Category Archives: International affairs

Austerity Today- Austerity Won’t Work if the Roof Is Leaking


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 Austerity Won’t Work if the Roof Is Leaking


New York Times
Hasn’t Germany been one of the most outspoken advocates of fiscal austerity after the financial crisis? Yes, and that’s not a contradiction. Fiscally responsible businesses routinely borrow to invest, and so, until recently, did most governments 
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Anxious, austerity-minded, but worldly: the young Britons of Generation A
The Guardian
This is Generation Y, born between the 1980s and the millennium, hammered by the recession andausterity. Generation Y faces more years of financial slowdown, but what is to become of the cohort following in its footsteps, arguably moving through an 
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Labour and the Tories’ woes show our political system is breaking apart
New Statesman
On the other side of the political aisle, activists from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity don’t think much of Labour either. One of their luminaries, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, spelled out why in his Staggers piece last week, berating 
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Potential Mistakes (Wonkish)
New York Times (blog)
Understating output gaps leads to excessive demands for austerity and excessive complacency at central banks; this perpetuates the depression; and the longer the depression goes on, the more misleading the standard estimates become. So it’s good news 
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Municipal workers protest in Greece over government layoff plans
Press TV
Greece has been at the epicenter of the eurozone debt crisis and is experiencing its fifth year of recession, while harsh austerity measures have left about half a million people without jobs.” Greek municipal employees have held demonstrations against 
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Calls for a 5pc rise in welfare cash for our poorest OAPs
Herald.ie
Age Action Ireland says the cumulative impact of a series of austerity budgets is having a devastating impact on our senior citizens. The advocacy group has pleaded with the Government, particularly Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, to include a 
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Bulgaria’s president calls for early elections amid mass anti-government protests
The Province
The government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski took office after the May 12 early elections following the resignation of his predecessor Boiko Borisov amid antiausterity protests. The appointment of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski as head 
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Teen ‘lying on the road for an hour’ in wait for ambulance
Irish Independent
AUSTERITY measures are to blame for leaving a 14-year-old girl lying on the road awaiting an ambulance for more than an hour, the union representing HSE ambulance drivers claims. Also in this section. Robinson at festival · Dissident arms haul is 
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Social Justice Ireland wants Govt to increase pension payments
Irish Examiner
Cuts to income and services have left pensioners at breaking point, it was claimed today. Age Action warned Government that the cumulative impact of multiple austerity budgets was having a severely damaging effect on the most vulnerable of older people.
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The withering of America’s exception agriculturelle
Financial Times
Lacking the money for a proper stimulus and the time to wait for the healing power of austerity, Europe’s leaders have pinned their economic hopes on trade with the US. Negotiations on the proposed transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which 
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Ipsa: MPs’ role in our democracy ‘should be recognised’
Telegraph.co.uk
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) chairman Sir Ian Kennedy admitted that theausterity being felt by the country made its review of MPs’ salaries and pensions tougher, but said that the role MPs play in a democratic system means they 
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China: luxury dining goes mid market
Financial Times (registration) (blog)
There is plenty of room for skepticism about whether Beijing’s latest austerity drive will have any lasting impact on the per capita consumption of Lamborghinis by government officials. But in one area it clearly has had a marked effect: luxury dining.
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Italian austerity drive forces Vatican to pay more property tax
BusinessGhana
More ». Italian austerity drive forces Vatican to pay more property tax. News Date: 5th July 2013. The Vatican said Thursday it had to pay an extra 5 million euros (6.5 million dollars) in property tax last year as a result of austerity measures 
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Edward Snowden offered asylum by Venezuelan president


Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said on Friday he had decided to offer asylum to former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has petitioned several countries to avoid capture by Washington.

“In the name of America’s dignity … I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden,” Maduro told a televised military parade marking Venezuela‘s independence day.

The 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport.

WikiLeaks said on Friday that Snowden had applied to six more nations for asylum, bringing to about 20 the number of countries he has asked for protection from US espionage charges.

Maduro said Venezuela was ready to offer him sanctuary, and that the details Snowden had revealed of a US spy program had exposed the nefarious schemes of the US “empire”.

“He has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the US spying on the whole world,” Maduro said.

“Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the US government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate president Bashar al-Assad?”

“Who is the terrorist? Who is the global delinquent?”

Russia has shown signs of growing impatience over Snowden’s stay in Moscow. Its deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Snowden had not sought asylum in that country and needed to choose a place to go.

Moscow has made clear that the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff over his fate causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

Earlier on Friday, Nicaragua said it had received an asylum request from Snowden and could accept the bid “if circumstances permit”, president Daniel Ortega said.

“We are an open country, respectful of the right of asylum, and it’s clear that if circumstances permit, we would gladly receive Snowden and give him asylum in Nicaragua,” Ortega said during a speech in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

Ortega, an ally of Venezuelan president Maduro, did not elaborate on the conditions that would allow him to offer asylum to Snowden, who has been at the eye of a diplomatic storm since leaking high-level US intelligence data last month.

Options have been narrowing for Snowden as he seeks a country to shelter him from US espionage charges.

A one-time cold war adversary of the United States, Ortega belongs to a bloc of leftist leaders in Latin America that have frequently taken up antagonistic positions with Washington.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, has benefited greatly from financial support from Venezuela, and Ortega was a staunch ally of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

via Edward Snowden offered asylum by Venezuelan president | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Latin America rallies behind Bolivia after ‘humiliation’ by Europe


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Latin American leaders slammed European governments for diverting Bolivian President Evo Morales‘ plane on rumours it was carrying a wanted former US spy agency contractor, and announced an emergency summit in a new diplomatic twist to the Edward Snowden saga.

Heads of state from countries including Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay were planning to gather in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in a show of solidarity. The detour was a “humiliation” for the region, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said.

Morales, who was greeted by cheering supporters throwing flowers and waving flags when he arrived at the La Paz airport, blamed his delay on the US and its “servants” in Europe whom he said are trying to “intimidate the people and social groups”.

“This is an open provocation to the continent, not just the president,” Morales said.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she was “surprised and amazed” that European governments obstructed Morales’ travel after they condemned the US over Snowden’s allegations that it was spying on allies.

Such behaviour puts at risk dialogue between South America and Europe, she said.

