Tag Archives: Jabhat al-Nusra

Seymour Hersh on last August’s sarin attack on Ghouta and possible Turkish connections

Back in December, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article questioning the Obama administration’s claims that Assad had crossed a “red line” after launching a chemical attack on Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus. In his report, Hersh explained how:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

The article entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th.

Hersh has more recently produced a follow up article that provides additional evidence supporting the view that Ghouta attack was most probably launched by al-Qaeda factions in Syria:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

Seymour Hersh also talked about his latest report on Monday’s [April 7th] Democracy Now!:

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

In his recent article [also published April 7th] entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh implicates Turkey as possible collaborators in this and other chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’ […]

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’ […]

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

And “the rat line”? Well, that brings Hersh back to the Benghazi attack of September 2012 which led to the death of US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. He draws attention [halfway down the following paragraph] to “a highly classified annex” to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the incident – distribution of which was apparently “limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress”:

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.) […]

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Click here to read the full version of Seymour Hersh’s latest article [April 6th] also published in the London Review of Books.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Turkey, USA

the story behind the story of Turkey’s internet bans

Turks greeted the news that YouTube has been blocked in the country with the grimly raised eyebrows Brits reserve for an unusually bad weather forecast. “So it’s come to this”, they say, but no one is overly shocked. Internet bans are becoming a weekly occurrence. A week ago Twitter was banned at the personal behest of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and remains so days after a court order annulled the block.

So begins an article in Friday’s Guardian, which continues:

By painting both Twitter and YouTube (and no doubt Facebook next week) as online dens of iniquity, he aims to convince his supporters that the allegations are malicious falsehoods, and that he is the victim of an international smear campaign operating on social media. Extreme tactics; but in a country rife with conspiracy theories and pre-election tension, they might well work.

Allegations? Malicious falsehoods? An international smear campaign? Conspiracy theories…? Well, not just “theories” as it transpires… Here’s a little more of the same article:

On Thursday he sounded hoarse and shrill as he poured scorn on opponents for the umpteenth time, causing much amusement among Twitter users merrily circumnavigating the ban. Hours later, YouTube was blocked, drawing immediate attention to the recording released that day of the foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization allegedly planning a Syrian provocation. The government has not denied these tapes, instead labelling their circulation as “a declaration of war against the Turkish Republic”. War machinations aside, they have a serious espionage problem on their hands.1

“Allegedly planning a Syrian provocation” – in what way? What exactly is on these tapes that the Turkish government are not denying? The article doesn’t say, but perhaps the BBC can help… (although we’ll need to go back another day – to Thursday):

Earlier, what appeared to be a leaked audio recording of Turkish officials discussing Syria appeared on YouTube.

It relates to a discussion of possible military operations in Syria, which was apparently attended by Turkey’s intelligence chief, its foreign minister and the deputy head of the armed forces.
Reuters news agency, which examined the recording, said it could not verify its authenticity but it was potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation. […]

At a rally in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday, Mr Erdogan appeared to confirm the latest audio leak was genuine.
“They even leaked a national security meeting,” he said. “This is villainous, this is dishonesty… Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”2

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

So not only do we learn that the Turkish government “has not denied these tapes” (as the Guardian reports) but that Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan does in fact “confirm the latest audio leak was genuine” – although once again, when it comes to specific details, the BBC seems reluctant to tell us what these “possible military operations in Syria” might have been. As with the Guardian article there is again no link to the leaked discussion on the tapes. We might reasonably wonder why they are being so tight-lipped.

Well, judge for yourself – because here is part of a transcript of the (translated) discussion involving foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan:

Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Prime Minister said that in current conjuncture, this attack (on Suleiman Shah Tomb) must be seen as an opportunity for us.”

Hakan Fidan: “I’ll send 4 men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary.”

And it is important to understand that the Tomb of Suleyman Shah is an exclave of the Republic of Turkey situated in Aleppo, Syria. Note too that back in August 2012, Prime Minister Erdoğan had publicly stated:

“The tomb of Suleyman Shah [in Syria] and the land surrounding it is our territory. We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory, as well as an attack on NATO land… Everyone knows his duty, and will continue to do what is necessary”3

Click here to read a full translation of the leaked discussion at the national security meeting.

The youtube audio clip is also embedded below (but unfortunately only available with Turkish subtitles):

This recording (which has already had more than 300,000 ‘views’) supplies evidence of a NATO-member country planning to expand the war in Syria. Caught red-handed, Prime Minister Erdoğan has conceded that the recording is authentic whilst attempting to deflect attention by saying the leak was “immoral”.

However, the important story here is not the one about the “villainous” leaking of “a highly confidential and sensitive conversation” – has Erdoğan never heard of Edward Snowden…? Neither is it news that Turkey has clamped down on youtube and twitter, as troubling as these bans are. Far more important is the confirmed leak itself – that Head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, and foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, were discussing the option of launching covert attacks on the Turkish exclave of Suleiman Shah Tomb.

The Financial Times published their own report on the leak also on Friday [March 28th] and it is a little more candid. Whilst accepting Turkish foreign ministry claims that “parts of the recording were doctored” (which parts? Again there are no details) the article does go on to point out how:

“the most contentious segment is a discussion on how to justify military intervention, including a suggestion, which is not taken up, of staging an attack on the tomb…” [my bold emphasis added]4

A clear reference to the part of the leaked discussion reproduced above.

Click here to read the full Financial Times article.

And if this discussion hadn’t been leaked, and a later attack had been staged, then would Nato have followed Turkey into battle? All on the pretext of what the Guardian described as “a Syrian provocation”, but should more properly be called “a Turkish false flag”. Little wonder Erdoğan and the Turkish government have been so keen to shut down the internet. More worrying, however, is that the Guardian, BBC, Reuters and other mainstream media outlets have followed suit. The details sketched over, the links unavailable, and the discussion between foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan only paraphrased and hinted at. Is the big story just too hot to handle?

Click here to read an alternative article on the leaked tapes posted by zerohedge also on Thursday [March 27th].

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“Why would Turkey want to start a war with Syria?” a friend asked in reply to my email that linked to the zerohedge article above. And my short answer was that Turkey are already heavily involved, having assisted both with allowing a supply of arms as well as the passage of al-Qaeda fighters across their borders into Syria.

