Elizabeth Warren's Anti Corruption Specificity Evaporates When Foreign Policy is Raised

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed the National Press Club, outlining with great specificity a host of proposals on issues including eliminating financial conflicts, close the revolving door between business and government and, perhaps most notably, reforming corporate structures.

Warren gave a blistering attack on corporate power run amok, giving example after example, like Congressman Billy Tauzin doing the pharmaceutical lobby's bidding by preventing a bill for expanded Medicare coverage from allowing the program to negotiate lower drug prices. Noted Warren: "In December of 2003, the very same month the bill was signed into law, PhRMA -- the drug companies’ biggest lobbying group -- dangled the possibility that Billy could be their next CEO.

"In February of 2004, Congressman Tauzin announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Ten months later, he became CEO of PhRMA -- at an annual salary of $2 million. Big Pharma certainly knows how to say 'thank you for your service.'"

But I found that Warren's tenacity when ripping things like corporate lobbyists' "pre-bribes"  suddenly evaporated when dealing with issues like the enormous military budget and Israeli assaults on Palestinian children.

The Press Club moderator, Angela Greiling Keane, early in the news conference asked about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's keeping press out of town hall meetings, pairing that with Trump's outright attacks on media

Husseini: Sam Husseini with The Nation and the Institute for Public Accuracy. Cortez, who was mentioned earlier, and other likely incoming congressional members next year propose slashing the military budget to help pay for human and environmental needs. Do you agree? And if I could, a second question: would you consider introducing and sponsoring [a version of] Betty McCollum's bill on Palestinians children's rights in the Senate?

Warren: I now sit on Armed Services and I have been in the middle of the sausage making factory on that one. And that has pushed me even more strongly in the direction of systemic reforms. I want to be able to have those debates. I want to be able to get them out in the open and talk about these poor issues that affect our government, affect our people. I want to be able to debate them on the floor of the senate. I want to be able to do amendments on them. Right now the whole of big money over our government stops much of that. It chokes off much of the debate we should have. So I am going to give you a system-wide answer because I think that's what matters here. This is not about one particular proposal, this is all the way across. How is it that we get the voices of the people heard in government instead of over and over the voices of the wealthy and the well connected. The voices of those with higher armies of lobbyists. So for me that's what this is about.

But part of the power that the wealthy and well connected have is getting direct responses to their specific concerns. Political funders are unlikely impressed with broad "system-wide answers". 

In a sense, her non-response to very direct questions rather highlighted the problem she is presumably addressing. 

And we've been here before. 

Bernie Sanders, in his 2016 presidential run, was remarkably vague or even outright repressive regarding foreign policy, especially early on. This reach almost comical proportions when during a debate on CBS just after the November 2015 bombing in Paris, he tried to avoid substantially addressing the issue, wanting instead to fall back on income inequality. Certainly, Sanders was arguably treated very unfairly by the Democratic Party and media establishment, but he was greatly diminished by not having serious foreign policy answers. 

Warren and other "progressive" candidates may be set to repeat that. Sanders did address foreign policy more at the end of the campaign and since, but his answers are still problematic at times and at best it was all too little too late. 

One question is, realistically, what are Warren's goals here? It could well be a good faith effort by someone committed to changing the world for the better. But then, why the selectivity?

If it was enactment of these policies, then the strongest way to do that might have been to find a rogue Republican to pair up with on at least some aspects of her proposals so as to avoid charges being purely politically motivated. When questioned by a New York Post reporter at the news conference, Warren couldn't name a Republican whom she might work with. This would especially be the case since Trump -- like Obama before him -- ran against the establishment

Is it to make her a leading contender for the Democratic nomination? If so, the hope would be that she's not simply playing the role of what Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report calls "sheepdogging" -- that is, the presidential run or promise of a run by a Sanders or Warren as simply a tool the Democratic Party establishment uses to keep enough of the public "on the reservation". 

Said Warren of her own financial reform proposals: "Inside Washington, some of these proposals will be very unpopular, even with some of my friends. Outside Washington, I expect that most people will see these ideas as no-brainers and be shocked they’re not already the law.

Why doesn't the same principle apply to funding perpetual wars and massive human rights abuses against children? 

The Trump-Media Logrolling

Today, hundreds of newspapers, at the initiative of the Boston Globe, are purporting to stand up for a free press against Trump's rhetoric.

Today also marks exactly one month since I was dragged out of the July 16 Trump-Putin news conference in Helsinki and locked up until the middle of the night. 

As laid in my cell, I chuckled at the notion that the city was full of billboards proclaiming Finland was the "land of free press".

So, I've grown an especially high sensitivity to both goonish behavior toward journalists trying to ask tough questions -- and to those professing they are defending a free press when they are actually engaging in a marketing campaign. 

As some have noted, the editorials today will likely help Trump whip up support among his base against a monolithic media. But, just as clearly, the establishment media can draw attention away from their own failures, corruptions and falsehoods simply by focusing on some of Trump's.

