Sixteen years after 9/11: lies, hypocrisy and militarism

12 September 2017

The sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 2,900 people in the United States were marked once again on Monday with ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center’s demolished Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania where one of four hijacked planes crashed as passengers fought to regain control of the aircraft.

Thousands gathered in New York City for the solemn reading of the names of those who lost their lives to a criminal and reactionary terrorist attack that served only the interests of US and world imperialism, which ever since have exploited the events to justify wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights the world over.

The genuine emotions of sorrow and remembrance shared by those who lost loved ones on 9/11 once again stood in sharp contrast to the banality and hypocrisy of the official commemorations staged by US officials.

This longstanding dichotomy reached a new level with the main speech of the day delivered by the fascistic billionaire con-man President Donald Trump at the Pentagon Monday. Trump, whose first reaction on the day of the attacks was to brag—falsely—that the toppling of the Twin Towers had made his own property at 40 Wall Street the tallest building in lower Manhattan, delivered remarks that consisted of barely warmed-over platitudes from previous addresses, repeated tributes to the American flag and a vow to “defend our country against barbaric forces of evil and destruction.”

Trump repeated the well-worn cliché that on September 11 “our whole world changed.” The phrase is meant to suggest that the unending wars, police state measures and sweeping changes in American political life over the past 16 years have all been carried out in response to the supposedly unforeseen and unforeseeable events of September 11, having nothing to do with anything that came before.

That this is a cynical and self-serving lie becomes clearer with every passing year.

On the eve of the anniversary, new revelations emerged linking Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest ally in the Arab world, to the preparation of the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The corporate media, which published nothing of any significance on the anniversary, largely blacked out this new evidence. The New York Timesmarked the anniversary with an editorial detailing efforts by the New York City medical examiner to identify human remains.

A federal lawsuit on behalf of the families of some 1,400 of the 9/11 victims has presented evidence that the Saudi embassy in Washington financed what was apparently a “dry run” for the 9/11 attacks in 1999. Two Saudi agents posing as students boarded an America West flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. with tickets paid for by the Saudi embassy. The lawsuit states that both men had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan with some of the 9/11 hijackers. While on the flight, the two asked flight attendants technical questions about the plane that raised suspicions and twice attempted to enter the cockpit, leading the pilot to carry out an emergency landing in Ohio. Both men were detained and questioned by the FBI, which decided not to pursue any prosecution.

This is only the latest in a long series of revelations that have made it abundantly clear that the events of 9/11 could never have taken place without substantial logistical support from high places. Despite the repeated claims that the attacks “changed everything,” there has never been an independent and objective investigations into how they were carried out. And, despite being what is ostensibly the most catastrophic intelligence failure in American history, no one was ever held accountable with so much as a firing or a demotion.

What evidence has emerged makes it clear that the 9/11 hijackers were able to freely enter the country and attend flight schools despite the fact that a number of those involved had been subjects of surveillance by the CIA and FBI for as long as two years before the attack. Two of them actually lived in the home of an FBI informant.

Twenty-eight pages of heavily redacted documents released in 2016 after being concealed from the public for 13 years established that Saudi intelligence officers funneled substantial amounts of money to the hijackers in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, while assisting them with finding housing as well as flight schools to attend.

While Saudi Arabia was the government most active in carrying out the September 11 attacks, the involvement of Saudi intelligence really means the involvement of a section of the American state apparatus. This is not a matter of conspiracy theories, but established fact. It is bound up with very real conspiracies involving the CIA, Afghanistan and Al Qaeda going back to the Islamist group’s founding as an arm of Washington’s dirty war against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Far from the attacks having “changed everything,” they provided the pretext for acts of military aggression long in preparation. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union a decade earlier, the ruling class initiated a policy developed to use US military might to offset the decline of American capitalism on the world arena. Afghanistan and Iraq were targeted to secure military dominance over two major oil- and gas-producing regions on the planet, the Caspian Basin and the Middle East.

This thoroughly criminal enterprise, justified in the name of 9/11’s victims, has claimed the lives of over 1 million Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and unleashed the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The invocation of a “war on terror”—passed down from Bush to Obama and now to Trump—to justify these crimes has become not only threadbare, but patently absurd. The results of 16 years of uninterrupted US wars of aggression have included an unprecedented growth of Al Qaeda and related Islamist militias, largely as a result of US imperialism’s utilization of these elements as proxy ground forces in wars for regime change in Libya and Syria.

Moreover, the multiple wars and interventions conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA, from North Africa to Central Asia, can quickly metastasize into a global conflagration, with Washington simultaneously threatening nuclear war against North Korea and pursuing increasingly dangerous confrontations with its principal geo-strategic rivals, Russia and China.

September 11 did not “change everything,” but it did mark the beginning of an escalation of what George W. Bush called the “wars of the twenty-first century,” that is, escalating imperialist aggression that is leading mankind toward a third world war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/09/12/pers-s12.html

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Trump’s “trans ban” is an attack on health care

 — and an especially cruel one

Marginalizing health care for trans people is nonsense. It’s also unnecessary and needlessly hurtful

On Tuesday, a rash of extremely misleading headlines, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to ABC News, reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “frozen” Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. This was misleading to the point of being a flat-out lie. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate wrote:

This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.

