Category Archives: Mercenaries

“Chlorine delivered”: Idlib Militants “readying False Flag Attack” in Syrian Village, Russian MoD

File Photo. © Ammar Safarjalani / Global Look Press

Militants in Syria’s Idlib have transported several canisters containing chlorine to the village of Bsanqul, apparently preparing to stage a false flag chemical attack, the Russian Defense Ministry has said.

The chlorine-filled canisters were delivered by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants of Tahrir al Sham, formerly known as Al-Nusra Front, a spokesman of the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria, Lieutenant General Vladimir Savchenko, said in a statement Saturday. He added that the latest developments showed that the militants are preparing for a false flag attack that would be used to accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against its people.

White Helmets making films of ‘chemical attacks’ with orphans in Idlib – Russian military

The US and its allies have so far dismissed the Russian warnings, but said that the government in Damascus might instead be preparing chemical attacks against civilians. Moscow has suggested that the attack might be prepared with the support of Washington, which wants to justify further air strikes against Syria. Those planned strikes are said to be much larger in scale than those launched against the Syrian military by the US, the UK and France in April.

It comes as Washington has been building up its military presence in the region. In late August, the missile destroyer USS Ross was deployed to the Mediterranean, carrying 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles, while the USS The Sullivans was deployed to the Persian Gulf and a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber was moved to an air base in Qatar.

Most recently, the USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. Last week, the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrived in the Mediterranean as well.

With the arrival of the Bulkeley, the US forces in the region reportedly have up to 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so, Russian media reports.

US Plans to Use Fake Chemical Weapons Attack to Strike Syria: Russian MoD

FILE PHOTO. © Paul Hanna / Reuters

The US may have plans to use a fake chemical attack in Syria to hit government forces with airstrikes, the Russian Defense Ministry has said. Washington is already building up strike capability in the Middle East, it said.

The warning comes a day after the Russian military said it had information about a looming provocation in Syria’s Idlib governorate, which would involve a staged chemical weapons attack. The US earlier warned it would respond to a chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces with retaliatory strikes, which would be stronger than those conducted by the US, the UK and France in April.

‘Foreign specialists’ may stage chemical attack in Syria in 2 days to frame Assad – Russian MoD

In a statement published on Monday, the Russian MoD said it noted the deployment to the Mediterranean last weekend of the missile destroyer USS Ross carrying 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles on board. It came after a similar move of the USS The Sullivans to the Persian Gulf and the rebasing of a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber to an air base in Qatar. The Russian ministry said the “preparations are the latest evidence of the US intention to use the” expected provocation.

The statement reiterated that the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militant group, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, was preparing a staged chlorine attack in a city in Idlib. It alleged that a group of jihadists, trained in the handling of chemical weapons by the British private military contractor Olive Group, has already arrived in Jisr al-Shughur. The group will “stage decontamination of victims of a staged chemical weapons attack posing as members of the notorious White Helmets group,” the ministry claimed.

“The implementation of this provocation, which is being conducted with the assistance of the British intelligence services, is meant to serve as the latest pretext for the US, Britain and France to deliver a missile strike against state and economic facilities in Syria,” said General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry.

On August 22, US National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that “if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time.”

In April, a reported chlorine attack in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta neighborhood served as justification for the US, UK, and France to attack what they claimed to be sites involved in a clandestine Syrian chemical weapons program. The missile attacks came just as a team of international inspectors was set to arrive at the scene to collect evidence of the supposed attack.

Later, residents of the area told journalists that the footage of the treatment of the alleged victims of the attack was filmed by the White Helmets group after they orchestrated a panic at a local hospital. The patients there were not poisoned by chlorine, local medics said. The footage was presented by the mainstream media as proof that an attack took place.

The Danger Is Real: We Need a New Declaration of Independence for Modern Times

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

— Thomas Paine, December 1776

Imagine living in a country where armed soldiers crash through doors to arrest and imprison citizens merely for criticizing government officials.

Imagine that in this very same country, you’re watched all the time, and if you look even a little bit suspicious, the police stop and frisk you or pull you over to search you on the off chance you’re doing something illegal.

Keep in mind that if you have a firearm of any kind while in this country, it may get you arrested and, in some circumstances, shot by police.

If you’re thinking this sounds like America today, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

However, the scenario described above took place more than 200 years ago, when American colonists suffered under Great Britain’s version of an early police state. It was only when the colonists finally got fed up with being silenced, censored, searched, frisked, threatened, and arrested that they finally revolted against the tyrant’s fetters.

No document better states their grievances than the Declaration of Independence.

A document seething with outrage over a government which had betrayed its citizens, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by 56 men who laid everything on the line, pledged it all—“our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”—because they believed in a radical idea: that all people are created to be free.

Labeled traitors, these men were charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. For some, their acts of rebellion would cost them their homes and their fortunes. For others, it would be the ultimate price—their lives.

Yet even knowing the heavy price they might have to pay, these men dared to speak up when silence could not be tolerated. Even after they had won their independence from Great Britain, these new Americans worked to ensure that the rights they had risked their lives to secure would remain secure for future generations. The result: our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Imagine the shock and outrage these 56 men would feel were they to discover that 242 years later, the government they had risked their lives to create has been transformed into a militaristic police state in which exercising one’s freedoms is often viewed as a flagrant act of defiance.

Indeed, had the Declaration of Independence been written today, it would have rendered its signers terrorists, resulting in them being placed on a government watch list, targeted for surveillance of their activities and correspondence, and potentially arrested, held indefinitely, stripped of their rights and labeled enemy combatants.

The danger is real.

We could certainly use some of that revolutionary outrage today.

Certainly, we would do well to reclaim the revolutionary spirit of our ancestors and remember what drove them to such drastic measures in the first place.

Then again, perhaps what we need is a new Declaration of Independence.

Re-read the Declaration of Independence for yourself and ask yourself if the abuses suffered by early Americans at the hands of the British police state don’t bear a startling resemblance to the abuses “we the people” are suffering at the hands of the American police state.

If you find the purple prose used by the Founders hard to decipher, here’s my translation of what the Declaration of Independence would look and sound like if it were written in the modern vernacular:

There comes a time when a populace must stand united and say “enough is enough” to the government’s abuses, even if it means getting rid of the political parties in power.

Believing that “we the people” have a natural and divine right to direct our own lives, here are truths about the power of the people and how we arrived at the decision to sever our ties to the government:

All men and women are created equal.

All people possess certain innate rights that no government or agency or individual can take away from them. Among these are the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The government’s job is to protect the people’s innate rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The government’s power comes from the will of the people.

Whenever any government abuses its power, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government and replace it with a new government that will respect and protect the rights of the people.

It is not wise to get rid of a government for minor transgressions. In fact, as history has shown, people resist change and are inclined to suffer all manner of abuses to which they have become accustomed.

However, when the people have been subjected to repeated abuses and power grabs, carried out with the purpose of establishing a tyrannical government, people have a right and duty to do away with that tyrannical Government and to replace it with a new government that will protect and preserve their innate rights for their future well being.

This is exactly the state of affairs we are suffering under right now, which is why it is necessary that we change this imperial system of government.

The history of the present Imperial Government is a history of repeated abuses and power grabs, carried out with the intention of establishing absolute Tyranny over the country.

To prove this, consider the following:

The government has, through its own negligence and arrogance, refused to adopt urgent and necessary laws for the good of the people.

The government has threatened to hold up critical laws unless the people agree to relinquish their right to be fully represented in the Legislature.

In order to expand its power and bring about compliance with its dictates, the government has made it nearly impossible for the people to make their views and needs heard by their representatives.

The government has repeatedly suppressed protests arising in response to its actions.

The government has obstructed justice by refusing to appoint new judges and has demanded that the Court comply with the government’s dictates.

The government has allowed its agents to harass the people and steal from them.

The government has directed militarized government agents—a.k.a., a standing army—to police domestic affairs in peacetime.

The government has turned the country into a militarized police state.

The government has conspired to undermine the rule of law and the constitution in order to expand its own powers.

The government has allowed its militarized police to invade our homes.

The government has failed to hold its agents accountable for wrongdoing and murder.

The government has jeopardized our international trade agreements.

The government has taxed us without our permission.

The government has denied us due process and the right to a fair trial.

The government has engaged in extraordinary rendition.

The government has continued to expand its military empire and occupy foreign nations.

The government has eroded fundamental legal protections and destabilized the structure of government.

The government has declared its federal powers superior to those of the states.

The government has ceased to protect the people and instead waged war against the people.

The government has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of the people.

The government has employed private contractors and mercenaries to carry out acts of death, desolation and tyranny, totally unworthy of a civilized nation.

The government has pitted its citizens against each other.

The government has stirred up civil unrest and laid the groundwork for martial law.

Repeatedly, we have asked the government to cease its abuses. Each time, the government has responded with more abuse.

An Imperial Ruler who acts like a tyrant is not fit to govern a free people.

We have repeatedly sounded the alarm to our fellow citizens about the government’s abuses. We have warned them about the government’s power grabs. We have appealed to their sense of justice. We have reminded them of our common bonds.

They have rejected our plea for justice and brotherhood. They are equally at fault for the injustices being carried out by the government.

Thus, for the reasons mentioned above, we the people of the united States of America declare ourselves free from the chains of an abusive government. Relying on God’s protection, we pledge to stand by this Declaration of Independence with our lives, our fortunes and our honor.

That was 242 years ago.

In the years since early Americans first declared and eventually won their independence from Great Britain, we—the descendants of those revolutionary patriots—have somehow managed to work ourselves right back under the tyrant’s thumb.

Only this time, the tyrant is one of our own making: the U.S. government.

The abuses meted out by an imperial government and endured by the American people have not ended. They have merely evolved.

“We the people” are still being robbed blind by a government of thieves.

