colonel cassad on karabagh (thursday)

USA, France and Russia call to stop the war in Karabakh
Colonel Cassad, Oct 1 2020

The US, Russia and France adopted a joint statement (a rare case) calling to stop the war in Karabakh. Putin, Trump and Macron, representing the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries, say:

We jointly condemn in the strongest terms the escalation of violence taking place on the contact line in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. We mourn the victims and express our condolences to the families of those killed and wounded. We call for an immediate end to hostilities between the armed forces of the parties involved. We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately undertake commitments in good faith and without setting preconditions to resume negotiations on the essence of the settlement with the assistance of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

Similarly, the UN, OSCE, EU, Iran and a number of other organizations and states are demanding to stop the war. In addition, Macron actually confirmed the accusations from Armenia, Russia and Iran, stating that France also has data on Syrian militants fighting in Karabakh, which Turkey brought there. Erdogan persists and continues to declare that Armenia must surrender Karabakh. This once again shows who exactly is behind the incitement of this particular war. Today, despite the losses on both sides (video and details in the evening) I will only note that Azerbaijan rejects the loss of 3 combat aircraft and 1 helicopter, as claimed by the Armenians. The Azerbaijani army also failed to achieve operational successes, and the events on the front line also have the character of a positional grinder. The sides continue to demonstrate losses to each other: Azerbaijan showed a piece of occupied territory, and Armenians showed a piece of occupied Azerbaijani positions. Turkey and Azerbaijan do not want to finish, because they expect that over time, due to the losses incurred and fewer resources, the Armenians will tremble and their defenses will begin to crumble. If they finish now, then the Armenians will of course write this defensive operation into their asset, and Azerbaijan, having seized several small villages, will have huge losses and unrealized rhetoric on Karabakh, which will increase internal tension within the country. Therefore, in the face of growing international pressure, Erdogan is trying to achieve at least some real success in Karabakh, as his time is limited. It is also worth noting that a French journalist was seriously wounded in Karabakh.

About downed Azerbaijani helicopter
Colonel Cassad, Oct 1 2020

About the shot-down Azerbaijani helicopter that fell on the territory of Iran. Initially it was reported that the vehicle was allegedly shot down by Iranian air defenses after it climbed into Iranian airspace. Then the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan stated that it did not lose the helicopter from the fire of the Iranians in the area. After that, the NKR Defense Ministry assumed responsibility for the destruction of the helicopter, which stated that the helicopter was shot down by the NKR military, after which the vehicle knocked out at the border fell on the territory of Iran. According to a statement from Karabakh, the local military did not plan to shoot down a car so close to the border with Iran and the destruction of this helicopter was called “unintentional.” There are no photo and video debris at the moment. Iran has not yet officially commented on this. It should be noted that in recent days Iran has increased its grouping near the borders with Azerbaijan, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry has warned that it will not allow turning the “northern territories” (meaning Karabakh) into a “hotbed of terrorism” (meaning the Syrian militants whom Turkey brought to Azerbaijan For an attack on Karabakh. Earlier it was also reported about the transfer of Russian equipment through Iran to Armenia, as well as the transfer of unidentified military equipment without identification marks across the land border of Iran and Armenia. One of the dangerous scenarios for Turkey and Azerbaijan is the purchase of Iranian attack drones and drones by Armenia. kamikaze, which are very effective in Yemen. Of course, Iran is quite satisfied with the existing status quo, which Turkey is trying to violate using Azerbaijan. Iran is sending a clear signal to Baku that it does not suit it. Iranian President Rouhani called for an immediate end to the violence in Karabakh.

Speakers of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan
Colonel Cassad, Sep 30 2020


Speakers of the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan and Armenia following the results of 3 days of fighting in Karabakh. Meanwhile:

War in Karabakh. The balance of forces.
Colonel Cassad, Sep 30 2020

Briefly on the issue of the balance of forces in the Karabakh war.

Azerbaijan. 64th position in the Global Firepower 2020 rating:

Armenia. 111th place in the Global Firepower 2020 rating:

You can add the NKR army to the Armenians.

  • From 18k to 25k bayonets (plus from 30k to 60k mob potential)
  • tanks from 177 to 371 units;
  • BMP and armored personnel carriers from 278 to 396 units;
  • artillery pieces and mortars from 291 to 322 units. (including up to 44 MLRS BM-21 “Grad”);
  • aircraft – two Su-25;
  • helicopters – three Mi-24 and five other models of helicopter technology.

You can add from 1.5k to 3.5k Syrian militants to Azerbaijanis, Turkish Bayraktar UAVs, possibly Turkish systems Electronic warfare and F-16 fighters (deployed at the airbase in Ganja). In general, it is obvious that the Armenians are inferior in the number of active bayonets, they have slightly less equipment, plus technologically the Azerbaijanis have superiority. A plus for Armenia is the relief of the area convenient for defense and many years of work on the construction of field fortifications. It should be understood that the more actively Turkey helps Azerbaijan, the more unfavorable the balance of forces will become for Armenia. The economic potential is also not in favor of Armenia.


In general, Armenia is capable of successfully waging a defensive war with Azerbaijan alone. Armenia can confront Azerbaijan for some time, which is being helped by Turkey. But the longer the conflict, the harder it will be for Armenia to withstand its tension without outside help. Accordingly, after an unsuccessful blitzkrieg, Azerbaijan’s chances lie in the plane of a prolonged conflict for the depletion of resources, where Armenia is in a worse position. It will be a success for Armenia to maintain more or less the current positions and ceasefire 1.5 to 2 weeks after the start of the war.

zio-bastards (milfs included)

The Lancet censors Gaza health letter after pro-Israel pressure
Omar Karmi, Electronic Intifada, Oct 1 2020

A doctor in Gaza City using a temperature test machine to test a boy for coronavirus.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA

With a fresh spike in the number of coronavirus infections, Gaza is yet again facing the very real prospect that its health-care system will be overwhelmed. Gaza is not just fighting a global pandemic. Under an Israeli blockade and successive military attacks since 2007, the coastal strip is fighting one of the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in the world as well as a crumbling infrastructure, including in its health sector. A severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment that is directly linked to the Israeli siege could, combined with the ravages of a pandemic, threaten the health service with complete collapse. At least one of those things can be remedied fairly quickly should Israel ease or end its blockade. But pointing that out is not as simple as it might seem, as four medical and human rights professionals from around the world have found to their dismay. Back in March, when the pandemic first hit Gaza, David Mills of Boston’s Children’s Hospital, Bram Wispelwey of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Rania Muhareb formerly of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, and Mads Gilbert of University Hospital of North Norway, wrote a short letter to The Lancet, one of the world’s foremost medical journals. Pandemics will cause more damage to “populations burdened by poverty, military occupation, discrimination and institutionalized oppression,” the authors pointed out. They urged the international community to act to end the “structural violence” that is being inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. They concluded:

A COVID-19 pandemic that further cripples the Gaza Strip’s health-care system should not be viewed as an inevitable biomedical phenomenon experienced equally by the world’s population, but as a preventable biosocial injustice rooted in decades of Israeli oppression and international complicity.

The letter, entitled “Structural violence in the era of a new pandemic: the case of the Gaza Strip,” was duly published online on Mar 27. Just three days later, however, in a move unusual if not unprecedented for The Lancet, the letter was taken down without comment. It can still be read, on an academic publishing search engine site, here. Wispelwey, who is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said:

Once we noticed, we reached out to The Lancet for an explanation. The Lancet would only say that “our commentary had precipitated a serious crisis,” but offered no detail, no further comment and no published explanation for readers.

The authors did note that the letter had caused a stir among Israel’s supporters in the medical community. One prominent activist, Daniel Drucker, a renowned Canadian endocrinologist, took to Twitter on Mar 29 to excoriate The Lancet and its editor, Richard Horton. he wrote:

As the world battles COVID-19, The Lancet and Richard Horton seize the opportunity to publish letters bashing Israel.

In a blog post, Drucker commended Horton for his “swift decision” to remove the “blame Israel” letter from The Lancet. That drew a swift response from Palestine Legal, lamenting that Drucker had forced The Lancet to censor itself. Drucker also compared anti-Semitism to a virus, claiming that “anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective, are highly related strains.”

Drucker is not new to this kind of pro-Israel advocacy. He was part of a highly effective campaign against The Lancet in 2014, after the publication ran “An open letter for the people of Gaza” protesting the effect of Israel’s military assault that year. The assault left more than 2.2k people dead, mostly civilians, among them 550 children. By the end of Jul 2014, and in the middle of Israel’s offensive, that letter had received more than 20k signatures whose names The Lancet announced it would not publish after “several threatening statements to those signatories.” Among the threatening statements, it was later revealed, were personal attacks against Horton accusing him of anti-Semitism and depiciting him in a Nazi uniform. His wife was verbally attacked and his daughter was told by classmates that her father was an anti-Semite. In response to that letter, Drucker started a petition to keep medicine and science publications “free of divisive political opinions.” The petition attracted more than 5k signatures, and caused pro-Israel medical professionals the world over, but especially in North America, to boycott The Lancet for five years.

Eventually, and after The Lancet in 2017 dedicated an entire issue to Israel’s health-care system, the boycott was rescinded. But the fear is, said Wispelwey, that medical journals are now subject to indirect censorship or self-censorship on Palestine as a result of the “overall chilling effect” of the campaign against The Lancet. The commentary he had co-authored in March, Wispelwey argued, was not more strongly worded than pieces published elsewhere in mainstream or Israeli media. Wispelwey said:

The extremeness of the response suggests an understanding that this is a space, academic medical journals, that is off-limits to even mainstream ideas, documentation and discourse on the Palestinian health context that contain criticism of Israel.

The Electronic Intifada reported in March that the widely-used dashboard for COVID-19 published by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering had effectively erased Palestinians by merging data for Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. That decision was eventually reversed but the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, in academia and beyond, has been well documented by everyone from Edward Said to Judith Butler. It is an effort that shows little sign of abating. Just last month, major social media companies, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube, pulled out the stops to prevent an event organized by San Francisco State University with Leila Khaled, a Palestinian icon of resistance and former fighter with the PFLP, now in her 70s. And across the world, pro-Israel groups are lobbying governments at all levels to ban the BDS movement, which they smear as anti-Semitic. The argument for silencing criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in medical and science publications is that these should be void of “divisive” political content. But that, said Rania Muhareb, a scholar and legal researcher with Al-Haq when the March letter was written, is disingenuous. Questions of public health are very clearly political, universal health-care being one obvious example, with social and political inequalities recognized as root causes of ill health. In conflict zones they are impossible to separate. Muhareb told The Electronic Intifada:

Realization of the right to health is closely linked to the fulfilment of other fundamental rights.

In Gaza, politics is most certainly at play when it comes to health. Exercising total control over all imports into Gaza, including humanitarian aid, the Israeli military has nevertheless failed to establish any contingency plan for Gaza as the impoverished region tries to cope with COVID-19. Israel’s refusal to act is despite the fact that it remains the occupying power under international law, and thus is legally responsible for the basic welfare of everyone in Gaza. And it has not been for a lack of warning. Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups have repeatedly appealed for Israel to formulate a plan or, more effectively, lift the siege altogether before it is too late. The numbers tell a foreboding tale: When the pandemic first hit Gaza in March, it was confined to the few travelers making their way in and out of the besieged coastal strip. They were easy to identify and quarantine. The first death linked to COVID-19 came in May, some two months after the first confirmed cases, and was also in an isolation facility. But once community transmission started in late August, numbers surged. Confirmed cases shot from 200 in late August to more than 2.6k, as of Sep 25. There have been 17 deaths. Mads Gilbert, a surgeon who for many years worked in Gaza, told The Electronic Intifada:

The health-care system in Gaza has been pushed to the brink of collapse. Israel’s blockade and repeated military assaults have fatally undermined health-care provision in Gaza, and left hospitals and clinics unable and unprepared to cope with a pandemic. The fear is that an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak in the Gaza Strip will completely overburden Gaza’s health-care system, thereby compounding Palestinians’ susceptibility to the pandemic under conditions of structural violence.