Mattis’ claim that the issue needs more study is a lie designed to make a decision based in raw bigotry look more thoughtful than it is. The reason we know this is that the military has already studied this issue extensively, releasing a 2016 report that found “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

The excuse that Trump used when he first announced this ban on Twitter, and the excuse he will almost certainly continue to use, is that medical care for trans people, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, is too expensive. Not only is this another lie — it was widely reported that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it expects to spend on gender confirmation treatments — but this excuse is in itself a form of bigotry, a way to demonize transgender people by stigmatizing the health care they need.

“The only reason we’re even having this conversation is because the president and others don’t actually consider health care for trans people to be real health care,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, explained to Salon. “It’s only because we stigmatize this care and we don’t understand trans people that part of the conversation even comes up, because all of the evidence shows that the costs are negligible in a budget that’s billions and billions of dollars.”

Strangio, who helped Chelsea Manning with legal issues during her time in a military prison, is working on a suit that the ACLU filed against Trump and the Department of Defense on behalf of five active service members. The ban would not only bar trans people from enlisting and threaten the status of those currently serving, it would also forbid them from having equal access to health care.

“From a medical aspect, transgender care is regular health care,” explained Dr. Jenn Conti, an ob-gyn who has helped trans men with their gender confirmation care and who is an advocate for Physicians for Reproductive Health. Trump’s “statements and his tweets are truly not founded in medical science,” she continued. “It’s a political issue, and it’s something that’s happening at the expense of an already stigmatized and underserved population.”

What Conti and Strangio both emphasized repeatedly is that there is no reason, morally or medically, to single out trans health care as any different from any other kind of medically necessary care.

“There are enormous medical and psychological consequences that stem from being forced to live in the wrong body,” Conti explained. She has provided gender confirmation surgeries for trans men, including some veterans, and reports, “The relief they feel afterwards is indescribable.”

It’s frustrating to even have to write about this, because people’s right to private medical care that makes them healthy and whole should not be up for debate. Unfortunately, however, trans care — like contraception and abortion care — has been politicized by forces that wish to exploit these private health issues in interests of marginalizing entire classes of people.

“In all contexts, the data shows that not providing health care that’s necessary is more costly than providing it,” Strangio said. He contrasted the $8 million the Pentagon estimates they will spend on trans medical care versus the $960 million bath that the military will take by trying to implement a ban on trans troops.

Beyond the money, however, there is a human cost involved in marginalizing trans health care from any system, military or otherwise. Conti has firsthand knowledge, because she’s worked with patients who get health care through the Veterans Administration, which currently does not cover gender confirmation surgery or related trans medical treatments.

“These people, in addition to feeling really stigmatized, are tasked with this additional stressor of getting creative” in their pursuit of  health care, Conti said. Some of her patients have been forced to claim “that they need these procedures for other indications, like abnormal uterine bleeding or heavy bleeding.”

As far as Conti is concerned, any uterine bleeding is abnormal in a trans man, because they “aren’t meant to have a uterus.” However, the more humane and simpler solution is to simply treat health care for trans people as part of a regular health care system.

Banning trans service members adds another burden to the military medical care system by encouraging trans troops to hide their identity, Strangio added. Once inside the system, there are a number of situations, such as when getting sexual health or mental health care, that a closeted trans person may need to disclose his or her status to a doctor to get proper treatment. But doing so risks a discharged, creating an impossible and stressful choice that does no good for the patient, the doctor or the military.

Strangio expressed confidence that the ACLU’s case against Trump and the Department of Defense would be successful. Pentagon-financed research backs the inclusion of trans troops and coverage of their health care needs. There’s also “significant evidence,” Strangio added, that the president’s alleged concerns “are pretextual for animus that is driving the policy.” Even if the plaintiffs win, he hastened to note, Trump’s actions have done a tremendous amount of needless damage.

“Surgeries have been cancelled. People have been emboldened to act out their individual biases,” he said. The president has sent a message, in Strangio’s judgment that “the government doesn’t value our participation in public life, doesn’t take seriously our health needs.”

US releases Saudi documents: 9/11 coverup exposed

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16 July 2016

The public release Friday afternoon of a section of the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks, which had been kept secret for 13 years, has provided fresh evidence of a deliberate coverup of the role played, not only by the Saudi government, but US intelligence agencies themselves, in facilitating the attacks and then covering up their real roots.

The 28-page segment from the report issued by the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001” provides abundant and damning evidence of extensive Saudi support for the 9/11 hijackers—15 out of 19 of whom were Saudi nationals—in the period leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

The Obama White House, the CIA, the Saudi monarchy and the corporate media have all tried to portray the documents—released on a Friday afternoon to assure minimal exposure—as somehow exonerating the Saudi regime of any culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

“This information does not change the assessment of the US government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaeda,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary said Friday, boasting that the main significance of their release was its proof of the Obama administration’s commitment to “transparency.”

In reality, the 28 pages have been kept under lock and key since 2002, with only members of Congress allowed to read them, in a Capitol Hill basement vault, while prohibited from taking notes, bringing members of their staff or breathing a word of their content.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, maintained this secrecy for several reasons. First, it was concerned that the documents would jeopardize its relations with Saudi Arabia, which, after Israel, is Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, a partner in bloody operations from Afghanistan to Syria to Yemen, and the world’s biggest buyer of American arms.

