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MARJORIE COHN JD
Marjorie Cohn, signature news reporter and contributor of Global News Aruba, is a professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law where she taught from 1991-2016, and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She lectures, writes, and provides commentary for local, regional, national and international media outlets. Professor Cohn has served as a news consultant for CBS News and a legal analyst for Court TV, as well as a legal and political commentator on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, and Pacifica Radio.
The author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice (with David Dow) and Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), Professor Cohn is editor of and contributor to The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.
One of her books was cited in a U.S. Supreme Court opinion and her articles have appeared in numerous journals such as Fordham Law Review, Hastings Law Journal, and Virginia Journal of International Law, as well as The National Law Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Chicago Tribune. Professor Cohn is a contributing editor to Jurist and National Lawyers Guild Review, and her frequent columns appear on Huffington Post, Truthout, Truthdig, Consortium News, CommonDreams, Counterpunch and ZNet.
She has been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, and was staff counsel to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Professor Cohn is the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the Association of American Jurists, and is deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
A veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement, Professor Cohn received her B.A. from Stanford, where she majored in Social Thought and Institutions, and her J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law. She testified in 2008 about the U.S. government interrogation policy before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and has also testified at military courts-martial about the illegality of the wars, the duty to obey lawful orders, and the duty to disobey unlawful orders.
Professor Cohn sits on the board of directors of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the national advisory boards of Veterans for Peace, and Progressive Democrats of America, and she is a civilian member of the board of GI Voice. She is also a member of the advisory board for the American Constitution Society – San Diego Chapter.
The recipient of the San Diego County Bar Association’s 2005 Service to Legal Education Award, Professor Cohn was recognized as one of San Diego’s Top Attorneys in Academics for 2006, 2008 and 2009, and was given the 2007 Bernard E. Witkin, Esq. Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Law by the San Diego Law Library Justice Foundation. She received the 2008 Peace Scholar of the Year Award from the Peace and Justice Studies Association, the 2009 Amnesty International-San Diego Digna Ochoa Human Rights Defender Award, and the 2010 Alumni Achievement Award from the Santa Clara University School of Law. In 2010, Professor Cohn debated the legality of the war in Afghanistan at the prestigious Oxford Union. She received the Debra Evenson Venceremos Award from the National Lawyers Guild in 2018.
A legal observer in Iran on behalf of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in 1978, she has participated in delegations to Cuba, China and Yugoslavia. She lived in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish.
Trump Threatens War Crimes Against Iran. Congress Must Stop Him.
By Marjorie Cohn JD
Attorney at Law
Global News Aruba
Trump has already committed the crime of aggression against Iran, and he is now threatening to commit a war crime if he carries through on his January 4 promise to target Iran’s cultural sites. The United States has violated the United Nations Charter’s prohibition on the use of military force. This is the time to raise our voices and demand that our congressional representatives put a halt to Trump’s illegal war-making.
It should be clear to any legal analyst that Donald Trump’s catastrophic decision to order the illegal assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and Iraqi senior military leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis constituted the crime of aggression and violated both the United Nations Charter and the U.S. War Powers Resolution.
The January 2 drone attacks that killed Suleimani, al-Muhandis and al-Muhandis’s public relations chief were the deadliest escalation of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran since his May 18, 2018, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. In May 2019, one year after Trump pulled out of the agreement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed U.S. intelligence had concluded that Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. military personnel were “imminent.” The New York Times said the administration made that allegation “without evidence” to support it.
Now, seven month later, Team Trump is again invoking the threat of an “imminent” Iranian attack to justify its illegal assassination of Suleimani, and once again, it cites no evidence to substantiate such a threat.
The Drone Assassinations Violated the UN Charter
According to international law, the use of military force by one country against another must comply with the UN Charter. Article 2.3 requires that all member states “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” Article 2.4 requires all member states to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
There are only two exceptions to the UN Charter’s prohibition of the use of military force: when a country acts in self-defense or with permission of the Security Council. The drone assassinations were not carried out in self-defense and the Security Council did not sanction them.
