We’ve seen a few times now how legal analysis suggests that the NSA’s surveillance activities are clearly illegal. However, over in the UK, the government has appeared to be even more protective of the surveillance by GCHQ, and even more insistent that the activities have been legal. While there’s a thriving debate going on in the US, many UK officials seem to have pushed back on even the possibility of a similar debate — and there has been little suggestion of reform. While it’s still unclear how much reform there will be of the NSA, the UK government hasn’t indicated even an openness to the idea.
But now, similar to the recent PCLOB report in the US, a legal analysis of the GCHQ, written at the request of a bunch of Members of Parliament, has argued that much of what GCHQ is doing is illegal under UK law:
In a 32-page opinion, the leading public law barrister Jemima Stratford QC raises a series of concerns about the legality and proportionality of GCHQ’s work, and the lack of safeguards for protecting privacy.
It makes clear the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), the British law used to sanction much of GCHQ’s activity, has been left behind by advances in technology. The advice warns:
- Ripa does not allow mass interception of contents of communications between two people in the UK, even if messages are routed via a transatlantic cable.
- The interception of bulk metadata – such as phone numbers and email addresses – is a “disproportionate interference” with Article 8 of the ECHR.
- The current framework for the retention, use and destruction of metadata is inadequate and likely to be unlawful.
- If the government knows it is transferring data that may be used for drone strikes against non-combatants in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, that is probably unlawful.
- The power given to ministers to sanction GCHQ’s interception of messages abroad “is very probably unlawful”.
There’s a lot more in the report, described at that Guardian link above, which is well worth reading. It makes you wonder how much longer the UK government can pretend that everything is perfectly fine with the GCHQ’s activities.
Yemeni MPs have strongly condemned US assassination drone strikes inside the Arab country and the parliament passed a law banning the drone attacks.
“Lawmakers have voted to ban drone strikes in Yemen,” the official Saba news agency reported after the parliament held a session on Sunday.
The legislators stressed “the importance of protecting all citizens from any aggression” and “the importance of preserving the sovereignty of Yemeni air space,” Saba said.
On Thursday, a US drone fired several missiles into a convoy of vehicles traveling to a wedding party in central Yemen, killing at least 17 people.
The strike triggered protests across Yemen. Relatives of the people killed in the attack blocked roads to protest against the deadly incident, calling on the government to adopt measures to halt the drone strikes. They also demanded an official apology as well as compensation.
“If the government fails to stop American planes from… bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us,” Yemeni tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani said on Saturday.
Washington has stepped up its assassination drone operations in Yemen over the past few years.
According to the Washington-based think tank the New America Foundation, US drone attacks in the Arab country almost tripled last year, surging from 18 to 53.
US officials claim that the attacks target militants, but local sources say civilians have been the main victims of the non-UN-sanctioned airstrikes — which have also been launched against locations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia.
The US has come under fire for increasing its drone attacks in Yemen, where the people have held many demonstrations to condemn the violation of their national sovereignty.
A new UN report warns that the use of armed drones threatens global security and encourages more states to acquire unmanned weapons.
The report, which has been submitted to UN General Assembly by Christof Heyns — the organization’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions — called for states that operate armed drones to be more transparent and publicly disclose how they use them, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
“The expansive use of armed drones by the first states to acquire them, if not challenged, can do structural damage to the cornerstones of international security and set precedents that undermine the protection of life across the globe in the longer term,” the report said.
“The use of drones by states to exercise essentially a global policing function to counter potential threats presents a danger to the protection of life, because the tools of domestic policing (such as capture) are not available, and the more permissive targeting framework of the laws of war is often used instead,” it pointed out.
The report also called for international laws to be respected rather than ignored.
“The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable, even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack, distorts the requirements established in international human rights law,” stated the report.
Countries cannot consent “to the violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law or international human rights law,” it added.
Heyns noted that “drones come from the sky but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities they target.”
“The claims that drones are more precise in targeting cannot be accepted uncritically, not least because terms such as ‘terrorist’ or ‘militant’ are sometimes used to describe people who are in truth protected civilians,” he said.
The report is the first of two major papers on drone strikes due to be debated at the UN General Assembly on October25. The second, by Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, will be published next week.
Although no state is identified in the report, the comments are clearly directed at the legal problems raised by the US program of aerial attacks against what it describes as militants in other countries.