Failure to allow Morales’ plane to fly through airspace of the European countries threatened the security of the people on board, Russia said. The actions of authorities in France, Spain and Portugal was “hardly friendly,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

The international wrangle linked to Snowden took a further twist yesterday when a British private surveillance company denied that it was behind the bugging of the embassy, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over a year.

WikiLeaks is trying to assist Snowden, who is believed to be stranded at an airport in Moscow and seeking asylum in a variety of countries including Ecuador.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino on Wednesday made the allegation against the Surveillance Group.

The Surveillance Group’s chief executive Timothy Young rejected Patino’s allegation as “completely untrue”.

“The Surveillance Group does not and has never been engaged in any activities of this nature,” Young said.

Patino described the Surveillance Group as “one of the biggest private investigation and undercover surveillance companies in the United Kingdom”.

On its website, the company says its clients include British law enforcement, other government bodies and financial institutions.

Surveillance experts have described the bugging device that Ecuador says was hidden behind a plug socket in its London embassy as rudimentary and unlikely to have been the work of the British police or security services.

Yesterday, France said it was rejecting a request for political asylum from Snowden, the Interior Ministry said in a statement in Paris.

via Latin America rallies behind Bolivia after ‘humiliation’ by Europe | South China Morning Post.

US sends Government arrest warrant for Snowden


The Irish Government has received a request from the US authorities to arrest fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. The provisional arrest warrant received by the Irish Government from the US authorities is now being handled by the extradition Unit in the Garda’s crime and security branch based in Garda headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin. The warrant has been issued as a pre-emptive strike against any effort by Mr Snowden to evade the US authorities by flying from Moscow to Havana on a commercial flight that stops off at Shannon for refuelling. The warrant would enable the Garda to arrest Mr Snowden under the Extradition Act 1965.

He could be brought before a District Court where a judge could detain him in custody for up to 18 days during which time the Americans could execute a full extradition process to bring him back to America to stand trial.

He is wanted for questioning in the US following his releasing information outlining how the US government was engaged in the wholesale interception of email and telephone messages.

Mr Snowden had fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where his plans to leave the country were scuppered when the US authorities cancelled his passport meaning he could not fly on a scheduled flight.

He is believed to be in the transit lounge of Moscow airport.

While the receipt of the provisional arrest documentation by the Department of Justice yesterday appears based on the possibility he may try to travel to Havana on the regular Aeroflot flight via Shannon, security sources in Dublin believe this is unlikely.

“We would think he’ll stay in Russia for at least a while but the papers are with us now so the option of using Shannon to get to Cuba is probably out for him,” one source said.

Mr Snowden (30) has already made efforts to seek political asylum in a large number of countries including Ireland. He could not make such an application unless he was physically in Ireland.

However, if he travelled via Shannon as part of his efforts to get to Cuba and was arrested under the provisional arrest warrant pending an extradition process by the American authorities in the Irish courts, he could apply for asylum while being held in prison here.

The plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales was denied permission to fly over some European countries on Wednesday after leaving Moscow when it was suspected Mr Snowden could be on board.

He worked for the National Security Agency as a contractor in Hawaii, has been trying since June 23rd to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in theUnited States on espionage charges.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is unwilling to sendMr Snowden to the United States, with which Russia has no extradition treaty.

via US sends Government arrest warrant for Snowden – Irish News, World News & More | The Irish Times – Fri, Jul 05, 2013.

Monsanto’s plays deception game on GMOs in Europe


On May 31 world media headlines read “Monsanto backing away from GMO crops in Europe.” But before the world opens the champagne to celebrate the death of GMO, it is worthwhile to look more closely at what was officially said and what not.

The original source for the story is attributed to a German left daily, TAZ which printed excerpts from an interview with an official spokeswoman of Monsanto Germany.

Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane reportedly told Taz “We’ve come to the conclusion that this has no broad acceptance at the moment.”

Her remarks were circulated worldwide and Reuters interviewed Monsanto corporate spokesman Thomas Helscher who reportedly said, “We’re going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As far as we’re convinced this only applies to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal.”

A Monsanto interview with a leftist German paper created the impression around the world that the world’s largest patent-holder of GMO seeds is in full retreat from pushing their GMO seeds, at least in the European Union. The reality is anything but that. Among other things, on June 10 the EU Commission plans to approve a new Monsanto GMO maize sort.

What Monsanto really says

A visit to the official website of Monsanto Germany presents an official company press release referring to the media statements, where the essential part says, ”Right now the media is flooded with reports that Monsanto has stopped the marketing of GMO seeds in Germany and the EU. That is not correct…”

Then on the parent website of Monsanto in St. Louis, the following statement appears: “We have a robust business selling high-quality, conventional corn, oilseed rape and vegetable seeds to our farmer customers in Europe. We’ve been telling people in Europe for several years now that we’ll only sell biotech seeds where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As Hugh Grant, our CEO told the Financial Times in 2009, ‘Europe’s going to make up its own mind in its own time.’ The only GM trait grown in Europe today is a corn resistant to the European corn borer, an insect that can do considerable damage to crops. Its cultivation accounts for less than 1% of the all corn cultivated in Europe (by hectares).”

A militant against genetically modified organisms flashes the victory sign in Labrihe, near the southwestern French town of Auch, after pulling genetically modified corn from a field planted by US firm Monsanto. (AFP Photo / Pascal Pavani)

A militant against genetically modified organisms flashes the victory sign in Labrihe, near the southwestern French town of Auch, after pulling genetically modified corn from a field planted by US firm Monsanto. (AFP Photo / Pascal Pavani)

Both statements are worth closer attention. First the German statement is a bit different from the US version. It officially denies as false the press reports that they have ceased marketing of GMO seeds in the EU. Second, their statement that they concentrate on breeding and sale of conventional seeds and plant protection chemicals is nothing other than a description of what the present status of Monsanto sales in the EU, nothing more. Because of the limited use so far of Monsanto GMO seeds in the EU, Monsanto business by definition focuses now where it earns money. However the “plant protection chemicals” Monsanto refers to primarily its own Roundup herbicide, which by license agreement with farmers must be sold paired with all Monsanto GMO seeds, but is also the number one weed killer sold in Europe and the world. It has also been proven to be highly toxic even to human embryo cells.

