IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014, I found myself standing on a narrow, potholed street in Kiev, east of the Dnieper River, in an area known as the Left Bank. I didn’t even know, at that point, whom I was meeting. I knew only that Khalid, my contact in Turkey with the Islamic State, had told me his “brothers” were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.
When one of them called me, I was given the address of a small street in the Ukrainian capital where I should go, and no other information. When I arrived, I found myself in a maze of Soviet apartment blocks. I immediately noticed two well-built men walking by; they were bearded, with black sunglasses and black leather jackets. When I looked closely, I could see sticking out of their jackets the barrels of small machine guns.
“Kandahar, Kandahar,” one of them said into his radio, after approaching me.
Could we go in? “No,” was the answer. The “commander” was still busy.
The armed men guided me past rows of Soviet-era apartment buildings, and then we waited in a wide, open square among the tall, concrete buildings. After half an hour of waiting, we wove through the housing complex until we approached a 10-story building, then took the elevator up to a mid-level floor and entered a small apartment. The single room was furnished with a bed, a kitchen table and two chairs.
Sitting inside the small apartment was Isa Munayev. I recognized him immediately, because he was one of the few Chechens serving in Ukraine who was photographed frequently without a mask. He was upset, and shouting into the phone: “We came to die for you, and you don’t even want to do what you promised.”
Even before he arrived in Ukraine, Munayev was well-known. He fought against Russian forces in both Chechen wars; in the second, he was the commander of the war in Grozny. After the Chechen capital was captured by Russian forces between 1999 and 2000, Munayev and his men took refuge in the mountains. He fought from there until 2005, when he was seriously injured and went to Europe for treatment. Munayev lived in Denmark until 2014. Then war broke out in Ukraine, and he decided it was time to fight the Russians again.
As Russian-backed separatist forces began battling Ukrainian forces, Munayev came to Ukraine and established one of what would become several dozen private battalions that sprang up to fight on the side of the Ukrainian government, operating separately from the military. Munayev’s group was called the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion, named after the first president of independent Chechnya, who was killed by Russian forces in 1996. Munayev was the head of the battalion.
He was not at the front in the fall of 2014, because he was busy training forces and organizing money and weapons, from Kiev. An older man in a leather jacket introduced me to Munayev. “Our good brother Khalid recommended this man,” the man said. (Khalid is today one of the most important leaders of the Islamic State. Khalid and Munayev knew each other from years spent fighting together in Chechnya.)
Munayev had reason for all the security precautions. Vladimir Putin regarded him as a personal enemy, and so did Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-friendly leader of Chechnya. Yet once I was inside the apartment, Munayev greeted me like an old friend, and we chatted casually about friends and colleagues we both knew from Chechnya; some were dead, a few still alive.
For those looking for an easy narrative in today’s wars, whether in the Middle East or in eastern Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion is not the place to find it. The battalion is not strictly Muslim, though it includes a number of Muslims from former Soviet republics, including Chechens who have fought on the side of the Islamic State in Syria. It also includes many Ukrainians. But all are fighting against what they perceive to be a common enemy: Russian aggression.
Munayev was full of nervous energy, gesturing and talking loudly. He rarely stood still; even in the small apartment, he got up frequently, walked around and sat down again. When I asked whether I could visit him once he moved to the front lines, he told me to call him next time I was in Kiev.
A few months later when I returned to Ukraine, in early 2015, Munayev was no longer in Kiev. He was fighting in the east, in the so-called Debaltseve “cauldron,” which had become the center of an intense battle between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. But Munayev gave permission for Rizvan, a member of his battalion, to take me to his secret base.
I was the first journalist allowed to visit the base, and I would end up being the last journalist to see Munayev before his death.
THE TRIP FROM Kiev to the base of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion in the east winds along 500 miles of poorly maintained roads pocked with holes, and in the winter, often covered in snow. When we passed the city of Dnipropetrovsk, in southeastern Ukraine, we were told to turn off our phones and remove the batteries.
We approached Munayev’s base late at night after many hours inside a cramped, overheated car. On the last bit of road, Rizvan got lost in the fog. He wasn’t the only one. We stopped at one point to talk with the driver of a Ukrainian army truck; the soldier was completely confused. He didn’t know where to go, and we couldn’t help him. On the horizon, we saw the flash of rockets as troops fired at positions near Donetsk. Dull explosions punctuated the silence of the night.
We rendezvoused with Munayev’s men at the crossroads of a small village, near a Soviet-era monument to “working women” painted bright white. An armored van, similar to one designed to carry cash to the bank, pulled up next to us. Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch from Dnipropetrovsk, had given the car to Munayev’s fighters. From there we drove together to the base.
The Dudayev battalion base was situated in an old, dilapidated complex of buildings, a former psychiatric hospital that once treated drug addicts, among others. The conditions were tough, but at least the main building was warm, heated by a wood-burning oven. Fighters cut down the trees from around the hospital to feed the oven.
“There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”
- Isa Munayev
About 50 to 60 fighters were in the building, at least half of them Ukrainians, many from the city of Cherkasy. Others came from Chechnya, and the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus. There were also Crimean Tatars, Azeris and one Georgian from Batumi. All were there to defend Ukraine against Russia. “I know how much this great nation needs help, and we really want to help them,” Munayev said.
Munayev also admitted, however, that he hoped the weapons he got in Ukraine would end up in the hands of militants in the Caucasus. He had a clear goal. “I defend Ukraine and Chechnya,” he told me. “If we succeed in Ukraine, then we can succeed in Chechnya.”
In Ukraine, Munayev was seeking revenge for the wrongs that he and his people had suffered. Russians had killed his father, his wife and his children. “These are the enemies who murdered my people, who took my country from me,” he said. “They killed all those who were dear to us. There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”
Adam Osmayev, the deputy commander of the battalion, is famous in his own right. Two years before the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, the British-educated Chechen was arrested in Odessa, a port city in the south of Ukraine, on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate Vladimir Putin. Osmayev initially pleaded guilty, but then withdrew the plea, writing in a statement he submitted before the court that the admission was “obtained through physical and psychological coercion.” Osmayev claimed that after his arrest in 2012, representatives of Ukraine’s security service beat him on the head with fists, gun handles and rifle butts. He said they kicked him, partially suffocated him with a plastic bag over his head, and injected him with drugs.
Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people.
In the spring of 2014, after a new Ukrainian government came to power, Isa Munayev and three of his men broke Osmayev out of prison, according to Rizvan, who was one of the fighters involved. On the way back to Kiev, special forces surrounded them at one of the militia checkpoints, Rizvan said, and after a dramatic standoff, the Ukrainians allowed the Chechens to go free. (There is no way to confirm Rizvan’s account, but in the fall of 2014, the Odessa court suddenly declared that Osmayev had fulfilled enough of his sentence and had been set free). Osmayev and Munayev came back to Kiev, and the Dudayev battalion was created.
At the time I visited, most of the fighters were at the front in the vicinity of Luhansk. But the exact number serving in the battalion is a mystery. According to one source, there are 500 volunteers. Assuming that number is correct, it’s a significant force, which is why it’s increasingly feared in Kiev. The battalion is not subject to any political leader in Kiev, or subordinate to any political structure there.
The Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first volunteer battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people. For several months, he also financially supported several other battalions, including Azov, Aidar, Donbass, and Right Sector battalion. In the end, Kolomoisky also invited the Chechens, hoping they would protect his businesses and factories, if needed.
Since the 1990s, Kolomoisky has been one of the most powerful men in Ukraine. His influence extends across almost the entire Ukrainian economy. Among other companies, he controls PrivatBank, the country’s largest bank, and exercises significant authority over Ukrnafta, its largest oil and gas producer. His influence extends over the media through several television stations, including the popular channel 1+1. The oligarch also owns the football club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Most of Kolomoisky’s assets, however, focus on Privat Group, which The Wall Street Journal described as “an informal nebula of companies controlled by Mr. Kolomoisky and his partners.” In 2008, Forbes estimated that Kolomoisky’s fortune was $4.2 billion.
When Kolomoisky saw that the Russians might capture Dnipropetrovsk — where his business was centered — he decided to cooperate with the new president of Ukraine, who, like him, was a businessman. Kolomoisky also wanted to help bail out the government’s army, which had been hobbled by years of corruption. After Russia annexed Crimea and separatists began fighting in eastern Ukraine, Kolomoisky announced his candidacy for the post of governor of Dnipropetrovsk. He was immediately appointed to the position.
“If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”
- Isa MunayevWhen the Russians stopped approximately 120 miles short of Dnipropetrovsk, Kolomoisky suddenly lost interest and stopped paying the volunteer battalions. The Right Sector battalion responded by seizing his property, but Munayev couldn’t do that. He was a foreigner, and feared the Ukrainian authorities would regard his battalion as an illegal armed group, then disband it. Munayev was bitter, but would not openly speak ill of the authorities in Kiev. The Ukrainian people were still helping his fighters.
There are three volunteer battalions with a significant number of Muslim fighters operating in Ukraine today (it would be wrong to describe any of the battalions as “Muslim,” since they also include Ukrainians and other nationalities). The Dudayev battalion operates between Donetsk and Luhansk, the Sheikh Mansour battalion, which broke off from the Dudayev battalion, is based close to Mariupol, in the southeast of Ukraine, and in the northeast is the Crimea battalion, based in Krematorsk, which consists mostly of Crimean Tatars. (There is also a separate company of Crimean Tatar fighters that operate as part of a sotnya, a Slavic term for “hundred.”)
From time to time, Munayev met with representatives of the Ukrainian Security Service, known as the SBU. The Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko fear that Chechens — along with other branches of voluntary battalions dissatisfied with the developments in Ukraine — could one day threaten the government in Kiev.
That concern isn’t totally without merit. “It doesn’t matter whether the Ukrainian authorities help us or not,” a commander from the Tatar battalion told me. “Now we have weapons and we will never given them up.”
That commander recently arrived in Ukraine from Syria. He wants to fight to free Crimea, which he does not believe Ukraine will ever recover through negotiations. “It can be done only by force, with weapons in hand,” he said.
IN THE END, I spent three days at the base with Munayev. As a volunteer battalion, the relationship between commander and fighters relies on mutual trust, rather than traditional military structures. The volunteers weren’t there because they were paid soldiers or conscripts; they were there because they believed in Munayev’s instincts and abilities as a commander. And Munayev believed in them. “These are my fighters,” he said at one point. “These wonderful, beautiful young men.”
Over the past month, Munayev had been organizing raids behind enemy lines, attacking the command posts, artillery, rocket launchers and entrenched tanks. He would personally go to the front lines for a week or two, then return to the base just to pick up a new group of fighters, allowing the others to rest.
Munayev went to battle for the last time on Jan. 26. He went to Debaltseve, which the separatists took in February following an intense battle that left much of the city in ruins. Before getting into the white armored van that last day, he told me the same thing he told his fighters — that he didn’t know when he would return. “We are going deep behind enemy lines,” he said. “I hope everything will be fine. If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”
Munayev didn’t return. What happened next depends on whom you believe. There are suspicions that his location was betrayed to the Russians. But one of the fighters I spoke with, a Chechen who came to Ukraine with a Turkish passport, does not believe that. According to his account, on Feb. 1 Munayev’s group went to help the volunteer Donbass battalion fighting near Debaltseve. Most of the fighters stayed at the Ukrainian positions, but Munayev took four fighters and went on a scouting mission. He wanted to get to the rear of the enemy. They walked a little over 2 miles into “no man’s land,” between the two sides.
They came to a small village called Chernukhino, where they stumbled upon Russian soldiers. There was shooting, and the Chechens killed a few Russians — the rest of the Russians withdrew. The Russians, however, managed to give the village’s coordinates to their artillery, and soon all hell broke loose. At the same time, the assault began on Debaltseve, which was defended by the Ukrainian army, as well as volunteer battalions including Donbass and Dudayev.
Munayev’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code.
The five lightly armed Dudayev fighters were attacked by infantry and tanks, and so they fled. They came upon a courtyard, where they saw a building with a shop. Munayev emptied some rounds into the front door and ordered his men to take refuge inside. When the last one entered, there was an explosion. The room filled with clouds of black smoke. When the dust settled, the commander of the militants was lying at the entrance to the building. Munayev had been hit by shrapnel from a tank shell, and had a large gaping wound. Munayev, who had survived two brutal wars in Chechnya, died instantly. He was 49 years old.
What happened next is even more controversial. The commander’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code. I spoke with a fighter from the Chechen battalion of Sheikh Mansour, which broke away from Munayev’s branch a few months ago. Relations between the two battalions are not good.
He didn’t want to talk about the death of Munayev, or why the commander was left on the battlefield. Ask the people “who were with Isa in his last moments,” the fighter said when I asked him about it. “Of course we know what happened, but it is not our business.”
Munayev’s fighters said they didn’t take him from the battlefield because they were too far from the Ukrainian positions, and wouldn’t have been able to carry the body. They were convinced that no one would escape alive. Fleeing, they had to jump over fences, walls and sometimes on top of the roofs of houses. In the evening, they came to the trenches of the Donbass Battalion.
Before Munayev left the base for the last time, I had asked him what he thought of the Chechens fighting in Syria alongside ISIS and other Islamic organizations. What were they fighting for there?
“I don’t know what they’re fighting for, but I know what I’m fighting for,” he answered. “I fight for freedom.”
Adam Osmayev, Munayev’s deputy, was a few miles away fighting alongside the Ukrainian troops when Munayev was killed. When Munayev’s death was reported in the Russian media, one of the claims was that Osmayev had murdered him. Osmayev wouldn’t even comment on that allegation. He said that type of information must have come from Russian security services trying to discredit him.
Osmayev said that a few days after Munayev’s death, when the fighting “subsided a little,” he went to retrieve his commander’s body. Osmayev carried the body from the battlefield, and he and his comrades buried him in the wild fields of Ukraine. Osmayev’s debt to Munayev was repaid.
Osmayev, who has now taken over leadership of the Dudayev battalion, said he didn’t know for sure what happened, but he was sure Munayev died like a soldier.
“He was looking for his end,” Osmayev said. “It found him.”
Photos: Tomasz Glowacki
The post The Final Days of a Chechen Commander Fighting in Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.
Despite campaign rhetoric promising a smaller government, defense contractors are confident that the new Republican congressional majority will boost spending on their industry.
“Friends, this experiment with big government has lasted long enough,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said on election night last November, echoing a common theme among GOP candidates. McConnell’s party won control of the U.S. Senate and increased its ranks in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
For voters promised a leaner federal budget, certain areas, such as food stamps, are already in the crosshairs of legislators. But for the nation’s cyberspying companies and military contractors, “some measure of relief,” is on the way.
That’s how George Pedersen, the chief executive of ManTech International Corp., a defense contractor that works closely with the National Security Agency, described the expected boost in military spending during a call with investors last week.
Pedersen, explaining that the days of defense cuts are “behind us,” credited the shift with the change in control of Congress. “We do not know how the new Republican Congress will work with the president and the new secretary of defense,” he noted. But Pedersen predicted that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the new chairs of the Armed Services committees, will move “forward an expanded defense budget.”
Others executives share that view.
“Our first quarter is usually our worst,” said Tom Brown, president and CEO of LRAD Corp., makers of a sonic-cannon crowd dispersal weapon developed by the Pentagon. “However,” he told financial analysts, “in 2015, we are off to a good start,” citing continued growth for the LRAD business “both internationally and with the new Republican Congress,” which he anticipated will “increase in the U.S. defense budget.”
