The Boxing Day Massacre.

At least that’s what it would have been called had the victims been white Europeans rather than nameless, faceless Afghan civilians.

Allow Agence France-Presse to elaborate:

Afghan officials said that a Nato air strike on Friday killed five civilians and wounded six others, just days before the US-led military coalition ends combat operations in the country.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) did not immediately confirm the strike on Logar province, south of the capital Kabul, but always stresses that it tries to avoid civilian casualties.

“At around 3:30 am, US forces conducted an air strike in Aab Josh village of Baraki Barak district,” said the district governor Mohammad Amin.

The air strike hit a residential house killing five and wounding six civilians,” he told AFP.

And now a couple of images to sum up the reaction of the corporate news media, commentariat, Twittersphere and blogosphere in the U.S. and U.K.:

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Massacres that matter.

There was one in Pakistan, in October 2006, which barely registered at the time, and which likely won’t be referenced now, despite the obvious comparisons to be drawn in the wake of today’s terrible atrocity is Peshawar.

There were no raging editorials condemning it in the strongest possible terms; no live blogs in which people could express their disgust and call for ‘wiping this scum off the face of the earth right now'; and no front page headlines bearing witness to atrocity.

Just a handful of articles, even in the best British newspapers.

Firstly blaming the wrong people entirely and smearing the victims as ‘militants’ (i.e. amplifying U.S. and Pakistani propaganda).

Secondly lamenting that the attack was ‘great propaganda for the Taliban’, although still no mention of the dead kids (and imagine today’s attack being described as ‘great propaganda for the Pakistani government and United States’).

And thirdly a story about people who actually matter being inconvenienced by the bombing.

But here’s what actually happened:

It is one of the worst incidents of the entire drone campaign, yet one of the least reported. A CIA strike on a madrassa or religious school in 2006 killed up to 69 children, among 80 civilians.

The attack was on a religious seminary in Chenegai, in Bajaur Agency.

CIA drones attacked on October 30, flattening much of the school. Their target was reportedly the headmaster, a known militant. According to some reports, there was also a token late contribution to the assault by Pakistani military helicopters. But dozens of children were also killed, the youngest aged seven.

Veteran BBC Urdu journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai, speaking from Peshawr, recalls visiting the village just after the strike: ‘People were devastated. I met with a father who had lost two children. He was very patient, talking of how God must have willed this, but he was clearly traumatised.’

Initially the Pakistan Army claimed that it had carried out the bombardment, even as shops and offices closed across the region and protests spread. But as the scale of the attack unfolded, the story changed. The Sunday Times carried a report from a key aide to Pakistan’s then-President Musharraf stating:

‘We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US. But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again’.

A week after the attack, The News published the names and home villages of 80 victims. 69 were reported as children aged 17 or under.

According to the paper’s sources:

‘It was claimed that one of the deceased was only seven-year old, three were eight, three nine, one was 10, four were 11, four were 12, eight were 13, six were 14, nine were 15, 19 were 16, 12 were 17, three were 18, three were 19 and only two were 21-years-old‘.

Yousufzai is adamant that the attack was the work of the CIA: ‘I am absolutely confident, 100 per cent, that this was carried out by US drones, based on witnesses at the time and the subsequent comments of [Pakistani] government officials.’

I was reluctant to post this, even here. Because you leave yourself wide open to accusations of politicising the issue before the blood is even dry / crass insensitivity.

That said, some of the people who would accuse you of that will no doubt be politicising the issue themselves e.g. arguing that it demonstrates why the war against ‘the Taliban’ (which is shorthand for ‘Any Afghan or Pakistani who resists us, and plenty who don’t’ in propaganda usage) in Afghanistan and Pakistan is both vital and just.

And part of the reason why they can argue that the war is both vital and just – a battle for civilisation and modernity against ‘Taliban’ monsters, basically – is because the massacres that have been perpetrated by the U.S. et al as part of it, and that help fuel a lot of the insurgency, are given scant attention and then quickly forgotten about.