The US statement has interesting important differences. First it gives no hint of any change in Monsanto policy towards spreading GMO seeds in the EU. It states explicitly they will continue to spread GMO seeds in Spain and Portugal, both EU countries. And it quotes chairman Hugh Grant, not to be confused with the Hollywood actor, indicating the company expects the EU to come around on allowing its GMO. And it cites the present status of its GMO corn in the EU. Nothing more. No statement of a stop to GMO in the EU.

And the Monsanto beat goes on, the beat goes on, on, on…

The EU Commission has announced it will meet to vote on approving licensing of a new Monsanto GMO patented maize, SmartStax, on June 10, ten days after the carefully formulated Monsanto FAZ interview. Monsanto shares the patent with Dow AgroSciences. SmartStax supposedly produces six different insecticides. It has been approved by the EUs food safety agency, EFSA despite absence of critical safety tests and Commission approval is reported certain by Brussels sources.

According to Dr. Christopher Then of TestBiotech, SmartStax was given the safety OK from the (Monsanto influenced-w.e.) EFSA, the European food safety body, despite provable lack of serious safety tests by Monsanto/Dow AgroSciences.

Suspicious Timing…

Yet for most of the world who don’t have time to research the official statements of Monsanto but merely glance at a Reuters or TAZ headline, the message has been delivered that Monsanto has given up its EU effort on proliferating its GMO seeds. The timing of the TAZ interview is suggestive of what seems to be a carefully orchestrated Monsanto PR deception campaign. The TAZ original by writer Jost Maurin appeared on the same day, May 31, less than one week after March against Monsanto , a worldwide protest demonstrations against Monsanto, that took place in more than 400 cities in some 52 countries around the world. The TAZ article that was then used as reference for all world media after, appeared under the emotional and factually misleading headline: Sieg für Anti-Gentech-Bewegung: Monsanto gibt Europa auf (Victory for anti-GMO Movement: Monsanto Gives up Europe).

The March against Monsanto was notable in several key respects. Most alarming for Monsanto and the GMO cartel was the fact that it was the first such demonstration not organized by anti-GMO NGOs such as Greenpeace or BUND or Friends of the Earth. In Germany where this author participated as a speaker in one of the events, it was all organized by concerned activists via facebook. But the NGOs who formally oppose GMO were reportedly nowhere to be found as sponsors or even reportedly as active organizers.

That march presented Monsanto and friends with a frightening new element—the danger that that grass roots anti-GMO protest would spread and make life even more difficult for GMO proliferation in Africa, in China, India, Latin America and of course eastern and western Europe. All indications are that the timing of the well-formulated TAZ interview, notably with a left newspaper openly opposed to Monsanto GMO, was an orchestrated attempt to “manage perceptions” and take the headwind out of the sails of the growing anti-GMO sentiment in the EU and abroad. For the moment, Monsanto has gained a tactical victory in propaganda points as the broad public takes the retreat at face value. As one experienced opponent of Monsanto GMO put it in a private e-mail to me, it bears all the hallmarks of a slick PR campaign, “like a Burson & Marsteller tactic that applies to many controversial bad practices and part of why it works is that it takes a long time to build consumer/activist energy and momentum, whereas the PR-company can start on a very short runway …”

What Monsanto has not done is to recall its already commercialized GMO Maize in the EU, that despite damning independent scientific study of some 200 rats over a two year span showing rats fed GMO maize and Monsanto Roundup herbicide showed dramatically more cancer tumors, higher death rates and organ damage compared with non-GMO-fed rats.

Moreover, Monsanto openly admits it is pushing its way deep into the eastern European market for seeds, though mentioning only conventional seeds. Monsanto Vice President for International Corporate Affairs, Jesus Madrazo, stated that the company has been focusing on gaining market share in the conventional corn market in Ukraine, and that Eastern Europe and South America are key growth areas for the company now.

Then in the USA, it has leaked out that Monsanto directly worked with its apparent current favorite US Senator, Roy Blunt, a Republican from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri and one of the major recipients of Monsanto campaign finance, to draft for Blunt an obscure paragraph Blunt got into a spending bill, a bombshell that exempts Monsanto from being sued for any damage its crops or chemicals cause.

Called by opponents the Monsanto Protection Act, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the Monsanto Protection Act was a part of the spending bill that they were voting on. The Monsanto bill, signed into law by President Obama despite hundreds of thousands of protest petitions not to, essentially gives Monsanto and other GMO purveyors legal immunity, even if future research shows that GMO seeds cause significant health problems, cancer, anything. The federal courts no longer have any power to stop their spread, use, or sales. The only other corporations in the US enjoying such outrageous legal immunity are the pharmaceutical vaccine makers.

What we have is a quite different picture from the slick spin reported by TAZ and from there picked up worldwide uncritically by mainstream media. Monsanto by its own open admission has not ceased marketing its GMO products and herbicides in the EU. It has not ceased imports of its GMO soybeans and GMO corn into the EU where it has managed to escape the EU GMO labeling law.

Monsanto also states it is concentrating on building market share in eastern Europe, where often regulators are more “relaxed” and in the notoriously corrupt Ukraine. They do not deny promoting GMOs there either; rather they state positively their focus on conventional seeds only. Simply put, the geopolitical stakes behind Monsanto and the attempt to control the world’s most vital seeds of life are far too high for the company to raise the white flag of surrender so easily.

A Monsanto precedent

There is a relevant precedent for this Monsanto PR deception campaign. In 1999, after months of growing worldwide anti-Monsanto protest over the fact Monsanto had made a takeover bid to buy Mississippi company, Delta & Pine Land in order to acquire Delta’s patent on a radical new GMO technique known officially as GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) and popularly as Terminator technology. Delta has won a patent together with the US Government’s USDA for the Terminator. It would force a GMO seed or plant to “commit suicide” after only one harvest, forcing the farmer to return each year to Monsanto to buy new seeds regardless the price or availability.

