Sixteenth Anniversary of the War Against Yugoslavia: Surdulica
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) proclaims its “commitment to maintaining international peace and security.” Mainstream media rarely, if ever, look beyond Western self-justifications and bland assurances of moral superiority, and little thought is given to what NATO’s wars of aggression might look like to those on the receiving end.
During the first two weeks of August, 1999, I was a member of a delegation travelling throughout Yugoslavia, documenting NATO war crimes. One of our stops was at Surdulica, a small town which then had a population of about 13,000. We initially met with management of Zastava Pes, an automotive electrical parts factory that had at one time employed about 500 workers. In better days, annual exports from the plant amounted to $8 million. Western-imposed sanctions had stopped export contracts and prevented the import of materials, forcing a 70 percent reduction in the workforce and a decline in the local economy.
Staff at Zastava Pes told us that bombs and missiles had routinely rained down upon their town.
We were first taken to a sanatorium, located atop a heavily wooded hill overlooking the town. The sanatorium consisted of a Lung Disease Hospital, which also housed refugees, and a second building that served as a retirement home.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of May 31, 1999, NATO planes launched four missiles at the sanatorium complex, killing at least 19 people. It was not possible to ascertain the precise number of victims because numerous body parts could not be matched to the 19 bodies. Another 38 people were wounded. We were told that the force of the explosions had been so powerful that body parts were thrown as far as one kilometer away. Following the attack, body parts were hanging in the trees, and blood dripped from the branches. By the time of our visit, the area had largely been cleaned up, but we could still see torn clothing scattered high among the branches of the tall trees.
Although only one missile struck the nursing home, it caused enormous damage. We walked around to the back, on the building’s southwestern side. A section of the second floor had collapsed, and the entire side of the building was extensively damaged, with mounds of rubble at the base of the building. On the northeast side of the complex, the building that housed refugees and patients bore a gaping hole in its façade, from which a river of rubble had poured like blood from a wound. We clambered up the mound of rubble and made our way into the building. Debris littered the hallways and in several rooms we found scorched mattresses, clothes and damaged personal belongings jumbled together in disarray. Bricks and chunks of concrete were strewn among the rubble, and a loaf of bread rested against a child’s shirt. In another room, teenage magazines and a child’s textbook were mixed among the wreckage. In the center of the room was a child’s teddy bear.
Rear of nursing home in Surdulica. Photo: Gregory Elich.
According to the on-site investigation report of June 3, it took three days to dig the bodies from the rubble. The yard outside the Special Lung Hospital “was covered with parts of human bodies, torn heads, arms and hands as well as bodies partly covered with rubble material, dust, broken bricks” and debris from the building. “A torn-off head of a man, approximately 70-years-old, was found outdoors. North from this head, there was another body covered with debris and a torn arm.” Three bodies were a short distance away, including one with a partially damaged head. “Brain tissue…could be seen on some parts of the building ruins,” the report continued.
As refugees from Croatia, nineteen-year-old Milena Malobabich, her mother, and two brothers stayed in the sanatorium. The entire family was killed in the attack. During the air raid, panic-stricken, Milena ran from the building, clutching a notebook in which she had written poetry. The examiner of Milena’s body noted: “The brain tissue is completely missing, and there is only dust and sand in the cranial cavity.” Blood had flowed from behind the right ear. Milena’s ribs were crushed, and her abdomen and left leg were lacerated. Her notebook was found near her body; on one page she had written in large letters, “I love you, Dejane!” The brain that composed poetry and cherished a man named Dejane was scattered in pieces throughout the yard.
We next visited a residential neighborhood that was completely wiped out by NATO missiles. As we had seen in other towns, a remarkable reconstruction effort was underway. Responsibility for national reconstruction was assigned to the Directorate for National Recovery, which was formed just ten days into the war. An energetic program was soon launched, and destroyed neighborhoods were cleared of debris and construction of new homes began even as NATO continued its attacks.
By the time of our visit, every trace of rubble had been removed from this neighborhood, and the earth smoothed over. A bulldozer and grader were parked nearby, and construction of two new homes had begun. Surviving residents approached and talked to us, showing us photographs they had taken in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. The level of destruction shown in the photographs was appalling, a jumbled riot of debris where several homes once stood.
We visited a second neighborhood obliterated by NATO missiles. Here too, reconstruction was underway. Smashed automobiles and partially roofless homes bordering the area were the only physical reminders of the tragedy.
In the first neighborhood, a man named Dragan told us that the homes were hit as a result of errant missiles. “They were trying to hit the water supply plant nearby, with two missiles.” Another survivor, Zoran Savich told us that sirens sounded every day, and the town was bombed on multiple occasions. Four months had passed since his neighborhood had been hit, but Dragan’s son was still so terrified that he fled into the basement every time he heard the sound of an airplane overhead. Quite a long distance away was another of NATO’s targets, an army barracks that was abandoned during the war. I climbed atop a large mound of dirt to view the barracks from afar, and saw that it too was damaged. NATO sprayed its bombs and missiles liberally around Surdulica. The destruction of an empty barracks was of doubtful military utility. The targeting of a water supply plant was cruel, but there were no words to adequately characterize the destruction of entire neighborhoods, as we had repeatedly witnessed in our travels. By the end of the war, NATO had destroyed about fifty homes in Surdulica and damaged around 600 more.
One of the bombed homes belonged to Radica Rastich. In a deposition, her neighbor Borica Novkovich recalled, “The sound was like a huge blow on the head. Everything turned over and rolled down the hill. Radica was screaming, screaming, when we came to help her. She was taken from the house all twisted and bent over. She was shaking and shaking; her hands were pressed tight over her ears.” Another survivor, Perica Jovanovich, stated, “I’ll never forget the strange voice of the bomb. When the plane is flying and drops the bomb the noise changes. It’s awful. It’s like the static on the radio but so loud, and then there is this awful crash and pressure and everything moves and boils up.”
It was a clear day on April 27 when the first neighborhood was bombed. On Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj Street, children were happily playing outside when NATO warplanes made their approach. Hearing the wail of air raid sirens, the children ran into the home of Aleksandar Milich, where they took refuge in the strongest basement in the neighborhood. It was not long before two NATO missiles sailed into that very house. The sound of the blast was deafening, and smoke and dust filled the air. Every home in the area was destroyed, and survivors were screaming as they struggled to escape from under the rubble.
