The US media and the Kennedy assassination documents: “Move along, nothing to see here”

By Bill Van Auken
30 October 2017

The Trump administration’s partial release of previously classified documents related to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been dropped by the US mass media with what can only be described as unseemly haste.

Last Thursday night, when the White House announced that it was releasing only 2,800 of the once-secret papers, withholding a significant amount of the most sensitive material in compliance with demands from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the event was widely covered, including the publication of numerous articles in advance of the document release concerning its historic significance. A large force of reporters was deployed to stake out the National Archives.

By Sunday, it was as if the whole thing had never happened. The question was not discussed on any of the Sunday television talk shows, and neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post published so much as a word about the assassination documents in either their news or editorial pages.

From the outset, the media’s treatment of the event was characterized by a palpable nervousness. Cable news anchors and talking heads expressed their concerns that Trump’s extraordinary acknowledgment that he had “no choice” but to withhold a significant number of files because of CIA and FBI warnings over “potentially irreversible harm to our nation’s security” would only encourage “conspiracy theorists.”

This epithet, when used in relation to the Kennedy assassination, applies to roughly two-thirds of the American population, who reject the official story. Codified in the cover-up produced by the Warren Commission, this narrative insists that the murder of the 35th president of the United States was the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, firing a $21 mail order rifle at Kennedy’s motorcade as it moved through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza.

This majority consensus has declined somewhat from the period of 1975 to 2001, when polls showed that over 80 percent of the population rejected the US government’s version of the Kennedy assassination.

Why would the withholding of the documents not strengthen the views of the hundreds of millions of “conspiracy theorists” who populate the United States? What plausible explanation is there for this action other than the fact that the files contain incriminating material relating to elements within the US government and its intelligence agencies?

It is not as if the documents that were released are of such scant interest as to justify the media’s collective response of “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” They expose a state apparatus steeped in bloodshed and criminality, in which assassination was an accepted means of advancing US imperialist interests.

Some of the documents concern conspiracies exposed over 40 years ago, such as the CIA’s connivance with the Mafia in plotting the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro with such exotic methods as exploding seashells and a toxic wetsuit. Then there are newly exposed files that raise serious questions about a state conspiracy surrounding the assassination. These includes a document citing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s frantic demand, two days after Kennedy’s death and before the investigation had even begun, for something to be “issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”

Along similar lines is a truncated file from the 1975 Rockefeller Commission’s investigation of the CIA, which records the agency’s former director Richard Helms being asked, “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent.. .” The file leaves the question uncompleted and Helms’s answer unrecorded.

Whether there exist withheld files containing the answers to such questions is unknown. No thinking person, however, can give the slightest credence to Trump’s Saturday night tweets pledging to release “ALL #JFKFiles other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living,” in order to “put any and all conspiracy theories to rest.” Trump, who during the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination charged that the father of his rival, Ted Cruz, was part of the conspiracy, will make public only the documents the CIA allows.

In its rather cursory coverage of the document release under the headline “A Peek Back at an Era of Secrets and Intrigue,” the New York Times on Friday commented that the “once-secret documents…harken back to an era of Cold War intrigue and spy-versus-spy contests, when assassinations and clandestine plots were a matter of trade craft, not John le Carré novels.”

The article approvingly quotes political analyst Larry Sabato as stating, “It was a very different time, and you have to remember the context. Almost everything revolved around the bipolar system we had between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

That it was “a very different time” no one can deny. The Kennedy assassination marked a turning point in the crisis of US imperialism and was bound up with political, economic and social contradictions that have only deepened in the more than half-century since. But to suggest that we have left behind the era of “assassinations and clandestine plots” is ludicrous.

If anything, the end of the “bipolar system” through the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent attempt by Washington to offset the declining global influence of US capitalism through the pursuit of a “unipolar” world by means of military force, has seen an explosive development of state criminality that makes the methods of the early 1960s look quaint by comparison.

Assassinations have moved from the realm of covert operations to open state policy, including not only a global drone assassination program initiated under the Obama administration that has killed thousands, including American citizens, but also the open discussion of “decapitation” operations to murder Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un.

Wars are launched behind the backs of the American people, with no debate, much less authorization by Congress, and with the CIA arming and supporting Al Qaeda elements to carry out regime-change operations in Libya and Syria.

With the Trump administration, the political underworld of CIA assassins and criminals that emerges in the still limited number of documents released about the Kennedy assassination is, together with the military brass, firmly in control of the levers of state power.

The truncated coverage of the Kennedy documents by the major media and the concerns expressed about “conspiracy theories” are driven less by the events of November 1963 than by the ongoing conspiracies in Washington. The real worry is not so much what will be exposed about the state criminals of the 1960s, but rather the light these crimes shed upon the methods of a government that is today far more thoroughly dominated by the sprawling US military and intelligence apparatus.

Among the most revealing reactions to the Trump administration’s limited release of the Kennedy documents is that of the Democratic Party. Twenty-five years ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed the legislation requiring that all of the Kennedy files be released by October 26, 2017. That Trump bowed to the CIA and FBI in keeping a substantial number of these documents secret provoked not a peep of protest from any leading figure in the Democratic Party, which has moved uninterruptedly to the right since the Kennedy assassination.

The Democrats are seeking to align themselves as closely as possible with the CIA and the military. They oppose Trump not from the standpoint of the threat of nuclear war against Korea, his vendetta against immigrants, his assault on health care, his tax cuts for the rich or his scrapping of corporate and environmental regulations, but rather on the basis that he is “colluding” with Russia to “sow divisions” within American society.

