Category Archives: United Arab Emirates

Saudi-US Propaganda by PBS NewsHour in Houthi-held Yemen

One of the poorest countries in the Middle East, Yemen’s war has pushed it to the brink of famine. A Saudi blockade has slowed the flow of food and helped push prices up. Markets and businesses are ruined from airstrikes. Millions are destitute. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson smuggled herself across front lines to report on what’s happening inside the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

— PBS NewsHour summary, July 2, 2018

This is what American tax-supported propaganda looks like when an organization like the PBS NewsHour wants to maintain a semblance of credibility while lying through its intimidated teeth. Yes, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, long dependent on imported food and other life support. But to say “Yemen’s war” is major league deceit, and PBS surely knows the truth: that the war on Yemen is American-backed, initiated – illegally – in March 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The US/Saudi war is genocidal, creating famine and a cholera epidemic for military purposes. These are American and Arab war crimes that almost no one wants to acknowledge, much less confront.

The “Saudi blockade” is also a US Navy blockade. The blockade is a war crime. Starving civilians is a war crime.

The most amazing sentence is: “Markets and businesses are ruined from airstrikes.” Seems rather bland. But this is a tacit admission of more war crimes – Saudi bombing of civilian businesses, as well as civilian hospitals, weddings, and funerals. But PBS makes it sound like the airstrikes sort of come out of nowhere, like the rain. PBS omits the American culpability that makes the airstrikes possible: mid-air refueling, targeting support, intelligence sharing, and the rest. Think of Guernica, the fascist bombing of civilians that inspired Picasso’s painting. Now think of Guernica lasting three years. That’s what the US has supported in Yemen and that’s what PBS helps cover up.

Yes, “Millions are destitute,” and yes, this is “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.” But an honest news organization might go on to note that the destitution and the disaster are deliberate results of the world’s most relentless war crime.

From a journalistic perspective, getting the perky blonde reporter Jane Ferguson into northern Yemen, where the Houthis have been in control since 2014, is an accomplishment of note. There has been little firsthand reporting from Houthi Yemen, where the worst war crimes have been committed and the worst suffering continues. Ferguson’s presence was certainly an opportunity for serious independent reporting. PBS didn’t allow that. Based on no persuasive evidence, PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff framed the report as coming from “territory held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.” There is no credible evidence of meaningful Iranian support for the Houthis. To believe there is, one has to believe the Iranians are consistently getting through the US-Saudi blockade. PBS ignores such realities, as do most Washington policy-makers. Woodruff does acknowledge in her weaselly way that it’s “a brutal war that the United States is supporting through a Saudi-led coalition,” which is still a long way from the truth that it’s a genocidal bombing campaign made possible by the US.

Reporter Ferguson adds to the distraction by focusing on the poverty and suffering as if they came from nowhere:

Life is slipping away from Maimona Shaghadar. She suffers the agony of starvation in silence. No longer able to walk or talk, at 11 years old, little Maimona’s emaciated body weighs just 24 pounds. Watching over her is older brother Najib, who brought her to this remote hospital in Yemen, desperate to get help. The nurses here fight for the lives of children who are starving….

You were never supposed to see these images of Maimona. A blockade of rebel-held Northern Yemen stops reporters from getting here. Journalists are not allowed on flights into the area. No cameras, no pictures.

That last bit of self-dramatization of the daring journalist glosses over a harsh reality: in addition to waging a genocidal war on a trapped population, the US-Saudi axis is also enforcing isolation and censorship on the victim population. It is a US-Saudi blockade that keeps reporters out, preventing firsthand reporting of endless war crimes. Who says? Jane Ferguson says:

The Houthis cautiously welcomed me in and, once I was there, watched me closely.

Ferguson’s coverage of the hunger and starvation is heart-wrenching, journalism at its most moving but least informative. She frames her narrative falsely:

In the midst of political chaos in Yemen after the Arab Spring, Houthi rebels from the north captured the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, before sweeping south and causing the country’s then president to flee. Neighboring Sunni, Saudi Arabia, views the Houthis, from a Yemeni sect close to Shia Islam and backed by rival Iran, as an unacceptable threat along their border.

