President Obama is right to say that we cannot be on a war footing forever, but the time to take our country off the global warpath and fully restore the rule of law is now, not at some indeterminate future point. Four years into his presidency, President Obama has finally taken the first steps to jump-start his administration’s effort to make good on early campaign promises to close Guantánamo and recognized the human cost of failing to act. These are encouraging and noteworthy actions.
To the extent the speech signals an end to signature strikes, recognizes the need for congressional oversight, and restricts the use of drones to threats against the American people, the developments on targeted killings are promising. Yet the president still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency. We continue to disagree fundamentally with the idea that due process requirements can be satisfied without any form of judicial oversight by regular federal courts.
We are particularly gratified that President Obama embraced our recommendations to use his authority to allow prompt transfer and release of Guantánamo detainees who pose no national security threat and that have been cleared by the military and intelligence agencies. We also applaud his appointment of a high level official to supervise the process for closing Guantánamo once and for all.
But there are other problems that must still be addressed. The unconstitutional military commissions must be shuttered, not brought to the United States. While the president expressed appropriate concern about indefinite detention, he offered no clear plan for ending this unconstitutional policy for those who have not been tried or cleared for release.
President Obama’s efforts to repair his legacy in the eyes of future historians will require that he continue to double down if he is to fully restore this nation’s standing at home and abroad. The ACLU realizes that Congress has thrown significant barriers in closing Guantánamo. But in some areas Congress has been more progressive, having recently demanded legal memoranda that claim to authorize the illegal killing program. The ACLU stands ready to work with, and if necessary do battle with, those elements of government that impede our nation’s obligations to honor the rule of law and to protect our values while safeguarding our security.
In a speech to the National Defense University yesterday outlining his new policies regarding the use of drones in targeted killings US President Obama told his audience;
…before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.
This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.
At least Obama is admitting – contrary to CIA director John Brennan’s claims that no civilians have been killed in drone strikes – that there are civilians being killed in these attacks though he is inferring that civilian deaths are not as high as some are reporting (though the Human Rights Institute are saying that some non-government reports are actually under-reporting the numbers) suggesting that the people of the world should believe US assessments rather than ‘non-governmental reports’. (Why would anyone want to believe ‘US assessments’ after the Iraq WMDs fiasco?)
Obama goes on to say that the civilian deaths will ‘haunt him’ and all those involved in the killings for ‘as long as we live’. This is unadulterated and utterly transparent garbage. Obama and his willing killers that operate the drones couldn’t care less about the civilian casualties. They do it time and time again. Thousands of civilians have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan alone and each time Obama thinks it’s enough just to say; ‘Sorry. We didn’t mean it. We’ll do our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again’, but, of course, it does happen again – and again, and again. Obama then sinks to new low levels of rhetoric by resorting to the use of moral relativism as he attempts to justify civilian deaths by saying that the ‘enemy they are targeting also kill civilians’.
The reality is that Obama and the US kill the enemy off battlefield simply because they can and they really are not in the slightest bit concerned about the civilian deaths except inasmuch that it may adversely effect public opinion; hence the attempts at justification. What doesn’t seem to have been thought through yet is the possibility that America’s enemy may one day have the same ability to kill by remote control. What then when scores of American citizens die when the enemy makes an attempt to assassinate an American political or military leader via a remotely controlled weapon?
At the height of Guatemala’s mass slaughters in the 1980s, including genocide against the Ixil Indians, the Reagan administration worked with Israeli officials to provide helicopters that the Guatemalan army used to hunt down fleeing villagers, according to documentary and eyewitness evidence.
During testimony at the recent genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, one surprise was how often massacre survivors cited the Army’s use of helicopters in the scorched-earth offensives.
Journalist Allan Nairn, who covered the war in Guatemala and attended the Rios Montt trial, said in an interview, “one interesting thing that came out in the trial, as witness after witness testified, was a very substantial number of them talked about fleeing into the mountains and being bombed, attacked and machine gunned from U.S. planes and helicopters.
“At the time this was going on, I was aware this was happening in some cases, but from the testimony of the witnesses, it sounded like these attacks from U.S. planes and helicopters were more frequent than we realized at the time. That’s an example of how we don’t know the whole story yet – how extensive the U.S. complicity was in these crimes.”
Part of the mystery was where did Guatemala’s UH-1H “Huey” helicopters come from, since the U.S. Congress continued to resist military sales to Guatemala because of its wretched human rights record. The answer appears to be that some helicopters were arranged secretly by President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff through Israeli intelligence networks.
Rios Montt began pressing the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters in June 1983, as his military campaign was ramping up. Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment.
On Aug. 1, 1983, NSC aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala, according to a document that I discovered at Reagan’s presidential library.