The Democratic Party has emerged as a champion of Internet censorship and a general assault on democratic rights aimed at suppressing “conspiracy theories” exposing the conditions producing mass opposition within the working class to war, social inequality and the destruction of living standards.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/30/kenn-o30.html

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Trump and the GOP Fuel Fantasies of White Victimhood

A crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh / AP)

Fifty-five percent of white Americans believe there is discrimination against whites in the U.S., according to a recent NPR poll. But when asked about specific instances in which they personally experienced discrimination, less than 20 percent responded that their whiteness hurt them in job applications, pay equity and promotions and college applications. Reality does not match the perception of the poll respondents, but it does reflect an increasingly common belief—one that Donald Trump has promoted and exploited virulently—that white victimhood is a large-scale problem.

A recent email from a white listener of my radio program offers a perfect example of this type of dissonance. She complained that I focus too much on white supremacy in my news coverage and that in doing so I am “promoting the destruction of the middle class.” She went on to complain that at the McDonald’s she had visited that morning, all 12 employees were Hispanic, and not a single one Caucasian. She lamented the fact that everyone in the computer engineering department of her local university is “mostly Asian or foreign,” and that almost all of her local female leaders are Jewish or have Jewish husbands. She railed about the corporate media and banking industry being mostly run by Jews (“just a fact,” she offered almost apologetically). She also noted that while she is against allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, she does support the Black Lives Matter movement and had voted for Barack Obama. Ultimately, she said, she isn’t seeking privilege or supremacy—she just wants a decent job to pay her bills.

Ignoring the racist themes of her email, I responded to her in the following manner:

What you are describing is what communities of color have suffered for decades while most whites remained silent because it was not impacting them. Now that the horrible state of the economy is spreading its malaise far and wide into white communities, you are feeling the terrible toll of capitalism. No one should have to suffer trying to make ends meet, trying to get a decent job with decent pay. Is your suffering the fault of people of color and Jews or is it the fault of the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons, and wealthy elites?

I think we are on the same side. Racism does not need to be the answer to capitalist failings. It’s too easy to scapegoat another person rather than point the finger at the wealthy people and corporations that are laughing all the way to the bank.

After digging into the listener’s background, I realized she is highly educated, with multiple degrees in technical fields. Still, like so many white Americans who are hurting financially, she blames communities of color for her struggles rather than finding common cause with them.

While this woman appeared to be critical of President Trump as well, her frustration with the state of the economy is real, and reminiscent of many voters’ reasons for supporting Trump. Indeed, her assertions about people of color appear to be informed by much of the disinformation and “fake news” that passes as fact these days and fuels Trump’s power. Trump has often promoted easily refutable lies on his Twitter account, feeding such propaganda. In November 2015, a year before his election win, he retweeted an infographic about violence in communities of color that contained not one single truth among its multiple assertions about whites, blacks and violence.

Yet this week, the president accused the press of publishing false stories, citing a Politico poll that found nearly half of all Americans think the media fabricate news about him. (Incidentally, Trump has railed against Politico several times in the past but had no problem promoting the results of its poll.)

Evidence and polls do not seem to alter the perceptions of some white Americans who consider their personal experiences indicative of the norm. This comes as no surprise, given the propaganda being flung around by conservative activists and politicians who want to assure white Americans that their racial resentment is valid, despite evidence to the contrary. Just last week, on his Twitter feed, Trump erroneously attributed Britain’s 13 percent rise in overall crime to “radical Islamic terror,” while staying silent on horrific gun violence in the United States. Sebastian Gorka, who briefly served as a White House adviser, said on a television panel Monday that “our big issue is black African gun crime against black Africans. … Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel.” Setting aside the casual and ignorant racism of the term “black Africans,” Gorka cited the standard right-wing, pro-gun trope about “black-on-black” violence that reinforces racist stereotypes.

Even the government’s specific actions serve to justify the fantasy that people of color are perpetrators and whites are victims: The FBI under Trump is focusing on “black identity extremist” organizations, which experts say is “fiction.”

News headlines are rife with instances of violence that dispute these racist stereotypes. Take one recent example: A white man’s mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, which led to nearly 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Or the lynching threat made against Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson after she boldly stood up to Trump and chief of staff John Kelly. There are many other recent examples of violence and threats of violence in our country, and there also are plenty of studies offering irrefutable evidence of systematic racism (a topic I covered in an earlier column).

Author Joan Williams identifies the phenomenon represented by the listener who emailed me, saying in a recent interview with The Washington Post, “White people who are not privileged feel belittled. They feel stereotyped. They feel openly ridiculed and they are really, really angry because of what elite white people are doing to them. … Now, because of this poisonous dynamic among white people, guess who’s paying the price?”

Others have summarized this idea in slightly different ways, but it is important to articulate: To those who have been used to privilege all their lives, equality may feel like oppression. The challenge facing progressive whites and people of color is to identify the mistaken assumptions about who the perpetrators of social and economic violence actually are, and address these perpetrators head on. Along with growing anti-fascist movements nationwide, we need to articulate and promote a vision of economic justice that will benefit the majority of struggling Americans. We need to simultaneously underscore that people of color are here to stay and that wishing them away will not solve anyone’s economic problems. If we don’t meet this challenge, we will find ourselves in the midst of a race war that obscures the class war the rich are waging against us all.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

The crisis in the Republican Party and the fracturing of the American two-party system

26 October 2017

The eruption of open warfare between the Republican Party establishment and the Trump administration marks a new stage in the political crisis within the United States.

The conflict within the Republican Party came to a head on Tuesday with the speech from the floor of the Senate by Jeff Flake, who announced that he would not seek reelection and denounced Trump’s actions as “dangerous to a democracy” and a threat to “the efficacy of American leadership around the globe.” Flake’s speech followed a series of statements attacking Trump by leading Republicans, including senators John McCain (chairman of the Armed Services Committee) and Bob Corker (chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee) and former President George W. Bush.

