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Whistleblowers Beware! 

Whistleblowers Beware! 

It’s not an accident that Chelsea Manning is in jail and once again temporarily sent to solitary confinement before being released into the general prison population,  and Julian Assange is teetering at the precipice of being tried and imprisoned in the U.S. following the certainty of extradition with the cooperation of the government of England.

The U.S. government is at war with both Manning and Assange because they divulged classified information and in particular the “Iraq War Logs” and the “Afghan War Diary.” Those “logs” and “diary” recounted U.S. airstrikes in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Within the “Iraq War Logs” is a video of a helicopter strike in Iraq in which civilians were targeted and killed. 

They imprisoned Manning between 2010 and 2017, and again in 2019, in conditions that included horrific treatment such as solitary confinement. Assange has been in virtual imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for six years since being granted asylum, but the election of a conservative president in Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, placed Assange in harm’s way by potentially exposing him to extradition from England to the U.S. and then trial and the certainty of lengthy imprisonment in the U.S. Assange would become yet another political prisoner in the land of the free and the home of the brave beside the enervated First Amendment.

Manning’s 2019 incarceration resulted from her refusal to testify before a grand jury that is investigating WikiLeaks. Manning argued that her previous military trial and imprisonment, including the lengthy stay in solitary confinement, provided the same material that the U.S. government is now seeking through a grand jury.

With WikiLeaks’ journalist Julian Assange, prosecutors for the federal government in the U.S. will get around the hesitancy to extradite Assange by promising not to seek the death penalty should Assange be convicted of espionage. The latter is laughable (not for Mr. Assange, however) because his conviction would place him in a Guantanamo-like dungeon where he would be cut off from the rest of the world. The cliche throwing away the key comes to mind. Counter the hegemony of the U.S. in matters of war and power and the resulting dungeon will be deep and silent!

There are some in the West who are fully convinced that Assange deserves to be tried and thrown in jail for “threatening” US national security and “undermining” its democratic processes. Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden have called him a “terrorist”, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then the director of the CIA, has described WikiLeaks as a  “non-state hostile intelligence service” and US Attorney General [former] Jeff Sessions has said prosecuting Assange is a “priority” for him. (“What happens if Julian Assange is tried in the U.S.?” Al Jazerra, November 22, 2018).

 

On April 6, 2019, Ecuador denied that Assange would be forced out of its London embassy: “Ecuador has denied WikiLeaks’ claims it will expel Julian Assange from its embassy in London, rejecting what it called “’an attempt to stain the dignity of the country.’”

Hillary Clinton’s so-called email scandal was well researched and disseminated by WikiLeaks, a political move that she never was able to have put in perspective. The dysfunction within the Democratic Party in 2016 and the poor campaign strategy she followed put the presidency, to some extent, in the hands of the ignorant nincompoop, Donald Trump.

 

The persecution of journalists and whistleblowers is breathtaking, both here and around the world. Edward Snowden will most likely spend the rest of his life in exile for blowing the whistle on the mass-surveillance system of the National Security Agency that monitored communications of ordinary U.S. citizens.

The whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who outed the secret and failed history of the Vietnam War in the Pentagon Papers, faced a similar draconian sentence. The government was slightly more functional during that era and the Supreme Court acted to strike down prior restraint in disclosing so-called secret information. In another proceeding, Ellsberg’s case was dismissed because of “gross governmental misconduct.” A good accounting of the history of whistleblowers and journalists in the U.S., when they acted to make important information known to ordinary people, and what happened to them as a result, can be found at the Government Accountability Project in “A Timeline of US Whistleblowers,” (1773-2013).

Governments don’t like their dirty laundry aired and they are willing to torment those who unmask the worst violations resulting from power and greed. 

Many (exact numbers are impossible to calculate) were denied their freedom for reasons from street protest to draft and military resistance during the Vietnam War. During that experience, those people learned what it meant to counter power, greed, war, and empire and suffer the consequences. Some did the latter willingly. Somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 men and women became expatriates in countries such as Canada and Sweden during that era, many returning after the amnesty program during Jimmy Carter’s administration. Thousands never returned, but remained exiles the rest of their lives. These people also learned what it meant to confront power and arrogance, pay a moral price, and go on with their lives. While there are groups that stand in solidarity with whistleblowers, the potential for solitary or isolated resistance seems to be a more probable outcome in contemporary societies. 

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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U.S.-Led Airstrikes Continue to Cause Civilian Deaths in Syria and Iraq

Source of photo: Airwars

Source: Airwars

US-led Coalition slashes airstrike transparency despite rising civilian toll
In its first published strike report since President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria on December 19th, the US-led Coalition has substantially reduced available information on where and when it is bombing.

The move represents the most significant reduction in Coalition transparency since the start of the war in August 2014 warns Airwars – and will make the task of securing proper accountability for battlefield civilian harm far harder. At the same time, a new Airwars monthly assessment shows that likely civilian casualties from US-led actions are at their highest point since the bloody 2017 battle for Raqqa.

The reduction in Coalition strike transparency was unexpected. For the entirety of the 52-month war against ISIS, the US-led alliance had published information on the number of strikes conducted daily in both Iraq and Syria – along with the near location of attacks and the reported targets. That detail helped distinguish the US-led alliance from other belligerents such as Russia, which remains barely accountable for its own actions in Syria.

While these public Coalition reports more recently shifted to a weekly format, the alliance nevertheless maintained a commitment to state where, when and what it bombed in both Iraq and Syria on each given date. The last such weekly report was published on December 19th – coincidentally the date President Trump announced a US withdrawal from Syria.

In its new fortnightly bulletin, the Coalition declares 478 airstrikes consisting of 1,015 engagements for the period December 16th-29th. While the release gives some detail on what was bombed, there is no mention of where in Iraq or Syria the strikes occurred – or on which specific dates. An accompanying Coalition statement claims that “Our intent is to reduce the number of reports while maintaining transparency.”

However in the view of Airwars, transparency has been significantly reduced. With the Coalition no longer identifying where or when it strikes in either Iraq or Syria, it will no longer be possible for external monitors to match potential civilian harm events to Coalition strikes. That process has been a key part of Airwars’ engagement until now on more than 2,000 claimed civilian casualty events in the war against ISIS, which it has flagged to the Coalition’s own civilian casualty monitoring team for assessment.

Civilian toll from US-led strikes is climbing fast, new report finds

In the Airwars monthly assessment for November 2018 published today, researchers found that at least 221 civilians and perhaps hundreds more likely died as a result of Coalition actions in Syria during the month.

Deaths were mostly clustered around the towns of Hajin, Al Sha’afa and Al Kishma in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, where ISIS is making a last stand. Thousands of civilians including the families of ISIS fighters are known to be trapped in the so-called ‘Hajin Pocket’.

The reported Coalition casualty toll was the highest since the end of the Raqqa campaign in October 2017. The Coalition’s own air and artillery strike data also showed a 32%. However, actions by the US’s Dutch, British and French allies actually fell significantly during November 2018 – suggesting that the great majority of reported civilian casualties at Hajin were from US military actions alone.

“The war against ISIS is not yet over – and civilians continue to pay a heavy price,” says Chris Woods, the Director of Airwars. “We are troubled to see the US-led Coalition slashing public transparency in the wake of President Trump’s recent announcement – even as civilian casualties climb back to troubling levels. Airwars urges the US and its allies to re-think this shortsighted decision to reduce public accountability for the war against ISIS.”

Main image: The children Aisha, Zaid and Ziad Mahmoud al Haj Hussein, killed in a reported Coalition strike on al Sha’afa in Syria on November 3rd 2018. Image courtesy of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

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