“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”
By then, McFarlane had a long and intimate relationship with Israeli intelligence involving various backdoor deals. [For more on McFarlane's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]
McFarlane’s approach to Israel for the helicopters was successful, according to former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe, who described some of the history behind Israel’s activities in Guatemala in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War.
Ben-Menashe traced the Israeli arms sales to Guatemala back to a private network established in the 1970s by Gen. Ariel Sharon during a gap when he was out of the government. Sharon’s key representative in Guatemala was a businessman named Pesach Ben-Or, and through that channel, Israel supplied military gear to Guatemala’s security services in the 1980s, Ben-Menashe wrote.
In an interview on Thursday, Ben-Menashe said the Israelis supplied a total of six helicopters to the Guatemalans along with computers and software to keep track of alleged subversives who could then be identified and executed. Ben-Menashe said he learned of the mass slaughters during his travels to Guatemala and reported back to his Israeli superiors about the atrocities involving the equipment that they had authorized. The response, he said, was concern but inaction.
“They weren’t for killing these people, not at all,” Ben-Menashe said. “But they thought their interest was to help the Reagan people. If the Reagan people wanted it [the equipment sent to Guatemala], they would do it. [They thought,] ‘this is bad, but is it any of our business? Our American friends are asking for our help, so we should help them.’”
After our phone interview had ended, Ben-Menashe called me back to stress that the Israelis were unaware of the genocidal nature of the Guatemalan military campaigns against the Ixil Indians, although the Israelis did recognize that they were assisting in mass murders of dark-skinned Guatemalans.
“As we saw it, they [Guatemalan military authorities] were targeting all non-white villagers who were sitting on fertile lands that the white Guatemalans wanted,” he said, adding that when he reported this information to his superiors, “the Israelis rolled their eyes [in dismay] but said, ‘this is what our friends in the Reagan administration want.’” [For more on Ben-Menashe's work for Israeli intelligence, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege and America's Stolen Narrative.]
Besides the helicopters for hunting down villagers who fled into the jungles, the computer equipment and the sophisticated software made the Guatemalan killing machine vastly more efficient in the towns and cities. A former U.S. Green Beret operating in Guatemala once told me that he witnessed Guatemalan security forces stopping buses and inputting identification numbers of the passengers into a computer to select those who would be dragged off to the side of the road and summarily shot.
From first-hand reporting in Guatemala, journalist Nairn also observed the security advantages gained from detailed death lists. Nairn said soldiers under Gen. Otto Perez Molina, the current president, “described how they would go into town armed with death lists provided them by G2 military intelligence, death lists of people who were suspected of being collaborators of the guerrillas or critics of the army.
“They told how they would strangle people with lassos, slit women open with machetes, shoot people in the head in front of the neighbors, use U.S. planes, helicopters and 50 [kilo]gram bombs to attack people if they fled into the hills.”
Nairn said, “The U.S. had also arranged for Israel to step in and become the principal supplier of hardware to the Guatemalan army, in particular assault rifles, the Galil automatic rifle. This was because the administration was running into problems with Congress, which wouldn’t go along with a lot of their plans to aid the Guatemalan military, so they did an end run by using the government of Israel.”
Though the focus of the case against Rios Montt has been the genocide inflicted on Ixil villages in the northern highlands – where some 626 villages were eradicated by the Guatemalan military – those massacres were only part of the estimated 200,000 killings perpetrated by right-wing Guatemalan regimes since a CIA-sponsored coup ousted an elected government in 1954.
The bloodbath was at its worst in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency as he encouraged the anti-leftist slaughters that claimed the lives of some 100,000 Guatemalans. Reagan expanded his support for the Guatemalan security forces even though the CIA was keeping his administration informed of the systematic killings underway.
Another document that I discovered in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to Guatemala’s dictators so they could pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide.”]
As for Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for 17 especially bloody months in 1982-83, the 86-year-old ex-general was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by a criminal court on May 10 and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
But that conviction was overturned on Monday on a 3-2 vote by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court which is still dominated by allies of the military and the oligarchy. As for the Reagan administration officials and the Israelis who aided and abetted Rios Montt and his fellow generals, there is no indication that any accountability will be exacted.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
- Tales of Reagan’s Guatemala Genocide (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s Proxy War in Guatemala (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Genocide in Guatemala: The Conviction of Efrain Rios Montt (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala (alethonews.wordpress.com)
An Israeli military commander says Tel Aviv is prepared to carry out an attack on Syria if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad collapses.
On Wednesday, Israeli Major General Amir Eshel said the Tel Aviv regime might launch a sudden war on Syria should Damascus fall.
“We have to be ready for any scenario, at a few hours’ notice,” Eshel stated.
