Chilean dictator Agusto Pinochet (L) and Argentine dictator Rafael Videla (R) | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
U.S. President Donald Trump met with Argentine President Mauricio Macri on Thursday, handing over 931 declassified Department of State records related to Operation Condor.
Operation Condor was a Cold War-era campaign of violence across Latin America that resulted in tens of thousands of activist deaths.
Trump’s release falls in line with former President Barack Obama’s promise to release intelligence documents about human rights abuses committed by the Argentine military dictatorship during the 1970s and 1980s.
Entitled “Secret/Exdis,” the declassified documents provide new insight into U.S. support for human rights abuses in Argentina and neighboring countries. Here’s what the reports divulged.
They describe Operation Condor as a trans-border, multinational effort by Southern Cone secret police services to “track down” and “liquidate” regime opponents, the National Security Archive reports.
They reveal that the orchestrators of Operation Condor considered establishing “field offices” in the United States and Europe.
They provide information about former President Jimmy Carter’s propping up of former dictator Rafael Videla in 1977. It has also been confirmed that Orlando Letelier, chief economist for former Chilean President Salvador Allende, was killed by members of Chile’s intelligence service under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Moreover, they include details about the censorship of U.S. Buenos Aires embassy human rights officer Tex Harris, who tried making human rights abuses public.
The declassification of other top secret documents is expected to occur before the end of the year. Records of 14 intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and DIA, are expected to be included in the release.
After any crime, regardless of scale, a swift, impartial and independent investigation is required if any accountability at all is desired. The French government, in the wake of an alleged “chemical weapons attack” near Syria’s northern city of Idlib, has claimed that it is “committed to ensuring that the perpetrators of this heinous attack are held accountable.”
The LA Times in an article titled, “Syrian chemical attack bears Assad’s signature, France says,” would report:
A six-page report by French intelligence services claims the nerve agent came from hidden stockpiles of chemical weapons that Damascus was supposed to have destroyed under an U.S.- and Russian-brokered deal in 2013.
Were it the case that France was seriously committed to holding the perpetrators of the alleged attack accountable, the French government would need to call for an impartial, independent investigation into the attack, and as soon as possible. Instead, it decided to carry out its own “investigation,” ensuring neither impartiality nor independence, and by consequence, achieving no accountability.
Neither Impartial nor Independent
France is one of several nations directly involved in a multi-year US-led effort to violently overthrow the Syrian government.
Terrorist organizations fighting in and along Syria’s borders have, for 6 years now, brandished the black, green, white and red colonial flag of French-occupied Syria.
France itself has admittedly supplied militant groups fighting the Syrian government with financial, military and political support with many prominent members of the so-called residing within French territory, leading political efforts to overthrow the Syrian government remotely.
In a 2014 France 24 article titled, “France delivered arms to Syrian rebels, Hollande confirms,” its revealed that:
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France had delivered weapons to rebels battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad “a few months ago.”
The deliveries took place “a few months ago, when the Syrian rebels had to face both the armies of the dictator Bashar al-Assad and this terrorist group Islamic State,” Hollande told reporters on a tour of the French island of La Reunion.
“We cannot leave the only Syrians who are preparing a democracy … without weapons,” he added.
And French warplanes are flying over Syria, without a UN resolution or invitation by the Syrian government, bombarding its territory in an alleged effort to wage war on the very militant groups it has flooded with arms, cash and others forms of material support.
A nation directly involved in efforts to violently overthrow a government cannot in any rational way conduct an impartial, independent investigation into the actions of that targeted government.
France, by all legal metrics, is a compromised party with a direct stake in finding the Syrian government “guilty.” The evidence France claims to possess must be verified by an impartial, independent party, but even at face value, French “evidence” appears illogical and intentionally misrepresented amid its most recent claims.
French “Intel” Not Adding Up
French evidence is based on what French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault himself claims is, “a certain source,” which, in wording alone, resembles the ambiguity and oblique tactics used by the United States in the lead up to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is also language that would be inadmissible during any genuine legal proceeding.
In 2003, US and European politicians during interviews, press conferences and public speeches relied heavily on alleged evidence produced by similar unnamed sources. It would later be revealed that those sources were intentionally lying, and were intentionally cited in a wider effort to fabricate a false pretext for war with Iraq.
Additionally, France has attempted to implicate the Syrian government in the most recent alleged attack by claiming the same sarin nerve agent was also used in an alleged attack in 2013.
However, were this true, such a claim would require an indisputable conclusion drawn by an impartial, independent investigation that the 2013 attack was indeed carried out by the Syrian government, using not only sarin nerve agent, but the precise variant allegedly used in this most recent attack.
No such conclusion exists, with France failing to produce any of these basic legal or rational prerequisites, going far in explaining why the French foreign minister has resorted to the same ambiguous rhetoric used by US politicians in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Despite this, the French government and those across US, European and Persian Gulf media have attempted to project confidence in this “investigation.” However, should the French government and its allies be so confident in their findings, they would invite a truly impartial, independent party to open up its own investigation, consider and verify this evidence and draw its own, impartial and independent conclusions.
The political capital provided to France and its allies by doing this would be enormous, yet no such investigation is being called for by France, the United States or any of the other parties involved in the protracted, violent dismemberment of the Syrian state. The answer to “why” they would forgo such a politically lucrative move can be explained by a total lack of confidence in their evidence, or certain knowledge that their “evidence” is entirely fabricated, and genuine investigations would only confirm that publicly.
And in fact, the only calls for a truly independent investigation have come from the Syrian government itself as well as from its allies in Moscow and Tehran. It should be noted that these nations were also among those opposed to the US invasion of Iraq based on similarly fabricated claims.
In all, the French “investigation” is nothing of the sort. Had the French government been truly committed to discovering the truth behind the recent alleged chemical weapons attack, it would have recognized its own limits as an impartial, independent investigator and forwarded its “evidence” to a party that is capable of a real investigation. Instead, it has embarked on an intentionally dishonest course of actions to conceal its lack of impartiality and independence, using tenuous if not fabricated claims to further deepen a violent, deadly and supremely costly conflict it itself is a key instigator of.
Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta
Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta is the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon. He specializes in: reconstructive surgery. What it means in this part of the world is clear: they bring you people from the war zones, torn to pieces, missing faces, burned beyond recognition, and you have to try to give them their life back.
Dr. Abu-Sitta is also a thinker. A Palestinian born in Kuwait, he studied and lived in the UK, and worked in various war zones of the Middle East, as well as in Asia, before accepting his present position at the AUB Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon.
We were brought together by peculiar circumstances. Several months ago I burned my foot on red-hot sand, in Southeast Asia. It was healing slowly, but it was healing. Until I went to Afghanistan where at one of the checkpoints in Herat I had to take my shoes off, and the wound got badly infected. Passing through London, I visited a hospital there, and was treated by one of Abu-Sitta’s former professors. When I said that among other places I work in Lebanon, he recommended that I visit one of his “best students who now works in Beirut”.
I did. During that time, a pan-Arab television channel, Al-Mayadeen, was broadcasting in English, with Arabic subtitles, a long two-part interview with me, about my latest political/revolutionary novel “Aurora” and about the state of the global south, and the upsurge of the Western imperialism. To my surprise, Dr. Abu-Sitta and his colleagues were following my work and political discourses. To these hardened surgeons, my foot ‘issue’ was just a tiny insignificant scratch. What mattered was the US attack against Syria, the Palestine, and the provocations against North Korea.
My ‘injury’ healed well, and Dr. Abu-Sitta and I became good friends. Unfortunately I have to leave Beirut for Southeast Asia, before a huge conference, which he and his colleagues are launching on the May 15, 2017, a conference on the “Ecology of War”.
I believe that the topic is thoroughly fascinating and essential for our humanity, even for its survival. It combines philosophy, medicine and science.
What happens to people in war zones? And what is a war zone, really? We arrived at some common conclusions, as both of us were working with the same topic but looking at it from two different angles: “The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in refugee camps, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.”
We talked a lot: about fear, which is engulfing countries like the UK, about the new wave of individualism and selfishness, which has its roots in frustration. At one point he said: “In most parts of the world “freedom” is synonymous with the independence struggle for our countries. In such places as the UK, it mainly means more individualism, selfishness and personal liberties.”
We talked about imperialism, medicine and the suffering of the Middle East.
Then we decided to publish this dialogue, shedding some light on the “Ecology of War” – this essential new discipline in both philosophy and medicine.
Ecology of War
(The discussion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, in Cafe Younes, on April 25, 2017)
Broken Social Contract In The Arab World, Even In Europe
GA-S: In the South, medicine and the provision of health were critical parts of the post-colonial state. And the post-colonial state built medical systems such as we had in Iraq, Egypt and in Syria as part of the social contract. They became an intrinsic part of the creation of those states. And it was a realization that the state has to exercise its power both coercively, (which we know the state is capable of exercising, by putting you in prison, and even exercising violence), but above all non-coercively: it needs to house you, educate you, and give you health, all of those things. And that non-coercive power that the states exercise is a critical part of the legitimizing process of the state. We saw it evolve in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So as a digression, if you want to look at how the state was dismantled: the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was not to weaken the Makhabarat or the army; the aim of the sanctions was to rob the Iraqi state of its non-coercive power; its ability to give life, to give education, and that’s why after 12 years, the state has totally collapsed internally – not because its coercive powers have weakened, but because it was robbed of all its non-coercive powers, of all its abilities to guarantee life to its citizens.
AV: So in a way the contract between the state and the people was broken.
GA-S: Absolutely! And you had that contract existing in the majority of post-colonialist states. With the introduction of the IMF and World Bank-led policies that viewed health and the provision of health as a business opportunity for the ruling elites and for corporations, and viewed free healthcare as a burden on the state, you began to have an erosion in certain countries like Egypt, like Jordan, of the non-coercive powers of the state, leading to the gradual weakening of its legitimacy. Once again, the aim of the IMF and World Bank was to turn health into a commodity, which could be sold back to people as a service; sold back to those who could afford it.
AV: So, the US model, but in much more brutal form, as the wages in most of those countries were incomparably lower.
GA-S: Absolutely! And the way you do that in these countries: you create a two-tier system where the government tier is so under-funded, that people choose to go to the private sector. And then in the private sector you basically have the flourishing of all aspects of private healthcare: from health insurance to provision of health care, to pharmaceuticals.
AV: Paradoxically this scenario is also taking place in the UK right now.
GA-S: We see it in the UK and we’ll see it in many other European countries. But it has already happened in this region, in the Arab world. Here, the provision of health was so critical to creation of the states. It was critical to the legitimacy of the state.
AV: The scenario has been extremely cynical: while the private health system was imposed on the Arab region and on many other parts of the world, in the West itself, except in the United States, medical care remains public and basically free. We are talking about state medical care in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
GA-S: Yes. In Europe as part of the welfare state that came out of the Second World War, the provision of healthcare was part of the social contract. As the welfare state with the advent of Thatcherism and Reagan-ism was being dismantled, it became important to undergo a similar process as elsewhere. The difference is that in the UK, and also in countries like Germany, it was politically very dangerous. It could lead to election losses. So the second plan was to erode the health system, by a thousand blows, kill it gradually. What you ended up in the UK is the piece-by-piece privatization of the health sector. And the people don’t know, they don’t notice that the system is becoming private. Or in Germany where actually the government does not pay for healthcare – the government subsidizes the insurance companies that profit from the private provision of healthcare.
AV: Before we began recording this discussion, we were speaking about the philosophical dilemmas that are now besieging or at least should be besieging the medical profession. Even the social medical care in Europe: isn’t it to some extent a cynical arrangement? European countries are now all part of the imperialist block, together with the United States, and they are all plundering the rest of the world – the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia – and they are actually subsidizing their social system from that plunder. That’s one thing. But also, the doctors and nurses working for instance in the UK or Germany are often ‘imported’ from much poorer countries, where they have often received free education. Instead of helping their own, needy people, they are actually now serving the ageing and by all international comparisons, unreasonably spoiled and demanding population in Europe, which often uses medical facilities as if they were some ‘social club’.
