The war against us all
This war in Iraq isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of Wars to come
all around the world at the whim of the Neo-Cons in the White House
This is the Bush Doctrine come to life; War, war and more war!
War brought to you by the big corporate-masters who run the show
This isn’t just a War on Iraqis or Afghanis or Arabs, or even Muslims
It is ultimately a War on us all!
That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War
the cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries
for the 125,000 plus troops, is money that will never be spent on;
education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing
or to train and place the millions of workers
who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone
The War in Iraq is in reality; a war against the nations’ workers and the poor
who are getting less and less
while the big Defense industries and making a killing – literally!
What’s next Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela?
We’ve already seen the corporate media
play megaphone to the White House, to build and promote a War based on lies
War is utilized by the imperialists first and foremost, to crush internal enemies
We’re seeing the truth of its insight
when we see the sad state of American education
the rush of seniors to buy affordable medications from the Canadians
because American drugs are just too expensive
the threat of privatization of Social Security
and the wave of repression that comes with an increasing Militarized Police;
this is a War on all of us
And the struggle against War is really a struggle for a better life
for the millions of folks who are in need here in this country!
The fight against the War is really to fight for your own interest
not the false interests of the Defense Industry
or the corporate media or the White House
Down with the Wars for empire!
From Death row this is Mumia Abu Jamal…
The Greater US War to Remake the Middle East has been going on so long, it is already re-running its story lines.
Back in 2004, when Dick Cheney was trying to drum up a hot war against Iran, the CIA got dealt a laptop that provided a casus belli all wrapped up in a bow: all aspects of Iran’s nuke program, all conveniently collected on one laptop, somehow falling into intelligence hands. It later showed signs of being a forgery.
Now, as the warmakers are trying to gin up a hot war against ISIS (in seeming co-belligerence with Iran!), that’s whose laptop we find, courtesy of Foreign Policy : a Tunisian named Muhammed whose last name and picture Foreign Policy declined to provide. On the laptop, FP found a 19-page document that explains how to “weaponize” bubonic plague by throwing it on grenades close to air conditioning units.
“Use small grenades with the virus, and throw them in closed areas like metros, soccer stadiums, or entertainment centers,” the 19-page document on biological weapons advises. “Best to do it next to the air-conditioning. It also can be used during suicide operations.”
Because a college science student only needs 19 pages to accomplish the technical feat of weaponizing the plague.
Remarkably, a lot of people are taking this as a serious discovery, even though FP describes obtaining the laptop this way:
Abu Ali, a commander of a moderate Syrian rebel group in northern Syria, proudly shows a black laptop partly covered in dust. “We took it this year from an ISIS hideout,” he says.
Abu Ali says the fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which have since rebranded themselves as the Islamic State, all fled before he and his men attacked the building. The attack occurred in January in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib, close to the border with Turkey, as part of a larger anti-ISIS offensive occurring at the time. “We found the laptop and the power cord in a room,” he continued, “I took it with me. But I have no clue if it still works or if it contains anything interesting.”
As we switched on the Dell laptop, it indeed still worked. Nor was it password-protected.
We are supposed to believe that 1) ISIS got routed back in January 2) left their laptop 3) don’t password protect their devices.
More amusingly, we’re supposed to believe that upon capturing devices from an adversary, the “moderate” beheaders in the FSA would not look for intelligence on those devices. Instead, they’d let a computer collect dust over the course of 8 months, never once attempting to so much as turn on a laptop, until such time as it became imperative to foster opposition to ISIS.
Because powering a laptop is apparently too hard for FSA commanders?
Either Abu Ali is lying, or he’s lying. Which means the provenance of this laptop and this story is so suspect it should not be treated seriously. There are plenty of other reasons to doubt the story. But if your source claims never to have turned on a laptop — never to have even tried! — seized from an adversary over the course of 8 months, your source is not telling the truth.
The US is once again on the warpath against Syria after the beheading of US citizen James Foley was released on the internet a week ago.
His execution is being used to justify a mixed anti-terror and ‘humanitarian’ intervention in northeastern Syria. An information offensive has now been launched to peddle the myth of ‘limited’ strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets, but in all actuality, such a campaign is impossible to contain within the strict limits US authorities are promising.
Obama has already authorized surveillance flights over Syrian territory, showing that an attack appears to be imminent. A quick exercise in scenario forecasting illustrates how any US intervention in Syria will most certainly evolve from a ‘limited anti-terror operation’ to a massive military offensive, complete with proxy occupations and a full-scale outbreak of chaos throughout the entire country.
Symbolism and Substance
Should the US make the decision to strike Syria, it will be carrying with it both symbolism and substance. The action would be symbolic due to it being in complete contravention of Syria’s sovereignty, a position which Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem reaffirmed earlier this week. Whether by drone or by jet, the US would be showing that it can and will violate Syrian sovereignty as it sees fit. This is enabled by the fact that IS’ turf is mostly removed from any of the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) air defense units, thereby allowing the US to attack with military impunity.
Secondly, the US’ strikes would surely carry with them prime substance, as the rhetoric being expressed by Washington guarantees nothing short of it. They would not be the token gestures evidenced in northern Iraq, but rather a full-fledged operation designed to achieve concrete military objectives. On the public front, this would be to decimate Islamic State and its leadership, but in fact, such an objective cannot be achieved by air strikes alone, especially in populated urban areas like Raqqa.
The Stepping Stone
This brings the US to the next probable stage of its military campaign – ground forces. It is extremely unlikely that the US will use its own conventional forces in the field, as its special forces are cheaper, more effective, and less of a political and physical liability. Another option, of course, is for the heavily armed and highly trained Kurdish Peshmerga to ‘chase’ IS into Syria from Iraq and carry out ground operations on behalf of the US. The precedent of joint military cooperation has already been set previously when both sides partook in a coordinated offensive against IS’ occupation of the Mosul Dam, with the US doing the bombing and the Kurds being the cannon fodder. The Iraqi Peshmerga’s military expansion into Syria would also achieve the dual purpose of expanding the fledgling (and de-facto recognized) Kurdish state, another major American strategic objective in the region.
Filling the Void
With all the hubbub and speculation about an American strike, few have actually put any public thought into what comes next. For example, IS could either be decimated or strategically driven like cattle away from the combat zone and closer to Damascus,(in the same fashion as they have been corralled into going from northern Iraq back into Syria), taking all of their heavy armaments with them along the way. No matter what happens, though, it remains indisputable that there will be a security void in their previously occupied territories, opening up the question of which entity should fill it.
It can be taken for granted that the US will never allow the SAA to liberate the territory after Washington’s tax-dollar funded bombs paved the way, since that would completely reverse the billions in dollars of funding and support that the US, EU, Turkey, and Gulf Kingdoms have placed in the anti-establishment forces fighting the Syrian government over the past three years. Thus, the US’ campaign will of course not be one of liberation, but rather of trading one occupier for another, in this case, the Kurds, a rejuvenated ‘Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Turks (with or without being an official NATO mission), or a combination thereof, with the public reasoning being that the failure to fill the resultant security void could create a breeding ground for an IS 2.0.