The Terminator image threatened to derail the entire fledgling GMO project at the outset such that Rockefeller University President and GMO financial sponsor, Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, made a rush visit to meet Monsanto’s board and convince them to make what was a tactical retreat in order to limit damage to a very fragile GMO campaign worldwide. Monsanto announced, deceptively it proved, that it would not pursue “commercialization” of Terminator technology and it dropped its takeover bid for patent holder Delta & Pine Land. The anti-GMO NGOs claimed a huge victory and nothing was heard for seven years until, with no fanfare, in 2006 Monsanto announced it was acquiring Terminator patent co-holder Delta & Pine Land. This time there was scarcely a peep from the anti-GMO lobby. They had lost momentum and the deal went ahead.

It remains to be seen if the forces for healthy non-GMO agriculture today prove as gullible as in 1999.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

via Monsanto’s plays deception game on GMOs in Europe : The Canadian National Newspaper.

Why Gitmo will never close


Barack Obama had been President for only one full day when, on Jan. 22, 2009, he acted on a central campaign promise. Arguing that the Founding Fathers would agree that America must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard,” Obama signed an executive order to close the notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, where the Bush administration had detained hundreds of men captured in combat and counter terrorism operations since 2001. With dozens of men imprisoned for years without charges brought against them, and in many cases having actually been cleared for release, Obama said closing Guantánamo would return America to the “moral high ground” it had yielded in its ruthless pursuit of al-Qaeda during the Bush years. “I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away,” Obama said in May 2009. “I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem.”

Four years later, with Guantánamo still open–and the site of widespread hunger strikes and other acts of disobedience by many of its 166 inmates–Obama is again trying to fulfill that responsibility. In a May 23 address about a range of his counter-terrorism policies, including drone strikes, Obama declared the start of a new push against the political obstacles that thwarted his first attempt to close the most infamous symbol of the US’s post-9/11 war on terrorism. “[History] will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it,” Obama said.

But Obama will be hard pressed to live up to his grand rhetoric. Opposition still runs high to the idea of releasing or bringing into US prisons dozens of men widely considered dangerous terrorists even if many are not. Asked to gauge the probability that Obama can close Guantánamo before he leaves office, David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 Guantánamo inmates replies, “Zero.” And even if Obama can shut down the site known colloquially as Gitmo, he hasn’t promised to end the practice of long-term incarceration without trial that along with interrogation techniques like waterboarding blighted the US’s track record for treating prisoners in the so-called global war on terrorism. The prison camp on Cuba’s southern tip may or may not be shuttered during Obama’s watch, but Gitmo, in the metaphorical sense, may never really close.

Nor is America’s long war on terrorism about to end. Obama’s speech revealed a man “haunted” by the deaths of innocents in drone strikes and wrestling with the balance between national security and the constitution’s integrity. But while he announced tighter standards for ordering drone strikes abroad (including an unspoken plan to partly shift the programme from the CIA to the theoretically more accountable Pentagon) and spoke of a day when the war might be declared over, Obama is retaining broad powers to detain or kill suspected terrorists, to conduct aggressive surveillance and to use military force in foreign nations. “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties,” Obama said. “We must finish the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”

Hungry for Clarity

At last count, military medical personnel at Gitmo were force-feeding 35 of the more than 100 inmates who refuse to eat. Twice a day, those men are strapped into restraining chairs as tubes that run up their noses and down their throats fill their stomachs with a compound called Ensure, a supplement used by everyone from athletes to dieters. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called force-feeding a violation of international law, and the World Medical Association, of which the US is a member, declared in 1991 that the practice is “never ethically acceptable” unless a prisoner consents or is unable to make a rational choice. (The WMA calls it “ethical to allow a determined hunger striker to die.”)

Although Remes says he suspects the inmates at Gitmo are aware of the President’s speech and that some may even have watched it on television, he doubts that the hunger strikes will end anytime soon. “Obama has no credibility with the detainees,” he says. “I bet they didn’t even look up from their chessboards.” Then, recalling that after recent scuffles with their guards, inmates were barred from congregating, he adds, “No, they’re not playing chess. They’re not even allowed to be together.”

A lack of faith in Obama is one reason for the hunger strikes (although detainees have also alleged improper treatment by guards, including charges of mishandling Quran, that the military denies). Among the hunger strikers are 86 who have been declared safe for release–some of them by two different administrations–and who were crushed when Obama failed to deliver on his 2009 promise to close Gitmo.

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Understanding why Gitmo hasn’t closed requires understanding who exactly is there. The camp holds three types of inmates, each posing different challenges. The first group consists of those 86 detainees deemed safe to release to their home countries or third nations, so long as they can be monitored and accounted for to ensure they don’t take up arms against the US The second group consists of suspected terrorists whom the administration is prosecuting or plans to charge with specific crimes. The third group consists of prisoners too dangerous to simply release–for reasons that could include a suspected organizational role in al-Qaeda, explosives training or in some cases an openly stated desire to kill Americans–but also impossible to put on trial, maybe because of evidence rendered inadmissible by torture; because the troops who captured them didn’t collect evidence; or because they supported al-Qaeda before the US made that a crime for foreigners overseas.

The first group is the easiest to deal with. Obama has the freedom to send the 86 men home on his own. Fifty-six of them are from Yemen–all of whom could be there by now had al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, whose leaders included an ex–Gitmo detainee, not tried to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009, leading Obama to halt detainee transfers back to the country. Obama now says improvements in the Yemeni government’s ability to monitor repatriated detainees allows him to lift his self-imposed moratorium on returning detainees there. He can likewise dispatch the rest of the cleared inmates to other countries unilaterally.

Republicans warn that even some of those detainees deemed safe for release will inevitably join forces with Islamic radicals–as did Saeed al-Shihri months after his 2007 release from Gitmo, eventually rising to the No. 2 spot in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch before being killed by a drone strike earlier this year. “I don’t trust the government” in Yemen, Republican Representative Peter King told ABC’s This Week on May 26. But they can’t prevent Obama from proceeding. How fast he’ll move is another question: Obama said each of the Yemenis must first undergo yet another review.

The second and third groups are considerably tougher cases. Obama would like to move the trials by military commissions now under way at Guantánamo to a location in the US and bring any new cases against prosecutable suspects on American soil, either in military or civilian courts. He also presumably intends to move to highly secure sites in the US the roughly 46 who can be neither released nor tried, until some solution can be found for them. But right now Obama can’t move any detainees into the US without Congress’s help. In 2009 he tried to resettle some low-risk prisoners in the US and also proposed trying alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Gitmo inmates in federal court. A furious backlash from conservatives and even many Democrats who feared the soft-on-terrorists label prompted Congress to block inmate transfers into the US for any reason.

