Category Archives: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Can We Divest from Weapons Dealers?

Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.

Family Visit in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.

Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.

Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.

Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.

Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.

But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.

On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.

A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.

And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.

Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.

I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.

The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.

Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?

Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”

Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.

Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.

Boys and girls at Street Kids School, Kabul, March 2019 (Photo by Maya Evans)

How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.

This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive

A Shift: Repudiating War on Yemen

Twenty years ago, a small delegation organized by Voices in the Wilderness lived in Baghdad while U.S. cruise missiles attacked more than 100 targets in Iraq. Following four days of bombing, known as “Operation Desert Fox,” our group visited various Iraqis who had survived direct hits. One young girl handed me a large missile fragment, saying “Merry Christmas.”

An engineer, Gasim Risun, cradled his two-week old baby as he sat in his hospital bed. Gasim had suffered multiple wounds, but he was the only one in his family well enough to care for the infant, after an unexploded missile destroyed his house. In Baghdad, a bomb demolished a former military defense headquarters, and the shock waves shattered the windows in the hospital next door. Doctors said the explosions terrified women in the maternity ward, causing some to spontaneously abort their babies while others went into premature labor.

In December 1998, U.S. news media steadily focused on only one person living in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. With the notable exception of Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times, no mainstream media focused on U.N. reports about the consequences of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. One of Kinzer’s articles was headlined: “Iraq a Pediatrician’s Hell: No Way to Stop the Dying.”

The hellish conditions continued, even as U.N. officials sounded the alarm and explained how economic sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under age five.

Now a horror story of similar proportions is playing out in Yemen.

In November 2018, The Guardian reported that up to 85,000 Yemeni children under age five  have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. Mainstream media and even governments of large and wealthy countries are finally beginning to acknowledge the anguish suffered by Yemeni children and their families.

Stark and compelling photos show listless, skeletal children who are minutes or days away from death. Reports also show how war plans have deliberately targeted Yemen’s infrastructure, leading to horrifying disease and starvation. Journalists who have met with people targeted as Houthi fighters, many of them farmers and fishermen, describe how people can’t escape the sophisticated U.S. manufactured weapons fired at them from massive warplanes.

One recent Associated Press photo, on page one of The New York Times for December 14, shows a line of tribespeople loyal to the Houthis. The youngest child is the only one not balancing a rifle upright on the ground in front of him. The tribespeople bear arms, but they are poorly equipped, especially compared to the U.S.-armed Saudis.

Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. An American defense contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, “earned tens of millions of dollars training the Saudi Navy during the past decade.”

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—along with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed—seemed untouchable. He was feted and regaled by former Presidents, Oprah, Hollywood show biz magnates, and constant media hype.

Now, the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution holding him accountable for the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several U.S. Senators have said they no longer want to be responsible for bloodshed he has caused in Yemen. U.N. negotiators have managed to broker a fragile ceasefire, now in effect, which will hopefully stop the fighting that has raged in the vital port city of Hodeidah. One message which may have prompted the Saudis to negotiate came in the form of a Senate vote threatening to curtail the support of U.S. armed forces for the Saudi-led Coalition’s war on Yemen.

I doubt these actions will bring solace or comfort to parents who cradle their listless and dying children. People on the brink of famine cannot wait days, weeks, or months while powerful groups slowly move through negotiations.

And yet, a shift in public perception regarding war on Yemen could liberate others from the terrible spectre of early death.

Writing during another war, while he was exiled from Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh imagined the birth of a “Peace Child.” He ends his poem by calling on people to give both their hands for the chance to “protect the seeds of life bursting on the cradle’s rim.”

I think of Iraqi mothers who lost their babies as bombs exploded just outside their maternity ward. The shift in public perception is painfully too late for innumerable people traumatized and bereaved by war. Nevertheless, the chance to press with all our might for a continuing and growing shift, repudiating war, could point us in a new direction.

The war in Yemen is horrific and ought to be ended immediately. It makes eminent good sense to give both our hands and all the energies we can possibly summon, to end the war in Yemen and vow the abolition of all war.

• This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive magazine.

