Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Exchanging Fire on the Korean Peninsula

Written by Nile Bowie

Panmunjom, South Korea / Nile Bowie
The 38th parallel dividing the two Korean nation states may be the most potent physical manifestation of antithetical idealism subsisting into the 21st century. From it’s guerilla warfare induced separation in 1945, to the highly touted present day threat of sacred war – the ideologies of the two opposing Korean nation states have worked to the advantage of powers largely using Korea as a proxy. In the south, the oligarchical cadre of President Lee Myung Bak has worked ad nauseum to dismantle the infrastructure of former President Kim Dae-Jung’s sunshine policy toward the northward regime. In an unfettered embrace for the military industrial complex, Lee has further aligned with the Pentagon and the Obama administration to secure an influx of state-of the-art-military technology.

To the North, ideology has always been far more relevant than economics. Beneath the first signs of Chinese-style market reform and the increasing presence of special economic zones, the effectiveness of state mythology surrounding its deified leadership may soon gently begin to be challenged as North Koreans learn more about foreigners and the world beyond their borders.  Since its inception, the Northern population has been subjected to vigorous domestic propaganda espousing the pristine virtuousness of a uniquely homogenous Korean race – protected from the evils of the outside world under the everlasting paternal care of the Great Father Leader, General Kim il-Sung. Although always second to firepower, economic legitimacy appears to be more of a priority following the third dynastic handover into the remarkably stable Kim Jong-Un regime.

The threat of war has permanently occupied the Korean peninsula since the existence of its two nation states, with each side seeking to wholly absorb the other into its ideological and economic orbit. The South’s undisputed economic dominance makes it naturally suited to lead integrative efforts toward much needed reconciliation on the peninsula. Under the publically loathed chaebol regime model of Lee Myung Bak, the prospects of a mutual bloodless reunification appear stark. As one state begins to manufacture its own fighter jets and increasingly expands its arsenal of advanced military technology - the other brandishes a collection ageing Soviet-made machinery, suspected to be largely obsolete. Between the artillery exchanges of a hypothetical Korean Holy War, it must be asked – is South Korea really prey or predator?

Recent tension on the peninsula in the form of US-ROK Combined Forces Command drills reignited an ongoing stream of public analysis. The war games conducted on February 20th, 2012 were negligently held in a disputed area of the West Sea. Following an exchange of threatening rhetoric, the ROK began evacuating residents of Baengnyeong Island, located just south of the maritime border with North Korea. Prior to the commencement of military exercises, the North warned the ROK not to forget the lesson" of Yeonpyeong Island, where four civilians were killed in a Northern bombardment in 2010 after the South began firing shells into North Korean territorial waters as part of a live ammunition drill.

Fortunately, the North did not respond to the most recent US-ROK Combined Forces Command exercise, perceiving it to be a “premeditated military provocation.” Korean news sources report an estimated 5,000 live rounds fired during the exercise, all of them falling into South Korean waters. The drill was conducted over two hours, involving Cobra attack helicopters, self-propelled howitzers and Vulcan cannons. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) warns that North Korea is fully prepared for war and the complete collapse of ties between the two Koreas. In response to further planned exercises, the North's National Defense Commission (NDC) has stated "Now that a war has been declared against us, the army and people are firmly determined to counter it with a sacred war of our own style and protect the security of the nation and the peace of the country.”

The upcoming US-ROK drills include Key Resolve, a computerized command post exercise involving 200,000 troops launching on February 27th, 2012 and continuing until March 9th. Further joint air, ground and naval field training exercises under the moniker of Foal Eagle, will be held from March 1st to April 30th, 2012. In anticipation of the planned joint military exercises, Kim Jong-Un has reportedly visited front-line military units in the southwestern region responsible for the Yeonpyeong Island shelling in 2010. Amid the tension of impending conflict, the US-ROK Combined Forces Command has fully mobilized its surveillance radar, with reconnaissance planes and F-15K fighters on emergency standby. The DPRK’s 4th Army Corps and other front-line units operate on heightened alert while monitoring the mobilization of allied troops. The Associated Press has confirmed Washington’s use of U-2 aircrafts from South Korea’s Osan Air Base to conduct monitoring over North Korean airspace.

Although it’s irresponsible to deny South Korea’s sovereignty and the vibrant economic achievements of the people within it, the nation’s current leadership has worked to further reduce the country into an economic and military protectorate of the United States. Under President Lee Myung Bak, the global multifaceted strategic partnership between Seoul and Washington has pressured the ROK into deploying its military personnel to more than a dozen countries, including Afghanistan Somalia, Lebanon and other fronts in the mythicized War on Terror. South Korean troops have also joined Cobra Gold, the United States' largest multilateral exercise in the Asia-Pacific region in conjunction with Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore.

As policy makers in Seoul’s Blue House continue propagating an unbalanced emphasis on US relations, the ROK is forced out of emerging markets in the Middle East as a result of the expanding blanket of US sanctions in the region.  In addition to an increased global presence of ROK troops, South Korea has been cajoled into the suspension of its crucial trading partnership with Iran. Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea analyst at Kyungnam University elaborates,  “Seoul’s participation in sanctions against Iran is the worst trap of the Korea-US alliance. It is not aimed at deterring the North (which is the initial purpose of the alliance) nor at peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.” As Seoul is dragged into complying with American militarism, relations between Pyongyang and Tehran have become increasingly more intimate.  