And while Obama’s May 23 speech may have stirred the hearts of some liberal supporters, it doesn’t seem to have moved the Republicans whose support he’ll need to move detainees into the US, particularly in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. “I don’t get the sense that this pressure is having an impact” on House Republicans, says Representative Adam Smith, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Many Republicans argue that the risk of detainees’ committing future acts of terrorism outweighs the damage Guantánamo does to the US’s image. And they have little interest in Obama’s appetite for moving more terrorism cases into civilian courts.

Lately Obama has tried speaking the language Republicans best understand–spending–by pointing out that each inmate at Gitmo costs $800,000 per year to house, for a total of about $150 million per year in operations. But when it comes to closing Gitmo, Smith says, many of the Republicans whose support Obama would need to approve transfers to US prisons have boxed themselves in politically. House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has called the prison a “world-class facility” and in 2010 said he wouldn’t vote to close it “if you put a gun to my head.”

The broader themes of Obama’s speech may not have helped the Guantánamo cause either. Far from agreeing with the President’s talk of a severely weakened al-Qaeda and his aspiration to wind down the war on terrorism, some Republicans accused him of complacency and retreat. Newt Gingrich called Obama’s vision “breathtakingly, stunningly naive.” Such talk is hardly the groundwork for a new spirit of cooperation.

Some Problems Have No Solution

Even assuming that the president can close Gitmo by resettling some detainees in other countries and bringing the rest to trials and prisons in the US, a major problem will remain: What to do with the 48 detainees who can’t be tried or released for fear that they will return to the “battlefield” of the war on terrorism? After all, holding prisoners without charges would seem to violate the constitution’s fundamental habeas corpus guarantee. Obama doesn’t claim to have a clear answer, and his speech punted the question. He said only that “once we commit to a process of closing [Guantánamo], I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”

For now, Obama deals with this legal equivalent of radioactive waste by treating those inmates as prisoners of war. In March 2009, Obama’s lawyers filed a legal brief justifying detention of Gitmo detainees under the laws of war–in this case the war on al-Qaeda, made official by Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allowed for the invasion of Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism efforts. Ironically, “while it decries Guantánamo as contrary to American values, the Obama administration has convinced courts of its legal validity,” says Matthew Waxman, a former Bush detainee policy official now at Columbia Law School.

Rather than see Obama stretch that validity in new directions, one prominent human rights lawyer has actually argued for keeping Gitmo open. Closing it now “would do more harm than good,” human rights lawyer and Georgetown law professor Jennifer Daskal wrote in a January New York Times op-ed, because it would mean simply opening up a similar camp in the US, thereby “setting a precedent and creating a facility readily available to future Presidents wanting to rid themselves of a range of potentially dangerous actors.”

According to this vision, Gitmo would close when the war on terrorism is finally considered over. Lawyers for detainees might argue that should happen once the US’s lead combat role in Afghanistan ends in late 2014, for instance. Obama also says he’d like Congress to revisit the AUMF, perhaps to narrow its scope or even to declare the war over. “Usually if you’re holding prisoners of war, you release them at the end of hostilities,” says C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First.

But at a recent Senate hearing on the AUMF, a top Pentagon official testified that the war on al-Qaeda could last 10 to 20 more years. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have suggested that the law should be broadened, not narrowed or repealed.

Rhetoric about the founders aside, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s releasing trained al-Qaeda members who have not renounced terrorism into the wild, as it were. “The administration’s view seems to be that so long as it’s only a small number of very dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists, it is legitimate to hold them without trial,” Waxman says. Obama would prefer not to hold them in the prison that stains America’s international reputation. But he may find the moral high ground he seeks is simply out of his reach.

via Why Gitmo will never close.

Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs


The World Bank‘s policies for land privatization and concentration, have paved the way for corporations from Wall Street to Singapore to take upwards of 80 million hectares of land from rural communities across the world in the past few years, according to a press release from National Family Farm Coalition.

Giulia Franchi from the Italian-based Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale) said during a teleconference with reporters that the principles the bank is promoting, (RAI),  is an attempt to justify and support transnational corporations’ attempts to grab farmland.

“It’s an attempt to make it look like a responsible deal, as something that can be done in a transparent way with the support of the local community, and something that will improve local communities. But there’s no way the expropriation of people’s land, however it’s done, can be a responsible deal.”

Franchi said corporations are using diversified financial vehicles such as pension funds, commercial banks, and investment banks,  as well as foreign governments, to acquire millions of hectares of land worldwide for producing food and agrifuels for international export.

“This is all being done with the backing of international financial institutions, and most of all, of the World Bank.”

Franchi said the World Bank for decades has been promoting land concentration and privatization policies.

“It has been promoting land titling programs in many countries in the world, which has  transformed customary and traditional land rights into titles which can be marketed, traded, and sold.”

As the World Bank presents the global takeover of farmland as the promotion of responsible agriculture,  Via Campesina and its international allies are calling upon the bank to comply with the Extra Territorial Human Rights Obligations of States.

“The bank cannot continue to act in full impunity as it has up to now,” Franchi said.

Bob St. Peter directs Food For Maine’s Future and is a board member of the National Family Farm Coalition.  He describes himself as a small-scale family farmer. He said he and his family rent, borrow, and lease about 4 acres of land for largely subsistence and small, direct-market production.

“Coming at this as a new farmer in the United States, and looking out to what’s about to happen over the next 20 years, there is set to be a very large transfer of productive farm land in this country. The older generation of farmers are set to retire and we have not been developing the farmers that are going to be able to replace them.”

St. Peter said many farmers are in debt and likely will sell their land and equipment to have some money as they retire and some money to leave to their children.

“We’re in the position now of having to stave off what is likely to be a very significant rush for farm land in this country. Those of us who would like to farm the land”are not in the position to purchase it at the prices that the older generation is going to need to get themselves out of debt to secure their retirement. There aren’t enough land trust or philanthropic dollars to make up the difference. So, what is likely to happen is there will be investment groups–and we’re starting to see this already—speculators as well as corporations purchasing these farm lands.”

