Right-wing rages over aid for refugees and human trafficking victims

A confusingly written article  in the always deceptive, neocon-run Washington Free Beacon is attracting a fair share of rage clicks from US conservatives and attention from Rush Limbaugh. The headline states  that the recent budget deal passed by Congress contains “$1.6B to resettle illegal immigrants arriving at border through 2018.” It bases this assertion on the following passage:

For necessary expenses for refugee and entrant assistance activities authorized by section 414 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and section 501 of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, and for carrying out section 462 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, section 235 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (“TVPA”), section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, and the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998, $1,674,691,00 […]

The article is incredibly misleading because it suggests that government efforts to assist refugees seeking asylum and victims of human trafficking are somehow a form of “resettlement,” a word that heavily implies a grant of permanent residency. In reality this aid is a temporary measure so that certain immigrants who claim to have been victimized by repression in foreign counties or enslaved by labor or sex traffickers don’t have to be held in detention (a more inhuman and expensive, but profitable for prison companies , solution) while they await their status. In the vast majority of cases of immigrants from Mexico and Central America seeking protected status (which the article singled out for fear-mongering), they are typically rejected   and eventually deported. Even rescued victims of human trafficking are typically placed in detention and deported, as I have pointed out years ago. If the passage authorizes any type of aid to “resettle” people, it means that their asylum claims have succeeded and are now legal residents (duh!).

None of these facts matter to the banshees of the US right-wing though. The false narrative of Obama the radical, communist, Third World sympathizer naturally comes before the objective reality of Obama the Deporter-in-Chief.

The same bill contains $5,779,041,000 for the ICE to use for “necessary expenses for enforcement of immigration and customs laws.” Of this amount, $3,217,942,00 is to be specifically set aside for “enforcement, detention, and removal operations.” Militarizing the border, putting people in cages, deporting them is incredibly expensive. There is a case to be made that a more lenient immigration policy, in addition to being morally correct, would be much cheaper   than the current status quo of mass detention and deportation. But cost-effectiveness is not a value of the modern conservative movement despite its self-purported emphasis on “fiscal conservatism.” State-mandated sadism, specifically towards the poorer and darker skinned, comes first. Always.

Casual reminder that Israeli establishment views ISIS as bulwark against Iran and Shia influence

Michael Oren, ex-Israeli ambassador to US, 27 June 2015  :

if we have to choose the lesser of evils here, the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shiites. … It’s an evil, a terrible evil. Again, they’ve just taken out 1700 former Iraqi soldiers and shot them in a field. But who are they fighting against? They’re fighting against a proxy with Iran that’s complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria. You know, do the math. And again, one side is armed with suicide bombers in Iraq and the other side has access to nuclear military capabilities. So from Israel’s perspective, you know, if there has got to be an evil that is going to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail…

Series of tweets from Israeli PM’s official account, 2014-2015:

israel isis iran

Editorial by Gilad Sharon, Ariel Sharon’s son, 12 May 2015  (emphasis mine):

The fall of Assad’s regime would bring Islamic State to our borders – and that’s a problem. But it would also be a fatal blow for Hezbollah. Without the Assad regime and the Hezbollah-Syria-Iran axis, the threat from Lebanon would fade significantly. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen for sure.
Things aren’t quiet now, and thus Assad’s guarantee should expire. If the Golan Heights aren’t peaceful in any event, Israel then has no interest in the survival of the Syrian tyrant. Islamic State – unlike Assad and unlike Hezbollah – is the enemy of an international coalition that is fighting the organization; thus Israel wouldn’t have to face this new threat alone.
This is not to say that we would welcome the presence of the Islamic State lunatics on our border; but it’s certainly no worse, and may even be better, than the presence there of Hezbollah, which is the Lebanese proxy of the Iranian regime.

International Business Times, 7 December 2014  :

A report submitted to the United Nations Security Council by UN observers in the Golan Heights over the past 18 months shows that Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have been in regular contact with Syrian rebels, including Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Israel initially had maintained that it was treating only civilians. However, reports claimed that earlier last month members of Israel’s Druze minority protested the hospitalisation of wounded Syrian fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Israel.