Jim Peterson, the chief executive of Microsemi Corp., a manufacturer of aerospace and systems technology for the military, could barely contain his excitement.
Asked by a financial analyst how the election would impact his company, Peterson said, “I try to keep away from politics.” Then, holding back a laugh, he said, “but it was nice to see people get out and vote.” He then clarified, “there seems to be a stronger lean towards defense and security spending by another party called the Republicans.”
During the 2014 campaign cycle, defense companies spent over $59 million in disclosed campaign donations, with money spread among candidates of both parties. The real amount spent on the last election, however, is not known to the public given that corporate interests have increasingly disguised their campaign cash through undisclosed non-profits under the 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(4) sections of the tax code.
Earlier this month, President Obama released a budget widely perceived as designed to both boost the defense budget and kill the sequester. The ploy, according to Democratic leaders, is to divide the remaining Republicans wary of defense hikes from hawks in the party to win an overall end to the budget-cutting trend in federal spending. By forging a compromise, spending levels can be increased across the board.
If a budget deal is not reached, sequester-level budget cuts in line with the 2011 Budget Control Act kick in, creating automatic reductions in defense spending, an outcome now vehemently opposed by many in Congress.
The strategy plays to the growing power of the more militaristic, defense lobby-friendly wing of the GOP, which now wields increasing influence despite media proclamations of a new libertarian mindset within the party. “I think one of the most critical tasks for Congress this year is going to be finding a way to increase defense spending for fiscal year 2016,” declared Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., warning of the looming threat of sequester cuts at a retreat for GOP legislators last month.
If recent history is a guide, Wall Street and the defense contracting industry have much to look forward to.
In the lame-duck session of the last Congress, a bipartisan agreement to prevent another government shutdown was reached by filling the stop-gap spending measure with over $1.2 billion in military purchases that weren’t requested by the Pentagon.
Among the sweetheart, earmark-like items in the package was $120 million more for the M-1 Abrams tank program. Military planners have asked time and time again for Congress to stop funding Abrams tanks, which are outdated for most modern warfare and have repeatedly been destroyed by improvised explosive devices. In a symbolic display of government waste, over 2,000 of these tanks are now stored in the California desert, where they remain unused and unwanted. For the Obama administration and Republican leaders to get along, expect the purchase of more wasteful scraps of metal like these.
Photo: General Dynamics Land System/AP
The post Defense Firms Expect Increased Spending from Republicans as Republicans Decry Increased Spending appeared first on The Intercept.
Unter dem Motto „Damit der Mensch nicht zur Zielscheibe wird“ ist für den morgigen Samstag, den 28.Februar, eine große Protestaktion am Stammsitz von Heckler & Koch in Oberndorf geplant. Ein breites Bündnis friedensbewegter Menschen lädt dazu ein. Mehr dazu im neuen Newsletter!
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Mitteilung an die Medien:
Damit der Mensch nicht zur Zielscheibe wird
Protestaktion in Oberndorf, dem Stammsitz von Heckler & Koch
Wann: Samstag, den 28. Februar 2015, 11:00 bis 13:00 Uhr
Wo: Treffpunkt am REAL-Markt Oberndorf-Lindenhof, Friedrich-List-Straße 10
[Stuttgart / Freiburg / Villingen-Schwenningen / Oberndorf] Vertreter baden-württembergischer Friedensorganisationen rufen dazu auf, am Samstag, den 28. Februar 2015, in Oberndorf am Neckar, dem Produktionsstandort von Heckler & Koch, gegen die Lieferung von Kleinwaffen an kriegsführende und menschenrechtsverletzende Staaten zu protestieren.
Zu den Unterzeichnern des Aufrufes des landesweiten Ablegers der „Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel!“ gehören unter anderem der Oberndorfer Diakon Ulrich Pfaff, der katholische Pfarrer Alexander Schleicher und Dr. Helmut Lohrer, Sprecher der Ärzteorganisation IPPNW, beide aus Villingen-Schwenningen.
„H&K-Waffen gelangen über Direktexporte aus Oberndorf oder über Nachbauten bei Lizenznehmern legal oder illegal zum Einsatz auf den Schlachtfeldern in aller Welt. Um dem Einsatz dieser Kriegswaffen zu entkommen, müssen unzählige Menschen ihre Heimatländer verlassen. Sie fliehen in die Nachbarregionen, nach Europa, auch nach Oberndorf“, begründet Jürgen Grässlin, Sprecher des RüstungsInformationsBüro (RIB e.V.) und der DFG-VK seine Teilnahme an der Aktion. „Wir setzen uns dafür ein, dass Grenzen für Menschen geöffnet und für Waffen geschlossen werden!“
„Damit der Mensch nicht länger bei den kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen in aller Welt weiterhin zur Zielscheibe wird, werden wir in Oberndorf an den H&K-Haupteigentümer Andreas Heeschen Postkarten verteilen. Wir fordern: ‚Stoppen Sie den Export von Kleinwaffen jetzt!‘“, erklärt der katholische Diplom-Theologe Paul Russmann, Sprecher der ökumenischen Aktion Ohne Rüstung Leben. „Andere retten Leben. Heckler & Koch hilft töten. Unser Ziel ist stattdessen die Umstellung der Rüstungsproduktion auf eine nachhaltige zivile Fertigung.“
Jürgen Grässlin, Mob. 0170-6113759
Paul Russmann: Tel.: 0711-608396, Mob.: 0176-28044523
Mitteilung an die Medien:
DFG-VK begrüßt Initiative der Bundesregierung zum Produktrückruf von Kleinwaffen
(Berlin/Stuttgart/Freiburg, 16.02.2015) Nachdrücklich begrüßt die Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft – Vereinigte KriegsdienstgegnerInnen „die ebenso überraschende wie erfreuliche Initiative der Bundesregierung zum Rückruf exportierter Kleinwaffen aus deutscher Produktion sowie aus Lizenzfertigung“, sagt Monty Schädel, Politischer Geschäftsführer der DFG-VK. Schädel sichert „eine breite Zustimmung“ des ältesten und zugleich eines der größten deutschen Friedensverbände „für diese bislang einmalige und beispielhafte Regierungsinitiative“ zu.
Jürgen Grässlin, Bundessprecher der DFG-VK und der Kampagne „Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel!“, erklärt: „Die Rückrufaktion dokumentiert den lang erhofften Erkenntnisprozess in der Bundesregierung“. Schließlich hätten all die Bundesregierungen „jahrzehntelang mit milliardenschweren Exporten von Kriegswaffen und Rüstungsgütern in menschenrechtsverletzende Ländern Öl ins Feuer von Kriegen und Bürgerkriegen gegossen. Endlich wird die Beihilfe zu Morden und Massenmorden mit deutschen Kleinwaffen gestoppt!“
Laut Grässlin wurden „bislang weit mehr als zwei Millionen Menschen Opfer des Exports und der Lizenzvergaben deutscher Pistolen, Maschinenpistolen und Gewehre – allen voran der Kleinwaffen von Heckler & Koch (H&K), Carl Walther und SigSauer“. Grässlin verweist insbesondere auf den weltweit tödlichen Einsatz von Heckler & Koch-Sturmgewehren der Typen G3 und G36. Die Folgen seien desaströs: „Kleinwaffen produzieren Flüchtlinge. Abertausende Menschen fliehen vor dem Einsatz deutscher Waffen – auch nach Deutschland.“ Zumindest mittelfristig werde sich die Waffen-Rückrufaktion positiv auf die Lage in den bisherigen Empfängerländern deutscher Waffen auswirken.
Rückendeckung kommt auch vom RüstungsInformationsBüro (RIB e.V.) in Freiburg. „Sollte die Bundesregierung Unterstützung bei der Recherche benötigen, in welchen Krisen- und Kriegsgebieten deutsche Kleinwaffen eingesetzt werden, so verfügen wir über umfassendes Datenmaterial. Seit zweieinhalb Jahrzehnten haben wir beim RIB vor allem den Einsatz von H&K-Waffen in Händen regulärer staatlicher Militäreinheiten sowie von Guerilla- und Terroreinheiten bei kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen, Exekutionen und Massakern im Fokus“, sagt Stephan Möhrle, Leitender RIB-Direktor und DFG-VK-Vertreter im Aufschrei-Waffenhandel-Bündnis. Möhrle verweist darauf, „dass Rückrufaktionen für Waffen in weitaus mehr Ländern Sinn machen, als in den bislang genannten. Aber ein guter Anfang ist gemacht.“
Informationen zum Produktrückruf:
Text der Anzeige
Bildergalerie der Anzeige
Anzeige in der taz
Kurz-Video zum Produktrückruf
Zur Unterstützung der Bundesregierung hat die DFG-VK einen Aufruf verfasst, der im Internet unter www.frieden-mitmachen.de unterzeichnet werden kann.
Jürgen Grässlin (Bundessprecher der DFG-VK), Tel.: 0761-7678208, Mob.: 0170-6113759,
Monty Schädel (Politischer Geschäftsführer der DFG-VK), Mob.: 0177-8871014,
Stephan Möhrle (Leitender Direktor des RIB und DFG-VK-Vertreter im Aufschrei-Bündnis);
Mob: 0152-22636531, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Hand Day 2015: Weltweite Aktionen gegen den Einsatz von Kindersoldaten
von Peter Strack
Am 12. Februar, dreizehn Jahre nach der Verabschiedung des Zusatzprotokolls der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention zu Kindern in bewaffneten Konflikten, wurde in Pakistan, Indien, Kolumbien, USA, Kanada, Deutschland und weiteren Ländern mit Aktionen, Pressekonferenzen und Diskussionsveranstaltungen zum „Red Hand Day“ auf das Schicksal von Kindersoldaten aufmerksam gemacht. Die Zahl der Kindersoldaten hat im vergangenen Jahr weltweit vermutlich zugenommen, da in Syrien, dem Irak, Sudan, Kolumbien, Indien, Pakistan, Burma und mindestens zehn weiteren Länder Kinder rekrutiert werden.
Während in Bogotá Kinder aus den fünf kolumbianischen Konfliktregionen im Parlament den Schutz vor Rekrutierung durch bewaffnete Gruppen und eine bessere Betreuung der Kriegsopfer einforderten, erklärte die FARC-Guerilla in einer Pressemeldung, sie wolle künftig die Rekrutierung von unter 17-Jährigen beenden. Laut Informationen des Generalstaatsanwaltes des Landes seien inzwischen Anklagen in 2570 Fällen von Rekrutierungen fertiggestellt. Die meisten richten sich an Paramilitärs, ein knappes Drittel an Kommandeure der FARC. Sollte es bei den Verhandlungen mit der Regierung in Havanna zu einem Friedenschluss kommen, würden diese Straftaten im Rahmen der Übergangs- statt der gewöhnlichen Justiz behandelt werden.
In Deutschland bekräftigten die zwölf im Bündnis Kindersoldaten zusammengeschlossenen Organisationen die Forderung nach einem Exportstopp von Waffen in Länder, in denen Kinder als Soldaten eingesetzt werden. Dazu gehören beispielsweise Indien, Kolumbien und Pakistan, die 2013 von Deutschland mit Waffen beliefert wurden. Saudi-Arabien erhielt 18.000 Sturmgewehre, obwohl bekannt ist, dass es islamistische Gruppen in Syrien mit Waffen versorgt, die auch Kindersoldaten einsetzen. Insbesondere solche Kleinwaffen – Sturmgewehre, Maschinengewehre und -pistolen – stehen in der Kritik, weil sie die meisten Opfer fordern und auch von Kindern eingesetzt werden können. Deutschland missachte die Empfehlung des UN-Ausschusses für die Rechte des Kindes, Waffenexporte in Länder mit Kindersoldaten gesetzlich zu verbieten, so das Aktionsbündnis.
Aktivisten vieler Menschenrechts- und Friedensorganisationen sowie zahlreiche Schulklassen protestierten dieses Jahr wieder am Red Hand Day, alleine in Deutschland gab es Aktionen in mindestens 20 Städten. In Düsseldorf beispielsweise nutzte eine Schulklasse aus Kerpen und ein terre des hommes-Kinderrechtsteam aus Neuss den Besuch im Düsseldorfer Landtag, um Abgeordnete auf die Situation von Kindersoldaten in Syrien aufmerksam zu machen. Unterstützung gab es auch in einer Roten-Hand-Veranstaltung der Kinderkommission des Deutschen Bundestages kurz vor dem Aktionstag, an der sich mehr als 100 Personen, darunter viele Abgeordnete und Familienministerin Manuela Schwesig, beteiligt hatten.
„Es wäre gut, wenn die Bundesregierung diesen ermutigenden Signalen des Bundestages und der vielen Aktivisten Taten zur Verbesserung der Situation von Kindersoldaten folgen lassen würde“, sagte Ralf Willinger, Referent für Kinderrechte bei terre des hommes und Sprecher des Deutschen Bündnis Kindersoldaten. „Deutschland ist der Kleinwaffenexporteur Nr. 2 der Welt, viele Kinder sterben durch deutsche Waffen oder kämpfen mit ihnen. Deshalb sollte die Bundesregierung Waffenexporte in Konfliktländer dringend gesetzlich verbieten und alles tun, damit das Leid dieser Kinder gestoppt wird.“
Falsche Rüstungsexportberichte – Das Beispiel Mexiko
von Otfried Nassauer
Die Rüstungsexportberichte der Bundesregierung enthalten möglicherweise gravierende Fehler und Lücken. Gleiches gilt für die Berichte der Bundesregierung über die Exporte von kleinen und leichten Waffen an das Rüstungsexportregister der Vereinten Nationen. Das ergibt sich aus einer Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Anfrage des Bundestagsabgeordneten Hans-Christian Ströbele vom 3. Februar 2015 an einem konkreten Beispiel.
Der Schwarzwälder Kleinwaffenhersteller Heckler & Koch hat deutlich mehr G36-Sturmgewehre nach Mexiko geliefert, als die Bundesregierung in der Vergangenheit berichtet hat. Rund 10.100 Gewehre wurden nach Mexiko ausgeführt, so die Daten aus dem Kriegswaffenbuch zu dieser Waffe. Das sind rund 1.400 Sturmgewehre mehr als bislang in den amtlichen Statistiken aufgeführt. Eine bemerkenswerte Differenz. Im Kriegswaffenbuch müssen die Details zum Verbleib jedes einzelnen Gewehrs dokumentiert werden.
Aus den Rüstungsexportberichten der Bundesregierung ist dagegen nur zu entnehmen, dass die Bundesregierung von 2003 bis heute den Export von insgesamt nur 8.769 Gewehren mit Kriegswaffenlistennummer nach Mexiko genehmigt hat. Sturmgewehre des Typs G36 gehören in diese Kategorie, allerdings auch andere Gewehre, die exportiert worden sein könnten. Aus den Meldungen über Kleinwaffenlieferungen an das Rüstungsexportregister der Vereinten Nationen kann man erfahren, dass aus Deutschland in den Jahren seit 2006 8.710 Sturmgewehre nach Mexiko geliefert worden sein sollen. Beide Angaben sind erheblich niedriger als die Angaben Mexikos über den Import von Gewehren des Typs G36. 2011 beantworteten die mexikanischen Behörden eine Anfrage, wie viele G36 Mexiko eingeführt habe. Es waren 10.082 Gewehre dieses Typs.
