Defying the Rules of Gravity, Obama Directs Sanctions Solely against Israel’s Enemies

In conjunction with his speech at the Holocaust Museum yesterday and announcement of the Atrocities Prevention Board, President Obama also rolled out sanctions against those who use IT to repress human rights. The Treasury Department the sanctions GRAHVITY (I think they get it from “GRAve Human rights abuses Via Information TechnologY” or some such Orwellian acronym).

There’s a problem with that. We are all subject to gravity.

But only Israel’s enemies–Iran and Syria–are subject to GRAHVITY.

This exclusive application was set up in yesterday’s speech when Elie Wiesel suggested the point of remembering the Holocaust was to guarantee the strength of Israel and ensure its enemies–in this case, Syria and Iran–are removed from office (and deprived of the same weapons Israel stockpiles against them).

Have you learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the Holocaust Number 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a President, he who threatens to use nuclear weapons–to use nuclear weapons–to destroy the Jewish state?


Now, I hope you understand, in this place [the Museum], why Israel is so important, not only to the Jew that I am and the Jewish people, but to the world. Israel cannot not remember. And because it remembers, it must be strong, just to defend its own survival and its own destiny.

Obama’s focus was broader. In his speech, he listed Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya (with no mention of the civilian casualties NATO caused), the Lords Resistance Army.

But Obama, too, focuses primarily on Syria.

In this speech, the sole reason to ensure internet freedom, according to Obama, is to bring about regime change in Syria.

And when innocents suffer, it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights. And we have to do everything we can. And as we do, we have to remember that despite all the tanks and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them, the Syrian people still brave the streets. They still demand to be heard. They still seek their dignity. The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up.

And so with allies and partners, we will keep increasing the pressure, with a diplomatic effort to further isolate Assad and his regime, so that those who stick with Assad know that they are making a losing bet. We’ll keep increasing sanctions to cut off the regime from the money it needs to survive. We’ll sustain a legal effort to document atrocities so killers face justice, and a humanitarian effort to get relief and medicine to the Syrian people. And we’ll keep working with the “Friends of Syria” to increase support for the Syrian opposition as it grows stronger.

Indeed, today we’re taking another step. I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence. These technologies should not empower — these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come — the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people — and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.

Two things were lacking from this presentation.

There was no mention–not a peep–of the equally urgent repression targeted at Shias, notably those America’s ally Bahrain is brutally repressing. With the Formula 1 fiasco, Bahrain is actually the subject of more intense news coverage right now. But not, apparently, the subject of protections against atrocities.

Also lacking from Obama’s speech was any application of the rules of GRAHVITY to the United States itself. When Wiesel invoked the innocent children who were victims of the Holocaust, did he also ask about the children killed in America’s drone strikes? Did Obama promise not to spy on Americans who participate in Occupy Wall Street, Muslims who practice their faith, or journalists and whistleblowers seeking to hold the government accountable?

We used to believe in human rights that–like gravity–applied equally to all people. But Obama is rolling out something new, GRAHVITY, targeted solely at those who threaten Saudi hegemony, Israel’s dominance of the Middle East, and with both of those, America’s empire. It is a sick perversion of universal rights wielded selectively as a weapon, not a protection.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

25 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Note there was also no discussion of the PLO’s blocking of sites critical of Mahmoud Abbas. Which, given that the US and Israel have both backed Abbas as a way to undercut Hamas, might implicate us as well.

  2. JTMinIA says:

    Thanks. As I mentioned elsewhere, the rank hypocrisy of Obama’s announcement of this literally made me scream.

    edit: if Assad had a sense of humor, he would push through a new Syrian law granting retro- (and pro-) active immunity for any Syrian person or company who illegally intercepts communications. tee hee

  3. emptywheel says:

    @JTMinIA: Ah now that would be rich.

    Though I hope that Assad has the same sense of humor Moussa Koussa has, in leaving a safe package of papers lying around to make clear the extent of US partnership with Syrian’s oppression, such as with the case of Maher Arar.

