A complicating factor in Libya: Libyans.

This little snippet from Stars and Stripes magazine, on ‘what went wrong’ in post-regime change Libya:

While the U.S. was eager to hand off much of the post-intervention responsibility to the Europeans — France was a prime advocate for the intervention — the Libyans themselves were a complicating factor, resisting ideas of international support or a stabilizing force, experts say.

(Emphasis mine)

Admiral James Stavridis, who commanded the war in Libya, also explicitly compares NATO’s support for Libyan rebel groups with the U.S. and U.K’s support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s (while not repudiating the war):

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s former supreme allied commander, who led the military operation, said at the time of the intervention that it wasn’t clear who all the rebels were that aimed to overthrow Gadhafi. “In those pre-Arab Spring days, there was not serious intelligence or analysis to Islamic radicalism,” Stavridis said. “If we recall the U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, where we backed what evolved into the Taliban, it is not dissimilar. When you are undertaking complex operations, the natural tendency is to focus on the mission at hand — such was the case in Libya”.

At the time, anyone who suggested that some of the rebel groups might not be the democracy loving, human rights promoting freedom fighters of NATO/NTC propaganda was shouted down as a Gadaffi apologist and/or useful idiot.

Still, no regrets eh? Because as ever, they meant well:

For its part, NATO still argues the military mission in Libya was a success, though officials acknowledge more should have been done by the United Nations and European Union to stabilize Libya and rebuild its political institutions in the wake of Gadhafi’s 42-year-long dictatorship. “It was about protecting civilians against attacks from the regime; NATO fulfilled that (U.N.) mandate with unprecedented precision,” a NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment, said on Wednesday. “There should have been more follow-up, more presence of the international community after the military operations ended in 2011. However, ultimately it is up to the people of Libya to build a new Libya”.


Image: what the town of Tawergha looked like after NATO and the rebel

militias they were supporting had finished ‘protecting’ it, August 2011

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A brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges in The Green Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto.

On Tuesday 13th April, The Green Party, which is now the the 3rd biggest party in the U.K. in terms of membership, released their manifesto for May’s General Election.

The remit of this blog is to cover issues around the wars currently being fought by the U.K. and it’s allies, mainly the U.S.. With that in mind, here’s a brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges contained within The Green Party’s manifesto.

1. Distancing themselves from recent wars, within limits

The ‘Security and Defence’ section of their manifesto opens with this paragraph:

The UK’s recent history has been scarred by involvement in ill-advised military interventions that have undermined our national and international security. The Green Party opposed these interventions, which have brought havoc to Iraq and Libya and only fragile gains in Afghanistan, as well as driving an increased terrorist threat closer to home – all at the cost of many precious lives and vast amounts of money and other resources that could have been better used for other needs.

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf – 0.70

From an anti-war perspective, this is good as far as it goes. It is surely a statement of opposition to the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan; a recognition that they have only succeeded in increasing the terror threat; and a nod to the human cost of these wars.

It is much better than Labour’s mealy mouthed promise to ‘learn the lessons’ of previous interventions, while at the same time pledging to continue to support the bombing of Iraq.

On the other hand, one might say that rather than being ‘ill advised’ – much like wearing bermuda shorts to a job interview might be – these interventions were in fact criminal.

Iraq blatantly so.

Libya in the sense that, while there was a U.N. mandate for the protection of civilians, there was no mandate for regime change (p.3) according to an advisory paper from the House of Commons Library.

And Afghanistan because, while two U.N. Resolutions were passed in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, neither ‘authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan’, according to Marjorie Cohn, who is a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Personally, I would’ve opposed these wars even if they did have clear legal mandates, because I don’t think the U.N. Security Council is a neutral, progressive body taking decisions for the good of humanity. Often times, it’s far from it, and is dominated by the major Imperialist powers.

But the British Establishment do like to project an image of themselves as law abiding, and frequently use international law as a tool to attack and undermine Official Enemy states. In that sense, I always think it’s worth pointing out their hypocrisy, and that they regularly flout international law themselves. It wouldn’t have taken much to insert the words ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal’ into the paragraph.

