Macron Cracks Down on French Liberty

Exclusive: The youthful new French President Macron is getting rave press reviews, with little attention to his clampdown on public liberty under the guise of fighting terrorism, reports Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

French President Emmanuel Macron — the “great hope” of Europe — told French legislators a few days ago that he plans to extend his nation’s draconian and counterproductive state of emergency for a sixth time later this month — to give his government time to prepare a tough new anti-terrorism law to replace it.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron

In a breathtaking display of doublespeak, Macron claimed that his plan will “re-establish the freedoms of the French people.” But enshrining into law the essence of France’s harsh anti-terrorism decrees will limit the nation’s hard-won liberties while doing nothing to curb police incompetence, which has repeatedly allowed known extremists to carry out their heinous acts.

Civil liberties and human rights groups have denounced Macron’s blueprint for augmenting the central government’s police powers. His draft law would give local representatives of the Interior Ministry the power to declare security zones, define who can enter or leave them, use electronic tags to restrict the movement of people considered a national security threat, close mosques and other centers of worship, and — with only limited judicial oversight — search private property.

“These measures would trample individual and shared liberties and would lead us toward an authoritarian state,” France’s League of Human Rights declared. “Far from relating only to terrorist acts, these measures would be applied to a wide range of offences. Anyone could become a victim of arbitrary decisions.”

Amnesty International recently condemned the government’s abuse of anti-terrorist emergency powers that restrict freedom of movement and rights to peaceful assembly.

“Under the cover of the state of emergency, rights to protest have been stripped away with hundreds of activists, environmentalists, and labor rights campaigners unjustifiably banned from participating in protests,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher on France.

Repressing Dissent

In the name of preventing “threats to public order,” the government over a period of 18 months issued 155 decrees banning protests, and 574 measures prohibiting specific individuals from taking part in protests against proposed labor law changes.

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other heads of state and delegations, observe a minute of silence for the Paris attack victims on Nov. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The latter statistic is particularly notable because Macron plans to issue sweeping decrees to limit the power of unions over working conditions and company firing policies. Such proposals have triggered mass demonstrations and violent clashes with police, in recent months.

The French government imposed its state of emergency — modeled after one instituted in 1955 during the Algerian war — after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, killed 130 people and injured 368 more. Those attacks followed the January 2015 slaughter of 12 people at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and of four hostages at a kosher supermarket. The attacks were perpetrated by followers of ISIS and of al-Qaeda in Yemen.

French parliamentary investigation last year found little evidence that either the state of emergency or the showy stationing of troops on Parisian streets did much to enhance France’s security. It concluded that the country’s fragmented and competing security agencies had suffered a “global failure” of communication and coordination.

As it happens, police were well aware of all three extremists who carried out the January 2015 massacres and of leaders of the November 2015 attacks, but lacked the manpower to keep them under permanent surveillance. Indeed, they traveled across Europe and to Yemen and North Africa with remarkable ease, despite official knowledge of their dangerous proclivities.

In the Guardian’s words, “Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a siege at a kosher grocery store in January (2015) and shot dead a policewoman, was a known radical and repeat offender. While serving a prison sentence for his part in a plot to free another terrorist from jail, he had been flagged as radicalized. This information was not passed from prison services to intelligence agencies on his release.”

Breakdown of Intelligence

Recent French press revelations suggest an even worse breakdown of intelligence. It turns out that Coulibaly and two fellow Islamist radicals who committed the January 2015 attacks acquired their weapons, through an intermediary, from a right-wing police informant and former mercenary named Claude Hermant. He claims to have worked as an agent under the supervision of intelligence officers in the customs service and gendarmerie, a national military police force under the Ministry of Interior.

Peace for Paris symbol.

Information about Hermant’s role was suppressed in 2015 by the Interior Minister, who invoked a state secrets privilege. Hermant’s lawyer has filed a lawsuit to lift the ban on discussion of his client’s connection to the intelligence services. A French newspaper has also published explosive emails from a gendarme giving Hermant the “green light” to move cases of weapons, one of which apparently ended up in Islamist hands due to police incompetence.

History is replete with examples of police and intelligence services that allow agents to run amok, often because of inadequate supervision, occasionally for more sinister reasons. Serious investigators have asked whether the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, might have been a federal informant. And there seems to be no question but that the al-Qaeda terrorist who led the 1998 Nairobi Embassy bombing and trained most of the organization’s top leadership — Ali Mohammed — was protected by the FBI and CIA.

Granting more powers to such agencies and shielding them from judicial review compounds the problem by preventing exposure and correction of their bureaucratic failures. Ordinary citizens and their liberties are best protected when law enforcement is subject to public review and criticism, not protected by official secrets acts and emergency decrees that cover up their incompetence, disorganization, or lack of resources. The people of America and France both should learn from their respective national failures that freedom is not won by repression.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to Consortiumnews.com.