Emmerson said that drone strikes have killed far more civilians than US officials have publicly acknowledged.
He said on Thursday that at least 400 in Pakistan and as many as 58 in Yemen have been killed by the CIA drone strikes, and censured the US for failing to aid the investigation by disclosing its own figures.
The report was welcomed by the London-based human rights group Reprieve, which represents several civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
“This report rightly states that the US’s secretive drone war is a danger not only to innocent civilians on the ground but also to international security as a whole.
“The CIA’s campaign must be brought out of the shadows: we need to see real accountability for the hundreds of civilians who have been killed – and justice for their relatives. Among Reprieve’s clients are young Pakistani children who saw their grandmother killed in front of them – the CIA must not be allowed to continue to smear these people as ‘terrorists’,” said its legal director, Kat Craig.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists”. According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.
Officials at a top university in the United Kingdom have bowed to public pressure and withdrawn the school’s investment in U.S. drones.
The University of Edinburgh had a $2 million (£1.2 million) stake in Ultra Electronics, a British firm that manufactures navigation controls for Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles and ground control stations.
Investing in drone development was deemed not “socially responsible” by the university as well as students and campaign groups that lobbied Edinburgh to pull out of the business.
“The covert US drone program has killed hundreds of civilians and traumatized populations in Pakistan and Yemen,” Catherine Gilfedder of the human rights group Reprieve told The Guardian. “In divesting from Ultra Electronics, Edinburgh University has demonstrated its disapproval of companies profiting from such killings, and the importance of socially responsible investment.”
American drones have been used on covert missions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism says more than 430 strikes have occurred since 2002, killing at least 428 civilians, of whom 173 were children.
In Afghanistan, British drones have been more than three times as likely to lead to strikes as American drones, according to the Bureau’s analysis of drone data recently released by the British government.
By JAMES KILGORE | August 23, 2013
I spend a considerable part of my life doing research and writing about electronic monitors-those black plastic ankle bracelets best known for landing on the legs of a number of the rich and notorious-Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, Michael Vick, and Charley Sheen, just to name a few. I hear stories about house arrest and the absurd sets of obstacles authorities put in peoples’ way as they try to wend their way back into life post-incarceration while being tracked by the latest technology.
I reflect a lot about little computer chips and spying and what some lawyers call the deprivation of liberty by technological means. In essence, electronic monitoring is about tracking and marking. The GPS technology that is trending in electronic monitors tracks people’s every movement with the purpose of marking them for punishment if they deviate from the program (or at least if the technology reports that they have deviated from the program.)
Though everyone keeps telling me that at least being on a monitor is better than being in prison, (which I agree with, having done both) I keep telling them they are missing the point. The point is that we need to have some control over this technology, some clear rules, guidelines and ideas about what it should and should not be allowed to do, that while it may be applied to those “guilty” of a crime today, we don’t actually know who is next.
Edward Snowden’s revelations have awakened people to this sort of reality since NSA surveillance is all about tracking and marking. Only the NSA is monitoring everyone-tracking and marking, though none of us are exactly sure who is being marked, why they are being marked or what the consequences of that marking will be. We are leaving the whole process to the security and technology experts to decide. They will determine what patterns of telecommunications amount to a threat or a violation warranting action by the authorities.
None of this comes as a big shock to me since I have seen how with the advance of GPS, people on parole who are minding their own business trying to do what normal people do-shop, get their laundry done, play with their child in the park, are constantly presented with the record of their movements. If they stop at an address that is not on the approved list, if they go to a store that is not on the approved list they run the risk of being violated and either kept under lockdown (24 hour a day house arrest) or sent back to prison.
Not long ago I heard the story of a man who stopped for nine minutes at a house a block away from where he lived to ask about some things the owner was selling. Those nine minutes got sent to the parole office via his GPS tracker and he got a few days of lockdown in response. The neighbor’s address was not on the approved list.
And then there are the dozen cases in Wisconsin unveiled by journalist Mario Koran where the GPS device falsely reported people as out of the house when they were at home. Aaron Hicks served 51 days in jail for what he claims was one of those false violations. You can’t argue with the facts. As one man on monitoring who chose to remain anonymous because he’s still on parole told me, “we are the guinea pigs.”
