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Podcast: Journalist Dan Cohen on What He Saw as Gaza Endured Deadly Winter Storm

On this year’s first episode of Unauthorized Disclosure Kevin Gosztola and I speak with journalist Dan Cohen about his experience reporting from the besieged and devastated Gaza Strip following Israel’s summertime assault, which killed over 2,200 people, including more than 500 children, and damaged and destroyed over 100,000 homes. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here).

More from Kevin: Read more

How Alan Dershowitz bullied rape victims to protect a serial child molester

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz always felt children were fair game for Israeli missiles. Now the question is whether he thinks they are fair game for the sexual exploits of his powerful associates and himself.

Dershowitz and the UK’s Prince Andrew were accused in a recent court filing of raping a teenage girl who was forced into sexual slavery by Dershowitz’s close friend and client, billionaire hedge fund financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. The court filing is part of an ongoing civil lawsuit by four of Epstein’s victims accusing the federal government of violating the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) when it made a secret 2008 plea deal with Epstein without informing them.

Dershowitz played a key role in negotiating a secret provision in Epstein’s plea deal that immunized “any potential co-conspirators” from federal prosecution. In other words, Dershowitz negotiated an agreement that (if the allegations against him are true) shields him from prosecution for participating in a child sex-trafficking ring.

Since there has been no trial to determine whether Dershowitz and Prince Andrew are liable for the allegations against them, which they categorically deny, they should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

That said, while the mainstream press revives its interest in Epstein and reproduces strongly worded denials from Dershowitz and representatives of Prince Andrew, it has overlooked the role of Epstein’s social network in building up his influence and shielding him from accountability. Media coverage of Epstein has been particularly derelict in failing to note the pivotal role of Alan Dershowitz, Israel’s most aggressive defender, in securing near impunity for a sexual predator and his accomplices by bullying, harassing, intimidating and smearing child victims of rape. Read more

Killing 40 civilians in one go is “reasonable,” says Israel army ethicist

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada 

Since the Israeli army killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip last summer, including more than 500 children, a dedicated army of official and unofficial whitewashers has been mobilized on a mission to rescue Israel’s bloodstained public image.

Such was the case on 4 December, when dozens of people, including this writer, filed into the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan’s Upper West Side for a panel discussion titled, “Defense with a conscience: Exploring military ethics in Israel.”

Convened by the liberal Zionist New Israel Fund and moderated by Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the liberal The Jewish Daily Forward, the event was advertised as a discussion about “‘moral armies’ and the challenges of defensive wars in today’s new Middle East.”

Among the panelists were Israeli military “ethicists” Asa Kasher and Moshe Halbertal, as well as retired US Air Force Major-General Robert Latiff.

Kasher and Halbertal co-authored the Israeli military code of ethics, which has guided the army’s conduct during Israel’s increasingly ferocious military assaults against the Palestinians it occupies as well as its neighbors over the last two decades.

The atmosphere was cozy and intimate, with randomly assigned dinner table seating. Each table was decorated with wine bottles and elegant food platters that aimed to foster “a new kind of conversation about Israel,” according to the program.

As the generally Israel-friendly crowd of mostly older New Yorkers sipped on Merlot and munched on pita chips from the comfort and safety of the JCC, they listened to the ethicists doing what they do best: twisting international law to sanctify Israel’s “right” to inflict limitless suffering on the 1.8 million Palestinians, the vast majority refugees, confined to the Gaza Strip solely because they are not Jews.

The ethicists

Appealing to right-wing Zionist sensibilities, Kasher dominated the discussion, arguing that Palestinian civilians—or as he calls them, “the neighbors of the terrorists”— had to die to protect the lives of Israeli combatants.

In an exclusive interview following the panel, Kasher’s extremism reached new heights. He told me that Givati Brigade commander Ofer Winter was right to carpet bomb the southern Gaza City of Rafah to prevent the capture of an Israeli soldier, an order that killed the soldier and 190 Palestinians in a matter of hours, though Kasher insisted that “only forty” were killed.

“Killing forty civilians” is “reasonable,” he told me.

Moshe Halbertal, a law professor at Hebrew University and visiting professor of law at New York University, was less extreme in his rhetoric and allowed for some criticism of Israel’s behavior in Gaza. But he chalked up Israeli atrocities, like the wiping out of dozens of families in Gaza, to “sporadic” mistakes. “War is messy,” he said.