We are still being taken advantage of by a government of scoundrels, idiots and cowards.

We are still being locked up by a government of greedy jailers.

We are still being spied on by a government of Peeping Toms.

We are still being ravaged by a government of ruffians, rapists and killers.

We are still being forced to surrender our freedoms—and those of our children—to a government of extortionists, money launderers and professional pirates.

And we are still being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers: a standing army.

Given the fact that we are a relatively young nation, it hasn’t taken very long for an authoritarian regime to creep into power.

Unfortunately, the bipartisan coup that laid siege to our nation did not happen overnight.

It snuck in under our radar, hiding behind the guise of national security, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on immigration, political correctness, hate crimes and a host of other official-sounding programs aimed at expanding the government’s power at the expense of individual freedoms.

The building blocks for the bleak future we’re just now getting a foretaste of—police shootings of unarmed citizens, profit-driven prisons, weapons of compliance, a wall-to-wall surveillance state, pre-crime programs, a suspect society, school-to-prison pipelines, militarized police, over-criminalization, SWAT team raids, endless wars, etc.—were put in place by government officials we trusted to look out for our best interests and by American citizens who failed to heed James Madison’s warning to “take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.”

In so doing, we compromised our principles, negotiated away our rights, and allowed the rule of law to be rendered irrelevant.

There is no knowing how long it will take to undo the damage wrought by government corruption, corporate greed, militarization, and a nation of apathetic, gullible sheep.

The problems we are facing will not be fixed overnight: that is the grim reality with which we must contend.

Frankly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we may see no relief from the police state in my lifetime or for several generations to come. That does not mean we should give up or give in or tune out.

Remember, there is always a price to be paid for remaining silent in the face of injustice.

That price is tyranny.

Life-giving Light and Those Who Would Snuff it Out

The concluding sentence of Roy Medvedev’s superb account of Russia during the Stalin years reads:

When the cult of Stalin’s personality was exposed [in the XXth and XXIInd Congresses in 1956 and 1961 respectively] a great step was made to recovery.1

It’s a vital point, similar to that made by the incredible truth and reconciliation commission event that followed the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and that point is this: before any society can really advance it must recognise and admit to itself the mistakes and crimes perpetrated by its own trusted leaders. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg once put it:

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.2

Yet self-criticism of our own governments is almost impossible. Infinitely more effective than state censorship – which can restrict criticism – is self-censorship, and that’s pretty much what we have: a society which is incapable of seriously challenging those in power, let alone calling them to account for any wrongdoing – not through any state-imposed censorship, but through creating a culture that’s utterly brainwashed into believing the perfection of their constitution and therefore refusing to even imagine its very considerable imperfections. Whilst we do not have the domestic death squads and concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to enforce domestic obedience, we still have loyal populations that are almost as effectively programmed to believe the perfections of their state leaders and their institutions as many Germans and Russians were during the Hitler and Stalin years.

In Britain, for example, in 2015 when the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was provocatively questioned about the Party’s well-known opposition to monarchy she remarked,

I can’t see that the Queen is ever going to be really poor, but I’m sure we can find a council house for her — we’re going to build lots more.

This obviously whimsical comment, although factually reasonable, provoked the following headline in The Independent: ‘We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,’ say Greens

Similar sensationalist headlines led in almost every newspaper and TV news broadcast. Green Party membership, which had been surging until that moment, immediately fell off a cliff. I was a membership secretary for our local Green Party branch at the time and had been signing up new members at the rate of about two a week. New memberships not only stopped completely, but some who had just joined us immediately cancelled their memberships. And this from people who would see themselves as progressives. No need to guess how Tory voters, who comprise most voters, reacted to Bennett’s quip. Such is the level of brainwashing in a supposedly democratic country about the perfection of the British monarchy, and its unchallengeable position as unelected head of state.

But it’s not just Britain that has to endure a majority of brainwashed citizens. I remember seeing a TV documentary about the time of the illegal Iraq War in 2003. The programme was about heroic US marines bravely defending western freedom, by helping to kill defenseless Iraqi civilians. Some of the heroes were interviewed about the hard time they were having, and the one that will forever stick in my mind implied that no amount of personal suffering was too great for him. “I would slit my own throat for my president”, he said. So Iraqi civilians didn’t have much chance.

The marine’s remark reminded me of a quote in Medvedev’s book, showing the similarity between modern US citizens and the brainwashed Russians of Stalin’s day:

Just as [religious] believers attribute everything good to god and everything bad to the devil, so everything good was attributed to Stalin and everything bad to evil forces that Stalin himself was [supposedly] fighting. “Long live Stalin!” some officials shouted as they were taken to be shot.3

When, very occasionally, some of the major crimes of our great trusted leaders are brought to our attention, there is never any clamouring for justice, no national outrage that the public’s trust could be so cheaply squandered. Whilst some newspapers might print a subdued story or two, located somewhere towards the bottom of page thirty nine, and whilst national TV stations may record a few words tucked away deeply buried somewhere on their websites, in the sacred name of “balance”, the real gravity of the misdeeds of our trusted leaders are otherwise routinely ignored, and the revelations are quickly lost in the usual myriad of trivial distractions.

For example, when, after many years and thirteen million pounds of treasure, the Chilcot Report was eventually published, effectively providing sufficient evidence for Tony Blair and other establishment leaders to be indicted for war crimes, no such calls from our trusted leaders were heard – just a deafening silence, followed almost immediately by business as usual.   But those who dare to provide the evidence of our rulers’ misdeeds are quickly and viciously victimized – as any whistleblower could easily confirm; with the better-known of whom, such as Daniel Ellsberg, Mordechai Vanunu, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden standing as fine examples of the terrible consequences of speaking the truth about power. This is how Rosa Luxemburg’s ruthless self-criticism is rendered impossible in our “free” societies where official censorship doesn’t exist, but where official “news” isn’t worth censoring.

One of the holiest cows of the establishment, the institution which, almost above any other, will not tolerate any form of criticism, are our so-called “defence” forces. The word “hero” has been re-defined to mean absolutely anyone wearing a military uniform. TV commercials encouraging young people to join the armed forces appear almost every night. TV programmes depicting the military as brave heroes resisting overwhelming odds in the sacred name of freedom and democracy appear almost every night. Every year people adorn themselves in little plastic poppies and stand in silence for two minutes on the 11th November, not so much to recall those who were needlessly slaughtered for the supposed “war to end all war”, but to serve as a subliminal recruitment aid. Criticising the armed forces is always strictly off limits.

The Annihilation of Raqqa

Yet a recent report by Amnesty International (AI), who investigated the devastating attack by western coalition forces on the Syrian city of Raqqa, is so damning that anyone who does not criticise those responsible is guilty by association of war crimes.4 They are in a similar position to those who silently stood by as their neighbours were carted-off to Nazi concentration camps. Although AI has a somewhat dubious reputation, earned mainly by its very tepid response to the multitude of horrors perpetrated over many years by the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine, its latest report on Raqqa has some merit.

Raqqa, Syria, February 2018 (AI Photo)

No one will ever know how many civilians perished in last year’s battle for Raqqa. However, estimates for the numbers of people living in the city prior to the war are given at around 220,000, whilst the number estimated to be living there earlier this year is around 61,000.  Some civilians managed to flee the city, but many did not, as they were prevented from doing so by IS. Amnesty summarised the terrible situation for civilians as follows:

The four-month military operation to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa, the Syrian city which IS had declared its capital, killed hundreds of civilians, injured many more and destroyed much of the city. During the course of the operation, from June to October 2017, homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure were reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.

Residents were trapped, as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, and US-led Coalition’s air and artillery strikes rocked the city. With escape routes mined by IS and the group’s snipers shooting at those trying to flee, civilians fled from place to place within the city, desperately seeking refuge or escape. Some were killed in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge, and others as they tried to flee.5

If Amnesty was referring to North Korea, say, or Iran, Russia, China, or the Syrian government, almost certainly its report would have been leading the western world’s news broadcasts. Outraged politicians and their tame propagandists in the mainstream media would have been demanding that “something should be done”. But those countries were not the subjects of the Amnesty report. It was referring instead to the biggest villains in the world — the US and British governments, joined on this occasion by France. Although other countries were implicated in this particular “coalition of the willing”, their roles were relatively minor. Consequently our politicians and their lackeys in the mainstream media seem hardly to have noticed AI’s report. Once again the truth is available, but has been conveniently self-censored by all the usual tricks of state.

Entire neighbourhoods in Raqqa are damaged beyond repair (AI Photo)

Two investigators from AI spent two weeks in February 2018 visiting the ruins of Raqqa. They went to 42 different locations and interviewed 112 civilian residents. About half of the report focuses mainly on the personal stories of four families whose lives were devastated by the “liberation” of Raqqa from IS occupation by the combined efforts of western firepower, and ground-troops supplied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a mainly Kurdish militia.

Although the so-called global coalition:

boasts membership of 71 countries and four inter-governmental organisations; an eclectic alliance including nations as diverse as Panama and Poland, Australia and Afghanistan. Some Coalition members, Chad, for example, or Niger, are likely to have given support in name only. Others, particularly European states, were more deeply involved, although the exact extent of their actions is not always clear.6

Whilst most people are probably aware that US, British and French air forces bombed countless targets in Syria generally, and specifically here, in Raqqa, fewer people know about the involvement of western ground troops. But AI tells us:

[T]he US deployed some 2,000 of its own troops to north-eastern Syria, many of whom were engaged in direct combat operations, notably firing artillery into Raqqa from positions outside the city. In addition, a smaller number of special forces were operating close to front lines alongside SDF members. British and French special forces were also deployed to the area, but in much smaller numbers.