But this mark and track process hit a new low last week with the release of Gregory Johnsen’s Atlantic magazine story about an eight year old Yemeni boy named Barq al-Kulaybi. Once an impoverished street child in the village of Baty-al-Ahmar, al-Kulaybi had been taken in by an apparently kind man named Adnan al-Qadhi. Unbeknownst to the little boy, Yemeni authorities (and likely the CIA) suspected al-Qadhi of having links with Al Qaeda. In a bizarre translated video, al-Kulaybi told the story of how last year his biological father, a member of the Yemeni Republican Guard, and some fellow security personnel persuaded him to plant a computer chip on al-Qadhi. Given precise instructions on how to activate the chip, the boy explained how he dropped it into the man’s coat pocket when al-Qadhi was out of the room. The boy had kicked off a track and mark process with a tragic ending. On November 7, 2012 a US drone strike killed al-Qadhi. Subsequently, Al Qaeda kidnapped the boy and his father and produced the video mentioned above. According to a Johnsen interview on Democracy Now, Al-Qaeda has apparently executed the boy’s father. Tracking and marking can be a deadly business.
The story of Barq al-Kulaybi is disturbing on many levels. The use of an eight year old boy as an operative in this instance qualifies as one of the low points even in the murky amoral world of surveillance. But the real problem is that like with the NSA monitors and with the parole agents who put people on lockdown at their own discretion, there is no process of accountability, not even any transparent guidelines of operation. The technology experts (read: boys with toys) are in the driver’s seat and following a map that no one else can see, much less read. I wish the case of Barq al-Kulaybi would give people pause, would at least occasion a few sighs of distress before we think about how small these chips are going to be in the future, all the new “apps” they will have, who will control them and whose pocket they may end up in. Who is next to be tracked and marked? By the way, have you switched off your cellphone?
James Kilgore is a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He writes on issues of mass incarceration with a focus on electronic monitoring and labor. He is also the author of three novels, all of which he drafted during his six and a half years in prison, 2002-09. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Considering the off-putting reality, one fails to imagine a future scenario in which Yemen could avoid a full-fledged conflict or a civil war. It is true that much could be done to fend off this bleak scenario such as sincere efforts towards reconciliation and bold steps to achieve transparent democracy. There should be an unbending challenge to the ongoing undeclared US war in the impoverished nation.
Alas, none of the parties in Yemen’s prevailing political order has the sway, desire or the moral authority to lead the vital transition necessary. It is surely not the one proposed by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but rather a homegrown political evolution that responds to Yemen’s own political, security and economic priorities, and not to the strategic interests of ‘Friends of Yemen’ being led by the United States.
Although it is much less discussed if it is to be compared to Egypt’s crippling political upheaval, or even Tunisia’s unfolding crisis, Yemen’s ongoing predicament is in fact far more complex. It directly involves too many players, notwithstanding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the US bloody drone war that is unleashed from Djibouti among other places.
In the period between July 27 to August 9, 34 people were killed in Yemen by US drone attacks. The US government mechanically considers those killed al-Qaeda terrorists, even if civilians are confirmed to be among the dead and wounded. Most media qualifies such statements by describing the victims as ‘suspected militants’. International human rights groups and Yemen’s civil society organizations – let alone the enraged people of Yemen – insist on delineating the toll on civilians. Entire Yemeni communities are in a constant state of panic caused by the buzzing metal monsters that operate in complete disregard to international law and the country’s own sovereignty.
Frankly, at this stage it is hard to think of Yemen as a sovereign and territorially unified nation. While 40 percent of the country’s population is food insecure, and more are teetering at the brink of joining the appalling statistics, the country’s foreign policy has been long held hostage to the whims of outsiders. There is a lack of trust in the central government which historically has been both corrupt and inept by allowing non-state actors to move in and fulfill the security and economic vacuum.
