Afghanistan, the Uncountry.

Below is an excerpt from the International Criminal Court’s 2016 preliminary examination report on potential war crimes in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it’s findings are shocking, particularly when it comes to the conduct of U.S. forces and intelligence agencies. I will let the findings speak for themselves:

211. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that, in the course of interrogating these detainees, and in conduct supporting those interrogations, members of the US armed forces and the US Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape. These acts are punishable under articles 8(2)(c)(i) and (ii) and 8(2)(e)(vi) of the Statute. Specifically:

  • Members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004.
  • Members of the CIA appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape on the territory of Afghanistan and other States Parties to the Statute (namely Poland, Romania and Lithuania) between December 2002 and March 2008. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004.

212. These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals. Rather, they appear to have been committed as part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees. According to information available, the resort to such interrogation techniques was ultimately put to an end by the authorities concerned, hence the limited time-period during which the crimes allegedly occurred

http://opiniojuris.org/2017/11/03/otp-decides-to-investigate-the-situation-in-afghanistan/

So as you can see, the report makes allegations of ‘torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape’ that were not limited to ‘a few isolated individuals’, and that were carried out between 2003-2014.

Let us not forget that, alongside the anti-terrorist justification , the U.S.  have long claimed to be occupying Afghanistan to build democracy, peace and respect for human rights, particularly those of women and girls. These claims have been dutifully relayed by state-corporate media. This despite the fact that there has long been evidence in the public domain of their criminal misconduct. This has taken the form of support for abusive militias, the mass killing of civilians with impunity, or wiping whole villages off the map.

This International Criminal Court preliminary report now forms part of that considerable body of evidence, encompassing both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Given the horrific nature of these allegations, how is it that some people still regard the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as ‘the good war’, the war which is worth fighting?

As recently as August, for example, when Donald Trump announced his troop escalation in Afghanistan, a Guardian editorial said that ‘Mr Trump is right to say the US cannot turn its back on Afghanistan’. Predictably, in giving its tacit support to continued occupation, the editorial ommitted any mention of ongoing US crimes in Afghanistan

In his book of the same name, Mark Curtis talks about the concept of ‘Unpeople’. If I have understood correctly, ‘Unpeople’ are essentially those victims of war crimes and human rights abuses who don’t matter to state-corporate media and the political classes, because it’s not politically expedient for them to matter. In practice, that amounts to widespread indifference to ‘our’ victims.

What if Afghanistan itself as an ‘Uncountry’? A country that has been at war so long – pretty much continuously since the early 1980s – that you can do anything to it and its people without anyone batting an eyelid. War, brutality, wretchedness, suffering: they are considered part and parcel of life in that country. An inevitable reality.

But my contention is that war, brutality, wretchedness and suffering needn’t be part of the reality in Afghanistan. They are not inevitable. And perhaps the first step to eliminating them is exposing and challenging the states whose policies and actions knowingly contribute to such conditions.

For those of us living in NATO countries, that means ‘our’ governments, and their torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon and rape of the Afghan people.

 

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Preventing a massacre – of France’s economic interests in Africa.

When NATO started bombing Libya in March 2011, the justification given was that bombing was essential to protect civilians. More specifically, it was essential to prevent the Libyan armed forces overrunning Benghazi, and carrying out a massacre.

Hillary Clinton explicitly invoked the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia to try and drum up support for military intervention in Libya.

However, last year, Sarah Leah-Whitson, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times that ‘we did not see the imminence of massacres that would rise to genocide like levels’, and that while ‘there were threats of Libyan forces approaching Benghazi . . .  we didn’t feel that rose to the level of imminent genocide like atrocities’.

The Washington Times article also states that, according to officials, ‘defense intelligence officials could not corroborate’ the claims of an impending, large scale massacre in Benghazi, and thought that ‘Gadaffi was unlikely to risk world outrage by inflicting mass casualties’.

Personally, I always thought that justification was propaganda, or, to use the technical term, flagrant bullshit. The idea that the same people who’d spent years  killing and mistreating civilians in large numbers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen  suddenly cared about protecting civilians in Libya was absurd.

I suspected that the real goal in Libya was regime change – and this was of course subsequently borne out by events. France, the U.K. and the U.S. saw an opportunity to use the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings as cover to get rid of Gadaffi, and took it.

While some people dismiss the argument that wars and invasions in the middle east and north Africa are motivated to a substantial degree by oil interests as overly simplistic, if not completely wrong, I think it’s one that has plenty evidence to back it up. And I thought oil was probably a main motivating factor in Libya as well.

