Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
David Shulman writes in the NY Review of Books:
In early May, Breaking the Silence, the organization of Israeli ex-soldiers that is by now well known for its meticulous independent accounts of IDF operations, published areport on the Israeli army’s campaign in Gaza last summer. The result of many months of recorded interviews with over sixty soldiers, including many lower- and middle-level officers, the report revealed that the large number of civilian casualties on the Palestinian side was a consequence, among other things, of military tactics and orders explicitly adopted by the IDF.
The report sparked off an immediate response in the Israeli and international media, with predictable attempts to vilify its authors as “traitors.” Israelis like to think that their army holds to high moral standards, and they react badly to hard evidence that shows this is not the case. There has been particular outrage at the suggestion that there is anything wrong about the new “Gaza rules” and the high civilian body count. Most Israelis simply, and simplistically, blame Hamas for the fighting and its cost, which they also see as the natural result of fighting in the thickly populated urban space of Gaza. As it happens, there were few surprises in the interviews, which mostly confirmed what we knew from reports in the press last summer, as well as from the evidence of earlier IDF campaigns in Lebanon and in Gaza. The deeper significance of the interviews, then, may lie in what they suggest about IDF operations over many years and, indirectly, about longstanding policies in the occupied West Bank.
The seven-week operation known as “Protective Edge” (Tzuk Eitan, “Steadfast Boulder,” in Hebrew) was a violent conflict aimed at stopping rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. According to the United Nations, some 2,200 people were killed, of whom 1,492, or more than two thirds, were civilian. The overwhelming majority of these were Palestinian. (The Israeli military recorded the deaths of sixty-six Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians in the conflict.)
The evidence presented in the Breaking the Silence report can be summarized relatively simply: soldiers briefed by officers before they went into Gaza were instructed to avoid all risks to themselves even at the cost of certain, possibly substantial, civilian casualties. In practice, this meant they shot at everything that moved in their zone of combat, including animals and, inevitably, civilians who for whatever reason could not get out in time. This point is a weighty one. The army delivered warnings to civilians to evacuate areas slated for attack; usually these took the form of leaflets or text-messages to cell phones, but there was also the Israeli invention called “a knock on the door”—a small missile or shell shot at a building as a warning that heavier shelling was about to begin. Civilians who failed to heed such warnings were, according to the army briefings, fair game. They were not supposed to be there.
The difficulty with these measures is by now well known and has been discussed at some length. At times the interval between the knock on the door and severe or total destruction was so short—measured in minutes or even seconds—that there was simply no time for civilians to get out. Moreover, such warnings are largely meaningless unless there is a corridor of safety for evacuees fleeing the battle zone and some provision for their survival once they get beyond the immediate threat, as the prominent human-rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, wrote last summer while the battles were still raging. Such measures were, in general, absent during last summer’s fighting. Many civilians certainly died in a desperate attempt to reach safety; some troubling cases are documented in the report.
For the sake of comparison, we might recall the Israeli army’s traditional rules of engagement, taught to generations of recruits. A potential enemy can, we were told, be killed if he has a weapon, an apparent intent to cause harm, and a realistic capability of doing so. “Gaza rules” were far more lenient, as many of the Breaking the Silence interviews state directly:
What were the rules of engagement?
There weren’t really any rules of engagement, it was more protocols. The idea was, if you spot something—shoot. They told us: “There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there. If you spot someone, shoot.” Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza it’s cool, no big deal.
The same approach—massive fire, sometimes uncontrolled or indiscriminate—held true at much higher levels of operation, as in the destruction of buildings, indeed of entire neighborhoods, such as Shuja’iyya in the central zone and Khuza’a in the far south, either by ground artillery or from the air. The heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side included some five hundred dead children. Destruction of homes and infrastructure in Gaza was immense, some of it clearly meant to teach a lesson, or to take revenge, or to create a passable illusion of military victory or some form of deterrent against future attacks.
