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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

Paul Bremer’s role in the creation of ISIS

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2015 at 1:49 pm

US drone warfare comes to court for the first time

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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. . .

Continue reading.

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.

creech-pullA top-secret slide confirms the central role Germany plays in the U.S. drone war.

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.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2015 at 4:15 pm

45% of Americans owe their allegiance to Israel: They support Israel’s national interests over US national interests

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I’m surprised that so many seem to have pledged their allegiance to Israel over the US. Glenn Greenwald points to the results of a new poll:

A new poll from Bloomberg Politics contains a finding that, if you really think about it, is quite remarkable:

Almost half of all Americans want to support Israel even if its interests diverge from the interests of their own country. Only a minority of Americans (47 percent) say that their country should pursue their own interests over supporting Israel’s when the two choices collide. It’s the ultimate violation of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address warning that “nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded. … The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”

It is inconceivable that a substantial portion of Americans would want to support any other foreign country even where doing so was contrary to U.S. interests. Only Israel commands anything near that level of devoted, self-sacrificing fervor on the part of Americans. So it’s certainly worth asking what accounts for this bizarre aspect of American public opinion.

The answer should make everyone quite uncomfortable: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2015 at 9:16 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Why no Iranian guests on Sunday talk shows

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It’s very strange that Sunday talk shows, ostensibly to explore political questions, never have an Iranian as guest. Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

Sunday morning news television is where Washington sets its media agenda for the week and, more importantly, defines its narrow range of conventional, acceptable viewpoints. It’s where the Serious People go to spout their orthodoxies and, through the illusion of “tough questioning,” disseminate DC-approved bipartisan narratives. Other than the New York Times front page, Sunday morning TV was the favorite tool of choice for Bush officials and neocon media stars to propagandize the public about Iraq; Dick Cheney’s media aide, Catherine Martin, noted in a memo that the Tim-Russert-hosted Meet the Press lets Cheney “control message,” and she testified at the Lewis Libby trial that, as a result, “I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used. It’s our best format.”

Over the last couple months, the Sunday morning TV shows – NBC‘s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face The Nation, ABC’s This Week, Fox’s News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union – have focused on a deal with Iran as one of their principal topics. In doing so, they have repeatedly given a platform to fanatical anti-Iran voices, including Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They have sycophantically interviewed officials from the U.S.-supported, anti-Iranian Gulf tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan; two weeks ago, Chuck Todd interviewed Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel Al-Jubeir and didn’t utter a word about extreme Saudi repression, but actually did ask this “question”:todd-540x135

Are the foot rubs we Americans are giving to you to your liking, Mr. Saudi Ambassador, or do you feel that we must make them more vigorous? In the last three weeks aloneMeet the Press has interviewed the Israeli Prime Minister, the Saudi Ambassador, and the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.

Meanwhile, their “expert media panels” almost always feature the most extremist “pro-Israel,” anti-Iran American pundits such as Jeffrey Goldberg, who played aleading role in spreading false claims about Iraq under the guise of “reporting” (and only became more beloved and credible in DC for it), was dubbed Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer” by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and even joined the Israeli military in his young adulthood. In 2014, Face the Nation interviewed Netanyahu five times and featured his “faithful stenographer,” Goldberg, three times; in 2015, the CBS show just last week interviewed Netanyahu and has already hosted Goldberg four times. ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos actually features supreme neocon propagandist Bill Krsitol as a regular “ABC News Contributor” and has also interviewed Netanyahu. And that’s to say nothing of the “hawkish”, AIPAC-loyal and/or evangelical members of the U.S. Congress who are fanatically devoted to Israel and appear literally almost every week on these programs.

But as these shows “cover” the Iran deal, one thing is glaringly missing: Iranian voices. There has not been a single Iranian official recently interviewed by any of these Sunday morning shows. When I raised this issue on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a Meet the Press Senior Editor, Shawna Thomas, said the show had “put in a request” with Iran for an interview, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes also suggested that it can be difficult to secure interviews with Iranian government officials.

That may be, but even if it is difficult to obtain interviews with Iranian government officials, it is extremely easy to interview Iranian experts, scholars, journalists and other authoritative voices from Tehran. Last week, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez  hosted a fascinating hour-long discussion about Iran with Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator for Iran who was Iran’s Ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1997, and now teaches at Princeton. Just this week, CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Tehran University Professor Sadegh Zibakalam about Tehran’s views and actions in the Iran deal. Beyond those in Iran, there are Iranian-American groups and Iranian-American experts who actually speak Farsi who don’t see the world the way Jeffrey Goldberg and Lindsey Graham do. Outside the Sunday shows, Iranian officials have been interviewed occasionally by U.S. media figures.

In sum, the only way to exclude Iranian voices is if you choose to exclude them. That’s exactly what Sunday morning television programs have done, and continue to do. And it matters a great deal for several reasons.

