Tag Archives: United Nations

why the world has forsaken the people of Yemen

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

On November 18th, the United Nations reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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

more lies, more war: plus ça change…

Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:

Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1

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The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2

As reported by the Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.

Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).

Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”

Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.

In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3

Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.

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I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.

International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.

To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.

Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!

And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.

It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.

ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.

Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate  habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.

For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.

Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.

The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”.  Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.

Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.

When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.

It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.

Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.

And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.

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Additional:

In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:

Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

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Update:

On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:

Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’  Here’s what Kerry said:

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”

There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”

The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?

No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?

Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:

Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:

“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”

Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:

“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”

In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….

Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a  ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:

It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.

Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.

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1

Read more here: http://nsnbc.me/2013/06/16/dumas-top-british-officials-confessed-to-syria-war-plans-two-years-before-arab-spring/  

2 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

3 From an article entitled “Chancellor George Osborne says UK has ‘got its mojo back’ with air strikes” written by Iain Macwhirter, published in Herald Scotland on December 8, 2015. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14129765.Osborne__UK_has__got_its_mojo_back__with_air_strikes/

4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:

When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Further proof is available from the White House archives: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030324-4.html

5 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.

Cockburn writes:

Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-lies-damn-lies-and-reports-of-battlefield-atrocities-2299701.html

Sadly, al-Jazeera was not the only news outlet presenting similarly unsubstantiated rumours as truth. You can read a further analysis here: http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/08/26/lies-war-and-empire-nato%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Chumanitarian-imperialism%E2%80%9D-in-libya/ 

7 In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:

Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.

http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-146-2012/?searchterm=noam%20chomsky

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray, Iraq, John Pilger, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Saudi Arabia, Syria

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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25 lost years in a vicious circle of war: from the fall of the wall to Cold War 2.0 and beyond (absit omen)

On April 19th, James E. Cartwright, a former Marine Corps general, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Vladimir Dvorkin, a retired major general who headed the research institute of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, co-authored an op-ed published in the New York Times entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”. It began:

We find ourselves in an increasingly risky strategic environment. The Ukrainian crisis has threatened the stability of relations between Russia and the West, including the nuclear dimension — as became apparent last month when it was reported that Russian defense officials had advised President Vladimir V. Putin to consider placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert during last year’s crisis in Crimea.

Diplomatic efforts have done little to ease the new nuclear tension. This makes it all the more critical for Russia and the United States to talk, to relieve the pressures to “use or lose” nuclear forces during a crisis and minimize the risk of a mistaken launch. 1

I shall return to consider the recent warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin, but wish first to review just a few of the many foolhardy steps that have led us right back to nuclear confrontation with Russia.

*

Birth pangs of the New Cold War

The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.

These are the words of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger speaking at The Logan Symposium back in December:

You can also read a full transcript of his speech in the form of an article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda”.

As the Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that wintery evening twenty-five years ago, so many (myself included) breathed a tremendous sigh of relief and thereafter fell into a stupor. The peace dividend was coming at last, and we couldn’t go on waiting to enjoy it. Instead, the party started up right there and then, and no-one wished to look back.

But it turned out that there was no peace dividend, for the simple reason that there was no lasting peace. In fact, the western powerbrokers – the undisputed victors of the Cold War – didn’t find the prospect of peace especially attractive. Seeing their main competitor suddenly against the ropes, and thus finding themselves unrivalled, they instead spied an opportunity. The way was temporarily clear for the pursuit of an unassailable global supremacy, and if realising this half-disclosed ambition required more war rather than less, as indeed it would, then so be it – in both military and economic spheres, the unofficial demand was to let battle commence! To maximise success, the empire must be rapidly expanded, and without delay.

Any understanding of the history of the past quarter of a century requires a recognition of this overarching geopolitical thrust for a unipolar world order (one that was openly declared at the turn of the millennium by Washington’s already rampant neo-con faction who named it “Project for a New American Century” or PNAC). It is the same reason why, as The Nation magazine reported back in 2014:

In 2013, elite US forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM [Special Operations Command] Public Affairs. This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences. 2

Click here to read more about “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries”.

Here is another empire on which the sun never sets, but the novelty of it is, that this time around the empire pretends to be no empire at all.

*

The road to hell

When the lies have been stacked up so high and for such a long time, it is becomes an exhausting and demanding effort to try to peer beneath them. But we have to keep trying. As a free society we simply cannot afford to let the truth of recent historical events be sacrificed to the memory hole, and a false narrative hoisted in their stead. When truth is discarded to the flames, freedom shrivels with it. This was the main message Orwell was trying to tell us in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has never stopped the fighting. The peace dividend entirely spent on armaments and bloodshed.

Indeed, it took less than a year following the heady celebrations of November 9th 1989, before George Bush Snr set about launching the first fresh offensive. It happened against our former ally Saddam Hussein when a dispute over oil rights with the neighbouring dictatorship in Kuwait provided the excuse to attack. The First Iraq War (or Gulf War) kicked off under Operation Desert Shield on August 2nd 1990.

As these two despotic regimes butted heads, the average American needed a good reason to get behind a western intervention in favour of either one, and so the world’s largest (as of then) public relations firm Hill & Knowlton were hired – incidentally, H & K are the same firm who ran campaigns to discredit medical research on the dangers of smoking, and who now work for the fracking industry.

Back in 1990, it was Hill & Knowlton who found a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah, who described in the most harrowing details what she personally witnessed in Kuwait City:

“I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she said. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”

As it transpired, however, Nayirah was no ordinary Kuwaiti citizen. She was, in fact, a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family. Moreover, heartbroken Nayirah was simply acting out her part, having been coached by none other than Hill & Knowlton’s vice-president Lauri Fitz-Pegado, whilst her own father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s US Ambassador, was sat listening to her entirely fictitious sob story.

More than anything else, it would be Hill & Knowlton’s elaborate deception that helped propel the West into its first war of the ‘post-wall’ era (if I may coin a useful term). The direct human cost would be more than 20,000 lives.

But the First Iraq War did not last long. It was a blitzkrieg and one that merely whet the appetite of our slavering military-industrial complex. By February 28th 1991, the Iraqis were fleeing Kuwait, and this rapidly retreating convoy offered a tantalising target for the generals. Photojournalist Peter Turnley later wrote:

During the Persian Gulf War, 1991, the pool system created by the military was meant to be, and was, a major impediment for photojournalists in their quest to communicate the realities of war. This fact does not diminish the great efforts, courage, and many important images created by those among my colleagues who participated in these pools. While you would have a very difficult time, now, finding an editor of an American publication who wouldn’t condemn that pool system and its restrictions, most publications and television entities at the time more or less bought the program before the war began. This reality has been far less discussed than the critiques of the pools themselves.

I refused to participate in the pool system. I was in the Gulf for many weeks as the build-up of troops took place, then sat out the air war, and flew from Paris to Riyadh as soon as the ground war began. I arrived at the “mile of death” the morning of the day the war stopped. It was very early and few other journalists were present. It was a scene of incredible carnage. Strewn over this one-mile stretch of highway were cars and trucks with wheels still turning, radios still playing, and there were bodies scattered along the road. Many people have asked, “How many people died during the war with Iraq?” The question has never been well answered. 3

Click here to view a slideshow of Peter Turnley’s Gulf War photographs including those taken of one of the massacres on the so-called “Highways of Death” out of Kuwait City.

How many thousands were killed during this retreat is disputed, but what is known with greater certainty is that although the war was ended, the slaughter was only beginning. After the war, two “no-fly zones” were put in place and these remained until a more intensive “shock and awe” bombing campaign in December 1998 called Operation Desert Fox, which itself cost an estimated two thousand lives. But worse than this ongoing war of attrition were the sanctions which had first been imposed shortly after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and which persisted long after Saddam was deposed. Sanctions being another form of warfare, and costing the lives of many hundreds of thousands more, a disproportionate number of whom were also children.

In 1998, then-US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, described the United States as “the indispensible nation”, saying: “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America.” 4 Two years earlier, when in the midst of US sanctions, which as US Ambassador to the United Nations she had been in large part responsible for, she was asked “We have heard that half a million children have died, I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima… is the price worth it?” Albright replied bluntly: “We think the price is worth it.” 5

And let us not forget the still rising numbers of casualties who have had their lives ruined because of our extensive use of depleted uranium. I refer you to a short post I wrote about the terrible effects on the residents of Fallujah in particular.

Embedded below is investigative journalist John Pilger’s documentary “Paying the Price – Killing the Children of Iraq” which was produced by Carlton Television and first aired on ITV in 2000:

 

Even before the 2003 war, we were attacking Iraqi civilians with our inhumane economic sanctions. Yet where were the media protesting against this injustice?

So wrote John Pilger in an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” which he published in the New Statesman in October 2004 (the ‘Second’ Iraq War now well underway). He continues:

In October 1999, I stood in a ward of dying children in Baghdad with Denis Halliday, who the previous year had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations. He said: “We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We’re targeting civilians. Worse, we’re targeting children . . . What is this all about?”

Halliday had been 34 years with the UN. As an international civil servant much respected in the field of “helping people, not harming them”, as he put it, he had been sent to Iraq to implement the oil-for-food programme, which he subsequently denounced as a sham. “I am resigning,” he wrote, “because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”

Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, another assistant secretary general with more than 30 years’ service, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, followed them, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Their collective action was unprecedented; yet it received only passing media attention.

John Pilger had been one at the forefront of opposing the sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s, but his had been just another voice in the wilderness. The reason was simple as Pilger points out:

“When truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenceless country. […]

Up to the fall of Baghdad, the misinformation and lies of Bush and Blair were channelled, amplified and legitimised by journalists, notably by the BBC, which defines its political coverage by the pronouncements, events and personalities of the “village” of Whitehall and Westminster. Andrew Gilligan broke this rule in his outstanding reporting from Baghdad and later his disclosure of Blair’s most important deception. It is instructive that the most sustained attacks on him came from his fellow journalists. 6

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

In brief, this is how the war party seized power. They have maintained themselves ever since by force feeding the general public, through the conduit of a subservient and compliant media, a diet of poisonous lies and murderous deception. What began with Bush Snr’s “humanitarian intervention” in The Gulf, then after 9/11 became a “war on terror”, has slowly and surreptitiously been morphed again into a series of “humanitarian interventions”.

‘Interventions’ that have helped to spread the ‘terror’ (meaning ‘terrorism’), deliberately so, thanks to support for the al-Qaeda ‘rebels’ first in Libya and later in Syria. Western foreign policy during the last quarter of a century has been ruinous for anyone who dared to step in the way and disastrous for those who wish to have a sustained peace. It turns out that the notorious “highways to death” in Kuwait were to be precursors for a road to hell for the whole world.

And so we leap forward to Ukraine…

*

Kiev as our dubious ally

The name of “our” enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory. The leaders of these obstructive nations are usually violently shoved aside, such as the democrats Muhammad Mossedeq in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile, or they are murdered like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. All are subjected to a western media campaign of caricature and vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin

This is John Pilger again (a decade on), in an article published last May. And Pilger is better informed than most on how bloodthirsty and duplicitous the West’s stop-at-nothing quest for neo-imperialist expansion has been, because he has personally plotted the tracks of its devastation during the last half century from South East Asia to South America, and from the Middle East to Africa. Pilger continues:

Washington’s role in Ukraine is different only in its implications for the rest of us. For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler. Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed. The Russians defended themselves, as they have done against every threat and invasion from the west for almost a century. […]

Like the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine has been turned into a CIA theme park – run by CIA director John Brennan in Kiev, with “special units” from the CIA and FBI setting up a “security structure” that oversees savage attacks on those who opposed the February coup. Watch the videos, read the eye-witness reports from the massacre in Odessa this month. Bussed fascist thugs burned the trade union headquarters, killing 41 people trapped inside. Watch the police standing by. A doctor described trying to rescue people, “but I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate… I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent.” 7

And in February, Pilger added a hard-hitting follow-up entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue”. He begins:

The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism.

“To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery. They are the progeny of modern fascism, weaned by the bombs, bloodbaths and lies that are the surreal theatre known as news.

Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive media and its virulent censorship by omission.

After first reminding the reader of the secret history behind our interventions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kosova, Afghanistan, and Libya, he then returns to Ukraine, writing:

In the 1990s, as former Soviet republics, eastern Europe and the Balkans became military outposts of Nato, the heirs to a Nazi movement in Ukraine were given their opportunity. Responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews, Poles and Russians during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian fascism was rehabilitated and its “new wave” hailed by the enforcer as “nationalists”.

This reached its apogee in 2014 when the Obama administration splashed out $5 billion on a coup against the elected government. The shock troops were neo-Nazis known as the Right Sector and Svoboda. Their leaders include Oleh Tyahnybok, who has called for a purge of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum”, including gays, feminists and those on the political left.

These fascists are now integrated into the Kiev coup government. The first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the governing party, is co-founder of Svoboda. On February 14, Parubiy announced he was flying to Washington get “the USA to give us highly precise modern weaponry”. If he succeeds, it will be seen as an act of war by Russia. […]

[At the same time,] The Kiev regime turned on the ethnic Russian population in the east with the ferocity of ethnic cleansing. Deploying neo-Nazi militias in the manner of the Waffen-SS, they bombed and laid to siege cities and towns. They used mass starvation as a weapon, cutting off electricity, freezing bank accounts, stopping social security and pensions. More than a million refugees fled across the border into Russia. In the western media, they became unpeople escaping “the violence” caused by the “Russian invasion”. The Nato commander, General Breedlove – whose name and actions might have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – announced that 40,000 Russian troops were “massing”. In the age of forensic satellite evidence, he offered none. 8

Incidentally, for anyone who believes that talk of a fascist coup in Kiev is merely the repetition of Kremlin propaganda, I direct you to read my earlier posts on the subject, but first to simply reflect upon the image below. It shows the headquarters of the “Euromaidan” protest movement and features as its centrepiece a portrait of Nazi collaborator and mass murderer, Stepan Bandera:

I also recommend watching this excellent overview (embedded below) by psychologist Stanislav Byshok, a leading authority on the rebirth of fascism in Ukraine who co-authored with Alexey Kochetkov Neonazis and Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship, which provides a comprehensive study of how fascist groups, covertly backed by the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, ousted the elected government and seized power in Ukraine (warning: many of the images are disturbing):

However, as the war drums continue to be pounded hard in America and Britain, strain does appear to be developing between the Nato powers. Especially after German chancellor, Angela Merkel, alongside French president, François Hollande, were able to broker a peace deal between Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. With the fragile ceasefire of the Minsk II accord in place, Der Spiegel also went on the offensive, most especially against neo-con hawk General Breedlove:

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

It wasn’t only General Breedlove who found himself in Der Spiegel’s firing line:

In reporting on the meeting later, the German tabloid Bild reported that [Victoria] Nuland referred to the chancellor’s early February trip to Moscow for talks with Putin as “Merkel’s Moscow stuff.” No wonder, then, that people in Berlin have the impression that important power brokers in Washington are working against the Europeans. Berlin officials have noticed that, following the visit of American politicians or military leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian officials are much more bellicose and optimistic about the Ukrainian military’s ability to win the conflict on the battlefield. “We then have to laboriously bring the Ukrainians back onto the course of negotiations,” said one Berlin official. […]

Nuland has also been open — at least internally — about her contempt for European weakness and is famous for having said “Fuck the EU” during the initial days of the Ukraine crisis in February of 2014. Her husband, the neo-conservative Robert Kagan [co-founder of PNAC], is, after all, the originator of the idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans, unwilling as they are to realize that true security depends on military power, are from Venus.

When it comes to the goal of delivering weapons to Ukraine, Nuland and Breedlove work hand-in-hand. On the first day of the Munich Security Conference, the two gathered the US delegation behind closed doors to discuss their strategy for breaking Europe’s resistance to arming Ukraine.

On the seventh floor of the Bayerischer Hof hotel in the heart of Munich, it was Nuland who began coaching. “While talking to the Europeans this weekend, you need to make the case that Russia is putting in more and more offensive stuff while we want to help the Ukrainians defend against these systems,” Nuland said. “It is defensive in nature although some of it has lethality.” 9

Of course, the despicable Victoria Nuland and fellow neo-con General Breedlove are the new imperialists. Openly so, even if they do speak from both sides of their dishonourable mouths.

*

Reductio ad Hitlerum

The “coming of Hitler” is a rallying cry of war lovers. It was heard before Nato’s “moral crusade to save Kosovo” (Blair) in 1999, a model for the invasion of Iraq. In the attack on Serbia, 2 per cent of Nato’s missiles hit military targets; the rest hit hospitals, schools, factories, churches and broadcasting studios. Echoing Blair and a clutch of Clinton officials, a massed media chorus declared that “we” had to stop “something approaching genocide” in Kosovo, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote in 2002 in the Guardian. “Echoes of the Holocaust”, said the front pages of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Observer warned of a “Balkan Final Solution”. 10

These are words of John Pilger taken from in a short and very pointed article titled “The war lovers” which he wrote nearly a decade ago. The greatest fear at that time was that Bush looked dead set on attacking Iran (Iran having been designated the last to fall on Wesley Clark’s well-known list of neo-con targets), but thankfully history played out differently. Attack on Iran was indefinitely postponed, although if Netanyahu gets his way, it may not be delayed for much longer.

Also at the time of Pilger’s piece, with the neo-cons even more ascendant in Washington, we had the unseemly spectacle of Donald Rumsfeld comparing Hugo Chavez to Hitler. 11 Of course, Chavez had earlier compared Bush to the Devil 12, however the difference was that Chavez had no intention of attacking America (since obviously Venezuela is no position to attack), whereas Washington, as Chavez knew very well, had certainly been behind the coup of April 2002, which briefly succeeded (albeit for less than 48 hours) in toppling his elected government.

As Pilger says, whenever the West starts likening any foreign leader to Hitler, then this marks a point in an escalation that brings us closer to declaring war. Because comparing anyone to Hitler is tantamount not only to saying that such a person is impossible to negotiate with, but that it would be wilfully irresponsible to do so. It would be an act of collaboration, of appeasement. This is unthinkable:

Poor Prince Charles got into terrible trouble last week for stupidly saying something sensible. He was stitched up by the only witness to his perspicacious outburst, 78-year-old Marienne Ferguson. During a tour of the Canadian Museum of Immigration, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was telling him how her family had fled Poland in 1939 just as the Germans invaded, when the prince apparently said: “And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.” “I must say I agree with him,” Ferguson later said, as she dobbed him in to the world’s media, heralding headlines proclaiming that “Prince Charles says Putin is like Hitler!”

This is the opening paragraph of a Guardian article written last May by comedian David Mitchell. Mitchell then continues:

I agree with him too – and he’s not the first to say it. He’s echoing the views of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Canadian foreign minister John Baird, Czech senate speaker Milan Stech and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Vladimir Putin’s current foreign policy towards Ukraine is uncannily similar to Hitler’s behaviour towards Czechoslovakia and Poland in advance of his annexation of those countries in the 1930s. The prince’s comparison is apt and chilling, and the fact that Putin shows no sign of wanting to exterminate an ethnic group, but is content merely to marginalise and harass a sexual orientation, does nothing to undermine it. 13

So Putin is Hitler says Prince Charles. Says Hillary Clinton. Says Wolfgang Schäuble. Says (as we will see) David Cameron along with no lesser authority on fascism than Senator John McCain – someone happy to associate with the likes of Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the right wing nationalist party Svoboda…

… and such a friend to Kiev that he was more recently invited to join Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council on Reforms:

“I was honored to be asked to join Ukraine’s International Advisory Council on Reforms, a forum for discussing ways to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security and support the country’s democratic future in the face of Russian aggression. However, under provisions of the U.S. Constitution concerning the interaction of Members of Congress with foreign governments, I am obligated to decline the invitation.” 14

And so says marvellously perspicacious comedian David Mitchell; let us never forget the heavyweight intellects too.

Come the end of the year, however, and the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, was presenting the case with more restraint and a modicum of circumspection – this time it was left to Lincoln Mitchell (no relation I presume) to dish the dirt, while offering an assessment of Putin that is actually more credible:

Following the Russian invasion of Crimea, however, Hitler analogies dominated western perceptions of Mr. Putin. Among those making that comparison were British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Paul Johnson writing for Forbes, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Most of these comparisons focused on Hitler’s brutal policies towards Germany’s neighbors in the late 1930s, rather than genocide and mass murder, but a Hitler comparison is always made with the deliberate aim of making the target seem as evil and dangerous. Gradually the Hitler meme faded away; and in recent days the media has been filled with stories about how the Russian economy is in collapse and Putin may not last in power much longer.

Mr. Putin cannot both be Hitler and so weak that a rise in global oil prices threatens his regime. Similarly, he cannot simultaneously both pose a Hitler-like threat yet be unable to maintain his grip on power due to a currency devaluation. The narratives about Mr. Putin that dominated 2014 are thus mutually exclusive, but they are also individually suspect. 15

Truth be told, there are an awful lot of deeply unpleasant world leaders today, just as there were yesterday. Some of these are our allies and some are not – but we pick and choose with little regard for morality or integrity, and according instead to what is more profitable and most expedient. Now if the principle charge to be made against Putin (once an ally but now a foe) is that he is responsible for the oppression of minority groups in Russia, then on that charge he stands justly accused. If you charge that he is a nationalist, this stands too. But if your charge is that he is an incorrigible military expansionist – which is the principle charge in these rather daft comparisons to Hitler – then the facts, duly considered, stand very much against you.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this terrible conflict in Ukraine was started with horribly bloody massacre and the overthrow of an unpopular but still elected government. News of who was really behind that the Maidan “protests” was drip-fed by our media, but prominent amongst the protagonists were the leaders of Svoboda and, worse again, of Right Sector. Thus the so-called Ukraine crisis began with a fascist-led coup and not an invasion. Indeed, there never has been any kind of Russian invasion and there is no verifiable or even convincing evidence that Putin has ever intended one – here is a little more from Der Spiegel:

[But] For months now, many in the Chancellery simply shake their heads each time NATO, under Breedlove’s leadership, goes public with striking announcements about Russian troop or tank movements. To be sure, neither Berlin’s Russia experts nor BND intelligence analysts doubt that Moscow is supporting the pro-Russian separatists. The BND even has proof of such support.

But it is the tone of Breedlove’s announcements that makes Berlin uneasy. False claims and exaggerated accounts, warned a top German official during a recent meeting on Ukraine, have put NATO — and by extension, the entire West — in danger of losing its credibility.

There are plenty of examples. Just over three weeks ago, during the cease-fire talks in Minsk, the Ukrainian military warned that the Russians — even as the diplomatic marathon was ongoing — had moved 50 tanks and dozens of rockets across the border into Luhansk. Just one day earlier, US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges had announced “direct Russian military intervention.”

Senior officials in Berlin immediately asked the BND for an assessment, but the intelligence agency’s satellite images showed just a few armored vehicles. Even those American intelligence officials who supply the BND with daily situation reports were much more reserved about the incident than Hodges was in his public statements. One intelligence agent says it “remains a riddle until today” how the general reached his conclusions. […]

At the beginning of the crisis, General Breedlove announced that the Russians had assembled 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and warned that an invasion could take place at any moment. The situation, he said, was “incredibly concerning.” But intelligence officials from NATO member states had already excluded the possibility of a Russian invasion. They believed that neither the composition nor the equipment of the troops was consistent with an imminent invasion.

The experts contradicted Breedlove’s view in almost every respect. There weren’t 40,000 soldiers on the border, they believed, rather there were much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict. Furthermore, there was no evidence of logistical preparation for an invasion, such as a field headquarters. 16

Click here to read the full report in Der Spiegel.