We have to keep in mind the setting in which this campaign unfolded. Hamas fired many thousands of missiles, deliberately aimed at civilians, into Israeli territory. There is no question that Hamas is guilty of grievous war crimes. It also deliberately embedded fighters in the midst of the Palestinian civilian population, dug combat tunnels whose entry point was in homes, mosques, or other public buildings, and planned and attempted to use these tunnels for lethal attacks on civilians within Israel. For many Israelis, all this is more than enough to justify the human losses on the Palestinian side. The same could be said for attitudes toward civilian casualties during earlier IDF campaigns, including Lebanon in 1978 (Operation Litani), and the so-called Second Lebanese War in 2006. A popular bumper-sticker one still sees on cars in the streets of Jerusalem says: “The lives of our soldiers take precedence over the lives of enemy civilians.”
This principle has been formulated in somewhat more abstract terms by Professor Asa Kasher and General Amos Yadlin, authors of the army’s current code of ethical conduct. The Asa Kasher Doctrine, as it is called, states from a certain cool height that “when we have made effective efforts to minimize collateral damage but the combatant is still in the vicinity of some noncombatants, the state does not have any justification for jeopardizing the troops, when the territory is not under its effective control.” One wouldn’t want to be one of those noncombatants. Stated more simply and generally: the soldier should exert “as much compassion as possible without aborting the mission or raising risk to Israeli soldiers.” One can’t help wondering if the word “compassion” in this context was meant seriously and not ironically. In a situation like Gaza, moreover, every individual soldier is faced with his or her own non-trivial moral choices. (Female soldiers were very much present in identifying possible targets for bombing and in getting these targets approved.) I think the Asa Kasher code falls short of addressing those choices in anything but a superficial way, as the Breaking the Silence report makes clear. . .
Israel apparently believes that this approach will eventually result in a peaceful outcome. It’s well worth reading the entire article, which ends with this note:
The report This is How We Fought in Gaza: Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation “Protective Edge” (2014) can be read in full at breakingthesilence.org.
Think of this as a little imperial folly update — and here’s the backstory. In the years after invading Iraq and disbanding Saddam Hussein’s military, the U.S. sunk about $25 billion into “standing up” a new Iraqi army. By June 2014, however, that army, filled with at least 50,000 “ghost soldiers,” was only standing in the imaginations of its generals and perhaps Washington. When relatively small numbers of Islamic State (IS) militants swept into northern Iraq, it collapsed, abandoning four cities — including Mosul, the country’s second largest — and leaving behind enormous stores of U.S. weaponry, ranging from tanks and Humvees to artillery and rifles. In essence, the U.S. was now standing up its future enemy in a style to which it was unaccustomed and, unlike the imploded Iraqi military, the forces of the Islamic State proved quite capable of using that weaponry without a foreign trainer or adviser in sight.
In response, the Obama administration dispatched thousands of new advisers and trainers and began shipping in piles of new weaponry to re-equip the Iraqi army. It also filled Iraqi skies with U.S. planes armed with their own munitions to destroy, among other things, some of that captured U.S. weaponry. Then it set to work standing up a smaller version of the Iraqi army. Now, skip nearly a year ahead and on a somewhat lesser scale the whole process has just happened again. Less than two weeks ago, Islamic State militants took Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Iraqi army units, including the elite American-trained Golden Division, broke and fled, leaving behind — you’ll undoubtedly be shocked to hear — yet another huge cache of weaponry and equipment, including tanks, more than 100 Humvees and other vehicles, artillery, and so on.
The Obama administration reacted in a thoroughly novel way: it immediately began shipping in new stocks of weaponry, starting with 1,000 antitank weapons, so that the reconstituted Iraqi military could take out future “massive suicide vehicle bombs” (some of which, assumedly, will be those captured vehicles from Ramadi). Meanwhile, American planes began roaming the skies over that city, trying to destroy some of the equipment IS militants had captured.