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Ian Black, The Guardian’s middle east editor, on U.S. and Iranian aims in Iraq.

The article was written in the wake of recent reports that the Iranian Air Force have been carrying air strikes against ISIS in Diyala province, Iraq.

This is a state of affairs that might, in other circumstances, be causing howls of outrage among the professional punditocracy, of which Black is a part.

‘What about Iraqi sovereignty? What about potential civilian casualties? What about international law? And what could possibly justify such brutal aggression?’, would be the thrust of it.

But the U.S. is also bombing ISIS in Iraq, and said punditocracy are by and large supporting them in doing so. The transparent double standard of cheering on one state as they bomb ISIS, while deriding another, would surely be too audacious for even them.

Black’s commentary, however, demonstrates how it’s still possible to frame such reports in a way that suggests not all bombing of ISIS is in fact equal.

He tells the reader, for example, that the U.S.’s aim in Iraq is:

‘in principle at least . . . to see an inclusive democracy take root’.

He then writes, by contrast, that Iran’s aim is:

‘ . . . protecting Iraq’s Shia majority and religious shrines while bolstering its position vis-a-vis the nervous Saudis and the other western-backed Sunni monarchies of the Gulf’.

In a similar vein, Black concludes his article by quoting Toby Dodge, an academic from the London School of Economics, who says that Iranian policy in Iraq is to:

‘sectarianise the conflict and back Shia chauvinism’.

And that this is:

‘ . . . the exact opposite of the outcome the Americans want – citizenship and equality for all before the Iraqi state’.

So then, the U.S. simply want to promote an ‘inclusive democracy’ and ‘citizenship and equality for all’ in Iraq – presumably out of the goodness of their hearts.

While Iran is instead looking to defend and promote its own narrow sectarian and strategic interests, is causing no end of worry to those poor, ‘nervous’ Saudis and the other Gulf autocracies (or ‘monarchies’, as Black puts it), and no good can surely come of it.

That the U.S. themselves have long promoted sectarian tyranny in the middle-east, and continue to promote tyranny in general to this day, is beyond any reasonable dispute. That they do this in large part because they consider middle eastern oil ‘a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ – that is, far too important an asset to be trusted to the masses of people who just happen to live on top of it – is again fairly well established.

But that history and context is completely ignored by Black, and the reader is clearly supposed to come away from this article in no doubt as to just who it is that’s causing mischief in Iraq, and just who it is that’s trying to help.

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Tony Blair wins Save The Children’s ‘Global Legacy’ award.

As reported in today’s Independent:

 Tony Blair was last night recognised for his humanitarian work at a glamorous gala to raise funds for a global children’s charity – in front of guests including Lassie the dog.

The controversial former Prime Minister received the Global Legacy Award at the Save the Children Illumination Gala 2014, which was held at The Plaza in New York City.

And this isn’t some sick, satirical joke. The man who was to a huge extent responsible for killing, injuring, displacing and immiserating several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (among his many other crimes and misdemeanours) has been recognised ‘for his humanitarian work’ by one the ‘Western’ world’s foremost child welfare NGOs.

And me saying that he ‘is to huge extent responsible for the killing, injuring, displacement and immiseration of several hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq’ is not just rhetoric.

To that end, it’s worth looking in a bit more depth at the scale of the catastrophe inflicted on Iraq’s children by the war that Tony Blair launched and continues to defend.

In March 2013, the charity War Child released a report entitled ‘Mission Unaccomplished’. This report documented how:

  • ’51% of 12-17 year olds do not attend secondary school’
  • ‘One in four children has stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition’.
  • ‘In 2011 a survey found up to 1 million children have lost one or both parents in the conflict’.
  • ‘In 2010, 7 years after the conflict began, it was estimated that over a quarter of Iraqi children, or 3 million, suffered varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
  • ‘Between December 2012 and April 2013, ‘An estimated 692 children and young people have been killed’ in conflict related violence, and more ‘than 1,976 children and young people have been injured’. These figures are almost certainly underestimates’.