Stojanche Petkovich reported that after hearing the first explosion, he rushed into the Milich home. He was in the upper cellar and about to descend into the lower cellar when the next missile hit the house, hurling him against a wall. “I covered my mouth with my hand to prevent the dust to enter, because there was a cloud of smoke and dust in there. When I recovered a bit after the second explosion, I called out to those from the second basement, but no one answered me. I could see that the ceiling in that part of the basement had collapsed.” Moments later, Petkovich heard blocks falling and looked up to see “the ceiling above my head coming down on me. The concrete ceiling was now down, pinning my right lower leg. I was watching the other end of the ceiling also coming down on me, and I saw the iron bars in it stretching. Then everything stopped.” It took two hours to pull Petkovich out, the lone survivor from the Milich home. Blood was spattered all around where the cellar had once been, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. Every victim was decapitated and dismembered. “Bits of them were all over the road,” one man was reported as saying. “We found the head of a child in a garden and many limbs in the mud.”
When 65-year-old Vojislav Milich heard the air raid sirens that day, he ran to his home. He was about 100 meters away when he saw the two missiles exploding on his home. “When the smoke vanished, I saw just ruins of my house. It had been razed to the ground, completely torn down. I presumed that all of the members of my family and all of the people from the neighborhood got killed, which unfortunately proved to be true.”
The morning after the attack, I read the news on a Yugoslav internet site. There was a photograph of the back of an ambulance, its doors thrown open. Inside were piled chunks of shapeless human flesh, still smoking – remains of the eleven victims, the youngest of whom was only four years old.
Four hours after the attack, the British Ministry of Defense announced that it had been a good day for NATO.
Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and the Advisory Board of the Korea Policy Institute. He is a columnist for Voice of the People, and one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language.
Zionist colonisers destroy the tools for self-sufficiency of Palestinians in Gaza
Gaza, Occupied Palestine – Months after the last massive Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, thanks to the social and independent media, everyone has read news and seen pictures of the attacks from the Zionist regime against residential buildings, United Nations shelter-schools, hospitals, ambulances, mosques, churches and thousands of family homes.
However, little has been said about the almost complete destruction of Gaza’s industry and economy. As the Israeli Minister of Interior Eli Yishai said, the objective of the last operation was to “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all of its infrastructure.” One of the more terrible blows committed towards this end has been the total destruction of the Beit Hanoun industrial area.
The factories in this industrial area provided work for 25% to 30% of Gaza’s population. Among the destroyed factories are those for paper, construction materials, clothing, medical equipment, plastic products, food and livestock products.
The agricultural industry has also been wounded by Israel’s summer attacks on Gaza. The owner of the Afanah Company showed us the pictures of his 800 cows killed by Israeli attacks during the last war on Gaza. Each cow was going to feed 7 families during the Eid holiday. Besides losing all his cows, Israel also destroyed the four fridges of the company, which contained 400 tons of meat.
Abu Fakhri Abu Ghais, from Beit Hanoun, explained how during the last massacre Israel killed his 17 sheep, and all his sons’ sheep, they destroyed all his farming equipment, worth over 15,000 US dollars. Israeli forces also destroyed the pumps for extracting the groundwater and the 20 tons of reserve of wheat seeds that Abu Fakhri had stored for the current year. The occupation also demolished the cabling that brought electricity to his village, Abu Safiya. He and his family now live in a tent without water or electricity, as his home was also destroyed.
He and his family now live in a tent without water or electricity, as his home was also destroyed. Given the blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip, the struggling government of Hamas informed him that they don’t know when they’ll be able to restore the power supply, as they do not have available wire that is long enough.
In a Bedouin village located at the North of Beit Lahia, Hassan Sharadkha invited the author and his companions for a cup of tea in the wood cabin that he has built next to the rubble of his home. He showed us the pictures of everything he lost during the last summer at the hands of the Zionist occupation forces: 32 dunums of fruit and olive trees, 27 sheep and their stable, 2 cows, a 200 chicken farm, a horse, the water pump and the car he had just bought.
His older son, an electric engineer, was made unemployed because the solar panel company he worked for has also been bombed.
These attacks – against factories, farms, farming equipment and homes – were not by chance or accidental. These attacks demonstrate once again that the target of the genocidal Israeli colonialism is the Palestinian people itself, and that the war that Israel has been waging the last 66 years, under cover of Europe and the US, is against a nation, Palestine, that they seek to wipe off the map.
“Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.”
Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent nation of the Congo, was born July 2, 1925 in Onalua in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. With just a primary education, Lumumba emerged to become one of Africa’s most vocal critics of colonialism. Early in life, he developed interests in grassroots union activities and joined the Postal Union. As secretary-general of the union, Lumumba began publishing essays critical of Belgian colonial rule, and advocating independence and a unified centralized Congo. His writings appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties to a national constituency.
In 1955, Lumumba became regional leader of the Circle of Stanleyville and joined the Belgian Liberal Party. In 1956, he was arrested and charged with embezzling union funds and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Released after twelve months, Lumumba became sales director of a brewery in Leopoldville. To solidify his political base, in 1957 Lumumba helped found a broad-based organization that appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties—Movement National Congolais (MNC). The following year, he represented the MNC at the Pan-African conference in Accra, Ghana.
His relentless attacks on Belgian rule soon fractured the MNC, resulting in leadership split in July 1959. Undaunted, Lumumba insisted on complete dismantling of Belgian rule. In October 1959, he was arrested for allegedly inciting anti-colonial riots and sentenced to six months. Shortly thereafter, the Belgian government summoned a conference in Brussels to discuss the future of the Congo. Confronted by MNC threat of boycott, the government released Lumumba. At Brussels, Lumumba boldly condemned Belgian rule and advocated immediate independence. Convinced of the imminence of Congolese freedom, Belgium set aside June 30, 1960 as Independence Day.
The Movement National Congolais won the majority in the general election held in May, 1960, and Lumumba became Prime Minister of the Congo, with his political rival Joseph Kasavubu as President. Lumumba’s scathing denunciation of colonialism ruffled feathers not only in Belgium but also in the United States and Great Britain. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief and marred in crises. It began with the army revolt and secession in Katanga and Southern Kasai.
