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How like sarin is a sarin-like substance?

By Tim Hayward | July 8, 2017

The OPCW has analysed samples from Khan Sheikhoun in April containing what they have identified as ‘sarin or a sarin-like substance’. They know that much, even if they are not sure how it got there or who is responsible.

But how much actually is that? Throughout the OPCW report we find the cumbersome expression sarin or a sarin-like substance. Why not just sarin, pure and simple?

All a non-chemist like me can understand from this is that we are dealing with some nasty stuff, but there is no definite confirmation it is sarin pure and simple. Of course, a non-chemist also has no idea how impure a sample or how different a molecule would need to be to count as merely of a substance like sarin; nor would we know how much more impure or different it could be before becoming unlike sarin. So we non-chemists could easily be bamboozled in these matters.

One thing we do know is that the sarin the Syrian government produced and gave up for destruction in 2013 was referred to by all concerned as sarin, pure and simple. To produce sarin with military grade purity is not easy. To produce improvised versions, however, is within the capacity of insurgents in Syria.

Given that there are already open questions about motive, means and opportunity, as I indicated in my previous blog, then if there is doubt about even the weapon as well, the case for blaming Assad looks decidedly uncertain. In fact, regarding the weapon, as I mentioned in the blog before last, the OPCW could not ascertain the method of delivery or therefore the ‘hardware’ used. So it becomes crucial for those who would prosecute a case against Assad to say that the chemical was one the opposition could not have had access to.  So crucial has it become that the UK’s Ambassador Adams has said it: ‘There is no evidence to suggest that any party to the conflict in Syria, other than the Syrian Government, has access to a complex nerve agent such as sarin.’

Still, just saying it does not make it true if the report you are relying on does not say it is true. And – it bears repeating – the OPCW does not say anything that clearly rules out the possibility of opposition responsibility for the incident.

It bears repeating because to accept the unsubstantiated claim as a pretext for sending more bombs, death and destruction against the people of Syria would be a heinous act. Anybody who pronounces on the matter without striving to be scrupulously honest and clear about what they are saying will be complicit in that act.

nikki-haley-chemical-attack-syria-united-nations

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Hiding US Lies About Libyan Invasion

By Joe Lauria | Consortium News | July 7, 2017

In George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith’s job was to delve into The Times of London archive and rewrite stories that could cause trouble for the totalitarian government ruling Britain. For instance, if the government made a prediction of wheat or automobile production in their five-year plan and that prediction did not come true, Winston would go into the archives and “correct” the numbers in the article on record.

In writing a response the other day to a critic of my recently published book on Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat, I was researching how the U.S. corporate media covered a 2016 British parliamentary report on Libya that showed how then Secretary of State Clinton and other Western leaders lied about an impending genocide in Libya to justify their 2011 attack on that country.

I first searched The New York Times archives to find that the paper never did a staff-written story on this explosive parliamentary report. It only ran an Associated Press article. But when you click on the link for the AP article you get a message saying that it is no longer available on nytimes.com.

Using a combination of different keywords, a search of The Washington Post archives was even worse. I could find no story on the parliamentary report at all. A search of The Los Angeles Times archives likewise comes up empty.

Protecting Policy

Ignoring or downplaying a story is one way U.S. corporate media deliberately buries news critical of American foreign policy. It is often news vital for Americans to understand their government’s actions abroad, actions which could mean death or life for U.S. soldiers and countless civilians of other lands.

British newspapers widely covered the story. As did the International Edition of CNN, which has separate editors from CNN’s U.S. website. An online search found no domestic CNN story. There’s also no video online indicating that CNN domestic or CNN International television reported the story.

The Asia edition of The Wall Street Journal had a story. It’s not clear if it appeared in the U.S. edition. Newsweek ran a story online. But it does not mention the United States even once. It laid the blame entirely on the British and French governments, as if the U.S. had nothing to do with the devastation of Libya on false pretenses. The U.S. gave the same false war rationale as the British and French did.

It is a black mark on the Congress’ two foreign affairs committees that neither undertook a similar inquiry (although congressional Republicans did obsess over the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which occurred about a year after the Obama administration facilitated the military overthrow and brutal murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi).

Voice of America, which broadcasts outside the United States, ran a story on its website about the British parliamentary report, though the article confined criticism of the U.S. to not being prepared for the aftermath, not for the intervention itself.

A thorough online search shows that The Nation magazine and several alternative news sites, including ConsortiumNews and Salon, appear to be the only U.S.-based media that accurately covered the blockbuster story that undermined the entire U.S. narrative for leaving Libya a failed state.

Rationale for an Attack

The United States peddled its false story of a coming genocide in Libya under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect to justify military intervention. On its face R2P appears to be a rare instance of morality in foreign and military policy: a coalition of nations with U.N. Security Council authorization would take military action to stop an impending massacre. It would have been hard to argue against such a policy in Libya if indeed its genuine purpose was to stop a massacre, after which the military operation would withdraw.

But that is not where it ended. While arguing that intervention was necessary to stop a massacre in Libya, the real intent, as the British report says, was regime change. That’s not what American officials said at the outset and what corporate media reported.

“In the face of the world’s condemnation, [Libyan leader Moammar] Qadhafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people,” President Barack Obama told the nation on March 28, 2011. “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted and killed. … Cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air.”

Hillary Clinton, who according to leaked emails was the architect of the attack on Libya, said four days earlier: “When the Libyan people sought to realize their democratic aspirations, they were met by extreme violence from their own government.”

Sen. John Kerry, at the time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chimed in: “Time is running out for the Libyan people. The world needs to respond immediately.”

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of a transitional council that the U.S., U.K. and France recognized as the legitimate Libyan government, pleaded for a no-fly zone. The University of Pittsburgh–educated Jalil was playing the same game as Ahmed Chalabi had in Iraq. They both sought U.S. military might to bring them to power. He said that if Gaddafi’s forces reached Benghazi they would kill “half a million” people. “If there is no no-fly zone imposed on Qadhafi’s regime, and his ships are not checked, we will have a catastrophe in Libya.”

Report Tells a Different Story

And yet the summary of the September 2016 Foreign Affairs Committee report says: “We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. … UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”

The report further said: “Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Qadhafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. While [he] certainly threatened violence against those who took up arms against his rule, this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi. In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty.”

The committee pointed out that Gaddafi’s forces had taken towns from rebels without attacking civilians. On March 17, two days before NATO’s assault began, Gaddafi told rebels in Benghazi to “throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.” The Libyan leader “also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops,” the report said.

In another example, the report indicates that, after fighting in February and March in the city of Misrata, just one percent of people killed by the Libyan government were women or children. “The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Qadhafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians,” the report said.

How then could The New York Times and The Washington Post, the most influential American newspapers, refuse to cover a story of such magnitude, a story that should have been front page news for days? It was a story that undermined the U.S. government’s entire rationale for an unjustified attack that devastated a sovereign nation.

There can be only one reason the story was ignored: precisely because the report exposed a U.S. policy that led to a horrible crime that had to be covered up.

History Spiked

Defending U.S. policy appears to be the underlying motive of U.S. news coverage of the world. The Libya story is just one example. I’ve had personal experience of editors rejecting or changing stories because it would undermine U.S. foreign policy goals.

I twice pitched a story about a now declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document warning of the rise of a U.S.-backed Salafist principality in eastern Syria, intended to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that could join with Iraqi extremists to become an “Islamic State,” two years before it happened. My story was twice rejected. It would have undermined the entire American narrative on the War on Terror.

