Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Strange form of lying from the Obama administration: Say something (repeatedly), and then deny having said it
Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons have a report (with video) in The Intercept that begins:
After President Obama announced on Monday that he would deploy 250 additional special operations troops to Syria, State Department spokesperson John Kirby tried to deny that Obama had ever promised not to send “boots on the ground” there.
“There was never this ‘no boots on the ground,’” said Kirby. “I don’t know where this keeps coming from.”
[WordPress has lost—temporarily, I hope—the ability to insert YouTube videos. Click the link to the article to see the video in the article, and also this 3-minute video is of interest. – LG]
The problem for Kirby was that Obama has repeated the promise at least 16 times since 2013:
For instance, on August 30, 2013, Obama said: “We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach.”
On September 10, 2013, he said: “Many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are ‘still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.’ A veteran put it more bluntly: ‘This nation is sick and tired of war.’ My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”
On September 7, 2014, he said: “In Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian.”
After reporters pointed out the mistake, Kirby tried to walk back his claim by defining the phrase “boots on the ground” to exclude special forces.
“When we talk about boots on the ground, in the context that you have heard people in the administration speak to, we are talking about conventional, large-scale ground troops,” said Kirby. “I’m not disputing the fact that we have troops on the ground, and they’re wearing boots.”
The new deployment will result in a six-fold increase to the 50 U.S. special forces troops already in Syria. There are also 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The White House has insisted that its forces “do not have a combat mission,” and are deployed in an “advise and assist” capacity only, helping to train local militias that engage ISIS directly.
There is, as Kirby indicated, a distinction between a large-scale ground invasion and, say, a small group of advisers hanging back from the front. But the line between “combat” and “assist” missions is not always so clear.
In Iraq, when a U.S. special forces soldier was killed during a raid on an ISIS-held prison, the White House insisted that U.S. forces were only flying helicopters carrying Kurdish commandos, and that it was a “unique circumstance.” They refused to call the exchange “combat,” prompting outrage from veterans groups.
A second American soldier was killed in a rocket attack in northern Iraq last month, while guarding a U.S. base near Mosul. The White House calledit “an enemy action,” not “combat.”
“Advise and assist” may also include providing targeting intelligence for U.S. airstrikes, according to Dan Grazier, a former Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq who is now a fellow with the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight. “With a force the size they’re talking about, they’re probably there to help provide fire support,” Grazier said.
Some veterans are outraged by the administration’s semantics.
I hope Hillary Clinton reads this article by Roger Hodge in The Intercept:
THE CONVICTION that invasion, bombing, and special forces benefit large swaths of the globe, while remaining consonant with a Platonic ideal of the national interest, runs deep in the American psyche. Like the poet Stevie Smith’s cat, the United States “likes to gallop about doing good.” The cat attacks and misses, sometimes injuring itself, but does not give up. It asks, as the U.S. should,
What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Nothing undermines the American belief in military force. No matter how often its galloping about results in resentment and mayhem, the U.S. gets up again to do good elsewhere. Failure to improve life in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya stiffens the resolve to get it right next time. This notion prevails among politicized elements of the officer corps; much of the media, whether nominally liberal or conservative; the foreign policy elite recycled quadrennially between corporation-endowed think tanks and government; and most politicians on the national stage. For them and the public they influence, the question is less whether to deploy force than when, where, and how.
Since 1979, when the Iranians overthrew the Shah and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. has concentrated its firepower in what former U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich calls the “Greater Middle East.” The region comprises most of what America’s imperial predecessors, the British, called the Near and Middle East, a vast zone from Pakistan west to Morocco. In his new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Bacevich writes, “From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in that region. Within a decade, a great shift occurred. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed anywhere exceptthe Greater Middle East.” That observation alone might prompt a less propagandized electorate to rebel against leaders who perpetuate policies that, while killing and maiming American soldiers, devastate the societies they touch.