For example, classified U.S. diplomatic cables from November 2007, published by Wikileaks, had demonstrated the the U.S. government was concerned that Libya was implementing ‘increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves’.

Can’t have these incompetent third world upstarts getting funny ideas about being in charge of their own oil, eh?

We now have clear confirmation that oil was indeed a motivating factor. A declassified e-mail to Hilary Clinton, sent on April 2nd 2011 from  her political advisor Sidney Blumenthal, lays out what France’s motivations in bombing Libya were (and you can reasonably assume that British and U.S. motivations weren’t very different).

Blumenthal says that ‘knowledgeable individuals’ had told him ‘Sarkozy’s plans’ for Libya were ‘driven by the following issues’. He then sets out the issues as:

‘a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,

b. Increase French influence in North Africa,

c. Improve his intenal political situation in France,

d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,

e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa’.

https://www.foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/HRCEmail_DecWebClearedMeta/31-C1/DOC_0C05779612/C05779612.pdf

Note the near exclusive focus on France’s strategic and economic interests in Africa – oil, power, influence, allowing the French military to re-assert itself in the world – and the complete lack of focus on the well being of Libyan civilians.

That humanitarianism wasn’t NATO’s motive in Libya quickly became obvious at the time, if it hadn’t been already, as NATO and the rebel forces they were backing started to commit and facilitate mass atrocity crimes themselves. These included, but were by no means limited to, the complete destruction of whole towns (Tawergha, Tomina, Kararim, Sirte), massacres, widespread torture, racist persecution and the bombing of schools.

These things can not be described as ‘humane’ in any meaningful sense of the word.

Libya is now, of course, racked by internecine violence, with lawless militias – the loveable ‘rebel’ rascals of 2011 –  continuing to kill, torture and generally persecute anyone who gets in their way, and the country is split between two rival governments.

ISIS have also apparently gained a foot hold, and there is fresh talk of the U.K. sending troops and launching air strikes to counter them.

If those troops are sent, we will no doubt be told by politicians and the corporate press that the mission is solely about fighting terrorism and helping the Libyan people stabilise their country.

Don’t believe it for a second. Just as in 2011 ‘preventing a massacre’ was used as the pretext to pursue oil and other economic and strategic interests, with massive crimes committed in the course of that, so in 2016 ‘fighting ISIS’ will be used as the pretext to pursue them the same.

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The strange advocacy of pro-war anti-war activist Peter Tatchell

On Thursday 10th December, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a dinner organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). Corbyn has long been associated with StWC, and until very recently was it’s chairman.

There was a small protest outside the building where the dinner was held, attended by, among others, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and James Bloodworth, who supports the U.S. bombing of Iraq.

As here:

bloodtatch

 

(Tatchell, centre; Bloodworth, right)

Tatchell et al allege that StWC have been insufficiently critical of the Assad regime, and Russia’s bombing of Syria. While it is true that StWC’s activism hasn’t been focused on the Assad regime and Russia, I personally don’t see much of a problem with that.  The job of anti-war activists in the U.K. should be to, first and foremost, stop the wars being waged by the U.K. regime.

Tatchell himself claims to be against all bombing in Syria. As here:

However, for over two years, Tatchell was calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘safe havens’ to be implemented in Syria.

Here he is at a StWC demo in 2013, calling for exactly that:

And here’s a tweet of his from October 2015, also calling for a ‘no-fly zone’:

A ‘no-fly zone’ in the conventional sense of the term is an inescapably pro-war demand. As Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, said in 2013:

‘It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter . . . It would absolutely be harder than Libya . . . This is a much denser, much more capable defense system than we’d faced in Libya . . . I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.

http://www.stripes.com/news/breedlove-no-fly-zone-over-syria-would-constitute-act-of-war-1.223788

‘Safe havens’ would also require a massive military presence to protect them, and Joe Stork, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, has said that ‘There is no indication these so-called safe zones will actually be safe for civilians’.

Bizarrely, Tatchell wanted the regime in Nigeria – which itself has been accused of bombing and massacring civilians – to be one of the countries which implemented these ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’. As here:

Why even mention these states as ‘enforcers’ if he wasn’t calling for outside powers to militarily intervene in Syria?

And  it’s frankly a strange kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that puts forward such vicious abusers as the saviors of Syrian civilians.

Tatchell now says that, when he calls for a ‘no-fly zone’, he thinks this should be enforced by giving anti-aircraft missiles and heavy artillery to Syrian rebel groups, rather than bombing. As here:

(Why he is calling for an ‘arms embargo’, at the same time as calling for heavy weaponry to be given to Syrian rebel groups, i’m sure only he knows)

However, even this is an inescapably pro-war demand, which will almost certainly escalate the war in Syria. As Oxfam said in 2013:

. . . sending further arms into Syria would simply fuel the deadly arms race which is unfolding on Syrian soil, and it will be civilians who pay the highest price.