On another occasion, I wrote several articles about the lead-up to a U.N. vote to grant Palestine Observer State status. In each article I mentioned that 130 countries already recognized Palestine as a state and many had diplomatic relations, including Palestinian embassies in their capitals. That essential fact in the story kept getting cut out.

Another story I wrote was spiked about the position Russia, Syria and Iran took on who was responsible for the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus in August 2013. The story also included an interview with a Congressman who demanded to see U.S. intelligence backing its accusation against Assad.

Telling both sides of a story is Journalism 101. But not evidently when the other side is a perceived enemy of the United States. There are only interests in international affairs, not morality. A journalist should not take sides. But American journalists routinely do in international reporting. They take the “American side” rather than neutrally laying out for the reader the complex clash of interests of nations involved in an international dispute.

Downplaying or omitting the adversary’s side of the story is a classic case of Americans explaining a foreign people to other Americans without giving a voice to those people, whether they be Russians, Palestinians, Syrians, Serbs, Iranians or North Koreans. Depriving a people of their voice dehumanizes them, making it easier to go to war against them.

One can only conclude that U.S. corporate media’s mission is not to tell all sides of an international story, or report news critical of U.S. foreign policy, but instead to push an agenda supporting U.S. interests abroad. That’s not journalism. That’s instead the job Winston Smith did.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist. He has written for the Boston Globe, the Sunday Times of London and the Wall Street Journal among other newspapers. He is the author of “How I Lost By Hillary Clinton” published by OR Books, from which part of this article was adapted. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Syria Ceasefire Deal May Be US Attempt to Save Rebels From Defeat

Sputnik – July 7, 2017

A newly announced deal on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria may be an attempt by the United States to save the Syrian rebels from defeat, Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity Executive Director Daniel McAdams told Sputnik.

‘On the Syria “ceasefire” agreement, we need to see the fine print. But I am skeptical that yet another US “ceasefire” proposal for Syria will result in the reduction of violence in that six year war,’ McAdams said on Friday. ‘It seems whenever the US side experiences significant losses on the battlefield, Washington comes forward with a ceasefire proposal in a desperate attempt to save its “rebels” from defeat.’

Earlier on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, after talks between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that the United States, Russia and Jordan agreed on ceasefire in southwestern Syria starting at noon on July 9.

McAdams suggested that the best agreement between Putin and Trump on Syria would be “a negotiated withdrawal of US forces from the country, where they illegally occupy Syrian territory.”

The United States and Russia have backed opposing sides in Syria’s six-year-conflict, with Moscow supporting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington backing rebel groups seeking his ouster.

Russia, Iran and Turkey are guarantors of the Syrian ceasefire regime, having signed a memorandum on the establishment of four safe zones in Syria that came into force on May 6.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

Multi-polar World Arrives: Russia, China Face Down US Bully

By Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation | 07.07.2017

The United States’ hegemonic dominance in the world is heading to the exits. The decline in US uni-polar power has been underway for several years, in line with the emergence of a multi-polar world. This week, Russia and China showed important resolve to face down American bully tactics over North Korea. The confrontation suggests a turning point in the transition from American world dominance to a multi-polar one.

US President Donald Trump reiterated the possibility of military attack on North Korea while in Poland this week. This was also while Washington was hectoring China and Russia to join in a tougher response to North Korea over its ballistic missile launch days before – the former two nations themselves having recently been sanctioned anew by the US. Talk about American audacity and double think.

However, the crass arrogance shown by the US seems to have hit a new limit of tolerance in Moscow and Beijing. Both are beginning to demonstrate a loss of patience with the bumptious, insufferable Americans.

Reacting to North Korea’s breakthrough ballistic missile launch, Washington deployed its typical conceit, casually threatening to carry out a «retaliatory» military strike. Trump said he was considering «severe» options over Pyongyang’s «very, very dangerous behavior».

But Russia and China’s stance this time to the Americans had significantly stiffened. Both explicitly warned the US against taking military action against North Korea.

Moreover, Russia and China said that they would oppose Washington imposing further sanctions on the government of Kim Jong-un. The latter has already been subjected to six rounds of US-led sanctions.

In short, the American bully is finding that it is no longer able to dictate its unilateral way.

Addressing an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors rejected the shrill American call for «global action to a global threat». Russian envoy Vladimir Safronkov stood firmly with his Chinese counterpart, saying that threatened American military action was simply not an option, and that a different policy was needed from the failed American one of slapping ever-more sanctions on North Korea.

One can imagine the exasperation felt within Washington of being bluntly told «no» to its invariable, self-anointed belligerence.

The alternative route being proposed by Russia and China was the «radical» one – radical from the American point of view – of diplomacy. It has perhaps taken the Russians and Chinese overdue time to reach this point. But what is remarkably apparent now is that they are asserting themselves against the US with increased confidence. And what they are asserting in this case is an eminently reasonable solution to the Korean crisis. They are calling for a freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program in conjunction with the US freezing its constant military exercises on the peninsula, as well as withdrawing its anti-missile THAAD system. The next step is to then hold multilateral negotiations for a comprehensive peaceful settlement, without preconditions.

Such an eminently reasonable approach is anathema to the Americans. Because it negates their unilateral arrogance and self-righteousness to dictate terms.

This is a significant development, one that portends a new determination by Russia and China to confront the American bully head-on. For too long, Washington has gotten away with outrageous aggression, lawlessness, hypocrisy and absurd hubris, not just over Korea but on countless other international issues. On the world stage it behaves like a schoolyard bully, or perhaps more accurately that should be a street thug. Going around beating up other people, usually the weak, as it likes. Then when Washington feels particularly affronted about some perceived slight, it invokes international law and righteousness.

This week, what we saw over the North Korea missile launch and the typical American over-reaction was Russia and China saying to Washington: your days of self-licensing aggression and abusing international law are over; your American uni-polar hegemony is redundant.

Welcome to the multi-polar world forged largely by Russia and China where all nations must abide by international norms and law, principally the paramount pursuit of diplomacy.

Oh the shock to American arrogance to receive such a rude awakening.

The lawlessness of American «exceptionalism» is a theme that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been constantly hammering over the past decade. But it seems now that Russia and China are strong enough politically, economically and militarily to begin asserting and acting on the conviction that the days of American arrogance and lawlessness are indeed over. It is no coincidence that the firm Russian-Chinese opposition to American aggression over North Korea came at the same time that Putin was hosting his counterpart President Xi Jinping in Moscow, where both leaders hailed an even deeper Sino-Russian strategic alliance.

Moscow and Beijing censured North Korea over its 11th missile launch so far this year. They said it violated UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since it first exploded a nuclear warhead in 2006. Still, they sought to put a proper perspective on the event, rather than reflexively demonizing North Korea as the Americans never cease to do.

The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched this week by North Korea was not armed with a warhead but Pyongyang said it now has the capability to do so and to strike anywhere on the globe. The trajectory of the ICBM indicates that North Korea could now hit the US state of Alaska. That heralds a major breakthrough in North Korea’s military capability. Earlier this year, President Trump claimed that North Korea would never be allowed to reach that point. Well, it just did this week.

Nevertheless, Russia and China realize that the Korean crisis is a complex issue, not the simplistic narrative put out by Washington about a «rogue regime» threatening world peace. Moscow and Beijing are well aware that Washington is very much part of the problem, with its relentless military exercises and provocative threats to North Korea’s sovereignty.

