14 February 2020

Colombia and Honduras: The US-Israeli 'counterterrorism' connection

Middle East Eye
In January, Colombia and Honduras designated Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
The move came in the context of a counterterrorism meeting in the Colombian capital of Bogota, attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Jerusalem Post noted that Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “campaigned in recent months to have more countries in the region sanction Hezbollah”.
The Post quoted Netanyahu on the “important step” the two nations had made in “join[ing] Israel and the US in our fight against global terror”.
And yet, it wasn’t so much a “step” as a continuation of business as usual; after all, Colombia and Honduras have long been joined at the hip with the US-Israeli duo in major global “fights”.
In the 1980s, for example, Honduras served as a launchpad for the US terrorisation of Nicaragua, a key battleground in the all-important war on communism. The Central American nation also got to host its very own CIA-trained death squad, which - as the Baltimore Sun explained - “terrorised Honduras” for much of the decade.
As luck would have it, Israel was also involved at the time in arming and otherwise assisting the repressive Honduran regime, partially as a favour to the US.
In Colombia, too, Israel abetted rightwing terror: the late Carlos Castano - who after attending training in Israel in 1983 went on to become a founding father of modern Colombian paramilitarism - credited the Israelis as his inspiration for the whole paramilitary thing.
Flash forward to more recent years, and it’s clear that Colombia and Honduras are highly qualified candidates for the US-Israeli model of fighting wars of terror, disguised as wars on terror, which have devastated human populations from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine and beyond. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

06 February 2020

Child suicide is a symptom of our traumatised world

Al Jazeera English

In early January, as the world waited to see whether the United States's addiction to carnage and destruction would lead to all-out war with Iran, US congresswoman Ilhan Omar remarked: "[E]very time I hear conversations around war, I find myself being stricken with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]."
At the age of eight, Omar fled war-torn Somalia for Kenya, where she spent four years in a refugee camp. Her PTSD comment generated mockery and rage from the usual suspects in the US political establishment and commentariat; apparently, US soldiers deserve a monopoly on this particular disorder and refugees need not apply.
But in an age of unprecedented levels of forced human displacement - in which, according to the UN Refugee Agency, over half of the world's refugees are children - the prevalence of psychological trauma among refugee youth should be an issue of utmost urgency for anyone concerned with, you know, the future.
Take, for example, the severely overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, currently home to some 7,000 migrant children. In 2018, reports emerged of children as young as 10 attempting suicide; more recently, a psychologist in the camp warned that preschool-aged kids were banging their heads against walls and pulling out their hair, among other behaviours, while children as young as seven said they wanted to die. 
Such camps serve as incubators for trauma - which for many children is cumulative and multifaceted, encompassing traumatising experiences in the home country, traumatising experiences during migration, and the trauma of being trapped in unsanitary and unsafe camps that offer no space for psychological recovery or hope. Obviously, having parents who are themselves traumatised can also have serious repercussions on a child's mental health. 
Caoimhe Butterly - an Irish trainee psychotherapist and director of the award-winning documentary The Border, who has spent six years visiting refugee camps in Greece, Calais and the Balkans - told me that children in the camps are increasingly "expressing distress, despair and hyper-vigilance or self-harm" as well as "withdrawal and shut-down".
Children are the "casualties of policies of containment and the cruelty of indefinite limbo", she said, and the "cognitive, emotional and physiological impacts of a system that is in itself re-traumatising are resulting in a profound crisis". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

01 February 2020

The Country Where Having a Miscarriage Can Land You in Prison


One recent night in San Salvador, I was driving through some of the more notorious gang neighborhoods in the area with a photojournalist friend, who was scouting for homicides. As we turned down a street in the municipality of Ilopango, my friend pointed out a looming structure — the Ilopango women’s prison — where, it turns out, a number of women convicted of abortion-related crimes are incarcerated.
El Salvador has some of the most draconian abortion laws on the planet. Since 1998, the procedure has been totally banned — including in cases of rape and incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. Even having a miscarriage can land you behind bars. The charge is often “aggravated homicide,” which can carry a sentence of up to fifty years (ironic considering San Salvador is among the world’s murder capitals — you’d think the police would have enough actual homicides to deal with).
A new documentary titled En Deuda con Todas — produced by the Galician organization Agareso — offers a striking glimpse at the war on reproductive and human rights in El Salvador. One protagonist is Teodora Vásquez, released from prison in 2018 after her thirty-year sentence was commuted to ten. Her crime? “Killing” her newborn by fainting during labor. She was awaiting the arrival of an ambulance and awoke to find her baby dead.
Then there’s twenty-six-year-old Sara Rogel, a chipper, ponytailed inmate at a prison in the Salvadoran department of Sonsonate, who is six years and four months into her own three-decade sentence for “aggravated homicide” — this one for slipping and falling in her home while pregnant. Requiring urgent medical attention, Rogel recounts how the police showed up and attempted to handcuff her before the surgeon was even done.