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/30/opinion/syria-arms-embargo-oxfam/

Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, has also said that ‘It is essential to stem the flow of arms pouring into the country’, while Navi Pillay, in her role as the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur, said that ‘The…provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence’.

There is also the very real danger of these weapons falling into the hands of groups like ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, as Amnesty recently pointed out.

Tatchell’s position, then, even if it now does fall short of calling for bombing (‘no-fly zones’), is not in any way, shape or form ‘anti-war’. He is in favour of military intervention in Syria, via the provision of heavy weapons to rebel groups, and the setting up of ‘safe havens’.

Tatchell has recently denied that the demo he attended outside of the StWC dinner called for bombing, and accused the people who alleged this of lying. As here:

However, photos from the demo appear to show that some people were indeed holding placards supportive of airstrikes / bombing. A Sky News report showed these scenes:

Is there really any other way to interpret those signs – ‘Thanks to British friends for the airstrikes’ and ‘Airstrikes liberated Sinjar’ – than as being supportive of airstrkes / bombing? I don’t think so.

Quite simply, then, and while it is not a nice term to throw around – I certainly don’t use it lightly – it is Peter Tatchell who is potentially lying. At best, he wasn’t aware of the posters some of the people on his demo were holding.

Tatchell has a reputation as a human rights campaigner and anti-war activist. And,  I would say, the human rights aspect is warranted and well earned. He’s been a tireless campaigner on a number of human rights issues for decades, and I don’t wish to denigrate that.

On the issue of war, though, he has made a habit in recent years of saying ‘I am anti-war – but here is my pro-war demand, and if the left / anti-war movement don’t go along with it, shame on them!’.

Here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but the occupation of Afghanistan must continue for the good of Afghans’.

And here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but Libya must be bombed for the good of Libyans’.

Even as far back as 2003, he was arguing for a kind of ‘intervention lite’ approach to Iraq, writing that while he was opposed to an outright invasion, ‘The international community should train and arm the Iraqi opposition forces, especially the Kurds and Shias who already have viable armies’, providing ‘tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles’.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

My problem with Tatchell, then, is that he’s essentially agitating for military intervention in Syria, while claiming the mantle of the anti-war movement, and smearing the actual one (e.g. he has previously accused the ‘anti-war movement’ of ‘collusion with Assad’).

While Tatchell is certainly entitled to his opinions, and surely thinks the policies he is advocating are for the greater good, there can be no doubt that he criticises the StWC from the vantage point of someone whose views are, unlike theirs, pro-military intervention in a number of ways.

People would do well to remember that.

Edit: this post was amended on 16/12/2015, to remove the claim that James Bloodworth is a ‘drone supporter’. Bloodworth has clarified that he ‘doesn’t know’ if he supports drones or not. He does, however, support the U.S. bombing of Iraq, in which drones are being used. I’m happy to issue the correction.

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Shock finding from Opinion Research Business poll: Iraqis don’t want us to bomb them.

From a poll of Iraqi public opinion, carried out in July 2015:

56% of Iraqis strongly or somewhat oppose airstrikes being carried out by coalition forces, as compared to 44% who strongly or somewhat support them.

http://www.opinion.co.uk/perch/resources/iraqdata.pdf

The poll also found, among other things, that:

– 62% of Iraqis think that the ‘coalition against ISIS’ (presumably the U.S., U.K., et al) has a negative influence on events in Iraq.

– 85% of Iraqis agree that ISIS was made in the U.S.A..

– 74% of Iraqis oppose the partition of the country.

– 75% of Iraqis believe Iraqis can put aside their differences and live together.

As In Syria, then, it seems Iraqis are not quite as sold on the benefits of being bombed by the U.S. and U.K. as some pundits in the U.S. and U.K. are.

And, rightly or wrongly, they seem convinced that the U.S. have had a hand in creating ISIS.

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New poll of Syrian public opinion.

The poll was carried out by Opinion Research Business in July.

As ever, caveats should apply to the results. About the difficulties of accurate polling in war zones and authoritarian states. About the inability of opinion polls to capture nuance. And about the often rapidly changing views of the public depending on developments on the ground.

But here are some of the results nonetheless.

Syria

49% of Syrians oppose or strongly oppose coalition airstrikes in Syria, compared to 48% who strongly support or support them

Interesting if only because one pro-Syrian intervention argument is that Syrians themselves want it. And while some clearly do, slightly more don’t.