When the United Nations ignored his repeated appeals for intervention, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union. This move only strengthened western opposition to his regime. Using the crises as an excuse, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Though reinstated by the National Assembly, Lumumba was subsequently overthrown by Col. Joseph (later Sese Seko) Mobutu, and placed under house arrest. He made the fateful attempt to escape to Stanleyville where his supporter had gained control. He was apprehended by secessionist rebels and assassinated on January 18, 1961.
This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed. Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.
For 130 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.
When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
In Congo, Lumumba’s assassination is rightly viewed as the country’s original sin. Coming less than seven months after independence (on 30 June, 1960), it was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and material prosperity.
The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. Since Lumumba’s physical elimination had removed what the west saw as the major threat to their interests in the Congo, internationally-led efforts were undertaken to restore the authority of the moderate and pro-western regime in Kinshasa over the entire country. These resulted in ending the Lumumbist regime in Kisangani in August 1961, the secession of South Kasai in September 1962, and the Katanga secession in January 1963.
Lumumba became a martyr and symbol of Congolese and African freedom. He is remembered today as one of only a handful of African leaders truly dedicated to national unity and genuine independence. In February 2002, responding to a Belgian Commission’s Report that implicated Belgium in Lumumba’s death, the Belgian government acknowledged “moral responsibility” and officially apologized. Lumumba remains an inspiration to African politicians. Several of the major political parties in the 2006 Presidential election in the Congo invoked Lumumba’s legacy.
This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention. However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.
The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.
The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).
A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).
Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.
The Houla massacre
After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.
The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).
Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).
Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:
‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).
These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:
‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).
This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.
Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.
Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.
Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.
The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:
‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).
All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).
A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:
‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:
‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.
First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).
Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:
‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47). The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).
German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:
‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).
Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:
‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:
‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.
Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:
‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).
The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).
Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called
‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said: ‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).
Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’ (ANNA 2012).
Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived, ‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).
Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station. ‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.
|TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports|
|Source/report||Method and conclusion|
|Mother Agnes Mariam||FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government|
|Most western media reports||Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’|
|British and French government||Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks|
|UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood||Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.|
|UN HRC Commission of Inquiry||Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)|
|FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere||Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.|
|Syrian Government, state news agencies and television||Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families|
|German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER||Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families|
|German journalist Rainer HERMANN||Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families|
|Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN||Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs|
|Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA||Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families|
|Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson||Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.|
Dissent at the UN
The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said
‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’
The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.
The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.
Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.
The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.
The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
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British state ‘involved in mass murder on British soil, colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between 1972 and 1978′
The state was involved in mass murder on British soil, a lawyer has told a coroner’s court.
The security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between July 1972 and June 1978 in Northern Ireland’s “murder triangle” in counties Armagh and Tyrone, Leslie Thomas QC said.
He said many were carried out by the Glenanne Gang of gunmen with the alleged involvement of soldiers and police officers.
Mr Thomas said it could take a year to hear inquests and compared the task to that of investigating the Hillsborough football disaster.
“If what we say is right this is the biggest involvement of state agents in mass murder on British soil,” he said.
He added: “We say that what the families of the bereaved want, quite simply can be put in a few words: they want the truth, they want the truth to come out, they want justice.”
Mr Thomas was addressing a preliminary hearing in Belfast of two inquests involving a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombing at the Step Inn in Keady in Co Armagh in 1976 during which Catholics Elizabeth McDonald, 38, and Gerard McGleenan, 22, died.
He said the same weapons were used in many of the Glenanne murders and the killers adopted the same modus operandi, accused the authorities of state-sponsored terrorism and claimed one individual involved in killing Ms McDonald should have been dealt with sooner.
He said: “The murder of Betty McDonald could have been avoided, could have been avoided had that individual been taken off the street earlier on or the weapons been taken off the street earlier on, or there had not been the collusion amongst state agents in covering up earlier murders then in terms of Betty McDonald’s right to life we say she may be still here today, living long into life with her husband.”
The UVF gang operated out of farms in Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s when the Troubles were at their worst.
Lawyers for the victims have insisted only a public inquiry or an inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the collusion claims. Senior coroner John Leckey said he was constrained by the resources available to his office.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of security force collusion in the group.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has declined to be represented at the inquest. No submission has been made to her seeking a public inquiry but Mr Thomas said the McDonald family was not surprised she allegedly did not want to be involved.
He added: “This is the biggest case of state collusion in mass murder of innocent individuals. This is a state murdering its own, you cannot get bigger than that, and therefore while one sees and understands and looks at what is happening in Hillsborough, if what we say has occurred on, lets face it, British soil, why should that not be investigated?
“British security agents being involved in deaths of British citizens, it does not get worse than that.”
Mother-of-three Ms McDonald and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer Mr McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest.
Mr Thomas acknowledged there had been convictions in some of the other killings he said were linked, but he added a narrow criminal investigation was not enough.
He said across the cases there had been a repetition of similar failings by the investigating authorities, a lack of criminal convictions, the killings happened in close proximity to each other, and created similar victims while pursuing similar modus operandi.
He added the deaths involved a similar group of individuals involved in a number of attacks.
“Many of those responsible were either serving or former members of the security forces. There were close ballistic links between the victims, the weapons used in many of the killings which originated within the Ulster Defence Regiment (a branch of the army recruited in Northern Ireland).”
He quoted the HET report: “Despite the obvious pattern and linkages between these offences, only cursory efforts have been made to investigate further.
“No determined efforts were made to investigate them in a meaningful fashion.
“This (Step Inn) bombing could have been prevented and should have been detected.”
Mr Thomas said precedents for a linked series of inquests were given by that into the deaths of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and Azelle Rodney, who was allegedly shot dead by Met Police.
He told Mr Leckey: “I can connect and join the dots in relation to various individuals who were named here to various atrocities, various bombings, various shootings, various matters and I can make the link on various weapons, various ballistics.
“This document enables me to tie up individuals.”