Political chaos is Yemen is decades if not centuries old, often fomented by the Saudis and other outside powers. The Houthis have been there for thousands of years (as Ferguson later acknowledges) and their dispute with the Saudis is ancient and territorial. The Houthis’ religion is independent. The influence of Iran is largely a Saudi night-fright made increasingly real by the war the Saudis say is supposed to stop Iran. This is contrary to the official story. Ferguson does not acknowledge it.

Ferguson pitches the second part of her three-part series, deceitfully understating American responsibility for the carnage. She doesn’t mention that the war would not have started without a US green light, saying only:

But there is a role played by the U.S. military, one that is sort of more passively behind, not quite as visible. And so we’re going to be looking at that role.

This is the official position of the Pentagon, which has claimed the US is not involved in combat in Yemen. The US role that is “more passively behind, not quite so visible” is still crucial to killing Yemenis on a daily basis. The war on Yemen began with US blessing and continues only because of US political, logistical, and materiel support. Jane Ferguson begins this segment with a reasonably accurate albeit morally numb description:

Inside rebel territory in Yemen, the war rains down from the sky. On the ground, front lines have not moved much in the past three years of conflict. Instead, an aerial bombing campaign by the Saudi-led and American-backed coalition hammers much of the country’s north….

Treating war crimes against defenseless people as a kind of natural disaster is barren of journalistic integrity and gives the war criminals a pass when they need calling out. Ferguson goes on in her antiseptic, no-one’s-responsible manner to illustrate the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian facilities, including a Doctors Without Borders cholera clinic. She also documents US-made weaponry, including an array of unexploded bombs and a collection of cluster bombs. She doesn’t mention that cluster bombs are banned by most of the world and constitute a war crime in themselves. She does note that cluster bombs often wound civilians, that follows this fact with the gratuitously propagandistic comment: “The Houthis have also targeted civilians, throwing anyone suspected of opposing them in jail.” She has no follow-up, leaving the audience with a false moral equivalence between blowing off a child’s arm and throwing someone in jail. But it gets worse. Ferguson later gets off this political judo move:

Most people here, whether they support the Houthis or not, know that many of the bombs being dropped are American. It provides a strong propaganda tool for the Houthi rebels, who go by the slogan “Death to America.”

What does that even mean, “go by the slogan ‘Death to America’?” Again Ferguson has no follow-up. Later she shows a crowd chanting “Death to America” as if that has relevance. Why wouldn’t the defenseless victims wish death on the country that murders them without surcease? The main purpose of introducing “Death to America” (with all its Iran-hostage resonance) seems propagandistic, to inflame American audiences that remain in denial about their own very real war guilt. American-supported bombing of Yemen is a fact. It is, quite literally, “Death to Yemen.” For Ferguson to call it a “strong propaganda tool” is a Big Lie in classic propaganda tradition. For PBS to broadcast this lie is to engage in propaganda. PBS and Ferguson not only blame the victim, they characterize their very real victimization as if it weren’t true but mere propaganda. At the end of the segment, Ferguson once again engages in false moral equivalence:

Both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition have disregarded innocent civilian life in this war. Every bomb that falls on a hospital, office building or home causes more unease about where they come from.

While it may well be true that “both sides” have killed or wounded civilians, there is absolutely no comparison in scale. The US-Saudi coalition comprises mass murderers; the Houthis don’t come close. “Every bomb that falls,” Ferguson should have said, is dropped by the US-Saudi side on the Houthi side. There is no doubt where the bombs come from.