Russia and China understand that the only reasonable solution is not reckless escalation, but a negotiated engagement by all sides, including North Korea, South Korea, the US, Japan, China and Russia. Past multilateral negotiations have come unstuck largely because of Washington’s high-handed imperious attitude. Winding down conflict on the Korean Peninsula necessitates the winding down of military forces by all sides, and a primary responsibility for that lies with the US, the external protagonist in the region.

As the Russia-China strategic alliance grows ever stronger heralding a «post-West» world order, as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov put it, one which was dominated by American capitalism, the US petrodollar and its military machine, it seems unmistakable that both Russia and China have reached a practical limit of tolerance to Washington’s lawless arrogance.

In recent weeks, Washington has slapped more sanctions on both Russia and China, conducted provocative military incursions into their territorial domains, and continued to disparage them with media distortions. Washington possesses thousands of ICBMs, test-fires them all the time, and installs missile systems around Russian and Chinese territory. Washington has waged or covertly sponsored criminal wars across the Middle East over the past two decades, resulting in millions of innocent deaths and spawning of terror groups.

North Korea has attacked no-one, has an arsenal of perhaps 10 nuclear weapons and conducts its missile tests far from any of its neighbor’s territory.

Yet the lawless, mass-murdering Americans – the only nation to have actually dropped nuclear weapons on civilian populations – have the audacity to declare North Korea a threat to world peace and insist on the «right» to preemptively attack Pyongyang. And if Russia and China do not acquiesce to this American demand then Washington threatens to increase more sanctions on them.

The American bully is patently beyond itself from its own megalomanic despotism. But the big, crucial difference now is that Russia and China are moving to finally put this bully in its place. The multi-polar world has arrived. And the only «radical» thing that Russia and China are insisting on is that the US behaves like everyone else and abides by international law. That basic requirement is an indication of how lawless the Americans are.

Addressing bused-in supporters in Poland’s Warsaw Square this week, Trump declared with bravado that «the West [that is, the US] will never back down».

Well, we’ll see about that. As noted, the multi-polar world has arrived and America is being compelled to back down by an ascendant Russia and China who also happen to have world opinion on their side.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Putin & Trump agree to create bilateral channel to promote Ukraine settlement – Lavrov

Houses damaged during a shelling by the Ukrainian military, in Donetsk © Irina Gerashchenko / Sputnik FILE PHOTO
RT | July 7, 2017

A special channel between the Russian and American presidents will be established to further push for a settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov has announced following the Putin-Trump meeting.

Additional efforts will be made “to support” the Minsk peace agreements and the work of the existing contact group on Ukraine, Russia’s chief diplomat said.

“While discussing Ukraine, the American side informed us that they had appointed a special representative to assist the efforts on settling the Ukrainian crisis.

“Arrangements have been made to create a channel between presidents of Russia and US to use this opportunity that Washington has, to further advance the settlement based on the Minsk agreements and considering the potential established in the contact group and the Normandy format,” Lavrov told reporters during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Moscow hopes to soon meet the US representative “for consultations,” he added.

Saying that “everyone is interested” in fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, to which Kiev “is the main part,” Lavrov said Moscow “senses that its Western partners very much understand the necessity of additional influence” on the peace process which so far has been delayed.

Citing his “long” talks with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier in the day, as well as a Thursday meeting with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, Lavrov said everyone agrees the crisis needs to be settled within the framework of the Minsk agreements.

“I have a feeling that it has been confirmed that both the Russian and American presidents are driven by their national interests, which they see primarily in looking for mutually beneficial agreements rather than by trying to play out some confrontational scenarios.”

Lavrov added that the Ukrainian issue had been discussed “in a concrete, businesslike” manner.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Israel rages after UNESCO describes Hebron as Palestinian heritage site

RT | July 7, 2017

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO walked out of a session by the UN agency after learning that the Old City of Hebron had been referred to as Palestinian, not Israeli. Israeli officials slammed the move saying it overlooks the deep Jewish ties to the biblical town.

The Friday session, which took place in Krakow, Poland led to Hebron’s Old City being put on the agency’s World Heritage list as a site in danger, UNESCO spokeswoman Lucia Iglesias confirmed, according to AP.

The decision came after a secret vote of 12-3, with six abstentions.

Although the move itself wasn’t deemed controversial by Tel Aviv, the decision to describe Hebron as a “Palestinian heritage site” infuriated Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who walked out of the session in protest.

Shama-Hacohen also expressed anger after learning that the vote would only be partially secret, as it would not be conducted behind a screen. A shouting match reportedly broke out between the ambassador and the Palestinian and Lebanese envoys over the issue, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The ambassador wasn’t the only Israeli official angered by the UN agency’s wording. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also wasn’t happy, calling it “another delusional decision by UNESCO.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded by calling UNESCO a “politically slanted organization, disgraceful and anti-Semitic, whose decisions are scandalous,” Haaretz reported.

“Jewish ties to Hebron are stronger than the disgraceful UNESCO vote,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister and head of the country’s national UNESCO committee.

It is “disappointing and embarrassing to see UNESCO denying history and distorting reality time after time to knowingly serve those who try to wipe the Jewish state off the map,” Bennett added. “Israel won’t renew cooperation with UNESCO as long as it continues to serve as a tool for political attacks instead of being a professional organization.”

Iglesias declined to comment on whether Hebron had been recognized as Palestinian, saying the exact wording would be decided at a later time.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians praised the move, with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling it “the only logical and correct decision,” and adding that “… Hebron’s Old City and holy site is under threat due to the irresponsible, illegal, and highly damaging actions of Israel, the occupying Power, which maintains a regime of separation and discrimination in the city based on ethnic background and religion.”

Jews believe the Cave of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, is where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives are buried. For Muslims, the city is home to the Ibrahimi mosque, also known the Sanctuary of Abraham, which was built in the 14th century.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Over 120 UN Member States Adopt Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

Sputnik – 07.07.2017

UNITED NATIONS — More than 120 UN member states on Thursday adopted a treaty to categorically prohibit nuclear weapons although the world’s nuclear powers boycotted the entire process.

“Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to… Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,” the treaty, approved by a 122-member majority, stated.

All nine nuclear powers did not participate in the conference, including five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Russia, the United States, China, France, and the United Kingdom. Four others known or suspected to possess nuclear weapons — Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea — also refused to partake.

Other notable countries that declined to engage in the process include Japan, which was on the receiving end of two US atomic bombs, and South Korea, which borders a recently very active nuclear state.

Netherlands, the only NATO member state to participate in the proceedings, voted against the treaty while Singapore abstained.

According to the convention, it will be open for signature by states at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2017 and will come into force 90 days after it is ratified by 50 countries.

In March, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the United States abandoning nuclear weapons at this time would put the world at risk because of North Korea’s nuclear activities.

In October 2016, the UN General Assembly voted to negotiate and conclude a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. The first negotiation session took place at the United Nations in New York City in March and lasted a week. The second session opened on June 15 and is due to close today, July 7.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

We just banned nuclear weapons!

By John Loretz | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | July 7, 2017

Nuclear weapons have been banned.

Stigmatized and prohibited. That means we’re two-thirds of the way to fulfilling the Humanitarian Pledge, which feels like it was launched only yesterday.

It took three international conferences, two open-ended working groups, medical and scientific evidence accumulated over some 50 or more years, decades of selfless appeals by the Hibakusha and by the victims of nuclear testing, a core group of states with the courage to take effective leadership, a decisive UN resolution, four weeks of honest, good faith negotiating by people who really and truly want to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and seven years of intensive campaigning by ICAN…

… and nuclear weapons have been banned.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted today in Conference Room 1 at the United Nations by an overwhelming 122-1 vote, makes a compelling case for the stigmatization and elimination of nuclear weapons. In fact, the language it uses to make that case is indistinguishable from the language of doctors, scientists, international lawyers, and others with expert knowledge of what nuclear weapons are and the devastating harm they cause:

“[T]he catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons cannot be adequately addressed, transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations, and have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation.”