Masquerading Reforms: The Tricks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The surgical dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi has sent the military establishments of several countries into a tizz.   Arms manufacturers are wondering whether this is an inconvenient blip, a ruffling moral reminder about what they are dealing with.  Autocratic regimes indifferent to the lives of journalists are wondering whether the fuss taken about all this is merely the fuss endured, till the next bloody suppression.  But importantly, those states notionally constituting the West may have to reconsider the duping strategy that the House of Saud has executed with the deft efficiency of the dedicated axeman.

The ranks are closing in around the Saudi royals, notably the purportedly suspicious son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose status has been given an undue measure of inflation from various powers happy to see reform in the air. The measures taken by MBS have been modest and hardly worth a sigh: the cutting of subsidies, permitting women to drive, and restructuring the economy.  But like a fake article of purchase at an inordinately expensive auction, the prince’s counterfeit credentials are starting to peer through the canvas.

The Crown Prince has been happy to provide a train of examples to suggest to his Western audience that the roots of a liberal Saudi Arabian past are very much in evidence.  To Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the beguiling royal explained that, “Before 1979 there were societal guardianship customs, but no guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia.”

The tactic is clear: speak of a yesteryear that was jolly and a touch tender, and promise that a current era seemingly harder can emulate it.  Goldberg was good enough to make the observation that the Crown Prince had gotten one thing right from the perspective of his sponsors in Europe, the Middle East and the United States: “He has made all the right enemies.”

In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mohammed was keen to get a word in to the Trump administration before any firm conclusions could be drawn.  His first port of call was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton.  According to The Washington Post, the call featured one theme of justification: Khashoggi was a dangerous, destabilising Islamist, and any tears shed would be premature.

Publically, the Crown Prince played along with the conceit that the death of Khashoggi had been “very painful for all Saudis”, being unjustifiable. Khalid bin Salman, Riyadh’s ambassador in Washington, insisted that the slain journalist had been a friend of the Kingdom, “dedicating a great portion of his life to serve his country.”

The powers, regional and beyond, have taken to douching the image of the Crown Prince, hoping to minimise prospects for any rash action.  Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu might well concede that was happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month “was horrendous and should be duly dealt with”, but the broader strategic interests topped anything connected with a mere journalist’s life.  When a figure corrupted by power reasons with violently inflicted death, he is bound to embrace that word that forgives and justifies all: stability.  “At the same time, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Minor appendages of US power such as Australia also find themselves in a tangle about how best to approach the revelations and claimed royal involvement.  Shrouded in history, the officials of distant Canberra also remain gulled, confused, and happy to be led.  The Australian defence sector has been placed in the dim light of deals with the Kingdom.  As legal advocate Kellie Tanter notes, documents obtained via Freedom of Information laws confirm that, between January 1 2016 to December 31, 2017, sixteen military licenses were procured for export of military equipment from Australia to Saudi Arabia.  As is traditional with such freedom of information laws, permit holders, permit numbers and approved goods, consignees, end-users and approved destinations were redacted.

Under questioning from Labour Senator Alex Gallacher last month in a Senate estimates hearing, the Australian Department of Defence was not forthcoming about the nature of the exports to Riyadh.  Official Tom Hamilton refused to disclose their value, citing weak “commercial-in-confidence” reasons.

The pickle Australian policy makers find themselves in lies in the obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty, which insists on a ban on exports of weapons to countries where evidence can be shown of use against civilians.  The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, featuring a true orgy of civilian-targeted destruction, qualifies.  But Yemen hardly qualifies as a humanitarian disaster in Australian political discourse (distant places have a certain ethical irrelevance to the plodders in Canberra).  To make sure her bases are covered, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, in reference not to the war in Yemen but the killing of Khashoggi, suggested that, “All options are on the table”.  It is already clear what option Canberra prefers: ignore the complicity of the House of Saud, and keep the procession of defence contracts going.

Khashoggi himself was clear enough about the nature of the Crown Prince: the royal was entirely self-centred, and any reform would take place in a contrived way.  Concepts of reform within the Saudi royal court can, at best, only be a limited affair, and have nothing to do with deeper social considerations.  Saudi intellectuals, activists and journalists languished in prison even as MBS was being praised for his openness; such projects as the futuristic city of Neom were doomed examples of extravagance rather than forward thinking.