For one, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2015 at 1:31 pm

True-life espionage story

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A long read, but very interesting, about a Mossad spy who brought his country to the verge of war: “Operation Red Falcon,” by Ronen Bergman:

Early on the morning of September 1, 1996, the Israeli military began moving troops to the Syrian border in preparation for a war they were convinced was imminent. The military’s actions were based on top-secret intelligence—that Syria was about to launch a surprise attack—passed on by an informant, a general at the center of Syria’s Supreme Military Council, code-named Red Falcon. Red Falcon’s information had caused panic at the highest reaches of the Israeli Defense Forces, and senior military officials and Mossad officers were urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue an order to the IDF to launch its own offensive before the Syrians could launch theirs.
The attack never materialized, and the people of Syria and Israel never knew how close their countries had come to a devastating war. More than a year after that tense alert, in November 1997, I met in secret with a senior member of the Israeli intelligence community, who told me a story I found nearly impossible to believe at the time. It would soon become one of the most infamous spy stories in modern history. A legendary Mossad operative, he said, had been arrested on suspicion of fabricating the intelligence that had brought Israel to the brink of war.
The operative, Yehuda Gil, had been widely celebrated within the Israeli intelligence community for years. In the aftermath of the massacre at the Munich Olympics, in 1972, Gil had been among the operatives who’d hunted down and executed members of the terrorist group Black September. He had collected operational intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear facility, which was later destroyed by Israel’s Air Force. He had laid the foundation for intelligence networks in Sudan and had played a key role in a covert operation, known publicly as Operation Moses and within the Mossad by the code name Brothers, that brought 7,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
And it was Gil who had recruited and handled Red Falcon, who for over two decades was Israel’s most valuable agent in the Arab world.
On March 24, 1999, Yehuda Gil was found guilty of espionage and theft in a secret trial—though he was released not long after, in December 2000, when his term was reduced for good behavior. For the next ten years, Gil refused to tell his story.
During that period, I spoke with many others in the Israeli intelligence community about why such a revered operative would so profoundly endanger his own country. Their theories varied. According to some, Gil was a sociopathic “evil genius.” Others suspected he had been undercover for too long and confused the good guys with the bad. Still others said he was driven by an inexplicable, egomaniacal desire to turn his unique gift—the ability to lie to and manipulate others—against his own side.
But no one could be sure why Gil had committed the crimes he’d committed. Or even what, exactly, those crimes were, though their consequences were severe. He had profoundly damaged the international credibility of the Mossad, whose false information—going back how long, no one was quite sure—had been shared with the major intelligence agencies of the Western world. He had put Israeli lives at terrible risk. He had even endangered his own family. One of Gil’s colleagues told me that Gil’s son was a paratrooper stationed at the Syrian front on that September day when the Israeli military prepared for war. “What kind of person is he,” the man said, “that he would risk the life of his own child?”

It’s impossible to appreciate the enormity of the Yehuda Gil affair without first understanding the mythic place that the Mossad occupies in the collective Israeli consciousness. As with the CIA, the agency functions opaquely and is protected by a number of draconian laws; but the adulation it receives in Israel, the way in which the country’s survival is, in the minds of many Israeli citizens and leaders, due to and forever dependent upon the heroic and secretive operations of the Mossad, is unlike the experience of any other foreign intelligence agency in the world. For every operative who joins its ranks, there are a thousand turned away. And so for one of them—not just an agent, but one whose exploits were as legendary as Gil’s were—to deceive his own country was nearly impossible for Israelis to comprehend (as it was for me when I first heard about it).
Like many other reporters, I tried for years to arrange an interview with Gil. I spoke several times with his wife, Noa, but she was unable or unwilling to persuade him to meet with me. After Gil was released, he and Noa withdrew to their home in Gedera, a community 20 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, where they lived a very private life.
I tried other leads, none of which worked out. And then, in the course of working on another investigation, I met a man named . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2015 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

When money from the few supplants the will of the people

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The US is in the process of devolving to a state governed by an economic elite, with the will of the people simply ignored in favor of getting large sums of money from the few. This will all end in tears, I’m sure.

Eric Lipton reports in the NY Times:

As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear programis debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.

But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.

Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed for The New York Times by a second nonprofit, MapLight. The Republican advantage was the first in more than a decade.

The alliances in Congress that pro-Israel donors have built will certainly be tested as they lobby lawmakers to oppose the deal with Iran and perhaps even expand sanctions against the country, despite objections from the Obama administration.

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

“Absolutely, it is a factor,” said Marc Felgoise, who manages the Philadelphia Israel Network, a campaign fund-raising group, and whose own contributions have shifted to Republicans, though he still supports many Democrats. “They are trying to cater to people who are ultimately going to support them.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, saw his donations from pro-Israel donors soar to about $285,000 in the 2014 election cycle from less than $100,000 in 2008, during his previous election, the analysis by MapLight shows. Pro-Israel contributions to Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, plummeted to less than $150,000 in 2014, when he was also re-elected, from nearly $300,000 in 2008, according to this count.

But few candidates have benefited as much as Mr. Cotton.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.

The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.

“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

The deepening support for Israel among congressional Republicans reflects . . .

Continue reading.

The Mideast Conflict seems destined to destroy democracy in the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2015 at 3:34 pm

A very odd choice of verb in The Week

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In their summary of the Shiite-Sunni struggle, The Week writes (page 9, current issue):

Iran has become a de facto partner of Iraq’s Shiite-led government [which the US helped establish, let’s remember – LG], training 100,000 Shiite militiamen to defend against ISIS and Sunni insurgents. [thus complementing the US effort to train the same people – LG] Iran is also meddling in Syria…

Meddling?! “Meddling” in Syria?? What about the US? It also is “meddling” in Syria.

This sort of overt editorializing cannot be done more awkwardly. Iran “meddles” and the US “assists,” I presume.

And notice that Iran is doing exactly what the US is doing, only when we do it, it’s good, but when others do it, it’s bad.



Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2015 at 5:50 pm


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