In her third and last PBS segment, Ferguson foregoes any effort to explore the reality of hundreds of years of Houthi-Saudi territorial conflict. Instead, she goes to bed with US propaganda, opening with a crowd of Yemenis chanting “Death to America” and then stating:

These rebels, known as Houthis, seized control of Sanaa City and much of the north of the country in 2014. They are of Yemen’s Zaydi sect and closest to Shia Islam. Their growing power caused alarm across the border in Sunni Saudi Arabia, so the Saudis formed a coalition of Arab countries to defeat them, a coalition backed by the United States.

This is so twisted it amounts to intellectual fraud. Yemen has a long, tortured history of foreign interference. In the years before 2014, Yemen served (without much choice) as a base for US drone bases. At the same time, the international community imposed a Saudi puppet as Yemen’s president (presently in exile in Saudi Arabia). In 2014, the Houthi uprising, widely popular among Yemen’s 28 million people, drove out both the US drone bases and the Saudi puppet president. The Houthis represented something like Yemeni independence, which the US, Saudis, and others opposed with lethal force.

US support for the war in Yemen constitutes an impeachable offense for two American presidents. So do continuing drone strikes, also known as presidential assassinations. The war began because President Obama approved it and the Saudis were willing to bomb a defenseless population. But according to Ferguson:

The Saudis and the United States say the Houthis are puppets for Tehran, a proxy form of Iranian military power right on Saudi Arabia’s doorstep.

This is real propaganda. There is no evidence that the Houthis are anyone’s puppets (which is one reason they need to be oppressed). Historically, the Houthis are an oppressed people who keep rising up again and again to re-establish their own freedom and independence. There is no credible evidence of significant Iranian presence in Yemen. PBS and Ferguson certainly present none, and neither have the US or Saudi governments. American demonization of Iran has been a fixed idea since 1979, rooted in two psychopathologies: American unwillingness to accept responsibility for imposing a police state on Iran and American inability to see the hostage-taking of 1979 as a rational response to past American predation. American exceptionalism is a sickness that punishes others, currently millions of innocent Yemenis.

Ferguson concludes her series with a dishonest use of journalistic balance, first with a quote from Senator Bernie Sanders arguing that the US role in the Yemen war is unconstitutional. Rather than assess that straightforward argument, Ferguson turns to an Idaho Republican, Senator James Reich, who offers fairy dust and lies:

The Iranians are in there and they are causing the difficulty that’s there. If the Iranians would back off, I have no doubt that the Saudis will back off. But the Saudis have the absolute right to defend themselves.

Imaginary Iranians aren’t there now and they weren’t there when the Saudis attacked in 2015. No one attacked Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are not defending themselves, they are waging aggressive war.

By balancing these quotes, Ferguson creates yet another false moral equivalence. There is no meaningful equivalence between Bernie Sanders challenging the president’s right to take the country to war on his own and James Reich using a lie to defend war-making that disregards Congress. PBS should be ashamed. Jane Ferguson offers a fig leaf with another quote from Bernie Sanders:

I don’t know that I have ever participated in a vote which says that the United States must be an ally to Saudi’s militaristic ambitions. This is a despotic regime which treats women as third-class citizens. There are no elections there. They have their own goals and their own ambitions.

All this is true, but Ferguson has no follow up. Instead she again offers spurious analysis: “American support for Saudi Arabia is a major propaganda tool for the Houthis.” No, it’s not. American support for the Saudis is not propaganda, it’s a lethal reality for the Houthis and a crime against humanity for the world. Ferguson completes her piece with a soppy lament for civilian victims, as if no one is responsible for their suffering. That’s one last lie. There are many people responsible for the horror in Yemen today and leading the list is the US-Saudi coalition. It doesn’t take much intelligence to see that, but apparently it takes more courage than PBS has to report the obvious.

U.S. Is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen

On August 9, a U.S.-supported Saudi airstrike bombed a bus carrying schoolchildren in Sa’ada, a city in northern Yemen. The New York Times reported that the students were on a recreational trip. According to the Sa’ada health department, the attack killed at least forty-three people.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least twenty-nine of those killed were children under the age of fifteen, and forty-eight people were wounded, including thirty children.