Mit den mexikanischen Angabe konfrontierte der Abgeordnete Stefan Liebich 2013 die Bundesregierung. Damals teilte das Wirtschaftsministerium lediglich mit, man führe keine Statistiken über die Importe anderer Staaten und können deshalb nur mutmaßen, dass sich die Abweichung aus einer bereits im Dezember 2005 erteilten Genehmigung ergebe, die in Liebichs auf die Jahre 2006 bis 2008 begrenzten Anfrage außen vor geblieben sei. Es sah offenbar keinen Anlass, seine eigenen Angaben noch einmal zu prüfen und zu korrigieren.
Nun erweisen sich diese Angaben als falsch. Selbst wenn man alle bis zu der Antwort auf Ströbeles Anfrage gemachten Angaben der Bundesregierung über Exportgenehmigungen für Gewehre addiert, wird in den deutschen Statistiken über rund 1.400 nach Mexiko exportierte Gewehre keinerlei Angabe gemacht. Die mexikanischen Angaben entsprechen dagegen in etwa der Realität. Der Widerspruch wurde über Jahre durch unvollständige oder gar falsche Angaben aus Deutschland verursacht.
In Mexiko wird etwa die Hälfte der deutschen Sturmgewehre in vier Bundesstaaten eingesetzt, in die sie nicht geliefert werden durften. Vor wenigen Monaten wurden mindestens 36 Waffen des Typs G36 bei der lokalen Polizei von Iguala im Bundesstaat Guerrero sichergestellt, um zu überprüfen, ob sie bei der skandalösen Entführung und Ermordung von mehr als 43 Studenten im September 2014 benutzt wurden.
Der Fall verweist auf ein möglicherweise sehr viel größeres Problem: Die statistischen Daten über deutsche Rüstungsexporte könnten korrumpiert und damit unzuverlässig und falsch sein. Mit den Zahlen zu den G36-Exporten nach Mexiko liegt dafür jetzt ein konkretes Beispiel vor. Zu prüfen bleibt, ob dies ein Einzelfall ist oder ob Parlament und Öffentlichkeit auch bei anderen Waffenexporten falsch informiert wurden.
Die Ursachen der Fehlinformation müssen aufgeklärt werden. Warum ergibt sich aus den detaillierten Angaben des Kriegswaffenbuchs eine deutlich höhere Zahl nach Mexiko exportierter G36-Gewehre als aus den Angaben gegenüber den Vereinten Nationen und den Rüstungsexportberichten der Bundesregierung? Es darf nicht vorkommen, dass diese Daten nicht übereinstimmen. Bei allen Angaben handelt es sich um offizielle Angaben aus dem Wirtschaftsministerium und der diesem Ministerium unterstellten zuständigen Bundesbehörde, dem BAFA.
Aufgeklärt werden muss auch, ob die über Jahrzehnte geübte Praxis minimaler Information von Parlament und Öffentlichkeit zu Rüstungsexportgeschäften dazu geführt hat, dass sich solche gravierenden „Fehler“ einschleichen konnten. Wo zeigen sich solche und ähnliche Fehlangaben? Bei komplexen Geschäften, in deren Verlauf es viele Veränderungen gab? Bei Geschäften, die „heikel“ waren? Bei Exporten bestimmter Firmen oder bei besonders umstrittenen Exporten? Wurden Daten im Zusammenspiel zwischen Behörden und Industrie „manipuliert“? Und von wem in wessen Interesse? All das bedarf nun einer Klärung. Schon ein einziger „Einzelfall“ müsste dazu Anlass sein.
Die Bundesregierung hat dem Bundestag im vergangenen Jahr zugesagt, über Rüstungsexporte transparenter und umfassender zu informieren. Kurz darauf hat das Bundesverfassungsgericht bestätigt, dass dem Parlament ein umfassenderes Recht auf Information über abschließend genehmigte Rüstungsexporte zusteht, als es der langjährigen Praxis aller Bundesregierungen entsprach. Nun muss es im Interesse des Parlamentes liegen, diese Informationen einzufordern und darüber hinaus auch zu klären, ob die mangelnde Transparenz in der Vergangenheit dazu geführt hat, dass gegenüber dem Bundestag falsche oder unvollständige Angaben gemacht wurden. Der geschilderte Fall zeigt diese Notwendigkeit auf.
Hans-Christian Ströbele reagierte jedenfalls wenig überrascht. Sein Kommentar: „Jetzt hat das Versteckspiel der alten Geheimniskrämer im Ministerium und in der Bürokratie endlich mal ein Ende.“
Jürgen Grässlin erhält den AMOS-Preis 2015
Am 1. März 2015 wird Jürgen Grässlin mit dem AMOS-Preis 2015 der OFFENEN KIRCHE ausgezeichnet. Der Preis ist mit 5.000 Euro dotiert und wird alle zwei Jahre in der Fastenzeit verliehen. Grässlin erhält den Preis für sein Eintreten gegen die Rüstungsproduktion und den Export von Kriegswaffen. In der Erklärung zur Preisvergabe heißt es: „Die Kirche hat eine prophetische Tradition, aus der heraus sie verpflichtet ist, `den Mund für die Stummen aufzutun und für die Sache aller, die verlassen sind´ (Sprüche 31,8). Eine Kirche, die in dieser Tradition steht, muß vernehmlich und deutlich gegen Unrecht, Menschenverachtung und Ignoranz auftreten. Heute fragt eine kritische Öffentlichkeit, ob und wo eigentlich noch Zeichen dieser prophetischen Kraft in der Kirche zu finden sind.“
Zu Grässlins Engagement heißt es dort unter anderem: „Der Friedensaktivist und Publizist Jürgen Grässlin setzt sich seit vielen Jahren gegen die Rüstungsproduktion und den Export von Waffen ein. In seinem Buch Schwarzbuch Waffenhandel (2013) dokumentiert er die Machenschaften der Rüstungsindustrie und ihrer Lobby, gemäß seinem Motto: ´Den Opfern eine Stimme, den Tätern Name und Gesicht.´ Sein Engagement hat ihm mehrere Prozesse eingebracht. Grässlin ist Autor zahlreicher Bücher und Veröffentlichungen. Er ist Bundessprecher der Deutschen Friedensgesellschaft-Vereinigte KriegsdienstgegnerInnen, Sprecher der Kritischen AktionärInnen Daimler (KDA), Sprecher des Deutschen Aktionsnetzes “Kleinwaffen Stoppen” (DAKS) und Vorstandsmitglied des RüstungsInformationsBüro e.V. (RiB e. V.).
Die Preisverleihung findet am Sonntag, den 1. März 2015 um 12.00 Uhr in der Evangelischen Erlöserkirche (Birkenwaldstraße 24, 70191 Stuttgart-Nord) statt. Ulrike Stepper wird in ihrer Funktion als Vorsitzende der Jury des AMOS-Preises die Begrüßung vornehmen. Die Laudatio wird der Beauftragte für Friedensarbeit und Kriegsdienstverweigerer der Evangelischen Landeskirche in Württemberg, Pfarrer Joachim Schilling halten. Prof. Dr. Erhard Eppler, Schirmherr des AMOS-Preises, wird die Schlussworte sprechen.
Heckler & Koch: Finanzsituation gibt Rätsel auf
Das Rätselraten über die finanzielle Situation des Kleinwaffenherstellers Heckler & Koch reißt nicht ab. Wie die „Welt“ berichtete, sei ein „neuer Geldgeber“ gefunden worden, der in das angeschlagene Unternehmen investieren wolle. Worum es tatsächlich geht, ist jedoch kein neuer Investor, sondern die „senior secured credit facility“, über die Moody’s bereits in einer Pressemitteilung informierte (siehe: DAKS-Newsletter Januar 2015). Unter diesen Umständen wäre es vielleicht zutreffend, von einem neuen Kredit zu sprechen, den Heckler & Koch aufgenommen hat. Denn exakt um einen solchen, nicht aber um einen „Geldgeber“ handelt es sich. Der Schuldenberg, mit dem Heckler & Koch zu kämpfen hat, erhöht sich durch diese „Investition“ um bis zu 30 Millionen Euro, auf dann 325 Millionen Euro. Über die Rahmenbedingungen dieser neuen Kreditlinie ist, wie auch die „Welt“ zu bedenken gibt, derzeit noch nichts bekannt.
Und das ist das Problem, denn unter diesen Umständen ist es sehr schwierig abzuschätzen, in welcher Lage sich das Unternehmen derzeit tatsächlich befindet. Die Betriebsratsvorsitzende von Heckler & Koch, Monika Lange, wird in der Neuen Rottweiler Zeitung dahingehend zitiert, dass „die Exportbeschränkungen der Bundesregierung dem Unternehmen Probleme bereiteten und schon einige deshalb ihren Arbeitsplatz verloren hätten“. Über die Möglichkeit betriebsbedingter Kündigungen wurde bisher nur im Zusammenhang mit SIG Sauer berichtet. Sollte Monika Lange zutreffend wiedergegeben worden sein, würde dies die finanzielle Lage bei Heckler & Koch noch dramatischer erscheinen lassen als bisher schon vermutet.
Bundeswehr-Einsatz im Irak
Es besteht eine überraschende Einigkeit darüber, wie die Entscheidung der Bundesregierung, Bundeswehr-Soldaten in den Nordirak zu entsenden, zu bewerten ist. Eine Art Zusammenfassung des Konsens entwickelte August Pradetto in einem Gastbeitrag für die „Zeit“, indem er einen Text um die beiden Schlüsselwörter „völkerrechtswidrig“ und „grundgesetzwidrig“ herum verfasste. Ist der Sachverhalt als solcher damit auch sehr gut beschrieben, stellt sich weiterführend jedoch die Frage, welche Konsequenzen aus der derzeitigen Situation gezogen werden sollen, in der die Bundesregierung die Beteiligung der Bundeswehr an einem völkerrechtswidrigen Einsatz befiehlt.
Hierbei sind grundsätzlich verschiedene Dimensionen zu unterscheiden, denn es steht völlig außer Frage, dass die Konsequenzen, die dieser Einsatz für die Bevölkerung im Irak und in der Türkei hat, und die Konsequenzen, die dieser Einsatz für die Situation in Deutschland besitzt, nicht im entferntesten miteinander verglichen werden können. Angesichts der mehr als lückenhaften und dabei auch unsicheren Nachrichtenlage über die Situation im Nordirak sollen die Überlegungen jedoch zunächst auf die Situation in Deutschland beschränkt bleiben.
Dies in Rechnung gestellt sind es drei Aspekte, die bedacht werden sollten:
Wenn der Beschluss zur Entsendung der Bundeswehr in den Nordirak als grundgesetzwidrig interpretiert wird, so stellt der Beschluss einen Tatbestand dar, der strafbar ist. Art.80 StGB erklärt, dass jeder, der einen Krieg vorbereitet, der sich außerhalb der vom Grundgesetz gesetzten Normen – und das ist im Einzelnen vor allem Art. 26 Abs.1 GG – bewegt, „mit lebenslanger Freiheitsstrafe oder mit Freiheitsstrafe nicht unter zehn Jahren bestraft“ werden soll. Durch die Einschätzung, dass der Beschluss der Bundesregierung, Soldaten in den Nordirak zu entsenden, grundgesetzwidrig sei, wird demnach also unterstellt, dass die Bundesregierung eine Straftat begangen hat, indem sie diesen Beschluss gefällt hat. Ob dies tatsächlich der Fall ist, sollte die Justiz prüfen.
Die Grundgesetzwidrigkeit in Rechnung gestellt, würde sich jeder, der die Entsendung der Bundeswehr öffentlich verteidigt, strafbar machen. Es ist Art.80a StGB, der festhält, dass die Aufstachelung zu einem Angriffskrieg „mit Freiheitsstrafe von drei Monaten bis zu fünf Jahren bestraft“ werden soll. Dies betrifft insbesondere all jene Parlamentarier, die sich an der Aussprache im Bundestag über die Entsendung beteiligt haben.
Der Umstand, dass der Bundestag die Entsendung im Rahmen einer Abstimmung begrüßt hat, delegitimiert das parlamentarische System der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Indem die Bundesregierung von Anfang an deutlich gemacht hat, dass sie die Abstimmung des Bundestages lediglich als ein Meinungsbild verstehen möchte. Die Frage, ob Truppen in den Nordirak geschickt werden sollen, sei aber eine Frage, die allein von der Exekutive, also der Bundesregierung entschieden werden soll.
Ein solches Vorgehen degradiert das Parlament zu einer Versammlung von Claqueren. Hätte das Parlament den Beschluss der Regierung abgelehnt, wäre dies ohne Konsequenz geblieben. Die nun erfolgte Zustimmung hat gleichfalls keine Konsequenz, da sie nur symbolischen Charakter trägt. Die Abstimmung als solche diente demnach nur dafür, eine Legitimität für die umstrittene Entscheidung zu konstruieren, die vorher nicht gegeben war. Ein solches Vorgehen untergräbt die Autorität des Parlaments und ist gleichfalls nicht mit dem Geist des Grundgesetzes vereinbar.
Greenpeace Magazin: Stimmen für den Frieden
Die Ausgabe 1/2015 des Greenpeace Magazins hat den Titel „Stimmen für den Frieden“. Darin sind verschiedenartige Herangehensweisen an die Friedensthematik enthalten und unterschiedliche Aspekte werden angesprochen: Neben dem historischen Blick auf Schlachtfelder finden sich Berichte von Menschen aus Kriegs- und Krisengebieten, Hintergrundinformationen zum Thema, Beschreibungen von Friedensorganisationen und auch Einschätzungen von Experten, etwa von dem Konfliktforscher Michael Brzoska („Frieden ist eine Frage des Willens“), oder von dem Kabarettisten Georg Schramm („Reich gegen Arm“).
Von Otfried Nassauer, dem Leiter des BITS, gibt es einen Artikel zu lesen, in dem unter der Überschrift „Von der Stärke des Rechts zum Recht des Stärkeren“ eine Analyse der Veränderung internationaler Krisen vorgenommen wird. „Warum der Westen an der Eskalation der aktuellen Kriege eine Mitschuld trägt“ ist der Untertitel, gemeint sind die Interventionen westlicher Staaten in Serbien, im Kosovo, im Irak und Libyen. Auch auf die Ukraine kommt der Text zu sprechen, ebenso darauf, wie die USA und Russland – also die Supermächte des Kalten Kriegs – in den letzten Jahren völkerrechtswidrig militärisch agiert haben. Auf Deutschland und andere europäische Staaten nimmt Nassauer Bezug, wenn er schreibt: „Auch die Europäer haben das Gewaltverbot aufgeweicht – und sie taten es besonders perfide unter der Fahne der Moral.“ Ein äußerst lesenswerter Artikel, in einem insgesamt sehr interessanten Heft (mit Ausnahme des grün-schwammigen Kommentartexts von Antje Vollmer).
Übrigens: Im Greenpeace Magazin 6/2104 (Titel: „Bomben vom Bodensee. Eine deutsche Region liefert Waffen in alle Welt“) gibt es einen guten Hintergrundartikel zu Waffenfirmen aus Süddeutschland (Text von Vito Avantario und Kurt Stukenberg, Fotos von Samuel Zuder). Aber vor allem findet sich hier ein Beitrag von Roman Deckert zur aktuell wieder aufgenommenen Diskussion, wie sich Waffenlieferungen noch Jahre später auswirken können, erläutert am Beispiel des Südsudan (Fotos von Daniel Rosenthal). In „Der Export des Krieges“ geht es um die unbeachteten Ursachen der anhaltenden militärischen Krisen, aber auch um die Mittel, um Kriege zu führen, also die Waffen, d. h. Schusswaffen, und hier führt der Weg dann nach Deutschland, zu Heckler & Koch, Rheinmetall und Fritz Werner – ein spannender Text über einen unbekannten Stellvertreterkrieg aus (west-)deutschem Interesse und über seine späten bzw. nicht enden wollenden Folgen. Deckert macht auch einen wichtigen Hinweis darauf, dass saudi-arabische G36 in der Region verbreitet werden. – Wer kann da noch, ohne seine Glaubwürdigkeit zu verlieren, von Endverbleibskontrolle sprechen?