The slightly longer answer is that Turkey has its own interests in a northern portion of Syria known as Rojava (or Syrian Kurdistan) where local YPG units (or People’s Protection Units) are engaged in regular battles to hold off a Turkish-backed invasion by Islamists in what is a more or less unreported war within the larger Syrian conflict.

In September of 2013, VICE reporter Aris Roussinos crossed the border into Rojava to document the YPG’s counteroffensive against the jihadists. There he was shown evidence of fighters coming from Libya, Chechnya and even Afghanistan to join the ranks of “the rebels” and saw how sections of the Turkish border had been deliberately opened up and left unprotected:

With unparalleled access to the Kurdish and Syrian Christian fighters on the frontlines, we found ourselves witnessing a bitter and almost unreported conflict within the Syrian war, where the Assad regime is a neutral spectator in a life or death struggle between jihadist-led rebels and Kurdish nationalists, pitting village against village and neighbor against neighbor.

As Syria’s bloody civil war enters its third year, fighting has reached the country’s Kurdish-dominated northeast, a region until recently almost untouched by the conflict. The Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in neighboring Turkey, took over control of much of Hassakeh province from the Assad regime in the summer of 2012, and with it control of Syria’s precious oilfields.

But the PYD’s hopes of staying neutral in the conflict and building an autonomous Kurdish state were dashed when clashes broke out with Syrian rebel forces in the strategic border city of Ras al-Ayn. That encounter quickly escalated into an all-out war between the Kurds and a powerful alliance of jihadist groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliates ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

The notes above are taken from the VICE.com website.

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The documentary embedded above presents very much the Kurdish perspective. Nevertheless, it provides an alternative standpoint since the fighters, although defending themselves against “the rebels”, remain in opposition to Assad.

The Syrian war is complex, but if you’d prefer something a little simpler, then let me also draw attention to a youtube animation entitled “The war in Syria explained in five minutes” uploaded by the Guardian last September – and shame on the Guardian for producing such drivel:

 

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1 From an article entitled “Turkey’s YouTube and Twitter bans show a government in serious trouble” written by Alev Scott, published by the Guardian on March 28, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/28/turkey-youtube-twitter-ban-government-trouble

2 From an article entitled “Turkey moves to block YouTube access after ‘audio leak’” published by BBC news on March 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26773702

3 From an article entitled “Ankara warns against attack on tomb” published by News from Azerbaijan on August 7, 2012. http://www.news.az/articles/turkey/65999

4 From an article entitled “Ankara hits back at Gulenists over stream of damaging web leaks” written by Daniel Dombey, published by the Financial Times on March 28, 2014. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c591d4ea-b670-11e3-b230-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2xS6eeyoL

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, internet freedom, Syria, Turkey

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

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Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

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Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

*

Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

*

George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

*

Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

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

*

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

*

And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

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Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

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1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan

Seymour Hersh on Obama’s “red line” and the role of the media

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

So begins a Guardian article based around an interview which world-renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh gave at City University in London’s summer school last July. Hersh, who according to the article “is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush” believes that “confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11”:

“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?” he asks.

A Pulitzer Prize-winner himself, Hersh says:

“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.

“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?

“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate. Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”1

More recently, Hersh has challenged the Obama administration’s claims that they knew the Assad regime was responsible for the gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21st. In an article published in December’s London Review of Books, he argues the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad”, adding that al-Nusra had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”

On December 9th, Hersh was interviewed by Democracy Now! regarding his latest allegations. He first explained the more technical details behind how he knew that Obama “was willing to go to war, wanted to throw missiles at Syria, without really having a case and knowing he didn’t have much of a case”:

The fact is that the United States has a very, very sophisticated sensor system that we’ve put up, just as we also had in Iran, which helped us to conclude — I wrote about this for years at The New Yorker — that we pretty much were pretty sure there was no secret underground facility in Iran, even though the press still talks about that possibility. We looked at it hard. We have sensors that were very, very good. America has great technical capability. And the same thing happened inside Syria. We have sensors. […]

Nobody keeps sarin. It’s a very volatile, acidic poison that degrades quickly. You keep the chemicals that make sarin. They’re what are called precursors. There’s two chemicals, when mixed, poof, alacadabra, you have sarin. So, the Syrian arsenal, the reason you can get rid of it pretty easily, as the report heard they’re doing it, is because there’s two inert substances that could be disposed independently. One is even an alcohol. You could just flush it. But the point being that the sensors monitor not only when the—when sarin or the chemicals are moved; more importantly, they’re capable of monitoring when the Syrian army begins to mix the stuff. And once they mix the stuff, it’s—as I wrote, it’s a use-it-or-lose-it process. You have to use it quickly, because it degrades quickly. It doesn’t stay long in the shells; it erodes the shells. And not only that, the Israelis are right there with us on this sensor system. And so, it’s like a fire alarm, early warning system. You know, it’s—an alarm goes off, and the Israelis know about it, as we know about it, right away. […]

So, this system said nada, nothing, on the 21st, the 22nd [of August]. I write about the fact there’s internal reports. It wasn’t until the 23rd, when the American internal—the secret government and, you know, the secret intelligence community began writing internal reports for the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, saying that we’ve got a problem here in Syria. For days, we didn’t know, because—and what does that mean? What that means is that if—if chemical warfare was used on the 21st, it didn’t come from that arsenal, because there was no warning of any mixing. That doesn’t mean something else could have happened, that some renegade group got some and did something. But the main warning system we had was quiet. That’s a clue. That’s a big clue that at least you should consider something other than the Syrian army when you begin an investigation.

Asked why this new evidence is significant today, given that “Obama chose not to strike Syria because the American people just overwhelmingly said no”, Hersh interrupts:

He didn’t—I’m telling you, he didn’t do it because the American people said no. He knew it because he didn’t have a case. And there was incredible opposition that will be, one of these days, written about, maybe in history books. There was incredible operation from some very, very strong-minded, constitutionally minded people in the Pentagon. That’s the real story. I don’t have it; I could just tell you I know it. […]

But the fact of the matter is that this president was going to go to a war because he felt he had to protect what he said about a red line. That’s what it was about, in the military’s point of view. And that’s not acceptable. You don’t go to war, you don’t throw missiles at a country, when there’s no immediate national security to the United States. And you don’t even talk about it in public. That’s wrong, and that was a terrible thing to do.