Despite the pretense of ideological disagreement, Kasher and Halbertal were advancing the same agenda. For two hours, they explained why and how the massacre of defenseless Palestinians who have nowhere to flee is ethical, and in Kasher’s case, a moral imperative. Read more

“Liberation for all”: Why Palestine is a key issue on the streets of Ferguson

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

“As a person who supports Israel I was glad to see that there were no signs and conversation about Gaza at all,” said St. Louis-area rabbi Ari Kaiman after participating in a clergy-led protest outside the Ferguson Police Department on 13 October.

It was the final day of the “weekend of resistance” — four days of direct actions organized by Ferguson protesters who asked people of conscience from around the country to join them in St. Louis to demand justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager gunned down by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Kaiman was right to worry and he is not alone. Israel’s apologists are desperate to neutralize the growing bond between Palestinians and African Americans spurred by the uprising in the small Missouri town in the northern outskirts of St. Louis.

But they are failing miserably.

While Palestine advocacy has traditionally been excluded from progressive and social justice circles in the United States, incredible displays of mutual solidarity between Ferguson and Palestine have been featured regularly in the streets of St. Louis and beyond since Brown’s grisly slaying on 9 August. And the “weekend of resistance” was no exception.

Among the hundreds of people who answered Ferguson’s call that weekend were dozens of Palestine solidarity activists who came as part of the Palestine Contingent.

Progressive except for Palestine

Delivering a statement of solidarity on behalf of the Palestine Contingent at a massive rally in downtown St. Louis on 11 October, Suhad Khatib of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee said to the crowd, “We recognize that none of us is free until all of us are free. We know Black liberation in this country will lead to liberation for all.”

Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United, a social justice organization created after Brown’s killing, responded, “Palestinians were the first people to reach out in support while we were getting tear gassed. We stand with y’all.”

The crowd thundered with applause.

Powerful moments such as these place liberal and progressive Israel apologists who support Ferguson in the awkward position of having to reconcile their opposition to racist militarized policing in the US with their unbridled support for the Israeli apartheidregime that rules over Palestinians.

Susan Talve, described to me by several activists as “the most progressive rabbi in St. Louis,” embodies this dissonance. Read more

Podcast: Deconstructing the Torture Report & Its Possible Ramifications with Reprieve Attorney Alka Pradhan

On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure Kevin Gosztola and I spoke with Reprieve’s Alka Pradhan about the Senate intelligence committee’s explosive report on the CIA’s worldwide network of torture dungeons. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here).

Here’s Kevin with the details:

The Senate intelligence committee finally released the summary of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program this past week. It detailed a criminal conspiracy involving the torture the CIA used against detainees in the global “war on terrorism” and the lengths to which CIA officials and interrogators had gone to cover up and conceal their actions from the Justice Department, Congress, the press and citizens.

Senate intelligence committee staff, which put together the report over a period of three and a half years, reviewed the detention and treatment of at least 119 individuals. At least thirty-nine of them were subjected to what the CIA termed “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

This week’s episode of “Unauthorized Disclosure” features an interview with Alka Pradhan, who is a DC counsel for Reprieve US and primarily represents prisoners who remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay. The organization has represented a number of detainees who were once in CIA custody and tortured.

Pradhan shares her reactions to reading the torture report summary and what details stunned her. She breaks down some of the broader aspects of the report and outlines what effect the new information might have on new efforts to achieve justice for torture victims. She also describes how President Barack Obama’s administration still tortures, especially because he issued an executive order in his first year as president that included a loophole permitting rendition.

The interview is counter-programming to the torture defenders who appeared on all the Sunday morning news programs today—like former Vice President Dick Cheney; former Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who crafted “legal” arguments so the Bush administration could argue torture was permissible, CIA Director John Brennan, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Later in the podcast, Rania Khalek and I continue to dig into what was learned about CIA torture this past week. We confront the grotesque use of “rectal rehydration” on detainees.

We also recorded an additional twenty minutes of material to talk about a USAID contractor trying to help the US government topple the Cuban government by co-opting the hip-hop underground scene. Palestinian American organizer Rasmea Odeh’s release from jail until her sentencing is highlighted as well.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

“I’ve been working on these issues of rendition and CIA treatment of detainees for a long time,” Pradhan shared. “My colleagues and I thought we had a pretty good handle on how the program worked, how organized it was, etc. But I think what really jumps out when you start to read the summary is how chaotic it actually was. You get a picture of a CIA that has no idea what it is doing,” which was essentially confirmed by CIA director John Brennan in his press conference on December 11.

“The CIA has never been an interrogation or detention agency. It’s not trained to do those things. For them to suddenly setup from scratch prisons in those countries, what you see is them really making it up as they go along.”