“[A]ny use of nuclear weapons would… be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.”

“[A] legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons constitutes an important contribution towards the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons, including the irreversible, verifiable and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The sections of the treaty that spell out the prohibitions and the obligations of the states that are party to it close the legal gap that has been exploited by the nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states not only to forestall their disarmament obligations, but also to keep nuclear weapons at the center of their military and security policies for decades to come. The development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons have been declared illegal under this treaty. Period.

The nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states have been provided with practical and flexible ways to comply with those prohibitions once they decide to join. If they persist in defying the norms established by the treaty, they will be outlaw states.

The treaty refutes the claim made by a handful of states that they need nuclear weapons to ensure their own security, and that humanitarian consequences must somehow be balanced with those needs. Not only does the treaty insist that the dangers posed by nuclear weapons “concern the security of all humanity,” but it also calls the long-overdue elimination of nuclear weapons “a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests.”

The treaty is about more than prohibitions. It spells out the obligations and responsibilities of its parties to work for universalization, to redress and remediate the harm done by nuclear weapons to victims and the environment, and to support and defend the norm of collective security in a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Abacca Anjain-Maddison of the Marshall Islands—a place that has experienced the consequences of nuclear weapons first-hand—spoke on behalf of ICAN at the conclusion of this historic conference:

“The adoption of this landmark agreement today fills us with hope that the mistakes of the past will never be repeated. It fills us with hope that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren a world forever free of these awful bombs.”

Setsuko Thurlow said at the beginning of these negotiations that the ban treaty would “change the world.” With the successful conclusion of the negotiations, we now have a powerful new legal, moral, and political tool to do just that. We will have to maintain the partnership of states, international organizations, and civil society that has brought us this far in order to use the tool we’ve created for its intended purpose.

Nuclear weapons have been banned. All that’s left now is to eliminate them once and for all.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 1 Comment

Syria’s Alleged Sarin-Gas Attack: Questioning a Flawed Investigation

By Scott Ritter | TruthDig | July 5, 2017

In October 2013, only weeks into its mission to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, received the news that it was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In making the announcement, the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, emphasized that the OPCW had received the prize not only in recognition of its ongoing work in Syria, conducted under extremely difficult conditions, but also as a tribute to its 16-year mission of ridding the world of chemical weapons.

The director-general of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü, a veteran Turkish diplomat whose geopolitical and disarmament credentials included assignments to NATO and the United Nations, delivered the Nobel Prize lecture in December 2013 upon receiving the award on behalf of the men and women of the organization he led. Not surprisingly, the situation in Syria featured prominently in his speech.

“The [Chemical Weapon] Convention’s achievements make the recent chemical attacks in Syria, which shocked us all, even more tragic,” Üzümcü stated, “for they highlight the manifest security advantages that states adhering to the Convention enjoy—in the sixteen years that the Convention has been in force, no Member State has experienced an attack with chemical weapons.”

On April 4 of this year, events in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun proved Üzümcü wrong, with the release of what was believed to be sarin nerve agent killing dozens of Syrian civilians. The Turkish diplomat’s observation during his Nobel lecture, “Syria has tested us,” proved prescient.

There is little debate that something horrible happened in and around Khan Sheikhun the morning of April 4. There is, however, active debate over precisely what happened and who was responsible. One narrative, embraced by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, holds that the Syrian air force dropped a bomb filled with sarin on the center of Khan Sheikhun, releasing deadly gas that killed and injured hundreds while they slept. Another, put forward by the Syrian and Russian governments, has the Syrian air force dropping conventional high explosive bombs on rebel targets inside Khan Sheikhun, one of which struck a building housing a weapons cache that included chemical weapons, inadvertently creating a cloud of poison that killed nearby civilians.

Eyewitness accounts of the physiological effects of this event, whatever its origins, on the citizens of Khan Sheikhun are themselves ambiguous. Some interpret them as supporting the narrative that sarin gas was the culprit, while others (myself included) believe the victim statements and symptoms are more indicative of a chlorine-type agent of the sort known to have been used by anti-regime rebels in the past. The OPCW has emerged as the final arbiter, with the preliminary results of its investigation into the April 4 events proposing that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” was responsible for the deaths and injuries in Khan Sheikhun.

While the OPCW is assiduous in not apportioning blame or responsibility for any incident it investigates, those who point an accusatory finger at the Syrian government, in particular the U.S., the U.K. and France, have cited the OPCW findings as representing de facto evidence of guilt. It should therefore have come as no surprise when the Russian government responded by questioning the impartiality of the OPCW, singling out the team leaders of the OPCW’s fact-finding mission (FFM) in Syria, both of whom happen to be U.K. citizens, as evidence of bias.

The Russians also noted that the OPCW findings were done without any actual on-site inspection of either Khan Sheikhun or the Syrian air base at Shayrat where the alleged chemical weapons were supposedly sourced, relying instead on laboratory analysis of biomedical samples taken from victims who had fled to neighboring Turkey (and raising the possibility of collusion between the Turkish government, which has taken a very strong pro-rebel position, and the Turkish director-general of the OPCW). Russia called for the reorganization of the FFM to include the appointment of “neutral” team leaders and members and a refocusing of its mission to include on-site inspections of Khan Sheikhun and Shayrat air base. On April 20, the OPCW executive committee, led by the delegations of the U.S., U.K. and France, overwhelmingly rejected this proposal, reinforcing the Russian perception of anti-regime bias on the part of the OPCW.

As a former chief weapons inspector with the United Nations in Iraq, I was filled with a sense of déjà vu by the Russian protests against the OPCW. In January 1998, I was heading up an inspection team tasked with conducting very intrusive inspections of sites we believed to hold clues to the fate of Iraq’s unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction but which were also deemed to be politically sensitive to the regime of Saddam Hussein. At the conclusion of the first day of inspections, the Iraqi government announced that it would no longer cooperate with my team.

Of particular concern for the Iraqis was the large number of American and British citizens on the team, in particular the leader (me). Russia took up the Iraqi complaint in the United Nations Security Council, leading to the imposition of new restrictions on the conduct of certain sensitive inspections involving presidential palaces. The issue of team composition, however, was not acted on; and I was able to continue my work, despite pressure from on high, including from Secretary General Kofi Annan himself, to restrict my involvement. The same held true for my American and British colleagues. What saved our jobs was our professionalism and integrity as inspectors and our strict adherence to our mandate, qualities even the Iraqi government, in the end, was forced to concede.

The U.N. inspection process in Iraq ultimately collapsed because of the interference in our work by the U.S. and U.K. governments; our disarmament mission was corrupted from without by linking it to regime change in Baghdad—not by any unprofessional conduct on the part of the inspectors.

In the more recent case in Syria, I felt a good degree of sympathy and empathy for the two British OPCW inspectors, Steven Wallis and Leonard Phillips, who had been called out by the Russian government. By all accounts, both men are experienced inspectors who came by their appointments not through any affiliation with the circles of foreign policy intrigue emanating from London, but rather through their respective expert qualifications. Phillips came from the commercial sector, starting his career as a research scientist with ICI Chemicals and Polymers after graduating from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1997 with a degree in chemical engineering. He moved on to Associated Octel, where he worked as a process engineer before joining the OPCW as an inspector in January 2008. Phillips was promoted to inspection team leader in 2011, and he participated in the disarming of Syria’s chemical weapons programs before being appointed a fact finding mission team leader in March 2015.