And that’s what this story is really about. It’s about a president choosing to make political use of a war crime and not do the right thing. And I think that’s—to me, Amy [Goodman], that’s a lot more important than where it was published and who told me no and who told me yes. I know the press likes to focus on that stuff, but that’s not the story. The story is what he was going to do, and what it says maybe about him, what it says about that office, what it says about the power, that you can simply—you can create a narrative, which he did, and you know the mainstream press is going to carry out that narrative.

Coming back to the role of the media, Hersh adds:

I mean, it’s almost impossible for some of the mainstream newspapers, who have consistently supported the administration. This is after we had the WMD scandal, when everybody wanted to be on the team. It turns out our job, as newspaper people, is not to be on the team. You know, we’ve got a world run by a lot of yahoos and wackos, and it’s our job as reporters to do the kind of work and make it hard for the nincompoops that run the world to get away with some of the stuff we’re doing. That’s what we should be doing more and more of. And that’s just—you know, I don’t think there’s any virtue in it; it’s just the job we have.

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

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Update:

On December 22nd, in light of Seymour Hersh’s revelations, James Corbett and Professor Michel Chossudovsky published their own analysis of the media’s role in manipulating public opinion in favour of war on Syria. A video of their full report is embedded below, as are their opening and concluding remarks:

The architects of our modern system of manufactured consent and official propaganda have long known the importance of the mass media in framing public opinion on any given event. To the pathocrats who blazed the trail toward our modern era of information warfare and opinion control, facts themselves were malleable, subject not to objective reality but to the way they were perceived and internalized by a credulous public. As Ivy Lee, the man that the Rockefellers hired to invent the modern PR industry after the Ludlow massacre, put it:

“It is not the facts alone that strike the popular mind, but the way in which they take place and in which they are published that kindle the imagination…Besides, what is a fact? The effort to state an absolute fact is simply an attempt to… give you my interpretation of the facts.”

This disdain for the public and the psychopathic ease with which elected officials lie to their electorate is nowhere more apparent than when a democracy attempts to rally its citizens to support a war of aggression abroad.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Syrian war coverage of the mainstream media is not its underlying bias—that was always to be expected—but how remarkably ineffective that coverage has been in convincing the public of the need for military intervention in the country. After nearly three years of relentless propaganda attempting to convince the public of the virtue of the terrorist insurgency and the incomparable evil of Assad, the seemingly inevitable march toward war in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attack faltered after public opinion overwhelmingly came down on the side of non-interventionist policies.

Perhaps reading public sentiment, many mainstream outlets even took to pointing out the media bias on the war and trying to retroactively position themselves against military intervention. This has to be credited to a remarkable, global, grassroots phenomenon of independent citizen media breaking through the layers of propaganda to provide true, cogent analysis of the situation on the ground in Syria. In the face of generations swayed by the mass media manipulation of Ivy Lee and his ideological progeny, this alternative media movement is setting the foundation for an alternative paradigm in which Lee’s cynical rhetorical question “What is a fact?” has a very different answer than that which the ruling classes would want us to believe.

Click here to read the full report at Global Research.

1 From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” published in the Guardian Media Blog on September 27, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

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Filed under drones, Iran, Israel, Seymour Hersh, Syria, USA

Syria’s ‘red line’ was always a green light for the military-industrial complex

Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly for capture and bringing to justice of Osama Bin Laden, our western war machine has been grinding along in a very high gear. Smoking out new enemies (almost all of whom were former allies) and claiming fresh justifications for expanding in new directions; this first spate of twenty-first century wars has left a thick trail of blood across Asia and North Africa. War in Iraq. War in Yemen and Pakistan (by means of drones as well as more conventional weaponry). War in Libya. And now the drums are beating still more loudly again. More loudly than they have been at any time in the two years since our “military intervention” in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi.

Putting aside the questions of morality and legality for a moment, and merely judging the various attacks and invasions by outcomes alone, and what do we find? Afghanistan torn to pieces and in a state of perpetual tension, Iraq, the same if not worse, Libya, little better. Assessing this endless policy of war then, and in terms purely of expediency, we have to judge that it has been an abject failure. A political failure, that is, in terms of bringing order and stability – the vital foundations to stated aims of genuine and lasting “freedom and democracy” – to any of the chosen victim nations, as well as an horrific failure for the millions unlucky enough to be visited by its terrifying wings of death and destruction. Aggressive and continual warfare does not bring peace and harmony, but then who ever said it does?

Of course, what war does reliably produce, aside from the immediate and inevitable chaos and carnage, is a tremendous opportunity for making money. New contracts for oil and gas reserves, contracts for reconstruction of the very infrastructure so artfully destroyed, not to mention the huge rolling contracts for those directly invested in maintaining the war machine itself. Profiteering from war being for the most part what war is all about.

But the conflict in Syria is markedly different, some will argue. The country being already in the grip of a terrible civil war with many thousands displaced, seriously wounded or having already lost their lives in the conflict. Still there is no end in sight and only a more fully committed western intervention can save lives and ultimately rescue a failing state. On top of which, this is a war against an oppressive regime (which it is – not that this mattered at all when Assad was in favour) and so we are compelled to take sides and back the opposition forces. The argument is a familiar one…

Prior to the aerial assaults on Libya – the establishment of the so-called “no-fly zone” which quickly opened the way for a more fiercely aggressive campaign, ending with the deliberate bombardment of the civilian population in Sirte – we heard the same justifications. Just as we heard those justifications when it came to expanding the war in Iraq once the primary excuse of Saddam’s WMDs was shown to be a lie. The warmongers certainly know how to pull our strings and each time they do so we are in the habit of forgetting about the previous lies and deceptions.

Almost exactly one year ago, on August 20th 2012, speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, President Obama said:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus […]

We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.

It is a significant statement for two reasons. Only the second time mainstream attention had been diverted towards Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal – at this time there had still been no evidence whatsoever of any use of chemical weapons by either side in the conflict – as well as the first mention of that “red line” which the Syrian government were forbidden to cross. Of course use of chemical weapons against a civilian population is already a war crime under international law, but Obama is actually saying something altogether more ambiguous.

What he says, to reiterate, is that if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized” then this is a “red line for us”. His emphasis is not at all on which side is doing the moving around or the wielding.