Fair comment for medical professionals? Not according to Zion Hagay of the Israeli Medical Association, whose letter in response to the now non-existent letter written by Gilbert et al was published in the latest online edition of The Lancet. Hagay denounced the March letter as “political rhetoric,” and defended Israel’s blockade as “a necessary response to arms smuggling and non-ceasing violence against Israel.” He lauded Israel for “allowing” Palestinian patients to “continue to enter Israel to receive life-saving medical treatment.” But Palestinians in Gaza face a widely criticized and onerous process to obtain permits from the Israeli military to travel for treatment or any other reason. Due to Israeli delays and denials of permits, Palestinian patients routinely die for lack of treatment. There were 54 such deaths documented by the WHO in 2017 alone. Hagay also omitted to note that UN Sec-Gen António Guterres, whom he otherwise quotes lauding cooperation between Israel and the PA in response to COVID-19, has long described Gaza as one of the world’s most “dramatic” humanitarian crises and called for the siege to be lifted. Wispelwey said:

But, beyond that, it’s astounding that The Lancet decided to publish a letter in response to an article that had already been taken down. It just makes the whole situation more bizarre. Publishing a response to a now ‘disappeared’ piece and allowing him to comment on its removal? Censorship and surveillance are classic methods of settler-colonial control. Rather than aiming for a false “balance” of viewpoints that fails to account for power differentials, we must start recognizing, naming and resisting these forces in academic medicine and beyond.

The Lancet did not wish to comment.

Palestine in Pictures
Electronic Intifada, Sep 30 2020

A child peers through a hole in the wall in a home that caught on fire, killing three children, in Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza, on Sep 1. The fire is believed to have been caused by a candle lit during a power outage after Israel cut off fuel to Gaza’s power plant in an act of collective punishment over the launching of incendiary balloons from the territory.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA

Two Palestinian brothers were killed by the Egyptian army while fishing off of Gaza’s coastal waters on 25 September. A third brother was injured. Their boat is suspected to have crossed into Egyptian waters, according to the Gaza-based human rights group Al Mezan. The group called for an investigation and urged Egyptian authorities to review their open-fire regulations. Weeks earlier, three brothers aged 5 and younger were killed in a house fire in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp on Sep 1. The fire was likely started by a candle during a power outage after Israel temporarily banned fuel deliveries to Gaza’s sole power station, reducing the availability of electricity in the territory. The fuel ban, a form of collective punishment, was presented as a response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza toward southern Israel. As of Sep 26, Palestinians in Gaza received an average of 11 hours of electricity per day. The Gaza Strip has been under a comprehensive siege enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007. As cases of coronavirus surged in Gaza during the month, international development agencies working in Palestine called on Israel “to end all collective punitive measures against the civilian population” in the territory. Cases of COVID-19 rose by 86 percent in Gaza during September, the WHO stated on Sep 24. A shortage of coronavirus test kits was reported in both Gaza and the West Bank during the month. There have been nearly 50k confirmed cases in occupied Palestinian territory, more than 300 of them fatal. Israel announced a three-week lockdown until Oct 11 as coronavirus cases spiked in there. Cases of the coronavirus surged in neighboring Jordan in September as well. UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said that Israel’s unlawful demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank have spiked during the coronavirus crisis, leaving hundreds of people homeless. McGoldrick stated:

The global pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians, who are already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation. Unlawful demolitions exacerbate these vulnerabilities and must stop immediately.

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian protester during a demonstration against settlement expansion in the village of Jbara, south of the West Bank city of Tulkarm, on Sep 1.
Photo: Shadi Jarar’ah/APA.

Palestinians entertain children during a lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on Sep 2.
Photo: Ashraf Amra APA images

Palestinians hold a vigil in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sep 3 to mourn prisoner Daoud al-Khatib, 45, who died of a heart attack in Israeli prison the day before. Al-Khatib, arrested in 2002 due to his military activity against the Israeli army, was only three months away from the end of his 18-year sentence.
Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh visits Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon on 6 September. Haniyeh met with Palestinian factions over Arab states normalizing relations with Israel during his first visit to Lebanon in 27 years.
Photo: Hamas.

Palestinian children walk past Israeli soldiers on their way to school in the West Bank city of Hebron’s Old City on Sep 6.
Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA.

A dog named Billy undergoes rehabilitation for a new prosthetic limb in cooperation with Gaza municipality’s artificial limbs center at the Sulala Society for Animal Care shelter in Gaza City, Sep 10.
Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour/APA.

An employee with UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, administers vaccines to a baby in a clinic in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Sep 12.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA

Palestinian artists paint a mural to help curb the spread of COVID-19, Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Sep 13.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

Trump, Netanyahu and the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers sign an agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the Gulf states at the White House lawn, Sep 15.
Photo: Polaris.

Palestinians in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp protest against the UAE and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel, Sep 15.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

Israeli bulldozers raze land along inside Gaza’s eastern boundary in Bureij, central Gaza, Sep 15.
Photo: Mohammed Khatib/APA.

200916-yattaPalestinians watch Israeli soldiers during a military training exercise in Yatta village, southern West Bank district of Hebron, Sep 16.
Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA.

Israeli soldiers participate in a military training exercise in the Palestinian village of Yatta, southern West Bank district of Hebron, Sep 16.
Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA.

A Palestinian police officer spays a recruit with disinfectant during a training session in Gaza City, Sep 17.
Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills.

Palestinians in Gaza City take part in a caravan to mark the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre and to protest against the UAE and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel, Sep 17.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

Palestinians sit on the beach at al-Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, Sep 18.
Photo: Mohammed Salem/APA.

Palestinians wear protective face masks and practice physical distancing as they shop at a supermarket in Gaza City on Sep 19.
Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills.

A Palestinian medical worker takes a sample from a child at a mosque in Gaza City, Sep 20 while testing for potential COVID-19 cases.
Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills.

Israeli forces destroy a Palestinian home on the pretext that it was built without a permit in the town of Beit Awa, near the West Bank city of Hebron, Sep 23.
Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA.

Palestinian farmers harvest dates from a palm tree in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Sep 24.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

An Israeli settler watches Palestinians protest against land confiscation in Asira al-Qibliya village in the West Bank, Sep 25. At least two Palestinians were injured after the Israeli army and a group of armed settlers dispersed the protest.
Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills.

The parents of three fishers who went missing after they were fired on by the Egyptian Navy participate in a protest in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Sep 26. Two of the fishers were later confirmed to have been killed and the third brother was injured.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

Palestinians wait for permits to cross into Egypt via Rafah crossing, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Sep 27.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA.

Palestinians march in the West Bank city of Ramallah to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the second intifada against Israeli occupation and colonization, Sep 28.
Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Ishtayeh chairs the weekly meeting of his government in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sep 28.
Photo: PA PMO.

Palestinian children wear protective face masks as they cool off in a pool set up on a Gaza City rooftop, Sep 28.
Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour/APA.

Palestinian parkour players wear protective face masks as they show off their skills on a Gaza City rooftop, Sep 28.
Photo: Mohammed Salem/APA.

An Israeli Border Police soldier stands guard as Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian home near the West Bank city of Hebron, Sep 30.
Photo: Mashhoor Wahwah/WAFA.

some sort of UNSC… what? who are they?

The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté testifies at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up
Aaron Maté, The Grayzone, Sep 29 2020

In remarks to the UNSC, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté details the OPCW’s Douma cover-up scandal and urges UN members to support the chemical watchdog’s inspectors whose evidence was suppressed. At an Arria-Formula Meeting of the UNSC, Aaron Maté of The Grayzone delivers remarks on the OPCW’s ongoing Syria scandal. Veteran OPCW inspectors who investigated an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in Apr 2018 say that their probe was censored and manipulated. Under direct US government pressure, the OPCW concealed evidence that pointed to the incident being staged on the ground, and instead released a report that suggested Syrian government culpability. The allegation against Syria led to the bombing of Syria by the US, France, and UK just days after the alleged Douma incident. In his remarks, Aaron calls this “one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory” and urges the UN and OPCW to let the OPCW inspectors air their concerns, and present the evidence that was suppressed. Other briefers participating in the UN session were former OPCW inspector Ian Henderson, a member of the Douma team; and award-winning physicist Ted Postol, MIT professor emeritus and former Pentagon adviser. The full video of the UN session can be viewed here.

TRANSCRIPT

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
My name is Aaron Maté. I am a journalist with The Grayzone, based in the United States. It’s an honor to speak to you today about what I think is one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory. The OPCW, the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog, is facing a serious scandal. Leaks from inside strongly suggest the OPCW has been severely compromised. The implications of this are grave. It would mean that the OPCW was exploited to accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma in Apr 2018. It would also mean that the OPCW was used to retroactively justify the bombing of Syria by several member states, just days after the alleged Douma incident. In short, it appears the OPCW was compromised to justify military strikes. There are also indications that the OPCW has retaliated against two veteran officials who were part of the Douma investigation and challenged the censorship of the Douma evidence. These two OPCW officials are highly regarded scientists with more than 25 years of combined experience at the organization. Yet instead of being protected, and given the chance to air their concerns, these two scientists have seen their reputations impugned by the OPCW leadership. There is substantial evidence to back all of this up. I will summarize the key details.

The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission, or FFM, deployed to Syria and what is known as Country X to investigate the Douma incident in Apr 2018. They interviewed scores of witnesses and visited several key sites. They examined gas cylinders found at the scene, took chemical samples and hundreds of photos, and conducted detailed measurements. Upon their return from Syria, the FFM team drafted an extensive and detailed report of their findings. But what the investigators found in Douma is not what the OPCW released to the world. And that is because the investigators who were on the ground in Syria were overruled, and had their findings censored. The key facts about this censorship are, to my knowledge, undisputed:

1) The investigators’ initial report, which was due for imminent publication, was secretively re-edited to produce a version that sharply deviated from the original. Both versions, the original and the altered report, have been published by Wikileaks. Comparing both reports, we see that key facts were removed or mis-represented. Conclusions were also rewritten to support the allegation that a chlorine gas attack had occurred in Douma. Yet the team’s initial, original report did not conclude that a chemical attack occurred. In fact, their report had presented the possibility that victims in Douma were killed in an incident that was “non-chemical related.” Though unstated, the reader could easily infer from this that the militants who controlled Douma at the time had staged the scene to make it falsely appear that a chemical attack had occurred.

2) Then there is the toxicology assessment. Four experts from an OPCW and NATO-member state conducted a toxicology review. They concluded that observed symptoms of the victims in Douma, “were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified.” This finding was kept secret, and are inconsistent with the conclusions of the final report.

3) There were also chemical tests of the samples collected in Douma. These samples showed that chlorinated compounds were detected at what amounted to trace quantities in the parts-per-billion range. Yet this finding was also not disclosed. Furthermore, it later emerged that the chemicals themselves did not stand out as unique: most, if not all, could have resulted from contact with household products such as bleach — or come from chlorinated water or wood preservatives. Crucially, the control samples collected by the inspectors to give context to the analysis results were never analyzed.

4) Because of other leaks, we now know that this censorship was protested from the inside. The chief author of the initial report, identified by the OPCW as Inspector B, was among those who deployed to Syria for the entire Douma mission. Records show he was also, at the time, the OPCW’s top expert in chemical weapons chemistry. On Jun 22 2018 Inspector B protested the secretive redaction in an e-mailexpressing his “gravest concern.” I will quote him:

After reading this modified report, which incidentally no other team member who deployed into Douma has had the opportunity to do, I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts.

