Watching the Shadows
Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who has been held for 19 years without charges or a trial, filed a complaint on April 30 with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) requesting intervention in his case. Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and was held and tortured by the CIA in various top-secret "black sites." The CIA originally believed that Zubaydah was a close associate of al-Qaeda, but after four years of interrogation, they concluded that he was not linked to the group. He was then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. The US government has justified Zubaydah's continued detention by asserting its broad authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Under the AUMF, passed after 9-11, detainees can be held until the "cessation of hostile activities." But Zubaydah asserts in his complaint that this "law of war" rationale is in conflict with international human rights laws.
In Episode 66 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep and a fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), who has faced threats of litigation as well as relentless online harassment for his exposés of Russian propaganda and Red-Brown Politics. After his recent piece in the Daily Beast on leftist flirtation with the far right around conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19 and the war in Syria, the odious Max Blumenthal quickly retaliated with a piece on his Grayzone website charging in its headline that Reid Ross "works with ex-cops, CIA spies, and DHS agents." This refers to the fact that former CIA, Homeland Security and NYPD officials are now also researchers with the NCRI. The accusation is hilariously ironic given that Blumenthal himself has shared platforms with former CIA analyst (and now a star of the conspiracy set) Ray McGovern. As well as (of course) avidly cooperating with Russian and Chinese state propaganda efforts.
The Biden administration on Feb. 12 launched a review of the US military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine the facility's fate over the next four years. White House spokespersons told reporters that the administration is considering an executive action to close the prison camp by the end of Biden's term. When asked whether the administration would close the prison within that timeframe, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki replied, "That certainly is our goal and our intention." National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne reaffirmed this goal, saying, "We are undertaking an NSC process to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration, in line with our broader goal of closing Guantánamo."
In Episode 59 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of Trump's evident preparation for a coup d'etat and what could be a culminating moment for the current crisis of American democracy. In the context of this dilemma, he discusses two very timely new books with similar titles that both examine the mechanics by which dictators seize and maintain power: Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis and Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat.
The popular vlogger and comedian Katie Halper, whose journalistic take-downs of the Democratic Party establishment have certainly been deftly exploited (at least) by the Kremlin propaganda machine, wears the accusation that she is a "useful idiot" for Russia as a badge of pride—"Useful Idiots" is actually the (presumably sarcastic) name of the podcast she co-hosts with the equally problematic Matt Taibbi. We've always wondered, in an academic way, if such figures really are useful idiots, or something more sinister—knowing propagandists for Vladimir Putin's deeply reactionary global ambitions. The debate has suddenly exploded onto the left-wing vlogosphere.
Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.
Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit. The UN General Assembly has elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. China was supported by 139 of the 191 nations that voted, and was one of 16 nations that sought the 15 available seats. (The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones.) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with "abhorrent human rights records," stating: "These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights." The US left the Human Rights Council in June 2018. (Jurist)
The US State Department's newly released "Country Reports on Terrorism 2019" makes special note for the first time of an international white supremacist threat. The report states that the Department's Counterterrorism Bureau last year "increased its efforts to combat racially or ethnically motivated terrorism (REMT). REMT, in particular white supremacist terrorism, continues to be a threat to the global community, with violence both on the rise and spreading geographically, as white supremacist and nativist movements and individuals increasingly target immigrants; Jewish, Muslim, and other religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI) individuals; governments; and other perceived enemies. The CT Bureau is working with our law enforcement and foreign partners to take concrete actions to address this growing threat."