Category Archives: Yemen

on Yemen’s forgotten war: two stories that say so much

Millions of people in Yemen are starving, including children who will be crippled for life, the UN has warned as new photographs from areas worst hit by the war show teenagers dying of hunger.

Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, in the Yemen city of Hodeida, is among many people left without food by a Saudi blockade. British support for Riyadh was raised at prime minister’s questions yesterday Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

Yemen now has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday. More than 14 million people are going hungry, half of them starving. At least ten of the country’s 21 governorates are close to a famine.

From an article published yesterday [Thurs 27th] by The Times.

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Meanwhile, also published on Thursday:

Yesterday 129 Labour MPs voted to stop support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen. The vote was defeated by a majority of 90.

The motion called for support to be withdrawn from the Saudi government until a United Nations investigation could determine whether the Saudi bombing campaign had breached international law. The motion did not explicitly include a suspension of UK arms sales.

Over 100 Labour MPs did not vote on the motion. If all of them had voted to support it, the government would have been defeated.

The following list are the Labour MPs who abstained or were not present for the vote yesterday.

  1. Adrian Bailey
  2. Andy Burnham
  3. Angela Eagle
  4. Angela Smith
  5. Ann Clwyd
  6. Ann Coffey
  7. Anna Turley
  8. Barry Sheerman
  9. Ben Bradshaw
  10. Bridgit Phillipson
  11. Caroline Flint
  12. Catherine McKinnell
  13. Chris Bryant
  14. Chris Elmore (Teller)
  15. Chris Evans
  16. Chris Leslie
  17. Clive Lewis (ill)
  18. Connor McGinn
  19. Dan Jarvis
  20. David Crausby
  21. David Lammy
  22. Diana Johnson
  23. Fiona MacTaggart
  24. Frank Field
  25. Gareth Thomas
  26. Gavin Shuker
  27. Geoffrey Robinson
  28. George Howarth
  29. Gerald Kaufman
  30. Gill Furniss
  31. Gisela Stuart
  32. Gloria De Piero
  33. Graeme Jones
  34. Graham Allen
  35. Graham Stringer
  36. Heidi Alexander
  37. Helen Jones
  38. Ian Austin
  39. Ian Murray
  40. Ivan Lewis
  41. Jamie Reed
  42. Jim Fitzpatrick
  43. Joan Ryan
  44. John Mann
  45. John Spellar
  46. John Woodcock
  47. Judith Cummins (Teller)
  48. Julie Elliott
  49. Kate Hoey
  50. Keith Vaz
  51. Kevan Jones
  52. Kevin Barron
  53. Liz Kendall
  54. Luciana Berger
  55. Lucy Powell
  56. Madeleine Moon
  57. Margaret Beckett
  58. Margaret Hodge
  59. Maria Eagle
  60. Mark Hendrick
  61. Mary Creagh
  62. Meg Hillier (Paired)
  63. Melanie Onn
  64. Michael Dugher
  65. Mike Gapes
  66. Natascha Engel
  67. Neil Coyle
  68. Nia Griffith
  69. Pat McFadden
  70. Paul Flynn
  71. Peter Kyle
  72. Phil Wilson
  73. Rachel Reeves
  74. Rob Flello
  75. Rob Marris
  76. Roberta Blackman-Woods
  77. Rosena Allin-Khan
  78. Rosie Cooper
  79. Rushanara Ali
  80. Ruth Smeeth
  81. Shabana Mahmood
  82. Siobhain McDonagh
  83. Stephen Kinnock
  84. Susan Jones
  85. Toby Perkins
  86. Tom Blenkinsopp
  87. Tom Watson
  88. Tracy Brabin
  89. Tristram Hunt
  90. Vernon Coaker
  91. Wayne David
  92. Wes Streeting
  93. Yasmin Qureshi
  94. Yvonne Fovargue

Click here to read the original report at Evolve Politics.

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Filed under Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Paul Mason speaks for many on the liberal left, unfortunately…

In a ‘one size fits all’ paroxysm of despair, former BBC business editor and current odd job man at Channel 4 news, Paul Mason writes in Monday’s [Jan 11th] Guardian:

It is impossible to view this global rise of rage, ethnic conflict, victimisation and the curtailment of democratic norms with anything other than alarm. In particular, because it is happening on the cusp of a second global economic downturn. The collapse of growth in those middle-income countries dependent on commodities, combined with mass unemployment in southern Europe and the stagnation of China, may not produce another catastrophic financial event. But it does not need to. The route to a different kind of catastrophe is all too clear, as countries resort to trade embargoes, currency war and overt manipulation of the oil supply as geopolitical tools. The result is likely to be the deglobalisation of the world; the political destabilisation of the emerging economies; more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with. 1

I don’t disagree. Not in spirit, at least. But I have trouble with Mason’s worries about ‘deglobalisation’, as if globalisation has been some kind of panacea. Moreover, I have tremendous difficulty swallowing the hook at the end of his line: his forecast that “the deglobalisation of the world” may result in “more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with”. The highlight is mine. For such outrageous fairytales deserve to be put up in lights – has Paul Mason been asleep for the last decade or did he simply bang his head on something hard before putting pen to paper?

Back in the land of reality, the RAF had just deployed Hellfire and Brimstone missiles in Syria reportedly to target an oilfield. 2 While in Mosul, the US was dropping two enormous 2,000-pound bombs to destroy a bank because it was allegedly holding “millions” in terrorist funds:

Papers and burnt furniture littered the concrete and steel rubble of several buildings that appeared to have been destroyed by the bombing, the video showed. Debris hung from dust-covered tree limbs, and rescuers pulled an old man’s bloodied body from the remains.

Footage from inside a damaged apartment building suggested civilian areas had also been hit. 3

Perhaps the dropping of the bombs deliberately into the middle of a densely populated urban centre to burn a few banknotes is not an ‘engagement’? Indeed, back in the land of fairytales, we are led to believe that by virtue of meticulous planning by the Pentagon, civilian casualties were minimised. Of course they were: our bombs are good bombs, and the bigger they get the more surgical they become, only ever killing the innocent by accident. In any case, the damage to the terrorist’s collateral was more than worth a bit of minor “collateral damage”.

Then we have Yemen:

Only six of our British military chaps, it seems, are helping the Sunni Saudis kill Shia Yemenis. And they’re not actually in Yemen, merely helping to choose the targets – which have so far included hospitals, markets, a wedding party and a site opposite the Iranian embassy. Not that our boys and girls selected those particular “terrorist” nests for destruction, you understand. They’re just helping their Saudi mates – in the words of our Ministry of Defence – “comply to the rules of war”.

Saudi “rules”, of course, are not necessarily the same as “our” rules – although our drone-executions of UK citizens leave a lot of elbow-room for our British warriors in Riyadh. But I couldn’t help chuckling when I read the condemnation of David Mephan [sic], the Human Rights Watch director. Yes, he told us that the Saudis “are committing multiple violations of the laws of war in Yemen”, and that the British “are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians”. Spot on. But then he added that he thought all this “deeply regrettable and unacceptable”.

“Regrettable” and “unacceptable” represent the double standards we employ when our wealthy Saudi friends put their hands to bloody work. To find something “regrettable” means it causes us sadness. It disappoints us. The implication is that the good old Saudis have let us down, fallen from their previously high moral principles. 4

Click here to read the full article by Robert Fisk.

Leaving aside the US, Britain and Nato, no nation (and certainly no family) engages more vigorously in the “conflict zones” than our best friends the Saudis. But then, of course, our despots are good despots, in part because, the richer they get, the more  of our armaments they procure.

Paul Mason says:

“Our best shot at avoiding chaos comes from reinvigorating the institutions whose neglect lie at the root of the situation: the UN, the International Criminal Court, the Geneva conventions and national democracies encroached upon by arbitrary power and hereditary elites. And principles – such as privacy, the rule of law, restraint and proportionality.”