As Korea braces for the spike in oil prices after freezing Iranian petrochemical and oil imports at the behest of US assertion, Lee Myung Bak personally traveled to the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in search of new trading partners. South Korea and Saudi Arabia subsequently agreed to significantly bolster their economic and defense cooperation, with talks of exporting ammunition and howitzers to the feudalistic monarchy. Fortunately for American arms manufacturers, the ROK has a large appetite for high-end fighter jets. Boeing is vying to be a beneficiary in Korea’s largest ever arms procurement deal with their F-15 Silent Eagle (F-15SE). Korea plans to further purchase 60 fighter jets with an enormous budget of $7.3 billion. Lockheed Martin and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) are also competing to win armament deals. In an effort to counter North Korean submarine attacks, the ROK has allocated an additional $565,000 of its 2012 budget for plans to establish a submarine command.

While the threat of provocation from Pyongyang provides an opportune pretext for militaristic expansion, South Korea’s controversial $970 million joint military base on Jeju Island (the ROK’s southern most territory, parallel to the DMZ) exists to fundamentally project force toward China in the event of military conflict. With sheer disregard for the ecological physiognomies of Jeju Island (recognized by UNESCO) and the concerns of the island’s protesting residents, the joint base would host up to 20 American and South Korean warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers once completed in 2014. China has further called the presence of Aegis anti-ballistic systems on Jeju island a dangerous provocation. Under the leadership of President Lee Myung Bak, the South Korea arms industry has expanded to new heights; with a planned increase of $4 billion in exports by 2020, the ROK would be the 7th largest exporter of arms in the world.

Korea Aerospace Industries is currently joining with Lockheed Martin to produce a T-50 fighter jet, intended for the Israeli military. Although Israel recently finalized a deal to purchase thirty M-346 trainer fighters from an Italian competitor, the potential for future defense contracts with Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar seem expectant. While the ROK has recently developed the world’s fastest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), it still has pressed Washington to sell its RQ-4 Global Hawk spy planes – likely to reverse engineer the vehicle as a template for future Korean-made models. The ROK’s state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has launched a $5.35 million bunker-buster development project to be used for precision strikes against military strongholds in the North by 2013. The project was announced shortly after South Korea finalized a $71 million arms agreement with the US to import American Bunker Buster explosives.

Although a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would almost certainly draw in larger regional powers such as the United States and China, there is little doubt regarding the military viability of both Korean nations on their own. While much of their arsenal is outdated, the DPRK’s 1.2 million people under arms make the North Korean military a credible force. In an effort to defend itself against the Yankee Colony to the South, the DPRK is attempting to build road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. The North’s BM25 Musudan has a potential range of around 4,000 kilometers, allowing it to potentially strike US bases in South Korea, Guam, and Japan. It also possesses the Taep’o-dong-2, which could potentially strike the continental United States with an extremely reduced payload.

North Korean ballistic technology appears to be constructed from components of Russian origin; analysts such as David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists' point out that the engines on the North’s Unha-2 launcher are essentially based on the Soviet Scud-B missile. In sharp contrast to the modernity of the ROK’s military technology, the North’s most modern undertakings are based off of the Soviet R-27 sea-launched ballistic missile, first deployed in 1968. The DPRK is also attempting to use a dated American UAV purchased from the Middle East as a basis for its own unmanned attack aircraft program. After North Korean modifications, the US-made MQM-107 Streaker’s 1970s-era technology would serve as an enhanced version of the German WWII-era V-1 Buzz Bomb.

The extremely limited amount of modern equipment in circulation is largely based on modified 1960s-era missile technology, which appears to see little to no actual testing. Despite its large numbers, extreme isolation has left troops in the North with a questionable amount of practical training under its exceedingly bureaucratic chain of command. The North’s domestic missile development program is more limited than generally assumed, with easily visible and immobile long-range missile launch sites. US congressmen belonging to the House Armed Services Committee have voiced concern over the North’s road-mobile ICBM program and its capacity to hide launch platforms. While Northern special ops forces could undertake campaigns of guerilla war for some time and inevitably deal heavy damage onto the South with artillery shells and missiles, the North’s capacity to sustain a large-scale effort without Chinese backing is limited with an American presence on the Peninsula.

Rather than encouraging openness and trade, regime change in the North has long been an open goal for the United States in their effort to push sanctions against the Communist state since its inception. Documents authored in 2009 by the US think-tank, The Council on Foreign Relations illustrate a military contingency plan involving the stationing of up to 460,000 foreign soldiers into a post-regime North Korea to its capture nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. The document also highlights the need to form a compliant transitional government acquiescent to market liberalization and privatization. Although the regime has acknowledged its possession of a nuclear deterrent in its propaganda, any further specifics on the North’s nuclear program are largely subject to speculation.

In January 2004, US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker visited the North’s Yongbyon Nuclear facility. Hecker testified before US Congress that he saw no evidence of a nuclear bomb, although he acknowledged that the North possessed weapons-grade plutonium. Shortly after in September 2004, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su-Hon defended announcements that the North has turned plutonium from 8,000 spent fuel rods into nuclear weapons before the UN General Assembly, citing defense against the US nuclear threat. In 2005, the North resumed its nuclear program when the US refused to complete construction on two light-water reactors promised in an Agreed Framework aimed to halt the North’s program. Following a missile test in 2009, the North vowed to reject pressure to denuclearize and informed the IAEA that they would resume their nuclear weapons program.

Hecker visited the Yongbyon nuclear facility again in November 2010 and reported on its increased capabilities, however noting that the experimental light-water reactor he was shown was still in the early stages of construction. Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il presided over an economic collapse and an unprecedented famine in the 1990’s. His entire legitimacy derived from a highly propagated military first approach that advertised the newfound security of the regime, “the Dear General successfully saw the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent that would protect the Korean race forever. Truly, the son had proven himself worthy of his great father.” While the status of such a nuclear device is largely subject to speculation, any attempts to force denuclearization by the International Community through the Six Party talks will likely result in failure.