He also said that the Israeli regime would even prepare for a “protracted” war with a “post-Assad Syria.”
The recent Israeli threat is seen as part of the Western-backed efforts to set up the scene for a military intervention in Syria.
The Tel Aviv regime has already carried out three air strikes on Syria.
On May 5, Syria said the Israeli regime had carried out an airstrike targeting a research center in a suburb of Damascus, following heavy losses inflicted upon al-Qaeda-affiliated groups by the Syrian army. According to Syrian media reports, the strike hit the Jamraya Research Center. The Jamraya facility had been targeted in another Israeli airstrike in January.
The May 5 Israeli aggression was Tel Aviv’s second strike on Syria in three days.
Turmoil has gripped Syria for over two years, and many people, including large numbers of Syrian soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the foreign-sponsored militancy.
Western powers and their regional allies including the Israeli regime, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are partners in supporting the militant groups in Syria.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder has informed Congress that four American citizens have been killed in Yemen and Pakistan by US drones since 2009.
It has been widely reported but rarely acknowledged in Washington that three US citizens — Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki — were executed in Yemen by missile-equipped drones in 2011. With Holder’s latest admission, however, a fourth American — Jude Kenan Mohammed — has also been officially named as another casualty in America’s continuing drone war.
“Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of US counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki,” the letter reads in part. “The United States is further aware of three other US citizens who have been killed in such US counterterrorism operations over that same time period,” Holder said before naming the other victims.
“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” the attorney general wrote.
The news of the admission broke Wednesday afternoon when New York Times reporter Charlie Savage published the letter sent from Holder to congressional leaders in a clear attempt to counter critics who have challenged the White House for falling short of US President Barack Obama’s campaign plans of utmost transparency. Upon a growing number of executive branch scandals worsened by the Department of Justice’s recently disclosed investigation of Associated Press journalists, Holder wrote that coming clean is an effort to include the American public in a discussion all too often conducted in the shadows cast by the US intelligence community.
“The administration is determined to continue these extensive outreach efforts to communicate with the American people,” continued Holder. “To this end, the president has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified. You and other members of your committee have on numerous occasions expressed a particular interest in the administration’s use of lethal force against US citizens. In light of this face, I am writing to disclose to you certain information about the number of US citizens who have been killed by US counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active hostilities.”
The letter, dated Wednesday, May 22, was addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Drone strikes have become a signature counterterrorism tool used by the Obama administration and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and have been attributed with killing roughly 5,000 persons abroad, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). But under the covert and protective umbrella of the Central Intelligence Agency, little has been formally acknowledged from Washington as to the details of these strikes.
As part of the vaguely defined ‘War on Terror,’ the US has reportedly waged drone strikes outside of Afghanistan where the Taliban once harbored al-Qaeda. In recent years, those strikes have targeted towns in neighboring Pakistan, as well as Yemen, Somalia and perhaps elsewhere.
But despite growing criticism over escalating use of drones, the president and his office has remained adamant about defending the operations.
“It’s important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash,” Obama said last January, adding that his administration does not conduct “a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly.”
Others have argued quite the opposite, though, and have opposed these drone strikes over the lack of due process involved and the habit of accidently executing civilians in the strikes. When researchers at Stanford University and New York University published their ‘Living Under Drones’ report last September, they found that roughly 2 percent of drone casualties are of top militant leaders. The Pakistani Interior Minister has said that around 80 percent of drone deaths in his country were suffered by civilians.
Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) led a marathon filibuster on the floor of Congress to oppose the CIA’s drone program and demand the administration explain to elected lawmakers why the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is warranted in executing suspects, often killing innocent civilians as a result.
Of particular concern, Paul said, was whether or not the Obama administration would use the 2011 Yemen strike as justification to kill American citizens within the US. For 13 hours, he demanded the White House respond.
“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA,” Sen. Paul said. “I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
One day after the filibuster, both Attorney General Holder and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reached out to Sen. Paul to say the president lacks the authority to issue such a strike within the US. With this week’s letter, however, Holder admits that at least four Americans have met their demise due to US drones. He also explains why the administration felt justified in using UAVs to execute its own people.
“Al-Awlaki repeatedly made clear his intent to attack US persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives,” wrote Holder. “Based on this information, high-level US government officials appropriately concluded that al-Awlaki posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”
Later, Holder says the decision to strike al-Awlaki was “not taken lightly” and was first put into plan in early 2010. Additionally, Holder said the plan was “subjected to exceptionally rigorous interagency legal review” and that Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for other agencies agreed that it was the appropriate action to take.