The report also points out that the numbers presented above  ‘come to life when you realise the pain, trauma and suffering behind them.  Every number in the statistics above has a story to tell and a life attached to it’.

Going back further, the Iraqi Red Crescent had documented in 2008 how ‘children under 12 made up 58.7 percent of’ Internally Displaced Persons in the country.

The U.N. had documented how only 40% of Iraqi children had access to clean drinking water due to the effects of the war, and how they in general lacked ‘access to the most basic services and manifest a wide range of psychological symptoms from the violence in their everyday lives’.

While in 2003, The Guardian reported on how:

British and American forces were accused yesterday of breaking international rules of war after admitting that they were using cluster bombs against targets in Iraq.

The report went to explain how:

Alex Renton, overseeing Oxfam’s aid work from Jordan, said the cluster shells could cause “unnecessary harm”. The UN children’s fund, Unicef, expressed concern that Iraqi children might confuse the yellow food packets being handed out by American forces with the bomblets, which had identical colouring.

That Tony Blair’s policies helped to inflict immense and ongoing hardship on the children of Iraq is beyond question. While he may not have personally been firing the cannons and dropping the bombs, as one of the architects of the aggression against Iraq he is ultimately responsible for the ‘accumulated evil of the whole’, as per the Nuremberg judgements.

What, then, could possibly explain Save The Children’s decision to give a man who is widely reviled as an amoral war criminal, and rightly so, such an award?

Personally, I think one reason could be that their Chief Executive is a fellow named Justin Forsyth. According to his biography on the Save The Children website, Forsyth was in 2004:

  . . . recruited to Number 10 by Tony Blair where he led efforts on poverty and climate change . . . He was to stay on under Gordon Brown, becoming his Strategic Communications and Campaigns Director.

So Forsyth was actaully an underling of Tony Blair (and then Gordon Brown) at precisely the time they were ravaging Iraq.

I’d hazard that he shares broadly the same pro-Establishment values and ideological assumptions as Blair, and has taken those pro-Establishment values and assumptions with him to Save The Children. And when you think of just how rotten the British Establishment is, that can’t be a good thing.

This isn’t the first time that Save The Children have demonstrated that they are unhealthily close to the British and U.S. Establishments, either.

In 2013, for example, they appointed Samantha Cameron, the partner of British Prime Minister David Cameron, as their ambassador to Syria.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron’s government were (and still are) arming and training elements within the rebel opposition, and thus constituted one side in the conflict, at the very time Samantha Cameron was appointed.

And as a little thought experiment, what might the reaction have been had they instead appointed Lyudmila Putin, the partner of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as their ambassador to Syria? I very much doubt that it would have gone almost totally unremarked upon, as Samantha Cameron’s appointment did.

To take another example, The Guardian had reported in 2003 on how Save The Children had been:

ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors

And then how:

Senior figures at Save the Children US . . . demanded the withdrawal of the criticism and an effective veto on any future statements blaming the invasion for the plight of Iraqi civilians suffering malnourishment and shortages of medical supplies.

A affair which surely needs no further commentary.

I’ve often thought that the bigger and more established humanitarian and human rights NGOs don’t come in for anywhere near as much scrutiny from the liberal-left as they should. They kop an awful lot of criticism from the right, but it seems to me that for a section of the liberal-left,  their research carries an air of unimpeachable neutrality and unquestionable moral probity.

And i’m not saying they don’t do some good work. But at the very least, their output helps to shape popular attitudes towards matters of war, peace and governance in general, and should be engaged with more critically for that reason.

I’ve also often thought that an analytical model similar to – if distinct from in some important respects – the one Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman applied to corporate media performance might be useful in assessing NGO performance. What role, if any, does funding, ideology, sourcing, management/ownership and flak play in shaping their output?