It’s easy to forget that just two years ago, President Obama was determined to bomb Syria and remove the Assad regime, and U.S. establishment institutions were working to lay the groundwork for that campaign. NPR began dutifully publishing reports from anonymous U.S. officials that Syria had stockpiled large amounts of chemical weapons; the NYT was reporting that Obama was “increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down” Assad; Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced that forced removal of Assad was “a matter of national security” and “a matter of the credibility of the United States of America.”
Those opposed to the anti-Assad “regime change” bombing campaign argued that while some of the rebellion was composed of ordinary Syrians, the “rebels” the U.S. would arm and empower (i.e., the only effective anti-Assad fighters) were actually violent extremists and even terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda and worse. The people arguing that were invariably smeared as Assad apologists because this happened to be the same argument Assad was making: that the most effective fighters against him were jihadis and terrorists.
But that argument in D.C. was quickly converted from taboo into conventional wisdom the moment it was needed to justify U.S. involvement in Syria. The U.S. is now bombing Syria, of course, but rather than fighting against Assad, the Syrian dictator is (once again) America’s ally and partner. The rationale for the U.S. bombing campaign is the same one Assad long invoked: that those fighting against him are worse than he is because they are aligned with Al Qeada and ISIS (even though the U.S. funded and armed those factions for years and their closest allies in the region continue to do so).
A similar dynamic is at play in Russia and Ukraine. Yesterday, Obama’s top national security official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a Senate Committee “that he supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists,” as the Washington Post put it. The U.S. has already provided “non-lethal” aid to Ukrainian forces, and Obama has said he is now considering arming them. Who, exactly, would that empower?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long said that the Ukrainian coup of last year, and the subsequent regime in Kiev, is driven by ultra-nationalists, fascists, and even neo-Nazi factions. The Russian TV outlet RT also frequently refers to “the active role far-right groups have played on the pro-government side in Ukraine since the violent coup of the last year.”
For that reason, anyone pointing out that arming the regime in Kiev would strengthen fascists and neo-Nazis is instantly accused of being a Putin propagandist: exactly like those arguing that the best anti-Assad fighters were al-Qaeda-affiliated were accused of being Assad propagandists (until that became the official position of the US Government). U.S. media accounts invariably depict the conflict in Ukraine as a noble struggle waged by the freedom-loving, pro-west democrats in Kiev against the oppressive, aggressive “Russian-backed” separatists in the east.
But just as was true in Syria: while some involved in the Ukrainian coup were ordinary Ukrainians fighting against a corrupt and oppressive regime, these claims about the fascist thugs leading the fight for the Kiev government are actually true. Writing in Foreign Policy from eastern Ukraine last August, Alec Luhn observed:
Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and “fascists” in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true. . . . The Azov Battalion, whose emblem also includes the “Black Sun” occult symbol used by the Nazi SS, was founded by Andriy Biletsky, head of the neo-Nazi groups Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine.
In September, Shaun Walker wrote in the Guardian about his experience embedding with the pro-Kiev forces of the Azov, which he called “Ukraine’s most potent and reliable force on the battlefield against the separatists.” While dismissing as “overblown” Russian warnings that these groups seek to ethnically cleanse all of Ukraine, Walked described “the far right, even neo-Nazi, leanings of many of its members,” and noted that “Amnesty International called on the Ukrainian government to investigate rights abuses and possible executions by the Aidar, another battalion.” Walker’s principal concern was that these fascist militias intend, once the separatists are vanquished, to seek control of Kiev and impose their ultra-nationalist vision on the entire country.
Ever since the coup in Kiev was carried out, these unpleasant facts about the pro-government forces have been largely ignored in most establishment U.S. media accounts, leaving a handful of commentators to point them out. In January of last year, as the coup was unfolding, the Guardian‘s Seumas Milne argued that the west’s morality narrative about Ukraine – democracy-fighters v. Putin oppressors – “bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality” and that, instead, “far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings.” Britain’s Channel 4 reported on the central role played by far-right ultra-nationalists in that coup, noting that Sen. John McCain traveled to the Ukrainian capital (pictured, above) and shared a stage with the worst fascist elements. Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo has long been warning of “the ascension of a genuinely fascist mass movement into the corridors of power” in Kiev, noting that far from being a handful of fringe elements, “the activists of the two main fascist parties in Ukraine – Svoboda and ‘Right Sector’ – provided the muscle the insurrectionists needed to take over government buildings in Kiev and across western Ukraine.”
These facts have now become so glaring that even the most mainstream organizations in the west are now being compelled to point them out. Last week, Vox published an article by Amanda Taub about the “approximately 30 of these private armies fighting on the Ukrainian side,” whose “fighters are accused of serious human rights violations, including kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial executions.” While claiming the militias operate largely separately from the central Kiev government, Taub nonetheless notes how central they have become to the fight against the separatists, and also acknowledges their clear use by Kiev officials:
The militias have also gained more power because the Ukrainian government, led by new President Petro Poroshenko, brought them friends in high places. For instance, Arsen Avakov, Poroshenko’s Minister of Internal Affairs, was previously the leader of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s political bloc in eastern Ukraine. He has a longstanding alliance with members of the Azov Battalion, a far-right organization whose members have a history of promoting anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi views. Avakov has has used his position to support the group, going so far as to appoint Vadim Troyan, an Azov deputy leader, as the chief of police for the whole Kiev region. And Azov’s leader, Andriy Biletsky, is now a member of parliament as well.
The Intercept yesterday published reporting from Marcin Mamon on the role jihadists are playing in the conflict on behalf of the government.
U.S. media propaganda has not only sought to glorify the Kiev regime by suppressing all of these elements but also has actively demonized the separatists as little more than Putin-controlled pawns. In fact, as BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon describes in an excellent article from a separatist stronghold in eastern Ukraine, those fighting against Kiev have a range of significant grievances against the Ukrainian government quite independent of any Putin agenda, including violence against civilians and long-standing contempt for residents of the east:
In the very areas Ukraine is fighting to regain, near-constant artillery bombardment and a crippling economic blockade have hardened attitudes to the point of no return. Almost every day, shelling claims the lives of civilians: someone’s mother, husband, child. And every day, reconciliation between millions of Ukrainian citizens here and the Ukrainian government seems even further off.
Whatever else is true, this is yet another case of the U.S. government – followed as always by its media – fabricating a Manichean morality narrative to justify U.S. involvement and militarism. Just as the U.S. spent years funding and arming the precise extremist elements it claims it wants to combat – in Libya, in Syria, and long before that in Afghanistan – arming Ukrainian forces would empower a monstrous crew of fascists and outright Nazi sympathizers. The coup itself, which the U.S. government supported, almost certainly did exactly that.
One can debate whether empowering such thugs is a feature or a bug: it’s hardly rare for the U.S. knowingly to arm and prop up fascists and other assorted tyrants which it believes will promote its interests (see this morning’s David Ignatius column arguing that Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel Fata Sisi is as bad as Mubarak when it comes human rights abuses, but the U.S. must continue steadfastly to support him so that he preserves “stability”). But at least when the U.S. is in bed with regimes such as the Saudis or Egyptians, most people understand the kind of allies it has embraced. In the case of Ukraine, those facts have been almost entirely excluded from mainstream discourse. Now that Obama’s leading national security official is expressly calling for the arming of those forces, it is vital that the true nature of America’s allies in this conflict be understood.
Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov/AP
The post Clapper Calls for Arming Ukrainian Forces: Who Would That Actually Empower? appeared first on The Intercept.
An armored vehicle ran over a six-year-old boy’s legs: $11,000. A jingle truck was “blown up by mistake”: $15,000. A controlled detonation broke eight windows in a mosque: $106. A boy drowned in an anti-tank ditch: $1,916. A 10-ton truck ran over a cucumber crop: $180. A helicopter “shot bullets hitting and killing seven cows”: $2,253. Destruction of 200 grape vines, 30 mulberry trees and one well: $1,317. A wheelbarrow full of broken mirrors: $4,057.
A child who died in a combat operation: $2,414.
These are among the payments that the United States has made to ordinary Afghans over the course of American military operations in the country, according to databases covering thousands of such transactions obtained by The Intercept under the Freedom of Information Act. Many of the payments are for mundane incidents such as traffic accidents or property damage, while others, in flat bureaucratic language, tell of “death of his wife and 2 minor daughters,” “injuries to son’s head, arms, and legs,” “death of husband,” father, uncle, niece.
The databases are incomplete, reflecting fragmented record keeping in Afghanistan, particularly on the issue of harm to civilians. The payments The Intercept has analyzed and presented in the graphic accompanying this story are not a complete accounting, but they do offer a small window into the thousands of fractured lives and personal tragedies that take place during more than a decade of war.
The Price of Life
The data that The Intercept obtained comes from two different systems that the U.S. military uses to make amends.
The Foreign Claims Act, passed in 1942, gives foreign citizens the ability to request payment for damages caused by U.S. military personnel. But the law only covers incidents that happen outside of combat situations — meaning that civilians caught up in battles have no recourse.
Since the Korean War, however, the U.S. military has realized that it’s often in its best interest to make symbolic payments for civilian harm, even when it occurs in combat. Over the years, the Pentagon authorized “condolence payments” where the military decided it was culturally appropriate.
Such condolence payments were approved in Iraq a few months into the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and in Afghanistan beginning in 2005. They soon became part of the “hearts and minds” approach to counterinsurgency. To put it another way, in the words of an Army handbook, this was “money as a weapons system.”
While it might seem cynical to offer token compensation for a human life, humanitarian organizations embraced the policy as a way to acknowledge deaths and the hard economic realities of war zones.
Condolence payments are meant to be symbolic gestures, and today in Afghanistan, they are generally capped at $5,000, though greater amounts can be approved.
Payments under the Foreign Claims Act take into account any negligence on the part of the claimant, as well as local law. Douglas Dribben, an attorney with the Army Claims Service in Fort Meade, Maryland, said that officers in the field do research, sometimes consulting with USAID or the State Department, to determine the cost of replacing damaged property — “What’s a chicken worth in my area versus what it’s worth in downtown Kabul?”
Claims for injuries incorporate the cost of medical care, and in the case of wrongful death, the deceased’s earning potential and circumstances. “If I have a case of a 28-year old doctor, they are going to be paid more than we’d pay for a child of four,” Dribben said. “In Afghanistan, unfortunately, a young female child would likely be much less than a young boy.”
The system is imperfect, however. Residents of remote areas often can’t access the places where the U.S. military hands out cash. The amounts given out, or whether they are paid at all, often depend on the initiative of individual soldiers — usually the judge advocates who handle claims, or commanders who can authorize condolence payments.
In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union obtained documents detailing about 500 claims made under the Foreign Claims Act, mainly in Iraq. These were the original, often hand-written records of incidents, their investigations, and the military’s ultimate decision to pay or deny the claim. Jonathan Tracy, a former judge advocate who handled thousands of claims in Iraq and then devoted years to studying the system, analyzed the entire dataset and found that the decisions often relied on over-broad or arbitrary definitions of combat situations, and that people who were denied claims were only sometimes awarded condolence payment. Yale law professor John Fabian Witt also noted that “relatively minor property awards for damages to automobiles and other personal property often rivaled the death payments in dollar value.”
“They present it as if it’s very black and white, as though there’s the circle of things we can pay for, and you decide if the incident is in or out of that circle, but that’s not the way it happens,” Tracy told The Intercept. “You’d have two different attorneys doing two different things and [civilians] who’d had much the same thing happen to them would get very different compensation.”
Last year the annual defense appropriations bill included a provision, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which instructs the Pentagon to set up a permanent process for administering condolence payments. The measure is intended to prevent the delay and inconsistencies that marred the system in the early years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to improve record keeping, so that the Pentagon doesn’t start from scratch in each new conflict.
A defense official told The Intercept in an emailed statement that the Pentagon has not yet implemented the provision, but is “reviewing the processes related to ex-gratia payments to determine if there are areas where improvements can be made.”
Marla Keenan, managing director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, believes that “as the conflict in Iraq and Syria has escalated, they are starting to see a reason for this type of policy to exist. It’s unfortunate how a new context where this could be used is the impetus.”
Finding the Data
The United States and its allies do not tally civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The United Nations only began keeping track of civilian casualties in 2009; using a conservative count that requires three sources for each incident, the U.N. now reports that more than 17,700 innocent Afghans have died in the past five years of fighting, the majority of them killed by the Taliban or other groups fighting the Afghan government and coalition forces.
Looking at compensation paid out under the Foreign Claims Act or in condolence payments is one way to get a window into the damage caused by the U.S. presence. Yet it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the military’s records, which are muddled and incomplete, by their own admission.
Every cache of documents released comes with caveats. For example, The Nation obtained thousands of pages’ worth of records for payments for condolences and other “battle damage” in 2013. Asked for total figures, a military spokesman told the magazine, “I could wade through the numbers to the best of my ability but my numbers would be a guess and most likely inaccurate.”
The Intercept received several years’ worth of recent data on condolence payments from the military through a Freedom of Information Act request. These records come from a military database keeping track of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a special pot of spending money for “goodwill” projects.
The database entries are sparse, giving only the basics of who was killed or injured, with no detail on when or how the incident occurred. Location is given only at the province level. Nonetheless, the data represent the Pentagon’s clearest accounting of how much money it spends on condolence payments. (This data does not include “solatia,” which, just like condolence payments, are compensation for death and injury. But they are paid out of a unit’s operating funds, and the Pentagon has said previously it does not have overall figures for solatia.)
According to the data we received, in fiscal years 2011 through 2013, the military made 953 condolence payments totaling $2.7 million. $1.8 million of those were for deaths, and the average payment for a death was $3,426. Payments for injuries averaged $1,557.
Some payments are for multiple people harmed in one incident. For instance, the largest single payment, from 2012, offers $70,000 for “death of a mother and six children.” The largest payment for a single death occurred in 2011, when the father of “a local national” who was killed was given more than $15,000. Some family members received as little as $100 for the death of a relative.
Asked about records for payments made before 2011, the Pentagon directed questions to the press office for coalition forces in Afghanistan, which did not reply to repeated inquiries from The Intercept.
Also through the Freedom of Information Act, The Intercept received Foreign Claims Act data from the Army, which handles Afghanistan for the entire U.S. military. As with the condolence payments, the database doesn’t include the documentation behind each claim. Rather, it shows a quick synopsis, date and amount for each claim filed.
In all, the Army released 5,766 claims marked for Afghanistan, filed between Feb. 2003 and Aug. 2011, of which 1,671 were paid, for a total of about $3.1 million. Of those claims, 753 were denied completely, and the rest are in various kinds of accounting limbo.
This is only a portion of the claims that were actually made and paid. Douglas Dribben, the attorney with the Army office, described the database as “G.I.G.O. — Garbage In, Garbage Out.”
Judge advocates in the field are supposed to regularly update the database with claims received and paid, but spotty Internet access and erratic schedules often made that impossible. Tracy, the former Army attorney, said that in Iraq, he had to enter all the claims he received weekly. In practice, “that never really happened,” he said.
A 2010 guidance for claims officers takes a pleading tone: “We know [claims] payments are not your only mission and the last thing you really want is another report but in all honesty the last thing any of us want is an unauthorized expenditure of funds.”
