it also reminded the world of America’s abysmal behavior on human rights. And, even if the United States promises not to torture someone, government lawyers have shown how they can play games with the definition of the term or just outright lie. Holder’s reputation for veracity is just a thin notch above that of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who admits he has chosen to testify under oath to the “least untruthful” things.

Perhaps no one has told Holder how shockingly out of step with other civilized nations the U.S. finds itself on the issue of capital punishment. Just calling attention to that is a diplomatic gaffe of some proportion. The global trend toward abolition of the death penalty is unmistakable and increasing. The United States even is the outlier on this issue when compared to “brutal” Russia. In Russia, there has been a moratorium on executions since 1996, although it is still technically lawful.

The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty, and the abolition of capital punishment is a pre-condition for entry into the Union. The U.S. enjoys the dubious distinction of joining a list with China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the leaders in executing people.

Closing the Barn Door Too Late

Holder’s high-profile push to get the Russians to hand over Snowden damages the United States in other ways, too, such as reminding the world how the U.S. government has violated the privacy rights of people everywhere, including in allied countries. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the smartest U.S. move would be to simply leave Snowden alone.

Depending on your perspective, Edward Snowden has already done his damage – or, in my view, accomplished his patriotic duty of truth-telling – demonstrating with documents how the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have trashed the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, Snowden apparently had the foresight to handle his revelations in such way that, to the degree there are still more genies about to be let out of the bottle, it will be near impossible to stuff them back in. Indeed, he has said as much, in indicating how easily he can accede to Putin’s condition that he does “no further harm” to the U.S. Snowden has even been specific in acknowledging that he cannot prevent journalist Glenn Greenwald and others from publishing more of the material he made available.

So why the hue and cry from Washington? While the Obama White House has utterly failed to honor Obama’s earlier promises to run a transparent administration, there is one area in which it has been as transparent as Saran Wrap. And that is its fixation with pursuing whistleblowers “to the full extent of the law” … and then some.

The administration has been transparently vindictive, revengeful and determined to exact retribution on “leakers” as a warning to others whose consciences might trouble them enough to reveal war crimes, as Bradley Manning did, or crass violations of our rights as citizens, as Edward Snowden did.

But the recent thrashing around — demanding and cajoling Putin to turn over Snowden — has further made the United States look petulant and inept. Meanwhile, Putin has demonstrated a much more deft touch in handling this delicate international incident.

After making it clear that “we do not extradite,” Putin has had the good sense to put some distance between himself and the Snowden affair. As Secretary of State John Kerry bemoaned (from Saudi Arabia, of all places) about “standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” and (of all things) “respect for the rule of law,” Putin said the issue is simple:

“Should such people [as Snowden] be extradited to be jailed, or not? In any case, I would prefer not to deal with such issues, because this is just the same as shaving a piglet – too much noise but too little hair.”

Will Putin Cave?

Do the feckless folks running President Barack Obama’s foreign policy really think they can force Putin to back down? Can they actually believe they can achieve that by putting into play what they apparently consider a diplomatic “nuclear option”? The thinly veiled threat surfaced ten days ago that Obama will snub Putin by canceling their planned tete-a-tete before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in September.

Can they possibly think that by pouting, jibing and stamping their feet, they will frighten Putin into “behaving” as obediently as the malleable Italians, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Austrians did when they forced down Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane for inspection? Morales was en route home from a visit to Russia when someone provided the U.S. with a “tip” that Snowden was hiding on Morales’s plane.

I find myself wondering who provided Washington with that great tip, and whether it is no longer the practice among U.S. intelligence agencies to take rudimentary steps to verify such tips before they let their masters get greasy diplomatic egg all over their faces?

Finally, how many more times does Putin have to say, as he did through his spokesman again Friday that: “Russia has never extradited anyone, and will not extradite [Snowden].”

Months ago, former UK MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon coined the term “asymmetric extradition law” referring to U.S. policy, which, in the vernacular, might be called “pick-and-choose.” While there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia, there has been one between the U.S. and Italy for 30 years. Yet, Washington has turned a deaf ear to Italy’s appeals to extradite convicted kidnapper Robert Seldon Lady, former head of the CIA worker bees in Milan where the CIA mounted an “extraordinary rendition” against the Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar off the streets in 2003. Omar was given over to the tender mercies of Egyptian intelligence interrogators.

In 2005, when Lady got a tip that the Italian police were coming for him, he reportedly fled his villa without destroying sensitive files on the CIA’s mission. Italy convicted Lady and 22 other U.S. operatives in absentia and gave them hefty jail sentences. Last December, Italy’s justice minister signed a warrant for Lady’s arrest. On July 18, Lady was identified and detained in Panama, but slipped away the next day on a plane headed toward the U.S.

Few were surprised that Panama was pressured into joining the servile company of the four U.S.-crony European countries that had already embarrassed themselves as accessories to the Washington’s latest Excellent Adventure regarding Evo Morales’s plane – a fiasco code-named OARR (for Operation Airline Rest Room) after the suspected place where Snowden was believed stowed away.