Which is a fine sentiment, if upside-side. Since before any of these institutions can be “reinvigorated” (I would say ‘rescued’ – if this is even possible), we must tackle the root cause: how to rollback the ‘encroachment’, as Mason meekly describes it, of “arbitrary power and hereditary elites”? Because international bodies like the World Bank, IMF, WTO and our own ECB and EU Commission became vampiric long ago and it is unwise to attempt merely to resuscitate any of them.

And the reality we face is a product of globalisation – that unholy alliance of western governments, transnational corporations and the largest NGOs – and by no means a consequence of its overly exaggerated decline. It is why, for instance, the head of a major human rights organisation, David Mepham, and others like him, only feign impartiality. They all pee in the same pot.

Mason rightly alerts us to the quickening rise of fascism, but he sees it only in its most grotesque displays: the foul-mouthed demagoguery of Donald Trump, the neo-Nazi rallies of Pegida in the homeland of Hitler, and the murderous folly of Erdoğan in his rush to establish a new Ottoman Empire. But this spectre of fascism has been with us ever since 9/11, and its stench is only a more concentrated fug of globalisation: that ‘open conspiracy’ to merger all state and corporate interests – the vision is Mussolini’s.

Our democracies are no longer ‘encroached’ upon by “arbitrary powers” but captured and held hostage to them. In fact, other than in name, our nations have ceased to function as democracies. We live instead under plutocratic governance.

It is this process we must seek to reverse. And we might begin perhaps by calling the criminals out by name. Certainly, we must end any ridiculous pretence that the Middle East somehow caught fire by accident.

Bush and Blair were the chief arsonists in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama and Cameron then stoked the flames, sent drones to Pakistan and Yemen and – with Saudi help – set Libya and Syria ablaze. They did it for no other reason than to promote the special interests of the plutocrats. Surely no-one in their right mind would put any of these arsonists in charge of extinguishing their own fires. Just as no-one in their right mind truly believes the situation has worsened due to any lack of western “engagement”. There has been no end whatsoever to US, British and Nato “engagement” and there remains no end in sight – that’s the problem. Refusing to acknowledge this is another failure of too many on the liberal left.

Mason ends by saying:

Even as I write that, I realise how meagre these forces have become when ranged against the emotive power of revenge, hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality. But they are all we have.

So I ask him this: from whence did it come, this seething cauldron of “hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality”? He knows the answer, of course – the media he works for has been stirring it all along. So here’s another thing we urgently need to reverse. I wonder if Paul Mason is prepared to face up to the task.

Click here to read the full article by Paul Mason.

1 From an article entitled “As Mein Kampf returns to Germany, the world is again awash with hatred”, written by Paul Mason, published in the Guardian on January 11, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/mein-kampf-returns-to-germany-world-awash-with-hatred

2 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/11/raf-conducts-four-airstrikes-on-isis-in-syria

3 From an article entitled “ISIS video shows destruction from U.S. airstrike on Mosul bank” published by Reuters on January 12, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-cash-idUSKCN0UQ13V20160112

4 From an article entitled “The Saudi Rules” written by Robert Fisk, published in Counterpunch on January 12, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/12/the-saudi-rules/

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why the world has forsaken the people of Yemen

No one really is paying attention to Yemen. It doesn’t get much attention in the media. And people, when you talk to them, they say, “Why has the world forsaken us?” — journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous

On November 18th, the United Nations reported:

[T]he ongoing conflict in Yemen has resulted in over 32,000 casualties, with people 5,700 killed, including 830 women and children, alongside a sharp rise in human rights violations – nearly 8,875 or an average of 43 violations occurring every day.

“The collapse of basic services in Yemen continues to accelerate,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Johannes Van der Klaauw, told reporters via videoconference from the Yemeni Capital Sana’a. […]

Mr. Van der Klaauw also said that the people of Yemen are now “grappling with a breakdown of essential services and forced displacement,” as nearly 21.2 million people, or a staggering 82 per cent of the population, are in need for some kind of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs or protect their fundamental rights, including protection of civilians and provision of essential services.

“We estimate that over 19 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation; over 14 million people are food insecure, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure; and nearly 320,000 children are acutely malnourished,” Mr. Mr. Van der Klaauw told another press briefing held at the UN Information Centre in Cairo via satellite.

An estimated 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes and an additional 120,000 have fled the country, he added. 1

Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous has personally witnessed the war on the ground. He says that in common with Libya and Syria, countries which “have completely fallen apart”, Yemen too is “on the brink”, adding:

Yemen is the poorest country in the region. This is a place where people were struggling to survive before the conflict. It imports 90 percent of its food and fuel. And now 21 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. I mean, if you think about that number, that’s more than double—or just under double the number of people who need aid in Syria.

You have just skyrocketing levels of malnutrition. Three million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry. And there’s been millions of people displaced, as well. I went to one camp where, you know, people were living on this sunwashed hill on these rocks, in these tents. They had no money even to buy wood to make fire to bake their bread. And so the children would go out and scavenge for plastic bottles. And they would pile them in the camp, and they’d burn the plastic bottles to make the fire to make this bread, and this toxic ooze would sludge out the bottom. And I said, “Don’t you know this is very bad for you?” And they said, “Yes, but otherwise we’ll starve. So this is the only way we can eat.”

This dire situation is enabling local terrorist militia to recruit new members, as Medea Benjamin, co-founder of peace activist group Code Pink and human rights organisation Global Exchange, explained in yesterday’s [Fri 18th] Counterpunch:

To make matters worse, the terrible conditions on the ground have led to the strengthening of extremist terrorist groups that will inevitably plague that nation for years to come. The local Al Qaeda branch, Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (also known as AQAP), formed in 2009, has exploited the present conflict and increased recruiting efforts. The current political and security vacuum has also opened the way for the appearance of a branch of ISIL, which has been carrying out deadly attacks on Shiite mosques and positioning itself as even more aggressive than AQAP. Some fear that AQAP and ISIL recruitment efforts might lead to competition between both radical groups, which could mean even more attacks around the country as the groups try to upstage one another. 2

However, most to blame for this social breakdown, Sharif Abdel Kouddous says, are the Americans and their Gulf partners:

Apart from sporadic drone strikes by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the coalition is the only air power above Yemen. This is a coalition made up of mostly Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is also very heavily involved. And they have been bombing since March 26 on Yemen.

What I think people also need to understand is the level of U.S. complicity in this war… Saudi Arabia is the most avid customer of U.S. weapons and has bought to the tune of $90 billion over the past five years U.S. arms. What I think many people don’t realize is that the United States is also providing crucial intelligence, logistics, targeting assistance, support to the Saudi coalition, provides vital aerial refuelling almost every day, with two sorties from tankers almost every day. And there’s something called a joint combined planning cell, which is based in Riyadh—this was approved by President Obama—where you have U.S. military personnel meeting on a daily basis with Saudi military leadership, helping to coordinate this war. And so, human rights workers that I talked to said that, you know, the United States is not just a backer of this war, but they are a party to this armed conflict. And that’s what people have to understand, is that the United States government is complicit in what is happening in Yemen.

All quotes by Sharif Abdel Kouddous are taken from an interview he gave on yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast, which is embedded below:

Click here to watch the full interview or read the transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In an extended article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” published back in late November, Sharif Abdel Kouddous summarised the background to how this war on Yemen started:

Saudi Arabia launched its war in Yemen on March 26 to drive back a rebel group known as the Houthis. The Houthis arose in the late 1980s as a religious and cultural revivalist movement of Zaidism, a heterodox Shiite sect found almost exclusively in northern Yemen. The Houthis became more politically active in 2003, vocally opposing President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his backing of the US invasion of Iraq.