In saying this, of course, he has presented the military-industrial complex with their hope of yet another green light, establishing an important pretext for escalating US involvement towards full-blown war in Syria. As the Washington Post reported:

The president’s remarks represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. In July, he warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

On Monday, an administration official said that Obama did not intend to flag any change in policy in his latest remarks and that the appetite for military intervention remains low.

But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.1

Click here to read the full Washington Post article.

Just short of a year later, on May 16th 2012, the BBC news reported that “US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence”:

President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.

However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. […]

“Our militaries are constantly sharing information. We have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside Syria,” he said.

“Those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as [that of] our allies and friends and neighbours.”

However, he added that “more specific information” was needed.2

Click here to read the full article on the BBC news website.

Possibly in response to Obama, and just a few days later on May 19th, Patrick Cockburn wrote an article for The Independent entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons”. Drawing an inevitable but nevertheless important comparison between the on-going claims and counter claims of Syrian WMDs with “the fiasco over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” he wrote that:

Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s.

It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated.

Cockburn further adding:

Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight.3

About two weeks prior to all of this, on May 6th, the BBC had also reported that Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of a UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria gave a statement on Swiss TV claiming there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebel forces had used the nerve agent sarin:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

“According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

The article went on the add:

Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.4

Click here to read the full article.

Her statement was controversial, of course, and the same UN commission then quickly issued a press release saying it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

Click here to read the UN press release also from May 6th.

And then on June 14th, CNN reported on a rather less equivocal statement made by the White House:

Syria has crossed a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels, a move that is prompting the United States to increase the “scale and scope” of its support for the opposition, the White House said Thursday.

The acknowledgment is the first time President Barack Obama’s administration has definitively said what it has long suspected – that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.

The evidence according to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was sufficient to justify an “increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council)” and even if, as the same article further admitted:

… many of the rebel fighters are militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies, the same stripe of militants America has battled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They include an group called the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that the United States says has links to al Qaeda.5

Meanwhile, at the end of July, the Assad government finally allowed access to international UN chemical weapons inspectors:

Syria has agreed to allow UN investigators to visit three sites where chemical weapons have allegedly been used, the UN has said.

The inspectors will go “as soon as possible”, a statement from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said.

They are expected to investigate three locations of suspected use, including one in Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo.6

Then a week ago [Sunday 18th] that team arrived in Syria:

The 20-member team of UN weapons inspectors and public health specialists checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus on Sunday, but declined to speak to reporters on their arrival.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press news agency that Syria will “fully cooperate” with the team.7

Just days later, on Wednesday [August 21st], and almost a year to the day after President Obama had first laid down the US “red line”, there was a chemical attack that could no longer be disputed. With images so terribly shocking because they were irrefutably real. Hundreds at least, and more likely thousands, of bodies of adults and children killed by poisoned gas.

And the finger of blame was very easy to point, with bellicose French foreign minister Laurent Fabius characteristically quick out of the blocks:

France’s foreign minister has said a “reaction with force” could be needed if Syria is proved to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

Laurent Fabius’s comments come a day after Syrian activists said hundreds of people died in such attacks in the Ghouta area of the capital, Damascus.8

And not to be outdone, William Hague, who says he doesn’t need verification from any UN inspectors because he is quite certain Assad was behind the chemical attack, was promptly rattling the British sabre:

“I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria,” said Mr Hague.

“I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”9

Hague’s position is seemingly the straightforward one. That with all of the victims trapped inside rebel controlled Eastern Ghouta, it is self-evident that the attack must have been launched by government forces. For why would the rebels attack their own people?

We might speculate on this in a moment, but first let’s ask a related but different question – and this is a hard question to ask because it is a question that is inevitably cold and calculated. However, the question itself is simple enough; it is cui bono? Just who is likely to gain the most from this atrocity?

For it is well known that the rebel forces have been in retreat, and so why would Assad or anyone else in his regime authorise attacks of this kind given that they are fully aware of the very serious repercussions? By crossing Obama’s “red line”, Assad is, presuming that he called for the attack, in all likelihood opening the door for an all-out Nato intervention. So aside from being an horrific war-crime, for which he may very well be made personally accountable at a later date, permitting such a massacre would also be tantamount to committing strategic suicide.

So what then of the rebel forces? Certainly they have much to gain strategically from orchestrating such an attack (assuming they had the means to do so). With the help of direct military assistance from western forces they might reverse their recent losses and finally oust Assad. But are they really callous enough to attack their own people to achieve such ends?

The sorry and for many unpalatable truth is that the Syrian civil war now involves a great many factions and that within those factions comprising the so-called “rebels” there are many fighters who are undoubtedly this callous. Foreign fighters who have crossed the border from war-torn Iraq or else flown in from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even parts of Europe, and who are openly pro-al Qaeda. They did not arrive with the objective of securing “freedom and democracy” for Syria but in efforts to impose a hardline Islamist regime of their own design. Bands of terrorist death squads who are known to behead their enemies and eat their hearts. Now does it seem plausible that a gang of such thugs, provided with the means to do so, might poison the innocent victims of Ghouta?

Here is Patrick Cockburn writing on Wednesday [August 21st] in the immediate aftermath of the chemical attacks :

Like the Iraqi opposition to Saddam, who provided most of the evidence of WMDs, the Syrian opposition has every incentive to show the Syrian government deploying chemical weapons in order to trigger foreign intervention. Although the US has gone cold on armed involvement in Syria, President Obama did say a year ago that President Bashar al-Assad’s use of such weapons was “a red line”. The implication is that the US would respond militarily, though just how has never been spelt out.

But the obvious fact that for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons would be much against their own interests does not prove it did not happen. Governments and armies do stupid things. But it is difficult to imagine any compelling reason why they should do so since they have plenty of other means of killing people in Eastern Ghouta, such as heavy artillery or small arms, which they regularly use. Every day, Damascus resounds to the sound of outgoing artillery fire aimed at rebel strongholds.