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Jewish News

Jewish leaders welcomes Emmanuel Macron’s French victory

British and European figures congratulate Macron on his success in the presidential election

May 7, 2017, 9:05 pm 1

Macron Le Pen

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen

European Jewish leaders have welcomed Emmanuel Macron’s success in the French presidential election.

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Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress president  heralded Macron’s victory as a “vote for France, for the European Union and for democratic values.”

He continued: “Never has a major European country faced such a challenge to its most basic value system of tolerance and democracy since all of Western Europe was dominated by fascism in the Second World War. We applaud the French people for facing this challenge with the full force of French democracy and the core values of the republic.”

In Britain, The Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a statement congratulating Macron.

Richard Verber, Senior Vice President of the Board said: “While the far right did alarmingly well in this election, in the country with Europe’s largest Jewish population, it is a relief to see the force with which the French people have rejected the politics of division and despair. With legislative elections still to come, there is certainly no room for complacency.”

Macron’s victory kept the far-right “wolves from our door”, according to Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

The defeat of National Front leader Marine Le Pen was not just a victory for France but for “the liberal values we hold dear”, he said.

His comments came after Downing Street said Theresa May “warmly congratulates” the En Marche movement leader for his election victory.

Mr Farron said: “I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as France’s new president. This is not just a victory for France but a victory for Britain and the liberal values we hold dear.

“A National Front win would have posed a grave threat to our national interest.

“Emmanuel Macron has kept the wolves from our door, but we must never be complacent in the fight against racism, fascism and the far-right.”

With an eye on the June 8 General Election, he added: “The liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade that triumphed in France today can triumph in Britain too.

“Together we can change Britain’s future, stand up to Theresa May’s hard Brexit agenda and keep our country open, tolerant and united.”

In a statement, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies and we look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities.”

As the leader of one of Europe’s major powers, Mr Macron will be a key player in the diplomatic wrangling over Brexit in the coming months and Number 10 will be keen to establish a good relationship with the new president.

 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who travelled to Paris for talks with Mr Macron in March, said: “The French people have chosen hope over fear and unity over division.”

 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I am delighted that the French people have decisively rejected Le Pen’s politics of hate.”


Risk of Unleashing ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

Exclusive: Despite a constructive meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G-20, Official Washington’s hawks still hold a strong hand, in part, because Trump has ceded broad power to the military, says David Marks.

By David Marks

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump boasted that he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” but he also suggested a reversal of the “regime change” strategies of his recent predecessors. So, some peace voters thought Trump might actually be preferable to Hillary Clinton, who often came across as the more hawkish candidate.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with troops stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, April 21, 2017. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

However, in Trump’s near-half-year in office, he has slid more into line with the war hawks both by continuing to beat his chest over his own application of military force and by shifting control over many attack decisions to military field commanders and the Pentagon high command.

In mid-April, after a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan, President Trump explained his thinking as he reveled in the first use of the massive “mother of all bombs” that was dropped on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan.

Trump said, “What I do is I authorize my military, we have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing. Frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately. If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what has happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there is a tremendous difference.”

That bombing in Afghanistan followed Trump’s order to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles aimed at a Syrian government airfield that he alleged to be the launch point for an April 4 chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Besides the missile strike – for which Trump got no authorization from either Congress or the United Nations Security Council – U.S. warplanes bombed pro-government forces inside Syria for allegedly getting too close to U.S.-backed rebels and shot down a Syrian plane for the same reason. These attacks against Syrian government targets represented an escalation of U.S. participation in the six-year-old conflict. President Obama had limited direct U.S. attacks against ISIS positions inside Syria.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. military personnel in the Middle East has been slowly but surely rising since Trump took office. Yet, these actions have not evoked much protest from the public or Congress and have even been praised by many as a sign of strength by Trump.

The Pentagon’s ‘Mad Dog’

Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog” from his days a Marine general, has a unique relationship with Trump. He reportedly dines alone frequently with the President and has served as the point man for those acquiring “total authorization” to launch attacks. Due to his combination of access to Trump and Trump’s readiness to cede decisions to the Pentagon, Mattis has an unprecedented ability as Secretary of Defense to elevate the U.S. military’s role in world affairs.

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

Although Mattis intentionally limits his contact with the public and the press, some of his past statements reveal his mindset. In Iraq in 2003, Mattis coached arriving Marines, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” And in 2005, the man who has been unleashed by the President said, “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

The man who likes “brawling” is also the first Secretary of Defense since George Marshall in 1947 confirmed with a waiver of the National Security Act. By law, members of the armed forces must have a seven-year waiting period before becoming Defense Secretary. The reason for the legislation was to respect civilian control of the military and to keep those favoring military solutions — as an early recourse — away from the levers for taking the country to war. The Congress after World War II attempted to prevent the very situation that is now unfolding.

