WSWS for dec 4

Australian soldiers drank alcohol from prosthetic leg of dead Afghan
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Dec 3 2020

A soldier drinking from the prosthetic leg in an image leaked to the Guardian

An image published by the Guardian on Tuesday, showing an Australian special forces soldier drinking beer from the prosthetic leg of a dead Afghan, is the latest evidence of the neo-colonial barbarism of the 19-year occupation and pillage of the oppressed Central Asian nation. According to the Guardian, the photo was taken in the “Fat Lady’s Arms,” an unofficial bar set up by Australian special forces at their base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province. In another picture, the device is strapped to a soldier’s backpack, and in a third, two soldiers pose with it. The paper claims to have obtained other images, including one showing soldiers dancing with the leg. The prosthetic was reportedly taken from a “suspected Taliban fighter” after he had been killed during an Apr 2009 Special Air Service Regiment assault in Uruzgan. The evident disability of the man, and the practice of the special forces in deeming broad sections of the civilian population, especially those they have killed, to be “enemy combatants” means these assertions cannot be taken at face value. In any event, the photographs are proof that in addition to murdering civilians and prisoners, special forces soldiers engaged in the war crime of pillage, defined under international law as taking property from the legitimate owner for private or personal use, without consent.

The response of the political and media establishment to the horrific images have been decidedly muted. Liberal-National Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese have said nothing and nor has any other senior politician. In comments to the Guardian, Luke Gosling, a little-known Labor MP and former Australian army officer, presented the photographs as scarcely more than an embarrassment. The images were “concerning” and indicated a “problematic culture.” Gosling said:

It’s not the conduct we want our Australian defence force to be getting up to overseas in our name.

The indifferent response is all the more striking given that on Tuesday, when the Guardian article was published, virtually every prominent political figure in the country was denouncing another image related to the Afghan conflict as “disgusting,” “repugnant,” “sickening,” etc. The deluge of confected outrage, which continues, was over a tweet by Zhao Lijian, a mid-ranking Chinese official, condemning Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. Zhao was referencing the military-initiated Brereton investigation, which last month revealed “credible information” that Australian special forces murdered at least 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013. Zhao’s tweet was accompanied by an image, created by a visual artist, showing an Australian soldier with a knife to the neck of an Afghan child. The graphic was clearly based on incidents noted in the Brereton report, including one in which special forces soldiers allegedly slashed the throats of two 14-year-old boys. Labor and the Greens joined with Morrison in declaring the image to be unacceptable and offensive, after the government demanded that Twitter censor the post and that China apologise. The cartoonish graphic was bizarrely denounced as “doctored” and “fake” by journalists at virtually every major publication.

The same reporters and editors who were condemning Zhao’s tweet in unhinged terms as an “ISIS-like post” and even an “act of grey zone warfare,” have not bothered to comment on the photos of the prosthetic leg. It has not been mentioned in a single article by the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Nine Media’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers or in Murdoch’s national flagship, the Australian. The virtual blackout is a calculated political decision. The gruesome images too clearly expose the blather about China demeaning and maligning “our brave soldiers,” so they are simply being buried. In addition, the circumstances surrounding the prosthetic leg undermine the implausible narrative contained in the Brereton report. It insists that the war crimes were the result of a “rogue element” operating without the knowledge of any level of the military hierarchy above patrol command. Labor and Liberal-National governments, which initiated and oversaw Australia’s involvement in the war, supposedly knew nothing. According to soldiers who spoke to the Guardian anonymously, the leg became something of a sick and deranged mascot. They would take it wherever they were transferred, and was eventually mounted on the wall of the “Fat Lady’s Arms.” Senior officers visited the bar, and would have seen the leg, the soldiers claimed.

The photographs also cut across various apologias for the war crimes, including claims that soldiers “lashed out” because of stress and fatigue from repeat deployments. Instead, they point to the systematic dehumanisation of the Afghan population, flowing from the neo-colonial character of the occupation itself. Comparisons with the crimes of the Nazis acquire a very direct character. The mounted leg reportedly had a header in German, “das Boot.” Next to it, in pride of place, was an iron cross, the military decoration of the Third Reich. Given the brutal killings and other atrocities committed by the special forces, and the fact that their targets would have been defined as “inferior people” by the Nazis, this was hardly ironic barracks humour. The existence of fascist networks within the army, and particularly the special forces, has long been rumoured.

Two special forces soldier holding a confederate flag in a 2012 photo leaked to the ABC

In 2018, the ABC published an image of special forces riding around Uruzgan in a vehicle flying the Nazi flag. Army command confirmed the 2007 “incident,” but presented it as a minor issue. Earlier this year, the ABC released a 2012 image of two special forces soldiers holding a Confederate flag with the words “Southern Pride” emblazoned on it. Because of the veil of official secrecy maintained by the Brereton report, it is not publicly known at this stage whether the soldiers who evinced Nazi proclivities were the same ones murdering Afghan civilians. The implications of soldiers involved in a neo-colonial occupation identifying themselves with the fascists, however, are clear.