The Drone Assassinations Were Not Conducted in Self-Defense
Trump’s drone killings did not constitute lawful self-defense. Article 51 of the UN Charter establishes the inherent right of self-defense in response to an armed attack by another state. Suleimani was Iran’s top general. Neither Iran nor Iraq, where the assassination occurred, had mounted an armed attack on the United States before the fatal U.S. drone strikes.
After a rocket attack in Kirkuk resulted in the death of a U.S. mercenary, the United States retaliated by launching several airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed 24 members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah. In response, members of that militia and their supporters tried to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad but there were no casualties.
“The attacks on a US military base in Iraq allegedly by Iraqi-based militias, who were Iraqi non-state actors, do not qualify as an armed attack on the US by Iran,” the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) said in a statement. “Neither does the action by Iraqis who entered the US Embassy in Baghdad, injuring and killing no one, in response to US strikes against these militias (which killed 25 people and injured 55 more) amount to an armed attack by Iran against the US,” the IADL added.
Moreover, Agnès Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted that the drone killings were “most [likely] unlawful and violate international human rights law.” Callamard said, “Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.” She wrote that “intentionally lethal or potentially lethal force can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.” Thus, Callamard said, the United States would need to demonstrate that the target “constituted an imminent threat to others.” Suleimani’s “past involvement in ‘terrorist’ attacks is not sufficient to make his targeting for killing lawful,” she added. The anticipatory self-defense Trump claimed during his press conference is not likely legal, according to Callamard, since the necessity for the use of self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who was briefed after the drone killings, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has seen no intelligence indicating that killing Suleimani would prevent future attacks on the United States. He characterized Pompeo’s claim that killing Suleimani saved lives as “a personal opinion, not an intelligence conclusion.”
Indeed, New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi tweeted that “two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani” told her that “the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is ‘razor thin’.”
Likewise, a U.S. government official informed The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated that December 30 was “a normal Monday in the Middle East” and Suleimani’s travels constituted “business as usual.” The official said the intelligence was “thin” and Suleimani’s attack was “not imminent” because it had not been approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Assassinations Were Not Authorized by the Security Council
Nor were the drone strikes authorized by the Security Council. The Council has primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security under the UN Charter. Article 39 states, “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and decide whether to authorize the use of military force under Article 42.
In fact, it was Trump who committed the crime of aggression.
Trump Committed the Crime of Aggression
Under the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, individuals can perpetrate an act of aggression in two different ways that are pertinent here. The U.S. bombings that killed Suleimani and al-Muhandis constitute aggression under both criteria.
First, aggression is “bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State.” U.S. armed forces conducted a bombing attack in Iraq.
Second, aggression is, “The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement.”
Iraq and the United States have a joint military agreement governing the stationing of U.S. troops in Iraq. Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s acting prime minister, called the U.S. bombing “a flagrant violation of the conditions for the presence of the American forces in Iraq and their role which is supposed to be limited to training Iraqi forces and fighting ISIS [also known as Daesh] within the international coalition forces, under the supervision and approval of the Iraqi government.”
Following the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the waging of aggressive war “essentially an evil thing,” adding, “To initiate a war of aggression … is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The Drone Killings Violated the U.S. War Powers Resolution
The drone killing also violated the War Powers Resolution, which permits the president to introduce U.S. armed forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” or when there is “specific statutory authorization,” like an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
Iran had not attacked the U.S. or its armed forces and Congress had not declared war on Iran or authorized the use of U.S. force against Iranian targets.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the killings were justified by the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq.
That AUMF authorized the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to — (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.” Once the U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and eliminated the government of President Saddam Hussein, the 2002 AUMF license ended.
Trump Is Now Threatening to Commit the War Crime of Targeting Iran’s Cultural Sites
Trump promised in a January 4 tweet to target “52 Iranian sites,” some of which are “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture” if Iran retaliates against the drone killings.
The Rome Statute makes it a war crime to intentionally direct “attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives.” Cultural sites are not proper military targets. It is also a war crime under the Rome Statute to intentionally direct “attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes [and] historic monuments.”