Leading Democrats lined up to praise Flake, a right-wing fiscal hawk and advocate of austerity. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer called Flake “one of the finest human beings I’ve met in politics,” adding that he “will be missed.”

The outbreak of political warfare within the Republican Party is the latest episode in a conflict within the American state that raged throughout the Trump election campaign and has intensified over the ten months of his administration. Central to this struggle are differences over foreign policy, with Trump’s Republican opponents denouncing his brand of “America First” ultra-nationalism as destructive of US global dominance, particularly in regard to relations with Washington’s traditional allies and the political/military offensive against Russia and China.

From the beginning of his election campaign, Trump’s strategy was to exploit social and economic discontent and widespread disgust with the Democratic Party to foster the growth of a far-right, fascistic and extra-parliamentary movement. His elevation soon after the election of Steven Bannon, editor of Breitbart News, to become his chief strategist signaled the continuation of this policy in the White House. As the World Socialist Web Site wrote at the time, “A man with direct ties to fascist, racist and white supremacist organizations will be the right-hand man of the president, with immense power to determine government policy.”

The fascistic politics of Trump and Bannon had, and continue to have, substantial support within the corporate and financial elite. The Trump administration’s agenda of social counterrevolution, tax cuts for the rich and increased military spending have, moreover, broad support on Wall Street and in the Pentagon.

At the same time, significant sections of the ruling class are concerned about the implications of the election of Trump for the strategic interests of American imperialism abroad and for the social and political stability of the United States at home.

After Trump solidarized himself with fascist groups that rampaged through Charlottesville, Virginia in August, Bannon, who had come into conflict with White House Chief of Staff and former Marine General John Kelly, was removed as chief strategist and resumed his position at Breitbart.

The departure of Bannon, however, had more the character of a release from the constraints of the White House than a demotion. Since formally leaving the administration, Bannon has pursued a political strategy of attacking the top leadership of the Republican Party and supporting primary challengers to Republican incumbents, Flake among them, who are not in line with the Trump administration’s agenda of extreme nationalism and anti-immigrant racism.

The political conflicts within the United States mirror global processes. In country after country, far-right movements have exploited the political vacuum created by the rightward lurch of the social democratic and labor parties, which long ago repudiated any concern for the issues facing the working class.

On Tuesday, the fascistic Alternative for Germany made its debut in the German parliament following elections in September in which it won 94 seats, benefiting from the electoral collapse of the Social Democratic Party.

The far-right Freedom Party is set to enter the Austrian government following elections last month in which it increased its vote by nearly 7 percentage points, coming in second, ahead of the Social Democrats. The party of a billionaire right-wing populist won last week’s parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic, which saw the collapse of the social democrats.

In Britain, the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party emerged as the leading political force in last year’s Brexit referendum. In France, National Front leader Marine Le Pen won 34 percent of the vote in presidential elections earlier this year, making it to the run-off election won by Emmanuel Macron. In Japan, the right-wing militarist Shinzo Abe won reelection as prime minister by a substantial margin.

In the United States, Trump, in alliance with Bannon, is pursuing a similar strategy, with the aim of either taking over the Republican Party or instigating a fracture that would break up the two-party system.

Paralleling international developments, Trump exploited the reactionary and militarist character of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. Clinton ran as the candidate of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, in alliance with privileged sections of the upper-middle class based on identity politics. She evinced open contempt for the grievances of workers devastated by mass layoffs and the destruction of wages and pensions, promoting the slanderous claim that Trump owed his electoral success to racism within the “white working class.”

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, the Democrats have shifted further to the right, including a move last week remove supporters of Bernie Sanders from the Democratic National Committee. They have systematically covered up the far-reaching significance of the election of Trump and the appointment of figures like Bannon.

The central focus of the Democrats since Trump’s election has been an increasingly frenzied campaign over Russian intervention in the US elections. This has been aimed both at fighting out conflicts within the ruling class over foreign policy and, ever more openly, justifying Internet censorship and the destruction of free speech.

The central orientation of the Democrats is on winning the support of the military and the intelligence agencies, which are emerging as the arbiters of American politics. The Democratic Party’s orientation was spelled out in a column by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman published yesterday, in which Friedman once again called for the intervention of the military against Trump.

Appealing to Defense Secretary James Mattis, best known for commanding US forces in the destruction of Fallujah in 2004, to take “action,” Friedman wrote: “I am not talking about a coup… Trump needs know that it is now your way or the highway—not his.” In other words, the military must take control, coup or otherwise.

The fracturing of the political system is an expression of an intractable crisis of American capitalism. In the conflicts within the ruling class, there is no progressive or democratic side. Trump’s open Republican critics include a war criminal and advocate of torture (George W. Bush), a fanatic war hawk (McCain), a close ally of Wall Street and the military (Corker) and a far-right advocate of cuts in social spending (Flake).

Nothing progressive can come from a resolution of the crisis from above through some form of palace coup. Any such settlement will only shift the entire political system further to the right and escalate the assault on the working class and the drive to world war.

Joseph Kishore

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/26/pers-o26.html

Slain US special forces troops on apparent assassination mission in Niger

By Bill Van Auken
25 October 2017

Three weeks after four US special forces soldiers were killed in a firefight in the landlocked West African nation of Niger, information has surfaced indicating that the American troops and their Nigerien counterparts were involved in a “capture-kill” mission aimed at the leader of a local Islamist militia operating on the Niger-Mali border.