CNN aired horrifying, heartbreaking footage of children who survived the attack being treated in an emergency room. One of the children, carrying his UNICEF issued blue backpack, is covered with blood and badly burned.

Commenting on the tragedy, CNN’s senior correspondent Nima Elbagir emphasized that she had seen unaired video which was even worse than what the CNN segment showed. She then noted that conditions could worsen because Yemen’s vital port of Hodeidah, the only port currently functioning in Yemen, has been under attack for weeks of protracted Saudi coalition-led airstrikes. Ms. Elbagir described the port of Hodeidah as “the only lifeline to bring in supplies to Yemen.”

“This conflict is backed by the U.S. and the U.K.,” Elbagir said, concluding her report with, “They are in full support of the Saudi-led activities in Yemen today.”

U.S. companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have sold billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition which is attacking Yemen.

The U.S. military refuels Saudi and Emirati warplanes through midair exercises. And, the United States helps the Saudi coalition warmakers choose their targets.

Isa Blumi, an associate professor at Stockholm University and author of the book Destroying Yemen, has said the United States is “front and center responsible” for the Saudi coalition attacks.

Looking for a helpful way to describe U.S. support for the Saudi-Emirati operation in Yemen, journalist Samuel Oakford recently offered this comparison: “If an airstrike was a drive-by and killed someone, the U.S. provided the car, the wheels, the servicing and repair, the gun, the bullets, help with maintenance of those—and the gas.”

The August 9 attack against children and other civilians follows a tragic and sordid list of Saudi-Emirati attacks causing carnage and extreme affliction in Yemen. On June 12, Doctors Without Borders reported an airstrike which destroyed its newly constructed facility for treatment of cholera, in the town of Abs, built in anticipation of a third epidemic outbreak of cholera in Yemen.

Scores of people were killed and wounded in an August 3 attack near the entrance to the port of Hodeidah’s Al Thawra hospital. Analysts examining the munitions used in the attack believe the killing and destruction was caused when United Arab Emirates forces situated near the Hodeidah airport fired mortars into the area.

Why have the Saudis and Emiratis led a coalition attacking Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, since March of 2015?

Professor Isa Blumi believes the goal is to bludgeon Yemenis into complete submission and exert control over  “a gold mine” of resources, including oil reserves, natural gas, minerals, and a strategic location. Blumi notes that the war against Yemen costs the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 200 million dollars per day, yet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who commented that a prolonged war is in the interests of Saudi Arabia, seems to believe the cost is worth it, considering potential future gains.

Business profits seem to also motivate U.S. weapon companies that continue benefiting from weapon sales to the Saudi-Emirati led coalition.

The United States is deeply implicated in the appalling carnage in Yemen. It is our responsibility as citizens to do what we can to demand an end to this complicity.

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

United Arab Emirates ready to reopen embassy in Damascus

According to the Iranian Agency Fars, the United Arab Emirates is going to reopen its embassy in Damascus, the capital of Syria, following a meeting between General Mahamat Al-Chamsi and General Ali Mamlouk, the heads of the Emirates Intelligence and the Syrian Arab Republic's Intelligence respectively. The United Arab Emirates has already resumed commercial flights to Syria. It appears, Sheikh Mohamed ben Zayed Al-Nahyane (see photo), son of the President of the United Arab Emirates and (...)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

Scourging Yemen

On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.

Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.

In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.

The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.

As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.

On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen; i.e., an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”

Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.

“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”

Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”

On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”

The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.

At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.

Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.

Cartoon: S. Reynolds CC BY-SA 4.0

Do You Want to Travel Around the Middle East? Think Twice!

Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!

Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.

Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:

There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…

Israeli wall in Bethlehem

I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”

The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:

West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.

My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.

Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.

During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”

They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.

That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.

Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.

An Israeli tank being moved towards Syrian Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.

You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.

*****

For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.

Empty Jordan-Syrian border

Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.

Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.

Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.

Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.

Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.

Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.

In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.

Turkey building a new huge wall on the Syrian border

All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.