And back to John Pilger:

If Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid, his pre-ordained “pariah” role in the West will justify the lie that Russia is invading Ukraine. On January 29, Ukraine’s top military commander, General Viktor Muzhemko, almost inadvertently dismissed the very basis for US and EU sanctions on Russia when he told a news conference emphatically: “The Ukrainian army is not fighting with the regular units of the Russian Army”.  There were “individual citizens” who were members of “illegal armed groups”, but there was no Russian invasion. This was not news. Vadym Prystaiko, Kiev’s Deputy Foreign Minister, has called for “full scale war” with nuclear-armed Russia.

On February 21, US Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, introduced a bill that would authorise American arms for the Kiev regime. In his Senate presentation, Inhofe used photographs he claimed were of Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, which have long been exposed as fakes. It was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s fake pictures of a Soviet installation in Nicaragua, and Colin Powell’s fake evidence to the UN of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Yes, Russia has covertly backed the anti-government rebels in the East, just as parties within the West (often with ties to George Soros) covertly instigated the “revolution”, then backed the unelected provisional “government”, and since then have cozied up to the partially elected government in Kiev (a government not recognised by the majority in the East). Yes, Putin annexed Crimea, but Russian forces were already based on the peninsula and the seizure was bloodless because the majority of people living in Crimea urgently wanted to be with Russia. After all, if Crimea had stayed within Ukraine, then it would doubtless have been dragged into the civil war too. Instead of relative prosperity, it would presumably have suffered shelling by its own government forces and been raided by their closely-allied fascist brigades.

So if Putin is a villain in this piece, then he is very far from alone – Pilger once more:

The intensity of the smear campaign against Russia and the portrayal of its president as a pantomime villain is unlike anything I have known as a reporter. Robert Parry, one of America’s most distinguished investigative journalists, who revealed the Iran-Contra scandal, wrote recently, “No European government, since Adolf Hitler’s Germany, has seen fit to dispatch Nazi storm troopers to wage war on a domestic population, but the Kiev regime has and has done so knowingly. Yet across the West’s media/political spectrum, there has been a studious effort to cover up this reality even to the point of ignoring facts that have been well established… If you wonder how the world could stumble into world war three – much as it did into world war one a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness over Ukraine that has proved impervious to facts or reason.” 17

Click here to read John Pilger’s complete article.

*

The fog of war

By February this angle was starting to alter. If the equation Putin equals Hitler now looked flimsy, there were alternative comparisons that might be made to “skilful, ruthless dictators” who are less historically outstanding. To present the case afresh, the Guardian gave the floor to Oxbridge historian Tim Garton Ash, who drew up new parallels as follows:

Vladimir Putin is the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger. Behind a smokescreen of lies he has renewed his drive to carve out a puppet para-state in eastern Ukraine.

And this “Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger” (which translates as something akin to ‘Hitler-lite’) must be stopped, of course, because the whole point of comparisons like this is that room for negotiation can again be abruptly closed off:

Preoccupied by Greece and the eurozone, Europe is letting another Bosnia happen in its own front yard. Wake up, Europe. If we have learned anything from our own history, Putin must be stopped. But how? In the end, there will have to be a negotiated solution.

In the end, yes – but not right now. Instead, Garton Ash implores the West to “ratchet up the economic sanctions” (warfare by economic means) as well as ramping up the propaganda (and apologies here for any disturbing images that may be conjured to mind after reading Garton Ash’s next paragraph):

Last year a Russianist of my acquaintance was sitting naked and at ease in the hot tub with a friend of his in Moscow after several vodkas, as is the Russian custom [just so you know], when this highly educated Russian asked: “So tell me, honestly, why do you support the fascists in Kiev?”

We need to counter this propaganda not with lies of our own but with reliable information and a scrupulously presented array of different views. No one is better placed to do this than the BBC. The US may have the best drones in the world, and Germany the best machine tools, but Britain has the best international broadcaster. 18

Propaganda directed towards the Russians (sorry, I mean “reliable information”) is however unlikely to strike such a blow. Most Russians do indeed speak excellent English and would doubtless be lulled by the unimpeachable voice of “the best international broadcaster” were it not for the peculiar fact that history leaves them better equipped at sifting news than those of us who grew up in ‘the free West’ – if your only source of information is Pravda, you soon get wise to “reliable information”!

But never mind, because this latest propaganda offensive, which is what Garton Ash is really announcing in his article, will not be so strictly targeted at the Russian people. Not if the powerbrokers in the West have realised, as they surely must, that most Russians are already a lost cause. No, the latest rounds of propaganda will be disseminated to influence attitudes on the home front in the information war. In fact, reading deftly between the furrowed lines of his agitation, Garton Ash is explaining how brainwashing is good for us – our brainwashing, obviously.

Because propaganda is rather desperately needed if we are to keep these wars going:

So the challenge is to shorten that period and stop the mayhem. To do this Ukraine needs modern defensive weapons to counter Russia’s modern offensive ones. Spurred on by John McCain, the US Congress has passed a Ukraine Freedom Support Act which allocates funds for the supply of military equipment to Ukraine. It is now up to President Obama to determine the timing and composition of those supplies. […]

Only when Ukrainian military defence can plausibly hold Russian offence to a stalemate will a negotiated settlement become possible. Sometimes it takes guns to stop the guns.

Yes, “sometimes it takes guns to stop guns” and especially when you’re dealing with a person like “the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger.”

Now please let’s remember too that Tim Garton Ash has a prodigious record as warmonger (I’ll bet he was the bully’s mate at school), also leading calls for earlier Nato “interventions” like the one in Kosovo with pronouncements quoted above, but ones I will quote again: that “we” needed to stop “something approaching genocide”. As it transpired, however, Kosovo was just the latest in our production line for wars, sold to a still naive western audience (since this was prior to the Iraq War Part 2) on the tried and tested basis of exaggeration and lies.

More from John Pilger and that same New Statesman article published March 2006:

The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home.

In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front. It meant that the justification for the attack on Serbia (“225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 are missing, presumed dead”, the US ambassador-at-large David Scheffer had claimed) was an invention. To my knowledge, only the Wall Street Journal admitted this. A former senior Nato planner, Michael McGwire, wrote that “to describe the bombing as ‘humanitarian intervention’ [is] really grotesque”. In fact, the Nato “crusade” was the final, calculated act of a long war of attrition aimed at wiping out the very idea of Yugoslavia.

Noam Chomsky was another of exceptionally few political commentators to raise questions at the time of Nato’s involvement in Kosovo:

The tumult having subsided, it should be possible to undertake a relatively dispassionate review and analysis of NATO’s war over Kosovo. One might have expected the theme to have dominated the year-end millennarianism, considering the exuberance the war elicited in Western intellectual circles and the tidal wave of self-adulation by respected voices, lauding the first war in history fought “in the name of principles and values,” the first bold step towards a “new era” in which the “enlightened states” will protect the human rights of all under the guiding hand of an “idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity,” now freed from the shackles of archaic concepts of world order. But it received scant mention.

A rare exception was the Wall Street Journal, which devoted its lead story on December 31 to an in-depth analysis of what had taken place. The headline reads: “War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn’t.” The conclusion contrasts rather sharply with wartime propaganda. A database search of references to “genocide” in Kosovo for the first week of bombing alone was interrupted when it reached its limit of 1,000 documents.

As NATO forces entered Kosovo, tremendous efforts were undertaken to discover evidence of war crimes, a “model of speed and efficiency” to ensure that no evidence would be lost or overlooked. The efforts “build on lessons learned from past mistakes.” They reflect “a growing international focus on holding war criminals accountable.” Furthermore, analysts add, “proving the scale of the crimes is also important to NATO politically, to show why 78 days of airstrikes against Serbian forces and infrastructure were necessary.” […]

Despite the intensive efforts, the results of “the mass-grave obsession,” as the WSJ analysts call it, were disappointingly thin. Instead of “the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect,.. the pattern is of scattered killings,” a form of “ethnic cleansing light.” 19

 

Ostensibly the fight for Kosovo had been a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that has since taken on a far hollower ring – and for many, especially amongst those notionally of the left, this became adopted as something like an article of faith (we can consider the reasons for this in a moment). In reality, however, the Nato campaign had been just another strategic conflict, and with victory against the Serbs, the West immediately took up an option to annex a new state. Yes, Kosovo was our Crimea, except with land seized for what is now the largest foreign US base set up since the Vietnam War, Camp Bondsteel, by means of a high-intensity bombing offensive. By contrast, the Russians, who already had military presence including a large naval base at Sevastopol, captured Crimea without any bombing whatsoever – no loss of life, because the majority in Crimea, ethnic Russians who had better reason to fear Kiev than the Kremlin, welcomed the transfer of control. 20

Pilger again:

For me, one of the more odious characteristics of Blair, and Bush, and Clinton, and their eager or gulled journalistic court, is the enthusiasm of sedentary, effete men (and women) for bloodshed they never see, bits of body they never have to retch over, stacked morgues they will never have to visit, searching for a loved one. Their role is to enforce parallel worlds of unspoken truth and public lies. That Milosevic was a minnow compared with industrial-scale killers such as Bush and Blair belongs to the former. 21

Click here to read John Pilger’s short article “The war lovers” and here to read Noam Chomsy’s longer “Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo”.

*

All war is an abomination and, as General Smedley Butler very ably dissects in his famous pamphlet, it is always a racket. But worse, war then serves as a putrid breeding ground for further atrocities. For these and other reasons, war ought to be reserved as a desperate fallback and a last resort, but instead, and especially so during this quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, and since the West was free to operate within a de facto unipolar world order, we have never stopped going to war.

To justify this reign of terror, our propaganda machine has been working tirelessly too. For extended periods, mere recourse to threats of terrorism have served this purpose extremely well, however, whenever those nominally of liberal-leftist persuasion are sworn into office, the humanitarian excuse plays better again. And the advantageous repetition of this alternative catalogue of lies then depends upon the obedience and compliance of those parts of the media also nominally progressive and supposedly speaking from the left:

The Guardian‘s role in the Kosovo campaign, along with its Sunday sister paper, the Observer, was a crucial one—even within the framework of the near unanimous support offered by the media to NATO. The newspapers are widely regarded as the house journals of Britain’s liberal intelligentsia and were previously seen as a forum for dissenting views—including criticism of the military activities of the major powers.

So writes Mike Ingram in an article published by the World Socialist Web Site, continuing:

Like so many former reformists, liberals and pacifists, however, the Guardian and Observer have lurched ever further to the right. Their hawkish stand in defence of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia aided the Blair government in its efforts to both justify the war and intimidate the relatively small numbers of liberals, intellectuals and artists who maintained an oppositional stance.

The Observer editorialised against the war’s opponents, claiming in March last year, “There is no alternative…. We have to live in the world as it is, not some Utopia.” Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote on March 25, “The old left needs to look at the world that’s actually taking shape. Wednesday’s Lords ruling on Pinochet suggests a new brand of international law, one that doesn’t allow heads of state to kill and maim indiscriminately, even within their own sovereign lands. The night-sky over Belgrade tells the same story. Together they’re making the world a less cosy place for dictators—and safer for the weak and powerless.” Whole articles were devoted to denunciations of those who opposed the war and exposed NATO propaganda, such as the playwright Harold Pinter and journalist John Pilger.

With such a despicable record to defend, the Guardian clearly did not feel it could simply ignore The Hague tribunal’s latest admissions. Instead, it felt obliged to reiterate NATO’s own threadbare rationale for the bombing of Serbia in a pathetic attempt at self-justification. It is to be hoped that those who in the past naively took the newspaper’s claim to editorial integrity at face value will draw the appropriate conclusions from this sorry episode. 22

Click here to read Mike Ingram’s full article.

Admitting to responsibility for any part in the prosecution of illegal (or merely illegitimate) wars would mean accepting a heavy burden of guilt, and the mainstream media (especially those sham left broadsheets with their liberal reputation to uphold) ought to carry that burden. Instead, they would prefer that we forget the key role they had in permitting such carnage. We must not follow them into amnesia.

Neither should we forget any of the atrocities. The “shock and awe” unleashed over Baghdad as well as over the cities of Tripoli and Sirte in Libya, and the daily horrors of our other victims like those in Fallujah, including the babies not yet born, but already poisoned by the Nato’s huge arsenal of chemical weapons – white phosphorous and (worse) depleted uranium.