St. Peter said this is going to exacerbate problems related to industrialized agriculture. He calls for not only low interest loans,  but a transfer of wealth of some kind so new farmers have access to land without repeating the cycle of chronic debt where they have to depend on corporations just to stay in business.

“We don’t have a plan for that yet, but if we don’t stave off the farmland grab that is happening in other parts of the world, we’re likely to see that happen here.”

St. Peter calls for local food enthusiasts to look into the systemic issues involved with their cause.

“There’s been this change in the food industry. There’s been this political economy established to favor corporate agribusiness and that model has been replicated around the world. So the small-scale farmer —in Maine I am literally competing in my local community with cheap imported food from all over the world, produced in conditions we don’t generally support.”

He said people who are only focused on their local food system would be well served by looking deeper and wider.

“(They should look at) how the global food industry manipulates markets and uses international financial institutions and trade organizations to basically pit us against each other and undercut and undermine all of us. There’s a situation in Mexico, for example, of people being displaced from their land because of dumping. It also happens in our country, in our local communities. That’s why we have a local food movement in the first place. It’s because that’s been taken from us and we need to put it back. But we can’t do that without understanding both the solidarity aspects and the way the political economy works.”

Rafael Alegria, coordinator for Via Campesina for Central America said during the tele-press-conference that in Honduras and other countries in the region the re-concentration of the control of land under the auspices of the government, the transnational corporations, and the World Bank, has displaced small producers and family farmers.

“The situation in the countryside in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador is similar. It’s very grave poverty in the countryside but this does not only affect the countryside but also the urban areas.”

Alegria said the US used free trade agreements to dump many tons of rice on the Honduran market, making it impossible for local producers to sell at a reasonable price. (See Oxfam briefing paper,   A Raw Deal For Rice Under DR-CAFTA)

He said this is causing serious agrarian and rural conflicts in Honduras.

“In the region of Bajo Aguan on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, large numbers of campesinos have been hurt and killed in conflicts with a large land owner named Miguel Facusse, who owns agribusiness firm Quimicas Dinant. This company has been in the sites of the World Bank. The World Bank has been trying to give them $30 million in loans. He and Reynaldo Canales—these two men in private industry—have taken over almost all of the arable land. They have displaced thousands of small producers and family farmers and replaced their diverse cultivation methods with monocultures of African palm for export.”

Facusse makes his fortunes by producing palm oil used for snack foods.

Alegria said, “We’ve been able to document that Mexican corporations and private interests from other neighboring countries, as well as the United States, have taken over large tracts of land in Honduras. That’s why on the April 17th Via Campesina decided to do an international struggle to highlight the problem of land grabbing.”

He said that on that date campesinos and small family farmers in Honduras decided to do a land reclamation.

“They reclaimed 12,500 hectares of publicly own land that is now being taken over by private corporations and private interests. But the government and private interests have been actively evicting farmers and farm workers from these land reclamations, and today (April 23) there was a predawn attack by private guards from the sugar company.”

As a result of the attack, the leader of  Movimiento Campesino de San Manuel (MOCSAN) is hanging between life in death in a hospital in San Pedro Sula , said Alegria.

“The minister of agrarian reform and the minister of security and the Honduran president    Porfirio Lobo Sosa refused to talk with Via Campesina and the Honduran campesino movement. So, we declare that those government representatives are responsible for all of the bloodshed.”

Alegria said Via Campesina in Central America denounces the  media campaign to defame his leadership and the leadership of all of the local and regional campesino movements in Honduras.

“We demand the World Bank stop promoting land grabbing being done by private interest. We call on the World Bank to support comprehensive land reform strategies like the one we put forward before the legislature of Honduras in October 2011.”

Alegria said there has been no legislative progress. He asked that food sovereignty activists around the world increase their solidarity with campesinos in Central America and all those who are struggling in Honduras. He said in the 1970s the Catholic Church was in solidarity with peasants fighting for land reform, but that more recently they have not received any kind of support from the official churches, either the Catholic, the Evangelical, or Protestant.

“We’ve only received support from the very small community-based churches from the Protestant and Evangelical side.”

Alegria said the land reclamations threaten monopoly capitalist’s interests in the northern areas of Honduras. He said  powerful people in the banking industry and large landowners on the northern coast of Honduras have ties to the  owners of the country’s newspapers , such as Diario del Tiempo.

“Those high level business interests and the owners of the main newspapers, Diario La Prensa and The Herald and Tiempo, they all work together. Their interests are entwined. This media campaign is one where they attempt to defame my character, painting me as if I were a terrorist. This is try to undermine my credibility with the people. They are very conservative business leaders who are really only interested in making profits and increasing their wealth but they don’t see the dire poverty of the family farmers, the campesinos, and farm workers in Honduras.”

He said large corporations want to control not only their land but also their forests,  mining industry, and water.

“It’s really grave for our country. The large-scale foreign investment interests are pressuring the government and the government’s response is to put up for public auction all of our natural resources for sale to the highest bidder in order to cover both our internal and external debt. The external debt for a small country like Honduras is already is more than $4 billion and the internal debt is $50 billion.”

via OpEdNews – Article: Food Sovereignty Activists: Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs.

Public Support Grows for Snowden in Europe: Germany and France Should offer NSA Whistleblower Asylum


Europeans are pissed off at the US, in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s latest revelation that the US was aggressively spying on its European allies, both at their and the European Union’s embassies in Washington, and in Europe itself, gleaning not information about terrorism, but inside-track knowledge about trade negotiation positions and other areas of disagreement or negotiation.

Leaders in Germany, France, Italy and other European countries are demanding that the US cease its spying on them, and give a “full accounting” of the spying that it has been engaging in. But given the steady stream of lies coming from the NSA, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other American sources, why should they believe anything they are being told?

If, as Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, said today, the NSA is like the Soviet-era KGB, why would anything the US says about its nefarious activities have any credibility whatsoever?

At this point, pressure is building on European governments in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere to stand up to the US and to grant Snowden asylum in Europe.

