Two American journalists known for their investigations of the United States’ government said Saturday they’ve teamed up to report on the National Security Agency’s role in what one called a “U.S. assassination program.”
The journalists provided no evidence of the purported U.S. program at the news conference, nor details of who it targeted.
Jeremy Scahill, a contributor to The Nation magazine and the New York Times best-selling author of “Dirty Wars,” said he will be working with Glenn Greenwald, the Rio-based journalist who has written stories about U.S. surveillance programs based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The connections between war and surveillance are clear. I don’t want to give too much away but Glenn and I are working on a project right now that has at its center how the National Security Agency plays a significant, central role in the U.S. assassination program,” said Scahill, speaking to moviegoers in Rio de Janeiro, where the documentary based on his book made its Latin American debut at the Rio Film Festival.
“There are so many stories that are yet to be published that we hope will produce ‘actionable intelligence,’ or information that ordinary citizens across the world can use to try to fight for change, to try to confront those in power,” said Scahill.
By Steven Garbas
Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. The most cited living source in the world, his theories have been extremely influential in the fields of analytic philosophy, psychology, modern language, and computer science. He has written over 100 books examining the media, US foreign policy, social issues, Latin American and European history, and more.
We met with Professor Chomsky in Cambridge in May to discuss the development of the drone era under president Obama.
* * *
NC: Just driving in this morning I was listening to NPR news. The program opened by announcing, very excitedly, that the drone industry is exploding so fast that colleges are trying to catch up and opening new programs in the engineering schools and so on, and teaching drone technology because that’s what students are dying to study because of the fantastic number of jobs going on.
And it’s true. If you look at the public reports, you can imagine what the secret reports are. It’s been known for a couple of years, but we learn more and more that drones, for one thing, are already being given to police departments for surveillance. And they are being designed for every possible purpose. I mean, theoretically, maybe practically, you could have a drone the size of a fly which could be buzzing around over there [points to window] listening to what we’re talking about. And I’d suspect that it won’t be too long before that becomes realistic.
And of course they are being used to assassinate. There’s a global assassination campaign going on which is pretty interesting when you look into how it’s done. I presume everyone’s read the front page of the New York Times story, which is more or less a leak from the White House, because they are apparently proud of how the global assassination campaign works. Basically President Obama and his national security advisor, John Brennan, now head of the CIA, get together in the morning. And Brennan’s apparently a former priest. They talk about St. Augustine and his theory of just war, and then they decide who is going to be killed today.
And the criteria are quite interesting. For example, if, say, in Yemen a group of men are spotted by a drone assembling near a truck, it’s possible that they might be planning to do something that would harm us, so why don’t we make sure and kill them? And there’s other things like that.
And questions did come up about what happened to due process, which is supposedly the foundation of American law—it actually goes back to Magna Carta, 800 years ago—what about that? And the justice department responded. Attorney General Holder said that they are receiving due process because it’s “discussed in the executive branch.” King John in the 13th century, who was compelled to sign Magna Carta, would have loved that answer. But that’s where we’re moving. The foundations of civil law are simply being torn to shreds. This is not the only case, but it’s the most striking one.
And the reactions are pretty interesting. It tells you a lot about the mentality of the country. So one column, I think it was Joe Klein, a bit of a liberal columnist for one of the journals, was asked about a case in which four little girls were killed by a drone strike. And his answer was something like, “Well, better that their little girls should be killed than ours.” So in other words, maybe this stopped something that would ultimately harm us.
There is a reservation in the United Nations Charter that allows the use of force without Security Council authorization, a narrow exception in Article 51. But it specifically refers to “imminent attack” that’s either underway or imminent so clearly that there is no time for reflection. It’s a doctrine that goes back to Daniel Webster, the Caroline Doctrine, which specifies these conditions. That’s been torn to shreds. Not just the drone attacks, but for a long time.
And so slowly the foundations of liberty are ripped to shreds, torn apart. Actually Scott Shane, one of the authors of the Times story, did write an article responding to the various criticisms that appeared. His ending was quite appropriate, I thought. He said something like, “Look, it’s better than Dresden.” Isn’t it? Yeah. It’s better than Dresden. So that’s the bar: we don’t want to just totally destroy everything. We’ll just kill them because maybe someday they will harm us. Maybe. Meanwhile, well of course, what are we doing to them?
I think it’s everything from that to surveillance systems that will be of unimaginable scale and character. And of course now data can be collected endlessly. In fact Obama supposedly has a data storage system being constructed in Utah somewhere where all kinds of data are being poured in. Who knows what? Probably all your emails, all your telephone conversations, someday what you’re saying to people in the streets, where you’ve been lately, you know, who do you talk to, probably a ton of stuff like that will be there. Does it mean anything? Actually, probably not as much as many people fear. I don’t think that that data is actually usable. In fact I think, I suspect it’s usable only for one purpose: if the government for one reason or another is homing in on someone. They want to know something about this guy, well, then they can find data about him. But beyond that, history and experience suggest that there’s not much that can be done about it.