In addition, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property prohibits military targeting of cultural sites. Iran has 24 locales on the UN list of cultural world heritage sites.
By promising to target Iran’s cultural sites, Trump threatened to commit a war crime.
Consequences From Suleimani’s Death Are Unimaginable
After the drone attacks, Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, called Suleimani the leader of “the most effective force” in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida, and called his killing an act of “international terrorism.” Ayatollah Khamenei vowed to take “severe revenge” against those responsible for Suleimani’s death.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah in Lebanon, issued a call to all “resistance fighters” to avenge the killing of Suleimani: “Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins … will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” Nasrallah said.
The repercussions from the U.S. killing of Suleimani, whom Ayatollah Khamenei called a “martyr,” are unimaginable. It may well ignite a lethal conflagration throughout the Middle East.
Suleimani — who was considered the second most powerful figure in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei — enjoyed nearly folk hero status. As Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Suleimani “was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades, and his death was a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict,” according to The New York Times.
The government of Iraq is furious at the killings on its soil without its permission. Acting Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called the attack “an outrageous breach to Iraqi sovereignty” and “a clear breach of the terms of the American forces’ presence.”
In fact, the Iraqi parliament voted in a nonbinding resolution to ask the government to terminate the presence of the 5,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq and the agreement that permitted the U.S. to send troops to Iraq to fight ISIS. Ironically, Joe Lauria wrote at Consortium News, “Suleimani was one of the men most responsible for defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
Iran announced on January 5 that it was suspending all of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal until the United States lifts the punishing sanctions it has imposed on Iran since the U.S. itself pulled out of the deal in 2018. Under the deal, Iran had agreed to restrict its enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activities in return for relief from U.S. sanctions. Iran had been complying with the agreement. Now there are no limitations on Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons program.
The day after the drone strikes, Trump made the Orwellian statement, “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” But start a war is just what Trump’s actions have effectively done. It is up to Congress to exercise its constitutional duty to stop this dangerous presidential overreach.
As Yale law professor Oona A. Hathaway warned in her op-ed in The Atlantic, “If Congress fails to effectively press back against this unconstitutional assertion of unilateral authority, it will set a precedent that will put the greatest destructive power the world has ever known in the hands of a single man.”
We must pressure our congressional representatives to put an end to Trump’s illegal war-making. Two resolutions have been introduced in Congress: one by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to prohibit funding for war with Iran unless Congress gives its approval. The other is co-sponsored by Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), mandating removal of U.S. troops engaged in hostilities with Iran unless and until Congress approves. Urge your Congress members to support them. Peace in the Middle East – and indeed worldwide – is at stake.
Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
"US Takes Illegal, Dangerous Actions Toward Regime Change in Venezuela"
By Prof. Juris Doctor Marjorie Cohn
Signature News Reporter and Contributor
GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA
AINA - ARUBA'S INTERNATIONAL NEWS AGENCY
> Pro-government supporters march during a rally on April 6, 2019, in Caracas, Venezuela. Image Courtesy of EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI / GETTY IMAGES
The United States is taking illegal and dangerous actions to execute regime change in Venezuela. In January, Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president,” in a strategy orchestrated by the United States to seize power from President Nicolás Maduro.
In March, Guaidó announced that “Operation Freedom,” an organization established to overthrow the Maduro government, would take certain “tactical actions” beginning on April 6. Part of the plan anticipates that the Venezuelan military will turn against Maduro.
This strategy is detailed in a 75-page regime change manual prepared by the U.S. Global Development Lab, a branch of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The manual advocates the creation of rapid expeditionary development teams to partner with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces to conduct “a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations [in] in extremis conditions.”
Some of these actions will, in all likelihood, involve combat operations. A USAID official said, “Anybody who doesn’t think we need to be working in combat elements or working with SF [special forces] groups is just naïve.”