‘Finishing the Job’
After the removal of IS from their bastions in northeast Syria (whether by destruction or driving them towards Damascus) and their replacement with Kurdish/FSA/Turkish forces, the US and its ‘coalition of the willing’ will be pressured to ‘finish the job’ one way or another. In the first scenario branch, if IS is somehow destroyed and no longer a threat, then the US may want to seize the strategic initiative and make a drive towards Damascus to finally overthrow the government. After all, they would already be on the offensive and actively engaged in the war zone as it is, and Damascus is definitely within striking range of US aircraft or drones already bombing Syria. The new occupying forces of northern Syria could then carry their offensive south, break the security crescent linking Damascus with the coast, and go in for the paralyzing kill.
The second scenario branch is very similar, but instead of pursuing naked regime change, it strategically pushes IS towards Damascus by using airstrikes in the same manner as a shepherd uses a staff to herd sheep. This accomplishes two important goals; first, it pushes the world’s most deadly and militarily efficient non-state actor all the way through the country and towards the capital, sowing destruction in its wake; and secondly, it provides the US and its proxy allies with the justification for continuing their campaign all the way to the capital and de-facto carrying out regime change under an anti-terror guise.
Without a doubt, the regime change objective can be sped up or publicly ‘justified’ if Syria defends its airspace and fires on American jets or drones. If the beheading of a single citizen by a rogue terrorist group can be a casus belli against an entire state per the US’ reasoning, then it goes without saying how it would respond to missiles being launched against its military vehicles, especially those engaged in an ‘anti-terrorist’ mission. More than likely, Syria will then be painted as a terrorist-supporting state (there is already false information in the Western media that Syria cooperates with IS) and the entire government will then be officially targeted for elimination.
After having accomplished its soft coup in Iraq against Maliki, the US now feels emboldened enough to aggressively press forward with its long-held regime change dreams against Syria, feverishly seeking to exploit any opportunity to justifiably do so. This barbarically includes using a dead man’s decapitated head as a rallying cry in an effort to strike at the primordial emotions of every human being and manipulate them into supporting a ‘vengeful’ war. To appease the domestic and international audience, the US government is only talking about ‘limited’ airstrikes against IS targets in Syria, but when placed under a simple analysis, these are demonstrated to be anything but. Not only will they be used to justify regime change via various arguments, but they will also result in the replacement of one occupier of Syrian territory with another, which in turn can eventually make the de-facto partitioning of the country de-jure. This means that the Syrian Crisis is precipitously teetering on the brink of becoming a full-scale international war, one which places the very existence of secular Syria and its resistance identity into jeopardy.
President Obama is preparing to do something horrifically dangerous in Syria and Iraq. The rise of ISIS has crippled the empire’s decade’s old strategy of deploying Islamic fundamentalist fighters to do its dirty work in the Arab and Muslim world. ISIS, the Frankenstein birthed in the cauldron of America’s quest for regime change in Syria, has turned on its U.S., Saudi, Qatari and Turkish masters to establish its own caliphate, to which thousands of other Islamist fighters are flocking. Even U.S. corporate media now acknowledge that the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels that Obama wants to shovel $500 million at, are virtually non-existent. They were always a mirage, creatures of western propaganda. The Islamists were the only force that could challenge the Syrian army on the battlefield, and now that they are rallying to ISIS, or running away, Obama does not know which way to turn.
Certainly, the U.S. can bomb ISIS positions in Syria, and is already making preparations to do so, but that is not the war Obama wanted to fight. Three years ago, when Obama launched his dirty war against Syria, the plan was for Muslim jihadists to shed their blood to overthrow President Assad. Once the filthy deed was done, the jihadists were expected to allow NATO and the corrupt kings of the Arabian peninsula to pick the next rulers of Syria. The CIA was playing Lawrence of Arabia, using the jihadists as cannon fodder, to be cast aside when it came time to split up the spoils.
Such was also the plan in Libya, where NATO and the same gang of royal Arabian thieves funded and armed the overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan jihadists have also failed to cooperate with the empire’s scheme.
The global jihadist network that the Americans and Saudis created in the 1980s has declared its independence, and Washington has nothing to replace them. American boots on the ground are unacceptable to both the people of the region and the U.S. public. Obama and his minions say the U.S. and its allies will crush ISIS – but that will be like smothering one’s own child in its crib, and would remove all hope of the U.S. achieving its strategic goal of regime change in Syria.
Watch for the Big Switch
If Obama was serious about wanting to crush ISIS, the best and most logical ally would be Syrian President Assad, whose army has so far prevailed against every flavor of jihadist the U.S. has been able to throw at it, including ISIS in its previous incarnations. Nobody wants ISIS defeated more than Syria and its soldiers, more of whom have died in this U.S.-engineered war than any other group, civilian or rebels. If making the region safe from ISIS were the goal, Obama would coordinate his moves with the Syrian military. But he’s lying – just as the Bush administration lied to make the American people believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. The U.S. goal was not to avenge 9/11, but to invade Iraq. In the same way, Obama is compelled to respond to the defection of ISIS from western control, but his goal remains to overthrow President Assad. And, he will tell any lie, or combinations of lies, to somehow turn U.S. bombs on the Syrian government, under the guise of fighting ISIS. You can bet that the CIA is burning the midnight oil, seeking a pretext to turn this strategic U.S. defeat into an excuse to directly attack Syria. And that’s what makes this moment so dangerous.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
In June, 2014, I met with Dr. Ali Haidar, Syria’s Minister of National Reconciliation, in his Damascus office. An eye surgeon and leader of the SSNP (Syrian Social Nationalist Party, an opposition party within Syria), Dr. Haidar assumed position as Minister of Reconciliation in June 2012.
Eva Bartlett: What is ‘Mussalaha’ (‘Reconciliation’)? How did it begin?
Dr. Ali Haidar: In February, 2012, the Syrian government changed the constitution, and in May Syria held Parliamentary elections. We, as an opposition party, joined the elections, because we believe that the solution is Syria is a political one, reconciliation between all Syrians…when there is talk between all Syrians.
After much discussion in Parliament, we drafted the paperwork requesting to start a Reconciliation Ministry. President Bashar al-Assad supported the idea, and the Ministry was established in June, 2012 when the President decreed the formation of a new cabinet.
Reconciliation isn’t that we are making a deal with armed insurgents. The idea is to restore the state of security in Syria. In our work towards reconciliation, we look at two main sectors: One, the insurgents, and the other, Syrian civilians living in areas controlled by the insurgents.
Regarding the insurgents, we differentiate between the Syrian insurgents and the foreign militias. The latter refuse any dialogue with the government and are simply terrorists in Syria. And unfortunately, they are large in numbers and are the leaders of the dominant insurgent groups. The only people we communicate with are armed Syrians, not with the foreign militias.
We encourage armed Syrians to cut any ties with the foreign militias. Then, we negotiate with them on how to reconcile. We’ve been very successful, in many areas, having them disarm and go back to their normal lives. We’ve had thousands of successes.
The second focus is on Syrian society. Syrians are suffering in all respects: their security and safety, the economy, social services, education, the large number of martyrs and injured, the kidnapped, the missing, the internally-displaced… We are trying to find a solution to each one of these cases. That is the deepest meaning of ‘reconciliation’: to return people to their normal lives.
EB: What is the role of grassroots activists in the Reconciliation effort?
AH: Although there are citizens involved, it is not a ‘grassroots’ movement; it came from the government to the people. One week after establishing the Ministry of Reconciliation, I went to Homs to begin working on the reconciliation which we are seeing today.