Southampton University is hosting a conference next month which has stirred a whole raft of Zionist anger. “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” is, say its detractors, “anti-Semitic” and will, according to one British MP, “de-legitimise the existence of a democratic state”. Ah, is that the same “democratic state” wherein one-fifth of its citizens face official discrimination on a daily basis and the de-legitimisation of their culture, identity and existence in their own land?
Without wishing to pre-empt what the speakers at the conference are likely to say, this issue of “de-legitimisation” of Israel is fascinating, not least because it presupposes that the state has legitimacy in the first place. Accusations that Southampton’s examination of this topic will actually “legitimise anti-Semitism” are part of the usual smokescreen put up by the pro-Israel lobby in order to kill any discussion of Israel’s contempt for international laws and conventions.
During World War One, the British authorities, through the High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, conveyed a number of messages to Sherif Husain of Makkah promising “the Arabs” a Caliphate and the protection of the Holy Places in Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. Post-1917 Britain’s promises began to look even less likely to be fulfilled, with the issue of the infamous Balfour Declaration promising support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” That clause has been ignored completely ever since, with everything possible being done to expel the “non-Jewish communities” from their land in Palestine; the process continues to this day.
When Zionist leader Chaim Wiezmann arrived in Palestine in 1918, “he warned the British against the application of the democratic system as it ‘does not take into account the superiority of the Jew to the Arab…'” Wiezmann’s racism underpins the institutional racism of the “democratic state” whose existence is so beloved of the British MP noted above (and, it must be said, the prime minister, most of the British cabinet and far too many other MPs).
In the “recommendations of the King-Crane Commission with regard to Syria-Palestine and Iraq” presented to US President Woodrow Wilson in August 1919, it is stated that “a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” As such, “the extreme Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews… must be greatly modified”. A subsequent resolution of the US Congress in 1922 again reaffirmed the commitment for a “Jewish national home” not to damage the rights of the existing population of Palestine. This recurring theme has been ignored ever since.
The following year, King George V sent a message “To the people of Palestine” and, again, they were promised that the “national home for the Jewish People… will not in any way affect the civil or religious rights or diminish the prosperity of the general population of Palestine.” The man charged with passing on that message was Britain’s first High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, “a British Jew sympathetic to the Zionist cause”. Samuel distributed public lands to Jews and fixed a quota of 16,500 Jewish immigrants to Palestine in the first year of his administration, “in addition to the flourishing illegal Jewish immigrants who poured into the country with forged documents and disappeared in the Jewish settlements”. The die was cast.
The League of Nations Mandate given to Britain more or less affirmed the intention to create this by now capitalised “National Home” for Jews in Palestine. It has been said that the British government sought this “legal and ‘constitutional’ cover” in order to be able to “plant and alien entity in the heart of the Arab World for its own strategic colonial plans and needs.” When the League’s successor, the United Nations, put forward a resolution to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, it was overlooked that the UN Charter gives it no powers or right to create new countries.
“Israel is the only country in the world which was created by a ‘recommendation’ of the UN,” wrote Zafarul-Islam Khan in his book “Palestine Documents”. When, however, UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was sent to sort out the resultant “mess” he was assassinated by the Stern Gang, “a Jewish terrorist group whose leader went on to become prime minister of Israel.”
The UN Partition Plan was rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states, who argued that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine came to an end when the organisation itself was dissolved in April 1946. On the basis of the UN Charter, the Palestinians, it was argued by Henry Cattan on their behalf, should have been granted independence; it was, he said, their “natural and alienable” right. This was rejected.
The partition plan gave most of historic Palestine to the Jewish state even though Jews owned just 6 per cent of the land; in the subsequent ethnic cleansing and so-called “war of independence”, the nascent state of Israel took even more land, having reneged on a deal that had been struck with Jordan’s King Abdullah, the present king’s grandfather.
Israel has never declared what its borders are, the only member state of the United Nations not to do so. Indeed, its membership of the UN was made conditional upon it allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land. Not only has Israel ignored that condition (along with almost every other UN resolution ever since, despite being a creation of the international body) but it has also obliterated all trace of more than 530 towns and villages which once had a Palestinian population. A glance at the maps of “Palestine” from 1948 onwards show that it has virtually been subsumed by Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent disavowal of a two-state solution and the existence of a state of Palestine should not have been a surprise to anyone. Israel and its founding ideology of Zionism have a greed for more land in order to fulfil the aim of “Greater Israel”, from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan and even beyond. There never was any support for a state of Palestine and probably never will be, not in any meaningful sense, anyway. The people who said that the negotiations and “peace process” were a farce have been right all along.
The question remains therefore: what legitimacy does Israel have? It will be interesting to see what the conference in Southampton next month comes up with. That is, of course, if the Zionist lobby and its twisted views of free speech and democracy is unable to have it cancelled. Justice and freedom demand that they fail in their quest.
By Brenda Heard | Aletho News | March 25, 2015
Six months prior to the upcoming UK general election, the Board of Deputies of British Jews published its “2015 General Election Jewish Manifesto.” This forty-page document urges both existing and prospective members of the UK Parliament to support various “policy asks” and to “champion these causes.” The Manifesto was styled after a very similar one created for the 2014 EU elections. Indeed their goals appear the same: to ensure a pro-Israeli agenda in the House of Commons and beyond.
The 2015 Manifesto does include some discussion of faith-based issues, such as underscoring the need of the Jewish community in the UK to be able to provide Kosher meat and to observe the Sabbath. This discussion is a just and valid participation of citizens in their government. The problem arises, however, when the Manifesto equates Jewish and Israeli. With 58 mentions of Israel, the Manifesto, cloaked in blue and white imagery throughout, even boasts a full-page illustration of the British and Israeli flags flying together.
This self-proclaimed “voice of British Jewry” avows a “very strong attachment to the State of Israel.” Yet it is difficult to reconcile this support with such statements as “The UK Jewish community is committed to peace, security, prosperity and equality for Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Middle East” when this statement was penned less than two months after a vicious Israeli onslaught against Gaza, an indiscriminate rampage that in just fifty days killed at least 2,100 Palestinians, some 70% of whom were civilians, including 519 children. A recent report by the American National Lawyers Guild concluded that “both facts and law refute the Israeli self-defense claims” and that Israel had “collectively punished the entire civilian population.” Indeed, Israeli forces intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, leaving them dead and wounded, homeless and devastated. There has been no peace, no security, no prosperity and no equality for the Palestinians. Not ever.