The manual was written by members of Frontier Design Group (FDG), a national security contractor whose “work has focused on the wicked and sometimes overlapping problem sets of fragility, violent extremism, terrorism, civil war, and insurgency,” according to its mission statement. FDG was the “sole contractor” that USAID hired to write a “new counterinsurgency doctrine for the Trump administration,” Tim Shorrock wrote at Washington Babylon.
Guaidó is funded by USAID’s sister organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, which is notorious for meddling in other countries and putting a good face on the CIA’s dirty business, as the late journalist William Blum explained.
Writing in Salon, Medea Benjamin and Nicolás J. S. Davies cited Blum’s statement that the United States generally opts for “low-intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. They noted that “’low-intensity conflict’ involves four tools of regime change: sanctions or economic warfare; propaganda or ‘information warfare’; covert and proxy war; and aerial bombardment. In Venezuela,” they added, “the U.S. has used the first and second, with the third and fourth now ‘on the table’ since the first two have created chaos but so far not toppled the government.”
Indeed, a combination of punishing sanctions imposed by the United States and blackouts exploited if not engineered by the U.S. have been unsuccessful in removing Maduro and installing Guaidó.
U.S. Sanctions Intensify Suffering of Venezuelan People
The Venezuelan economy was in dire straits before the Trump administration imposed harsher sanctions in January.
Crude oil production in Venezuela fell by 142,000 barrels a day in February, according to OPEC. “This shows that the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in January had an immediate, very harsh impact on Venezuela’s economy, and on the general population, which depends on the export revenue from oil for essential imports inclu
ding medicine, food, medical equipment, and other life-saving necessities,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, stated.
If this drop in oil production continues at the same rate, Venezuela stands to lose more than $2.5 billion in oil revenues during the next year. The U.S.-imposed sanctions will speed that decline.
On April 4, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Human Rights Watch issued a 71-page report documenting food and medicine shortages and sharp increases in disease throughout Venezuela. They characterize the situation as a humanitarian emergency and recommend a full-scale response by the United Nations secretary general.
U.S. Misuses Humanitarian Aid as a “Political Weapon”
Guaidó’s opposition “plans to use aid as their chief political weapon,” according to The New York Times.
Although in February, the United States tried to deliver humanitarian assistance to Venezuela though Colombia, Maduro refused to accept it.
“The U.S. misuse of ‘humanitarian assistance’ as a cover for smuggling weapons and other non ‘humanitarian’ items also has a long history” in Latin American countries, Alfred De Zayas, former UN special rapporteur in Venezuela, said in an interview with AntiDiplomatico. De Zayas called out the United States for its hypocritical policy: “It is not possible to be a major cause of the economic crisis — having imposed … sanctions, financial blockades and economic war — and then mutating into a good Samaritan.”
The U.S. government’s cynical strategy is to increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people, in hopes they will rise up against Maduro. This flawed approach was used by the Eisenhower administration after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. It was based on a State Department memo that proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Fidel Castro] government.” The U.S. economic blockade against Cuba continues to hurt the people but they have not overthrown their government.
At the end of March, the Venezuelan government and the opposition agreed that the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would establish a global relief campaign for humanitarian aid.
Venezuela has asked for and received assistance from the United Nations, Russia, China, Turkey, India and Cuba, De Zayas reported, “but that was humanitarian and offered in good faith and without strings attached. U.S. aid is the ‘fruit of the poison tree.’”
On April 3, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has helped lead the charge for regime change in Venezuela, introduced a 76-page bill in the Senate that would approve $400 million in assistance to Venezuela and take steps to facilitate regime change. It would assess “the declining cohesion inside the Venezuelan military and security forces and the Maduro regime,” and “describe the f
actors that would accelerate the decision making of individuals to break with the Maduro regime” and recognize Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.
The Rubio bill would also require briefing on “the full extent of cooperation by” Russia, China, Cuba and Iran with the Maduro government.
U.S. Opposes Russia-Venezuela Cooperation
At the end of March, the Russian government sent 100 troops to Venezuela. Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “Russian specialists … arrived in accordance with the clauses of a bilateral agreement on technical-military cooperation.”