Even 40 years ago, 50 years ago—I actually was involved at the time in trials of the resistance against the Vietnam War. I was an unindicted co-conspirator in one trial, coming up for trial myself, and following other trials. I got to look fairly carefully at what prosecutions were like based on FBI data about people. They were comical. I mean, there were cases where they picked the wrong people. They picked one person, they meant someone else. In one of the trials, I kept being confused with a guy named Hershel Cominsky; they could never get the Jewish names straight. Unbelievable. In fact, in the Spock trial they really angered two people: Mark Raskin, who they put on trial and he didn’t want to be on trial, and Art Waskow, who did want to be put on trial and who they didn’t put on trial. It’s possible that Waskow was the person that they were looking for, but they couldn’t distinguish him from Raskin. And they just couldn’t put cases together.
1967 Vietnam protests outside of the Pentagon
The Spock trial is a very interesting case. I followed that one closely. That’s the one where I was an unindicted co-conspirator, so I was sitting in with the defense team, talking to the lawyers and knew all the people. The prosecutor, being the FBI, put on such a rotten case in the prosecution that the defense decided just to rest. They didn’t put on a defense, because the defense would have just tied together things that they hadn’t found. It was a conspiracy trial; all they had to do was tie things together. And it was transparent because it was all happening totally publicly. That was the whole point. And the FBI apparently was simply ignoring everything that was public, not believing it, which is almost all there was. Almost all there was; not everything. And looking for some kind of secret connections to who-knows-what, North Korea or whatever was in their minds.
But here they have plenty of data, right in front of their eyes and they don’t know how to use it. And I think that there is quite a lot of that.
SG: Getting back to that New York Times article that you mentioned: It outlines the process behind the “kill list” and the Pentagon-run meetings where they determine if a name can be added. Traditionally, presidents have kept a distance from legally murky CIA operations. But the Times article says that Obama is the final authority on a name being added to the list. Can you comment on the existence of the list and how close Obama is to the process?
NC: Well, any of these lists should be subjected to severe criticism. Including the terrorist list. Now there is a list of terrorists, you know, a State Department list of terrorists. Just take a look at it one day. Nelson Mandela was on the list until four years ago. There’s a reason: Ronald Reagan was a strong supporter of apartheid, and one of the last, practically until the end. And certainly at the end of his term, he continued to support the apartheid regime. In 1988 the ANC, Mandela’s African National Congress, was declared to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world.
Nelson Mandela casting his vote in the 1994 South African general elections. He remained on the official US terrorist list for decades after
So that’s justification for supporting the apartheid regime: It’s part of Reagan’s war on terror. He’s the one that declared the war on terror, not Bush. Part of it was, “We have to defend the white regime against the terrorists of the ANC.” Then Mandela stayed on the list. It’s only in the last couple of years that he can travel to the United States without special authorization.
That’s the terrorist list. There are other cases. So take, for example, Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein had been officially considered a terrorist. He was taken off the list by Ronald Reagan and his administration in 1982 because the United States wanted to provide aid and support to Saddam—which they incidentally did, and tried to cover up, for all sorts of things. But, ok, so he’s taken off the list. They have an empty spot. So what do they do? They put Cuba on.
First of all, Cuba had been the target of more international terrorism than probably the rest of the world combined ever since Kennedy launched his terrorist war against Cuba. But it actually peaked in the late ’70s. Shooting down an airliner and killing 70 people, blowing up embassies, all kinds of things. So here’s the country that’s the target of more terrorism than anyone else, and they are put on the terrorist list to replace Saddam Hussein, who we [later] have to eliminate because we don’t want to support him.
What that tells you is quite incredible if you think it through. Of course, it’s never discussed, which also tells you something. But that’s the kind of question we should be asking about the terrorist list: Who is on it and why? Furthermore, what justification does it have?
It’s a decision in the executive branch of the government, not subject to judicial or any other review. They say, “You’re on the terrorist list!” Ok. You’re targeted for anything.
And other lists are like that too. McCarthy’s famous lists are minor examples. These are serious examples, these are official government lists. So to start with, we should put aside the idea that there is any sanctity, even authority, to the list. There isn’t. These are just state decisions at the whim of the executive for whatever reasons they may have. Not the kind of thing you ever have any respect for. Certainly not in this case.
SG: Sometime in the distant future, could there be blame placed directly on Obama legally just because of his close association with the kill list?
NC: I’m sure he knows it. I suspect that’s one of the reasons he’s been very scrupulous about exculpating all previous administrations. So no prosecution of Dick Cheney or George Bush or Rumsfeld for torture, let alone for aggression. We can’t even talk about that. Apparently the US is just exempt from any charges of aggression.