Describing these wars as ‘ill advised’ also suggests that some wars might be ‘well advised’.

I’m also not keen on the statement that there have been ‘fragile gains’ in Afghanistan. In one sense, this is true.

In 2001, for example, 133 babies per 1000 died before the age of 5 in Afghanistan. In 2013, that figure stood at 97 babies per 1000.

In 2001, life expectancy in Afghanistan was 55 years. In 2013, that figure stood at 61 years.

Since 2001, there has also been an increase in the number of children enrolled at school and, at least in the bigger cities, some modest gains for women’s rights (although Afghan feminist groups like RAWA have said that life in rural areas is now in a sense worse than under the Taliban, due to an all engulfing war on top of the enduring discrimination and lack of opportunity, and Afghanistan remains one of the worlds worst countries in which to be a woman).

The reason i’m not keen on this nod to ‘fragile gains’ in the manifesto is because these ‘fragile gains’ are frequently used as an argument in favour of the invasion and occupation.

Less children are dying before their 5th birthday, more children are enrolled in school, there has been an increase in life expectancy, and some progress on women’s rights. How can you, then, possibly oppose this war? It’s been a humanitarian success!

But this argument – and i’m not saying The Green Party themselves are making it – totally ignores the immense human suffering that has accompanied those ‘gains’.

A recent study by the Nobel prize winning group Physicians for Social Responsibility found that the war has ‘directly or indirectly, killed around . . .  220,000 in Afghanistan’ (p.15).

Amnesty International reported in 2012 on how Afghanistan was undergoing  ‘a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis’.

And Amnesty International again reported in 2014 on how:

Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured’, adding that ‘even where the available evidence suggests that killings were unlawful, family members of the victims have no means whatsoever of accessing justice’

https://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA11/006/2014/en/c628b1a4-821f-4168-a583-ac4a6159986e/asa110062014en.pdf%20 – (p.8)

Nor is there any real prospect of a genuinely democratic system emerging in Afghanistan while it remains under the occupation of the U.S. et al, in conjunction with their handpicked warlords who in some cases are little better than their Taliban predecessors.

As Noam Chomsky once pointed out, just because there was rising standards of living in slave societies, that doesn’t mean slavery was justified.

And as an aside, it is also true to say that there were gains in life expectancy, child mortality and women’s rights under the Soviet occupation.

Life expectancy in Afghanistan was 41 years in 1980, as compared to 48 years in 1989.

The number of children who died before their 5th birthday was 255 per 1000 in 1980,  as compared to 187 per 1000 in 1989.

As for the advancements in women’s rights under the Soviet occupation, Rasil Basu, who  was the U.N. Development Programs advisor to the Afghan Government between 1986-88, has written:

During the occupation, in fact, women made enormous strides: illiteracy declined from 98% to 75%, and they were granted equal rights with men in civil law, and in the Constitution. This is not to say that there was complete gender equality. Unjust patriarchal relations still prevailed in the workplace and in the family with women occupying lower level sex-type jobs. But the strides they took in education and employment were very impressive.


As a thought experiment, people who support the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan on the grounds that it saw improvements in child mortality, life expectancy and women’s rights might like to ask themselves if they would’ve supported the Soviet invasion and occupation on the same grounds. And if not, why not?

So for me, pointing to ‘fragile gains’, while not focusing more on the context of those ‘gains’, helps to obscure what has actually been done to Afghanistan by the occupying powers, and could potentially bolster and feed into pro-war narratives.

But this is me being hyper-critical of the language employed by The Greens, rather than the position they have outlined, which remains one of condemning and distancing themselves from the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

Something which Labour, as supporters of and/or participants in all of those wars, have failed to do.

2. Helping to prevent violent conflict, war crimes and genocide overseas

This is another worthwhile aim, and the manifesto makes clear that they aren’t proposing purely or, perhaps,  even primarily militaristic solutions.

They say that they will do this by:

(i) helping to develop local capacities to avoid, manage and resolve conflicts;

While this pledge is light on specifics, the general thrust of it doesn’t seem particularly objectionable to me. But the specifics do matter, and I for one would like to know what they have in mind before coming to any conclusion as to whether what they are proposing is supportable. What are these ‘local capacities’, and how will they be ‘developed’?