In early April, Russia announced plans to install a training facility for military helicopters in Venezuela. The Trump administration is rattling its sabers at Russia. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warnedthat the United States considers the presence of military forces from outside the Western Hemisphere a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region.”
Russia, however, denies that its military presence in Venezuela poses a military threat. “The Russian side did not violate anything: neither the international agreements nor Venezuelan laws,” according to Zakharova.
Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza cited the hypocrisy of U.S. policy. He said it is “such cynicism that a country with more than 800 military bases around the world, much of them in Latin America, and a growing military budget of more than US$700 billion, intends to interfere with the military-technical cooperation program between Russia and Venezuela.”
In late March, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill called the “Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act” to gauge Russia’s influence in Venezuela. It aims to devise a strategy “to counter threats … from Russian-Venezuelan cooperation.” The bill also requires assessment of “national security risks posed by potential Russian acquisition of CITGO’s United States energy infrastructure holdings.”
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, an organization of former intelligence officers and other national security practitioners, wrote in a memo to Donald Trump, “Your Administration’s policies regarding Venezuela appear to be on a slippery slope that could take us toward war in Venezuela and military confrontation with Russia.”
The U.S. government has also threatened Cuba for its support of Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration would take “strong action not only to isolate Venezuela but also we’re looking at strong action against Cuba.” On April 5, Pence announced that the United States is imposing sanctions on two companies that deliver Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba. And, egged on by Rubio, Trump is considering extending the economic blockade against Cuba.
Forcible Regime Change Is Illegal
The United Nations Charter prohibits the use or threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another nation. Likewise, the Charter of the Organization of American States forbids any country from intervening in the internal or external affairs of another nation. And the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to self-determination.
Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of sanctions, said, “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state.”
In mid-March, nearly 40 organizations, including CODEPINK, American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Just Foreign Policy and VoteVets, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging support for the bipartisan measure, H.R. 1004 – “Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act.” The groups called it “a critical safeguard against unconstitutional U.S. military action.”
H.R. 1004 “prohibits funds made available to federal departments or agencies from being used to introduce the Armed Forces of the United States into hostilities with Venezuela, except pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) a specific statutory authorization that meets the requirements of the War Powers Resolution and is enacted after the enactment of this bill, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States or the Armed Forces.”
It is imperative that Congress invoke the War Powers Resolution, passed in the wake of the Vietnam War, to prevent the president from escalating the dangerous U.S. economic and military aggression against Venezuela. On April 4, for the first time since its enactment, Congress used the War Powers Resolution to end unauthorized U.S. military involvement in Yemen.
Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
Global News Aruba offers factual information and viewpoints that might be useful in arriving at an understanding of the events of our time. We believe that the information comes from reliable sources, but cannot guarantee the information to be free of mistakes and incorrect interpretations. Global News Aruba its associates, the editor in Chief Norberto Tjon Ajong has no official position on any issue and does not necessarily endorse the statements of any contributor. For more information on any article or news reports of or by Dr Marjorie Cohn contact the journalist, writer, columnist or contributor Attorney Marjorie Cohn at www.truthout.org
President Trump arrives before delivering the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C.ZACH GIBSON / GETTY IMAGES
' Trump Moves the World Closer to “Doomsday” '
By Prof. Juris Doctor Marjorie Cohn
Signature News Reporter and Contributor
GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA
AINA - ARUBA'S INTERNATIONAL NEWS AGENCY
In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union adopted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to eliminate missiles on hair-trigger alert for nuclear war due to their short flight times. It was the first time the two countries agreed to destroy nuclear weapons. That treaty outlawed nearly 2,700 ballistic or land-based cruise missiles with a range of roughly 300 to 3,000 miles.
The Trump administration thought nothing of pulling out of the INF. On February 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the treaty, starting a dangerous chain reaction that brings us closer to nuclear war. Russia followed suit and pulled out of the treaty the next day.
Then the three countries with the largest nuclear arsenals quickly test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. France conducted a test of its medium-range air-to-surface missile on February 4. The next day, the United States fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And an hour and a half later, Russia launched an RS-24 Yars ICBM.
