From our Daily Report:

Syria
free-syria

Landmark verdict against Syrian ex-officer

A court in Germany convicted a former officer of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The verdict marks the first time that a court anywhere in the world has ruled on torture inflicted by the Syrian regime, and it sets the stage for the prosecution of high-ranking officers. The trial of the officer who headed Branch 251 is pending before the same court. (Photo of early Arab Revolution protest in Syria via Fightback)

Iran
syria

Biden’s first air-strikes: the Great Game in Syria

In the first air-strikes on Syria under the Joseph Biden administration, US warplanes struck positions of Iran-backed militia forces at a Revolutionary Guards base near the Iraqi border in the country’s desert east. The Pentagon said the strikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah. It was also a Tehran-backed paramilitary formation that claimed responsibility for last week’s missile attack on the US airbase at Erbil, in northern Iraq. The US bombing an Iran-backed militia in retaliation for an attack in Iraq is a textbook example of how Syria has been turned into a playing field in the Great Power game. (Image: Pixabay)

Africa
South Sudan

South Sudan: ‘localized’ violence despite ceasefire

In a new report, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan found that over two years after the signing of a peace agreement officially ending a seven-year civil war, the country is still experiencing extreme levels of violence. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of armed struggle. But civil war erupted in the new nation in 2013 following President Salva Kiir’s dismissal of then-Vice President Riek Machar—respectively belonging to the largest rival ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer. The war ended in 2020, after claiming over 400,000 lives. But commission chair Yasmin Sooka said that violence is currently at its highest level at any time since the start of the war—if now at hands of “localized” militias. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

North America

Did Biden cave to ICE mutiny?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo with “temporary guidelines for enforcement and removal operations” by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), giving ICE agents discretion on enforcement actions and overturning the “100-day pause on certain removals” instated by President Biden’s executive order of Jan. 20. The move was protestedby the ACLU as a “disappointing step backward.” But litigation was already pending over the “pause.” A federal judge in Corpus Christi had granted a preliminary injunction blocking the moratorium, in a victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had filed a lawsuitagainst the “pause.” After this, ICE agents resumed deportations that had been blocked by Biden’s Jan. 20 order—in open defiance of White House policy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch
Mars probe

Podcast: US robo-imperialism hands off Mars!

In Episode 64 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the maddening and telling irony that while we’re all supposed to be ga-ga with triumphalism over NASA’s latest Mars probe, it has received practicailly no attention that Afro-Brazilian peasant communities are being forcibly removed from their traditional lands to make way for a US-backed expansion of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center in impoverished MaranhĂŁo state. This juxtaposition of news stories is paradigmatic of the whole global struggle—sustainable, Earth-rooted cultures against a hypertrophing technosphere that is now colonizing the very heavens. Meanwhile, there are already so many satellites in orbit that near-Earth space is experiencing a fast-growing “space junk” problem. And economic austerity down here on terra firma is compounding the agonizing impacts of the pandemic. Whatever useful knowledge may be gleaned from the Mars probe, accounts don’t note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. We recall Gil Scott Heron’s wry reaction to the 1969 Moon landing (“Whitey on the Moon“), and say with Marvin Gaye: “Spend it on the have-nots!” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image adapted from NASA photo)

Greater Middle East
GergerlioÄźlu

Turkey upholds sentence of MP for ‘terror propaganda’

Turkey’s Court of Cassation upheld the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence given to Ă–mer Faruk GergerlioÄźlu, a human rights activist and MP belonging to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” In 2016, GergerlioÄźlu raised alarm in parliament and on social media platforms about detained women being subjected to unlawful strip searches by police in the city of UĹźak for “security reasons.” He was later accused by several members of the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) and the UĹźak Police of being involved in terrorist activities. The case hinged on social media posts by GergerlioÄźlu that supposedly included photos of armed fighters from the PKK guerillas. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

North Africa
Haftar

Libya: Blackwater CEO trafficked arms to Russia-backed warlord

Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government—and is also being aggressively backed by Russia. (Photo via ISS Africa)

Planet Watch
baffinland

Nunavut hunters blockade Baffin Island mine

After a week of blockading an airstrip and road to an iron mine on north Baffin Island, a small group of Inuit protesters packed up their tents, agreeing to give dialogue with authorities a chance after the mining company won an injunction ordering them to disband their encampment. The self-declared Nuluujaat Land Guardians began blocking access to Baffinland Iron Mines Corp’s Mary River mine to oppose a proposal for expansion that would see its output of iron ore double to 12 million tons per year, as well as construction of a 110-kilometer railway to the facility. The Land Guardians say the expansion would drive caribou away and harm other wildlife in the area, including narwhal, upon which their communities depend for subsistence. (Photo: Baffinland Iron Mines Corp via Nunatsiaq News)

Europe
Hasél

Spain: protests follow arrest of Catalan rapper

The arrest of Catalan rapper Pablo HasĂ©l on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting the monarchy has sparked angry protests in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other Spanish cities. Facing charges in relation to his tweets and song lyrics, HasĂ©l barricaded himself alongside supporters inside Catalonia’s University of Lleida. His supporters sprayed fire-extinguishers at troops when the building was raided by the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. As he was led away, supporters shouted, “They will never silence us; death to the fascist state!” HasĂ©l was turned over to Spanish authorities to begin serving a nine-month term. Angry protests immediately broke out, with several demonstrators arrested that night. Protests have continued throughout the week. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Africa
niger delta flare