Wallis served as a warrant officer in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment for four years before leaving the military in 2004 to become a paramedic with the National Health Service. In 2008 he was seconded to a multi-agency training team at the National Police Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Training Center, where he became involved in hazardous materials medical response. In 2010 he joined the OPCW as a health and safety specialist and subsequently served in a number of roles, including mission leader. In March 2015, Wallis was appointed a team leader with the fact-finding mission.

The record of both men in Syria shows the kind of creativity and professionalism one would want in an inspection team leader operating under difficult conditions. Both Phillips and Wallis were involved in the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons program and had significant experience operating inside Syria, where conditions were harsh and dangerous. The disarmament inspections they participated in, however, were relatively straightforward affairs, involving verification of declared materials, equipment and facilities, and overseeing their respective disposition and destruction in accordance with a plan of action worked out in cooperation with the Syrian government. These operations were very much in keeping with the procedures and methodologies already in place within the OPCW for inspections of declared chemical weapon storage facilities and chemical weapon destruction facilities.

The disarmament of Syria’s declared chemical weapons inventory was completed in June 2014. The OPCW then took on the task of monitoring Syrian compliance with the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, setting up two distinct teams. One, the declaration assessment team, or DAT, was tasked with clarifying any issues or discrepancies that might emerge concerning Syria’s declarations of its chemical weapons holdings. The other, the fact-finding mission, or FFM, was given the unenviable job of determining if chemical weapons continued to be used in the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Both the DAT and FFM have experienced considerable challenges in conducting their respective missions. The DAT process is an informal one, in which Syrian cooperation is sought through a series of meetings and site visits. While the OPCW does not attribute responsibility for a chemical weapons attack, the joint investigative mechanism (JIM), set up using resources from both the OPCW and United Nations, does; and in 2016 the JIM issued a report that implicated the Syrian government in several chemical weapons attacks, something the Syrian government strenuously denies. Based upon the findings of the JIM, several new locations were identified as being of inspection interest, and the DAT has taken the lead in obtaining access to these sites by OPCW inspectors, with mixed results.

Since its formation in 2014, the FFM has conducted some 20-odd investigations into possible chemical weapons use in Syria, the most recent of which is its ongoing investigation of the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhun. Inspections are the bread and butter of the OPCW’s work. Within the range of inspection activities undertaken by the OPCW, perhaps none is more demanding that what is termed investigation of alleged use, or IAU, inspections. The FFM’s mission in Syria consists exclusively of IAU-type inspections.

Before Syria, OPCW-run IAU inspection was a theoretical possibility, not a practical reality. The United Nations had conducted several investigations into the possible use of chemical weapons over the years, most notably during the Iran-Iraq War, in Mozambique in 1992 and in Azerbaijan that same year. Inspections conducted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq included IAU-type investigations, as well as forensic inspections that served as the foundational work for the sampling and analysis (S&A) work that would serve as the heart of the OPCW inspection process.

The gold standard for the conduct of IAU-type inspection was set by the Joint UN-OPCW-World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria, a suburb of Damascus. This team, led by a veteran Swedish chemical weapons inspector named Ake Sellstrom, produced a report that was virtually unassailable in terms of its scientific and technical findings. One of the reasons for the robust nature of the Sellstrom report was the short time that elapsed between the events in question and the S&A work and related interviews conducted by the team. (Sellstrom benefited from already being deployed in Syria in support of a separate investigation into possible chemical weapons use.)

The primary reason, however, that the Sellstrom report had such credibility was the scientifically sound investigatory techniques used by the inspectors, combined with the unimpeachable methodology used in collecting and managing all evidence associated with the report. The Sellstrom team adhered to the most stringent protocols available, including standard operating procedures developed by the OPCW for S&A operations during inspections. One of the most important concepts underpinning these protocols was the notion of “traceability,” wherein all processes and procedures involved in the inspection were recorded and continuity was maintained for transparency and to withstand future scrutiny. Chain of custody procedures involving sampling were governed by the principle of traceability, under which the retrieval of the samples was recorded and witnessed, the samples sealed, detailed documentation prepared and the samples escorted to the laboratory under inspection team escort.

The Sellstrom standard, however, proved to be difficult to replicate. The FFM confronted this reality during one of its first missions in 2014, investigating a site where the use of chlorine gas was alleged. The team came under armed attack and had to withdraw. “Under these conditions,” OPCW Director-General Üzümcü noted during an address made on the 20th anniversary of the group’s founding, “the choice before the international community is between no investigations at all or investigations that will apply procedures and methods suited to the difficult conditions that we are dealing with in conflict zones.” In short, Üzümcü stated, when it comes to Syria, the Sellstrom standard no longer applied.

This was an odd comment for the director-general to make, given that he is ultimately responsible for establishing a “stringent regime” for collection of samples during the course of any inspection conducted under the auspices of the OPCW. In accordance with its own standard operating procedures and guidelines, OPCW inspectors must be able to demonstrate to all states’ parties that all analysis results have been obtained based upon independent and verifiable bases. The procedures do allow for some flexibility, however, allowing that inspectors must remain open to the realities of specific site conditions and requirements.

The IAU inspection has one and only one goal: to determine the absence of any undeclared scheduled (i.e., proscribed) chemicals at a given site. At the end of the day, for an analysis for absence of undeclared scheduled chemicals to be credible for verification purposes, it must be conducted in accordance with OPCW procedures, fulfilling OPCW quality control/quality assurance criteria, and using the OPCW Central Analytic Database (OCAD) as a reference. Fundamental to this point is the absolute requirement for all sample preparation and analysis conducted as part of inspection to be performed by the inspection team using its own equipment approved for this purpose, in accordance with OPCW standard operating procedures. In the case of an IAU investigation, the inspection team will make use of an “alleged use sample collection kit” that contains the necessary equipment to conduct bulk solid, soil, water, liquid and wipe samples. Of note is the requirement for all items intended to come in contact with the sample to be packed individually for one-time use to prevent potential cross-contamination of samples.

Under the leadership of Steven Wallis and Leonard Phillips, the FFM became the living manifestation of the concept of “flexibility to site conditions and mission requirements.” Samples collected by persons not affiliated with the FFM were accepted by the team, violating the precept of “traceability” that gave the Sellstrom report so much credibility; one example of this breach was the receipt of a weapon that had been recovered by a Russian military unit that subsequent tests revealed to contain sulfur mustard. Phillips, at the head of mission FFM-Alpha, was tasked with investigating the use of chlorine agent in locations in northern Syria that were inaccessible to his team; he developed procedures that permitted a nongovernmental organization, the White Helmets (a volunteer civil defense unit funded and trained by the U.S. and U.K. governments that openly opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad), to locate persons to be interviewed by the FFM, to check the authenticity of any samples and bio-samples provided by the White Helmets, and to make sure the persons interviewed were actually at the site in question.

While these actions were very much in keeping with the guidance of the director-general to develop new procedures suited to the reality of the situation in Syria, they violated every quality control/quality assurance standard set forth under existing OPCW S&A procedures, thereby opening up the findings of the FFM to scrutiny and questioning in a way the Sellstrom report never experienced.

The operations and planning branch of the OPCW’s inspectorate division maintains a 24-hour operations center that includes what is known as the “information cell.” This cell is responsible for collecting all source material regarding worldwide allegations of the use of chemicals as weapons, as well as for assessing the credibility of any source material collected and making judgments regarding the deployment of inspectors in response to this information.