Saleh was an ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia. He was also an authoritarian ruler known for extravagant corruption. A UN study estimated the leader amassed up to $60 billion during his 33 years in power. Saleh managed to navigate his way through Yemen’s complex web of tribal, regional and geopolitical divides. It was a feat so delicate and dangerous he famously described it as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”

The Yemeni leader successfully positioned himself as an ally of the United States in the ongoing “war on terror” by allowing US forces to operate inside Yemen, and their Predator drones to target Al Qaeda militants based in the country.

Saleh used his Special Operations Forces, trained and equipped by the United States, in his own battles with the northern Houthis, against whom he fought six brutal wars between 2004 and 2010.

His vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, assumed office as interim president in a transition brokered by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia. It was backed by the United States.

Sidelined in the agreement, the Houthis positioned themselves as an opposition group, gaining support beyond their northern base for their criticisms of the transition, which was flawed and riddled with corruption. Saleh loyalists, incredibly, began forming alliances of convenience with the Houthis.

Last year the well-armed Houthis swept down from the north and took over large parts of the country, including Sanaa. In January 2015, they effectively ousted Hadi and his cabinet members, who fled to Saudi Arabia on March 25.

The next day, Saudi Arabia put together a coalition and began its military campaign with support from the United States. The Saudis and the Americans hoped to restore the friendly Yemeni government they knew. Saudi Arabia also hoped to counter what it perceives as a growing regional threat posed by Iran. Saudi Arabia believes Iran is backing the Houthis, although the level of that support is disputed. 3

While Medea Benjamin, who is calling for a complete re-evaluation of the “toxic” alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, writes:

The U.S. involvement in the Yemen crisis can be summed up in four words: allegiance to Saudi Arabia. The United States’ problematic relationship with Saudi Arabia goes all the way back to World War II, when U.S. officials started to see Saudi’s oil as a strategic advantage. Since then, the U.S. has blindly supported the Kingdom in almost every political and economic effort, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is an ultraconservative Islamic monarchy rife with human rights abuses.

When the Houthis, a Shia rebel group from northern Yemen, took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in January 2015 and forced Sunni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile, Saudi Arabia formed an Arab Gulf states coalition to fight against the Houthis. Naturally, the U.S. agreed to support its close ally in its endeavor to ‘reinstate order’ in Yemen by providing intelligence, weaponry and midair refueling, as well as sending U.S. warships to help enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea. The blockade was allegedly to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis, but it also stopped humanitarian aid shipments to beleaguered Yemeni citizens. The American CIA and military intelligence are also on the ground in Yemen, providing targeting and other logistical support, and Uncle Sam’s drones are constantly flying overhead, sending intel to the Saudis.

Since then, the coalition has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes and bombings throughout the country, often targeting highly populated civilian areas4

But then, as Sharif Abdel Kouddous points out, human rights abuses and the other violations of international law committed during the conflict are unlikely to ever be prosecuted. Any slim chance effectively extinguished once Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel 5 back in November 2013:

In September [2015], UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [of Jordan] released a report that detailed the heavy civilian toll in Yemen. He recommended establishing an independent international inquiry into human rights abuses and violations of international law in the conflict.

The Netherlands responded with a draft resolution that would have mandated a UN mission to document violations by all sides over the previous year. But in the face of stiff resistance from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, and little support from Western governments — including the United States — the Dutch withdrew the proposal.

Instead, the UN Human Rights Council passed by consensus a new resolution drafted by Saudi Arabia that made no reference to any independent international inquiry. The text only calls for the UN to provide “technical assistance” for a national commission of inquiry set up by the Yemeni government of President Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and a party to the war. 6

So the world has absolutely forsaken the people of Yemen. They were unlucky enough to get caught up in the spokes of our brutal war machine, and their suffering is now too much of an embarrassment for those in our governments or media to dwell on. For what is happening in Yemen exposes the hypocrisy of the Western powers and further highlights the cruelty of our despotic Gulf State partners. An alliance that has repeatedly voiced its demand for the fall of the government in Damascus, always on humanitarian grounds, when in Yemen, another war is being mercilessly waged with the goal of reinstating an ousted puppet regime. Realpolitik is a dirty business. Look away.

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Update:

On January 30th 2016, Amnesty International Arms Programme Director, Olly Sprague was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground. He was asked about the leaked UN panel of experts report that investigated the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Yemen and uncovered “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets:

In one of the key findings, the report says: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.” […]

The panel could not obtain entry to Yemen but used satellite imagery to look at areas before and after bombings. “The imagery revealed extensive damage to residential areas and civilian objects as a result of internal fighting and coalition airstrikes,” the report says.

It adds: “Alongside ground-led obstructions to humanitarian distribution, the panel documented 10 coalition airstrikes on transportation routes (both sea and air routes), four road supply routes and five storage facilities for holding food aid (including two vehicles carrying aid and three warehouses and facilities storing food), along with airstrikes on an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the European Union in Sana’a. The panel also documented three coalition attacks on local food and agricultural production sites.”

From an article published by the Guardian on January 27, 2016.

Overall, the panel has documented 119 coalition sorties that appear to be in violation of international law.

Asked about these possible war crimes, Olly Sprague says that evidence on the ground that the Saudis are targeting schools and hospitals is incontrovertible. Amnesty International staff, he says, are indeed “at the receiving end of those bombs”.

And regarding British arms sales and other support for the Saudis, he says that he would like to ask David Cameron this question: “How much more evidence of crimes against humanity and serious violations of international law do you need to witness in Yemen for you to stop selling these arms?”

*

Correction and clarification:

“Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel back in November 2013” and not “back in September” as the article originally stated.

*

1 From a UN report entitled “Yemen: UN warns humanitarian situation has deteriorated ‘drastically’ as conflict claims 5,700 lives” published by UN News Centre on November 18, 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52588#.VnRhM17p-Ul

2 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

3 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

4 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

5

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The elevation of the Saudi kingdom to one of the UN’s most influential bodies in 2013 prompted fresh international criticism of its human rights record. […]

The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York. […]

The Saudi cables, dated January and February 2013, were translated separately by the Australian and UN Watch. One read: “The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. It was unclear where or how this money was spent.

From an article entitled “UK and Saudi Arabia ‘in secret deal’ over human rights council place” written by Owen Bowcott, published in the Guardian on September 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/29/uk-and-saudi-arabia-in-secret-deal-over-human-rights-council-place

6 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

open letter to Ban Ki-moon concerning the war in Yemen

We the undersigned urge you to spare no effort to bring the warring sides in Yemen to implement an immediate ceasefire for humanitarian and political purposes.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
United States

bkm@un.org

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Dear Secretary General,

We wish to draw your attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Since the statement of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen of 4 May 2015 in which he called on the Saudi-led coalition to cease its bombing of Sana’a airport so that aid could enter the country warplanes have continued to bombard towns and cities across the country.

The coalition has ignored those calls and in fact intensified its military campaign. In recent days it has declared the whole of Saada a military target forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee the city. However many more people remain trapped, unable to escape.

This declaration amounts to collective punishment as it is disproportionate in scale and fails to distinguish between military targets and the sanctity of civilians and civilian infrastructure, which amounts to a war crime.

The statement of Johannes Van Der Klaauw referred to the impossibility of aid agencies getting emergency medical assistance and personnel into the country when the airports, the country’s main lifelines, are being bombed by coalition warplanes. This is having a critical effect on the civilian population.

As you are aware the crisis has reached dire proportions. According to the UN’s own estimates about nine million Yemenis, over a third of the population, are believed to be in dire need of humanitarian assistance, and hundreds of thousands have become internal refugees.