Big media outlets need not actually report news that affects your life and point to serious solutions for social ills. They can just bad mouth Trump. And Trump need not deliver on campaign promises that tapped into populist and isolationist tendencies in the U.S. public that have grown in reaction to years of elite rule. He need only deride the major media.

They are at worst frenemies. More likely, at times, Trump and the establishment media log roll with each other. The major media built up Trump. Trump's attacks effectively elevate a select few media celebrities. 

My case is a small but telling one. Major media outlets were more likely to disinform about the manhandling I received in my attempt to ask about U.S., Russian and Israeli nuclear threats to humanity -- I'll soon give a detailed rebuttal to the torrent of falsehoods, some of which I've already noted on social media -- than to crusade against it. 

Other obvious cases: None of the newspaper editorials I've seen published today mention the likely prosecution of Wikileaks. If there were solidarity among media, the prospect of Julian Assange being imprisoned for publishing U.S. government documents should be front and center today. 

Neither did I see a mention of RT or, as of this week, Al Jazeera, being compelled to register as foreign agents. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert has openly refused to take questions from reporters working for Russian outlets. Virtual silence -- in part because Russia is widely depicted as the great enemy, letting U.S. government policy around the world off the hook.  

The above are actual policies that the Trump administration has pursued targeting media -- not rhetoric that dominates so much establishment coverage of Trump. 

Then there's the threat of social media. 

My day job is with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Yesterday, I put out a news release titled "Following Assassination Attempt, Facebook Pulled Venezuela Content." Tech giants can decide -- possibly in coordination with the U.S. government -- to pull the plug on content at a time and manner of their choosing. 

You would think newspaper people might be keen to highlight the threat that such massive corporations thus pose, not least of all because they have eaten up their ad revenue (the Boston Globe page on the effort is actually behind a paywall.) 

The sad truth is that this is what much of the media have long done: Counter to the lofty rhetoric of many of today's editorials, the promise of an independent and truth-seeking press has frequently been subservient to propaganda, pushing for war or narrow economic and other interests. 

The other major story of the day -- quite related to this -- is that of Trump pulling former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. NPR tells me this is an attempt to "silence a critic". But Brennan has an op-ed in today's New York Times and is frequently on major media. He oversaw criminal policies during the Obama administration, including drone assassinations. If anything, this has elevated Brennan's major media status. 

Those who have been truly silenced in the "Trump era" are those who were critical of the seemingly perpetual U.S. government war machine since the invasion of Iraq. 

Trump attacks on the establishment media -- like many media attacks on him -- are frequently devoid of substance. But recently one of his rhetorically tweets stated that media "cause wars". I would say "push for war", but that's quibbling. 

Trump is technically right on that point, but it's totally disingenuous coming from him. He's actually been the beneficiary of the media compulsion he claims to deride. When he exalts U.S. bombing strikes in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere, CNN calls him "presidential". 

Many consider "Russiagate" critical to scrutinizing the Trump administration, but the two reporters, apparently picked by the White House, during the Helsinki news conference focused on "Russiagate" -- which eventually led to Brennan and others attacking Trump as "treasonous". Meanwhile, much more meaningful collusion that can be termed Israelgate is being ignored as the U.S. and Israeli governments attempt to further mold the Mideast. 

The need for genuinely free sources of information is greater than ever. It is unclear to me if traditional newspapers can be part of the equation. Quite likely, the institutions desperately needed to carry out that critical mission are yet to be born. 


Sam Husseini is an independent journalist who contributes to The Nation, CounterPunch, Truthdig, Consortium News, CommonDreams and other outlets. He is also senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org

Anthony Bourdain: The Last Gasp of CNN’s Original Vision

CNN began with the slogan, articulated by its founder Ted Turner: “The news is the star.”

That has long since ceased to be a reflection of what CNN does. Despite promoting itself with its dubious “facts first” slogan, the network endlessly touts its celebrity pundits and anchors: Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria, et al. The view of the world that they depict is what the viewer needs to understand—not the world itself.

Anthony Bourdain didn’t join CNN until 2013, didn’t do “news” per se, and his own personality was certainly a major part of his show, Parts Unknown, but the lens was largely on the places Bourdain went, whether Armenia or West Virginia, and the people he met there. This work was more mini-doc than anything else typically found on CNN.

At his best, to Bourdain, the world was the star. The people, the cultures, the varied beliefs, the booze, the music, the rivers, the cities, the ethnic groups, what they share and their tensions. He’d often at least indicate class distinctions in his shows, at times gender dynamics as well. He spoke up in defense of the many immigrants in the restaurant industry, and was an ally of the #MeToo movement.

See full piece by Sam Husseini at FAIR: "Anthony Bourdain: The Last Gasp of CNN’s Original Vision." 

