Author: The Fifth Column

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Killing Taxi Drivers for Freedom

The prospect of Hillary Clinton being President of the United States of America is one to fill our minds with dread concerning the likely posture of Washington in foreign affairs should she ever attain the Oval Office. There is no doubt she would continue or even increase the intensity of Washington’s military confrontations with China and Russia – and enjoy smacking the wrists of smaller countries whose actions might displease her. Indeed her castigation might go further, even to the extent of rejoicing in the murder of national leaders such as President Gaddafi of Libya, about whom she laughed «We came. We saw. He died».

There is no doubt that under her reign the US military presence around the world would expand and that there would not be closure of any of the armed forces’ bases surrounding China and Russia, or the slightest decrease in size or aggressive posture of the US nuclear-armed fleets that roam the seas and oceans.

Drone assassinations will continue and more innocent people like that poor taxi driver in Pakistan will be killed by US Hellfire missiles guided by gleeful techno-cretins who move control sticks and prod buttons to play barbaric video games from their comfortable killing couches in drone-control bases.

Papua New Guinea: Police Shoot Student Protesters

Papua New Guinea authorities should carry out an effective and transparent investigation into the shooting of student protesters by police in Port Moresby, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should identify and hold accountable any security officials found responsible for using unnecessary or excessive force.

On the morning of June 8, 2016, police opened fire on students on the Waigani campus of the University of Papua New Guinea as they attempted to march to the national parliament to call for a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Police confirmed that at least 23 students were injured, but disputed claims by opposition party activists that several protesters were killed.

“There needs to be an independent and transparent investigation into the firing of live ammunition by the police into crowds of student protesters, and any security officials responsible for wrongful orders or actions should be prosecuted,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Activists Counter FBI Trying to Exempt Its Database From Privacy Protection

After having spent eight years collecting sensitive biometric data on over 100 million Americans and assembling a huge database to contain it, the FBI has now announced that, in just 21 days, they will exempt this enormous bulk of information from the privacy protections guaranteed by US law.

A coalition of activists and privacy groups have submitted a joint letter to the agency seeking additional time to respond, requesting another month for public debate to decide if the Next Generation Identification (NGI) database is actually “designed to protect.”The NGI contains biometric data, including fingerprints, face profiles, iris scans, palm prints and biographical information. Contrary to the common belief that the information is solely related to arrest records, roughly half of the database is from ordinary citizens, official documents reveal.

For instance, to get a job with the federal government, a prospective employee must provide fingerprints. But some states require the same kind of background checks for those who seek to become dentists, accountants, or teachers. The fingerprints of representatives from many different careers then end up in the NGI system.

MI5 chief ‘right to be disgusted’ over MI6 involvement in CIA rendition & torture

Reports in today’s Guardian state that the then-head of MI5 wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair to protest MI6 involvement in CIA renditions during the ‘war on terror.’ According to the paper, Eliza Manningham-Buller’s letter warned that MI6’s actions – which included organizing the kidnap and rendition of two Libyan families, including a pregnant woman and four young children – threatened UK intelligence gathering and the safety of MI5 officers and informants.

Senior figures in MI6 and the Government of the day are now awaiting an announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on whether to bring charges over UK involvement in the 2004 Libyan renditions, which saw the Belhadjand al Saadi families kidnapped and forcibly transferred to Libyan prisons. Mr Belhadj and Mr al Saadi – who were both prominent opponents of Colonel Gaddafi – suffered years of torture in the dictator’s prisons as a result of the MI6-orchestrated operation.

However, according to the Guardian, “investigators have been frustrated by the way potentially key witnesses have said they were unable to recall who had authorized British involvement in the rendition program, who else knew about it, and who knew the precise details of the Belhaj abduction.”

Mission creep or mission rush?

The assault on Fallujah has begun. United States-trained Iraqi army units supported by Shi’a militias and Iranian military personnel are attempting to dislodge Islamic State operatives who are deeply embedded in the Iraqi city, west of Baghdad. Some initial reports of success by the attacking forces were quickly modified. These are a salutary reminder of what happened in the similar assault on Ramadi in August 2015. Then, early optimism that the city would fall in a couple of weeks turned out to be hugely overblown. The siege ended uplasting for more than four months, and by the end of it much of the city lay in ruins.

There are many gaps in the current reporting. There are no accounts of the intensity of the US air operations, nor of their direct support of operations byShi’a militias – something that they avoided when Tikrit fell in April 2015. The caution is most likely because the Pentagon is only too well aware that the Saudis are getting agitated over the extent of Iranian involvement across their northern border, and especially the collaboration between Washington and Tehran.

All the attention being focused on Fallujah carries the danger of missing another significant element in the western media’s coverage of the war. This is the extent of the direct involvement of US troops on the ground, not least as casualties begin to mount.

Why is a military coup in Saudi Arabia possible?

Students of Arab history might assert that the fall of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 was necessary to kick off further liberation projects in the Arab world – such as in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Libya and Yemen.