Actually, it’s not too well known, but as far back as the ’40s the US exempted itself. So the United States helped establish the modern World Court in 1946, but it added a reservation: That the United States cannot be charged with violation of international treaties. What they had in mind, of course, was the UN Charter, the foundation of modern international law. And the OAS Charter, charter of the Organization of American States. The OAS Charter has a very strong statement that they demand of any Latin American countries against any form of intervention. Clearly, the US wasn’t going to be limited by that. And the UN Charter, along with the Nuremberg principle, which entered into it, had a very harsh condemnation of aggression, which is pretty well defined. And they understood that, of course. They could read the words of the US Special Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson, who spoke pretty eloquently to the tribunal and said when they handed the death penalty to the people, primarily for committing what they considered the “supreme international crime”—namely aggression, but lots of others—that they were “handing these people a poisoned chalice, and if we sip from it, we must be subject to the same judgment or else the whole proceedings are a farce.” Not well said, but it should be obvious. But there’s a reservation that excludes the US.
Signing of the UN Charter in 1945
Actually, the US is excluded from other treaties too. Essentially all. If you take a look at the few international conventions that are signed and ratified, they almost always have an exception saying “not applicable to the United States.” It’s called non-self executing. Meaning, this needs specific legislation to exact it. This is true, for example, for the Genocide Convention. And it came up in the courts. After the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Yugoslavia did bring a charge against NATO to the court, and the court accepted the charge. The rules of the court are that a state is only subject to charges if it accepts court jurisdiction. And the NATO countries all accepted court jurisdiction, with one exception. The US addressed the court and pointed out that the US is not subject to the Genocide Convention. One of the charges was genocide. So the US is not subject to the Genocide Convention because of our usual exemption.
So the immunity from prosecution is not just practiced, and of course the culture—it couldn’t be even imagined in the culture, which is an interesting comment about the culture. But also even just legally.
In fact, the same question might be asked about torture. The Bush administration has been accused, widely and prominently, of implementing torture. But if it ever came to trial I think a defense lawyer might have a stand to take: The US never really signed the UN Torture Convention. It did sign and ratify it, but only after it was rewritten by the Senate. And it was rewritten specifically to exclude the forms of torture used by the CIA, which they had borrowed from the Russian KGB.
It’s well studied by Alfred McCoy, one of the leading scholars that has dealt with torture. He points out that the KGB/CIA tortures, they apparently discovered that the best way to turn a person into a vegetable is what’s called “mental torture.” Not electrodes to the genitals, but the kinds of things that you see in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, which are called mental tortures. They don’t leave marks on the body, essentially. That’s the best way and we do them. In fact, we do it in supermax prisons all the time. And so the treaty was rewritten to exclude the kind of things that the CIA does and that we do and in fact are done routinely at home, although that didn’t come up. And it was then signed into domestic legislation, I think under Clinton.
So is the Bush Administration even guilty of torture under international law? It’s not entirely obvious. In fact it’s not entirely obvious who would be. To get back to your original question, I think Obama has serious reasons for making sure that, as he puts it, “it’s time to look forward, not backward.” That’s the standard position of a criminal.
SG: In some of the documents that were leaked and obtained in the last month, one of the things published in the Times and in McClatchy talked about how the CIA had reduced its use of black sites in part because of fear of prosecution, that their officials might be charged as war criminals. So considering what you’ve just described, why would the CIA be afraid enough to adjust its policies?
NC: Well, what they’re afraid of, I would suspect, is the kind of things that Henry Kissinger is apparently afraid of when he travels abroad. There is a concept of “universal jurisdiction” which is pretty widely held. It means if a war criminal, a person who has carried out really serious war crimes, major crimes—doesn’t have to be war crimes—arrives in your territory, that country has a right to bring him to judicial process. And it’s called “universal jurisdiction.” It’s kind of a shady area of international affairs, but it has been applied. The Pinochet case in London was a famous case. The British court decided that yes, they had a right to send him back to Chile for trial.
And there are other cases. By now, for example, there are recent cases where Israeli high officials have been wary of coming to London, and in some cases their trips have been called off because they could be subject to universal jurisdiction. And it’s been reported, at least, that the same is true of some of Kissinger’s concerns. And I think that’s probably what he’s referring to. You can’t be sure that . . . you know, power’s getting more diversified in the world. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but nothing like it once was. There are many examples of that. And you can’t be sure what others will do.
And a striking example of the restrictions of US power in this regard came out in a study that was reported, but I don’t think that the really important part of it was reported—that’s a study on globalizing torture put out by the Open Society Forum a couple of weeks ago. You’ll find it in the press. It was a study of rendition. Rendition, incidentally, is a major crime that, again, goes back to Magna Carta, explicitly. Sending people across the seas for torture. But that’s open policy now. And this was a study of which countries participated in it. And it turned out that it was over 50 countries, most of Europe, Middle East, which is where they were sent for torture. That’s where the dictators were, Asia and Africa. One continent was totally missing. Not a single country was willing to participate in this major crime: Latin America. And one person did point this out, Greg Grandin, a Latin Americanist at NYU, but he’s the only person I saw who pointed it out.