Richard Burt participated in the negotiations of the INF during the Reagan administration. Last fall, he predicted that U.S. withdrawal would lead to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range missiles and the United States’ development of new sea- and air-based weapons systems. Sure enough, on February 4, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced his country plans to build mid-range, nuclear-capable missiles within two years.
“New intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles and low-yield warheads now being planned both in Russia and United States are nothing other than filed-down triggers to all-out thermonuclear war,” Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, told Truthout. He warns of “nuclear winter,” which is the end of civilization as we know it. A consultant to the Defense Department and the White House in 1961, Ellsberg drafted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, concurs. “Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around.”
Trump’s Actions Undermine Nuclear Disarmament
The adoption of the INF led to the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which considerably reduced the number of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. The New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads from a maximum of 2,200 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Trump’s cavalier withdrawal from INF does not portend well for the renewal of New START in 2021.
Moreover, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. This new U.S. policy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited by international law.
Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie. But this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.
The Nuclear Posture Review also violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a party. This treaty requires parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
The Doomsday Clock Says “Two Minutes to Midnight”
In order to convey the urgency of the threat to humanity and the planet, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. It uses imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to either move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year. The Clock is a universally recognized measure of vulnerability to catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change or other emerging technologies that could pose a threat. On January 24, the Bulletin once again kept the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. And that was before the U.S. and Russia pulled out of the INF.
“Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie,” Ellsberg warned. “But the weapons in their quick-draw holsters are not pistols; they are doomsday machines. And this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.”
In his book, Ellsberg proposes the U.S. government undertake the following measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons:
- A U.S. no-first-use policy;
- Probing investigative hearings on war plans to avoid nuclear winter;
- Eliminating ICBMs;
- Ending the pretense of preemptive damage-limiting by first-strike forces;
- Foregoing profits, jobs and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense; and
- Otherwise dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Ellsberg calls the American Doomsday Machine.
On January 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a good first step. They introduced the No First Use Act, to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to fire nuclear weapons firstso “that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”
The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.
The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) forbids ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. The treaty, adopted in 2017, will enter into force after 50 nations have ratified it. Thus far, it has 21 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed countries, which also happen to be the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, France, China and the U.K. — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not agreed to it.
Resistance against nuclear weapons also takes the form of civil disobedience, such as the recent action by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7
When I was growing up in the early days of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear annihilation was pervasive. Although U.S. nuclear weapons have been on hair trigger alert for 73 years, “nuclear weapons have become normal,” Patrick O’Neill told Truthout. He and six other Catholic activists are facing up to 25 years in prison for their symbolic action to disarm the nuclear weapons on Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. They chose April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to mount their protest.
In May 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass, stemming from their action at the Kings Bay Naval Base. The base is homeport to six nuclear ballistic missile submarines each armed with 16 Trident II missiles. They carried with them a copy of Ellsberg’s book and left it on the base.
The defendants, who will likely go to trial this spring, maintain that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction is illegal, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 spokesperson Bill Ofenloch told Truthout. They are also arguing that their prosecution violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their actions were motivated by their Catholic belief that nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The Act was passed in 1993 to strengthen protection of free exercise of religion. Finally, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are claiming that Trump’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and his illegal conduct have not been prosecuted, so the government’s decision to prosecute only those who protest against nuclear weapons constitutes unlawful selective prosecution.
Co-defendant Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day. The movement, founded in 1933, comprises 203 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken. Catholic Workers protest war, racism, violence and injustice. (The Catholic Worker newspaper is still published and sells for a penny a copy.)
Hennessy told Truthout, “The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.” She warns, “This is empire run amok, we have lost our democracy, let us pray we don’t lose our world and each other.”
It is incumbent upon all of us to resist the inexorable march toward nuclear winter. We must join together in coalitions and protest to Congress, the White House, in writing and in the streets. There is no time to lose. It is two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.
Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
"Pentagon to Allow Nuclear Responses to Non-Nuclear Attacks"
By Prof. Juris Doctor Marjorie Cohn
Signature News Reporter and Contributor
Global News Aruba
(Image Courtesy of rudall30 / Shutterstock)
Amid the media frenzy surrounding the Nunes-Trump memo, the Pentagon officially released its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) last week. The NPR calls for the development of leaner, meaner nuclear weapons and lowers the threshold for the use of nukes. Donald Trump must be thrilled. During the presidential campaign, he questioned a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing, asking, “If we had them why can’t we use them?”
This new strategy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited under international law
The NPR calls for “low-yield” nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles — weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For the first time, the new NPR states that the United States could use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.” This new strategy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited under international law.
In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that while the use of nuclear weapons might be lawful when used in self-defense if the survival of the nation were at stake, a first-strike use would not be.
The ICJ held in its “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons” case that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.”
“However,” the IJC continued, “the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”
Framing Russia and China as Nuclear Threats
Russia, China and North Korea are singled out as potential nuclear threats in the NPR. The document “erroneously states that the United States needs new nuclear weapons because ‘China is expanding and modernizing its considerable nuclear forces’ and is pursuing ‘entirely new nuclear capabilities,'” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the UCS Global Security Program and author of the UCS’s newly released white paper, said, “There is no evidence that nuclear weapons are becoming more prominent in China’s military strategy or that China has changed its longstanding no-first-use policy.”
US casualties, Payne argued, could be limited to “approximately 20 million people,” which, he called, “a level compatible with national survival and recovery.”
The NPR has alarmed foreign leaders. Mohammad Javad Zarif, foreign minister of Iran, tweeted that the NPR brings “humankind closer to annihilation.” The United States is “shamelessly threatening Russia with a new atomic weapon,” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani stated. “The same people who supposedly believe that using weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity are talking about new weapons to threaten or use against rivals,” he added.
Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry, said in a statement, “We hope the US side will discard its ‘cold-war mentality,’ [and] shoulder its own special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament.”
Both Beijing and Moscow reaffirmed that nuclear weapons are not “first strike” weapons. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that nuclear weapons are only a defensive deterrent. He listed the following “entirely defensive scenarios” for the threshold use of nuclear weapons: “in response to an act of aggression against Russia and (or) against our allies if nuclear or other types of mass destruction weapons are used, and also … with use of conventional arms but only in case our state’s very existence would be in danger.”
Where Is This Coming From?
Keith Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy, was one of the key drafters of the NPR. In 1980, Payne astoundingly claimed in Foreign Policy that the United States could win a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. US casualties, Payne argued, could be limited to “approximately 20 million people,” which, he called, “a level compatible with national survival and recovery.”
Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, said in a statementthat the NPR is “a radical plan written by extreme elements and nuclear ideologues in Trump’s inner circle who believe nuclear weapons are a wonder drug that can solve our national security challenges. They aren’t and they can’t.”
Indeed, a retired senior Army officer told The American Conservative that the lower-yield warheads give Trump “a kind of gateway drug for nuclear war.”
“This plan would be troubling under any Administration,” Johnson observed, “but given this President’s consistent and unabashed displays of ignorance, ballistic tendencies and dehumanizing world views, we should all be on red alert.” Johnson expressed support for legislation that would restrict the first use of nuclear weapons.
Sixteen senators wrote in a letter to Trump on January 29, “[Y]our NPR would undermine decades of U.S. leadership on efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.”
The senators noted that the NPR fails to mention Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which enshrines a commitment “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” The United States is a party to the NPT.
A “senior nuclear thinker and NPR critic” explained how the document’s recommendations were developed. “[T]he story you won’t hear is how this really came about,” he told The American Conservative. “One day, Sean Hannity got on television and talked about how we need more nuclear weapons and Donald Trump heard this and went over to the Pentagon and presto, we got Keith Payne and his crew. That’s the truth, and that’s what got us to where we are.”
Apparently, Hannity, whose hype on Fox News about the Nunes-Trump memo continues to poison the national debate, is becoming Trump’s main foreign policy guru.
Sixty percent of Americans don’t trust Trump with nuclear weapons, according to a recent NBC News/Washington Post poll.
Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.