For whenever the wish is to incite new wars, we must anticipate that this same media will again play along just the same, promulgating official rumours of another foreign menace that has drifted into the neo-imperialist crosshairs. Phrases like “mass graves”, “ethnic cleansing” and even words like “genocide” will be promptly bandied about. But it is war alone that unfailingly produces “mass graves”, whilst “genocide” is a word we reserve and use only when our enemies are doing the slaughtering. The first casualty of war is indeed the truth, and since we are perpetually at war, truth has little part to play in any of the justifications for the West’s ever more capricious response to what is really taking place in the killing fields of today’s constantly expanding warzone.

*

Interlude: so who won the war anyway?

“Two World Wars and One World Cup” goes the stupid football chant: half-jesting, three quarters-jeering. Claiming the bragging rights to results in a war is never a seemly matter; but then this is straight off the Jeremy Clarkson page of humour. Less snide than grand petrolhead poobah, but awash with the same undercurrents of latent bigotry; the pretence is all in the feigning of those chanting that we are actually laughing up the xenophobia itself. It’s clever. It’s post-ironic.

In exchange, the German fans sing back in full-throated unison: “Football coming home”; the English anthem of the Euro ’96 tournament skilfully adapted by deliberately missing out the apostrophe-‘s’ and misplacing the Anglo-Saxon emphasis – after all, we know their English is as immaculate as their football – but to maximise the more Teutonic staccato impact such alterations were demanded. And you have to laugh at the genuine double irony of their gesture: double because it nods to how they recognise that the English imagine they don’t even have a sense of humour… genuinely sophisticated (and typically German!)

All of which is absolute unadulterated silliness: the chant, my analysis, the whole shebang. Silliness because frankly I needed a respite (and perhaps you did too); a break from the unremitting seriousness of thinking and writing about war and its atrocities. For war itself is silly, brutally and horrifically so. A stupendously absurd human folly. Or why else would we find Dr Strangelove so hilarious (I speak personally), if not because it is both one hundred percent believable and one hundred percent pure farce.

On the whole, Hollywood gets war all wrong – just as it gets most other things all wrong – but on this occasion quite deliberately so, because Hollywood is literally in the business of selling, and whenever war becomes one of our primary commodities, then Hollywood pitches war. But Kubrick was a maverick. And he got war consistently right, though differently so in each of his three markedly different war films.

First he presents the tragedy of the First World War in Paths of Glory and next he brought us the farce in his Cold War masterpiece, Strangelove, the ultimate black as pitch comedy, and finally, he brilliantly fused those twin faces into the stunning Vietnam War tragicomedy, Full Metal Jacket. The most lasting evil of warfare is the way it dehumanises, he tells us, the unremitting horror ending in “the thousand-yard stare”, and with it, every evil numbed and absolutely banal. In the film’s final scene, Kubrick sums up perfectly; our heroes marching through the smouldering ruins of Huế (one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war) singing: “Who’s the leader of the club, that’s made for you and me…      M-I-C– K-E-Y– M-O-U-S-E!

By virtue of such obscene consequences, comparison of war with all other human activities fails. Comparisons with football are as ridiculous as they are dubious, as most football fans know. Yet comparisons to games are inevitable and unavoidable, heinous and sickening as war is, for so long as we continue fighting. For war has so many hallmarks of a game. It has rules and strategies; advances and setbacks; and, most importantly, winners and losers – winning and losing being as determinable outcomes in every war as in any game. So we all-too easily get into the habit of playing at this war game just as little boys like to play cowboys and Indians, or if we are more cerebrally inclined, chess perhaps… these are war games and football is too (most games are war as allegory).

However, this particular English football chant is sillier again, because it also expresses an overarching and rather commonly held English delusion. A national myth that England (meaning Britain, obviously!) somehow singlehandedly won not just the World Cup in 1966 (thanks to a Polish linesman), but also both world wars. And though it is correct to say that Germany was twice defeated, whilst adding that reparations demanded after their first defeat, fuelled a nationalistic fervour for a rematch; with respect to who actually “won the war” – well, that has always been more debatable.

Obviously, no-one dwells very long on claims to victory in World War One in any case: that mud-drenched stalemate of “the war to end all wars”. All that warrants remembrance is how 16 million people lost their lives and 20 million more were wounded, and perhaps that the highpoint was a Christmas truce and truly extraordinary football match (in reality lots of informal games), whilst the vain horrors of trench warfare were temporarily suspended. But after the exchange of gifts, the sing-song and kickarounds, the men trooped across no-man’s land back to their gun emplacements and the thick mud of the long graves where most would perish. Which exemplifies the forlorn stupidity of war again – war being such an idiotic pursuit, and supremely so.

The Second World War, however, presents us with one of those exceptional instances when war itself most likely spared even greater horrors; on this occasion, reversing the otherwise inexorable advance of a truly monstrous ideology. It was the war that saved our humanity and what remained of European civilisation. With this firmly in mind, the bloodiest conflict in all of history must also be judged to have been a necessary evil; indisputedly so.

This is certainly not to say World War Two could not have been avoided. It might well have been if it were not for the failures of those in power, and especially some within the highest echelons of the Anglo-American establishment. Hitler’s rise to power and his subsequent rearmament of his Nazi regime depended upon friendly relations with major industrialists and financiers both in Britain and America. A few had backed him to the hilt. Without such generous support, as well as prior support for Mussolini’s rise in Italy, it is hard to refute the claims that fascism would never have needed defeating at all. But this is counterfactual history, and putting such what ifs also to one side, as the situation stood by the end of the 1930s, Hitler’s war machine was ready to crush all before it; the die had been cast. Leaving all else aside, war had become inevitable.

It is indeed pertinent to ask, therefore, who precisely did win the war against Hitler and fascism? But this involves two questions, not one. Irrefutably, in a vitally importance sense, the winner of World War Two was America, since America was the last major power still standing with its commercial and industrial capacity unscathed. Post-war America was bound to take the lead whilst all other developed nations both in Europe, as well as those in the Far East, lay in ruins. With next to no competition, where else could the world turn to procure its goods? This ensured boom times for those same American industrialists who had collaborated with the Nazi programme, not to mention financiers like Prescott Bush, who had bankrolled Hitler. Now they would reap the rewards not just of German annihilation, but of the annihilation of all of Eurasia. And let’s not pretend that the Second World War was not a racket too – indeed, that it was, provides a central motif for Joseph Heller’s classic anti-war novel, Catch 22 (its other central theme being the inane futility of all wars).

The other half of this same question “who won the war”, when less ambiguously framed, becomes a question regarding which of the Allied forces was most instrumental in defeating Hitler’s Nazi regime. And we love to believe, of course, as the terrace chant goes, that it was plucky little England (…I mean Britain, sorry) ‘who stopped his little game’ – which is also to paraphrase the wonderfully witty lyrics of the Dad’s Army theme tune – itself a wink and a genuine acknowledgement to the bigger, starker truth. Not that there is any doubting the extraordinary heroism of British or other Allied forces, but that flimsy claims to an entirely homemade backs-to-the-wall victory rest very heavily on collective amnesia.

For almost precisely four years following the Dunkirk evacuation in late May 1940 (in truth a desperate and humiliating retreat after the calamitous military failings of our first offensive onto the continent) and up until the heroic success of the Normandy landings in early June 1944, it wasn’t the British, or our Commonwealth allies, or even the mighty Americans, who were spearheading the desperate fight against the Nazi offensive. Instead, the British and Commonwealth forces had been initially redirected to protect the colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and, in the aftermath of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the American forces were also helping out with our North African campaign, or else island hopping across the Pacific Theatre. Thus, for the longest span during the war, it was the Russians, with the aid of some logistical support but otherwise alone, who had faced down three-quarters of the entire German military, not to mention the armies of the other Axis powers (neighbours Finland included).

Certainly, they had enjoyed some indirect support, especially during the later stages of the war, by way of strategic bombing raids carried out by British and American pilots. These set back Germany industrial production (though not by much, nor for very long), whilst larger attacks against cities like Hamburg and then Berlin had also dented morale and redirected some of the German forces away from the Eastern Front – of course, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians is not just morally reprehensible, but strictly speaking a war crime, which is why “Bomber” Harris is rightly denounced for his love of setting cities ablaze (the firestorming of Dresden, his farewell atrocity), although he was only doing what the Germans did, and the Americans did (the area bombing of Tokyo also came very late in the war) and were yet to do (testing out their new A-bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki)… the rules of war are always infinitely flexible.

The bombs undoubtedly helped to weaken German resistance as the D-Day offensive approached, and then with a great deal of support from the French Resistance, the liberation of Paris and the Low Countries quickly followed, but much of this “Second Front” simply arrived too late to turn the war. And Hitler’s last gasp assault in the Ardennes, which ended with the famous coup de grace at the Battle of the Bulge, had been an ill-advised rearguard response to the Russian victory on the Eastern Front.

I once asked a friend who did wargaming as a hobby, why it was, in light of so many historical precedents of failure, the Germans had countenanced the idea that their own invasion of Russia would be other than disastrous. In reply, he told me how he had re-enacted the German campaign along the Eastern Front on more occasions than any other battle. I was fascinated, he said, that no matter what strategies I tried out, I could never get the Russians to win. Yet in reality, of course, they did win (just as they always do when playing at home) although the human cost of defending their nation is only barely comprehendible. Perhaps the reason my friend could never successfully re-enact the event is because here was a military victory that owed a great deal more to the stubborn endurance and sheer fortitude of the people as it did to the ruthlessness and cunning of the Soviet commanders, or even the ultimate military might of the Red Army.

The siege of the city of Leningrad would endure from September 1941 to January 1944 (872 days in total), and throughout this time its population were not only bombarded by the Wehrmacht but simultaneously starved into submission – Hitler’s plans were not just to conquer his “Lebensraum”, but to eradicate most of the native Untermenschen in the process, clearing the way for an Aryan repopulation. With the city blockaded and encircled by German artillery, those trapped inside were reduced to consuming bread made from sawdust, soup from wallpaper paste, rats and shoe leather.

At Stalingrad, the Russians hunkered down and fought a fierce guerrilla war not so much from street to street as from one building to the next. The death rate was higher still, and here the meat-grinder also kept on turning for nearly six months (Aug 1942 – Feb 1943); the city’s infrastructure likewise pulverised into a wasteland. 23 Yet more than any single battle, it would be the Russian defence of Stalingrad that turned the advantage in favour of the Allies.

By the end of the war, a greater number of Russians (civilians and soldiers) had been killed than people from any other nation – the scale of atrocities committed by the occupying Japanese puts China at a close second. But even compared to the Chinese, Russian fatalities surpass both in absolute terms and by percentage. Britain and America jointly suffered the loss of just a little fewer than one million lives; a figure comparable to Russian deaths at Leningrad alone (as well as those at Stalingrad). In fact, more lives were lost on the Eastern Front than from all of the other fighting during the war. Some 24 million Russian lives, a third of the final total. 24

Yet, after enduring the onslaught of the titanic “Operation Barbarossa” blitzkrieg, then grimly digging in to survive for two more terrible years, the Russians would ultimately succeed not only in halting Hitler’s advance, but in pushing the Eastern Front back from the gates of Moscow and then a thousand miles to Berlin. In short, it was Russia more than any other nation that might justly claim to have “won the war” – they simply had to, because we left them with very little alternative.

With a decimated population and their major cities pounded to heaps of rubble, in another important sense, Russia had been the greatest loser in the war too. So if the peril of history is that it will be forgotten, then let us continue to remember now the huge debt of gratitude owed to the sacrifice of the Russian people. And in the light of such comparatively recent national trauma, with the deaths of 24 million within living memory, we ought to be careful too before insinuating that Russians suddenly hate fascism any less than we do. Seventy years after the defeat of the Nazis, do we dare say so to their faces?