That’s extremely important. Latin America used to be the “backyard.” They did what we said or else we overthrew the governments. Well, furthermore, during these years it was one of the global centers of torture. But now US power has declined sufficiently so that the traditional, most reliable servants are simply saying no. It’s striking. And it’s not the only example. So, going back to universal jurisdiction, you can’t really be sure what others will do.
You know, I have to say, I never expected much of Obama, to tell you the truth, but the one thing that surprised me is relentless assaults on civil liberties. I just don’t understand them.
Guardian piece on the legendary journalist Seymour Hersh, 76, holding forth to young English journalism students.
He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.
Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
Other great stuff:
“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says…
If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn’t stop with newspapers.
“I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let’s start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won’t like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” he says….
“The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.” And he implores journalists to do something about it.
(One comment. The guy’s an investigative journalist. I remember when Hersh fired me with a passion for investigative journalism, back in 1975; he visited my college newspaper and when I asked him what to investigate said that Harvard had likely cooked its admissions standards to exclude radical troublemakers. I couldn’t confirm this. I lacked the chops. At that time, Nick Lemann said “to be an investigative journalist, you have to have a low threshhold for outrage.” Wonderful insight.)
Jeremy R. Hammond
This essay is available in PDF format. It’s free to download, but please consider making a donation to support my work.
There is a widely accepted belief that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 “created” Israel, based upon an understanding that this resolution partitioned Palestine or otherwise conferred legal authority or legitimacy to the declaration of the existence of the state of Israel. However, despite its popularity, this belief has no basis in fact, as a review of the resolution’s history and examination of legal principles demonstrates incontrovertibly.
Great Britain had occupied Palestine during the First World War, and in July 1922, the League of Nations issued its mandate for Palestine, which recognized the British government as the occupying power and effectively conferred to it the color of legal authority to temporarily administrate the territory. On April 2, 1947, seeking to extract itself from the conflict that had arisen in Palestine between Jews and Arabs as a result of the Zionist movement to establish in Palestine a “national home for the Jewish people”, the United Kingdom submitted a letter to the U.N. requesting the Secretary General “to place the question of Palestine on the Agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular Annual Session”, and requesting the Assembly “to make recommendations, under Article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine.” To that end, on May 15, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 106, which established the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate “the question of Palestine”, to “prepare a report to the General Assembly” based upon its findings, and to “submit such proposals as it may consider appropriate for the solution of the problem of Palestine”.
On September 3, UNSCOP issued its report to the General Assembly declaring its majority recommendation that Palestine be partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states. It noted that the population of Palestine at the end of 1946 was estimated to be almost 1,846,000, with 1,203,000 Arabs (65 percent) and 608,000 Jews (33 percent). Growth of the Jewish population had been mainly the result of immigration, while growth of the Arab population had been “almost entirely” due to natural increase. It observed that there was “no clear territorial separation of Jews and Arabs by large contiguous areas”, and even in the Jaffa district, which included Tel Aviv, Arabs constituted a majority. Land ownership statistics from 1945 showed that Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district in Palestine. The district with the highest percentage of Jewish ownership was Jaffa, where 39 percent of the land was owned by Jews, compared to 47 percent owned by Arabs. In the whole of Palestine at the time UNSCOP issued its report, Arabs owned 85 percent of the land, while Jews owned less than 7 percent.
Despite these facts, the UNSCOP proposal was that the Arab state be constituted from only 45.5 percent of the whole of Palestine, while the Jews would be awarded 55.5 percent of the total area for their state. The UNSCOP report acknowledged that
With regard to the principle of self-determination, although international recognition was extended to this principle at the end of the First World War and it was adhered to with regard to the other Arab territories, at the time of the creation of the ‘A’ Mandates, it was not applied to Palestine, obviously because of the intention to make possible the creation of the Jewish National Home there. Actually, it may well be said that the Jewish National Home and the sui generis Mandate for Palestine run counter to that principle.
In other words, the report explicitly recognized that the denial of Palestinian independence in order to pursue the goal of establishing a Jewish state constituted a rejection of the right of the Arab majority to self-determination. And yet, despite this recognition, UNSCOP had accepted this rejection of Arab rights as being within the bounds of a legitimate and reasonable framework for a solution.
In News on September 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Allow me to be the first to announce that TED is dead. Why? Because the group that organizes so-called “TED talks” has been thoroughly hijacked by corporate junk science and now openly rejects any talks about GMOs, food as medicine, or even the subject of how food can help prevent behavioral disorders in children. All these areas of discussion are now red-flagged from being presented on any TED stage.
This is openly admitted by TEDx itself in a little-known letter publicly published on December 7, 2012. Click here to view the letter.
Climate Change Is Man-Made, UN Panel 95% Certain
In 24 hours, the world’s top scientists will release the most important report in decades: proving once and for all that climate change is a massive threat, but that government action now can stop catastrophe. It’s a global wake up call to save our planet, but big oil and dirty energy have a powerful bully who’s rallying to stop the truth from coming out.