According to Holder, the senior al-Awlaki and Mr. Khan were killed in the same September 2011 drone strike in Yemen. The following month, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed in a strike in the same country. Mohammed, a North Carolina resident born in 1988, was killed by a drone likely in November 2011 within a tribal area of Pakistan. Mohammed was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2009 for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country, and was considered armed and dangerous by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both Khan and the older al-Awlaki were suspected members of al-Qaeda and were affiliated with the group’s magazine, Inspire.
Last February, friends of Mohammad told a North Carolina newspaper that they believed he was dead.
“Farhan Mohammed says he heard in November that his friend was killed in a drone strike,” Raleigh’s WRAL News reported in 2012. “Jude Mohammad’s pregnant wife was hysterical about her husband’s death and called her mother-in-law in the Triangle to break the news, according to Sabra. The US government hasn’t confirmed Mohammad’s death, but the people who knew him in North Carolina say it’s probably true.”
Holder declined to explain why either Mohammad or the teenage al-Awlaki were killed. President Obama is expected to discuss America’s drone program at an address in Washington on Thursday.
- Obama to address drones, Gitmo in defense policy speech (thehill.com)
Afghan officials have reportedly found the footless body of a local man who went missing a half-year ago. The corpse was unearthed near the former A-Team US Special Forces base – where detainees were tortured and killed, locals claim.
Authorities alleged that the grisly discovery is directly connected to Zakaria Kandahari, a notorious wartime collaborator who Afghan officials believe has US citizenship.
Kandahari reportedly led a death squad that terrorized locals in Wardak Province, using the A-Team base in Nerkh District, a one-hour drive from Kabul, as a permanent residence.
The mutilated body was discovered by ditch diggers about 200 yards from the perimeter of Nerkh base in Wardak Province, the New York Times reported. The base was previously occupied by the A-Team US Special Forces unit, which withdrew in March. Rhe Nerkh base compound is currently occupied by Afghan Special Forces.
According to district governor Mohammad Hanif Hanafi, the corpse was found packed in a military-style black body bag. The victim was identified as Sayid Mohammad, a local resident who was allegedly seen being taken to an US base in November 2012.
This is not the first time that the partial remains and clothing of a missing person have been found near Nerkh base, Afghan officials said. A dismembered body was previously found in a garbage container just outside the US base.
An anonymous Afghan investigator for the Defense Ministry told the NYT that he has a list of names of 17 people who went missing in Nerkh District in Wardak Province between November and December 2012, when Kandahari’s squad conducted operations such as detaining suspects and bringing them to the US Special Forces base.
The seized persons were reportedly never seen alive again. Nine of their bodies, including that of Sayid Mohammad, were found; the other eight remain missing.
The torture squad
The recently unearthed victim was the same man previously seen in a classified video recording made last year. US officials familiar with the matter said it depicts Mohammad being repeatedly kicked by the chief interpreter at the Nerkh base – Kandahari.
Kandahari is on Afghanistan’s most-wanted list for prisoner abuse, torture and murder. Kabul claimed the US sheltered Kandahari; the US Army has denied the accusations.
The US Army has not denied that Kandahari was previously on their payroll, but maintains that the torture video was made after he parted with the A-Team to operate a rogue Afghan unit, and that he is not a US citizen. The US Military described Kandahari as a “freelance interpreter” who joined the American Special Forces voluntarily and lived at their base out of gratitude.
Over the past year, Kandahari and his henchmen have been seen throughout Wardak Province wearing NATO uniforms while riding on quad bikes in search of alleged insurgents.
Last March, hundreds of Afghans – watched by a considerable number of armed riot police – marched to parliament in Kabul, demanding the withdrawal of US Special Forces from Wardak Province. The demonstrators were infuriated by reports of civilians being tortured and killed; Kandahari’s name first went public amid these demonstrations.
APTN video still
Following the protests, Afghan authorities demanded the US deliver the alleged criminal to Kabul. The US refused to turn over Kandahari to Afghan authorities.
US Military authorities claimed that Kandahari had escaped, and that they knew nothing about his whereabouts. In response, an infuriated President Hamid Karzai demanded that the US Special Operations forces leave Wardak. A compromise was later reached, and only the infamous A-Team base was removed.
An unidentified Afghan investigator told the New York Times that “there is no question” that Kandahari was directly involved in torture and murder, but asks, “Who recruited him, gave him his salary, his weapons? Who kept him under their protection?”
The official also expressed doubts that Kandahari could have left the base on his own, since “He was such a criminal that he could not stay one hour outside the base by himself.”
US Military officials reported that they conducted thorough investigations into the disappearances and murders “of at least 15 people” in Wardak Province, none of which revealed evidence that American soldiers were involved in such crimes. However, the results of these investigations have not been made public.