You will also be mindful of the fact that Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and is overwhelmingly reliant on imports of food to sustain its population, many of whom were already well under the poverty line before the outbreak of the current armed conflict. The ongoing siege and blockade of Yemen by coalition forces has worsened the humanitarian situation. Only limited food is getting to the country by boat or air, with damaged airport runways now unable to receive large cargo planes after initial consignments of emergency aid were flown in. The shortages have caused the prices of whatever little food that is available to skyrocket out of the reach of ordinary people.

Residents and aid agencies are also reporting widespread fuel shortages aggravating the already fragile electricity network. Hospitals are running out of fuel to run their generators and water pumps that provide clean drinking water cannot be operated, leaving many civilians forced to drink dirty water and increasing the risk of illness and the spread of diseases.

We would also like to draw your attention to Saudi Arabia’s presence on the UN Human Rights Council, a position which is inconsistent with the numerous violations of human rights and international law Riyadh is committing in respect of Yemen.

Further to the statement of Johannes Van Der Klaauw of 4 May we urge you to exert pressure on all protagonists in the Yemen conflict to lay down their weapons so that supplies of much needed humanitarian aid can reach the victims. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on securing an end to the aerial bombardment so that Yemen’s airports can reopen their runways to receiving international aid.

We the undersigned urge you to spare no effort to bring the warring sides in Yemen to implement an immediate ceasefire for humanitarian and political purposes. A pause in the fighting would allow crucial supplies in and permit civilians to get out of combat zones and also serve as a foundation for the warring sides to come round the negotiating table with the aim of resolving their differences without further suffering and bloodshed.

Yours sincerely,

  1. 5Pillars , Roshan Muhammad Salih, Editor, UK
  2. Ahl albeit Society, Azzam Mohamad, Scotland
  3. Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission, Samir al-Haidari, UK
  4. Alternative Information Centre, Michel Warschawski, Jerusalem
  5. Association for Justice, Peace and Development, Jamal Abdul Nasir, Cambodia
  6. Association l’Ouverture, France
  7. Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, Les Levidow
  8. Central Committee Member of Ulama Association of Malaysia, Dr Fauzi Zakaria, Malaysia
  9. Citizens International, S.M. Mohamed Idris, Malaysia
  10. CODEPINK, Medea Benjamin, USA
  11. Collectif francais pour la liberte des peoples, Syed Naqvi, France
  12. Fondation Islamique et Culturelle d’Ahl-el-Beit, Mughees Husain, Switzerland
  13. Free Palestine Movement, Paul Larudee, USA
  14. Glasgow Ahlulbayt Association, Ahmed Khweir
  15. India-Palestine Solidarity Forum, Feroze Mithiborwala, India
  16. Institute for Global Dialogues
  17. Institute for Islamic Civilisation, Mardani Ali Seria, Indonesia
  18. Institute for Peace and Modernisation, Zainal Bagir, Indonesia
  19. International Action Centre, Sara Flounders, USA
  20. International Institute for Scientific Research, Sandew Hira, The Hague, Netherlands
  21. International Union of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Ahmad Awang, Malaysia
  22. International Committee for Aiding Yemen and Ending the War, Hassan al-Amri, Switzerland
  23. International Union of Unified Ummah, Salim Ghafouri, Iran
  24. Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh, UK
  25. Islamic Unity Convention, Imam Achmed Cassiam, South Africa
  26. Malaysian Consulative Council of Islamic Organisations, Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, Malaysia
  27. Mazlumder, Ahmet Faruk Unsal, Turkey
  28. Mujahid, Islamic scholar, Indonesia
  29. Muslim Intellectual Forum, Salim Alware, India
  30. Muslim Students Organisation of India, Shujaat Ali Quadri, India
  31. Muslim Youth League and Scottish Youth Forum, Sheikh Rehan Raza al-Azhari, Scotland
  32. Muslimah Association of Malaysia, Datin Hajjah Aminah Zakaria, Malaysia
  33. Nahdatul Ulama, Zuhairi Misrawi, Indonesia
  34. Phule-Ambedkar Intellectual Forum, Kishor Jagtap, India
  35. Plataforma Gueto, Flavio Almada, Portugal
  36. Red-White Holy Guard, Muh Sabana
  37. Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, Richard Haley
  38. Secretariat for the Ulama Assembly of Asia, Sheikh Abdul Ghani Samsudin, Malaysia
  39. Secular Forum India, Dr Suresh Khairnar, India
  40. Shia Rights Watch, Mustafa Akhwand, USA
  41. Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German, UK
  42. Syria Solidarity Movement, Eva Bartlett, USA
  43. Universal Justice Network, Mohideen Abdul Kader, Malaysia
  44. Universalia Legal Aid Foundation, Ahmad Taufik, Indonesia
  45. Voice of Palestine, Mujtahid Hashem, Indonesia
  46. Angelos Rallis, documentary filmmaker and photojournalist, Greece
  47. Houria Bouteldja, activist, France
  48. Ilan Pappe, academic, UK
  49. Imam Asi, Imam of Washington Mosque
  50. Professor Hamid Algar, academic, University of Berkley
  51. Ramon Grosfoguel, academic, University of Berkley
  52. Rania Madi, attorney and activist, Geneva
  53. Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, Nigeria

http://ihrc.org.uk/activities/campaigns/11445-a-letter-to-the-un-concerning-the-situation-in-yemen

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Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen is “straight from the American playbook”

In his essay entitled, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell says, “political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell, whose writings are more prescient with each passing year, would wince at the words of Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General Asiri, who, in a recent press conference, defended Saudi Arabia’s unprovoked war in Yemen by saying, “all we are trying to do is to make sure that there is security in Yemen.” Bombing an already desperately poor country’s infrastructure, destroying its armed forces (the same armed forces that were equipped and trained to fight al-Qaeda by the US), air dropping weapons (now being sold in Yemen’s arms markets), blockading Yemen’s ports (Yemen imports 90% of its food), and hobbling an already struggling economy are hardly ways of ensuring security.

So begins an article by Middle East analyst Michael Horton published in Counterpunch a fortnight ago. Horton writes:

To sum it up: an autocracy with a deplorable human rights record (Saudi Arabia’s Sharia courts routinely behead criminals and flog victims of gang rape as well as recalcitrant bloggers) and its partners—which includes the US—are endeavoring to reinstall an ineffectual exiled government of questionable legitimacy and ensure security in Yemen by bombing and starving it into submission.

[President Abdu Rabbu Mansour] Hadi and his exiled government are supporting the bombardment of their own country and calling on the Saudis and their allies to intensify air strikes and launch what will likely be a disastrous ground invasion. Of course, these calls for more bombs, more weapons, and more war are being made by men who fled Yemen aboard private jets and are comfortably ensconced in villas in Riyadh. They do not have to worry about being incinerated in their homes, finding food or water, or burying their dead. It is worth citing another quote from Orwell who wrote in Homage to Catalonia, “all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” 1

Click here to read Michael Horton’s complete article.

On Thursday [April 23rd], Democracy Now! invited Toby Jones, Associate Professor of History and Director of Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, to discuss the Saudi bombing campaign and the resulting humanitarian crisis, which the International Committee of the Red Cross has already described as “catastrophic”.

Asked about “Operation Decisive Storm” and the obvious parallel in its naming to “Operation Desert Storm” (of the Gulf War), Jones replied:

Well, Adel al-Jubeir [Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US] said it very well, right? The Saudis are interested in destroying and degrading Yemen’s military capacity, particularly those of the Houthis. But they have a series of mixed objectives that we shouldn’t be persuaded by. One is the stated claim that they want to protect their borders in any threat to Saudi Arabia. The reality is, the Houthis have never represented a threat to Saudi Arabia, and they still don’t, even though they enjoy control over much of Yemen. And the other is to restore the legitimate government of President Hadi. In reality, Hadi was—his position in power was orchestrated by the Saudi and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] after the Arab uprisings.