5) After that e-mail of protest, and just days before a substitute, stop-gap interim report was published on Jul 6, something very unusual occurred. A US government delegation met with members of the investigation team to try to influence them. The US officials encouraged the Douma team to conclude that the Syrian government had committed a chemical attack with chlorine. It is worth noting here that the US delegation promoted this chlorine theory despite the fact that it was still not publicly known that no nerve agents had been found in Douma. The Douma investigators reportedly saw the meeting as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality. Under the CWC, State Parties are explicitly prohibited from seeking to influence the inspectors in the discharge of their responsibilities.

6) Inspector B’s intervention thwarted the imminent release of the doctored report. But at that point, the OPCW officials began to manage the issuance of a new negotiated report, namely, the so-called interim report that was released on Jul 6 2018. Although this interim report no longer contained some of the unsupported claims that senior OPCW officials had tried to insert, it still omitted key facts found in the original, uncensored report.

7) Around that time, the investigation saw a drastic change. The protesting Inspector B, who had written the original report, was sidelined from the investigation. OPCW executives then decreed that the probe, from that point forward, would be handled by a so-called “core team”. This new “core” team made formal the exclusion of all of the inspectors who had conducted the investigation in Syria, except for one paramedic. It was this so-called core team, and not the inspectors who had signed off on the original report, that generated the OPCW final’s report of Mar 2019.

8) That final report sharply differed from what the OPCW inspectors reported in the suppressed initial report. The final report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Douma and that “the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Many crucial facts and evidence redacted from the original report continued to be omitted.

9) The final report also saw a major discrepancy when it comes to witness testimony. The witnesses interviewed offered sharply contrasting narratives, yet only those witnesses whose testimony supported the use of chemical weapons, were used to inform the report’s conclusions. It is also worth noting the imbalance in witness locations: although the alleged chemical incident took place in Syria, twice as many witnesses were interviewed in Country X.

10) One inference drawn from the OPCW’s final report was that gas cylinders found in Douma likely came from military aircraft. But a leaked engineering assessment assigned to a sub-team of the FFM found otherwise. The OPCW leadership has yet to offer a substantive explanation for why such critical evidence was excluded and why the original report was radically altered. The OPCW Director General Fernando Arias justified the conclusions of the final report and excused alleged fraudulent scientific behavior by incorrectly stating that “the FFM undertook the bulk of its analytical work” during the last seven months of the investigation, or after the interim report that was published in Jul 2018. A close review of the final report demonstrates that this is far from the case. As the dissenting inspectors have noted, by the time the interim report was released, 31 of the 44 samples were analyzed, 34 of the 39 interviews had been conducted and analyzed, and the toxicological study was already done but the conclusions excluded. In the nearly eight months after the Interim Report was released, only 13 new samples were analyzed along with 5 additional interviews.

Comparing the text of the final report to the original report is also instructive. The final report copy and pastes much of the text of the original report, the one difference is that inconvenient evidence was removed, and un-supported conclusions were added. But even if it were true that the bulk of the analysis was done after the interim report, the fact the OPCW would have conducted the bulk of its work after Jul 2018 would not in any way explain or justify the alleged scientific fraud committed before it. In fact, it would only raise the possibility that more fraud occurred. Instead of addressing the discrepancies and cherry-picked facts, the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias has also denigrated the two members of the Douma fact-finding mission team who challenged the manipulation of facts and evidence. The Director General has falsely portrayed them as rogue actors, with only minor roles in the investigation and incomplete information. Yet these two inspectors are unlikely candidates to suddenly go so rogue. Inspector A has been identified as Ian Henderson. He is here today. The second inspector is known only as Inspector B. They served with the OPCW for 12 and 16 years, respectively. Internal OPCW appraisals of their job performance offer effusive praise. In 2005, a senior OPCW official wrote that Henderson has consistently received “the highest rating possible. I consider [him] one of the best of our Inspection Team Leaders.” In 2018, an OPCW superior wrote that Inspector B, “has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of Chemical Weapons chemistry applied to inspections.” Another manager described B as “one of the most well regarded” team leaders, whose “experience of the organisation, its verification regime, and judgment are unmatched.” It is important to also stress that the internal concerns go beyond Douma team members. Earlier this year, I heard from an OPCW official who voiced outrage at the treatment of Henderson and Inspector B. I quote this person now:

It is quite unbelievable that valid scientific concerns are being brazenly ignored in favour of a predetermined narrative. The lack of transparency in an investigative process with such enormous ramifications is frightful. The allegations of the two gentlemen urgently need to be thoroughly investigated, and the functionality of the organisation restored.

Now fortunately, the two inspectors involved in this Douma controversy have offered a path to transparency and to resolving this scandal. Earlier this year, they each wrote letters to the OPCW Director General asking for their concerns to be heard. The inspectors have received support from several prominent figures, including the OPCW’s First Director General, Jose Bustani. In Oct 2019, Bustani took part in a panel that heard an extensive presentation from one of the Douma investigators. Mr Bustani wrote:

The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.

I hope that Mr Bustani’s words will be heeded. As a first step, the OPCW can simply do what it has refused to do so far: meet with the entire Douma team, and let them present the evidence that was censored. It is very concerning that despite the allegations here, the OPCW Director General has never met with members of the Douma team; not just the two dissenting inspectors that are known, but the entire team. If the OPCW is confident in its conclusions, then it should have no issue with at least hearing a dissenting point of view. The importance of addressing this issue extends far beyond repairing the OPCW’s reputation. Syria is a country that is now trying to rebuild from a devastating, nearly decade-long proxy war that caused massive suffering, destruction and death. But as Syria is trying to rebuild, it now faces a new kind of warfare in the form of crippling economic sanctions. In justifying the sanctions, the US government has cited, among other things, allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The US government also says that the Syrian government is the target of these sanctions. But it is the Syrian people who feel the pain. The UN rapporteur on sanctions says that, “unilateral sanctions applied to Syria have visited untold sufferings on ordinary people.” The World Food Program warns that Syrians living under economic blockade now face “mass starvation or another mass exodus.” The use of the OPCW to justify warfare on Syria, whether in the form of military strikes in 2018 or economic strangulation today in 2020, is additionally tragic in light of the OPCW’s own history. It was just seven years ago that the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work eliminating chemical weapons, including in Syria. That was a towering achievement, and a hopeful moment for those who seek a world at peace. How unfortunate then, to see the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog now potentially being comprised to lodge unproven allegations against Syria and justify warfare against it. The OPCW inspectors who have been silenced and maligned are trying to defend their organization’s noble legacy from political exploitation. It is my hope that they will be heard. Thank you.

south front on karabagh (thursday)

Azerbaijan Removes Alleged Russian Spy From Office, Armenia Arrests Alleged Azerbaijan Spy
South Front, Oct 1 2020

The spy wars phase in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict appears to have begun. Russian journalist Semyon Pegov reported that Colonel-General Najmeddin Sadykov, Chief of the General Staff of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, has been removed from office at the request of Turkish military advisers. The general is allegedly declared an agent of the Main intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. It is also noted that Sadykov opposed the Turkish dominance in the leadership of the national armed forces. In Armenia, the National Security Service (SNB) of Armenia neutralized a spy working for Azerbaijani intelligence. A citizen of Armenia held senior positions in the Ministry of Defense of the republic, periodically collecting and transmitting information constituting a military secret. This is stated in the statement of the National Security Service of Armenia spread on Oct 1. The main Armenian intelligence service provided some details in connection with the disclosure of espionage activities. While in Georgia, a citizen of Armenia came to the attention of Azerbaijani specialized services. Subsequently, he was recruited and given instructions to collect information about the armaments of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as other information of military interest. Having access to classified information on duty, he collected information about military equipment, engineering infrastructure, and military facilities. Using contacts with high-ranking military personnel of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the accused periodically met with them, inquiring about the specific actions of the units and other important information. After that, he periodically traveled to Georgia, where he passed on the information received to his “curators.” Based on the evidence obtained, he was charged with high treason, and the Armenian citizen was arrested. During searches in his apartment and other real estate objects belonging to him, a huge amount of ammunition was found: grenades, fuses, cartridges, as well as military information, which has not lost its relevance. Among them are the originals of documents for official use. Operatives also found spy equipment: special radios and other equipment. The National Security Service of Armenia presented a video material in connection with the fact of espionage and treason.

Azerbaijan Bombs Nagorno-Karabakh Cities, Turkey Reportedly Takes Control Of Air Operations
South Front Oct 1 2020

On Oct 1, the regional authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh reported that hostilities continue along the entire contact line, but that no significant progress is being made by Azerbaijan’s forces. Reportedly, Azerbaijan handed over air control of the operation in Nagorno-Karabakh to the Turkish Air Force, the representative of the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan wrote on Facebook. According to him:

The flights of the Turkish and Azerbaijani aviation are controlled by a E7-T aircraft of the Turkish Air Force, which is an air command post. The post is located near Erzurum and Kars. It is possible that the leadership of the Turkish Air Force is on board this plane. On the morning of Sep 30, two Turkish F-16 fighters, Azerbaijani Su-25 attack aircraft, as well as the Turkish reconnaissance and strike Bayraktar drone, which took off from the city of Kurdamir, inflicted a missile and bomb attack on the Karabakh cities of Hadrut and Martakert. In addition, at a short distance from the city of Hadrut, there is a command post for controlling Turkish drones, which directly corrects the fire of Azerbaijani attack aircraft.

The day before, Armenia announced that an F-16 fighter of the Turkish Air Force shot down an Armenian Su-25 in the airspace of Armenia, the pilot of the attack aircraft was killed. In Ankara, this statement was called “the fantasy of the Armenian military propaganda machine.” The assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev said that two Armenian Su-25s crashed into the mountain and exploded, and the rest was absurd claims and disinformation. Regardless, a video was published showing the city of Martakert following heavy strikes by aircraft. According to reports at least 3 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in the attacks.

Also, a map with movement of forces was published showing the Movement of Turkish and Azerbaijani air forces, including F-16s. And how the flights of Azerbaijani planes are coordinated from Turkey. This video was published by the press Secretary of the Ministry of defense of Armenia Shushan Stepanyan.

Furthermore, to evidence that Syrian militants had actually been deployed by Turkey to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan, it turned out that not all cell phones had been taken away and selfies of fighters began being published online. There was also a video that was released, purportedly showing militants, clad in uniform, preparing to be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan. The events in the video allegedly take place on Sep 25, two days before the escalation was caused by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The report of the first Syrian militant casualty is also fact, now there is a 2nd casualty, the individual on the photograph below was killed in the clashes. He is Talha Muhammad, the second Syrian, whose death in Azerbaijan was confirmed by relatives. The group he’s part of is called the “Hamza Division.” Additionally, Qasim al-Jazmur, a native of Deir ez-Zor and a Sultan Murad militant from the so-called Turkish-backed National army, was killed by the Armenian army during clashes taking place in Artsakh.

Finally, seeing as to how Turkey is attempting to turn the region into a hotbed of militants fighting on behalf of Azerbaijan, Iran issued a statement saying that it would not allow its adjacent area to be turned into one. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh was cited as saying the following:

Iran will not allow terrorists to turn the areas adjacent to the northern borders of our country into a threat to our national security. This will lead to a much greater catastrophe than the Karabakh conflict.