A more reliable estimate, Dribben said, comes from Army budget data, which reflects the amount of money transferred out to the field to pay claims. The Army Claims Service did not provide that information, but a training guide from 2009 states that for that fiscal year, the Army had paid $1.35 million in 516 claims in Afghanistan, with 202 denied.
The total for Iraq that year was over $18 million; overall, Afghanistan saw fewer and smaller claims than Iraq, because of remote geography and fewer U.S. troops deployed. Prices for replacement goods or lost wages were generally lower, Dribben said.
The claims synopses typically contain missing words, garbled grammar or obvious errors in the various entry fields. Most refer to a “claimant.” Some are entered in the first person. A few dozen have no synopsis at all. Many are completely enigmatic: what happened when “claimant feared soldiers would open fire and panicked?” The claimant was paid more than $3,200.
“Each one took maybe 30 seconds to enter,” Tracy said. “There wasn’t really room or time to put in a narrative.”
The database categorized just 18 payments as wrongful deaths between 2003 and 2011 — very likely an undercounting, Dribben said. The average of those payments was about $11,000; the highest was $50,000, paid to someone in eastern Afghanistan, because “coalition forces killed his father.”
The Intercept’s Margot Williams and Josh Begley contributed research to this report. Eric Sagara, formerly of ProPublica, also contributed.
Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP; Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images
The post How the U.S. Paid for Death and Damage in Afghanistan appeared first on The Intercept.
This morning, the Federal Communications Commission voted to guarantee the open Internet through so-called net neutrality rules, and with it, forged ahead with one of the biggest policy accomplishments of the Obama administration.
“This is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC,” says Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press.
Net neutrality, a principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally, was a founding concept for the web. But many Internet service providers have attempted to change that. Cell phone companies have attempted to block apps that could compete with their services and cable companies have pressed for paid prioritization, seeking extra income by forcing users to pay for faster connections to select websites.
For Internet start-ups and political activists alike, the efforts by the ISP industry to move away from net neutrality represented a transformation of the Internet, from a place in which all voices were equal to a world of big incumbent websites and corporate media-dominated information sources. “The question came down to, who ultimately controls this Internet? Is it going to be these powerful corporations?” says Karr.
And only a year ago, prospects for protecting net neutrality seemed doomed. The Internet service provider industry, including companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against the rule, spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called “astroturf” efforts to pay third party groups to support their position. In January of 2014, a federal court struck down a previous iteration of the open Internet rules after Verizon filed suit. And shortly thereafter, the newly installed FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable and cell phone lobbyist, began moving forward with a plan that would allow broadband providers to create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.
Now, with the FCC voting to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II of the Communications Act, net neutrality rules are stronger than ever. The credit for such a seachange, say activists who agitated for the decision, belongs to a mix of online and traditional activism.
Pro-net neutrality protesters quickly made headlines by storming hearings, confronting Wheeler at public events, and carrying out a string of stunts designed to raise public awareness.
Malkia Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice, stresses that the strength of the net neutrality movement relied on the diversity of its coalition. She says Color of Change, National Hispanic Media Coalition, immigrant rights’ groups, activists from Black Lives Matter and communities of color “took it to the streets, to the doorstep of the ISPs.”
“What happened? The people happened, organizing happened,” Cyril says.
Karr, who has worked on net neutrality advocacy for over a decade, also emphasized the role of a large coalition, “from librarians to free speech advocates,” with a shared interest in Internet freedom. “It also took a host of different tactics,” he says. “Protests in Philadelphia, protests in San Francisco, people making videos on YouTube — not coordinating in some centralized fashion, but many groups using their own creative strength and reaching out to their own constituents around this goal of convincing the FCC to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II.”
David Segal, co-founder of Demand Progress, notes confrontational tactics also made a difference. “Once it became clear that the grassroots were demanding Title II and the strongest rules possible, politicians and companies started sticking their necks out and helped propel Americans forward.”
What makes net neutrality different from many other policy debates is that the medium in which people learned about the issue was the very thing being threatened, says Segal.
“People on the Internet care about the wellbeing of the Internet,” he observed. “It’s very easy to remind people that the sites they’re reading might be disrupted.” And from an organizing point of view, using sites such as Tumblr or Reddit as a platform was critical for spreading the message.
Other developments also helped shift the debate. HBO host John Oliver mobilized his viewers to flood the FCC with more than 45,000 comments in support of reclassification. A number of websites also participated in the “Internet Slowdown Day,” a protest to call attention to what might happen under paid prioritization without strong net neutrality.
Much ink has been spilled over the tactics around major policy debates of the Obama years. For many critics, the top-down approach favored by the administration has doomed many of the president’s own priorities.
Harvard professor Theda Skocpol pins the blame for the failure to pass major climate change legislation on “CEOs and Big Enviro honchos” who eschewed grassroots organizing in favor of backroom deals. She notes that the proponents of climate change legislation used an “insider-grand bargaining political style that, unbeknownst to its sponsors, was unlikely to succeed given fast-changing realities in US partisan politics and governing institutions.”
Following Obama’s first election win in 2008, the president retired his grassroots “Organizing for America” army of volunteers into a wing of the Democratic National Committee, and reportedly pressured activist groups not to publicly criticize his administration.
The past year of organizing around net neutrality defied this strategy.
To be sure, telephone and Internet companies are likely to try to undermine the rules that were voted on today. Earlier this week, former FCC chair and current cable industry lobbyist Michael Powell pledged legal action against reclassification. Another route would be for congressional allies of the industry to try to revoke FCC authority through the appropriations process or through a major rewrite of the Telecommunications Act.
Still, activists have been celebrating.
“The lawyers on our team say the Title II jurisdiction is the one with the most solid grounding so we’re hopeful that we’ll stand in court,” says Segal.
Plus, “there are some signals that morale is very low on the other side,” he adds, referring to a New York Times article that suggests even the ISP industry’s strong allies in Congress may give up the fight.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The post Net Neutrality Is Here — Thanks To an Unprecedented Guerrilla Activism Campaign appeared first on The Intercept.
“OUR BROTHERS ARE there,” Khalid said when he heard I was going to Ukraine. “Buy a local SIM card when you get there, send me the number and then wait for someone to call you.”
Khalid, who uses a pseudonym, leads the Islamic State’s underground branch in Istanbul. He came from Syria to help control the flood of volunteers arriving in Turkey from all over the world, wanting to join the global jihad. Now, he wanted to put me in touch with Rizvan, a “brother” fighting with Muslims in Ukraine.
The “brothers” are members of ISIS and other underground Islamic organizations, men who have abandoned their own countries and cities. Often using pseudonyms and fake identities, they are working and fighting in the Middle East, Africa and the Caucasus, slipping across borders without visas. Some are fighting to create a new Caliphate — heaven on earth. Others — like Chechens, Kurds and Dagestanis — say they are fighting for freedom, independence and self-determination. They are on every continent, and in almost every country, and now they are in Ukraine, too.
In the West, most look at the war in Ukraine as simply a battle between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government. But the truth on the ground is now far more complex, particularly when it comes to the volunteer battalions fighting on the side of Ukraine. Ostensibly state-sanctioned, but not necessarily state-controlled, some have been supported by Ukrainian oligarchs, and others by private citizens. Less talked about, however, is the Dudayev battalion, named after the first president of Chechnya, Dzhokhar Dudayev, and founded by Isa Munayev, a Chechen commander who fought in two wars against Russia.
Ukraine is now becoming an important stop-off point for the brothers, like Rizvan. In Ukraine, you can buy a passport and a new identity. For $15,000, a fighter receives a new name and a legal document attesting to Ukrainian citizenship. Ukraine doesn’t belong to the European Union, but it’s an easy pathway for immigration to the West. Ukrainians have few difficulties obtaining visas to neighboring Poland, where they can work on construction sites and in restaurants, filling the gap left by the millions of Poles who have left in search of work in the United Kingdom and Germany.
You can also do business in Ukraine that’s not quite legal. You can earn easy money for the brothers fighting in the Caucasus, Syria and Afghanistan. You can “legally” acquire unregistered weapons to fight the Russian-backed separatists, and then export them by bribing corrupt Ukrainian customs officers.
“Our goal here is to get weapons, which will be sent to the Caucasus,” Rizvan, the brother who meets me first in Kiev, admits without hesitation.
WITH HIS WHITE hair and beard, Rizvan is still physically fit, even at 57. He’s been a fighter his entire adult life. Born in a small mountain village in the Caucasus, on the border between Dagestan and Chechnya, Rizvan belongs to an ethnic minority known as the Lak, who are predominantly Sunni Muslim.
The world that Rizvan inhabits — the world of the brothers — is something new. When he first became a fighter, there wasn’t any Internet or cell phones, or cameras on the street, or drones. Rizvan joined the brothers when the Soviet Union collapsed, and he went to fight for a better world, first against the Russians in Chechnya and Dagestan during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. He then moved to Azerbaijan, where he was eventually arrested in 2004 on suspicion of maintaining contact with al Qaeda.
Even though Rizvan admits to fighting with Islamic organizations, he claims the actual basis for the arrest in Azerbaijan — illegal possession of weapons — was false. Authorities couldn’t find anything suspicious where he was living (Rizvan was staying at the time with his “brothers” in the jihad movement) but in his wife’s home they found a single hand grenade. Rizvan was charged with illegal weapons possession and sent to prison for several years.
In prison, he says he was tortured and deliberately housed in a cell with prisoners infected with tuberculosis. Rizvan took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, accusing the authorities in Azerbaijan of depriving him of due process. The court eventually agreed, and asked the Azerbaijani government to pay Rizvan 2,400 euros in compensation, plus another 1,000 euros for court costs.
But when Rizvan was released from prison, he didn’t want to stay in Azerbaijan, fearing he would be rearrested, or even framed for a crime and again accused of terrorism. “Some of our people disappear and are never found,” he says. “There was one brother [who disappeared], and when he was brought for burial, a card was found showing that he was one of 30 people held in detention in Russia.”
In Russia, a warrant was issued for Rizvan’s arrest. Returning to his small mountain village was out of the question. If he goes back, his family will end up paying for what he does, anyhow. “They get to us through our families,” he says. He condemns those who refused to leave their own country and fight the infidels. This was the choice: either stay, or go abroad where “you can breathe freedom.”
“Man is born free,” Rizvan says. “We are slaves of God and not the slaves of people, especially those who are against their own people, and break the laws of God. There is only one law: the law of God.”
After his release from prison in Azerbaijan, Rizvan became the eternal wanderer, a rebel — and one of the brothers now in Ukraine. He came because Munayev, now head of the Dudayev battalion, decided the brothers should fight in Ukraine. “I am here today because my brother, Isa, called us and said, ‘It’s time to repay your debt,’” Rizvan says. “There was a time when the brothers from Ukraine came [to Chechnya] and fought against the common enemy, the aggressor, the occupier.”
That debt is to Ukrainians like Oleksandr Muzychko, who became one of the brothers, even though he never converted to Islam. Muzyczko, along with other Ukrainian volunteers, joined Chechen fighters and took part in the first Chechen war against Russia. He commanded a branch of Ukrainian volunteers, called “Viking,” which fought under famed Chechen militant leader Shamil Basayev. Muzychko died last year in Ukraine under mysterious circumstances.
Rizvan has been in Ukraine for almost a year, and hasn’t seen his family since he arrived. Their last separation lasted almost seven years. He’s never had time to raise children, or even really to get to know them. Although he’s a grandfather, he only has one son — a small family by Caucasian standards, but better for him, since a smaller family costs less. His wife calls often and asks for money, but Rizvan rarely has any to give her.
I N THE 17th century, the area to the east of the Dnieper River was known as the “wilderness,” an ungoverned territory that attracted refugees, criminals and peasants — a place beyond the reach of the Russian empire. Today, this part of Ukraine plays a similar role, this time for Muslim brothers. In eastern Ukraine, the green flag of jihad flies over some of the private battalions’ bases.
For many Muslims, like Rizvan, the war in Ukraine’s Donbass region is just the next stage in the fight against the Russian empire. It doesn’t matter to them whether their ultimate goal is a Caliphate in the Middle East, or simply to have the Caucuses free of Russian influence — the brothers are united not by nation, but by a sense of community and solidarity.
But the brothers barely have the financial means for fighting or living. They are poor, and very rarely receive grants from the so-called Islamic humanitarian organizations. They must earn money for themselves, and this is usually done by force. Amber is one of the ideas Rizvan has for financing the “company of brothers” fighting in eastern Ukraine — the Dudayev battalion, which includes Muslims from several nations, Ukrainians, Georgians, and even a few Russians.
The brothers had hoped the Ukrainian authorities would appreciate their dedication and willingness to give their lives in defense of Ukrainian sovereignty, but they miscalculated. Like other branches of fighters — Aidar, Azov and Donbass — the government, for the most part, ignores them. They’re armed volunteers outside the control of Kiev, and Ukraine’s politicians also fear that one day, instead of fighting Russians in the east, the volunteers will turn on the government in Kiev. So ordinary people help the volunteers, but it’s not enough. The fighters associated with the Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector get money, cars and houses from the rich oligarchs.
Rizvan has a different plan. He’s afraid that if they begin stealing from the rich, the Ukrainian government will quickly declare their armed branch illegal. He’s decided to work in the underground economy — uncontrolled by the state — which the brothers know best.
Back in the ’90s, the amber mines in the vast forests surrounding the city of Rivne were state-owned and badly run, so residents began illegally mining; it was a chance at easy money. Soon, however, the mafia took over. For the right daily fee, miners could work and sell amber to the mafia at a fixed price: $100 per kilogram. The mafia conspired with local militia, prosecutors and the governor. That was the way business worked.
As a result, although Ukraine officially produces 3 tons of amber annually, more than 15 tons are illegally exported to Poland each year. There, the ore is processed and sold at a substantial profit. The Rivne mines operate 24 hours a day. Hundreds of people with shovels in hand search the forest; they pay less to the mafia, but they extract less amber and earn less. The better off are those who have a water pump. Those people pump water at high pressure into the earth between the trees, until a cavity 2 to 3 meters deep forms. Amber, which is lighter than water, rises to the surface.
At one point, Rizvan disappeared in Rivne for several weeks. When he returned, he was disappointed; he’d failed to convince the local mafia to cooperate with the brothers’ fight for an independent Ukraine. But now, he has other arguments to persuade them. His men are holding up the mines, by not allowing anyone into the forest. Either the local gangsters share their profits, or no one will get paid.
Rizvan doesn’t like this job. He knows it won’t bring him any glory, and could land him in prison. He would have preferred to be among the fighters at the front lines, where everything is clear and clean. He says he can still fight, but he’s already too old to really endure the rigors of battle, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. He may still be physically fit, but fighters don’t usually last longer than a few years. Then they lose their strength and will to fight.
He has other orders from Munayev: he’s supposed to organize a “direct response group” in Kiev. The group will be a sort of rear echelon unit that take care of problems, like if someone tries to discredit the Dudayev battalion. It will also collect debts or scare off competition. There’s no doubt the new branch will work behind the lines, where there isn’t war, but there is money — as long as you know where to get it. If need be, the direct response group volunteers will watch over the mines in Rivne, or “will acquire” money from illegal casinos, which operate by the hundreds in Kiev.
Rizvan sends me photos of the group’s criminal exploits: they came into the casinos with weapons, and broke into the safes and slot machines. They disappeared quickly, and were never punished. The money went to food, uniforms, boots, tactical vests and other equipment necessary for the fighters. The mafia knows they can’t beat them at this game. The brothers are too good, because they are armed and experienced in battle. The police aren’t interested in getting involved either. In the end, it’s illegal gambling.