And Cockburn reminds us:

In June, the US said it has conclusive evidence for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and would therefore give aid to the rebels. The US action was most likely precipitated by the government’s loss of the town of al-Qusayr and a fear that the Damascus government might be starting to dominate the battlefield. Chemical-weapons experts expected the US to go out of its way to prove its conclusions were correct by being open about the origin of tested materials and the means by which they reached laboratories in the US. They also wanted details of the laboratory testing but little of this was produced.10

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

There is a lurking danger whenever it comes to talking of “humanitarian intervention” and meaning war, because, and at the very least, it is an approach that deliberately places ends above and wholly beyond means. So just when will the peace dividends become redeemable in places like Iraq and Libya? And how much more war must it take before we can finally straighten Syria out?

Unlike William Hague, I certainly believe that we should wait for the expert verdict of the UN inspectors. If they find that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack on Ghouta then under international law those responsible (whoever they are) must be brought to justice. Air strikes are another matter entirely, however, since even if Assad and his cronies are deposed in such a fashion, then how do the Syrian people benefit from victory by a pro-al-Qaeda opposition intent on holy war? The lessons of Iraq and Libya have obviously not been learned, but then the military-industrial complex has no desire for learning that war doesn’t pay – to the victors, the spoils: this is the only thing they’ve ever needed to understand.

And how can anyone still believe Obama (or his supporters) when he calls for another “humanitarian intervention” in one place whilst in another he is bombing families and children with drone attacks? Rather, it is the justification to be used when that other justification of WMDs doesn’t wash. A fig leaf that has consistently been used to disguise the greater ambition which was first publicly laid out by the notorious neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century: the urgent call for neo-imperialist hegemony and “full spectrum dominance”. This has always been the real post-9/11 agenda, and even if the principal actors have changed that agenda has not.

So if we do see an American-led or Nato attack against Syria then the dangers are obvious enough. With Syria being the close ally both of Iran and Russia, the onward march towards the unthinkable, a full-blown world war, might become unstoppable. For reasons of simple expediency therefore it is very unwise to attack Syria, but then neither should we attack Syria for any purported reason of “humanitarianism”. Enough of war altogether – if we really want peace in the Middle East as elsewhere then we have to begin with negotiations.

*

Update:

On Tuesday [Aug 27th], Russia Today spoke with Hans Blix, who headed the UN’s weapon inspection team to Iraq before and during the 2003 US -led invasion. He told them:

I think that the public opinion and the media in the west will be pressuring their governments to do something. They say that this is such a horrible thing that there must be punishment, there must be action. You cannot sit with your hands just folded. So the public say that, you know, we call for police – we call for a world police – but the question is who is the world police? Is it the United States? Is it Nato? It should be the security council.

And after an intervention, which could take place – I don’t exclude that it’s going to happen – what will they do? Will it just have been a punch on the nose and then telling the belligerents in Syria that they go back and continue [to] fight the war?

The mandate [for the UN inspectors] is to establish whether chemical weapons have been used or not. And the way they go about that is that they go to sites and they may take samples of dust and of water and they will have to analyse that and send it to independent laboratories – to laboratories. They cannot just accept samples given to them from some rebels or from some side. That will not tell them who committed the attack, but at least it will be able to tell them that yes, chemicals were used.

We see it in the main as a contest between rebels and the government in Syria, but of course the intervention is [already] there – it is in large measure a wrestling match between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And on that wrestling match, the US is on the side of Saudi Arabia, because they would like to isolate Iran.

Certainly Saudi Arabia is not in Syria to work for human rights. It is there because they want to weaken Iran. That’s the main purpose.

Yes, I think you’re right in saying that Iran and the US and Russia ought to get together and to try to sort out and to get a solution for Syria – it might even make it less difficult to solve the nuclear problem concerning Iran.

1 From an article entitled “Obama issues Syria a ‘red line’ warning on chemical weapons” written by James Ball, published by the Washington Post on August 20, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-issues-syria-red-line-warning-on-chemical-weapons/2012/08/20/ba5d26ec-eaf7-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html#no_link1

2 From an article entitled “US has seem Syria chemical weapons, says Obama” published by BBC news on May 16, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372

3 From an article entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on May 19, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-has-no-reason-to-use-chemical-weapons-8622335.html

4 From an article entitled “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’” published by BBC news on May 6, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188

5 From an article entitled “White House: Syria crosses ‘red ine’ with use of chemical weapons on its people” written by Barbara Starr, Jessica Yellin and Chelsea J. Carter, published by CNN on June 14, 2013. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/13/politics/syria-us-chemical-weapons

6 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit Syrian sites” published by BBC news on July 31, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23524536

7 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Syria” published by BBC news on August 18, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23747375

8 From an article entitled “Syria ‘chemical’ attack: France says force may be needed” published by BBC news on August 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23795088

9 From an article entitled “William Hague believes Assad behind chemical attack” published by BBC news on August 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23812398

10 From an article entitled “The evidence of chemical attack seems compelling – but remember – there’s a propaganda war on” written by Patrick Cockburn published in The Independent on August 21, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-evidence-of-chemical-attack-seems-compelling–but-remember–theres-a-propaganda-war-on-8778918.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

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.

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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:

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* 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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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, depleted uranium, did you see?, El Salvador, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, USA, Yemen

making out like bandits: the endless profits of an endless war

Last Monday [Dec 10th] was an extremely interesting day for news stories. For one thing, it was the day when the New York Times disclosed the altogether astonishing decision made by US federal authorities not to indict British bank HSBC for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act:

HSBC’s actions stand out among the foreign banks caught up in the investigation, according to several law enforcement officials with knowledge of the inquiry. Unlike those of institutions that have previously settled, HSBC’s activities are said to have gone beyond claims that the bank flouted United States sanctions to transfer money on behalf of nations like Iran. Prosecutors also found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups.1

High crime indeed, and please keep in mind the last part: “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”. Could that mean al-Qaeda…?

HSBC was thrust into the spotlight in July after a Congressional committee outlined how the bank, between 2001 and 2010, “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks.” The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a subsequent hearing at which the bank’s compliance chief resigned amid mounting concerns that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity. For example, an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda, according to the Congressional report.

The message is that bankers have become entirely immune to prosecution for almost any kinds of racket imaginable. No prosecution because, as the New York Times reports, of “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system”, which is plainly ludicrous. Put simply, “too big to fail” has now slipped to become – and inevitably so, when you think about it – “too big to jail”:

Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities.

