The Airwars.org U.K.-based monitoring group reports that 41 U.S-led air strikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria killed at least 296 civilians during the week after the chemical weapons incident on April 4. U.S. cruise missiles reportedly killed another nine civilians in villages near the Shayrat airbase that was targeted on April 7th.
But the fragmentary reports compiled by Airwars.org can only reveal a fraction of the true numbers of civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria. These are only the minimum numbers of civilians killed in 41 of the 178 air strikes reported by the U.S military that week.
In other war zones, when such compilations of “passive” reports have been followed up by more comprehensive, scientific mortality studies, the true number of civilians killed has proved to be between 5 and 20 times higher than numbers previously reported by “passive” methods. [For a fuller discussion of the differences between passive reporting of civilian deaths and actual estimates based on scientific mortality studies, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Playing Games With War Deaths.”]
So, based on the fragmentary nature of passive reporting of civilian deaths and the ratios to actual deaths uncovered by more comprehensive studies in other war zones (such as Rwanda, Guatemala, D.R. Congo and U.S.-occupied Iraq), it is likely that U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 1,500 innocent civilians in just this one week, or conceivably as many as 6,000.
To put this scale of civilian deaths in the larger context of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the 589 bombs and missiles dropped in the week of April 4- 10 made this only an average week in a campaign that has been waged consistently at this intensity for more than two-and-a-half years.
Airwars has been investigating reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and “coalition” bombing since 2014. It has investigated U.S. or allied responsibility for incidents that have killed between 8,303 and 12,208 civilians, reported by local and international media and groups like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At this point, it has confirmed that 3,061 to 4,943 civilians have been killed in 1,197 U.S. or allied air strikes. Airwars classifies these deaths as “confirmed.”
Airwars classifies the reporting as “fair” for another 454 strikes that have killed between 2,635 and 4,192 civilians, based on reporting by two or more credible sources and confirmation that an alleged U.S. or allied air strike did take place. Airwars classifies the remaining reports of a further 2,607 to 3,093 civilians as either “fair, but with no confirmed strikes,” “weak,” “contested,” or “discounted.”
Applying the 5 to 20 percent ratio of passive reporting to actual deaths found in other war zones to Airwars’ minimum and maximum figures for “confirmed” and “fair” reports of civilian deaths, a reasonable estimate of total civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria since 2014 would be between 28,000 and 180,000.
We can hope that Airwars’ thorough investigations have already captured a higher proportion of civilian deaths than were counted by passive reporting in Guatemala (5 percent) or occupied Iraq (8 percent). This would mean that the true number of civilians we have killed is closer to the lower of these numbers than to the upper level.
But a similar effort by Iraqbodycount during the first three years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq only counted about one-twelfth of the violent civilian deaths subsequently revealed by a comprehensive mortality study of the same period, and we will only know for sure whether Airwars has been more successful once we can compare its figures with a comprehensive epidemiological mortality survey of the present conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Claims by U.S. officials that the true civilian death toll from the U.S. and allied bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands, have never been credible, as senior officers have occasionally admitted. The uncritical repetition of the U.S. military’s absurd claims by U.S. media as if they were credible estimates of civilian deaths is a journalistic scandal. This has only served to increase the near-total ignorance among much of the American public about the real human costs of the wars being waged in our name.
As with the reporting of domestic gun violence in the U.S., occasional reports of single acts of mass killing grab headlines, but give only a hint of the constant slaughter that rages on unreported, day in, day out, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and across the ever-spreading area of the world being dragged into the bloodbath unleashed since 2001 by the U.S. “Global War on Terror.”
Nationalism, Ignorance and Consequences
There is another critical factor in the under-reporting of these constant, daily atrocities, one that has probably been a common pattern in every war ever fought. George Orwell described it very well in an essay entitled “Notes on Nationalism” that was published in May 1945, as the allies celebrated Germany’s surrender at the end of World War II.
“Actions are held to be good or bad,” Orwell wrote, “not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral color when it is committed by “our” side… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
Far from treating this prejudice as a problem to be overcome through public accountability and serious journalism, our current military and civilian leaders and their media mouthpieces treat this kind of nationalism as a weakness they can exploit to further suppress public awareness of their own atrocities.
Then, when a single horrific incident like the mass casualty air strike on West Mosul on March 17 breaks through this wall of silence into the public consciousness, the propaganda machine is quick to frame our killing of civilians as “unintentional” and contrast it with the “deliberate” killing of civilians by our enemies.
The eminent historian Howard Zinn pointed out the flaw in this frame of reference in a letter published in the New York Times in 2007, based partly on his own experience as a a U.S. Air Force bombardier in World War II:
“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in something like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’ Does that difference exonerate you morally?”
“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent,” Howard Zinn concluded, “To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”
Chemical Weapons: Propaganda and History
The persistent role of chemical weapons in U.S. propaganda to justify attacks on Iraq and Syria turns on its head the way that Western powers actually used chemical weapons themselves in the past. During World War I, American factories produced 5,770 tons of chemical weapons for use by the U.S. and its allies on the Western Front, and this was only a small fraction of the weapons produced and used by the U.K., France and Germany.
This past weekend marks the centenary of the first time that chemical weapons were used in the Middle East, by British forces in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, where they failed to dislodge the Ottoman defenders barring the British advance to Jerusalem and Damascus.
As British occupation forces faced a nationwide rebellion in Iraq in 1920, British leaders in London sent chemical weapons to Iraq, but historians disagree on whether they were actually used. British forces relied mainly on bombing, and fire-bombing in particular, to put down the rebellion and enforce British rule in Iraq. One of the British squadron leaders in Iraq, Arthur Harris, is better know to history as Air Marshall “Bomber” Harris, who ordered the fire-bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II.