On the morning of April 4, the information cell began monitoring social media and news media reports coming out of Syria regarding an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun. Given that the news media reports were largely recirculating the information being put out on social media, the information cell was basically monitoring a single source of information: videos and images published by the White Helmets ostensibly documenting their response to the events in and around Khan Sheikhun.

The graphic nature of these images, combined with the fact that they were being disseminated by an NGO (the White Helmets) with a proven record of cooperating with the OPCW inside Syria, collectively lent the reports enough credence to the information cell for it to recommend that the director-general dispatch the fact finding mission to investigate. The FFM was split into two sub-components; one, headed by Steven Wallis, was deployed to Damascus to coordinate with the Syrian government. The other, headed by Leonard Phillips, was deployed to Turkey, where it reached out to the White Helmets for the purpose of initiating the collection of information and evidence that could be used in any subsequent investigation.

Through information provided by the White Helmets, the FFM element inside Turkey was able to obtain the names of victims from Khan Sheikhun who had been evacuated to Turkey. After coordinating with Turkish officials, the FFM discovered that three of these victims had died and were scheduled for autopsies. Two members of the FFM were able to attend the autopsies and witness the extraction of biomedical samples taken from the victims’ blood, hair, brain, liver and lungs.

It was at this juncture that the haphazard nature of the investigation began to fall apart for the FFM. One of the core tenets of the OPCW is confidentiality—especially with regard to any findings associated with the work of an inspection team. In general, such findings would be made public only at the time the team leader reported to the director-general, and then only after the information had been scrutinized to ensure conformity with confidentiality requirements and OPCW standards of quality control and quality assurance. However, the day after the autopsies took place, Turkish Minister of Health Recep Akdag delivered a public statement that,“based on the test results [of samples taken from the autopsies], evidence was detected in patients which leads one to think they were exposed to a chemical substance [sarin].” The Turkish statement, which noted that the autopsies were “completed with the efforts of … OPCW representatives,” set off a wave of international condemnation of the Syrian government, which cited the Turkish findings as proof that Damascus was to blame for the events in and around Khan Sheikhun. The Turkish government further stated that samples drawn from the autopsies would be dispatched to the OPCW laboratory in Rijswijk, Netherlands, reinforcing the notion of collusion between Ankara and the OPCW.

The Turkish government had set up a decontamination checkpoint in Hatay province, at the border crossing with Syria. Some 34 people claiming to be victims from Khan Sheikhun were processed at this checkpoint before being sent to hospitals in Antakya, Reyhanli and Iskenderun, all in Turkey. Three of these victims subsequently succumbed to their injuries. Of the remaining 31, 10 were identified by the FMM, working together with the White Helmets, as being of investigatory interest. On April 8, the FMM interviewed these survivors and witnessed blood and urine samples being taken. These samples, together with the biomedical samples extracted during the autopsies witnessed by the FFM, were dispatched to Rijswijk later that same day, arriving April 9.

The samples were subsequently divided and dispatched April 10 to two designated laboratories, one in the U.K. and one in France, certified to conduct forensic investigations of inspection samples collected by the OPCW. On April 11, the Turkish Health Ministry again preempted the OPCW by announcing that Turkish labs, in their analysis of the blood samples taken from survivors, confirmed that sarin nerve agent was used in the Khan Sheikhun attacks. The next day, April 12, U.K. Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft announced that U.K. specialists had found “sarin or sarin-like” substance in victims’ blood samples. This announcement, when combined with the statement from Turkey the day before, preempted any announcement of the findings by the OPCW of the U.K. designated laboratory, which had reached its preliminary conclusion earlier that day, and significantly undermined any notion of independence on the part of the OPCW in the conduct of its investigation into the Khan Sheikhun incident. (On April 16 the French government released its own assessment of the samples, evaluated at the National Center for Scientific Research, which mirrored that of the British.)

Things only got trickier for the FFM team in Turkey. On April 12 and 13, the team received additional biological-environmental samples, in the form of two dead birds and the hair from a dead goat that the team was told were from the site of the attack; internal organs were taken from the dead birds by the team and forwarded to the OPCW laboratory. Additional environmental samples, in the form of soil and water samples, were turned over to the team by a representative of the White Helmets, who provided the team with photographs and video of the sampling to back up his claim. These samples were sent to Rijswijk on April 21 for processing and subsequent dispatch to designated laboratories for evaluation April 25.

On May 19, the OPCW released a preliminary report on the work of the FFM, including an annotation detailing the findings of the designated laboratories regarding the evaluation of the samples sent by the team. In almost every instance, the laboratory findings showed evidence of “sarin or a sarin-like substance.” Unlike the Sellstrom report on Ghouta in 2013, however, the findings of the FFM were not universally embraced, with Russia in particular questioning the provenance and veracity of the test results, and therefore the credibility of the OPCW itself.

One of the major issues confronting the OPCW in releasing the findings of the FFM is the fact that the inspected states party (ISP), in this case Syria, was removed from the entire process, in violation of the most basic fundamental requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which holds that the ISP is an integral part of the veracity of any inspection; here, the Syrian government was not involved. The CWC specifically notes that the ISP has a right to retain portions of all samples taken; indeed, of the eight portions of each sample created, one is required to be turned over to the ISP, and one kept on site under joint OPCW/ISP seal. This was not done.

Moreover, sampling and analysis operations are the sole purview of trained OPCW inspectors, using “necessary equipment” exclusively drawn from OPCW stores for that purpose. This includes sample vials and bottles, scoops, syringes, wipes and other sampling materials. Each sample taken is supposed to be accompanied by an OPCW sampling and analysis booklet, maintained by the OPCW inspectors, which documents the handling of the sample from collection to final disposition—the very essence of “traceability” that governs the credibility of any findings derived from an assessment of the sample in question.

None of the samples received by the FFM in Turkey, and forwarded to the OPCW for subsequent evaluation in designated laboratories, meets the requirements set forth by the OPCW’s own operating procedures regarding S&A methodology. Even if the FFM accepted at face value the images and videos provided by the White Helmets ostensibly documenting the collection of these samples, the fact that the samples were collected April 4 and only turned over to the FFM on April 12 and 13 creates a week-plus time frame when the location and status of the samples cannot be meaningfully ascertained; the FFM had no way of determining if the samples shown being collected on the White Helmet-provided images and videos were the same material turned over to the FFM.

Moreover, the samples themselves fail to meet any quality control or quality assurance standard set by the OPCW regarding its S&A activities. A cursory examination of the White Helmet videos would show that the collection activity was more theater than real; the individuals conducting the sampling were wearing chemical protective suits suitable for training only (the green suits are clearly labeled “Training”), which means the suits provide no protection from chemical agents. Moreover, there is no scene control, with personnel in full protective ensembles freely mixing with persons having no protection at all. One individual carries a Draeger multi-gas meter, useless in the detection of chemical agents. Samples are thrown haphazardly into a carrying case, and the samples are collected using a single scoop, meaning that there is cross-contamination throughout the process. Cars and motorcycles drive freely through the sampling area, contributing to potential cross-contamination. In short, the videos meant to show the viability of the samples in fact negate their potential utility—these samples should never have been accepted by the FFM, let alone forwarded to the OPCW laboratory for subsequent evaluation at designated laboratories.

As a hazardous materials technician who has trained extensively to operate in a chemical weapons environment (including live agent training at Fort McClellan in Alabama, where I participated in sampling and detection exercises using actual sarin and VX nerve agent), I was appalled by the cavalier approach taken by the White Helmets in conducting their supposed sample collection of sarin-infused material. There was no effort to set up a hot zone (i.e., area of known or suspected contamination), no indication of any meaningful monitoring and detection activity, and no evidence of any effort to decontaminate personnel, equipment or samples.