Rupert Murdoch owns hundreds of major media outlets including ultra conservative Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and he’s using his media power to help his oil buddies stop governments acting to curb their profits. In the US alone, a shocking 80% of climate stories from Murdoch’s select papers mislead readers about global warming! Now he’s set his sights on this groundbreaking report, and his media empire will dominate the conversation unless people around the world stand together and drown him out.
Battles like this are won or lost in the court of public opinion. One giant global petition supporting climate truth plus letters to the editor, tweets, social media messages could be the blows we need to win this fight. Let’s call Murdoch out now and persuade him to back off his attack on science and report the truth. Join now and spread the word — when our call reaches 1 million we’ll send a group of the world’s best scientists to directly give him the facts:
This report written by 2000(!) scientists will be the most comprehensive body of evidence on global warming in years. It states that global warming is “unequivocally” human made, and that urgent action is required by our governments to avert the impact it could have on our earth through droughts, storms, sea level rise, melting glaciers and ice sheets. Climate change will affect all of us, starting with our coral islands, our crops, our seas, and our coastal cities, everywhere!
But acting to reverse the damage to our planet will take courage and politicians have used the false “climate debate” fueled by right-wing climate deniers as excuses for inaction. That’s why big oil and energy spend so much time funding junk science to question the fact of climate change and the plan needed to reverse its devastation. Murdoch is such a powerful friend because he gives the junk tons of media play around the world. Others join in and they drag more balanced media down as editors feel compelled to mention this phony debate in the name of “objectivity”.
Government representatives are sitting down with the scientists right now to determine what this report means and what needs to be done. It could be the catalyst for global action that is vital to salvage our earth, but if our media outlets follow Murdoch’s lead, we’ll lose this key moment for visionary policy that is critical to stop the global crisis of our time.
Let’s get the media to report the truth, end the false climate debate and start the serious battle to end climate change. Sign the petition now to call out Murdoch’s spin:
Scientists say if we don’t act now, it’s over. We will simply tip over the point where we can stop the impact of global warming. Our political leaders are beginning to recognize that they must act. The dirty polluters and media mafia will all do their best to keep their income coming in, but momentum and truth are on our side. If we come together, we know we can stop the wacko noise and save the future for our children and grandchildren, but we must win this battle now.
Alice, Jamie, Iain, Luis, Emma, Bissan, Laura, Ricken, Jooyea and the rest of the Avaaz team
What 95% certainty of warming means to scientists (Huffington Post)
The 5 stages of climate denial are on display ahead of the IPCC report (The Guardian)
Is News Corp. Failing Science? (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Dollars for Deniers: Big Oil Funds Climate Science Denialism (Daily Kos)
Global Warming Is Very Real (Rolling Stone)
Climate Change Report From UN Introduces Purple Color To Depict Worsening Climate Risks (Associated Press)
Rupert Murdoch’s Newspapers Mislead Public On Climate Change and Environment (DeSmog Blog)
|Support the Avaaz Community!|
|We’re entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way.|
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set to issue its strongest warning yet that climate change is caused by humans, and that the world will see more heat waves, droughts and floods unless governments take action to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The IPCC report, released every six years, incorporates the key findings from thousands of articles published in scientific journals, concluding with at least 95 percent certainty that human activities have caused most of Earth’s temperature rise since 1950, and will continue to do so in the future. “Drought is the number one threat we face from climate change because it affects the two things we need to live: food and water,” says Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground. We also speak to Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] is set to issue, Friday, it’s strongest warning yet that climate change is caused by humans and will cause more heat waves, droughts, and floods unless governments take action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The IPCC releases their report every six years. It incorporates the key findings from thousands of articles published in scientific journals. The IPCC began meeting earlier this week in Stockholm ahead of the report’s release. This is the IPCC Chairperson Rajendra Pachauri.
RAJENDRA PACHAURI: This working group one session will approve the summary of policymakers an acceptable report. This is happening at a time when the world is awaiting the outcome of this session with great expectation because of its obvious significance in respect of the current status of global negotiations, and the ongoing debate on actions to deal with the challenge of climate change.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The IPCC report is expected to conclude with at least 95% certainty that human activities have caused most of earth’s temperature rise since 1950, and will continue to do so in the future. That is up from a confidence level of 90% in 2007 report, the last or the assessment came out. Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute released a report this week by group of climate change skeptics called a Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change or NIPCC. The 1200 page report disputes the reality of man-made climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: For more Greenpeace International’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo remains with us and we’re joined by Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at The Weather Underground. On Friday, he’ll host the Weather Channel’s live coverage of the release of the IPCC’s report. He is joining us here in New York studio ahead of attending Climate Week in New York. Today he moderates a panel on innovative ways to combat climate change. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!. Jeff Masters, the significance of this report that is being released tomorrow.