The White House and the Pentagon has provided only a trickle of information about the abortive October 4 operation. The incident came to the public eye largely because of President Donald Trump’s initial failure to say anything about the largest loss of US military personnel since he took office, along with his subsequent lies about contacting families of slain troops and his shameful public confrontation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four Green Berets killed in Niger, over a callous condolence call.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Green Berets had been engaged in a “simple reconnaissance mission,” and described the overall purpose of deploying some 1,000 US special operations troops in Niger as a “train, advise and assist mission” to support the Nigerien security forces.

It appears that Dunford’s comments were deliberately misleading on both counts.

NBC News Tuesday cited “multiple US officials” as recounting that the US detachment of 12 US special forces troops and 30 Nigerien soldiers had been on what was effectively an assassination mission, aimed at killing a senior leader of a local Islamist militia.

NBC reported: “One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military’s investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.”

It added that the ill-fated Niger mission was conducted under the mantle of Operation Juniper Shield, a program begun under the Obama administration and continued under Trump, which is directed at using US military force to “disrupt or neutralize” organizations deemed connected to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State across the Sahel region of central west Africa.

This military intervention is being conducted in coordination with the French military, which is waging an even more intense neocolonial operation in neighboring Mali. Both countries have mounted a campaign against an insurgent group known as Al-Mourabitoun, which has been active throughout the region. Last January, Al-Mourabitoun took responsibility for a suicide bombing against a military base in the city of Gao in Mali, killing 77. Previous attacks have targeted foreigners in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, while in 2013 the group seized a gas facility in Algeria, leading to a confrontation in which all 39 of its hostages were killed.

According to the sources cited by NBC, the Green Beret team involved in the October 4 firefight, officially known as Operational Detachment Alpha or ODA, was involved in an “intelligence-directed operation,” which included a meeting with an individual purported to have information on the whereabouts of an Islamist militant known as Abnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, who is believed to be the leader of at least one section of Al-Mourabitoun.

While the precise way in which the ambush that led to the deaths of the four US special forces troops remains shrouded in mystery, military sources have suggested that the unit was set up by hostile elements of the local population, who either led them into a trap or gave away their location to the Islamist insurgents.

Leading members of the US Senate and House—including Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senators John McCain (chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and Lindsey Graham—have claimed to have been kept in the dark by the Pentagon on the escalating US intervention in the region and expressed surprise that up to 1,000 US special forces troops are deployed in Niger and on its borders.

A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in which two senior Pentagon officials will deliver a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services panel. The session was scheduled after McCain threatened to subpoena the administration for more information on the Niger operation.

In reality, the steadily escalating US military intervention in Africa has been a fairly open secret, provoking disquiet only after the October 4 debacle.

In February 2013, the Obama White House announced that the first 100 US troops were being sent into Niger, with hundreds more to follow. At the time, it was revealed that Washington had signed an agreement with the Niger government allowing the US military to set up a drone base on the country’s territory, creating the conditions for spreading the Obama administration’s remote-control assassination spree throughout the region.

That base is now under construction in the city of Agadez, where the US is preparing major facilities to house and launch MQ-9 hunter-killer drones.

Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is instituting a “status-based targeting” system in Niger allowing its troops to hunt down and employ lethal force against suspected members of Islamist insurgent groups “even if that person does not pose an immediate threat.” This appears to be what was involved in the abortive mission that claimed four US soldiers’ lives on October 4.

The employment of such assassination squads, along with drone killings and similar methods, will serve only to intensify civil war conditions throughout the region, providing the pretext for even greater US intervention.

Indeed, the principal source of the present conflict lies in the 2011 US-NATO war to topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, which shattered the tenuous equilibrium that Gaddafi had maintained among the Tuareg and other tribal groups in Niger and elsewhere in the Sahel. The rise of Islamist groups was directly tied to the utilization of Al Qaeda elements by Washington and its allies as proxy ground forces in the war for regime change that ended with Gaddafi’s lynching and the decimation of Libyan society. In the aftermath of the Libyan government’s fall, its arms stockpiles found their way into the hands of Islamist groups throughout the region.

In the midst of the roiling controversy over the troop deaths in Niger and Trump’s response, there has been a steadily escalating drumbeat from Democratic politicians and the media for Congress to debate the ongoing US military interventions and pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

This found fresh expression Tuesday in a piece in the Washington Post by the ostensibly liberal columnist Eugene Robinson, who wrote: “Congress needs to do more than investigate the deaths. It needs to authorize this conflict—or shut it down.”

Robinson went on to describe the cabal of generals—Kelly, Mattis and McMaster—that largely controls the White House and the Trump administration’s foreign policy as “the last line of defense between our great nation and the abyss.”

At the same time, however, he suggested that this military domination of the administration made it all the more important for Congress to “reclaim its war-making powers” by passing a new AUMF.

Such columns reflect the increasing nervousness within ruling circles that the ugly controversy over Niger has lifted the lid on both the ever-expanding global military operations of the Pentagon and the increasingly open turn toward military control of the government at home. Any new AUMF passed by Congress, which long ago gave up even the pretense of defending its constitutional powers, will only provide a legislative fig leaf to facilitate this process.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/25/nige-o25.html

The US lurches toward military dictatorship

23 October 2017

The militarist diatribe by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general, at a White House press briefing last week laid bare an open secret of American politics: behind the façade of democratic rule, the United States increasingly resembles a military dictatorship.

Firing back at criticisms of President Donald Trump’s handling of the October 4 deaths of four US soldiers in Niger, Kelly called members of the US military “the best one percent this country produces.” He then announced that he would take questions only from journalists who were family, friends or acquaintances of soldiers killed in action.