Yet the Board of Deputies of British Jews expresses unwavering support for Israel. Any resistance to Israeli policy, the Manifesto maintains, should be denounced by the world. The Manifesto offers scant attention to the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, however, noting that the EU had already classified Hamas as a terrorist organisation, one with whom the UK should “refuse to engage.” Two months after the publication of the Manifesto, the EU General Court removed Hamas from the list of terrorist organisations, stating:
“the General Court finds that the contested measures are based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews promptly condemned this “unacceptable” ruling, and called it “an affront to the values of Europe.” The Board statement also used the opportunity to reiterate various accusations against Hamas—characterisations that have for years engendered the very hearsay that was finally rejected by the EU General Court. The Council of the EU soon appealed the court’s decision. The Board cheered the appeal and the efforts taken to ensure the appeal, stating “we commend the European Jewish Congress on all its work in ensuring that this issue remains on top of the agenda in Brussels.” The power of lobbying for Israel.
As for Lebanon, the Manifesto proudly points out that the UK led the EU designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation in 2013. But that action was not enough to appease the Board, which urges the UK to lead the campaign to expand that designation to the “entirety” of Hezbollah. The key here is that Israel and its allies have always wanted to destroy all semblance of Hezbollah, as every aspect of the group builds the pride and strength of a Lebanese populace. It is the will to resist Israeli encroachment—the entire culture of resistance in both Palestine and Lebanon—that Israel wants to break. And this is a sentiment of political Israel, not of “British Jewry.” This has nothing to do with the Jewish faith.
Rather similar to the hearsay problem cited by the EU General Court, the accusations hurled at Hezbollah are based on decades of presumptions that Hezbollah is a ruthless entity to be feared and crushed. The fervour to destroy Hezbollah has long been evident in the policies of Israel, the US and the UK. Together, these three bodies have tremendous abilities to create and to seemingly substantiate and certainly to sell the narrative that suits their own agenda. Perhaps it is time to question these fervent accusations.
The Manifesto asserts that Hezbollah has “launched attacks against European and Jewish civilians worldwide” and offers three examples to illustrate this sweeping and unsubstantiated accusation: Buenos Aires (1994), Bulgaria (2012), Cyprus (2013). The responsibility in each of these incidents is far from conclusive.
The Buenos Aires investigation was at once tainted by the immediate involvement of US and Israeli intelligence services. The case was indelibly ruined by layers of corruption within Argentinian services. Even the Guardian acknowledged the investigation to be a “complex saga of mind-boggling intrigue.” Surely the extensive research published in 2008 by historian Gareth Porter should at the very least create reasonable doubt about Hezbollah’s involvement.
Like Buenos Aires, the Bulgarian case investigation was aided by US and Israeli intelligence services. Several reports raise doubts as to the legitimacy of the judgement process, examples of which: Gareth Porter, here and here; Times of Israel ; Haaretz ; Bulgarian FM Vigenin. Despite Israel’s initial finger-pointing at Hezbollah, the investigation revealed compelling forensic evidence of an Al Qaeda-linked suspect, which was mysteriously dropped only to reveal three Lebanese dual-nationals as suspects. The investigation that struggled for answers somehow, with the help of the US and Israel, was able to link those suspects to Hezbollah. How politically convenient.
In an attempt to offer conclusive evidence of an attack-plotting Hezbollah, the Manifesto offers a fear-inspiring quotation from an allegedly self-confessed Hezbollah member who had seemingly bungled surveillance work in Cyprus and was caught out by Mossad. The man’s “handler,” who was “always wearing a mask,” wanted him to pinpoint Kosher restaurants and to track the arrival times of flights from Israel. But why risk doing such surveillance in person? This information is readily available online, even if it required some creative computing skills. The culprit’s narrative reads more like the stuff of a cheap spy novel than it does the operational expertise of a group with more than thirty-years successful experience. Even if the confessor thought he was, in his nervously ever-changing narrative, revealing some truth, who is to say that he was not led by an imposter to believe he was acting under the direction of Hezbollah, when in fact he was not? Mission not so very impossible.
Still, we are meant to believe that in planning such globally significant missions, Hezbollah was careless enough to leave a paper-trail and to choose men who were inept in their tasks and men who would break under police questioning and tell all. And we are meant to believe that the consistent aid of US and Israeli intelligence has always been strictly objective.
This article is not intended to be a full rebuttal to these specific accusations. The point remains that there is at least reasonable doubt. These accusations are on many levels fuelled by a hatred that has burned for decades, a hatred that would stop at nothing to eradicate the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon. But even if you remain unconvinced of their problematic nature, even if you cannot bring yourself to offer Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt, there remains a double standard in this “Policy Ask” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. How in the name of civilised democracy can the British Government continue to vehemently denounce Hezbollah, yet eagerly champion an Israeli government that routinely practices that which it condemns?
The Manifesto complains, for instance, that Hezbollah arranged surveillance of Jewish people. Yet we find the following boast in the Board’s EU Manifesto:
“As part of the widespread intelligence cooperation between Israel and the EU, Israel is providing essential information to EU officials enabling them to enforce the proscription [against Hezbollah].”
So it is acceptable for Israel to spy on Lebanese, but not vice versa? The Manifesto also complains Hezbollah allegedly exploited dual-nationals and used false identity papers. Yet this technique is an integral component of Mossad, from false identities and false flags in the 1950s, to political military espionage in the 1960s, to international vigilante justice in the 1970s, to fake passports and double agent killing squads in the 1980s, to assassination attempts in the 1990s, to falsified passports and passport fraud, and assassination after assassination in the 2000s.
These activities tend to be forgotten in the wake of repeated wars on the Lebanese and Palestinians. These activities are often subjectively shrugged off as necessary handling of “legitimate” targets, perhaps with a few unfortunate mistakes. Nonetheless, they exhibit a perpetual defiance of the rule of law, a defiance that is made glaringly clear in Israel’s custom of not only indiscriminate, but also deliberate attacks on the civilian population of the Palestinian territories.