Apparently the biggest settlement in history, but chickenfeed to HSBC nonetheless. The same article also going on to explain how:

Given the extent of the evidence against HSBC, some prosecutors saw the charge as a healthy compromise between a settlement and a harsher money-laundering indictment. While the charge would most likely tarnish the bank’s reputation, some officials argued that it would not set off a series of devastating consequences.

A money-laundering indictment, or a guilty plea over such charges, would essentially be a death sentence for the bank. Such actions could cut off the bank from certain investors like pension funds and ultimately cost it its charter to operate in the United States, officials said.

So, excuses in hand, the federal authorities have chosen put aside the law and apply something they euphemistically call a “deferred prosecution agreement” – a glossy title for what is really nothing more or less than a ‘get out of jail free’ card.2

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

You can also read and hear more about “deferred prosecution agreements” courtesy of William K Black in this previous article.

On Thursday, Democracy Now! invited Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of “Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.” Now you might be wondering how on earth an editor of Rolling Stone magazine became a serious fraud investigator, but seeing how others apparently better qualified and positioned were failing in that vital task, Taibbi eventually decided to jump in. He has since turned himself into one of leading experts on the current banking crisis (and its related scandals). And this is what Taibbi has to say regarding the latest cover-up:

Here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message, not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail.

It is unusual to see a news discussion in which all of the participants are at such a loss in trying to comprehend what they are describing, but here Taibbi and the others appear almost lost for words. Between all the raised eyebrows and the quizzical smiles, Taibbi put it this way:

[And] what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?”

What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.

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

On the very same day, Monday 10th, the New York Times was also running an editorial piece entitled simply “Al Qaeda in Syria”. An article that begins:

The presence of rebel fighters in Syria that were trained and supported by Al Qaeda poses a serious problem for the United States and Western allies. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has become one of the most effective forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.3

Not that news of al-Qaeda rebel fighters in Syria can really be called news at all any more – this latest development involving the Iraqi group known as Jabhat al Nusra having already surfaced in a report from McClatchy that was published a week prior to the more prominent New York Times version of events:

When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics.

Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.4

Click here to read the full report from McClatchy.

The steady assent of al-Qaeda amongst the Syrian rebels is a story that has slowly been leaking out for many, many months. It emerged in the Guardian back in late July, and as long ago as August, the BBC had also put together their own news report to show how one group of Syrian insurgents were forcing prisoners to become unwilling suicide bombers – a story that was quickly removed by the BBC – but one that you can find embedded below from youtube:

The video footage in the report was actually shot by New York Times reporters (NYT again) who had spent five days following a group known as the Lions of Tawhid. And you can read an accompanying New York Times article published August 20th here.

At this time, both the BBC and the New York Times were still avoiding any mention of al-Qaeda, or for that matter circumventing words like Islamist or Jihadist that might be used to describe some of the rebels, and so instead the writer, C.J. Chivers, makes what with hindsight appears to be a few hints at the kind of force they might be dealing with: mentions of thick beards and repeated quotes from the rebels saying “God is Great” or along the lines of “we will kneel only for God.” Reading down the New York Times article, you will also find a parallel account of the story of the unwitting ‘suicide’ bomber who features in the (subsequently censored) BBC news clip:

The rebels lacked the heavy weapons to take the checkpoint in a head-on fight. So several of them would dress as civilians, move the truck bomb near the checkpoint and set it off. This would be the signal for an assault over the ground.

There was one problem. The Lions of Tawhid said they did not believe in using their fighters as suicide bombers.

Two fighters poured fuel into the truck’s gas tank while Mr. Meldaoun, the nurse, snipped branches from shrubs and stacked them on the bomb, hiding it from view.

The real plan was beginning to emerge. It involved the prisoner, Abu Hilal. The assurances that he would be released had been a deception. The fighters intended to put him behind the wheel of the truck bomb near the checkpoint and tell him to drive forward in a prisoner exchange.

[…]

“We told Abu Hilal, ‘Go, drive that way, your father is waiting for you there, don’t do any bad things in the future,’” Hakim said. “And he was so happy, and he drove.”

Abu Hilal stopped the truck at the checkpoint. Abdul Hakim Yasin pushed the button on the remote detonator, ready for the flash and thunderclap of more than 650 pounds of explosives. It would be the signal for his fighters to move forward and mop up.

Nothing happened.

He pushed the button again.

The truck did not explode.5

If the bomb had detonated this would have been a much more terrible atrocity, although obviously even this failed attempt was a war crime. And the embedded New York Times reporters might have highlighted the barbaric nature of this incident (as the BBC report had done), but instead the main body of the article devotes itself to presenting the rebels as a band of ordinary guys caught in the crossfire. Portrayed as romantic heroes, here is how the same article ends:

But as the rockets struck, the Tawhid fighters were barely distracted. They were waiting for the government soldiers nearby to show themselves, certain that night by night their foes were growing weaker, and their uprising was gaining strength.

After each explosion, Mr. Yasin, an accountant leading a life and a role delivered to him by war, keyed his two-way radio, and checked on his men. All around him they crouched in the smoky darkness, weapons ready, waiting for orders or for more action against a government they consider already dead.

It reads more like pulp fiction than serious journalism. But the point I wish to make is that mainstream stories about Islamist terrorists in Syria were just beginning to trickle out around this time. Indeed, in the New York Times blog of the following day [Aug 21st], David D. Kirkpatrick actually wrote the following:

Reports from Western officials, militant Islamist Web sites [sic], neighboring countries and, to a limited extent, inside the Syrian opposition indicate that Al Qaeda and homegrown militants are joining the fight and competing for influence. And that poses a vexing question for American policy makers and politicians. So far, all sides of the debate in Washington have called for supporting the insurgency, and the only question is how much. The Obama administration talks of diplomacy and economic sanctions, while some Republicans push to provide weapons to the insurgents. Is the United States acting side by side with Al Qaeda?6

Kirkpatrick is then very quick to answer his own question:

The short answer is no. A group as numerically tiny as Al Qaeda could never by itself steer a movement as large as the Syrian revolt. And even if Al Qaeda or other anti-Western militants are seeking to exploit or direct the Syrian uprising — why wouldn’t they? — that merely makes them rivals to the West for influence over the course of the revolt.

The difference three months later is that Kirkpatrick’s snap judgment is entirely overturned. Not only are al-Qaeda more or less running the Syrian revolt, but we also know that the American government is well aware of the fact. Obama himself now trying to explain the case for supporting the rebels, as he did on ABC news on Tuesday:

Obama expressed caution today about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.