In an expression of undisguised contempt for the civilian government, Kelly denounced Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had publicly exposed Trump’s callousness in his condolence call to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in the October 4 incident. Kelly falsely accused Wilson of bragging about securing funding for a government building in Miami named after slain FBI agents, saying of her: “Empty barrels [make] the most noise.”

The next day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders implied at a press briefing that any questioning of the pronouncements of the military was out of bounds. “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general,” she said, “I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

Concerned over the White House’s undisguised contempt for the constitutional principle of civilian control over the military, some military figures sought to verbally distance themselves from Kelly’s statements. ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday led with an interview with retired four-star army general and former CIA director David Petraeus, who declared, “We in uniform…are fiercely protective of the rights of our fellow Americans to express themselves, even if that includes criticizing us.”

Kelly’s remarks evoked such defensive statements not because they challenge nearly 250 years of civilian rule in the United States, but because sections of the US political establishment see it as necessary, at least for the time being, to cloak the massive power exercised by the military over political life with the formal trappings of civilian rule.

This task, however, is increasingly difficult. Shortly after Petraeus’s appearance, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he had an extraordinary exchange with moderator Chuck Todd. Asked whether as Senate Democratic leader he had been briefed on the situation in Niger, Schumer nonchalantly replied, “Not yet.”

When Todd asked whether Schumer knew the US had a thousand troops stationed in Niger, Schumer replied, “Uh, No, I did not.”

Todd pressed him further: “How do you describe it any other way than never-ending war?” Schumer gave a meandering reply that ended with the words, “We have to keep at it.”

In other words, the country’s civilian leadership neither knows where the US military operates, nor dares to inquire. Wars are not declared. Those who lead them are not accountable to Congress or the people. The military is deployed at the discretion of the president and his generals, as in the over one dozen African countries where US troops are engaged in combat operations. The ranking member of the nominal opposition party has no problem with this state of affairs.

Should anybody be surprised, then, when Kelly, one of three generals occupying the most sensitive positions in Trump’s cabinet, denounces a member of Congress for daring to question the commander-in-chief?

One need only consider the rest of Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week” interview program. With only the slightest modifications, the entire program could have been produced in a country run by a military junta. In the midst of host Martha Raddatz’s interview with Petraeus, the program cut to a prerecorded segment showing Raddatz on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as it carried out a war exercise off the Coast of North Korea, with Raddatz declaring enthusiastically, “The Sea of Japan is bristling with warships.”

The segment featured statements by the captain, the commander, a signal officer and a pilot aboard the ship. Raddatz concluded, “With the region remaining on the brink, they have to be ready to fight tonight.” The program then went on to preview an upcoming eight-part miniseries by the National Geographic Channel glorifying the Iraq war.

By this point, three quarters of the program had elapsed and not a single nonmilitary figure had made an appearance on one of the premier political talk shows of the world’s leading “democracy.”

Kelly’s comments triggered statements of concern among some segments of the US press. “A military dictatorship: that appears what the White House thinks the United States is,” declared CNN anchor Erin Burnett. Masha Gessen wrote in the New Yorker, “Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like.”

But this raises the question: Would the United States really need to have a coup to transition to military rule? Would it really look much different from today’s “democracy”? There would be the same parade of generals serving as talking heads on the news, the same “embedded” reporters interviewing commanders on the front lines, the same members of Congress (most dictatorships do not dissolve parliament) declaring they had “not yet” been briefed on what the military has decided to do.

One could object that a military dictatorship would censor the press. But this has already in large measure been accomplished. The search engine giant Google has announced that it is promoting “authoritative” news content, while it buries links to left-wing sites in search results, almost entirely removing results on Google News for the World Socialist Web Site.

The ever-growing power of the military in the United States is not some accident or fluke stemming from the personality of Donald Trump. Despite being at war for his entire two terms in office, Trump’s Democratic Party predecessor Barack Obama never once went to Congress for authorization to use military force, and he defended his orders for drone assassinations of US citizens as part of the prerogatives of the commander-in-chief.

In the current political furor over the deaths of the soldiers in Niger, the Democrats have not questioned the legality of the deployment of thousands of US troops to Africa, carried out without any public discussion and behind the backs of the population, but instead sought to attack Trump from the right for being insufficiently deferential to the military.

After all, it is the Democrats and newspapers generally aligned with them, particularly the New York Times and the Washington Post, which praised General Kelly, together with fellow generals H. R. McMaster (national security adviser) and James Mattis (secretary of defense) as the “grown-ups” in the White House, with Times columnist Thomas Friedman calling on the generals to “reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration” in the person of the president.

The increasingly dictatorial forms of rule emerging in the United States are the outcome of protracted and deep-rooted processes. Amid levels of social inequality that eclipse even those of the Gilded Age, bourgeois democracy in the US is collapsing, replaced by direct rule by the oligarchy and its partners in the military.

This process has been accelerated through a quarter century of aggressive wars, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which have reached such a pitch that “never-ending war,” in the words of CNN’s Chuck Todd, is the new American reality, presently reaching a higher stage with the looming threat of nuclear war over North Korea.

The move toward dictatorship in the United States, accompanied by the drive to world war, is proceeding at breakneck speed. There is not much time. Workers and young people must mobilize now to oppose it on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program aimed at overthrowing the root cause of war, social inequality and dictatorship—the capitalist system.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/23/pers-o23.html

An Epic Film on the Vietnam War Stops Short

Fog drifts up from the valleys below the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam as U.S. Marines untangle air-dropped supplies in 1968. (AP)

As the dust settles on the release of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick opus “The Vietnam War,” and as the cacophony of criticism quiets, a major issue remains largely unaddressed—U.S. culpability for war crimes in Vietnam.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Hanoi in 2016 seemed a turning point as he offered his hand in friendship to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, but there were no apologies forthcoming, and no acknowledgement of culpability for a U.S. war of aggression. Nor was there an outcry in the press that something was missing.