And by:

(ii) enhancing the UK’s well-respected role in genuine peacekeeping and the protection of non-combatant communities

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto.pdf – p.70

This makes clear that The Greens are a not radical pacifist or anti-militarist party. Participating in ‘genuine peacekeeping and the protection of non-combatant communities’ is going to require a military force that can ‘project power’ overseas.

The ‘protection of non-combatant communities’ aspect also suggests that The Greens are proponents of the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine – whereby, in theory, military force is used to protect civilians who are under threat of mass atrocity crimes. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are also proponents of this doctrine.

However, in the case of Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, there is good reason to believe that ‘R2P’ is used by them as a pretext to drum up public support for wars that are in reality motivated by amoral economic and strategic concerns, rather than humanitarianism.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats invoked ‘R2P’ before bombing Libya, for example. They said they wanted to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.

But they then went on to arm, train and give air support to rebel militias that committed mass atrocity crimes against civilians and civilian populated areas themselves, up to and including Crimes against Humanity.

The people of Sirte, Tawergha, Kararim, Tomina and Abu Hadi categorically were not protected. Rather, they were massacred, murdered, forced from their homes, tortured and persecuted, while NATO forces either watched or participated.

It quickly became clear that the U.K.’s aim in Libya was regime change, a long standing goal of the British Establishment, and not the protection of civilians.

Labour also invoked ‘R2P’ before bombing Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, ostensibly to protect Kosovar Albanians from Serb security force depredations.

However, that bombing uncontroversially made a bad humanitarian situation worse. For example, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, published in March 2000, stated that:

it is likely that the NATO bombing did cause a change in the character of the assault upon the Kosovo Albanians. What had been an anti-insurgency campaign – albeit a brutal and counter-productive one, involving atrocities such as that at Racak in January 1999 – became a mass, organised campaign to kill Kosovo Albanians or drive them from the country. This was partly because of the Serbs’ reaction to the bombing, and partly because the launch of the campaign required that the OSCE monitors be withdrawn, thereby removing one of the obstacles to action against the Kosovo Albanians.


What’s more, senior Generals within NATO knew that the bombing would likely escalate the level of violence. Wesley Clark, who was the most senior General within NATO, told the press at the time that the escalation of Serbian security force atrocities in response to the bombing was ‘entirely predictable’, and that ‘the military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt’.

NATO themselves committed war crimes during the bombing campaign, including carrying out deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure and media outlets – as ever, with total impunity.

A bombing  campaign that worsened an already bad humanitarian situation, that was carried out in the full knowledge that this would be the consequence, and in which war crimes were committed, can not be said to be ‘humanitarian’ in any meaningful sense of the word.

I’m sure The Greens would argue that, in contrast to the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, they are sincere in their desire to ‘protect non-combatant communities’. And they might even be telling the truth.

But a ‘humanitarian war’ is still a war, with all the shit and misery that war entails, and their pledge is not unproblematic in that sense. It is one that’s open to abuse and exploitation at worst, and that could fall foul of the law of unintended consequences at best.

3. Ending arms sales to abusive and undemocratic regimes

The manifesto promises that The Greens will introduce:

a strict licensing regime to prevent sales of weapons and military equipment to undemocratic regimes and those that violate human rights (including, at the present time, Israel and Saudi Arabia).

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf -.70

All good, unless your concern is protecting the profits of arms companies, and keeping yourself in the good books of tyrannical regimes so as not to lose out on investment opportunities.

And it’s a measure that Labour have conspicuously failed to promise, perhaps because they have absolutely no intention of ending arms sales to abusive and undemocratic regimes.

4. Ensuring that all security and defence policies adhere to international law, including international humanitarian law

The manifesto pledges that The Greens will:

ensure that UK security and defence policies are consistent with international law, including international humanitarian law

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf – p.70

I’m sure all of the other main parties would say that this is a policy they support as well.

But Labour’s manifesto contains a strong hint that they will bring back Control Orders, or something akin to Control Orders, which have previously been condemned by Amnesty International as being in contravention of the U.K.’s human rights obligations under international law.