A statement issued by a group of Druze activists accused the Israeli government of supporting radical Sunni factions such as the Islamic State (ISIS).
The UN report also laid out instances where in Israeli army was seen interacting with armed rebels. In one incident, the report claimed that the IDF gave some boxes to the Syrian armed rebels.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), pro-Israel Congressman, 11 February 2015 :

Everybody is talking about ISIS, and they have videos of evil to show that they are on the cutting edge of unspeakable crimes. But the fact is that the Shiite alliance headed by Iran is far more deadly than ISIS, just in Syria, having killed perhaps as many as 200,000 people, and certainly they have killed more Americans, starting with the Marine barracks in Beirut in—I believe it was 1983. The Shiite alliance is more dangerous than ISIS. ISIS aspires, may have some capacities as of yet unproven, to carry out directed attacks in the West. […] Before we wage more intense war on ISIS, we have to ask who will fill that space and are we not weakening an enemy of the Shiite alliance without noting that that alliance is a greater threat to us than ISIS.

The easiest way to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS is for the West to do nothing

This may be obvious to most readers, but I feel it needs to be restated: al-Qaeda and ISIS are not anti-imperialist movements in any meaningful sense of the phrase. They are primarily religiously-motivated chauvinists that are responsible for countless genocidal atrocities against non-Muslims, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims who do not share their ideology. One could even say that the two groups and the larger Salafi movement are “right-wing” in the same way the Hindutva in India is. It would be an error on the part of the left to view last night’s act of mass murder in Paris attacks as some sort of “just desserts” for the West’s long history of imperial plunder in the Middle East. This is because (in addition to the obviously horrible moral reasoning) the same Sunni chauvinist ideology responsible for the Paris slaughter has historically been used by the West to contain and combat communism, Arab nationalism and rival governments.

This does not mean that the attacks should be seen as totally unintentional “blowback” either. As we can see from the immediate effects on public opinion in the Western world, the attacks will end up strengthening the political position of the militarists, anti-immigration forces, and national security-obsessed authoritarians. This will indeed result in policies that will further empower groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, but not precisely for the same reasons some left-commentators think.

The day before the Paris attacks, a predominantly Shia Muslim neighborhood in Lebanon was attacked by ISIS suicide bombers. The Western media downplayed the murderous nature of the attacks and victim-blamed the innocent civilians murdered by calling the neighborhood a “Hezbollah stronghold  .” For the Middle East, Hezbollah is a relatively principled anti-imperialist movement that has a mass base among the impoverished Shia of Lebanon while making appeals for cross-sectarian solidarity among Sunnis   and Christians  . It also remains consistently opposed to Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Palestine. This is perhaps why it was not been viewed as a tragedy by the Western media when suicide bombers murdered civilians that were simply perceived as sympathizers with the group. When the mask slips like this we see ISIS is viewed by the ruling class as a tool for the West to combat counter-hegemonic movements.

Today the Western powers are bombing targets in Iraq and Syria with the purported goal of defeating ISIS. There are many reasons to view this effort cynically since the US still remains publicly committed to overthrowing the Syrian government (“our position has long been and it remains that Assad has no role in Syria’s political future  ”) and has sought to arm anti-Assad forces  , many of them Sunni chauvinists themselves  , as a means of fighting ISIS. Before ISIS emerged as a distinct force to be reckoned with, the US government and its regional proxies armed the opposition to Assad and destabilized the country  . This is probably what lead to ISIS seizing so much territory in Syria and Iraq in the first place. There is recent confirmation that arms the US claimed it intended to give to moderate rebels has ended up in the hands of al-Nusra Front  , which is al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.

I believe that the best means for the Western world to end this carnage is to butt out of the region altogether and let the governments of Syria and Iraq deal with al-Qaeda and ISIS on their own terms and allow them to seek assistance from Iran and Russia if they feel they need it. The US specifically needs to inform its local allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that it is no longer seeking regime-change in Syria and that sending arms to the rebels is ultimately a futile endeavor. The West ultimately cannot be trusted to broker a just peace in the region considering its long history of exploitation, backing of reactionary governments and movements and outright acts of aggression. Any legitimate grievances the domestic populations of Syria and Iraq have with their governments must be addressed without the specter of Western intervention or Gulf state-funded fanaticism.

Human rights group suing CIA over El Salvador war crimes victimized by suspicious burglary

Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

University of Washington police are investigating after an apparent break-in at the office of a professor who recently sued the CIA.

Angelina Godoy, director of the university’s Center for Human Rights, reported early this week that her desktop computer and a hard drive had been taken from her on-campus office. The burglary came shortly after Godoy and her center sued the CIA for records related to human rights violations in El Salvador.

“While we have backups of this information, what worries us most is not what we have lost but what someone else may have gained,” a spokesperson for the center said Wednesday in a statement. “The files include sensitive details of personal testimonies and pending investigations.”
The break-in came two weeks after the center filed a federal lawsuit against the CIA seeking access to documents related to the Salvadoran wars from 1980 to 1992. The center has filed about 200 document requests under the Freedom of Information Act aimed at several federal intelligence and military agencies.