*

The unthinkable climax (absit omen)

Those who remember the last Cold War may have noticed how that gnawing sense of doubt which once lurked at the back of our minds has returned to haunt us. The intimation, though faintly heard, that some day – a day very much like this one – the same faint and insubstantial dread will manifest a solid form and leap out from behind our backs to shout BOO – M! The intimation not merely of one’s own death, but of megadeath: annihilation so complete that our secret, unspoken wish is we don’t survive to see the aftermath. Of course, we did survive all those post-war decades, and twice only by the skin of our teeth (see addendum), but then, when it ended, it was as if we stuffed all our finger-bitten memories into an old suitcase and left them in the attic to accumulate dust…

The fact is that we are still living with the nuclear-strike doctrine of the Cold War, which dictated three strategic options: first strike, launch on warning and post-attack retaliation. There is no reason to believe that Russia and the United States have discarded these options, as long as the architecture of “mutually assured destruction” remains intact.

For either side, the decision to launch on warning — in an attempt to fire one’s nuclear missiles before they are destroyed — would be made on the basis of information from early-warning satellites and ground radar. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of strategic missiles, a decision to launch after an alert of an apparent attack must be made in minutes.

Also taken from the warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin in their recent New York Times op-ed.

It did not take long from the defeat of the Nazis before the Cold War was in full swing. A nuclear arms race, very quickly turning thermonuclear, boosted thanks to the entirely erroneous and scaremongering supposition of the so-called “missile gap”. False intelligence reports indicating that the Soviet Union, not so long since ruined by a Nazi invasion, was somehow in possession of an arsenal of superior killing power. Although chimerical, this “missile gap” was eagerly seized upon, and especially by those in the business of selling arms. The military-industrial complex was about to flourish as never before.

It was Kubrick again, who most brilliantly parodied the sheer paranoia involved in much of the strategy at the height of Cold War tensions during the 50s and 60s. In the utterly insane climax to Dr Strangelove, those gathered in the war room, and abruptly confronted with the prospect of their own annihilation, listen to Strangelove’s plan for survival inside underground bunkers. But even sealed deep underground, the threat of the Red menace looms in a different way. The feckless and licentious General “Buck” Turgidson, played by a deadpan George C. Scott, explains the problem this way:

“We ought to look at this from the military point of view. I mean, supposing the Russkis stashed away some big bombs, see, and we didn’t? When they come out in 100 years, they could take over!”

Concluding with unfailing logic:

“Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!” 25

Of course, whenever we come to talk about the end of the world, it becomes seriously hard to think straight. The idea itself is inclined to make us go potty. WWIII or WW3. Just the abbreviated monikers are freaky enough to cause a shiver. In full, the Third World War sounds improbably futuristic, as it genuinely will be, in the circumstance of its abominable occurrence. So we all try not to mention that particular war, just as we are disinclined to talk about death more generally, which is similarly hard to imaginatively get to grips with, if not quite so dreadful a prospect.

Talking about death is not polite behaviour, but then talking about WW3 is far worse again, although soon, if we let it, we make the unspeakable impossible to speak about. Then it becomes more literally unthinkable, which it is too, yet by being literally unthinkable it comes to seem absolutely impossible! It is tempting to stop there. Insouciance is appealing, and, after all, the leaders of our nations, crazed as many unquestionably are, are ultimately no less restrained than the rest of us by desires for self-preservation. And who amongst us would be crazy enough to unleash such an almighty and terminal firestorm of “mutually assured destruction”? (The Cold War doctrine nattily abbreviated as MAD).

It is comforting to put our trust in such common sense prevailing, however, memory tugs at my impassivity if I try. For besides the worrying shifts in both military capability as well as in doctrine (something I will briefly return to), recent history also gives cause for greater concern.

Conversely, there are a few I am now hearing who muse upon the imminent prospect of a general war as if its impending outbreak has become a fait accompli. A pair of colleagues at work, for instance, who ordinarily assume a more lackadaisical air, were earnestly discussing the very real likelihood of being conscripted in its event (they are younger than me). When I interjected that if they believed a world war might actually be on the cards, then oughtn’t they to strive harder to avert it, the one replied: “I can’t even persuade them to give me a pay rise.” An amusing retort, I had to admit.

The Doomsday Clock has recently been reset. In January, its committee of keepers took the decision to move its symbolic hands to three minutes to midnight:

The last time the clock read three minutes to midnight was in 1983 when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest” according to the bulletin. The lowest ever reading was of 11.58 in 1953 when the US decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any nuclear bomb.

The highest reading was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, when the Cold War officially ended and the US and Russia began cutting their nuclear arsenals. 26

So what, you might say, they are simply telling us what we knew all along. That old Cold War hostilities have been refrozen. Speaking as one whose childhood spanned more than a decade of those old Cold War tensions, this is surely bad enough, but what is worse is that thirty years ago it would have taken a catastrophic accident to have triggered all-out nuclear war. An accident that very nearly happened (twice)…

Well no, in fact, there are also other less infamous incidents when the world came to the brink of a nuclear escalation. One such may have happened during the Six-Day War in 1967, when the USS Liberty, an unarmed America reconnaissance ship, was attacked and nearly destroyed by Israeli forces. As a BBC documentary “Dead in the Water” (2002) revealed, once the attack had been falsely attributed to the Egyptians, the Americans, under the command of President Lyndon Johnson, launched but recalled (just in time) a nuclear-armed aircraft targeted against Cairo:

The deployment of nuclear weapons is officially denied, as indeed is “Operation Cyanide”, the alleged plan that allowed Israel to attack the Liberty, a sitting duck, in order to use the false flag to bring America into the Six-Day War. But then, the official story maintains instead that Israel’s attack was a terrible mistake, and this is completely untenable.

*

Military technologies have since advanced, of course, but so too have the doctrines of war. In fact, during the first Cold War, Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, made a pledge of “no first use” (NFU); a policy that China still maintains today. 27 But with the development of shorter-range “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapons, the idea within military circles has grown that we must keep the option to deploy “sub-strategic” nuclear weapons for battlefield use. And this means that nuclear war has become a great deal more thinkable – with hindsight the old doctrine of MAD doesn’t look half so mad after all. Although as John Pilger exposed in his documentary The Truth Game (embedded below), this doctrine of deterrence had been superseded at least as early as 1983. In fact, his film contains footage of a NATO ‘limited’ nuclear and chemical war exercise in West Germany, which Pilger himself describes as “a dry run for the unthinkable”:

But today we must also speak of other unspeakables. Of the out and out madmen. The neo-cons, those neo-Strangeloves (aka Breedloves), as well as less prominent crazies at or close to the Nato helm:

“This is not about Ukraine. Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s former Secretary-General, “There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test Nato’s Article 5.”

From a report published in The Telegraph on February 5th, which explains how:

Article 5 states that a military attack on any one Nato country is an attack on all of them, triggering collective mobilization. It has been invoked just once in the 66-year history of the alliance, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. 28

Thankfully, Fogh Rasmussen is gone. Perhaps some better sense may now prevail, although that will be difficult so long as General Philip Breedlove keeps his post as Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEUR).

Moreover, it has become essential that voices within the media do begin to break the silence and speak with honestly about the nature and true cause of this escalating threat. In this respect, the report in Der Spiegel (quoted extensively above) is heartening. Let us pray too that the fragile Ukrainian ceasefire brokered by Merkel and Hollande continues to hold. But still we have the prospect of tensions escalating in the Middle East between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. All of these need to be defused, which itself relied upon cooperation between the major powers: Russia, China and America. So these are exceptionally dangerous times, but if enough of us choose to make a serious commitment to peace, then I believe that peace can and will ultimately prevail.

The final words I leave with John Pilger, who has a distinguished record of speaking both with honesty and with courage. This is how he finished his speech in December:

In the 18th century, Edmund Burke described the role of the press as a Fourth Estate checking the powerful. Was that ever true? It certainly doesn’t wash any more. What we need is a Fifth Estate: a journalism that monitors, deconstructs and counters propaganda and teaches the young to be agents of people, not power. We need what the Russians called perestroika – an insurrection of subjugated knowledge. I would call it real journalism.

It’s 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

It’s time they knew. 29

*

Additional:

‘American Committee for East-West Accord’ discuss Russia, Ukraine and the New Cold War

The following, two-part video roundtable discussion took place in Brussels on March 2, 2015. It featured Gilbert Doctorow, moderator, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Cohen and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. The presentations by the three speakers was followed by discussion with the audience.

The event was organized by the newly created ‘American Committee for East-West Accord’. This was its second event in Brussels. The committee has recently been registered as a non-profit association in New York state. Its next roundtable discussion will take place in Berlin in May on the subject of German foreign policy.

The extract above is quoted from a new website dedicated to the current crisis: http://newcoldwar.org/roundtable-discussion-in-brussels-with-john-mearsheimer-stephen-cohen-and-katrina-vanden-heuvel/

*

Addendum: Memories of an older, colder war

Just inside the backdoor to my best friend’s house, underneath the washing lines close to where the bicycles were propped, and adjacent to the downstairs lavatory, there was a small grey box fitted to the painted exterior brick wall. The box had just one swivel switch with a milled edge that turned a loudspeaker on and the volume up. And whenever this switch was clicked on, the box emitted a continuous ticking tone – on and on like a mysterious telephone receiver eternally left off its hook.

My friend was the eldest son of the village bobby, so his house accommodated the village police station too. Occasionally we played with this little grey box, which was forbidden, but it was too tantalising to leave alone. Because if it were ever to alter its tone, my friend explained, no longer ticking but warbling instead and in some fashion we thankfully never heard, then this was the alarm that signalled we had passed a point of no return. For it meant that World War Three had started.

This box in the corner of his dad’s porch, with a tick that needed to be checked on daily, if not hourly (though, of course, never was), was apparently deemed an efficient way to relay such important news back in the 1970s. But then, under the circumstances, just what was his policeman father supposed to do, had he ever tuned in one morning to hear such strange apocalyptic warbling? I gathered that in such an event, his primary civic duty was to ensure that the church bells were ringing. But then who in the village would possibly have comprehended that church bells were communicating such a dire warning? It hardly mattered. We knew we would soon be dead. The bells were tolling for the loss of all life.

Meanwhile, there was also the then-famous government handbook, Protect and Survive. Maybe you remember it? In the event of all-out nuclear war, the best thing to do, it advised us solemnly but calmly, was to stay indoors and paint the windows white. Following which, we should then set about building our inner shelter. The recommendation was to lay low in a cubby-hole under the stairs for a few weeks. Failing that – for instance, if you lived in a bungalow – the advice was to take some doors off their hinges and lean them against an inside wall. Not an outside wall – you didn’t want to increase your risk of radiation sickness. Oh, and don’t forget the tin opener or the toilet paper… be sure to have ample. Nuclear dens might have sounded like fun, but actually they didn’t. The prospect of nuclear annihilation was nothing like the fear of the bogeyman: even to a child, the danger was palpable. The Cold War was no fun at all.

About the same time, a future friend, who being a decade older than me had already embarked on his economics degree at Sheffield, was selected for a walk-on part in the classic BBC TV docudrama Threads (1984). He was vaporised somewhere around the top of Fargate, he tells me.

Threads was a huge hit, of course. A horror show we could really believe in. Because life at the height of the Cold War meant adjusting one’s sense of everyday reality to accommodate the omnipresence of such a vague, yet inescapable, existential threat. At the backs of our minds, a barely conceivable awareness that all-out thermonuclear oblivion might be around the next bend – or four minutes away to be precise (so make sure you’ve got plenty of that white paint and a decent screwdriver handy). And each time my friend and I played with that little grey switch, turning its volume up and listening for its distantly pulsing mechanical heart, the dread was there, never getting closer or further away, just there, forever. Maybe a nuclear holocaust was about to burst out and devour us all… turn it off!

Meanwhile, behind the threat, a constant danger of sudden and total annihilation was real enough. My parents had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy and Khrushchev played out their notorious game of Russian roulette: Armageddon postponed thanks only to the good sense of the commander of a Soviet submarine, Captain Vasili Arkhipov 30 A little less well-known is that another Soviet officer saved our bacon as recently as September 1983, just a month prior to a top secret military exercise called Operation Able Archer. This involved the mass deployment of Nato troops very close to East European border, and it had caused senior Russian military officers to commence preparations for a counterattack.