  4. Tom Allen says:

    Yeah, but “Never Again” only applies to the Jewish people. If six million Muslims have to die — and with Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re already up to, what, a million and a half or so? — then that’s fine. Iranians and Syrians should add a couple million more. After all, they worship a false god, do sacrifices with the blood of the innocent, have some secret order to take over the world…. I mean, unless those are total blood libels. But why would our leaders lie us into war?

    Yep, haven’t seen this before. Wonder how it will turn out. Wonder how history will judge us.

  5. PeasantParty says:

    “This exclusive application was set up in yesterday’s speech when Elie Wiesel suggested the point of remembering the Holocaust was to guarantee the strength of Israel and ensure its enemies–in this case, Syria and Iran–are removed from office (and deprived of the same weapons Israel stockpiles against them).”

    Yep. That’s what it says, but not what I have always been thinking about the lessons of Holocaust. Guess I’ve had it wrong all these decades of life. What I learned is that the world should never again allow a leader to create such hatred for a particular group of people or a country. That we the world should not stand for the threats and killings of others due to a deranged and psychotic government that acts in the same fashion as the Nazi. Isreal did not learn the same lesson that I or most of the people I know learned from the Holocaust. It appears to me they are continuing the same type of insanity.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Wiesel seems to think that Israel, like its patron, America, is so thspecial that it can do whatever it wants to protect its interests, but that no other government or people can do the same.

    The entire post-war international system was built upon the notion that every government was that special. Each was bound to do whatever it could to protect its interests, and that that would lead to chaos and further wars if better means – beyond raw power, secret ententes and treaties – were not used to mediate inevitable conflicts.

    It is the restraint inherent in that system, already corrupted in favor of the US, that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush threw away as “unmanly”, or at least not adequately profitable. It may have been Hemingway’s critics, or possibly Errol Flynn’s, who said that any man so obsessed with proving his manliness probably wasn’t one.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Obama should ask his staff to more thoroughly check his speeches. His complaints against Cambodia are a mixed benefit, at best. Someone who used to work at the State Department or War Department must remember that the US bombed 600,000 Cambodians back to the Stone Age, to such an extent that it destroyed civil society and allowed Pol Pot to emerge as a leader and kill another 2,000,000 more.

    Then, again, the US decided it had to back Pol Pot, despite his murderous rampages, because he was an opponent of the victorious Vietnamese. Politics and stupidity make strange bedfellows, and Mr. Obama is heedless of those under the covers with him.

  8. nomolos says:

    No doubt Lieberman will be having an orgasm right about now while Obama stuffs his pockets with money from Goldman Sachs.

  9. Starbuck says:

    Perhaps it’s time to institute the game from the movie “10th Victim”. Move all the protagonists into a highly secure facility and let them have at it.

    The victor is then summarily executed.

    Otherwise, I cannot fathom how a sane, intelligent but simple individual can hope to exist in that state (sane, intelligent but simple)on this planet in this century.

  10. Bob Schacht says:

    “We used to believe in human rights that–like gravity–applied equally to all people.”

    This was never actually true. Human rights, like so much else, are culturally constructed. They apply equally to all people only if we make it so.

    Bob in AZ

  11. orionATL says:

    it’s april of a presidential election year,

    the aipac gorilla is roaming the streets of the new york,

    whaddaya expect?

    obama at the aipac convention earlier this year:

    “we have supported israel every time – every time!”

  12. MadDog says:

    OT – In a piece by AP’s Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, a dues-paid-in-full charter member of Cheerleaders for Torture™, former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Services, and acknowledged destroyer of torture porn videotapes, Jose Rodriguez borrowed a pair of Dick Cheney’s pom-poms and said this:

    “…Jose Rodriguez, who oversaw the CIA’s once-secret interrogation and detention program, also lashes out at President Barack Obama’s administration for calling waterboarding torture and criticizing its use.