In Homs, it has been a long process, because each area has its own mentality, own society, so we have to deal with each area individually. the Old City is different than that of Waer district, for example.
We are evaluate each area, whether there are armed fighters or not, foreign or local, whether we can negotiate with them or not, whether they are supported from outside or not, the number of civilians in the area and the degree of their suffering. All of these factors determine our success in reconciliation. This is what we are working on nationally.
EB: What guarantee is there for the return to civil life of those armed men who lay down their weapons?
AH: When Reconciliation first started, people wanted a guarantee that they would not be persecuted by the government. At first, in Homs, five people laid down their arms, and soon after they were released. Today, thousands have joined reconciliation, this is the guarantee to others. Those who have laid down their arms have not been arrested. We confront the allegations of Western media with the truth on the ground.
As an example of the reconciliation process, in Homs we established the Andalus school for rehabilitation. The armed fighters went from their area to this school, received everything they needed, including access to phones to contact their families. They spent a few days there, had meetings for rehabilitation, and returned to their families and are living with their families.
EB: Where have reconciliation efforts been successful?
AH: In many areas. The first reconciliation, and which has not been widely acknowledged, was in Banias, one of the first areas where armed people and problems occurred. For a while it was a very dangerous place, and today is one of the most beautiful and calm cities in Syria. In the countryside of Latakia there were battles, but now it is largely calm, people are living normal lives.
In the suburbs of Deir ez-Zor, the town of Quriya was the base of al-Qaeda-allied insurgents, has been restored to security.
In Homs and its countryside we have had excellent successes. North of Hama, south of Idlib, there have been more areas reconciled. And aside from Homs, Damascus and its suburbs—like Zabadani, Berza, Moadamiya—are our largest successes.
Now were are working in the suburbs of Aleppo and Idlib, in Qunitra. Even in Daara we’ve had successes. The Reconciliation project isn’t just in one area, it is nationwide.
EB: Are areas along Syria’s borders more difficult areas in which to achieve reconciliation?
AH: In areas close to the borders of Turkey, Jordan, Palestine it is more difficult, because of outside intervention, and because at the moment the government cannot control all of those borders. When the government was able to take control of the border with Lebanon, they were able to bring calm to the towns near the border, with a few exceptions.
Turkey and Jordan have opened their borders and allowed al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to base themselves in their countries and cross into and out of Syria. They give them all sorts of support. These areas are battlefields, not civilian areas, so it is more difficult to bring calm, reconciliation, in those areas where foreign terrorist groups reside.
More than eighty percent of Syrian people live in or have fled to safe, government-controlled areas. Ten percent have fled Syria, and ten percent are in areas controlled by the armed groups.
In all areas where there are foreign-backed militias, like Jobar, Yarmouk, Harrasta, Waer, Idlib suburbs…the armed groups have prevented reconciliation, even killing those who attempt to lay down their arms.
EB: Has there been any external, political, support from the United Nations or any others outside Syria?
AH: We don’t get any political support, except from countries who are friends of Syria. To the contrary, America, Britain, France, Turkey… they have attacked the idea of reconciliation. Hillary Clinton publicly called for the armed groups to never give up their arms. Erdogan told them not to join reconciliation. Some of the armed groups’ sheikhs and Saudi sheikhs and have issued fatwas (religious edicts) that it is ‘haram’ (forbidden) to give up their arms.
Even though I’m the head of a Syrian opposition party, and joined the government from the position of an opposition party, because I’m involved in reconciliation, the EU put my name on its travel ban list, and would have frozen my bank accounts, but I don’t have any foreign accounts and have no plans of leaving either Syria or the government.
In the beginning, I tried to speak with those few ambassadors who had not yet left Syria, to no avail. I told them that I am ready to go to their countries and meet with any Syrian citizens there, as well as media, and discuss reconciliation.
EB: Final words?
AH: Reconciliation is like a marathon: there are those who’ve reached the end, those who are a few metres away, and those who are slow.
In the past two years, more than 10,000 Syrians have reconciled and returned to their homes and normal civilian lives.
Following our discussion, I learned of Dr. Haidar’s own loss, like that of Syria’s Grand Mufti, Dr. Ahmad Badreddin, whose son Sarya was assassinated in October 2011. During the funeral, while sobbing, the Mufti called for forgiveness and reconciliation and forgave those who murdered his son.
Dr. Haidar’s son was gunned down while in a car driving northwest of Homs: “My son, Ismail, was in third year of medical school. On May 2, 2012, he was assassinated, as was the driver of the car. It was an attempt to assassinate me. This was before I joined the Ministry, I was just an eye doctor and head of the SSNP. We have so many martyrs, there is no one more precious than another, they are all Syrian.”
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian justice activist and freelance journalist and has been to Syria twice this year. Visit Eva’s website.
The Western media have proved for all to see that the Western media comprises either a collection of ignorant and incompetent fools or a brothel that sells war for money.
The Western media fell in step with Washington and blamed the downed Malaysian airliner on Russia. No evidence was provided. In its place the media used constant repetition. Washington withheld the evidence that proved that Kiev was responsible. The media’s purpose was not to tell the truth, but to demonize Russia.
Now we have the media story of the armored Russian column that allegedly crossed into Ukraine and was destroyed by Ukraine’s rag-tag forces that ISIS would eliminate in a few minutes. British reporters fabricated this story or were handed it by a CIA operative working to build a war narrative. The disreputable BBC hyped the story without investigating.
The German media, including Die Welt, blared the story throughout Germany without concern at the absence of any evidence. Reuters news agency, also with no investigation, spread the story. Readers tell me that CNN has been broadcasting the fake story 24/7. Although I cannot stand to watch it, I suspect Fox “news” has also been riding this lame horse hard. Readers tell me that my former newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, which has fallen so low as to be unreadable, also spread the false story. I hope they are wrong. One hates to see the complete despoliation of one’s former habitat.
The media story is preposterous for a number of reasons that should be obvious to a normal person.
The first reason is that the Russian government has made it completely clear that its purpose is to de-escalate the situation. When other former Russian territories that are part of present day Ukraine followed Crimea, voted their independence and requested reunification with Russia, President Putin refused.
To underline his de-escalation, President Putin asked the Russian Duma to rescind his authority to intervene militarily in Ukraine in behalf of the former Russian provinces. As the Russian government, unlike Washington or EU governments, stresses legality and the rule of law, Russian military forces would not be sent into Ukraine prior to the Duma renewing Putin’s authority so to do.
The second reason the story is obviously false is that if the Russian government decides to invade Ukraine, Russia would not send in one small armored group unprotected by air cover or other forces. If Russia invades Ukraine, it will be with a force capable of rolling up the rag-tag Ukrainian forces, most of which are semi-private militias organized by nazis. The “war” would last a few hours, after which Ukraine would be in Russia’s hands where it resided for hundreds of years prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Washington’s successful efforts in 1991 to take advantage of Russian weakness to break apart the constituent provinces of Russia herself.
The third reason that the story is obviously false is that not a single Western news organization hyping the story has presented a shred of evidence in its behalf.
What we witness in this fabricated story is the total lack of integrity in the entirety of the Western media.