Some read the “Tunisian effect” during the Arab Spring as a reincarnation of this political diffusion (Such as Reem Abou-El-Fadl in her book Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles). However, I disagree on two main points. Empirically, it seems obvious that Tunisia is neither willing nor able to internationalise its revolutionary agenda. Conceptually, military coups are more capable of policy diffusion than mass movements; if only because they have the necessary capacity (of both hard and soft power) to act cohesively as regional players.

Viewing it from this perspective suggests seeing 1952 Egypt in terms of its ‘power’ not ‘ideology’. That is to say, the regional significance of the Egyptian coup/revolution of 1952 lies not in its revolutionary agenda, but in its ‘ability’ to force its agenda on other states – regardless of what that agenda was. Reflecting this onto contemporary regional politics, it is not Tunisia but Saudi Arabia that seems to be the most significant player (in terms of power/ability) in determining the future of the Arab revolutions. As with Nasser in the 1950s, King Salman appears to be on top of events, funding regimes he favours and cracking down on those he dislikes – in both cases under the guise of defending pan-Arabism.

China: Tell the Truth About Tiananmen on Anniversary

The Chinese government should cease its denial about the state’s role in the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy protesters and citizens around June 4, 1989, and acknowledge the government’s responsibility for the killings, detentions, and persecution associated with suppression of the protests, Human Rights Watch said today.

Beijing should demonstrate that commitment by immediately ceasing its detention and harassment of individuals marking the occasion, meeting with survivors and their family members, and releasing Yu Shiwen, an activist held since July 2014 for commemorating the massacre.

“Chinese authorities owe a debt of justice and accountability to survivors of the massacre and their family members,” saidSophie Richardson, China director. “Political repression since 1989 has not eliminated yearnings for basic freedoms and an accountable government – instead it has only compounded the Party’s lack of legitimacy.”

Myanmar Wants the World to Stop Using the Word Rohingya for Persecuted Ethnic Group

For human rights groups outside Myanmar, the Rohingya people are among the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. But for Myanmar authorities and Buddhist nationalists, they are treated as illegal immigrants living in the western Rakhine State.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry is asking other governments to refrain from using the word Rohingya since it is deemed offensive by many people inside the country.

But last month, the United States embassy in Myanmar issued a statement expressing condolence to the families of Rohingya boat refugees who perished in an accident.

…we extend our condolences to the families of the victims, who local reports state were from the Rohingya community. Restrictions on access to markets, livelihoods, and other basic services in Rakhine State can lead to communities unnecessarily risking their lives in an attempt to improve their quality of life.

ISIS Advance Traps 165,000 Syrians at Closed Turkish Border

There are two walls on the Turkey-Syria border.

One is manned by Turkish border guards enforcing Turkey’s 15 month-old border closure who, according to witnesses, have at times shot at and assaulted Syrian asylum seekers as they try to reach safety in Turkey – abuses strongly denied by the Turkish government.

The other is a wall of silence by the rest of the world, including the United Nations, which has chosen to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s breach of international law which prohibits forcing people back to places, including by rejecting them at the border, where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

Both walls are trapping 165,000 displaced Syrians now scattered in overcrowded informal settlements and fields just south of Turkey’s Öncupınar/Bab al-Salameh border crossing and in and around the nearby Syrian town of Azaz.

White House U-turns on Pakistan drone deaths

The Obama Administration has reversed its position on which countries will be included in its upcoming estimate of the civilian deaths caused by the US drone program, according to a report in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Earlier this week, a report in the Post – based on briefings from anonymous Administration officials – stated that strikes taken in Pakistan by the CIA would not be included in the numbers. However, an article in yesterday’s Post – also based on anonymous US government sources – now suggests that the White House has changed its position, and will include strikes taken in Pakistan in its tally.

The exclusion of Pakistan would have meant that as many as two-thirds of known US drone strikes – including some of the worst reported errors – would have been left out of the US tally of deaths. Strikes in Pakistan have included an attack on a funeral in June 2009 that killed as many as 50 civilians, and a strike on a meeting of tribal elders in March 2011 that killed 41. Pakistan has reportedly seen the use of some of the most controversial aspects of the US drone program, such as ‘signature strikes’, where individuals are targeted on the basis of patterns of behavior.

‘I Do Not Want Any Children to Develop Cancer Like Me’, a Fukushima Resident Says

Independent filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash has uploaded to YouTube a four-part interview with a young woman from Fukushima Prefecture who has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now 20, the interviewee was 15 years old when, following theMarch 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex lost power and the ability to cool fuel in the reactors. The lack of cooling caused a series of hydrogen explosions that severely damaged four of the six reactors at the Daiichi complex.

As a result of the explosions and subsequent fires, nuclear contamination was spread over a large part of Japan’s northeast. The young woman interviewed in the documentary, who wishes to remain unidentified, is one of 166 Fukushima residents who were 18 or younger at the time of the nuclear disaster who have been diagnosed with or suspected of having thyroid cancer (as of February 2016).

While some attribute the rise in cases of thyroid cancer to more rigorous screening, Ash notes that 74.5% of young people aged 18-21 as of April 1, 2014 who were living in Fukushima at the time of the nuclear accident have not yet taken part in the official thyroid ultrasound examination.