The Immigration Con: How the Duopoly Makes the Public Forget about Roots Causes of War and Economics

Many are focusing on the travel ban, largely targeting Muslim countries, and the separation and detention of asylum seekers separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. The the U.S. media and political establishment has put the issue of immigration front and center, causing all manner of political venting and pro and anti Trump venom to spew forth.

A silver lining seems to be that it has helped raise issues that -- unlike the Russiagate story much of the establishment media has obsessed over -- at least have some currency with the general public.

But the manner in which immigration issues have been focused on has obscured the root causes of those issues. Desperate migration is ultimately caused by economics, like so-called trade deals, corrupt Central American governments, often U.S.-backed, U.S.-backed coups and other policies.

And refugees desperately flee countries like Syria largely because of prolonged U.S.-backed wars.

In virtually all these instances, there is left-right opposition to the establishment policy that is often at the root of the problem. The establishment of the Republican and Democratic party have rammed through trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA and global pro-corporate policies. The U.S. government -- with both Obama and Trump administrations -- has backed coups like Honduras in 2009 or rigged elections like in 2017.

Corporate deals and coups and such give rise to governments unresponsive to their citizens, enacting economic policies that have impoverished most of the people of these countries. It's a testament to the long term effects of U.S. interventions that regions like Central America, which have been the focus of so much U.S. government attention over the decades, are in such dismal condition.

Such circumstances breed gangs, which means a lack of safety, causing desperate migration. Parts of grassroots economies, like small farmers growing corn, have been decimated because deals like NAFTA allow for dumping of U.S. agribusiness corn. Drug cartels rise as a way to make money for some -- and to fulfill a demand for narcotics in the U.S., an escape for USians form their own economic plights and often nihilistic lives. Meanwhile, transpartisan efforts at drug legalization and pushed to the background.

Similarly, many leftists and some rightwingers, like Ron Paul, oppose constant U.S. interventions in the Mideast as well. The invasion of Iraq lead to the rise of ISIS, the destablization of Syria, Libya and other countries. The U.S. establishment and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel have effectively sought to prolong the war in Syria and to destabilize other counties in the region for their geostrategic designs.

The rank and file bases of the Democratic and Republican parties are largely against NAFTA, CAFTA, etc. -- while the elites in both parties are for them, so they get done. Clinton and Obama were duplicitously for them (pretending that side deals on labor and environment will do much and thus to distract from their pushing corporate agenda). Trump rants and raves about much, but hasn't put forward a serious crit of them.

So, the bases of the two parties end up fuming at each other over status of migrants from Central America and travelers from largely Muslim countries. They become further entrenched into either establishment party structure while the people running those structures continue to perpetuate policies that the bases agree with each other about.

Wars cause refugees. Then, the left and right scream at each other over the refugees, forgetting how the establishment continues the wars that the left and right are significantly opposed to.

All this has the effect of further entrenching people in their partisan boxes. Progressives with problems with the Democratic Party do their duty to fight against the Trumpsters and vice versa.

So, you get more war and more pro-corporate policies.

The manner of these debates tears people apart just enough to prevent dialogue. Sarah Sanders is told to leave a restaurant, but pundits on CNN urge the public not to be out in the streets arguing. Voting is the one and only path to making your voice heard. Shut up and get in line.

The debates rarely question national myths. Quite the contrary, they are an opportunity for "both sides" to appear to more loudly vocalize how they embody the goodness inherent in the U.S. "We need to reclaim our values... We're a good nation, we're a good people. And we should be setting a standard on this planet of what humanity should be about," says Sen. Cory Booker after the Supreme Court upholds President Trump's travel ban.

What "humanity should be about". This from a member of a Democratic Party establishment that has fueled polarization with the other nation on the planet with thousands of nuclear warheads. From a party establishment that has dismissed apparent progress toward finally ending the bloody Korean War. Just this week, Senators from both sides of the aisle voted to allocate more and more money for wars. The recent increases in the Pentagon budget are more than the entire military budget of the great threat, Russia.

But pay no attention to that. National piety is upheld. The U.S. is so wonderful, the immigrants want in. That proves it. Never mind U.S. government policies helped impoverish them. Never mind U.S. government wars destroyed the countries of millions of refugees. Never mind what you think might be wrong with the country, just be grateful you're here.

U.S. benevolence is to be proven by taking in a nominal number of refugees to some self-proclaimed liberals. So-called conservatives preserved the dignity of the nation not by insisting that the rule of law be applied to high officials, but that we should have zero tolerance for helping some desperate souls.

They diminishing economic state of USians emanating from economic inequality is largely off the agenda of both parties. They entrench the partisan divide, but in a way that obscures deeper issues. Party on.


Sam Husseini is founder of VotePact.org, which encourages intelligent left-right cooperation. 

Sam Hussein CV

Writer and artist living in Maryland, near Washington, D.C. 