Pradhan also asserted that the question for the CIA was not getting permission to torture detainees. “It was really the CIA beginning to use torture and then saying, you know what, we should use these techniques on everyone we detain. Let’s go get legal cover. And then they went to the Department of Justice to get legal authorization for the techniques. It wasn’t the other way around.”

“I was surprised really by a lot of those details. I knew the bare bones, but I was shocked at how disorganized it was, how few people even within the CIA were adequately briefed on it and when you get down to it the brutality of the techniques,” she said.

“People like Dick Cheney, his deputy, David Addington, Michael Hayden, George Tenet, they knew. They knew everything that was going on. They knew that there were secret prisons. Dick Cheney was apparently not briefed on where those prisons were, but they knew that we had prisons and they knew that we were using torture and they approved us using torture,” Pradhan stated.

It is very difficult to believe President George W. Bush didn’t ask the CIA to come into the Oval Office and explain what was happening when rumors started to swirl from 2003-2005.

If it is really true that Bush did not know anything about what the CIA was doing, Pradhan added, “I find that [to be] just a shocking abdication of responsibility for him to now stand up, now that the CIA has admitted that it use these techniques and that at least some members of the White House knew about it” and suggest he knew nothing.

On the CIA’s propaganda campaign to sell the public torture by manipulating media and avoiding Congress, “I think the media is hesitant to use this word, but there’s no other word for it. They lied over and over again.”

President Barack Obama has not ended torture. The practices, according to Pradhan, have just “changed shape.” They have not “changed substance.”

“The administration continues rendition, and it’s actually expanded the tools in their belt through these series of executive orders and through their expanded use of secrecy, both at Guantanamo Bay and with the drones program.”

“This administration, in the past six years, has continued to pick up people abroad and render them to secret prisons that are not administered by the CIA but rather by allies in say Kenya, Somalia, on US naval ships and we find out weeks or months later when they show up in New York City and say guess what? We’re gonna prosecute these guys,” Pradhan said.

Pradhan also explained, “If you look at the procedures for force-feeding today at Guantanamo Bay and what they describe as rectal rehydration in those documents, the only difference is—and I am sorry to be crass about it—the only difference is where that nutrition is going, like which place it is being administered.”

“It is forcibly done, it is extremely painful and it is predicated, preceded by a number of techniques that are absolutely not sanctioned by any medical practice.”

Pradhan said she felt most sorry for men like Maher Arar and Binyam Mohamed, a former Reprieve client, who were victims of the rendition program but not held in CIA-run secret prisons.

Reacting to the roles James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, architects of the torture program who are now indemnified to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by the CIA, Pradhan argued, “You expect bad behavior from the CIA at this point. You really do. You don’t expect this level of criminality from medical providers.

“These were two psychologists who had no knowledge of interrogation, no knowledge of al Qaeda, literally no subject matter knowledge whatsoever. They were the only two people with any bearing, any medical training whatsoever who the CIA could find to sort of sign off so that they could say this is doctor-approved.”

According to Pradhan, the public should expect new lawsuits in the United States and more lawsuits in Europe, particularly with regard to secret prisons that were setup in Eastern Europe. The public should also expect some effects on the military commissions proceedings at Guantanamo because of what was revealed about how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other high-profile detainees were tortured.

CIA cites Israeli court ruling to “justify” torture program

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

The CIA repeatedly cited an Israeli high court decision to justify torture, according to the long-awaited US Senate report on the agency’s torture program.

This latest disclosure comes just months after revelations that the Obama administration relied on an Israeli high court ruling to justify targeted killings of American citizens without trial.

Released Tuesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after months of stalling, the nearly 600-page report discloses new details about the atrocities that took place at the CIA’s network of rendition and torture sites created in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The CIA’s torture techniques — which included water-boarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, sexual torture, threats to kill and rape loved ones, mock executions, electrocution and medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” — were far more gruesome and pervasive than the agency let on.

Furthermore, the report explicitly states that the CIA lied about the torture program’s effectiveness, falsely claiming its techniques successfully extracted information that thwarted terrorist plots, including a fabricated attack “in Saudi Arabia against Israel.”

As the CIA engaged in a deceptive propaganda campaign to mislead the American public about the program’s lawfulness and effectiveness, it relied on Israeli precedent as a legal defense.