For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.

*****

For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.

With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.

Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.

Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.

*****

Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.

Flight from Doha to Nairobi

All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.

Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.

The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.

*****

This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.

Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.

Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.

In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.

A bridge blown up by ISIS near Mosus, Iraq

This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.

A suicide car bomb near Mosul, Iraq

Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.

*****

As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.

Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.

The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

First Bomb the Wedding, Then Bomb the Rescue Workers

Textbook terrorist tactic and war crime – who cares?

On an impoverished, remote mountain village in northwest Yemen, the wedding celebration was still going strong when the first airstrike hit around 11 p.m. on April 22. The Saudi attacks killed the bride first, death toll to “at least 33 people.” The nearest hospital was miles away in Hajjah. The only two cars in the village were knocked out by the bombing. The first casualties reaching the hospital arrived by donkey after midnight. The hospital, one of 13 in Yemen run by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders), had two ambulances that drove back and forth well into daylight bringing in the wounded, sometimes six at a time. MSF reported receiving 63 casualties, none armed, none in uniform:

The injured had mainly lost limbs and suffered shrapnel wounds. At least three patients required amputation, including two brothers, who each lost a foot. By early morning, many residents of Hajjah had come to the hospital to donate blood. In two hours, 150 bags were collected to treat the wounded.

This was yet another American-sponsored war crime. The US has committed war crimes of this sort all on its own since 2009 in Pakistan (and subsequently in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere). The US president surely knew such attacks are war crimes under international law as well as US law, but who was going to hold him accountable (any more than anyone has held his predecessor or successor accountable)?

US complicity in committing war crimes almost daily in Yemen began in March 2015 when the president, without a murmur from a supine Congress, gave the green light to a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states to wage a genocidal bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels (predominantly Shi’ite Zaidis) who had ruled Yemen for 1,000 years until 1962. In 2014, the Houthis had overthrown the duly-appointed, internationally-imposed “legitimate” government. Americans’ hands have run red with innocent Yemeni blood ever since. (Not that US media often mention US involvement, as the CNN report on this deadly wedding illustrates: “A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than two years” — actually three. And the Houthis are Yemeni, not Iranian, as the official propaganda would love you to believe.)

As with the desecrated wedding described above, the Saudis, with US blessing and extensive tactical support, like to commit their war crimes especially against weddings and funerals (as the CIA was fond of doing in Pakistan). This is state-sponsored terrorism. The states sponsoring it include the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their allies in Yemen. Weddings and funerals offer large gatherings of innocent people who are defenseless. It doesn’t take a smart bomb to see the value of a soft target like that. When the rescue workers and other first responders show up, a second strike kills more innocent, defenceless people. This is a standard terrorist tactic with fiendish efficiency. In terror jargon it’s called the double-tap.

That same weekend, US-Saudi strikes also killed a family of five and 20 civilians riding in a bus. The US-Saudi air war on the undefended country (Yemen has no air force and limited air defenses) has displaced millions of people in a country of 25 million that was already the poorest in the region when the Saudis attacked. The relentless bombing of civilians (including the use of cluster bombs) has led to severe hunger, approaching famine conditions; a severe shortage of medical supplies and a massive cholera outbreak; and destruction of infrastructure and the near-elimination of clean water. Describing conditions in Yemen, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

Every 10 minutes, a child under 5 dies of preventable causes. And nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are actually malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between 6 months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.

This is what genocide looks like. But to blur that perception, the Saudis and the UAE have given the UN nearly $1 billion in humanitarian aid, to ameliorate the humanitarian disaster they created, even as they continue bombing without a pause. This picture has prompted Guterres to say that “peace is possible” in Yemen, but “there are still many obstacles to overcome.”

