The Obama administration is quietly escalating the covert US-led war against al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia, deploying hundreds of Special Forces troops, launching air strikes and using mercenaries and allied African forces to combat the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group.
The New York Times reports the escalation has led to the largest American military presence in Somalia since US troops withdrew from the East African nation in the wake of the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993. The Somalia Campaign, as it is called by US, African and other international officials, is partly meant to avoid a repeat of the 1993 debacle, in which 18 US troops were killed battling local warlords during what was planned as a humanitarian mission to avert mass starvation in the impoverished, war-torn nation.
Although President Barack Obama has professed an aversion to deploying US “boots on the ground,” the Somalia Campaign is being called a model for future anti-terror wars that will in all likelihood continue long after Obama leaves office next January. The president has eschewed large-scale invasions in favor of deployments of smaller numbers of Special Forces troops backed by air strikes and working in concert with regional allies. He has also been criticized for repeatedly violating promises not to deploy US combat troops in Syria and Iraq. Since 2013, Obama has vowed at least 16 times that there would be no US “boots on the ground” in Syria, where hundreds of American Special Forces are currently on the ground engaged in the fight against Islamic State militants. US troops are also fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State, and in other campaigns in that war-ravaged nation.
While the Pentagon characterizes operations such as the Somalia Campaign as “self-defense strikes,” critics note that the targeting of al-Shabaab training camps and raids deep inside enemy territory are clearly offensive in nature, and that the very presence of US troops in Somalia creates a self-fulfilling prophecy as Islamist militants attack them. Critics also claim that United States African Command’s (AFRICOM) significant expansion in Africa is part of a wider strategic effort to gain greater control in the resource-rich continent and to thwart rivals including China and the former European imperialist powers that once controlled much of Africa during colonial times.
AFRICOM has conducted dozens of operations against al-Shabaab and other Islamist militants in Somalia over the past decade, with mixed results. While US forces have killed large numbers of militants, drone and other air strikes have also killed civilians and allied Somalian security forces. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has little control outside the capital city of Mogadishu, is weak and was only able to solidify what little power it has due to a brutal — but US-backed — Ethiopian invasion and an African Union military intervention.
The Somalian escalation marks the latest chapter of a wider US-led war waged ceaselessly since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. It is estimated that as many as 1.3 million people have died as a result of the US-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan alone.
For the seventh straight year, President Barack Obama has granted waivers from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) to nations whose militaries conscript, employ and recruit children.
CSPA was passed in the last year of the George W. Bush administration and prohibits US military aid to nations whose armies include child soldiers among their ranks. CSPA contains a “national interest” waiver clause allowing the president to ignore the military aid ban if it is determined that granting such assistance to nations which violate the law serves the national interest.
Every year since 2010, Obama has issued — and the State Department under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry has implemented — waivers to a growing list of nations that includes some of the world’s most notorious child soldier recruiters. Countries that have received total or partial relief from CSPA sanctions include Libya, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Rwanda, Central African Republic and Nigeria.
This year, Obama issued full waivers for Burma, Iraq and Nigeria. Partial waivers were also granted for DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan. The seven waivers are the most ever issued by the administration. Supporters argue the exemptions have been a useful tool for influencing governments identified as child soldier offenders — notably Chad, DRC and Rwanda — to take meaningful steps to eliminate or curb the enslavement, conscription, employment and recruitment of children into armed forces.
However, human rights groups continue to criticize the Obama administration for using the waivers despite continuing, and in some cases increasing, recruitment or use of child soldiers. In a letter to Obama from Amnesty International, Child Soldiers International, Human Rights Watch and Humanity United, the rights groups note:
Of the 12 countries that have been identified by the US State Department as having national armies or government-supported armed groups that used children between 2010 and 2015, ten countries had military assistance and/or arms sales authorized during that period. According to the Stimson Center, the administration has authorized more than $980 million in military assistance and over $275 million in arms sales for listed governments following waivers since 2010, and withheld only $56 million in military assistance and $5 million in arms sales under the CSPA.
The latest inclusion of South Sudan on the waiver list comes just weeks after an August 31, 2016 State Department statement expressing “profound alarm” over the South Sudanese army’s recruitment of child soldiers to fight in an ongoing civil war. The statement noted that an estimated 16,000 children have been recruited by both government and opposition forces since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013.
“The continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in South Sudan is unacceptable,” the statement asserted. “Eliminating the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers for armed groups in South Sudan is a leading priority of the United States. We remain committed to securing accountability for those who recruit and use children as soldiers.”
The State Department also said in the statement that “individuals responsible for the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers for armed groups or forces may be subject to sanction under US law and may be targeted for UN sanctions.” However, South Sudan is slated to receive some $30 million in US military assistance, in part to help its military participate in the war against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a fundamentalist Christian rebel group notorious for its use of child soldiers.
“The irony of supporting one government that is using child soldiers to hunt down a group that has relied upon child soldiers to wage war for decades seems to be lost on the Obama administration,” Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick of the nonprofit Stimson Center wrote in a US News & World Report editorial.