Even more importantly, it was concerned that the 28 pages would further expose the abject criminality of the US government’s role in facilitating the attacks of 9/11 and then lying about their source and exploiting them to justify savage wars of aggression, first against Afghanistan and then against Iraq. These wars have claimed over a million lives. The false narrative created around the September 11 attacks remains the ideological pillar of the US campaign of global militarism conducted in the name of a “war on terror.”

Media reports on the 28 pages invariably refer to the absence of a “smoking gun,” which presumably would be tantamount to an order signed by the Saudi king to attack New York and Washington. The evidence is described as “inconclusive.” One can only imagine what would have been the response if, in place of the word “Saudi,” the documents referred to Iraqi, Syrian or Iranian actions. The same evidence would have been proclaimed an airtight case for war.

Among those who were involved in preparing the report, John Lehman, the former secretary of the navy, directly contradicted the official response to the release of the previously censored section. “There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” he said. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”

Similarly, former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the committee that carried out the investigation, suggested that the information released Friday was only the beginning. “I think of this almost as the 28 pages are sort of the cork in the wine bottle. And once it’s out, hopefully the rest of the wine itself will start to pour out,” he said.

What clearly emerges from the newly-released document, which is titled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” is that there were multiple indications of funding and support for the 9/11 hijackers and Al Qaeda in general, but that investigations were either shut down or never initiated because of the close ties between Washington and the Saudi monarchy, and between US and Saudi intelligence.

“While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” the document begins. It cites FBI sources as indicating that some of these individuals were “Saudi intelligence officers.”

It goes on to indicate that FBI and CIA investigations of these links were initiated solely in response to the Congressional inquiry itself. “[I]t was only after September 11 that the US government began to aggressively investigate this issue,” the report states. “Prior to September 11th, the FBI apparently did not focus investigative sources on [redacted] Saudi nationals in the United States due to Saudi Arabia’s status as an American ‘ally.’”

The report focuses in part on the role of one Omar al-Bayoumi, who was described to the FBI as a Saudi intelligence officer, and, according to FBI files, “provided substantial assistance to hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi after they arrived in San Diego in February 2000.”

The inquiry report deals with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar only from after they arrived in California, and says nothing about the circumstances under which they were allowed to enter the country in the first place. Both were under CIA surveillance while attending an Al Qaeda planning meeting in 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and placed on a “watch list” for FBI monitoring if they came to the United States. Nonetheless, the two men were allowed to enter the United States on January 15, 2000, landing at Los Angeles International Airport, eventually going to San Diego. From then on, they were permitted to operate freely, attending flight training school in preparation for their role as pilots of hijacked planes on September 11, 2001.

Al-Bayoumi, the report establishes, “received support from a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense,” drawing a paycheck for a no-show job. The report states that the company also had ties to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

According to the report, al-Bayoumi had previously worked for the Saudi Civil Aviation Association and, in the period leading up to 9/11, was “in frequent contact with the Emir at the Saudi Defense Ministry responsible for air traffic control.” Phone records showed him calling Saudi government agencies 100 times between January and May of 2000.

FBI documents also established that the $465 in “allowances” that al-Bayoumi received through the Saudi military contractor, jumped to over $3,700 shortly after the arrival of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. During this period, al-Bayoumi initially allowed the two future hijackers to stay in his apartment before finding them their own place—with an informant of the San Diego FBI—cosigning their lease and advancing them a deposit and the first month’s rent.

The report states that FBI investigations following 9/11 indicated that al-Bayoumi had “some ties to terrorist elements.” His wife, meanwhile, was receiving a $1,200 a month stipend from Princess Haifa Bint Sultan, the wife of Prince Bandar, then the Saudi ambassador to the US and later head of Saudi intelligence.

Also named in the document as a likely Saudi intelligence agent is one Osama Bassnan, who lived across the street from the two hijackers in San Diego and was in telephone contact with al-Bayoumi several times a day during this period. He apparently placed the two in contact with a Saudi commercial airline pilot for discussions on “learning to fly Boeing jet aircraft,” according to an FBI report. Bassnan’s wife also received a monthly stipend from Princess Haifa, the Saudi ambassador’s wife, to the tune of $2,000 a month. As well, the FBI found one $15,000 check written by Bandar himself in 1998 to Bassnan. The report states that FBI information indicated that Bassnan was “an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin,” who spoke of the Al Qaeda leader “as if he were god.”

Appearing before the Congressional inquiry in October 2002, FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Pasquale D’Amuro reacted with undisguised cynicism and contempt when asked about the payments from the Saudi ambassador’s wife to the wives of the two reputed intelligence agents involved with the 9/11 hijackers.

“She gives money to a lot of different groups and people from around the world,” he said. “We’ve been able to uncover a number of these… but maybe if we can discover that she gives to 20 different radical groups, well, gee, maybe there’s a pattern here.” Spoken like a man who believes he is above the law in defense of a figure that he clearly sees as untouchable.

Among other material in the report was the recounting of an FBI interrogation of Saleh al-Hussayen, a prominent Saudi interior ministry official, who stayed in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks. While he claimed not to know the hijackers, the FBI agents “believed he was being deceptive.”

According to the report, al-Hussayen “feigned a seizure” and was released to a hospital, which he left several days later, catching a flight back to Saudi Arabia without any further questioning. During the same period, nearly 1,200 people, with no links to the attacks, were being rounded up and held incommunicado on little more evidence than that they were Arab or Muslim.