Notice anything repetitive in all this — other than another a bonanza for U.S. weapons makers? Logically, it would prove less expensive for the Obama administration to simply arm the Islamic State directly before sending in the air strikes. In any case, what a microcosm of U.S. imperial hubris and folly in the twenty-first century all this training and equipping of the Iraqi military has proved to be. Start with the post-invasion decision of the Bush administration to totally disband Saddam’s army and instantly eject hundreds of thousands of unemployed Sunni military men and a full officer corps into the chaos of the “new” Iraq and you have an instant formula for creating a Sunni resistance movement. Then, add in a little extra “training” at Camp Bucca, a U.S. military prison in Iraq, for key unemployed officers, and — Voilà! — you’ve helped set up the petri dish in which the leadership of the Islamic State movement will grow. Multiply such stunning tactical finesse many times over globally and, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare makes clear today, you have what might be called the folly of the “sole superpower” writ large. Tom
Delusionary Thinking in Washington
The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower
By Michael T. Klare
Take a look around the world and it’s hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington’s dictates, or actively combating them. Russia refuses to curtail its support for armed separatists in Ukraine; China refuses to abandon its base-building endeavors in the South China Sea; Saudi Arabia refuses to endorse the U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Iran; the Islamic State movement (ISIS) refuses to capitulate in the face of U.S. airpower. What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of such defiance?
This is no small matter. For decades, being a superpower has been the defining characteristic of American identity. The embrace of global supremacy began after World War II when the United States assumed responsibility for resisting Soviet expansionism around the world; it persisted through the Cold War era and only grew after the implosion of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. assumed sole responsibility for combating a whole new array of international threats. As General Colin Powell famously exclaimed in the final days of the Soviet era, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here,’ no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate from Eastern Europe.”
Imperial Overstretch Hits Washington
Strategically, in the Cold War years, Washington’s power brokers assumed that there would always be two superpowers perpetually battling for world dominance. In the wake of the utterly unexpected Soviet collapse, American strategists began to envision a world of just one, of a “sole superpower” (akaRome on the Potomac). In line with this new outlook, the administration of George H.W. Bush soon adopted a long-range plan intended to preserve that status indefinitely. Known as the Defense Planning Guidance for Fiscal Years 1994-99, it declared: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”
H.W.’s son, then the governor of Texas, articulated a similar vision of a globally encompassing Pax Americana when campaigning for president in 1999. If elected, he told military cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, his top goal would be “to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity — given few nations in history — to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America’s peaceful influence not just across the world, but across the years.”
For Bush, of course, “extending the peace” would turn out to mean invading Iraq and igniting a devastating regional conflagration that only continues to grow and spread to this day. Even after it began, he did not doubt — nor (despite the reputed wisdom offered by hindsight) does he today — that this was the price that had to be paid for the U.S. to retain its vaunted status as the world’s sole superpower.
The problem, as many mainstream observers now acknowledge, is that such a strategy aimed at perpetuating U.S. global supremacy at all costs was always destined to result in what Yale historian Paul Kennedy, in his classic bookThe Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, unforgettably termed “imperial overstretch.” As he presciently wrote in that 1987 study, it would arise from a situation in which “the sum total of the United States’ global interests and obligations is… far larger than the country’s power to defend all of them simultaneously.”
Indeed, Washington finds itself in exactly that dilemma today. What’s curious, however, is just how quickly such overstretch engulfed a country that, barely a decade ago, was being hailed as the planet’s first “hyperpower,” a status even more exalted than superpower. But that was before George W.’s miscalculation in Iraq and other missteps left the U.S. to face a war-ravaged Middle East with an exhausted military and a depleted treasury. At the same time, major and regional powers like China, India, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have been building up their economic and military capabilities and, recognizing the weakness that accompanies imperial overstretch, are beginning to challenge U.S. dominance in many areas of the globe. The Obama administration has been trying, in one fashion or another, to respond in all of those areas — among them Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the South China Sea — but without, it turns out, the capacity to prevail in any of them.
Nonetheless, despite a range of setbacks, no one in Washington’s power elite — Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders being the exceptions that prove the rule — seems to have the slightest urge to abandon the role of sole superpower or even to back off it in any significant way. President Obama, who is clearly all too aware of the country’s strategic limitations, has been typical in his unwillingness to retreat from such a supremacist vision. “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation,” he toldgraduating cadets at West Point in May 2014. “That has been true for the century past and it will be true for the century to come.”
How, then, to reconcile the reality of superpower overreach and decline with an unbending commitment to global supremacy?