In Iraq, which was granted full waivers in 2016, children are recruited or forced to fight by both Islamic State and by militias backed by the Iraqi government and the United States. These minors have participated in some of the fiercest campaigns of the war to recapture territory lost to Islamic State in the wake of the US withdrawal from Iraq, including the battle for Mosul.
The inclusion of Burma on this year’s waiver list has also raised serious concerns and objections. Despite the ongoing transition from military dictatorship to civilian rule there, and despite a professed commitment to end the use of child soldiers, the Burmese military and associated paramilitary and militia forces continue to “recruit and use” child soldiers, according to Human Rights Watch. Some progress has been made — the Burmese army has freed hundreds of child soldiers following a 2012 agreement with the UN — but critics say change has been slow and that some of the worst practices continue.
The Obama administration says the “carrot and stick” approach of granting waivers to reward progress and spur reform has led to some notable successes. “By linking waivers to specific actions in each country, the United States can use the possibility of a waiver to provide an incentive for reform and continue to work closely with those governments to end the use of child soldiers,” the State Department explained on its blog in 2014.
“Chad, for example, was listed under the CSPA in 2010, 2012, and 2013,” the blog continued. “In 2011, Chad signed a joint action plan with the UN outlining concrete steps toward ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Last year the Government of Chad fulfilled that action plan, and in a joint UN/Government of Chad screening mission found no children in its national army. As a result, Chad was not listed on the 2014 CSPA list.”
However, Stohl told the Washington Post that “we are not seeing change” and that in the case of South Sudan, one of the worst violators, “there’s no evidence partial waivers have worked to change… poor behavior and impunity.” Stohl also blasted the administration for excluding Afghanistan, an important US ally which saw a rise in the use of child soldiers in 2016, from the list of nations eligible for sanctions. State Department lawyers argue that because most child soldier violations occur in the police forces and not the army, the offenses technically do not take place in the “armed forces.”
“They [Obama administration] did bureaucratic somersaults to claim that the groups using child soldiers in Afghanistan are not government supported groups,” fumed Stohl.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who authored CSPA and serves as vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, has called Obama’s repeated decision to provide taxpayer-funded military aid to countries whose armies enslave children as soldiers “an assault on human dignity.”
“Children belong on playgrounds, not battlegrounds,” asserted Fortenberry. “It is unconscionable that the United States of America continues to facilitate the militarization of children, whose innocence is stripped as they are forced to fight and kill — and are subjected to the real likelihood that they will be killed themselves.”
Child rights advocates have slammed Obama — who claimed the waivers were a one-off the first time he issued them in 2010 — for failing to protect children to the best of his ability. “During President Obama’s tenure in office, the number of governments using child soldiers has grown from six to ten,” wrote Jo Becker, advocacy director for children’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “That’s a terrible legacy. If he had used this law more aggressively perhaps the number would not be as large. And perhaps fewer girls and boys will need to lose their childhoods and their lives while fighting other people’s wars.”
Others accused Obama of hypocrisy for speaking out against child soldiers while simultaneously assisting governments whose militaries include children among their ranks. On September 25, 2012, Obama delivered a rousing speech to the Clinton Global Initiative — an address attended by Sec. Clinton — in which he condemned the use of child soldiers, saying, “when a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed, that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.” Three days later, he issued his third round of annual CSPA waivers.
It is unclear whether Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state implemented the presidential waivers for three straight years, would continue with the annual exemptions if elected president. To date, there is no record of any journalist — or of anyone at all — asking any presidential candidate to clarify their stance on the matter and the corporate mainstream media has almost completely ignored the issue.
At least 13 civilians were killed in a US drone strike targeting Islamic State militants in eastern Nangarhar province, an Afghan government official said on Wednesday, although a local police chief said the civilian death toll was much lower.
Al Jazeera reports Esmatullah Shinwari, a Nangarhar politician, said a crowd had gathered at a home in Achin district to welcome home a tribal leader returning from Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia when the strike occurred. Shinwari said at least six fighters loyal to Islamic State were also killed in the air strike. Another 12 people were reportedly wounded in the attack. Achin Police Chief Mohammad Ali told Agence France-Presse that three civilians and 15 fighters were killed in the attack. A provincial police spokesman said the dead Islamic State fighters included a commander.
“The bombing happened at 3.00 am and I was asleep, I did not know what happened, I just heard a big blast,” wounded survivor Hafizullah Khan told EuroNews.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, confirmed a “counterterrorism air strike in Achin district” occurred early on Wednesday and that the military is investigating reports of civilian casualties. “We… are currently reviewing all materials related to this strike,” Cleveland said in a statement. “US Forces-Afghanistan takes all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.”
Achin, which is located near the border with Pakistan, has been an Islamic State stronghold since the Afghan branch of the fundamentalist militant group emerged in 2014. US-led coalition and Afghan military operations — including air strikes — regularly target the area.
While the vast majority of the more than 31,000 civilian deaths during the 15-year-long US-led war in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history — have been caused by enemy forces, US-led coalition forces have killed thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. Civilian casualties have long been a point of contention between the US and Afghan governments and a catalyst for anti-American sentiment and militancy among the Afghan people. In 2014, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn what it called America’s “illegal” drone strikes.