The treatment of Afghans by US troops and their collaborators has been a perpetual stumbling block for US-Afghan relations; the ‘steal and kill’ case of Kandahari could well be the final straw in the 11-plus years of the Afghan War.
‘Afghan govt can’t be trusted, pursuing own interest in any situation’
The governments in both Washington and Kabul should be answerable to the Afghan people over the alleged torture, believes Daoud Sultanzoy, political analyst and former Afghan MP. He described the incident involving the mutilated body of a man as “gruesome.”
However, “the history behind this that goes as far as back to 2002 or even late 2001,” he told RT. At that time, the “then Interior Minister of the Afghan interim government was keeping a private prison run by a former special forces guy, working as a freelancer for the minister.”
“There is more than one side to all these stories and they have to be investigated,” believes Sultanzoy.
Human rights organizations are staying pretty quiet on all this, which is “very suspicious.”
The Afghan government though is taking advantage of the situation, pursuing their own interests, the analyst stated. Therefore, their position on the issue “cannot be trusted,” he believes.
“We have to rely on independent sources. The Afghan justice system has to be so reliable that they can do an investigation independent from any political influence and the influence of the military as well,” Sultanzoy pointed out.
“The US military has to show it is transparent at least in cases of human rights abuses,” the expert added. They will eventually have to act and provide answers to questions regarding the allegations of torture, he concluded.
By Michael McGehee · NYTX · May 21, 2013
On May 15, 2013 The New York Times published “Islamist Rebels Execute Pro-Government Fighters in Raqqa” under their “Watching Syria’s War” section. The page shows a grisly video of three blindfolded men being executed by apparent members of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group from Iraq now operating in Syria.
The first peculiar thing on the NYT page is that the foreign group and its link to al-Qaeda is not mentioned beyond the statement that, “A video posted online on Tuesday claims to show rebels from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria executing three government army officers in retaliation for recent mass killings in Baniyas and Homs said to have been committed by government forces.”
Then there is the claim that the group was “executing three government army officers,” or “Pro-Government fighters.”
The first question that emerges comes from their own admission: “We do not know the identity of the three men executed in this video.”
Then how does the “paper of record” know they were “government army officers”?
Two of the men are dressed in civilian clothing and the third man dressed in what looks to be camouflage.
What about the “judgment” the man reads before they are executed?
The NYT page doesn’t provide any translation, though it is readily available online, as with these two slightly different translations here and here. Selections from the “judgement,” reviewed below, suggest a different possible reason for their execution.
The men are never identified as soldiers, or government officers of any kind. The only reference to them is their religious sect: Nusayri/Alawite. And when the judgment is read the rebels do not attribute the crimes they are seeking revenge for to three blindfolded men, but to the Syrian government in general.
The man reading the judgement says in the first link above: “As a response from us to these crimes . . . We intend to get closer to Allah with these Nusayri (Alawite) villains…”
And in the second version: “our answer to their crimes committed, and in revenge to the Free women of Banyas and Homs . . . [is] to get closer to God Almighty, with those coward Alawites.”
Rather than looking like an execution of “fighters,” the judgment gives the impression that the men are being executed for their religious beliefs; that three Alawite men were rounded up and killed as some kind of religious offering.
Readers of The New York Times should be asking how the Times can claim the men executed were “Pro-Government Fighters,” or “government army officers,” when they themselves admit that they “do not know the identity of the three men executed in this video,” and when the “judgment” read aloud identifies the three men in civilian clothing simply by their religious sect.
Readers should also ask why, regardless of whether the men were military officers or civilians, they did not bother to mention the execution was a blatant war crime. Because considering the baseless claims and particular omissions it looks like the NYT is playing apologia for the rebels.
- New York Times, sarin and skepticism
- NYT Runs Editorial Demanding Cuts in Social Security and Medicare in News Section
- Mainstream Media in America and Britain Repeat the Same Mistakes in Covering Iran That They Made on Iraq
- What the NYT Doesn’t Say About Washington’s Syrian Peace Plan
- The New York Times on Venezuela and Honduras: A Case of Journalistic Misconduct
- NYT on Chemical Weapons and War in Syria
Guatemala’s top court has overturned the genocide conviction of the country’s former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, ordering his trial to restart.
The move came on Monday, about ten days after a three-judge panel convicted the 86-year-old of genocide and crimes against humanity, sentencing him to 80 years in prison.
The constitutional court’s secretary Martin Guzman said that the trial needed to go back to where it stood on April 19 in order to resolve several appeal issues.
The sentencing earlier this month was hailed by many Guatemalans, as it was the first time a former Latin American ruler was convicted of such crimes.
According to the panel, Rios Montt failed to prevent the killings of some 1,771 Ixil Mayans during Guatemala’s civil war.