A story totally devoid of any evidence to support it has been broadcast world wide. The White House has issued a statement saying that it cannot confirm the story, but nevertheless the White House continues to issue accusations against Russia for which the White House can supply no evidence. Consequently, Western repetition of bald-faced lies has become truth for huge numbers of peoples. As I have emphasized in my columns, these Western lies are dangerous, because they provoke war.
The same group in Washington and the same Western “media” are telling the same kind of lies that were used to justify Washington’s wars in Iraq (weapons of mass destruction), Afghanistan (Taliban = al-Qaeda), Syria (use of chemical weapons), Libya (an assortment of ridiculous charges), and the ongoing US military murders in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
The city upon the hill, the light unto the world, the home of the exceptional, indispensable people is the home of Satan’s lies where truth is prohibited and war is the end game.
Earlier this week we posted Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill’s interview with Sadiq Al Timimi on the current conflict in Iraq, in historical, local, and international contexts. Given the mounting ex post facto justifications for another round of heightened US military intervention in Iraq, already well underway and with no defined limit in either the scope of possible actions to be undertaken, or a temporal limit for such interventionism, we opted to counter some of the dogma and myth-making that has been so effortlessly produced by those with ample practice—and interest—in justifying the further militarization and Americanization of Iraqi affairs.
More US intervention is the last thing that is needed in Iraq. The current phase of conflict (the rapid advance of the Islamic State forces, also referred to as either ISIS or ISIL) is in many ways the direct outcome of US and other international intervention in Iraq over the past quarter century at least (and the failed campaign to back the armed overthrow of the government of Syria). The effective partitioning of Iraq to separate the Kurdish zone is one consequence of the illegal no-fly zone instituted and enforced by the US and UK throughout the 1990s. The gradual and then drastic destruction of the Iraqi state, via international sanctions and then with the invasion and occupation that started in March, 2003, deliberately and intentionally created disorder. This was a grand act of vandalism, designed to terminate a unified, secular state that had been forced to oppose US interests. Arming and training sectarian militias as part of the “surge” and General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy, opened the door to atrocious ethnic cleansing that has not ceased since it began under US tutelage. An unstable government in Baghdad, and inter-ethnic violence, is precisely what American victory looks like. If after Iran, and after Russia, the US chose to renew its military intervention, it is not because it feels threatened by disorder—it is only threatened by the disorder that it cannot efficiently manage to its own ends.
Otherwise, there is no special “humanitarian crisis” in Iraq other than the one which the US and other western powers have been deliberately implementing since 1990. The greatest humanitarian crisis suffered by Iraq thus far has been the unprovoked naked aggression of the US against Iraq, committing a crime of the first order of importance under international law with the 2003 invasion. The subsequent commission of numerous war crimes by the US military, and atrocities against civilans, including torture, mass detentions, and the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, are all crimes for which the US remains to answer. Some sporadic air drops of water and food cannot erase that, and by the US government’s own acknowledgment, confirmed by facts on the ground, current US military intervention is no solution to Iraqi problems. It is, however, an open door to even greater intervention over the long term. Meanwhile, US plans for a political solution are inconclusive, inadequate, and generally poorly conceived.
As we see, the US is only bombing ISIS when it gets too near to US business interests in Kurdistan—which is not to say that the US should do something otherwise. Otherwise ISIS can do as they like, as they have in Syria with the support of Turkey, a member of NATO, and US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with US funding and equipment itself. Further US intervention can only further delegitimize the Iraqi state and army. For all its many faults, the Iraqi state has been developing an independent foreign policy over the last few years, having refused to become part of the US lynching of Syria, and building up economic relations with China, Iran and Russia. Now the US has clearly backed, if not engineered, a constitutional coup against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, adding further instability at a time of great political vulnerability. Iraq is well capable of dealing with ISIS—indeed, when left alone, it was almost most capable of dealing with such extremist movements. Even the Ba’ath Party, in the person of Izzat al-Douri, has declared ISIS a criminal element and condemned their sectarian atrocities, so ISIS has no real future in Iraq, and they certainly do not present an existential threat.
If Iraq looks like a “safe haven” for extremism now, it is as a direct result of US intervention. More US and western intervention will not solve the problems that such intervention caused in the first place, nor are the results we are witnessing innocently accidental and unforeseen consequences.
The US’ aims in Iraq have never been, and still are not, about saving poor civilians in Iraq.
By The Numbers
Gaza: Indiscriminate Israeli War Crimes against Civilians
Number of Gazans killed by Israel: 1,943 (with 80 percent civilian casualties including 437 children and 243 women)
Number of Gazans wounded by Israel: 9,886
Number of Houses Destroyed: 5,622; Damaged: at least 36,700
Number of Mosques Destroyed: 64; Damaged: 152
Number of Schools or Educational Facilities Destroyed or Damaged: 189
Number of Hospitals or Medical Facilities Destroyed or Damaged: 24
Number of Structures Destroyed including the only Electric Power Plant: More than 1500
Egypt: A Brutal Military Coup To Halt Democracy and Silence Political Dissent
Number of people killed by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to January 31, 2014: at least 3248 (including 299 students with 289 males and 10 females (table 5 at the bottom); at least 80 died while in custody)
Number of people injured by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to February 28, 2014: 18,535 (including at least 1400 students)
Number of people arrested by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to May 31, 2014: 41,163 (By April 2014 only 9,220 have been tried with about 1,260 receiving death sentences in mass trials)
Syria: a Bloody Civil War Fueled by Sectarianism and Foreign Interference
Number of Syrian Refugees and Displaced Persons according to the UN by end of July 2014: 2,951,423 (three fourths of which are women and children)
American Military Aid to Israel: Aiding and Abetting Israeli War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
Israel GDP per capita: $38,700 (more than Japan)
Gaza GDP per capita: less than $2,000 (164 in the world; less than half of West Bank)
Annual U.S. military aid to Israel: $3.6 Billion ($3.1B in direct military aid and $504 million in subsidies to Israeli military industries)
Daily U.S. military aid to Israel: $10 million
All Time Aid US Aid to Israel: $125 Billion ($160B when adjusted to inflation)
Amount of weapons and munitions US sent to Israel since its 2012 war on Gaza: $276 million not including exports of military transport equipment and high technologies
Amount of stockpile of ammunition the US military stores in Israel for that country’s use (called War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel): $1 Billion
Amount of rocket launchers, guided missiles, bombs, grenades and munitions of war US sent to Israel between January and May 2014: $37 million
Congressional Vote to give Israel $225 million in emergency military aid in early August 2014: House of Representatives: 395 to 8; Senate: 100 to 0.
The eight courageous dissenters in the House (four Democrats and four Republicans) are: Keith Ellison (D-MN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Justin Amash (R-MI), Walter Jones (R-NC), Tom Massie (R-KY), and Mark Sanford (R-SC).
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secretary of State Kerry has earned an unenviable reputation for bombastic exaggeration at times when diplomatic caution is needed, a pattern that he has demonstrated again in rushing to judgment over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The last time a major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. In a speech on Aug. 30, 2013, he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “we know” that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Just a few days later it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. There was instead a great deal of uncertainty within the U.S. intelligence community. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground by refusing to say “we know.”
Indeed, the dog-not-barking moment in the Syria-sarin case was the absence of U.S. intelligence officials sitting behind Kerry when he testified about his supposed knowledge to the U.S. Congress. Unlike the tableau in 2003 when CIA Director George Tenet positioned himself behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to give silent endorsement to Powell’s false allegations about Iraqi WMD to the United Nations Security Council, Kerry had no such support when he made his case against Syria’s government, although the clueless U.S. mainstream news media failed to notice this significant absence.