“Drone strike policies have been documented as causing considerable harm to the daily lives of ordinary citizens in the countries concerned, including deep anxiety and psychological trauma, disruption of economic and social activities and reduced access to education among affected communities,” a European Parliament resolution stated.
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones, which it says are “necessary and just” and an invaluable weapon in the war against terrorism. In Obama’s widened war, the use of drones has increased dramatically over Bush administration levels. In 2012, Obama falsely claimed that “drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” and John Brennan, his CIA director, also falsely claimed that there had been no civilians killed by drones in the past year. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism says as many as 143 civilians, including as many as 21 children, have been killed by US air strikes involving drones alone.
It is estimated that as many as 1.3 million people have died in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since the US initiated its war against terrorism in October 2001. Over the past half century, the United States military has killed more foreign civilians than any other nation’s forces.
Tennis superstar Serena Williams joined the growing chorus of prominent black voices speaking out against police violence against African-Americans with a Facebook post expressing fear of driving while black.
Williams wrote that she felt compelled to speak out after asking her 18-year-old nephew to drive her to meetings and seeing police on the road. “I quickly checked to see if he was obliging by the speed limit. Than I remembered that horrible video of the woman in the car when a cop shot her boyfriend,” she said, referring to Lavish Reynolds, girlfriend of 32-year-old Philando Castile, who was reportedly complying with an officer’s order to hand over his identification during a stop for a broken tail light in Falcon Height, Minnesota on July 6 when he was shot dead in front of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter.
“All of this went through my mind in a matter of seconds,” Williams wrote. “I even regretted not driving myself. I would never forgive myself if something happened to my nephew. He’s so innocent. So were all ‘the others.'”
“Why did I have to think about this in 2016? Have we not gone through enough, opened so many doors, impacted billions of lives?” she asked. “But I realized we must stride on — for it’s not how far we have come but how much further still we have to go. I than [sic] wondered than [sic] have I spoken up? I had to take a look at me. What about my nephews? What if I have a son and what about my daughters?”
“As Dr. Martin Luther King said ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal,'” she continued, a reference to King’s April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech in which he called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
Williams’ post ends with a vow: “I won’t be silent.”
The winner of 22 Major titles — the most in Open Era history — spoke out as protests continued over the fatal police shootings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter in connection with Crutcher’s death.
Williams’ post came hours before police in El Cajon, California shot and killed 30-year-old Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man whose sister had called 911 seeking help with a mental health emergency. She joins a growing chorus of black voices protesting or expressing concern over the many police shootings of black people, many of them unarmed. Many professional, college and high school athletes, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have been refusing to stand during the national anthem before games and matches, while black Americans from President Barack Obama to Hollywood celebrities, police officers and Black Lives Matter activists, have condemned what many call racist police violence while calling for systemic change to address the issue.
“We have seen tragedies like this too many times,” President Obama said in July following the Alton Sterling and Castile shootings. “All of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings. These are not isolated incidents, they are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
“African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over,” the president noted. “After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.”
While blacks drivers are much more likely to be stopped by police, officers searching vehicles find less guns and drugs on blacks than on whites, according to a 2013 federal survey.
In the wake of some of the most recent police shootings of black people, a report by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent stated that “contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching.”
“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report said, adding that “impunity for State violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Police in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, California shot and killed an unarmed black man on Tuesday after his sister called 911 to ask for help with a mental health emergency.
The Los Angeles Times reports relatives identified the victim as 30-year-old Alfred Olango. El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis told reporters Olango’s sister called police and told them that her brother was “not acting like himself.” According to police, Olango was walking in traffic in the 800 block of Broadway before two officers arrived at 2:11 p.m. and saw him behind a restaurant.
Some eyewitnesses said Olango had his hands out to his side when he was confronted by police. Other witnesses said Olango had his hands in the air when he was shot first with a stun gun and then five times with live ammunition.
“I see a black man surrounded by officers with their guns out, which caught my attention,” witness Michael Ray Rodriguez told NBC San Diego. “So I tell the others, ‘Look, look, look,’ so that we’re all looking, we’re watching. The black man was up with his hands up like this, scared to death, not knowing which way he’s going to go. As he don’t know which way he goes, he’s jerking, he’s confused. He runs this way. As soon as he runs this way, they discharge — boom, boom, boom — five shots right into him.”
“I didn’t hear any command ‘Halt’, ‘Stop’ or ‘I’ll shoot,’” one witness identified as George told NBC San Diego. “I didn’t hear any command or yelling. I didn’t hear the man say anything. Next thing I see ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow’ – five shots.”
Chief Davis disputed the eyewitness accounts, claiming Olango ignored multiple instructions from an officer and “concealed his hand in his pants pockets” while pacing back and forth. He then “rapidly drew an object from his front pants pockets, placed both hands together on it and extended it rapidly toward [one] officer, taking what appeared to be a shooting stance,” Davis said.
“The investigation just started, but based on the video voluntarily provided by a witness, the subject did NOT have his hands up in the air,” El Cajon Police Department said on its Twitter page.
Witnesses to the shooting told reporters police confiscated their cell phones in the wake of the incident. In one dramatic video posted on Facebook, a woman named Rumbie Mubaiwa begins recording moments after Olango is shot. The victim’s sister can be heard crying in the background.