The documents at issue in the lawsuit relate to Salvadoran Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez. The CIA has refused to release the documents, as well as documents related to an American academic who witnessed a massacre purportedly conducted by Ochoa’s troops.
“While we cannot rule out the possibility of this having been an incident of common crime, we are deeply concerned that this breach of information security may increase the vulnerability of Salvadoran human rights defenders with whom we work,” the spokesperson said.

The targeting of Central America-focused solidarity activists and human rights investigators would certainly not be without precedent. During the 1980s the Central American peace movement found itself targeted by the FBI and a privatized network of right-wing spies. At the time it was subject of numerous Congressional hearings and an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This campaign of surveillance and intimidation was meticulously documented by Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan in Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI. Other useful sources include Chapter 10 of Christian Smith’s Resisting Reagan, prepared Congressional testimony from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Chip Berlet’s The Hunt for Red Menace.

Before the Reagan administration entered office, the Heritage Foundation issued a wishlist of desired policies that included draconian measures against left-wing dissidents. It asserted with an alarmist tone that “the threat to the internal security of the Republic is greater today than at any time since World War II.” It directed criticism at “many of the current restrictions on internal security functions” and declared that “it is axiomatic that individual liberties are secondary to the requirement of national security and internal civil order.” The report called upon Reagan to recognize “the reality of subversion” and “the un-American nature of much so-called ‘dissidence.'” Most disturbingly, it demanded the loosening of standards that required suspicion of criminal activity before engaging in “such standard surveillance techniques as wiretapping, mail covers […], informants, and at least occasionally, illegal entries” [emphasis mine]. This was an explicit endorsement of the type of political burglaries that would later plague the Central America movement throughout the rest of the decade.

The main target of the FBI’s investigations into the Central America movement was the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). According to Chip Berlet:

The FBI probe of CISPES involved 52 of the 59 Field Offices of the FBI. Dossiers were compiled on hundreds of other organizations which intersected in some vague way with CISPES during the course of the investigation. […] Among the many groups named in the CISPES FBI files were: Central American Solidarity Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned, Church of the Brothers, Chicago Interreligious Task Force, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Friends Religious Society, Maryknoll Sisters, National Education Association, Southern Christian Leaderhip Conference, United Steel Workers Union, and the United Auto Workers union. Also named in the files were a number of individual churches, colleges, religious orders, community organizations, women’s groups and political groups.

To get an idea of how zealous certain elements within the FBI were about the investigation, a 10 November 1983 teletype from New Orleans FBI field office declared that:

It is imperative at this time to formulate some plan of attack against CISPES and, specifically, against individuals [redacted] who defiantly display their contempt for the U.S. Government by making speeches and propagandizing their cause while asking for political asylum.

The FBI’s key infiltrator within CISPES, Frank Varelli, would eventually become disenchanted with the investigation and declared before a Congressional hearing on 20 February 1987 that:

I was told the main reason for the concern for CISPES was because it was the largest and most active group opposed to the Reagan Administration’s policies in Central America. […] I now realize that the purpose of the FBI’s attention directed towards the CISPES was political and not criminal. The aim of the FBI was to break CISPES for its stand against Reagan’s policy in Central America.

A run down of the type of tactics used against CISPES and similar organizations can be found in CCR’s testimony before the US House’s Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, mentioned earlier. Examples of their findings include:

  • “The FBI questioned over one hundred U.S. persons after they visited Nicaragua. Agents also contacted scores of others involved in dissent from Administration Central American policies.”
  • “Customs agents are taking a special interest in returnees from Central America: copying and seizing personal written materials, and subjecting such travelers to unnecessary questioning and verbal abuse”
  • “An abnormally large percentage of individuals who travel to Central America, and the legal political organizations involved in Central American dissent, have been audited by the IRS”
  • “The data on more than 58 burglaries directed against groups and individuals dissenting from administration Central American policies, indicate that the purpose of the burglaries is to gather intelligence, intimidate and disrupt groups involved in lawfully protected First Amendment activities.”