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this lack of consensus among our former colleagues in a Memorandum for the President on Sept. 6. Determined to avoid a redux of the fraudulent intelligence performance on Iraqi WMD, our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy” – again. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director John Brennan could give Kerry the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best the Obama administration could cook up was something called a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence and shorn of the normal dissents that intelligence analysts file with traditional estimates.
The reason for this internal intelligence community resistance was that, from the start, it made little sense that Assad would have launched a sarin attack right outside Damascus just as UN inspectors were unpacking at their Damascus hotel, having arrived in Syria to examine another chemical incident that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Further, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had sarin and that they may well have been the ones who released it on Aug. 21 in a scheme to push Obama across his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and induce the U.S. military to join the civil war on the rebel side.
At the time, the rebels were increasingly desperate. They had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer. The Turks, who had been aiding the rebels, also were growing convinced that only open U.S. military involvement could avert a looming defeat. So they set out, with apparent support of hawks in the U.S. State Department, to mousetrap President Obama into “retaliating” against Syria for crossing the “red line.”
Kerry’s performance on Aug. 30 – with all his “we knows” – was a clarion call for attacking Syria and might have prevailed, were it not for the fact that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone in Official Washington by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately as expected, but rather would go to Congress for authorization.
How close the world came to another U.S. war was underscored by the fact that after Obama’s decision, France, which had been eager to attack, had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on the tarmac. Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
On Sept. 1, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey’s intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his Sept. 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they, too, were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria included a transparent attempt to play down the effectiveness of al-Qaeda affiliates in gaining control of the armed opposition to Assad.
Kerry’s testimony drew a highly unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said, “He [Kerry] is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad.”
But Kerry continued to dissemble. Still arguing for war on Syria, Kerry was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively, in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”
However, such a plan was already afoot, being pushed by Putin’s diplomats. Later that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. Cutting out Kerry, Obama had cut a deal directly with Putin. All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.
So this is the backdrop against which to give credence, or not, to Kerry’s stacking up the evidence against Russia for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday over Ukraine.
Dear Kenneth Roth,
While we welcome your stated commitment to Human Rights Watch’s independence and credibility, we are dismayed by your rejection of our common-sense suggestion for strengthening them: bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members—or, at a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government.
Before addressing your letter’s objections to the three instances of HRW’s advocacy that suggest a conflict of interest, we would like to reiterate that they were “limited to only recent history,” and that other cases could have been raised as well. One obvious example of HRW’s failure to appropriately criticize U.S. crimes occurred after the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Haiti. The U.S. government essentially kidnapped Haiti’s president; thousands of people were killed under the ensuing coup regime; and deposed officials of the constitutional government were jailed.
In the face of what were likely the worst human rights abuses of any country in the Western hemisphere at the time, HRW barely lifted a finger. HRW never hosted a press conference criticizing the coup or post-coup atrocities. In contrast to HRW’s appeals to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter for Venezuela and Cuba, HRW never publicly invoked the Charter in the case of Haiti, even as Articles 20 and 21 afforded multilateral measures “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime.” HRW never placed an op-ed about the overthrow in a prominent newspaper. (In 2004 The New York Times alone published at least five HRW opinion pieces and four HRW letters on other subjects.) It is reasonable for outside observers to question whether this lack of response from HRW to such large-scale human rights violations had anything to do with U.S. foreign-policy priorities.
The very existence of such questions regarding HRW’s advocacy should be reason enough to impose sharp restrictions on HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government. Given the impact of global perceptions on HRW’s ability to carry out its work, simply the appearance of impropriety can impede HRW’s effectiveness. Closing HRW’s revolving door would be an important first step to allaying or preempting concerns that HRW’s priorities are compromised.
Concrete evidence of a revolving-door phenomenon between HRW and the U.S. government renders crucially incomplete your admission that “it is true that some served in the US government before or after their involvement with Human Rights Watch.” We provided examples of those who served in the U.S. government both before and after their involvement with HRW, a norm widely recognized to generate perverse incentives and undermine an institution’s reputation for independence.
For instance, you may disagree with our view that a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency—one of the world’s greatest institutional human rights violators over the past half-century—has no standing to advise on human rights issues for your organization. Surely you must concede, however, that a conflict of interest was raised when Miguel Díaz, the ex-CIA analyst in question, exploited the eight years of experience and relationships he accumulated within HRW’s advisory committee for his subsequent role as the U.S. State Department’s “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”
Your colleague, HRW Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody, seemed to misunderstand the nature of our proposal, arguing in a June 11 debate on Democracy Now! that “Miguel Díaz never worked at Human Rights Watch,” and that the organization is “a big tent—we’ve got people on the right; we’ve got people on the left.” In fact, our letter suggested prohibitions or cooling-off periods for “any associate,” including advisory-committee members like Díaz. Secondly, our proposals would not impact political diversity; rather, they would make it more difficult for those previously employed by human rights-abusing organizations like the CIA from adversely influencing HRW’s priorities or damaging HRW’s reputation.
It is important to further clarify our request, as Brody made two mutually irreconcilable claims: that “there is no revolving door,” and that “this revolving-door policy, if we implemented it, would have changed one person at Human Rights Watch.” Both statements are untrue. A cooling-off period, which all HRW associates would accept, would have prevented both Díaz and former HRW Washington director Tom Malinowski from almost immediately entering the U.S. State Department (Malinowski is now Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and would have also applied to Nik Steinberg, a senior researcher in HRW’s Americas division as of May 2014.
Just one week after you received our May 12 letter, Mr. Steinberg announced that he was leaving HRW to take a position with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, which he described as an “extraordinary opportunity.” This is disturbing from a human rights perspective, because Ms. Power’s July 17, 2013 confirmation hearing was riddled with provocative comments, including her evidence-free claim of an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” her promise to “never apologize for America,” and her commitment to “work tirelessly to defend” Israel. After assuming her post, she advocated in favor of a U.S. strike against Syria in 2013, defending it as “legitimate” while tacitly acknowledging its illegality. She later declared that the United States has “nothing to apologize for” in Afghanistan, despite its record of numerous atrocities. Most recently, Ms. Power engaged in a coordinated media event with Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Brody once referred to as a war criminal.
HRW’s proximity to Ms. Power damages HRW’s stated independence in light of her declarations that “the United States is the greatest country on Earth,” “the leader in human rights,” and “the leader in human dignity.” Shortly after leaving HRW, Malinowski similarly lauded the “bipartisan consensus for America’s defense of liberty around the world” and the “exceptional” nature of the United States at his own September 24, 2013 confirmation hearing.
Mr. Roth, we are deeply worried that Mr. Steinberg’s announced transition to Ms. Power’s office—a week after your receipt of our letter—is just one of many more revolving-door episodes that will continue to create perverse incentive structures within the organization. How can we expect HRW associates to be completely unafraid to hold human rights violators in the U.S. government accountable for their offenses and crimes when they are hoping to work for some of these very same functionaries immediately upon leaving HRW? That is the question that you must answer, Mr. Roth, in light of the transitions of Malinowski, Díaz and Steinberg to the U.S. State Department.