Over the past days, the media has featured comments by defenders of the special forces soldiers that have an extreme right-wing character. Radio shock jock Alan Jones, notorious for his role in instigating the 2005 Cronulla race riot directed against Muslims, wrote an opinion piece for the Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph demanding that Prime Minister Morrison apologise to the special forces for lending credence to the findings of the Brereton report. When the report was released, Morrison lamely described its contents as “disturbing and distressing,” and said it contained “hard truths.” Even these mealy-mouthed statements were too much for Jones, who asked:

When will you apologise for your language and that of your Generals that condemned all our men in Afghanistan, the best of the best, to the charge of criminal behaviour? Thousands of innocent, courageous and heroic Australians whom we sent to Afghanistan to put their lives on the line in our name have been betrayed.

His comments were immediately echoed by Andrew Hastie, a Liberal MP and chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Hastie, a former special forces commander who served in Afghanistan in 2012, declared:

The Brereton report consists of unproven rumours, and it has undermined public confidence in the process and allowed the People’s Republic of China to malign our troops.

Meanwhile, the official cover-up of the war crimes continues. Despite military experts and former soldiers insisting that the crimes could not have occurred without high-level knowledge, the government and defence are sticking to the story that no one above patrol command knew anything. Morrison is refusing to implement some of the tepid recommendations of the Brereton report. The government has no plans to compensate Afghan victims, and is moving to block the revocation of meritorious service awards to soldiers from the squadrons involved. Two weeks since the Brereton report was released, no one has been charged, despite voluminous evidence of the illegal killings, at least one of which was caught on film. The soldier photographed drinking from the prosthetic leg remains in the army. Twenty-five others have been recommended to the Australian Federal Police for potential prosecution. Ten more have been dismissed from the special forces. At least two dozen heavily-trained fighters, credibly accused of murder, torture and other war crimes, are walking the streets of Australia’s towns and cities, amid right-wing declarations that they have been “betrayed” and “stabbed in the back,” and government statements that prosecutions, if they ever eventuate, could take a decade. One does not need to be a political genius to see the dangers.

Kremlin girds itself for a Biden presidency, while still refusing to acknowledge his electoral victory
Andrea Peters, WSWS, Dec 3 2020

Speaking to a press outlet on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reported that the Kremlin is “carefully following what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic,” but continued to refrain from acknowledging Joe Biden as president-elect of the US. Lavrov stated:

It is premature to assess the consequences of the elections in the US for international relations before the announcement of official results. Russia is prepared for any development of events.

Should Biden assume the presidency, the foreign minister indicated that the Kremlin expects a return to Obama-era policies. Anticipating the possible coming to power of a rabidly anti-Russian White House in January, Lavrov insisted that collaboration with any American government be based on “honesty, mutual respect, and non-interference in internal affairs.” Despite endless efforts by the Democrat Party and leading American press outlets to portray Trump as “soft” on Putin, the Kremlin is aware of the immense threat to Russia’s geopolitical and economic interests posed by a successful Trump coup. As was made clear by the recent US and Israeli-orchestrated assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, the crazed policies of the Trump administration are no less likely than those of a future Biden administration to draw Russia into a disastrous war. The same day that Lavrov issued his comments, NATO representatives meeting virtually identified Russia as the alliance’s major security threat, insisting that Moscow’s growing influence in Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh and alleged deployment of “new missiles from the Far North to Syria to Libya” required new efforts “to contain Russia.”

While the Trump administration implemented numerous aggressive measures against the Kremlin—scrapping major nuclear treaties, extending anti-Russian sanctions and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars towards Ukraine’s military, the government being prepared by president-elect Biden is packed with anti-Russian fanatics who have been baying for war with Moscow and centrally involved in efforts to destabilize the country through the installation of pro-Western regimes across the post-Soviet sphere. The sense in Moscow is that however much hopes for an easing of tensions with the US were dashed by the realities of Trump’s four years in office, the situation is likely to become even worse under Biden. Antony Blinken, Biden’s proposed Sec State, avidly backed the US-orchestrated anti-Russian regime-change operation in Ukraine in 2014. He advocated the use of harsh sanctions to punish the Russian population as a whole over the Russian annexation of the Crimea. In comments made throughout the summer and fall of 2020, Blinken has promised that a Biden administration will aggressively “impose costs” and “deter” Russia through the expansion of NATO and stepped-up measures intended to wreck the Russian economy.