GA-S: I think what has happened, particularly in Europe, is that there is a gradual erosion of all aspects of the welfare state. Politically it was not yet possible to get rid of free healthcare. The problem that you can certainly see in the United Kingdom is that health is the final consequence of social and economic factors that people live in. So if you have chronic unemployment, second and third generation unemployment problem, these have health consequences. If you have the destruction of both pensions and the cushion of a social umbrella for the unemployed, that has consequences… Poor housing has health consequences. Mass unemployment has health consequences. Politically it was easy to get rid of all other aspects of the welfare state, but they were stuck with a healthcare problem. And so the losing battle that the health systems in the West are fighting is that they are being expected to cater to the poor consequences of the brutal capitalist system as a non-profit endeavor. But we know that once these lifestyle changes are affecting people’s health, it’s too late in terms of cure or prevention. And so what the European health systems do, they try to patch people and to get them out of the system and back on the street. So if you have children with chronic asthma, you treat the asthma but not the dump housing in which these children are living in. If you have violent assaults and trauma related to violence, you treat the trauma, the physical manifestation, and not the breakdown of youth unemployment, or racism that creates this. So in order to sustain this anomaly, as you said, you need an inflated health system, because you make people sick and then you try to fix them, rather than stopping them from being sick. Hence that brain drains that have basically happened, where you have more Ghanaian doctors in New York than you have in Ghana.
AV: And you have an entire army of Philippine nurses in the UK, while there is suddenly a shortage of qualified nurses in Manila.
GA-S: Absolutely! This is the result of the fact that actually people’s health ‘happens’ outside the health system. Because you cannot get rid of the health system, you end up having a bloated health system, and try to fix the ailments that are coming through the door.
Collapse Of The Health Care In The Middle East
AV: You worked in this entire region. You worked in Iraq, and in Gaza… both you and I worked in Shifa Hospital in Gaza… You worked in Southern Lebanon during the war. How brutal is the healthcare situation in the Middle East? How badly has been, for instance, the Iraqi peoples’ suffering, compared to Western patients? How cruel is the situation in Gaza?
GA-S: If you look at places like Iraq: Iraq in the 80’s probably had one of the most advanced health systems in the region. Then you went through the first war against Iraq, followed by 12 years of sanctions in which that health system was totally dismantled; not just in terms of hospitals and medication and the forced exile of doctors and health professionals, but also in terms of other aspects of health, which are the sewage and water and electricity plants, all of those parts of the infrastructure that directly impact on people’s lives.
AV: Then came depleted uranium…
GA-S: And then you add to the mix that 2003 War and then the complete destruction and dismantling of the state, and the migration of some 50% of Iraq’s doctors.
AV: Where did they migrate?
GA-S: Everywhere: to the Gulf and to the West; to North America, Europe… So what you have in Iraq is a system that is not only broken, but that has lost the components that are required to rebuild it. You can’t train a new generation of doctors in Iraq, because your trainers have all left the country. You can’t create a health system in Iraq, because you have created a government infrastructure that is intrinsically unstable and based on a multi-polarity of the centers of power which all are fighting for control of the pie of the state… and so Iraqis sub-contract their health at hospital level to India and to Turkey and Lebanon, or Jordan, because they are in this vicious loop.
AV: But this is only for those who can afford it?
GA-S: Yes, for those who can, but even in those times when the government had cash it could not build the system anymore. So it would sub-contract health provisions outside, because the system was so broken that money couldn’t fix it.
AV: Is it the same in other countries of the region?
GA-S: The same is happening in Libya and the same is happening in Syria, with regards of the migration of their doctors. Syria will undergo something similar to Iraq at the end of the war, if the Syrian state is destroyed.
AV: But it is still standing.
GA-S: It still stands and it is still providing healthcare to the overwhelming majority of the population even to those who live in the rebel-controlled areas. They are travelling to Damascus and other cities for their cardiac services or for their oncological services.
AV: So no questions asked; you are sick, you get treated?
GA-S: Even from the ISIS-controlled areas people can travel and get treated, because this is part of the job of the state.
AV: The same thing is happening with the education there; Syria still provides all basic services in that area.
GA-S: Absolutely! But in Libya, because the state has totally disappeared or has disintegrated, all this is gone.
AV: Libya is not even one country, anymore…
GA-S: There is not a unified country and there is definitely no health system. In Gaza and the Palestine, the occupation and the siege, ensure that there is no normal development of the health system and in case of Gaza as the Israelis say “every few years you come and you mown the lawn”; you kill as many people in these brutal and intense wars, so you can ensure that the people for the next few years will be trying to survive the damage that you have caused.
AV: Is there any help from Israeli physicians?
GA-S: Oh yes! Very few individuals, but there is…
But the Israeli medical establishment is actually an intrinsic part of the Israeli establishment, and the Israeli academic medical establishment is also part of the Israeli establishment. And the Israeli Medical Association refused to condemn the fact that Israeli doctors examine Palestinian political prisoners for what they call “fitness for interrogation”. Which is basically… you get seen by a doctor who decides how much torture you can take before you die.
AV: This actually reminds me of what I was told in 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa, where I was invited to participate as a speaker at the International Conference of the Psychologists for Peace. Several US psychologists reported that during the interrogation and torture of alleged terrorists, there were professional psychologists and even clinical psychiatrists standing by, often assisting the interrogators.
GA-S: Yes, there are actually 2-3 well-known American psychologists who designed the CIA interrogation system – its process.
AV: What you have described that is happening in Palestine is apparently part of a very pervasive system. I was told in the Indian-controlled Kashmir that Israeli intelligence officers are sharing their methods of interrogation and torture with their Indian counterparts. And. of course, the US is involved there as well.