If you nevertheless object to prohibiting the involvement of U.S. foreign-policy officials at HRW or instituting cooling-off periods for them, we suggest, in parallel, an even narrower proposal: bar the participation at HRW of those who bear a direct responsibility for violating international humanitarian law. Javier Solana, currently a member of HRW’s board of directors, served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General during its 1999 military campaign in Yugoslavia. NATO’s use of cluster munitions and its bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia led HRW itself to conclude that the organization “committed violations of international humanitarian law.”
Solana is therefore a poor choice for HRW’s board of directors. His removal from your board would signal HRW’s good-faith effort to bolster its independence and credibility as an advocate for human rights. When Mr. Brody was asked on Democracy Now! to respond to the argument that “those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization,” Mr. Brody said, “I would agree with that.” We hope you concur with your colleague.
We will now address in turn your responses to the three cases of problematic HRW advocacy mentioned in our letter:
First, you objected to our concerns over the 2009 statements made by Tom Malinowski as HRW’s Washington director to the LA Times. He contended that “under limited circumstances” there was a “legitimate place” for renditions. You argue that our letter “mistakenly claims he was supporting unlawful CIA renditions,” and that “Malinowski was certainly not endorsing the CIA’s illegal rendition program, which entailed transferring individuals without due process protections to countries where they faced torture.” You further define renditions as simply “the transfer of a person in custody from one jurisdiction to another, which is legal under certain circumstances,” and cite extraditions as a legitimate form of rendition.
We appreciate your attempt to clarify Malinowski’s statement, which at the time provoked public consternation from law professors specializing in constitutional law and international law, such as Darren Hutchinson and Kenneth Anderson. This reaction arose because the LA Times article in question focused exclusively on CIA renditions and President Barack Obama’s executive order, which preserved them through a redefinition that allowed the transfer of suspects on a “short-term, transitory basis.” All CIA renditions, whether long- or short-term, whether they lead to torture or not, deny suspects the right to legal proceedings in which they can challenge their transfer from the country in question. Unlike commonplace extraditions, CIA renditions—extraordinary or otherwise—do not guarantee the detainees’ right to legal counsel or access to the court system of the country where they are seized.
In our previous letter to you, we cited Obama’s “preservation of renditions” as a serious human rights concern, and hyperlinked to a widely cited Open Society Justice Initiative report from 2013 which observed that Obama’s 2009 “executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition,” and that “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition.” In light of this and the fact that the LA Times solely focused on an executive order pertaining to CIA renditions, Malinowski’s comment on their “legitimate place” was troubling and remains so, especially given his now-senior position within the Obama administration. Controversy around the practice persists, as exemplified by the headline of a 2013 Washington Post news article: “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns.”
Malinowski’s subsequent statement to the LA Times was perhaps even more dubious, for additional reasons. As HRW’s Washington director, he paraphrased the Obama administration’s claim that designing an alternative to “people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time,” without questioning whether a gradual approach to ending such abuses was justifiable or even legal. For an organization that operates under the principle that human rights are absolute rights, not rights to be traded away for expediency or other political goals—which is the only way that a credible human rights organization can or should operate—such a statement should be deeply alarming. In fact, the Obama administration did proceed to “take some time,” sustaining the use of such “foreign dungeons” for years—likely up to the present day.
Numerous eye-witness testimonies led to articles by Der Spiegel in 2009 and the BBC in 2010 that reported on torture conducted under Obama’s presidency at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where detainees have had no right to habeas corpus. A 2011 Nation investigative piece detailed the conditions of an underground “secret prison” in Somalia used by the CIA, which serves as a destination for U.S.-assisted renditions. U.S. officials are said to conduct joint “debriefings,” or interrogations, at the site. The report’s author, Jeremy Scahill, found that the prisoners were unable to be seen by the Red Cross, and “they are not ever presented with charges.”
We note with interest that none of the HRW reports on rendition that you listed and hyperlinked to in your letter refer to torture, CIA renditions, or long-term detention without due process that have occurred under the Obama administration. While we welcome HRW’s call for criminal investigations regarding Bush-era human rights abuses, it appears that HRW has not advocated for criminal investigations into any of these Obama-era abuses. In fact, two HRW researchers have publicly fretted over the U.S. handover of the Bagram base to the Afghan government due to concerns over Afghanistan’s use of torture, without ever mentioning Obama-era, U.S.-directed torture at the same base. There may be some legitimate reason for HRW’s very different positions regarding the two administrations, but combined with the existence of HRW’s revolving door, they reinforce a reasonable suspicion that Malinowski’s inappropriate comments in 2009 as an HRW employee were influenced by his intention to serve in the Obama administration, and that HRW’s decidedly more muted position today on Obama’s policies is perhaps related to its ties to the administration.
Your second point pertains to our argument that in light of HRW’s 2012 letter to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela questioning the country’s suitability as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, HRW had reason to write a similar letter to President Obama expressing reservations over the U.S. position in the same council. In our previous letter to you, we cited the U.S. record of human rights abuses that include a secret, global assassination program and the illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay. You have countered by avoiding a discussion of comparative abuses between the two countries, and have instead argued that for HRW, a “central concern on council membership is whether a government takes the council and its special procedures seriously,” and that Venezuela, unlike the United States, does not.
However, under no objective standard was this a “central concern” of the 2012 letter to Chávez signed by your colleagues José Miguel Vivanco and Peggy Hicks that we originally cited. After asserting in their introduction that “Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards” in “promoting and protecting human rights,” Vivanco and Hicks outlined specific “policies and practices of [the Chávez] administration” and argued for their reversal. Their letter then dedicated the next 10 paragraphs to arguing that Venezuela has failed in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom and civil society. Before concluding their letter, Vivanco and Hicks devoted only one paragraph to “cooperation with the Human Rights Council.”
Given the broad scope of the content and priorities of HRW’s letter to Chávez, HRW simply has no tenable justification for its continued support of the U.S. presence on the UN Human Rights Council. Aside from its far grimmer human rights record than Venezuela, “[t]he United States is the only country to vote against all the Council’s resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” admits HRW. “The US rejection of any resolution focusing on Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel [sic] exposes its double standards.” HRW’s own finding, coupled with the U.S. role in blocking the implementation of the Council’s recommendations of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during the Gaza attack of 2008-09, certainly weakens your letter’s claim that “on balance, the United States has played a constructive role at the Human Rights Council.”
It is not too late for HRW to demonstrate its independence from the U.S. government by writing a letter to President Obama outlining the most egregious U.S. human rights violations that should be reversed in order for the country to serve as a credible member of the UN Human Rights Council. HRW’s letter could demand an end to the Obama’s extrajudicial “kill list,” an authoritarian U.S. policy for which a Venezuelan analogue is nonexistent and inconceivable, and the letter could also condemn U.S. intransigence within the Council, particularly toward Palestinian human rights.
