The Guardian on the CPJ’s Impunity Index.

The Committee to Protect Journalists have today published their annual list of states where the murders of journalists are likely to go unpunished.

Here’s the top 10 as of 2014:

1. Iraq
2. Somalia
3. Philippines
4. Sri Lanka
5. Syria
6. Afghanistan
7. Mexico
8. Colombia
9. Pakistan
10. Russia

The worst, then, is Iraq – a country the UK recently spent over six years occupying. The 6th worst is Afghanistan – a country the UK has been occupying for well over ten years.

You might think that a British newspaper would be interested in focusing on these countries, perhaps in the context of asking just what kind of ‘nations’ British armed forces have helped ‘build’ there over the past decade.

These figures don’t exactly chime with the pro-war narrative of Iraq and Afghanistan being transformed into flourishing, peaceful democracies, after all.

But no. Here’s the first two paragraphs from the commentary accompanying The Guardian’s datablog about the report (emphasis mine):

Syria has joined a list – compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists – of countries where journalists’ murders are most likely to go unpunished.

The 2014 Impunity Index, published today by the committee, shows that Syria – which topped the world’s most dangerous country for journalists index – has been ranked the fifth worst country for where journalists’ murders are most likely to go unpunished. The CPJ say that Syria’s appearance on the list “highlights the rising number of targeted killings”.

And here is their concluding sentence:

Syria, which was named by the CPJ as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, has joined the list for the first time this year’.

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/apr/16/where-are-the-murders-of-journalists-most-likely-to-go-unpunished-iraq-syria?CMP=twt_gu

So the focus is instead clearly on 5th placed Syria (no other country gets as many mentions), with Iraq being mentioned only once, and Afghanistan not at all.

And i’m sure the fact that Syria is the Official Bad Guy of the moment, and a current target for British subversion and regime change, is entirely co-incidental to that.

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NATO/ISAF’s ‘parting gift’ to Afghan children.

A report from The Washington Post, which highlights the increasing number of Afghan children who are being killed by unexploded ordnance on abandoned NATO/ISAF firing ranges.

The report says that ‘of the casualties recorded by the United Nations, 88 percent were children’, with ‘most of the victims . . . taking their animals to graze, collecting firewood or searching for scrap metal’.

A bare minimum of 77 people have been killed in this fashion since 2012, but the number is likely higher.

This was the experience of a couple of Afghan families:

‘Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.

“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.

One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said’.

‘Two months after his family moved to Bagram, Abdul Wakhil, 12, walked around the area looking for firewood and unknowingly entered the range. Thirty feet from the main road, he stepped on an explosive.

One of his legs was blown off. The other was amputated at a Kabul hospital.

He doesn’t have prosthetics or a wheelchair, so he has to be carried everywhere.

“What can he do without legs?” said his brother, Abdul Mateen, 25. “His future is hopeless.”

The Occupiers have promised to clean up the ranges, although some military officials have expressed doubt as to the feasibility of this, given a lack of manpower.

The article also states that ‘because Afghanistan is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, U.S. officials say they are not legally obligated to clear any of the unexploded ordnance’.

The Occupying powers have also ‘refused to construct fencing’ around the ranges, saying that this ‘would be prohibitively expensive and probably ineffective’.

Let us not forget that the life of an Afghan civilian can be worth as little as $210  to the Occupying forces, so paying the ‘compensation’ for any deaths could well turn out to be more cost effective than constructing thousands of square miles of  barriers (that grim calculus aside, Afghans losing access to tens of thousands of square miles of their own land, simply because the Occupiers wanted to use it to test the weapons which had previously been used to kill them with, would be a Kafkaesque injustice indeed).

But at this moment in time, it appears that even if – and that’s a big and very doubtful ‘if’ – the Occupying forces do completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, they will continue to kill and maim Afghan children long into the future.

 

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In light of Hersh’s recent article on Ghouta, worth revisiting this AP piece from August 29th 2013.