Winston Churchill was a strong advocate for the use of chemical weapons. As War Minister during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles, he wrote in a memo to his staff:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favor of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
At that time, the British Army’s Manual of Military Law stated explicitly that the laws of war applied only to war “between civilized nations” and “do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes.” The United Nations Charter in 1945 and the revised Geneva Conventions in 1949 formally abolished such legal distinctions between wealthy Western nations and the rest of the world. But attitudes born of wealth, privilege and racism die hard, and the purpose of much of today’s Western propaganda is to convince the world of the moral superiority of our mass technological violence over the asymmetric warfare of our less wealthy and more lightly armed enemies.
As Howard Zinn concluded, these claims to moral superiority only serve to perpetuate a mutually-reinforcing cycle of violence and to foreclose any attempt to resolve any of these conflicts except through even greater violence.
The unwritten rule that our propaganda seeks to impose on the world is that the U.S. and its allies have the right to use unrestrained, unlimited violence at will, with total impunity, while any country or government that dares to oppose us forfeits any right to defend itself, to determine its own future, or even to exist.
After George W. Bush’s administration’s crimes alienated much of the world, President Obama conducted the next phase of this aggressive policy under cover of his iconic image as a hip, sophisticated celebrity-in-chief with roots in African-American and modern urban culture. This triumph of style over substance constituted a new achievement in neoliberal “managed democracy,” allowing him to carry out policies that were the polar opposite of what his supporters thought he stood for.
With Trump, the mask is off, and the world is suddenly faced with the unvarnished reality of an aggressive military power that accepts no legal constraints on its violence.
Justice for War Crimes
If we or our leaders ever seriously want to prevent war crimes and hold war criminals responsible, we must start with the basic principle of justice invoked by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson at the London Conference that drew up the Nuremberg Principles in 1945. But this is a principle that Trump, Obama and other present-day U.S. leaders would find quite alien. Robert Jackson declared:
“If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
When civilians in New York, Washington and on a plane flying over Pennsylvania became victims of an unprecedented crime of mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001, former Nuremberg chief investigator and prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz was a lonely voice invoking another basic principle of justice. Ferencz demanded genuine criminal accountability for the crimes committed, and insisted that only the guilty should be punished.
On Sept. 19, 2001, Ben Ferencz was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done,” he told NPR’s Katy Clark, “If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”
Clark asked him, “So what do you say to skeptics who believe the judicial process is inadequate because it is very slow and very cumbersome?”
“I realize that it is slow and cumbersome,” Ferencz replied, “but it is not inadequate. I say to the skeptics, ‘Follow your procedure and you’ll find what happens… We will have more fanatics and more zealots coming to kill the evil, the United States.’ We don’t want to do that. We want to uphold our principles. The United States was the moving party behind the Nuremberg Trials and behind insisting upon the rule of law.”
As Ben Ferencz predicted only a week after the 9/11 attacks, our failure to follow the “slow and cumbersome” path of justice and our resort to systematically indiscriminate and illegal threats and uses of force has left us trapped in a cycle of violence that has so far destroyed half a dozen countries and killed about 2 million people.
More are being killed every day, and our government has no mechanism or policy in place to prevent further, even unlimited escalation. Like a blinded and wounded giant, the U.S. lashes out at every perceived enemy on every pretext, falsely invoking laws, values and standards of accountability that our leaders doggedly refuse to apply to their own actions.
Our leaders effectively claim the sole power to define whose violence is justified and whose is criminal, and on a strictly self-serving basis. Our violence is always legitimate. Our enemies’ is always criminal. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the “single standard” that governs U.S. foreign policy. It is more traditionally referred to as “might makes right,” or the “law of the jungle.” It bears no relation to the rule of law, except to violate, abuse, undermine and discredit it.
Back Through the Looking Glass
Through several administrations, across political parties, and with the active collaboration of the U.S. mass media, our leaders have replaced the rule of law with the rule of propaganda, treating flaws in our public debates like those exposed by Orwell and Zinn only as weaknesses to be exploited, instead of dangers to beware of. The vital principles of justice upheld by Robert Jackson, Ben Ferencz and the ghosts of Nuremberg are reduced to inconvenient obstacles to be marginalized by propaganda and flushed down the memory hole.
Political skill across the spectrum is now measured in the ability to “connect” with the public in a way that is completely divorced from the actual details or effects of government policy. U.S. politics has gradually been reduced to the corrupt circus of smoke and mirrors now personified by President Trump.
And yet we all have to live in the society that our political and economic systems create. The distractions of glitzy political campaigns and Hollywood fantasies can provide only superficial relief from the monopolization of our resources by an insatiably greedy ruling class; the resulting poverty of more and more working Americans; the systematic corruption of every institution of government and society by corporate power, or “inverted totalitarianism”; and the extreme violence of a foreign policy whose only response to the endless crises its militarism provokes is to threaten and then destroy yet another country and kill hundreds of thousands more innocent people.
It is becoming essential to our very survival that we find our way out of this self-destructive propaganda world, back through the looking glass to the real world: to the beautiful but fragile natural world in which we live; to the kaleidoscopic diversity of our fellow human beings and their societies; and to the serious problems we must all work together to resolve if any of what we each value in life is to survive, let alone thrive.
As our wars escalate in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, as U.S. warships bear down on Korea, and as our leaders issue new threats against Iran, Russia and China, we may have less time to save ourselves, each other and our world than we have previously assumed.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
English law courts allow for something called a private prosecution. Typically, criminals are prosecuted by the state body Crown Prosecution Services, but on some occasions private individuals can bring forward criminal charges against another person or entity they believe is guilty of a criminal offence.