Also in the report was the fact that a phone book belonging to Abu Zubaydah, the Al Qaeda operative who is still held at Guantanamo after extensive torture at the hands of the CIA, was found to contain the unlisted numbers of companies that managed and provide security for Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar’s residence in Colorado, as well as that of a bodyguard at the Saudi embassy who, the report states “some have alleged may be a [words redacted].”

Redactions of this sort recur throughout the document in relation to individual Saudis, suggesting their membership in some sort of secret service whose name must remain unmentioned. This is only part of what the secret material still conceals. Members of the inquiry’s staff reportedly protested angrily over the failure to clearly present the evidence of Saudi involvement, leading to the firing of at least one staffer.

If the government is determined to continue to shield such Saudi connections, it is undoubtedly because they would expose the involvement of the US intelligence agencies themselves in the events of 9/11.

If such whitewashes are required, it is because elements within the US government were aware that Al Qaeda was preparing an operation on US soil, turned a blind eye to it and even facilitated it because they knew it could be used as a pretext to carry out longstanding plans for aggressive war in the Middle East.

The release of even the limited material on the Saudi-US-9/11 connection is a devastating exposure of the criminals in the US government, from George W. Bush on down, and the lies they employed to engineer wars that have devastated the lives of millions.

These new facts demand a thorough, impartial and international investigation, as well as the indictment and arrest of top-level officials, both American and Saudi. Only a powerful intervention of the international working class, on the basis of a socialist program, will see these war criminals brought to justice.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

A pittance for Zika, $600 billion for the Pentagon

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20 May 2016

As the Zika virus threatens a worldwide epidemic, and large areas of the United States are poised to be hit, the US Congress has yet to pass a bill authorizing the large sums needed to fight the virus and the diseases caused by it.

As the virus continues to spread, however, the US House voted on Wednesday to approve a $602 billion defense policy bill for the fiscal year beginning October to fund the US military. The bill must be reconciled with a version the Senate is expected to consider by the end of May.

Several months ago, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion to combat Zika, a figure far below what is needed. The House on Wednesday passed a bill to provide $622 million (about one one-thousandth of the military budget) to control Zika, and requires that the funds be fully offset by cuts to other spending, particularly the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate voted on Thursday to pass its $1.1 billion version and proposed to add the cost to the deficit. President Obama has pledged to veto the House bill and has yet to comment on the Senate version.

All of these funding proposals are woefully inadequate to fight the threat of Zika in the US. They express the opposition of the entire political establishment to any serious steps against a virus that overwhelmingly affects the poor and vulnerable. The priority of the ruling class and its political representatives is not the protection and wellbeing of the vast majority of Americans, but funding the gigantic US military apparatus that is deployed throughout the world to prop up dictatorships and to maim and kill civilians.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) confirmed in March that there was sufficient evidence to establish that the Zika virus causes microcephaly, a devastating defect in which infants are born with smaller than normal heads as their brains fail to properly develop. Zika is also thought to cause Guillain–Barré syndrome and other autoimmune conditions that are potentially fatal.

Contraction of Zika is more common in areas that lack sanitation and garbage collection, and have pools of standing water where the Aedes aegypti andAedes albopictus mosquito species that carry the virus can breed. Homes without window screens and bed netting are also at risk. The virus can also be sexually transmitted.

The Pan American Health Organization reported the first confirmed Zika virus infections in Brazil in 2015. About one million cases of Zika infection are now reported in Brazil, which is in the midst of a devastating economic crisis. The number of babies suspected and confirmed to have Zika-induced microcephaly is in the area of 5,000. The epicenter of the Zika crisis is in the country’s Northeast, where 35 million people have no running water and over 100 million lack access to sewage systems.

The CDC has reported mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Puerto Rico is reporting about 100 confirmed cases per week, and 945 infections since the island’s outbreak began last year, 65 of them pregnant women. Last Friday, the US territory’s health department reported the first fetus to develop microcephaly, which was not carried to term.

Puerto Rico defaulted on $347 million of its debt payments on May 2. Last year, the government cut $250 million in appropriations for public health, resulting in the closure of hospitals and health care centers and job losses for thousands of public employees. The default will further curb efforts to fight the spread of Zika.

The virus will undoubtedly move north, beginning with the US South. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) looked at 50 US cities where the Aedes and related mosquito species are known to exist. NCAR assessed cities for Zika risk due to temperature, proximity to airports and overall socioeconomic conditions.

NCAR created a map showing potential areas for significant breeding of the Aedes mosquitos throughout the country. Five Florida cities have been identified as high-risk, and cities in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama also have high-risk cities. Many of these areas have low access to air conditioning and windows with effective screens and greater difficulty accessing clean water.

Moderate risk for Zika has been identified in cities as far north as New York City, and as far west as Oklahoma City.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told ABC News that that there is a “narrow window of opportunity” to tackle the growing Zika threat. “This is an unprecedented problem,” he warned. “We’ve never had a situation before where a single mosquito bite could lead to a devastating fetal malformation.”

Politicians in Washington, however, are unmoved by the potential social catastrophe. The Obama administration’s efforts related to Zika include incentives for the drug companies, offering them expedited approval of new drugs in return for ramping up their research to develop a vaccine to protect against the virus. The pharmaceuticals have previously balked at doing such research, as it is not likely to bring in big profits.