The first of two approaches to this conundrum in Washington might be thought of as . . .
The NY Times once again fails at the basic journalistic task: Seeking evidence that disconfirms Administration claims
As every schoolchild knows, the way you establish the truth of claims is to seek disconfirming evidence: evidence that contradicts the claims. If you find such evidence, the claim is false; if you can’t find it, even though you searched hard, the claim may well be true. But you certainly do not start with the assumption that the claim is true and then seek only evidence that supports the claim.
Unless, that is, you’re the NY Times and the claims are from the Administration in power and are being made in support of waging war. Then, being the NY Times, you believe the claims absolutely, ignore or minimize conflicting evidence, and provide a platform for anonymous claims by scores of Administration and military officials. In other words, the NY Times embraces its role as a propaganda outlet and drops any pretense of actual journalism.
We saw that clearly in the run-up to the Iraq war: Bill Keller and Judith Miller became advocates for the war, credulously repeating all the lies propagated by Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Bush, and others, constantly reporting stories to support going to war and minimizing (or ignoring) evidence that contradicted Administration claims.
The Times has recently said that it has learned its lesson—but let’s look for evidence that disconfirms that claim. And we immediately find a story by Eric Schmitt on the front page of today’s Times: “With ISIS in Cross Hairs, U.S. Holds Back to Protect Civilians.” Take a look:
- Many anonymous sources quoted in support of waging a more ruthless and wider war: check
- Credulous reporting of Administration claims: check
- Absolutely no effort made to look for evidence that contradicts Administration claims: check
This story might as well have been reported by Judith Miller under Bill Keller’s editorship.
The New York Times this morning has an extraordinary front-page article claiming that the U.S. is being hampered in its war against ISIS because of its extreme – even excessive – concern for civilians. “American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians,” reporter Eric Schmitt says.
The newspaper gives voice to numerous, mostly anonymous officials to complain that the U.S. cares too deeply about protecting civilians to do what it should do against ISIS. We learn that “many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy” ISIS. And “a persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters essentially free movement on the battlefield.”
The article claims that “the campaign has killed an estimated 12,500 fighters” and “has achieved several successes in conducting about 4,200 strikes that have dropped about 14,000 bombs and other weapons.” But an anonymous American pilot nonetheless complains that “we have not taken the fight to these guys,” and says he “cannot get authority” to drone-bomb targets without excessive proof that no civilians will be endangered. Despite the criticisms, Schmitt writes, “administration officials stand by their overriding objective to prevent civilian casualties.”
But there’s one rather glaring omission in this article: the many hundreds of civilian deaths likely caused by the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Yet the only reference to civilian deaths are two, ones which the U.S. government last week admitted: “the military’s Central Command on Thursday announced the results of an inquiry into the deaths of two children in Syria in November, saying they were most likely killed by an American airstrike,” adding that “a handful of other attacks are under investigation.”
Completely absent is the abundant evidence from independent monitoring groups documenting hundreds of civilian deaths. Writing in Global Post last month, Richard Hall noted that while “in areas of Syria and Iraq held by the Islamic State, verifying civilian casualties is difficult,” there is strong evidence [that] suggests civilians are dying in the coalition’s airstrikes.”
To May 13th 2015, between 587 and 734 civilian non-combatant fatalities had been reported from 95 separate incidents, in both Iraq and Syria.
Of these it is our provisional view – based on available reports – that between 370-465 civilian non-combatants have been killed in incidents likely to have been conducted by the coalition.
A further 130-145 claimed deaths attributed to coalition airstrikes are poorly reported or are single-sourced, while an additional 85-125 reported fatalities resulted from contested events (for example, claims that the Iraq military might instead have been responsible.)
In addition, 140 or more ‘friendly fire’ deaths of allied ground forces have been attributed to the coalition, with varying levels of certainty.
In his article, Hall quotes one of the Airworks journalists, Chris Woods (formerly with the drone-tracking Bureau of Investigative Journalism) as saying “he has ‘no doubt’ that civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and that the number is probably somewhere in the hundreds.” Local media reports in Iraq have frequently reported civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S.-led bombing campaign.