There is no statute of limitations on war crimes, as trials of aging German war criminals and of Bosnians and Rwandans attest. But the trying of Americans, especially powerful Americans, is another story entirely. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who still enjoys high status as an adviser to the powerful (his crimes long ago normalized), comes to mind as a potential target of inquiry.

But perhaps more important than the actual indictment of American war criminals is the corrosive effect of old war crimes on the American conscience. Avoidance of the conversation muddles our ability to judge what military ventures are appropriate, and how to prosecute them. The fog of war has become a constant state.

Unfortunately, Burns and Novick’s epic recap of the war stops short of the treatment that might help us internalize the lessons we need. Because their film promises to define the conversation about Vietnam for decades to come, it is vital that critical analysis and debate continue.

By virtue of their power of presentation and the wide exposure their film will receive, Burns and Novick have established themselves as the framers of our collective memory on Vietnam. Power infers responsibility—theirs was to get the history clear and right.

They have gotten a lot right—the sense of Vietnamese and Americans’ shared humanity, of the tragedy and depraved brutality of the war and the persistent lying on the part of our leadership. And, while they have started a robust and vital dialogue about Vietnam that we wouldn’t be engaged in otherwise, crucial elements are either missing or misstated. These elements keep the Vietnam opus from being the masterpiece it could have been and confound our ability to draw the most useful lessons from the conflict.

A fundamental confusion undermines “The Vietnam War.” Was it a civil war or a U.S. war of aggression? Though everything they depict adds up to the latter, the filmmakers avoid that inevitable and damning conclusion. They present the Geneva Accords, which called for an election in 1956 to reunify the country under one government after its temporary division at the 17th parallel. But they fail to drive home that U.S. subversion of that international accord was just a beat in a long line of premeditated aggression. For the record, subversion of an international accord is itself deemed a war crime.

In fact, the U.S. undermined the 1956 election (which never occurred), supported Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of its first puppet regime, dispensed with Diem (and his assassination) when his usefulness ran out, and then installed and propped up a series of puppet “governments.” South Vietnam was a client state—not a legitimate and representative government. But the filmmakers persist in treating South Vietnam as a legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese. In their insistence on not taking sides, the filmmakers instead perpetuate the old—and fully debunked—“civil war” narrative that led us to war.

Their voice-over narration cites the enemy as “the North,” contributing to the “civil war” confusion. But Pentagon-sponsored research had established as early as December 1964 that the “enemy” had Southern origins.

Viewers might recall that in Episode 4, the film reveals the little known Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Study, a Rand Corp. investigation inspired by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s research question: What makes the Viet Cong tick? The first study group reported its results in December 1964 to Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Gen. William Westmoreland and to the Department of Defense in January 1965. The striking substance of that report, not covered in the film, underscores a central contradiction in the framing of the Vietnam War.

The Rand analysts explained that the enemy in the South was not the jungle insurgency they had expected, but rather a popular government that carried out normal governmental tasks in wide swaths of the countryside. Most pertinent to this discussion, the Provisional Revolutionary Government and its army, the National Liberation Front (as the Viet Cong called themselves), was a movement “by and for southerners,” the analysts said.

Their description of the enemy’s resolute determination to fight to the finish for reunification of Vietnam and what they termed “peace with freedom,” prompted a Pentagon deputy to declare, “If what you say is true, we’re fighting on the wrong side—the side that’s going to lose this war.” That memorable quote appears in the film, but without the context that would clarify its meaning.

The Rand analysts’ emphasis on Southern origins of the resistance is well supported by subsequent research. New York University history professor Marilyn Young documented how Southern-bred resistance to Diem’s reign of terror in the countryside—suspected Communists were rounded up and executed en masse—precipitated the North’s entry into the war. Even Le Duan, secretary general of the Communist Party of Vietnam, had opposed armed insurrection in the South, arguing that “consolidation of the North was the pre-eminent revolutionary task” and sanctioning only political struggle.

Flaunting Le Duan’s directive, remnants of the Viet Minh formed self-defense units that eventually forced the Northern-based party to sanction official formation and arming of the National Liberation Front and to come to their direct aid.

Well known, as documented in the Pentagon Papers, was the expected outcome of the thwarted 1956 elections. Vietnam would have been reunited as one country under the Communist leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

The argument of North Vietnamese aggression evaporates once we’ve debunked the Tonkin Gulf Incident (see the Pentagon Papers), and dispensed with the myth of two Vietnams and the ensuing illusion of the U.S. as protector of a democratic South Vietnamese government. With those props gone, our war effort is thrown into stark relief. We were the aggressors.

The distinction of who was the aggressor in Vietnam couldn’t be more important. Under international law, a response to aggression is the only legitimate reason to wage war. The Nuremburg trials, which were led by U.S. efforts, established that aggression is the gravest war crime of all, because it is aggression that undermines the peace and serves as a precursor to other war crimes. That is why the U.S. was so intent on painting North Vietnam as the aggressor—only then would Congress and international opinion sanction the war.

The filmmakers’ failure to identify the aggressor and their clouding of the issue with the old “civil war” construct deprives the public of a framework for analysis.

Of course, U.S. aggression did, in fact, serve as a precursor to other crimes.