Bacevich describes a loyal cadre of intellectuals and pundits favoring war after war, laying the moral ground for invasions and excusing them when they go wrong. He notes that in 1975, when American imperium was collapsing in Indochina, the guardians of American exceptionalism renewed their case for preserving the U.S. as the exception to international law. An article by Robert Tucker in Commentary that year set the ball rolling with the proposition that “to insist that before using force one must exhaust all other remedies is little more than the functional equivalent of accepting chaos.” Another evangelist for military action, Miles Ignotus, wrote in Harper’s two months later that the U.S. with Israel’s help must prepare to seize Saudi Arabia’s oilfields. Miles Ignotus, Latin for “unknown soldier,” turned out to be the known civilian and Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak. Luttwak urged a “revolution” in warfare doctrine toward “fast, light forces to penetrate the enemy’s vital centers” with Saudi Arabia a test case. The practical test would come, with results familiar to most of the world, 27 years later in Iraq.
The Pentagon, its pride and reputation wounded in Vietnam as surely as the bodies of 150,000 scarred American soldiers, was slow to take the hint. The end of compulsory military service robbed it of manpower for massive global intervention. Revelations of war crimes and political chicanery from the Senate’s Church Committee and the Pike Committee in the House added to public disenchantment with military adventures and intelligence meddling in other countries’ affairs. It would take years of effort to cure America of its “Vietnam Syndrome,” the preference for diplomatic before military solutions.
In the Middle East, President Gerald Ford saw no reason to rescind his predecessor’s policy, the Nixon Doctrine of reliance on local clients armed by the U.S. to protect Persian Gulf oil for America’s gas-hungry consumers. Nothing much happened, though, until one of the local gendarmes, the Shah of Iran, fell to a popular revolution and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. . .
Read the whole thing: definitely worthwhile.
Zaid Jilani has an article in The Intercept that’s well worth reading. The conclusion:
. . . The New York Timesnoted last fall that most Saudi aircraft had shifted from the air war in Syria — where they were ostensibly bombing ISIS — to combat in Yemen. “They’ve all been busy doing other things, Yemen being the primary draw,” Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Southwest Asia, told the paper.
The Obama administration has steadily provided arms and support to the Saudi-led coalition as it waged war in Yemen, even as thousands of civilians have perished in the fighting, and the country’s infrastructure and architectural history have been devastated.
Murphy said he worries that the U.S. support may be in exchange for Saudi acquiescence to the Iranian nuclear deal.
He also said that U.S. support for the war has inflamed lasting hostility towards the U.S. among the Yemeni people.
“Our participation in the war is only silent in the United States Congress and in Washington D.C.,” he said. “In the region, it’s not silent at all. Yemenis will tell you that this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign.”
A poll released earlier this month showed that 82 percent of Yemenis between the ages of 18 and 24 now view America as an enemy.
The last thing we need is another country consumed with hatred of the US. Perhaps our drones can convince them to love us.
Pratrap Chatterjee reports at TomDispatch.com:
In our part of the world, it’s not often that potential “collateral damage” speaks, but it happened last week. A Pakistani tribal leader, Malik Jalal, flew to England to plead in anewspaper piece he wrote and in media interviews to be taken off the Obama White House’s “kill list.” (“I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead.”) Jalal, who lives in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, is a local leader and part of a peace committee sanctioned by the Pakistani government that is trying to tamp down the violence in the region. He believes that he’s been targeted for assassination by Washington. (Four drone missiles, he claims, have just missed him or his car.) His family, he says, is traumatized by the drones. “I don’t want to end up a ‘Bugsplat’ — the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone,” he writes. “More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.”
