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Whitney Webb

Outcome of Assange Case Could Undermine the Rights of Millions

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As the sixth anniversary of his extended stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London approaches, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is faced with increasingly limited options. Barred from communicating with the outside world and from receiving most visitors, Assange’s only hope of avoiding extradition to the United States on trumped-up espionage charges comes down to the governments of the two countries of which he is a citizen: Australia and Ecuador.

In an unexpected move last week, the Australian government sent officials to meet with Assange and later confirmed that Australia would finally extend consular assistance to the Australian-born journalist after years of failing to do so and even threatening to revoke his Australian passport. The Australian government, in the past, has attempted to argue that it can do little to help Assange’s situation, asserting that it was “unable to intervene in the due process of another country’s court proceedings or legal matters.”

It has also failed to publicly comment on the UN’s finding that Assange has been subjected to arbitrary detention by the United Kingdom — asserting, as recently as last week, that the government’s position on the matter is “confidential,” and deflecting responsibility by claiming that the UN’s findings “are directed at the United Kingdom and Sweden, not at Australia.”
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Trump Puts his Logo on the Military-Industrial Complex, Sets Up US Arms Sales with Syria Demo

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The week after the US, along with the UK and France, launched unilateral strikes against the Syrian government, the Trump administration is rolling out a “Buy American” weapons-selling initiative aimed at allowing other nations to buy even more weapons from US-based arms manufacturers.According to Reuters, the initiative, set to be announced today, will speed up the approval of arms deals to US allies and will call for members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, as well as the president himself, to act as “closers” in major arms deals and salesmen for US weapons companies at international air shows and weapons showcases.

“This policy seeks to mobilize the full resources of the United States government behind arms transfers that are in the US national and economic security interest,” a White House official told Reuters. After news of the initiative first broke in the media, US weapons manufacturers made massive gains in the stock market and Raytheon’s stock hit an all-time high. In addition to helping the military-industrial complex secure more business, Trump may be pushing the initiative, at least in part, because of his personal investments in US weapons giants like Raytheon, Boeing and General Electric.

The initiative comes less than a week after the US strikes launched against Syria, and the strikes themselves were likely part of a PR bid to boost US weapons manufacturers and international arms orders leading up to the “Buy American” announcement. In addition, doubts have been raised that the strikes were planned to cause any major damage to the Syrian government, as the Syrian and Russian governments were allegedly “tipped off” by Trump prior to the attack, and given ample time to prepare by evacuating nearly all key military hardware.

This suggests that the purpose of the strike was not actually to harm the Syrian government as much as showcase US military might and weaponry in the lead-up to the official announcement of Trump’s new weapons selling initiative.
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How the US Occupied the 30 Percent of Syria Containing Most of its Oil, Water and Gas

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DAMASCUS, SYRIA –   After the U.S. launched “limited” airstrikes on Friday against Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. will maintain its illegal presence in Syria until U.S. goals in the area are fulfilled, opening the door for the U.S. occupation to continue indefinitely. 

While the U.S. military presence in Syria has been ongoing since 2015 – justified as a means of countering Daesh (ISIS) — U.S. troops have since turned into an occupying force with their failure to pull out following Daesh’s defeat in northeastern Syria. Currently, the U.S. occupies nearly a third of Syrian territory — around 30 percent — including much of the area east of the Euphrates River, encompassing large swaths of the Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah and Raqqa regions.

Though the U.S. currently has between 2,000 to 4,000 troops stationed in Syria, it announced the training of a 30,000-person-strong “border force” composed of U.S.-allied Kurds and Arabs in the area, which would be used to prevent northeastern Syria from coming under the control of Syria’s legitimate government. Though it backtracked somewhat after backlash from Turkey, the U.S. has continued to train “local forces” in the area. Russian military sources have asserted that former members of Daesh — who were allowed to leave cities attacked by the U.S. and their proxies, as was the case in battle for Raqqa — are to be included among the force’s ranks.
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US Commander: ‘US Troops Prepared to Die for Israel’ in War against Syria, Hezbollah