UK court approves Nigerian suit against Shell Oil

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom allowed a case filed by 42,335 Nigerian claimants against Shell Oil and a Nigerian subsidiary to proceed in the UK courts. The claimants first sued Shell and its subsidiary in 2015 over leaks from pipelines in the Niger Delta that resulted in the destruction of farmland, the death of fish stocks, and poisoned drinking water. They argued that the oil spills occurred due to the negligence of the subsidiary company responsible for operating the pipelines. They charged that Shell’s parent company owed them a “common law duty of care,” since it exercised significant control over the operations of the Nigerian subsidiary. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Middle East
keskin

Turkey sentences ex-newspaper staff for ‘terrorism’

The High Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced four former employees of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Ă–zgĂĽr GĂĽndem, shut down by a Turkish court order in 2016, to imprisonment on “terrorism” charges. Former editor Eren Keskin, who is also a prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, received a six-year sentence for “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” Amnesty International dismissed the charges as a fabricated attempt to criminalize dissent, and stated: “[A] human rights lawyer who has spoken out against injustice for more than three decades, has become the victim of injustice herself.” (Photo of solidarity demonstration in Berlin via Amnesty International)

Iran
Mount Gare

Turkey, Iran in synchronous attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil’s airport. Awliya al-Dam (Guardians of the Blood) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for the deaths of “the martyred leaders”—an apparent reference to the paramilitary commanders killed in the US drone attack on the Baghdad airport in January 2020. The Turkish strikes targeted Mount Gare, where PKK militants supposedly killed 13 captive Turkish soldiers being held in a cave complex. The PKK, however, said the captives had been killed in earlier Turkish air-strikes on the position. The affair sparked diplomatic tensions between Ankara and the new Biden administration in Washington, which initially refused to accept Turkey’s version of events. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

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Featured Stories

Burma protest

BURMA: A NEW DEMOCRATIC UPRISING

Burma is once again in the international headlines, as the Southeast Asian nation has lost another opportunity to sustain its credibility as a multi-party democracy. A one-year state of emergency and period of military rule were announced in the early hours of February 1, when the generals again seized power. Many newly elected lawmakers were detained just hours before Parliament was to convene its fresh session. But over a hundred thousand Burmese citizens have taken to the streets across the country in the days since then, demanding restoration of democratic rule and release of all detained political leaders. The spontaneous demonstrations bring back memories of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, which paved the way for the democratic transition four years later. The coming weeks and even days will be critical in determining whether Burma will face another dark period of military rule—or if the country’s new democratic uprising will meet with effective international solidarity. CounterVortex correspondent Nava Thakuria, across the border in northeast India, reports.

Continue ReadingBURMA: A NEW DEMOCRATIC UPRISING 
Capitol

INVOKE INTER-AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC CHARTER FOR U.S.A.

Americans were shocked by the storming of the US Capitol by the right-wing mobs and militia. Some commentators now refer to the country as a “banana republic”—a derogatory term for Central American states with histories of unstable government. But Latin Americans, with greater such experience, can more easily recognize anti-democratic behavior and its dangers—and have been at the forefront in taking multilateral and region-wide action to promote and protect democracy. The Western hemisphere has, in fact, designed a process to collectively defend against threats to democracy like that now faced by the US: the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It has been invoked twice before—in Haiti and Venezuela. In a commentary for Jurist, international law scholars Henry “Chip” Carey and Jennifer McCoy make the case for its invocation in the United States.

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Nagaraj

JOURNO-MURDER SURGE IN INDIA

In an industry already hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s media this year also saw an alarming increase in the slaying of journalists. As 2020 approaches its end, India emerges as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for working journalists—second only to Mexico. While Mexico has seen 12 journo-murders this year, the world’s largest democracy has registered 12. Local journalists reporting on land-grabbing and illegal resource exploitation have been especially targeted. Writing from Assam in India’s conflicted northeast, Nava Thakuria provides an overview of the grim national toll.

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hibakusha

HIBAKUSHA ‘STILL CANNOT GET OVER IT’

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will finally come into force after the 50th country, Honduras, ratified it in October. The treaty will make the development, testing, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons illegal for those countries that have signed on. None of the nine countries that currently have nuclear arms are signatories, and some have vocally opposed the treaty—especially the United States. Nonetheless, this is an extraordinary achievement for those that have suffered the most from these weapons—including the hibakusha (survivors) of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been some of the most strident campaigners against the use of these weapons. Writing for The Conversation, Gwyn McClelland, a researcher collecting the oral histories of atomic bomb survivors, discusses the role of the hibakusha in the campaign for the nuclear weapons ban.