Iran Denies Allegations Of Weapons Transfers To Armenia, Calls For Ceasefire And Dialogue
South Front, Oct 1 2020

Iran has reassured Azerbaijan that it recognises its territorial integrity at the same time as it reiterated calls for dialogue to resolve the deadly conflict with Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. Iran also categorically denied allegations that weapons have been transferred to Armenia from Iranian territory. Iran has reason to be deeply concerned by the latest outbreak in hostilities as it shares borders with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Shortly after the latest clashes erupted, Iran called on the two sides to exercise restraint and work towards dialogue. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held separate phone calls with his counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday, during which he urged them to hold talks within the framework of international law. During a phone conversation between senior government officials from Iran and Azerbaijan on Wednesday, Iran emphasized that it respects Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and denied accusations of weapons going to Armenia from Iranian territory as an attempt to damage relations between the two countries. Mahmoud Vaezi, President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, told Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev in a phone call on Wednesday:

The stance of the Islamic Republic on Azerbaijan has always been clear and transparent as it has always recognised the neighbouring country’s territorial integrity and respected it. Azerbaijan holds an important place in Iranian foreign policy. Tehran will always strive to develop and boost bilateral ties with its neighbour.

He also expressed Iran’s deep concern regarding the armed conflict, saying Iran was ready to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia to begin negotiations “within the framework of international laws.” During his conversation with the Azeri deputy prime minister, Vaezi also denied reports that Tehran was sending arms and military equipment to Armenia. On Tuesday, several videos circulated on social media showing trucks carrying covered loads through the Iranian border with Armenia, prompting claims military equipment was being exported for use in Nagorno-Karabakh. He said:

These are completely baseless rumours spread to tarnish good relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh immediately denied the reports, saying:

The Islamic Republic will by no means allow our soil to be used to move arms and ammunition. The trucks carried conventional, non-military goods.

Iranian state television on Wednesday broadcast from the Norduz border terminal, where the trucks carrying the suspect loads were in a depot. The vehicles were Russian Kamaz trucks, which a local official said had been purchased by Armenia before the armed conflict and were being transported through Iran. They were shown to be carrying vehicle parts. Some other media reports alleged that Russia had sent three of its MiG-29 fighters to Armenia using Iranian airspace, which were again categorically rejected by Iranian officials as false. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said (LINK):

The movement of trucks and the transit of conventional civilian goods between the Islamic Republic of Iran and neighbouring countries have been ongoing as usual. However, in addition to closely monitoring and controlling the movements and transit of goods to other countries, Iran does not allow the use of its soil for the transfer of weapons and ammunition.

Also on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashynian, calling on Armenia to work toward ending the conflict and begin dialogue. Rouhani said:

Our region can no longer take instability and new wars. Our wish is to immediately stop the clashes and for us all to resolve the region’s issues through political discourse and international laws.

Pashynian reportedly agreed that armed conflict is to the detriment of the region and expressed concern about foreign interference in Armenian disagreements with Azerbaijan.

Rouhani also noted Iran’s long-lasting ties with the two Caucasian republics, founded on common history and culture, and voiced Tehran’s readiness to mediate between the two sides in whatever capacity deemed constructive by Armenia and Azerbaijan to help settle the dispute (LINK).

boris outlawed, price on his head, will go to live in woods, etc

EU launches legal action against UK for breaching withdrawal agreement
Daniel Boffey, Lisa O’Carroll, Groan, Oct 1 2020

The EU has launched legal action against the UK after Boris Johnson failed to respond to Brussels’ demand that he drop legislation that would overwrite the withdrawal agreement and break international law. Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, announced that the UK had been put on formal notice over the internal market bill tabled by the prime minister last month. Brussels had given Johnson until the end of September to ditch the contentious clauses in the draft legislation, and Von der Leyen said the deadline had lapsed. By seeking to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement signed last year with Brussels, the UK had failed to live up to its obligations to act in “good faith,” Von der Leyen said. The former German defence minister said the UK now had a month to respond to the commission’s letter of notice, which marks the beginning of a formal infringement process. She said:

We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill, by the end of September. This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith, laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore this morning the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.

The internal market bill would give ministers legal powers to override two elements of the Northern Ireland protocol, which Johnson agreed last October in order to avoid a return to a hard border in Ireland. Ministers would decide whether to notify the commission of any government subsidy decisions that could affect goods trade in Northern Ireland and whether to waive the need for export summary declarations when sending goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. The two sides are examining these issues in a joint committee but the UK government has said it needs the legislation as a “safety net” should the EU act unreasonably. The commission’s letter is the start of a lengthy process that could ultimately end in the European court of justice. The EU court in Luxembourg could impose huge daily fines for continued breaches. The UK agreed to be bound by decisions of the court on cases begun before the end of the transition period on 31 December and for four years after that point. A government spokesperson said:

We will respond to the letter in due course. We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.

The infringement procedure is a common tool used by the commission against member states. Last year alone there were 800 open cases. Germany had 47 pending cases and France 34. Each procedure takes on average 35 months to complete. The EU had initially suggested the internal market bill was an impediment to the ongoing trade and security negotiations but has in recent weeks decoupled the issues. This week Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, admitted that many of the EU’s concerns would “fade away” if the joint committee was able to do its work and a wider trade deal was secured. The Irish government spokesman on European affairs, Neale Richmond, said on Thursday the move was regrettable but “absolutely the right decision.” He said:

Time is running out, but it is not too late for a trade agreement to be reached between the EU and UK; that is where the focus should be rather than on legislation like the internal market bill.

Von der Leyen said work with the UK would continue to ensure the withdrawal agreement was fully implemented by the Jan 1 deadline. she said:

We stand by our commitments.

Von der Leyen later met Micheál Martin, the Irish prime minister, for talks ahead of a summit of the 27 heads of state and government being held in Brussels to discuss foreign affairs. The commission has also said it might bring a separate action against the UK through enforcement mechanisms in the withdrawal agreement, resulting in fines or suspension of parts of a future trade deal. Talks between the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, continue over trade and security. The most likely outcome of the row over the internal market bill is that in the event of a successful negotiation, the EU will give the UK the option of leaving without a deal or dropping the legislation.

Ireland needs to press for reunification vote, says Sinn Féin
Rory Carroll, Groan, Oct 1 2020

Mary Lou McDonald greets supporters in Dublin in February.
Photo: Charles McQuillan

Ireland cannot trust an “erratic” and “dangerous” Boris Johnson on Brexit and needs to start pressuring Downing Street for a referendum on Irish unification, according to Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Féin. Johnson has forfeited credibility by unpicking the withdrawal agreement, and cannot be believed when he says he wants a trade deal, said McDonald. She said:

He’s the prime minister and perfidious Albion just got perfidiouser, if there’s such a word. If Britain does not honour a bargain fairly struck, it will face a backlash from the EU and the US. If there is damage in Ireland, if there’s a hardening of the border, well then: all bets are off.

The Sinn Féin leader spoke to the Guardian after an opinion poll showed her opposition party to be the most popular in Ireland, with support at 32%. Recent blunders by the Fianna Fáil-led coalition government have put a question mark over its longevity and bolstered McDonald’s image as a taoiseach-in-waiting. A government led by Sinn Féin would jolt British–Irish relations. A mouthpiece for the IRA during the Troubles, it has become a mainstream, left-wing party that appeals to voters in the south of Ireland on bread-and-butter issues, especially health and housing. However, McDonald, 51, stressed its enduring determination to unite Ireland, predicting:

In my lifetime? Absolutely. All of the signposts, all of the markers, point in the direction of reunification.

By next year, the centenary of Northern Ireland’s creation, Catholics are expected to outnumber Protestants for the first time, a seismic demographic shift that comes just as Brexit has prompted some unionists to question the region’s position in the UK. McDonald, a Trinity College graduate from Dublin who succeeded Gerry Adams as party leader in 2018, said:

The electoral majority for unionism is now gone. Politics on this island has changed in ways that are profound.

McDonald said the promise of a new, progressive, inclusive Ireland, with an NHS-style health service, would win over enough voters. Under the Good Friday agreement, the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary must call a referendum when it appears likely that most people would vote in favour of a united Ireland. However, McDonald said ministers refused to spell out the exact conditions that would trigger a vote. She said:

I wouldn’t like anybody in the British system to imagine that they hold a trump card that says ‘we will forever avoid or defer a referendum in Ireland.’ They don’t have that right.

She said a united Ireland must offer unionists “the kinds of protections and assurances that they need,” for instance, a possible continued role for the Stormont assembly. She ruled out moving the capital from Dublin. Asked whether the IRA violence during the Troubles was justified, McDonald said:

I think it was inevitable. Partition and discrimination created a toxic context that framed people’s attitudes and choices.

Pressed again on whether violence was justified, she said:

I was a child at the time. I am certainly not going to be the person accountable for things that happened in 1973. I think that’s an extraordinary thing to ask of me. There will never be an agreed narrative on the Troubles. I think it’s foolish to pursue it. You’re not going to bridge that difference. The past is the past. I can’t rewrite it.

She rejected allegations that the IRA army council still existed and influenced party policy, saying:

The IRA is gone. The conflict is over. There’s a touch of misogyny about these suggestions that shadowy men are lurking behind me. It seems there are some people who find it hard to grasp that a woman from Dublin could be the leader of Sinn Féin, but I am.

After a severe Covid-19 infection in April, McDonald was floored and got pleurisy before recovering. This led to a little bright spot in British–Irish relations. She said:

Prince Charles sent me a letter, which I thought was really nice.

jessica hagedorn: tenement lover

trump mania (thursday)

Trump’s Operation Dictatorship: What the debate exposed
Joseph Kishore and David North, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

The degenerate spectacle of Tuesday night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden will be remembered in history as the US’ moment of truth. The myth of an invulnerable and eternal American democracy has been shattered. Political reality has burst through the countless layers of deceitful propaganda of the corporate-financial oligarchy and exposed the undeniable fact that the White House is the political nerve center of a far-advanced conspiracy to establish a presidential dictatorship and suppress constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights. The grunts and barks emitted by Trump on Tuesday night leave no doubt about his intentions. Trump is as serious about the threats he made during the debate as Hitler was about those he wrote down in Mein Kampf. Trump views the November election as a continuation of the political coup d’état that began last June in Washington DC when he unleashed military and police forces against peaceful protesters. Trump’s political strategy is fairly obvious and can be summed up with the infamous phrase: “Cry ‘havoc’ and unleash the dogs of war.” The conspiracy will unfold as follows:

  1. During the remaining month of the election campaign, Trump will do everything he can to discredit the voting process with the intention of delegitimizing the counting of the ballots, which, as he fully expects, will show that he lost the election by millions of votes. He will use fabricated allegations of ballot fraud to incite fascist thugs, assisted by police and unidentified federal agents, to intimidate voters and carry out violent acts at polling stations.
  2. On election night Trump will declare that he is the winner, claiming that all ballots cast through the mail are illegitimate. He repeated during the debate his claim that the only way that he can lose is if the election is “rigged,” through the destruction of ballots and other forms of fraud. Even though he trails heavily in the polls, Trump is counting on a delay in the tally of mail-in ballots to give him the opportunity to declare victory in key battleground states.
  3. Trump will use the 10 weeks between Election Day on Nov 3 and the Inauguration on Jan 20 to mobilize his followers in the streets, while turning to a stacked Supreme Court to decide the election in his favor. On Tuesday he again said that he was “counting” on the court to “look at the ballots.” He has the full support of the Republican Party, which is pressing forward with the rapid confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, so that she will be in a position to cast a deciding vote in any court decision on the election. Trump is also counting on support within the police and sections of the military, as well as his control over the DHS. The WaPo reported Tuesday that DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf, a Trump crony, is preparing immigration raids by ICE in “sanctuary cities,” such as Denver and Philadelphia, this month. Federal paramilitary forces will be mobilized in many major metropolises in advance of the election.
  4. Most critical of all for the success of his conspiracy, Trump has factored in the spinelessness of the Democratic Party. He fully expects that the Democrats, apart from mouthing a few empty threats, will do nothing to stop him. The abject bankruptcy of the Democratic Party was on display on Tuesday night. While Trump personified the viciousness of a ruling class moving toward fascism, Biden—frail and frightened—epitomized bourgeois democracy on its death bed. Though endlessly intoning, “This is the deal,” Biden spent the 90 minutes of the debate evading the fact that his opponent is preparing for civil war and dictatorship. He mindlessly declared that once the votes are counted, the political crisis will be over, and everything will return to normal. The role of the Democratic Party is to do everything it can to downplay and cover up reality, in order to prevent any popular mobilization against Trump. Biden went out of his way to declare that he is not opposed to Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett. He complimented her as “a very fine person,” even though Barrett, once on the Court, will be one of those who will drive a nail into Biden’s political coffin. When Trump goaded Biden by declaring that the Democratic Party candidate supports the “far left manifesto” of Sanders, Biden responded by repudiating any association with left-wing politics: “I beat Bernie Sanders by a whole hell of a lot.” Biden did not even respond to Trump’s verbal salute to the fascist Proud Boys. He pledged to demand that his own supporters “stay calm” as the election is contested, while Trump urged that they mobilize and challenge the results.