“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”

The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.7

Click here to read the full ABC news report and to watch the interview with Obama.

But did the situation in Syria really transform so rapidly and if so, how so…? I will leave the answers for others to fill in and move to the next part of Kirkpatrick’s rather remarkable article, as he candidly admits what many will have suspected all along:

The West, for its part, is eager to deprive Iran of its principal regional ally, the Assad government.

Yes, and lest we forget, this whole decade of war has consistently had as its long term objective some kind of military offensive against Iran. Meanwhile, and with regards to the developing crisis in Syria, these latest admissions make “Al Qaeda in Syria”, a more officially sanctioned story. With the ugly truth no longer plausibly deniable, the new hope of the American administration being that the press and the public won’t begin asking too many difficult but obvious questions. Questions like why does the US increasingly appear to be in cahoots with al-Qaeda – again?

So playing this whole story down has necessarily become the fall-back approach, and the New York Times helps the cause by reporting this latest episode (on Monday) with the same impartial tone as many of its earlier reports about the role and rise of the Syrian jihadists. Explaining to its readers that these al-Qaeda forces might “hijack the revolution”. And that “there are no easy answers.” And anyway, “[al-Qaeda’s] skilled fighters have been so effective.” Such a dilemma for any hawk…

The fear is that the group could hijack the revolution and emerge as the dominant force in Syria after Mr. Assad is ousted from power. […]

There are no easy answers, and no one believes that Washington, or any external power, can dictate the outcome. But President Obama still needs to provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.

These repeated statements are a measure of how dumb they actually think most of us are. After all, American administrations have spent more than half a trillion dollars8 fighting off al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in a war that is well into its twelfth year. Yet we discover that the current administration are simultaneously backing a different group of resistance fighters, whilst fully aware that these other rebels are thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda – and not just any old al-Qaeda, but a group that has established a foothold in another of the old war haunts, neighbouring Iraq. Asking us to believe that all of this has happened almost without them noticing truly beggars belief!

Mr. Obama has blacklisted the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, which would make it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with it. It makes sense to isolate the group and try to dry up its resources, but the designation by itself isn’t sufficient. American officials have to make a case directly to the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

Which means that as the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan grinds on and on into bloody stalemate, and through its horrors, helps in recruiting fresh militants ready to take up AK47s and plant IEDs against the imperialist infidels, there will be American officials “making a case” to favoured client states in the Middle East in efforts to persuade them not to supply “the weapons and other assistance” to this self-same enemy in a different place and under another name. Assistance that presumably includes all of that “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”, laundered, so we now learn, by one of the world’s leading banks. A criminal enterprise that, in view of the laughable excuse for not seeking prosecution – remember those “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system” – seems more than likely to continue. Such open corruption and such flagrant lies.

When Obama first came into office in 2008, the war in Afghanistan was already thought by many to be unwinnable. Obama might very easily (given the weight of public opinion) have begun the process of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Instead of this, however, Obama brought in more troops and then covertly expanded operations across the border into Pakistan. This expansion being made possible thanks to a change in tactics; more specifically, by the use of secret and illegal drone strikes. Attacks that are officially unauthorised by the Pakistan government and illegal according to the United Nations.

The death toll from these cowardly and, by any proper understanding of the word, ‘terrorist’ drone strikes against the people of Pakistan is already estimated to be around 3000, of which, it is officially acknowledged9 that many hundreds are innocent civilians – deaths and injuries that the US continues to disregard as “collateral damage”.

All of which brings me to the third of the three reports from Monday 10th: a somewhat mixed but nonetheless worthwhile BBC Panorama investigation into “The Secret Drone War”. Reporter Jane Corbin interviewing members of families who have become victims of the drone attacks in Waziristan, a region inside Pakistan that the programme makers describe as “one of the most dangerous places in the world”.

Corbin also speaks with former cricketer and politician Imran Khan, who has helped to organise a mass anti-drone protest march across half the country, as well as to Medea Benjamin of CodePink and lawyer Clive Stafford Smith; just two of the many human rights activists who had joined in the march. And in the latter part of the programme, Corbin questions the use of so-called “signature strikes”: indiscriminate assassination where no named target has been located, but an attack is still launched against anyone unfortunate enough to be deemed involved in “an activity that looks suspicious”.

Click here to watch the Panorama episode “The Secret Drone War” which is available until Tuesday 10th December 2013.

It is now more than a decade since the then-US Under Secretary of State and prominent neo-con, John Bolton, (someone more recently spotted endorsing Mitt Romney during the presidential race) made an announcement in a speech that was entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to the effect that:

… three nations [Cuba, Libya and Syria] could be grouped with other so-called “rogue states” – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – in actively attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.10

Of those original six nations making up Bolton’s extended “Axis of Evil”, two, Iraq and Libya, have since been subjected to American-led campaigns resulting in regime change; one under Bush and one under Obama. Certainly, Obama’s less sustained “kinetic action” against Libya was to some extent sanctioned by the UN Security Council, in contrast to Bush’s entirely illegal “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. But there are many similarities.

After the bombardment and with the old despotic rulers gone, oil contracts and reconstruction deals were quickly approved by the newly appointed representatives of the two countries. Both countries were then otherwise abandoned to the chaos that the war had brought, and, as a direct consequence of the war, both are now teeming with jihadi forces. Syria, which was another country on Bolton’s wish list, is now suffering from a similar influx of jihadists, whilst waiting its turn for yet another Nato “intervention”. Is all of this mere coincidence?

Of course, we don’t hear so much about the “war on terror” these days, even as it continues unabated in the Af-Pak conflict; and absolutely nothing at all about that loose-fitting alliance called the “Axis of Evil”. Instead, we have been hearing more again about “weapons of mass destruction”. Periodic reminders of the nuclear threat from Iran, and most recently, new rumours of chemical weapons about to be used in Syria. Rumours that rhyme with yellowcake uranium and those mobile chemical warfare laboratories of George W. Bush and Colin Powell’s vivid imaginations.

We see then that under Obama the methods have changed in some respects, but that the general trajectory remains unaltered. American foreign policy still following a course that was publicly outlined by the Project for the New American Century (or PNAC) as far back as 2000. Certainly the talk is less bellicose and more guarded, but the war profiteering goes on and even the list of target nations has remained significantly unaltered.