1997 to Present: Communications Director and Senior Analyst, Institute for Public Accuracy
Assembled thousands of news releases that resulted in tens of thousands of interviews on a wide array of policy areas on a variety of major and independent media outlets. News releases included some of the most critical examination of claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Regularly attended new conferences at the National Press Club and other venues in D.C., questioning numerous officials including NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, journalists Dan Rather and Judith Miller and former head of Saudi intelligence Amb. Turki bin Faisal al-Saud. The questioning of the former lead to a suspension by the executive director of the National Press Club, which was overturned by the Ethics Committee

Had op-eds published in various publications including the Washington Post and USA Today. Appeared on various media including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CNN, Al Jazeera, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." 

Artist 
For visual art work and writing, see: BeThatEmpty.org

Summer 2007: Consultant to The Real News Network

2006 to 2011: Founded Washington Stakeout
Questioned officials as they exit Sunday morning news talk shows, including politicos Paul RyanHeath Shuler and Mike Simpson and Colin Powell. In addition to individual segments, produced complied video: "The Absurd U.S. Stance on Israel's Nukes: A Video Sampling of Denial" which included questioning of then-Congressman Mike Pence and DNI John Negroponte. 

2000 to Present: Founded VotePact.org
Encouraged "disenchanted Democrats" and "disenchanted Republicans" to actually vote for their prefered candidates by pairing up.

2000 to 2003: Chaired the local board of Pacifica station WPFW
Played a role in preventing the total implosion and/or hijacking of the largest independent media network in the U.S., ensuring the WPFW board push for reform of national board. 

1996 to 1997: Media Director, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Oversaw the ADC’s media strategy. Broke ground in terms of policy positions, making the ADC publicly critical of the sanctions against Iraq as well as both Israeli policies and increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the Palestinian Authority. Did interviews on scores of TV and radio stations. Had op-eds published in Newsday, Knight-Ridder wire and numerous other outlets. Did outreach to Arab-American community. 

1990 to 1996: Worked at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting 
Starting as a volunteer, worked in a number of roles at the media watch group. Research and wrote for magazine, Extra! while doing other freelance work. Worked to increase distribution for FAIR’s syndicated radio program, CounterSpin. Also acted as activism coordinator for a period. 

1988 to 1989: Math teacher - Homeless shelter manager
Did substitute stints in the New York City public school system, lasting from a day to several months, mostly at the junior high level. Also managed a homeless shelter, Arthur Sheehan House in Brooklyn (Catholic Worker), and worked to fend off nonprofit that was granted ownership as a trustee from selling the property. 

1987 to 1988: Programmer, Moody’s Investors Service - Art student
Did SQL and C programming in a corporate environment. During this period also studied art at Hunter College and the School of Visual Arts.

1987: Graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University
Receiving a double major in Applied Math (Computer Science specialty) and Logic and Computation (from Department of Philosophy).

Select media appearances: 



2001: Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, argued against war on "The O'Reilly Factor" -- segment ended with microphone being cut. (Fox News Channel)

Selected writings: 

2018: 

2017: 
"Questioning Pelosi and Schumer" (about impeachment and Israel's nuclear arsenal) CounterPunch


2014:

2009: 
"Obama Photo Op with Helen Thomas" Palestine Chronicle 

2008: 

2006: 

2005: 
"A Statement from Mother Nature" (in the aftermath of Katrina) CounterPunch 

2004: 

2003
"Compass Roses" CounterPunch 
"Follow the Policy" (about Iraq) CounterPunch

2000:
"A New Way To Vote -- As A Duet" {about VotePact) CommonDreams 

1999:
Twisted Policy on Iraq” Washington Post
"'One America' -- To What Ends?" Poverty & Race  

1998:
"The Dogs of War" Newsday 
FAIR's magazine Extra! 
"Brookings: The Establishment’s Think Tank" FAIR's magazine Extra! 

1997:
"Israeli Espionage Against the U.S." [ADC research document]  

1996:
"Profile in Unfairness: What Happened to TWA 800 Is No Reason to Endanger Passengers' Civil Rights" Washington Post  

1994:

1993: 
"Media Not Doing Justice To Mideast Peace" FAIR's magazine Extra! 
"Hillary & Bill & Harry & Louise" The Nation

1992:

"Arrested Development" as Allegory for U.S. Political Institutions

Stephen Walt‏, professor of international relations at Harvard, several years ago remarked that "Arrested Development" is both a "great show and a terrific description of U.S. political institutions."

Recent events involving the actors perhaps illustrate the limits of parody: A show about the people with no self awareness hardly precludes such behavior among at least the male real-life actors

Indeed, while U.S. media seems increasingly drenched in satire, genuine improvement in the society seems tragically rare and slow. So, to the extent that the Bluth family is an allegory for twisted U.S. political institutions, perhaps a straightforward analysis would be of benefit. Walt didn't elaborate on his analogy, so I have endeavored to connect the characters to their appropriate institutions: 

George: Represents the presidency. His very name is presidential. He's prone to criminal activity, but at times attempts to maintain plausible deniability by using his twin brother, Oscar.