GA-S: War surgery grew out of the Napoleonic Wars. During these wars, two armies met; they usually met at the frontline. They attacked each other, shot at each other or stabbed each other. Most of injured were combatants, and they got treated in military hospitals. You had an evolution of war surgery. What we have in this region, we believe, is that the intensity and the prolonged nature of these wars or these conflicts are not temporal-like battles, they don’t start and finish. And they are sufficiently prolonged that they change the biological ecology, the ecology in which people live. They create the ecology of war. That ecology maintains itself well beyond of what we know is the shooting, because they alter the living environment of people. The wounds are physical, psychological and social wounds; the environment is altered as to become hostile; both to the able-bodied and more hostile to the wounded. And as in the cases of these multi-drug-resistant organisms, which are now a big issue in the world like the multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 85% of Iraqi war wounded have multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 70% of Syrian war wounded have it…
So we say: this ecology, this bio-sphere that the conflicts create is even altered at the basic DNA of the bacteria. We have several theories about it; partly it’s the role of the heavy metals in modern ordnance, which can trigger mutation in these bacteria that makes them resistant to antibiotics. So your bio-sphere, your bubble, your ecological bubble in which you live in, is permanently changed. And it doesn’t disappear the day the bombs disappear. It has to be dismantled, and in order to dismantle it you have to understand the dynamics of the ecology of war. That’s why our program was set up at the university, which had basically been the major tertiary teaching center during the civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion. And then as the war in Iraq and Syria developed, we started to get patients from these countries and treat them here. We found out that we have to understand the dynamics of conflict medicine and to understand the ecology of war; how the physical, biological, psychological and social manifestations of war wounding happen, and how this ecology of war is created; everything from bacteria to the way water and the water cycle changes, to the toxic reminisce of war, to how people’s body reacts… Many of my Iraqi patients that I see have multiple members of their families injured.
AV: Is the AUB Medical Center now the pioneer in this research: the ecology of war?
GA-S: Yes, because of the legacy of the civil war… of regional wars.
AV: Nothing less than a regional perpetual conflict…
GA-S: Perpetual conflict, yes; first homegrown, and then regional. We are the referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Health, referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, so we act as a regional center, and the aim of our program is to dedicate more time and space and energy to the understanding of how this ecology of war comes about.
AV: In my writing and in my films, I often draw the parallel between the war and extreme poverty. I have been working in some of the worst slums on Earth, those in Africa, Central America and Caribbean, South Asia, the Philippines and elsewhere. I concluded that many societies that are in theory living in peace are in reality living in prolonged or even perpetual wars. Extreme misery is a form of war, although there is no ‘declaration of war’, and there is no defined frontline. I covered both countless wars and countless places of extreme misery, and the parallel, especially the physical, psychological and social impact on human beings, appears to be striking. Would you agree, based on your research? Do you see extreme misery as a type of war?
GA-S: Absolutely. Yes. At the core of it is the ‘dehumanization’ of people. Extreme poverty is a form of violence. The more extreme this poverty becomes, the closer it comes to the physical nature of violence. War is the accelerated degradation of people’s life to reaching that extreme poverty. But that extreme poverty can be reached by a more gradual process. War only gets them there faster.
AV: A perpetual state of extreme poverty is in a way similar to a perpetual state of conflict, of a war.
GA-S: Definitely. And it is a war mainly against those who are forced to live in these circumstances. It’s the war against the poor and the South. It’s the war against the poor in the inner-cities of the West.
AV: When you are defining the ecology of war, are you also taking what we are now discussing into consideration? Are you researching the impact of extreme poverty on human bodies and human lives? In this region, extreme poverty can often be found in the enormous refugee camps, while in other parts of the world it dwells in countless slums.
GA-S: This extreme poverty is part of the ecology that we are discussing. One of the constituents of the ecology is when you take a wounded body and you place it in a harsh physical environment and you see how this body is re-wounded and re-wounded again, and this harsh environment becomes a continuation of that battleground, because what you see is a process of re-wounding. Not because you are still in the frontline somewhere in Syria, but because your kids are now living in a tent with 8 other people and they are in danger of becoming the victims of the epidemic of child burns that we now have in the refugee camps, because of poor and unsafe housing.
Let’s look at it from a different angle: what constitutes a war wound, or a conflict-related injury? Your most basic conflict-related injury is a gunshot wound and a blast injury from shrapnel. But what happens when you take that wounded body and throw it into a tent? What are the complications for this wounded body living in a harsh environment; does this constitute a war-related injury? When you impoverish the population to the point that you have children suffering from the kind of injuries that we know are the results of poor and unsafe housing, is that a conflict-related injury? Or you have children now who have work-related injuries, because they have to go and become the main breadwinners for the home, working as car mechanics or porters or whatever. Or do you also consider a fact that if you come from a country where a given disease used to be treatable there, but due to the destruction of a health system, that ailment is not treatable anymore, because the hospitals are gone or because doctors had to leave, does that constitute a conflict-related injury? So, we have to look at the entire ecology: beyond a bullet and shrapnel – things that get headlines in the first 20 seconds.
AV: Your research seems to be relevant to most parts of the world.
GA-S: Absolutely. Because we know that these humanitarian crises only exist in the imagination of the media and the UN agencies. There are no crises.
AV: It is perpetual state, again.
GA-S: Exactly, it is perpetual. It does not stop. It is there all the time. Therefore there is no concept of ‘temporality of crises’, one thing we are arguing against. There is no referee who blows the whistle at the end of the crises. When the cameras go off, the media and then the world, decides that the crises are over. But you know that people in Laos, for instance, still have one of the highest amputation rates in the world.
AV: I know. I worked there in the Plain of Jars, which is an enormous minefield even to this day.
GA-S: Or Vietnam, with the greatest child facial deformities in the world as a result of Agent Orange.
AV: You worked in these countries.