Like Hersh’s article, it’s based on leaks from anonymous Intelligence and Political sources. It quickly disappeared down the memory hole in the rush to blame the regime and bomb Syria, but among other things it says (all emphasis mine):

President Barack Obama declared unequivocally Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible, while laying the groundwork for an expected U.S. military strike . . . However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to describe the intelligence picture — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” — intelligence that turned out to be wrong’.

‘A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats – including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime’s chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials’.

‘U.S. satellites have captured images of Syrian troops moving trucks into weapons storage areas and removing materials, but U.S. analysts have not been able to track what was moved or, in some cases, where it was relocated. They are also not certain that when they saw what looked like Assad’s forces moving chemical supplies, those forces were able to remove everything before rebels took over an area where weapons had been stored’.

‘In addition, an intercept of Syrian military officials discussing the strike was among low-level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack back to an Assad insider or even a senior Syrian commander, the officials said‘.

‘U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war‘.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ap-sources-intelligence-weapons-no-slam-dunk

This article certainly adds credence to, or compliments if you like, the claims in Hersh’s article, and it seems fairly clear that U.S. Intelligence at the time weren’t in fact certain of regime guilt, and were indeed discussing the possibility of a rebel ‘false flag’. Some Intelligence operatives were clearly concerned enough about the way in which the intelligence was being (mis)used to drum up a case for war that they were prepared to go to the Associated Press to make those concerns known.

Is it so hard to imagine that they would also go to a reporter who is renowned for having excellent contacts in the Intelligence community?

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Seymour Hersh: the backlash.

On Sunday 6th April, the London Review of Books published an article by Seymour Hersh about the chemical weapon attacks in Ghouta and surrounding areas in August 2013, in which he makes a number of explosive claims. Among these claims are that:

  • British scientists at Porton Down had established that the Sarin used in the attacks didn’t match any Sarin known to exist the in Syrian regime’s Arsenal, and then told their U.S. counter-parts that the case against the Assad regime would therefore not ‘hold up’.
  • That actors within the Turkish military and intelligence establishment thought they could make Obama enforce his ‘Red Line’ on chemical weapons usage by ‘dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria’.
  • That when the Obama regime claimed after the attacks that  only the Assad regime had access to Sarin, they knew this to be incorrect, as it was  contradicted by a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from June 20th 2013.
  •  That a senior CIA Official had sent a message in August 2013 stating that the attacks were ‘not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this’.
  • And most explosively of all, that the U.S. Intelligence community had reason to believe, based on communications intercepts, that the attacks were ‘a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line’. That is, a false flag attack designed to draw the U.S. into an open war with Syria.

The article has caused much consternation among those people in the corporate media and the NGO community who are 100% certain that the Assad regime was responsible for the attacks. A small sampling of tweets to demonstrate the fact:

From ex-Guardian middle east editor Brian Whitaker:

From Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert:

From Rana Kabbani (who has written about Syria for The Guardian):

From the autodidactic weapons buff Eliot Higgins:

From Channel Four’s Paul Mason:

So if these people are correct, then, Hersh’s article is ill informed, fictitious genocide denying rubbish that has since been demolished by other journalists.

I’ve read quite a few of the attempted debunkings of Hersh’s article, and while some of them do, I think, make reasonable criticisms, none of them have come anywhere near close to ‘demolishing’ it. You can read some of the response to Hersh here:

The main criticisms seem to be:

1. Hersh ignores the fact that the attacks appear to have been carried out using Volcano rockets, which have been filmed in the possession of regime forces (this is Eliot Higgin’s main criticism). But the former UN Weapons Inspector and munitions expert Richard Lloyd has said on Twitter that:

I would say that Lloyd is at least as credible as Higgins, if not far more so, and he certainly doesn’t seem to believe that the use of Volcanos is incontrovertible evidence of regime guilt. Indeed, in January 2014, he told Mcclatchey newspapers that ‘the Syrian rebels most definitely have the ability to make these weapons . . . I think they might have more ability than the Syrian government’.