Back in September, however, it had been the more mechanistic malfunctioning of one of the Soviet Union’s early warning systems that very nearly triggered doomsday. Fortunately, the cool-headed response of the station’s commanding officer, Stanislav Petrov, had averted catastrophe. 31 Then in November, with the Russians still twitchy, and this huge drill taking place on their frontier, with Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl holed up in bunkers, and Nato simulating the release of its own nuclear arsenal, the Russians collectively maintained their cool once again. All of which passed with the vast majority of folks in Britain (my own family very much included) utterly oblivious to any of it. Which was certainly one less thing to worry about!

Skipping forward to the end of the Cold War, and as The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that crisp October day in 1989, we might be forgiven for thinking that with the arms race over, soon we would have money and time for far more worthwhile and useful projects. That our grander hopes for a brighter and better future would soon be fulfilled. Yet our individual shares in the peace dividend have instead been frittered away.

Living conditions are worsening. Wages have stagnated. Housing is in increasingly short supply. And more and more of us are being forced to eke out a meagre, if survivable, living. This is intolerable foolishness, and worse, it is foolishness that, if a new Cold War is allowed to build, will only get more foolish and intolerable.

*

1 From an article entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”, written by James E. Cartwright & Vladimir Dvorkin, published in The New York Times on April 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/20/opinion/how-to-avert-a-nuclear-war.html?_r=1

2 From an article entitled “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries” written by Nick Turse, published in The Nation magazine on January 16, 2014, and originally published at TomDispatch.com.

http://www.thenation.com/article/177964/americas-secret-war-134-countries

3 From an article entitled “The Unseen Gulf War” written by Peter Turnley in December 2002, first published with photographs by The Digital Journalist, and reproduced by Archipelago vol 7. http://www.archipelago.org/vol7-2/turnley2.htm

The article continues:

“That first morning, I saw and photographed a U.S. Military Graves Detail bury in large graves many bodies.

I don’t recall seeing many television images of the human consequences of this event, or, for that matter, many photographs published. A day later, I came across another scene on an obscure road further north and to the east, where, in the middle of the desert, I found a convoy of lorries transporting Iraqi soldiers back to Baghdad. Clearly, massive firepower had been dropped, and everyone in sight had been carbonized. Most of the photographs I made there have never been published anywhere, and this has always troubled me.”

4

“It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

From an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today Show” on February 19, 1998.  http://fas.org/news/iraq/1998/02/19/98021907_tpo.html

5 Taken from an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Lesley Stahl‘s question on CBS’s 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996.

6 Taken from an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” written by John Pilger, originally published in the New Statesman on October 4, 2004. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-we-ignored-iraq-in-the-1990s

7 Taken from an article entitled “Break the silence: a world war is beckoning” written by John Pilger, published on May 13, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/break-the-silence-a-world-war-is-beckoning

8 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

9 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

10 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

11

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler, reflecting continuing tension in relations between the United States and the Latin American government. […]

“He’s a person who was elected legally — just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally — and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.”

From an article entitled “Rumsfeld Likens Chavez To Hitler” written by John Kreiser from Associated Press, published by CBS news on February 3, 2006. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rumsfeld-likens-chavez-to-hitler/

12

Brandishing a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, cemented his reputation as Washington’s chief irritant yesterday with a fiery performance at the United Nations.

In a 15-minute address to the annual gathering of international leaders in New York, President Chávez said he could still “smell sulphur” left behind by the “devil”, George Bush, who had addressed the chamber 24 hours before.

His speech, which veered between a rousing appeal for a better world and a florid denunciation of the US, included the claim that President Bush thought he was in a western where people shot from the hip: “This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire.”

Mr Chávez complained that his personal doctor and head of security had been prevented from disembarking at New York airport by the American authorities. And then he coined the phrase that will now forever be etched into UN history as one of the more colourful criticisms levelled at the US president from his own turf: “This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the devil. It smells of sulphur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.”

He went on to accuse the US of double standards on terrorism. “The US has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere … I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.”

From an article entitled “Chávez attacks ‘devil’ Bush in UN speech” written by Ed Pilkington, published by the Guardian on September 21, 2006. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/21/usa.venezuela

Not that the UN assembly was entirely in disagreement: after a sharp intake of breath, many delegates laughed and applauded:

Delegates and leaders from around the world streamed back into the chamber to hear Mr Chávez, and when he stepped down the vigorous applause lasted so long that it had to be curtailed by the chair. [Ibid.]

13 From an article entitled “Poor Prince Charles – it must be grim being haunted by Nazis at every turn”, written by David Mitchell, published in the Guardian on May 25, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/25/prince-charles-putin-hitler-david-mitchell

14 From a statement made by John McCain released on May 14, 2015. http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=48d5a75f-9c4a-44db-8908-02dccbbbcc71

15 From an article entitled “Is Vladimir Putin a Wimp or a Russian Hitler?” written by Lincoln Mitchell, published in the Observer on December 26, 2014. http://observer.com/2014/12/is-vladimir-putin-cool-or-hitler-or-both/ 

16 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

17 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

18 From an article entitled “Putin must be stopped. And sometimes only guns can stop guns” written by Tim Garton Ash, published in the Guardian on February 1, 2015. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/putin-stopped-ukraine-military-support-russian-propaganda

19 From an article entitled “A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo” written by Noam Chomsky, published by Z Magazine in April–May, 2001.  http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200005–.htm

The piece continues:

“Most killings and burnings [were] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA-UCK] had been active” or could infiltrate, some human-rights researchers reported, an attempt “to clear out areas of KLA support, using selective terror, robberies and sporadic killings.” These conclusions gain some support from the detailed OSCE review released in December, which “suggests a kind of military rationale for the expulsions, which were concentrated in areas controlled by the insurgents and along likely invasion routes.”

The WSJ analysis concludes that “NATO stepped up its claims about Serb ‘killing fields’” when it “saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by NATO’s bombs.” NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea presented “information” that can be traced to KLA-UCK sources. Many of the most lurid and prominently-published atrocity reports attributed to refugees and other sources were untrue, the WSJ concludes. Meanwhile NATO sought to deny its own atrocities, for example, by releasing a falsified videotape “shown at triple its real speed” to make it appear that “the killing of at least 14 civilians aboard a train on a bridge in Serbia last April” was unavoidable because “the train had been traveling too fast for the trajectory of the missiles to have been changed in time.”

The WSJ analysts nevertheless conclude that the “heinous” crimes, including the huge campaign of expulsion, “may well be enough to justify” the NATO bombing campaign, on the principle of retrospective justification.

20 According to the 2001 census 1,450,400 (60.4%) of the 2,401,200  living in Crimea are ethnic Russians. This compares with 576,600 (24.0%) Ukrainians and 245,200 (10.2%) Crimean Tatars. Data from wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Crimea#Ethnicities_.26_languages

21 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

22 From an article entitled “War crimes tribunal report shows Western powers exaggerated Kosovo victims of ethnic cleansing” written by Mike Ingram, published by the World Socialist Web Site on August 22, 2000. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/08/koso-a22.html

23 It is believed that between 1.1–1.3 million civilians died during the siege of Leningrad.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_of_the_Siege_of_Leningrad_on_the_city#Civilian_casualties

A further 1,017,881 Soviet soldiers were reported killed, captured or missing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad#Lifting_the_siege

At Stalingrad, the USSR reportedly suffered 1,129,619 total casualties;[96] 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad#Casualties

24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties#Human_losses_by_country

25 General “Buck” Turgidson’s fuller quote is:

“Yeah, I think it’d be extremely naive of us to imagine that these new developments [i.e., the end of civilisation!] are gonna cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mine shaft space in order to breed more prodigiously than we do thus knocking us out through superior numbers when we emerge. Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!”

 

26 From an article entitled “Doomsday clock: We are closer to doom than at any time since the Cold War, say scientists” written by Tom Bawnden, published in The Independent on January 22, 2015.

27 http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/policies/no-first-use_1995-04-05.htm

28 Taken from an article entitled “Putin could attack Baltic States warns former Nato chief” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in The Telegraph on February 5, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11393707/Putin-could-attack-Baltic-states-warns-former-Nato-chief.html

29 Taken from a speech and article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda” written by John Pilger, delivered at The Logan Symposium on December 5, 2014 and published here: http://johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda

30

“The nature of the threats was dramatically underscored last October, at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Russia, the US, and Cuba. Planners knew at the time that they had the fate of the world in their hands, but new information released at the Havana summit was truly startling. We learned that the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy’s “quarantine” line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could have “destroyed the Northern hemisphere,” as Eisenhower had warned.”

From Confronting the Empire delivered by Noam Chomsky at the III World Social Forum, on February 2, 2003. http://www.chomsky.info/talks/20030201.htm

31

“MOSCOW – It was just past midnight as Stanislav Petrov settled into the commander’s chair inside the secret bunker at Serpukhov-15, the installation where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States. Then the alarms went off. On the panel in front him was a red pulsating button. One word flashed: “Start.” It was Sept. 26, 1983, and Petrov was playing a principal role in one of the most harrowing incidents of the nuclear age, a false alarm signaling a U.S. missile attack… Petrov’s role was to evaluate the incoming data. At first, the satellite reported that one missile had been launched – then another, and another. Soon, the system was “roaring,” he recalled – five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched, it reported. Despite the electronic evidence, Petrov decided – and advised the others – that the satellite alert was a false alarm, a call that may have averted a nuclear holocaust. But he was relentlessly interrogated afterward, was never rewarded for his decision and today is a long-forgotten pensioner living in a town outside Moscow. He spoke openly about the incident, although the official account is still considered secret by authorities here… “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.” Petrov’s decision was based partly on a guess, he recalled. He had been told many times that a nuclear attack would be massive – an onslaught designed to overwhelm Soviet defenses at a single stroke. But the monitors showed only five missiles. “When people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles,” he remembered thinking at the time. “You can do little damage with just five missiles.”

Extract from “I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut” written by David Hoffman of Washington Post Foreign Service, published on Wednesday, February 10, 1999; Page A19. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/coldwar/shatter021099b.htm

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Iraq, John Pilger, Kosovo, Kuwait, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, USA

Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

*

Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

*

1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/ 

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan

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

stop the gagging law — campaign update

On August 30th, I received a message from the campaign group 38 Degrees about another major government assault on our civil liberties and right to protest. Click here to read more and watch a video about the proposed gagging law.

Since this time the legislation has passed through the House of Commons and reached The Lords. On January 10th, I received an update concerning progress of the bill and the continuing 38 Degrees campaign. The message read as follows:

Finally we’re getting somewhere. Yesterday the government announced plans to water down key parts of their gagging law. [1] It’s not enough, but it is progress. If we keep the pressure up now, there’s a real chance we can get further big changes.

Lords gather for one of their last debates to vote on the gagging law on Wednesday. Lord Harries – one of the key Lords trying to stop this threat to democracy – is tabling amendments which would help protect freedom of speech. [2] We need to help him win those votes.

A big petition will help Lord Harries win. He will carry it into the debating chamber – and announce the total signatures – right before the debate starts. Our signatures will prove to wavering peers that the public is against this threat to democracy.

The vote is on Wednesday [Jan 15th], so please sign now:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

Yesterday’s breakthrough shows that it’s worth us keeping on campaigning. People-powered pressure, together with the actions in parliament of some sympathetic Lords, are forcing the government to back down bit by bit. [3]

The risk is that the government will use these partial changes to avoid making bigger improvements. But that’s a risk we can see off. If enough of us sign the petition we can prove to the Lords that we still expect them to vote to protect democracy.