AV: Me too; and I used to live in Vietnam. That entire region is still suffering from what used to be known as the “Secret War”. In Laos, the poverty is so rampant that people are forced to sell unexploded US bombs for scrap. They periodically explode. In Cambodia, even between Seam Reap and the Thai border, there are villages where people are still dying or losing limbs.
GA-S: Now many things depend on how we define them. It is often a game of words.
AV: India is a war zone, from Kashmir to the Northeast, Bihar and slums of Mumbai.
GA-S: If you take the crudest way of measuring conflict, which is the number of people killed by weapons, Guatemala and Salvador have now more people slaughtered than they had during the war. But because the nature in which violence is exhibited changed, because it doesn’t carry a political tag now, it is not discussed. But actually, it is by the same people against the same people.
AV: I wrote about and filmed in Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, on several occasions. The extreme violence there is a direct result of the conflict implanted, triggered by the West, particularly by the United States. The same could be said about such places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It has led to almost absolute social collapse.
GA-S: Yes, in Jamaica, the CIA played a great role in the 70’s.
AV: In that part of the world we are not talking just about poverty…
GA-S: No, no. We are talking AK-47’s!
AV: Exactly. Once I filmed in San Salvador, in a gangland… A friend, a local liberation theology priest kindly drove me around. We made two loops. The first loop was fine. On the second one they opened fire at our Land Cruiser, with some heavy stuff. The side of our car was full of bullet holes, and they blew two tires. We got away just on our rims. In the villages, maras simply come and plunder and rape. They take what they want. It is a war.
GA-S: ICRC, they train surgeons in these countries. So the ICRC introduced war surgery into the medical curriculum of the medical schools in Colombia and Honduras. Because effectively, these countries are in a war, so you have to train surgeons, so they know what to do when they receive 4-5 patients every day, with gunshot wounds.
AV: Let me tell you what I witnessed in Haiti, just to illustrate your point. Years ago I was working in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They say it is the most dangerous ‘neighborhood’ or slum on Earth. The local wisdom goes: “you can enter, but you will never leave alive”. I went there with a truck, with two armed guards, but they were so scared that they just abandoned me there, with my big cameras and everything, standing in the middle of the road. I continued working; I had no choice. At one point I saw a long line in front of some walled compound. I went in. What I was suddenly facing was thoroughly shocking: several local people on some wooden tables, blood everywhere, and numerous US military medics and doctors performing surgeries under the open sky. It was hot, flies and dirt everywhere… A man told me his wife had a huge tumor. Without even checking what it was, the medics put her on a table, gave her “local” and began removing the stuff. After the surgery was over, a husband and wife walked slowly to a bus stop and went home. A couple of kilometers from there I found a well-equipped and clean US medical facility, but only for US troops and staff. I asked the doctors what they were really doing in Haiti and they were quiet open about it; they replied: “we are training for combat scenario… This is as close to a war that we can get.” They were experimenting on human beings, of course; learning how to operate during the combat…
GA-S: So, the distinction is only in definitions.
AV: As a surgeon who has worked all over the Middle East but also in many other parts of the world, how would you compare the conflict here to the conflicts in Asia, the Great Lakes of Africa and elsewhere?
GA-S: In the Middle East, you still have people remembering when they had hospitals. Iraqis who come to my clinic remember the 80’s. They know that life was different and could have been different. And they are health-literate. The other issue is that in 2014 alone, some 30,000 Iraqis were injured. The numbers are astounding. We don’t have a grasp of the numbers in Libya, the amount of ethnic cleansing and killing that is happening in Libya. In terms of numbers, they are profound, but in terms of the effect, we are at the beginning of the phase of de-medicalization. So it wasn’t that these medical systems did not develop. They are being de-developed. They are going backwards.
AV: Are you blaming Western imperialism for the situation?
GA-S: If you look at the sanctions and what they did to their health system, of course! If you look at Libya, of course! The idea that these states disintegrated is a falsehood. We know what the dynamics of the sanctions were in Iraq, and what happened in Iraq after 2003. We know what happened in Libya.
AV: Or in Afghanistan…
GA-S: The first thing that the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or the Nicaraguan Contras were told to do was to attack the clinics. The Americans have always understood that you destroy the state by preventing it from providing these non-coercive powers that I spoke about.
AV: Do you see this part of the world as the most effected, most damaged?
GA-S: At this moment and time certainly. And the statistics show it. I think around 60% of those dying from wars are killed in this region…
AV: And how do you define this region geographically?
GA-S: From Afghanistan to Mauritania. And that includes the Algerian-Mali border. The Libyan border… The catastrophe of the division of Sudan, what’s happening in South Sudan, what’s happening in Somalia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai Desert, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, even Pakistan including people who are killed there by drones…
AV: But then we also have around 10 million people who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 1995 Rwandan invasion…
GA-S: Now that is a little bit different. That is the ‘more advanced phase’: when you’ve completely taken away the state… In the Arab world Libya is the closest to that scenario. There the oil companies have taken over the country. The mining companies are occupying DRC. And they run the wars directly, rather than through the Western armies. You erode the state, completely, until it disappears and then the corporations, directly, as they did in the colonialist phase during the East Indian Company, and the Dutch companies, become the main players again.
AV: What is the goal of your research, the enormous project called the “Ecology of War”?
GA-S: One of the things that we insist on is this holistic approach. The compartmentalization is part of the censorship process. “You are a microbiologist then only look what is happening with the bacteria… You are an orthopedic surgeon, so you only have to look at the blast injuries, bombs, landmine injuries…” So that compartmentalization prevents bringing together people who are able to see the whole picture. Therefore we are insisting that this program also has social scientists, political scientists, anthropologists, microbiologists, surgeons… Otherwise we’d just see the small science. We are trying to put the sciences together to see the bigger picture. We try to put the pieces of puzzle together, and to see the bigger picture.