Normally, what “they” do to us, or our European counterparts (think: Brussels, Paris, or San Bernardino), preoccupies us 24/7. What we do to “them” — and “them” turns out to be far more than groups of terrorists — seldom touches our world at all. As TomDispatch readers know, this website has paid careful attention to the almost 300 wedding celebrants killed by U.S. air power between late 2001 and the end of 2013 — eight wedding parties eviscerated in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen). These are deaths that, unlike the 14 Americans murdered in San Bernardino, the 32 Belgians and others killed in Brussels, and the 130 French and others slaughtered in Paris, have caused not even a ripple here (though imagine for a second the reaction if even a single wedding, no less eight of them and hundreds of revelers, had been wiped out by a terror attack in the U.S. in these years).
Any sense of sadness or regret for Washington’s actions, when it comes to the many killed, wounded, or traumatized in its never-ending, implacable, and remarkably unsuccessful war on terror, is notable mainly for its absence from our world. So it’s an extraordinary moment when any Americans — no less a group that has been deeply involved in prosecuting the drone war on terror — publicly expresses empathy for the “collateral damage” inflicted in that ongoing conflict. That’s why TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee brings genuine news today from the heart of America’s drone wars, from those who should best be able to assess the grim reality of just what Washington has been doing in our name. Tom
Drone Whistleblowers Step Out of the Shadows
In Washington’s Drone Wars, Collateral Damage Comes Home
By Pratap Chatterjee
In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.
Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage. In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.
“Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 dronestrike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake. In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.
“I Was Under the Impression That America Was Saving the World”
“When we are in our darkest places and we have a lot to worry about and we feel guilty about our past actions, it’s really tough to describe what that feeling is like,” says Daniel, a whistleblower who took part in drone operations and whose last name is not revealed in National Bird. Speaking of the suicidal feelings that sometimes plagued him while he was involved in killing halfway across the planet, he adds, “Having the image in your head of taking your own life is not a good feeling.”
National Bird is not the first muckraking documentary on Washington’s drone wars. Robert Greenwald’s Unmanned, Tonje Schei’s Drone, and Madiha Tahrir’s Wounds of Waziristan have already shone much-needed light on how drone warfare really works. But as Kennebeck told me, when she set out to make a film about the wages of the newest form of war known to humanity, she wanted those doing the targeting, as well as those they were targeting, to speak for themselves. She wanted them to reveal the psychological impact of sending robot assassins, often operated by “pilots” halfway around the world, into the Greater Middle East to fight Washington’s war on terror. In her film, there’s no narrator, nor experts in suits working for think tanks in Washington, nor retired generals debating the value of drone strikes when it comes to defeating terrorism.
Instead, what you see is far less commonplace: low-level recruits in President Obama’s never-ending drone wars, those Air Force personnel who remotely direct the robotic vehicles to their targets, analyze the information they send back, and relay that information to the pilots who unleash Hellfire missiles that will devastate distant villages. If recent history is any guide, these drones do not just kill terrorists; in their target areas, they also create anxiety, upset, and a desire for revenge in a larger population and so have proven a powerful weapon in spreading terror movements across the Greater Middle East.
These previously faceless but distinctly non-robotic Air Force recruits are the cannon fodder of America’s drone wars. You meet two twenty-somethings: Daniel, a self-described down-and-out homeless kid, every male member of whose family has been in jail on petty charges of one kind or another, and Heather, a small town high school graduate trying to escape rural Pennsylvania. You also meet Lisa, a former Army nurse from California, who initially saw the military as a path to a more meaningful life.
The three of them worked on Air Force bases scattered around the country from California to Virginia. The equipment they handled hovered above war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Pakistan and Yemen (where the U.S. Air Force was supporting assassination missions on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency).
“That is so cool, unmanned aircraft. That’s really bad-ass.” So Heather thought when she first saw recruitment posters for the drone program. “I was under the impression,” she told Kennebeck, “that America was saving the world, like that we were Big Brother and we were helping everyone out.”
Initially, Lisa felt similarly: “When I first got into the military, I mean I was thinking it was a win-win. It was a force for good in the world. I thought I was going to be on the right side of history.”