One such obstacle would be the Saudi claim on April 21 that the Yemeni rebels had seized 19 oil tankers off the coast and had held them hostage for more than 26 days. That was a lie. It was not a credible lie, coming after 25 days of silence during the alleged hostage crisis. It was a lie based on nonsense, since the Saudi naval blockade had allowed the oil tankers into the port of Hodeidah to deliver fuel to the rebel-held area. A commercial shipping traffic website soon located all the “hostage” ships and learned that they were anchored awaiting off-loading. On April 26, Public Radio International exposed the Saudi lie.

On November 13, 2017, the US House of Representatives passed a lengthy resolution (H.Res.599) “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to United States policy towards Yemen, and for other purposes” on a bipartisan vote of 366-30 (with 36 not voting). The resolution expresses basic clichés of US policy, with all their varied levels of inaccuracy, dishonesty, and wishful thinking. The general tone of the document is that it’s all Iran’s fault the US-Saudi offensive is killing Yemenis en masse (no evidence offered). Most to the point, the House acknowledges that the US has no legal authorization for the use of force in Yemen (while omitting specific reference to US participation in the bombing, naval blockade, drone strikes, or other military actions). Having identified the illegality of US involvement in a genocidal war, the House resolution does nothing about it other than to ask all the parties to play nice.

In March 2018, Senate Joint Resolution 54 raised some real issues without actually proposing any solution. The resolution defined itself as a choice: “To direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” As explained in a Bernie Sanders press release:

It is long past time for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority on matters of war, and if the United States is going to participate in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, there must be a debate and a vote. Otherwise, our involvement is unauthorized and unconstitutional, and it must end.

In a largely party-line vote on March 20, the Senate Republicans voted 55-44 to table the resolution without discussing it or changing the course of carnage and US arms sales.

The Yemen peace process is still a hope more than a reality. The US and the Saudi coalition have shown no willingness to negotiate in good faith, but it’s not clear that anyone else has either. The Houthis control most of western Yemen and roughly 80% of the population. Houthi senior leader Saleh al-Sammad, considered a moderate, was open to negotiation. On April 19, a US-Saudi airstrike assassinated him.

The Trump administration is equally useless in any search for peace in Yemen. The president is enthralled by the scale of arms purchases by the Saudis and their allies, with no apparent interest in how the Pentagon helps use those weapons mostly against civilians.

A US citizen named Nageeb al-Omari has attempted to bring his 11-year-old daughter Shaima to the US for medical care. She was born with cerebral palsy, but the US-Saudi bombing has made her care all but impossible there. There is no US embassy in Yemen. Shaima’s father took her to Djibouti, where she continued deteriorating rapidly. Despite the US anti-Muslim travel ban, the daughter qualifies for the exemptions that would allow her into the US. Even though her father is a US citizen, US State Department officials would not grant her a visa, a waiver, or, most likely, a chance to live. The family has returned to Idlib in Yemen to await the next random act of cruelty from a rogue state that is the world’s greatest purveyor of terrorism.

Why should they expect any better treatment than Iraqi Christians in Michigan who voted for the president and now face deportation?

Emirates to train Somaliland’s Police and Army

The United Arab Emirates has a military base in Somaliland and is exploiting its port at Berbera. It has just undertaken to train Somaliland's police force and local army. Somaliland is not recognized by any State apart from Israel. Only Israel had dealings with it, setting up there its joint staff with Saudi Arabia against Yemen. But Somaliland is in the process of reverting to a colony of the United Kingdom, and is being bought by the United Arab Emirates. Dubai Ports World has set up a (...)

Fixing Global Warming is Bigger Than Paris ‘15

The worldwide effort to harness, slow down, lessen, reduce, remove the threat of global warming is epitomized by the Paris ’15 climate accord. This agreement calls for nations of the world to implement plans to slow down greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2 from fossil fuels, and to take other remedial actions necessary to hold global temps below 2°C but preferably 1.5°C relative to the start of the industrial revolution over 200 years ago.