2. That the Sarin sample allegedly tested at Porton Down, and which didn’t match any known Sarin from the Assad regime’s arsenal, came from Russian Intelligence, and is therefore of questionable reliability. This to me is a reasonable criticism, because Russian Intelligence do have a vested interest in exonerating the Assad regime. But as Hersh tells it, the scientists at Porton Down – who you wouldn’t expect to easily fall for the ruses of Russian Intelligence – appear to have accepted the sample as genuine.

3. That the U.N. have said that the Sarin came from government stockpiles, with Just Security quoting a U.N. report which reads ‘the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military’.

While the report does indeed say this, the use of ‘likely’ is a bit of a qualifier, and suggests a degree of doubt. This reading is further backed up by the fact that the very same report, in reference to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, then says ‘In no incident was the commission’s evidentiary threshold met with regard to the perpetrator’ (p.19).

We are all entitled to infer our own conclusions from this U.N. report, but it categorically does not blame the Syrian regime.

4. That the claim of Turkish regime culpability for the attacks comes from a single ‘former intelligence’ source. Again, i’d say that’s a reasonable criticism, given we don’t know who that source was, or how reliable they are.

I guess reactions to the article might ultimately come down to how much you trust Seymour Hersh to be able to accurately mine and convey information – because that is essentially what he is asking you to do. Trust him and his sources. And for a lot of people, including me, his track record dictates that i’d put a great deal of trust in his work indeed, while not necessarily being 100% certain that every claim he has conveyed is the unvarnished truth.

At the very least, his article contains enough information to suggest that the public hasn’t been told the full story of what happened in Ghouta and surrounding areas on August 21st, and that despite protestations to the contrary, the ‘Assad definitely done it’ theory doesn’t have to be the only one in town.

 

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Huffington Post feature on a U.S. Special Forces operative in Afghanistan.

His name is Jim Gant, and apparently he played a considerable role in setting up the so-called Afghan Local Police paramilitary units circa 2010. The ALP have subsequently been implicated in crimes like rape, murder, abduction and land theft by Human Rights Watch, as the article very briefly touches on.

He received an award in 2011 for ‘exceptionally meritorious achievement’ from David Petraeus.

It all ended in tears for Gant, though, when he was essentially forced to retire in 2012 amidst what he claims were trumped up allegations of drinking, drug taking and general disregard for the rules (although he freely admits that he was a regular rule breaker, as per the Special Forces ‘tradition’).

Thus, says The Huffington Post, ‘was lost a promising initiative, one that might have matured into an inexpensive and self-sustaining movement to enable Afghans to help stabilize their own country’.

Which would seem like a fairly clear endorsement of Gant (and other ‘rule-breaking mavericks’, as they put it) and his methods.

Here are a few choice quotes from the article, of Gant in his own words:

‘I am in a group of outliers that really, really, really enjoyed combat, to include killing — to hunt another human being down and shoot him in the face’.

‘They (Afghan villagers) knew, from back in ’03 and ’04, that I had smoked a lot of people. And they knew I’d burn the whole frickin’ place down . . . But I’d also tell them, ‘Hey — I did not come to fight this time,’ and I think that resonated with them’.

And I find it hard to imagine that the ‘liberal’ Huffington Post would ever give such a sympathetic write-up to (say) a Syrian Arab Army Special Forces operative who had helped set up counter-insurgency militias implicated in major atrocities, and who boasted of his love for hunting human beings down and ‘shooting them in the face’, and having ‘smoked an awful lot of people’.

In fact, i’m positive they’d have him down as an irredeemable monster in no uncertain terms.

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The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer and his doublethink on Syria.

In his latest dispatch from Aleppo, in which he documents some of the horrors of the conflict in Syria, we find these three paragraphs, one directly following the other.

The first two:

‘Let us not pretend: our non-involvement was also a positive choice. From the beginning of the war, anti-war activists, newspaper columnists and backbenchers alike demanded we stay out of the Middle East, just this once. This was not our fight – despite the West’s deep colonial involvement in organising this corrupt, dictatorial and sectarian state. Then, miraculously, our governments listened, rejecting no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, or arms supplies to try to strengthen moderates – and moderates there once were – against the regime’s thugs and the jihadists’ crazies.