Currently, there are attempts by private citizens to bring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair before a criminal court over alleged war crimes in Iraq which led to the slaughter of over a million Iraqis.
However, Britain’s current Attorney General Jeremy Wright is moving to stop such a prosecution.
Wright’s spokesman has stated,
“It’s not unusual for the attorney general to intervene in cases in order to represent the public interest. He has sought to intervene in this case because it raises important issues about the scope of the criminal law”.
There are several odd things about this statement.
First of all, if it raises the scope of criminal law, it means that the crime of stealing a car can be prosecuted and is in fact done so on a daily basis, but the far more violent act of war criminality cannot be.
Secondly, Wright implies that a private prosecution of Blair would not be in the public good. If holding leaders who engage in illegal warfare is not in the public good, I fail to see what is.
The real danger to the ruling elite is that English Common Law is based on precedent. This would mean that if Blair was convicted for war crimes, so too could many of his successors. This is a precedent that the elite clearly do not want to set due to the basic principle of self-preservation.
And then there is another problem. War criminality is not currently on the English statute books. It is an international offence that could only be applied in an international court.
As we all know, international justice for war criminals is exclusively reserved for Africans and Serbs. Tony Blair does not fit the racial profile.
On MSNBC’s Sirius XM promos, Rachel Maddow tells the listener that the network—and by extension, herself as well—presents the news without “fear or favor.”
But a review of the month of March by Paste suggests that fear sells. With a single exception, Maddow led off every episode of her show in March with an extended, conspiratorial update for her viewers on the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump administration. Maddow’s monologues focused on the Russian oligarchic state and the authoritarian rule of President Vladimir Putin.
This obsession with Russia has had a palpable effect on the national conversation. Maddow is one of the most influential and popular voices for American liberals, and her theorizing on the Russia/Trump connection is part of a larger theory connecting the alleged collusion between the two to every world and national event.
As Aaron Mate points out in The Intercept, Maddow’s concentration on Trump is predicated on the idea that the President is a Russian pawn. It’s hardly a sure thing, and the focus may be more damaging than constructive for the “resistance.”
Maddow and likeminded influential liberals will have led their audience on a fruitless quest, all the while helping foment anti-Russia sentiment, channeling Democratic Party energy away from productive self-critique, and diverting focus from the White House’s actual policies. Trump would be handed a further gift via the damaged credibility of his “enemy”: the media responsible for holding him to account.
Look no further than the reactions to Trump’s bombing of a Syrian government airfield on April 6 for proof of that—despite the fact that Bashar al-Assad is openly backed by Russia, some liberal commentators refuse to see the missile strike as at all possibly opposed to Russian interests. “Donald Trump, Who’s Totally Not Vladimir Putin’s Puppet, Warned Russia Before Airstrikes on Syria,” was Salon’s sarcastic headline.
This is in large part because Maddow presents Russia as an outlier on the world stage, involved in activity and behavior that is incompatible with the American way of life. Yet her examples from the last month are hardly convincing.
In Russia, Maddow says, there is a “corrupt, elite class of connected thieves at the top who have been siphoning money out of that country.” Though she acknowledges that the US has massive income inequality and corruption, in Russia it’s different, because
the politically connected class at the top that is stealing is much smaller… and is much more traceable now, in the short amount of time, in terms of the way they have yanked money out of that country, and the way they have spread it all over the world to hide it and to disguise its origins.
Let’s hope nobody shatters Maddow’s image of America by pointing out that 400 Americans own as much wealth as the bottom 61 percent of the population. Or that, according to the World Bank, the United States and Russia have almost exactly the same GINI index—the standard measure of inequality.
Not only is Russia a unique kleptocracy, Maddow says, but it (along with China and North Korea) is also an abnormally bellicose nation, consumed by the need to show off its military prowess and power. This kind of behavior, Maddow argues, is antithetical to the American way of life (emphasis added).
There’s no law against parading your military, whether or not it’s an important anniversary. But through American eyes, this is a little weird, right? If this gives you the willies to look at, it`s because it`s supposed to. This is an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military threat, military prowess or national insecurity, depending on how you look at it. I mean, this is not something that we do here in the United States.
It’s hard to know how Maddow would describe the constant flyovers by Air Force jets at football games, the honoring of fully dressed Marines at baseball games, or the numerous holidays the United States has that involve the strutting of US military machines, personnel and paraphernalia. One way to describe it, of course, would be as an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military threat, military prowess or national insecurity—depending on how you look at it.
Instead of policy discussions, analysis of domestic issues or digging into the backgrounds of administration personnel, Maddow’s program spent March with a spotlight aimed at the new administration’s as-yet-unsubstantiated ties with Russian government intelligence services and the allegedly Russian-led hack of the DNC emails.
It paid off. Maddow’s program is the only non-Fox News program in the ten top-rated cable news programs for the first quarter of 2017, and the highest-ranked non-Fox program in the lucrative 25-54 demographic, according to AdWeek. Yet this success came with an obsession with Russia twinned with overblown dot-connecting, speculative reasoning stated as fact and an emphasis on a wide ranging, insidious conspiracy.
Maddow referenced Russia repeatedly in March. The highest number of mentions we found was 105 on March 9, the lowest was days earlier on March 6, when it came up only eight times. On average, the country was mentioned around 53 times a show—or over once a minute, once you subtract commercials from the airtime—and Maddow did not let a single opening segment go by for the entire month without at least a mention of Russia’s alleged ties to Trump.