And that was hardly surprising. After all, you’re talking about the “perfect weapon,” the totally high-tech, “precise” and “surgical,” no-(American)-casualties, sci-fi version of war that Washington has been promoting for years as its answer to al-Qaeda and other terror outfits. President Obama who has personally overseen the drone campaigns — with a “kill list” and “terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House — vividly described his version of such a modern war in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University:
“This is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. We were attacked on 9/11. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces… America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”
That distinctly Hollywood vision of America’s drone wars (with a Terminatoredge) was the one that had filtered down to the level of Kennebeck’s three drone-team interviewees when they signed on. It looked to them then like a war worth fighting and a life worth leading. Today, as they speak out, their version of such warfare looks nothing like what either Hollywood or Washington might imagine.
“Excuse Me, Sir, Can I Have Your Driver’s License?”
National Bird does more than look at the devastation caused by drones in far away lands and the overwhelming anxiety it produces among those who live under the distant buzzing and constant threat of those robotic aircraft on an almost daily basis. Kennebeck also turns her camera on the men and women who helped make the strikes possible, trying to assess what the impact of their war has been on them. Their raw and unfiltered responses should deeply trouble us all.
Kennebeck’s interviewees are among at least a dozen whistleblowers who have stepped forward, or are preparing to do so, in order to denounce Washington’s drone wars as morally unjustified, as in fact nightmares both for those who fight them and those living in the lands that are on the receiving end. The realities of the day-in, day-out war they fought for years were, as they tell it, deeply destructive and filled with collateral damage of every sort. Worse yet, drone operators turn out to have little real idea about, and almost no confirmation of, whom exactly they’ve blown away. . .
Robert Mackey reports on mass demonstrations in Israel to support the Army medic who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian who was lying on the ground and posed no threat:
Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Tuesday in support of an army medic who was caught on video last month apparently executing a wounded Palestinian suspect following a knife attack in the occupied West Bank.
The medic, Sgt. Elor Azaria, 19, was charged with manslaughter by an Israeli military court on Monday for firing a single bullet into the head of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, killing him, on March 24 in the city of Hebron. Sharif was one of two young Palestinians suspected of lightly wounding an Israeli soldier in an area of the city inhabited by Jewish settlers.
Crowd chants “Elor the hero” and “death to Arabs.” This seems more like a celebration of murder than anythingpic.twitter.com/2QHDpIT0LJ
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) April 19, 2016
Video of the incident recorded by a Palestinian witness and posted online by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, showed that Sharif was lying prone on the ground, already immobilized by previous gunshots, when Azaria cocked his gun and shot him.
Haaretz, the Tel Aviv daily, reported that his supporters shouted slogans including, “He’s a hero,” and “Release the soldier.” The soldier’s mother thanked the crowd of about 5,000, according to a police estimate, and reminded her son that, “From a young age, you wanted to be a combat soldier and give back to your country.” . . .
U.S. acknowledges Israel’s unlawful killings, excessive force, torture, discrimination against Palestinians
I don’t think this report would have seen the light of day under a President Hillary Clinton, who has declared her allegiance to supporting Israel regardless of what Israel does (cf. this report). Ben Norton reports in Salon:
A new report by the U.S. State Department thoroughly details how the Israeli government discriminates against Palestinians in almost every aspect of society.
In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.”
The U.S. also confirms that Israeli government forces are responsible for unlawful killings and the use of excessive force and torture against Palestinians.
In the occupied territories, the State Department reports on Israel’s “abuse of Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation; austere and overcrowded detention facilities; improper security detention procedures; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly and association; and severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement.”
The report documents Israel’s violent repression of Palestinian journalists and peaceful activists. It also addresses the hundreds of attacks on Palestinian civilians each year by extremist Israeli settlers, who are guaranteed almost complete impunity.
The 124-page report is divided into multiple parts, distinguishing Palestinian citizens of Israel from Palestinians living under illegal military control in the occupied territories.
It also separately documents violations of human rights by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Yet, while U.S. government officials and media outlets frequently publicly speak about crimes committed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, rarely are the Israeli government’s own crimes so openly acknowledged.