While compiling exact counts of civilian deaths is difficult, it’s astounding that theNYT would mention none of this, and reference none of these groups’ data or quote their experts, when trumpeting (and complaining about) U.S. restraint. To say that the picture painted by Schmitt is one-sided and incomplete is to understate the case.
One can obviously dismiss these civilian deaths, as many Americans routinely do, by casually invoking the “collateral damage” mantra and relying on cartoon versions of The Threat Posed by ISIS. But it’s outright bizarre for a paper purporting to report on excessive U.S. restraint to completely omit this data, just as U.S. media outlets have done for years with civilian deaths from drones. Beyond the humanitarian matter, killing civilians yet again in Iraq and Syria is highly likely to exacerbate the very problem the bombing campaign is supposedly designed to solve, as the NYTarticle itself recognizes: “Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American-led coalition.” . . .
So the NY Times apparently thinks, like the Administration, that we should be inflicting more civilian casualties in fighting ISIS. It’s like that job interview question “What are your weak points?” that is answered along the lines of “I am perhaps too motivated and work too hard to produce truly excellent results quickly” and the like. “Our problem in fighting ISIS is that we are being too careful not to harm civilians. We’ve got to put those concerns aside and slaughter however many civilians we have to do kill the enemy easily.”
The NY Times, back at the old propaganda stand. Jesus.
Dexter Filkins writes in the New Yorker:
The exchange started like this: at the end of Jeb Bush’s town-hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, a college student named Ivy Ziedrich stood up and said that she had heard Bush blame the growth of ISIS on President Obama, in particular on his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011. The origins of ISIS, Ziedrich said, lay in the decision by Bush’s brother, in 2003, to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government.
“It was when thirty thousand individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.… Your brother createdISIS,’’ she said.
“All right,’’ Bush said. “Is that a question?”
“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said.
“Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said.
Ziedrich finally came forth with her query: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”
Jeb replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed. “When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”
“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true. Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?
Here is what happened: In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Hussein’s government. A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.
This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated.
This was manifestly not true. I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to coöperate. In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.
Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.
On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS? . . .
I would note that Paul Bremer is heavily implicated: it was his orders that led to the abandonment of the Iraq military. Paul Bremer keeps a very low profile these days, for obvious reasons: he’s a disgrace.
UPDATE: Joel Greenberg reports on the same issue in McClatchy.
Oppressed people fight back, as we see in Baltimore. Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:
The Israeli group Breaking the Silence issued a report this morning containing testimony from Israeli soldiers about the savagery and criminality committed by the Israeli military during the attack on Gaza last summer. The Independent has a good article describing the report’s findings: “The Israeli military deliberately pounded civilian areas in the Gaza Strip with incessant fire of inaccurate ordinance” and “was at best indifferent about casualties among the Palestinian population.” At best.
This should surprise nobody who paid any attention to the brutal Israeli destruction of Gaza or, for that matter, countless Israeli attacks before that. The U.N. has said that 7 out of 10 people killed by the Israelis were civilians, “including 1,462 civilians, among them 495 children and 253 women”;video of Israelis killing four Gazan boys as they played on a beach sickened anyone decent.
Nonetheless, reading the accounts from these Israeli soldiers is revolting and important in equal parts. It shines considerable light on the reality of what Israeli loyalists have long hailed as “the most moral army in the world,” one unfairly held to a difference standard that ignores their great “restraint.”
The Intercept has chosen some selected, representative excerpts from the report, with the rank of the testifying soldier indicated (each one was granted anonymity by the report’s organizers). This is the savage occupying force known as the Israeli Defense Forces:
“Whoever you see there, you kill”
[A]fter 48 hours during which no one shoots at you and they’re like ghosts, unseen, their presence unfelt – except once in a while the sound of one shot fired over the course of an entire day – you come to realize the situation is under control. And that’s when my difficulty there started, because the formal rules of engagement – I don’t know if for all soldiers – were, “Anything still there is as good as dead. Anything you see moving in the neighborhoods you’re in is not supposed to be there. The [Palestinian] civilians know they are not supposed to be there. Therefore whoever you see there, you kill. . . .