The filmmakers rightfully acknowledge My Lai as an atrocity. And the film depicts other atrocities, including Zippo raids on villages and the use of Agent Orange and napalm. It touches on pacification. But it doesn’t connect the dots for viewers who don’t know the history. We don’t learn that destruction of the very fabric of Vietnamese life was fully intentional, that full-out assault on civilians was central to U.S. war strategy. Most distressingly, for anyone interested in our nation’s compliance with international law, all of this adds up to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Take the strategy with the most benign name—pacification. What this meant in practice was the purposeful displacement of half the population of South Vietnam. Because it was recognized that the guerrillas were fish in the sea of the people, U.S. strategists aimed to drain the sea to deprive the guerillas of their support base. Zippo raids destroyed the villages while Agent Orange destroyed the crops, and villagers were forced into resettlement camps surrounded by barbed wire. The purposeful generation of refugees is a war crime, which the documentary fails to name.

The film’s treatment of the Phoenix Program bears particular mention. The voice-over describing the program states that former CIA Director William Colby testified to Congress that it couldn’t be determined how many of the more than 20,000 identified Communists killed under Phoenix had been innocent. Let’s unpack the implications of that statement. Under Phoenix, suspected Communists were detained, tortured and then killed. The suspects included civilians—men, women and children.

Guilty or innocent, Communist or not, we are proscribed by the rules of war from summarily executing those we capture, not to mention the proscription against torture. I learned that much as a kid watching World War II movies. But the implication, as it is presented, is that “innocents” might have been caught in too big a net, not that torture and murder of any and all captives is illegal.

Then there is the bombing. The most strident voice calling out the air war in the film is that of Jane Fonda. Fonda’s regrettable decision to condemn the air war while perched on an anti-aircraft gun undermined her message. But she spoke an essential truth. The carpet bombing with B-52s was a war crime.

The filmmakers’ decision to frame the “Hanoi Jane” episode with a clip from “Barbarella” and former Marine John Musgrave’s sexual fantasies neutralized the single voice calling out for the war crimes inquiry of the bombing. This is a glaring lapse of editorial judgment on the filmmakers’ part—the titillating “Barbarella” clip belongs on the cutting-room floor.

Lest it be misconstrued, discussion of war crimes was not confined to the left. Fonda’s call for a war crimes inquiry was echoed during the late 1960s and ’70s, especially after My Lai. To cite just a few examples, Nuremberg prosecutor and U.S. Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor took a leading role, alongside members of Congress and American scholars and jurists and GIs who launched their own investigation, in the discussion of potential war crimes charges that might be leveled at U.S. leaders.

Taylor wrote a treatise on the applicability of Nuremberg to Vietnam, titled “Nuremburg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy” (1970). And a small book titled “War Crimes and the American Conscience” chronicles the Congressional Conference on War and National Responsibility held in 1970, in response to My Lai. These were only two of a score of war-crimes offerings from the period, as Neil Sheehan of The New York Times documented. While a documentary can’t cover everything, the broad-based outcry against U.S. aggression and war crimes demands full treatment.

The subject was debated at the time. Witnesses at the Congressional Conference spoke to the fact that the war was being waged against the “entire Vietnamese people” with no regard for a “distinction between civilians and combatants.” Falk cited the most egregious examples of that practice: “the B-52 pattern raids against undefended villages and populated areas, free-fire zones, harassment and interdiction fire, Operation Phoenix, search and destroy missions, massive crop destruction and defoliation, and the forcible transfer of the civilian population.”

Conference participants did not reach consensus on the issue of genocide, with some arguing that the war was genocidal and others opining that U.S. crimes did not meet the criteria for genocide designation. That war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed was not debated.

My Lai was put into terrible relief when author Jonathan Schell described a two-week journalism stint flying over Quang Nai, the province where My Lai is located. From the air, he charted B-52 destruction of the province, shading the destroyed areas on military maps, and documented that 70 percent of the villages there had been destroyed from the air. He corroborated his findings with interviews of ground commanders. The My Lai massacre occurred three months later.

It was not isolated. An estimated 2 million civilians died in the war and half the population—approximately 8 million people—were driven from their homes. That is a holocaust.

But Burns and Novick don’t acknowledge the full implications of aggressive war and its progeny—the host of war crimes we inflicted on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Rather, the filmmakers couch their exposure of war crimes with misplaced journalistic “impartiality.” In Episode 9, John Kerry, representing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, offers riveting congressional testimony that identifies specific war crimes and contextualizes them. But what could have been an opening to an analysis of systemic war crimes is checked by the insertion of an interview that denies systemic abuse.

There are other strong moments, such as when Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien questions how the My Lai perpetrators could escape unpunished and when a Vietnamese survivor recalls the devastation on the ground after a bombing. But even as they portray atrocities inflicted by U.S. forces, the atrocities are particularized. We see the devastation of napalm on Kim Phuc, but we don’t appreciate how many civilians that criminal enterprise killed or maimed as our armed forces targeted civilian centers.

Coverage of the Winter Soldier Investigation would have dispensed with the notion that war crimes were anything but systemic—but the GIs’ devastating 1971 inquiry isn’t covered.

Most importantly, the atrocities covered by the film might have had restorative impact if they had been framed with an analysis of aggressive war—in other words, an analysis that imparts lasting lessons.

As profound and simultaneously flawed as it is, “The Vietnam War” offers Americans a vital opportunity to re-examine Vietnam. Arguably, a film that addressed the war as a war of aggression with full disclosure of those terrible implications most likely never would have been made. Viewed from that perspective, Burns and Novick’s series is a considerable achievement. But it is one that requires us to continue its unfinished work.

To grapple with such damning conclusions as those proposed here, the public needs an 11th episode—our own multifaceted inquiry into what occurred in Vietnam.