That task may be an overwhelming one, more so than realized, due to the simple fact that according to YaleEnvironment360:

Frighteningly, this modern rise of CO2 is also accelerating at an unusual rate. In the late 1950s, the annual rate of increase was about 0.7 ppm per year; from 2005-2014 it was about 2.1 ppm per year.1

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted… CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm,” according to Columbia University climate guru James Hansen. “We sailed past that target in about 1990, and it will take a gargantuan effort to turn back the clock.”2

Meanwhile, year-over-year CO2 numbers continue a relentless march upwards, unimpeded.

Monthly average CO2 Readings in Parts Per Million (“PPM”)

1850 (Ice Core Data)                                285.20

1959 (Mauna Loa readings start)               316.18

February 2017                                         406.42

February 2018                                         408.35

March 2018                                             409.97

A return to 350 ppm is looking very distant.

For perspective on the challenge ahead, Wally Broecker (Columbia) aka: the Grandfather of Climate Science, discussed the outlook in a July 2017 interview:

In 1950s, when I was in graduate school, we got 15 percent of our energy from renewables and nuclear, and 85 percent from fossil fuels. Today it’s the same. Both of them have been increasing at 3 percent a year.3

Remarkably, according to Broecker, the ratio of renewable-to-fossil fuel energy has not changed one iota in almost 70 years. That’s all the more remarkable because, since the 1980s, global warming has been pinpointed as an existential threat. Yet, the renewable-to-fossil fuel energy ratio stays the same. According to Broecker, that ratio needs to change or all bets are off.

Renewables and nuclear are not changing in their percentage share. And in order to stop the CO2 from rising we have to go to a factor-of-ten reduction in fossil fuel burning — at least a factor of ten. And that means changing all the world’s infrastructure.2

The world relies upon trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure to source, create, and deliver energy. However, if renewables take over as the primary source of energy creation, a lot of fossil fuel infrastructure will be worth zero. So far, based upon the record over the past seven decades, fossil fuel infrastructure looks solidly in place, in fact, growing in size, and there are some powerful forces in the world that want to keep it that way, which, in turn, makes it doubly difficult to achieve Paris ’15.

One problem in confronting the global warming issue is participation, by whom and to what extent. Scientists such as James G. Anderson of Harvard state it takes a WWII type of effort to overcome the global warming problem, which implies all hands on deck, as well as within 5 years in a substantive way.

But, there are major obstacles: One year ago President Sauli Niinistö of the Republic of Finland met with President Putin of Russia at the International Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, March 29-31, 2017.

In his opening remarks, President Niinistö stated:

My starting point today is the growing threat of climate change. Tackling this challenge is crucial if we want to ensure that the Arctic remains the place it is today. But the issue is of global significance: If we lose the Arctic, we lose the whole world.4

He continued:

This catastrophe will not be limited to the Arctic. There will be enormous consequences worldwide. As the ice melts, sea levels will rise. As the ice melts, solar radiation will not be reflected back – instead, its energy will further warm the water and accelerate global warming.

He mentioned Russia’s 7,000 methane-infused pingos that have suddenly popped up throughout Siberia, in his words:

A further concern is the recent report made by Russian scientists that in Siberia there are some 7,000 methane-filled pockets waiting to release content. This will create danger and disruption to infrastructure and humans in the area. What is worse, once released, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

At latitude 66°33′47.1″ N, the Arctic Circle intersects Finland at its midpoint. President Sauli Niinistö knows the Arctic. He lives it.

Thereafter, President Putin’s speech at the same forum emphasized:

Russia, which makes up almost a third of the Arctic zone… includes over 150 projects with estimated investment of trillions of roubles… and creation of so-called development support zones… and the development of offshore deposits… we devoted special attention to the Northern Sea Route… almost a year-round artery….5

No mention of global warming. However, Russia can’t wait for open blue waters in the Arctic for development of fossil fuels and open sea routes over the North Pole for transportation purposes.

Furthermore, in interviews following the forum, Putin stated his opinion that humans are not responsible for climate change: “Icebergs have been melting for decades, started in the 1930s” when, according to him, “there were no serious anthropological factors at work.” He says global warming cannot be stopped because “it’s tied to global cycles on Earth. The issue is to adapt to it.”