Denuclearization is akin to the regime committing political suicide, quelling its only bargaining chip with the outside world. Regardless of the actual progress toward constructing nuclear arms, the North’s weapon is a source of pride for its people, aimed to further defend itself against the US forces responsible for killing nearly a third of it’s population in aerial bombardments during the Korean war (an amount far surpassing the civilian causalities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Under foreign invasion, the North would become increasing more belligerent if faced with China’s military neglect.

China would almost certainly stand to defend its North Korean ally under siege. In addition to a heavily militarized Peninsula, each side is backed by opposing military superpowers. The sensitivity of the region is marked by wild fluctuations in the South Korean stock market at the first sign of tension or instability. China maintains the largest standing army in the world with 2,285,000 personnel and is working to challenge the regional military hegemony of America’s Pacific Century with its expanding naval and conventional capabilities. China has moved to begin testing advanced anti-satellite (ASAT) and Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) weapons systems in an effort to bring the US-China rivalry into Space warfare. The conflict on the Korean peninsula has the potential to further threaten global security, not due to North Korean belligerence, but rather to the ramifications of warring super powers.

The North would only ever use a nuclear device if its existence were directly threatened, as a last resort if the nation came under attack from outside forces. For this reason, the diplomatic strength of the next South Korean President is crucial to peace on the Peninsula. Lee Myung Bak has negligently encouraged a hardline stance on relations to the North, a far cry away from the policies of his predecessor, Kim Dae-Jung, the only South Korean President to visit the North during a summit in 2000. The South will host two upcoming elections this year, the National Assembly in April 2012, and a Presidential election in December 2012; the actions of the next administration will be not only fundamental to inter-Korean relations, but also to economic cooperation with the United States.  

President Lee Myung Bak’s approval ratings now stand at an appalling 27.6%, with the opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) seen as the most proficient with regards to handling job creation, North-South relations, and the redistribution of wealth. Lee, along with his relatives and other members of his administration are currently being investigated by prosecutors for illicitly using insider information to gain profits from purchasing stocks from a Korean firm awarded exclusive rights to develop a diamond mine in Cameroon in 2010. The Lee family has been involved in several unprecedented stock manipulation and money laundering schemes. In addition to presiding over a 23% increase in consumer inflation, Lee has been accused of using public funds to purchase a private residence, while spearheading the increase of domestic internet censorship and surveillance.

Under the ROK’s National Security Act (NSA), Lee’s regime has targeted an organization called ‘Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea’ due to their advocating the closure of US army bases and stance against military drills. The organization has been involved in the campaign against the construction of the planned Jeju Island naval base and the heavy-handed conduct of the police and military in quelling dissenting villagers and activists. Members of an NGO which presented alternative findings regarding the alleged North Korean sinking of the Cheonan corvette ship in 2010 were heavily threatened by the South Korean government, which mobilized citizens to protest against experts who doubted the official conclusion. Under President Lee, the NSA has been used to indefinitely detain human rights defenders and citizens for voicing their political views on sites such as Twitter. In late 2011, a political opposition candidate was sentenced to a year in jail for participating in a radio podcast championing free speech.

Lee Myung Bak’s government has also been exposed for selling information such as the resident registration numbers, names, and addresses of South Korean citizens en masse to private bond firms and other civilian institutions. DUP opposition leader, Han Myeong-sook has called for the mass resignation of the cabinet and an apology from President Lee Myung Bak for the corruption and irregularities that have plagued his administration. The DUP has ignited public appeal for pledging to scrap the publically loathed KOR-US Free Trade Agreement when it enters office, much to the dismay of the US government. The FTA would be the largest U.S. trade pact since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

As the United States advertises its stake in the Asia-Pacific century, officials have used the threat of North Korea to maintain an unpopular military presence in the region, declaring it central to 21st century national security. In the face of aggressive opposition by the South Korean & Japanese public, the U.S. Pacific Command may further its agenda by conveniently exacerbating the belligerent rhetoric of Pyongyang – only to further encircle a far more powerful China in their effort to develop new weapons, such as the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile. Much to the dismay of US political elites such as the cantankerous Senator John McCain, the Obama administration has approved the planned consolidation of American troops in South Korea to bases south of Seoul by 2016.

The United States currently maintains 28,500 troops in more than 100 bases across South Korea. The planned consolidation does not warrant a personnel reduction, nor does it address the rising demands of the Korean public and their longing for national sovereignty – rather, it highlights the fact that the Pentagon is having an increasingly more difficult time balancing their chequebook. Former CIA director turned United States Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta assured lawmakers that US military power in the Asia-Pacific region won't be debilitated by proposed steep budget cuts. The US already has eleven carriers in the Pacific area and has established deals with Australia for a permanent presence in the Northern Territory; policy makers are working steadfastly for a similar agreement with the Philippines. 

Under the proposed consolidation cited in the Strategic Alliance 2015 Roadmap, the wartime operational control of Korean forces will transition from the US-ROK Combined Forces Command to the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff by December 2015.  The US forces based in Korea will consolidate into the United States Korea Command, or US KORCOM. The US will maintain its current level of 28,500 troops, while cutting nearly half of its bases immediately South of the DMZ due to proposed budget restructuring. The next South Korea administration would aggregate mass public support by reasserting the ROK’s national sovereignty and further working to build a conducive relationship with the North by proposing new economic ties and eliminating US presence on the Peninsula.