Lucille: Is the nominal vice president, but, as is often the case in U.S. administrations, is the actual cold, calculating power behind the throne. In seeming contrast to the actress Jessica Walter depicting her, Lucille hatches insidious plots that she strong-arms the president and others to carry out, like buying land to build The Wall on the border with Mexico. She has an affinity for criminality on the high seas, perhaps stemming from the VP living at the Naval Observatory.

Buster: Literally joined the army. He does the dirty work. He's -- big stereotype here -- not too bright. He has an affinity for robotization, at times killing with drones and himself has a mechanical arm.

Tobias: Represents the NSA. While he's a never nude, he can use his cat-like agility to spy and move stealthily around a home. Or, after he says "I blue myself" -- is capable of surveilling on the go. His photography of his own body parts was seemingly mistaken as evidence of Iraqi WMDs. 

Gob, or G.O.B: Is the C.I.A., frequently dispatched by the president to execute covert ops. With his "illusions" is capable of cluelessly killing innocents. He teams up with the Buster army in the Sword of Destiny and the Tobias NSA in Gobias Industries. He's continuously trying to cover up his various shameful actions, including from himself, by popping Forget-Me-Nows. He's guilty of spawning blowback, such as giving the seal that bit off Buster's arm the taste for mammal blood.

Michael is the State Department. He gets sent to Iraq with Buster and Gob. He had often been seen as more sane, the adult in the room, but ultimately has been shown to be as twisted as the rest of the family -- foreshadowing the current unfortunate trajectory of the institution he represents.

Lindsay: Is the non-profit sector, perpetually putting on ridiculous fundraisers and staging particularly pointless protests -- all the while eager to sell out, intentionally or not. 

George Michael is Silicon Valley and its connection to academia. While ostensibly pursuing an education, he focuses on projects like his anti-social software Faceblock.

Maeby of course is Hollywood -- she worked at a studio. While her parents Tobias and Lindsay are inept, she's a skilled con artist. But she does have incredible lapses, displaying incredible ignorance of basic religious knowledge and simple mathematics. She was last seen eyeing more money in Silicon Valley as part of her varied incestuous relationship with her cousin George Michael.

Ann Veal ("Egg") represents the politically organized right-wing mega churches: Opulent in their wealth, banal in their persona, shallow in their beliefs, hypocritical in their conduct -- yet with seemingly functioning family structures. 

Lucille 2: Is the donor class, perpetually funding and in bed with one Bluth or another.

To US Gov, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday stopped responding to questions on the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

While proclaiming a regret of loss of life, she effectively justified the killing: "Israel has a right to defend itself. When people are being sent to the border, they are bringing weapons, they are threatening to cross through the fence, they are throwing Molotov cocktails – Israel has a right to defend itself."

When asked "But in so many flashpoints that are sensitive around the world, regularly the U.S. Government calls for restraint on all sides. It’s such a common, simple thing to say. Why in this case is it so difficult? What would be wrong with calling for restraint on the part of Israel?" Nauert responded: "I think this is a complex region. We’re looking at exactly why protests are taking place, why Hamas is encouraging people to go out and protest, why Hamas is encouraging people to go out right up to the border fence, why they’re encouraging people to try to knock down that fence and go into Israel, why they’re sending kites with Molotov cocktails to try to burn down the fields. Michelle, this is not as innocent as it may seem to many people. Hamas is trying to encourage people to do that, and by doing that, they are putting Palestinian lives at risk. ... Let’s move on. I don’t have anything more for you on this, okay?"

I tried to get questions in a several points and she manged to avoid me through the news conference until the very end, which I attempted to pursue a line of questioning starting with examining the notion that Israel was justified. I wish I came up with more creative way to approach this, but her non response and justification for massive killing is notable.

(36:35) HUSSEINI:  How is it not justification for killing – for Israel killing when you say Israel has the right to defend itself?

MS NAUERT:  Okay, we’re – we’re done with this.

HUSSEINI:  Israel has a right to defend itself --

MS NAUERT:  We’ve already been there.

HUSSEINI:  -- and there are no Israeli casualties --

MS NAUERT:  Okay.

HUSSEINI:  -- and there are literally tens of – there’s over ten thousand --

MS NAUERT:  I think – I think we’ve covered this extensively already.

HUSSEINI:  -- Palestinian casualties in the – and a hundred dead.

MS NAUERT:  Okay.  Go on, one last question?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS NAUERT:    Do you have something else?

HUSSEINI:  Excuse me.

QUESTION:  Yes.  On the Lebanese.

HUSSEINI:  Excuse me.  No, no, no.  That requires a response.  And furthermore, I mean, the U.S. isn’t, you know, mowing down people along the U.S.-Mexican border.

MS NAUERT:   We are --

HUSSEINI:  Isn’t that accurate?

MS NAUERT:  We are done with this issue.  We’ve covered it extensively already.  I’ve taken many questions on this, and we’ve --

HUSSEINI:  So, Israel is off the hook again.  Israel is off the hook again.