The battle over Libya was justified as humanitarian, and any full-scale intervention in Syria will most likely be presented the same way (unless, that is, the WMD card comes into play), and yet in other ways the cloak of humanitarianism has since been dropped altogether. So we learn, for instance, from “a despicable article in Military Times” that the US military has recently declared that children have become legitimate targets on the battlefield, at least when it comes to operations in Afghanistan. The following coming from an article published on Dec 4th in The Nation magazine and frankly entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”:

When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.

It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”

But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.

Shockingly, the [Military Times] article quotes a senior officer saying that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:

“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”11

Click here to read the full article by Robert Dreyfuss.

I began writing this article because within these three different reports from last Monday there is a common thread. On one level that thread is simply al-Qaeda – bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, covertly supported in Libya and Syria, and all whilst the US government turns its blind eye to any financial assistance provided by banks like HSBC. All of which, for different reasons, makes a nonsense of the on-going “war on terror”. It makes no sense, that is, until one considers the underlying geo-strategy combined with the enormous profits to be made from all these wars. It makes no sense, in other words, unless you look at who the winners are – the private contractors alongside the global financiers. Because these wars are all very lucrative.

To understand just how profitable, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “Iraq for Sale” that was made by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Greenwald in 2006. It is embedded below:

You might also be interested in reading an extended pamphlet called “War is a Racket” (available online) that was written by Major General Smedley D. Butler and first published as long ago as 1935.

Butler, who was the most highly decorated soldier in American history, takes the case of war profiteering during WWI, and in a few short chapters he lays out the evidence with countless, very detailed examples. His research and considerable military experience leading him to the conclusion that, as he states in the very first paragraph:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are recognised in dollars and the losses in lives.”

On another occasion12, Butler summarised his own part in that racket with these words:

“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. ”

Tragically, that same old war racket is now reaching a new apogee. So is there any appropriate and useful response to this never-ending carnage and human misery? Butler saw only one lasting solution:

“A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”

Ending the war profiteering won’t happen overnight, but it is definitely an objective we might practically and realistically aim for. It would mean reversing the last twelve years of American foreign policy, but this is not impossible. It will require America and the rest of the world to make genuine international attempts to stall this insane war machine once and for all. The journalists could even help to set the ball rolling by reporting promptly and honestly as the battles continue to rage. Later, the courts must bring to justice all of the criminals who were complicit. No more deferred prosecution agreements for anyone. If all of this requires little short of a revolution, then what’s the alternative? Doing nothing means only that this war racket will keep on growing unopposed, when already we find its shadow over everything.

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In the meantime, and if you are an American citizen, you might like to add your name to a “We the People” petition to the White House that calls for a cease to “all funding and support for al-Qaeda terrorists and extremist rebels in Syria”:

Hillary Clinton has admitted that Al-Qaeda is supporting the Syrian rebels, who are backed by the Obama administration with $200 million dollars in aid. According to McClatchy Newspapers one of these groups, Al Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, is now conducting “the heaviest frontline fighting” in Syria and has been responsible for terrorist attacks. Impartial observers such as Dr. Jacques Beres say the majority of rebels in Syria are foreign extremists whose goal is to impose Sharia law. These rebels have also been filmed burning U.S. flags and chanting anti-American slogans. Funding terrorists is a crime under the National Defense Authorization Act. Such activity has had disastrous consequences in the past, such as 9/11. We demand all support direct or indirect to cease immediately.

To locate the petition click here.

1 From an article entitled “HSBC to Pay $1.92 Billion to Settle Charges of Money Laundering”, written by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, published by the New York Times on December 10, 2012. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/hsbc-said-to-near-1-9-billion-settlement-over-money-laundering/

2 Ibid.

“The HSBC deal includes a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Justice Department. The deferred prosecution agreement, a notch below a criminal indictment, requires the bank to forfeit more than $1.2 billion and pay about $700 million in fines, according to the officials briefed on the matter. The case, officials say, will claim violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and Trading with the Enemy Act.

“As part of the deal, one of the officials briefed on the matter said, HSBC must also strengthen its internal controls and stay out of trouble for the next five years. If the bank again runs afoul of the federal rules, the Justice Department can resume its case and file a criminal indictment. An independent auditor will also monitor the bank’s progress to strengthen its internal controls, and will make regular assessments on the firm’s progress.”

3 From a New York Times Editorial entitled “Al Qaeda in Syria” published on December 10, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/opinion/al-qaeda-in-syria.html?_r=0

4 From an article entitled “Al Qaida-linked group Syria rebels once denied now key to anti-Assad victories”, written by David Enders, published by McClatchy Newspapers on December 2, 2012. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/12/02/176123/al-qaida-linked-group-syria-rebels.html

5 From an article entitled “Life With Syria’s Rebels in a Cold and Cunning War”, written by C. J. Chivers, published by the New York Times on August 20, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-coalesce-into-a-fighting-force.html?pagewanted=all

6 From an article entitled “Concerns About Al Qaeda in Syria Underscore Questions about Rebels”, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, published by the New York Times on August 21, 2012. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/concerns-about-al-qaeda-in-syria-underscore-questions-about-rebels/?ref=middleeast

7 From a report entitled “Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition Group”, written by Devin Dwyer and Dana Hughes, published by ABC news on December 11, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/exclusive-president-obama-recognizes-syrian-opposition-group/story?id=17936599#.UMyZ_qywbZP

8 You can find a detailed breakdown of the costs of recent US military interventions at this site courtesy of the National Priorities Project : http://costofwar.com/about/counters/

9 A full official breakdown can be found here: http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones

10 From a BBC news report entitled “US expands ‘axis of evil’” published May 6, 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1971852.stm

The report continues as follows:

“[Bolton] also warned that the US would take action.

“America is determined to prevent the next wave of terror,” he said, referring to the 11 September attacks in Washington and New York that killed up to 3,000 people.

“States that sponsor terror and pursue WMD (weapons of mass destruction) must stop. States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort, but those that do not can expect to become our targets,” he said.”

11 From an article entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”, written by Robert Dreyfuss, published in The Nation magazine on December 4, 2012. http://www.thenation.com/blog/171582/us-military-approves-bombing-children#

12 From Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935. You can find the quote attributed here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler

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