Our third and final example questioned HRW’s lack of opposition to Obama’s consideration of a missile strike on Syria in 2013—a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the unilateral “threat or use of force” in international affairs. We appreciate your clarification of HRW’s mandate, “which is to monitor governments’ adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.” We would urge HRW to consider expanding its purview to adopt the UN Charter as a foundation for its legal determinations due to the inevitable human rights violations that occur as a result of a war of aggression, considered the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
We express our concern, however, that HRW’s stated neutrality on matters of war and peace is compromised by your public statements of questionable judgment. At the height of intense pressure for a U.S. bombing campaign on Syria in late August of 2013, you all but advocated military intervention on social media, while maintaining plausible deniability in the context of a climate of warmongering. A sampling of your tweets include:
* To justify #Syria inaction, top US general trots out age-old ethnic animosities line. Heard that B4? Bosnia. Rwanda. trib.al/qSzrz1N
* Top general suggests US is more interested in a geopolitical partner in #Syria than saving civilians from slaughter. trib.al/WElNRGM
* It took chemical attack to convince Obama/Kerry that Assad isn’t interested in negotiated solution!? No more excuses. trib.al/viu2scd
* If the appalling slaughter in #Syria won’t get Obama to act, maybe ridicule will: trib.al/gp7HDo1
* If Obama decides to strike #Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians? trib.al/hl6QhA1
Such behavior is unbecoming for the head of a major human rights organization and runs counter to the spirit of HRW’s official neutrality toward the impending intervention in Syria. We encourage you to demonstrate greater tact and responsibility in light of the near-inevitability that U.S. missile strikes would have led to violations of international humanitarian law, including the killing, maiming, and displacement of many innocent civilians—as shown by the U.S. bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, and of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent years of war.
HRW’s official abstention from endorsing or opposing wars also appeared to be broken by Tom Malinowski’s March 27, 2011 article in The New Republic on NATO’s Libya intervention. The piece was originally titled “Why Isn’t Obama Getting Credit For Stopping An Atrocity?” and contended that “NATO acted more quickly [than in Bosnia] to stop atrocities in Kosovo.” In the case of Kosovo, “we could see and feel the difference Clinton and NATO had made.” Malinowski then celebrated NATO’s intervention in Libya as “the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history” for which “we should be grateful.”
As Washington director for HRW at the time of the article, Malinowski offered no disclosure of his previous responsibilities in foreign-policy speech-writing as the Senior Director of the White House’s National Security Council during Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Nor did his sanitized portrayal of those actions include his own organization’s inconvenient conclusion that “NATO committed violations of international humanitarian law.” Malinowski’s piece also omitted the clearly unconstitutional nature of Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Furthermore, he excluded evidence that the NATO coalition quickly had moved away from the scope of the civilian-protection mandate provided in UN Resolution 1973 and toward the aim of regime change, which conformed with Obama’s comments weeks prior that “it’s time for Qaddafi to go.”
More egregiously, the following year—months after your organization’s report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examined eight NATO strikes that killed 72 civilians—Malinowski offered unalloyed praise for the NATO intervention. He argued that “Barack Obama’s administration made its most unequivocal stand on behalf of an Arab Spring uprising” in Libya, where the destabilizing consequences of the administration’s support in arming rebel forces continue to be felt. Completely ignoring the issue of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO (confirmed by HRW itself), Malinowski claimed in this October 2, 2012 Foreign Policy article that “recent events have reinforced, not weakened, the rationale for supporting political change in the Arab world.”
Advocacy divorced from HRW’s own empirical findings, unconditionally applauding U.S.-NATO military actions in Libya and endorsing their suitability elsewhere, is a predictable outcome for a former Clinton official who became HRW’s chief lobbyist in Washington, and who may have aspired to a position in the Obama administration as he wrote such statements. However, such advocacy is unhelpful to HRW’s stated concerns over NATO’s airstrikes and its failure “to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”
We are heartened, Mr. Roth, by your expressed willingness to “speak out, as we have done” in Kosovo and elsewhere. But HRW’s track record for holding NATO accountable for its violations of international humanitarian law is wholly inadequate. Javier Solana initiated a war in violation of the UN Charter in 1999 and presided over the deliberate NATO bombing of a Serbian television station, a war crime that killed 16 civilians including a make-up artist, a cameraman, an editor, and a program director.
In your May 1999 letter to Solana, which mentioned that bombing, you urged that “these issues be scrutinized promptly and rigorously,” and that “disciplinary or criminal investigations be launched.” NATO implemented none of your suggestions and has held no one to account for that atrocity or for any other crime in Yugoslavia. And yet Solana was awarded a position on HRW’s board in 2011. It is hard to escape the conclusion that HRW’s admonishments of NATO’s behavior are toothless, and that Solana’s subsequent leadership role at HRW signals to former and future NATO leaders who violate international law that they should be undeterred by HRW’s objections and inquiries.
Finally, you responded to our emphasis on HRW’s ties to the United States by mentioning the involvement of former government officials of Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and other countries at HRW. But our focus is HRW’s ties to the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government, which, unlike the foreign-policy arms of many of the governments you cite, are continuously engaged in massive human rights abuses. This is a consequence of the status of the United States as the world’s sole military superpower, which frequently violates international law with impunity, and, as in the case of its invasion of Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a recent poll showed, the rest of the globe sees the United States as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by a wide margin, so HRW’s unabashed closeness to that government is understandably viewed as an extremely political decision.
One of us would be delighted to meet with you whenever convenient at your New York offices to discuss these matters further and to personally deliver a petition signed by over 15,500 people so far, along with their individual comments in support of the following demand:
The credibility of a global human-rights organization depends on its independence. Human Rights Watch has done important, critical work, but it can do better. It should implement at least a five-year “cooling-off” period before and after its associates move between HRW and the U.S. government’s foreign-policy divisions. Human Rights Watch associates should concentrate on protecting human rights. They should not have conflicts of interest with past or future careers in branches of the U.S. government that may themselves be involved in human-rights violations.
We eagerly await your reply, and believe that HRW’s implementation of cooling-off periods for its associates and its removal of Solana from its board of directors will represent valuable first steps toward greater independence. Thank you for engaging with us on issues that we believe are essential to the pursuit of human rights throughout the world.
Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1977)
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1980)
Richard Falk – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (2008-14)
Hans von Sponeck – United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)
Keane Bhatt – activist, writer
The United States moved Thursday to blacklist a group of companies it claimed covertly helped Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement acquire components for surveillance drones.
The US Treasury placed sanctions on Beirut-based Stars Group Holding, which it said purchased electronics and other technology via offices in China and Dubai to support Hezbollah’s military operations.
That included the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Treasury claimed were used against rebels in Syria and for surveillance of Israeli sites.
The material bought by Stars Group included engines, communications, electronics, and navigation equipment acquired from suppliers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
It named for sanctions the company, its subsidiaries, its owner, executives Kamel Amhaz and Issam Amhaz, and two Stars Group managers, Ayman Ibrahim and Ali Zeaiter.
The sanctions place a freeze on any of their assets under US jurisdiction and ban Americans from any business with them.
Damascus – Today, a civilization that used to lead the world and for centuries was the beacon of learning, tolerance and trade, and that still protects our global cultural heritage is damaged—and only the Syrian people can rebuild it for all of us. We need to help them.
Last month, halfheartedly and without unanimity among its 28 member states, the European Union levied yet more sanctions on Syrian officials. Passed under pressure from the usual suspects (the US, France, Britain, and the international Zionist lobby), the EU measure targets 12 government ministers, none of whom wields or holds police authority of any type. Not a single one of these individuals has any capacity or wherewithal—or even any interest—in committing “serious human rights violations,” as the measure accuses them of having carried out.