Among the US deployment were Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with GPS-directed 227mm rockets, which could be fired from 300km away, as well as hundreds of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the 24th MEU equipped with M777 howitzers, which they used to rain down 155mm artillery fire upon the city from a distance of up to 30km.6

Children riding a bicycle among destroyed buildings in Raqqa. (AI Photo)

AI concludes its summary of the involvement of “coalition” forces as follows:

The Coalition launched tens of thousands of strikes on Raqqa during the military campaign. Of these, more than 4,000 were air strikes, almost all of them carried out by US forces. British forces carried out some 215 air strikes, while the French military was responsible for some 50 air strikes with the overwhelming majority – more than 90% – carried out by US piloted aircraft and drones. No other members of the Coalition are known to have carried out air strikes in Raqqa. At the same time, US Marines launched tens of thousands artillery shells into and around Raqqa…

While Coalition forces operated mostly from positions several kilometres outside the city, a small number of special operation forces from Coalition member states – notably the US, UK and France – operated alongside the SDF close to front line position in/around the city, reportedly mostly in an advisory rather than combat role.

The SDF were partly responsible for locating targets for Coalition air and artillery strikes. It is not clear what percentage of the Coalition air and artillery strikes were carried out based on co-ordinates provided by the SDF – as opposed to strikes on targets identified by Coalition forces themselves through air surveillance or other means – and the extent to which Coalition forces verified targets identified by the SDF prior to launching strikes on those targets.7

Although Kurdish militia were reportedly too lightly-armed to be physically accountable for the destruction of Raqqa, their target identification function was clearly significant.

It has long been routine for the military’s propaganda machine to dismiss concerns about civilian casualties inside war zones, and the carnage wreaked on Raqqa was no exception. Furthermore, the military’s word is always accepted at face value.

[A]t the height of conflict in Raqqa, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend wrote that ‘… there has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict’.8

But the alleged accuracy of the ordnance used by the military is not the point. The point is that no matter how smart the smart bombs are, they’re still killing civilians – and that’s a war crime. An estimated 4,000 bombs were dropped on the defenceless civilians of Raqqa by “coalition” warplanes. Given that many of those are only accurate, on a good day, to within ten metres of their target, it’s very clear to see that these alone must have accounted for considerable civilian casualties. But they may not have been the main problem.

Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell (senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), suggests that the Coalition operation was far from precise: ‘In five months they fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets… They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War.’8

But legitimate ISIS targets must have been almost negligible, as IS had immersed themselves amongst the civilian population. Given also that most artillery shells are considerably less accurate than guided missiles, and can only be expected to strike within a hundred metres of their targets, and given that tens of thousands of these things rained down on the trapped and defenceless civilians of Raqqa, the claims by the military’s propagandists that they tried everything possible to minimise civilian casualties are obviously ludicrous.

There has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict [than in Raqqa]
— Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend

The ruins of the destroyed house where 28 members of the Badran family and five neighbours were killed in a Coalition strike on 20 August 2017 in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Isis withdraws, undefeated, from Raqqa

Sometime in October some sort of deal was suddenly worked out which allowed Isis to simply pack up and leave Raqqa, in a convoy of trucks, together with most of their weaponry. According to a BBC report, the deal:

enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.  Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal…

[T]he convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles…

Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the [IS] group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

War crimes

The US-led “coalition” undoubtedly committed a vast number of war crimes in the “liberation” of Raqqa, and the considerably-referenced AI report summarises the particular breaches of law applicable:

(a) The Principle of Distinction

This requires parties to conflict to at all times, ‘distinguish between civilians and combatants’ and to ensure that ‘attacks may only be directed against combatants’ and ‘must not be directed against civilians’. Parties to conflict must also distinguish between ‘civilian objects’ and ‘military objectives’. Anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict is a civilian, and the civilian population comprises all persons who are not combatants. Civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. In cases of doubt, individuals should be presumed to be civilians and immune from direct attack. Making the civilian population, or individual civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack (direct attacks on civilians) is a war crime (My emphasis).9

It isn’t clear how hard the “coalition” tried to distinguish combatants from non-combatants, but in the four detailed case studies that Amnesty supplied – which were the tragic stories of just four families from a city of tens of thousands – it would appear they didn’t try very hard at all. One such piece of evidence was supplied by “Ammar”, who

told Amnesty International that on ‘the second or third day of Eid” [26-27 June 2017] an air strike killed 20-25 people, mainly civilians but some IS too, at a communal water point, around the corner from Abu Saif’s house.’10

So, clearly essential water supplies were either deliberately targeted by the “coalition”, or some “legitimate” target was so near that the likely presence of defenceless civilians was simply ignored.

(b)  Proportionality

The principle of proportionality, another fundamental tenet of IHL, also prohibits disproportionate attacks, which are those “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack (that is, knowing that the attack will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage) constitutes a war crime. The Commentary on the Additional Protocols makes clear that the fact that the proportionality calculus requires an anticipated “concrete and direct” military advantage indicates that such advantage must be “substantial and relatively close, and that advantages which are hardly perceptible and those which would only appear in the long term should be disregarded (my emphasis).11

Whilst it is undeniable that the head-chopping organ-eating occupiers of Raqqa were about as vile a group of psychopaths as it’s possible to get, and that their removal from Raqqa would no doubt be extremely difficult to accomplish, it’s deeply questionable that the total destruction of a civilian-occupied city could be considered proportional to the reign of terror it was supposed to terminate. The fact that IS were eventually cleared out of Raqqa, very much alive and well, shows that they were not committed kamikaze warriors and suggests that alternative methods for bringing to an end their repulsive occupation may have been possible.

(c) Precautions

In order for parties to an armed conflict to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality they must take precautions in attack. “Constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects”; “all feasible precautions” must be taken to avoid and minimise incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The parties must choose means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding or at least minimising to the maximum extent possible incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. As well as verifying the military nature of targets and assessing the proportionality of attacks, the parties must also take all feasible steps to call off attacks which appear wrongly directed or disproportionate. Parties must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. When a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the parties must select the target the attack on which would be expected to pose the least danger to civilians and to civilian objects.

The limited information available on the precautions in attack taken by the Coalition suggests that they were not adequate or effective. The cases examined in detail indicate that there were serious shortcomings in verification that targets selected for attack were in fact military, with disastrous results for civilian life. Further, several attacks examined by Amnesty International suggest that the Coalition did not, at least in those instances, select weapons that would minimise harm to civilians. Also, the warnings that were given to civilians were not effective. They did not take into account the reality that civilians were blocked from leaving Raqqa, and did not include specific information (such as warning civilians to stay away from tall buildings).11

Amnesty claim that up to the point of publication of their report repeated approaches to “the coalition” for specific details regarding their attacks on Raqqa were either inadequately answered or had not been answered at all. Therefore questions relating to whether sufficient precautions were taken remain unanswered, and could imply breaches of international law.

(d) Joint and individual responsibility of coalition members

One of the attractions to “coalition” actions is the difficulty in attributing specific responsibility for possible crimes after the event, and Amnesty states:

It is concerned that this lack of clarity may enable individual Coalition members to evade responsibility for their actions. The UK Government, for example, maintained until May 2018 that it had not killed a single civilian in Syria or Iraq, despite carrying out thousands of air strikes across the two countries. On 2 May 2018 it admitted for the first time that one of its drone strikes had caused one civilian casualty in Syria in March 2018.11

However, there is very limited wriggle-room in attempting to evade responsibility by trying to divert attention to others. International Humanitarian Law (IHL):

Requires all states to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for its provisions under Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. This includes both positive and negative obligations on states providing assistance to another state which is then used to commit a violation of international humanitarian law. The negative obligation is not to encourage, aid or assist in violations of IHL by parties to a conflict. The positive obligation includes the prevention of violations where there is a foreseeable risk they will be committed and prevention of further violations where they have already occurred.

The USA, UK, France, and other states involved in military operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve therefore may be legally responsible for unlawful acts carried out by Coalition members.12

(e) Duty to investigate, prosecute and provide reparation

States have an obligation to investigate allegations of war crimes by their forces or nationals, or committed on their territory and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute the suspects. They must also investigate other war crimes over which they have jurisdiction, including through universal jurisdiction, and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects.12

A young man holding a child staring at the ruins of bombed buildings in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Life-giving light – and those who would snuff it out

The Amnesty International report provides compelling evidence that, at the very least, there are legitimate questions to be answered regarding the attacks on Raqqa by the USA, Britain and France. And it must never be forgotten that the whole IS phenomenon is mostly a creation of the west, that without the deeply cynical plotting of the US, British and possibly French deep states, IS would likely never have come into existence. The words of French foreign minister Roland Dumas should be recalled:

I’m going to tell you something,” Dumas said on French station LCP. “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business [in 2009]. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.

So Dumas may have said – but the French were involved in the destruction of Raqqa.

Raqqa’s residents surveying the destruction in the city centre (AI Photo)

If similar probable war crimes had been carried out in some other country by Russia, say, or China, or Iran, or any other nation to which the west is routinely hostile, almost certainly outraged voices would be heard caterwauling in Westminster and Washington. Front pages of newspapers, together with TV and radio news programmes would be howling that “something must be done”. Yet in Westminster and Washington the silence is deafening. Not a single word of protest appears on the front pages of our newspapers, and our TV and radio stations appear to be looking the other way. Why? Because our “heroes” are personally involved, and personally responsible for the terror, and that is the terrible truth that cannot be admitted.

The cold hard fact is that far from being heroic, many people in the military are de facto war criminals. From at least as far back as the second world war, when defenceless civilians were bombed to death and incinerated in their homes in the pointless bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, for example, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the slaughter of countless defenceless civilians in later wars, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the more recent civilian killing fields of Iraq, Libya and now Syria, our so-called heroes have just as much innocents’ blood on their hands as any Nazi war criminal ever had.