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this campaign of domestic repression to this very day remains the burglaries. Organizations such as the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), Amnesty International, Sojourners, Nicaragua Solidarity Network and Witness for Peace all were victimized by suspicious break-ins at some point or another in which files (sometimes containing confidential membership information) were rifled through or stolen outright. It is still generally unknown who was responsible for these burglaries and to what extent the FBI was involved or knew what was going on. According to the CCR testimony, the evidence has occasionally pointed in the direction of private right-wing groups:

Ross Gelbspan’s article in the Boston Globe of January 18, 1987, quoted an unnamed source, who is an expert on right wing paramilitary groups, and a CIA consultant, as saying that the break-ins could well be financed by a number of well-endowed right-wing organizations. We know that a number of right-wing groups collect intelligence data. For example, the Western Goals Foundation was given secret computer intelligence files stolen from the Los Angeles police department’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division. Western Goals used the material to create files on as many as 6,000 people.

Information has surfaced on a possible Western Goals-NSC connection. The head of the Western Goals is Carl Russell Channell, and until 1984, retired Army Major General Singlaub was a member of the foundation’s advisory board. The Corvill (Mass.) Sun reported on December 14, 1986, that Channell had received funds from Oliver North. Robert White, whose offices were burglarized, speculated that the break-in at his office might be the work of anti-communist vigilantes: “There’s a whole private network that’s been built up…to reinforce what Oliver North has been doing.”

A detailed list of suspicious incidents targeting left-wing activists in the US throughout the 1980s can be found here. It includes numerous cases of death threats, intimidation and arson.

Probably the most serious incident occurred on 7 July 1987. A young Salvadoran woman who volunteered for CISPES in Los Angeles named Yanira Corea was abducted by three men who threw her into the back of a van and tortured and interrogated her for the next six hours. They cut the Spanish acronym for “death squad” into the palms of her hands, cut open the skin on her neck and raped her with a foreign object. She was questioned about other members of CISPES and her union organizer brother in El Salvador. Injuries backing up her story were subsequently confirmed by an LAPD officer and a local doctor who examined her.

When Ron Paul opposed a pro-gun bill on states rights grounds

Ron Paul, 9 April 2003 (mirror):

Mr. Chairman, I rise today as a firm believer in the second amendment to the United States Constitution and an opponent of all federal gun laws. In fact, I have introduced legislation, the Second Amendment Restoration Act (H.R. 153), which repeals the misguided federal gun control laws such as the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. I believe that the second amendment is one of the foundations of our constitutional liberties. However, Mr. Speaker, another foundation of those liberties is the oath all of us took to respect the Constitutional limits on federal power. While I understand and sympathize with the goals of the proponents of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (H.R. 1036), this bill exceeds those constitutional limitations, and so I must oppose this bill. It is long past time for Congress to recognize that not every problem requires a federal solution. This country’s founders recognized the genius of separating power amongst federal, state and local governments as a means to maximize individual liberty and make government most responsive to those persons who might most responsibly influence it. This separation of powers strictly limited the role of the federal governments in dealing with civil liability matters; instead, it reserved jurisdiction over matters of civil tort, such as gun related alleged-negligence suits, to the state legislatures from which their respective jurisdictions flow. […] Enhancing the power of the federal government is not in the long-term interests of defenders of the second amendment and other constitutional liberties. Therefore, I must oppose this bill.

Of course, this is from 2003 and the bill which was eventually passed was from 2005. Rep. Paul gave a different rationale (mirror) for voting against the 2005 version:

Mr. Speaker, while I sympathize with the original objective of S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, I am forced to oppose this legislation primarily because of unconstitutional gun control amendments added to the bill in the Senate.

I personally think these amendments were a convenient justification for Paul to oppose voting for the bill at the time and he would have voted against the bill on states rights grounds even without the gun control provisions. Many 2nd Amendment enthusiasts these days are not even pretending to use concern about “states rights” as an excuse to oppose federal gun bills and regulations. The unfettered marketing, manufacturing, dealing and ownership of guns are considered civil rights to them. Therefore, it would go against their beliefs to allow states to interfere with this. I believe that Ron Paul used different reasoning in 2005 because he assumed it would be more acceptable to gun rights absolutists.

Counter-terrorism PowerPoint casts suspicion on Muslim Student Associations and Palestine solidarity

A 2010 PowerPoint presentation (mirrored here) produced by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center lists association with any college Muslim Student Association (MSA) and possession of a print out condemning IDF incursions in Gaza as potential “indicators and warning signs” of involvement in terrorism. The presentation was authored by investigators Daewon Kim and Britton Schaefer. According to a 2011 PDF advertising counter-terrorism training courses (mirrored here) from this duo, they are purported to have previously been Special Deputy US Marshals with “National Security TOP SECRET Clearances” and have taught “over 5,000 police officers and first responders.” The presentation is mostly a lengthy list of behaviors, activities and possessions that the authors declare should lead law enforcement to suspect individuals of possible involvement in terrorist activity.