So there is no good reason to believe Labour, or indeed, the Tories or the Lib Dems.

5. Cancelling the Trident replacement, decommissioning existing nuclear weapons, and working towards a nuclear weapons free world

The manifesto promises that The Greens will:

Save a massive £100 billion over the next 30 years by cancelling Trident replacement and decommissioning existing nuclear forces and facilities


initiating and/or joining negotiations on a universally applicable nuclear abolition treaty to prohibit the use, deployment, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons and requiring their complete elimination

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf – p.70

My view on nuclear weapons is that if states aren’t going to use them, then they don’t need them. And if they are going to use them, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have them. There is no purpose to these bombs beyond indiscriminate mass killing, and the likes of Sweden, Norway and Finland seem to do okay without them, so I don’t see why the U.K. couldn’t either.

What’s more, the U.K. simply can’t participate in good faith efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons – which is a matter of the survival of life on Earth – while maintaining their own.

As Mohamed El Baradei, then head of the IAEA, said in 2007:

How do they expect this system of haves and have nots to be sustainable? How do I go to country X and say ‘you should keep your obligation not to develop nuclear weapons’, when the big powers are making no progress towards their obligations for disarmament? . . . Britain cannot modernise its Trident submarines and then tell everyone else that nuclear weapons are not needed in the future . . . We need to treat nuclear weapons the way we treat slavery or genocide. There needs to be a taboo over possessing them.


This policy will be presented by the right, and even some on the left, as evidence of The Greens’ pie-in-the-sky idealism. But unless increasing the potential for nuclear holocaust is your bag – and for me, it doesn’t seem like much of a vote winner – then it’s entirely sensible and defensible.

To sum up, there is much in The Green Party manifesto to recommend.

I like the way they have distanced themselves from and condemned recent wars (even if the language isn’t as strong as it could be); I like their promise to end arms sales to abusive regimes; and I like their promise to decommission the U.K.’s nuclear weapons program, while working towards global nuclear disarmament.

I’m not entirely sure what they have in mind when they pledge to enhance the U.K.’s role in ‘peacekeeping and civilian protection’ operations,  think such a promise is potentially open to abuse, and could easily fall foul of the law of unintended consequences. They are still basically talking about war making, after all, even if the humanitarian impulse behind it is 100% sincere.

I also think that The Greens are, in a sense, fortunate not to have a track record in national government. When they pledge to uphold human rights, stop arming abusive regimes, curtail aggressive wars, and campaign for nuclear disarmament, it’s tempting to believe them. Because, unlike with Labour and the Tories, there isn’t decades of precedent to suggest they will do otherwise.

But taking the manifesto at face value – which is all we can really do at this point – it is far more progressive and humane in its aims than anything Labour have offered.

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A brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges in Labour’s 2015 General Election manifesto.

On Monday 12 April, the Labour Party, which is one of the two major parties in British politics, released their manifesto for May’s General Election.

The remit of this blog is to cover issues around the wars currently being fought by the U.K. and it’s allies, mainly the U.S.. With that in mind, here’s a brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges contained within Labour’s manifesto.

1. Supporting the war in Iraq 

If there was one political issue that tainted the last Labour government, it was their decision to join the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

It subsequently emerged that the invasion was illegal, and therefore a war crime (even the Foreign Office’s senior legal advisors said so);  that it was based on a pack of lies and half-truths; and that it caused a major humanitarian disaster, with – bare minimum – several hundreds of thousands people killed, and millions displaced.

The invasion was, to be frank, a moral and political abomination that might have consigned the Labour Party to oblivion, and put them beyond the pale of respectable opinion for generations.

Labour are of course aware of this, and so in their manifesto they state:

Labour has been clear about the need to learn the lessons of previous interventions, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq

http://b.3cdn.net/labouruk/e1d45da42456423b8c_vwm6brbvb.pdf p .75

That is hardly a statement of deep contrition, shame and regret, but it does suggest a degree of reckoning with their past.