In fact, medics are frequently the ones to alert Salvadoran law enforcement to obstetrical complications potentially qualifying as prosecutable offenses. Failure to do so can mean violating the Salvadoran constitution — Article 1 of the document recognizes human life as beginning from the very moment of conception. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

31 January 2020

On Jared Kushner's 25 books of undiluted Zionist propaganda

Middle East Eye

On 28 January, amidst great fanfare, US President Donald Trump unveiled new details of the so-called “deal of the century”- designed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by, you know, definitively screwing over the Palestinians. 
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that, according to the Trumpian plan, the Palestinians "would have no territorial contiguity, would be fully economically dependent on Israel, and most importantly, would be giving up the Palestinian national vision to establish a sovereign state”.
Illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel, and Jerusalem would be recognised as the undivided Israeli capital.
Some "deal".
The day after the unveiling, Trump’s senior White House adviser and simultaneous son-in-law Jared Kushner - the primary architect of the plan - appeared on Sky News Arabia to enumerate some of his qualifications as Middle East peacemaker: “I’ve been studying this now for three years. I’ve read 25 books on it.”  To be sure, three years is an impressively short time to go from having zero experience in politics or foreign policy to resolving one of the defining conflicts of the modern era. 
A Washington Post columnist aptly quipped: “I have just read 25 books and am here to perform your open-heart surgery."
Since Kushner has not deigned to reveal the titles of any of his chosen texts, I attempted to contact him for the full reading list, stressing that I felt it would be “an immensely helpful resource for other folks out there who might be considering spontaneous reinvention as Middle East experts”.
As of this article’s publication, however, I had yet to hear back.
But it doesn’t take a Middle East expert to guess the nature and orientation of Kushner’s top 25. After all, only by reading 25 books of undiluted Zionist propaganda could anyone concoct the “deal of the century”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 January 2020

Outside the Box

Evergreen Review

On September 11, 2001, I was in Austin, Texas, completing a summer stint as office peon of the Texas Association of Broadcasters between my sophomore year at Columbia and junior year abroad at the University of Rome. The TAB was overseen by a middle-aged woman named Ann, who resembled a demonic Furby and who specialized in rendering existence tedious in the way that only Americans in office buildings seem to know how. Human vibes rarely emanated from her being, and an Exorcist-type spectacle ensued whenever I deviated slightly from the prescribed script for asking if she could take a call from so-and-so. Each and every malfunction of the Xerox machine was further proof that I had no future.
Befitting the inhospitable environment, the office thermostat was set to tundra mode, meaning that in the dead of the infernal Texas summer I came to work bundled in sweaters. I often spent my lunch breaks asphyxiating myself in my car in the parking lot, windows rolled up, in an effort to coax some life back into my cells. At my desk, I rebelled against tyranny by drinking wine out of my coffee cup and placing calls to Chile on the office telephone.
Beyond the confines of the workplace, it had been a less than monotonous summer owing to an operation on my cervix—after which surgery every gynecologist I would ever visit outside the US would inevitably inquire in horror as to what third world country’s doctors were responsible for internally mutilating me. Over time, my cervical inferiority complex would grow into a sense of violation by my very own homeland, an entity that would rather go bomb people than provide its citizens with effective health care or other useful amenities. 
September 11, of course, produced all sorts of new opportunities on that front. I was back at the TAB post-cervical invasion, and spent the day in the conference room watching replays of the planes hitting the World Trade Center on a large projector screen. Outside, US flags began to proliferate at an obscene rate, and, as the government-media nexus sought to portray the assault on American borders and iconography as a direct violation of every individual American, folks across the country were catapulted to new levels of patriotic resolve and indignation. The stage had decisively been set for the impending slaughterfest known as the US War on Terror and the increasing public internalization of the logic of empire, according to which borders only matter when we say they do. READ MORE AT EVERGREEN REVIEW.