Over 50 charities and campaigning groups, including Hope Not Hate, Friends of the Earth, The Countryside Alliance and Oxfam have already signed up in support of this petition. [4]

Please now help it grow further by adding your signature too:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

PS: Here’s a bit more detail on the concessions made by the government yesterday. They announced that:

  • Certain campaign costs, including translation and accessibility for the deaf or blind people, won’t be restricted.
  • The time period which the gagging law would apply for the 2015 election will be reduced from 12 months to 7.5 months
  • Some really small campaign groups who don’t spend much money will be exempted.
  • The government will have to carry out a review of the law after the 2015 election.

But while these are important there are still some much bigger problems:

  • The amount of time that staff working for charities or campaigning groups will be allowed to spend campaigning will still be severely limited.
  • There are still big new restrictions on what campaigners can do in a single constituency.
  • The rules could prevent different charities and campaign groups from working together in coalition, threatening initiatives like Make Poverty History and Stop Climate Chaos.

*

NOTES:

[1] BBC News – Lobbying Bill: Ministers offer concessions after criticism from charities http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25671064
The government amendments http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/ml050-R-I.htm
NCVO – Lobbying bill – significant steps forward http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2014/01/09/lobbying-bill-significant-steps-forward/
[2] NACVA Government makes Lobbying Bill concessions http://www.navca.org.uk/news/view-article/government-makes-lobbying-bill-concessions
[3] Most notably the efforts of cross-bencher Lord Harries and the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, concerned Lib Dems such as Lord Tyler, and opposition parties including Labour.
[4] The Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement – Petition http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

*

Today [Jan 13th] I received the following update from 38 Degrees

Great news, the petition to ask the House of Lords to protect freedom of speech has already got 100,000 signatures. Thank you for signing. In less than 48 hours an influential Lord and former bishop, Lord Harries, will carry all our names into the House of Lords.

The total number of signatures will be announced just before the key votes. Please forward this email to your friends and family so they can make sure their names are there to be counted too.

This Wednesday’s vote could be one of our last chances to fix this controversial gagging law. It’s a law that could drastically reduce what charities and campaign groups can do. The campaign against it is working, and the government have started to backtrack on the severity of the law. But there are still big problems for us to fix.

Lord Harries has now proposed a series of changes that could protect our freedom to campaign on the issues that are important to us all. But we need to persuade other peers to vote for these changes this Wednesday.

Can you forward this email and ask your friends to sign the petition and help push it to over 150,000 signatures before the big vote?
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

*

Update:

On Wednesday 22nd, I received the following message from 38 Degrees:

Here’s a quick update on how it went today, with MPs voting again on the gagging law.

I’m afraid it’s bad news. Most Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs chose to follow party orders. They reversed the main improvements made in the House of Lords.

This means they voted:
— to remove new rules limiting secret lobbying by big business
— to put back in key limits on what campaigners, charities, and voluntary groups can do to speak up on issues of the day [1]

It’s pretty depressing. But it’s not over. The House of Lords will now get another vote – probably next week. They have the option to refuse to back down, and force MPs to vote yet again.

The votes were quite close. A number of government MPs did rebel – thanks in no small part to all the petitions, leaflets, emails and events which 38 Degrees members like you made happen.

If 17 more Conservative or Lib Dem MPs had voted differently, we would have won. Maybe we can get some more to change their minds next time around?

Details of how each MP voted will be posted on the 38 Degrees website, as soon as they are published (probably tomorrow morning).

All of us will need to think quickly about what we do next to stand up for democracy and freedom of speech. Options could include:
– a fresh push to encourage the Lords to hold firm next week

– naming and shaming MPs who voted to make the gagging law worse again today and pushing them to change their minds
– looking at options for legal challenges to the gagging law’s provisions
– thinking through ways we can keep campaigning and speaking up on the issues that matter despite the gagging law

Today, there’s lots to feel fed up about. Yet again we’ve seen MPs push through a law which the public have never voted for, and which has been heavily criticised by everyone from the United Nations to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Women’s Institute to the Royal British Legion. [2]

But there are reasons to feel hopeful too. This campaign has brought together so many different organisations and so many people from all walks of life. [3] Together we’re proving that whilst faith in politicians is at an all time low, passion for real democracy is alive and kicking.

If you have thoughts or suggestions on what we should do together next, or just want to share how you’re feeling, you can join the conversation on the 38 Degrees Facebook page, here:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

Thanks for everything you do,

David
38 Degrees Executive Director

PS: On the subject of MPs wanting to shut us up, here’s the story of the MP who called the police when 38 Degrees members visited him to deliver a petition!
http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/MP-dubbed-bit-cowardly-calling-police-petitioners/story-20467776-detail/story.html

And here’s an MP saying it’s “stupid” to email your MP!
http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/Policy_and_Politics/article/1228234/tory-mp-brands-38-degrees-campaign-stupid/

PPS: MPs let us down today, but it isn’t quite over yet – so please do share your ideas for what we could do next. Either by replying here or by posting on the 38 Degrees Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

NOTES
[1] There were 3 big votes in the Commons today:
— On the vote to require Ministers’ special advisors to record their meetings with lobbyists 311 MPs voted to reject the change, and 258 voted to accept them.
— On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to how much staff costs count towards total spending limits, amendment 108: 310 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 278 MPs to accept them into the Bill
— On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to the scope of what activity counts towards constituency spending limits, amendments 26 and 27: 314 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 274 MPs to accept them

[2] The Guardian: Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official:
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/12/lobbying-bill-tarnish-britain-un-official
National Federation of Women’s Institutes: Briefing page on the Lobbying Bill:
http://www.thewi.org.uk/media-centre/latest-press-releases-and-statements/lobbying-bill
Citizens Advice Bureau: Lobbying Bill briefings:
http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/latest_parliamentary_briefings.htm
The Royal British Legion: Lobbying Bill: Why asking politicians to back our troops could be stopped under this sloppy law:
http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/news-events/news/campaigning/lobbying-bill-why-asking-politicians-to-back-our-troops-could-be-stopped-under-this-sloppy-law

[3] Over 130 NGOs, including 38 Degrees, and over 160,000 people signed a petition against the gagging law: http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

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UN condemns force-feeding as Gitmo hunger strike enters 13th week — Clive Stafford Smith fights on for justice

The UN human rights office has condemned force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay, calling it ‘torture’ and a breach of international law. At least 21 inmates out of the 100 officially on strike are being force-fed through nasal tubes.

Click here to read more from an article published by Russia Today yesterday.

Shockingly, the majority of the inmates still incarcerated at Guantánamo – 86 of the 166 – have long since been cleared of all terrorism charges by the Obama administration and so are legally entitled to return home. These prisoners continue to languish at Gitmo simply as a consequence of diplomatic and procedural constraints.

Little more than a month ago, I put together a short post drawing attention to the plight of the prisoners who remain trapped at Guantánamo, and to the fact that the majority of those inmates were involved in a mass hunger strike; a protest, which having started on February 6th, was by then already past its fiftieth day. At this time, the officially reported number was only 26 of the inmates, but this figure was totally dismissed by lawyers with access to the prisoners who were already aware that the true number exceeded a hundred.

The official figure has been steadily rising ever since. So by April 13th, according to The Pentagon at least, the hunger strike involved up to 43 prisoners.1 Little more than a week later, on April 22nd, another BBC news report raised the official figure of prisoners on hunger strike to 84.2 And then, by April 24th, that official figure had grown once more “with Gitmo authorities saying only 92 detainees are taking part in the hunger strike”.

On the same day, Russia Today‘s Sara Firth spoke with Clive Stafford Smith, who is currently representing 15 Guantánamo prisoners, including the last remaining British resident Shaker Aamer held indefinitely at the camp. He told them:

I spent my whole life representing people on death rows. I’ve been to most of the death rows of the southern states of America. Guantánamo, for all the nonsense that the military puts out about it, is worse than any death row I’ve ever been to on two different levels. First you’ve got the physical treatment of the prisoners. There is no prison in the US, where you can beat a prisoner and not get sued until next millennium. So it’s worse because no one controls the military. But on the other level it’s far worse psychologically.

The military got upset when we called Guantánamo a gulag, because they don’t like the echoes of the Soviet Union and the old days. To take that analogy a bit further, which I think is totally fair, I don’t think that there was a gulag in the Soviet Union where 52 percent of the prisoners had been told that they were cleared for release but they couldn’t go. That sort of torture is worse than anything. Shaker was told he was cleared in 2007 by Bush, 2009 by Obama and he is still there. And there is no legitimate reason why he can’t come back to London tomorrow.

The Foreign Secretary [William Hague] wrote to me saying that he’d been told by the Americans that Shaker is only cleared to go to Saudi Arabia, not to Britain. But that’s total drivel. There is no other prisoner, I know of 166 people in Guantánamo, who has only been cleared to go to one place. Shaker has never been told he has only been cleared to go to one place. He’s been given two notices neither of which says that. And there is a reason for it. And the reason is that they want to gag him. The US wants him to go to Saudi Arabia on the promise that the Saudis will keep him banged up forever, he won’t be able to talk to the media, he won’t talk to anyone.

So certainly the US would like to keep Shaker quiet because of everything he has seen and everything that’s happened to him. But I’m very much afraid that it’s also the British intelligence services who want to keep him quiet, because they know that Shaker is a witness against them. Going down to Bagram airforce base in January 2002 the British saw him and were legally complicit in his torture there. But also Shaker saw Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi being tortured and this is the most embarrassing example America has ever had. So the last thing that the British or Americans want to come out of the Guantánamo Bay is Shaker Aamer, who can shed some lights on the torture that led to catastrophic mistakes. […]

He was one of the first five prisoners held by the Americans in Bagram and he was taken there just before New Year 2001. Al-Libi had just been taken and the Americans at the time thought that he was a big Al-Qaeda person, which he wasn’t even a member of. The Americans were abusing him to try to get him to make statements. Shaker was taken from the cage, where he was held, into the room where al-Libi was being abused. He saw the people who were there, he can identify some of those people. The British were present in Bagram at that time. And he can tell you a whole lot about what was going on in terms of abuse of al-Libi. Now al-Libi can’t speak for himself, because he was sent back to Libya, where he according to the Libyans died or according to the other people was murdered. One extraordinary embarrassing witness has disappeared and Shaker is one of the few people that remain.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Russia Today website.

Click here to follow RT’s day-by-day timeline of the Gitmo hunger strike.

*

Clive Stafford Smith is a person I have greatly admired for many years. He had initially trained to be a journalist, but then, following a summer spent meeting death row inmates — an experience that reinforced his original abhorrence of capital punishment — he came to the dramatic conclusion that he might achieve more by legally defending them instead of simply writing about them. Following this revelation, he retrained in law and set up his own legal practice.

During the decades since, Stafford Smith, who became founder and director of Reprieve, has represented more than 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern United States. And then, when the preposterous “War on Terror” was launched and the hooded men in orange boiler suits began to be unloaded and dumped into the cages at Guantánamo without due process and their human rights violated, Stafford Smith turned his attention to helping these “enemy combatants” – the majority of whom, he quickly realised, were not merely being detained without charge, but entirely innocent of any involvement in terrorist activities. Up to now, he has helped secure the release of 65 Guantánamo Bay prisoners as well as others across the world who have been detained and tortured in black prisons such as Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, Afghanistan.

Here is Clive Stafford Smith speaking at a recent conference and sat alongside some of the prisoners he has helped to release, including Sudanese journalist Sami al-Hajj who was picked up in Afghanistan by the Pakistani army whilst on assignment with Al Jazeera, and ended up being held in Guantánamo without charge for more than six years.

The very epitome of the eternal optimist, it seems that almost nothing can dull Stafford Smith’s enthusiasm and sense of humour, or dent his belief that we will eventually reach a better future. He finishes on a characteristically upbeat point saying “We’re going to win this battle, it’s just a matter of when”:

On January 20th 2010, just one year after Obama’s inauguration, Clive Stafford Smith had been invited to speak at the Frontline Club with regards to the situation at Guantánamo Bay as well as the detention facilities at Bagram and Abu Ghraib. The proceedings were moderated by BBC correspondent Jon Manel.