“OK, so the police did it again, y’all. They shot another unarmed black person, as usual,” Mubaiwa narrates. “And the lady is saying she called them for help, not to kill her brother. And they shot her brother.”
“I called you to help me, but you killed my brother,” the victim’s sister tells police. “Guys, why couldn’t you tase him? Why couldn’t you guys tase him? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?… I told you he’s sick. And you guys shot him.”
“I called three times for them to come help me,” the sister says in the video. “Nobody came. They said it’s not priority,” Democracy Now reports police scanner audio at the time of the shooting reveals officers knew they were responding to a “5150” call, police code for a mental health emergency. Police apparently did not dispatch a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, and it took them 50 minutes to respond to Olango’s sister’s 911 call.
Olango’s killing sparked protests in front of El Cajon police headquarters on Wednesday.
“Mr. Olango was killed for three strikes,” Christopher Rice-Wilson, associate director of the Alliance for San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “His first strike was for being black. His second strike was being mentally ill. And his third strike was not following orders. How can you expect a man who can’t understand your orders to follow your orders?”
“They’re saying they shot an unarmed black man. And we have to ask why,” Rice-Wilson added. “Why is it OK to just kill a man when you think he has a weapon? The policy states you must see a weapon, and, more than that, the weapon must be aimed, pointed or causing harm to you. It’s not enough to say somebody had a gun or a knife or any weapon, and shoot them because they possessed a weapon. The police have to be under threat. They have to fear for their life. And the mere existence of an object in any man’s hand, let alone a black man’s hand, is not justification for killing him.”
El Cajon police are not equipped with body cameras However, police said an eyewitness at Los Panchos restaurant, where the shooting occurred, captured the entire incident on a mobile phone camera and voluntarily turned the footage over to authorities.
The Olango shooting comes as protests continue over the police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter in connection with Crutcher’s death. In the wake of the most recent police shootings of black people, a report by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent stated that “contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching.”
“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report said, adding that “impunity for State violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
10 Questions Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Should — But Won’t — Be Asked in the 2016 Presidential Debates
On October 2, 1988, the League of Women Voters, which had sponsored presidential debates in the three previous campaigns, voted unanimously to pull out of the debate business. Explaining the decision, LWV President Nancy Neuman said the debate format would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and that her organization, which was founded nearly a century ago to help women engage in politics after they won the right to vote, would not “become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said at the time. LWV was particularly incensed by the Democrats’ and Republicans’ demands that they control the selection of moderators, questions, audience and press access. “Americans deserve to see and hear the men who would be president face each other in a debate on the hard and complex issues critical to our progress into the next century,” Neuman explained.
Fast-forward to 2016 and nothing has changed. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit corporation bankrolled by some of the country’s biggest corporations and most powerful lobby groups and law firms, has sponsored every presidential debate since 1988. CPD, whose mission statement asserts its goal is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners,” has established arbitrary polling criteria that exclude third-party candidates from participation, effectively silencing alternatives to what critics call “two-party tyranny” and flouting the will of the American people, who clearly want to see Jill Stein and Gary Johnson take the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The concerns over the content and quality of debate questions raised by the LWV a generation ago remain as valid today as they were in 1988. Candidates are rarely asked tough questions and certain topics seem completely off limits. Petty personal attacks and other ratings boosters reign supreme over substantive probing of candidates’ positions on some of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the world. The whole process seems designed to ensure the perpetuation of what some observers have called the “Republicrat duopoly.”
What kind of questions would be asked in a truly honest and open debate? Here are 10 questions — five each for Clinton and Trump — Moral Low Ground believes should, but probably won’t, be asked by moderators at this year’s presidential debates.
1- Never-Ending War: “Madam secretary, you voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. You were instrumental in pushing President Obama to wage war in Libya. You also advocate a more aggressive military campaign against Islamic State, including a no-fly zone that could bring the United States into conflict with Russia in Syria. Thousands of American men and women have died fighting the 15-year-long war against terrorism — the longest war in American history — and some experts estimate more than 1 million Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans and Syrians have been killed as a result. What is your endgame in the war against terrorism? Do you really believe more bombs and bullets can defeat Islamist terrorism? Why not, as the old John Lennon song goes, give peace a chance?”
2- Support for Child Soldiers: “Madam secretary, throughout your careers in both the public and private sectors, you have earned a reputation as a protector of children. However, as secretary of state you repeatedly signed off on presidential waivers exempting certain favored nations from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), which bans US military aid to countries whose armies enslave, conscript or employ children, some as young as eight years old. These countries include some of the world’s worst child soldier violators, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen. The Obama administration says waiving the military aid ban to child soldier armies is in the “national interest” of the United States. Please explain what ‘national interest’ justifies arming militaries that enslave children, and as president, will you continue to grant CSPA waivers?”
3- Support for Dictators: “Madam secretary, you recently called Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘dictator’ and you’ve said that ‘the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted’ while demanding ‘free, fair, transparent elections’ and ‘accountable’ leaders in Russia. Meanwhile, you’ve embraced far more brutal, far more murderous dictators and regimes around the world — too many to mention here, but I will mention Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist theocratic monarchy where women cannot travel without a male guardian’s permission or even drive a car, where gays, adulterers and people who reject Islam are publicly beheaded and where senior regime officials have ties to Islamist terrorism. And where you visited in 2010 and praised the king, who decrees that women cannot even visit a doctor without permission from a male guardian, for his commitment to women and spoke out against American media ‘mischaracterization’ of Saudi women. Madam secretary, how would you respond to those who call this hypocritical?”