Prior to the Yemeni revolution in Jan. 2011, the US was the most influential outside power in shaping and manipulating the Yemeni central government. Its goal was clear, to conduct its so-called war on terror in Yemen unhindered by such irritants as international law or even verbal objection from Sana’a. The now deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose family-controlled dictatorship of thirty years was the stuff of legends in terms of its corruption and self-centeredness, obliged. He too had his personal wars to fight and needed US consent to maintain his family-controlled power apparatus. Just weeks prior to the revolution, then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Sana’a. She applied gentle pressure to Saleh to dissuade him from pushing the parliament to eliminate term limits on his presidency, as if three decades in power was simply not enough. At the heart of the mission was the expansion of the counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The bloody US campaign involving the Pentagon and the CIA has been under reported. One of the reasons why the war was never classified as ‘war’ is because it was conducted under a political cover by Sana’a itself and sold as if it were military cooperation between two sovereign governments against a common enemy: Al Qaeda.
But reality was of course vastly different. Much of Saleh’s supposed anti-AQAP efforts were in fact channeled against the revolutionary forces and political opposition that had assembled together in millions, demanding freedom and an end to the dictatorship. What are the chances that the US didn’t know such a well-reported fact?
In fact, AQAP expansion was unprecedented during the revolution, but not because of the revolution itself. Saleh seemed to have made a strategic choice to leave large swathes of the country undefended in order to allow sudden AQAP expansion. Within a few months, al-Qaeda had mobilized to occupy large areas in the country’s southern governorates. This was done to strengthen Sana’a official discourse that the revolution was in fact an act of terrorism, thus quashing the revolution was more or less part of Yemen and US’s ‘war on terror.’ Despite the many massacres, the revolution persisted, but Saleh’s strategy allowed for greater US military involvement.
Unlike Egypt, the US military interest in Yemen is not merely done through buying loyalty with a fixed amount of money and sustaining a friendly rapport with the army. It is about control and the ability to conduct any military strategy that Washington deems necessary. And unlike Afghanistan, Yemen is not an occupied country, at least technically. Thus the US strategy regarding Yemen has to find a sustainable balance between military firmness and political caution. This explains the leading role played by the US in negotiating a safe path for the central government, army and the ruling party – excluding Saleh himself – to elude the uncompromising demands of the country’s revolutionary forces. To some degree, the US has succeeded.
Part of that success was due to Yemen’s existing political and territorial fragmentation. With Houthis controlling large parts of northern Yemen, the southern secessionist movement Haraki in the south, militant infiltration throughout the country, and a political opposition that has constantly lagged behind a much more organized and progressive Yemeni street, Yemeni society is much too susceptible to outside pressures and manipulation. The Yemeni revolution was never truly treated as such, but instead as a crisis that needed to be managed. The GCC brokered power transfer initiative was meant to be the road-map out of the crisis. However, it merely replaced Saleh with Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and set the stage for the National Dialogue Conference – underway since March 18. The transition thus far has been buttressed with the backing of the ‘Friends of Yemen’, so as to ensure that the process leading up to the elections that are scheduled for 2014, is done under the auspices and blessings of those with unmistakable interest in Yemen’s present and future.
It is barely helpful that Yemen’s supposedly united opposition is hardly that, and differences are widening between the coalition of the opposition groups named the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs). An example of that was publicly displayed following the army-led coup in Egypt on July 3. While supporters of the Islah Party – considered an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood – protested the coup, other coalition members and the Houthis greeted the news of coup with gun shots and public celebration. To make matters worse, the interim president Hadi congratulated Egypt’s transitional government for its post-coup role.
Even if the revolution is yet to reap tangible results in its quest for fundamental change towards democracy, the national mood, separate from Hadi and the opposition, is unlikely to accept half-baked solutions. Meanwhile, the militants are regaining strength and so is the US political intervention and drone war. All in turn are contributing to a burgeoning discontent and anti-American sentiment.
Between revolutionary expectations and less than mediocre reforms, Yemen is likely to embark on yet a new struggle whose consequences will be too serious for any disingenuous political transition to manage.
Last week the US and some of their allies shut up diplomatic shop in various places through North Africa and the Middle East due to a threat heard on the ‘al Qaeda’ grapevine that a big attack was being planned for the end Ramadan.
It seems now that the panic is over. The Guardian reports that the US on Wednesday carried out a number of drone strikes that apparently killed seven ‘al Qaeda’ operatives of the ‘al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’ (AQAP) franchise who had reportedly been planning to attack various towns and oil installations in south Yemen.
Meanwhile, US officials are using the entire experience to vindicate the existence of the NSA, recently brought into disrepute following the defection of ex-NSA operative turned whistleblower Edward Snowden to Russia, but, more importantly, the US is using the experience to justify the continued use of drones after international criticism following a large number of civilian deaths associate with their use.