To believe that dictatorship can be averted by supporting the Democratic Party is to close one’s eyes to reality. The Democrats’ actions are determined not by an abstract devotion to democracy but by the interests of the class that they represent. Any strategy to counter the threat of dictatorship must base itself on a correct understanding of the underlying causes of the political crisis. Trump is the expression of a far deeper disease, whose origins and character must be properly understood. There are several interrelated factors at work.

  1. The far-reaching decay of American capitalism. In little more than a decade, the US has been devastated by two major crises, first in 2008 and now in 2020. In both cases, the ruling class resorted to a massive and unsustainable inflow of funds, essentially the printing of money, to keep the financial markets afloat. The historically unprecedented transfer of wealth to the rich must be paid for through an intensification of the assault on the working class.
  2. Arising from the economic weakening of the US is the precipitous decline in the global position of American imperialism. Despite 30 years of unending war, the American ruling class has been unable to maintain its position as the global hegemon. Now, it sees in the rise of China an existential threat. All the resources must be diverted to prepare for global warfare with China, of which the conflict with Russia is one element. The American working class must be put on rations.
  3. The staggering concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny layer of society. The 400 richest individuals in the US now control $3.2t, and the richest 1% have more wealth than the bottom 40%. A recent RAND Corporation study calculated that the stagnation of income over the past four decades for the bottom 90% of the population created an aggregate net loss of income of $47t. Democracy cannot survive under conditions of such enormous levels of inequality.
  4. All of these underlying conditions have been intensified by the pandemic, which has revealed in the starkest way the dysfunctionality of American society. Trump speaks and acts on behalf of a criminal financial oligarchy that will stop at nothing to protect its wealth. Its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated its contempt for the lives and welfare of the population. Its demand for the reopening of schools is an essential component of its program of “herd immunity,” which has already led to the deaths of more than 210k people in the US.
  5. While the federal bailout has sent share values on Wall Street soaring, tens of millions are unemployed, and the major corporations are planning mass layoffs. The ruling class knows that it confronts mass social anger that will take an explosive and potentially revolutionary form. This is what imparts to Trump’s actions their frenzied and reckless character. Terrified of the development of social opposition, he sees in every protest and manifestation of opposition the danger of the “radical left” and “socialism.” The growth of working-class militancy, already apparent in the wave of strikes, has convinced a substantial section of the ruling class that they have no way out except through violence.

The lessons of the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s are of burning contemporary relevance. The examples of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain demonstrate that the turn to fascism and dictatorship comes when the ruling class is no longer able, for reasons embedded in the character of capitalist society, to resolve its crisis through democratic means. In the aftermath of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, in a pamphlet named “Whither France” written on Nov 9 1934, Leon Trotsky warned that the Nazi regime was not a uniquely German phenomenon, writing:

In all countries the same historic laws operate, the laws of capitalist decline. If the means of production remain in the hands of a small number of capitalists, there is no way out for society. It is condemned to go from crisis to crisis, from need to misery, from bad to worse. In the various countries the decrepitude and disintegration of capitalism are expressed in diverse forms and at unequal rhythms. But the basic features of the process are the same everywhere. The bourgeoisie is leading its society to complete bankruptcy. It is capable of assuring the people neither bread nor peace. This is precisely why it cannot any longer tolerate the democratic order. It is forced to smash the workers by the use of physical violence.

The working class must resist Trump’ coup plotting with its own program and its own methods.

  1. This requires an absolute break with the Democratic Party and all political forces that work to subordinate the struggles of the working class to the capitalist system.
  2. Workers must reject every form of politics that seeks to divide the working class along national, racial or gender lines. The fight is not between “white America” and “black America” but between the working class and the corporate financial oligarchy.
  3. The class struggle must be expanded and unified. The logic of the crisis raises the necessity for workers to prepare a political general strike through the formation of popular organizations and committees, controlled by workers and independent of the pro-capitalist unions and the political parties of the ruling class.
  4. The fight for democratic rights is inseparable from the fight against the capitalist system. The many forms of social protest throughout the country, especially the multi-racial demonstrations against police brutality and the growing rank-and-file movement against the life-threatening demands for a return to work, must be unified as a class-conscious movement against capitalism.
  5. Most critical of all, American workers must recognize that their struggle within the US is part of a global movement of the working class against the international capitalist system. The workers of every country, including those of China and Russia, are their class brothers and sisters. They too are engaged in struggle against their capitalist rulers.

The weeks to come will be used by the SEP’s presidential campaign to mobilize the working class and youth against the threat of dictatorship. The SEP and the WSWS makes an appeal to all those opposed to Trump’s coup to draw upon the lessons of history, recognize the very real political dangers, and make the decision to fight back. Support and utilize the SEP’s presidential campaign to develop an understanding of the present crisis and the necessity of revolutionary socialist policies. Circulate this statement as widely as possible in order to build up opposition to Trump’s Operation Dictatorship. The American working class has the power to scuttle Trump’s conspiracy. But it requires a socialist program and genuinely revolutionary leadership. Do not wait passively for events to unfold. If you understand the danger, take action to avert it. And the most effective action readers of the WSWS can take is to become members of the SEP and fight to put an end to capitalism in the US and throughout the world.

Trump administration prepares anti-immigrant raids in Democratic Party-led “sanctuary cities” ahead of November election
Trévon Austin, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Trump and Barr in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Photo: Tia Dufour)

According to a report Wednesday by the WaPo, the Trump administration is preparing a series of raids targeting immigrants in Democratic Party-led cities and jurisdictions across the US that have adopted so-called “sanctuary” policies. The Post cited three federal officials who described the move as part of Trump’s effort to present himself as the “law and order” candidate in the run-up to the presidential election. The planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation, informally known as the “sanctuary op,” will reportedly begin in California as early as this week. The raids would subsequently spread to other cities, including Denver and Philadelphia. Two officials said that acting Secretary of the DHS Chad Wolf is expected to travel to at least one of the jurisdictions where the operation will take place to emphasize Trump’s assertion that that local officials have failed to protect residents from alien criminals. The operation is widely seen as a political maneuver by Trump, considering the organization already rounds up and incarcerates undocumented immigrants on a regular basis throughout the country.

Trump’s latest maneuver in his war on immigrants cannot be separated from his effort to carry out a coup d’état and establish a presidential dictatorship. Trump is making it clear that he will utilize all resources in his possession to suppress opposition to his repudiation of election results in the event he loses the popular vote. Federal agents, including officers from ICE and CBP, are already playing a role in suppressing protests against police violence across the US. There is no doubt that the increased presence of ICE in cities due to the “sanctuary op” will be utilized in Trump’s strategy. Throughout his presidency Trump has railed against cities that have limited police agencies’ cooperation with ICE and CBP. Trump has blamed city mayors that implement the policies, often Democrats, for a sharp rise in violence and crime throughout the US. The same accusations were levied against officials who refused to accept federal intervention in recent protests against police brutality. ICE officials have repeatedly threatened to send additional agents to cities and counties considering sanctuary policies, if they continue advocating for them. Mike Alvarez, an ICE spokesman, claimed jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with ICE increase the risks facing immigration agents and the public. He told the Post:

Generally speaking, as ICE has noted for years, in jurisdictions where cooperation does not exist and ICE is not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, ICE is forced to arrest at-large criminal aliens out in the communities instead of under the safe confines of a jail.

Sanctuary protocols restrict the extent to which local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration officials. Places with the policies in place generally refuse to hold immigrants in jail for longer than they are required to so that ICE agents can arrest them after they leave custody. Additionally, sanctuary cities do not check the immigration status of suspects arrested or detained for minor criminal offenses. Federal immigration officers in sanctuary jurisdictions are still allowed to detain individuals they suspect of being undocumented immigrants. However, without the cooperation of local law enforcement, ICE agents are left to do their own dirty work of monitoring when suspected individuals are being released from jail. Many of the country’s largest cities have adopted sanctuary policies. According to the most recent statistics, 70% of the arrests ICE makes occur after the organization has been notified of an immigrant’s pending release from state prison or local jail. In 2019, the agency claimed it arrested more than 160k immigrants this way. ICE officials have used the issue to whip up xenophobic fears, claiming that sanctuary policies increased a backlog of “at-large criminal and fugitive aliens ICE seeks to apprehend.” In a statement, ICE official Henry Lucero said:

We cannot stand by idly while knowing the public is being misled about the role ICE plays in keeping the public safe. The fact is local policies prohibiting agencies from working with ICE put you in danger and waste police resources. The public should hold its leaders accountable and demand to know what type of criminals are being released from local custody instead of turned over to ICE.

The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to carry out anti-immigrant operations in sanctuary cities throughout his presidency. A proposal last year suggested busing migrants from the US-Mexico border into the streets of San Francisco and other sanctuary cities. Another operation purposefully targeted migrant parents with children. Trump has also threatened to revoke federal funding from jurisdictions refusing to comply with ICE. On Monday, in another political action, ICE announced a dozen arrests in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The community was featured in the Netflix documentary series “Immigration Nation” for electing a sheriff in 2018 who ended local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE. ICE officials claimed that six of the arrests included immigrants with criminal backgrounds and that sanctuary policies left them “free to reoffend until their capture.”

The ultra-right background of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett
Alan Gilman, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Barrett delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House after Trump announced her as
his nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sep 26 2020. (Photo: Andrea Hanks)

On Sep 26 2020, Trump nominated circuit court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died eight days before at the age of 87. Barrett is a protegée of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the long-time leader of the court’s right wing. In the likely event she is confirmed by the Senate this month, Barrett would serve to fundamentally shift the Supreme Court’s ideological balance much further to the right. Barrett’s nomination must be confirmed by a majority in the US Senate. The Republicans now hold a 53-seat majority in the 100 member Senate. Fearing the loss of the Presidency, as well as their majority in the Senate in the upcoming November election, the Republicans intend to ram through her confirmation before the election takes place, or if need be, before many of their terms expire in January.

Barrett was born and raised near New Orleans, the eldest of seven children from a devout Catholic family whose father was an attorney for Shell Oil. She graduated from Notre Dame Law school in 1997 and then spent the next two years as a law clerk, first for Judge Laurence Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the Washington DC Circuit and then for Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, the judge whose deeply reactionary judicial philosophy she had adopted. From 1999 to 2002 she practiced law in Washington DC at a firm that merged into Baker Botts. This firm’s senior partner was James Baker, who was Treasury Sec under Reagan 40 and Sec State under Bush 41, and who subsequently served as the lead attorney for Bush 43 in the contested 2000 presidential election that culminated in the infamous Bush v Gore decision. As a junior lawyer at Baker’s firm, Barrett provided research and briefing assistance in the litigation that culminated in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision to permanently halt the vote count in Florida, preserving Bush’s 537-vote lead and thereby giving him the presidency. Barrett’s mentor Justice Scalia was the organizer of that majority.