 – 49% of Syrians think Bashar al Assad has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 47% who think he has a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 72% of Syrians think the Syrian opposition coalition has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 26% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 76% of Syrians think ISIS have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 21% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 63% of Syrians think the Free Syrian Army have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 36% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

Another interesting one that challenges pro-intervention narratives. According to this, more Syrians think Assad has a positive influence on Syria than they think the Free Syrian Army or the political opposition have a positive influence.

This undermines the simplistic notion that what is unfolding in Syria is essentially a struggle between a widely hated dictator, and a military and political opposition with mass popular appeal. The poll suggests that this is not necessarily the case at all (and for what it’s worth, respected analysts like Nir Rosen have previously published research suggesting similar).

 – 51% of Syrians think a political solution is the best way of resolving the crisis in Syria, compared to only 37% who think a military solution is

Once again, this runs contrary to the standard pro-intervention narrative, which says there is no hope of a political solution, and therefore a military solution is required. A majority of people actually living in Syria would appear to disagree with that.

65% also think it is highly or very likely that Syrians can put aside their differences and live together, and 70% oppose the division of the country.

 – 82% of Syrians agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the U.S., compared to only 41% who agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the Syrian regime

This is where we’re supposed to roll our eyes and go ‘Those Arabs and their conspiracy theories. They blame the West for everything!’.

But it’s worth noting that this conflict has been marked by the willingness of corporate media and mainstream analysts, who ordinarily treat inside job/false flag theories with sneering contempt, to take them seriously.

At least when it’s the Assad regime being accused of them by elements within the opposition, based on zero evidence.

But when it’s the U.S. being accused by a substantial majority of Syrians? Why, they must be insane!

So anyway:

My view on military intervention in Syria, and on the question of military intervention in general, has always been that you have to come to your own conclusions about the moral and political desirability of it. If a majority of Syrians support it, that doesn’t mean I have to. If a majority of Syrians oppose it, that doesn’t mean I have to.

But the views of the people in the targeted country do have to be given strong consideration, whether they chime with your own or not.

And this poll at least suggests that Syrians themselves aren’t quite as sold on the merits of military intervention as their would-be saviours are.

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Really shoddy Guardian article on the new U.N. report about ‘Operation Protective Edge’.

The article was written by Peter Beaumont, their Jerusalem correspondent.

The most glaring misrepresentation in it – whether it’s deliberate or not – is when Beaumont writes that:

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to UN and Palestinian officials.

But what the report actually says is this:

The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2251 Palestinians were killed, including 1462 Palestinian civilians with 299 women and 551 children.

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIGaza/A_HRC_CRP_4.doc – p.153

1462 dead civilians simply can’t reasonably be described as ‘hundreds’.

And by writing ‘hundreds’, Beaumont has significantly played down the death toll among Palestinian civilians.

The article also features this graphic:

Again, the graphic fails to make clear that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties were civilians, or indeed, that the vast majority of Israeli casualties were military.

I’m left wondering whether they’d have been quite so sloppy had the boot been on the other foot (i.e. the vast majority of the deaths comprising of Israeli civilians).

On the report in general: at first glance, it seems much more conservative in its conclusions than The Goldstone Report was.

The Goldstone Report accused Israel of committing Crimes against Humanity, for example, while this one doesn’t (as far as I can tell).

This despite the fact that the crimes documented in both this report and The Goldstone Report appear very similar – deliberate attacks on civilians, massive and indiscriminate fire within civilian areas, attacks on medical facilities, etc.

With, if anything, the crimes committed during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ actually being of a bigger scale than the crimes committed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

And while the apologists for Israeli atrocities will argue fervently that the report was inherently politicised and biased against Israel, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the opposite was true.

We’ve seen in recent months how both the U.S. and Israel can and do bring pressure to bear on the U.N. to get them to play down or whitewash Israeli crimes, and i’ll eat hay with a donkey if they haven’t been doing precisely that here.

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Obama’s hands off approach to Syria.

According to The Washington Post, the CIA are spending a billion dollars a year on arming and training ‘moderate’ rebel groups, and running guns and fighters into the country. As here:

At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget, judging by spending levels revealed in documents The Washington Post obtained from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmakers-move-to-curb-1-billion-cia-program-to-train-syrian-rebels/2015/06/12/b0f45a9e-1114-11e5-adec-e82f8395c032_story.html?postshare=1751434189969736

This is what is known in corporate media speak as ‘Obama’s hands off approach to Syria’.

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