The Zika virus and its horrifying effects, particularly on infants, are born of poverty and social inequality. They can be fought only on the basis of an internationally coordinated campaign, providing the resources to not only rapidly develop and distribute vaccines to fight it, but to eradicate the conditions of poverty and oppression that cause them to spread.

There are more than enough resources to be used to combat Zika and other modern-day plagues, but their utilization is blocked by the capitalist system, which subordinates all such concerns to the profits of a tiny financial oligarchy and its agenda of war abroad and social counterrevolution at home.

Kate Randall

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/05/20/pers-m20.html

The apocalypse has been privatized

How nuclear weapons companies commandeer your tax dollars

While Obama’s Iran pact makes headlines, America’s own corporate-nuclear complex remains hidden in plain sight

The apocalypse has been privatized: How nuclear weapons companies commandeer your tax dollars
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Imagine for a moment a genuine absurdity: somewhere in the United States, the highly profitable operations of a set of corporations were based on the possibility that sooner or later your neighborhood would be destroyed and you and all your neighbors annihilated.  And not just you and your neighbors, but others and their neighbors across the planet. What would we think of such companies, of such a project, of the mega-profits made off it?

In fact, such companies do exist. They service the American nuclear weapons industry and the Pentagon’s vast arsenal of potentially world-destroying weaponry.  They make massive profits doing so, live comfortable lives in our neighborhoods, and play an active role in Washington politics.  Most Americans know little or nothing about their activities and the media seldom bother to report on them or their profits, even though the work they do is in the service of an apocalyptic future almost beyond imagining.

Add to the strangeness of all that another improbability.  Nuclear weapons have been in the headlines for years now and yet all attention in this period has been focused like a spotlight on a country that does not possess a single nuclear weapon and, as far as the American intelligence community can tell, has shown no signs of actually trying to build one.  We’re speaking, of course, of Iran.  Almost never in the news, on the other hand, are the perfectly real arsenals that could actually wreak havoc on the planet, especially our own vast arsenal and that of our former superpower enemy, Russia.

In the recent debate over whether President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran will prevent that country from ever developing such weaponry, you could search high and low for any real discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, even though the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that it contains about 4,700 active warheads.  That includes a range of bombs and land-based and submarine-based missiles. If, for instance, a single Ohio Class nuclear submarine — and the Navy has 14 of them equipped with nuclear missiles — were to launch its 24 Trident missiles, each with 12 independently targetable megaton warheads, the major cities of any targeted country in the world could be obliterated and millions of people would die.

Indeed, the detonations and ensuing fires would send up so much smoke and particulates into the atmosphere that the result would be a nuclear winter, leading toworldwide famine and the possible deaths of hundreds of millions, including Americans (no matter where the missiles went off).  Yet, as if in a classic Dr. Seuss book, one would have to add: that is not all, oh, no, that is not all.  At the moment, the Obama administration is planning for the spending of up to a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize and upgrade America’s nuclear forces.

Given that the current U.S. arsenal represents extraordinary overkill capacity — it could destroy many Earth-sized planets — none of those extra taxpayer dollars will gain Americans the slightest additional “deterrence” or safety. For the nation’s security, it hardly matters whether, in the decades to come, the targeting accuracy of missiles whose warheads would completely destroy every living creature within a multi-mile radius was reduced from 500 meters to 300 meters.  If such “modernization” has no obvious military significance, why the push for further spending on nuclear weapons?

One significant factor in the American nuclear sweepstakes goes regularly unmentioned in this country: the corporations that make up the nuclear weapons industry.  Yet the pressures they are capable of exerting in favor of ever more nuclear spending are radically underestimated in what passes for “debate” on the subject.

Privatizing Nuclear Weapons Development

Start with this simple fact: the production, maintenance, and modernization of nuclear weapons are sources of super profits for what is, in essence, a cartel.  They, of course, encounter no competition for contracts from offshore competitors, given that it’s the U.S. nuclear arsenal we’re talking about, and the government contracts offered are screened from critical auditing under the guise of national security.  Furthermore, the business model employed is “cost-plus,” which means that no matter how high cost overruns may be compared to original bids, contractors receive a guaranteed profit percentage above their costs. High profits are effectively guaranteed, no matter how inefficient or over-budget the project may become.  In other words, there is no possibility of contractors losing money on their work, no matter how inefficient they may be (a far cry from a corporate free-market model of production).

Those well-protected profits and the firms raking them in have become a major factor in the promotion of nuclear weapons development, undermining any efforts at nuclear disarmament of almost any sort.  Part of this process should be familiar indeed, since it’s an extension of a classic Pentagon formula that Columbia University industrial economist Seymour Melman once described so strikingly in his books andarticles, a formula that infamously produced $436 hammers and $6,322 coffee makers.

Given the process and the profits, the weapons contractors have a vested interest in ensuring that the American public has a heightened sense of danger and insecurity (even as they themselves have become a leading source of such danger and insecurity).  Recently, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) produced a striking report, “Don’t Bank on the Bomb,” documenting the major corporate contractors and their investors who will reap those mega-profits from the coming nuclear weapons upgrades.