The commander [gave that order]. “Anything you see in the neighborhoods you’re in, anything within a reasonable distance, say between zero and 200 meters – is dead on the spot. No authorization needed.” We asked him: “I see someone walking in the street, do I shoot him?” He said yes.
Did the commander discuss what happens if you run into civilians or uninvolved people?
There are none. The working assumption states – and I want to stress that this is a quote of sorts: that anyone located in an IDF area, in areas the IDF took over – is not [considered] a civilian. That is the working assumption. We entered Gaza with that in mind, and with an insane amount of firepower.
Shot a “grandpa” while he lay wounded on the ground:
Staff Sargent, Infantry: . . .
Continue reading. Read the whole thing and you can see why the Gazans might feel some animus against the Israelis—and wonder why Israel has not been called to account for war crimes.
Very interesting post by Kevin Drum. We have known that ISIS is part of the fallout from the Iraq War that George W. Bush got us into, primarily by lying. But it’s even more direct than that: the guy who more or less invented ISIS, and who laid out the plan for its organization and development, did it in part because of Paul Bremer’s bone-headed decision to disband the entire Iraq army.
Bremer seems to be one of those smug and self-satisfied individuals that never has a moment for introspection or doubt. Much like Dick Cheney in that respect.
There is no way any court can hear a case involving US crimes in war, since the administration simply tells the judge, “National security,” and the case is dismissed. Thus none of those whom the US kidnapped and tortured—even though they were completely innocent—have been able to sue: the US government doesn’t allow itself to be sued for such things. And those whose families were “collateral” damage from a drone strike—e.g., the various wedding parties that were killed—can sue.
But Germany apparently is allowing a lawsuit. Cora Currier, Ryan Devereaux, and Jeremy Scahill report in The Intercept:
On Aug. 31, 2012, a top-secret U.S. intelligence report noted that “possible bystanders” had been killed alongside militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a drone strike in eastern Yemen two days earlier. The source of the intelligence, a Yemeni official described in the cable as “reliable,” identified two of the dead as Waleed bin Ali Jaber and Salim bin Ali Jaber, “an imam of a mosque who had reportedly preached a sermon that had insulted AQAP.”
The source believed that Salim and Waleed “had been lured to the car by the two AQAP militants when the airstrike hit.”
Salim and Waleed’s deaths sparked protests in their village, and the incident was later well-documented by international media and human rights groups. Their family representative, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, has met with Yemeni and U.S. national security officials and members of Congress. But the United States still has not formally acknowledged or apologized for the incident.
The previously unreported intelligence report, viewed by The Intercept, indicates that the U.S. government knew soon after the strike that it had killed two civilians. It could add fire to a lawsuit that Faisal bin Ali Jaber has launched in Germany, as further evidence that U.S. strikes put innocent Yemenis at risk.
Jaber will testify next month in front of a German court, alleging that Germany is violating a constitutionally enshrined duty to protect the right to life by allowing the United States to use Ramstein Air Base as part of its lethal drone operations.
It is the first time a victim of a U.S. drone strike will air his grievances in court, lawyers for the case told The Intercept. The lawsuit could put Germany in the awkward position of having to publicly defend its role in the U.S. drone program.
As The Intercept reported today, the U.S. military sees Ramstein as an essential node in the technical infrastructure for its armed and unarmed drone operations. A budget request for the Ramstein station stated that without the facility, “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”
The administrative court in Cologne where Jaber’s suit is filed recently granted him the chance to present evidence, a sign that it will allow the case to move forward. At that hearing, scheduled for May 27, Jaber will describe the 2012 incident and argue that he and his family are still in danger from drone strikes.
“We’re asking the German government to take measures to stop the U.S. from using German soil in their illegal and immoral drone war,” said Kat Craig, legal director for Reprieve, an international rights group that is representing Jaber along with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
Extending the constitutional right to life to a non-German citizen outside of Germany is untested legal ground. That Jaber will be allowed to testify is “quite remarkable,” said Craig, and shows “the court is taking it seriously.”