As a former U.N. chief weapons inspector who has led sampling missions involving great political sensitivity, I was aghast at the collection and handling of what the White Helmets purported to be samples from the chemical attack scene. The samples were virtually unusable as collected—the cross-contamination issues alone should preclude their being used. The lack of any discernable documentation, the lack of any tamper-proof seals, and the lack of viable sampling containers, techniques and methodology likewise meant that anything collected by the White Helmets in the manner indicated on film had absolutely zero inspection utility.

These observations are obvious and self-evident to anyone possessing a modicum of professional training and experience, as certainly the members of the OPCW FFM in Turkey could claim—especially the team leader, Leonard Phillips. When the shock of the nonexistent health and safety standards used by the White Helmets wore off, it became clear to me that this wasn’t simply a scene neutrally depicting the actions of innocents trying to do a good deed. Rather, the videotape of the sampling activities was, like the videos and images of the White Helmets rescuing stricken survivors on April 4, which energized the OPCW information cell into recommending the dispatch of the FFM to begin with, a deliberate effort to deceive. The OPCW fell victim to this deception twice: first in sending the FFM to Turkey, and second in receiving and processing evidence, whether in the form of victims or environmental samples.

But even if one gives the OPCW the benefit of the doubt and forgives its absolute lack of discerning cynicism regarding the work of the White Helmets, the failure on the part of the FFM to adhere to even a modicum of professionalism when considering the samples turned over by the White Helmets is unforgivable. The Russians have singled out the British team leaders of the FFM, in particular Phillips, as being complicit. On the surface, the Russians seem to have a case; it was Phillips, after all, who initiated contact with the White Helmets in 2015, legitimizing their presence in the OPCW inspection process. This embrace of the White Helmets by the OPCW seems to have contributed to its willingness to accept at face value whatever the White Helmets turned over for its use, including videos, samples and victim identification.

Phillips, however, is not the final authority on the work of the FFM in Turkey. This is the purview of the director-general of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü. Before Phillips and his team deployed to Turkey, they were issued an “inspection mandate” by the director-general that detailed the scope of their mission, up to and including the type of equipment to accompany the team. Normally the inspection mandate is an ironclad document derived from the specific authorities enjoyed by an inspection team in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Treaty. But Üzümcü has spoken of the specific need for flexibility in approaching the unique circumstances faced by the FFM. One wonders which specific instructions the inspection mandate for Phillips included—what, for instance, was the nature of the FFM’s relationship with Turkey (not an inspected states party); what was the specific authority given in terms of establishing a working relationship with the White Helmets; and what waivers of procedures and guidelines were granted in terms of sampling and assessment activity?

I have no doubt that Phillips, like his fellow FFM team leader Steven Wallis, is a consummate professional. The notion of an OPCW team leader of his stature deviating from standard operating procedure is virtually unthinkable. At the end of the day, the onus for explaining the conduct of the FFM in Turkey falls on the shoulders of Ahmet Üzümcü. If he indeed provided an inspection mandate with such blatant deviations from the kind of strict procedure-based protocols that give the OPCW its legitimacy, upon whose authority did he do so?

The hand-in-glove relationship between Üzümcü and the governments of Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom and France that emerges from this process can only lead to the conclusion that, in the desire for regime change in Damascus, the narrow-minded self interests of a few governments, facilitated by an international civil servant lacking the courage to stand up and challenge an abuse of authority by these nations, has led to the discrediting of yet another international disarmament organization.

I witnessed this process firsthand as a weapons inspector with UNSCOM in 1997-1998, when the United States and its British allies exploited the personal failings of the UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler to undermine and ultimately destroy the U.N. disarmament effort on Iraq, all in the name of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Sadly, the same process is being used today regarding the work of the OPCW.

The cooperation of Ahmet Üzümcü in allowing the White Helmets to infiltrate the very inspection processes that gave the OPCW its credibility, and likewise to permit the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey to use this very OPCW investigation process to attack the government of Syria as part of their collective efforts for regime change in Damascus, is a case study in history repeating itself. Ambassador Üzümcü’s cavalier approach toward inspection integrity in the name of “flexibility” has tarnished the once stellar work record of the OPCW and undermined the principles of international peace and security that were inherent in the decision by the Nobel committee to award the organization the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

Russia would do well to stop picking on the two British inspectors, Wallis and Phillips, and instead single out the true culprit in the debacle that has become of the OPCW experience in Syria—Ahmet Üzümcü. His resignation as director-general of the OPCW would be the start of a healing process that would hopefully return the OPCW to the status it once enjoyed as one of the world’s pre-eminent disarmament organizations.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Why Israel has a Law That Gives Police the Power to Block Certain Websites From Israelis

By Rima Najjar | CounterPunch | July 7, 2017

The new Israeli law giving police power to block websites that purportedly publish “criminal” or “offensive” content follows a similar blockade of various websites in Palestine by the 13-year president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas – all in the name of “law and order”, “peace” and “fighting terrorism”.

The equation is simple and has long been propagated by Israel through its hasbara apparatus: Palestinian armed resistance to Israel’s oppression equals terror. Hasbara misinformation against Palestine and Palestinians on the Internet is legitimate paid work in Israel; Palestinian outlets speaking for the Palestinian struggle for liberation are illegitimate (criminal) forms of expression and activity:

Since before the “war on terrorism” in the West even began, the very concept of terrorism has been reduced by Israeli propagandists into an arena whereby Palestinian armed resistance by individuals or Hamas or any other militant Palestinian group is automatically regarded as terror. In a catch-22, non-violent Palestinian resistance, on the other hand, is dubbed as “incitement to terror”. [Source: Israel’s Illegitimate Tactics Against Palestinian Armed Resistance vs. Legitimate Global Security Concerns]

Israel is taking advantage of a world-wide political development concerning freedom of expression that is meant to combat terrorism. Turning the tables around in a typical Zionist tactic of portraying itself as victim, Israel is exploiting this global dilemma in how to balance freedom of expression in legitimate arenas with hate-mongering – especially the kind reflecting intolerance and populism that might foment acts of violence and terrorist “cell formation”.

But there is a big difference between websites that educate on Israel, share facts that expose Israel’s Apartheid regime in Palestine and influence opinions to stand up for Palestinian rights and liberation on the one hand, and websites that spew hatred with the objective of inciting terrorism and wanton destruction on the other.

In blocking websites that expose its illegitimacy, the Israeli Government is also continuing a long tradition of brainwashing its own Jewish population with Zionist dogma and myth, in the same way it mobilized to “educate” American Jews after 1967, when Zionist myths began to unravel “as a result of Palestinian history books published in English, such as Nafez Nazzal and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod’s work, as well as an increasingly visible Palestinian armed resistance movement.” [Source: On American Zionist Education: An excerpt from ‘The Politics of Teaching Palestine to Americans’]

Since the failure of the so-called two-state “solution” (or Oslo Accords) to the problem of partitioning Mandate Palestine in 1948 and the creation of a Jewish state on a territory of Palestine, there has been a significant shift in how Israel is perceived worldwide, especially in connection with its claim to being the only democracy in the Arab world.