I told Rizvan that it’s a dangerous game. He laughed.
“It’s child’s play,” he says. “We used to do this in Dagestan. No one will lift a finger. Don’t worry.”
RIZVAN FINALLY DROVE me to see his “older brother,” to Isa Munayev, and his secret base located many miles west of Donetsk.
Riding in an old Chrysler that Rizvan bought in Poland, we drove for several hours, on potholed and snowy roads. Rizvan had glued to the car one of the emblems of Ukraine’s ATO, the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation, which includes both soldiers and volunteers in the fight against separatists.
The bumper sticker allows him to drive through police traffic stops without being held up — or if he is stopped, they won’t demand bribes as they do from other drivers. The ATO sticker, Rizvan’s camouflage uniform, and a gun in his belt are enough to settle matters. Policemen salute him and wish him good luck.
He drives fast, not wanting to rest, sleep or even drink coffee. If he stops, it’s to check the compass on his belt to check the direction of Mecca. When it’s time to pray, he stops the car, turns off the engine, places his scarf in the snow and bows down to Allah.
Asked whether — after so many hardships, after so many years, and at his age, almost 60 now — he would finally like to rest, he answered indignantly, “How could I feel tired?”
There’s much more work to do, according to Rizvan. “There’s been a small result, but we will rest only when we’ve reached our goals,” he says. “I’m carrying out orders, written in the Holy Quran. ‘Listen to God, the Prophet.’ And I listen to him and do what I’m told.”
On the way into the city of Kryvyi Rih, we met with Dima, a young businessman — under 40 — but already worth some $5 million. He’s recently lost nearly $3 million from his business in Donetsk, which has been hit hard by the war. Dima worked for Igor Kolomoisky, one of the oligarchs who had been funding Ukraine’s volunteer battalions. Dima and Rizvan have only known each other for a short time. Rizvan claimed Dima owed him a lot of money, although it’s unclear from what. Rizvan kept bothering him, threatening to blackmail him. Finally, he got $20,000 from Dima.
That’s not nearly enough to support the Dudayev battalion. But Rizvan had something bigger to offer Dima: amber. Now, Dima was ready to talk. He came up with the idea to find buyers in the Persian Gulf, including wealthy sheikhs. They would like to sell an entire house of amber: furniture, stairs, floors, and inlaid stones. It only takes contacts, and Rizvan has them. The brothers from Saudi Arabia like to help the jihad in the Caucasus and the Middle East.
The next day, Rizvan was behind the wheel again. The old Chrysler barely moved, its engine overheated. A mechanic with an engineering degree and experience working in Soviet arms factories connected a plastic bottle filled with dirty water to the radiator using a rubber hose.
“I don’t know how long I’ll last,” Rizvan says suddenly. “It depends on God. I’ll probably die on this road. But I don’t have any other road to take.”
Photos: Tomasz Glowacki
Next: The Life and Death of a Chechen Commander
The post In Midst of War, Ukraine Becomes Gateway for Jihad appeared first on The Intercept.
On Tuesday, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reported on the “equivalent of a CIA black site” operated by police in Chicago. When computer program analyst Kory Wright opened the story, he told me, “I immediately recognized the building” — because, the Chicago resident says, he was zip-tied to a bench there for hours in an intentionally overheated room without access to water or a bathroom, eventually giving false statements to try and end his ordeal.
A friend of Wright’s swept up in the same police raid described his own brutal treatment at the facility, known as Homan Square, including attacks to his face and genitals. The experiences of the two men line up with the way defense attorneys described the “black site” warehouse to Ackerman: as a place where detainees were held off the books, without access to lawyers, while being beaten or shackled for long periods of time.
Wright claims that nine years ago, he spent “at least six [brutal] hours” at the Homan facility on his 21st birthday. He says that he was never read his Miranda rights, and that his arrest was not put into the police system until after his ordeal was over. Wright was reminded of the facility again this week when he noticed a tweet from a writer he admires, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, linking to Ackerman’s story. Ackerman compared Homan Square to the network of shadowy torture centers built by the CIA across the Middle East — but focused “on Americans, most often poor, black and brown,” rather than on purported overseas terrorists.
Also unlike CIA black sites, Homan Square wasn’t a completely furtive enterprise. Several lawyers and anti-police brutality advocates with whom I spoke knew that suspects were routinely detained at Homan. The facility houses many of the police department’s special units, including the anti-gang and anti-drug task forces, along with the evidence-retrieval unit. Once suspects arrived at Homan, they did not have to be booked immediately, at least not as far as the police department was concerned, according to the people with whom I spoke. In fact, it was possible that a suspect’s arrest report wouldn’t show that he or she had ever been to Homan. Further, police could detain individuals at Homan for hours, or disappear them, before shipping them off to a district station for processing.
The Chicago Police Department declined to address the specific allegations from Wright and his friend, providing only a general statement denying abuses at Homan Square. (The same statement also appears in Ackerman’s story.) “CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility,” the statement read. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.”
Kory Wright disagrees.
It was late on the hot morning of June 29, 2006 — Kory Wright’s 21st birthday — when he set out for the North Lawndale residence of a relative, a short walk from his own. “I know they got a lot of connections over there, and he said I can get my hair braided, so I came over and I was getting my hair braided,” Wright says. He says this relative sold crack cocaine, and that his mother had warned him prior to June 29 to keep his distance, but “you know, they good people.”
As Wright was having his hair braided on the porch, “a nice clean lady comes and asks to buy some drugs.” According to Wright, the woman “had a fifty [dollar bill]. And I exchanged the fifty. I gave her the change and then she completed her transaction with my [relative].”
Wright claims the drug-buyer was an undercover cop, and that the entire transaction was recorded by Chicago police, because two or three minutes after the drug deal, officers in plain clothes swarmed the house and detained Wright, two of his relatives, and one of his friends, Deandre Hutcherson. “They searched us first and then they took us all down to that one place I’m talking about,” Wright says, referring to the Homan interrogation site. Wright and Hutcherson both insist the police never read them their Miranda rights.
“When we first got to that place, we went in a garage and they walked us up the stairs,” he says. Phone calls to counsel and family were denied, Wright and Hutcherson say, while no fingerprints were taken, and no paperwork was filled out — which means there was no evidence they were ever there. “I tried to tell them it was my birthday,” he says, “and I think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He [a Chicago police officer] got the nerve to go get his friend, and they, like, sung happy birthday.” Wright believes the virulent police officers were taunting him. “I see it [Homan] everyday. I shudder,” says Wright, whose neighborhood was just south of the facility.
The four men were split up and placed in small, separate rooms that were the size of office cubicles. It was a steamy summer day, and Wright was sweating profusely at Homan; he believes the police either turned the heat on, or turned the air conditioning off, to sweat him out. “When we first got in there it was room-temperature, and before he [a Chicago police officer] left, he was like, ‘It’s gon’ get a little hot in here,’” says Hutcherson, now 29.
For six hours, a sweaty Wright sat zip-tied to a bench with no access to a restroom, a telephone or water. “They strapped me — like across, kind of — to a bench, and my hands were strapped on both sides of me,” he says. “I can’t even scratch my face.” When Wright first arrived at Homan, he was left alone for a while in the hot room. Wright asked the police if he could call his mother, but instead, various police officers came “in and out. They were badgering me with questions. ‘Tell me about this murder!’” one officer shouted. Wright provided his interrogator with false information and names, with the hope of making it stop. He told me he was “trying to get out of the situation and give them something they wanted.”
Meanwhile, Hutcherson — also shackled to a bench — was being interrogated in another room. “He [a Chicago police officer] gets up, walking toward me,” Hutcherson alleges. “I already know what’s finna happen. I brace myself, and he hit me a little bit and then take his foot and stepped on my groin.” According to Hutcherson, the officer struck him two or three times in the face before kicking his penis.
“You must think I’m a fucking idiot,” Hutcherson says his attacker told him. Within an hour, Hutcherson, who was in town for his mother’s funeral, faked an asthma attack that unnerved the police. He says they then released him from detention and sent him on his way.
The descriptions that Wright and Hutcherson provided of their experiences at Homan are eerily similar to how Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, described such torture in The Atlantic:
Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It’s meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they’re not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn’t leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds.
Siska has known about the goings-on at Homan “since about the mid- to late-2000s.” Siska also said that most of those detained at Homan are poor, black and brown people suspected of street crimes. When I asked why reporters haven’t covered the abuses allegedly occurring there, Siska replied with a slight chuckle, “That’s the million dollar question. The problem is a lot of reporters agree with the police perspective.”
More broadly, Wright’s tale is typical of low-income, minoritized people victimized by America’s criminal justice system. Eventually, he was taken to Cook County jail, where he was processed and charged with distribution of heroin and cocaine. Given his low-income status, Wright’s only option for counsel was a public defender.
Wright’s lawyer, he says, was pregnant and overworked, while Wright suffered through multiple continuances. When his public defender gave birth, Wright was assigned a new attorney, who also, naturally, had a taxing caseload. In the end, the drug charges against Wright were thrown out, though not before he’d spent six months under house arrest because his mother lacked the money to fund a bond for release.
Kory Wright was attending Wilbur Wright Community College, and taking criminal justice courses, when he was detained at Homan. He says he had hopes of becoming a police officer in the city of Chicago before that June day. Wright told me a story about how police — when he was 16 years old — had roughed up him up, along with some friends of his. Afterwards, Wright decided he wanted to be a counterweight to that sort of police-initiated harassment, which regularly afflicts communities such as North Lawndale. But his experience at Homan, and his subsequent arrest, caused him to miss a semester of school.
Fortunately, Wright recovered, and today, at age 29, he is working on his master’s degree in network engineering at DePaul University. He lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and is the father of a new baby girl. But the touchless torture he says he suffered at Homan continues to haunt him. “The whole thing caused a rift between me and my mom. I didn’t like being black at all after that, and when I got to DePaul, I started trying to be as white as possible,” a doleful Wright told me. “Being black is a curse.”
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty (top); Courtesy of Kory Wright (second)
Die neu stationierten A 10-Kampfjets in Spangdahlem dienen der militärischen Eskalation der NATO gegenüber Russland
AT A SENATE Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran’s nuclear program in October 2013, more than a dozen men and women in yellow rain jackets sat in the gallery seats of the wood-paneled room, a bright presence amid the standard-issue dark suits of Washington. It wasn’t raining.
They were supporters of the Iranian exile opposition group the Mojahedin-e Khalq, often referred to as the MEK, but known to most Iranians as the Mojahedin. Activists distribute all manner of yellow paraphernalia at the group’s demonstrations: hats , banners , flags , inflatable rubber clapper sticks , and, most of all, the jackets . The yellow jackets — often emblazoned with portraits of the group’s two co-leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi — have become its calling card.
During the hearing, the powerful then-Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, spoke out for the Mojahedin. About an hour and a half into the proceedings, Menendez issued an explicit threat to Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman over attacks against the group’s members in Iraq.
Another assault had been lodged against a camp in the Iraqi desert where former Mojahedin fighters were holed up — dozens of the unarmed, expatriate Iranians had died in the raid,with conflicting accounts of who was responsible . Menendez, a hard-line opponent of the Iranian regime and skeptic of nuclear negotiations led by Sherman, blamed Iran’s allies, the Iraqi government, for letting the attacks happen. He expressed preparedness to use his clout as chairman of the committee to pressure the Iraqis.
“One thing that this committee can do,” Menendez said, wagging his pencil at Sherman, “since it has jurisdiction over all weapons sales, is that I doubt very much that we are going to see any approval of any weapons sales to Iraq until we get this situation in a place in which people’s lives are saved.”
The threat sounded like a hypothetical, but it wasn’t: as Menendez spoke, he was blocking a major weapons deal with Iraq — a sale that would eventually be worth more than $6 billion in Apache helicopters and associated equipment and support, marking, perhaps, the first major Capitol Hill achievement for the Mojahedin since being removed from the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations the year before.
On Capitol Hill, Mojahedin sympathizers clad in yellow jackets frequently appear at hearings dealing with Iran — or Iraq, where thousands of the groups’ fighters ended up in the 1980s, and where, beginning in the late 2000s, they came under a series of attacks that killed dozens. “You couldn’t show up at an Iraq hearing without lots of people wearing yellow jackets,” one former Congressional staffer said.
The group’s supporters try to arrive early to take their seats in hearing rooms, but “because people didn’t want every Iraq hearing to be a U.S. Ambassador with 40 people in yellow jackets sitting behind them,” the former staffer recalled, offices would dispatch interns to arrive before the Mojahedin followers “to fill those seats and push the MEK back.”
In the intervening years, even while constrained by their terrorism designation, the group and its affiliates poured millions of dollars into a sophisticated effort to rehab their image, creating an influential lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Via an opaque network of Iranian-American community organizations, supporters circumvented anti-terrorism laws to garner many fans in Washington, at least in some quarters, where they quietly pressed their case for hard-line policies against the Iranian regime through meetings with sympathetic members of Congress. “It’s their Hill outreach strategy that accomplishes nearly everything they’re able to do,” the former staffer explained. “Given how small they are and how marginal they actually are, the amount of influence they wield is actually kind of amazing.”
Congressional hawks like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and the frequently eye-roll worthy Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas), could be counted on to bring up the Mojahedin again and again. But not everyone on the Hill was initially convinced. As long as the terrorist designation was in place, many influential members of Congress wouldn’t speak out for the group. In 2012, after that steady drumbeat and an intense public relations effort, the Mojahedin successfully overturned the terrorist designation.
Since being legitimized, the group’s influence on Capitol Hill spread from the fringes of Congress to include more mainstream and respected Republicans and Democrats. Most of their lobbying focuses on their members’ well-being in Iraq, said a current Hill staffer, who works in foreign policy. But, the staffer added, “undergirding this is all this neocon-friendly warmongering, this intense push for regime change, this intense hatred for [Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani — they’re not subtle about this at all.”
Menendez’s advocacy for the Mojahedin at the October hearing wasn’t new, but it signaled that by 2013 the group had come full circle: from an outlaw terrorist outfit to a player on Capitol Hill. How that happened is a classic story of money, politics and the enduring appeal of exile groups promising regime change.
T HROUGHOUT ITS 50-YEAR struggle, the Mojahedin has operated by the principle that the enemy of its enemy is its friend, giving rise to a past littered with ill-conceived alliances, tactical missteps and eventually its designation as a terrorist group.
The group’s origins date to the mid-1960s, when a small circle of mostly middle class university students pored over revolutionary and religious tracts, creating a unique Islamo-Marxist ideology and eventually forming the Mojahedin-e Khalq, meaning “Holy warriors of the people.” After recruiting among young intellectuals, the Mojahedin sent some of its members to train in desert camps in Jordan and Lebanon belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1971, the group sought to launch its revolution by bombing a major power plant that supplied Tehran with electricity. But the Shah’s notorious security services foiled the plot, and around half the group’s early membership ended up in the Shah’s prisons. The next year, nine leaders were executed.
Yet the group continued its small-scale strikes against the monarchist regime and its allies. Between 1973 and 1976, the Mojahedin assassinated six Americans in Iran: three military men and three civilian contractors with the American manufacturing conglomerate Rockwell International. “Widely credited in Tehran for these attacks at the time, the Mojahedin themselves claimed responsibility for these murders in their publications,” said a 1994 State Department report on the group’s activities.