After Israel’s 2006 onslaught on Lebanon, the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasised that one third of the Lebanese casualties were children and stated:
“The Commission highlights a significant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by IDF against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects. . . The Commission has formed a clear view that, cumulatively, the deliberate and lethal attacks by the IDF on civilians and civilian objects amounted to collective punishment.”
Likewise, after Israel’s 2009 onslaught on Gaza, the UN Fact Finding Mission concluded that:
“what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
Following Israel’s 2014 onslaught on Gaza, an Independent Medical Fact-Finding Mission described in detail the reckless, often deliberate targeting of civilians, including the use of the “double tap”: multiple consecutive strikes on a single location that would lead to additional casualties amongst civilian onlookers and rescuers.
Perhaps as much as casualty statistics, this calculated strategy reveals not merely what the Manifesto describes euphemistically as “challenges about integration between different sectors of the population that need to be addressed,” but what one IDF Staff Sergeant described as “contempt for human life.” He was relating a similar tactic ordered by his battalion commander in the West Bank:
“You leave bodies in the field—they told me they did it a lot in Lebanon— you leave a body in the field, and you wait until they come to recover it so you can shoot at them. It’s like you’re setting up an ambush around the body. But those are things I heard about Lebanon. So it happened here [in Nablus], too.”
Contempt for human life happened. Contempt for rule of law happened. Again and again, at the hands of the “democratic state” promoted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who in the same instance would like to coax British and Europeans to condemn the very victims of that state’s crimes. While their Manifesto offers a few pages pushing Israeli politics, I offer my recently published book, Hezbollah: An Outsider’s Inside View. Based on eight years of getting to know the people who are Hezbollah, this inside view of the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon offers the opportunity to explore for yourself the militants at the horizon. May common sense, not lobbying efforts, shape the concerns of the British people.
Brenda is the founder and director of Friends of Lebanon, UK. She is the author of numerous articles and the recently published Hezbollah: An Outsider’s Inside View. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 36-year veteran of America’s Intelligence Community, William Binney resigned from his position as Director for Global Communications Intelligence (COMINT) at the National Security Agency (NSA) and blew the whistle, after discovering that his efforts to protect the privacy and security of Americans were being undermined by those above him in the chain of command.
The NSA data-monitoring program which Binney and his team had developed — codenamed ThinThread — was being aimed not at foreign targets as intended, but at Americans (codenamed as Stellar Wind); destroying privacy here and around the world. Binney voices his call to action for the billions of individuals whose rights are currently being violated.
William Binney speaks out in this feature-length interview with Tragedy and Hope’s Richard Grove, focused on the topic of the ever-growing Surveillance State in America.
This summer will mark the ninth anniversary of the Journal of 9/11 Studies. In that time, my co-editors and I have published over 150 peer-reviewed articles and letters addressing various aspects of the 9/11 crimes. Although it’s been hard, thankless work at times, the job of co-editor has also been rewarding and I’ve learned a great deal.
Through publishing articles in mainstream journals, I’ve learned that our peer-review process is at least as rigorous as that of others. At our Journal, submissions often fail to pass the editor’s initial assessment and are never reviewed. Of those remaining, dozens have failed to make it through the peer-review process to become published. It’s definitely a disappointment when that happens but it’s important that whatever we publish lives up to certain standards. The end result is a treasure-trove of reliable research, freely available on the web.
For example, here are six articles and two letters that should be widely read.
Intersecting Facts and Theories on 9/11, by Joseph P. Firmage
This short article was published in August 2006. It presents a comparison of competing theories for what happened on 9/11 with respect to known facts. The comparison clearly shows that the “create a new reality” theory, in which U.S. officials were involved in the attacks, is by far more sensible than other possibilities.
118 Witnesses: The Firefighter’s Testimony to Explosions in the Twin Towers, by Graeme MacQueen
This highly influential article focuses on eyewitness testimonies to the World Trade Center (WTC) destruction. The testimonies were collected by New York City officials after 9/11 and then kept secret for nearly four years. Professor MacQueen delves into these explosive eyewitness accounts in a way that makes clear why officials did not want the public to see them.
Extremely high temperatures during the World Trade Center destruction, by Steven E. Jones, et.al
This lucid article from January 2008 was a breakthrough in 9/11 research. Establishing the WTC thermite theory on a firm grounding of experimental evidence, it set the stage for a series of scientific articles that were published in multiple journals. In the future, this breakthrough article may be seen as one of the greatest contributions to forensic science.
Obstacles to Persuasion: Lessons from the Classroom, by Mark Vorobej
This article from December 2008 is from a professor of philosophy who examined the responses of university students as they were exposed to alternative explanations for 9/11. In a five-week segment of his course on Argumentation Theory, Professor Vorobej was able to lead his students to objectively examine 9/11 from different perspectives while fostering further, constructive debate.
Falsifiability and the NIST WTC Report: A Study in Theoretical Adequacy, by Anonymous and F. Legge
In March 2010, we published this examination of the scientific principle of falsifiability in light of U.S. government reports on the WTC destruction. This often-overlooked article is well constructed and provides detail on why the official reports failed to meet some of the most critical requirements of the scientific method.
Letter on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, by Lorie Van Auken
A series of nine letters was published on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The letters came from leading researchers, activists, and legal experts around the world. Perhaps the most compelling contribution was that of Lorie Van Auken, whose husband Kenneth was killed in the north tower on 9/11.
Letter to the Royal Society from Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, from the Board of Directors, AE911Truth
In June 2012, we published a letter that was sent from the board of directors of AE911Truth to Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society in England. The letter emphasized how the official account for what happened at the WTC was in direct contradiction to the laws of motion described by one of the Royal Society’s most famous members—Sir Isaac Newton.
The “Strategy of Tension” in the Cold War Period, by Daniele Ganser
In May 2014, Swiss historian Daniele Ganser contributed this updated version of a previously published article. Dr. Ganser’s article provides important historical perspective for considering what happened on 9/11. His conclusion, based on historical fact, is that objections to U.S. government or military involvement in 9/11 are based on unsupportable, a priori arguments.
These eight papers are just a sampling of the wide-range of peer-reviewed research and commentary available at the Journal of 9/11 Studies. If you want to learn more about that fateful day through an evidence-based approach, the Journal is a great resource. For anyone interested in contributing, we continue to seek out new perspectives that have not yet been expressed. Guidelines for submission are published at the website.