With very few exceptions, the military seldom do anything heroic. The very last thing that senior officers want, the generals, admirals, air marshals and so on, is a peaceful world – for the very obvious reason that they would all be out of work, vastly overpaid work requiring very little real and useful effort, work that not only pays these people far more than they’re worth, but also, which is far worse, gives them far too much power in our societies. Consider, for example, the words of an unnamed general in a recent Observer interview that if Jeremy Corbyn – a lifelong pacifist – was to win a general election:

There would be a mutiny in the armed forces… unless he learnt to love NATO and the nuclear bomb.13

The cold hard fact is that these people, those who run our so-called “defence” forces are out of control. They are more interested in protecting their own careers than doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and which so many people mistakenly believe they are doing – protecting us. We are not made safer by the ruthless and illegal destruction of civilian cities such as Raqqa. The people that carry out these war crimes should be brought to account and charged like the common war criminals they really are, which is pretty much the same conclusion reached by Amnesty International:

Where there is admissible evidence that individual members of Coalition forces are responsible for war crimes, ensure they are prosecuted in a fair trial without recourse to the death penalty.14

We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve.
— V.I. Ulyanov, (Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface.))

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.
— Rosa Luxemburg15

Sometimes I think we biologists may find ourselves coming into politics from our own angle. If things go on as they are going – We may have to treat the whole world as a mental hospital. The entire species is going mad; for what is madness but a complete want of mental adaptation to one’s circumstances? Sooner or later, young man, your generation will have to face up to that.…

I have an idea, Father, a half-formed idea,that before we can go on to a sane new order, there has to be a far more extensive clearing up of old institutions… The world needs some sort of scavenging, a burning up of the old infected clothes, before it can get on to a new phase. At present it is enormously encumbered… This is just a shadowy idea in my mind… Something like breaking down condemned, old houses. We can’t begin to get things in order until there has been this scavenging.

— HG Wells, The Holy Terror, Simon and Schuster, 1939.

  1. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, p. 566.
  2. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, Preface.
  3. Medvedev, p. 363.
  4. Amnesty International Report, p. 9.
  5. AI Report, p. 5.
  6. AI Report, p. 48.
  7. AI Report, p. 49.
  8. AI Report, p. 53.
  9. AI Report, p. 62.
  10. AI Report, p. 44.
  11. AI Report, p. 63.
  12. AI Report, p. 64.
  13. How the Establishment lost control, Chris Nineham, p. 93.
  14. AI Report, p. 67.
  15. Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface

Dear Salafist Wahhabist Apologists

Your head chopper heros are apparently not what Syrians have in mind when they think of democratic revolution.

Mehdi Hasan (MH) can hardly be blamed for the ignorance that he displays in his Intercept article, “Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists: Your Hero Is a War Criminal Even If He Didn’t Gas Syrians.”  He has apparently never been to Syria, doesn’t often do research on Syria, and gets his information from proponents of a single point of view, representing a bunch of idealists that want to usher in their idea of a liberal democracy in Syria, without benefit of electoral niceties until their power is already ironclad.  What’s wrong with this picture?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start by deconstructing the absurdities and the language in the MH article.

Thankfully, MH has spared us the need to deconstruct the absurd accusation that the Syrian armed forces have used chemical weapons.  He apparently accepts that they don’t need to, that there is no benefit in using them, so why would they? OK, then who did? Cui bono? Easy answer.  The motive of the promoters of destruction in Syria is to create a pretext for the US and its partners to bomb, invade and establish a no-fly zone; i.e., to directly take on the Syrian government and its allies.  These war criminals include the neoconservative cabal in the US, the Zionist and Israeli proponents of using the US to fight Israel’s perceived enemies, and the Saudi and Qatari adventurists backing the Project for a New Salafist Paradise.  These are the same players who brought us Iraq I and II, Libya, Afghanistan forever, Somalia and Yemen.  What more could we wish for?

So let us move on to the MH complaint about barrel bombs. What is the complaint, exactly?  Are they more horrible than other types of bombs? Is it OK to use bombs manufactured in western munitions factories for delivery by jet airplanes but not ones manufactured in Syria and delivered by helicopter?  Never mind.  It’s a great opportunity for MH to use the hyped term “BARREL BOMB” in order to enrage and terrify an undiscerning readership.

But what about all the civilian casualties, and isn’t the Syrian army to blame?  Well, no, ISIS and the pseudonymous al-Qaeda affiliates are quite happy to post videos of their stonings, beheadings, crucifixions and immolations, so we know the army can’t be the only ones.  In fact, given the summary executions of non-Muslims in territories “liberated” from the government, is there any reason to think that the forces fighting the Syrian government are responsible for fewer civilian deaths? I myself met refugees who had fled up to 70 km over the mountains in the dead of winter to Latakia in March, 2013 with no more than the clothes on their back.  No one knows how many children and old people died.

Aircraft? The anti-government fighters don’t have them, do they? No, but they seem to be quite resourceful in eliminating innocent human lives nonetheless.  An example is the at least 10,000 civilians that have lost their lives in Damascus due to mortars and “hell cannons” (which also use “barrel bombs”) since the start of the hostilities.  Other examples include the withering four-year siege of the Shiite towns of Foua and Kafraya near Idlib and the unrelenting bombardment via “hell cannon” of the city of Aleppo from the enclave of East Aleppo until it was finally recovered by government forces in late 2016.

On the other hand, for those (unlike MH and the mainstream media), who consider evidence to be relevant, there is a plethora available to show that the Syrian army has been unusually respectful of civilian life. The claim is that Syria and its Russian allies have obliterated entire neighborhoods, raining bombs on the civilian population.  The facts are somewhat at odds with this description.

First, there are the civilian casualties themselves.  The UN stopped keeping casualty statistics in early 2016, but even the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights concedes that less that 1/3 of all casualties are civilians.  No other war on record has had such a low ratio. By comparison, 2/3 were civilian casualties in Vietnam, WWII and most other wars.

Second, the Syrian army liberation of Homs, Aleppo and other areas has followed a typical progression that is quite the opposite of “just kill them all”.  First, the army surrounds the area and lays siege. At this point, if the army wants to flatten the area and bring an end to the resistance there, it has the perfect means to do so.  But it does not.  Instead, it positions relief supplies at the perimeter and makes them available without prejudice to the inhabitants.  It also offers sanctuary to all who wish to leave.  Amazingly, this includes even the fighters.  Syrian fighters willing to lay down their arms are offered amnesty.  But many are not initially willing to accept amnesty, and many are not Syrian.  To these, the government offers safe passage to other parts of Syria under opposition control, even permitting the fighters to keep their small arms.

If they refuse, the siege and the fighting continue, often for more than a year, and bombing is often a part of the campaign, especially toward the end, after multiple unilateral ceasefires from the government side, to try to conclude a peaceful end, as in Aleppo.  The bombing is typically in the least inhabited areas, in order to remove cover for fighters, so that the army will incur fewer casualties when it goes in.  The strategy doesn’t always work, but the low ratio of civilian casualties is a testimony to its relative success.

Why does the Syrian government do this?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just level the entire area, civilians and all, and be rid of the fighters once and for all?

Not really.  The government is aware that families are split, with some fighting on one side and some on another. One of the reasons so many Syrians remain loyal to the government is that it is seeking to protect all Syrians on all sides, with the intention of regaining their allegiance.  The government also recognizes that many of the opposition fighters are, in effect, mercenaries, for whom fighting is a way to put food on the table when there are no other sources of income.  Such fighters are not really enemies, just desperate people.  Given an opportunity, they will easily return to the government side.

Then there are the hyped bombing casualty statistics. As I pointed out in 2015, even if we accept the statistics of the highly biased anti-government Human Rights Watch, the number of casualties per bomb is only two, including combatants.  If we apply the ratio of civilian deaths, that is less than one civilian casualty per bomb, a clear indication that the Syrian air force is being far more respectful of civilians than the US was, for example, in its bombing of Raqqah, where twice as many civilians as fighters were killed.

But MH is slamming a position that nobody holds. The number of “leftists” that consider Bashar al-Assad a hero infinitesimal. There may be many Syrians who do, but that is not who MH is referring to.  MH is misinterpreting the actions of some journalists (including “leftists”) to correct distortions and false information as defense of Assad.  Perhaps the distinction is too subtle for him, but an aversion to disinformation and lynch mob mentality is not the same as being pro-Assad.  It’s not very helpful to say, on the one hand, that you oppose intervention in Syria, and then take all your (false) information from pro-intervention sources.  In that case the interventionists will applaud your non-intervention stance.

Those of us whom MH accuses of being pro-Assad are nothing of the sort.  We believe that Syrian sovereignty and territory should be fully respected (as MH also claims to believe), but we think it is important to counter the fake news and propaganda that are being used to justify the invasion of Syria.  MH is in love with fake news.  He prefers not to mention the killing of police in the uprisings that he describes as “peaceful demonstrations”. He prefers to cherry-pick the opinions of Syrian refugees in Germany rather than the views of the vast majority of refugees (displaced persons) who evacuated to government areas without leaving Syria.  He produces the Human Rights Watch report on 50,000 morgue photos but not the deconstruction by investigator Rick Sterling. And he repeats the al-Qaeda claim and false film footage that Madaya was starving and in need when it was, in fact, sitting on a mountain of aid supplies being denied by the fighters themselves to the population.

If MH can’t see the difference between being pro-Assad and not falling for interventionist propaganda, that’s his problem.  What’s astonishing is the number of “leftists” that rail against interventionism but base their views on the drivel purveyed by the interventionists themselves in the mainstream media, and that originates from propaganda mills like the White Helmets, the Aleppo/Ghouta Media Center and other lavishly funded set designers for warmongers. If MH is not an interventionist, he’s nevertheless making their case for them.