Among signs of “possible terrorist recruitment” are “frequent contact with disaffected populations” and leadership in “paintball activities” as a possible form of “paramilitary training.” Under “suspicious lifestyles & traits” are “individuals without jobs or families” and, counter-intuitively, people “unknown to law enforcement or intelligence services.” Associations considered to be “suspicious” include “radicals mosques,” “unmarked mosques,” “known or suspected extremist sympathizers,” and “Muslim Student Associations (MSAs).”

On a slide headed with “Paintball and the MSA” the Fall 2001 edition of the National Muslim Student Association’s newsletter is quoted:

FIREARMS: Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Indeed, power is shooting, power is shooting, power is shooting.’ [Sahih Muslim] Though there are arms training available to the public, many of them are expensive. If you cannot get someone to teach you, buy books about shooting techniques. However, one can join a club or go to a local shoot range, usually located on the outskirts of any town… Paintball is an excellent way to learn about combat

The presentation provides us with a case study of a traffic stop made in 2010 and shows us a collage of photos of “numerous indicators.” The suspicious items include multiple gift cards, an audio CD by Anwar Al-Awlaki and, most interestingly, a print out from the International Action Center promoting an online petition condemning Israel’s military offensive in late 2008/early 2009:

gaza-leafletOverall the PowerPoint strikes me as amateurish and is embedded with ethnically-charged fear-mongering from start to finish. Although, to be perfectly honest, it probably fits in fine with the rest of the counter-terrorism training industry’s material as well (see here, here, and here, for starters).

Full letter of ex-Army Captain Rowan Malphurs on US bombing of Cambodian hospitals

US Senate, Armed Services Committee, Bombing in Cambodia, Hearings, 93rd Cong., 1st sess., July and August 1973, 319:

MIAMI, Fla., August 6, 1973.

SIR: I am writing this letter because I feel that the truth should be known about the U.S. involvement in Cambodia in 69-70. I further feel that the legislative body of our government should be fully cognizant of what the military is doing. And I particularly feel that U.S. Senators should be aware of all military secrets. Therefore I have certain information that I would like to communicate to the Armed Services Com.

I was the Team Chief, Special Projects Team, Imagery Interpretation Branch of the Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam. In this capacity I worked on what was known as the French Leave Area of Cambodia. I planned photo reconnaissance reports on the results. Certain areas of this area became restricted and only certain individuals became briefed on [Operation] MENU. MENU was further broken down into areas called Supper, Dinner, etc.

It is this program, MENU, that I will address myself to.

My team furnished information to [Military Assistance Command, Vietnam] 32 Targets for the bombing of MENU.

J2 Targets planned the bombing from information received from the Special Projects Team. The Air Force namely 12th RITTS photographed the areas and then a special team of photo interpreters comprised of Army and Air Force personnel read out the results. I observed the reading out of this photography then I hand-carried the resulting reports to my boss, Major Terry Gladfelter, U.S. Army and to the U.S. Director of [Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam], Col. Ed Dizalio, U.S. Marines.

I saw on several occasions where possible hospitals had been bombed. On one occasion I was told by the expert photographers that included Sergeant E-7 Bill Dankam, U.S. Army, that a particular bunker complex was in fact a hospital. On another occasion I observed a Red Cross on a building that was partially destroyed by bombs.

Special film was used for bomb damage assessment. The resulting photography was called colored little lookers.

As far as personal reactions to the bombing go I found that all individuals concerned felt it was a good thing. After all the Communists were infiltrating through Cambodia accomplishing something worthwhile. The fact that it might be illegal never occurred to us.

As far as the reactions to the hospitals being bombed the prevailing attitude seemed to be that it was a good thing since, after all, the enemy might be trying to fool us. Anyway we generally felt that Brother Charles (short for North Vietnamese  Soldier) deserved anything he got. I can recall that on one assessment one individual was particularly happy that in fact we did bomb a hospital.

About my feelings toward this whole thing I must say that I feel that we had no business being involved in Southeast Asia. I think it is utterly tragic that 45,000 Americans lost their lives there. I think we were tricked and cajoled into becoming more involved there. And I think the South Vietnamese for a long time relied upon us to fight their war. I think the war was essentially a Civil War. I just wish I knew what to say for my fallen comrades—the injustice of it all. How does one simple soldier tell the world of his profound sorrow at what happened? I cannot.

Very respectfully,
Captain, U.S. Army, Retired.

[A hat tip to Greg Grandin at The Nation for pointing out the existence of this letter]