“He has no interest in political reform,” comes Khashoggi, a voice from the grave.  “He thinks he can do it alone, and he doesn’t want really any counter opinion or anyone to share those changes in Saudi Arabia with him.”  Hardly revelatory, and something bound to do little to turn the ladies and men of the security establishments of the West.

What About That Saudi Death Penalty and Our “New Journalism”?

You can get the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for apostasy, adultery and sodomy, among other crimes, but… something tells me that the fifteen plus individuals involved in the recent “rogue” murder of Jamal Khashoggi — “rogue” meaning MBS, the “reformist” Saudi leader, had zero knowledge of the planned assassination — will NOT be subject to capital punishment.

There are a number of crimes defined by national regulation — such as drug trafficking — which will get you beheaded in the Kingdom. But the killing of the slated-to-be-wedded journalist — dismembered, and not to be remembered by the world press if Trump has anything to say about the horror — is not likely to bring about the kind of punishment which most concerned citizens expect.

Thing is, there’s very little talk going on about how NOTHING of significance in the realm of MBS is done without his “green light.” He runs an anally-tight ship, to say the least, and every beast under his umbrella shakes in their jackboots morning, noon and night. There’s no time, opportunity nor inclination to deviate from the Master Plan of MBS. He’s got such overweening oversight and personal immunity from consequences (of any kind for bad behavior) that he could actually get away with executing the aforementioned 15 and more for the simple show of his own innocence in this whole affair, not bat an eyelash, and continue to lash out against Yemenis with full Western support uninterrupted. No one budges, let alone kills anyone, to support the Kingdom without an MBS imprimatur.

Not unless we’re talking about the exception to the rule that Khashoggi has represented for a very brief period of time.

Journalists killed in 2017 and journalists who have died this year worldwide deserve special attention in the context of the Khashoggi abomination, which Trump is trying to cover up or spin with his major ally. But focus should also be placed on the former Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings right now, his early “accidental” demise… on the eve of his breaking a highly flammable story*. For it should serve as food for thought for anyone who understands the degree to which Bezos’ Washington Post is being complicit in the cover up, deflection… whatever you want to call it… respecting its former employee. Sins of omission. Looking the other way when the bottom line is threatened, financially or otherwise.

*Search for alternatives to the “negative” take provided by Wikipedia above; both a WikiLeaks POV and a piece which draws the fate of journalist Gary Webb into this loop can be a good point of departure for informing yourself.

It will not be wise for activists to let go of this issue. One keeps hearing the self-fulfilling prophecy regarding how our mainstream news outlets are likely to keep replacing their focus, how this “story” is fated to fall off the radar. Alternative sites, for the most part, seem to agree with that, not interjecting any dialogue about how that can be prevented. This, even though the very soul of their operations — its health and effectiveness — is being undermined, a planting of seeds designed to acclimate the public to a New Journalism, investigative reporting which can only go so far. 26% of the general public already believe that the president should be able to get rid of undesirable news? Where did I read that? 46% of Republicans feel the same? Do I really have to search for the source of that polling information? Don’t you feel the pulse of this nation? Doesn’t it tell you quite clearly that if a Michael Hastings can be lost in the shuffle in 2013 working for Jann Wenner and Khashoggi can be dismembered in an embassy five years later something’s going on that John and Jane Q. Public doesn’t really want to face up to? Like a patient ” upon a table,” unable to accept that their cancer has metastasized.

If a citizen of Saudi Arabia appeared before MBS and attempted to cover something up with feeble spins, I’d put all the assets I own down on a bet in Vegas that that mendacious individual might be given a death sentence. As it is MBS and his underlings will be getting the proverbial slaps on the wrist, and pain killers will be provided for that punishment in the form of continued movement in abominable solidarity.

There IS something we can do, nonetheless.

Are Yemeni Kids, Like Palestinian Kids, Children of a Lesser God?

It seems the UK trains killers and supplies weapons with no regard for the humanitarian consequences.