The stories of ‘terrorist chatter about major attacks’ remain just stories. The subsequent publicity resulting from the shutdown of embassies throughout the region gave the stories the feel of imminent catastrophic terrorism – all of which is fed to the people of the world without an iota of any evidence to support the stories.
Do you feel safer now? Does the idea of drones roaming the skies over our planet killing America’s enemies at the whim of its President make you feel more secure? Are you happy to lose your right to privacy and judicial process in exchange for feeling safe from an Islamist in the Yemen who has been enraged by the deaths of family or friends by an errant drone missile?
If you do, then the latest propaganda exercise brought to you by the US government has worked. I you don’t feel safer and, indeed, feel more sceptical, then fear not; there will always be more threats to come to help convince you.
At the heart of all politics lies cold, hard opportunism. New circumstances, changed alliances and unexpected events will always conspire to alter one’s calculations to benefit a core agenda.
In the Middle East today, those calculations are being adjusted with a frequency unseen for decades.
In Egypt and Syria, for instance, popular sentiment is genuinely divided on where alliances and interests lie. Half of Egyptians seem convinced that deposed President Mohammed Mursi is the resident US-Israeli stooge, while the other half believe it is Egypt’s military that is carrying out those foreign agendas.
In Syria the same can be said for Syrians conflicted on whether President Bashar al-Assad or the external-based Syrian National Council (SNC) most benefits Israeli and American hegemonic interests in the region.
But Egyptians and Syrians, who point alternating fingers at Islamists or the state as being tools of imperialism, have this wrong: Empire is opportunistic. It has ways to benefit from both.
There is another vastly more destructive scenario being missed while Arabs busy themselves with conspiracies and speculative minutiae: A third option far more damaging to all.
Balkanization of Key Mideast States
At a June 19 event at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger touched upon an alarming new refrain in western discourse on Mideast outcomes; a third strategy, if all else fails, of redrawn borders along sectarian, ethnic, tribal or national lines that will shrink the political/military reach of key Arab states and enable the west to reassert its rapidly-diminishing control over the region. Says Kissinger about two such nations:
“There are three possible outcomes (in Syria). An Assad victory. A Sunni victory. Or an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions, so that they can’t oppress each other. That’s the outcome I would prefer to see. But that’s not the popular view…First of all, Syria is not a historic state. It was created in its present shape in 1920, and it was given that shape in order to facilitate the control of the country by France, which happened to be after UN mandate…The neighboring country Iraq was also given an odd shape, that was to facilitate control by England. And the shape of both of the countries was designed to make it hard for either of them to dominate the region.”
While Kissinger frankly acknowledges his preferred option of “autonomous regions,” most western government statements actually pretend their interest lies in preventing territorial splits. Don’t be fooled. This is narrative-building and scene-setting all the same. Repeat something enough – i.e., the idea that these countries could be carved up – and audiences will not remember whether you like it or not. They will retain the message that these states can be divided.
It is the same with sectarian discourse. Western governments are always warning against the escalation of a Sunni-Shia divide. Yet they are knee-deep in deliberately fueling Shia-Sunni conflicts throughout the region, particularly in states where Iran enjoys significant influence (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq) or may begin to gain some (Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen).
“Seeding” Sectarianism to Break Up States
If ever a conspiracy had legs, this one is it. Stirring Iranian-Arab and Sunni-Shiite strife to its advantage has been a major US policy objective since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Wikileaks helped shed light on some of Washington’s machinations just as Arab uprisings started to hit our TV screens.
A 2006 State Department cable that bemoans Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strengthened position in Syria outlines actionable plans to sow discord within the state, with the goal of disrupting Syrian ties with Iran. The theme? “Exploiting” all “vulnerabilities”:
“PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue.”
Makes one question whether similar accusations about the “spread of Shiism” in Egypt held any truth whatsoever, other than to sow anti-Shia and anti-Iran sentiment in a country until this month led by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia continues this theme. Mohammad Naji al-Shaif, a tribal leader with close personal ties to then-Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh and his inner circle says that key figures “are privately very skeptical of Saleh’s claims regarding Iranian assistance for the Houthi rebels”:
Shaif told EconOff on December 14 that (Saudi Government’s Special Office for Yemen Affairs) committee members privately shared his view that Saleh was providing false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict. Shaif said that one committee member told him that “we know Saleh is lying about Iran, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
That didn’t stop Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lying through her teeth to a Senate Committee a few short years later: “We know that they – the Iranians are very much involved in the opposition movements in Yemen.”