I mean, the bottom line is this: Yemen has long been the backyard of Saudi Arabia. It’s a deeply impoverished place that the Saudis believe they should assert political authority in, that they should influence outcomes.

Reality on the ground is they’ve accomplished very little. The Houthis have retained political authority. They’re even operating in Aden, which the Saudis said they hoped to preempt. It’s not clear what they’ve accomplished. They’ve declared victory, but they’ve done little more than actually kill almost a thousand Yemenis and degrade what was already, you know, a troubled infrastructure and environment.

Regarding claims of Iranian involvement in the conflict, Jones says:

Well, there’s no clear coordination between Iran and the Houthis. Let’s be clear: There’s absolutely no evidence that Iran is operating on the ground in Yemen or that it’s directing orders to the Houthi rebels.

And Washington’s role?

As far as the American role goes, the Americans view Yemen as a Saudi backyard, and they’re going to defer to the Saudis here. I mean, there’s lots of geopolitical sort of moving parts here, as well. While the Americans are chipping away on a nuclear arrangement with Iran, they understand and they’re very clear that the Saudis are uncomfortable with all of that. So they’re making concessions on Yemen, because it’s easy for the Americans to do so, providing small-scale cover and other kinds of material support, including putting warships close by the Port of Aden and elsewhere. I mean, this is simply a matter of the Americans making choices about where they can support the Saudis and where they can oppose them elsewhere, or at least where they can work at odds with them.

Yemen is and has for a long time been the most deeply impoverished place in the Middle East. But it has also been a political football in the region that the Saudis and the Americans have kicked around. This is a place where we talk about catastrophe and the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the recent campaign. This is not new in Yemen. Very little has been done to address it. And in spite of all of that, the U.S. has almost always pursued Yemen as a place to drop bombs and to target what they call militants. And with that in mind, it’s easy for them to support the Saudis, who are claiming to do the same thing.

After a fortnight’s bombardment and close to a thousand deaths, Michael Horton published a follow-up article (also in Counterpunch) reporting on what he describes as perhaps the most ill-advised of all the “three decades of ill-advised wars in the Middle East.” And the ghost of Orwell is there in the background once again, to furrow his brow and shake his head in disbelief:

“Operation Decisive Storm,” the ironic name for Saudi Arabia’s aerial campaign in Yemen, has led to nothing decisive in Yemen beyond ensuring that the country remains a failed state and fertile ground for organizations like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Long before the commencement of “Operation Decisive Storm,” Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, was grappling with a host of problems ranging from severe water shortages, food insecurity, and a moribund economy, to a long running multi-front insurgency. Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has exacerbated all of these problems and could well be the coup de grace for a unified and relatively stable Yemen.

On Tuesday April 21st, the government of Saudi Arabia abruptly announced that it was ending “Operation Decisive Storm” and that it would be scaling back its aerial campaign in Yemen. “Operation Decisive Storm” will be replaced with “Operation Restore Hope,” an unfortunate name for a military operation given that it was also the name for the US’ ill-fated 1992-3 intervention in Somalia. It is unclear what “Operation Restore Hope” aims to achieve; however, the first phase of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has been disastrous.

From all the carnage of “Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war”, Horton says, there is just one victor, al-Qaeda:

AQAP has, so far, been the only beneficiary of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In south east Yemen, in the governorate of the Hadramawt, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken over Yemen’s fifth largest city, Mukalla, and has also taken control of the city’s airport and port. “Operation Decisive Storm” targeted the Houthis, a Zaidi militia that is the sworn enemy of al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia’s aerial bombardment also focused on those elements of the Yemeni Armed Forces that are allied with the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. These same military units, including the Yemeni Air Force which has been largely destroyed, were also critical to fighting AQAP and its allies. “Operation Decisive Storm” has effectively neutralized the two forces that were responsible for impeding AQAP’s advance across large sections of southern and eastern Yemen. 2

Click here to read Michael Horton’s complete article.

As Toby Jones summed up:

The Houthis didn’t call for war, and they coordinated closely with actors on the ground. They’re the ones who were being attacked, even though they’re the ones who have been calling for a political settlement to a deeply broken system all along. The fact that the Saudis have recast this in a language that the Houthis are the villains and the ones acting dangerously is remarkable, as is the fact that the Saudis can drop bombs while calling it a humanitarian mission. In reality—I mean, in many ways, it’s a play straight from the American playbook.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

1 From an article entitled “War is Peace in Yemen” written by Michael Horton, published in Counterpunch on April 10–12, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/10/war-is-peace-in-yemen/ 

2 From an article entitled “Saudi Arabia’s Disastrous War in Yemen” written by Michael Horton, published in Counterpunch on April 22, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/22/saudi-arabias-disastrous-war-in-yemen/  

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US drone programme deemed unlawful by two major human rights groups

Amnesty International yesterday released an important new report on how US drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan, saying that some drone killings may amount to war crimes. In a separate report, Human Rights Watch criticized the US drone programme in Yemen, where strikes have also killed many civilians.

Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report, “‘Will I be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” was interviewed on today’s Democracy Now! broadcast. He says:

When you look at people living there, already facing so many threats, curfew, living a very difficult life, the idea that in the skies, the skies are no longer safe, and then when these strikes happen—you know, it could be very close to you, could be your neighbors, could be your loved ones involved—obviously you want to help them, and now people are so scared even to do that, it’s really quite shocking.

In terms of the law, that—we see that as unlawful. We can’t see a justification for that. We really call on the U.S., as we saw with [White House Press Secretary] Jay Carney claiming this is a legal program—well, fine, show us the legal justification for it and ensure those justifications and the facts are given to a genuinely independent, impartial investigator. That’s the key thing. We are saying now to the U.S. government: Come clean, show us what is your evidence in law and fact for justifying rescuer attacks and the other unlawful killings we’ve documented in the report.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the video on the Democracy Now! website.

Concurrently, a second report by Human Rights Watch entitled “US: Reassess Targeted Killings in Yemen” was also released yesterday. Author of the report, Letta Tayler, who is senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, saying in the press release:

“The US says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen. Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Meanwhile, BBC news also reported on this latest evidence presented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch under the headline “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’”. What caught the eye, however, was an inset to the main article under the heading “analysis” put together by their correspondent M Ilyas Khan, who writes:

The general impression that one gets from talking to elders and correspondents from the area is that drone strikes are for the most part accurate, causing little or no collateral damage.

They say if civilians deaths had been as high as those mentioned in some recent international reports, there would have been more of an outcry against it both socially and also in the media.1

Khan’s remarks are deplorable. Presented with carefully gathered evidence from not one, but two human rights groups, independently alleging that US drone attacks are probably in violation of international law, his response is to ignore the evidence and downplay their conclusions purely on the basis of hearsay that drone strikes have caused “little or no collateral damage”. Such thoughtless use of neo-con euphemisms simply underlining his deliberately calculated and utterly flippant dismissal of the crimes taking place. Lazy and biased reporting which, to quote Khan again, is a big part of the reason there hasn’t been “more of an outcry against it… in the media”. Shameful.

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

1 From an article entitled “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’” published by BBC news on October 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24618701

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ten years of horror in Iraq: is this what Syria now has to look forward to?

On Wednesday [March 20th] Democracy Now! spoke with investigative journalist Dahr Jamail (currently working for Al Jazeera). Jamail provided a detailed review of the terrible conditions in Iraq, ten years after the US-led “liberation”; a campaign which began with the notorious “shock and awe” assault and one that has directly resulted in more than a million deaths (which include over a hundred thousand documented civilian deaths so far).