Over 200,000 Guatemalan people were killed in the Guatemalan Civil War of 1960 to 1996, which pitted the right-wing government of Guatemala against various leftist rebel groups, mainly backed by Mayan indigenous people.
Most of the victims of the war were indigenous people.
In September 2011, Judge Carol Patricia Flores accused Rios Montt of genocide but could not prosecute him because he had immunity from prosecution as a congressman.
- Genocide in Guatemala: The Conviction of Efrain Rios Montt (alethonews.wordpress.com)
US Security Company Seeks Dismissal of Abu Ghraib Torture Charges because Victims were not Allowed to Leave Iraq
CACI International, a U.S. defense contractor that supported the notorious Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war, is trying to get a lawsuit dismissed because some of the plaintiffs have been stuck in Iraq and are unable to enter the U.S.
In Al Shimari v. CACI, four Iraqis claim the contractor helped torture them while providing interrogation services at Abu Ghraib. All of them were ultimately released without being charged with a crime. They allege that CACI subjected them to a variety of torture techniques, including “electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.”
CACI lawyers have contended the case should be dismissed on two grounds. One argument centers on the fact that three of the plaintiffs have not appeared in court.
One plaintiff living in Qatar gave a deposition in person, while two others have been prevented from leaving Iraq. They had already received boarding passes for a flight from Baghdad to the United States when airport officials stopped them from actually boarding the flight.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee is weighing this argument for dismissal, as well as another one put forth by CACI. The second claim is based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum) that CACI attorneys say should apply to their case.
“In Kiobel, the high court found that the Alien Tort Statute—under which most of the claims against CACI were brought—is presumed not to apply to actions outside the United States,” according to Marjorie Censer of The Washington Post. Lawyers for the Iraqi plaintiffs dismissed this argument by pointing that the Kiobel ruling applied to a case in which none of the parties involved were based in the United States, whereas CACI is most definitely headquartered in the U.S.
To Learn More:
Judge Weighs Motions that could Result in Dismissal of Abu Ghraib Claims against CACI (by Marjorie Censer, Washington Post)
Al Shimari v. CACI et al. (Center for Constitutional Rights)
Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid (Free Detainees.org)
Private Contractor Torture Cases Given Go-Ahead by Federal Court (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
As the Syrian army and rebels fight for control of Qusair, it is necessary to realize why the town is strategically important and vital for Shias on both sides of the border, making it a military and media battleground.
There are far more elements surrounding the situation in Qusair than first meet the eye, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova reveals.
The army’s advance to Qusair is a key strategic operation. Qusair is near Homs, which is located on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean seaport. And Qusair itself is the closest town to the Lebanese border. So taking control of it allows the forces to control the Lebanese border with the Shias living on both sides. There is an important high point between Qusair and the Lebanese village Al-Qasr. The Syrian army was forced to leave this area in the fall of 2012, so locals lost their protection. Opposition fighters took over the region and tried to chase out the Shias and take control of the high point – there were severe battles here in April 2013. (I was in Lebanon’s Al-Qasr at the time – the village came under heavy fire). But the rebels lost to the fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees. They were able to hold the high point.
Had the opposition forces won over this rather small and seemingly insignificant area, there would’ve been major consequences. The war would’ve spread to Lebanon, and Hezbollah would’ve been obligated to get involved. Jihadists would’ve been able to get into Syria from Lebanon and attack Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.
But fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees didn’t let them do it and held the high point.
Thanks to their effort, the government forces were able to deploy troops here and start the Qusair counter-offensive on May 19.
Thirty-thousand Syrian Shias live on the Syrian side of the border (not the Alawites – the Shias). As we know, the border between Syria and Lebanon is relative – the Shias have lived here for ages. When colonial powers drew border lines between countries, they didn’t take the traditional settlement patterns of ethnic groups and communities into account. Many of the local residents have Lebanese passports.
In the fall of 2012, rebels and foreign mercenaries began to sweep Shia villages with fire. They also intimidated people and conducted ethnic cleansing operations. In mixed communities they would go into Shias’ houses telling people to get out, drew “outlaw” signs on the buildings, snipers shot at those who tried to exit these houses. If a family left a home, it was burned down. Rebels planned to drive all Shias out of the area near the border.
Opposition propaganda resources in major mass media and social networks have deployed a campaign in the Islamic world aimed at bolstering the idea that all the Shias are apostates – they are not Muslims, not native to these regions and are simply a tool that is used for proliferating Iranian policy across the Middle East. That is why jihad regards killing a Shia as noble. A number of propaganda resources that different sheikhs were using to broadcast anti-Shia sermons, were involved with the campaign.