The entire list is below, but here are three telling examples of Maddow’s obsessive attention to Russia at the expense of anything else going on in the news.
— March 7, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 71 times. Maddow acknowledged news about ACA and immigration, but chose to lead instead with a study of the Russian embassy, promising to cover the breaking domestic news later.
— March 14, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 19 times. The show led with the infamous tax return document that Maddow introduced with a winding 20-minute monologue that touched on a number of conspiracy theories for which she provided no proof.
— March 17, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 51 times. The show led with Tom Price, then moves to the Gorsuch hearings as a pretext for a long discussion on hypothetical discoveries about Russia in House hearings.
It was on the latter date that Maddow laid out the justification for her unrelenting focus—a thesis grounded on flimsy evidence, hyperbolic rhetoric and unsubstantiated allegations:
The Russian attack on our election last year, the unexplained connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during that time, during the time of the attack, the strangeness, particularly, the strangeness of the FBI in its treatment of this matter, it’s unsettling. It’s unsettling not just because this is one scandal among so many scandals for this young administration. So many scandals that some are being ignored because they’re not big enough to warrant attention amid other scandals, right?
This is unsettling not just because it’s one scandal among many. This is unsettling because if the worst is true, if the presidency is effectively a Russian op, right, if the American presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian intelligence services and an American campaign—I mean, that is so profoundly big. We not only need to stay focused on figuring it out, we need to start preparing for what the consequences are going to be if it proves to be true. We need to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with the worst revelations if they do come to light, if they are proved true.
Maddow could have just looked over reporting from the last four months to see that the allegations that Russia “attacked” the presidential election are questionable. But instead, she spent the entire month of March pushing an ever-escalating conspiracy theory to explain the Trump presidency, based on speculative hyperbole describing a mass web of collusion between the president, the Russian government and other actors.
“WikiLeaks got all inextricably bound up in our new national nightmare about Russia hacking our presidential election,” Maddow said (3/6/17), and “Russian intelligence was mounting an operation against us, against our election to try to affect the outcome” (3/9/17). Yet despite the fact that the MSNBC host had “been following this [with] pretty intense attention” (3/2/17), she conceded she didn’t “know what`s going on in terms of the law enforcement and intelligence investigations” (3/3/17).
That didn’t stop Maddow from speculating about what those investigations could find out about possible Trump/Russia collusion.
“We’ve had it confirmed today that what they are also investigating is whether, once again, the Russians had help from inside the United States when it came time to humble America and show our country what they are capable of,” Maddow said (3/20/17), elaborating remarkably on the testimony of FBI Director James Comey, who had said only that the agency was investigating potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.
Maddow’s viewers wouldn’t have known that from her. Instead, they would have been treated to more accusations of an intelligence operation that used the internet and Bernie Sanders supporters to defeat Hillary Clinton.
“Russian forces were operating inside something very high-profile,” Maddow said (3/31/17). “They were operating inside the U.S. presidential election.”
“This is not part of American politics,” she said earlier in the month (3/21/17). “This is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country and it did not end on election day. We are still in it.”
Trump’s finances came in for scrutiny as well—understandable, given that the president has refused to release his tax returns. But even a major scoop in mid-March fell prey to a rambling monologue that tried to hit all the marks of the Russian conspiracy theory before landing on a rather deflated two-page nothingburger.
“Has [Trump] received money from foreign sources? Has he received loans from foreign sources?” Maddow asked, before revealing two pages of a 2005 tax return that indicated nothing of the sort.
She added the next day that there were questions on why Trump would make public statements on the benefits of investing in Russia in 2006, trying to tie in the widely panned exposé from the night before:
Why did he think so? Were there financial ties with Russia that would give him such confidence about that pronouncement which he made very shortly after he signed this tax return?
There are no negative consequences for the liberal commentator for trafficking in these sorts of conspiracy theories, as long as they’re aimed at the “right” target—look no further than Fairness and Accuracy’s recent reporting on Louise Mensch to see how the most discredited, illogical ideas can gain credence on the centrist liberal media circuit as long as they are aimed at Russia. And in Maddow’s case, these theories have an added bonus: higher ratings and corresponding higher ad revenue.
Maddow presents herself as a fair but tough liberal commentator. Her show is based on her presentation of the news that her audience wants and needs to hear. For her to spend so much time on a Cold War enemy at the expense of real domestic policies, and for her to do so with such speculative reasoning and logical leaps and bounds makes it clear that it’s ratings, not truth, that she’s really after.
Maddow on Russia: March, 2017
Findings on the pundit’s preoccupation
— March 2, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 24 times. Show leads with Attorney Jeff Sessions’ conversations with Kislyak.
— March 3, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 68 times. Show leads with profile of Russian opposition to Putin.
— March 6, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 8 times. Show leads with Trump family ties to central Asian nation Azerbijain.
— March 7, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 71 times. Maddow acknowledges news about ACA and immigration but chooses to lead instead with a study of the Russian embassy, promising to cover the domestic breaking news later.
— March 8, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 103 times. Show leads with the GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine.
— March 9, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 105 times. Show leads with sanctions and mentions the unsubstantiated dossier on Trump written by retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele Buzzfeed published, acknowledges its content has not been verified, and then quotes from it at length.
— March 10, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 47 times. Show leads with Mike Flynn’s ties to the country and his dinner with RT.
— March 13, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with Russian money laundering after Maddow lets the audience know the GOP healthcare bill has problems, but she’ll get to them later.
— March 14, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 19 times. Show leads with the infamous tax return document that Maddow introduced with a winding 20-minute monologue touching on a number of conspiracy theories for which she had zero proof.