Death and Impunity: Iraq Fifteen Years After

It might have made a bit more than a whimper had the US political scene not found itself in yet another paroxysm of the drama known as the Trump White House.  Fifteen years before, governments aligning with the dogs of war decided, in defiance of millions of protestors globally, to invade a sovereign state.  Papers cheered with blood lust; propagandists and public relations firms were hired to push the politics of regime change in a country that was already hemmed in by sanctions and surveillance.

The invasion of Iraq must, over time, be given its own specific criminal gravity.  It sundered the Middle East, it tore at the artificially imposed borders contrived by former colonial masters.  It emboldened new foes and generated further disagreements.  For generations, chaos will be guaranteed on the heaped folly of the 2003 decision.

“The results are in,” went a sombre Charles P. Pierce for Esquire. “Iraq never recovered.  Syria devolved into civil war. We got closer than ever to the inhumane regime in Saudi Arabia, now engaged in mass slaughter in Yemen with weapons we supplied, because there’s never been a problem with that before.”

As Matt Taibbi reflected, the invasion had the element of “awesome drama, made more thrilling by the seemingly obvious craziness of it all.” The subtext was a lack of sensible reason, distorted by the mania that Iraq had somehow become a global threat with a trigger happy maniac. In place was ample hysteric delight, characterised by the opening phase of the campaign: “Shock and Awe”.

As with the Indochina War, the invasion mirrored an emerging malaise back home.  Invading Iraq was “one of the great crimes of this or any age and destined to be a crossroads event in the history of America’s decline”.  It was “a cold, calculated, opportunistic power grab, aimed as much at future targets, and even our own population, as at the Iraqi ‘enemy’.”

The US allies who, with unfazed enthusiasm went in with similar destructive intent, were also showing mixed degrees of reflection.  In Australia, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saw a chance to chastise his predecessor, John Howard, for having joined the US-led enterprise.  “John Howard’s decision to commit thousands of Australian troops to the invasion of Iraq 15 years ago,” began his opening salvo, “ranks as one of the two great failures of Australian foreign policy since the Second World War.”

Rudd can show periods of sensible reflection.  The decision to invade Iraq had to also rank alongside another US-led mission that was doomed: the Vietnam War.  Again, the leadership in Canberra felt it logical and automatic that the soldiers of the South Cross should shed blood alongside those of the Stars and Stripes.

In Rudd’s reflection, analysis of legitimacy and interest was lacking. There was no specific Australian take on it, not a consideration of “the credibility of American military strategy to both win the war and secure the peace, as well as the long-term consequences for Australian national interests.”

Being a former diplomat, Rudd’s survey of the grotesque consequences is even deeper than Pierce. Sectarian violence between the Shia majority and Sunni minority was unleashed; Christians, having co-habited with Muslims for some 1,300 years were brutally expelled; Iraq was pushed into Iran’s orbit while Iraq duly imploded, becoming the base for regional terrorist influences.

The apologist’s tactic in these instances is one tried in history.  We were sincere in inflicting our butcheries; we were solemn in making our errors of judgment.  We only did what was appropriate at the time.  Even if those weapons of mass destruction had never turned up, Saddam Hussein was vicious, a sadist, murderer and torturer. Never mind those who knew better.

For John Howard, it was a case of making a decision on “available evidence” from Australian intelligence agencies at the time tying the Saddam regime with those ultimately elusive weapons of mass destruction. Howard duly “concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction” and insisted that Rudd place himself in “the shoes of the government at the time”.

In the case of the evangelised Tony Blair of Britain, such ham sincerity is pure theatre, even convincing the likes of Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the public inquiry examining the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.  While he was not “straight with the nation” about the reasons for invading Iraq, he was “emotionally truthful”.

As Chilcot explained to the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg last July, “Tony Blair is always and ever an advocate.  He makes the most persuasive case he can.  Not departing from the truth but persuasion is everything.”

As for President George W. Bush, he remains, along with Howard and Blair, elusive from the judicial bench of any tribunal, foreign or domestic.  War criminals have received weighty sentences for less but this triumvirate are at little risk of being apprehended.  In the autumn of their lives, they are witnessing a conflagration they happily initiated when in office.

A Treacherous Crossing

On January 23rd an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized off the coast of Aden in Southern Yemen. Smugglers packed 152 passengers from Somalia and Ethiopia in the boat and then, while at sea, reportedly pulled guns on the migrants to extort additional money from them. The boat capsized, according to The Guardian, after the shooting prompted panic. The death toll, currently 30, is expected to rise. Dozens of children were on board.

The passengers had already risked the perilous journey from African shores to Yemen, a dangerous crossing that leaves people vulnerable to false promises, predatory captors, arbitrary detention and tortuous human rights violations. Sheer desperation for basic needs has driven hundreds of thousands of African migrants to Yemen. Many hope, upon arrival, they can eventually travel to prosperous Gulf countries further north where they might find work and some measure of security. But the desperation and fighting in southern Yemen were horrible enough to convince most migrants that boarded the smuggling boat on January 23rd to try and return to Africa.

Referring to those who drowned when the boat capsized, Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf said:

This heart-breaking tragedy underscores, yet again, just how devastating Yemen’s conflict continues to be for civilians. Amid ongoing hostilities and crushing restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, many people who came to Yemen to flee conflict and repression elsewhere are now being forced yet again to flee in search of safety. Some are dying in the process.

In 2017, more than 55,000 African migrants arrived in Yemen, many of them teenagers from Somalia and Ethiopia where there are few jobs and severe drought is pushing people to the verge of famine. It’s difficult to arrange or afford transit beyond Yemen. Migrants become trapped in the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, which now, along with several drought-stricken North African countries, faces the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II. In Yemen, eight million people are on the brink of starvation as conflict-driven near-famine conditions leave millions without food and safe drinking water. Over one million people have suffered from cholera over the past year and more recent reports add a diphtheria outbreak to the horror. Civil war has exacerbated and prolonged the misery while, since March of 2015, a Saudi-led coalition, joined and supported by the U.S., has regularly bombed civilians and infrastructure in Yemen while also maintaining a blockade that prevented transport of desperately needed food, fuel and medicines.

Maalouf called on the international community to “halt arms transfers that could be used in the conflict.” To heed Maalouf’s call, the international community must finally thwart the greed of transnational military contractors that profit from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and other countries in the Saudi-led coalition. For instance, a November, 2017 Reuters report said that Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy about $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from U.S. defense contractors. The UAE also has purchased billions in American armaments.

Raytheon and Boeing are the companies that will primarily benefit from a deal that was part of a $110 billion weapons agreement coinciding with President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

Another dangerous crossing happened in the region last week. U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived in Saudi Arabia, along with a congressional delegation, to meet with the monarchy’s King Salman and subsequently with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has orchestrated the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Following that visit, Ryan and the delegation met with royals from the UAE.

“So rest assured”, said Ryan, speaking to a gathering of young diplomats in the UAE, “we will not stop until ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates are defeated and no longer a threat to the United States and our allies. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we are focused on the Iranian threat to regional stability.”

Beyond the simple well-recorded fact of lavish Saudi financial support for Islamist terrorism, Ryan’s remarks overlook the Saudi-led coalition military assaults and “special operations” in Yemen, which the U.S. supports and joins. The war there is arguably undermining efforts to combat jihadist groups, which have flourished in the chaos of the war, particularly in the south which is nominally under the control of the government allied to Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian government Ryan denounced does have allies in Yemen and may be smuggling weapons into Iran, but no one has accused them of supplying the Houthi rebels with cluster bombs, laser-guided missiles and littoral (near-coastal) combat ships to blockade ports vital to famine relief. Iran does not provide in-air refueling for warplanes used in daily bombing runs over Yemen. The U.S. has sold all of these to countries in the Saudi-led coalition which have, in turn, used these weapons to destroy Yemen’s infrastructure as well as create chaos and exacerbate suffering among civilians in Yemen.

Ryan omitted any mention of the starvation, disease, and displacement afflicting people in Yemen. He neglected to mention documented human rights abuses in a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen’s south. Ryan and the delegation essentially created a smokescreen of concern for human life that conceals the very real terror into which U.S. policies have thrust the people of Yemen and the surrounding region.

Potential starvation of their children terrifies people who can’t acquire food for their families. Those who can’t obtain safe drinking water face nightmarish prospects of dehydration or disease. Persons fleeing bombers, snipers, and armed militias who might arbitrarily detain them shudder in fear as they try to devise escape routes.

Paul Ryan, and the congressional delegation traveling with him, had an extraordinary opportunity to support humanitarian appeals made by UN officials and human rights organizers.

Instead, Ryan implied the only security concerns worth mentioning are those that threaten people in the U.S. He pledged cooperation with brutally repressive dictators known for egregious human rights violations in their own countries, and in beleaguered Yemen. He blamed the government of Iran for meddling in the affairs of other countries and supplying militias with funds and weapons.  U.S. foreign policy is foolishly reduced to “the good guys,” the U.S. and its allies, versus “the bad guy,” – Iran.

The “good guys” shaping and selling U.S. foreign policy and weapon sales exemplify the heartless indifference of the smugglers who gamble human life in exceedingly dangerous crossings.

An Afghan Year: My Road from Soldier to Socialism

Hell is everything that Christian mythology paints it as. Hell is pain, death, suffering, bleakness, and fire. But it isn’t some mystical dimension where rapists and Hitler are suffering for eternity. Hell is right here on earth, war is hell; it’s not made to punish evil people, it’s made by evil people and it’s the innocent who suffer. It’s children, parents, brothers, sisters, people just trying to live their lives, all being tortured and killed, brutalized and raped. The innocent are the ones left weeping while the evil ones reap rewards. War is indeed hell in ways that no one can understand unless they’ve seen it. I have not been to hell, but I could see it from where I stood.

Welcome to Kandahar

I joined the National Guard to pay for college. I didn’t really think of the consequences at the time. After all: I’m an American, I was raised to worship my country and adore the military, and I did. Receiving a college education seemed like fair payment for “service to my country.” But that whole illusion of patriotism and “American exceptionalism” began to break down the moment I found myself stepping off an AC-17 into the blinding sun of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2012.

