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Alternative News

State Dept. Whistleblower Blasts Blinken for Bypassing Congress to Send 14K Tank Munitions to Israel

today12/12/2023

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

As the death toll in Gaza reaches 18,000, the Biden administration is bypassing Congress to approve the sale of 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel. The sale is valued at more than $106 million. Secretary of State Tony Blinken informed Congress of the plan Friday night, saying, quote, “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale.” Congress was notified just hours after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council calling for a Gaza ceasefire. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland criticized the State Department’s decision to bypass Congress. He told The New York Times, quote, “The administration’s decision to short-circuit what is already a quick time frame for congressional review undermines transparency and weakens accountability.”

Well, we’re joined right now by Josh Paul. In October, he resigned from the State Department to protest the Biden administration’s push to increase arms sales to Israel amidst its siege on Gaza. Josh Paul had served as director of congressional and public affairs for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs in the State Department, which oversees arms transfers to Israel and other nations around the world.

Josh Paul, your response to this move Friday night?

JOSH PAUL: First of all, thank you very much for having me. It’s good to join you. I’m sorry it’s in such circumstances.

I think what this move demonstrates is that nothing has changed in U.S. policy. Two months into this awful conflict, almost 20,000 deaths later, so much suffering later, U.S. policy remains that we will continue to flow arms to Israel and to support its operation in Gaza. I think we have heard Secretary Blinken and others speaking up and saying that there needs to be a reduction in civilian casualties, but I think actions speak louder than words. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot these past weeks of Lewis Carroll’s “Walrus and the Carpenter.” When you see the U.S. bemoaning Palestinian civilian deaths and yet continuing to provide the arms that are consuming the people of Gaza, it’s extremely distressing and problematic.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s see. Secretary of State Pompeo, under Trump, previously used the emergency provision in 2019 for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Can you talk about the financial scale of over $1.8 billion and the types of weaponry purchased during that time and how that relates to now?

JOSH PAUL: Yes. I think that’s an interesting counterpart to what’s happening now, because, of course, at that time, Secretary Pompeo, under President Trump, was supporting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. And in that conflict, many thousands of civilians, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, died, as well, many of them, again, through the use of U.S. arms. In fact, the first thing that President Biden did upon coming to office in this space was to suspend arms transfers to the Saudi-led coalition of precision-guided munitions precisely because he cared about the civilian casualties who were being harmed. And yet here he is using the same authority as President Trump, as Secretary Pompeo to override congressional will, to override congressional oversight.

I think one thing that we need to keep an eye on is that in the wake of the decision to use the emergency authority under President Trump, that Congress actually moved forward with 27 — the Senate passed 27 joint resolutions of disapproval to block these arms transfers, after a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian that they could do so. Will Congress act in a similar way in this effort? I doubt it, but we will have to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Paul, can you talk specifically about the 120-millimeter M830A1 high-explosive anti-tank, multipurpose with tracer, MPAT, tank cartridges that are part of this deal? I probably said some part of that wrong.

JOSH PAUL: No, I think you got it right. Those are essentially standard-issue tank shells that will be used by Israel’s Merkava main battle tanks. These are the tanks that are currently pushing through Khan Younis in the south of Gaza. These are the same tanks and same sort of shells that on October 13th killed civilians in Lebanon, including a Reuters reporter, in an incident that both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have described as intentional and targeted by the IDF. You know, part of the arms transfer review process is to ask whether or not such weapons that we are providing will be used to commit human rights abuses. I think we now see a clear record of these precise weapons having been used to commit human rights abuses in this conflict, and yet here we are, still flowing them to Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: I just have to ask before we go, Josh Paul. We spoke to you soon after you resigned from the State Department in October. This was, of course, in the midst of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which came after the October 7th surprise attack on Israel that killed 1,200. Can you talk about the response of your colleagues at the State Department? Have others resigned in other parts of the government?

JOSH PAUL: So, we have seen, certainly from the U.N., a U.N. senior official, Craig Mokhiber, resign. We have not seen, to my knowledge, significant resignations within the U.S. government. But I have heard, and continue to hear, from many of my former colleagues who are really trying to find what mechanisms they can use to slow this down, to change the policy. I fear that their efforts at this point continue to be in vain. I think we need to see a policy change from the top. But I know a lot of good people are continuing to make the argument.

AMY GOODMAN: My last question to you goes back to 2021. In a recent CNN interview, you discussed a disturbing story of a 13-year-old Palestinian child raped by Israeli forces. Can you outline what you understand happened?

JOSH PAUL: Yes. There was a report by a charity called Defense of Children International-Palestine — that’s the Palestine branch of this global charity — in which this child had been taken into Israeli custody — which is, of course, itself a question we should be asking: why there are children in Israeli custody, without charge, in the Moskobiyyeh Prison in Jerusalem — who was raped by his prison guards as part of his interrogation. This report came to the State Department’s attention. We looked at it. We considered it valid. We raised it with the government of Israel. And the next day after it was raised by the State Department, actually by Embassy Jerusalem, with the government of Israel, the IDF, the Israeli security forces, went into the charity’s office, into Defense of Children International-Palestine’s offices, and ransacked it, and several months later declared them and several other Palestinian NGOs a terrorist organization. I think sexual violence is such a horrific event, and we need to condemn it wherever it happens, whether it happens in the kibbutzes of Israel or whether it happens in the prisons of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Paul, veteran State Department official who worked on arms deals and resigned in protest of a push to increase arms sales to Israel amidst the Gaza bombardment.



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