Initially, a “leadership cadre” ran the Mojahedin by committee, according to a 2009 Rand Corp. report about the group. By the late 1970s, however, the Mojahedin rallied around Massoud Rajavi, a charismatic figure sporting a thick mustache and coiffed black hair who was one of the group’s only surviving early leaders. YouTube videos of his old speeches capture a rousing orator, with thoughtful, soft-spoken passages punctuated by intense stem-winding that brings the crowd to applause, often chanting “Rajavi, Rajavi!”
With unrest percolating in Iran, Rajavi sought to cooperate with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, but shortly after the Shah fell, Khomeini, a conservative cleric not fond of lay radicals, carried out a ruthless crackdown against the group. Rajavi and his followers fled into exile, initially to Paris, where his sway grew more authoritarian and he married his third wife, Maryam, appointing her co-leader.
By 1986, Rajavi began forging his next alliance, with Saddam Hussein. He relocated to Iraq and reorganized the 7,000 members who followed into an army, which Hussein supplied with heavy weapons and tracts of land, including a desert base that would be called Camp Ashraf. The group joined the Iraqi dictator’s bloody war against Iran, engendering much antipathy among Iranians. Out of favor with Khomeini and isolated in the Iraqi desert, the Marxism of the group’s early years began to dissipate, replaced by the singular goal of overthrowing the Islamic Republic and installing the Rajavis as Iran’s leaders. The group also turned further into cultish behavior; Rajavi and Maryam mandated divorces and celibacy for their soldiers, even as they elevated their own partnership.
After the First Gulf War, Hussein reportedly used the Mojahedin as a militia to quell sectarian and ethnic uprisings, alienating many Iraqis. “Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” Maryam Rajavi told her followers during the attacks, according to the The New York Times Magazine.
In the meantime, the Mojahedin turned to attacking the Iranian regime abroad. “In April 1992 the MEK carried out attacks on Iranian embassies in 13 different countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas,” said a 1997 State Department report.
That year, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright designated the Mojahedin a Foreign Terrorist Organization, among 29 other groups, barring it from fundraising in the U.S. “We are aware that some of the designations made today may be challenged in court,” Albright said. “But we’re also confident that the designations are fully justified.”
Under pressure, Maryam Rajavi eventually sought to remake the Mojahedin’s image by renouncing violence; after being linked to 350 attacks between 2000 and 2001, according to Rand Corp., the group has not claimed responsibility for any subsequent violent offenses. That about-face did little good, at least in the eyes of the U.S. government. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the White House cited the group’s presence in the country to buttress claims that Saddam Hussein was harboring terrorists.
But when the U.S. arrived at the Mojahedin’s camps, after conflicting reports of an initial skirmish, the group’s leadership waved a white flag, then signed a ceasefire — paving the way for its members to receive protection under the Geneva Convention s. Massoud Rajavi has not been publicly seen since , and Maryam Rajavi became the sole face of the group to the outside world.
For years, the Mojahedin languished at Camp Ashraf — guarded by U.S. forces — and refused to be moved , except en masse. The U.S. military eventually handed over control of its perimeter to the Iraqi government, and in July 2009, Iraqi security forces raided the camp, resulting in the deaths of at least nine refugees, according to Amnesty International . Dozens more were allegedly detained and tortured. Another raid took place in April 2011. The Mojahedin claimed 34 were killed and more than 300 injured. “With the threat of another Srebrenica looming in Ashraf, intervention is absolutely essential,” Maryam Rajavi said at the time. But no intervention came.
In September 2012, the U.S. agreed to remove the Mojahedin from the terrorist list; a key factor would be the group’s cooperation in relocating to a former U.S. military base called Camp Liberty, closer to Baghdad. The United Nations facilitated the move to Liberty, with plans for eventual third-country resettlement. Most of the few thousand remaining ex-fighters relocated, but about 100 stayed behind. In September 2013, according to Foreign Policy, Iranian-backed Shia militias reportedly killed at least 50 unarmed Mojahedin, about half of those remaining at Ashraf.
Pro-Mojahedin activists were outraged. Their exact numbers can be hard to divine: the Mojahedin themselves often won’t declare their membership. In the U.S. today, an umbrella organization of groups declaring allegiance to Maryam Rajavi — the innocuously named Organization of Iranian-American Communities — claims its network covers over thirty states. That does not include a bevy of small Washington-based pro-Mojahedin groups, or the organization’s official office, which, long-dormant, reopened near the White House after the 2012 de-listing. After the slaughter at Ashraf, the activists sprang into action.
“I remember the day of the attack at Camp Ashraf,” said Shirin Nariman, a pro-Mojahedin activist based in the Washington area. “Three of us, we just went to the Senate. We started going door to door. Nobody told us to do it. We were upset.” Not all the offices welcomed the activists. But “Menendez responded very well,” Nariman said, adding that Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) also gave them time. “At least they are opening their ears and hearing us. But [the] White House is closing its ears and doesn’t want to hear.”
Not all Capitol Hill overtures by the group’s supporters have worked, however. In late 2013, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) returned $2,600 from a supporter of the Mojahedin in Virginia. “During routine due diligence by campaign staff, it was discovered that a few donors had associations the campaign was uncomfortable with,” a spokesman for Graham’s campaign told Politico. “In an abundance of caution, the contributions were refunded.”
And some Hill staffers, while sympathetic to the Mojahedin’s plight in Iraq, remain wary of their broader agenda. “We should be concerned about human rights violations anywhere,” explained the Congressional staffer who works on foreign policy. “But a key tenet of President Obama’s foreign policy has been de-escalating our relationship and to get a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue with Iran. And the MEK has been working against that agenda on the Hill.”
The staffer went on: “They lead with Camp Ashraf. Back in the day it was an immediate pivot to lets get them off the terrorist list.” Now, he said, they segue from the group’s situation at Camp Liberty into regime change in Iran.
While many Congressional aides may have viewed the yellow vest-wearing activists as shrill voices for regime change in Iran and an annoyance at hearings, the Mojahedin, over the course of nearly two decades, had cultivated a valuable relationship with Menendez, one of the Senate’s most influential foreign policy voices.
IN THE EARLY days of the group’s efforts to be removed from the U.S. terrorist list, the most vocal support the Mojahedin received came from a few members of Congress, who viewed the Mojahedin as a cudgel to use against the Islamic Republic, such as Poe and Rohrabacher, who joined longtime stalwart Ros-Lehtinen. (In 2011, a Congressional delegation chaired by Rohrabacher was reportedly asked by the Iraqi government to leave the country after raising the massacres against Mojahedin members in a meeting.)
Menendez remained largely silent on the Mojahedin while it was on the State Department’s terrorism list; during his first term as a Senator, from 2006 through 2012, he rarely, if ever, brought the group up.statement.
In June 2014, Menendez delivered a video address to a Mojahedin rally in Paris. He reassured Maryam Rajavi and her followers that aid to Iraq would depend on the country’s treatment of the several thousand former Mojahedin fighters left stranded there. “I told [then-Iraqi] Prime Minister Maliki in person last year that his commitment to the safety and security of the MEK members at Camp Liberty is a critical factor in my future support for any assistance to Iraq,” he said in the video, to the cheering, yellow-clad Mojahedin throngs.
The outspoken advocacy for the group coincided with the rise of campaign contributions from Mojahedin supporters to Menendez, according to an analysis conducted by The Intercept. Assisted in part by the work of independent researcher Joanne Stocker, The Intercept compiled a cross-section of political giving by supporters of the organization in the U.S. between 2009 — when the campaign to de-list the Mojahedin ramped up — and the present. The Intercept’s study examined giving by people listed by the pro-Mojahedin OIAC network, as well as supporters and activists identified by other news articles, and a former Congressional staffer who has tracked the group.
Never a pronounced player in campaign donations, Mojahedin supporters have nonetheless put hundreds of thousands of dollars into American electoral politics. Since 2009, those included in The Intercept study sent around $330,000 into politicians’ and election committees’ coffers.
Before de-listing, from the start of 2009 until September 2012, John McCain and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) topped The Intercept’s survey of Mohajedin-related campaign contributions, receiving $11,350 and $11,150, respectively.
Menendez only received two donations from supporters tracked by The Intercept before September 2012, but after the State Department removed the group from the terrorist list, the money started to flow. In the past two years, Menendez took in more than $25,000 from donors with ties to the Mojahedin, making him the largest recipient in the study over this period. (The next two top recipients received less than half of Menendez’s total during the same period. McCain, still top recipient of the study’s Mojahedin-related donations after de-listing, received $10,800, and Rohrabacher received $10,300.)
But the campaign contributions alone don’t explain Menendez’s advocacy for the Mojahedin. The first former Hill staffer, who described efforts to move the Mojahedin back at hearings, said some Congressional offices were wary of the group, but described an alternative approach where “even if your constituent is crazy, you take the meeting and you listen carefully and you try to help them.”
The former staffer said of Menendez, “Sometimes it gets him into trouble when his staff doesn’t vet people well enough.” He also noted another dynamic at play: “Menendez is sort of known for these immigrant minority groups. He has a special place in his heart for them, based on his Cuban background, and I think sometimes it clouds his judgment — sometimes he doesn’t make the best decisions.”
EVEN BEFORE THE group was put on the terrorist list, another prominent senator got involved with the Mojahedin. During the 1990s, first as a Democratic House member and then a Senator from New Jersey, Robert Torricelli had been an outspoken opponent of Iran’s Islamic regime and a supporter of the Mojahedin, hoping the latter would deliver a deadly blow to the former, an enemy government of the United States.
The advocacy attracted the attention of a Congressional staffer named Kenneth Timmerman, who had followed Iran issues before his time on the hill. “Torricelli was already one of a handful of people who were notorious for their support of the MEK,” Timmerman told The Intercept. “Torricelli’s involvement as a supporter of the MEK was very well known, certainly to people who work on the Hill.”
Timmerman described a robust Mojahedin lobbying operation at the time. “They would come to Congressional offices in a very intimidating fashion to young staffers who were inexperienced and didn’t know who they were,” he said. The support they received rested on three pillars, Timmerman added: ignorance about the group, a handful of campaign contributions, and “a kind of widespread view that we really don’t like the Iranian regime, so let’s help anybody that’s against the Iranian regime.”
Timmerman’s description of yesteryear matched that of the current Congressional staffer who works on foreign policy. “They’ll send grassroots staffers to meet with you and then just wait in your office to ambush you,” the current staffer said. “They’d basically filibuster you for an hour.” He added that the “the lack of institutional knowledge on the Hill and turnover in staffs” left an opening for the group’s supporters.
Timmerman, for his part, wholeheartedly supports regime change in Iran, but nonetheless rejects the Mojahedin, whom he considers terrorists. When he left the House, Timmerman launched a foundation dedicated to democracy in Iran and wrote extensively on the subject, mostly for right-of-center outlets (his other writing has included raising questions about President Obama’s birth certificate). One of his pieces, published in 1998 in the American Spectator, focused on contributions to Torricelli’s campaigns from “MEK officers, supporters and sympathizers.” Using FEC records listing campaign contributions, Timmerman recalled, he compiled his own database and then queried it for people known to be affiliated with the Mojahedin, as well as those named by his sources.
According to Timmerman’s analysis, Torricelli received some $136,000 between April 1993 and November 1996 — before the Mojahedin was designated as a terrorist group. (In a 2002 Newsweek report, Torricelli’s aides dismissed the alleged amount as exaggerated.)
“In his House days,” Timmerman wrote in the American Spectator, Torricelli “sponsored more than a half-dozen resolutions and letters of support for the organization.” Timmerman also cited Mojahedin promotional materials that claimed Torricelli introduced several of the group’s members to President Bill Clinton during a fundraising dinner in late 1997.
Support for the Mojahedin caught up with Torricelli during his failed 2002 bid for reelection to the Senate. His Republican challenger, Douglas Forrester, attacked Torricelli during a debate for supporting the group’s removal from the terrorist list, and for taking money from the Mojahedin’s supporters. The embattled incumbent defended himself — justifying his support for “Iranians who oppose the Iranian government” — but backed down the next day. Torricelli told the New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger that he wouldn’t continue to advocate for the group’s de-listing. “If the organization is engaging in activities against civilians that are of terrorist nature, the State Department has every right to ban their activities and have no contact with them,” he told the paper.
In an interview the following day with The New York Times, Torricelli elaborated. “Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said.
Timmerman responded dryly when asked by The Intercept about Torricelli’s change of heart: “I’m not sure how sincere it was.”
By 2011, the law firm Mayer Brown retained Torricelli as part of the team working on the Mojahedin’s legal challenges to its place on the terrorist list. And Torricelli again took up vocal and active support for the Mojahedin, calling for the group to be de-listed at public forums organized by pro-Mojahedin American groups. “Does it have benefit that we continue to ostracize and label opponents of the regime as terrorists, when the facts say otherwise?” Torricelli said at a 2011 event on U.S. policy toward Iran. “Is it even possible to oppose a terrorist state, and be a terrorist yourself?”
The Intercept made several attempts to contact Torricelli for this article. When reached by phone, Torricelli declined to answer any questions about his relationship with the Mojahedin, and hung up the phone.
Dozens of former American officials, ranging from politicians to bureaucrats, have spoken at events organized by Mojahedin supporters. Some received staggering sums — as much as $40,000 — to give an address, and many called for the Mojahedin’s removal from the terrorism list, praising the organization as a viable, democratic government in exile of Iran. According to data collected by the Huffington Post, the pro-Mojahedin roster included former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani , former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card , former Vermont governor Howard Dean and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), among many others.
By early 2013, after the Mojahedin was wiped from the terrorist list, Torricelli found new employment with the group — as its Washington lobbyist. Rosemont Associates LLC, the ex-Senator’s consulting firm, took up a contract with the Mojahedin’s Paris-based political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. According to federal filings, Torricelli’s Capitol Hill lobbying for other clients ended between 2012 and 2013; only the Mojahedin were left. Disclosures for foreign lobbies indicate his firm planned to take in $35,000 per month for its work on behalf of the organization.
Most of Torricelli’s interactions with Washington, according to the filings, involved State Department offices that deal with the Mojahedin or its areas of interest, frequently revolving around the refugees’ security in Iraq. But Torricelli also, however, made contact on Capitol Hill on the group’s behalf, though he didn’t cast a wide net: the lobbying disclosures reveal that Torricelli, as of late 2014, had only reached out to a single Congressional office about the Mojahedin: that of former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez.
“For 20 years,” Menendez said at a recent Senate hearing, “I have been working on the issue of Iran, when people were not paying attention.” Back in 1998, the two New Jersey politicians appeared at a Mojahedin demonstration at the U.N.’s New York headquarters, a year after the group was designated a terrorist organization. Torricelli was still in the Senate ,and Menendez held a seat in the House. “At the rally,” the Associated Press reported at the time , Torricelli, Menendez and another lawmaker “supported the group’s call for a new democratic regime in Tehran.”
Between April 2013 and January 2014, Torricelli reached out to Menendez’s then chief-of-staff Dan O’Brien seven times. Three separate contacts, however, were with Menendez himself: phone calls in April and August of 2013, and an in-person meeting last January — at the same time Menendez was coming under administration pressure to release his hold on the Apache helicopters.
DURING THE SUMMER of 2013, the Iraqi government faced growing sectarian strife. The militant group Islamic State — a Sunni radical outfit formed during the spring, and still going by the moniker Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — organized camps in Iraqi territory to train and regroup for the fight in Syria.
The Mojahedin, perhaps chastened by their own labeling as terrorists, rely heavily on the word “extremism” in conjunction with ISIS, warning that it’s the Iranian regime, with its “puppet” government in Iraq, that represents the most significant terrorist threat.