It is a charge that amounts to defamation of character and which the EU made without offering a scintilla of evidence. Widely seen as EU frustration over failed western policy in Syria, the action is also thought to have been motivated by a sense that the EU ought to keep itself relevant by… well… doing something, given that there is a deep split within its ranks over military aid to Syrian rebels. Coming three weeks after the Syrian presidential election (generally viewed as a significant victory for the Assad government), the measure puts the officials under an EU travel ban and asset freeze, and it also raises to 191 the number of Syrian government employees, along with 53 companies, now being targeted by EU sanctions.
The impact of EU and western sanctions on the Syrian economy has been severe—this is well known. Heavy fighting has damaged or destroyed economic infrastructure, significantly impeding normal access to sources of income for average Syrians. In addition, internal distribution and supply networks have been disrupted if not destroyed; currency depreciation has devastated purchasing power; and the heavy US, EU and Arab League sanctions have hampered imports and exports. Even the import of items not subject to the sanctions has been restricted by the sanctions on financial transactions, while tourism revenue, for example, has all but disappeared.
The EU’s ill-considered action simply adds to the multitude of woes faced by Syrian citizens, woes which have forced many of them to leave their country and become refugees. The ministers targeted tend to be technocrats, specialists in their field of work; they are not major government policy makers. Some are involved in humanitarian work, and some of them are ministers whose efforts in this regard have made them quite popular with Syrian people, both at home and abroad. One of these is Kinda al-Shammat, who heads Syria’s Ministry of Social Affairs.
Ms. Shammat works closely with the U.N. and other aid agencies operating on the ground in Syria, her efforts facilitating the delivery of assistance to millions of internally displaced Syrians. The UN has hundreds of aid workers working with the Syrian government through her. She has never been involved in “serious human rights violations,” but she is a well-known human rights advocate. Ms. Shammat holds a PhD in Private Law from the University of Damascus, where she teaches, and she has also worked with the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, the General Union of Syrian Women, and the UN Development Fund. In the latter capacity she served as a legal expert in family affairs and violence against women, and in 2012 she was also a member of the committee that amended the Syrian constitution.
Ms. Shammat first came to this observer’s attention for her continued dedication to getting aid to Palestinian refugees trapped inside Yarmouk camp during the current crisis. She survived an assassination attempt by rebels opposed to her views on women rights, and some suggest that she became a target for al-Qaeda types last year when Damascus University banned the wearing of total full face veils. It was a decision she openly welcomed at the time, saying that it was in line with the Syrian belief in moderation.
“We in Syria have never gone to the extreme left or the extreme right,” she told Al-Arabiya TV.
Kinda al-Shammat is surely one of the last officials, in Syria or anywhere else, who would warrant EU sanctions against her, and it is deeply egregious that she should be targeted, along with her colleagues, without any proof of wrongdoing. Most of the other ministers added to the sanctions list also have stellar records of public service; they would doubtless be applauded by the people, and probably, under different circumstances, would even be esteemed and well received in all 28 EU member states as well. These include Finance Minister Ismael Ismael, Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Khodr Orfali, Oil Minister Suleiman Al Abbas, Industry Minister Kamal Eddin Tu’ma, Labor Minister Hassan Hijazi, and Minister of Tourism, Bishr Riad Yaziji. None of these individuals has ever been accused of any conduct that could be construed as anything other than humanitarian. Of these it is perhaps Yaziji who most embodies the “new breed” of Syrian officials.
Yaziji was appointed as Minister of Tourism on 8/22/13, and he appears beholden to no person or thing other than his own vision of restoring Syria’s vital tourist industry. Born in Aleppo in 1972, Yaziji is a businessman, and he is currently the youngest member of the Assad Cabinet. With a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering from Aleppo University (1995), he is possessed with distinctively Kennedyesque good looks, voices progressive ideas, and exerts a charm and charisma that instantly connects with ordinary citizens and foreigners alike. Not affiliated with the Baath Party, Yaziji is an independent and was elected as such to the People’s Assembly, or the Syrian parliament. This observer has closely followed his work, both in the media and from direct personal experience.
Prior to the conflict, tourism brought in more than $8 billion annually, and as one admirer of Yaziji, who also works in government, put it, “The Tourism Ministry is working to reconnect to the world the way we Syrians used to reach out.” The official added:
“Syria’s treasures, from the cradle of civilization that we are, fundamentally belong to all of humanity, and please accept our promise—that we will do our best to repair all damage to the antiquities and will welcome assistance, as we shall welcome every visitor again, before long, enshallah (God willing).”
Minister Yaziji appears to thrive on the broad scope and depth of his work, which in fact includes visiting Syrian archaeological sites and drawing international focus on the need to protect and restore humanity’s collective cultural heritage, of which the people of Syria are the custodians. He also spends his time participating in youth festivals, visiting wounded citizens in hospitals, and recently attended a “Loyalty to Syria” gathering, where he stressed the importance of NGOs in conveying the reality of events in Syria to the global public. At that gathering he also discussed the unparalleled richness of the country’s historical and religious monuments, and spoke of “boosting the social values and developing national capacity to serve the best interest of Syria.”
This new generation of Syrian officials is dedicated to ameliorating the country’s humanitarian crisis as well as preserving our global heritage. They have been indefatigable in their around-the- clock projects, and they need to be encouraged, not hindered. In an interview with Reuters on 6/28/14, Yaziji said the sanctions will not interfere with his work—and he also said he has never been involved with any “human rights violations” of any sort. Some have pointed to the curious timing of this latest round of sanctions, so soon after the presidential election, and have suggested that in reality it is a form of collective punishment of the Syrian people—for daring to vote the wrong way, or in a way disapproved of by the EU and the rest of the West.
The EU has spoken piously of “Cultural Heritage—our debt to the past, our promise to the future,” and claims that it seeks to “promote culture as a catalyst for creativity,” but its actions last month belie this. If it truly seeks to implement its claimed humanitarian values, the EU should work to open the paths of these Syrian officials, not close them. At the very least it should desist from layering more “show sanctions” upon those in Syria who are striving to salvage their country. Yaziji and Shammat are Syrian patriots whose invaluable work the EU should be encouraging rather than hindering with politically motivated sanctions and silly, gratuitous defamations of character.
Few in the Syrian Arab Republic these days question the urgency and enormity of the task of reconstructing their ancient country from war-caused destruction, the fall-out from a conflict already more than half as long as World War I and approaching two-thirds as long as World War II. For this ten-millennium civilization, emergency measures are needed to protect its thousands of priceless archaeological treasures, both from the ravages of war as well as plunder and illegal excavation wrought by thieves. The Syrian government has given high priority to the preservation of cultural heritage, a policy that presumably not many in the EU would openly disagree with. Yet the EU’s ill-considered sanctions are harming multi-faceted restoration efforts—by intimidating members of the international public who want to help and by attempting to isolate Syrian officials whose full schedules these days are consumed by humanitarian undertakings as well as projects aimed at restoring cultural heritage sites and preserving our link to the past. And by the way, some of these sites they are working to protect are included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. These include the Ancient City of Aleppo , the Ancient City of Bosra , Ancient City of Damascus , Ancient Villages of Northern Syria , Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and the Site of Palmyra .
Syria and her hardworking public servants will survive these gratuitous political sanctions, but the sanctions likely will remain an indelible stain on the EU and its claimed humanitarian principles for a long time to come.