    “I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled `torturers’ by the president of the United States,” Rodriguez writes in his book, “Hard Measures…”

  13. Solon says:

    @PeasantParty: There’s a whole lotta history that doesn’t get told at holocaust museums.
    in Germany, there was the deliberate and illegal starvation to death of 765,000 German civilians by Allied blockade that persisted from 1915 until 1919 — almost a year AFTER Germany had surrendered. Allies maintained the blockade, and more German women and children died of hunger, to force Germany to sign the Versailles Treaty, whose terms imposed crippling reparations on Germany and declared that Germans bore sole responsibility for the war.
    Of that same Versailles treaty, Benjamin Netanyahu writes: “Versailles promised the Jewish people a national homeland on its historic land, five times the size of the present-day state of Israel. This promise was given as a result of the universal recognition of the Jews’ right to be restored to the land from which they had been forcibly exiled, a recognition reinforced by the knowledge of the extent of Jewish suffering over the centuries as a result of that exile.” (“A Place Among the Nations,” p. 6)
    And Edwin Black wrote in “The Transfer Agreement,” “[M]ajority Jewish sentiment won out at Versailles, assuring a Jewish homeland in Palestine, with stipulations preserving Jewish rights in other countries. American Jewish Congress leaders returned from Versailles in triumph.”
    In other words, just as Palestinians are called upon to bear the burden of the European sins against Jews, Germans were called upon to pay the price of Rome’s sins against Jews.
    Simultaneously, as the Yad Vashem website explains, Jews emerged as the architects and managers of the Weimar government, which key German leaders feared were antithetical to the culture of the German people, and which also failed to support a sound economy for Germany, causing yet another round of starvation deaths.

    What is called German “racism and xenophobia” was a starved and outraged people’s reaction to years of deliberately and illegally imposed suffering.

    In view of the sanctions deliberately imposed on the Iranian people, this is an extremely important historical lesson to be learned — if we really mean “Never Again.”

  14. ryan says:

    @Tom Allen:
    >never again only applies …

    I heard quotes from Wiesel’s speech on the radio yesterday and had the same thought. But I just googled Wiesel Rwanda and came up with a number of things. He has been more universalist than yesterday’s quote would suggest.

    I still don’t care for the way these sanctions are being applied, but it’s worth being fair to Wiesel.

  15. lysias says:

    @ryan: Wiesel refuses to admit that the Holocaust involved Gypsies (in addition to Jews) and in fact, for as long as he was on the board of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, refused to allow any commemoration of the Nazi genocide of the Gypsies.

  16. Dan says:

    Meh. I have come to expect the same rank hypocrisy from Obama as we got from Bush.

    For example, Some ten days ago the US and Western world was in a tizzy because North Korea was going to conduct a rocket test. The US cut off aid because they went ahead with the test. Less than a week later India conducted a ballistic missile test and Pakistan is about to do the same. No condemnation heard from the US for either of these tests.

  17. emptywheel says:

    @lysias: He did come close to say only Jews were killed, but then corrected himself. I’m getting increasingly pissed off with people ignoring that Gays were killed too. “Never forget” unless they were gay.

  18. ondelette says:

    Just as an exercise, EW, please go through your own column and assign numbers. NATO is accused by AI of “scores” of civilian casualties in Libya. The Shia population in Bahrain is facing deaths in the hundreds. They are not insignificant, but the pressure is on Syria right now because of thousands. And because everyone is hoping that pressure will be enough to end the crisis. It does seem to be working, but pressure only works when its kept on.

    As for some of the other crises: Sudan, 2 Million and counting, Darfur 300,000, Liberia/Sierra Leone/Cote D’Ivoire/Guinea 400,000, Rwanda(presumably includes Congo/Burundi) 6 million.

    I told you the other night, Somalia laid out 1 million+ dead in 6 months last year.

    The Tuareg that Qaddafi armed displaced a lot more people than they killed. Those displaced people walked into a nightmare across Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso — there’s a drought and a humanitarian food and water crisis in the Sahel of large and growing proportions affecting as of now 2 million. Hell to pay if they can’t be fed in time. And the Gu rains didn’t come properly to the Horn again. A lot of people across the Sahel and in the Horn will die this year too.

    Get a grip. If you can’t count, I can recommend an elementary school in your neighborhood.

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