It makes sense. The US, weakened as it is economically these days, is still able to threaten weak nations in Latin America, which are stuck with the reality that the great consumer vacuum cleaner to the north is their biggest market, and are thus seriously at risk if the US threatens, as it did in the case of Ecuador, to impose import duties on goods shipped to the US for sale here. Europe has no such concerns. The US is in no position to economically threaten Europe.

Moreover, Snowden is widely seen among the people in European countries, where there has been plenty of ugly history of repressive spying regimes, as an unvarnished hero.  Opposition politicians in both Germany and France, and even members of the ruling parties, have been calling for both countries to grant him asylum. The Green party in both countries, and in the European Parliament, has been calling for their home countries and for the European Union as a whole, to grant him asylum.

Germans have vivid memories of both the Nazi SS, and more recently, of the East German Stasi, who attempted in a pre-computer era to do precisely the kind of all-encompassing surveillance and monitoring that the NSA is now doing electronically in the US and around the globe. Germans understandably have a visceral aversion to such government snooping. Meanwhile, in France, there is a long tradition of granting asylum to those who are in trouble with authorities in their home country, as well as a simmering grudge against the US, which has long made known its disdain for French politics and French insistence on maintaining an independent stance within NATO….

For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF inThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent three-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1847

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper http://www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books (“This (more…)

via OpEdNews – Article: Public Support Grows for Snowden in Europe: Germany and France Should offer NSA Whistleblower Asylum.

Snowden applies for political asylum in Russia


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Vladimir Putin has for the first time floated the idea of United States whistleblower Edward Snowden remaining in Russia, hours after the fugitive applied for political asylum in the country.

Mr Snowden applied for asylum at the consular office at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport at 10:30pm last Sunday evening through his WikiLeaks handler, Sarah Harrison, a consular official said.

“The UK citizen Sarah Harrison passed on a request by Edward Snowden to be granted political asylum,” said Kim Shevchenko, of the airport’s consular department. He said he then called the foreign ministry, who sent a courier an hour later to pick up the request.

He declined to say where Ms Harrison or Mr Snowden, who have not been seen since landing in Sheremetyevo last week, were staying. “She didn’t say and I didn’t ask,” he said.

‘Our American partners’

In a move likely to enrage the US, Mr Putin said yesterday: “If he wants to go somewhere and someone will take him, go ahead. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must stop his work aimed at bringing harm to our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth.”

Mr Snowden has been in the airport since June 23rd, after flying in from Hong Kong, from where he leaked secret documents detailing US National Security Agency surveillance programmes.

Stripped of his US passport, he has been stuck in limbo since.

His attempts to get political asylum in Ecuador, whose London embassy is sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, appear to have dried up amid intense US lobbying and reported disagreements within the Ecuadorean government.

Snowden met Russian diplomats yesterday morning and handed them a list of 15 countries to which he would like to apply for political asylum, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unnamed source in the foreign ministry.

Mr Putin appeared to leave himself some latitude, noting Mr Snowden would be unlikely to meet his conditions for staying in Russia.

“Considering that he considers himself a human rights activist and a fighter for human rights, he probably doesn’t plan to stop this work, so he should choose a host country and head there,” Mr Putin said.

“When this will happen I, unfortunately, do not know.”

Speaking at a press conference after a meeting of gas exporting countries, he reiterated that Russia would not extradite Mr Snowden to the US.

“Russia never gives anyone up and doesn’t plan to give anyone up. And no one has ever given us anyone.”

‘Snowden is not our agent’

For the second time Mr Putin, unprompted, insisted Mr Snowden was not working with Russia’s secret services. “Mr Snowden is not our agent, never was and isn’t today. Our special services have never worked with him and are not working with him.”

Russia maintains one of the world’s most developed intelligence mechanisms and is widely believed to engage in snooping on its own citizens.

Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, is in Moscow for the two-day gas conference and it was believed he and Mr Putin would discuss Mr Snowden’s fate.

Mr Putin’s foreign policy advisor, Yury Ushakov, said the two had not discussed Mr Snowden yet.

A campaign calling for Mr Snowden to stay in Russia has gathered momentum since he first arrived in Moscow. Yesterday morning, several MPs and influential Russians floated the idea during a meeting of the Public Chamber, a body that advises the Kremlin.

“It’s not right that Snowden is sitting in this terminal like in a prison,” said Sergei Markov, a former MP with close ties to the Kremlin.

“Unlike prison, he can’t even go out and breathe fresh air. On humanitarian grounds, I think he should be presented with a way to enter Russian territory.”

– (Guardian service)

via Snowden applies for political asylum in Russia – US News | Latest US News Headlines | The Irish Times – Tue, Jul 02, 2013.

German Prosecutors May File Charges Over US, British Surveillance


 

Justice Minister: US Using ‘Cold War‘ Methods

Recent revelations about the NSA’s broad surveillance of German phone and Internet communications have fueled major concerns in the country, as Federal Prosecutors say they are preparing criminal charges against US and British spies involved.

Hessian prosecutors were the first to receive complaints about the matter, but that is likely to grow precipitously after German media outlets reported the US surveillance has collected more than half a billion phone calls and emails per month in Germany alone.

Though broad internal surveillance is also an issue in the US, the NSA’s policies don’t make spying on Germans illegal as such. The US lists Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as “second party” nations exempt from surveillance, but considers Germany fair game. The program also explicitly targeted European Union diplomats.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the US policy was “beyond comprehension,” and said that such “Cold War” methods were unacceptable toward allies. Officials are urging the EU to take direct action to stop the surveillance.

via German Prosecutors May File Charges Over US, British Surveillance — News from Antiwar.com.

Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace Prize


As a peace prize winner myself, I am nominating Manning for this honor for his work to help end the Iraq War and other conflicts

By e

Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the active creation of something better. Alfred Nobel recognized this when he created alongside those for chemistry, literature, medicine and physics, an annual prize for outstanding contributions in peace. Nobel’s foresight is a reminder to us all that peace must be created, maintained, and advanced, and it is indeed possible for one individual to have an extraordinary impact. For this year’s prize, I have chosen to nominate US Army Pfc Bradley Manning, for I can think of no one more deserving. His incredible disclosure of secret documents to Wikileaks helped end the Iraq War, and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.