One element that needs further exploration is the role of the anti-war movement: who fought, what we said and how we said it. And how GIs, resistors, deserters, conscientious objectors, concerned clergy, students, workers and academics, blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos—in short, the full spectrum of society—joined forces to stop U.S aggression. That chapter has not been fleshed out and bears telling.

A haunting song of the period that could serve as soundtrack to the 11th episode is Holly Near’s “No More Genocide in My Name.” I remember that being called as a chant at demonstrations against the war. I lived and demonstrated in Los Angeles, where Ron Kovic, the subject of the movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” and Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers co-defendants, regularly marched with us. To my recollection, Russo first raised the “no more genocide” chant (the most likely inspiration for the song). Those words were intensely personal to Russo, who was listed as an author of Rand Corp. reports that advocated the air war and other crimes against humanity.

A half-century later, it is time we face up to the true nature of the horror of Vietnam. Until we acknowledge the criminality of U.S. aggression in all its forms, until we call out loudly and clearly that there will be no more war crimes in our names, we will fail to safeguard our essential morality and be doomed to fateful repetition. Our calls for democracy will remain hollow, stripped of their core by our crimes against humanity. And our fatal flaw will not go unnoticed.

Barbara Myers is an independent journalist, with historically based film and print stories set in Vietnam, China and Rwanda, and the author of The Other Conspirator, The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It. 

Barbara Myers

The conspiracy to censor the Internet

18 October 2017

The political representatives of the American ruling class are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress free speech. Under the guise of combating “trolls” and “fake news” supposedly controlled by Russia, the most basic constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment are under direct attack.

The leading political force in this campaign is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.

The Trump administration is threatening nuclear war against North Korea, escalating the assault on health care, demanding new tax cuts for the rich, waging war on immigrant workers, and eviscerating corporate and environmental regulations. This reactionary agenda is not, however, the focus of the Democratic Party. It is concentrating instead on increasingly hysterical claims that Russia is “sowing divisions” within the United States.

In the media, one report follows another, each more ludicrous than the last. The claim that Russia shifted the US election by means of $100,000 in advertisements on Facebook and Twitter has been followed by breathless reports of the Putin government’s manipulation of other forms of communication.

An “exclusive” report from CNN last week proclaimed that one organization, “Don’t Shoot Us,” which it alleges without substantiation is connected to Russia, sought to “exploit racial tensions and sow discord” on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go, a reality game played on cell phones.

Another report from CNN on Monday asserted that a Russian “troll factory” was involved in posting comments critical of Hillary Clinton as “part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.” All of the negative commentary in news media and other publications directed at Clinton, it implied, were the product of Russian agents or people duped by Russian agents.

As during the period of Cold War McCarthyism, the absurdity of the charges goes unchallenged. They are picked up and repeated by other media outlets and by politicians to demonstrate just how far-reaching the actions of the nefarious “foreign enemy” really are.

While one aim has been to continue and escalate an anti-Russia foreign policy, the more basic purpose is emerging ever more clearly: to criminalize political dissent within the United States.

The most direct expression to date of this conspiracy against free speech was given by the anticommunist ideologue Anne Applebaum in a column published Monday in the Washington Post, “If Russia can create fake ‘Black Lives Matter’ accounts, who will next?”

Her answer: the American people. “I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear,” she writes. She warns that “political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out” how to use social media to spread “disinformation” and “demoralization.”

Applebaum rails against all those who seek to hide their identity online. “There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections,” she writes. She continues: “The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.” Her target, however, is not “bots” operating “fake accounts,” but anyone who seeks, fearing state repression or unjust punishment by his or her employer, to make an anonymous statement online. And that is only the opening shot in a drive to silence political dissent.

Applebaum is closely connected to the highest echelons of the capitalist state. She is a member of key foreign policy think tanks and sits on the board of directors of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy. Married to the former foreign minister of Poland, she is a ferocious war hawk. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, she authored a column in the Washington Postin which she called for “total war” against nuclear-armed Russia. She embodies the connection between militarism and political repression.

The implications of Applebaum’s arguments are made clear in an extraordinary article published on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, “As US Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated,” which takes a favorable view of China’s aggressive censorship of the Internet and implies that the United States is moving toward just such a regime.

“For years, the United States and others saw” China’s “heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China’s economic development,” the Times writes. “But as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”

The article goes on to assert that while “few would argue that China’s Internet control serves as a model for democratic societies… At the same time, China anticipated many of the questions now flummoxing governments from the United States to Germany to Indonesia.”

Glaringly absent from the Times article, Applebaum’s commentary and all of the endless demands for a crackdown on social media is any reference to democratic rights, free speech or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, which asserts that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” is the broadest amendment in the US Constitution. Contrary to Applebaum, there is no caveat exempting anonymous speech from Constitutional protection. It is a historical fact that leaders of the American Revolution and drafters of the Constitution wrote articles under pseudonyms to avoid repression by the British authorities.

The Constitution does not give the government or powerful corporations the right to proclaim what is “fake” and what is not, what is a “conspiracy theory” and what is “authoritative.” The same arguments now being employed to crack down on social media could just as well have been used to suppress books and mass circulation newspapers that emerged with the development of the printing press.

The drive toward Internet censorship in the United States is already far advanced. Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have introduced similar measures. The campaign being whipped up over Russian online activity will be used to justify even more far-reaching measures.

This is taking place as universities implement policies to give police the authority to vet campus events. There are ongoing efforts to abolish “net neutrality” so as to give giant corporations the ability to regulate Internet traffic. The intelligence agencies have demanded the ability to circumvent encryption after having been exposed for illegally monitoring the phone communications and Internet activity of the entire population.

In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.

The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality. It is intimately linked to preparations for a major escalation of imperialist violence around the world. The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

WSWS