For a start, it might help to explain why former officials of the U.S. and U.K. government keep on ending up in positions of power in these organisations.

It would take a bigger brain than mine to undertake such a project – although activists like Keane Bhatt are doing great work in this area – but last night’s utter travesty shows why it would be useful.

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CNN: Obama administration reportedly ‘shifting their strategy’ on Syria to go after Assad.

From an article published by CNN on 13/11/3014:

‘President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN.

(Emphasis mine)

The article then quotes Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, as saying that:

‘Assad has been the biggest magnet for extremism in Syria, and the President has made clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern. Alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, we are working with our allies to strengthen the moderate opposition’.

It quotes an anonymous ‘senior official’ as saying:

‘What really tipped this into a more vigorous reassessment was hearing from our coalition partners that they are not convinced by the Syria part and this strategy only works if there is a more coherent Syria piece’.

And then reports that Secretary of State John Kerry has:

‘ . . .in recent months intensified discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia about the possibility of a diplomatic tract to transition al-Assad and his inner circle out of power, while maintaining large parts of the regime and institutions of the state’.

(Emphasis mine)

So then, we are to believe that after months of dallying and half-measures, the Obama regime are finally waking up to the fact that, to defeat ISIS, you have to get rid of Assad, who is the ‘magnet for extremism’.

But what if, as some of us have long suspected, the Assad regime was the target all along? That ISIS are only seen as a problem in Syria to the extent that they present a major threat to a settlement that is favourable to U.S. interests emerging when Assad falls?

(And let’s not pretend that U.S. policy towards Syria is driven by anything other than a desire to further their economic and strategic interests. All that stuff about democracy and human rights is patent nonsense, given their track record)

If that is the case, then articles like this one – full of off-the-record briefings from Obama regime officials – shouldn’t be seen as signalling any kind of sea change in strategy.

They should instead be seen as the first, tentative steps towards preparing state-corporate media and public opinion to accept the long planned move against Assad (to the point where eventually, it’ll just be forgotten that Assad being the target was ever in doubt).

The idea that ISIS are uniquely and supremely evil and need to be vanquished is now well established in state-corporate media and (to a lesser extent) popular discourse.

And if it takes getting rid of Assad to defeat ISIS, then who could possibly object?

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Swept Aside: The Guardian on Libya in 2011 Vs Amnesty on Libya in 2014

In October 2011, The Guardian published an article by Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt – two of their most senior political reporters –  entitled ‘How David Cameron Swept Aside Sceptics Over Libya Campaign’.

Laughably described as an ‘investigation’ that ‘revealed how the prime minister overrode scepticism from his cabinet and MI6 to press for military action’ in the first paragraph, the article instead presents the reader with a series of unchallenged quotes and assertions from Tory ministers and anonymous spooks, all designed to lionise Cameron.

We learn, for example, how Liam Fox, the then Secretary of Defence, had ‘warned that there would have been grave consequences if Britain and France had not succeeded in persuading the UN to sanction military action’ in Libya, and that it would have been ‘a huge setback for the Arab spring in countries like Egypt and Tunisia’.

You might think that the Cameron regime selling arms to some of the most repressive governments in the middle east would also constitute ‘a huge setback for the Arab spring’, but they went ahead and did it anyway (and they’re still doing it now). Watt and Wintour apparently didn’t feel this obvious contradiction was worth pointing out to their readers.

We learn that William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, had been ‘stunned by the success of the high-precision GPS-guided Brimstone missiles after Fox ruled that the collateral damage target – the risks to civilians – should be set at zero’.

Yet at this point, it was already known that NATO airstrikes had killed numerous civilians, including whole families in their homes. It was also known that British fighter jets had deliberately targeted Libyan state media outlets, reportedly killing and injuring journalists in the process, in an action condemned as criminal by Reporters Without Borders and UNESCO – condemnation that, incidentally, never made it into a single British ‘mainstream’ newspaper. Once again, Watt and Wintour apparently didn’t feel this obvious contradiction was worth pointing out to their readers.