I recently visited Syria, where I met a few of the millions of refugees and internally displaced people whose lives have been torn apart by the ongoing conflict in that country. I learned from those I spoke to, both within the government and in opposition groups, that while there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred.

In recent years this would have spelled an undeniable formula for United States intervention. However, the world has changed in the years since Manning’s whistleblowing — the Middle East especially. In Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Turkey, advocates of democracy have joined together to fight against their own governments’ control of information, and used the free-flowing data of social media to help build enormously successful non-violent movements. Some activists of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring have even directly credited Bradley Manning, and the information he disclosed, as an inspiration for their struggles.

In a Middle East newly dedicated to democratic flow of information, those who would commit human rights violations can more easily be held accountable. If not for whistleblower Bradley Manning, the world still might not know of how US forces committed covert crimes in the name of spreading democracy in Iraq, killing innocent civilians in incidents such as the one depicted in the “Collateral Murder” video, and supporting Iraqi prisoner torture. Now, those who would support foreign intervention in the Middle East know that every action would be scrutinized under international human rights law. Clearly, this is for the best. International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.

Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero. His nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of this. Yet at his home in America, Manning stands trial for charges of espionage and “aiding the enemy.” This should not be considered a refutation of his candidacy — rather, he is in good company. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo were each awarded the prize in recent years while imprisoned by their home countries.

Last week at Manning’s trial, the public learned that at the time Manning released his information, WikiLeaks stated they wanted to publish “the concealed documents or recordings most sought after by a country’s journalists, activists, historians, lawyers, police or human rights investigators.” Manning’s disclosures to Wikileaks only “aided the enemy,” as his prosecutors charge, if the enemy is international cooperation and peace itself.

Manning is the only one on trial, yet what of those who committed the atrocities he revealed? The United States, the most militarized country on earth, should stand for something better than war. Its government must be open to “debates, discussions and reforms” concerning its foreign policy, to use Manning’s own words. By heeding Pfc Bradley Manning’s message on the importance of transparency, America’s government can once again rebuild its image in the eyes of the world, and spread democracy not through foreign invasions, but through setting a strong example.

I hope American leaders will embrace the U.S. constitution, and base their national and foreign policies on ethical values, human rights and international law.

http://www.peacepeople.com

Mairead Corrigan-Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award (more…)

via OpEdNews – Article: Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace Prize.

EU confronts U.S. over reports it spies on European allies


Reuters/Reuters – Broken antenna covers of Former National Security Agency (NSA) listening station are seen at the Teufelsberg hill (German for Devil’s Mountain) in Berlin, June 30, 2013. The United States taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month and has classed its biggest European ally as a target similar to China, according to secret U.S. documents quoted by a German newsmagazine. The revelations of alleged U.S. surveillance programmes based on documents taken by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have raised a political furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynsk

By Ben Deighton and Annika Breidthardt

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) – The European Union has demanded that the United States explain a report in a German magazine that Washington is spying on the group, using strong language to confront its closest trading partner over its alleged surveillance activities.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said on Sunday that U.S. authorities were immediately contacted about a report in Der Spiegel magazine that the U.S. spy agency had tapped EU offices in Washington, Brussels and at the United Nations.

“As soon as we saw these reports, the European External Action Service made contact with the U.S. authorities in both Washington D.C. and Brussels to seek urgent clarification of the veracity of, and facts surrounding, these allegations,” Ashton said in a statement.

“The U.S. authorities have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us as soon as possible,” she said.

France also asked for an explanation.

“These acts, if confirmed, would be completely unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

The U.S. government said it would respond through diplomatic channels.

“We will also discuss these issues bilaterally with EU member states,” a spokesperson for the Director of National Intelligence said.

“While we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”

The Guardian newspaper said in an article late on Sunday that the United States had also targeted non-European allies for spying.

Citing a September 2010 NSA document, the British newspaper said that “Along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey.”

Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the National Security Agency bugged EU offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, the latest revelation of alleged U.S. spying that has prompted outrage from EU politicians.

The magazine followed up on Sunday with a report that the U.S. agency taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month, much more than any other European peer and similar to the data tapped in China or Iraq.

It also uses data from Internet hubs in south and west Germany that organise data traffic to Syria and Mali.

Revelations about the U.S. surveillance programme, which was made public by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have raised a furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security.

The extent to which Washington’s EU allies are being monitored emerged is a particular concern in Europe.

“If the media reports are correct, this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War. It goes beyond any imagination that our friends in the United States view the Europeans as enemies,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said.

“If it is true that EU representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American Secret Service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,” she said in a statement.

TAPPED GERMANS

Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office, which has authority in matters of national security, said it was looking into whether or not it should start an investigation. Criminal charges are expected to be filed, spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told Reuters.

Germans are particularly sensitive about government monitoring, having lived through the Stasi secret police in the former communist East Germany and with lingering memories of the Gestapo of Hitler’s Nazi regime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not commented on the latest report. Before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month, Merkel defended governments’ monitoring of Internet communications, however, and said that the U.S. cyber-snooping had helped prevent attacks on German soil.

She stressed during Obama’s visit that there were limits to monitoring, but stopped short of pressing the issue hard.

Martin Schulz, president of the EU Parliament and also a German, said if the report was correct, it would have a “severe impact” on relations between the EU and the United States.

He told French radio the United States had crossed a line.

“I was always sure that dictatorships, some authoritarian systems, tried to listen … but that measures like that are now practiced by an ally, by a friend, that is shocking, in the case that it is true,” Schulz said in an interview with France 2.

Some EU policymakers said talks for a free trade agreement between Washington and the EU should be put on ice until further clarification from the United States.

“Partners do not spy on each other,” the European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, said at a public event in Luxembourg on Sunday.

“We cannot negotiate over a big transatlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators,” Reding said in comments passed on to reporters by her spokeswoman.

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee head Elmar Brok, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, echoed those views.

“The spying has taken on dimensions that I would never have thought possible from a democratic state,” he told Der Spiegel.

“How should we still negotiate if we must fear that our negotiating position is being listened to beforehand?”

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Claire Davenport in Luxembourg and Laurence Frost in Paris, Tabassum Zakaria and Deborah Charles in Washington; Writing by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

via EU confronts U.S. over reports it spies on European allies – Yahoo! News UK.

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