From 2002 to 2017 Barrett worked as a law professor at Notre Dame teaching constitutional law and statutory interpretation. As a Scalia follower, she emphasized originalism in her academic work and in numerous articles that appeared in various law journals. Her work caught the attention of arch-conservatives who promoted her publications and provided platforms for her to espouse her originalist views as well as her provocative view of stare decisis, the principle that courts should be guided by legal precedent, one of the primary obstacles in overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark abortion rights case. Originalism, the basis of ultra-right legal theory for the last 40 years, holds the view that the Constitution does not evolve. Instead judges should decide constitutional questions based solely on the drafters’ original intent. This position began to emerge in the 1980s and corresponded to the beginning of the social counter-revolution. The preceding two decades had seen the Supreme Court validate social reforms through such decisions as Brown v Board of Education, which effectively outlawed school segregation, as well as rulings affirming such principles as “one person, one vote” in legislative apportionment, the famous Miranda rule limiting police questioning, and decisions affirming an implied “right of privacy” in the Constitution, which culminated in Roe v Wade.

Courts became the instrument of instituting reforms in response to bitter struggles of the working class, under conditions where American capitalism was wealthy enough to afford them, but the political system of two right-wing pro-corporate parties was incapable of enacting them. This period lasted less than 20 years, before the courts resumed their accustomed role as the bulwark of reaction. By the 1980s, the postwar dominance of US capitalism was in decline, and there was a sweeping turn to the right by the ruling class and all its institutions. As the Reagan Administration began its direct political assault on the working class, the undermining of the legal framework that had justified social reform came under attack by the “originalists” who rejected the “activist judges” who were supposedly responsible for these reforms by going outside of the intent of the authors of the constitution. They also hoped to utilize this view to counter the “activist” courts’ expansion of reproductive rights, enforcement of Church-state separation, and protection of the rights of criminal suspects. Antonin Scalia emerged as one of the principal ideologues for this emerging originalist view. In 1982, Reagan appointed him to the highly influential Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and in 1986 to the Supreme Court. Once on the court, Scalia quickly became its most influential conservative. He was an opponent of gay rights, affirmative action and abortion rights, and said that the landmark case of Roe v Wade was wrongly decided.

For all its pretensions of consistency and legal reasoning, the originalist view is just a legal façade to rationalize preconceived legal conclusions. As with many judges in the capitalist courts, Scalia would quickly abandon his judicial philosophy whenever it came into conflict with the social interests he represented. The most egregious example of this was Scalia’s decision in Citizens United v FEC, which struck down the McCain-Feingold Act’s restraints on electoral expenditures by corporations. Scalia’s originalism was thrown overboard when he held that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment, just as people do, even though corporations as legal “persons” in control of vast economic assets were hardly envisioned when the Constitution was written. Scalia was instrumental in forming the Federalist Society in 1982, to which Barrett was to later become a member. The Federalist Society serves as an organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the US Constitution. It has now evolved into the de facto gatekeeper for right-wing lawyers aspiring to government jobs and federal judgeships under Republican presidents. The Federalist Society has vetted all of Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. As of Mar 2020, 43 out of 51 of Trump’s appellant court nominees were current or former members. Of the current eight members of the Supreme Court, five (Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) are current or former members, along with nominee Barrett. Scalia’s widow attended Barrett’s nominating ceremony where Barrett made special mention to her most important mentor. She said:

I clerked for Justice Scalia more than twenty years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate. His judicial philosophy is mine, too.

Barrett’s judicial career began in 2017 when Trump nominated her to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which covers Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Barrett has been on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees since 2017, almost immediately after her court of appeals confirmation. In Jul 2018, after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement, she was reportedly one of three finalists that Trump considered before he ultimately nominated Brett Kavanaugh. Reportedly, although Trump liked Barrett, he was at the time was concerned about her lack of experience on the bench. He reportedly told aides that he was “saving” her for the Ginsburg seat, so that a woman would replace a woman. In a 2013 law review article Barrett examined the role of the doctrine of stare decisis, which is Latin for “to stand by things decided” and is shorthand for respect for precedent. Judge Barrett wrote:

The doctrine is not a hard-and-fast rule in the court’s constitutional cases.

She added that its power is diminished when the case under review is unpopular. Barrett then listed seven cases that should be considered “super-precedents,” cases the court would never consider overturning. The list included Brown v Board of Education, but not Roe v Wade. In explaining why the abortion ruling was excluded, Barrett referenced scholarship agreeing that in order to qualify as “super-precedent,” a decision must have widespread support from not only jurists but politicians and the public at large, to the extent of becoming immune to reversal or challenge. Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written frequently on stare decisis, told the WaPo that Barrett’s approach to overturning precedent was “radical.” He said:

If she puts her academic views into action and four other justices go along, it will produce chaos and instability in constitutional law.

In a 2017 law review article written before she joined the appeals court, Barrett was critical of Chief Justice Roberts’s 2012 opinion sustaining a central provision of the health care law, writing:

Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.

On Nov 10 2020, one week after the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear another case attacking the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Barrett has also emphasized how she relies deeply on her strict adherence to her Catholic faith, even as she stresses that it does not affect her judicial decisions. She is a member of a predominantly Catholic group called People of Praise. It promotes charismatic Catholicism, a movement that grew out of the influence of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The group upholds the primacy of male authority within the family, as it is in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Ahead of her upcoming Senate confirmation hearings, Barrett’s advocates are now trying to smear questions about her involvement in People of Praise as anti-Catholic bigotry. Asked about People of Praise in a televised interview last week, Vice Pres Pence responded:

The intolerance expressed about her Catholic faith during her last confirmation hearing, I really think, was a disservice to the process and a disappointment to millions of Americans.

Pence’s statement referred to Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing to the appellate court, when Senator Diane Feinstein questioned Barrett’s cult-like devotion, saying:

The dogma lives loudly within you.

Barrett directly addressed the issue of judges influenced by their faith in a 1998 paper she co-wrote titled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” which has since become one of the most scrutinized works of her career. Barrett co-wrote that Catholic judges are obligated to follow the law, but also “to adhere to their church’s teachings on moral matters.” In this article, Barrett wrote that Catholic judges opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds should recuse themselves from cases that would require sentencing someone to death. At her 2017 confirmation hearing, she noted that as a law clerk she had assisted Justice Scalia, a conservative Catholic and staunch advocate of the death penalty, in capital cases. Once having been confirmed to the appellate court, any lingering moral qualms Barrett may have had about the death penalty quickly dissipated, as she has rejected requests to delay executions. Barrett’s “moral” bearings quickly reemerged when any cases before her related to abortion. She has twice dissented to the majority’s opinion holding laws restricting abortion to be unconstitutional. She also was in the minority which wanted the full court to rehear a decision by a three-judge panel, ruling that Indiana laws requiring that funerals be held for fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage, and banning abortions because of the sex, race or developmental disability of a fetus, were unconstitutional. As to the poor, Barrett wrote a 40-page dissent from the majority’s decision to uphold a preliminary injunction against the Trump “public charge rule” that would jeopardize permanent resident status for immigrants who use food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.

Although every Supreme Court nomination is important because justices serve for life and decide issues that impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people, Barrett will be the first Scalia clerk to be appointed to the bench, and the first confirmation since 1993 when a seat will shift from the “liberal” side of the court to the “conservative” side. These terms should be used with caution. While Ginsburg was a liberal on gender issues, and to some extent on race and democratic rights, she was just as firm an upholder of capitalist property rights as any of her colleagues. During the past several decades, major cases have been decided by 5-4 votes with Ginsburg in the majority. These decisions include striking down restrictions on abortion, recognizing same-sex marriage, striking down the death penalty and life without parole sentences for juveniles, limiting the death penalty to only crimes involving murder, and the right to judicial review for Guantanamo detainees. With Barrett replacing Ginsburg, all these cases would likely have gone the other way. Moreover, with the likelihood of a contested presidential election occurring and perhaps once again being decided by the Supreme Court, Barrett’s accession to the court will give Trump three justices named by him, joining Alito, Thomas and Roberts in a 6-3 pro-Republican majority to back an electoral coup d’état. In the event Trump is defeated and removed, Barrett would be part of a 6-3 right-wing majority which Biden could use as an excuse every time he rebuffed popular demands to reverse the ultra-right policies of his predecessor and undo their reactionary consequences.

Evasions, anti-Russian demagogy at Comey hearing before US Senate
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sep 30 2020.
(Photo: Ken Cedeno/AP)

Wednesday’s day-long appearance by former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the latest round in the ongoing political warfare in Washington, as Democratic and Republican members of the committee traded accusations of manipulating investigations and doing the bidding of Russia. Both the posturing of the senators and the stonewalling by Comey, appearing on a video link from his living room, seemed incongruous in the context of the mounting political crisis in the US. The hearing came the day after the first debate of the presidential campaign, in the course of which President Trump reiterated his threats not to respect the outcome of the balloting and made an open appeal to fascists and white supremacists to “stand by” his campaign. Not a single Democrat or Republican on the Judiciary Committee, supposedly charged with responsibility for upholding the US legal system, made any reference to the brazen lawlessness promoted by Trump the night before.

The Judiciary Committee is headed by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a sharp critic of Trump during the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who has since become one of Trump’s most slavish Senate flatterers. Graham is locked in a tight reelection battle with Democrat Jaime Harrison, who has raised a huge campaign war chest and is “killing me financially,” by Graham’s own admission. His political career is now completely tied to Trump. Graham launched an investigation earlier this year into the origins of the FBI probe into alleged connections between then-candidate Trump and the Russian government, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. This was the initial form of what became the Mueller investigation, named after former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named special counsel and took over the probe after Trump fired Comey as FBI director in May 2017.

The Judiciary Committee investigation is based on the findings of DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was sharply critical of one aspect of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI wiretapping of former Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page, on the basis of a warrant obtained under the FISA Act. Horowitz found that the FBI application for the FISA warrant contained at least 17 serious errors, including suppression of the fact that Page was serving as a CIA informant when he met with a number of Russian government officials. While the Horowitz report documented the cavalier attitude of FBI officials to such legal requirements as evidence and probable cause, he was careful not to claim that the entire investigation into the Trump campaign was either illegal or politically motivated. This has not stopped efforts, driven by the Trump White House, to obtain either DoJ or congressional sanction for Trump’s claims that the Obama-Biden administration had engaged in illegal surveillance of the Republican presidential campaign. Trump has repeatedly expressed the view that Obama, Biden and dozens of other officials in their administration should be liable to lengthy prison terms for this alleged spying.

Attorney General William Barr has appointed US Attorney John Durham to conduct an internal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, with Trump aides expressing the hope that Comey and other top officials will be indicted. One FBI lawyer has been indicted for falsifying an email message relating to Carter Page, but the Durham investigation has so far failed to deliver the desired pre-election bombshell with less than five weeks remaining to Election Day. The conflict that played out Wednesday before the Senate committee is a continuation of political warfare between two reactionary factions of the ruling class that has raged since Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016. On the one side is the fascistic president and his Republican enablers. On the other is the nominal opposition of the Democrats, who have relentlessly promoted the fabricated and unsubstantiated claims of Russian “meddling” and Trump administration “collusion” put forward by sections of the intelligence apparatus at odds with Trump over foreign policy questions, particularly related to Russia and the Middle East. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are the congressional version of Durham’s probe, with the same goal: to dig up or manufacture political mud that can be of assistance to Trump’s reelection campaign. In preparation for Comey’s appearance, the Trump administration produced two political stink bombs in quick succession.

