Tag Archives: Medea Benjamin

why the world has forsaken the people of Yemen

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

On November 18th, the United Nations reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Correction and clarification:

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

*

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

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bkm@un.org

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Dear Secretary General,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

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

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

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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.

*

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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killing by remote-control: the worldwide proliferation of drones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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