The German government has tried to get the suit tossed, arguing in a court filing that Ramstein’s role in the U.S. drone program is unproven, and that Jaber can’t tie Germany to his specific case.
The lawsuit, the government argues in the filing, is asking Germany to act as a “‘global public prosecutor’ towards other sovereign states” — namely, the United States and Yemen.
The German government also wrote that the U.S. has provided assurances that no drones are commanded or controlled from Germany, echoing what a Pentagon spokesperson told The Intercept: that the United States does not “directly fly or control any manned or remotely piloted aircraft” from Ramstein. As The Intercept explained, that language carefully evades the important technical role played by the base.
Any victory in Jaber’s case will likely be symbolic, said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s almost unimaginable that lethal counterterrorism operations would rupture a relationship with an ally like Germany. Ramstein is used for so many other things and is so important to the bilateral relationship,” Zenko said.
But it could have political ramifications in Germany, where drones are a particularly controversial issue. Zenko noted a recent survey that found 67 percent of Germans were opposed to U.S. drone strikes. Previous allegations of Ramstein’s role in the drone program led to parliamentary inquiries.
In its response, the German government “appears to be trying to avoid a situation where they have to justify their cooperation with the Americans,” said Craig. “That is why they won’t simply deal with the facts of the case.”
U.S. drone operations in Yemen have slowed in the months since Jaber filed his case, as the country has disintegrated into war. . .
Jeremy Scahill has a lengthy report, “A Game of Drones,” published in The Intercept and also in Der Spiegel (in German). It’s worth reading, and begins:
This is a joint investigation with the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
A TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Interceptconfirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said.
The new evidence places German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an awkward position given Germany’s close diplomatic alliance with the United States. The German government has granted the U.S. the right to use the property, but only under the condition that the Americans do nothing there that violates German law.
The U.S. government maintains that its drone strikes against al Qaeda and its “associated forces” are legal, even outside of declared war zones. But German legal officials have suggested that such operations are only justifiable in actual war zones. Moreover, Germany has the right to prosecute “criminal offenses against international law … even when the offense was committed abroad and bears no relation to Germany,” according to Germany’s Code of Crimes against International Law, which passed in 2002.
This means that American personnel stationed at Ramstein could, in theory, be vulnerable to German prosecution if they provide drone pilots with data used in attacks.
While the German government has been reluctant to pursue such prosecutions, it may come under increasing pressure to do so. “It is simply murder,” says Björn Schiffbauer of the Institute for International Law at the University of Cologne. Legal experts interviewed by Der Spiegel claimed that U.S. personnel could be charged as war criminals by German prosecutors.
RAMSTEIN IS ONE of the largest U.S. military bases outside the United States, hosting more than 16,000 military and civilian personnel. The relay center at Ramstein, which was completed in late 2013, sits in the middle of a massive forest and is adjacent to a baseball diamond used by students at the Ramstein American High School. The large compound, made of reinforced concrete and masonry walls and enclosed in a horseshoe of trees, has a sloped metal roof. Inside this building, air force squadrons can coordinate the signals necessary for a variety of drone surveillance and strike missions. On two sides of the building are six massive golf ball-like fixtures known as satellite relay pads.
In a 2010 budget request for the Ramstein satellite station, the U.S. Air Force asserted that without the Germany-based facility, the drone program could face “significant degradation of operational capability” that could “have a serious impact on ongoing and future missions.” Predator and Reaper drones, as well as Global Hawk aircraft, would “use this site to conduct operations” in Africa and the Middle East, according to the request. It stated bluntly that without the use of Ramstein, drone “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”
“Because of multi-theater-wide operations, the respective SATCOM Relay Station must be located at Ramstein Air Base to provide most current information to the war-fighting commander at any time demanded,” according to the request. The relay station, according to that document, would also be used to support the operations of a secretive black ops Air Force program known as “Big Safari.”
The classified slide deck maps out an intricate spider web of facilities across the U.S. and the globe: from drone command centers on desert military bases in the U.S. to Ramstein to outposts in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Qatar and Bahrain and back to NSA facilities in Washington and Georgia. What is clear is that most paths within America’s drone maze run through Ramstein.