4- Campaign Finance: “Madam secretary, you have identified campaign finance reform as something you ‘will fight for,’ asserting that ‘we have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans.’ You have called for the repeal of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision affirming corporations are people with a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing the outcome of American elections. Yet unlike your Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders, you have a super PAC that can accept unlimited special interest contributions, and you have reportedly exploited a loophole allowing your campaign to coordinate efforts with your super PAC in seeming contravention of FEC rules. How do you reconcile your professed championship of campaign finance reform with your apparent embrace of some of the worst consequences of Citizens United?
5- Death Penalty: “Madam secretary, you call yourself a progressive. Yet you support the death penalty, even though you say you’d ‘breathe a sigh of relief’ if it were abolished. The United States is the only nation in the Western world that still practices capital punishment. Even conservative leaders in other Western nations have long rejected the death penalty. How can you call yourself a progressive if you still believe in executing human beings, even as every Western nation and an increasing number of US states have abolished the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment?”
1- Lies, Lies, Lies: “Mr. Trump, Your opponent has called for debate moderators to fact-check candidate statements in the wake of Matt Lauer’s failure to correct multiple lies you told during last month’s Commander-In-Chief forum. But the networks airing the upcoming presidential debates have rejected on-screen fact-checking. The Clinton campaign is not happy about this decision. Do you support debate moderators correcting candidates’ lies in real-time? And with the non-partisan fact checking site PolitiFact rating fully 84 percent of your statements as ‘half true, mostly false, false or pants-on-fire lies,’ and naming your aggregate statements as its ‘2015 Lie of the Year,’ how can we believe anything you say?”
2- Racist Endorsements and Hate Crime Inspiration: “Mr. Trump, you have received, and have sometimes failed to repudiate, the endorsements of racists and bigots including the chairman of the American Nazi Party and former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke. You, your words and your policies have also been cited as the inspiration for numerous hate crimes across America. Why do you think so many racists and bigots have endorsed you? Will you here and now repudiate all such endorsements? And what, specifically, about your message do you think is inspiring so many hate crimes?”
3- Climate Change: “Mr. Trump, you have said you believe climate change is a ‘Chinese hoax.’ Yet you’re seeking to build a wall —no, not that wall — to save your Irish golf resort from rising sea levels that 97 percent of climatologists around the world say are due to human-caused climate change. Do you really believe climate change, which the Pentagon has identified as a serious national security threat that could exacerbate terrorism, is a ‘hoax’ in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus, and your own actions to protect your property from the effects of climate change?”
4- Immigration Hypocrisy: “Mr. Trump, your hardline, ‘America first’ immigration policy is arguably the centerpiece of your campaign and the reason why countless millions of Americans support you. However, you use an employment agency that specializes in hiring foreign workers, your modeling agency has been accused of hiring undocumented immigrants and you are seeking to hire scores of foreign workers to staff your Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. There are nearly half a million unemployed people in Florida. How do you explain the discrepancy between your words and your actions on this topic, since you often say that under a Trump administration ‘the American people will come first?'”
5- Israel-Palestine: “Mr. Trump, you have said as recently as this February that if elected president you would be ‘neutral’ in your approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But when addressing AIPAC, the nation’s most powerful Zionist lobby, in March, you vowed to stand unconditionally with Israel, even as it faces growing international condemnation and isolation over its illegal occupation and settlement construction in Palestine and its treatment of Palestinian people, which prominent critics have called ‘apartheid’ and even ‘ethnic cleansing.’ What, or who, prompted you to change your stance on Israel, and if elected, will you pressure Israel to act in accordance with international law and end its occupation and settler colonization of Palestine?”
GOP Congressman Robert Pittenger Says Charlotte Protesters ‘Hate White People Because They’re Successful’
Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) said on Thursday that the protesters in Charlotte, North Carolina “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”
Pittenger’s comments follow two nights of protests over the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black father of seven. The Uptown demonstration reportedly began peacefully but later grew violent. A man identified as 26-year-old Justin Carr was shot and mortally wounded in a disputed incident — police said he was shot by a civilian but some eyewitnesses claimed he was struck by a police projectile before hitting his head on the ground. Carr died Thursday evening.
In the wake of the mounting violence, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) declared a state of emergency and ordered the deployment of National Guard troops. Wednesday’s chaos gave way to a much calmer third night of demonstrations, as protesters, local religious figures leading prayers for peace, police and military troops were all out on city streets Thursday evening.
Pittenger appeared on BBC Newsnight, where he was asked about the protesters’ motivation.
“They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not,” he opined. “I mean, yes, it is a welfare state. We have spent trillions on welfare — we have put people in bondage, so that they can’t be all that they’re capable of being. “
“You know America is a country of freedom and liberty,” he added. “It didn’t become that way because of a great government who provided everything for everyone.”