— March 15, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 31 times. Show leads with Geert Wilders and the Russian investigation in Congress; Maddow tries to tie an FSB agent’s prosecution in Russia to Trump.
— March 16, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 65 times. Show leads with the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
— March 17, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 51 times. Show leads with Tom Price, then moves to the Gorsuch hearings as a pretext for a long discussion on hypothetical discoveries about Russia in House hearings.
— March 20, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 86 times. Show leads with Russian nuclear capabilities.
— March 22, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 54 times. Show leads with Paul Manafort’s connections to an unnamed Russian billionaire.
— March 23, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 57 times. Show leads with health care repeal (Russia and Ukraine are a segment later on).
— March 24, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 33 times. Show leads with the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian involvement in the election.
— March 27, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with the FSB and Russian banks conspiring to get Trump elected.
— March 28, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 39 times. Show leads with Maddow declaring that Russia and China’s displays of military power during national holidays are unique to those countries.
— March 29, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with alleged Russian involvement in the upcoming French elections.
— March 30, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 33 times. Show leads with Mike Flynn’s request for immunity, which Maddow ties to Russia.
— March 31, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 80 times. Show leads with the House investigation.
Anxious jobseekers could have another reason to sweat over interviews and reference checks. Google’s latest creation aimed at the recruitment market could give bosses the ability to do full, uncensored background checks.
Google Hire, the Internet giant’s new recruitment tool that allows employers to manage job applications, has sparked fears that recruiters could access applicants’ entire browsing history.
Touted as a recruitment tool, like Linkedin, Google Hire would allow employers to place job ads and manage applications through the product.
The product’s sign-in page has an option to connect through a personal Google account, which has prompted fears that employers could be able to access your search history and Youtube subscriptions.
Google, however, hasn’t given much away about the new venture, so it is unclear exactly what employers will be able to search for when looking for potential hires.
The ‘Applicant-Tracking System’ (ATS) that Google uses to manage the tracking for its own job applicants has now been repurposed to create a new revenue stream for the company.
At the moment, the website can only be accessed by those who have been invited to sign up. Crunchbase reports several tech companies appear to be testing the product, including Poynt, SingleHop and CoreOS.
Thirty-six hours after the pre-dawn cruise-missile strike against Syria’s al-Shayrat airfield, neoconservative hawks, many of whom beat the drums for war in Iraq 14 years ago, are feeling the warm spring breezes of renewal and rejuvenation. Suddenly hopeful that Donald Trump may yet be coming around to their worldview, neoconservatives are full of praise for the action, which they (like many liberal interventionists) insist was long overdue. Not surprisingly, neocons are pressing for more.
The strike, which marked a dramatic reversal by a president who had strongly opposed any similar action by Barack Obama in 2013, coincided with a number of reports that Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump was on the wane amid intensified infighting between Bannon’s “nationalism” and Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn’s “globalism.” The potential eclipse of Bannon has only added to the giddiness of the neocons as they anticipate what might now be possible.
For now, at least, it’s the generals—in the form of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Pentagon chief James “Mad Dog” Mattis—who appear to be masters of the moment both with respect to the decision to strike and the specificity of the target. The principal justification for the strike—to uphold the international ban on chemical weapons as opposed to, say, the broader aim of “regime change”—was also narrowly drawn, reflecting the military’s determination to avoid being drawn into yet another Middle East civil war.
Nonetheless, the neocons, who have rarely met a slippery military slope they weren’t tempted to roll down, embraced wholeheartedly both the strike and its justification. They view it as a first—but absolutely necessary—step toward a new phase of U.S. interventionism of precisely the kind that Bannon and his “nationalist” and Islamophobic allies abhor. The perceived decline in Bannon’s influence gives them an opening that, until this week’s events, they thought was out of reach.
Thus, the dominant theme for neocons in the strike’s aftermath was applause for what they see as an abandonment of Obama’s post-Libya policy of military restraint and, quite possibly, the restoration of Washington’s credibility as the global hegemon newly resolved to impose its will anywhere it sees a threat to its vital interests very broadly defined.
Elliott Abrams, a top Mideast aide to Bush who Trump rejected as deputy secretary of state reportedly as a result of Bannon’s opposition, thus exulted in the Weekly Standard over Thursday’s strike with the kind of capitalized flattery that appeared as carefully targeted at Trump’s enormous ego as the most sophisticated cruise missile. No doubt, Abrams still entertains hopes of getting a top post in the administration if Bannon’s declining influence is true.
The president has been chief executive since January 20, but this week he acted also as Commander in Chief. And more: he finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World.
… And the strike will have far wider effects [beyond Syria]. It was undertaken while Chinese president Xi was with Trump in Florida. Surely this new image of a president willing to act will affect their conversations about North Korea. Vladimir Putin will think again about his relations with the United States, and will realize that the Obama years of passivity are truly over. Allies and friends will be cheered, while enemies will realize times have changed. When next the Iranians consider swarming around an American ship in the Gulf, they may think again.
Bill Kristol—the Standard’s editor-at-large and co-founder and director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which did so much to coordinate with the Bush administration in rallying elite support for the Iraq invasion— declared Abrams’s analysis a “must read” in a tweet issued Friday morning.
Indeed, prominent neocons clearly saw their opportunity after the lethal chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province Tuesday to press their agenda on the administration.
None other than Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s deputy defense secretary and a chief architect of the Iraq invasion and disastrous aftermath, suggested in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that statements by Trump’s senior officials suggesting that Washington was reconciled to Assad’s continued rule over the country may have emboldened the Syrian leader to test the limits.