Given the penumbra of national security that envelops the country’s nuclear weapons programs, authentic audits of the contracts of these companies are not available to the public. However, at least the major corporations profiting from nuclear weapons contracts can now be identified. In the area of nuclear delivery systems — bombers, missiles, and submarines — these include a series of familiar corporate names: Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, GenCorp Aerojet, Huntington Ingalls, and Lockheed Martin. In other areas like nuclear design and production, the names at the top of the list will be less well known: Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel, Honeywell International, and URS Corporation. When it comes to nuclear weapons testing and maintenance, contractors include Aecom, Flour, Jacobs Engineering, and SAIC; missile targeting and guidance firms include Alliant Techsystems and Rockwell Collins.

To give a small sampling of the contracts: In 2014, Babcock & Wilcox was awarded $76.8 million for work on upgrading the Ohio class submarines. In January 2013, General Dynamics Electric Boat Division was awarded a $4.6 billion contract to design and develop a next-generation strategic deterrent submarine. More of what is known of such corporate weapons contracts can be found in the ICAN Report, which also identified banks and other financial institutions investing in the nuclear weapons corporations.

Many Americans are unaware that much of the responsibility for nuclear weapons development, production, and maintenance lies not with the Pentagon but the Department of Energy (DOE), which spends more on nuclear weapons than it does on developing sustainable energy sources.  Key to the DOE’s nuclear project are thefederal laboratories where nuclear weapons are designed, built, and tested. They include Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL) in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in Livermore, California.  These, in turn, reflect a continuing trend in national security affairs, so-called GOCO sites (“government owned, contractor operated”). At the labs, this system represents a corporatization of the policies of nuclear deterrence and other nuclear weapons strategies. Through contracts with URS, Babcock & Wilcox, the University of California, and Bechtel, the nuclear weapons labs are to a significant extentprivatized. The LANL contract alone is on the order of $14 billion. Similarly, the Savannah River Nuclear Facility, in Aiken, South Carolina, where nuclear warheads are manufactured, is jointly run by Flour, Honeywell International, and Huntington Ingalls Industries. Their DOE contract for operating it through 2016 totals about $8 billion dollars. In other words, in these years that have seen the rise of the warrior corporation and a significant privatization of the U.S. military and the intelligence community, a similar process has been underway in the world of nuclear weaponry.

In addition to the prime nuclear weapons contractors, there are hundreds of subcontractors, some of which depend upon those subcontracts for the bulk of their business. Any one of them may have from 100 to several hundred employees working on its particular component or system and, with clout in local communities, they help push the nuclear modernization program via their congressional representatives.

One of the reasons nuclear weapons profitability is extremely high is that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the Department of Energy, responsible for the development and operations of the DOE’s nuclear weapons facilities, does not monitor subcontractors, which makes it difficult to monitor prime contractors as well. For example, when the Project on Government Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on Babock & Wilcox, the subcontractor for security at the Y-12 nuclear complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the NNSA responded that it hadno information on the subcontractor.  Babcock & Wilcox was then in charge of building a uranium processing facility at Y-12.  It, in turn, subcontracted design work to four other companies and then failed to consolidate or supervise them.  This led to an unusable design, which was only scrapped after the subcontractors had received $600 million for work that was useless.  This Oak Ridge case, in turn, triggered a Government Accountability Officereport to Congress last May indicating that such problems were endemic to the DOE’s nuclear weapons facilities.

The Nuclear Lobbyists

Federal tax dollars expended on nuclear weapons maintenance and development are a significant component of the federal budget. Although difficult to pin down precisely, the sums run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported that even the Pentagon had no firm numbers when it came to how much the nuclear mission costs, nor is there a standalone nuclear weapons budget of any sort, so overall costs must be estimated. Analyzing the budgets of the Pentagon and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as information gleaned from Congressional testimony, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies suggests that, from 2010-2018, the United States will spend at least $179 billion to maintain the current nuclear triad of missiles, bombers, and submarines, with their associated nuclear weaponry, while beginning the process of developing their next-generation replacements.  The Congressional Budget Office projects the cost of nuclear forces for 2015-2024 at $348 billion, or $35 billion annually, of which the Pentagon will spend $227 billion and the Department of Energy $121 billion.

In fact, the price for maintaining and developing the nuclear arsenal is actually far greater than either of those estimates.  While those numbers include most of the direct costs of nuclear weapons and strategic launching systems like missiles and submarines, as well as the majority of the costs for the military personnel responsible for maintaining, operating, and executing the missions, they don’t include many other expenses, including the decommissioning process and nuclear-waste disposal issues involved in “retiring” weapons.  Nor do they include the pensions and health-care costs that will go with retiring their human operators.

In 2012, a report from a high-level committee chaired by former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright concluded that “no sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face [including] threats posed by rogue states, failed states, proliferation, regional conflicts, terrorism, cyber warfare, organized crime, drug trafficking, conflict-driven mass migration of refugees, epidemics, or climate change. In fact, nuclear weapons have on balance arguably become more a part of the problem than any solution.”

Not surprisingly, for the roster of corporations involved in the U.S. nuclear programs, this matters little.  They, in fact, maintain elaborate lobbying operations in support of their continuing nuclear weapons contracts. In a 2012 study for the Center for International Policy, “Bombs vs. Budgets: Inside the Nuclear Weapons Lobby,” William Hartung and Christine Anderson reported that, for the elections of that year, the top 14 contractors gave nearly $3 million directly to Congressional legislators.  Not surprisingly, half that sum went to members of the four key committees or subcommittees that oversee spending for nuclear arms.