With a puppet president, Nouri al-Maliki, installed, the US occupation is now being quietly maintained by the presence of thousands of military contractors, whilst meanwhile the Iraqi population is the target of terrorist attacks on an almost daily basis as sectarian violence spirals out of control – 65 people were killed, and hundreds wounded by bomb blasts in Baghdad just on the day of the anniversary itself.

What Dahr Jamail describes is nothing less than a hell on earth where human rights abuses are rampant, and the use of indefinite detention and execution is commonplace:

… the situation in Iraq today, 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation began, it’s just utter devastation. It’s a situation where, overall, we can say that Iraq is a failed state. The economy is in a state of crisis, perpetual crisis, that began far back with the institution of the 100 Bremer orders during—under the Coalition Provisional Authority, the civil government set up to run Iraq during the first year of the occupation. And it’s been in crisis ever since.

The average Iraqi is just barely getting by. And how can they get by when there’s virtually no security across large swathes of country to this day, where, you know, as we see in the headlines recently, even when there’s not these dramatic, spectacular days of dozens of people being killed by bombs across Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, on any given day there’s assassinations, there’s detentions, there’s abductions and people being disappeared and kidnapped?

First of all, we have a situation where detentions across Iraq, primarily in Sunni-dominated parts of Baghdad, as well as in areas like Fallujah, predominantly Sunni cities, where people are being detained, en masse at times, nightly home raids, same type of stuff that the U.S. military used when they were in Iraq. And then the types of torture being described coming out of the prisons is truly horrific: people being hung by their ankles for days at a time while their heads are in buckets of water on the ground; people having their hands tied behind their backs and then hung from their hands for sometimes days at a time; electrical shock being used on people’s limbs, on their genitals, on their tongues; men being raped by broom handles as well as bottles; women in prison being raped. I spoke with one woman released just over a week ago at this point, talking about how she had been in prison for four years and was raped repeatedly by Iraqi forces. [There are] other types of techniques being used—and again, all of this comes back to the types of workings of Colonel James Steele … [more about Steele in a moment]

But the types of torture is ongoing. It’s rampant. It’s one of the driving factors as to why we’re seeing massive Friday protests now, well into the three month, across Al Anbar province and the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, where Sunnis are demanding a halt for the detentions, a halt of the so-called Article 4, which is the legislation passed and being used in the Iraqi government that—basically where they took a page out of the Bush playbook of giving them carte blanche to arrest anybody for any reasons under the guise of terrorism charges, of suspected terrorism, and then they can be held indefinitely. I spoke with people both at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about this, and they said one of the problems now is, it’s the detentions and the being held secretly is so rampant now by the Iraqi security forces that there isn’t really even a need for secret prisons anymore. Remember a ways back, we had—it all came out that there were secret Maliki prisons. Well, now, today in Iraq, they’re referring—they’re being referred to by a lot of Iraqis as “secret prisoners,” because people are being detained, their families aren’t—there’s no law requiring that the families be notified, nobody knows where these people are. They can be held in any prison anywhere in broad daylight, because no name is being registered anywhere. So, literally, we have untold numbers of people being detained, being treated horrifically.

Asked whether he agreed with many people that the problems in Iraq are “not so much the result of the U.S. invasion but rather sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias”, Jamail’s response is unequivocal:

I don’t agree. I think all of this is a direct result of—either direct or indirectly a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation and the strategy applied. I mean, we saw something come out just last week in a joint investigation of BBC Arabic and The Guardian, which gave hard evidence, insider evidence, of the machinations of the U.S. using retired Lieutenant Colonel James Steele, infamous during the Reagan administration of orchestrating so many of the death squads in Central America along with Negroponte. Well, Negroponte happened to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq for some of the occupation and, of course, brought in his old buddy James Steele to set up the same types of tactics, the detentions, the types of torture techniques that we’re seeing rampant across today—across Iraq today, the blatant attempts to foment sectarian violence, sort of a divide-and-conquer policy. Even Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld under Bush, back around 2006, 2007, referred to kind of casually using the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, and that’s precisely what he was describing.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Friday’s Democracy Now! offered a more extended profile of Colonel James Steele, investigating his role in Iraq and formerly in El Salvador, where he had previously coordinated death squads and torture centres. Also heavily implicated are General David Petraeus and Donald Rumsfeld.*

In the second part of the same interview [from Wednesday 20th], Jamail reported on another side of the horrors in today’s Iraq. A huge increase in birth defects and cancers, most especially plaguing the city of Fallujah, which are a direct consequence of the earlier US bombardment with the widespread use of weapons containing white phosphorous and depleted uranium (DU):

Overall, the country has seen a massive increase in cancer rates from the 1991 Gulf War up to present, even according to official Iraqi government statistics. In 1991, for example, there were 40 registered cases of cancer out of 100,000 Iraqis. By 1995, four years after that war, that number had jumped to 800 out of 100,000 Iraqis. And then—by 2005, that number had doubled— The most recent statistic, I’ll end with, before I get into Fallujah. And what these images are showing is that in 2005 we saw 1,600 Iraqis with cancer out of 100,000, so a massive escalation that continues.

And going on to Fallujah, because I wrote about this a year ago, and then I returned to the city again this trip, we are seeing an absolute crisis of congenital malformations of newborn. There is one doctor, a pediatrician named Dr. Samira Alani, working on this crisis in the city. She’s the only person there registering cases. And she’s seeing horrific birth defects. I mean, these are extremely hard to look at. They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to, because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city of 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus, among other things.

And so, what this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the aftermath of—in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were—that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II. So, Dr. Samira Alani actually visited with doctors in Japan, comparing statistics, and found that the amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the same rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings.

These types of birth defects, she said—there are types of congenital malformations that she said they don’t even have medical terms for, that some of the things they’re seeing, they’ve never seen before. They’re not in any of the books or any of the scientific literature that they have access to. She said it’s common now in Fallujah for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, baby’s being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye—really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects. And it is ongoing.

The images in this report are so absolutely shocking that I have decided not to embed the video, but if you would like to hear more of what Dahr Jamail had to say or to read the full transcript then click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

Click here to read my own earlier post about the use of white phosphorous and DU in Fallujah.

On Friday [March 15th], a day that marked the second anniversary of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Democracy Now! also interviewed Rim Turkmani, an astrophysicist and member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance, who had come to New York to meet with Security Council members in order to discuss possible political solutions to the developing crisis in Syria. This is part of what Rim Turkmani said:

The uprising started as a nonviolent uprising; however, because of the extreme violence, you know, the way the regime responded to this uprising, things developed very quickly into a very violent movement. However, there have been external actors who were supporting the arming of the opposition, and unfortunately that fueled the violence, increased dramatically the number of casualties, and turned the whole thing into more of a war, rather than a revolution. So nowadays, people don’t talk about democracy anymore. You don’t talk about the original rights and freedoms, which the people two years ago went to the street to protest for. We’re talking more about ending a war.

And I see all these statements, you know, from France and Britain, and even the U.S., are very contradicting and saying that we want to arm the rebels; however, we want a political solution. I mean, for me, a political solution means a peaceful solution. Peace can only be reached through peaceful ways, peaceful means, and can’t be reached through fueling the violence. So, I don’t think their efforts will help in calming the situation or dropping the number of casualties in the country. […]

It’s more of a geopolitical struggle, really, over Syria than responding to the needs of the people. I am a member of the opposition, as well. All [of] my group, very active inside Syria, is in opposition, but it’s a nonviolent opposition. That is very clear in its aim to reach democracy. However, we don’t reach any—we don’t get any support. We are—there’s systematic efforts to marginalize people like us inside Syria and focus only on the armed rebels. And they are the ones now who are stealing all the headlines. Now, why? Because, yes, there are certain actors, regional and international, who see this as a proxy war, and it’s an opportunity to fight their international opponents. It’s a struggle over Syria, over power, and the Syrians are falling victims to that.