10 January 2020

Israel and El Salvador: Love in a time of genocide

Middle East Eye
In January 2016, Israel’s Ynet news site reported that El Salvador was threatening to close its embassy in Tel Aviv and move it to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. 
The threatened relocation had nothing to do with solidarity with Palestine; according to Ynet, the Salvadorans were simply furious that Israel had decided to cut back on costs by closing its embassy in San Salvador and were seeking retaliation.
El Salvador denied the report, and the embassy stayed put in Tel Aviv - where, it bears mentioning, it had been moved from Jerusalem only a decade before. In fact, for a brief spell in 2006, El Salvador was the only country in the world with an embassy in Jerusalem. Call it pre-trumping Trump.
The Israelis were probably correct in calculating that they don’t actually require a diplomatic presence in El Salvador, since the country is pretty much “in the bag”. (Thankfully, the former embassy website is still active and boasts an educational video in Spanish about important Israeli achievements, such as a ban on the use of “underweight models”. Underweight Gazans, on the other hand, are apparently fine - as are regular Israeli military massacres of Palestinian civilians.)
I myself am currently in San Salvador, and can safely say that, when you start seeing Stars of David everywhere and even windshields of pharmacy vans emblazoned with slogans such as “Almighty One of Israel” - in a country with an estimated Jewish population of 150 individuals - you know you’re in a place with a serious Israel problem.
It’s particularly ironic given the sizeable Palestinian community in El Salvador, mostly immigrants from Bethlehem who began arriving in the late 19th century. Now, there are more Palestinians in El Salvador than in Bethlehem itself - including the country’s new president, Nayib Bukele, a distinctly nauseating character who thinks US President Donald Trump is “very nice and cool”, despite Trump’s classification of El Salvador as a “sh**-hole country”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 January 2020

The Mainstream Media Is a Cheerleader for War With Iran


In the aftermath of the United States’ latest war crime — the assassination-by-drone strike in Baghdad of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Fox News decided to educate its audience on the proper takeaway from the episode.
The upshot was not, of course, that the illegal killing was kind of a big deal or that the person who authorized it — Donald Trump — had potentially set the stage for calamity and bloodshed of untold proportions. Rather, the crucial point to focus on was the “polarized reaction by American news outlets.”
Trotted out to confirm the severity of the situation was one William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School, who bemoaned the sad state of the “liberal media”: “Take any topic and they portray Trump as irresponsible and ignorant. This time those portrayals are on steroids, with Trump being portrayed as a warmonger surrounded by sycophants isolated from reality.”
Well, yeah.
In reality, the oft-invoked allegation of “polarization” in the media and the broader political establishment hardly holds water; it’s like arguing that 21 degrees Fahrenheit and 22 degrees Fahrenheit are polar opposites. Just recall, for example, that time Trump fired cruise missiles at Syria and the liberal media thought it was pretty much the most exciting thing to have ever happened.
A glance at media coverage of the Soleimani assassination also fails to produce much evidence of a fanatical anti-Trump campaign. The lead paragraph of a New York Times article about the “Master of Iran’s Intrigue” is devoted to establishing how Soleimani was “behind hundreds of American deaths in Iraq and waves of militia attacks against Israel.” The second paragraph reiterates that he was a “powerful and shadowy . . . spymaster at the head of Iran’s security machinery.”
In other words: he deserved it. And never mind that the United States has been behind countless thousands of Iraqi deaths in Iraq or that — as the article later reveals — the “waves of militia attacks” took place during the brutal twenty-two-year military occupation of south Lebanon by Israel, which also boasts the distinction of having slaughtered tens of thousands of people in that country.
When you’re not actually in the business of speaking truth to power, some things are better left unsaid. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

30 December 2019

Israel Is Finally Being Investigated for War Crimes


On December 20, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague announced that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine… There is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
Of course, this should be a no-brainer — and yet it took the ICC almost five years (a “preliminary examination” of the situation was opened in January 2015) to determine that “there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.” Then again, Palestinians have been waiting more than seventy years for justice, so five is perhaps a drop in the bucket.
Not that “justice” is a guaranteed outcome in international legal endeavors that often amount to torturously bureaucratic charades. Nor, it bears underscoring, has the Palestine investigation been officially given the green light — Bensouda is first seeking confirmation that the court’s jurisdiction applies to the territory in question. While Palestine is a signatory to the ICC, Israel — like its BFF, the United States — is not.
Furthermore, the proposed investigation would look into not only allegations of Israeli war crimes but also Palestinian ones — a fact that has been studiously ignored in Israel’s typically apoplectic reaction to the ICC announcement. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the good old antisemitism alarm, while branding the ICC’s move a “baseless and outrageous decision” and a “dark day for truth and justice.” Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, former chief of the Israeli military, asserted that “the Israeli army is one of the most moral militaries in the world” and that “the Israeli army and State of Israel do not commit war crimes.” Case closed.
The ICC examination of the “situation in Palestine” looks back only as far as June 13, 2014 and includes various allegations of war crimes during Israel’s summer 2014 Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. That particular foray killed some 2,251 Palestinians in a matter of fifty days, the majority of them civilians; 551 were children. Six Israeli civilians perished.
Additionally slated for maybe-investigation is the Israeli military’s brutal repression of Palestinian protesters participating in the Great March of Return, which began in 2018 and “reportedly resulted in the killing of over 200 individuals, including over 40 children, and the wounding of thousands of others.” In the ICC’s view, there’s also a “reasonable basis to believe that in the context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, members of the Israeli authorities have committed war crimes… in relation, inter alia, to the transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank.”
In other words, this is a relatively tame judicial undertaking, considering that for the past seven-plus decades, the Israeli state has — in terms of massacres and territorial usurpation — essentially constituted one continuous war crime. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