The article concludes by outlining how Andrew Mitchell, the  International Development Secretary at the time, had formulated a cunning ‘five-point plan on how to avoid mistakes from Iraq’, which formed the basis ‘of the National Transitional Council’s plans’.

The last words are given over to Mitchell, who says that ‘All the soi-disant experts said, you can’t do it from the air, the Americans said it was naive’, but that Cameron had been ‘brave’ and ‘stuck to his guns’.

The unmistakable message that one is supposed to take away from the article is that of a principled David Cameron, who cares deeply about democracy and human rights in the Arab world, proving his critics from both within the government and the security services conclusively wrong over Libya.

But i’d just like to take a quick look at what a number of experts from outside the government and the security services were saying at the time about the potential ramifications of a violent, externally imposed regime change in Libya.

Louise Arbour, a former U.N. Human Rights Chief and International Jurist, had written in March 2011 that any military intervention in Libya could:

 . . . precipitate a political vacuum in . . . which various forces engage in a potentially prolonged and violent struggle for supremacy before anything resembling a state and stable government are reestablished.

Hugh Roberts, a former researcher at the International Crisis Group, had written in August 2011 of how:

Western governments have been very reckless in engaging themselves to the hilt as they have, politically speaking, with this outfit (the National Transitional Council). And going so far as to recognize it as the only legitimate body, when clearly that is not the view of many Libyans. The idea that this rebellion could just secrete a new functional regime has clearly been wishful thinking.

And some Western diplomats had themselves said in August 2011 that the fall of the Gadaffi regime was likely to be  ‘a catastrophic success’ and a ‘chaotic success’, because alternate governing structures weren’t yet in place (so much for ‘learning the lessons from Iraq’).

Presumably, these people were also among the ‘sceptics’ who had been ‘swept aside’ by Cameron’s stunning success in Libya.

But what if Wintour and Watt were being a little premature – having their ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, you might say –  in deciding to uncritically amplify Cameron regime propaganda about the success in Libya? What if, in October 2011, it was far too early to be making any kind of judgement along those lines? And indeed, what does Libya look like now, three years later?

Well, according to a new report from Amnesty International, entitled ‘Libya: Rule of the Gun’, it looks like this:

In today’s Libya the rule of the gun has taken hold. Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity.

The report provides evidence that:

 armed groups have possibly summarily killed, tortured or ill-treated detainees in their custody and are targeting civilians based on their origins or perceived political allegiances.

And we learn that:

all sides in the conflict have displayed an utter disregard for civilian lives, with indiscriminate rocket and artillery fire into crowded civilian neighbourhoods damaging homes, civilian infrastructure and medical facilities.

At least 93 journalists have also been targeted for attack since the start of 2014, and the persecuted and displaced Tawergha people continue to be exactly that: persecuted and displaced (their home town was destroyed in August 2011, in attack on it by Misrata based rebels backed by NATO airstrikes, described by the U.N. Commission as a Crime Against Humanity – p.13).

As the report makes clear then, the country is in a state of near collapse, and riven by violent conflicts over power and resources. Civilians are bearing a heavy burden amidst the fighting. And strangely, those people who were so concerned about Libyan civilians in March 2011 that they thought NATO had no choice but to starting bombing don’t seem to have much to say about the catastrophe unfolding this time around.

But in light of this new report,  perhaps The Guardian will now commission one or two of their senior political stenographers journalists to write an article entitled ‘How Sceptics And Reality Swept Aside David Cameron Over Libya Campaign’.

I won’t hold my breath.

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At least 32 civilians killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

As of the 23rd of October 2014, and according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, 32 civilians have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria since their onset on September 23rd.

Given that it’s unlikely the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has documented every last death, there’s a reasonable possibility that the actual toll could be higher.

Some of these civilians may have been killed unlawfully. Human Rights Watch have documented how in Kafr Deryan:

‘US missile strikes . . . that killed at least seven civilians should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war‘, and that ‘Witness accounts suggest that the attack on the village harmed civilians but did not strike a military target, violating the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians‘.

(Emphasis mine)

However, it’s a near certainty  that Human Rights Watch’s call for an ‘investigation’ into these potential war crimes will fall on deaf ears.

The U.S. have been killing civilians for years in Afghanistan, for example, and as Amnesty International recently reported, these incidents:

go uninvestigated and unpunished. In the vast majority of cases, even where the available evidence suggests that killings were unlawful, family members of the victims have no means whatsoever of accessing justice.  – p.8

There is no good reason to believe that things will be any different in Syria. Impunity for war crimes will be the norm.

As well as directly killing and injuring civilians, U.S.-led airstrikes have harmed them in other ways.

In late September in Manbij, wheat silos providing food for the surrounding population were bombed. In Raqqa, airstrikes lead to ‘an exodus’ as people fled the town in fear for their lives. And in general, as the International Committee of the Red Cross have reported, the strikes have made an already bad humanitarian situation worse.

You can expect the body count from U.S.-led air strikes to steadily rise over the course of the coming weeks, months and years – and  U.S. military officials are openly saying that this is going to be a very long war.

The rate of civilian attrition is also likely to be higher in Syria than in countries like Afghanistan, given that, as CNN have reported:

New rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the White House says.

The gloves, then, would very much appear to be off, and the blows being inflicted on Syria are likely to become heavier as the war progresses.

Turkey, for example, are still insisting that ‘buffer zones’ be set up inside inside Syria. France are said to be supportive of such a measure, and the U.S. are considering it.

Supposedly, such zones would be intended to protect the displaced civilians within them from regime and ISIS depredations. That would obviously require a ‘coalition’ military presence on the ground, and a ‘no-fly zone’ in the air. Because they would ostensibly be designed to protect civilians, the idea of setting up ‘buffer zones’ has gained a bit of traction among elements of the human rights community.

The reality of them, however, would have nothing to do with protecting civilians. As The New York Times reported on October 9th:

While Turkey has largely described the plan in humanitarian terms — to protect refugees and also Turkey’s border — the argument made privately is that a buffer zone would quickly evolve into a place where moderate rebels would be trained to fight Mr. Assad’s government; in other words, a fledgling rebel state.

So wishful thinking aside, ‘buffer zones’ are in effect a means by which the war in Syria will be escalated, and tilted towards regime change. The ‘protecting civilians’ part is just propaganda designed to sell these zones to precisely the kind of liberal humanitarians who are now calling for them.

But people like General Carter Ham – who as head of AFRICOM oversaw the implementation of the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – are under no illusions about what implementing a similar ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria would look like (and again, there can be no ‘buffer zone’ without a ‘no-fly zone’ to protect it):

We should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.

So these nice, liberal, humane, clinical ‘buffer zones’ and ‘no-fly zones’ would actually be ‘violent combat actions’ that ‘entail killing a lot of people’ and that will ‘result in lots of casualties’. And this is the way the war in Syria could be headed.

Given that the current U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria were sold, at least in part, as a necessary measure to protect Syrian civilians from ISIS, it’s striking just how little attention state-corporate media have paid to the deleterious effects those strikes are having.

Nor will there be any sustained pressure from the state-corporate press to have potential war crimes – such as those committed in Kafr Deryan – investigated. Civilian killings and war crimes perpetrated by the U.S. et al are barely even news these days, let alone a cause celebre for ‘mainstream’ journalism.

And so the U.S. et al will just carry on killing civilians in Syria, and committing war crimes with impunity, while being allowed to claim a moral high ground that they simply have no right to occupy.



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