It was surreal, like living inside the beginning of a war movie. But unlike all those movies where the grizzled veterans jeered at the new arrivals, everyone just ignored us as we walked down the tarmac to the building where we would receive our briefing. It was also loud, beyond what I had expected. There was an absolutely constant roar of aircraft taking off, landing, being run-up for maintenance. Aircraft of every size, purpose, and origin, were there. They told us later that Kandahar Airfield, or KAF as it is “affectionately” called, is the busiest airport in the world. I can certainly believe it. The roar was so deafening, so constant, that there was no escaping it. Not during the day, not when you tried to sleep at night. It was the first constant companion I was introduced to, and it started to wear me down in just the first few days.

Once inside a small domed building, the civilian contractor gave his “welcome to Kandahar” brief, of which I paid zero attention. I was too busy looking at the building I was sitting in. It was ancient, and apparently it was a madrasa (Muslim school) before the U.S. occupation of the airfield. It was also the last-stand of the Taliban in Kandahar, and was riddled with bullet-holes. After the briefing, we all shuffled out into the street and waited for the buses that would take us to our RLB’s (Ready to Live Barracks.) It was at this moment I was introduced to the second constant companion that everyone is stuck with in Afghanistan: dust. And I mean DUST. There is no dirt. It’s talcum powder. It just hangs in the air, sticks to your everything, and forces you to breath it all the time. I also realized as I stood next to the dust bowl they called a street, that KAF is a city, not a base. Most of the buildings are simple plywood, and there really isn’t any order to most of them. The streets are mostly unpaved dusty roads, but it is still a city nonetheless.

The runway is almost 2 miles long, and the area from one row of hangers on the north side of the runway to the row on the south side is almost half a mile wide. All that was just the operations area of the base. The south side of the base was all housing and the DEFAC’s (dining facility). It had an area they call the boardwalk, which had shops and restaurants run by both locals and contractors alike. The base even had its own water purification and bottling plant, also operated by contractors working for the company KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. I would see a lot of this company during the next year.

On our way to our RLB’s we passed the “poo-pond.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: a huge pond of human waste, sitting out in the heat right in the middle of the base. Despite its scale and its age, KAF still didn’t have a more sanitary way to dispose of sewage. KAF still hadn’t caught up with the l9th century in this regard. It smells as nice as it sounds.

After rolling around in the buses (crappy ten passenger vans with 20 people shoved in them) for a half hour, we finally arrived at the RLB’s. These “Ready to Live Barracks” would be our “homes” for the next year. They are shipping containers that have been cut in half and stacked like an apartment building. On the open end they put a door and a window. They were designed to house two people, and we would be living in them 3 per unit. We unloaded our bags and moved into our units. The rest of the day was spent aimlessly walking around the base. It was strange, like standing in the eye of a hurricane. But it was the last calm day we would experience.

Blood on the rocks

About a month in we had our first rocket attack. A sudden boom and then a mushroom cloud in the south part of the base. Frankly I had expected more. Looking back on it now, I should have been terrified. Normally you don’t have fiery death-tubes lobbed at you. But the locals had no way to aim them, and I never heard of anyone being killed by one on KAF. The sirens would go off and we were supposed to run to the bunker to hide until the all-clear was sounded, but we never did. Instead we usually ignored it if we could, and stayed where we were to “watch the show” if we couldn’t ignore it. One morning we were attacked pretty badly just as I was getting up, but I wasn’t having any of it. I had a routine, and this routine was everything to me, it kept me sane. I was going to have my shower and coffee made with my french press, even if it killed me. While I was in the shower I felt the whole stack of RLB’s shake. I didn’t hear the rocket roar overhead above the sound of my shower, but a couple of the other guys did, and it shook them up pretty badly.

A rocket had managed to strike just a few yards from where I was standing in the shower. It struck a metal container and sent shrapnel flying all over the place. Apparently it shook the DEFAC pretty good, ruining everyone’s breakfast. When I felt it explode, I chuckled a little bit at the thought of it killing me in the shower: “He made the ultimate sacrifice, naked and wet.” I’m not trying to paint myself as brave, I’m not brave. I was fearless. Fearlessness isn’t a virtue, bravery is. Bravery is doing what you know needs done, despite your fears. Fearlessness is just a lack of fear. Fearless people are those who just don’t care anymore. Fearlessness is a kind of depression, a mental illness.

The American response to these attacks always seemed a bit ridiculous. The Apache attack helicopters, that circled KAF at all times, would descend and kill everything in the vicinity of where the rocket was launched. It was like watching someone kill mosquitoes with a shotgun. They often did this before the rocket even struck. They had some kind of tracking system that could tell where the rocket came from before it hit. And they could respond faster than the rocket traveled. Of course, usually the rockets were on some kind of timer, and the people who set them up were long gone by the time they actually launched. But they didn’t always set them up in an empty field. Often they launched them near houses, in a place where they knew people would be. All to ensure that innocent people died.

Noises like this were constant. You could always hear gunfire in the distance, it was like thunder that never stopped. Like natural thunder, the thunder of man heralded a storm. But that storm was one of fire, metal, and death. That storm never stopped. Not for the time of day, nor the change of season. It was constant. And it swirled all around me. I couldn’t escape it.

My job on KAF was to supervise a squad of CH-47D mechanics during daytime operation hours. It was a fast, chaotic and sometimes painfully boring job. During the first few months in the summer though, it was nonstop chaos. It was the height of the fighting season, and we were running a lot of missions in extreme weather and dust. This caused all kinds of problems with the aircraft, especially the engines. I lost count of how many we changed, but I know that we were up to doing two a day. All the other units that worked around us were just as busy. The air force parajumpers (PJ’s for short) were flying non-stop to rescue downed pilots and other people injured in battle. The regular medevacs were doing the same. They both would land on the rocks next to the tarmac to wash the blood out of their aircraft with fire-hoses. I watched them with a morbid fascination, and I could see the red waterful wash out of the opposite side of the aircraft. This would happen every day, all day, for months. The rocks were permanently stained a dark red in that spot.

The Undead

The summer was a blur. I honestly do not remember much beyond the fact that I was tired and stressed the whole time. However, in the fall it got boring. As the weather got colder, the fighting died down. It was most boring while the aircraft were out on missions. We had 13 aircraft, but only 3 or 4 would be used for missions in a day. This was necessary during the summer because they were being pushed so hard that if they weren’t on a mission they needed maintenance. But now everything was slower, the missions were shorter, so there was much less to do. We had almost nothing to do for the several hours the aircraft were out on missions. This was the most difficult time. During the summer I could just focus on my work. There wasn’t time for anything else. But in the fall I had hours each day where I had nothing to focus on but my own thoughts, and those were not pleasant thoughts.

Our pace may have been slower in the fall, but the war still raged all around us. The heat was still there, the noise of war still thundered, the dust was still choking. It all slowly ate my mind. But the worst part was what I was slowly being forced to accept: everything I had believed in my whole life was a lie. I had always been a patriotic American. I believed we weren’t perfect but that we were “the good guys.” I truly believed that the Afghans wanted us there, that we were protecting and helping them. But now, as I saw the war around me, and why it was being fought, as well as the inhuman attitude towards even the Afghan civilians that my fellow soldiers had, I couldn’t keep believing this lie.

There was no greater example of the lie than the contractors who were there. It was these contractors that first started to hammar cracks in the walls of my mind built by this system. I came to find out that they outnumbered military personnel ten to one. And all of them were doing jobs that they still train and deploy the military to do. But our system doesn’t allow direct investment in the military, they have to invest in companies. So the government gives multi-million dollar, even billion-dollar contracts to these companies which perform tasks that the military is still capable of doing, but for quadruple the cost. The politicians who awarded the contract now have a safe investment, because they know exactly how much the contractor is going to make since those same politicians are the ones who gave them that money in the first place, straight out of government funds. The roads: built by KBR contractors. The food: cooked and distributed by KBR contractors. Our laundry: washed by KBR contractors. All despite the fact that the military still trains and deploys construction engineers, cooks, and even laundry personnel (or they could have just given us a washing machine and let us do it ourselves). But none of those military personnel doing these jobs can be used to make money for a capitalist. I wrote a Facebook post at that time that explained how I now believed capitalism was heartless. I hadn’t read a single word from any socialist literature at that point. I had come to that conclusion purely based on what I had seen.

Every time a gunfight broke out in the distance, every time an Apache descended to kill “mosquitoes,” every time the base security apathetically fired their weapons beyond the fence, and every time I saw contractors doing the job that there were already military personnel there to perform, another crack formed in the wall that shielded my comfortable false narrative from the reality of the world.

I took pictures of everything because I wanted to find some kind of beauty in that place. And it was there if you looked hard enough. More often than not, though, it was a sort of dark beauty, like the art that was painted on all of the bunkers around the base. Some of it was just pretty pictures, but most of it was anti-authority stencils or graffiti. The sunsets were also amazing, but always marred by helicopters. I really enjoyed watching the farmers outside the fence, who grew watermelons – of all things. I took pictures of all that, and it gave me some relief. It reminded me that there was still a world out there where people were just living their lives, where people weren’t using death to make themselves rich, a world where blood wasn’t being washed out of helicopters with fire hoses.