How the US made the so-called 'safe third countries' unsafe

Al Jazeera English

This year, US President and xenophobe-in-chief Donald Trump finagled "safe third country agreements" with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, allowing the United States to deport aspiring asylum seekers to the very region many of them are fleeing in the first place. 
Even Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele - the possessor of the enlightened opinion that "President Trump is very nice and cool, and I'm nice and cool, too ... we both use Twitter a lot" - recently admitted that his country needs to be "safer" and that its asylum capacities are currently nonexistent.
Indeed, the fact that the homicide rates in the three allegedly "safe third countries" are consistently among the highest in the world should be an easy indicator that they are anything but safe. Femicides abound.
The US's own role in fuelling violence in Central America's Northern Triangle has been well known for decades - from its habit of backing right-wing dictators and death squads to its continuing support for homicidal state security forces. In the aftermath of the US-facilitated coup in Honduras in 2009, that nation became more unsafe than ever. 
And across the region, the US-exported model of neoliberal oppression has constituted a form of violence in its own right - perpetuating extreme inequality and condemning the masses to often existence-imperilling economic misery. 
But one of the most crucial aspects to consider when contemplating US complicity in the appalling unsafety of the Northern Triangle is the sheer volume of US weapons circulating in the region.
In March, Foreign Policy reported that Trump was "sending guns south as migrants flee north", with his administration "push[ing] to weaken oversight of gun exports".
And yet the cross-border mobility of US armaments is nothing new. Back in 2014, Harry Penate - the former attache to Central America for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives - spoke candidly about the significant role American guns were playing in the epidemic of violence in the region, which was already causing a northward exodus of refugees.
According to Penate's estimate at the time, half of the illegal weapons in murder-plagued El Salvador were from the US.
Flash forward to 2018, and the New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer cited reports that 49 percent of illegal and unregistered weapons recovered in El Salvador came from the US; in Honduras, it was 46 percent, and in Guatemala 29. While the causes of Central American violence were manifold, Blitzer noted, "American firepower facilitates it." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

20 December 2019

Remembering the U.S. Invasion of Panama, a Landmark on the Timeline of Lethal U.S. Hypocrisy.

El Faro

In the runup to the December, 1989 United States military invasion of Panama, the name of the operation underwent a drastic revision. No longer would it be known by the random moniker Operation Blue Spoon; henceforth, it would be called Operation Just Cause. Then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell would later explain that, not only did the updated title have an “inspirational ring,” it also meant that “even our severest critics would have to utter ‘Just Cause’ while denouncing us.”

Thirty years on, Just Cause still ranks up there with the military’s greatest hits of perverse euphemism—think Operation Iraqi Freedom, more realistically denominated as the decimation of Iraq. Just Cause, the largest U.S. combat effort since the Vietnam War, involved more than 27,000 U.S. troops and entailed a brief but maniacal battering of Panama, leaving up to several thousand—primarily poor—Panamanian civilians dead, according to human rights groups. (The U.S. has preferred to lowball casualty counts, claiming only a few hundred civilian deaths.) The impoverished Panama City neighborhood of El Chorrillo saw such a level of devastation that ambulance drivers began referring to the area as “Little Hiroshima.”

The target of the operation, Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega—a longtime U.S. crony who had fallen afoul of his gringo masters and been spontaneously recast in the role of Super-Narco Menace and Public Enemy Number One—took refuge in the Vatican embassy but was driven to surrender following prolonged auditory torture from American tanks outside, which blasted clever musical selections like Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Van Halen’s “Judgement Day.” Noriega was then hauled off to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges—clearly a great triumph for justice as, just two days after Just Cause began, the army had announced the apprehension of “50 pounds of cocaine” in a house he was known to frequent. 
The commander of the Panama-based U.S. Southern Command subsequently boosted the quantity to 110 pounds—before the Pentagon admitted a month later that, actually, the cocaine had not been cocaine at all but rather tamales in banana leaves. Lest anyone question the overall justness of the cause, a Pentagon spokeswoman revealed that these seemingly innocuous comestibles were in fact “a substance they use in voodoo rituals.” READ MORE AT EL FARO.