Let us hope Mr. Trump will reassess the impact of recent statements by members of his administration indicating that the U.S. is prepared to live with the Assad regime. The Syrians—and their Russian and Iranian backers—might well have interpreted this as a signal that they could continue terrorizing the population.
Encouraged by Trump’s initial verbal condemnation of the gas attack, Wolfowitz made clear that action was required:
President Trump may have initially believed that he could avoid the fork in the road presented by the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria by simply blaming the crime on Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his “red line” four years ago. Fortunately it seems he has reconsidered.
To drive the point home, the Journal editors headlined the op-ed “For Syria, Words Won’t Be Enough: Trump says attacking civilians crosses ‘many lines.’ Will he back it up?”
Meanwhile, the looniest among the neocons, former CIA director James Woolsey—who was one of the first to publicly claim a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11—was urging trump to do much, much more than a simple retaliatory strike.
This at least gives us an opportunity to do something that is tied to the Syrian events, and that would be to use force against the Iranian nuclear program … If we want to change the nature of the threat to us in that part of the world, what we have to do is take out the Iranian nuclear program—if we can without hitting any Russian units—and some of the Syrian capability.
Pump Up the Volume
Although most other neocons were not quite so explicit about their fondest desires, they made perfectly clear that Thursday’s cruise-missile strike should only be a first step toward a larger regional strategy designed to roll back Iranian (and Russian) influence (much as PNAC warned after 9/11 that taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan should only be a first step in the war against terror). Writing in the New York Daily News, Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) argued that
President Trump’s decision to attack the airfield from which the most recent chemical attack was launched must be the start of a new strategy. It must begin a campaign to drive the Assad regime to compromise. It must be the start of an effort to regain the confidence of Sunni Arabs in Syria and around the world that the U.S. stands with them against all those who would attack them, ISIS and Al Qaeda as well as Iran and its proxies.
Katherine Zimmerman has also echoed this theme of backing the region’s Sunni states. Like both Wolfowitz and Kagan, Zimmerman is based at AEI, the neoconservative think tank that not only led the public campaign for invading Iraq but played a critical role in planning the post-invasion occupation.
The US cruise missile strikes are the first step to restoring America’s credibility within the very population—the Sunni Arabs—that it must win over to secure its strategic interests in the Middle East. The action against the Assad regime starts to chip away at al Qaeda’s narrative that it alone is the defender of the Syrian Sunni. But an isolated response will not achieve systemic effects. It is impossible to defeat al Qaeda and ISIS without the support of the Sunni, and re-establishing America’s credibility will certainly be difficult.
(The irony of AEI’s strong backing for Sunnis throughout the region is particularly rich given its historic role in enhancing the influence of Ahmad Chalabi in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Once re-installed in Iraq, Chalabi, a Shiite, was the principal driver of the “de-Baathification” that principally victimized Iraqi Sunnis.)
The same message was conveyed Friday by Christopher Griffin, the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), PNAC’s lineal descendant, in a bulletin entitled “Syria Airstrike Necessary But Insufficient” in which he argued for reviving U.S. efforts to “empower a moderate opposition” to Assad with the larger ambition of diminishing Iran’s influence.
[I]t may now be possible for the U.S. to coordinate a meaningful coalition that brings together its Sunni Arab allies and potential partners within the Syrian opposition. Since 2014, a major constraint on that coordination has been Washington’s insistence on supporting only military operations against ISIS, and not the Assad regime. If American policy is revised, it will create new opportunities to protect the Syrian people from the Assad regime and to legitimize non-extremist alternatives to the ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates in Syria.
… If American pressure can limit Russian support while bringing together a more effective anti-Assad coalition, the United States may be able to isolate Iran and place one of its few allies in the Middle East at risk. The United States should not hesitate to seize such an opportunity.…
Neocon Overlap with Trump
Of course, this is precisely where the neocon agenda overlaps with that of Pentagon chief James Mattis who, of all the members of the Cabinet, seems to enjoy the greatest influence with Trump at the moment. Since serving as chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), he has said on numerous occasions that Tehran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, although, unlike many neocons, he strongly supports complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Late last month, the current CENTCOM commander, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, repeated that threat assessment and even suggested that he was eager to confront Iran militarily, presumably short of war. “We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” he said.
CENTCOM, of course, has always been cozy with – and relied on — the region’s Sunni autocrats, whose seemingly insatiable appetite for sophisticated U.S. weaponry has the added benefit of profiting U.S. arms producers (on whose boards retired brass often serve). With Mattis at the Pentagon, Obama’s notion that Washington can help bring about some kind of equilibrium between the Sunni-led Gulf states to begin stabilizing the region is long gone. Washington’s clear alignment with the Emiratis and Saudis in their own catastrophic Yemen campaign since Trump took power makes that particularly clear. And, with Netanyahu publicly boasting about Israel’s growing security cooperation with the Gulfies, especially with the United Arab Emirates, out of their mutual hostility toward Iran, the convergence between the neocons and the Pentagon, at least insofar as the Middle East is concerned, is growing.
At the same time, however, the military has learned through painful experience, notably in Iraq, that indulging neocon notions such as “regime change” and “nation-building” is the road to perdition. If the neocons want to gain influence with the ascendant powers in the administration—Mattis, McMaster, and the brass—they have to proceed delicately, one step at a time. For example, Kristol’s tweet Saturday afternoon – “Punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons is good. Regime change in Iran is the prize” – is not going to help their cause. Similarly, if you’re looking for slippery slopes, look no further than the advice proffered by Kristol’s partner-in-hegemonism at PNAC and FPI, Bob Kagan, who argued for a slew of follow-up steps in a column entitled “What Must Come Next in Syria” in the Washington Post Sunday.