JEFF MASTERS: It is huge because we only see one of these reports every six years, and it lays out a very authoritative and unarguable case, that climate change is happening, humans humans are mostly responsible, it’s going to accelerate and there are things we can do to slow down this sort of climate change upon us.
AMY GOODMAN: And this report of the nongovernmental panel, Heartland Institute?
JEFF MASTERS: It is what you’d expect from basically lobbyists who are working for the fossil fuel industry, whose profits are threatened by the scientific findings of the IPCC. You would expect this sort of blowback by the fossil fuel industry to dispute the science, to cast doubt, to play up some of the arguments against it, which really aren’t under dispute by scientists.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the conclusions are those, not just of the scientists, but also, isn’t there sovereign government involvement in the findings as well? Could you explain that for people who are not familiar with how the IPCC works.
JEFF MASTERS: The IPCC is kind of a unique hybrid because it is not just a scientific organization. All of its results have to be approved by government representatives. So, this week in Stockholm, the scientist have presented their information and each government — 195 in total — have to go line by line through the report and approve it. So, the politicians have a say in what is in the final report. As a result, the report is very conservative because everyone has to agree — it’s unanimous approval required.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff, what needs to be done?
JEFF MASTERS: We have to do two things, we have to cut down our emissions of heat trapping gases like carbon dioxide and we have to adapt, we have to get prepared for the coming climate change storm as I call it. It is already here. We are already seeing the impacts, and we better get ready.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In terms of what has been leaked about it so far, some of the conclusions may be a little bit surprising. For instance, on the relationship between climate change and hurricanes and typhoons, what do they say they’re?
JEFF MASTERS: They have reduced their amount of certainty that we’ve already seen changes in intense hurricanes due to human causes. So, that reflects kind of the going scientific work that has been happening which is not sure. There is a lot of variability in hurricanes naturally; hard to tell if they are actually changing now due to a changing climate. So, that is one positive maybe we can take out of the report. We’re not sure we’re actually seeing an impact on hurricanes and typhoons.
AMY GOODMAN: How does Colorado fit into this picture — the thousand year flood? And then in India in June, something like 5700 people died in floods.
JEFF MASTERS: One thing we are pretty sure of is that climate change is already causing an increase in extreme rainfall events, particularly in North America. These are the type of events that we saw this year in Colorado and again in Asia. We have seen an increasing number of very heavy precipitation events, the kind that are most likely to cause some of the extreme floods we’ve seen in recent years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to bring Kumi back into the conversation. You’re here for the United Nations General Assembly and obviously President Obama spoke this week at the General Assembly. Your assessment of what he did or didn’t say about climate change?
KUMI NAIDOO: He hardly mentioned climate change. The thing about it is, even the CIA and Pentagon in 2003 in a report that was present even to President Bush, which he chose to bury it as somebody who was in effect an agent of the fossil fuel industry. That report suggests in the coming decades, the biggest threat to peace, security and stability will not come from conventional threats of terrorism and so on, but will come from the impacts of climate change. So, if any head of state, any political leader is concerned about peace, security, and stability, then they should be using the platforms at the United Nations now to talk about the biggest urgency this planet has ever faced. We are talking already of serious impacts, particularly in the developing world. We are seeing lives being lost. Darfur, I would argue, as the Secretary General of the United Nations argue, the genocide in Darfur, was certainly intensified, and exacerbated as a result of climate impacts. Lake Chad, one of the largest inland seas in the world that neighbors Darfur has largely, to use the words of the Secretary General of the U.N., shrunk to the size of a pond. And then, the Sahara Desert is marching from Senegal to the Sudan southwards at the rate of one mile a year. So, water scarcity, land scarcity and together food scarcity was the trigger. So, when you see all that happening, when heads of state are talking about all these sort of interventions around chemical weapons, all of which are important, but the biggest threat to peace and security is coming already from climate change and it is going to intensify. In that sense, I was deeply disappointed that President Obama didn’t make that connection.
AMY GOODMAN: What could the U.S. be doing right now?
KUMI NAIDOO: The U.S. needs to recognize, firstly, that they are compromising their economic future because the U.S. needs to forget about the arms race, space race, and so on. The only race that is going to matter in terms of which countries and companies will be competitive in the future is those countries and companies that get as far ahead of the green race as possible. The U.S. needs to take leadership. The world is hungry for U.S. leadership in climate negotiations and —
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting, President Obama, in his speech, was making the case for how the U.S. is exceptional.