North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds called Pittenger’s comments “racist”:
“These comments are inexcusable. At a time when we need calm and understanding while we learn more about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Congressman Pittenger is fanning the flames of hate with his racist rhetoric. This sort of bigotry has become all to common under the party of Donald Trump. Our great state should not be represented by someone who would make such hateful comments. Congressmen Pittenger must apologize, and Governor McCrory and every Republican leader in this state should denounce this hateful rhetoric immediately.”
In the face of massive public and social media backlash, Rep. Pittenger issued an apology later on Thursday:
“What is taking place in my hometown right now breaks my heart. My anguish led me to respond to a reporter’s question in a way that I regret. The answer doesn’t reflect who I am. I was quoting statements made by angry protestors last night on national TV. My intent was to discuss the lack of economic mobility for African-Americans because of failed policies. I apologize to those I offended and hope we can bring peace and calm to Charlotte.”
Meanwhile, Scott’s family said they were left with “more questions than answers” after viewing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department video of the fatal encounter.
“When told by police to exit his vehicle, Mr. Scott did so in a very calm, non-aggressive manner,” family attorney Justin Bamberg told reporters. “While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time.”
“It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands,” Bamberg added. “When he was shot and killed, Mr. Scott’s hands were by his side and he was slowly walking backwards.”
CMPD has come under fire for its decision not to release video footage of the Scott shooting to the public. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney refuted accusations that his department was not acting in a transparent manner.
“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” Putney told reporters. “If you think I say we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
Putney said the police bodycam footage does not show Scott pointing or brandishing a gun at officers, but that the video did support the police version of events.
“The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun,” Putney said at a Thursday press conference. “I did not see that in the videos I reviewed. What I can tell you is that when taken with the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances of what happened that led to the death of [Keith Scott].”
Scott’s family disputed that Keith had a gun, claiming he was “armed” with nothing more than a book.
“I can tell you a weapon was seized, a handgun,” Putney countered at a Wednesday press conference. “I can also tell you we did not find a book that has been made referenced to.”
According to CMPD, officers were at the Village at College Downs apartment complex to serve an outstanding warrant when they came upon Scott, who was not the warrant suspect but who they say was carrying a gun as he exited his vehicle. Scott allegedly ignored police commands to drop the gun and was then shot by Officer Brentley Vinson, who is black.
North Carolina is an open carry state, prompting some critics to accuse authorities of operating under a racist double standard in which black people with guns are seen as threats but white people with guns are seen as exercising their Second Amendment rights.
In a separate but also internationally followed case, Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer who shot and killed Terrence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man with his hands raised above his head, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
In the wake of last weekend’s stabbing and bombing attacks in Minnesota, New York and New Jersey — all apparently acts of Islamist terror, President Barack Obama said Americans will defeat such terrorism “by showing those who want to do us harm that they will never beat us.” That’s a marked improvement over George W. Bush’s “they hate us for our freedoms” rhetoric, but it is still a highly disingenuous and willfully ignorant statement. We cannot defeat terrorism with bombs and bombast. We can, however, defeat — or at least greatly reduce— Islamist terror by ending the killing, maiming and displacement of millions of Muslims, by ending support for brutal dictators throughout the Muslim world and by ending unconditional support for Israel’s illegal occupation and settler colonization of Palestine.
I often say that Islamist terrorists don’t attack countries that don’t attack them. To prove my point, I’ve made the following two lists of the world’s nations. The first list is comprised of nations involved in military campaigns or occupations in Muslim lands since the start of the US-led “War on Terror.” The second list is made up of the nations which have wisely refrained from such interventions. Of the 96 nations on the latter list, none have ever experienced an Islamist terror attack over the past 20 years. On the other hand, 26 of the 52 countries intervening in Muslim lands have had their homeland, citizens or business attacked by Islamist terrorists since 1996. Most of the countries on the interventionist list sent a relative handful of troops to fight or assist in Afghanistan, Iraq or both; often they did so under tremendous US pressure. Of the 17 countries that sent more than 1,000 troops to Afghanistan and/or Iraq, only five — Georgia, Poland, Romania, South Korea and Ukraine — have been spared bloodshed at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Nations that never before knew Islamist terror, including Australia, Britain and Spain, suffered devastating terror attacks in the wake of their participation in the US war against terrorism.
There are those who claim that Islamist extremists would continue to target Americans and other non-Muslims until all the world is either Islamic, tributary or dead. Fiery proclamations by members of the fanatical jihadist fringe aside, this sort of speculation is most commonly heard among Islamophobes of various stripes. We would do better to listen to the words of the terrorists themselves or better yet, our own government in one of its rare moments of clarity. Here’s the Defense Department, back in 1997:
Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. In addition, the military asymmetry that denies nation states the ability to engage in overt attacks against the United States drives the use of transnational actors.
Former president and Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter understands Islamist terrorists hate us not for our freedoms, but rather for US policies and actions in the Muslim world:
“We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the intense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers — women and children and farmers and housewives — in those villages around Beirut. … As a result of that… we became kind of a Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.”