The leadership of both Korean nations must avert further conflict at all costs. Experts at the Pentagon have estimated that the first ninety days of such a conflict may produce 300,000 to 500,000 US-ROK military casualties, in addition to a civilian causality rate in the millions. The negative ramifications for such a conflict would destabilize the global economy and potentially lead the United States and China into direct military conflict. China has already secured rights to many of North Korea’s natural resources such as iron ore and coal; the DPRK has begun cheaply selling off the development rights of mineral resources to China in exchange for foreign currency. The North Korean government has indicated that the value of the minerals buried in its soil was roughly $6.1 trillion as of 2008. As the prospects for a new Korean war never fade, China is now the beneficiary of wealth that should rightfully be used to fund reunification efforts on the peninsula.

The propagation of a future Korean conflict has the potential to serve as a mechanism to further restructure the world economic power structure, to the dictates of the grand chessboard. Geopolitical events of the 20th century follow a directed history of managed conflict, where powerful Western banking families and their surrogate agencies employed a strategy of Hegelian Dialectic to bring Democracy, Capitalism and Communism to the world stage. The work of British researcher and author Atony Sutton detailed how the global banking elite financed and nurtured the Soviet Union from its inception, providing economic and military aid with US taxpayer dollars. In the concluding chapter of his book, “The Best Enemy Money Can Buy,” Sutton exposes how the Soviet-backed North Korean Army used machinery either built in plants with U.S. Lend-Lease equipment or from Russia’s Gorki automobile plant, built by Henry Ford.

China and the Soviet Union contributed heavily to North Korea’s first missile program in the early 1960s, based on technology developed by the United States.  In 1994, the Swiss multinational giant Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) was awarded a $200 million contract with the North Korean government to install two light water nuclear power stations on the nation’s east coast following a deal with the US to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Donald Rumsfeld, one of the Bush administration's most vocal opponents to North Korea, presided over the contract with Pyongyang when he was an executive director of ABB. The U.S. State Department claimed that the light water reactors could not be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington disputed the claims of the US Government, offering, “These reactors are like all reactors, they have the potential to make weapons. So you might end up supplying the worst nuclear violator with the means to acquire the very weapons we’re trying to prevent it acquiring.” In 2002, the Bush Administration released $95 million US taxpayer dollars to begin construction of Pyongyang’s light water reactors, as part of the Agreed Framework. Just as Iraq became a threat to US security after Donald Rumsfeld armed Saddam Hussein with chemical and biological weapons, agents of globalism have engineered the North Korean threat.

The purpose of Globalism is to form a centrally managed sociopolitical system based on the Chinese model of authoritarian-capitalism. In order for this to be implemented, the livings standards of so-called developed countries must be eroded while the standards of developed countries must be raised. Under the practice of fractional reserve banking, Central Banks have manipulated an economic climate favorable to BRICs nations, while simultaneously bankrupting the United States and Europe with unregulated money printing and destabilizing Free Trade Agreements. Much to the enthusiasm of Goldman Sachs, trade between developing countries will soon to overtake trade between developed nations. In the expanding economies of developing countries, the number of households earning over US$50,000 is set to double by 2020. The utter decay of the United States manufacturing sector is not due to corporate maleficence, it is to reposition China in the world power structure.

In exchange for economic incentives and national security, nearly every South Korean administration has played junior to American interests, most prominently with President Lee Myung Bak. If another major conflict emerges on the Korean peninsula, joint US-ROK forces backed by an exhausted Pentagon would struggle against the military capabilities of China – Russia may be drawn into the conflict as well to protect their economic interests in North Korea. In the case of a joint Chinese-North Korean victory, China would formally emerge as the world’s military super power. Irrespective of geopolitical speculation, the Korean Peninsula once hosted warring superpowers – the continual orchestration of conflict for over six decades shows potential for another such conflict and its capacity to shift the world power structure to the managed dictates of globalism. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Road To Tehran Goes Through Damascus

Written by Nile Bowie

Between the chaos and artillery fire unfolding in Homs and Damascus, the current siege against the Ba’athist State of Bashar al-Assad parallels events of nearly a century ago. In efforts to maintain its protectorate, the French government employed the use of foreign soldiers to smother those seeking to abolish the French mandated, Fédération Syrienne. While former Prime Minister Faris al-Khoury argued the case for Syrian independence before UN in 1945, French planes bombed Damascus into submission. Today, the same government – in addition to the United States and its client regimes in Libya and Tunisia – enthusiastically recognize the Syrian National Council as the legitimate leadership of Syria. Although recent polls funded by the Qatar Foundation claim 55% of Syrians support the Assad regime, the former colonial powers have made a mockery of the very democratic principles they tout.

Irrespective to the views of the Syrian people, their fate has long been decided by forces operating beyond their borders. In a speech given to the Commonwealth Club of California in 2007 retired US Military General Wesley Clark speaks of a policy coup initiated by members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Clark cites a confidential document handed down from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2001 stipulating the entire restructuring of the Middle East and North Africa. Portentously, the document allegedly revealed campaigns to systematically destabilize the governments of Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Iran.Under the familiar scenario of an authoritarian regime systematically suppressing peaceful dissent and purging large swaths of its population, the mechanisms of geopolitical stratagem have freely taken course.