In 2015, the defense industry mobilized a small army of at least 718 lobbyists and doled out more than $67 million dollars pressuring Congress for increased weapons spending generally.  Among the largest contributors werecorporations with significant nuclear weapons contracts, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics. Such pro-nuclear lobbying is augmented by contributions and pressure from missile and aircraft companies that are primarily non-nuclear. Some of the systems they produce, however, are potentially dual-use (conventional and nuclear), which means that a robust nuclear weapons program increases their potential market.

The continuing pressure of Congressional Republicans for cuts in domestic social programs are a crucial mechanism that ensures federal tax dollars will be available for lucrative military contracts. In terms of quality of life (and death), this means that underestimating the influence of the nuclear weapons industry is singularly dangerous.  For the $35 billion or more the U.S. taxpayer will put into such weaponry annually to support the narrow interests of a modest number of companies, the payback is fear of an apocalyptic future. After all, unlike almost all other corporate lobbies, the nuclear weapons lobby (and so your tax dollars) put life on Earth at risk of rapid extinction, either following the direct destruction of a nuclear holocaust or a radical reduction in sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface that would come from the sort of nuclear winter that would follow almost any nuclear exchange. At the moment, the corporate-nuclear complex is hidden in our midst, its budgets and funds shielded from public scrutiny, its project hardly noticed. It’s a formula for disaster.

Pentagon “Law of War” Manual justifies war crimes and press censorship

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11 August 2015

The lead editorial Monday in the New York Times has brought to the attention of the general public the Pentagon’s issuance of a major new document defining rules of conduct on the battlefield for US military personnel and their commanders.

The Law of War Manual, a massive 1,165-page document, was published in June, but was initially discussed exclusively in blogs specializing in military law and security policy. The major US newspapers and television networks, which have full-time Pentagon correspondents and regularly review Pentagon press releases, chose to say nothing about the Law of War Manual, for reasons that become obvious when the content of the document is explored.

Nor did they comment initially on the manual’s provisions for journalists until the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement July 31 under the headline, “In times of war, Pentagon reserves right to treat journalists like spies.” The CPJ statement noted the rising number of journalists imprisoned or killed while covering the actions of armed groups in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa. It attacked the Pentagon document for justifying the treatment of journalists as belligerents or outright spies, who may be detained, imprisoned or even killed at the discretion of battlefield commanders, as well as endorsing blanket military censorship of press reporting.

The CPJ declared, “The Obama administration’s Defense Department appears to have taken the ill-defined practices begun under the Bush administration during the War on Terror and codified them to formally govern the way US military forces treat journalists covering conflicts.” The continuity between administrations is underscored by the identity of the Law of War Manual’s principal author, Pentagon General Counsel Stephen W. Preston. Before moving to the Department of Defense, Preston was general counsel of the CIA from 2009 to 2012, the period when the agency was ferociously resisting a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into torture at CIA secret “black site” prisons under the Bush administration.

The Times editorial complains about the guidelines for treatment of journalists and pleads with the White House to take action to force their immediate repeal. At the same time, it notes that a spokesman for the National Security Council refused even to say whether the White House had signed off on the manual.

The Times objects to the manual’s claim that “Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying,” and its insistence that journalists must “act openly and with the permission of relevant authorities,” a provision that would make impossible virtually any kind of war reporting other than the state propaganda provided by the notorious “embedded journalists” of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

But the editors give no explanation why the news pages of the Times have never mentioned the Law of War Manual, or why their concern is limited to the two pages of the manual that apply to journalists and not to the bulk of the document, which amounts to a green light for military atrocities including mass killings. The WSWS will examine the 1,165-page Pentagon document more fully in the coming days, but certain preliminary points can be made.

The Law of War Manual:

* Declares legitimate the use of nuclear weapons, stating, “There is no general prohibition in treaty or customary international law on the use of nuclear weapons.” Nor is the use of nuclear weapons considered “inherently disproportionate,” even if the target is a military force that does not possess nuclear weapons.

* Authorizes the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, herbicides (such as Agent Orange in Vietnam), laser weapons and riot control agents (tear gas, pepper spray, etc.), as well as depleted uranium munitions.

* Authorizes cluster munitions, mines and booby-traps, noting that “the United States is not a Party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”

* Authorizes the use of exploding (hollow-point) bullets, stating that the United States government was not a party to the 1868 St. Petersburg declaration banning their use or the 1899 Declaration on Expanding Bullets.

* Justifies drone missile attacks by both the Pentagon and intelligence agencies such as the CIA, declaring flatly, “There is no prohibition in the law of war on the use of remotely piloted aircraft…”

* Declares that when human rights treaties and the laws of war come into conflict, “these apparent conflicts may be resolved by the principle that the law of war… is the controlling body of law with regard to the conduct of hostilities.”

As pointed out in discussions in specialist journals, the new Law of War Manual redefines the principles set out in the most comprehensive previous such document, issued by the Pentagon in 1956, by declaring that “the main purposes of the law of war are: protecting combatants, noncombatants, and civilians from unnecessary suffering.”

The previous document did not include civilians in the concept of “unnecessary suffering,” not because it permitted greater violence against civilians, but because it assumed that any such violence was prohibited, and that any deliberate targeting of civilians was illegal and a war crime.

The new document seeks to distinguish between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” acts of military violence against civilian targets, using the criterion of military necessity. Thus, acts of mass slaughter of civilians could be justified if sufficient military advantages were gained by the operations.