US embassy cables from Manama, Bahrain in 2008 continue in the same vein:
“Bahraini government officials sometimes privately tell U.S. official visitors that some Shi’a oppositionists are backed by Iran. Each time this claim is raised, we ask the GOB to share its evidence. To date, we have seen no convincing evidence of Iranian weapons or government money here since at least the mid-1990s… In post’s assessment, if the GOB had convincing evidence of more recent Iranian subversion, it would quickly share it with us.”
Yet as Bahraini rulers continue to violently repress peaceful protest in the Shia-majority state two years into that country’s popular uprising, their convenient public bogeyman mirrors that of Washington: Iranian interference.
Washington was extremely quick to activate anti-Shia and anti-Iran narratives as the Arab uprisings kicked off. Barely three months into 2011, the US military ran a secret exercise to fine-tune a “storyline” that perpetuates differences between Arabs and Iranian, Sunni and Shia.
Here are some of the premises and questions included in CENTCOM’s Arabs versus Iranians exercise. (Note: The exercise refers to Iranians as “Persians.”)
Premise: “The Arab-Persian dynamic is a divide. History, religion, language and culture simply pose too many obstacles to overcome.”
Premise: “A general Arab inferiority complex relative to Persians means that many Arabs are fearful of Persian expansion and hegemony throughout the Middle East. In their minds, the Persian Empire has never gone away and it is more self-sufficient than most Arab states.”
Premise: “Barring a “clash of civilizations” – i.e., a modern crusades, Islam vs Judeo-Christians, warfare between the West/Israel vs Arabs/Persians – there does not appear to be a scenario where Arabs and Persians will join forces against the US/West.”
Question: “Is it appropriate to frame the discussion as Arab-Persian or is Sunni-Shia a more appropriate framework?”
Question: “Assuming a schism, what could unite Arabs and Persians, even temporarily?”
These narratives assume two things: that the division between Iranians and Arabs is a fact and that the greater unity of the two groups in the wake of the Arab uprisings is a potential threat to U.S. interests. Hence the worried question: What could unite them, even temporarily?
“Small States” Weaken Arabs
As manufactured conflict increases in the region, options too diminish. Because of the strategic importance of the Middle East and its vital oil and gas reserves…because of the desire to maintain stability in key states that safeguard US interests like Israel, Jordan, NATO-member Turkey, Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf…open-ended conflict in multiple states is, simply put, undesirable.
Over the course of the Syrian conflict – and certainly in the past year when Assad’s departure looked less likely – the West, through media and “pundit” intermediaries, has often floated the idea of dividing the state into several smaller parts along sectarian and ethnic lines. While framed as a means to “prevent further conflict,” this idea actually follows the American experiment of Iraqi federalism that effectively sought to carve Iraq into three distinct Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones.
Forget that you cannot find five non-Kurdish Syrians or Iraqis of credible national renown who would back the idea of fragmenting their nation. This is distinctly a Washington vision. Or rather, a western one, with Israeli fingerprints all over it.
Israel’s vision of “Small States”
In 1982, as Israel warmed up its operation to invade multi-sect Lebanon, Israeli foreign ministry strategician Oded Yinon inked a master plan to redraw the Mideast into small warring cantons that would never again be able to threaten the Jewish state’s regional primacy:
“Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon, so that there will be a Shi’ite Alawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbor, and the Druzes who will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan, and certainly in the Hauran and in northern Jordan.”
“Egypt is divided and torn apart into many foci of authority. If Egypt falls apart, countries like Libya, Sudan or even the more distant states will not continue to exist in their present form and will join the downfall and dissolution of Egypt. The vision of a Christian Coptic State in Upper Egypt alongside a number of weak states with very localized power and without a centralized government as to date, is the key to a historical development which was only set back by the peace agreement but which seems inevitable in the long run.”
“Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north. It is possible that the present Iranian-Iraqi confrontation will deepen this polarization.”