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Last Sunday, the largest joint military exercise between the United States and Israel began with little fanfare. The war game, dubbed “Operation Juniper Cobra,” has been a regular occurrence for years, though it has consistently grown in size and scope. Now, however, this year’s 12-day exercise brings a portent of conflict unlike those of its predecessors.
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Something For Everyone: Mueller Indictment a Boon for Partisan Status Quo

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Last Friday, depending on which side of the partisan divide one was watching from, President Trump was either vindicated or his treachery was confirmed. The impetus for these seemingly disparate reactions was Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian nationals, the latest and largest indictment to result from his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. However, over the nine months that Mueller’s investigation has been active, it has continuously grown from its original purpose of investigating Russian collusion, expanding to include the business dealings of Trump and his inner circle with countries ranging from Qatar to China, meaning that the probe is no longer expressly about Russian collusion.

The drift of focus from its original purpose — as well as its failure to produce any connection between the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and the leaks of DNC and John Podesta’s emails — has led critics who place themselves outside of the left-right paradigm to treat this latest indictment with skepticism. Not only that, but concerns have been raised that the real purpose of Mueller’s probe is much more subtle and nefarious than publicly admitted and that it may itself be a threat to American democracy.

One such critic is Daniel McAdams, political analyst and executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. McAdams, in an interview with MintPress News, stated that the Mueller indictment “has something for everybody,” explaining the strikingly different reactions from the establishment left and right. However, McAdams noted that the indictment was especially helpful to the “entire political class in Washington,” which may now “continue with its Cold War 2.0 project” without interference from anyone in favor of normalizing U.S.-Russian relations. In addition, McAdams warned that the recent indictment is likely to have a “chilling effect on the First Amendment,” also a boon to those elements of the political elite that seek to limit the acceptable range of debate on U.S. foreign policy.
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Lifting of US Propaganda Ban Gives New Meaning to Old Song

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Though its ostensible purpose is to fund the US military over a one year period, the National Defense Authorization Act, better known as the NDAA, has had numerous provisions tucked into it over the years that have targeted American civil liberties. The most well-known of these include allowing the government to wiretap American citizens without a warrant and, even more disturbingly, indefinitely imprison an American citizen without charge in the name of “national security.”

One of the lesser-known provisions that have snuck their way into the NDAA over the years was a small piece of legislation tacked onto the NDAA for fiscal year 2013, signed into law in that same year by then-President Barack Obama. Named “The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012,” it completely lifted the long-existing ban on the domestic dissemination of US government-produced propaganda.

For decades, the US government had been allowed to produce and disseminate propaganda abroad in order to drum up support for its foreign wars but had been banned from distributing it domestically after the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. However, the Modernization Act’s co-authors, Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA, no relation to the Smith of the 1948 act), asserted that removing the domestic ban was necessary in order to combat “al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among populations.”
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The Media’s Wildly Different Take on Unrest in Tunisia and Iran

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As the new year began, social media and corporate-owned news organizations alike were giving the protests in Iran constant coverage, despite the fact that the protests were relatively small in size and motivated primarily by economics — not politics, as many popular news outlets had claimed. Not surprisingly, these same organizations failed to mention the role of sanctions backed by the West in fomenting the economic troubles facing Iranians.

Soon after — despite US encouragement and financial backing, as well as the key role of the US-trained, Iran-based terrorist group MEK, in fomenting the unrest — the protests in Iran fizzled. It was difficult to know this if one relied exclusively upon corporate media reports, which claimed that the protests were growing by the minute, in some cases using images of past protests from other countries, such as Bahrain and Argentina, and even scenes from movies to support a narrative completely divorced from reality.

Media reports also falsely claimed that the protests attracted thousands of participants while local media and actual video evidence from the protests show much smaller gatherings that — given Iran’s population of 80 million — were insignificant in many cases. The dissolution of the protests understandably left those eager for an excuse to meddle in Iranian affairs, namely the US and Israel, utterly disappointed.