One of the underlying issues back then was to what extent had Obama helped in propelling the United States away from the Bush administration’s use of torture and extraordinary rendition? In my view, and certainly with hindsight, Clive Stafford Smith is rather too generous when it comes to Obama’s record, but overall what he had to say was as insightful as ever:

1 From an article entitled “Clashes at Guantánamo over hunger strike prisoners” published by BBC news on April 13, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22140663

2 From an article entitled “Over half of Guantánamo Bay’s detainees join hunger strike” written by Tom Santorelli, published by BBC news on April 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22249470

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Libya one year on, and the debate over NATO intervention in Syria

It is just over a year since the start of the Libyan uprising, and four months since the overthrow of Gaddafi, but concerns are growing that lingering divisions between factions could tear it apart, with more than 500 militias still operating throughout the country.

On Tuesday [Feb 21st], Democracy Now! spoke briefly with co-author of last week’s Amnesty International report, Carsten Jürgensen, who told them of the widespread human rights abuses that continue to be committed in Libya:

Horrific images of people who have been tortured and abused, people who have been tortured very recently when we saw them, in some cases only hours before. In fact, my colleagues saw detainees being beaten in a courtyard of a prison. And people have shown us, you know, obvious traces of torture, being whipped, or people also told us they have been subjected to electric shocks. People have been beaten by all sorts of objects.

They also spoke to Vijay Prashad, chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, asking both for his thoughts about Libya and, in light of that, what action should now be taken in Syria. Here is part of his answer:

The uprising, it seems to me, within a month of breaking out in February, had gained immense momentum. And at its highest point, it was at the time when NATO decided to intervene. There was a conversion of an uprising, an internal civil war, into a NATO intervention. By May, there were already concerns from Amnesty International that there were maybe atrocities by NATO, by rebel forces and by Gaddafi’s troops, that it was a very dangerous soup of violence in Libya. This, Amnesty said in May of last year…

In October, Amnesty did another very important report suggesting that if human rights is going to be used as a lubricant for intervention, one has to be very careful to continue to investigate the violence. One has to not only document violence, but also see that the perpetrators are prosecuted. And one has to bring a society to some kind of closure. This is what Amnesty began to say in October. Those were very prescient words from Amnesty, because, indeed, what Amnesty had proposed has not happened since October.

Russia recently requested that the UN Security Council investigate the deaths of civilians (estimated to be as many as 30,000) during the NATO bombing campaign of Libya. In response, US Ambassador Susan Rice accused the Russians of deliberately trying to distract attention from the situation in Syria. Prashad told Democracy Now! :

The real question is, why won’t NATO allow an evaluation of the Libyan war? What if we discover that the number of civilian casualties, the bombing in places like Marjah, the bombing in places in the center of Tripoli, had indeed cost the lives of a very large number of civilians? What is the harm of NATO coming under an evaluation? It will demonstrate, for instance, the actual commitment to human rights and to responsibility to protect civilians that the United States purports to support. So, the fact that they are not allowing an evaluation causes concern around the world. It means, perhaps, that the bombing campaigns are not going to protect civilians. They might, in fact, exacerbate the danger to civilians. […]

[There] are serious questions about the truncating of a human rights process towards war making rather than towards peace making. So I don’t see this as a distraction; I see this as the fundamental question.

And it is precisely why the Russians and the Chinese are loathe to give another open-ended resolution to allow NATO to continue war making in Syria. They have said quite clearly that unless the resolution says this is not going to invoke Chapter 7, Article 42, of the U.N. Charter—in other words, the right to make war or to preserve the principles of the United Nations—unless it says specifically that this resolution is not under Chapter 7, we cannot sign on to it. So, I think there are some serious issues at stake. This veto by the Russians and the Chinese is not disgusting or a distraction. It’s about the principles involved here and whether this is just about a power grab by the West or a genuine concern for the people of Libya and Syria.

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

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how the markets make famine

The Food Crisis Strikes Again

Esther Vivas

The threat of a new food crisis is already a reality. The price of food began to rise to record levels again, according to the FAO Food Price Index of February, 2011, which does a monthly analysis of global prices of a basic food basket made up of grains, seed oils, dairy products, meat and sugar. The Index came to a new historic maximum, the highest since the FAO began to study food prices in 1990. In the past months, prices have leveled off but analysts predict more hikes in the coming months.

This increase in the cost of food, especially basic grains, has serious consequences for southern countries with low incomes and dependency on food imports, and for the millions of families in these countries that devote between 50 and 60 percent of their income to food—a figure that rises to 80 percent in the poorest countries. In these countries, the rise in the price of food products makes them inaccessible.

We are approaching a billion people—one out of every six on the planet—that today do not have access to adequate food. World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, affirmed that the current food crisis has increased the number of persons who suffer chronic hunger by 44 million. In 2009, this number was surpassed, reaching 1.023 billion people undernourished on the planet, a figure that went down slightly in 2010, but without returning to the levels before the food and economic crisis of 2008 and 2009.

The present crisis takes place in the context of an abundance of food. Food production has multiplied over the three decades since the sixties, while the world population has merely doubled since then. There’s plenty of food. Contrary to what international institutions like the FAO, World Bank and World Trade Organization say, it’s not a problem of production, but rather a problem of access to food. These organizations urge an increase in production through a new Green Revolution, which would only make the food, social and ecological crises worse.

Popular Rebellions

The popular rebellions in northern Africa and the Middle East had among the many catalysts the rise in food prices. In December of 2010, in Tunis, the poorest of the population occupied the frontline of the conflict, demanding, among other things, access to food.

In January of 2011, youth demonstrated in Algeria blocking highways, burning stores and attacking police stations to protest for the rise of prices in basic foods. Similar cases were seen in Jordan, Sudan and Yemen. Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world, and depends on food imports.

Evidently other factors came into play in the uprisings: high unemployment, lack of democratic freedoms, corruption, lack of housing and basic services, etc. In any case, the rise in food prices was one of the initial catalysts.

A Central Cause

What are the causes of the new spike in the cost of our meals? Although international institutions and experts have pointed to several elements such as meteorological phenomena that affect harvests in produce countries, the increase in the demand in emerging countries, financial speculation, the growing production of agrofuels, among others—various indices point to speculation with raw food materials as one of the main reasons for food price increases.

In 2007-2008 the world experienced a profound food crisis. Basic foods prices such as wheat, soy and rice rose by 130%, 87% and 74% respectively. Then, as now, several causes converged, but the most important were production of agrofuels and the growing speculative investment in the food futures markets. But this increase in the price of food leveled off in 2009, in part probably due to the economic crisis and a reduction in financial speculation.

By mid 2010, with international financial markets calmed down and huge sums of public money injected into the private banks, food speculating struck again and the price of foods began to rise. To “save the banks”, after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, it is estimated that the governments of rich countries gave a total of $20 trillion dollars to stabilize the banking system and lower interest rates.

With the influx of money, speculators saw incentives to acquire new loans and buy merchandise that predictably would rise rapidly in value. The same banks, high-risk funds, etc. that caused the subprime mortgage crisis are currently responsible for speculation in raw materials and the rise in the price of food, taking advantage of unregulated global commodity markets.

The food crisis is intimately linked to the economic crisis and the logic of a system that promotes, for example, plans to bail out Greece and Ireland while sacrificing their sovereignty to international institutions, just as it sacrifices food sovereignty of the peoples to the interests of the market.

A Grower’s Guarantee or a Speculator’s Bonanza?

There has always been some speculation in the price of foods and this is the logic behind futures markets. In their current form, futures markets date back to the mid-1900s when they began in the United States. These are legal standardized agreements to buy and sell physical merchandise in a previously established time period in the future and have been a mechanism to guarantee a minimum price to the producer faced with the oscillations of the market.

It works like this: Farmers sell their production to traders before harvest to protect themselves from uncertainties in the weather, for example, and to guarantee a future price. The trader also benefits. When the harvest is bad, the farmer still gets a good income and when the harvest is optimal, the trader benefits even more.

This same mechanism is used by speculators to make money off the deregulation of the raw materials markets that was spurred in the mid-nineties in the United States and Great Britain by banks, free-market politicians and high-risk funds in the context of the process of deregulation of the world economy. The contracts to buy and sell food became “derivatives” that could be traded independently of the real agricultural transactions. A new business was born—food speculation.

Speculators today have more weight in the futures markets, even though these transactions have nothing to do with real supply and demand. Mike Masters, manager of Masters Capital Management, points out that in 1998 speculative financial investment in the agricultural sectors was around 25% and today it is close to 75%. These transactions are carried out in the markets, the most important of which on the world level is the commodities market in Chicago, while in Europe food and raw materials are traded in the futures markets of London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

A “100% Natural Deposit”

In 2006/2007, following the fall in the high-risk mortgage loan market in the United States, institutional investors like banks, insurance companies and investment funds sought safer and higher yield places to invest their money. Food and raw materials became a popular alternative. As the price of food soared, investments in the food futures markets rose, pushing the price of grains up and worsening inflation in food prices.

In Germany, the Deutsche Bank announced easy earnings if invested in rising agricultural products. And similar business deals were promoted by the major European bank BNP Paribas. Catalunya Caixa urged its clients in January 2011 to invest in raw materials under the slogan a “100% natural deposit”.

What did they offer? A guarantee of 100% of capital with the possibility of obtaining profits of up to 7% annually. How? According to the ads, based on “the evolution of yields in three food products: sugar, coffee and corn”. To assure such high yields, the ads pointed out that prices of these three products had increased at 61%, 34% and 38% respectively over the past months due to “growing demand that is increasing above the rate of production”, because of the increase in world population, and agrofuels production.

Catalunya Caixa left out important information, however: food speculation that provided such handsome profits increases the price of food, makes it inaccessible to large parts of the population in the global South and condemns thousands of people to hunger, poverty and death in these countries.

Oil Dependency

Another element that exacerbated the food crisis is the heavy dependency on oil of the current model of food production and distribution. The rise in the price of oil had a direct impact on the similar rise in the cost of basic foods. In 2007 and 2008 the price of oil and the price of foods reached record levels. Between July of 2007 and June of 2008, crude oil went from 75 dollars a barrel to 140 dollars, while the price of basic foods went from 160 dollars to 225, according to the FAO Food Index.

Food and agriculture have become heavily dependent on oil. Following the Second World War and with the Green Revolution in the sixties and seventies, and with the supposed increase in production, an intensive and industrial model of agriculture was adopted. In the current system, our food travels thousands of kilometers before it arrives on our tables; production requires the intensive use of farm machinery, chemicals pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This model could not exist without oil.

The rise in the price of oil and the strategy of governments to combat climate change has led to a growing investment in the production of alternative fuels, agrofuels, such as biodiesel and bioethanol, made from sugar, corn and other crops. But this production has entered into direct competition with food production for consumption and is now another cause of the rise in food prices.

The World Bank recognizes that when the price of oil goes over fifty dollars a barrel, a 1% increase causes a 0.9% increase in the price of corn, since “for every dollar that the price of oil rises the profitability of ethanol rises and consequently the demand for corn grows.”

Since 2004, two-thirds of the rise in world production of corn was destined to satisfy the North American demand for agrofuels. In 2010, 35% of the corn harvest in the United States, which is 14% of world production, was used to produce ethanol. And the tendency is on the rise.

But beyond the causes such as food speculation and the rise in oil prices that has an impact on the growing investment in agrofuels, leading to competition among grain production for consumption and for transportation, the food and agriculture system is profoundly vulnerable and in the hands of the market. The growing liberalization of the sector in the last decades, the privatization of natural resources (water, land, seed), the imposition of a international model of trade at the service of private interests, etc., has led to the current crisis.

As long as agriculture and food continue to be considered merchandise in the hands of the highest bidder, and business interests prevail over food needs and the limits of the planet, our food security and the welfare of the earth are far from assured.

*Esther Vivas is a member of the Center for the Study of Social movements (Centro de Estudios sobre Movimientos Sociales) in the Universidad Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). She is the author of “En pie contra la deuda externa” (El Viejo Topo, 2008) among other publictions, and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/english

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Filed under Egypt, Esther Vivas, financial derivatives, Middle East, neo-liberalism, Sub-Saharan Africa, Tunisia, Uncategorized