In George Marshall’s case, the waiver recognized his deep experience in statesmanship, since he served as Secretary of State and directed the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe before he became Defense Secretary. “Mad Dog” Mattis received his waiver without mention of his diplomatic abilities. Yet, the waiver for Mattis easily passed the Senate, 81-17, and the House, 235-188. He was then confirmed by the Senate in a 99-1 vote.

Leading what little debate there was over the Mattis waiver and confirmation, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said, “While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver. Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

Worked Up Over Russia  

In his confirmation hearings, Mad Dog supported what in Official Washington are the most conventional perspectives, including referring to Russia as a “principal threat.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 23, 2015 Tehran. (Photo from: http://en.kremlin.ru)

 

The sentiment of the vast majority of Congress was summed up by Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, saying “In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, he demonstrated a clear-eyed view of our current national security environment and a deep appreciation for the challenges facing U.S. service members and their families.”

Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate, added, “I believe he is well-prepared to lead the Department of Defense and provide the incoming administration with wise and strategic counsel on matters of national security.”

Kaine’s comments highlight a bizarre twist in the Trump presidency: the first Cabinet member approved by the Senate became an important neoconservative plant inside the administration despite Trump’s rhetorical rejection of neocon “regime change” policies. The incoherence of Trump’s emerging foreign policy appears to be directly related to Mattis and the interventionists – both neocons and liberals – who supported his ascent.

With Mattis at the Pentagon’s helm, the Trump administration has rapidly shifted toward a military dynamic, taking aim at many of the old neocon targets, including Syria and Iran. Mattis’s combative perspective seems to be at the core of these policies although – as a military officer – he does recognize the realities of war.

In late May, Mattis gave a rare interview to CBS’s Face The Nation. Speaking about North Korea, he declared that the conflict could turn “catastrophic” and “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

In early June, Mattis went before the Senate Armed Services Committee to make his case on the need for more military resources. Significantly, he requested more money for an increase of troops that he claims will check the Taliban in Afghanistan.

His comments overtly revealed his disdain for the legislative branch, citing inadequate funding as a chief cause of the military’s problems, having “blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative, and placed troops at greater risk.”

Since 2001, the Afghan War has cost hundreds of billions of dollars with over 2,000 deaths of U.S. soldiers and civilian casualties in the tens of thousands. With this in mind, Mattis’s complaints raise more questions about his objectives and what’s really achievable. Yet, Official Washington’s elite opinion circles regard his proposed escalation and his money requests as serious and rational.

But at least Mattis doesn’t sugarcoat prospects for war in the “cakewalk” terms favored by some neocons. Shortly after his Senate testimony, Mattis appeared before the House Appropriations Committee and described a war scenario with North Korea:

“I would suggest that we will win. It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953. It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth,” referring to Seoul, South Korea, with a population of 25 million.

“It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” Mattis said, but “we would win at great cost.”

Mattis added that because the threat and consequences were so great, he and President Trump, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were considering non-military options. He added, “We’re exhausting all possible diplomatic efforts in this regard.”

Hammering a Nail

But there is an old saying that if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And, that is a danger if international policy is deeply influenced by a hard-charging Marine general, especially with an inexperienced President prone to accepting simple and direct “solutions.”

President Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on May 22, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

In the wake of Trump’s meeting on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the real question becomes whether Putin’s more complex understanding of the world’s problems will influence Trump on flashpoints such as Syria, Iran, Ukraine and North Korea.

Or put somewhat differently, will Trump heed the inclinations of Secretary of State Tillerson, the former Exxon chief executive officer known for international wheeling-and-dealing, or will Trump lean toward Mattis and his readiness to mix it up militarily in places like Afghanistan, Syria and possibly even Ukraine?

The last thing that the neoconservatives and the liberal interventionists want is accommodation and compromise on some of these high-profile issues, which might envision a negotiated settlement in Syria that doesn’t result in Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, or a peace deal in Ukraine that doesn’t force Crimea back under the control of Ukraine, or an arrangement in Europe that lowers tensions with Russia.

Resolutions of these issues would not serve the interests of the Military-Industrial Complex well, nor those of Official Washington’s think tanks that rely on the largesse of military contractors and provide comfortable salaries for many of the key neocons and liberal hawks.

Those interests would be best served if “Mad Dog” Mattis is let off the leash as often as possible, if worldwide conflicts escalate, and if the Pentagon budget continues to swell. If that happens, Trump will not be the only one responsible; you can blame Congress for its readiness to sacrifice the principle of civilian control over the military to an aggressive military man.

The shallow compliments showered upon men like Mattis are symptoms of a country blindly embracing an egotistical and militaristic mindset.

David Marks is a veteran documentary filmmaker and investigative reporter. His work includes films for the BBC and PBS, including Nazi Gold, on the role of Switzerland in WWII and biographies of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.

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