Syria is but a chess piece being used as a platform by larger powers. Regime change is the unwavering interest of the US-led NATO block in collaboration with the feudal Persian Gulf Monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is being accomplished by using Qatar-owned media outlets such as Al-Jazeera to project their version of the narrative to the world and by arming radical factions of the regions Sunni-majority population against the minority Alawi-Shia leadership of Assad. Since 2005, the Bush administration began funding Syrian opposition groups that lean toward the Muslim Brotherhood and their aspirations to build a Sunni-Islamic State. The Muslim Brotherhood has long condemned the Alawi-Shia as heretics and historically attempted multiple uprising in the 1960’s. By arming radical Sunni factions and importing Iraqi Salafi-jihadists and Libyan mercenaries, the NATOGCC plans to topple Assad and install an illegitimate exiled opposition leader such as Burhan Ghaliun (leader of the Syrian National Council) to be the face of the new regime.

The recent example of implementing foreign policy by arming Al-Qaeda fighters in Libya has proved disastrous - as the rule of law passes from the NATO-backed Libyan Transitional Council to hundreds of warring guerilla militias. At a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Hillary Clinton, Davutoglu pledged to find ways outside the United Nations Security Council to pressure Assad. In addition to bolstering longstanding sectarian divides in Syria, the US is smuggling arms into Syria from Incirlik military base in Turkey and providing financial support for Syrian rebels. Syrian opposition forces led by defected Syrian colonel Riad al-Assad have been trained on Turkish soil since May 2011. Exclusive military and intelligence sources have reported to Israel’s DEBKAfile that British and Qatari special operations units are assisting rebel forces in Homs by providing body armor, laptops, satellite phones and managing rebel communications lines that request logistical aid, arms and mercenaries from outside suppliers.

Although the UK has vehemently denied these reports, Qatar’s leader Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani recently suggested sending troops into Syria to battle Assad’s forces. Military bases situated near Turkey’s southeastern border with northern Syria have become a crucial hub used for the delivery of outside supplies. Unmarked NATO warplanes near Iskenderum have received fighters from Libya’s Transitional National Council wielding weapons formerly belonging to Gaddafi’s arsenal. Abdel Hakim Belhaj, (former leader of the extremist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group turned NTC military governor at the directive of NATO) is leading the infiltration of Libyans into Syria in person with the help of the Turkish government. It has also been reported that Mahdi al-Harati, resigned from his functions as deputy chief of the Military Council in Tripoli to oversee the Free Syrian Army.

Syrian press has also reported that armed terrorist groups brandishing up-to-date American and Israeli weapons have roamed the countryside of Damascus committing blind acts of terror by setting off explosive devices and kidnapping civilians. As the NATOGCC continue to insist that Assad is committing acts of genocide against unarmed civilians, one must draw correlations between events reported by the Syrian state media and recent statements released by the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, praising the arrival of Iraqi fighters in Syria and advising rebels to use roadside bombs. Paradoxically, Al-Qaeda front man Ayman al-Zawahri has called on Muslims from across the Arab World to mobilize and support the Free Syrian Army after the disappointing Russian and Chinese veto at the UNSC. Few things are more absurd than the notion of Al-Qaeda terrorists – unanimously portrayed as ostensible “savages” by virtually all-Western media sources - entrust the apparatus of the United Nations and their capacity to resolve the Syrian conflict. The true purpose of Al-Qaeda and its role in influencing foreign policy has never been more evident.

Surely, Assad accusing foreign-sponsored terrorist groups of fomenting violence in Syria is simply evidence of his illegitimacy - as Western and Gulf allies assert. Even as Syrian state TV broadcasts reports showing seized weapons stockpiles and confessions by terrorists describing how they obtained arms from foreign sources, the NATOGCC continues to draft legislation in an effort pressure the Assad regime into dissolution. In the face of an outright campaign of foreign-funded sabotage, Syrian hackers have targeted Al-Jazeera’s "Syria Live Blog", which provides ongoing coverage of the unrest. The hacker-ring boldly denounced Al Jazeera for broadcasting "false and fabricated news to ignite sedition among the people of Syria to achieve the goals of Washington and Tel Aviv."

Through the fiery rhetoric of Susan Rice and her relentless condemnation of Assad - like Gaddafi before him - the United States is again attempting to invoke the Right to Protect (R2P) doctrine to take direct action against the Assad regime. In another parallel to the Libyan conflict, the UN’s astounding official death toll in Syria is taken solely from human rights groups, backed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Criminal Court and the Syrian National Council. The official numbers rely exclusively on an obscure organization known as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) - based in London, not Damascus - whose evidence is largely reliant on hearsay, pixelated YouTube videos and activist Twitter feeds. SOHR’s disputed reports present evidence that would not hold up in any court of law, much less should it be the basis of United Nations resolutions. The Observatory's director Rami Abdelrahman collaborates directly with British Foreign Minister William Hague and derives legitimacy solely from connections with corporate/foundation-funded civil society networks. Claims that Assad’s security forces indiscriminately kill scores of newborn babies are palpably a product of Britain’s foreign office.

As a further indication of the on-going media war in Syria, none is more telling than the report produced by the Arab League’s observer mission into Syria. The contents of the report were completely ignored by the corporate-media after Qatar disputed its findings, the only nation to do so in the Arab League's Ministerial CommitteeThe report unalterably concluded that the Syrian government was in no way lethally repressing peaceful protestors. Furthermore, the report credits armed gangs with the bombing of civilian buses, trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and the bombing of bridges and pipelines. During an interview with Arab League observer Ahmed Manaï, he praises the Sino-Russian veto at the UNSC and encouraged the Syrian leadership to implement reforms. Manaï states, “The Arab League is entirely discredited by burying the report of its own observers’ mission and its appeal to the Security Council. It missed the opportunity to participate in the settlement of the Syrian affair. All it can offer in the future will be worthless.”

While the initial observer report is predictably absent from mainstream media coverage and cited as inept (presumably for contradicting the official line of the allied Western-Gulf powers), Arab League mission leader Mohammed al-Dabi officially resigned, stating, "I won’t work one more time in the framework of the Arab League, I performed my job with full integrity and transparency but I won’t work here again as the situation is skewed.” The United Nations and the Arab League are now considering what was originally a joint observer mission – now referred to as a peacekeeping mission. The Arab League, in tandem with Saudi Arabia is preparing a nearly identical resolution calling for an armed peacekeeping council to present to the UN. Much like the indistinguishable saber rattling seen before Libyan intervention, the new resolution condemns Assad for lethal repression and calls for a transitional shift to democracy. The resolution is expected to create similar Sino-Russian divisions over its implementation, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, previously scorned the document as "the same unbalanced draft resolution text."

The conflict in Syria has brought light to longstanding Cold War divisions between world powers. The Sino-Russian veto of the UNSC resolution calling for intervention has blocked the opportunity for Western powers to exert overt aggression, as demonstrated by NATO in Libya. Instead, it appears that the Assad regime will be destabilized through covert mercenary groups bent on committing blind acts of terrorism by means of sniper assassinations and roadside bombs. Learning from the Libyan experience, Russia and China perceive the UN Human Rights Report authored by Karen Koning AbuZayd, a director of the Washington-based corporate-funded think-tank, Middle East Policy Council - to be explicitly comprised; victims among the civilian population are a result of armed paramilitaries doing battle with the Syrian military in residential areas. In an interview with former Russian Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov pledges that Russia will protect Iran, Syria, and the world from American fascism. In a show of support for the Syrian government, Russia has sent a large naval force into the region and China has further warned against a strike on Syria.

It is truly a paradox that the countries least fit to dictate principles of human rights, do so largely unhindered on the world stage. Without hesitation Hillary Clinton proclaimed, What happened yesterday at the United Nations was a travesty” referring to the Sino-Russian veto. She then called for the formation of an international alliance between the war-profiteering elite of the West and absolutist Wahhabi Persian Gulf monarchies - amusingly titled, the Friends of Syria. International calls to abstain from violence have done little to influence the Gulf Cooperation Council and their brutal crackdown against Shiites in Bahrain. Incredibly, Saudi Arabia has entered the dialogue on human rights and democracy promotion – perhaps the world’s most defining feudalistic theocracy, a nation that prohibits political parties and national elections and executes those who apostatize Islam. 

Iran’s Press TV news network has reportedly leaked intelligence exposing the American agenda in Syria. The report calls for the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the legitimate government and their positioning in Turkey to work against the Assad regime. Washington would then task Turkey with sending troops into Syria to arm the opposition forces, followed by Wahhabi fighters and Libyan mercenaries. Ominously, the intelligence stipulates that Israel will enter the fray to carry out military operations against Syria.  If the regime fails to dissolve, Syrian state television channels will be taken down and Assad will be assassinated. Considering how other enemies of the West have faired in recent times, the sequence of events reported by Press TV would be largely unsurprising. The Wahhabis of the Persian Gulf are playing junior to American aggression in an effort to dominate the Shia-Alawi religious faction presently upheld by the leadership of Syria and Iran, but also to secure their places as regional powers. 

Domestic affairs in Syria are of little consequence to the powers trying to topple the nation; the real priority is to further isolate Iran by eliminating its Shia-Alawi ally in Damascus. Israel reaps enormous benefit from toppling the Assad regime, as the Syrian Nation Council pledges to cut ties with Iran and discontinue arms shipments to Hezbollah and Hamas. If Syria falls and Iran is directly threatened, the potential for a regional conflict of the utmost seriousness exists, assuming China and Russia move in to defend Iran. Such a conflict would create detrimental implications for the global economy, potentially triggering a hyper-inflationary financial crisis. William Hague and billionaire financiers behind the civil society groups bestowing legitimacy to violent opposition actors are not the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Although the reforms have been slow, the Assad government is in the midst of drafting a new constitution. Syria’s sovereignty has come under direct fire from powers claiming to be defending Syria’s people. An attempt on the life of Bashar al-Assad may have similar consequences to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. As the Syrian National Council familiarly calls for the implementation of a no-fly zone, those members of the International Community with any integrity left must work diligently to diffuse conflict in the region.


La route vers Téhéran passe par Damas

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Economics of Incarceration

Written by Nile Bowie

James Nachtwey / VII
For anyone paying attention, there is no shortage of issues that fundamentally challenge the underpinning moral infrastructure of American society and the values it claims to uphold. Under the conceptual illusion of liberty, few things are more sobering than the amount of Americans who will spend the rest of their lives in an isolated correctional facility – ostensibly, being corrected. The United States of America has long held the highest incarceration rate in the world, far surpassing any other nation. For every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars. Presently, the prison population in America consists of more than six million people, a number exceeding the amount of prisoners held in the gulags of the former Soviet Union at any point in its history.

While miserable statistics illustrate some measure of the ongoing ethical calamity occurring in the detainment centers inside the land of the free, only a partial picture of the broader situation is painted. While the country faces an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, business is booming in other fields – namely, the private prison industry. Like any other business, these institutions are run for the purpose of turning a profit. State and federal prisons are contracted out to private companies who are paid a fixed amount to house each prisoner per day. Their profits result from spending the minimum amount of state or federal funds on each inmate, only to pocket the remaining capital. For the corrections conglomerates of America, prosperity depends on housing the maximum numbers of inmates for the longest potential time - as inexpensively as possible.