Russia adapts by spending trillions of rubles to explore for fossil fuels. Similarly, the United States follows in lockstep by opening up national parks all across the country to big oil, including Arctic Wilderness refuges.

Climate change deniers lead the world’s largest economy (United States) and Russia, the sixth largest. They are at the top of the pyramid of fossil fuel production at the very moment when the infrastructure of the Arctic; i.e., multi-year ice, is crumbling apart right before everybody’s eyes. Therefore, the question is whether a disintegrating Arctic is good or bad. Obviously, by their actions alone, both America and Russia want collapsing Arctic infrastructure. They are banking on it!

President Niinistö succinctly summed up the risks of a collapsing Arctic, on January 2nd, 2018 when he was sworn in for a second six-year term, after a landslide victory at the polls:

Combating climate change is the most important issue in the coming years. That’s just how it must be, so that humankind won’t have to endure the destruction of the planet.6

At that swearing-in ceremony, Maria Lohela, Speaker of the Parliament, praised President Niinistö’s first-term and specifically mentioned his initiatives to combat the use of coal, which accelerates the melting of polar ice caps.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s frantic delirium over coal, oil and gas exploration/production is only surpassed in exuberance by an historical event, John D. Rockefeller’s heartfelt passion for turning nature’s bounty into a fortune, growing Standard Oil Company from the world’s largest refinery in 1870 into the world’s first and largest multinational in 1911, indeed, a record pace for capitalistic development.

But, with America’s national parks opening up carte blanche to big oil, Trump has a shot at exceeding Rockefeller’s record pace. His emphasis, like Rockefeller of 100 years ago, is drill everywhere, far and wide, pole to pole.

Meanwhile, it’s nearly unimaginable/unbelievable contrasting Middle Eastern ethos to American and Russian, all major oil producers.  As, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s biggest solar farm currently in operation covers the parking lot of the National Oil Company, Saudi Aramco.

The Saudi government wants not just to reshape its energy mix at home but also to emerge as a global force in clean power.7

By the end of the year, Saudi Arabia aims to invest up to $7 billion to develop seven new solar plants and a big wind farm.

In September 2017, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched plans for the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Power project, including the world’s tallest solar tower.

In August 2017 Kuwait launched a $1.2B solar power plant project.

As of January 2018, Oman completed its feasibility plan for a huge solar park of 500MW.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is making plans to build a 100MW solar plant as part of its renewable energy agenda.

OPEC is turning green for practical purposes, but more importantly, they’re demonstrating an intellect and foresightedness above and beyond boorish accretion of oil as a way of life. They see the future.

Meantime, similar to John D. Rockefeller’s race to oil glory 100 years ago, the U.S. and Russia are in a trillion-dollar race competing for newly exposed riches of oil and gas but in frigid waters sans ice and in Arctic wildlife refuges, pounding on the door of the final frontier where a mistake magnifies ten-fold. It’s a dicey future.

Back in the day Rockefeller was a visionary. Today, the Rockefeller Family Fund is divesting all of its holdings of fossil fuel companies.

  1. Nicola Jones, “How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters”, YaleEnvironment360, January 26, 2017.
  2. Ibid.
  3. David Wallace-Wells, “The Man Who Coined the Term ‘Global Warming’ on the Worst-Case Scenario for Planet Earth”, Daily Intelligencer, July 10, 2017.
  4. Opening Remarks by the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at ‘The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ Forum, Arkhangelsk, March 30th, 2017.
  5. Vladimir Putin’s Speech at the ‘Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ International Arctic Forum, About the Forum, International Arctic Forum, March 2017.
  6. President Niinistö Emphasizes Climate Change at Inauguration, UUTISET News, January 2nd, 2018.
  7. Stanley Reed, “From Oil to Solar: Saudi Arabia Plots a Shift to Renewables”, The New York Times, February 5, 2018.