US Govt to “exclude” 3/4 of drone strikes from civilian casualty numbers

The Obama administration is set to “exclude Pakistan” from its publication of total casualties resulting from covert drone strikes, according to a report in the Washington Post.

If accurate, this would mean that as many as 72% of known covert drone strikes would be excluded from the tally, along with 84% of recorded casualties, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In March this year, the White House announced that in “the coming weeks” it would release an assessment of civilian casualties resulting from strikes taken outside of warzones. Drones operated by the CIA and US Special Forces are believed to have carried out hundreds of these strikes in secret, in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, where the US is not at war. However, to date, the US Government has provided no public estimates of the resulting civilian death toll.

Where Will First Chinese Overseas Military Bases Spring Up?

As history shows, significant improvement of a country’s economic situation inevitably boosts its military ambitions. The world has been holding its breath for the last 30 years witnessing the rapid economic growth in China, waiting for the new developments. And China did not fail the expectations of the global community. Whereas before the mid-2000s the Chinese leadership was rejecting the very idea of expansion of its military presence abroad, now the situation has changed dramatically.

The global economic crisis of 2008 that shattered the faith in the sustainability of the US dollar and weakened the positions of the US opened up new opportunities for the Chinese yuan. Shortly thereafter, global mass media started talking about new Chinese military doctrine. Its new objectives included not only the reform of domestically stationed troops, but also the formation of an international contingent and establishment of Chinese military bases abroad.

A worrisome situation in the South China Sea, which has been deteriorating since 2009, revealed China’s indisputable dominance over its nearest neighbors in the region. It also became evident that the US could no longer order the now powerful China around and dictate how to deal with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At the beginning of 2016, the number of Chinese artificial islands with a 12-mile patrolled area exceeded the number of American destroyers present in the South China Sea. In addition, as recently as in February 2016, China installed air defense missile systems on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands contested by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. In May, Chinese military intercepted an American ship in the patrolled 12-mile area near one of the reefs of the Spratly Islands, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Military fatigues and floral scarves

Rahila Gupta meets the women fighters who are helping to stop the advance of ISIS while also leading a radical democratic charge against capitalist ideology. Welcome to the Rojava phenomenon.

It is no exaggeration to say that a strip of land along Syria’s northern border with Turkey is home to the most radical experiment in democracy and gender equality, not just in the Middle East, but in the whole world. Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, ‘the land where the sun sets’, first entered popular consciousness in that lopsided way that news from elsewhere hits Western TV screens, when Kurdish women fighters liberated Yazidi women and children from ISIS on Mount Sinjar in August/September 2015. When the might of the US, the Free Syrian Army and the other regional armies in Iraq were unable to stop the advance of ISIS, young women in military fatigues and floral scarves defeated men who can barely tolerate fully covered-up women. Such film footage was undeniably eye-catching. Yet rather than leading to further information and analysis of the Rojava phenomenon, it was appropriated for the purposes of capitalist consumerism. H&M tried to sell a range of clothing based on the women’s uniforms, provoking outrage in the Kurdish community for trivializing their struggle.

So who are the YPJ (Women’s Defence Units), and what kind of society are they defending? Inspired by the evolving ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in Turkey, and triggered by the ‘Arab Spring’, the Kurds of Rojava began their struggle for autonomy in 2011, and their autonomous self-administration was formally set up in November 2013. Öcalan, unlike any other male freedom fighter to date, has placed women at the centre of his vision of a liberated, democratic society with a system of co-presidentship, a man and a woman sharing power at every level. The political vacuum created by the chaos in Syria allowed this experiment to flourish compared to similar attempts in southeastern Turkey, which have been met with the brute force of the Turkish government.

Wikileaks: Brazil’s New Unelected President a US Informant

A US State Department cable that Wikileaks published on 5 March 2011 and that concerns the newly appointed President of Brazil but that has nonetheless been ignored by Western ‘news’ media (such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN, BBC, etc.), reported the latest inside information that the US government’s secret Brazilian agent in Sao Paulo had just supplied.

Since the agent, Michel Temer, is now Brazil’s appointed ‘interim’ leader, the context of that cable is important to understand – especially because the situation here is similar to other recent examples in which the US President has, essentially, selected the leader of a foreign government after a US-backed coup has occurred there:

After an American coup overthrowing the existing democratically elected President in Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk was the interim leader of Ukraine from 27 February 2014 till April 2016, chosen by the US President (via his agent Victoria Nuland); and after an American-backed domestic-aristocracy-perpetrated coup overthrowing the existing democratically elected President of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti was the interim leader of that country from 28 June 2009 to 27 January 2010, chosen by the US President (in conjunction with Honduras’s 12 aristocratic or «oligarchic» families). In both instances, only candidates who were acceptable to the US President were allowed to compete in the subsequent ‘election’, and massive propaganda was issued to the local public, with US government approval, for each of those candidates. That operation then produced the ‘non-interim’ regime, which still rules each of these now-dictatorships.