Jake Sullivan, who is slated to be Biden’s national security adviser and was a key figure in the Obama administration, played a central role in the Democrat Party’s effort to tar Trump with allegations of collusion with Russia as part of the Democrats’ impeachment drive. Avril Haines, who will take the post of DNI, was also deeply involved in claims of Russia’s supposed meddling in the 2016 elections. Jen Psaki, Biden’s pick as White House communications secretary, was the spin doctor who sought to cover up the implications of the revelations made in 2014 by US Ambassador Victoria Nuland that the US had poured $5b into “promoting democracy” in Ukraine. In response to the news of the Biden appointments, Yuri Rogulev, director of the Foundation for the Study of the USA at Moscow State University, pointed in particular to the political resumes of Sullivan and Psaki and noted, “Nothing good looms for our country.” In a popular reflection of this mood, a survey by the news outlet Russia Matters found that just 10% of Russians anticipate that the country’s relationship with the US will improve under a Biden presidency and 30% think it will deteriorate.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting of the CSTO, an alliance of post-Soviet states, Putin warned against “outside interference: financial injections, informational support, political support and so forth” in the affairs of CSTO member states. His remarks were directed in particular at the situation in Belarus. Currently, the Kremlin is pressuring President Lukashenko to leave office, in an effort to prevent months of mass popular protests against Lukashenko from turning into a pressure point in the hands of imperialist powers allying themselves with so-called “democratic forces” in Belarus. It is increasingly clear that this is precisely what is being prepared. The same day that Putin issued his warning about interference in the CSTO, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, released a statement outlining its expectation that a Biden administration will defend the “territorial integrity and energy security” of Ukraine and “step up support for a peaceful democratic transfer of power” in Belarus. The EC appealed for Biden to hold a “summit on democracy.”

The Russian Air Force said Tuesday that so far this year it has detected 1,300 foreign spy planes operating near Russian territory. The same day the military made this announcement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov expressed objections over US moves to deploy low-yield nuclear weapons to countries near Russia’s borders, which he described as a clear sign of “the return of the concept of limited nuclear war.” The course which the conflict between the US and Russia takes is also highly dependent on US policy towards China, which for both American political parties is emerging the primary target, as well as US relations with Europe. Fyodor Lukyanov, one of Russia’s top foreign policy analysts and an adviser to the Kremlin, noted recently:

The rapid deterioration of the US-China relationship will define the whole atmosphere in the middle and long term. For Russia, it’s a big difference whether we face full-scale bipolar conflict between the US and China which will require all other countries to take sides. Of course, in the Russian case, for now, there is no reason at all to expect Russia to lean toward the US. But at the same time there is a growing and deepening debate in Russia about the relationship with China, which is very important.

Tensions between the US and various European countries with regards to Russia are also evident. At the center of the present situation is the construction of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline connecting Russian suppliers to Germany via the Baltic Sea. After delays brought on by US sanctions, it was just announced early this week that the companies involved in Nord Stream 2, Gazprom and a number of European partners, had secured full financing for the project and even chosen the ship that would finish laying the pipeline.

Wife of UK chancellor richer than the Queen: Rishi Sunak and the rule of the oligarchy
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, Dec 3 2020

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak failed to declare his and his wife’s wealth and any potential conflicts of interest on becoming a Minister of the Crown last year. He is in breach of all the rules supposedly designed to prevent conflicts of interest. It was no secret in ruling circles that Sunak is the wealthiest man in the House of Commons, having become a multi-millionaire after working for just a few years for some of the big names in the City of London. That his wife, Akshata Murty, is the daughter of one of India’s richest businessmen, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of giant technology corporation Infosys, is also well known. But the scale of her personal wealth is staggering. Sunak’s declaration of his financial and business interests in the official register of ministers’ interests, one of the scantiest on record, was contradicted by a Guardian investigation based on publicly available information. It revealed that Murty’s shares in Infosys, part of a family stakeholding worth £1.7b, are worth £430m, from which she receives millions every year in dividend payments. This makes her one of the richest women in Britain and wealthier than the Queen, whom the Sunday Times Rich List reports as having a net worth of £350m.

Murty’s Infosys shares form only part of her wealth. Sunak also failed to declare his wife’s 5% stake in International Market Management, which channels investments via a “letterbox” company in the tax haven of Mauritius into two Indian subsidiaries that operate restaurants in India, reducing its tax obligations. According to the Guardian, the use of such letterbox companies in Mauritius has cost India between $10b to $15b over the past 20 years in capital gains tax, dividend tax, interest tax and loyalty payments. Neither did Sunak declare that his wife holds direct shareholdings and directorships in several UK companies, including two that benefited from his furlough scheme. Instead, he simply declared his wife’s ownership of a small UK-based venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd. He and his wife set up the company as a vehicle for investing her wealth in start-up businesses. Sunak then transferred all his shares to Murty before he entered parliament in 2015.