MS NAUERT:  Sir, thank you – thank you for your question.  I think we’ve covered this already, okay?  I’m sorry; I’ll get back to you another time, okay?

QUESTION:  That’s okay.

MS NAUERT:  Thank you.

See my last questioning at a State Department briefing on March 23, which similarly ended with me asking: "So Israel’s off the hook?"

Gina Haspel and Torture: Not Just Immoral, but a Tool for More War

With the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA, there's rightfully some interest in her record regarding torture

Of course, there are questions of legality and ethics and with respect to torture and it's possible as some have argued that the motivation of Haspel and others in overseeing torture and covering it up may be simple sadism

But -- especially given how little we know about Haspel's record -- it's possible that there's an even more insidious motive in the U.S. government practicing torture: To produce the rigged case for more war. Examining this possibility is made all the more urgent as Trump has put in place what clearly appears to be a war cabinet. My recent questioning at the State Department failed to produce a condemnation of waterboarding by spokesperson Heather Nauert. 

Gina Haspel's hearing on Wednesday gives increased urgency to highlighting her record on torture and how torture has been "exploited." That is, how torture was used to create "intelligence" for select policies, including the initiation of war. 

Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, has stated that neither he nor Powell were aware that the claims that Powell made before the UN just before the invasion of Iraq where partly based on torture. According to Wilkerson, Dick Cheney and the CIA prevailed on Powell to make false statements about a connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq without telling him the "evidence" they were feeding him was based on tortured evidence. See my piece and questioning of Powell: "Colin Powell Showed that Torture DOES Work." 

The 2014 Senate torture report noted (in an obscure footnote) the case Wilkerson speaks of: “Ibn Shaykh al-Libi" stated while in Egyptian custody and clearly being tortured that "Iraq was supporting al-Qa’ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely ‘Egyptians’], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear." (Libi would in due course be turned over to Muammar Gaddafi during a brief period when he was something of a U.S. ally and be conveniently "suicided" in Libyan custody; see my piece "Torture Did Work — to Produce War (See Footnote 857)

The Senate Armed Services Committee in 2008 indicates the attempt to use torture to concoct "evidence" was even more widespread. It quoted Maj. Paul Burney, who worked as a psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay prison: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link ... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” The GTMO Interrogation Control Element Chief, David Becker told the Armed Services Committee he was urged to use more aggressive techniques, being told at one point “the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO.”

McClatchy reported in 2009 that Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, said: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq) ... They made out links where they didn’t exist.”

Exploiting false information has been well understood within the government. Here’s a 2002 memo from the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to the Pentagon’s top lawyer — it debunks the “ticking time bomb” scenario and acknowledged how false information derived from torture can be useful:

"The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible — in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life — has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture ... The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption."

The document (released by the Washington Post, which minimized its most critical revelations and was quickly forgotten in most quarters) concludes:

"The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject’s environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject’s environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns." [See PDF]

So torture can result in the subject being “exploited” for various propaganda and strategic concerns.

New York Times reported in Feb. 2017: “Gina Haspel, C.I.A. Deputy Director, Had Leading Role in Torture,” that “Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide. The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the CIA station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at CIA headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.” 

Some have made an issue of videos of torture being destroyed --  but it’s been widely assumed that they were destroyed simply because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse or to hide the identity of those doing the torture. But there’s another distinct possibility: They were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: “Is there another terrorist attack?” Or do they compel: “Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together.”? The video evidence to answer that question has apparently been destroyed by order of Haspel -- with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason.

Even beyond the legal and ethical concerns, the following questions are in order: 

* Are you familiar with the case of Ibn Shaykh al-Libi? Do you acknowledge that he was tortured at the behest of the U.S. government by the Egyptian government to produce a false confession that Iraq was linked to al Qaeda and therefore a pretext for war; Colin Powell presenting that at the UN?

* Why were others similarly tortured in 2002 and 2003? Was it really to allegedly protect us, or was it to gain fabricated statements that could be used to rig the case for the Iraq invasion?

* Are you familiar with the practice of exploiting torture?

* Have you ever participated in in any way -- or helped cover up -- the exploitation of torture? 

* Why did you order the destruction of the video tapes of the torture?

* What assurance do we have that you and others who were involved in this won't do it all again?

* Why do you approve of and cover up for torture? Is it sadism or is it to achieve strategic purposes? What of the motives of your cohorts and superiors? 


Sam Husseini is senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy. 