Now for that list… I’ve excluded countries in which Muslims comprise a majority or plurality of the population. Many of these have internal conflicts between Muslim sects or are ruled by authoritarian regimes targeted by Islamist extremists. Countries in bold have experienced Islamist terror attacks on their soil, or targeting their citizens or businesses abroad.
Countries Invading/Occupying/Attacking Muslims:
Armenia- 130 troops to Afghanistan, 46 troops to Iraq
Australia- “War on Terror” invader
Azerbaijan- 184 troops to Afghanistan, 250 troops to Iraq
Belgium- “War on Terror” invader
Bulgaria- “War on Terror” invader
Canada- “War on Terror” invader
Central African Republic- Majority Christian; ethnic cleansing of Muslims
China- Government campaign against Uighurs
Czech Republic- 458 troops to Afghanistan, 300 troops to Iraq
Denmark- “War on Terror” invader
Dominican Republic- 302 troops to Iraq
El Salvador- 380 troops to Iraq
Estonia- 250 troops to Afghanistan, 40 troops to Iraq
France- “War on Terror” invader
Georgia- “War on Terror” invader
Germany-“War on Terror” invader
Honduras- 368 troops to Iraq
Hungary- 360 troops to Afghanistan, 300 troops to Iraq
Iceland- 2 troops to Iraq
India- Occupation of Kashmir
Israel- Occupation of Palestine, Settlements
Italy- “War on Terror” invader
Japan- 600 troops to Iraq
Kenya- War against Islamist extremists
Latvia- 136 troops to Iraq
Lithuania- 268 troops to Afghanistan, 120 troops to Iraq
Macedonia- 244 troops to Afghanistan, 77 troops to Iraq
Moldova- 24 troops to Iraq
Mongolia- 180 troops to Iraq
Myanmar- War against Rohingya
Netherlands- “War on Terror” invader
New Zealand- 191 troops to Afghanistan, 61 troops to Iraq
Nicaragua- 230 troops to Iraq
Nigeria- War against Islamist extremists
Norway- 500 troops in Afghanistan, 150 troops to Iraq
Philippines- War against Islamist extremists
Poland- “War on Terror” invader
Portugal- 145 troops to Afghanistan, 128 troops to Iraq
Romania- “War on Terror” invader
Russia- Chechnya; War against Islamist extremists
Slovakia- 110 troops to Iraq
Slovenia- 90 troops to Afghanistan
South Korea- “War on Terror” invader
South Sudan- War against Islamist extremists
Spain- “War on Terror” invader
Sweden- 900 troops to Afghanistan
Thailand- War against Islamist extremists
Tonga- 55 troops to Iraq
Uganda- War against Islamist extremists
Ukraine- “War on Terror” invader
United Kingdom- “War on Terror” invader
United States of America- War on Terror” invader
Countries Not Invading/Occupying/Attacking Muslims:
Antigua and Barbuda
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
Papua New Guinea
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sao Tome and Principe
Trinidad and Tobago
A senior Obama administration official has expressed regret over a US-led air strike that killed 62 Syrian troops in what another official called an apparent “intelligence failure.”
The Washington Post reports US Central Command (CENTCOM) acknowledged the strike in eastern Deir al-Zour province, Syria was carried out by US-led forces on Saturday. CENTCOM told the Post the attack was “halted immediately” when Russia informed US officials “that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”
“Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but the coalition would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” CENTCOM said, promising it would review the incident “to see if any lesson can be learned.”
An unnamed senior administration official told the Post the US had “relayed our regret” through Russia “for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces fighting” Islamic State militants. A US defense official added the strike “appears to be an intelligence failure.”
Russian state television reports that in addition to the 62 killed, more than 100 other Syrian soldiers were wounded in the strike. In addition to US warplanes, British, Danish and Australian combat aircraft were also involved in the attack, including British Royal Air Force Reaper drones.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that while Australian aircraft were initially involved in the strike, they were withdrawn when Russian officials advised that they were targeting Syrian government forces, not Islamic State militants. “We regret the loss of life and injury to any Syrian personnel affected,” Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a New York press conference ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting.
Russia responded to the attack by calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting and by accusing the United States of aiding Islamic State. “We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian state news. “The White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that. We demand a full and detailed explanation from Washington. That explanation must be given at the UN Security Council.”
“If the airstrike was caused by the wrong coordinates of targets than it’s a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia in its actions against terrorist groups in Syria,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television, adding that the US-led strike paved the way for an Islamic State offensive capitalizing on the blasted Syrian position.
“Immediately after the airstrike by coalition planes, Islamic State militants launched their offensive,” Konashenkov said. “Fierce fighting with the terrorists is currently underway in the area of the airport where for a long a time humanitarian aid for civilians was parachuted.”
The US-led killings threaten to unravel an already shaky cease-fire in Syria. Both the US and Russia have accused each other of violating the cease-fire they brokered last week. The agreement allowed for joint strikes on Islamist militants, even though Russian forces have killed as many as 2,000 civilians in the past six months. US-led air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians. More than 300,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more have been displaced during the five-year civil war between forces loyal to longtime dynastic dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, and a disparate array of rebel groups including the Free Syrian Army, Syrian Kurds and Islamic State. The US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and Qatar have intervened to fight Islamic State.
Today Moral Low Ground joins the growing chorus of voices calling on President Barack Obama to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden before leaving office in January.