One time, as we were riding back to the RLB’s in those crappy little vans, we were passing a point along the fence where we always did. Outside this section there was an old Soviet minefield. The U.S. could have removed it, but that cost too much money. What they did instead was to offer a reward to any locals who brought them mines from that field. This was cheaper, and didn’t risk American lives, but it was far more dangerous for the locals than it would have ever been for Americans. The locals had no equipment to detect or remove landmines. Sometimes we would see them working out there at the end of the day as we passed by. But this day there was only one figure out there: a little girl. She couldn’t have been older than 5 or 6, her clothes were rags, and she was covered from head to toe in mud and gore. She raised an arm above her head and stared at us as we drove by. I learned there that the undead are real, but they aren’t walking corpses, just the opposite. Their bodies are very much alive. It’s their souls that have died. Her eyes were hollow and haunting, they were a knife to my heart, and it was the final hammer that brought that wall in my mind down. There in the abyss of her eyes died the last excuse I had to defend what I used to believe. They begged one question at me: “why?” And I had no answer that could defend this system. Capitalism hurt that girl, and the culture that supports it. Greed and the need to increase profits kept that minefield there. I learned in that moment what we all are to Capitalists: a source of wealth, nothing more. And when we cannot give anything more to them, then we are worthless to them. I never took a picture of that girl.

Casualties, Apathy, and The End

A few weeks after that, as we were all smoking inside of a bunker, listened to an old sergeant brag about the moped he had bought from one of the spec-ops guys. He gleefully told the story of how the operator (military slang for special-operations soldier) killed a kid (yes, he said kid) who tried to run away from the operator on that moped. The operator left his body there for his parents to find, and kept the moped as a trophy. Who knows if the kid actually was a terrorist, his only crime was running away. But to them only guilty people run away. The story still makes me want to throw up.

On November 9th, 2012, Spc. Daniel Carlson, a blond haired 2l year old kid who worked in the parts room, put his rifle in his mouth and blew his brains out in his RLB. I had spoken to him no more than a few hours before. He wasn’t someone I knew very well, an acquaintance really, but I did talk to him every day. I had made my job the “parts and tools fetcher” so that my guys could focus on maintenance and didn’t have to run all over the place. SPC Carlson was the only person in that tool room who did their job. Everyone else all but refused to do anything. I don’t know exactly what made him take his own life, but I do know that he had requested emergency leave from his superiors 3 times, and 3 times he was refused because his work ethic “made him too valuable.”

Thanksgiving came, and we were all required to attend dinner at the DFAC for a photo-op, and pretend to be happy patriotic Americans. No one wanted to attend. It really reminded us all of what big tools we were; we were just pawns to make politicians and citizens feel patriotic and supportive of this charade. I hated it most of all, and I scowled right into the camera. All the officers and higher enlisted were smiles from ear to ear. That’s when I learned what a bootlicker really looks like.

By winter the heat suddenly went away. It was replaced by cold and rain showers. The rain pretty much ended most flight missions; there were actually snowstorms in the mountains around us. We kind of coasted our way to January and the end of our deployment. Before I knew it, we flew our last mission, us maintainers posed on the ground as the aircraft took off in the background of the picture. After that, we broke down our aircraft for transport back to the U.S. Then we climbed aboard a C-17 headed for Kyrgyzstan, and eventually the U.S.

I sat on that plane in the dark morning and did what I had fantasized about for a year: I took off my helmet, took out my beat up clunky ipod, closed my eyes and listened to “violence and variations” by Bear McCreary as the plane lifted off and took me away from that place. I had imagined that music as the end of my story, the part of the movie where the credits roll and the audience stretches their legs. But as those promising notes lifted tattered remains of my soul, I knew this wasn’t the end of my story. With all the things I had seen, and all the ways they had changed me, I knew this was just the prologue.

In the morning we landed in Kyrgyzstan. We had been in Afghanistan for only 9 months, not even a year, but no one called it less than a year, it sure felt like even longer. Time is different there, surrounded by all that. It was an Afghan year, and what a year it had been. But all of it was over now, all the things I had taken for granted back home now seemed so alien, and wonderful. There was snow, mountains, and trees: My god, there were TREES. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I found a secluded grove at one end of the base and just sat in the snow for a long time. The air was clear and cool, there was no dust, no mud, no aircraft exhaust, no rockets, no gunfire, no minefields, no waterfalls of blood being washed out of aircraft, and no hollow eyes of little girls. It was just quiet. Everything just sort of hit me at once, and I cried.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

A Nation of Relentless Savagery

You’ve been avoiding this for a long time.

You prefer to remember the times he took you to the park, that amazing camping vacation a few summers back, the funny things he often says at the dinner table, that beautiful dog he gave you on your 12th birthday.

But you can’t deny it any longer.  The truth is painful.  But . . .

Dad is an alcoholic and he beats mom.

Do you hate him?  Do you reject him as your father?

No, but things have to drastically change and very soon.

This is not actually the story I wish to tell.  I’m merely drawing a parallel.  I’m talking about dealing with denial, facing reality, accepting responsibility, taking action.

There are many situations in life for which the above scenario is a metaphor.

The parallel I’m making is the relationship between a citizen and a government gone mad.

We’ve avoided it for a long time.  We prefer to think of America as a beacon of hope in the world, the fountainhead of truth and justice, a purveyor of democratic values and human rights.

But we can’t deny it any longer.  The truth is painful.  But . . .

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his monumental, myth-shattering speech — the one that probably got him assassinated — at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967:

The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own government, I cannot be silent.

I won’t go into the long history of American aggression.  Whole books have been written which detail our gruesome heritage of merciless wars, the most notable being Howard Zinn’s classics, A People’s History of the United States and the more recent A People’s History of American Empire.  Nor will I indict the U.S. foreign policy apparatus for its gross deceptions and hypocrisies, elucidated with unparalleled clarity and candor in William Blum’s excellent work, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy.

I won’t talk about the millions of human carcasses piled on top of more carcasses, the result of countless war crimes and merciless military strategies which place no value on human life, whether the victims are in uniform or innocent civilians.  I’ve realized that the scale of the horror is such that it’s incomprehensible to most good decent citizens.  I myself when confronted by figures like 3 million Vietnamese killed, 1.5 Iraqis killed, on and on, find my eyes glazing over in the deluge of zeroes.  I literally cannot grasp these numbers and apply them meaningfully to the grief and physical suffering which they are supposed to somehow encapsulate.

Let’s instead look at a few simple very recent facts and try to put them in perspective.

Fact 1:  The U.S. is not officially at war with any other country at this time.

Fact 2:  The U.S. has not been attacked in any sense of the word in the last 16 years.

Fact 3:  Last year the U.S. military dropped 26,171 bombs on seven different countries.

Mind you, these are the official figures.  Who knows what the real totals are?

These were not water-filled balloons or July 4th fireworks.  At the end of every explosion, there were body parts strewn all over the surrounding area.  Survivors were being crushed in collapsed buildings, or crawling along the ground with limbs torn off, leaving a trail of blood squirting out of severed arteries.  Innocent people, men, women, and children just going about the everyday business of living, were mangled by a lethal mix of high-velocity shrapnel, and chunks of rubble created by ton after ton of high-yield explosives dropped anonymously from the sky.

Rigorous studies have made it very clear that well over half of the casualties of current warfare are civilians.  In what are called ‘internal conflicts’ — like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia — which now are by far the most prevalent form of military conflict, the percentages can be as high as 90% civilians.  These violent clashes are typically fought by proxies. In all of the countries just listed, the aggressors are mercenaries paid by the U.S. and its allies to enter and destroy a country in what is then deceptively characterized as a civil war or “people’s uprising”.  There is very disturbing recent evidence, for example, that the U.S. through CIA back channels has been funding ISIS, Al Nusra, as well as other extremely barbarous terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

By the way, that money they withhold from your paycheck?  Or that quarterly tax payment you regularly make?  Think about it.  This is where a big chunk of your tax dollars is going.  You’re paying for this.

Does any of this make my point a little more comprehensible?

26,171 bombs . . . funding terrorism . . . innocent civilians murdered . . . all in a days work.

America can say with great pride that what it does, it usually does very well.

When we put our minds to something, we pull out all the stops.

Now we can put cold-blooded killing right up there in the Top 10.

We kill efficiently.  We kill without remorse.  We kill without hesitation.

NOTICE TO THE WORLD . . .

Beware!  We are a nation of relentless savagery!

Then again, a lot of countries already know that.

I’ve said this many times before and I’ll keep saying it until people get it . . .

Peace will not come from the top.  There are too many incentives and rewards in our corrupt corporate kleptocracy to keep the wars going and the wheels of the defense industry churning out more mechanisms of death and destruction.

It is only when we everyday citizens finally have had enough of the carnage, enough of the military waste, enough of the chest-beating imperialism which makes us less safe, enough of the empty rhetoric which claims to embrace the noble virtues but is just more deception in the name of war and imperial conquest, it is only then that America will turn around.

Maybe there are detailed plans out there somewhere to mobilize the good decent citizens of this country.  I haven’t personally seen any.  So here is mine.  Yes, it is outside-the-box, some would say radical, extreme.  But if we are the nation we claim to be in the world and in the eyes of God, isn’t cruelly and senselessly dropping 26,171 bombs on mostly innocent people extreme and radical?

My plan demands very little of us individually.  We don’t have to march on the capital or mount a revolutionary insurrection.  Despite that, it could make all the difference in the future we leave to our children and our children’s children.  All that is really required is that we listen to the voice of reason and stand strong.

At least take a look.  Open your mind up to the possibility of a future without the madness.  Of a future without endless war.  Of a future when our hard-earned tax dollars don’t go to fund the relentless savagery of a military gone mad.

THE PEACE DIVIDEND

WMD in Syria just like Iraq in 2003?

Introduction

In early 2003 it was claimed that Iraq was a threat to other countries. Despite ten years of crushing economic sanctions plus intrusive inspections, supposedly Iraq had acquired enough “weapons of mass destruction” to threaten the West. It was ridiculous on its face but few people in power said so. Establishment politicians and media across the U.S. promoted the idea. In the Senate, Joe Biden chaired the committee looking into the allegations but excluded knowledgeable critics such as Scott Ritter. This led to the invasion of Iraq.