At State Dept: I Ask About Torture, Saudi Arabia and Israel


Went to State Department briefing on Thursday, March 22. Summary: Spokesperson Heather Nauert announced at the start of the briefing a "new regional counterterrorism academy in Jordan." ... In response to a question from another reporter about Israel sentencing Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, she stated: "I’m not going to weigh in on a case that took place in another country." ... Nauert finally called on me about the Jordanian announcement. I asked, given known use of torture in Jordan, if State viewed torture as illegal. She responded: "are we rolling back the clock to 15 years ago again today?" I responded that given the Trump's CIA nominee, Gina Haspel, "this administration is winding back the clock." ... In response to another question about China, she said, referring to me: "despite what our friend here from The Nation may think, the United States consistently stands up for human rights." I started asking about Saudi Arabia, she tried to duck. Matt Lee of the AP referenced my Saudi question and asked about Bahrain. She started talking about talking to Saudis and Bahrain about human rights. She then did call on me, I asked about Saudi Arabia and Israel, noting she talked about Bahrain, but not Israel. End briefing. Relevant portions below with emphasis added in bold: 

(1:13)   NAUERT: A couple things going on today. First, I’d like to announce a project that we’re pretty excited about, and this is in -- over in Jordan. We’re pleased to announce today that the Department of State and the Government of Jordan have inaugurated a new regional counterterrorism academy in Jordan.


(19:41)  SAID ARIKAT: Yesterday, the Israeli court, behind closed doors, sentenced [Ahed Tamimi] to eight months in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier. On the same day, they reduced the sentence of an Israeli soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian in cold blood to almost the same amount of time. Is, in your view, the Israelis sort of deal with the Palestinians with a different scale of justice altogether? …

(20:05)  NAUERT: See, I don’t think that I’m not going to answer that question.  That would be entirely up – no that would be entirely up to law enforcement.  I’m no there to see all the details of the case, so it would be very unfair for me to comment on that.  You know we have talked many times about the importance of – of fair trials; about the importance that all individuals be treated humanely. ... I am just saying I’m not going to weigh in on a case that took place in another country. That would entirely be a matter for them to address with you, okay?


(33:26)  HUSSEINI: You made a Jordan announcement.

(33:27)  NAUERT: Yes, I did.

(33:29)  HUSSEINI: Yes. So, can you tell us more about this so-called counterterrorism site? Jordan -- if you look at human rights organizations, there’s use of torture in Jordan. What is the State Department position on torture, including methods like waterboarding? Does the State Department regard that as illegal?

(33:47)  NAUERT: I – uh - think that the United States’ long-term cooperation with our strong partner in the Middle East, Jordan, is very well known, very well established. Our relationship with Jordan is as strong today as it was a few years ago, as it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and much further back than that. They have an excellent military. They have an excellent police force. They are close cooperating partners of the United States and, frankly, many other countries as well. I think our position --

(34:18)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(34:21)  NAUERT: I think our position on that, on the part of the U.S. Government, is very clear. We will work with this government and we work with many other governments around the world in the fight against terrorism, and the fight against ISIS.

(34:31)  HUSSEINI: So you’re fine with torture, including waterboarding, with cooperating --

(34:35)  NAUERT: Are we – are we doing this again? Are we doing this? Are we – are we rolling back the clock to 15 years ago again today?

(34:42)  HUSSEINI: Well, it’s just that the CIA --

(34:45)  NAUERT: It’s my friend from The Nation here.

(34:46)  HUSSEINI: -- the CIA nominee destroy – among other things oversaw a site in Thailand that’s been accused of conducting torture and destroyed the video evidence of it --

(34:56)  HAUERT: I’m pretty sure that I work for the State Department --

(34:58)  HUSSEINI: Right.

(34:59)  NAUERT: -- and not the Central Intelligence Agency. So if you have --

(35:00)  QUESTION: So –  I’m not the one winding back the clock --

(35:03)  NAUERT: So if you have any questions about that --

(35:04)  HUSSEINI: This administration is --

(35:05)  NAUERT: -- I’d refer you over to that building.

(35:05)  HUSSEINI: This administration is winding down the clock, so I’d like an answer to the question rather than a divergent that I’m winding back the clock, because this administration is winding back the clock.

(35:15)  NAUERT: I don’t know – I don’t know how you --

(35:16)  HUSSEINI: So you don’t want to answer the question.

(35:17)  NAUERT: I don’t know how you think that. I think our position on torture, on human rights, is very well known.

(35:25)  HUSSEINI: What is it then?

(35:26)  NAUERT: We support the Government of Jordan. We do not support, we do not encourage, any of that kind of use that you – that you allege.

(35:32)  HUSSEINI: Is waterboarding legal, in your view?

(35:35)  NAUERT: The U.S. Government has declared that. Uh - I don’t recall the exact year, but a few years back, maybe it was seven or eight years ago, said that that is not a technique that the U.S. Government endorses. There was a time that the U.S. Government had told personnel that it could use that.

(35:50)  And I will remind you, let me just remind you and go on a little sidetrack here, that our military forces, when our Special Ops go through that training to become Special Forces, Navy SEALs, all of that, they go through that training. They go through what you’re referring to as torture. I just want to put that out there, that that still exists today.

(36:08)  HUSSEINI: So the State Department view is that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?