But when it came to extraditing a convicted kidnapper from Panama to Italy? Puleeze. Great powers don’t have to do that kind of thing, treaty or not. Except for Russia, you see. Moscow must surrender Snowden, even absent a U.S.-Russia extradition treaty. And Putin should understand that, no?

It must have been that kind of superpower-think that prompted Jay Carney on July 12 to add insult to injury, as he jibed at the Russian government to “afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge.” That kind of comment is sure to endear the White House to the Kremlin.

Vladimir Volokh, head of the Russian Migration Service, seemed to welcome a chance to retaliate in kind. Rubbing in the awkwardness of Snowden’s present status because of actions by Washington, Volokh told the Interfax news agency Friday: “We know that he is Edward Snowden only from his words. The passport he has has been canceled. … He is under protection in the transit area for his safety. He is an individual being pursued and his life is in danger.”

The Russians, and pretty much everyone else, are smart enough to realize that, given Washington’s transparent motives, there is nothing to be gained by serving Snowden up to American “justice,” such as it has become. Russia is no banana republic, so it beggars belief that President Putin will follow the supine example of Panama. Nor is the fawning example of Italy, France, Spain and Portugal something Putin would wish to emulate.

Russian History more

You Wouldn't Hang it on Your Wall - Ink

You wouldn't hang it on your wall, why on earth would you hang it on your body?

Why tattoos make my flesh crawl

The tattoo has always been a mark of powerlessness, not individuality. And now everyone’s got one.
By Neil Davenport.
September 18 2012

Joanna Southgate’s heavily tattooed arms caused a stir at Royal Ascot last week. Apparently, the 34-year-old sneaked in and avoided being told to cover them up. In a discussion piece last Sunday, an Observer journalist argued that tattoos like Southgate’s can be beautiful and a work of art in their own right. Novelist and journalist Rachel Johnson, however, declared that they simply lacked style and elegance. If they’re not good enough for actress Kristin Scott Thomas, she declared, they’re not good enough for any stylish woman. In the Mirror, Tony Parsons also declared that tattoos were a depressing eyesore and that Britain has become a ‘tattooed nation’.

For once, I’m with Parsons. In Britain, when the sun comes out, so do the tattoos. Acres and acres of flesh vandalised by grubby-looking ink daubings: martial-arts symbols, nude dancers, flowers and roses, Guns’n’Roses, dolphins, dogs and loved ones’ names scrawled in Sanskrit. Tattoos used to be a subcultural expression of criminals, sailors and hard men. Now everyone, from footballers to the prime minister’s wife, has their body adorned in artwork last seen on a Prog-Rock album sleeve. To describe them as lurid would be an understatement, which is a word probably hated and feared in tattoo parlours everywhere.

So what’s going on? How did we arrive at a situation whereby not having a tattoo is now a sign of daring rebellion? While sitting in a pub garden recently, I realised I was about the only person whose flesh could be considered a blank canvas. Nor will I be getting my arms mutilated anytime soon. Apart from tattoos looking hideously ugly, they are also indicative of a person’s insularity. No doubt having a tattoo is widely seen as a mark of individuality and personal expression; that is, you have altered your body’s appearance to demonstrate something about yourself. As one blogger put it recently, ‘a tattoo is a life story. And with a virgin skin you obviously don’t have a life.’

Yet there’s more going on here than questionable aesthetic tastes. With tattoos, the emphasis is all on the self, and the centrality of the self, rather than anything outside of the body. You may not be in a position to make a mark on the outside world, or even on your local community, but at least you can leave a mark on your own body. In a deeply narcissistic age, self-aggrandising tattoos have become the body badge of choice for thousands. But by enlarging ourselves with tattoos, we’re belittling ourselves in the process. It’s a sign of our low expectations that having control over flesh decorations is considered to be the limit of our capacities as an individual. So while shaping the outside world seems near impossible, you can at least shape barbed-wire patterns on your arm.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Historically, tattoos have long been part of subcultures in which fundamental social change was dismissed. During the postwar period, tattoos were associated with rock’n’roll outlaw chic: the greaser, the rocker and the Hell’s Angels. In other words, tattoos were associated with an ‘outsider’ form of ‘cool’. And yet, the original definition of ‘cool’ was to be decidedly icy about the struggles between left and right, socialism and conservatism, workers and bosses. It was to be cool about the possibilities of human progress achieved through social transformation. To display your tattoos was to elevate the self over any commitment to engaging with and changing society.

Of course in an age where human progress has little positive meaning, it’s not surprising that ‘cool’, in its anti-political sense, has become so widespread. But the emptying out of politics has also gone hand-in-hand with a rejection of civilised mainstream values, too. Increasingly, universal standards in public life, from formality of speech to ‘dressing for an occasion’, are seen as irritating, even offensive, reminders of stuffy Old Britain. Anyone who questions the dismantling of such universal standards is seen as an out-of-touch reactionary who needs to ‘chillax’.