Today we have something similarly ridiculous and dangerous. Supposedly the Syrian government decided to use a banned chemical weapon which they gave up in 2013-2014. Despite advancing against the insurgents, the Syrian government supposedly put sarin in a Russian chemical weapon canister and dropped this on the town of Khan Shaykhun which has been under the control of Syria’s version of Al Qaeda for years. To top off the stupidity, they left paint markings on the canister which identify it as a chemical weapon. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing there are many “White Helmet” activists in the town along with with their cameras, videos, computers, internet uplinks and western social media promoters. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing that neo-conservatives, neo-liberals and zionists are keen to prolong the conflict and drag the US and NATO into it. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing the one thing that could trigger direct US aggression in the conflict is the use of chemical weapons …. the “red line” laid down by Barack Obama.

If the above sounds unlikely, it is. But even if these accusations should be laughed out of the room, as they should have been in 2002, let’s take the claims about the event at Khan Shaykun in Syria on 4 April 2017 seriously. Certainly the consequences will be serious if the trend is not reversed.

What Happened at Khan Shaykhun?

The report titled “Seventh report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism” was provided to select governments and media on Thursday 26 October. Media announced the key finding without criticism or question. They highlighted the sentence that the committee is “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.

About 36 hours later, the report was leaked via the internet.  But the die was already cast as establishment media had “confirmed” Syrian guilt.

Following are key contradictions and inconsistencies in the report produced by the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

(a) The Investigation Ignores the Essential Element of Motive

The three essentials in criminal investigation are Motive, Means and Opportunity. All three must be present. Yet the investigation team ignores the question of motive. The Syrian government has every motive to NOT use proscribed weapons. On the other side, the armed opposition has a strong motive to implicate the Syrian government. They have been calling for US and NATO intervention for years. They are losing ground, recruits and allies. Yet these facts are never considered.

(b) The Investigation Relies Primarily on Biased Sources

On page 1 the Joint Investigative Mechanism claims they have conducted a “rigorous independent examination”. But most experts and witnesses are biased toward the “regime change” policies of western governments.  On page 4 the report saysThe Mechanism engaged several internationally recognized forensic and specialist defense institutes… to provide forensic and expert support to the investigation.”

Any “defense institute” connected or contracting with France, UK or USA will have inherent assumptions and bias since these governments have actively promoted the overthrow of the Syrian government.

(c) The Investigation Ignores Credible But Critical Analyses

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) team makes no mention of the published analysis and findings of numerous researchers, investigative journalists and scientists. For example:

  • MIT Professor Theodore Postol has analyzed the Khan Shaykhun incident. He persuasively challenges the main theory about the crater site and munition.
  • American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has also written about the incident. His information from U.S. military and intelligence officers reveal that the American military knew about the forthcoming attack in advance.  He reports the Syrian jet attack was “not a chemical weapons strike …. That’s a fairy tale.”
  • Investigative journalist Gareth Porter has written an expose titled “Have We Been Deceived over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria.” Porter presents a devastating critique of the sarin-crater theory. He documents how easily false positives for sarin could have been created and how the OPCW has violated their own investigation protocols.
  • Researcher Adam Larson has written an expose titled “Syria Sarin Allegation: How the UN-Panel Report Twists and Omits Evidence.” After closely inspecting the photographs and videos, he questions whether the victims are civilians kidnapped from a nearby village five days previously. Larson’s site “A Closer Look at Syria” has a good index of videos and articles on this and other events.

The above “open source” analysis and information was published well before the current report but apparently not considered. A “rigorous, independent examination” needs to evaluate investigations such as these.

(d) Victims Appear Before the Attack

On pages 28-29 it is reported that “Certain irregularities were observed in elements of information analyzed. For example, several hospitals appeared to start admitting casualties of the attack between 0640 and 0645 hours…. in 57 cases patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun….in 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

It is reported that “The Mechanism did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions”. Given the importance of determining whether this incident was caused by the Syrian government or staged by elements of the armed opposition and their supporters, why were these discrepancies not investigated further? Clearly it is not possible that victims were transported 125 kms and delivered to a hospital in 15 minutes. This is potentially powerful evidence of a staged event.

(e) ‘White Helmets’ Were Warning of a Chemical Weapons Attack Before the Attack

On page 20 it says “The Mechanism collected information from witnesses to the effect that a first warning of a possible upcoming chemical attack was received by “Syrian Civil Defense” (also known as the “White Helmets”) and spotters in Kahn Shaykun…. The witness stated that the alert advised residents to be careful as the aircraft was likely carrying toxic chemicals.”

It seems reasonable to ask: Was the advance talk of “toxic chemicals” a signal to get ready for a staged event? How would a plane spotter know there was a one-time chemical bomb aboard? This is another area that needs more investigation.

(f) Were Syrian Planes Over Khan Shaykhun at the Critical Time?

The basic question of whether or not there were Syrian jets over Khan Shaykhun is unanswered. The Syrian military says they did NOT fly over Khan Shaykhun in the early morning.

Page 21 documents that the Syrian pilot and log books record that the Su-22 jet was executing attacks at other nearby towns and not closer than 7 – 9 kms from Khan Shaykhun. Radar track data from the U.S. appears to support this, indicating the Syrian jet path was 5 kms from Khan Shaykun.

On page 7 it says “SAAF aircraft may have been in a position to launch aerial bombs” (underline added).  On page 22 it says, “the witness reported waking up at around 0700 hours on 4 April 2017 to the sound of explosions. The witness stated that there had been no aircraft over Khan Shaykhun at the time and that aircraft had only started launching attacks at around 1100 hours.” (underline added)

There are conflicting testimonies on this issue but curiously no video showing jet fighters at the time of the explosions in Khan Shaykun. It is unconfirmed how the ground explosions occurred.

(g) The Investigation Team did not try to Visit the Scene of the Crime

On page 3 the report says “The Mechanism did not visit the scenes of the incidents…. While the Leadership Panel considered that a visit to these sites would have been of value, such value would diminish over time. Further, the panel was required to weigh the security risks against the possible benefits to the investigation.”

While it is certainly appropriate to consider security, the actual scene of a crime provides unique opportunities for evidence. The OPCW has previously stated the necessity of having access to a crime site then taking and transferring samples to a certified lab with a clear chain of custody.

If the insurgents still controlling Khan Shaykhun have nothing to hide, they should welcome the investigation.

Furthermore, Russian authorities offered to guarantee the safety of the inspection team. Yet the investigation team apparently made no effort to visit the site. Why? In an investigation of this importance, with potentially huge political consequences, visiting and analyzing the scene of the crime should be a requirement if at all possible.

(h) The Material Evidence Comes from Insurgents with no Verifiable Chain of Custody

On page 23 it says “Samples taken from the crater and its surroundings were found by the Fact Finding Mission to contain sarin.” On the day of the event, insurgents took soil samples and victims to Turkey where they were received and subsequently tested. Without verified origins and “chain of custody”, this data cannot be verified and must be considered skeptically.

As indicated in the report, one theory about the 4 April 2017 event is that it was staged to implicate the Syrian government. If that theory is correct, it is predictable that the plotters would have samples prepared in advance, including sarin samples with markers matched to the Syrian stockpile. The Syrian sarin was destroyed aboard the US vessel “MV Cape Ray”. Given the heavy involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Syrian conflict it is likely they analyzed and retained some portion.

(i) The Report Repeats Discredited Claims about Bomb Fragment and Filler Cap

On page 26 it is reported that “two objects of interest … were the filler cap from a chemical munition and a deformed piece of metal protruding from deep within the crater. According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs.”

This information may come from a Human Rights Watch report which has been discredited. The “filler cap” was supposedly a match for an external plug for a Russian chemical weapon bomb but was found to not match and to be based on a 1950’s era museum photo. An insightful and amusing critique of the HRW report is here.

The authenticity of the fragments in the crater is also challenged by the lack of a tailfin or any other bomb fragments. A chemical weapon bomb is designed to release and not burn up the chemical and therefore the munition casing should be on site.

(j) Strange Actions Suggesting a Staged Event 

On page 28 the report notes methods and procedures “that appeared either unusual or inappropriate in the circumstances.”  For example, they observe that a Drager X-am 7000 air monitor was shown detecting sarin when that device is not able to detect sarin, and “para-medical interventions that did not seem to make medical sense, such as performing heart compression on a patient facing the ground.”

On page 29 it is reported that one victim had blood test showing negative for sarin and urine test showing positive. This is an impossible combination. Also on page 29 it is noted that some of the rescue operations were inappropriate but might have been “attempts to inflate the gravity of the situation for depiction in the media.”

The report does not mention the video which shows “White Helmet” responders handling victims without any gloves or protection. If the patients truly died from sarin, touching the patients’ skin or clothing could be fatal. Incidents such as these support the theory that this was a contrived and staged event with real victims.

(k) The Team is “Confident” in their Conclusions Yet Basic Facts are in Dispute

On page 22, the report acknowledges that “To date the Mechanism has not found specific information confirming whether or not an SAA Su-22 operating from Al Shayrat airbase launched an aerial attack against Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.”

How can they be “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017” when such basics have not been confirmed?

Conclusion

The report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) gives the impression of much more certainty than is actually there. Seizing on the false “confidence”, the White House has denounced the “horrifying barbarism of Bashar al Assad” and “lack of respect for international norms” by Syria’s ally Russia. International diplomacy is being steadily eroded. .

Most western “experts” were dead wrong in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Are these same “experts”, institutes, intelligence agencies and biased organizations going to take us down the road to new aggression, this time against Syria?

In contrast with the JIM report, Gareth Porter reached the opposite conclusion: “The evidence now available makes it clear that the scene suggesting a sarin attack at the crater was a crudely staged deception.” That is also more logical. The armed opposition had the motive, means and opportunity.