As Ilan Pappe explains in Ten Myths About Israel, Israel was never a democracy before or after 1967, when it occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem:

Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East. In fact, it’s not a democracy at all. … The myth that a democratic Israel ran into trouble in 1967 but still remained a democracy is propagated even by some notable Palestinian and pro-Palestinian scholars — but it has no historical foundation. … Systematic cruelty does not only show its face in a major event like a massacre. The worst atrocities can also be found in the regime’s daily, mundane presence. … The litmus test of any democracy is the level of tolerance it is willing to extend towards the minorities living in it. In this respect, Israel falls far short of being a true democracy… Israeli Land Policy Is Not Democratic. …The Occupation Is Not Democratic… Destroying Palestinians’ Houses Is Not Democratic. … Crushing Palestinian Resistance Is Not Democratic. …Imprisoning Palestinians Without Trial Is Not Democratic. … What we must challenge here, therefore, is not only Israel’s claim to be maintaining an enlightened occupation but also its pretense to being a democracy. Such behavior towards millions of people under its rule gives the lie to such political chicanery. [Source: No, Israel Is Not a Democracy]

Having been founded by settler-colonial European and East European Zionist Jews, whose political vision was very much shaped by the Western civilization from where they originated (including the practice of European sovereignty, domination and subjugation over non-Western peoples), Israel has always boasted of being a Western-style democracy.

Israel has also angled to be compared favorably with the Arab world’s democratic deficit, directly and indirectly implying that the obstacle to democratic change in the Arab world was to be found, not in the region’s historical institutional framework, but rather in “Arab culture” – i.e., Islam itself. [For a discussion of this latter hypothesis, see Eric Chaney’s article, Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present.]

Mandate Palestine today is under Israeli sovereignty – all of it. It is true that the Palestinian Authority has administrative control of the West Bank and Hamas has a similar control in the besieged Gaza Strip since 2006, when it won the legislative elections and then was prevented from governing.

But such control is severely limited and contingent on Mahmoud Abbas’s continued cooperation with Israel’s “security needs” over and above the much more urgent needs of the Palestinian people to realize their rights, especially self-determination and dignity.

Unfortunately, the United States and its foreign policy allies vis-à-vis Israel, the European Union and Great Britain, have long enabled Israel’s brutal policies against the Palestinian people. Under the Oslo Accords (1993) and the Paris Protocol (1994), aid to the Palestinian territories was “militarized” to complement (not fight against) the vast US military aid given to Israel to secure its own territory in Palestine.

In other words, aid to Palestinian Arabs ignored the human reality of a people struggling to survive for seventy years – first their ethnic cleansing and denial of return to their own land and homes and then occupation, annexation of East Jerusalem, siege of the Gaza Strip, and uninterrupted and continuing Jewish colonization meant to complete their dispossession.

Today over 12 million people live in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip – primarily Jews and Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. As estimated in 2014 by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 6.08 Palestinian Arabs currently living in the Palestinian territories, including Israel (worldwide, Palestinians number an estimated 12.37 million).

Each one of these people, and not only Jews, is entitled to full human rights, “including religious liberty; freedoms of expression and association; equal opportunity regardless of ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, etc.; and due process of law.” That includes access to information on the Internet.

Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel Wants US, Not Russia, to Control Deescalation Zones in Syria – Haaretz Report

Sputnik – 07.07.2017

TEL-AVIV – Senior Israeli politicians held talks on safe zone issues with US special envoy for the global coalition to counter Islamic State (terrorist group outlawed in Russia) Brett McGurk, telling him Israel would prefer to have US troops rather than Russian troops controlling Syrian deescalation zones, and US President Donald Trump’s administration is already considering this idea, but has not made any decision yet, Haaretz newspaper reported, citing three sources involved in the talks.

Israel voiced three main demands upon the US envoy: the separation of safe zone talks from the Astana talks; keeping Iran, Hezbollah and other Shiite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders; and not playing any active role in controlling safe zones near its border.

“We’re in close contact with the Americans and they understand our positions and our concerns very well. We made it clear to the Americans and other parties that we want to see the entire package relating to the deescalation zones, not just a few details, and then we can decide what our position is,” one of the officials said, as quoted by the newspaper.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump are expected to meet for the first time later Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit to discuss key issues of the international agenda, including cooperation in the settlement of the Syrian crisis. On Thursday, Putin discussed the fight against terrorism and the situation in Syria with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone conversation.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Western Sanctions Drive Aleppo Maternity Hospital to Critical Condition

Sputnik – 07.07.2017

It’s not just war and terrorism that have destroyed Syria and destabilized its economy. Punitive measures imposed by the US and the EU have transformed a once prosperous country into an aid-dependent nation. The chief doctor of a government-run maternity hospital in Aleppo revealed the struggling conditions the hospital has found itself in.

It was not long ago that Aleppo was liberated from terrorists. The raging war however was not the only horror which devastated the city. Officials also blame the sanctions, introduced by the US and the EU, for the desperate need of medical equipment, fuel, food and building materials.

The punitive measures of the West have severely restricted pharmaceutical imports, even though medical supplies are largely exempt from the imposed measures.

Lina Allouzi, a chief doctor of a government-run maternity hospital in Aleppo, revealed the dire situation in the medical institution.

“Up to 20 babies are being born in our maternity house daily. More girls are being born and this gives us joy and hope that peace will come here soon,” Doctor Allouzi told journalists.

She said that even in these conditions the hospital can boast a radiology room, special equipment for medical examinations and a unique laboratory. All the services and medication provided by the medical facility are free of charge. Expectant mothers come there from all over the province and the medical personnel work flat-out.

However the equipment which had been, bought abroad before the war, is often out of order due to the frequent blackouts in the city.

“The microscope in the laboratory is out of order and I am really worried about the efficiency of the care units for premature babies,” Doctor Allouzi said.

She noted that due to the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US, it is practically impossible to buy spare parts for the equipment produced in Germany, the US and France. Thus the country’s handymen try to “resurrect” the expensive equipment.

The sanctions also blocked the supplies of medication to maternity hospitals, however Doctor Allouzi said that Syrian pharmacologists have been able to produce some medicine locally.

Interestingly enough, back in September 2016, the US-based news website The Intercept obtained a UN internal report which revealed that the US and European sanctions “blocked access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.”

The news website also obtained an internal UN email which “faults US and EU sanctions for contributing to food shortages and deteriorations in health care.”

“The August email from a key UN official warned that sanctions had contributed to a doubling in fuel prices in 18 months and a 40 percent drop in wheat production since 2010, causing the price of wheat flour to soar by 300 percent and rice by 650 percent,” the website said.

The email went on to cite sanctions as a “principal factor” in the erosion of Syria’s health care system. Syria was once largely self-sufficient in pharmaceuticals, however medicine-producing factories that haven’t been completely destroyed by the fighting have been forced to close because of sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency, the outlet cited the email as saying.

In many respects, the situation resembles that in Iraq between 1990 and 2003 when UN sanctions destroyed the Iraqi economy and helped dissolve its society while doing nothing to reduce the power of Saddam Hussein as Iraqi leader. Many critics of Iraqi sanctions argue that the mass impoverishment they produced contributed significantly to the political and sectarian breakdown after the invasion of 2003.

The same process is now taking place in Syria. The EU has imposed wide-ranging prohibitions on commercial dealings and banking cooperation with Syria as well control the export of “dual use” items that might have some security application.

US sanctions are even more extensive, imposing a blanket ban on exports to Syria or financial dealings with the country. This includes foreign produced goods of which the US content is more than 10 per cent of the value of the finished item. There are supposedly means available for purely humanitarian goods to reach Syria, but in practice this is not the case.

On May 29, 2017, the EU extended its restrictive measures against the Syria until June1, 2018.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment