I Knew Saddam

This is an abbreviated portrait of Saddam Hussein, based mainly on the reminiscences of US, British and Russian journalists who met him during the first Gulf War (1990-91).

The documentary notes his difficult childhood – his birth out of wedlock, unrelenting bullying by other children and his physically abusive stepfather. It also explores his love of the film The Godfather Part 1, for its portrayal of power based on ruthless brutality.

The filmmakers credit Saddam for the rapid modernization of Iraq and delivery, for the first time, of health services, education, water and electric power to even the most remote regions of Iraq. The price Iraqi people paid for these creature comforts was to live in a constant climate of fear. Children were pressured to inform on their parents. Even ruling Ba’ath party members were summarily executed if they posed any threat to Saddam’s authority.

Soon after assuming power in 1979, Saddam launched a devastating eight-year war against Iran, with the encouragement and financial/military support of the US. Iraq lost this war. A number of analysts blame the loss on Saddam’s insistence on running every aspect of the military campaign, despite his total lack of military experience.

The film goes on to talk about Saddam’s defeat by UN forces following his invasion of Kuwait. And the extreme suffering of the Iraqi people under a 12-year UN sanctions regime – while Saddam continued to live in lavish palaces.

While rarely mentioned in the Western media, Saddam had handed over power to his youngest son by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

Tony Benn, the British journalist (and former Labour MP) describes the 2006 Iraqi trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death as a “fraud.”  According to Benn, he should have been tried at the International Criminal Court, where he would have been allowed to call witnesses in his defense (eg former president George H W Bush).

The film makes no mention of the CIA-sponsored coup that brought the Ba’ath Party to power in Iraq in 1963: see CIA Saddam

 

Former Guantanamo Detainee Exposes MI5 Role in Rendition

The Confession: The Story of Moazzam Begg

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

In this horrifying documentary, Moazzam Begg, who spent a year at Bagram prison and two ears at Guantanamo relates the history of his kidnapping and rendition from Islamabad (Pakistan), his rape and torture in both prisons, his release without charge in 2005 and his ongoing demonization by Islamophobic police, MI5 agents and British media.

Begg, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was born and grew up in the UK (Birmingham). After several beatings by skinheads, he paid a visit to Bosnia, where foreign Islamic fighters were supporting local Muslims during the NATO war against Yugoslavia. A short time later, he quit his job to open an Islamic bookshop in Birmingham. It was at this point he began to have regular contacts with an MI5 agent named Andrew.

In mid-2001, he was arrested under the Terrorism act, and British police raided his home and bookshop. The charges were dropped, and following his release, he moved his wife and three children to Afghanistan, which at that point was ruled by the Taliban.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, he and his family fled to Islamabad. On Jan 21, 2002, a group of English-speaking men came to his home, kidnapped him and flew him to Kandahar prison in Afghanistan. There, after being threatened with rendition to Syria or Egypt for further torture and/or summary execution, he signed a confession admitting to membership in Al Qaeda. He reasoned that signing it would keep him alive long enough to stand trial.

Following the US invasion of Iraq, he was transferred to Bagram prison and from there to Guantanamo.

After his January 2005 release, he was briefly in custody in the UK and released without trial. It took three years to get his passport back. He then traveled to Egypt, Tunis, Libya and Turkey seeking further evidence of the US/UK rendition program. Under this process,  Muslim intellectuals were routinely kidnapped and “rendered” to totalitarian regimes (mainly Libya, Syria and Egypt), where they were tortured and forced to confess to Al Qaeda-related crimes.

In 2014, British police arrested him for the third time and he spent seven months in Belmarsh prison on a charge of training Syrian rebels and supplying them with an electrical generator. The case collapsed for lack of evidence. He believes this arrest stemmed from pure MI5 maliciousness for his efforts to expose their role in rendition and torture.

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at Confession: Story of Moazzim Begg

 

 

US Occupation of Iraq: the Environmental Legacy

Iraq’s Dying Rivers

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the environmental degradation of the Middle East’s most famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The intersection of the two rivers, referred to as the Fertile Crescent, is celebrated as the birthplace of the agricultural revolution and the first human settlements.

The two rivers join in southern Iraq to form the Shatt-al-Arab, which empties into the Arabian Sea. The marshes along the Shatt were previously home to 200,000 “Marsh Arabs,” who worked as fishermen until Saddam Hussein drained the marshes in the 1950s. He reportedly did so to punish them for criticizing his regime.

The marshes were re-flooded in 2003, following the fall of Saddam. According to the UN, the wetlands habitat has only partially recovered (37%). This relates in part to dams on the upper Euphrates in Turkey and Syria. The latter have cut water levels in the Iraq segment of the Euphrates (making it more saline) by 50%. The river is also contaminated by industrial waste, agricultural runoff, human sewage, old rusting fishing vessels and the environmental damage resulting from nearly 30 years of US bombing campaigns (starting with the first US invasion in 1992).

Only 5,000 fisherman remain and all struggle to sustain their livelihood. In addition to declining fish stocks, they also face repeated harassment by the Iranian and Kuwaiti coast guard. The harassment stems from unresolved disputes between Iraq, Iran and Kuwait over their sea borders.

Fish stocks are also significantly reduced in the Tigris, which flows through Iraq’s capital city. While Baghdad fishermen are repeatedly hassled by Iraqi security forces, the Tigris is less contaminated and even serves as a source of drinking water.

At present, Iraq must import 60% of their fish, an important Iraqi dietary staple.

 

Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

The Electronic Whorehouse

The Electronic Whorehouse

by Paul Sheehan

McMillan Australia (2003)

Although 15 years old, this book offers valuable historical insight into the major transformation of traditional media in the 21st century. Paul Sheehan is a columnist and former senior editor for for The Sydney Morning Herald. His book is pretty wide ranging. As a point of departure, he examines the simultaneous rise of Fox News and Alex Jones, just as total network news viewership dropped from 60 to 30%, with a comparable reduction in newspaper readership.

One of Sheehan’s most important points is that the rise of the Internet has ended exclusive control by politicians, bureaucrats, media executives and journalists over the flow of public information. A second relates to the role of Fox News in forging a divergence between the “cultural elite” (represented by the traditional TV networks and CNN) and “mainstreet.” In describing Fox News’ appeal to blue collar white workers and Christian evangelists (almost never reflected in network news coverage – despite representing 46% of the US population), Sheehan eerily foreshadows the Trump phenomenon and the battle currently being played out between Trump and heritage media.

Sheehan goes on to decry the growing blurring between news, opinion and entertainment, as well as the exponential growth of the public relations industry as the source of most western news.

His conservative political bias comes across loud and clear in his diatribe against so-called “economic” refugees*, who he claims cheat the asylum process, and antiglobalization protestors (like myself), who in his view are merely trade unions playing the system for higher wages.

Oh really? That’s news to me – and I’m sure to conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, as well.


*With the chaos the US and allies have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the distinction between “economic” and “political” refugees has become purely arbitrary. When the basic infrastructure of a society has been totally destroyed, the question of basic survival becomes even more acute than if a refugee has received actual death threats.

 

 

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.

David Rockefeller: Billionaire Architect of Corporate Globalization, CIA Coups and US Resource Wars

The Unauthorized Biography of David Rockefeller

by James Corbett (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the late David Rockefeller, billionaire architect of corporate globalization, international free trade treaties (eg TPPA) and most CIA coups and US resource wars of the late 20th century (eg the US war on Iraq). Activists have known for decades that the US is run by billionaire oligarchs – and not Congress and the President. However it’s only with the advent of the Internet and Information Age that we could start to identify who these oligarchs are and how they control our democratic institutions. As in other documentaries, James Corbett does an excellent job exposing these secret levers of power.

According to Corbett, David, the last grandson of oil tycoon J.D. Rockefeller to die (in 2017), principally exerted his influence through foreign leaders he befriended in his role as CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank and World War II military intelligence officer; through his membership in secret round table groups (eg the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group) that craft foreign policy for all so-called western democracies; the insertion of his high level errand boys (eg Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski) into every presidential administration from Lyndon Johnson on; and the the vigorous role played by Rockefeller-funded foundations, universities, think tanks and media outlets in shaping public opinion.

In 1973, Kissinger (under David’s interest) was instrumental in launching the 1973 CIA coup in Chile to protect Rockefeller mining interests. Via David’s leadership role in the Bilderberg Group, he played a principle role in instigating the 1973 oil embargo (which jacked up oil prices and Rockefeller oil profits, the formation of the Eurozone and the euro and the 2003 invasion Iraq.

The Trilateral Commission, which David and Brzezinski co-founded in 1973, has been largely credited for Carter’s selection as the 1976 Democratic candidate – and (thanks to fawning coverage in the corporate media) his ultimate election as president.

With his five billionaire brothers, David also played a key role in founding the United Nations in 1945 (on donated Rockefeller land). The latter was openly designated the “world capitol” in historical newsreels.

A Closer Look at Trump Supporters

Trumpland

Fusion (2016)

Film Review

This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”

Commonalities shared by this demographic are

  • recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
  • strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
  • strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
  • strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
  • a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”

When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.

Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

World War I: How the West Fomented Ethnic Conflict to Destroy the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire: Demise of a Major Power

DW (2017)

Film Review

This documentary demonstrates how people of multiple religions and ethnicities were able to coexist peaceably for over four centuries in the Ottoman empire. This flies in the face of western propaganda about the inevitably of genocidal violence when various religions and ethnicities share the same geographic space.

According to the filmmakers, the long peaceful coexistence of multiple religious and ethnic groups (the main ones being Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims) relates mainly to the Ottoman creation of semi-autonomous regional “millets.” These were under the administrative control of local religious leaders.

The democratic ideals that arose from the 1789 French Revolution would pose the first major challenge to this stability, in triggering a whole series of rebellions. In 1821, Greek rebels would launch a full scale war of independence. Russia, France and Britain, keen on expanding their empires into the Balkans and Middle East, supported the rebellion. Greece would ultimately win independence in 1829.

Over the coming decades, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empire fomented similar rebellions by ethnic Serbs, Romanians and Bulgarians. In 1877, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire – under the pretext of protecting its Christian subjects – which ended with the 1878 Congress of Berlin. The latter divided up the Balkans and placed the minority Armenians in the Anatolia peninsula under the protection of the European powers. Russia was granted control of Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro and the Austro-Hungarian empire control of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This peace agreement, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Balkan Muslims, signaled the dawn of the modern age of refugees.

For me the most intriguing part of the film concerned the intelligence role of archeologist Thomas Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), who was actually a British secret agent sent to mobilize the Arabs in the Arabian peninsula to revolt against their Ottoman rulers. Lawrence, on behalf of Britain, promised Arab fighters their own Arabian kingdom in return for their military support – a promise Britain conveniently broke in 1920.*

This documentary leaves absolutely no question that the real agenda in World War I was 1) disrupting the growing German-Ottoman alliance and 2) for the European powers who initiated the war to divide up the Ottoman empire. Following the 1918 armistice and 1920 Treaty of Sevres, Britain would win colonial control of Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Kuwait) and Palestine and the French control of Syria and the newly created Christian enclave of Lebanon.

After Britain gained colonial control over Palestine in 1920, they immediately revved up ethnic tensions by requiring Jerusalem residents to reside in distinct religious zones an


*The Ottoman Empire’s possessions in the Arabian Peninsula became the Kingdom of Hejaz, which was annexed by the Sultanate of Nejd (today Saudi Arabia), and the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen. The Empire’s possessions on the western shores of the Persian Gulf were variously annexed by Saudi Arabia (Alahsa and Qatif), or remained British protectorates (Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar) and became the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. requiring passports for travel between zones.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Killed Senator Paul Wellstone?

American Assassination: The Strange Death of Senator Paul Wellstone

by Four Arrows and Jim Fetzer

Vox Pop (2004)

Book Review

American Assassination summarizes the authors’ investigation into the freak airplane crash that killed Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone on October 25, 2002. Wellstone, an outspoken populist, was killed exactly 10 days before a midterm election in which the Bush/Cheney administration invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him.

Wellstone was the sole senator to oppose the Use of Force Resolution authorizing George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq. In addition to advocating for an independent investigation into 9-11, many believed he was the only Democratic who could beat Bush in the 2004 election.

Numerous anomalies associated with the crash investigation point to an official cover-up:

  • The FBI, which had no legal jurisdiction, departed for the crash scene before the accident occurred – and subsequently lied about the time they arrived.
  • The National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) failed to hold a public hearing (which is routine in high profile cases). Their reported also omitted important eyewitness testimony regarding roaring/humming cellphone interference at the precise moment the plane lost control and a flash of fire, followed by an abrupt cessation of engine noise, just prior to the crash.
  • Wellstone’s and other crash victims’ lungs showed evidence of smoke inhalation (which means they were still in the air – and alive – when the plane caught fire). In other words, the crash didn’t cause the fire, as claimed by the NTSB.
  • The smoke from the burning fuselage was blue, suggesting a pre-crash electrical fire. If the crash had caused the fuel tanks to explode (as claimed by the NTSB), the smoke would have been black. Neither of the wings, where the fuel tanks were located, caught fire.

The book also includes an excellent summary by late assassination researcher Michael Ruppert of 47 instances of US politicians dying in plane crashes – with six fatal crashes occurring during election campaigns.

There is also an excellent scientific overview of the microwave – aka electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons – developed by the Pentagon for use in Iraq. Pulses from these weapons can destroy all electronics within a 1,000 foot range by short circuiting electrical connections. Electronic aircraft navigational equipment is exquisitely sensitive to electromagnetic interference – which is why air passengers are strictly forbidden to use cellphones or laptops during takeoff or landing. Numerous military crashes have been caused by aircraft getting too close to radio transmitters.

Unlike the NTSB, Fetzer and Four Arrows try to come up with an explanation for the crash that explains the simultaneous loss of aircraft control and loss of communication with the tower. Only two possible scenarios are consistent with this evidence – a small incendiary bomb or an EMP weapon that took out the plane’s electronics as it was landing. They find the latter more likely – anyone can purchase a basic EMP weapon on the Internet.