KUMI NAIDOO: Yes, and the thing about it is, that case, the way it gets read, speaking beyond climate change now, is an approach by the U.S. of do as we tell you to do, don’t do as we say — sorry, do as we say, not as we do. Because, the U.S., if you take on torture, they are signatories to the anti-torture conventions, but we’ve got waterboarding, we’ve got Guantanamo, we’ve got extraordinary rendition. On respecting human rights and not violating peoples privacy without their knowledge — people around the world are saying things like, we had so much optimism in Obama. President Obama was saying, yes we can, yes we can, but with all of this NSA spying, maybe he was saying, yes we scan, yes we scan, yes we scan.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about what is happening in Ecuador. Last month, Ecuador dropped a plan to preserve swaths of Amazon rain forest from oil drilling by having wealthy countries pay them not to drill. President Rafael Correa said “The plan to save parts of Yasuni National Park had raised only a fraction of the money sought.” He said, “The world has failed us.” This week I had a chance to interview Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño over at the Ecuador mission to the United Nations about the Yasuni-ITT Initiative. He said, simply, that it failed to attract sufficient funding.
FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] All over the world, natural resources are being exploited without a great deal of concern about the impacts of that exploitation. And we appeal to the world and we said we are willing to sacrifice 50% of the income that could potentially be generated, but the world has to contribute and we said if the international community would cover the other 50%, we were willing to completely preserve the area of the Yasuni-ITT and not exploit the oil indefinitely. But, the world’s response was negative. We only got very few million of dollars. And we said if we don’t — if the world doesn’t respond to our appeal we are going to have to exploit this oil because we need these resources and the resulting income. After having done — appealed and appealed and appealed and not see and echo to our appeal, Ecuador decided to exploit the oil without affecting the surface of Yasuni.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño. President Correa didn’t come to the U.N. He didn’t think that the way it is set up, the speeches of countries like Ecuador have an impact. But, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, what about what is going to happen to the Yasuni and how important it is?
KUMI NAIDOO: This is a tragedy that what was a innovative and creative way of ensuring that people and nature were actually protected has not been responded to by the international community. It is a reflection of a skewed sense of where we should be investing our global resources at the moment. If we look at the amount of money that is going into — taxpayer money — that is going into fossil fuel subsidies, to the tune of $1,4 trillion [$1.4 trillion] a year annually. A fraction of that money — tiny fraction of that money could have actually secured this very, very fragile part of the world. People need to realize, in the past when people talked about protecting forests, it was seen as it’s all about biodiversity, protecting certain species, and if you like nature. Today, people misunderstand that forests are the lungs of the planet. It is fundamentally connected to the challenge of climate change. Forests capture and store carbon safely. And the more we deplete our forests — and the rate we are depleting our force at the moment is every two seconds a forest the size of a football field is disappearing as we speak. So, our political leaders, but especially in rich countries who have not come up with the money I think history will judge them very, very harshly.
AMY GOODMAN: A group of leading environmentalists have sent a letter pleading with him not to move ahead, even if the international community failed him because indigenous people in the area are rising up saying, do not develop this, do not drill here. UNESCO designated the park as a world biosphere reserve. It contains 100,000 species of animal, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
KUMI NAIDOO: So, I mean, I think that underscores the disconnect with regard to getting our priorities right. And also, I think what you’re seeing, is that so long as the countries who historically built their economies on fossil fuels, the U.S. and most of the developed countries of the world, if they continue to be saying, we’re going to continue with further fossil fuel like the tar sands and fracking, and so on, it makes it really difficult for organizations like Greenpeace to actually lobby with developing countries to say, you’re going to have to leave that coal in the ground and the oil in the soil. When they say, but those folks are still continuing. So, we are playing political poker with the future of the planet and the future of our children. And what you are seeing is a terrible case of cognitive dissonance. All of the facts are telling us we are running out of time, and our leaders continue as business as usual.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeff Masters, I think you’re supposed to be on a panel with Michael Bloomberg today on this issue. He certainly has sufficient funds in his own personal bank account to help Ecuador with saving the Yasuni. You may raise the issue to him when you’re on the panel. But, I would like to ask you a little bit more about the IPCC report — what we know about it, because, obviously, it won’t be released until tomorrow. What it says about droughts and the future prospects for the planet and specifically how it relates to some of the issues or the conflicts that we are seeing the world, even now, and also about the acidity in the oceans.
JEFF MASTERS: Drought is the number-one threat we face from climate change because it affects the two things we need to live, food and water. The future projections of drought are rather frightening. We see large areas of the world, particularly the ones that are already dry, are expected to get drier, and that’s going to greatly challenge our ability to grow food there and provide water for people. I was a little disappointed in the leaked draft that I’ve seen of the IPCC report. It doesn’t mention drought at all in the text. There is a mentioned of drought in a single table that they have there showing that, well, we are not really sure we’ve seen changes in drought due to human causes yet, but, we do think the dry air is going to get drier and this is going to be a problem in the future. So, yeah, a huge issue, drought. Really not addressed very well in the summary. I’m sure the main body of the report, that will be released Monday, will talk a lot about drought. The second issue you raised, the acidity of the oceans, yeah, that we’re sure we have seen an influence. There’s been a 26% increase in the acidity of the oceans since pre-industrial times and the pH has dropped by 0.1 units. That’s going to have severe impact on the marine communities we think and it’s only going to accelerate. They’re saying, pretty much with 99% certainty the oceans are going to get more acidic and it is due to human causes.