Maybe they were right to do so, though I note that there are no brickbats cast at those who said then: “We will only make things worse.” How much worse could they now be?”.

This sentence – ‘Let us not pretend: our non-involvement was also a positive choice’ – is somewhat ambiguous. Is he saying that we shouldn’t pretend our ‘non-involvement’ was a positive choice, or saying that we shouldn’t pretend our ‘non-involvement’ wasn’t a positive choice?

From the context, I would say the strong suggestion appears to be that ‘our’ non-involvement in Syria is something to be lamented; that maybe ‘we’ could have stopped things getting worse there; and that those who argued against military intervention in Syria are perhaps deserving of ‘brickbats’.

Spencer then writes:

‘President Obama’s America, meanwhile, has decided to comply with the world’s request that it cease to be its policeman. Physician, heal thyself, the Middle East said after Iraq, and Mr Obama has decided to take it literally, focusing his energies on health care reform rather than leading the world. Now the world has no policeman, with predictable consequences. Not that America will tolerate an Assad victory either, of course: the arms supplies fed in through proxies will be just enough to keep the war going indefinitely’.

Here, he seems to be lamenting that the U.S. has decided to stop being the ‘world’s Policeman’ – although in reality, that is nonsense, given the number of countries the U.S. is still occupying, bombing and subverting. And if we are to compare the U.S. to a Policeman, then it is a murderous, corrupt, selfish and calculating Policeman, perhaps with a degree of superficial charm. A sociopathic Policeman, you might say.

Anyway, he also seems to be suggesting that the events we are seeing unfold in Syria now are the ‘predictable consequences’ of the U.S. deciding to stop being the ‘world’s Policeman’. If only they’d taken it upon themselves to turn up in Syria and feel a few collars, then things would’ve been better.

But strangely, he then concedes in the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph that ‘of course’, the U.S. are providing ‘arms supplies fed in through proxies’ to Syrian rebels, and that these supplies are helping to ‘keep the war going indefinitely’.

Or to put it another way, the U.S. *is* actually militarily intervening in Syria, and such intervention is helping to prolong the war, and so by extension the killing, injury, displacement and misery that so pertubes him.

So on my reading, Spencer’s general conclusions appear to be:

1. The U.S./the ‘world’s Policeman’ has refused to get involved in Syria, and that non-involvement has seen the situation deteriorate.

2. The U.S. is involved in Syria, and their involvement is helping to prolong the conflict (which by extension, has seen the situation deteriorate).

And I wonder if such contradictory conclusions are what happens when deeply ingrained ideological beliefs (1) come into conflict with documented fact (2).

You somehow have to end up believing that both conclusions are true.

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Plurality of Libyans continue to think they’re worse off now than under Gadaffi.

In November 2013, a poll conducted and released by JMW Consulting and the National Democratic Institute found that 41% of Libyans thought they were worse off than they had been under the regime of Muammar Gadaffi, compared to 32% who thought they were better off.

The same two organisations have recently released another poll, asking the same question., among others. And according to The Libya Herald, the question got exactly the same results. To quote:

’41 percent believe that Libya is worse off than before the 2011 revolution. Only 32 percent believe it is better off’.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/12/libyans-continue-to-be-optimistic-for-democracy-against-use-of-force-and-unilateral-regional-autonomy/#axzz2vnshRJzH

Once again, the point here – for me – isn’t to in any way imply that Libyans had it good under the regime of Muammar Gadaffi. While the guy certainly did have his supporters, and while there was a degree of development in areas like healthcare, life expectancy and education under his rule, he did preside over an authoritarian state that denied large swathes of the population their basic political, civil, human and economic rights.

The point is that, if we are to recognise that life under the regime of Muammar Gadaffi was no bed of roses for a great many Libyans, how bad must it be now for almost half of them to say that things have gotten worse since his overthrow?

