After Alleged Chemical Attack, Obama Moves Toward “Cruise Missile Diplomacy” in Syria
Interview with James Paul, “Syria Unmasked” author and former executive director of Global Policy Forum, conducted by Scott Harris
In response to the widely reported chemical weapons attack against civilians in the suburbs of Syria’s capital, Damascus, on Aug. 21, the Obama administration signaled that it is preparing to launch airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces. Even as United Nations weapons inspectors were attempting to verify the chemical attack that reportedly killed as many as 300 civilians in the town of eastern Ghouta, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the alleged attack in Syria as a “moral obscenity” and asserted that President Obama believed those responsible must be held accountable.
With opposition from Russia and China, the United Nations Security Council is unlikely to authorize military intervention in Syria’s 3-year-old civil war. But Turkey, Britain and France have indicated they would support the Obama administration if it decided to act against Syria in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
Responding to the threat of a U.S.-led attack on his country, Walid Moualem, the Syrian foreign minister “categorically” denied that his government used chemical weapons against its own people and challenged the world to provide evidence of who was responsible. The Syrian government accuses the rebels of using chemical weapons in a bid to provoke international intervention. Russia, a long-time ally of the Assad regime, warned that a Western military attack on Syria would only create more tension and bloodshed in the region. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with James Paul, author of “Syria Unmasked” and former executive director of Global Policy Forum, who discusses the chemical attack in Syria and the threat of U.S. military intervention there.
California Prisoner Hunger Strike Demanding End to Long-term Solitary Confinement Exceeds 50 Days
Interview with Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman with the Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
On July 8, an estimated 30,000 inmates in the California prison system began a hunger strike, with the goal of ending the common practice of years-long solitary confinement. More than 50 days later, a number of prisoners remain on hunger strike, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently received authorization from a federal judge to begin force-feeding inmates. The United Nations has declared that prisoners held in solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes a form of torture.
The prisoners’ five core demands are: end group punishment and administrative abuse; abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement; provide adequate and nutritious food and expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite secure housing unit status inmates.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman for the Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition. He explains that this latest action was the result of unfulfilled agreements made with hunger striking prisoners two years earlier and that the strike, initially launched at the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit, has now spread to many other prisons across the state.
ISAAC ONTIVEROS: The demands – the prisoners have had the same five demands the last two years – the most important demand for your listeners is an end to California’s use of indefinite solitary confinement. The California prison system can throw somebody in solitary indefinitely. There are over 500 people in California who have been in solitary confinement for over 10 years; many of those have been in for over 20 years, some 30, some 40 years. The U.N. says that a day over 15 days in solitary is torture, so you can imagine what it’s like to be in solitary for 15, 20, 30 years. Their second most important demand is an end to the arbitrary, draconian and thoroughly unaccountable process by which the prison administration targets prisoners for solitary confinement and then what a prisoner has to do to get out of solitary confinement. That’s what they’ll call the validation process. It’s very important to understand that when a prisoner is thrown into solitary confinement, it’s not like there’s a trial, it’s not like the prisoner can defend themselves. There’s no due process whatsoever, so this is arbitrary and administrative.
The third demand is an end to group punishment, also known as collective punishment. A simple way to understand that is, for example, a guard will have a problem with a particular prisoner, and then will punish an entire group of prisoners based on their problem with an individual. More often (than not), that punishment is race-based. Prisoners are calling for an end to that. They’re also calling for the provision of adequate and nutritious food. And finally, they’re calling for access to programs and services, especially for people that are in solitary confinement indefinitely, and these things can be as simple as access to things like colored pencils or a calendar, but also stuff that actually has to do with their rehabilitation, so access, for example, to educational programs.
BETWEEN THE LINES: You said the prisoners don’t want to starve to death, but recently a court ruled that the prisoners on hunger strike in California can be force fed. Can you say more about that?
ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Last week, a court order was signed by a federal judge saying the prison medical system could force-feed prisoners. It also said that it could disregard prisoners’ advance medical directives, so you know, any human beings who live in the U.S., you have a certain amount of rights and autonomy over what kind of medical procedures you are subjected to, and you can put those in writing, especially if you know you will be falling ill. Prisoners certainly have that civil and human right. The disturbing part of this order is that it disregards that right.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Are any prisoners actually being force fed now?
ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Not at this time. We hope it doesn’t need to come to that. All the CDCR would have to do, all the governor would have to do is sit down and have good faith discussions with the prisoners about their demands.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Gov. Jerry Brown has taken bold steps to protect the public water and energy supplies generated in Yosemite National Park, where a forest fire is raging, but as far as I know, he, who is a former seminarian, hasn’t said a word about prison conditions or the hunger strike.
ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Jerry Brown has not made a single comment about the hunger strike. I think his silence is cowardly and it makes him complicit in the violence that the CDCR is perpetuating against these prisoners. I think if any of these prisoners lose their life, blood is on his hands.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Juan Mendez, the UN rapporteur on torture, has said that anything more than 15 days of solitary confinement is torture, and he has asked to visit the hunger strikers, but as far as I know he has not yet received permission.
ISAAC ONTIVEROS: You know, obviously it’s not surprising to me that the CDCR would try to hide their practices of torture, so they claim they don’t exist. You listen to the CDCR ad they say these conditions, it’s like staying at a four-star hotel. I think that those things would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. I think that people putting pressure on the California government – not just the CDCR, but the governor or California’s [legislative] public safety committees and saying, Let’s let this UN official come take a look. I think that could be a positive step. I think, though, that anything that happens like that it needs to be understood that time is of the essence. Prisoners have been on strike for 50 days; the toll that it’s taking on their bodies should be obvious that if you don’t eat for 50 days there are serious, serious health repercussions.
The Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition is asking supporters to contact the chairs of the California legislature’s Public Safety Committee to call a special session to hold the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation accountable for the treatment of the hunger strikers and to meet with them over their demands. For more information on the prisoners’ hunger strike, visit .
TEPCO Incompetence in Managing 2-Year Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima Demands Outside Intervention
Interview with Michael Mariotte, executive director with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, conducted by Scott Harris
More than two years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi complex, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, the plant’s operator, reported 300 metric tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from storage tanks on-site. Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency labeled the water leak as a “serious incident.” The water leaking from the tank had levels of beta radiation of 80 million becquerels per liter, 8 million times the safe limit for drinking water established by the Japanese Health ministry.
There are 350 similar tanks built to store radioactive water at Fukushima, of which at least two others appear to be compromised. Another concern to Japanese authorities and the public was the recent admission by TEPCO that an estimated 300 tons of irradiated water are currently flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day.
Growing concern about TEPCO’s lack of transparency and capacity to manage the disaster and eventual decommissioning of the dangerously radioactive nuclear complex, has driven Japan’s government to announce they will take control away from TEPCO in leading emergency cleanup operations. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Michael Mariotte, executive director with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who examines the consequences of the ongoing crisis at Fukushima and also assesses the health consequences of the disaster and the future of the U.S. nuclear power industry.