“There is no chance that Jordan will continue to exist in its present structure for a long time, and Israel’s policy, both in war and in peace, ought to be directed at the liquidation of Jordan under the present regime and the transfer of power to the Palestinian majority.”
Beware the Artificial Break-up of States
As opposed to western narratives about Arab “revolutions” heralding the arrival of “freedom and democracy,” the Russians took a more cautious view of events.
As early as February 2011, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that revolutions across the Arab world could see fanatics coming to power, leading to “fires for years and the spread of extremism in the future.” The breaking up of states in the aftermath of these events, he says, is a distinct possibility:
“The situation is tough. We could be talking about the disintegration of large, densely-populated states, talking about them breaking up into little pieces.”
The Russians were right. The Americans – dangerously wrong.
The Mideast will one day need to make region-wide border corrections, but to be successful, it must do so entirely within an indigenously determined process. The battles heating up in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere are a manifestation of a larger fight between two “blocs” that seek entirely different regional outcomes – one of these being the borders of a new Middle East.
The first group, a US-led bloc aggressive in its pursuit of maintaining regional hegemony any which way, is using fiction and carefully-spun divisive narratives to sway populations into accepting “cause” for new western-backed borders. These borders will divide nations along sectarian, ethnic and tribal lines to ensure ongoing conflict between the newly minted states, and “redirecting” them from the vastly bigger imperial threat. A unified Mideast, after all, would naturally turn against the universally reviled Empire, with Israel’s borders being the first on the chopping board. And in this climate, western-fomented border revisions will be dramatically more chaotic than Sykes-Picot ever was.
The second bloc (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, China and a smattering of independent groups/states) which opposes western-Israeli hegemony does not have the means or ability to impose border solutions except in their own direct geographical base, which looks increasingly like a line drawn from Lebanon to Iraq (and not accidentally, where most of the chaos is currently channeled). Theirs is a defensive strategy, based largely on unwinding divisive plots, minimizing strife and warding off foreign-backed insurgencies, through military means if necessary.
In this bloc’s view, Sykes Picot will be undone, but within an organic process of border corrections based on regional consensus and rational considerations. In truth, this bloc is focused less on redrawn borders than it is on dousing the fires that seek to create the harmful divides.
Arabs and Muslims need to start becoming keenly aware of this “small state” third option, else they will fall into the dangerous trap of being distracted by detail while larger games carve up their nations and plunge them into perpetual conflict.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
On June 9, a U.S. drone fired on a vehicle in a remote province of Yemen and killed several militants, according to media reports.
It soon emerged that among those who died was a boy – 10-year-old Abdulaziz, whose elder brother, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, was believed to be the target of the strike. A McClatchy reporter recently confirmed the child’s death with locals. (Update: The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism today reported that there was “strong evidence” it was a U.S. drone strike, but it could not confirm the fact.)
It’s the first prominent allegation of a civilian death since President Obama pledged in a major speech in May “to facilitate transparency and debate” about the U.S. war on al Qaida-linked militants beyond Afghanistan. He also said “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” in a strike.
So what does the administration have to say in response to evidence that a child was killed?
National security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden would not comment on the June 9 strike or more generally on the White House position on acknowledging civilian deaths. She referred further questions to the CIA, which also declined to comment.
The president’s speech was the capstone on a shift in drone war policy that would reportedly bring the program largely under control of the military (as opposed to the CIA) and impose stricter criteria on who could be targeted. In theory, it could also bring some of the classified program into the open. As part of its transparency effort, the administration released the names of four U.S. citizens who had been killed in drone strikes.
An official White House fact sheet on targeted killing released along with the speech repeated the “near-certainty” standard for avoiding civilian casualties. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated it a few days later, when he told an audience in Ethiopia: “We do not fire when we know there are children or collateral — we just don’t do it.”
But White House press secretary Jay Carney said in late May that “this commitment to transparency…does not mean that we would be able to discuss the details of every counterterrorism operation.”
The new White House statements don’t address what happens after a strike, even in general terms.
CIA Director John Brennan offered one of the few public explanations of how casualties are assessed during his nomination hearing in February. Before his confirmation, Brennan was the White House counterterrorism adviser, and is considered to be the architect of Obama’s drone war policy.
He told senators that, “analysts draw on a large body of information — human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage — to help us make an informed determination about whether civilians were in fact killed or injured.”