AMY GOODMAN: On drought, can you talk about Syria?
JEFF MASTERS: Yeah. In Syria, they’re having their worst drought in over 70 years. There have been climate model studies done showing that the drought in that region of the world in particular is very likely more probable due to human causes. If you run a climate model both with and without the human increase in greenhouse gases, you see a large perturbation in the drought conditions there in the Mediterranean region. So, we’re pretty sure that drought is a factor there. And in Syria in particular, I mean, people have migrated over a million people have had to leave their homes because of drought. They moved into the cities. They don’t have jobs there. It’s caused more unrest and directly contributed to the unrest there.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s an interesting analysis. Kumi.
KUMI NAIDOO: Absolutely. Others have actually pointed to the big trigger for the conflict in Syria as being climate impacts particularly drought. But, if you look at even Egypt and you look at all the countries that went through the so-called Arab spring — I say so-called because I don’t think the struggle for justice is a seasonal activity. But, the Arab resistance, you see in all of those countries there has been water stress as well. Some of us have been saying for more than a decade now, the future will not be fought over oil, but it will be fought over water if we don’t actually get it right. I mean, our political leaders must understand people cannot drink oil, that people need — I mean, if you look at fracking in the United States, right, the potential danger that has to water security because of the impact on the water table, it is really taking risks. And in South Africa, by the way, Shell has got a contract to stop fracking in the Karoo. And again, extremely water stressed area to start with. So, we really need our political leaders to connect the dots. Because, basically, what you see as a problem is a silo mentality to governance. Because we put environment and climate change here, and we put peace and security here, we put food and agriculture here. All of these things are connected and we need the leadership we need now is leaders who can think in an intersectoral way and understand the connections of the different global problems we face.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeff Masters, once this report is issued, what happens next in terms of there are further reports that will come out in early 2014?
JEFF MASTERS: That’s right. This is only the first part of a big four-part series. This only talks about what has actually happened to the climate and what the models predict — project will happen. In March, there is going to be a whole other section which is going to talk about what are some of the impacts of this? And then there will be a further report, what can we do about it? How can we reduce the impacts? So, this is going to take over a year to play out.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Masters, skeptics are paying a lot of attention to a part of the leaked report. The IPCC said the rate of warming between ’98 and 2007 was about half the average rate since 1951.
JEFF MASTERS: They like to put in a frame something which they can use to challenge the report. I look at that sort of incidents as a speed bump on kind of the highway of climate change. We expect natural variability to play a role here. We’ve got various cycles in the atmosphere, in ocean, El Niño and La Niña, the sun changes it’s brightness some. We expect to see these sorts of slowdowns, and we expect this accelerations as well. If you go back and look at the 15-year period ending in 2006, the rate of warming was almost double what it was the previous 15 years. Nobody paid attention to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Was Colorado climate change, the 1000 year flood?
JEFF MASTERS: We can say that those sorts of events become more common. You roll the dice — you load the dice in favor of more extreme precipitation events. So, you role double sixes more often and maybe every now and then you can roll a 13.
AMY GOODMAN: Are meteorologist on television ever going to start flashing those words “climate change” as often as they flash the words “extreme weather” or “severe weather”?
JEFF MASTERS: Depends on what there producer says. They are beholden to what the producer says and some are on board and many are not.
KUMI NAIDOO: Amy, if I could just jump in, there’s a lesson from history in the United States here that is helpful. If you look at when the scientific evidence around tobacco was clear and the consensus was clear that tobacco was bad for you, there was still a very powerful lobby of scientists funded by the tobacco industry to actually contaminate the public conversation, delay the policy changes that were necessary and so one. We are seeing a carbon copy of that same approach. And I would say to the leaders of the fossil fuel industry, also there is another thing you need to learn from. When anti tobacco litigation started in the early days, the CEOs of tobacco companies were arrogant and said it will never succeed, they never took it seriously. Climate litigation is starting now and the fossil fuel companies are actually being dismissive. I say to the fossil fuel industry leaders, go and ask your CEOs of tobacco companies which is the biggest amount of money that they have to have in their annual budgets [unintelligible], because it has to be — it is often in the legal department because of the scale of settlements. So, I think one expectation once the report is out is that the huge amount of money that goes into lobbying is going to do everything to actually rubbish this report and try and take selectively pieces of information. I think the American people in particular must interrogate the fact for every member of Congress there is between three and seven full-time lobbyists paid by the oil, coal, and gas sector. And they have actually held back the possibility of the U.S. being a global leader in renewable technology and that’s going to hurt the U.S. economy in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Kumi Naidoo and Jeff Masters, thank you so much for being with us. Of course we’ll continue this conversation. Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground. He will be hosting Weather Channel’s live coverage of the release of the IPCC’s report tomorrow. When we come back, Matt Taibbi is with us of Rolling Stone on “Looting the Pensions Funds.”