AV: And now you have a big conference. On the 15th of May…
GA-S: Now we have a big conference; basically the first congress that will look at all these aspects of conflict and health; from the surgical, to the reconstruction of damaged bodies, to the issues of medical resistance of bacteria, infectious diseases, to some absolutely basic issues. Like, before the war there were 30,000 kidney-failure patients in Yemen. Most dialysis patients are 2 weeks away from dying if they don’t get dialysis. So, there is a session looking at how you provide dialysis in the middle of these conflicts? What do you do, because dialysis services are so centralized? The movement of patients is not easy, and the sanctions… One topic will be ‘cancer and war’… So this conference will be as holistic as possible, of the relationship between the conflict and health.
We expect over 300 delegates, and we will have speakers from India, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, from the UK, we have people coming from the humanitarian sector, from ICRC, people who worked in Africa and the Middle East, we have people who worked in previous wars and are now working in current wars, so we have a mix of people from different fields.
AV: What is the ultimate goal of the program?
GA-S: We have to imagine the health of the region beyond the state. On the conceptual level, we need to try to figure out what is happening. We can already see certain patterns. One of them is the regionalization of healthcare. The fact that Libyans get treated in Tunisia, Iraqis and Syrians get treated in Beirut, Yemenis get treated in Jordan. So you already have the disintegration of these states and the migration of people to the regional centers. The state is no longer a major player, because the state was basically destroyed. We feel that this is a disease of the near future, medium future and long-term future. Therefore we have to understand it, in order to better treat it, we have to put mechanisms in place that this knowledge transfers into the medical education system, which will produce medical professionals who are better equipped to deal with this health system. We have to make sure that people are aware of many nuances of the conflict, beyond the shrapnel and beyond the bullet. The more research we put into this area of the conflict and health, the more transferable technologies we develop – the better healthcare we’d be allowed to deliver in these situations, the better training our students and graduates would receive, and better work they will perform in this region for the next 10 or 15 years.
AV: And hopefully more lives would be saved…
• All photos by Andre Vltchek
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are the revolutionary novel Aurora and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism. View his other books here. Watch his Rwanda Gambit, a documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. He continues to work around the world and can be reached through his website and Twitter.
Roger Waters, the primary composer and lyricist of Pink Floyd during their most prominent years has for decades, used his music to convey a message of peace and humanity. He has typically got it right and occasionally gets it wrong.
One issue he has got totally right is the issue of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli war, occupation and economic blockade. For over ten years, Waters has made the issue of Palestinian freedom a central point in his music and accompanying dramatic stage shows.
Waters is part of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement which encourages individuals to boycott Israeli products and tourism. Waters uses his status as a ‘music legend’ to highlight the plight of Palestinians. In 2012 he spoke at the United Nations on the issue. He frequently pens open letters to fellow musicians asking them to refrain from performing in Israel until a meaningful peace settlement is reached.
Waters is a perfect example of how the media-industrial complex punishes individuals who do not fit the tired stereotype of a veteran rock star.
Late last year, a grossly under-reported story explained how American Express ditched a planned sponsorship deal with Waters for his 2017 tour in a move which was said to be worth $4 million.
American Express like any other company has the right to refuse sponsoring any individual or organisation however they see fit. But in doing so, American Express has shown that they are willing to sponsor events of every variety including politically charged music performances by Beyonce.
Why then is American Express put-off by Roger Waters’ embrace of the Palestinian movement?
Are they opposed to Waters’ calls to end the starvation and medical deprivation of Palestinian children?
Are they opposed to Waters’ pleas for justice and democracy for Christians, Muslims and Jews in the region?
Are they appalled by his anti-war message?
Where many celebrities use anodyne political causes to enhance their status, I can see no evidence that Waters has profited from his endorsement of Palestine. Quite the contrary is true. It seems that his message of peace for everyone and hatred for no one has cost him millions.
Waters described the situation in his music industry in the following way,
“My industry has been particularly recalcitrant in even raising a voice (against Israel). There’s me and Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Manic Street Preachers, one or two others, but there’s nobody in the United States where I live. I’ve talked to a lot of them, and they are scared shitless.
If they say something in public they will no longer have a career. They will be destroyed. I’m hoping to encourage some of them to stop being frightened and to stand up and be counted, because we need them. We need them desperately in this conversation in the same way we needed musicians to join protesters over Vietnam”.
The fact is that most musicians neither win nor lose the majority of their fan-base because of politics. The fact is that most people buy albums and concert tickets based on the fact that they like the sound of a song or enjoy singing along with the lyrics, even if they’re hardly paying attention to what the lyrics mean.
But for those who do care, the reaction to Waters’ Palestine politics is shocking. If Waters was advocating for genocide, cruelty, hatred or imperialism, I would agree that his concerts should be boycotted. But the fact that he is advocating for precisely the opposite of the aforementioned things makes the position of American Express seem not only extreme, but illogical.
Roger Waters is being punished for free speech on a subject that ought not to be controversial. The fact that some find it controversial demonstrates how low and beastly the nature of modern debates about human rights have become. No innocent people deserve to be suppressed, repressed and occupied, but that is exactly what is happening to the Palestinians and it has been happening for decades.
I personally disagreed with Roger Waters’ statements about Donald Trump and I also disagreed with his characterisation of Leonid Brezhnev on the otherwise stellar 1983 Pink Floyd album The Final Cut. But at no time would I seek to shut down Waters’ free speech or his ability to peacefully perform what millions consider to be important pieces of music in a peaceful and safe environment.
American Express has shamed its own reputation by treating Roger Waters in the way they have done. Roger Waters remains undeterred and will continue to tour his new show across the world.
As someone who has seen Waters perform many times, I highly recommend it, even for those who disagree with his views but enjoy a challenge.
Has President Donald Trump outsourced foreign policy to the generals?
So it would seem. Candidate Trump held out his hand to Vladimir Putin. He rejected further U.S. intervention in Syria other than to smash ISIS.
He spoke of getting out and staying out of the misbegotten Middle East wars into which Presidents Bush II and Obama had plunged the country.
President Trump’s seeming renunciation of an anti-interventionist foreign policy is the great surprise of the first 100 days, and the most ominous. For any new war could vitiate the Trump mandate and consume his presidency.