How to legalize torture

As early as November 2001, CIA officials began brainstorming possible legal justifications for torture techniques they were already employing at black sites around the globe, culminating in a draft memorandum described by the Senate report as follows:

On 26 November 2001, attorneys in the CIA’s Office of General Counsel circulated a draft legal memorandum describing the criminal prohibition on torture and a potential “novel” legal defense for CIA officers who engaged in torture. The memorandum stated that the “CIA could argue that the torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm,” adding that “states may be very unwilling to call the US to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives.”

According to the corresponding footnote, the November memo “cited the ‘Israeli example’ as a possible basis for arguing that ‘torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.’”

The “Israeli example” was invoked again the following year in an official memorandum to the White House Office of Legal Council to the President on 1 August 2002, which “include[d] a similar analysis of the ‘necessity defense’ in response to potential charges of torture.”

Israeli loopholes

The “Israeli example” is a reference to the 1999 Israeli high court decision that supposedly outlawed the use of torture — the Israeli euphemism for which is “moderate physical pressure” — to extract confessions from Palestinian prisoners, a longstanding and widespread practice up until that time. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem celebrated the ruling at the time, declaring it a victory for democracy.

In reality, the decision was filled with obvious loopholes and merely limited the circumstances under which torture techniques could be legally employed. (Israel’s high court is also known as its supreme court.)

Till this day Israeli torture of Palestinian prisoners remains widespread and no Palestinian is immune, not even children, who are systematically subjected to solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and stress positions in Israeli custody.

Last winter, Israeli cruelty reached new heights when its prison services placed Palestinian child detainees in outdoor cages during one of the most severe winter storms to strike the region in years.

As the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has argued, not a great deal has changed since the 1999 ruling due in large part to the high court’s inclusion of the “necessity defense” — a loophole that immunizes interrogators who use torture techniques from being held criminally liable based on the argument that they had to do it out of “necessity” to prevent loss of or harm to human life.

Such loopholes have led to absolute impunity for Israeli torturers. Of the more than 800 complaints of torture submitted by Palestinian prisoners since 2001, exactly zero have led to criminal investigations despite the state corroborating at least 15 percent of the torture allegations, according to PCATI.

It is also notable that even the CIA methods revealed in the Senate report bear striking similarity to long-standing Israeli torture techniques documented by human rights organizations, among them sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold, confinement in very small spaces and painful “stress positions.” These are techniques that are thought to inflict maximum suffering while minimizing the risk that they will leave tell-tale signs of torture on the victim’s body.

A ticking time bomb fiction

Strangely, even notable anti-torture liberals have been duped into believing that Israel banned torture.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has cited the Israeli high court decision on torture as an exemplary ban the US should emulate.

“The police think that a suspect they have apprehended knows where and when a bomb is going to go off,” Ginsberg told The New York Times. “Can the police use torture to extract that information? And in an eloquent decision by Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of Israel, the court said: ‘Torture? Never.’”

According to Ginsburg, the Israeli ruling sent the message “that we could hand our enemies no greater victory than to come to look like that enemy in our disregard for human dignity.”

Ginsburg’s takeaway from the Israeli decision is as erroneous as her racist portraryal of a Palestinian “enemy” lacking in “human dignity.”

Far from banning torture altogether, the Israeli decision includes an unambiguous exemption for the hypothetical scenario Ginsburg lays out.

In the event of a “ticking time bomb” scenario, the Israeli decision states that “necessity defense” gives Israeli interrogators discretion to employ torture to extract information to stop an explosive from detonating.

It should be noted that even the Senate report concedes that the “ticking time bomb” so often invoked by torture enthusiasts has no basis in reality.

But even if it did, Article 2 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states: ”No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Turning to Israel for inspiration

In a desperate bid to keep the torture program alive amid growing (albeit weak) pressure from Congress in 2005, a CIA official once again turned to Israel for inspiration and a legal rationale:

The CIA attorney described the “striking” similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment [a proposed ban on torture] and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had “ruled that several … techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,” and that the Israeli government “ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”

The corresponding footnote adds:

The CIA attorney also described the Israeli precedent with regard to the “necessity defense” that had been invoked by CIA attorneys and the Department of Justice in 2001 and 2002. The CIA attorney wrote that the Israeli Supreme Court “also specifically considered the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario and said that enhanced techniques could not be pre-approved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted.”

This suggestion was adapted into a 20 July 2007 memorandum authored by then Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven G. Bradbury, who argued that based on the Israeli court case, CIA torture is “clearly authorized and justified by legislative authority.”

Sharing values

It should come as no surprise that the US is following Israel’s lead on torture given that the two nations feed off of one another’s atrocities.

When Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike earlier this year to protest their indefinite detention, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to push through the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, a bill that would permit the force-feeding of prisoners. According to human rights groups, force-feeding amounts to cruel and inhumane punishment.

To excuse his demand for the implementation of the excruciatingly painful technique, wherein a tube is shoved through the nostril into the stomach, Netanyahu pointed toUS force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay.

When it comes to torture, few people understand the shared values that unite the US and Israel better than Rasmea Odeh.

The 67-year-old Palestinian American activist was convicted last month of immigration fraud for failing to disclose a 1969 Israeli military court conviction based on a confession extracted under weeks of Israeli sexual torture.

At the behest of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, the trial judge barredthe jury from hearing evidence about Odeh’s torture, protecting and ultimately legitimizing Israel’s system of abuse. Meanwhile, Odeh was subjected to further torture, this time at the hands of the US government, which placed her in solitary confinement for twelve consecutive days for no apparent reason until a judge ordered on Mondaythat she could be released on bail.

While the depth of collusion between the US and Israeli torture programs has yet to be fully unearthed there is reason to suspect that some US methods were modeled on Israel’s.

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US has fashioned much of its counterterrorism strategy on Israel’s decades-long suppression of Palestinian resistance to its colonial ambitions.

Invented by Israel for use against Palestinian leaders, extrajudicial targeted killings are now the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy.

Like its targeted killing policy, Israel has spent decades perfecting torture techniques on Palestinian prisoners, designed to maximize the suffering while leaving behind few visible scars.

So, how much did Israel influence the CIA? Perhaps the answer can be found in the original 6,000-page, still-classified Senate torture report that Tuesday’s release is based on. It makes one wonder what is being left out of the public record.

White supremacy and Zionism converge in deleted Times of Israel post on Ferguson

Following an uproar on social media, a viciously racist blog post was removed from The Times of Israel. Titled “Nine Parallels between Palestine and Ferguson,” the post attacked African American protestors in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and Palestinians as violent, “savage,” irrationally “angry” and deserving of the institutionalized state violence wielded against them.

(A web cache of the article can be found here. A copy is also included at the bottom of this post.)

In the now-deleted post, the writer, Robert Wilkes, a member of the advisory board and media response team at StandWithUs, embraces the increasingly popular comparison between Ferguson and Palestine. But Wilkes does so by proudly likening anti-Palestinian Jewish Israelis to American police, the real victims according to him.

The post was removed despite its author being defended as an “amazing guy” by a staffer at StandWithUs, a right-wing group that works closely with the Israeli government.

This is at least the second time in recent months that an offensive article has been deleted from The Times of Israel after coming under fire on social media. A similar scenario played out during Israel’s summertime assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, after The Times of Israel published an item titled ”When Genocide is Permissible.”

“Anger defines them”

Wilkes’ piece is as remarkable as it is vile in its appeal to anti-Palestinian and white American racism.

On African Americans and Palestinians, Wilkes writes, “Anger defines them, and anger keeps both mired in failure. Rather than make better choices they prefer to ride the ‘victim’ train to nowhere.”

He continues, “Both wish to undermine the state’s moral authority by provoking violent reactions, then portraying themselves as victims of oppression.”

Mocking Black American leaders as “con artists” and “race-hustlers in a ‘business’ fueled by anger,” Wilkes decries supposedly irrational Black and Palestinian anger as a product of inferior cultures that teach hate.

“Black problems in America,” he argues, “derive from the breakdown of family and unhealthy aspects of black culture.”

These are some of the most pernicious and cliché tropes long employed by liberal and right-wing racists to blame and pathologize people of color as being responsible for their own oppression and disadvantage.

“In both places, the innocent pay the price” for the supposed Black and Palestinian lust for violence, Wilkes claims. “The businesses destroyed in Ferguson belong to hard-working citizens who had nothing to do with the incident in which a policeman shot a robbery suspect in self-defense,” he says, justifying Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s August killing of Black youth Michael Brown.

But, Wilkes allows, “The Palestinians are, tragically, far more bloodthirsty.”

Wilkes ends his screed by praising the Israeli army and Missouri police for exercising restraint: “Authorities in both places have their hands tied by their high standards of human rights and reverence for the rule of law.” Of course this last point makes sense given that St. Louis-area police departments have received training from the Israeli security apparatus in recent years.

Defending racism

StandWithUs director of Israeli education Hen Mazzig initially praised Robert Wilkes and his article in a tweet that was favorited by the official StandWithUs Twitter account.

Read the rest at The Electronic Intifada

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