Griffin was one of about 150 mainly neocon national-security wonks who signed letters insisting that they would never serve in a Trump administration, an act that probably disqualifies him for consideration. Some prominent neocons— including Abrams, Fred Kagan, former Cheney national security adviser John Hannah, former Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, former assistant secretary of state Stephen Rademaker, and Abram’s Mideast aide on the National Security Council Michael Doran, to name a few—decided against signing. Given the scores of senior foreign-policy positions that remain unfilled under Trump, this may be their moment.
Indeed, if Bannon and the “nationalists” are truly in eclipse, even some of those who signed those letters may now be back in consideration.
Photo of Bill Kristol by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
RT | April 17, 2017
Mike Pence’s statement on the US running out of “strategic patience” towards Pyongyang does not contribute to resolving the crisis, Sergey Lavrov said, voicing hopes there will be no repeat of the US strike on Syria in North Korea.
“I hope that there won’t be any unilateral actions like we recently saw in Syria and that the US will follow the policies Trump repeatedly declared during his election campaign,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, regarding the statement made by US Vice President Mike Pence on Monday during his visit to South Korea.
The world has witnessed the “strength and resolve of [President Trump] in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” according to Pence, who threatened North Korea “not to test” this resolve or “or the strength of the armed forces of the United States.”
The Russian foreign minister warned not to take any military actions and stressed that the “risky nuclear and missile endeavors of Pyongyang” violating UNSC resolutions could not be used as an excuse for violating international law and the UN Charter “in the same fashion” as in Syria.
The period of US policy before the current escalation could be hardly described as an “era of strategic patience,” Lavrov added.
“I cannot call the Obama administration’s period an ‘era of strategic patience,’ as the US has been quite harshly limiting North Korea’s capabilities to develop economy sectors related to nuclear or energy areas,” Lavrov said, referring to past US initiatives, many of them backed by the UN Security Council.
Harsh statements do not contribute to peace and stability in the region, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said, while commenting on South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn’s promise to “implement intensive punitive measures” on Pyongyang in case of any “provocations.”
“Our position is well known and consistent. We call on all sides to avoid any actions which might be perceived as a provocation. And we stand for the continuation of coordinated international efforts in existing formats to resolve the North Korean problem,” Peskov said.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are reaching boiling point again, after Pyongyang conducted a missile test amid joint US-South Korea drills in March. On April 10, the ‘USS Carl Vinson’ was part of a strike group that reportedly headed to the peninsula as a show of force and to demonstrate readiness for “various scenarios.”
North Korea has urged the US to stop its “military hysteria” and “come to its senses” – or face a merciless response if “provocations continue.” On Saturday, Pyongyang allegedly conducted yet another missile test, although it was reportedly unsuccessful.
At least six Iraqi soldiers have suffered inhalation problems following a chemical attack launched by Islamic State on Sunday. This is the second time in two days that the terrorists have used chemical agents to push back government forces in Mosul.
The chemical attack on Sunday occurred in a recently-liberated area of Mosul, where the Federal Police and Rapid Response forces are advancing towards the old city which is still roaming with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists.
The spokesman for the Joint Operation Command in Iraq, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told the Associated Press that six soldiers suffered “breathing problems” from the attack.
The victims are now being treated at a field clinic, the spokesman added. An investigation has been launched to determine what type of gas was used.
Meanwhile, security sources told the AhlulBayt News Agency that missiles were loaded with chlorine and were fired at the al-Abar neighborhood.
This is the second time in as many days that IS terrorists have used chemical weapons in an effort to stop government troops’ advance on the old city.
“The Daesh terrorist gangs tried to block the advance of our forces by using shells filled with toxic chemical material, but the effect was limited,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement, referring to Saturday’s incident on their Facebook page.
The statement added that the attack on Saturday did not cause any deaths, only “limited injuries” to an unspecified number of troops who were immediately treated after being evacuated from the area.
Officers in Iraq’s Federal Police told Reuters that the chemical weapons agents were fired from the Urouba and Bab Jadid districts on Saturday.
Some 400,000 people are trapped in the area controlled by extremists, as Iraqi forces make slow progress in liberating the rest of the city from the jihadists.
The initial operation to liberate Iraq’s second largest city began exactly six months ago on October 16.
After securing the eastern part of the megalopolis earlier this year, fighting in heavily populated west Mosul was expected to turn into a tough challenge for Iraqi forces due to the city’s narrow alleyways and streets which does not allow for armored vehicles and tanks to go through.
While coalition forces have been reporting on their military advances, civilian casualties have been piling up – both at the hands of terrorists and sometimes as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the US-led coalition.
International human rights groups, as well as the Russian Foreign Ministry have warned that the humanitarian plight in war-torn Mosul has “escalated to the limit.” Iraq’s president has described it as a “full-on catastrophe.”
The war machine that is the United States of America, not content with threatening the world with its missile attack on a Syria airbase, not content with massing its forces around the Korean Peninsular and threatening to murder its leaders and massacre its people, not content with its escalating hostility towards Russia and China, decided the world needed one more demonstration of its power today, Thursday, April 13 by dropping its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on an Afghanistan saturated with its bombs.
This demonstration, using a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Blast Bomb (MOAB), that the Americans like to call the ‘mother of all bombs,” weighing almost 22,000 pounds, was dropped from an American C130 transport plane. They claimed to be bombing an “ISIS” base and cave systems. The bomb is meant primarily to destroy large spatial areas but can also penetrate 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete before exploding and so destroy cave and bunker systems.