I cannot find this clip uploaded on youtube but you can read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website by clicking here.

Obviously it was the Bush-Cheney administration who are most responsible for the campaign against Iraq, although the Obama administration has nevertheless been complicit in the on-going chaos; the US occupation now secured by the stay-behind presence of those thousands of military contractors, with a completely blind eye turned to the brutality of the Maliki regime. Meanwhile, and with Iraq already in ruins, Obama is once more talking up the need for “humanitarian intervention” in neighbouring Syria. A conflict that has been allowed to escalate in part thanks to American covert support for terrorist groups.

In an excellent week of broadcasts, Democracy Now! also welcomed freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich to talk more specifically about US and Saudi Arabian involvement in the Syrian conflict:

What I found was that the Saudi government and wealthy Saudis are involved in arming Syrian rebels, the most ultraconservative, ultrareligious groups, such as al-Nusra, and that hundreds of Saudis are infiltrating across the borders from Jordan and Turkey and going to fight with these extremist groups in Syria. […]

Well, the Saudis want to see a pro-Saudi government emerge. The analysts I spoke to in Saudi Arabia point to what they call the Yemen model, where there was an Arab Spring uprising, the head of the government was replaced, but a pro-Western, pro-Saudi general replaced the old guy. So, they’d love to see that happen in Syria. But as my sources pointed out, it’s not going to happen, because Syria is very, very different from Yemen.

And in the case of the U.S., the U.S.—you know, the debate in the U.S. is whether—well, shall we bomb them? Shall we create a no-fly zone and arm the rebels and take a more militant stand? Or shall we continue kind of the Obama policies of secretly arming the—and covertly arming and training the guerrillas? The problem is, the reason this has not been resolved, as pointed out to me by a Muslim Brotherhood leader that I interviewed in Istanbul, is that the U.S. hasn’t found a leader that it can trust to pursue its interests. If you recall, in the case of Iraq or Afghanistan, there was a guy the U.S. promoted as the new democrat, supposedly, who turned out to be otherwise. But they haven’t found that guy yet in Syria, and that’s one of the reasons that they’re taking a less than militant stand in support of the Syrian rebels.

In the same roundtable interview, Rim Turkmani added:

As we all know, Saudi Arabia is not a democratic country. The uprising started to reach a democratic Syria. So, I don’t have faith in any undemocratic country to support democratic transition inside Syria. I’m not surprised that they’re supporting the armed rebels and increasing the level of violence in Syria. However, we are very confident that violence never, ever leads to democracy. So, as much as I oppose the regime, my group opposes the regime, we oppose also these efforts from Saudi Arabia to turn Syria into a jihadi land. I mean, the Syrians are—their mentality is very, very different from like the jihadi extreme Muslims’ mentality, and I think they will find it very difficult to market their ideas inside Syria. However, the violence is giving them the right environment, fertile environment, for such ideology to spread. […]

And you heard even the U.K. and the U.S., even though they’re supporting a little bit the arming, they’re still talking about a political solution. A political solution means that we have to talk to all these armed people, all the armed groups, and bring them to a negotiation table. I trust we can bring the Syrians. We can bring those who defected from the army or those who thought they were carrying arms to defend their families. However, the jihadists are going to be impossible. They are going to be the real obstacle to any peace process in Syria. Their cause is global. It’s not for democracy, certainly. Even if the regime falls tonight, they’re going to continue their fight. They are not interested in any negotiations and any peace deal. And their threat is not going to be contained inside Syria. It’s certainly going to affect the whole region. This is why we have to act very quickly to end this war and bring together a peaceful solution for all the Syrians. It has to be all-inclusive, to bring all the Syrians into a negotiation table to reach a peaceful solution towards a democratic Syria. We’re not interested in any project that doesn’t lead eventually to a democratic country.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

Mike Prysner joined the US Army when he was 17, between his junior and senior years in high school. He left for basic training in June 2001 and was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, NY. In March 2003, his company was attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade to take part in the initial invasion of Iraq. This is an edited version of a powerful speech he delivered at the 2008 “Winter Soldier” in Maryland. Testimony of what was really going on in Iraq:

Mike Prysner was also one of the speakers at the event “Speaking Truth to Power: a permanent state of war” on April 9, 2011 in Asheville, NC:

*

* Click here to watch “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq”, a 15-month investigation made by the Guardian and BBC Arabic and produced by Maggie O’Kane [who gave an extended interview about the film on Democracy Now! on Friday 22nd].

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John Brennan’s confirmation hearing is “a very sobering moment” says Jeremy Scahill

On Thursday [Feb 7th] at the Senate confirmation hearing, nominee for next Director of the CIA, John Brennan, defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the administration’s increased use of armed drones and its targetted killings of American citizens. And whilst Brennan refused to acknowledge that waterboarding is a form of torture, he was nevertheless forced to admit that he had not tried to stop its use during the time he was a top CIA official under President George W. Bush.

On Friday, Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist, producer and writer of the documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and also the forthcoming book, Dirty Wars. Reminding us that Brennan “has served for more than four years as the assassination czar,” Scahill summed up Thursday’s hearing as “total kabuki oversight”:

Well, you know, if you—if you look at what happened yesterday at the Senate Intelligence Committee, I mean, this is kabuki oversight. This was basically a show that was produced by the White House in conjunction with Senator Feinstein’s office. I mean, the reality was—is that none of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way. In the cases where people like Senator Angus King or Senator Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA asserts the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the questions were very good. Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. […]

But at the end of the day, I mean, I can’t say I was surprised at what happened on Capitol Hill, but it really was more or less a love fest between the most powerful senators, when it comes to intelligence operations in the U.S., and John Brennan, a man who could not get confirmed last time Obama tried to make him CIA director, because of very serious questions about his views on and role in the torture program under the Bush administration— [he] has served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they were discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol Hill. I mean, it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand right now.

I would invite Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee to travel to Abyan province in Yemen, where I was a few months ago, and meet with the Bedouin villagers of al-Majalah, where more than 40 people were killed, several dozen of them women and children, their bodies shredded into meat with U.S. cluster bombs, and then come back and go on national television and talk about single digits. There were over 40 people killed in one strike alone. And you know what? That wasn’t even a drone strike. That was a cruise missile strike. Everyone is talking about drones these days and obsessed with drones. The U.S. uses AC-130 gunships, night raids, Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. Some of the most devastating strikes were not even drone attacks.

So, you know, this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. You know, they allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, “Well, I’m not a lawyer,” while simultaneously saying, “Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal.” And then they say, “Well, what about torture?” And he goes, “Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications.” I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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killing by remote-control: the worldwide proliferation of drones

Earlier this year, Obama defended the administration’s unprecedented use of armed drones during a “virtual interview” held online. He said:

“I want to make sure that people understand, actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. So, I think that there’s this perception somehow that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

However, earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that:

The United States has begun launching drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen under new authority approved by President Obama that allows the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known, U.S. officials said. […]

U.S. officials said that Obama approved the use of “signature” strikes this month and that the killing of an al-Qaeda operative near the border of Yemen’s Marib province this week was among the first attacks carried out under the new authority. 1

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! report looked into Obama’s expansion of the use of drones in conflicts around the world. They spoke with Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represents families of civilians killed in US drone strikes. Akbar was finally granted a visa to enter the US this week after the State Department had tried to block his visit for over a year. Asked to respond to Obama’s statement, Akbar said:

But what I see here is that either President Obama is lying to the nation, or he is too naive, to believe on the reports which CIA is presenting to President, because CIA is the one who is taking out such strikes, and they are coming to President and say that “We are taking out the right targets.” […]

Now, if we took—if we were to believe President Obama, then it means that, on the ground, whatever we’re seeing is wrong, and we just have to believe that people who are remote-control killing these people in Pakistan, they even have the ample knowledge of their guilt, so that can they take out these targets.