Moreover, the mass media are thus instilling the minds of Muslims with the idea that all the Shias, including ordinary peasants, are Hezbollah militants, and Hezbollah, in its turn, is a supplement to the ‘dreadful thugs’ of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
Such an approach, which is used by the opposition and backed by the world’s major mass media, has a precise analogy.
The scorched-earth policy was first used in the region by the Irgun Jewish settlers in April 1948, when several Palestinian villages were wiped off the map (Deir Yassin is the most well-known). The goal was simple: the news about the massacre of 254 Palestinians – kids, women and old people would terrify all the rest so much, that they would run away voluntarily. The news about such unprecedented atrocities as, for instance, disembowelling pregnant women did strike terror into people: unarmed and unskilled in terms of war 740 thousand Palestinians fled from their home villages becoming refugees. Zionist ideologists still claim that the Palestinians are not native to Palestine and they were invited there as migrant workers, so they are either Bedouins, or nomads, or Gypsies from the Middle East who didn’t have any skills in agriculture and didn’t know how to farm.
This is also the reason that has been driving the mass-media campaign to discredit Hezbollah that has been accused of allegedly fighting against the Syrian people. Video footage and photographs of fallen Hezbollah fighters dating back to the 2006 Lebanon War have been circulated as “proof” that Hezbollah is involved in Syria and suffering losses. Back in 2006, 800 Hezbollah fighters put up resistance to the ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel, and these numbers were officially announced by the party leader Hasan Nasrallah.
I met with families that were forced to flee Syrian villages by the border. These were mostly large families who feared that their women, wives and daughters, would be raped by the opposition fighters and criminals that accompany them. Many also said that it was their strategy to intimidate the local population on purpose to have the houses vacated. Nonetheless many stayed and organized community defense volunteer squads to protect themselves from the rebel forces and mercenaries with arms in their hands.
The battle of Qusair has been of strategic importance, but not only that – Qusair is the only town, however small (with 50,000 people of population ) that had been given up by the government forces in the past – while the rest of the towns in Syria are under the government’s control. Mass-media that are telling their audience that the purpose of the battle of Qusair was “to regain control over the Mediterranean coast” and “re-deploy the government forces to Aleppo” are lying. The army is already in full control of the coast. Last Sunday, the army launched a massive offensive on all transit routes for weapons and supplies coming into the country.
As of today, Qusair is surrounded by the Syrian army, which is also in control of the downtown area. An escape corridor is being kept open for the fleeing population. The militants who fail to use it are contained in town’s quarters.
As for the losses, all the numbers cited are pure speculation and part of the propaganda attack on Syria. For example, the opposition initially reported online that they had killed “90 Hezbollah militants,” yet after a while changed the number to 30, and that’s in addition to the Syrian army’s losses of 20 soldiers reported by the army itself.
The publication date of two different books, to be released on May 31 2013, is a coincidence that could turn out to be a fortuitous one for each, in that both deal with the same topic, the secret war in Laos that took place during the 1960’s, and whose geographical focus is the same area of northern Laos. One is a novel, The Plain of Jars, while the other is a reprint of a 1972 anthology of bombing survivor stories, Voices from the Plain of Jars.
It has been just about fifty years since undeclared war was waged in Laos, the tiny country sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand. Although the roots of this war were entangled in the complex and reckless politics of US foreign policy at that time, the results are clearer: after nine years of war, seven billion dollars, three and a half million tons of bombs, a half-million dead, and 750,000 homeless, the US had failed to achieve any of the objectives it had aimed for.
There are several grave aspects of this war which still have relevance today. The most tragic was the bombing of unarmed civilians, the worst case of this having taken place in the plateau known as the Plain of Jars, its name derived from two thousand year old stone urns made by a forgotten civilization. Here, a scorched earth policy was carried out by the US Air Force, with the objective of population removal. Firsthand accounts of the horrors of the bombing campaigns are given in Voices from the Plain of Jars, where those who had made it to refugee camps told their stories to a young American volunteer, now a freelance columnist, Fred Branfman, who subsequently compiled the narratives and children’s drawings into this classic book.
As a consequence of the air war, there are still millions of live cluster munitions lying in the ground, which have caused more than 50,000 casualties, including 30,000 dead, and still continue to kill and maim 100 people each year. More than half of the victims are children who pick up the brightly colored, yet deadly little balls.
The Plain of Jars, a novel by N. Lombardi Jr., is an adventure story about a sixty-four year old widow trying to unravel the mystery of her son’s fate, a pilot who was shot down over Laos twenty two years earlier, and in the second part of the book, about a mysterious man who becomes a local legend as he clears the cluster bombs with the aid of an elephant and a self-designed flailer, a device that whips the ground and detonates the little ball-like grenades. The novel uses entertainment value to educate people about a military conflict that only few today know had ever occurred. Using action, suspense, even humor, and other fictional devices, the author has created a vehicle to convey a strong anti-war message without beating the reader over the head with it.