Trump no longer calls NATO “obsolete,” but moves U.S. troops toward Russia in the Baltic and eastern Balkans. Rex Tillerson, holder of Russia’s Order of Friendship, now warns that the U.S. will not lift sanctions on Russia until she gets out of Ukraine.
If Tillerson is not bluffing, that would rule out any rapprochement in the Trump presidency. For neither Putin, nor any successor, could surrender Crimea and survive.
What happened to the Trump of 2016?
When did Kiev’s claim to Crimea become more crucial to us than a cooperative relationship with a nuclear-armed Russia? In 1991, Bush I and Secretary of State James Baker thought the very idea of Ukraine’s independence was the product of a “suicidal nationalism.”
Where do we think this demonization of Putin and ostracism of Russia is going to lead?
To get Xi Jinping to help with our Pyongyang problem, Trump has dropped all talk of befriending Taiwan, backed off Tillerson’s warning to Beijing to vacate its fortified reefs in the South China Sea, and held out promises of major concessions to Beijing in future trade deals.
“I like (Xi Jinping) and I believe he likes me a lot,” Trump said this week. One recalls FDR admonishing Churchill, “I think I can personally handle Stalin better than … your Foreign Office … Stalin hates the guts of all your people. He thinks he likes me better.”
FDR did not live to see what a fool Stalin had made of him.
Among the achievements celebrated in Trump’s first 100 days are the 59 cruise missiles launched at the Syrian airfield from which the gas attack on civilians allegedly came, and the dropping of the 22,000-pound MOAB bomb in Afghanistan.
But what did these bombings accomplish?
The War Party seems again ascendant. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are happy campers. In Afghanistan, the U.S. commander is calling for thousands more U.S. troops to assist the 8,500 still there, to stabilize an Afghan regime and army that is steadily losing ground to the Taliban.
Iran is back on the front burner. While Tillerson concedes that Tehran is in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Trump says it is violating “the spirit of the agreement.”
How so? Says Tillerson, Iran is “destabilizing” the region, and threatening U.S. interests in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
But Iran is an ally of Syria and was invited in to help the U.N.-recognized government put down an insurrection that contains elements of al-Qaida and ISIS. It is we, the Turks, Saudis and Gulf Arabs who have been backing the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime.
In Yemen, Houthi rebels overthrew and expelled a Saudi satrap. The bombing, blockading and intervention with troops is being done by Saudi and Sunni Arabs, assisted by the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
It is we and the Saudis who are talking of closing the Yemeni port of Hodeida, which could bring on widespread starvation.
It was not Iran, but the U.S. that invaded Iraq, overthrew the Baghdad regime and occupied the country. It was not Iran that overthrew Col. Gadhafi and created the current disaster in Libya.
Monday, the USS Mahan fired a flare to warn off an Iranian patrol boat, 1,000 meters away. Supposedly, this was a provocation. But Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had a point when he tweeted:
“Breaking: Our Navy operates in — yes, correct — the Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Mexico. Question is what US Navy doing 7,500 miles from home.”
Who is behind the seeming conversion of Trump to hawk?
The generals, Bibi Netanyahu and the neocons, Congressional hawks with Cold War mindsets, the Saudi royal family and the Gulf Arabs — they are winning the battle for the president’s mind.
And their agenda for America?
We are to recognize that our true enemy in the Mideast is not al-Qaida or ISIS, but Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, Assad’s Syria and his patron, Putin. And until Hezbollah is eviscerated, Assad is gone, and Iran is smashed the way we did Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, the flowering of Middle East democracy that we all seek cannot truly begin.
But before President Trump proceeds along the path laid out for him by his generals, brave and patriotic men that they are, he should discover if any of them opposed any of the idiotic wars of the last 15 years, beginning with that greatest of strategic blunders — George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Copyright 2017 Creators.com.
Generally speaking, ideas are like plants and animals. Over time, they evolve, things change – we keep what works and throw away what doesn’t. Humans don’t have tails. Dolphins don’t have feet. Moths without camouflage get eaten. Methods and techniques are perfected, and accepted as “the way things are done”.
If you want to move something efficiently, you need wheels. If you want to lift something heavy, you use levers and pulleys. We make knives out of steel because it’s hard and can take an edge. We make clothes out of wool because its warm. Nobody makes teapots out of chocolate.
… and yet terrorists routinely use tools that are not fit for purpose.
As part of examination of the terrorist narrative, it’s time we asked ourselves – what exactly is the goal of “terrorism”?
What do terrorists want?
We’ve all lived with the concept of terrorism for so long now, we have perhaps forgotten what it means. It has become, as all words repeated ad nauseam , a collection of nonsense syllables. It has a cultural and social fog of ephemeral “meaning”, removed from solid language or the idea of definition in the true sense of the word.
For a generation or more a terrorist has simply been a man with a broken ideology, a black balaclava and a homemade bomb. We never give any thought to their ideals or greater plans, because they never have any. They are, in the specific, always insane. Always lone lunatics, depraved beyond reason. And yet, in the collective, they make up a great black-clad mass of “enemy”. A cloud of terrifying “them”, hell-bent on destroying “us”.
In this way terrorism, as a concept, is removed from reality. Inept idiots stuffing their y-fronts with C4 and their shoes with homemade napalm will never coalesce into an army, no matter how many of them there are. And yet somehow we are able to marry these oxymoronic ideas.
The fact that the aims of the movement are never successfully pursued by the individual apparent devotees should give us all pause. We should ask ourselves, as terrorist X kills Y number of people in city Z, what was he trying to achieve?
Terrorism is defined as:
The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”
But what are these “political aims”? Historically speaking, there are two categories of goal pursued by behaviours that are traditionally branded “terrorism”. Legislative policy change, and military victory – or “Activism” and “warfare”. Let us compare “terrorism” with each in turn.
Terrorism vs activism: Moral worthiness and good PR
The 20th century was marked with regular domestic political movements of varying size, and varying results. Generally speaking they were concerned with civil rights. Equality. Suffrage. Taxation. Workers’ rights. Religion. Sexuality. The basic ability of a human individual to exist in what is notionally a fair world.