Whistleblowers are all too often vilified and criminalized as traitors today, then vindicated and lionized as patriots on some distant tomorrow. Such was the case with Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers some 45 years ago. These classified government files revealed, among other bombshells, that the Lyndon B. Jonson administration systematically lied to the public and Congress about the nature and scope of the US war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. At the time, Ellsberg was demonized and charged with theft and conspiracy under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law perennially blasted for its chilling effect on free speech and whistleblowers. All charges against Ellsberg were dismissed in 1973 and today he is widely viewed as a champion of government transparency and accountability. In 2006, Ellsberg won the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “alternative Nobel Prize,” for “putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.”
Among the numerous courageous whistleblowers who risked everything to follow Ellsberg’s example is a young former CIA and NSA computer expert named Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents revealing the US and UK governments were engaged in illegal mass surveillance on a global scale, targeting US citizens, foreign leaders both friend and foe, multinational corporations and even the future Pope and online games including World of Warcraft and Second Life. Newspapers that published Snowden’s revelations won the Pulitzer Prize. His story was told in an Oscar-winning documentary film, as well as an Oliver Stone-directed movie opening this week. He has been honored with numerous prestigious international awards, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to “a more stable and peaceful world order.” Yet Snowden remains exiled in Russia, charged under the Espionage Act, with American politicians from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump calling him a criminal who should face everything from prosecution to execution.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union and other prominent human rights organizations have launched a campaign asking President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office in January. Those supporting this effort range from former government intelligence officials to prominent journalists, filmmakers and academics, to online privacy activists and A-list Hollywood celebrities. Ellsberg, who in a 2014 Guardian editorial called Snowden “the greatest patriot whistleblower of our time,” features prominently among those now seeking a presidential pardon.
Of course, Snowden, like many whistleblowers, is a highly divisive figure, with around two-thirds of Americans who are familiar with him viewing him unfavorably (although he is overwhelmingly admired in other Western democracies). In response to the Pardon Snowden campaign, the entire House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — which includes nine Democrats — penned a letter to President Obama accusing Snowden of “perpetrating the largest and most damaging public disclosure of classified information in our nation’s history.”
“Mr. Snowden is not a patriot,” the letter asserts. “He is not a whistleblower. He is a criminal.” Yet one is powerfully reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr., himself no stranger to government vilification, who once admonished that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” As Snowden recently said:
History reminds us that governments always experience periods in which their powers are abused, for different reasons. This is why our founding fathers, in their wisdom, sought to construct a system of checks and balances. Whistleblowers, acting in the public interest, often at great risk to themselves, are another check on those abuses of power, especially through their collaboration with journalists.
While I am grateful for the support given to my case, this really isn’t about me. It’s about us. It’s about our right to dissent. It’s about the kind of country we want to have, the kind of world that we want to build. It’s about the kind of tomorrow that we want to see, a tomorrow where the public has a say.
I love my country, I love my family, and I have dedicated my life to both of them. These risks, these burdens that I took on, I knew were coming. And no one should be in a position to make these kind of decisions. That’s not the kind of place that we’re supposed to be. But it doesn’t have to be. Of course I look forward to coming home, but I cannot support the persecution of those charged under an Espionage Act, when they have committed no espionage.
Following Snowden’s revelations, a federal appeals court ruled the NSA mass surveillance program illegal, leading to its termination last November after Congress passed the most comprehensive surveillance reform law since the 1970s. There has also been a sea change in public awareness and opinion of online privacy and government surveillance issues in the wake of Snowden’s leaks. There are even those who have operated within the very agencies whose secrets were revealed by Snowden who acknowledge the value of his efforts. Barry Eisler, a former covert operative in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “wholeheartedly” supports a Snowden pardon. “All nations require some secrecy,” Eisler wrote in a Time editorial. “But in a democracy, where the government is accountable to the people, transparency should be the default; secrecy, the exception. And this is especially true regarding the implementation of an unprecedented system of domestic bulk surveillance.” Eisler continues:
That today we are engaged in a meaningful debate about whether such a system is desirable is almost entirely due to the conscience, courage and conviction of one man: Edward Snowden. Without Snowden, the American people could not balance for themselves the risks, costs and benefits of omniscient domestic surveillance. Because of him, we can.
As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama praised whistleblowers, saying their “acts of courage and patriotism… should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.” As president, however, not only has Obama continued with Bush-era whistleblower prosecutions, he has, in the words of Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, “waged the most aggressive and vindictive assault on whistleblowers of any president in American history.” From Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou to Army war crimes resister Chelsea Manning and others, the Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated that those who expose government crimes will be punished far more severely than those who commit them. The president’s war on whistleblowers could become one of the darkest stains on his legacy. But there’s still time for Obama to get on the right side of history — he surely knows that future generations of Americans will view whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden as heroes. Tens of millions of people already do, to one degree or another — witness former Obama attorney general Eric Holder, who in May praised Snowden for performing a “pubic service” by starting a national conversation about government surveillance.
President Obama could and should send a powerful message that the United States does more than just pay lip service to transparency, accountability and respect for the rule of law by pardoning Edward Snowden. He should do so as soon as possible.