Does recalling the events of that time and place have any contemporary significance? Both authors feel that indeed it does, for the secret war in Laos had set the precedent for tactics used in making war today, such as aerial bombardment of civilian targets, CIA involvement in military operations, the use of proxy armies, and the testing of new aerial weapons in combat situations.
Both books are available at all major outlets, both online and many brick and mortar shops.
Voices of the Plain of Jars, Life under an Air War, Edited by Fred Branfman, University of Wisconsin Press
The Plain of Jars, by N. Lombardi Jr., Roundfire books
For more information on the history and culture of the Laotian people, and an introduction to the secret war, visit http://plainofjars.net.
There’s a contradiction built into every campaign promise about transparent government beyond the failure to keep the promises. Our government is, in significant portion, made up of secret operations, operations that include war-making, kidnapping, torture, assassination, and infiltrating and overthrowing governments. A growing movement is ready to see that end.
The Central Intelligence Agency is central to our foreign policy, but there is nothing intelligent about it, and there is no good news to be found regarding it. Its drone wars are humanitarian and strategic disasters. The piles of cash it keeps delivering to Hamid Karzai fuel corruption, not democracy. Whose idea was it that secret piles of cash could create democracy? (Nobody’s, of course, democracy being the furthest thing from U.S. goals.) Lavishing money on potential Russian spies and getting caught helps no one, and not getting caught would have helped no one. Even scandals that avoid mentioning the CIA, like Benghazigate, are CIA blowback and worse than we’re being told.
We’ve moved from the war on Iraq, about which the CIA lied, and its accompanying atrocities serving as the primary recruiting tool for anti-U.S. terrorists, to the drone wars filling that role. We’ve moved from kidnapping and torture to kidnapping and torture under a president who, we like to fantasize, doesn’t really mean it. But the slave-owners who founded this country knew very well what virtually anyone would do if you gave them power, and framed the Constitution so as not to give presidents powers like these.
There are shelves full in your local bookstore of books pointing out the CIA’s outrageous incompetence. The brilliant idea to give Iran plans for a nuclear bomb in order to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear bomb is one of my favorites.
But books that examine the illegality, immorality, and anti-democratic nature of even what the CIA so ham-handedly intends to do are rarer. A new book called Dirty Wars, also coming out as a film in June, does a superb job. I wrote a review a while back. Another book, decades old now, might be re-titled “Dirty Wars The Prequel.” I’m thinking of Douglas Valentine’s The Phoenix Program.
It you read The Phoenix Program about our (the CIA’s and “special” forces’) secret crimes in Eastern Asia and Dirty Wars about our secret crimes in Western Asia, and remember that similar efforts were focused on making life hell for millions of people in Latin America in between these twin catastrophes, and that some of those running Phoenix were brought away from similar sadistic pursuits in the Philippines, it becomes hard to play along with the continual pretense that each uncovered outrage is an aberration, that the ongoing focus of our government’s foreign policy “isn’t who we are.”
Targeted murders with knives in Vietnam were justified with the same rhetoric that now justifies drone murders. The similarities include the failure of primary goals, the counterproductive blowback results, the breeding of corruption abroad and at home, the moral and political degradation, the erosion of democratic ways of thinking, and — of course — the racist arrogance and cultural ignorance that shape the programs and blind their participants to what they are engaged in. The primary difference between Phoenix and drone kills is that the drones don’t suffer PTSD. The same, however, cannot be said for the drone pilots.
“The problem,” wrote Valentine, “was one of using means which were antithetical to the desired end, of denying due process in order to create a democracy, of using terror and repression to foster freedom. When put into practice by soldiers taught to think in conventional military and moral terms, Contre Coup engendered transgressions on a massive scale. However, for those pressing the attack on VCI, the bloodbath was constructive, for indiscriminate air raids and artillery barrages obscured the shadow war being fought in urban back alleys and anonymous rural hamlets. The military shield allowed a CIA officer to sit behind a steel door in a room in the U.S. Embassy, insulated from human concern, skimming the Phoenix blacklist, selecting targets for assassination, distilling power from tragedy.”
At some point, enough of us will recognize that government conducted behind a steel door can lead only to ever greater tragedy.
In an email that Valentine wrote for RootsAction.org on Monday, he wrote: “Through its bottomless black bag of unaccounted-for money, much of it generated by off-the-books proprietary companies and illegal activities like drug smuggling, the CIA spreads corruption around the world. This corruption undermines our own government and public officials. And the drone killings of innocent men, women, and children generate fierce resentment.. . .Tell your representative and senators right now that the CIA is the antithesis of democracy and needs to be abolished.“