The following is a detailed summary of the lengthy report’s key findings, organized according to the type of human rights violation.
Killings and excessive force
The U.S. State Department report documents “excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces in a number of their interactions with Palestinian civilians, and arbitrary arrest and associated torture and abuse, often with impunity.”
In 2015, Israeli forces killed 149 Palestinians, roughly half (72) of whom were not attempting to attack Israelis.
Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinian civilians before Oct. 1, when the wave of violence increased. Another 127 Palestinian civilians were killed after Oct. 1. (The State Department did not mention a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report that found that Palestinians were injured 14,000 times in 2015.)
Some of those killed or injured were children. The report cites an example in March 2015, in which an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the stomach during a weekly protest.
Acknowledging “human rights abuses related to actions by Israeli authorities,” the report also notes that Israeli occupation forces regularly use live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets to clampdown on Palestinian protests, which have killed civilians.
“The continued frequent use of live ammunition [is] a serious concern,” it states, adding that there “were numerous reports of [Israeli forces] killing Palestinians during riots, demonstrations, at checkpoints, and during routine operations; in some cases they did not pose a threat to life.”
Israeli officials made no response to numerous reports by Israeli human rights organizations regarding Israeli soldiers using excessive force, the State Department confirms.
The report furthermore documents Israel’s “disproportionate force and indiscriminate fire” in its summer 2014 war in Gaza, “resulting in unnecessary and excessive civilian casualties.”
Citing human rights reports, the State Department recognizes the Israeli military’s “heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighborhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property.”
The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, often attacked medical teams and facilities and denied medical evacuations, the report notes.
Children paid a large toll in the war. 535 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza, nearly 68 percent of whom were 12 years old or younger, the report notes.
It also cites human rights organization that “found overwhelming and repeated evidence that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes,” including “direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles and attacks on schools.”
Institutional discrimination . . .
Clinton, of course, defends all the practices listed later in the report and has no patience with anyone who finds any fault in the actions of the Israeli government.
Despite the fact that almost all the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis, the US has continued to ignore Saudi atrocities. After the 9/11 the FBI helped Saudi nationals flee the US, and the US continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:
In its annual human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the State Department ignored thousands of civilian casualties from the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and overlooked the widespread use of illegal cluster munitions by the bombing coalition.
Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign in Yemen last March after Houthi rebels in Yemen threatened the rule of the Saudi-backed president. The Saudi military has been widely criticized for targeting civilians, destroying homes, schools, and hospitals, and using internationally banned cluster munitions.
The Obama administration has supported the Saudi-led campaign throughout, providing the coalition with intelligence and selling them at least $20 billion dollars of weapons since the campaign began in March.
The report, which was released Wednesday and covers all of 2015, attributes to Human Rights Watch a report “that 13 people total were killed, including three children, in seven rocket attacks from April to mid-July.”
But Human Rights Watch also tallied more than 550 civilian deaths in 2015 from 36 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, and documented 15 attacks where the coalition used banned cluster munitions, according to Belkis Wille, the group’s Yemen Researcher.
The group estimates that coalition bombing has killed a total of nearly two thousand civilians since the war began.
And the HRW report the State Department referenced specifies that Saudi forces usedU.S.-made M26 cluster bombs in all seven attacks. Each rocket released more than 600 explosives, which spread out over miles. Human Rights Watch found that the U.S.-made explosives had scattered over fields “normally used for agriculture and grazing,” threatened “the livelihood of local farmers,” and badly injured at least three workers who stepped on them.
Cluster bombs are widely recognized as unlawful because their unexploded duds act like land mines, killing civilians years after the conflict. The United States is not among the 119 countries that have signed an international convention banning them.
Human Rights Watch accused the State Department of cherry-picking its research:
“The State Department report suggests that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the Saudis of only 13 civilian deaths during the fighting,” said Wille. “The U.S. is presenting a small bite of the apple.” . . .