Just as the protests in Iran began to sputter, new protests sprang to life last week — this time in Tunisia. Since Monday night, those protests have escalated significantly and have attracted thousands, despite a violent state response. Unlike those that took place in Iran, the turnout has been continuous, significant and concentrated despite the country’s relatively small size.
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Birth Of An Insurgency: The US-Israeli 'Secret Deal' To Manipulate Protests In Iran

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Using the recent protests as cover, the governments of the United States and Israel are advancing a much larger plan for covert regime change against the Iranian government, one born out of the “secret deal” negotiated and signed between the two countries right before the widely covered but relatively small protests in Iran began in late December.

That deal, negotiated between National Security Adviser and neocon darling H.R. McMaster and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat, secured the full cooperation of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations in targeting Iran’s “threatening activities” through a series of “memorandums of understanding.” As the Times of Israel reported, such cooperation is ultimately expected to translate into “steps on the ground” — a vague way of implying that aggressive actions will soon target Iran, including potential military action.

Yet, since the agreement was announced in the press, the evidence seems to point to the development of a more covert operation that is set to begin with the assassination of a top Iranian general.

Reviving a once-thwarted assassination plan

On Monday, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that an “American-Israeli agreement” had been forged that determined that Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force active in fighting the Wahhabist insurgency in Syria, is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” This understanding subsequently resulted in the U.S. government giving Israel the “green light” to assassinate Soleimani, a plan Israel had unsuccessfully attempted to carry out three years earlier.
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Foreign Agents Registration Act Marked by History of Politicization, Selective Enforcement

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Though it garnered renewed interest thanks to Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration and the rise of “Russiagate” hysteria, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 has been irregularly enforced over the course of its 79-year history. Despite nearly eight decades on the books, the law has resulted in only a handful of prosecutions and a single conviction, suggesting that the government’s enforcement of the law has been lax — to say the least. 

Originally intended to counter pro-Nazi lobbyists active in the United States in the lead-up to World War II, FARA requires that all agents operating domestically on behalf of a “foreign principal” — that is, a non-U.S. entity operating abroad — must register with the U.S. Department of Justice. Those who register must disclose all of their activities and finances to the federal government, including confidential data and the personal information of employees.

There are, however, many exceptions to those who must register, such as diplomats, artists, priests, and “any news or press service organized under the laws of the United States.” In other words, a law firm lobbying for a foreign government or company must register while news services funded by foreign governments — like Al Jazeera, France24, BBC or Deutsche Welle — are — generally — off the hook.

This last exception is why the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement on Thursday that the TV news channel Russia Today (RT), which receives its funding from the Russian government and a consortium of Russian banks, must register as a foreign agentcame as a surprise to many. RT, which has been active in the U.S. since 2005, is suddenly being asked to register as a foreign agent under FARA, only after political pressure against Russian entities and perceived state actors reached a boiling point.
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US Allows Saudi Arabia To Plant Wahhabi Seed In Raqqa Rubble

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The fight to free the Syrian city of Raqqa from Daesh (ISIS) — by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by U.S. special forces — has all but ended. With Raqqa now under SDF control, the question has become how to rebuild the former Daesh stronghold. The reconstruction of Raqqa will undoubtedly last longer than the siege to free it, as thousands of U.S. air and artillery strikes pounded much of the city into rubble. During August alone, a U.S. coalition bomb, missile or artillery round was fired into Raqqa on average every eight minutes.

Unable to deny its role in the city’s rather destructive “liberation,” the U.S. government has claimed that it will lead the way in clearing the rubble it created and restore basic services, such as water and electricity that were cut off during the bombardment. Last Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, “We will assist and take, essentially, the lead in bringing back the water, electricity and all of that.”

“But eventually the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in,” Nauert added, alluding to the fact that the SDF and its U.S. backers have no plans to return Raqqa to Syrian government control, having instead passed the city’s governance to a “local council.”

However, Raqqa’s council along with other groups of Syrian Kurds recently agreed to negotiate with the Syrian government after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told the Kurds last month that the Syrian government was open to granting the Kurds “some form of self-administration.”
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