The statement would be much more credible, however, if it wasn’t preceded by a pledge to support the continued bombing of Iraq. As here:

Most immediately we will work with our allies to counter and confront terrorism. ISIL’s barbarism and expansionist ideology, alongside terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, represent a particular threat to global security. Following a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, it was right that the UK joined other nations in air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq.

http://b.3cdn.net/labouruk/e1d45da42456423b8c_vwm6brbvb.pdf – p.75

If Labour do win power next month, that ‘supporting’ will surely become ‘participating in’.

What Labour can’t admit here is that it was their decision to invade Iraq that helped birth ISIS in the first place (even that anti-Imperialist firebrand Barack Obama says so), and that it was their decision to invade Iraq that helped to increase the terror threat to the U.K. in general (a totally uncontroversial claim supported by the security services).

And they cant admit this because 1) it looks bad for them, and so wouldn’t be a vote winner and 2) they are a party who remain at the heart of the British Establishment, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and so are structurally and ideologically incapable of being honest about this issue.

So they’re basically just promising more of the same, knowing that none of the other major parties or the corporate media will call them out on it – and we can reasonably expect the same disastrous results.

2. Putting freedom and human rights at the heart of their foreign policy

One of the claims made in Labour’s manifesto is that they will

support human rights, always putting individual freedom and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy

http://b.3cdn.net/labouruk/e1d45da42456423b8c_vwm6brbvb.pdf – p.74

This is nothing if not reminiscent of the pledge former foreign secretary Robin Cook made  in May 1997, when he said that:

Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.


In reality, Labour then continued to arm and support some of the most tyrannical regimes on Earth – one Labour minister, Kim Howells, even spoke of the U.K.’s ‘shared values’ with the regime in Saudi Arabia; they participated in major war crimes from Kosovo to Iraq; and they were deeply complicit in the Bush administration’s torture and rendition programs – Amnesty International accused them in 2006 of ‘attempts to undermine the ban on torture’.

This time around, and beyond the platitudes, there is no clear promise to ban the sale of weapons to abusive regimes, or anything even approaching that.

You’ll hopefully forgive me, then, for not treating their pledge with anything other than the contempt it deserves. Only the credulous or the hopelessly optimistic could fail to see it as a cynical lie designed to win votes from people for whom human rights are important, but which  they absolutely won’t follow through on.

3. Labour think the Tories were wrong to scrap Control Orders, and could reinstate them.

But it’s not just abroad where they will likely seek to attack and undermine human rights.

From their manifesto:

With Labour, the security services will have the powers they need to disrupt and tackle terrorism. The Government were wrong to weaken counter terror powers by scrapping Control Orders. With Labour, dangerous suspects will be subject to proper controls.

http://b.3cdn.net/labouruk/e1d45da42456423b8c_vwm6brbvb.pdf – p.53

I’m sure Labour see this as proof that they will be ‘tough on terrorism’, on some such other headline grabbing soundbite.

But once again, Labour, as a party who remain at the heart of the British Establishment, are structurally and ideologically incapable of proposing the one policy measure that could play a major role in reducing the threat from terrorism.

And that is simply refraining from killing people, and supporting their oppressors, in the middle east and beyond.

So instead, they are hinting at authoritarian measures to deal with the inevitable backlash that their policies have lead to, and will continue to lead to.

Amnesty International have described Control Orders as being ‘not compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations under international law’ (p.5)

They basically allow the state to treat mere suspects as convicts, imposing limits on their freedom of movement, subjecting them to house arrest, and controlling their access to employment, education and communications equipment.

To put it more succinctly: Labour are lamenting the loss of ‘security measures’ which clearly violate the human rights of  citizens in the U.K.,  and are hinting strongly that they will reinstate them, or something akin to them. The aim being to counter a terrorist threat that is in no small part the result of the foreign policies they will continue to pursue.

4. Maintaining the U.K.’s nuclear arsenal

The manifesto states that Labour are:

committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.

http://b.3cdn.net/labouruk/e1d45da42456423b8c_vwm6brbvb.pdf – p.78

They don’t specifically mention Trident by name, but it’s clear that they are in favour of  its renewal. Indeed, Ed Miliband took umbrage when it was suggested he might not be. Hell yeah, he loves nuclear weapons!