Sunak also concealed his own wealth, simply declaring he had put his own wealth into a “blind trust” that supposedly ensures he has no knowledge or control over its investment decisions, thereby avoiding disclosure. Spotlight on Corruption, an anti-corruption NGO, has exposed such devices as a fraud, noting that the ostensible safeguards can be circumvented and that such trusts “function as a tool to encourage the public perception that steps have been taken to manage conflicts of interests without requiring politicians to divest of their financial interests.” Sunak only declared his ownership of property worth slightly more than £100k, a sum that would barely buy a rundown tenement in Britain today. However, he and his wife own a £7m five-bedroomed home in Kensington, a £1.5m twelve-bedroomed Georgian mansion set in a twelve-acre estate in his constituency in the Yorkshire Dales, and property in the US. Of issue is not just Mr and Mrs Sunak’s obscene personal wealth, but that he occupies, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself, the most important position in UK politics in determining public policy choices to favour others such as himself who are part of the super-rich, at the expense of the vast majority. On the most immediate and personal level, since 2015 Infosys, which employs 10k people in the UK, has won government contracts worth £22m. It has worked for the Home Office, signing a framework agreement that means it can be awarded multi-million pound contracts without competition.

Significantly, Sunak himself precipitated events leading up to the exposure of his fraudulent declaration, when he refused to disclose whether he will profit from the huge increase in the share price of the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Moderna, which has announced successful trials of its vaccine. Moderna was one of the biggest investments held by the Theleme Partners hedge fund he co-founded before entering parliament. As a partner in the fund, he would own a stake in the management company and have money invested in its fund. Johnson’s government was fully aware of all of this. Yet the then head of propriety and ethics, Helen MacNamara, signed off Sunak’s registration of financial interests, even though Murty’s holdings in the family business was common knowledge. His fabulous wealth and specialist knowledge of how to protect it, both for himself and others, all but guarantees his continued elevation within government.

Sunak, who became chancellor at the age of 39 within five years of entering parliament, is a man with no groundswell of popular support, or political experience. But he has been tipped as a future prime minister to replace the beleaguered Johnson. Sunak is the living embodiment of government in the service of the financial oligarchy. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer in February as the pandemic was causing stock markets around the world to plummet. He joined a government that became the first in the world to publicly admit to pursuing a policy of “herd immunity,” allowing the virus to spread throughout the population with virtually no obstacles in its path. This murderous and fascistic policy was consciously pursued so as not to jeopardize the profits of Britain’s banks and corporations. It is the grotesque expression of rule of, by and for the oligarchy. Sunak used his first budget on Mar 11 to spearhead this policy, engineering a huge transfer of social wealth to the banks and major corporations that included £330b loan guarantees for business, a sum equal to 15% of GDP: £12b support for business, reduced business rates or no liability at all for FY 2020-21, and a pledge to cover businesses’ cost of providing statutory sick pay for up to 14 days for workers in firms with fewer than 250 employees, as well as £895b in quantitative easing, subventions that far exceed those passed after the 2008 global financial crash. Last week, this odious financial parasite announced an austerity offensive targeting working people to meet the cost of Britain’s economic collapse, with the words:

Our economic emergency has only just begun.

The cost of the pandemic had already reached £280b, he declared, without explaining that the lion’s share of these costs were the result of his subventions to business announced in March. With the economy expected to be between 3 percent and 6 percent smaller by 2025, government debt would reach nearly 100% of GDP by 2025 thanks to such handouts to the banks and corporations. He also neglected to say that the wealth of just the 1k richest people in Britain would almost cover the government’s debt. Such is the degraded state of British political life today that there have been no calls for him to resign by the Labour opposition, in line with leader Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge of only “constructive opposition.” All that was demanded by the backbench Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi was that parliament’s toothless committee on standards in public life look into whether Sunak’s lack of disclosure breached the Ministerial Code and might “further erode public trust in politicians and bring parliament into disrepute.”

Trust in parliament could hardly be lower. Millions of workers view the Johnson government as a bunch of political criminals. The pandemic has confirmed that working people have no political vehicle to express their opposition to its gangster-like policies. With the Labour Party functioning as the government’s partner in crime and bodyguard, parliament has ceased to function in any genuinely democratic sense. The working class and young people must now intervene independently and directly through class struggle methods, in unity with workers in Europe and around the world on a revolutionary socialist programme. There is no answer to the grave problems confronting millions of working people without the expropriation of the wealth of the super-rich corporate looters and placing it under democratic control. This would lay the basis for providing the food, education, health care, housing, internet access, and culture that are the fundamental social rights of everyone. The prerequisite for such an agenda is the building and expansion of the Socialist Equality Party and all sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), the world party of socialist revolution, to provide the essential worldwide strategy and leadership.

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