The Truth About Animal Fat: What the Research Shows
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet lays out the scientific case why our bodies are healthiest on a diet rich in saturated fat from animal products. Analyzing study after study, Nina Teicholz leaves no doubt that the number one cause of the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is the low fat high carbohydrate diet doctors have been pushing for fifty years.
Blaming the Victim
My initial reaction on learning how the low fat diet became official government policy was to feel ripped off and angry. For decades, the medical establishment has been blaming fat people for being obese, portraying them as weak willed and lacking in self control. It turns out the blame lay squarely with their doctors, the American Heart Association (AHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress and the food manufacturers who fund the AHA (Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, General Foods, Heinz, Quaker Oats and Corn Products Refining Corporation) for foisting a diet on them that increases appetite and weight gain.
The low fat diet is based on a “theory” put forward in the 1950s that heart disease was caused by elevated cholesterol levels – and a few deeply flawed epidemiological studies. In other words, the low fat diet is a giant human experiment the medical profession conducted on the American public while attempting to prove that saturated animal fats cause heart disease. Fifty years of research would show the exact opposite: not only do low fat high carbohydrate diets increase the risk of cardiac death, but they’re also responsible for a myriad of other health problems, with obesity and diabetes being the most problematic.
The studies Teicholz cites also debunk the myth that animal fat increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.
Heart Attacks Rare Prior to 1900
Coronary artery disease and heart attacks were virtually unknown prior to 1900. When Ancel Keys, the father of the low fat diet, began his anti-fat crusade in the 1950s he claimed that industrialization and an improved standard of living had caused Americans to switch from a plant based diet to a diet that was higher in animal fats. This was total rubbish. Prior to 1900, Americans had always eaten a meat-based diet, in part because wild game was much more plentiful in North America than in Europe. Early cookbooks and diaries reveal that even poor families had meat or fish with every meal. Even slaves had 150 pounds of red meet a year, which contrasts unfavorably with 40-70 pounds of red meat in the current American diet.
What changed in the twentieth century was the introduction of cheaper vegetable fats into the American diet, starting with margarine and Crisco in the early 1900s.
Keys was also responsible for the theory, again without research evidence, that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease. This was also rubbish. Fifty years of research negates any link between either total cholesterol or LDL* cholesterol and heart disease. In study after study the only clear predictor of heart disease is reduced HDL. The same studies show that diets high in animal fats increase HDL, while those high in sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils reduce HDL.
Teicholz also discusses the role of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) in this context. Statins do reduce coronary deaths, but this is due to their anti-inflammatory effect – not because of their effect on cholesterol.
Researchers Silenced and Sidelined
For decades, researchers whose findings linked low fat diets with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and tooth decay were systematically silenced and sidelined. As frequently happens with doctors and scientists who challenge the powerful health industry, their grants were cut off and, in some cases, their careers destroyed.
For fifty years, the medical establishment simply ignored the growing body of research linking the high sugar/carbohydrate component of the low fat diet to heart disease, as well as those linking vegetable oils to cancer. Vegetable oils oxidize when cooked, leading to the production of cancer causing compounds such as aldehyde, formaldehyde and 4-hydroxnonene (HCN). Unsurprisingly diets in which vegetable oils (other than olive oil) are the primary fat are linked with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies overseas have found high levels of respiratory cancer in fast food workers exposed to superheated vegetable oils.
The Atkins Diet
The Big Fat Surprise includes a long section on the Atkins diet, a popular high fat/protein low carbohydrate weight reduction diet in the 70s and 80s. The use of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for weight loss dates back to 1862 and was heavily promoted by Sir William Osler in his 1892 textbook of medicine. According to Teicholz, recent controlled studies totally vindicate Dr Robert C Atkins, who was ridiculed as a dangerous quack during his lifetime. They also debunk claims that high levels of protein in the Atkins diet cause kidney damage. In addition to being perfectly safe, controlled studies show it to be extremely effective for weight loss and treating diabetes.
The USDA and AHA Quietly Reverse Themselves
As Teicholz points out in her conclusion, the nutrition researchers who blindly pursued their anti-fat campaign – and politicians and corporate funders who supported them – have done Americans an immense disservice by creating a virtual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
A few years ago, the tide began to turn, largely due to the 29,000 subject Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993. In 2013, the USDA and AHA quietly eliminated fat targets from the dietary recommendations. Because they made no real effort to publicize their change of heart, many doctors are still giving their patients the wrong dietary advice and hounding them about their cholesterol levels.
Dump the Skim Milk
The take home lesson from this book is that it’s virtually impossible to eat too many eggs or too much red meat, cheese, sausage and bacon. Americans (and their overseas English-speaking cousins) need to dump the skim milk and margarine down the sink because whole milk and butter are better for you. People need to go back to cooking with lard, bacon drippings and butter. Cooking with vegetable oils can give you cancer.
Anyone with a weight problem needs to totally eliminate sugar and carbohydrate (the Atkins diet recommends less than half a slice of bread a day).
And if your doctor hassles you about your cholesterol tell him or her to read this book.
*LDL (low density lipoprotein) is referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to its alleged link to heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” appears to provide some protective effect against heart disease.
By Alyssa Röhricht | The Black Cat Revolution | March 20, 2015
The Senate Torture Report released in December 2014 reads worse than even the foulest imaginings of Hieronymus Bosch: sleep deprivation, isolation and sensory deprivation, forced nudity, rectal feeding and rectal rehydration, waterboarding, beatings, threatening detainees with the rape of their mothers and harm of their children, chaining detainees to the ceiling for days clothed in only a diaper, rape, even human experimentation.
The house of horrors detailed in the Senate report – which even in its over 500 pages doubtless only scratches the surface of the depravity of U.S. “War on Terror” tactics – has been discussed at length. But what is outlined in the report is only part of the story. What the report omits is almost equally important to understanding the lengths that the U.S. will go to maintain and expand its Empire. One such omission: Diego Garcia.