On Sep 25, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Graham revealing that the Russian who had been a “sub-source” for the notorious Steele dossier, a lengthy document alleging significant Russian financial and government connections with Trump’s business enterprises, as well as seedy details of Trump’s alleged sexual activities in Moscow, was suspected of himself being a Russian intelligence agent. The source was identified as Igor Danchenko, a Ukrainian-born lawyer employed at a Washington think-tank. Then, on Sep 29, DNI Ratcliffe released a one-page letter after Barr agreed to its declassification. The letter claims that the CIA had learned in Jul 2016 from Russian intelligence contacts that Hillary Clinton was taking steps to trigger a Trump-Russia scandal in the hopes that this would deflect attention from the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while she was US Sec State. The combined effect of these two documents was meant to suggest, in an extremely convoluted and murky fashion, that Hillary Clinton had been acting as a dupe of Russian intelligence when she began voicing charges that Trump had close political ties to Russia and was acting as an instrument of Putin. The result was Wednesday’s hearing, in which both Republican and Democratic senators traded charges that their political rivals were Russian stooges. Graham and other Republicans denounced Comey for the bogus FISA warrant to wiretap Carter Page, absurdly striking a pose as defenders of the civil liberties of the American people.

The Democrats responded with equally reactionary diatribes against Trump as the supposed agent of Moscow, reiterating the phony charges that were the basis of the Mueller investigation. Ranking Judiciary Committee member Diane Feinstein readily admitted that the FISA application to wiretap Carter Page and the Steele dossier as a whole were riddled with false information, but she claimed that these were only minor aspects of the anti-Russia investigation. Comey defended Crossfire Hurricane, saying it had been “done by the book.” He flatly rejected claims that the Russia investigation as a whole was a fabrication. But he seemed mainly concerned not to become collateral damage in the political warfare. He claimed dozens of times that he could not remember, did not know or was not aware of various aspects of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, denials which became increasingly implausible as they accumulated throughout the day. Eventually, Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said with exasperation:

With all due respect, Mr Comey, you don’t seem to know anything about an investigation that you ran.

Comey also rebuffed the claim made by President Trump during the Tuesday night debate that Joe Biden was personally responsible, during his final days as vice president, for the FBI investigation into Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition period between the election and Trump’s inauguration. Comey said:

I would remember it, because it’d be highly inappropriate for a president or vice president to suggest prosecution or investigation of anyone, and it did not happen.

Comey also welcomed suggestions from Democrats, notably Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, that Trump could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because he needs money to pay for Trump Organization loans and debts totaling $421m for which he is personally responsible. The NYT revealed the existence of these debts in its front-page expose Monday, based on 20 years of Trump’s personal tax returns.

Evidence of war crimes, torture, surveillance and assassination plots: Assange hearing nears final day
Thomas Scripps, Laura Tiernan, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

A meeting between Assange and lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, illegally recorded by UC Global.

London’s Old Bailey heard evidence yesterday of astounding acts of criminality carried out by the US government against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. These included near total surveillance, grossly violating Assange’s privacy and legally privileged conversations; the theft of personal documents; and plans to kidnap or poison him. The testimony was provided anonymously by two former employees of UC Global, a Spanish company which provided security for the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where Assange claimed asylum. Details of their accounts had previously emerged in the press and have now been formally submitted as evidence. Summarizing their written statements, defence lawyer Mark Summers QC explained how the witnesses learned, in their words, that from 2016 UC Global boss David Morales “had entered into illegal arrangements with the US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange.” Morales told one of the witnesses directly that they were working for “US intelligence,” which he otherwise variously referred to as “the dark side” and “our American friends.” Morales experienced a “noticeable increment in his assets” after these relations were established.

While UC Global was working for US intelligence, one witness was instructed by Morales to install new surveillance cameras in the embassy which could secretly record sound and told to deny that they could do so when installing them. They were also told the cameras should have streaming capabilities so the Americans could have access. Later, secret microphones were concealed in a fire extinguisher in an embassy meeting room and in a socket in the toilets where Assange tried to hold private meetings. Stickers were placed on external windows to counteract vibrations and allow the “American friends” to use laser microphones pointed at the windows from outside the embassy. This surveillance was targeted specifically against Assange’s communication with his legal representatives, considered “priority targets.” Morales, said one witness, showed “a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers, because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.” Lawyer-client privilege is a basic principle of justice, and any violation by the prosecution should result in a case being thrown out of court. Morales also asked the team at the embassy to obtain Assange’s fingerprints, steal his documents, and “steal the nappy of a baby that regularly visited Mr Assange” to establish whether the child was his. Morales “expressly stated that the Americans were the ones who wanted to establish paternity.” He later recounted to the witness that his American handlers were considering “more extreme measures,” specifically his “kidnap” or “poisoning.”

Other witness statements read into evidence confirmed and expanded on the utterly lawless character of Assange’s persecution. Robert Boyle, a US criminal and civil rights lawyer, gave expert evidence on grand juries, the legal mechanism by which Assange has been charged in the US. He explained that grand juries “operate without adherence to the technical and evidential rules of criminal trials” and that their “broad powers have been usurped by the government,” turning them into a “rubber stamp” for prosecutors. This “de facto appropriation of those powers by law enforcement has created fertile ground for prosecutorial abuse,” including the coercion of witnesses. As an example, he cited the case of Chelsea Manning, who US prosecutors tried to force to testify against WikiLeaks via a grand jury subpoena. Manning’s principled refusal was punished with imprisonment and bankrupting fines, which caused “grievous psychological harm and very nearly cost her life.” In March this year she attempted suicide in the Alexandria Detention Center, where Assange would be held pre-trial.

Bridget Prince, director of One World Research, a public interest investigations and human rights research organisation, detailed how any jury in Assange’s trial would be stacked against the WikiLeaks founder. Assange would be tried in Alexandria, in the Eastern District of Virginia, his jury pool drawn from government military and security services and private security contractors that are some of the “largest employers” in that area. Government agencies with headquarters in the region include the CIA, FBI, National Cyber-Security and Communications Integration Center, Department of Defence, and Army Intelligence and Security Command. There is also a “high concentration of companies which are government contractors working in the military and intelligence sectors.”

In the afternoon, the court heard defence evidence on WikiLeaks’ 2011 Guantanamo Bay Files publications, which investigative journalist Andy Worthington described as “the anatomy of a crime of colossal proportions perpetrated by the US government on the majority of the 779 prisoners held in Guantanamo.” Mark Summers QC for the defence cited key passages from Worthington’s two witness statements. The journalist had partnered with WikiLeaks to provide critical background and context for the files, which comprised thousands of pages of Detainee Assessment Briefs from the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay (JTF-GTMO) to SOUTHCOM in Miami. Worthington has published extensively on Gitmo and was lead author of a 2009 UN report on secret detention. In his written statement to the court, Worthington explained how the Guantanamo files “contained detailed explanations of the supposed intelligence used to justify the prisoners’ detentions,” with “evidence” extracted by CIA torture, “either in Guantanamo or in secret prisons run by the CIA.” He cited the example of three detainees whose false testimony, “which evidenced the criminal use of torture,” was used to convict many fellow-prisoners. Worthington wrote:

False testimony was extracted from Abu Zubaydah, seized in Pakistan in 2002. He spent four and a half years in CIA prisons in Thailand and Poland and was subjected to waterboarding and “controlled drowning” on 83 occasions. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured in Afghanistan, and illegally renditioned by the CIA to Egypt, where under torture he falsely confessed that AQ operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining CBW. Although this false confession was retracted by al-Libi, it was used nevertheless by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in Mar 2003. MI6 agents witnessed his removal from Bagram Airbase in a coffin. MI5 and MI6 agents supplied questions to al-Libi’s CIA torturers in Egypt. Another prisoner, Nashiri, tortured at a CIA black site in Thailand alongside Zubaydah, later successfully brought a case at the European Court of Human Rights, utilising inter alia WikiLeaks Cablegate evidence of CIA rendition.

This monstrous crime, which led to 1m deaths and the destruction of Iraqi society, enjoyed the “knowing involvement” of the British state. Worthington noted that” Britain’s Telegraph newspaper partnered with WikiLeaks on the Guantanamo Files, Assange’s “media partners” at the Guardian and NYT having already turned on him for “irresponsibly” disclosing war crimes. Worthington recalled that he and Assange met “regularly” at the Telegraph’s offices “for joint meetings and discussions.” The newspaper carried no report yesterday of Worthington’s testimony, despite having published the 2011 Gitmo revelations ahead of WikiLeaks.

WSWS on nagorno-karabagh (thursday)

Russia, France denounce Turkey as Armenian-Azeri war escalates
Alex Lantier, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Armenian artillery in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh

Four days after fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions between the major powers are escalating. Amid reports that Turkey and Syrian Islamist militias are sending mercenaries to Azerbaijan to fight a war on Russia’s borders, the risk is growing of a clash between Russia and Turkey, launching a regional or global war. While Azeri forces do not appear to have advanced far into Nagorno-Karabakh, casualties are mounting as precision weapons rain down on towns across the region. Armenian officials said yesterday they had lost 104 troops and that at least seven civilians had been killed since the fighting began. Azeri officials gave no statistics on military losses but confirmed that 15 Azeri civilians were killed. Online videos show air and drone strikes inflicting substantial losses to military units and equipment. Armenian officials claim to have destroyed 83 drones, seven helicopters, 166 armored vehicles, one warplane and one missile battery, and to have caused 920 casualties. Azerbaijan claims to have destroyed 130 armored vehicles, 200 artillery and missile launch systems, 25 air defense missile batteries and one S-300 air defense system, while inflicting 2,300 casualties. Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of the unofficial Armenian authority in Nagorno-Karabakh, warned:

We must be prepared for a long war. The war will end with the defeat of Azerbaijan, or at least not with a victory.

Significantly, Harutyunyan added that Iran is one of the main targets of Turkish-backed Azeri operations. He said:

I want to say that one of the targets of this war (fighting on the contact line) is Iran because this war is directed, among other things, against Iran. We are aware of regional problems related, in particular, to the north of Iran.

The north of Iran contains is a substantial Azeri population. Iranian officials fear separatist sentiment could emerge among Iranian Azeris in favor of possibly seceding from Iran and joining Azerbaijan. This is the bloodiest Armenian-Azeri fighting since the 1988–1994 war between the two ex-Soviet republics, which erupted shortly before the Stalinist regime dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991. It is now however deeply enmeshed in the innumerable geopolitical rivalries, imperialist wars and local ethnic conflicts that have spread across the Middle East and Central Asia in the three decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In particular, the war is unfolding amid a growing campaign by US imperialism to isolate and threaten both Iran and Russia. Turkish officials are aggressively supporting the ethnically-Turkic Azeris against Armenia. Erdoğan has called on Azeris to expel Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh and pledged:

The Turkish people stand with their Azeri brothers with all our means.

This intensifies tensions with Armenia’s main regional backer, Russia, under conditions where Russia and Turkey are already waging bloody proxy wars against each other in the civil wars triggered by NATO regime-change operations in Libya and Syria over the last decade. Armenian officials said that they are discussing military aid with Russia and the CSTO, which includes the post-Soviet republics of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Armenian PM Pashinyan called Putin and Macron to discuss the war. On Russia’s Rossiya1 channel, he said:

This war constitutes a threat to the Armenian people’s very existence.

Last week, Russian-Turkish talks over Idlib broke down. There are expectations of a Russian-backed offensive by Syrian government troops against Islamist rebels supported by Turkey and the NATO powers. Turkish drone and air defense systems have proven an obstacle to deploying Russian and Syrian aircraft and heavy artillery to support Syrian and Iranian infantry against the AQ-linked, CIA-backed Islamist militias. There had already been reports that Islamist militias and Turkish private security firms are hiring fighters to deploy to Azerbaijan. On Tuesday, the Guardian interviewed Syrians from Idlib hired by Islamist militias for 7k to 10k Turkish liras monthly ($900 to $1,300), for “security” work in Azerbaijan. One explained to the Guardian:

There are no jobs available. I used to work as a tailor in Aleppo, but since we were displaced to Azaz (after Aleppo fell to Assad in 2016), I’ve tried many times to practice my craft, but my family and I can’t earn enough.