The news that ISIS is now in Afghanistan may surprise some. The US and others claim that elements of ISIS have “fled” into Afghanistan, from Iraq and Syria, and have clashed with American and allied Afghan forces there, as well as with the Taliban. Just as in Syria, the appearance of ISIS in a region often heralds an attack by America and its allies on the forces they want eliminated, in Syria, the government forces, or its occupation of the territory of a sovereign country it wants to break apart.
In Afghanistan it seems the Americans either need a force to counter the Taliban forces that have succeeded in gaining some legitimacy internationally or they are just relabeling Afghan resistance forces as ISIS to try to justify their claim that their world mission is to eliminate ISIS. One could think that instead of fleeing into Afghanistan, the ISIS units, if they are really going there, are not fleeing but being sent there by the nation that claims to hunt them. But we have to suspect that ISIS now fills in for “communist” in the new American order and wherever there is resistance to that order, then there is ISIS. How long will it be before they claim ISIS elements are operating in Russia and Iran and so the chase has to continue there as well?
Nevertheless this was the excuse the Americans have given for using the “mother of all bombs” for the first time in combat and it naturally draws the question; was this really just to hit a local guerrilla base or for something else, and I suggest it is something else, a demonstration to North Korea of the capacities of the US forces to destroy large areas and to penetrate bunker systems without using nuclear weapons. It was a warning; this is what is coming from the sky unless you obey our diktats to disarm so that you will be defenceless against us.
It was also a demonstration to the Russians, Pakistanis and Chinese that they ignore American interests in Afghanistan at their peril, as they conduct their peace talks initiative with India, Iran and Afghanistan. The Americans have no interest in the success of that initiative. They want control of Afghanistan and they have just shown, they think, that they are the big shots and they are going to use their big shot weapons to keep it.
The Russians are probably not impressed since they are reputed to have a bomb with four times the blast radius and twice the heat generated by the explosion of the equivalent of 44 tons of TNT- whereas the American device is equivalent to 11 tons of TNT- called the “Father Of All Bombs (FOAB). Still, to anyone experiencing it, the blast would be little different from a nuclear weapon. But the Russians don’t think that dropping these bombs on places to show how strong you are is any way to conduct diplomacy, whereas, for the Americans, threats and violence are diplomacy.
The media were very quick to spread the news of this demonstration, for after all it would serve no purpose to use this huge bomb on a few guerrillas in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan, when ordinary mortars and artillery would do the job, unless the world is made to watch the demonstration. And so we have the Mirror in the UK stating,
“It’s a weapon that justifies the use of the word “terrifying” to describe its power and marks a deadly ramping up of America’s military initiative abroad.”
You have to admire the turn of phrase “military initiative abroad” used for “military aggression against the world.” These propagandists are well schooled.
“MOAB is thought to be the most fearsome explosive weapon in the Pentagon’s possession…”
Again, making sure that the reader has to reach for a tranquilizer to calm the nerves after being reduced to a quivering nervous wreck, cowering in fear beneath the shadow of the American flag.
The New York Times, BBC, and all the rest are duly impressed with the “shock” and the “awe” of it and think we should be too, and all the leaders of the nations of the world.
But if they think North Korea or Russia or China are trembling in their boots at the American power they are very mistaken. In fact this demonstration of their power is a demonstration of their fundamental weakness. This weapon is of no practical use in attacking any country with air defence systems since it has to be carried on a lumbering and slow C130 Hercules transport plane. To be able to use it would require escort planes so it could get close to the target and against any modern air defence system it the planes would be destroyed before the bomb could be used. We saw the American weakness again in the attack on Syria where less than half of the cruise missiles used reached the target. Whether this is due to electronic countermeasure used by the Russian air defence systems in Syria, which seems the most likely reason, or technical faults in these weapons is not yet clear. But losing over half your weapon systems in a few minutes before they even get near the target is not a show of strength but a revelation of the vulnerability of the American war machine.
Yet, the real tragedy of the American action is that it once again proves that the modern era is a wild and apparently aimless struggle between all that is noblest and all that is basest in our common humanity. International law is trampled under American army boots. The United Nations is reduced to a circus in which the Americans and British play destructive clowns. The governments of the NATO war alliance, by their support of the American actions, lies, threats and bullying, are members of a criminal conspiracy to rule the world through brute force. The western news media are reduced to propaganda units of the NATO military forces and the people in general have, through a constant barrage of false information, manipulation, fear, bigotry, and a general ignorance of history and other peoples, become willing dupes of this machine.
Here in Canada the government and press proclaim their slavering support for the American war crimes, and are glorifying the useless slaughter of the First World War as the nation’s “defining moment.” Not the linking of the nation from Atlantic to Pacific by a great railway built at great human cost, nor the defeat of the American invasion in 1812, nor the defeat of the fascists in 1945; no, for they have become the fascists and relish the symbols of death, of slaughter, and all but worship war as our destiny and the death of others as a beautiful thing.
Frankly, I am tired of the debate whether Trump, the new Duce, has “sold out” or been compromised by the war faction in the United States. I think it was clear from the beginning that he would be as destructive as the rest of their leaders. Does it really matter any longer what leader is in charge of the United States? Has there even been a president dedicated to living in peace with the world since that country was founded? Not one. It is long past time to ask why this or that American regime wants war here, there and everywhere. The problem lies much deeper in the American psychology; for we can say that nations have a psychology, a manner of general behaviour and thinking, arising from their history and culture. I will leave that for political philosophers, sociologists and psychologists to examine but the existential fact is the world is faced with a threat to its survival and that threat is the United States of America.
Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto. He is known for a number of high-profile war crimes cases and recently published his novel “Beneath the Clouds. He writes essays on international law, politics and world events.