It is no surprise that the New York Times and the entire American media have been silent on the issuance of the Law of War Manual. They are following orders to conceal from the American people, and from the world’s population, the Pentagon’s preparations for new and more massive war crimes, along with the destruction of democratic rights spelled out in the US Constitution.

The Times separates the Pentagon’s rejection of the First Amendment guarantee of press freedom from the eruption of American militarism, which it supports. In fact, the new manual demonstrates the incompatibility of militarism and democracy. The struggle against imperialist war is inseparable from the struggle against dictatorship. They both require the development of an international struggle of the working class against capitalism.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/11/pers-a11.html

Pentagon seeks network of new US military bases in Iraq

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By Thomas Gaist
13 June 2015

The Pentagon is preparing to develop a network of new US military bases in strategic areas of Iraq, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday.

The new US garrisons will house further deployments of hundreds more US troops, beyond the deployment of an additional 450 US forces announced by the Obama administration on Wednesday.

The Pentagon aims to establish a chain of “lily pads, if you will, that allow us to continue to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” Dempsey said. US military planners are already looking at possible locations for bases in central Iraq, he added.

“We’re looking all the time at whether there might be additional sites necessary,” Dempsey said while speaking to reporters during a visit to Europe this week.

The US currently maintains a force of some 3,100 troops in Iraq, a figure set to increase to nearly 3,600 as a result of the new deployment announced Wednesday.

The US may eventually decide to go “all-in” with its intervention, State Department spokesman Admiral John Kirby said in statements earlier this week. Even in such a scenario, the war would likely continue for at least 3-5 more years, Kirby said.

The new US garrisons would be modeled on plans for a major joint US-Iraqi training and operational facility to be established at Taqaddum in Iraq’s western Anbar province, revealed by the White House on Wednesday.

The new US base is to serve as the staging area for a campaign to retake the city of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, which was recently seized by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The 450 US troops being deployed to Taqaddum will train Iraqi forces and help them prepare to march on Ramadi, as well as directing ground operations and calling in US air support.

US troops will move “closer to the fight” during joint operations with Iraqi forces in the coming weeks and months, according to officials who spoke to the New York Times .

The Times article Thursday headlined “Obama Looks at Adding Bases and Troops in Iraq,” reported that White House officials have confirmed that Obama is “open” to the Pentagon’s demands for a network of new bases and the deployments of hundreds more US troops. The publication of this article, sourced entirely to Obama aides, is the clearest possible sign of a further massive expansion of US intervention in Iraq.

The White House will “seriously consider” any proposals for new bases submitted by the Defense Department, Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest vowed Thursday in reply to Dempsey’s remarks.

Similarly, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama will “take a hard look” at any proposal for expanded US basing arrangements in Iraq.

Since the initial deployment of some 300 US troops last summer, presented to the public as a “discrete, measured, and temporary” mission of “limited duration,” the US has steadily expanded its military presence on the ground while pummeling western and northern Iraq and eastern Syria with some 4,400 air strikes.

In the name of fighting ISIS, whose origins lie in the intervention of US imperialism in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon is expanding a military intervention which, it becomes clearer every day, amounts to nothing less than the re-invasion and re-occupation of Iraq.

The statements this week from the White House and Pentagon have made clear that these deployments, launched without any pretense of democratic process or debate, were only the opening phase of a much larger and constantly expanding US intervention.

The Pentagon’s moves to establish an entire network of US bases, manned by hundreds more US troops under orders to get “closer to the fight,” underscore that “Operation Inherent Resolve” is rapidly metastasizing into a massive ground war. On the current trajectory, it will not be long before thousands and even tens of thousands of US troops are directly engaged in frontline combat operations inside Iraq.

The leading mandarins of US war strategy are coming forward in full-throated support of the Pentagon’s proposals for a major expansion of the US military presence in Iraq.

Denouncing Obama’s Iraq policy as “creeping incrementalism,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) demanded that US air forces escalate their onslaught against targets in Iraq and Syria, regardless of the mass slaughter of civilians that he admits will result. “The US cannot make avoiding all civilian casualties a strategic objective,” Cordesman said in testimony to Congress last week.

The current military presence in Iraq is “woefully inadequate” and will remain so even after it is expanded to 3,500, according to comments this week from Rick Brennan, a top analyst at RAND Corporation, another staunchly militarist and pro-imperialist think tank.

To facilitate the re-insertion of US forces and shore up its position in Iraq, Washington is engaged in another round of “divide-and-rule” maneuvers like those that tore the country apart in 2006-2007. The US is turning to the Sunni tribes in Anbar province in order to pressure the Shiite elite, now in control of the central government, which has close ties to Iran.

Along with the new bases, the US aims to mobilize Sunni tribes as a “holding force” in support of US and Iraqi forces, along the lines of the “Sunni Awakening,” General Dempsey made clear.

After mobilizing Iran-backed Shiite militias in a marriage of convenience against the Sunni extremist forces of ISIS, Washington is now preparing new initiatives aimed at drawing Sunni militias into the melee.

Baghdad is being sent a clear message: toe the US strategic line, or face stepped-up US efforts to bypass and undermine its authority through the redirection of military and financial aid to Sunni forces.

Undisturbed by the transformation Iraq and Syria into killing fields overrun by fundamentalist militias, the US ruling elite is preparing further sectarian manipulations of the sort that have already produced a bloodbath.

 

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/13/iraq-j13.html