Brennan also said the U.S. could work with local governments to offer condolence payments. As we’ve reported, there’s little visible evidence of that happening.
At the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Brennan if the U.S. should acknowledge when it “makes a mistake and kills the wrong person.”
Neither overall numbers nor a policy of acknowledging casualties made it into Obama’s speech, or into the fact sheet. Hayden, the White House spokeswoman, would not say why.
The government sharply disputes that there have been large numbers of civilian deaths but has never released its own figures. Independent counts, largely compiled from news reports, range from about 200 to around 1,000 for Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia combined over the past decade.
Researchers agree that the number of drone strikes and civilian deaths have dropped during the past year. (Before Obama’s speech, an administration official attributed this partly to the new heightened standards.) The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which generally has the highest tally of civilian dead, has found there were between three and 16 civilians reportedly killed in about 30 drone or other airstrikes in Yemen and Pakistan so far this year. No strikes have been reported in Somalia.
“Official” statistics might not be much help without knowing more about how they were compiled, said Sarah Holewinski, head of the advocacy group Center for Civilians in Conflict.
That’s because it’s still not clear how the U.S. distinguishes between civilians and “militants,” or “combatants.”
In so-called signature strikes, operators sometimes fire on groups of people who appear to be engaged in militant activity without necessarily knowing their identities. The newly instituted drone rules reportedly roll back the military’s ability to use signature strikes, but the CIA can keep firing in Pakistan under the old rules at least through the end of the year.
An administration official told ProPublica last year that when a strike is made, “if a group of fighting-age males are in a home where we know they are constructing explosives or plotting an attack, it’s assumed that all of them are in on that effort.”
The new White House fact sheet contradicts that, stating: “It is not the case that all military-aged males in the vicinity of a target are deemed to be combatants.”
From the outside, in a strike like the recent one in Yemen, it’s impossible to know how these things were determined. McClatchy reported that the target, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, had “largely unquestioned” ties to al Qaida. Yemeni officials said he arranged to bring money and fighters from Saudi Arabia to Yemen.
As for Huraydan’s young brother, “They may not have realized who was in the car. Or they may have realized it and decided collateral damage was okay,” Holewinski says.
The same questions dog the death of another boy that the administration has acknowledged: the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric tied to terror attacks. Awlaki and his son were killed in separate strikes in Yemen in the fall of 2011. The boy, Attorney General Eric Holder has said, was “not specifically targeted.”
- For Obama civilian deaths are O.K. because the enemy kill civilians also (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The United States has deployed 1,500 Marines with advanced arms and military equipment to Yemen, says a Yemeni military official.
Some 1,500 Marines were deployed to al-Anad military base in the country’s southern province of Lahij, al-Sharea daily quoted the official as saying on Monday.
Another 200 also arrived in the capital, Sana’a, to join the American forces already stationed in the capital’s Sheraton Hotel.
The official also said that American forces usually enter the country in small groups, but the recent large deployment could be in preparation for a possible imminent incident in the region.
The United States has stepped up its drone operations in Yemen over the past few years, killing many civilians in the Muslim country.
According to the Washington-based think tank, the New America Foundation, the US drone attacks in Yemen almost tripled in 2012.
Qatar which has been a staunch supporter of the Free Syrian Army against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is now looking to enroll Yemen’s military elite to fight alongside other Arab-backed militias in a bid to offset Assad’s recent advances against the opposition.
Yemen Republican Guards, Yemen’s best of the best, the very units which were meant to ward off former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s foes are now being bid for by foreign powers in a regional effort to depose Syria’s regime.
Faced with the very possibility that Assad could after all outrun his enemies, strong of the support of Iran and the Hezbollah and restore his hold over the country, the Free Syrian Army has turned to his sponsors for support, awaiting more troops and more weapons.
While regional powers have committed money and military equipment, as well as allowed volunteers to cross over onto Syria to swell the resistance ranks, none has so far agreed to commit men to the conflict, a move which would equate to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime.
Qatar is now looking to by-pass the hurdle by sending Yemen Republican Guards to the front. Of course the men would go in their civilian capacity, hired as mercenaries by the State of Qatar.
According to local newspapers, Qatar would be looking to enroll 10,000 soldiers.
Military officials have warned that such a move would leave Yemen vulnerable, its defenses weakened.