Continue ReadingHIBAKUSHA ‘STILL CANNOT GET OVER IT’ 
Shinmin Prefecture

ANARCHIST COMMUNE MANCHURIA

By the official version of history, World War II started in Poland in 1939, but cases can also be made that it really began in Austria in 1938, Spain in 1936, Abyssinia in 1935—or Manchuria in 1931. However, it is nearly forgotten that the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria that year was partially aimed at crushing a self-governing anarchist “autonomous prefecture” that had been established in the region by exiles from Korea, which had been occupied and annexed by the Japanese Empire in 1910. This anarchist commune, dubbed Shinmin Prefecture, was an inspiring model of autonomy and resistance, akin to the Spanish Revolution of 1936, the Makhnovtchina of 1918 in Ukraine, and the Magonista Revolution of Baja California in 1911—but is considerably more obscure to contemporary historians. Francesco Dalessandro explores this critical episode for the anarchist journal Fifth Estate.

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It Can't Happen Here

TWO FACES OF FASCISM

In his latest contribution to the anarchist journal Fifth Estate, Bill Weinberg explores the twin threats of a totalitarian order that the United States faces at this history-making moment: Trump-fascism, perhaps to be lubricated by a “Reichstag Fire” scenario ahead of the November election, and a post-pandemic “new normality” of complete surveillance and social control. Eerily predictive of these twin dystopias are two works of “future fiction” from the 20th century—It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis and The Machine Stops by EM Forster. With the Black Lives Matter uprising deepening the ugly backlash from the Trump camp and a COVID-19 “second wave” looming, the US is poised on a razor’s edge between long-overdue leaps of social progress and descent into some kind of updated American variant of fascism.

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refugees

TRUMP’S AMERICA: NO LONGER SAFE FOR REFUGEES

Recently a Canadian court threw out the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the USA, finding that the detention centers in the United States violate the human rights of refugees. This pact compels refugees seeking asylum in Canada through the US-Canadian border to first seek asylum in the US. The pact was challenged last year by Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches. A lawyer for the refugees stated that the US does not qualify as a “Safe Third Country” under the administration of Donald Trump, as refugees are subjected to family separation and illegal pushbacks. The judge in the case pronounced that the STCA violates the Canadian Constitution guarantees of life, liberty, and security. Shaurya Shukla discusses the decision for Jurist, and explores its implications for the United States’ standing under international law.

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Washington Square

THE MONUMENTAL DILEMMA

The sight of statues of Confederate generals and slavocrat politicians coming down in several states across the country is a long-overdue correction. There is no ambiguity on what those monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, John Calhoun represented. These men stood in life for the most oppressive white supremacy, and their images were raised after their deaths as proud signifiers that the fundamentals of white supremacy remained intact despite the Civil War and Reconstruction. These monuments were raised as ritual intimidation and humiliation of African Americans. But things get a little more complicated when monuments to figures on the Union side are targetted, such as Ulysses S. Grant. Bill Weinberg explores the dilemma for Lower Manhattan’s new online newspaper, The Village Sun.

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Tiananmen

HAS COVID-19 STRENGTHENED XI JINPING?

Xi Jinping’s regime has attempted to shield itself against a massive global blowback from the COVID-19 pandemic, or even parlay the disaster into a victory. But conflicts with India and the US, splits within the CCP dictatorship, and tens of millions unemployed within China indicate the regime is facing its most serious crisis since the mass anti-authoritarian struggle of 1989. Vincent Kolo of chinaworker.info cuts through Beijing’s propaganda of “victory” over the pandemic.

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Colombian border troops

SHADOW WAR ON THE BORDERLANDS

Even against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a war is being waged along the vast and porous Venezuela-Colombia border, across which people, narcotics, black-market gasoline, food, and medicine are smuggled—and where criminals and guerrillas find refuge. Joshua Collins reports for The New Humanitarian.

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Otay Mesa

IMMIGRANTS & COVID-19: WE ARE KILLING THEM

By now, the effects of COVID-19 on American life and society are widespread and deeply felt, almost regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. However, for undocumented immigrants in the United States, the COVID-19 crisis compounds issues that have existed for years, exposing them to a barrage of political, social and economic storm fronts now disastrously colliding at once. Whether for those detained by ICE in overcrowded conditions or those working “essential” frontline jobs without adequate protection or oversight, the impacts on undocumented immigrants and their families could be uniquely devastating. Allyssa M.G. Scheyer writes for Jurist.

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Assam newspapers

CAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE COVID-19?

As an unprecedented lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues across India, the country’s newspaper groups face an uphill battle to maintain their devoted readership. The complete shutdown declared last month instantly prevented deliveries of morning papers to readers’ doorsteps, and rumors spread that a paper itself could carry the novel coronavirus. Many publishers have been forced to drastically reduce their circulation figure, or suspend publication entirely, as vendors and delivery workers walked off the job. This has  particularly critical implications for India’s restive northeast. The region with a population of over 60 million supports over 50 morning dailies in different languages including Assamese, Bengali, Boro, Meitei, Karbi, Khasi, Mizo, Nagamese and Nepali, as well as English and Hindi. The world will eventually return to some kind of normality after the ravages of COVID-19 pass. But whether newspapers, and especially regional ones in places like northeast India, will be able to revive in the post-corona era is an open and difficult question. Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, northeast India.

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