Iraq, meanwhile, had been pushing its main military supplier, the United States, for more weapons to combat ISIS, specifically advanced attack helicopters called Apaches. The Obama administration advanced a proposal to supply Iraq with the Apaches — a deal that would eventually involve 24 by a sale and six by a lease that would allow the Iraqis to field the equipment more quickly.
When it comes to foreign military sales, the executive branch gives the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees advance notification, and chairs and ranking members can object. After Obama officials apprised the relevant committees of its proposal, in July, several members blocked the sale over skepticism of then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The administration launched a back-room offensive on Capitol Hill to clear the way for the deal. Officials from the Departments of State and Defense “in their briefings before Congress made it very clear that sending these Apaches to the Iraqis was crucial to beating back the threat coming from ISIS to Iraq from Syria,” said another former Hill aide, who attended the briefings. “State was terrified that without these helicopters,” the Iraqis “didn’t have the capability to kill these guys.”
Most would eventually be convinced to lift their holds, but Menendez held firm , creating palpable tension with the administration. Anonymous sniping between the Senator’s aides and White House officials appeared in the press, with Senate staffers telling Defense News the administration was failing to make Iraq a priority, and an administration official calling the accusation “offensive and incorrect.” Menendez’s public explanation centered around Maliki’s record of attacks against civilians and tacitly allowing Iran’s use of Iraqi airspace to support the Syrian regime; many in Washington at the time were sour on Maliki’s growing authoritarianism, sectarian patronage and failure to professionalize the Iraqi military.
“There are a lot of good reasons they” — Congress — “might have held up a sale,” said Sam Brannen, recently a fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Pentagon employee. But Brannen, who said he has no special insight into Menendez’s reasoning, added, “That there might be some more parochial reasons, that aren’t as good, would not surprise me.”
A U.S. official, who also wouldn’t speak to Menendez’s motivations, confirmed Congress’s focus on the Mojahedin. “The MEK issue was clearly a concern for members of Congress,” the official said. “Whether that played a role holding up the arms sales, I don’t know. But it was certainly an issue for Congress.”
Senators “raised lots of issues — among them the MEK — with the Apaches,” Lukman Faily, the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. told The Intercept. “The issue of the MEK,” Faily said, “came up in most of my meetings with the House and Senate, especially the Foreign [Relations Committee].”
Six months into the hold on the helicopter sale, in January 2014, ISIS forces swarmed Iraqi cities in the Sunni west, at least briefly holding two major urban areas . It’s doubtful the Apaches could have been in action soon enough to stave off ISIS’s territorial gains. “It would have taken months and months to train the Iraqis to use them,” said Brannen, the former CSIS fellow, said of the helicopters intended for lease.
Michael Wahid Hanna, an expert at the Century Foundation with extensive experience on Iraq, explained, “I don’t know if [the Apaches] would have had a strategic effect, maybe a tactical one. Hitting, basically, IS camps obviously would’ve helped.”
After ISIS’s battlefield successes, Menendez consulted with the administration and received a letter from the Iraqi government. “He was looking for an out,” recalled the former Hill aide who attended the briefings. Menendez said he got assurances from the Obama administration promising oversight of the Apaches — and lifted his objections on Jan. 25, leaving the Mojahedin in Camp Liberty under the ultimate control of the Iraqi government.
Adam Sharon, a spokesman for Menendez, did not respond to any questions about the senator’s relationship with the Mojahedin. “The direct concern with the Apaches was what safeguards were in place to ensure that minorities weren’t being attacked,” Sharon said.
The Apache deal, however, eventually stalled. The ISIS advances amplified Maliki’s largely self-induced political crisis. A State Department official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak officially, cited fiscal and capacity issues on Iraq’s end, and said the U.S. was working it over with the new Iraqi government. (In August, Maliki’s party ousted him as prime minister.) “While we’re still supportive of the sale,” the State Department official told The Intercept, “Iraq hasn’t been in a position to accept the sale.”
ISIS took over more Iraqi cities starting last June, and the United States began its own air war to beat the group back in August. In October, the U.S. military ended up using its own Apache attack helicopters in raids against ISIS positions.
FOR THE MOJAHEDIN, stalling the Iraq Apache deal was just a small victory. The real goal has always been regime change in Tehran. Last September, the moderate Iranian president Hassan Rouhani arrived in New York for his second U.N. General Assembly, accompanied by his nuclear negotiators to engage in another round of the now-extended talks. Mojahedin supporters organized a protest against Rouhani’s appearance.
Several hundred braved a sporadic rain in yellow ponchos distributed by the organizers, holding aloft yellow umbrellas. (Mojahid supporters have been known to recruit volunteers on expense-paid trips for such events.) The pro-Mojahedin demonstrators — some of them non-Iranian, with cursory knowledge of the group — listened to an morning of speeches at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, nestled between demonstrations against the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, and devotees of the persecuted Chinese spiritual movement, Falun Gong.
Along the barricades that sectioned off the protesters from the dignitaries on stage — which included former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, a frequent speaker at Mojahedin events — demonstrators held up a pair of cut-out placards. One, in black, read, “No 2 Rouhani”; the other, naturally in yellow, said, “Yes to Rajavi.” Massoud Rajavi still hasn’t been seen publicly since 2003.
For his part, Torricelli’s advocacy for the Mojahedin has only become more fervent. “My name is Bob Torricelli and I am a soldier in the liberation of Iran,” he thundered at a Mojahedin conference in Paris during the summer of that year, to a huge crowd of yellow-clad supporters who interrupted his speech with applause and chants.
“First we gathered in Frankfurt, in London and Paris and New York by the hundreds. Then we came to Paris by the thousands. Hear me well, Mullahs: soon we will come to the streets of Tehran by the millions, and take back the future of the people of Iran.”
“The mullahs may talk to Merkel, or Obama or Hollande,” Torricelli continued, referring to three of the heads of state — Germany’s Angela Merkel, Obama and France’s François Hollande — now in nuclear negotiations with Iran. “They can talk all they want. We as a people of those nations know: There’s nothing left to say. The regime must go.”
Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP; Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Landov; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images
- Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton are reporting fellows with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute
The post Long March of the Yellow Jackets: How a One-Time Terrorist Group Prevailed on Capitol Hill appeared first on The Intercept.
The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counter-terrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS (photo of joint FBI/NYPD press conference, above). As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”
In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade. As my colleague Andrew Fishman and I wrote last month – after the FBI manipulated a 20-year-old loner who lived with his parents into allegedly agreeing to join an FBI-created plot to attack the Capitol – these cases follow a very clear pattern:
The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.
First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.
They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.
Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked.
One can, if one really wishes, debate whether the FBI should be engaging in such behavior. For reasons I and many others have repeatedly argued, these cases are unjust in the extreme: a form of pre-emptory prosecution where vulnerable individuals are targeted and manipulated not for any criminal acts they have committed but rather for the bad political views they have expressed. They end up sending young people to prison for decades for “crimes” which even their sentencing judges acknowledge they never would have seriously considered, let alone committed, in the absence of FBI trickery. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking this is a justifiable tactic, but I’m certain there are people who believe that. Let’s leave that question to the side for the moment in favor of a different issue.
We’re constantly bombarded with dire warnings about the grave threat of home-grown terrorists, “lone wolf” extremists, and ISIS. So intensified are these official warnings that The New York Times earlier this month cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials to warn of the growing ISIS threat and announce “the prospect of a new global war on terror.”
But how serious of a threat can all of this be, at least domestically, if the FBI continually has to resort to manufacturing its own plots by trolling the internet in search of young drifters and/or the mentally ill whom they target, recruit and then manipulate into joining? Does that not, by itself, demonstrate how over-hyped and insubstantial this “threat” actually is? Shouldn’t there be actual plots, ones that are created and fueled without the help of the FBI, that the agency should devote its massive resources to stopping?
This FBI tactic would be akin to having the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) constantly warn of the severe threat posed by drug addiction while it simultaneously uses pushers on its payroll to deliberately get people hooked on drugs so that they can arrest the addicts they’ve created and thus justify their own warnings and budgets (and that kind of threat-creation, just by the way, is not all that far off from what the other federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, are actually doing). As we noted the last time we wrote about this, the Justice Department is aggressively pressuring U.S. allies to employ these same entrapment tactics in order to create their own terrorists, who can then be paraded around as proof of the grave threat.
Threats that are real, and substantial, do not need to be manufactured and concocted. Indeed, as the blogger Digby, citing Juan Cole, recently showed, run-of-the-mill “lone wolf” gun violence is so much of a greater threat to Americans than “domestic terror” by every statistical metric that it’s almost impossible to overstate the disparity:
In that regard, it is not difficult to understand why “domestic terror” and “homegrown extremism” are things the FBI is desperately determined to create. But this FBI terror-plot-concoction should, by itself, suffice to demonstrate how wildly exaggerated this threat actually is.
Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP
UPDATE: The ACLU of Massachusetts Kade Crockford notes this extraordinarily revealing quote from former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes, as he defends one of the worst FBI terror “sting” operations of all (the Cromitie prosecution we describe at length here):
If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that “We won the war on terror and everything’s great,” cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.
That is the FBI’s terrorism strategy – keep fear alive – and it drives everything they do.
The post Why Does the FBI Have to Manufacture its Own Plots if Terrorism and ISIS Are Such Grave Threats? appeared first on The Intercept.
Die Nachdenkseiten bringens:
"Die Geschichte der deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden ist eine Geschichte von Skandalen und rechtsstaatlicher Verwahrlosung"
Vom US-Folterreport zu den deutschen Verhältnissen - und mit Wolfgang Neskovic, dem umtriebigen Streiter für das Recht - Respekt und Beifall!
The FBI Wednesday announced the arrest of three men it alleges planned to help the Islamic State, news that at first appeared to confirm fears that radical extremism is spreading to the United States.
“The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,”District Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a press release announcing the arrests. “We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them.”
Left unmentioned in the FBI statement, however, is the integral role a paid informant appears to have played in generating the charges against the men, and helping turn a fantastical “plot” into something even remotely tangible. It appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.
On February 25th, two Brooklyn men were arrested following FBI and New York Police Department anti-terror raids and charged with providing “material support” to the Islamic State. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, and Akhror Saidakhmetov 19, are alleged to have made arrangements to travel to Syria, and also to have expressed willingness to conduct attacks in the United States “if ordered to do so” by the group. A third man, Abror Habibov, 30, was arrested in Florida and charged with helping provide financial support for their travel plans.
According to the criminal complaint against the three, the FBI first began investigating Juraboev after he made postings on Uzbek-language social media sites in August 2014 praising the Islamic State and offering to pledge allegiance to them. While these postings were made anonymously, Juraboev neglected to conceal his IP address which led to him being quickly identified by authorities.
On August 15, 2014, Juraboev was visited at a Brooklyn residence by FBI agents; he openly expressed his desire to join Islamic State to them. He is said to have told the agents he desired to travel and join the group, but that “he currently lacked the means to go there.” Juraboev is also said to have told the FBI agents in this interview of his desire to kill President Obama, but stated that he does not have any “means or imminent plans to do so.”
Three days after that initial visit, FBI agents visited him again; he reiterated these violent and criminal desires, stating his willingness to kill President Obama if he were ordered to do so by any member of Islamic State, and also telling the agents he was willing to “plant a bomb on Coney Island if so ordered by ISIL”.
In the interviews, Juraboev also mentioned Saidakhmetov, 19, as someone who shared his basic views and desire to travel to areas controlled by the Islamic State. Transcripts of a recorded conversation between the two in mid-September show them apparently expressing their desire to travel to Syria via Istanbul, and trying to determine logistics of the trip. Juraboev also apparently communicated at this time with people online to discuss the feasibility of traveling to Syria and joining the Islamic State.
Shortly after this, the FBI introduced them to a confidential informant, who “approached Juraboev at a mosque, while posing as an ideologically sympathetic individual, and met Saidakhmetov the same day.” The informant befriended the two men, who told him of their desire to go to Syria. According to the criminal complaint, the informant was paid for his services and perceived by the defendants to be an “older and more experienced person.”
In a recorded discussion on September 24th, Saidakhmetov told the informant his plans had been halted as his mother had taken his passport away to prevent him from traveling. A transcript of this discussion describes the informant suggesting possible routes that Saidakhmetov could take to reach Syria, after which the two went to watch videos of Islamic State training camps together.
Over the next several months the informant evidently developed a relationship of trust with both Juraboev and Saidakhmetov, even possibly moving into an apartment with Juraboev, and convincing both of them that he intended to travel to Syria and join Islamic State. During this time, other ideas were also floated, including potentially joining the U.S. Army to become double agents, something that was ultimately dismissed as impractical.
Though Juraboev in his initial FBI interviews said he lacked the financial means to travel, he obtained, after meeting the informant, enough money to purchase tickets for airfare to Istanbul near the end of 2014. Saidakhmetov, whose passport had been confiscated by his mother, at one point asked the informant to help him fill out new travel documents and even forge his signature, which the informant “advised Saidakhmetov [he] did”.
Juraboev and Saidakhmetov then made arrangements to travel to Turkey and from there cross the border into Syria. Throughout this time, they continued to believe that the informant was also buying tickets and traveling with them to join the Islamic State.
Habibov, the oldest defendant at age 30, is alleged to have provided funds to pay for Saidakhmetov’s trip and to have inquired about the potential of finding further support for him once he arrived in Syria. Habibov also is alleged to have asked about the potential of providing contacts for “another brother who appears to be smarter” but who also lacks connections. This “smarter brother,” as the complaint indicates, is in fact a reference to the FBI informant.
Despite his efforts, there is no indication Habibov succeeded in procuring any contacts for either of the travelers.
Saidakhmetov was arrested on February 25th at JFK airport in New York as he arrived to board his flight to Istanbul. In the run-up to his arrest, he had also allegedly proposed a plan to gain control cockpit and “[divert] the plane to the Islamic State, so that the Islamic State would gain a plane.” Juraboev, not scheduled to leave for Turkey until March 29th, and Habibov, were also arrested on the same day at separate locations.
Since the time that FBI agents first made contact with Juraboev in August 2014, a total of seven months elapsed until the arrests were made. During this time, the group stayed under close surveillance, and an informant was introduced who was evidently older and considered to be “more experienced” by the defendants.
Crucially, it appears that only after the introduction of the informant did any actual actual arrangements to commit a criminal act come into existence.
It stands to reason that during this extended time period, particularly after a seemingly unhinged Juraboev openly expressed his violent and criminal fantasies to FBI agents, other tactics of intervention could have been taken to prevent he and Saidakhmetov from going down this path.
The covert informant under the direction of the FBI evidently helped encourage the two towards terrorism over the course of these months. Instead of dissuading them, the informant went so far as to watch recruitment videos with the 19-year old Saidakhmetov and help him make his travel documents.
A 2011 study conducted by Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley found that of 508 post-9/11 terrorism defendants, “Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money,” with operatives being paid as much as $100,000 per assignment. Of the sting operations that resulted in terrorism arrests, nearly a third are believed to have been led by an agent provocateur in the employ of the FBI.
In one conversation recorded in the criminal complaint, Habibov asked an unnamed third party about Juraboev’s mental state. “Yes, I think he is normal. I am just saying . . . I don’t know,” the unnamed person responded. “He didn’t take any precautions. He just blurted out without hesitation.”
The post Confidential Informant Played Key Role in FBI Foiling Its Own Terror Plot appeared first on The Intercept.