Despite it being one of the most strategically important U.S. military bases on the planet, few have ever even heard of Diego Garcia or the Chagos archipelago on which it sits. The chain of over 50 small islands (today known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT) is in the center of the Indian Ocean and was once inhabited by a thriving population of indigenous islanders. Today, it is home to the US military base of Camp Justice or the Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia, nicknamed (ironically) the “Footprint of Freedom.” In some ways, the island looks like any American town – a bowling alley, tennis court, library, Post Office, gyms, a bank, a chapel, and even a 9-hole golf course. The B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, 30 warships, satellite spy station, deep space surveillance system, nuclear storage facility, and the almost 5,000 U.S. servicemen and women that live there give lie to the façade, as do the crumbling homes, school, and church of the island’s previous inhabitants.
The Chagossians – the rightful inhabitants of the islands – have sustained a very different sort of torture. They were not beaten or raped, they were not waterboarded or forcibly deprived of sleep, but they were threatened, they were ripped from their homelands (ancestors, communities, schools, homes), they were forced onto the hull of a ship, and they were dropped on foreign islands and forgotten. And this didn’t happen in long ago history, it happened only 40 years ago – a slow and pronounced torture that continues today.
The first permanent inhabitants of the Chagos Islands were slaves brought by the French to work on coconut plantations around 1783. By 1814, one colonizer replaced another, and the British took control of Mauritius, including the Chagos Islands. In 1968, Mauritius received its independence from the U.K., but for a price. Mauritius would be freed from U.K. rule only if it did not lay claim to the Chagos Islands – thus the British Indian Ocean Territory was born. The U.S. and U.K. developed an informal lease agreement that would allow the U.S. to use Diego Garcia for a military base – prime real estate situated with eyes on the Middle East, Asia, and Russia. The agreement was hidden from both the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament and in direct contradiction to UN resolution 1514 and international law, which stated that colonies being decolonized had to be done as a whole – not carved up for profit.
The U.S./U.K. terror campaign was launched to have the islands “swept” and “sanitized” of the Chagossian people, first through an embargo aimed at starving the population out. Without basic supplies like milk, salt, and medication, many Chagossians left. In the Spring of 1971, officials in the U.S. military gave the order to round up all of the pet dogs on the island and have them killed. Thousands of pet dogs were murdered – some taken straight from screaming children – gassed with exhaust fumes from military vehicles. The Chagossians that had held out were then rounded onto a ship allowed to take only one suitcase. The horses took precedence and were put on deck. The Chagossians – women and children – slept in the hull on bird fertilizer – bird shit.
Marie Lisette Talate, a Chagossian, recalled in the documentary written and directed by John Pilger, Stealing a Nation, “All of us Chagossians, women, children, it was ourselves who were the animals on the Nordvaer.”
They were taken to the Seychelles and kept in prison cells until finally being transported to Mauritius where many Chagossians remain today. They were dropped there with nothing – no food, money, housing, jobs, water, or any institutional support in a country unknown to them. Unable to provide for themselves, many Chagossians began to die. Malnutrition, disease, and drugs plagued the community. But many islanders say that the Chagossian people were dying of sagren, sadness.
Marie Rita Elysée Bancoult, one of the Chagossian people, recounted her life after the forced relocation in an interview with Vine. After learning that they would never be returning home, her husband, Julien, suffered a stroke and died five years later. In the years that followed, her sons Alex, 38, Eddy, 36, and Rénault, 11, also died.
“My life has been buried… It’s as if I was pulled from my paradise to put me in hell. Everything here you need to buy. I don’t have the means to buy them. My children go without eating. How am I supposed to bear this life?”
This type of torture may leave no visible scars, but it is no less effective. The Chagossians have seen their homes destroyed, have left behind their land and belongings, have abandoned the graves of their ancestors, watched as their pets were ripped away and killed, and were left – deserted – on the shores of foreign lands, the forgotten refuse of Empire.
The torture continues today, as the Chagossians are ping-ponged back and forth between the two governments. The U.K. claims that the U.S. will not allow the islanders to live on the islands due to national security concerns of the base. Meanwhile the U.S. obviates responsibility, claiming it has no jurisdiction over the islands and that the Chagossians must direct their requests to the Crown. Justice, it seems, is only for the few.
What’s more, they must watch from afar as their homeland is destroyed and denigrated by the U.S. military. In addition to a recent admission by a senior Bush administration official to VICE News that the island of Diego Garcia has been used as a “transit site” where people were “interrogated from time to time,” studies of the waters surrounding the Diego Garcia military base as well have revealed massive environmental harms caused by the base, including decades of contamination from wastewater sewage, which the U.S. has been discharging into the water since at least the 1980s. The dumping of the treated sewage waters have resulted in elevated levels of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphates up to four times higher than normal and may be causing damage to the coral reefs.
Just the construction of Diego Garcia alone has eliminated much of the vegetation coverage on the island and decimated the coral reef – forests were bulldozed and coral reefs were blasted and dredged. As with most military bases, the usual nuclear contamination, fuel spills of millions of gallons of oil, carcinogenic pollutants in the soil and water, dangerous underwater sonars that harm marine life, and a litany of unexploded munitions plague the island. And yet, many argue against the Chagossian return to their native lands on environmental grounds, the implication being that the U.S. military is a better guardian of these islands than the people who had lived there in harmony for generations. The implicit racism in this notion is hard to ignore.
Despite the setbacks, Chagossians continue to fight, and while the U.S. and U.K. governments have continued to abdicate responsibility for their complicity in these crimes against humanity, the Chagossians seem better positioned for a return than at any other point in history. The U.K. government recently commissioned a feasibility study to determine whether a settlement may be achievable on the islands, which found “no insurmountable legal obstacles” to the Chagossians returning home. At the same time, negotiations over the military base are up for discussion between the U.S. and U.K. to decide if the informal lease of the land will be extended for the U.S. military.
The decades of torture imposed upon these people has yet to be adequately addressed or remunerated, and while the international community has expressed outrage over the U.S. use of some of the most vile and perverted means of torture against prisoners in rendition sites across the globe, the same international outcry must be directed at the decades of human rights abuses imposed upon the people of the Chagos Islands. Torture, after all, is not just carried out with drills, straps, and chains; there is also a psychological torture – the torture of neglect and marginalization that renders a people invisible – that can do just as much damage.