The last time there was a parliamentary vote on the issue, in March 2007, 230 Labour MPs voted in favour of renewing Trident, and only 88 voted against. That’s nearly three quarters of Labour MPs in favour.

So the renewal of Trident is clearly a policy that is supported by both the leadership of the Labour Party, and by the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Labour, like The Tories, are all in favour of maintaining a massively expensive weapons system whose sole purpose is indiscriminate mass murder, and which will likely make it much harder for the U.K. to argue against nuclear weapons proliferation on the global stage (without coming across as laughable hypocrites).

To sum up, i’ll say that I can understand why some people might vote Labour as a ‘lesser evil’ to the Tories on the domestic front. But when it comes to foreign policy, don’t expect anything radically different to what they did last time they were in power, or anything radically different to what the Tories are doing now.

They haven’t changed *that much* in the space of five years, – if they’ve changed at all – and the effective promotion of nuclear weapons, murderous wars, support for dictatorship and tyranny, and the domestic repression that these things lead to are still at the heart of their foreign policy agenda.

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Avaaz call for a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

Avaaz describe themselves as a ‘global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere’, and are fairly well known within human rights and development circles.

They had previously used their reach and status to drum up support for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya (a call which was ultimately realised, to disasterous effect), and this isn’t the first time they’ve called for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria either.

Their work within Syria itself has attracted controversy, with  Jillian C. York accusing them of being ‘naive’, among other things (lacking transparency, taking credit for work they haven’t carried out, potentially endangering lives, etc).

They’ve now reiterated their call for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria, in response to alleged chlorine gas attacks carried out by Syrian regime forces.

I just want to quickly outline why I think their call is misguided at best.

From their appeal:

‘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’.


(Emphasis mine)

What is this if it’s not an open admission that – at least in this case – Avaaz see their role as helping to drum up public support for U.S. foreign policy?

And will they be publicising the fact that U.S. led bombing has already caused at least 100+ civilian deaths in Syria? Will these deadly raids, which themselves have shattered far too many ‘little bodies’, be prohibited under the ‘no-fly zone’ as well?

Realistically of course, they won’t be. Because it’s the people who have caused these deaths that are being entrusted with enforcing the ‘no-fly zone’ by Avaaz.

And that enforcement will almost certainly require a significant escalation in airstrikes, with all the risks to civilians on the ground that this entails.

General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM when the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya was being enforced, has said for example:

‘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’.


While Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, has said:

‘ 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’.


Indeed, the U.S. themselves have openly said that ‘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’, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their ability or willingness to avoid civilian casualties.

Nor does their history of committing, facilitating and supporting almost continuous mass murder and repression around the globe for the last 70 years.

Which is why I for one won’t be joining Avaaz’s campaign to drum up public support for more predatory U.S. led mass murder disguised as ‘humanitarianism’ a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

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At least 103 civilians killed by U.S. led bombing in Syria since September.

That’s according to a count by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. They also claim that Kaya Mueller, a U.S. NGO worker who was being held by ISIS, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. As here:

‘In this report we will document the civilian casualties from December 14th, 2014 until February 17th, 2015. These incidents have caused the deaths of no less than 63 civilians, including 3 children and 5 women, for an overall death toll of 103 individuals including 11 women, once of which is a confirmed American woman as well as 11 children. This information has been documented by the SNHR by name, picture, date, and time’.

And this tally is almost certainly incomplete, because the Network say that they have been unable to:

‘ . . . record or document the deaths toll caused behind ISIS lines, and no one can claim that, except within the media propaganda, and that is because ISIS has never published the names, photos or any videos or any information about them, and there is no information source or reporters behind ISIS lines to deliver such news, photos, and account for the number of victims’.

This is pure supposition, but given that U.S. led airstrikes will have been concentrated ‘behind ISIS lines’, then it’s possible that a substantial number of civilian deaths may have been caused, but gone undocumented, by them.

Will our intrepid free media, so passionately concerned about the suffering of civilians in Syria, be following up on this report?

I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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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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