The poll also finds that 60% of Libyans think that disarming militias and ensuring security are the most important tasks facing Libya at the moment. And it’s hardly surprising, as a brief review of what has been happening there over the last few months will demonstrate. E.G.:

March 12th: Two dead in attack on closed pharmaceutical factory

March 9th: Two injured in Matouba bomb attack

March 8th: Former security officer killed in Benghazi

March 2nd: GNC stormed; Congress members injured

March 1st: Senior Air Force officer killed in Benghazi

March 1st: Women’s cosmetic shop in Derna bombed

February 25th: More police targeted in Benghazi, one killed, another injured

February 24th: Egyptian Christians executed in Benghazi

February 22nd: Two more killed in Benghazi

February 22nd: Tripoli hotel set ablaze during armed clashes

February 20th: Polling stations bombed in Derna; man killed

February 13th: Two Libyana employees killed in Benghazi

February 5th: Six children injured in Benghazi school bomb attack

As anyone following events closely in Libya will know, these kinds of attacks have been a regular occurrence for nearly two years. They are now par for the course, even though they don’t attract anything beyond scant corporate media coverage.

When NATO decided to violently and very probably illegally overthrow the regime of Muammar Gadaffi almost three years ago, we were told at the time that it was necessary to protect civilians and civilian areas under threat of attack.

It soon became clear that this pretext – protecting civilians – was an outrageously cynical lie. What brought this into sharpest relief was the rebel attack on the town of Tawergha. For months before hand, rebel leaders from the nearby town of Misrata had been threatening Tawergha openly. They made no secret of their contempt for its residents.

Ibrahim al-Halbous, a rebel commander who was fighting near Tawergha, told The Wall Street Journal in June 2011 that they (the residents of Tawergha) ‘should pack up . . . Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata’. Some of the rebel brigades marked their territory with slogans like ‘the brigade for purging slaves, black skin’ – a clear reference to the Tawerghans, who are said to be descendents of trafficked slaves, and have darker skin than some other Libyans.

When the attack on Tawergha did finally come circa August 11th-13th 2011, it was ‘a heavily co-ordinated operation with NATO’, according to Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmonds. A Guardian data blog shows that NATO carried out airstrikes on Tawergha at exactly the time rebels were assaulting it from the ground: no coincidence, i’m sure.

So this is one civilian population under threat of racially motivated reprisal attacks that NATO not only failed to protect, but *actively coordinated in assaulting*.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry documents what happened to Tawergha and Tawerghans next:

‘The destruction of Tawergha has been done to render it uninhabitable. Murder, torture and cruel treatment, and pillaging which occurred during the hostilities constitute a war crime. Where they have continued since, they violate international human rights law . . . The torture and killing by Misratan thuwar would also, given the widespread and systematic manner in which they have occurred here, be capable of constituting a crime against humanity and the facts indicate crimes against humanity have taken place’.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/03/03/world/africa/united-nations-report-on-libya.html – p.13

30’000-40’000 townsfolk were driven out of their homes in an act of mass, collective punishment.

The Commission also document how there was indeed a racial aspect to this crime, saying that ‘One fighter told the Commission he thought that Tawerghans deserved “to be wiped off the face of the planet”. The language reportedly used by the Misratans during the arrests was often of a racist and derogatory nature, for example calling them “slaves”, “blacks”, and “animals”‘.

NATO was, then, deeply complicit in the perpetration of racially motivated Crimes against Humanity in Libya – crimes which are ongoing to this day, incidentally, to little or no international attention.

What NATO facilitated in Tawergha and other places is simply irreconcilable with the mandate to protect civilians. And as news of NATO-rebel atrocities against civilians gradually started to seep out, the narrative among supporters of the intervention seemed to subtly change from one of ‘protecting civilians’, to one of ‘getting rid of Gadaffi so that Libyans can have a chance of a better life in a stable, peaceful democracy’.

Those people might like to take a look at the state of Libya now, rather than continuing to pretend that it doesn’t exist, that the NATO intervention there was a ‘success’, and perhaps most extraordinarily, that it offers any kind of blueprint on how ‘we’ might save Syria in a similar fashion.

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