Public displays of tattoos, such as swallows on hands to denote having ‘done bird’, were often a sad display of self-loathing by marginalised individuals in society. In the early 1980s, lumpenised punks and skinheads would also have a ‘cut here’ tattoo dotted around their throat. A mixture of personal degradation and outlaw status has, historically, provided tattoos with their shock value.

In recent years, such shock value has now taken the form of the neck tattoo, where huge ink daubings have no place to hide. The comedy writer Armando Iannucci recently said on Twitter that neck tattoos must be ‘the worst sort of career move going’. But that is exactly why some individuals have them; it is a defiant rejection of the formalised dress codes required to advance in most workplaces, a tattooed sneer at the uptight world of white-collar work and ‘office drones’.

Imagining yourself on the margins, and not at the centre of society, is why tattoos have become so popular. Whether it is refusing to hold down a job or, in the middle classes’ case, rejecting bourgeois values, significant sections of society want to vacate the public sphere. Just like the historically isolated social groups with which tattoo wearers seek identification, today a lot of people want to be outside contemporary society. In effect, tattoos are a celebration of powerlessness and marginalisation. Getting tattooed up is simply a way of putting ourselves down.

Neil Davenport is a politics teacher based in London. He blogs at The Midnight Bell.
From hero to zero: Lewis Hamilton. Not only that, he's got Jesus.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

John Pilger: Forcing Down Evo Morales' Plane Was An Act Of Air Piracy

First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: ‘Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for.
Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency.

Once a whore, always a whore.’ -  George Orwell  1 September 1944

Forcing down Evo Morales's plane was an act of air piracy

Denying the Bolivian president air space was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world
By John Pilger
4 July 2013

President Morales arrives back in La Paz, Bolivia. ‘Imagine the response from Paris if the French president's plane was forced down in Latin America.’

Imagine the aircraft of the president of France being forced down in Latin America on "suspicion" that it was carrying a political refugee to safety – and not just any refugee but someone who has provided the people of the world with proof of criminal activity on an epic scale.

Imagine the response from Paris, let alone the "international community", as the governments of the west call themselves. To a chorus of baying indignation from Whitehall to Washington, Brussels to Madrid, heroic special forces would be dispatched to rescue their leader and, as sport, smash up the source of such flagrant international gangsterism. Editorials would cheer them on, perhaps reminding readers that this kind of piracy was exhibited by the German Reich in the 1930s.

The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane – denied airspace by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to "inspect" his aircraft for the "fugitive" Edward Snowden – was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.

In Moscow, Morales had been asked about Snowden – who remains trapped in the city's airport. "If there were a request [for political asylum]," he said, "of course, we would be willing to debate and consider the idea." That was clearly enough provocation for the Godfather. "We have been in touch with a range of countries that had a chance of having Snowden land or travel through their country," said a US state department official.

The French – having squealed about Washington spying on their every move, as revealed by Snowden – were first off the mark, followed by the Portuguese. The Spanish then did their bit by enforcing a flight ban of their airspace, giving the Godfather's Viennese hirelings enough time to find out if Snowden was indeed invoking article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution."

Those paid to keep the record straight have played their part with a cat-and-mouse media game that reinforces the Godfather's lie that this heroic young man is running from a system of justice, rather than preordained, vindictive incarceration that amounts to torture – ask Bradley Manning and the living ghosts in Guantánamo.

Historians seem to agree that the rise of fascism in Europe might have been averted had the liberal or left political class understood the true nature of its enemy. The parallels today are very different, but the Damocles sword over Snowden, like the casual abduction of Bolivia's president, ought to stir us into recognising the true nature of the enemy.

Snowden's revelations are not merely about privacy, or civil liberty, or even mass spying. They are about the unmentionable: that the democratic facades of the US now barely conceal a systematic gangsterism historically identified with, if not necessarily the same as, fascism. On Tuesday, a US drone killed 16 people in North Waziristan, "where many of the world's most dangerous militants live", said the few paragraphs I read. That by far the world's most dangerous militants had hurled the drones was not a consideration. President Obama personally sends them every Tuesday.

In his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel prize in literature, Harold Pinter referred to "a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed". He asked why "the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities" of the Soviet Union were well known in the west while America's crimes were "superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged". The most enduring silence of the modern era covered the extinction and dispossession of countless human beings by a rampant US and its agents. "But you wouldn't know it," said Pinter. "It never happened. Even while it was happening it never happened."

This hidden history – not really hidden, of course, but excluded from the consciousness of societies drilled in American myths and priorities – has never been more vulnerable to exposure. Snowden's whistleblowing, like that of Manning and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, threatens to break the silence Pinter described. In revealing a vast Orwellian police state apparatus servicing history's greatest war-making machine, they illuminate the true extremism of the 21st century. Unprecedented, Germany's Der Spiegel has described the Obama administration as "soft totalitarianism". If the penny is falling, we might all look closer to home.