(36:11)  NAUERT: I’m not gonna – I’m not going to go back and have this conversation --

(36:13)  HUSSEINI: It’s a simple question.

(36:14)  NAUERT: -- with you once again. Okay?

(36:16)  HUSSEINI: It’s a simple question.

(36:16)  NAUERT: I think we’ve taken enough time on this and let’s move on. Said, go right ahead. 
...

(40:47)  QUESTION: Thank you very much, madam. As far as China actually is concerned, finally this president took action against China, because I have been saying for many, many years, according to the press report, China has been using as far as prison labor and also cheap labor. So, my question is: Are you sending message to China that respect human rights and rule of law, freedoms of press and freedom of religion, among others? And also, stop arresting the prison – the innocent people for their cheap labor.

(41:21)  NAUERT: Yeah. Sir, despite what our friend here from The Nation may think, the United States consistently stands up for human rights. China is one of those countries where we may have those conversations, where we talk about the importance of freedom of religion, human rights, fair trials, and all of those other things and ideals that the United States Government holds near and dear to our hearts, because that’s fundamentally what we believe in. We speak to other governments, China in particular, about media freedoms and all of those things consistently in all our diplomatic conversations.

(41:51)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(41:52)  NAUERT: I’m going to have to leave it at that.

(41:53)  QUESTION: One more.

(41:54)  NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(41:55)  HUSSEINI: Heather, can you tell us about Saudi Arabia?

(41:56)  QUESTION: I want to ask you about --

(41:55)  HUSSEINI: Can you talk about the meetings with Saudi Arabia --

(42:01)  LEE: Bahrain.

(42:00)  HUSSEINI: -- since my name was just invoked?

(42:01)  NAUERT: Go right ahead. Go ahead.

(42:01)  QUESTION: Or, do you --

(42:02)  QUESTION: Heather, I’ve got one --

(42:03)  QUESTION: Before you get to – before --

(42:03)  HUSSEINI: So she’s mentioning my name and not respond --

(42:04)  LEE: Excuse me. Before you get to Saudi, can you uh–

(42:07)  NAUERT: Yeah.

(42:07)  LEE: I have this question I’ve been trying to ask for three days now about this case in Bahrain, about Duaa Alwadaei, who was convicted yesterday and sentenced to two months in absentia. Do you have anything to say about that, given what you just said about the calls for free – fair trials and --

(42:19)  NAUERT: Yeah. Sure. And – and - that is something that we talk with our partners in Bahrain. We have those conversations with the Government of Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia. We have difficult conversations with countries that we also have relationships with. That is a fact. We hold our ideals near and dear to our hearts. Those consistently come up in our private conversations with other governments, who don’t adhere to those ideals that we believe are so important. You ask about – you ask --

(42:47)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(42:47)  NAUERT: Excuse me. I’m talking to Matt here. You ask about Duaa Alwadaei. She is residing in London. So, we saw the report that a Bahraini criminal court sentenced her in absentia to two – I believe it was two months in prison for allegedly insulting a state institution. Really? For allegedly insulting a state institution, they sentenced her to two months in prison. So we would say to the Government of Bahrain – and this is a way that we can deliver a message to governments around the world – we strongly urge the government to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that includes the freedom of expression.

(43:25)  Okay.

(43:25)  HUSSEINI: Heather, when you were -- earlier, about Israel you refused to comment.

(43:26)  QUESTION: Heather, yesterday --

(43:28)  NAUERT: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

(43:29)  QUESTION: Excuse me, sir. Excuse me.

(43:30)  HUSSEINI: You refused to comment on Israel.

(43:30)  QUESTION: Heather, yesterday Susan Thornton met with an official from Taiwan. Can – do you have a readout of that?

(43:38)  NAUERT: I do not. I do not. I’m sorry. I don’t.

(43:40)  QUESTION: There was a tweet and a photograph of them meeting yesterday.

(43:44)  NAUERT: Okay. I’ll see if I can provide a readout of that meeting for you, okay? Okay.

(43:48)  QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

(43:49)  NAUERT: Sir, I will let you take that last question. Then we got to go. Go ahead.

(43:52)  HUSSEINI: So you talk about – first of all, could you address Saudi Arabia and why is it that your closest ally in the region seems to be Saudi Arabia -- and Israel? You talk about a trial in Bahrain, but you don’t address it when it comes to the -- when the -- when it comes to Israel. Why is that?

(44:09)  NAUERT: Look, that is a -- uh a uh -- a very sensitive matter, and we handle conversations with different governments differently about sensitive matters. We don’t take the same approach with every single government, the kinds of conversations we have.

(44:22)  HUSSEINI: So Israel’s off the hook?

(44:23)  NAUERT: And uh - No, I’m not saying that at all. Not saying that at all. We have to leave it there. Thank you.

(44:30)  QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.

(44:31)  == Briefing Ends ==

Video and full but somewhat problematic transcript at State Department website. YouTube.