The Center for Global Policy think-tank in Washington DC cold-bloodedly confirmed the story to the Guardian:

The international community regards the lives of Syrians as expendable, with Syria serving as an arena to settle geo-strategic scores and advance the interests of countries intervening in the country at Syrians’ expense. The economic ruin stemming from the war and the recent depreciation of the Syrian currency mean that most Syrians are now struggling to feed themselves. Faced with few choices, many are now willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

The Turkish government responded with an ambiguous statement, without addressing the role of private firms or militias, saying merely:

The Turkish ministry of defense does not deal with recruiting or transferring militiamen anywhere in the world.

These reports drastically increase diplomatic and military tensions between the major powers. In the 1990s, as ethnic tensions mounted in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, civil wars broke out in nearby, Muslim-majority areas of Russia, like Chechnya and Daghestan. Moscow no doubt views the arrival of Syrian Islamist militias on its doorstep in Azerbaijan with alarm. The Russian Foreign Ministry published yesterday a statement declaring:

Russia is deeply concerned about deployments of Islamist militias, which create long-term threats to the security of all countries in the region. Militants of illegal armed groups, in particular from Syria and Libya, are arriving to directly participate in the hostilities. We demand that the leaderships of the states concerned stop such transfers and immediately withdraw such groups from Azerbaijan.

Macron of France, which backs opposing sides to Turkey in the Libyan civil war and supports Greek maritime claims against Turkey in the Mediterranean, also attacked Turkish policy in the Caucasus yesterday. Macron said at a press conference in Riga, where he was traveling to discuss the election crisis in Belarus:

France is very worried about Turkey’s warlike statements in recent hours, that basically give a green light to Azerbaijan to reconquer Nagorno-Karabakh. That we do not accept.

A striking aspect of this Armenian-Azeri war has been the silence of Washington, which together with Moscow and Paris nominally chairs the Minsk Group tasked since 1992 with overseeing talks to manage the Armenian-Azeri conflict. However, Washington made no significant call for restraint. US President Donald Trump made only a brief statement, saying:

We’ll see if we can stop it.

Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Foundation-Europe called Washington “unusually disengaged,” and “the risk of further escalation and mass destruction alarmingly high.” He added:

Washington was the last major international actor to issue a statement, indicating a retreat from interest in this region. It is arguably also a sign that President Donald Trump, sponsor of the never-completed Trump Tower in Baku, views Armenia and Azerbaijan solely through a business perspective.

In fact, Washington has for decades sought to dominate the Middle East and Central Asia as the key to its geopolitical strategy towards Europe, Russia and East Asia. As US forces threaten Russia with military exercises in neighboring Ukraine and bomb Iranian-aligned militias in Iraq, it appears that Washington is content to let this conflict escalate while it focuses on threatening Moscow and Tehran. The war in the Caucasus is a stark warning of the bankruptcy of the nation-state system and the rising danger of large-scale war posed by national and ethnic conflicts across Eurasia. It is urgent to mobilize and unify the working class in an international movement against imperialism, nationalism and war.

this is “integrity initiative” plus “77th brigade” in action

Russia spreading lies about Covid vaccines, says UK military chief
Dan Sabbagh, Groan, Sep 30 2020

The chief of defence staff Gen Sir Nick Carter. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

Russia is seeking to destabilise countries around the world by sowing disinformation about coronavirus vaccines that is shared rapidly across social media, the head of the armed forces has warned. Gen Sir Nick Carter, the chief of defence staff, said the propaganda tactic reflected a strategy of “political warfare” aggressively undertaken by Beijing as well as Moscow “designed to undermine cohesion” across the west. The senior general accused “autocratic rivals” of “manipulating the information environment” to exploit the Covid-19 crisis for strategic gain, including “pro-Russian vaccine politics,” in a speech at the Policy Exchange think-tank. Their “disinformation narratives” were designed to permeate anti-vaccination social media groups, Carter added, pointing to an example uncovered earlier this summer by Australian researchers that spread rapidly from Ukraine. In July, a fake press release was posted to websites of the pro-Russian self-declared state in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine. It falsely claimed that the US had conducted vaccine trials on Ukrainian volunteers, some of whom had died. The trials never happened but the misleading narrative spread in several languages, including on a prominent Australian anti-vaccination Facebook group, despite multiple attempts to fact-check and debunk it. Carter said it was an example of “digital authoritarianism” alongside well-known Kremlin cyber and hacking attacks, in a rare policy speech delivered with the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, sitting alongside him. A similar approach was adopted by China, he added, where “the CCP is forging a future of mass surveillance” and ranking and monitoring of individuals based on how they behave online.

The speech comes in the run-up to a five-year integrated review of defence and foreign policy that is expected to see the UK seek to invest more heavily in cyber and covert capabilities, reflecting a belief that Britain is already engaged in a persistent low-level conflict with authoritarian rivals. The British army already operates a propaganda and disinformation suppression unit, 77 Brigade. But the military is traditionally tight-lipped about the scope and scale of its activities and Carter’s speech offered few precise clues as to how the UK will respond. Senior defence sources said scaling up Britain’s information warfare capability was “not going to be a massive increase of expense” and that it would involve, in part, closer intelligence and information sharing with a range of allies. “The bill that’s attached is not significant,” they said. Countries such as Russia and China, Carter argued, “see the strategic context as a continuous struggle in which non-military and military instruments are used unconstrained by any distinction between peace and war.” The general added:

Their goal is to win without going to war: to achieve their objectives by breaking our willpower, using attacks below the threshold that would prompt a war-fighting response.

In the summer, Britain accused Russian state-sponsored hackers of targeting research labs in the UK, US and Canada involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine, with the apparent intention of stealing the research. Intelligence officials said the cyber-attackers were from a group called APT29, linked variously to the country’s FSB or SVR intelligence agencies, in attacks that were described by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, as “completely unacceptable.” As part of the military’s response, Carter unveiled a military doctrine called the Integrated Operating Concept. It recognised the need “to compete below the threshold of war in order to deter war” to prevent “one’s adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies.”

a good article on the mediterranean situation from al-jazeera (unsigned)

EU prepares for standoff over Turkish sanctions
Al-Jazeera, Sep 30 2020

A view of Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday Sep 27, 2020. Erdogan said last week that Oruc Reis was withdrawn from a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean that has been at the heart of a summer stand-off between Turkey and Greece over energy rights. (Photo: Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

ATHENS, Greece – European Union leaders face a difficult balancing act over the EU-Turkey relationship, on the eve of a crucial summit. The EU Council meeting, with the eastern Mediterranean dispute high on the agenda, takes place on Thursday and Friday after being postponed last week when the council’s president, Charles Michel, tested positive for the novel coronavirus. On Wednesday, Erdogan said in a letter to the 27 leaders:

I would like to emphasise once again that we are ready for dialogue with Greece without any preconditions.

He urged Brussels to “remain impartial” to help resolve a “new test” in bilateral relations. On the one hand, the EU leaders are eager not to upset Turkey as it prepares to reopen a dialogue with Greece on delimiting maritime jurisdictions, after a hiatus of four and a half years. On Sep 13, Turkey withdrew its exploration ship, Oruc Reis, from waters awarded to Greece under the UN Law of the Sea. A summer-long standoff nearly saw the two NATO members go to war. The Oruc Reis’s withdrawal fulfilled a Greek precondition for talks to recommence. On the other hand, EU leaders face a strong demand for sanctions against Turkey from EU member Cyprus, towards which Turkey has shown no softening. A Turkish seismic survey ship and a drillship remain on Cyprus’s continental shelf, an area where Cyprus exercises exclusive rights to exploit mineral wealth under the sea bed. Weighing up rewards and punishments for Turkey is complicated by the fact that the EU is currently trying to assert its authority in Belarus as well, by levying sanctions for election fraud there. Cyprus threatens to veto those plans if it does not get sanctions against Turkey. Kostas Yfantis, a professor of international relations at Panteion University in Athens and Turkey expert, said:

It will be extremely difficult for Cyprus to drop its veto threat without getting something in return … we could hit a dead end. The thriller at this summit will be over Cyprus.

Unsurprisingly, Cyprus’s stance has caused irritation among Nordic politicians closer to the Belarusian border than the Turkish. Swedish former Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who now co-chairs the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, tweeted:

Cyprus continues to veto sanctions against the repression and election falsification in Belarus. This will become a powerful argument in favour of abandoning the principle of unanimity on issues like these.

Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency and helped broker the renewed Greece-Turkey talks, has reportedly told Cyprus not to expect sanctions on the grounds that they will harden Turkey’s stance and be counter-productive. The latest diplomatic flurry was triggered on July 21 by Turkey announcing it planned to look for oil and gas in waters awarded to Greece under the UN Law of the Sea. The two countries’ navies remained fully deployed for the rest of the summer. Many Greeks and Greek-Cypriots see this as appeasement. Angelos Syrigos, a professor of international law and member of Parliament, Syrigos believes EU leaders have been failing to stand up for European sovereign maritime rights in Cyprus for years. He said:

I don’t understand the logic. You now have a power with armies on Syrian, Cypriot, Iraqi and Libyan soil, in three of them illegally … and we have an EU obsessed with Lukashenko not holding fair elections. What’s been happening on the Greek continental shelf for the last two months is happening on Cyprus’ continental shelf since 2014. If Cyprus had an army and were threatening war this would have stopped immediately … Greece has an army and that’s why the EU is getting involved.

Greece, normally a staunch supporter of ethnically Greek Cyprus, is officially keeping a hands-off approach. Greek government spox Stelios Petsas on Sep 23, said:

What’s really important is that we have the list of sanctions because that is what seems to have acted as a deterrent to Turkey’s provocative actions recently.

A leaked list of sanctions approved by EU foreign ministers in late August ranges from targeting companies that supply goods and services to Turkey’s fleet of exploration vessels, to cutting off EU disbursements to Turkey and European bank credit to Turkish businesses. Greek experts, however, are clear they consider the EU stance hypocritical. Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute of International Relations in Athens:

Cyprus is saying the obvious: You can’t have sanctions against Belarus … which doesn’t directly affect an EU member, they’re sanctions of principle, and fail to have them against a third country that’s actually trampling on the maritime sovereignty of a member state.

Filis believes it likely Turkey will interrupt talks with Greece unless it feels pressure from the EU. He said:

Greece doesn’t want sanctions to punish the Turkish people or the Turkish economy. It wants them so that Turkey will align itself with a responsible policy that isn’t destabilising or hostile to EU members. I don’t think there’s disagreement about that. There are varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on the depth and duration of the measures.

The Greece-Turkey standoff has revealed deep divisions within the EU towards Turkey. France and Austria have taken the most stridently anti-Turkish positions along with Greece and Cyprus, but broader EU solidarity has been expressed as well. On Sep 10, seven Mediterranean EU members (Portugal, Spain, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Cyprus) condemned Turkish actions when they met on Corsica for their annual summit. The Med7 statement expressed “full support and solidarity with Cyprus and Greece in the face of the repeated infringements on their sovereignty and sovereign rights, as well as confrontational actions by Turkey.” The fact that this statement was signed by two of Turkey’s biggest trading partners, Italy and Spain, carried diplomatic significance. In her annual State of the EU speech a week later, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was unequivocal:

Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours. Our Member States, Cyprus and Greece, can always count on Europe’s full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights.

Germany has attempted to remain aloof as a broker of talks, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu praised it as “a truly objective country.” But at this summit, Greece and Cyprus will be looking not for objectivity, but the EU solidarity von der Leyen alluded to.