The toxic situation (by which I mean the continuing mega-slaughter of innocents) surrounding the Saudi crown prince’s royal welcome to London will have reminded many of the Vietnam-era chant of peace activists in response to the lies and blunders and excuses at that time: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This was borrowed and amended in 2006 to “Peretz, Halutz, hey hey hey! How many kids did you kill today?” by Israeli peace activists demonstrating outside the home of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.  Peretz was the Israeli Defence Minister.

On the night of July 23, 2002 Halutz ordered a one-ton bomb to be dropped on an apartment building in a densely populated residential area of Gaza as part of Israel’s assassination or ‘targeted killings’ programme. It was the home of senior Hamas commander Salah Shahade and his wife and family. They and 7 members of the family next door and a dozen more civilians were killed, mostly children. Eight other houses were destroyed and up to 150 people injured. As a result 27 Israeli pilots signed a letter of protest refusing to fly assassination missions over Gaza and the West Bank.

Prime minister Ariel Sharon called the operation to execute Shahade, his wife and kids and neighbours, and many more non-combatants, a success. But human rights organizations said that dropping a one-ton bomb in the middle of the night on a tight-packed civilian neighborhood was a war crime. Gush Shalom, for example, wanted to turn the pilot over to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

In an interview with Haaretz, Halutz was reported as saying to his pilots:

You aren’t the ones who choose the targets, and you were not the ones who chose the target in this particular case. You are not responsible for the contents of the target. Your execution was perfect…. There is no problem here that concerns you. You did exactly what you were instructed to do….

It’s the old story: they were only doing what they were told, following orders. Bright enough to fly a complex military jet that delivers death in abundance but too dim to tell right from wrong.

Asked whether the operation was morally wrong in view of the civilian casualties Halutz replied that the planning included moral consideration and a mistake or accident didn’t make it wrong. Asked how he felt when he dropped a bomb, he said: “I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.”

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, in the period since September 2000 Israelis have killed 2,017 Palestinian children and Palestinians have killed 135 Israeli children. That’s a slaughter rate of nearly 15 to 1, thanks to psychopaths like Halutz.

If the mental attitude of the Saudi pilots bombing Yemen, and their British ‘advisers’, is anything like that of Israel’s pilots and their commanders, it’s no surprise that Yemen civilians are being massacred.

We’re told that British military experts are providing targeting training to Saudi forces for cruise missile attacks. They also deliver field artillery and weapons-locating radar courses. But this ‘targeting training’ hasn’t prevented the bombing of schools, hospitals and weddings, and the appalling civilian casualties that go with it, leading to claims that UK training doesn’t focus enough on compliance with international humanitarian law.

Al-Jazeera reports that a United Nations panel examined 10 air attacks in 2017 that killed 157 people, and found the targets included a migrant boat, a night market, five residential buildings, a motel, a vehicle and government forces. “This is a report to the UN Security Council that has not been made public… It’s very hard hitting and very critical of all of the parties in the war in Yemen.”

The panel asked the Saudi-led coalition for the rationale behind these attacks but got no answer. As they were carried out by precision-guided munitions it seems they were indeed the intended targets. “Even if, in some cases, the Saudi-led coalition had targeted legitimate military objectives, the panel finds it highly unlikely that International Humanitarian Law principles of proportionality and precautions in attack were met.”

Added to this is the supply of £billions-worth of UK weaponry. The UK Government claims its support to the Saudi-led campaign is necessary to combat terrorism and insists it is not involved in targeting decisions or military operations. In which case, why get involved at all? Complicity in what has come to be regarded as a war crimes programme was inevitable from the start. Besides, killing innocents does not make us safer. As for Mrs May’s repeated claim that Saudi intelligence has saved hundreds of British lives, I’d like to see proof. Otherwise I simply don’t believe it given that Saudi Arabia generates or backs much of the international terror we see today.

Impending Brexit – deliberately mismanaged, it would appear, to open up an economic black hole – provides the excuse for stepping up trade and co-operation with some of the world’s most repulsive regimes. Such is the mounting disgust of the British public that I won’t be surprised to hear another new version of the peace chant: “Salman, May: hey, hey, hey! How many kids did you kill today?”