By allowing a profit-driven capitalist-enterprise model to operate over institutions that should rightfully be focused on rehabilitation, America has enthusiastically embraced a prison industrial complex. Under the promise of maintaining correctional facilities at a lower cost due to market competition, state and federal governments contract privately run companies to manage and staff prisons, even allowing the groups to design and construct facilities. The private prison industry is primarily led by two morally deficient entities, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation).  These companies amassed a combined revenue of over $2.9 billion in 2010, not without situating themselves in the center of political influence.

The number of people imprisoned under state and federal custody increased 772% percent between 1970 and 2009, largely due to the incredible influence private corporations wield against the American legal system. Because judicial leniency and sentencing reductions threaten the very business models of these private corporations, millions have been spent lobbying state officials and political candidates in an effort to influence harsher “zero tolerance” legislation and mandatory sentencing for many non-violent offenses. Political action committees assembled by private correctional corporations have lobbied over 3.3 million dollars to the political establishment since 2001. An annual report released by the CCA in 2010 reiterates the importance of influencing legislation:

“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”

Considering today’s private prison population is over 17 times larger than the figure two decades earlier, the malleability of the judicial system under corporate influence is clear. The Corrections Corporation of America is the first and largest private prison company in the US, cofounded in 1983 by Tom Beasley, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. The CCA entered the market and overtly exploited Beasley’s political connections in an attempt to exert control over the entire prison system of Tennessee. Today, the company operates over sixty-five facilities and owns contracts with the US Marshal Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons. The GEO Group operates 118 detention centers throughout the United States, South Africa, UK, Australia and elsewhere. Under its original name, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was synonymous for the sadistic abuse of prisoners in its facilities, resulting in the termination of several contracts in 1999.

The political action committees assembled by private prison enterprises have also wielded incredible influence with respect to administering harsher immigration legislation. The number of illegal immigrants being incarcerated inside the United States is rising exponentially under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency responsible for annually overseeing the imprisonment of 400,000 foreign nationals at the cost of over $1.9 billion on custody-related operations. The agency has come under heavy criticism for seeking to contract a 1,250-bed immigration detention facility in Essex County, New Jersey to a private company that shares intimate ties to New Jersey's Governor, Chris Christie. Given the private prison industry’s dependence on immigration-detention contracts, the huge contributions of the prison lobby towards drafting Arizona’s recrementitious immigration law SB 1070 are all but unexpected. While the administration of Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is lined with former private prison lobbyists, its Department of Corrections budget has been raised by $10 million, while all other Arizona state agencies are subject to budget cuts in 2012’s fiscal year

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this obstinate moral predicament presents itself in the private contracting of prisoners and their role in assembling vast quantities of military and commercial equipment. While the United States plunges itself into each new manufactured conflict under a wide range of fraudulent pretenses, it is interesting to note that all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags, uniforms, tents, bags and other equipment used by military occupation forces are produced by inmates in federal prisons across the US. Giant multinational conglomerates and weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation employ federal prison labor to cheaply assemble weapons components, only to sell them to the Pentagon at premium prices. At the lowest, Prisoners earn 17 cents an hour to assemble high-tech electronic components for guided missile systems needed to produce Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles and anti-tank projectiles.

In the past, political mouthpieces of the United States have criticized countries such as China and North Korea for their role in exploiting prisoner labor to create commodity products such as women’s bras and artificial flowers for export. Evidently, outsourcing the construction of the military equipment responsible for innumerable civilian causalities to the prisons of America warrants no such criticism from the military industrial establishment. In utter derision toward the integrity of the common worker, prison inmates are exposed to toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and other chemicals when contracted to clean and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat. Prison laborers receive no union protection, benefits or health and safety protection when made to work in electronic recycling factories where inmates are regularly exposed to lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.

In addition to performing tasks that can result in detrimental illnesses, prison labor produces other military utilities such as night-vision goggles, body armor, radio and communication devices, components for battleship anti-aircraft guns, land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment. While this abundant source of low-cost manpower fosters greater incentives for corporate stockholders to impose draconian legislation on the majority of Americans who commit nonviolent offenses, it’s hard to imagine such an innately colossal contradiction to the nation’s official rhetoric, i.e. American values. Furthermore, prison labor is employed not only in the assembly of complex components used in F-15 fighter jets and Cobra helicopters, it also supplies 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services, with similar statistics in regard to products such as paints, stoves, office furniture, headphones, and speakers.

It is some twisted irony that large sections of the workforce in America’s alleged free-market are shackled in chains. Weapons manufactured in the isolation of America’s prisons are the source of an exploitative cycle, which leaves allied NATO member countries indebted to a multibillion-dollar weapons industry at the behest of the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon. Complete with its own trade exhibitions, mail-order catalogs and investment houses on Wall Street, the eminence of the private prison industry solidifies the ongoing corrosion of American principles – principles that seem more abstract now, than the day they were written.

Predictably, the potential profit of the prison labor boom has encouraged the foundations of US corporate society to move their production forces into American prisons. Conglomerates such as IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Victoria’s Secret, and Target have all begun mounting production operations in US prisons. Many of these Fortune 500 conglomerates are corporate members of civil society groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These think tanks are critical toward influencing American foreign policy. Under the guise of democracy promotion, these civil societies fund opposition movements and train dissent groups in countries around the world in the interest of pro-US regime change. With naked insincerity, the same companies that outsource the production of their products to American prisons simultaneously sponsor civil societies that demanded the release of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest – an overly political effort in the on-going attempts to install a compliant regime in that country.