They were also joined by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and one of the organisers of this weekend’s “Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control” being held in Washington DC. Benjamin is also the author of a new book called Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control”.

Benjamin says the proliferation of drones is not only happening in the conflicts in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, but with the expansion of drone bases, also into places like Kuwait, Oman, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Australia and Turkey. She also points out that although the US remains the number one producer of drones, “Israel is right behind, number two, and number two user of drones, as well,” whilst “right behind them in terms of producers, is China.” In fact, according to Benjamin, over 50 countries already have drones.

As for the recent change in policy, and Obama’s authorisation for the new “signature” strikes which permit “the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known”, Benjamin says:

Well, there’s a—they divide them between what’s called the “personality” strikes, when you actually have a hit list and you know the names of the people you’re trying to take out, and the other is the “signature” strikes, where it’s just by suspicious behavior, if you look like—if you’re with a group and you’re carrying guns and you look like you’re militants.

And this is done by pilots that are thousands of miles away, don’t know the culture, don’t know the people, don’t know the region. And so, they are given this tremendous responsibility. And they kill by day, and then they’re supposed to go home to their families at night. They’re sitting in a place like Creech Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas and supposed to integrate themselves into their families and their communities after spending the day watching remote control and using a PlayStation to kill people. We find that these pilots have PTSD just like soldiers on the battlefield have, as well. And I think it’s putting them in a terrible situation.

She then adds, pointing to the relative lack of criticism that Obama has received for his expansive warmongering:

I do want to say, [Juan,] that so many people who spoke out against George Bush’s extraordinary rendition and Guantánamo and indefinite detention have been very quiet when it comes to the Obama administration, who is not putting people in those same kind of conditions, instead is just taking them out and killing them. So we need to make people speak up and say that when Obama says this is on a tight leash, this is not true, this is a lie. And the American people have to become aware of it and not be partisan about that. We don’t care who’s doing the killing; we want the killing to stop.

Lastly, Benjamin speaks to the growing drone use within the borders of America:

Well, yes, you know, people should be aware that the administration has already killed Americans overseas. And Eric Holder has said that Americans are not guaranteed judicial process, so there is nothing stopping them from killing Americans here at home, either. In fact, when the head of the FBI was asked at a hearing whether drones could be used to kill Americans at home, he said he wasn’t sure about that.

But certainly drones are coming back for surveillance. They are being used now in an experimental way with police departments, but there is a very strong lobby of these drone manufacturers, who have 53 members of Congress who have formed their own drone caucus, and they are pressuring to get drones allowed in a much broader way into U.S. airspace. That will happen now by 2015. And every police department in this country wants its own drones. We will be—you have done so many great programs already, Amy, on the surveillance society. This will take it to another degree altogether if we have drones overhead, and drones can come right into your window and look inside your home. Get ready for another level of surveillance.

Click here to watch the video or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

More information about today’s Washington conference can be found on the CODEPINK website.

1 From an article entitled “White House approves broader Yemen drone campaign”, written by Greg Miller, published by the Washington Post on April 26, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-approves-broader-yemen-drone-campaign/2012/04/25/gIQA82U6hT_story.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, drones, USA, Yemen

Obama wants Yemeni journalist Shaye kept in prison – Jeremy Scahill investigates

In January 2011, a Yemeni state security court gave the journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a five-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges following a trial that has been condemned by several human rights and press freedom groups. Within a month of Shaye’s sentencing, then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he was going to pardon the journalist – and it should be noted that the imprisonment and pardon of journalists is repeated time and again by the Yemeni authorities as a way to “bludgeon journalists into submission”. But on this occasion, Saleh changed his mind. Thirteen months later Shaye remains behind bars.

The Obama administration is now facing criticism for its role in the continuing imprisonment of Shaye, especially in light of the fact that Saleh’s unusual decision not to issue a pardon appears to have been made in direct response to a phone call from President Obama.

Prior to his arrest, Shaye broke a number of important stories about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as recording the last known interview with Anwar al-Awlaki just before it was revealed that Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric, was on a CIA hit list. Shaye also exposed how the United States was behind a 2009 bombing in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children.

On Thursday [March 15th], Democracy Now! examined the case and its significance in an extended report and interviews with Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose latest article published in The Nation is entitled “Why Is President Obama Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?”

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I learned about his case because of the bombing of al-Majala in December of 2009. You’ll recall it was the first time that President Obama, that we know of, authorized a U.S. strike against Yemen. And when the strike initially happened, the United States’ position was to say nothing. There were some anonymous officials that had leaked some information to news networks indicating that the U.S. was behind the bombing, but the official position was that it was a Yemeni strike and that an al-Qaeda camp had been targeted and that 34 members of al-Qaeda had been killed.

Then Amnesty International obtained photographs of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs from the scene and pictures and video of the bodies of dead women and children. And Amnesty International then determined that it had to have been a U.S. strike, because Yemen didn’t have those missiles and didn’t have those cluster bombs, and that, in fact, the victims of—among the victims of that strike were a tremendous number of women and children. Well, the individual who provided that documentary evidence to Al Jazeera—or, excuse me, to Amnesty International and to Al Jazeera and other networks was Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Yeah. The trial does not pass the laugh test, at all. And the court does not pass the laugh test. And actually, in my research, I could not locate a single case that was tried in this special—specialized criminal tribunal—you can just tell by the name that this is—this is not going to be a serious affair. I could not find a single case that met, even remotely, like fair trial standards. So there’s no transparency. There’s no proper appeals process. Lawyers are deprived of a lot of the files. Things are slid in last minute. It just failed to meet those standards. And this is not just my opinion, but this was observed by every single person who attended these sessions, when they were allowed to attend.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What’s important to realize here, and what Mohamed is saying, is that, on one side of this, you have major media freedom organizations. You have major human rights organizations—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. You have every legal and human rights organization in Yemen. You have very prominent foreign correspondents who have spoken out on this case, some of whom knew Abdulelah Haider Shaye. So they’re on one side of it, condemning his trial as a sham, talking about who he actually was as a journalist.

And on the other side of it, you have the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, a specialized criminal tribunal set up to go after journalists, and the White House. And so, President Obama is the single person keeping that man in prison right now, because even the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was prepared to release him, and it was a phone call, not from one of Obama’s people, from Obama himself, that kept him in prison.

And so, when I called the State Department, one of the things I said is, “What is the evidence that you have to support your contention that Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a terrorist or is affiliated with al-Qaeda?” And they said, “We don’t have anything to say on that right now.” So, you know, that’s how much of a sham this is. So anyone who wants to say, “Well, Obama must know what he’s doing,” needs to realize that you’re taking a position against major human rights organizations and journalist organizations against the United States, which is currently engaged in its biggest crackdown on whistleblowers in history. So just be clear on what side of the line you’re on, if you’re a journalist, when you say that.

Click here to watch the report and interviews and to read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Yesterday’s Storyville also premiered Sean McAllister’s powerful documentary “The Reluctant Revolutionary”. The film follows the political awakening of Kais, a tour guide in Sana’a, who although initially irritated by the demonstrations, gradually feels inspired to join them. A very intimate and at times deeply shocking film, Kais and Sean McAllister ultimately become eyewitnesses to the massacre of 52 protesters almost exactly a year ago [“Friday of Dignity” March 18, 2011] that helped put an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign in Yemen.

Storyville: The Reluctant Revolutionary

broadcast on BBC4 at 10:00pm-11:10pm on Monday 19th March
Director: Sean McAllister

Click here for link to BBC iplayer

Available on BBC iplayer until 12:09 am on Tuesday, 3rd April 2012

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Filed under did you see?, Jeremy Scahill, Uncategorized, USA, Yemen