The concept of privatizing prisons to reduce expenses comes at great cost to the inmates detained, who are subjected to living in increasingly squalid conditions in jail cells across America. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) was sent to a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group for the purpose of monitoring its quality standards. The monitors sent by the TYC were subsequently fired for failing to report the sordid conditions they witnessed in the facility while they awarded the GEO Group with an overall compliance score of nearly 100%. Independent auditors later visited the facility and discovered that inmates were forced to urinate or defecate in small containers due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells. The independent commission also noted in their list of reported findings that the facility racially segregated prisoners and disciplined Hispanics for speaking Spanish by denying their access to layers and medical treatment. It was later discovered that the TYC monitors were employed by the GEO Group. Troublingly, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) operated by the GEO Group in Mississippi has been subject to a class-action lawsuit after reports that staff members were complicit in the beating and stabbing of a prisoner who consequently incurred permanent brain damage. The official compliant authored by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center also highlights cases where the administration turned a blind eye to brutal cases of rape and torture within the facility.

The first private prison models were introduced following the abolishment of slavery after the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, which saw expansive prison farms replace slave plantations. Prisons of the day contracted groups of predominately African-American inmates to pick cotton and construct railroads principally in southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2012, there are more African-Americans engrossed in the criminal-justice system than any point during slavery. Throughout its history, the American prison system has shared little with the concept of rehabilitation. Like the post-Civil War prison farms, today’s system functions to purport required labor, largely on a racially specific basis. African-Americans consist of 40% of the prison population and are incarcerated seven times more often than whites, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 12% of the national population. Once released, former inmates are barred from voting in elections, denied educational opportunities and are legally discriminated against in their efforts to find employment and housing. Few can deny the targeting of underprivileged urban communities of color in America’s failed War on Drugs. This phenomenon can largely be contributed to the stipulations of its anti-drug legislation, which commanded maximum sentencing for possession of minute amounts of rock cocaine, a substance that floods poor inner-city black communities.

Unbeknown to the vast majority of Americans, the US government has been actively taking steps to modify the legal infrastructure of the country to allow for a dramatic expansion of the domestic prison system at the expense of civil rights. On December 31st, 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) H.R. 1540. Emulating the rouge military dictatorships the US Government has long condemned in its rhetoric, the NDAA introduces a vaguely worded legislation that allows for US citizens to be arbitrarily detained in military detention without due process - might they be predictably deemed radical, conspiratorial or suspected of terrorism. In a climate of rising public discontent, the establishment media has steadfastly worked to blur the line between public activism and domestic extremism.  In addition to the world’s largest network of prison facilities, over 800 located detainment camps exist in all regions of the United States with varying maximum capacities.

Facing economic stagnation, many Americans have been detained in responder camps as a consequence of publically demonstrating in accordance with the Occupy Wall Street movement launched in New York City. Under the guise of protecting Americans from a largely contrived and abstract threat of fundamentalist violence, citizens have been denied the right of peaceful assembly and placed in detainment apparatuses, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Documents have been released by the American Civil Liberties Union detailing the Pentagon’s widespread monitoring of public demonstrations and the targeting of individual activists under threat of national security. Co-authored by Senator Joe Lieberman, the Enemy Expatriation Act (HR 3166) gives the US government the power to detain nationals and revoke their American citizenship under suspicion of behavior perceived as terrorism.

This legislation becomes increasingly more dangerous as citizens can be labeled domestic extremists based on their constitutionally protected activism or personal political leanings. In January 2006, a contract to construct detention facilities for the Department of Homeland Security worth a maximum of $385 million was awarded to KBR, a subsidiary of Haliburton. Following the signing of NDAA earlier in 2012, leaked documents reveal that KBR is now seeking to staff its detention centers and award contracts for services such as catering, temporary fencing and barricades, laundry and medical services, power generation, and refuse collection. It would be reasonable to assume that these facilities could be managed in partnership with private corporations such as the GEO Group or the CCA, as many federal and state penitentiaries privatize sections of their facilities to privately owned companies. Declassified US Army documents originally drafted in 1997 divulge the existence of inmate labor camps inside US military installations. It is all but unexpected that the relationship between the upper echelons of government and the private prison enterprise will grow increasingly more intimate in the current climate of prison industrial legislation.

The partnership between the United States government and its corporate associates spans various industries however, they all seek the common pursuit of profit irrespective of the moral and ethical consequence – the human consequence. The increasing influence of the Prison Industrial Complex towards official legislation and economic undertakings signifies a reprehensible threat to basic human rights. Perhaps the issuance of government legislation that leads offenders into detainment for the benefit of private shareholders is the purest embodiment of fascism, as cited in Mussolini’s vision of a Corporate State. Perhaps we all (this author included) fail to grasp the seriousness of these legislations and their implications on our lives.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent over three decades on death row in the throngs of the American prison system. Prior to his conviction in 1981 for the murder of a white police officer, Jamal was a political activist and President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Critical evidence vindicating Jamal was withheld from the trial prior to the issuance of the death penalty. Forensic experts believe he was denied a fair trial. On December 7, 2011, the Philadelphia District Attorney announced that prosecutors would no longer seek the death penalty for Jamal. He remains imprisoned for life without parole and continues his work as a journalist from his jail cell in Pennsylvania. 

Note: The figure of six million people cited in the first paragraph of this article represents all people in juvenile detention and adult facilities, in addition to those who have passed through the prison system and are now being subjected to some form of parole or probation, i.e. correctional supervision.