It is commonly recognised that the most effective, and powerful, modus operandi for achieving these domestic political changes is through peaceful protest, industrial action, and non-violent resistance.
Workers, generations past, have simply denied their labour to their employers. In this way, you both make life more difficult for the people in authority and demonstrate the value of your work: “Look,” you say, “your country needs us to run it. Respect our sweat, as it makes the world turn.”
Martin Luther King championed black rights, and civil rights for all, through peaceful marches and eloquent speeches. Make the legal, social, and moral case for change and allow logic and justice to stand up for themselves. There is undeniable power in that. The same can be said for Gandhi.
Movements abstaining from violence retain the moral high ground, win over public support and – most importantly – prevent the state from branding them dangerous criminals, without revealing authoritarian hypocrisy. All of these movements were, eventually, met with state-backed violence and repression. Violent repression of non-violent protest is the greatest argument in favour of change, as it perfectly encapsulates the inherent contempt that power has for justice.
Even the more martial political activists and movements, those who believed in some restricted forms of violence – such as the Malcolm X or the Suffragettes – tended to turn their anger on property and authority… never on civilians.
It is the most basic common sense to realise that political change in the Western world can only be achieved through generating public support. Even unionised industrial action is often criticised in the media for “alienating the public”. You will never generate said support through acts of random, indiscriminate violence.
Further, if the desired “political aims” of terrorist attacks are legislative changes, why do they never articulate these demands? Where, as Bashar al-Assad has asked before, are the leaders, thinkers and ideas? Do ISIS or al-Qaeda or Boko Haram have a political wing, waiting to make laws in a parliament?
No. They exist only as formless threat. They demand our attention, and yet ask no concessions. They have no policies except being the embodiment of “evil”, and take up no position except “anti-West”. Their great goal, their “caliphate”? Nothing but a Mordor-like nightmare world of fiction. A dark dream built on tabloid headlines and fictional currencies and shocking YouTube videos. No diplomats make alliances in ISIS’ name. No lawyers make legal arguments for the state’s existence. No history serves as precedent for this “nation”.
It seems logical, then, to assume that domestic policy changes aren’t the true agenda of most modern “terrorism”. You don’t change systemic Islamophobia, for example, by stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.
Terrorism vs Warfare – Victory conditions and choice of targets
Non-state actors, rebels, partisans, revolutionaries, insurgents and guerillas can all fall under the wide umbrella of “terrorists”. However, unlike modern terrorists, these groups have a definitive purpose. Clear-cut victory conditions, and a pragmatic approach to achieving them.
It’s a simple strategic truth, passed down from time immemorial, that a small partisan force cannot face a large occupying force in open battle. Insurgents and guerillas learn to pick their targets with care. Use the landscape to their advantage. Sabotage infrastructure. Assassinate key leaders.
Scottish and Welsh armies ambushed occupying English forces in 14th century. In the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army performed hit-and-run raids on British foraging parties. French Resistance fighters and Czech partisans used sabotage and targeted key Nazi leaders for assassination during WWII. The North Vietnamese and Afghan soldiers used territorial knowledge to constantly undermine and confound American and Soviet forces trained for more prolonged pitched battles. The list is endless, up to and including Iraq and Afghanistan in America’s perpetual “war on terror”.
If your objective is to drain the resources of an occupying force, you target supply lines and commanding officers. If your aim is to inflict a big impact with limited resources, you target key infrastructure.
The Ukrainian government and associated right-wing militias deliberately cut-off water and power to Crimea and other former-Ukrainian territories in the east of the country. Israel regularly punitively cut-off Gaza’s access to water and power.
These are the basic, horrible, pragmatic facts of warfare.
We are constantly told we are “under threat”, that we are at war with people who “hate our freedoms”. The war on terror has been going on for 16 years, and though we haven’t won…we’re certainly not losing. And that’s almost entirely because the terrorists don’t seem to be trying very hard.
So why don’t terrorists follow these guidelines? Where are the acts of high impact political or industrial sabotage?
If you consider America (along with NATO) as, essentially, one giant Imperial force occupying the majority of the world, what good does blowing up a bus or driving through a crowd really do? It might “terrorise” people, but it doesn’t achieve anything militarily significant. Even if your goal is simply to kill as many people, and do as much damage, as possible.
Take 9/11, for example, as a military attack it was pointless and ineffective. Yes, one could argue that taking out 3 buildings with two planes is unprecedented as far as efficiency goes, but what did it achieve? 3000 dead civilians of no strategic importance. A big hole in the side of the Pentagon where the receipts were kept, and levelling the only 3 buildings in Manhattan that were more valuable as rubble than office space.
Why not fly those planes into nuclear power stations? Imagine 4 different airliners hitting four different nuclear reactors up and down the eastern United States? There are plenty to choose from, and if just 1/4 of them were successful there would have been destruction unmatched in the whole long history of sabotage. Power outages, civilian casualties, mass panic and long-term consequences of incalculable danger. Think Fukushima, only deliberate, and worse, and with a decent helping of American hysteria thrown in.
So why didn’t it happen?
Well, it wasn’t because it didn’t occur to them. In 2002, The Guardian reported on an Al-Jazeera interview with secret al-Qaeda sources inside Pakistan who claimed that nuclear reactors were the “original targets” for 9/11. So why didn’t they hit them? Well, because:
“al-Qaeda feared that such an attack “might get out of hand””
Yes, seriously. You see, they are all for death to America and destroying heretics… but only within reason.
In fact, despite the noted vulnerability of nuclear power stations to potential attack, and despite the CFR’s warnings that US forces had “found diagrams of American nuclear power plants” in al-Qaeda materials in Afghanistan” in 2002, it’s been 15 years and there has never been even one successful terrorist attack on any nuclear power station in the Western world.
Likewise dams, airports, television channels, factories and military bases. Western infrastructure has been virtually untouched during this “war”. Arabic and Middle Eastern infrastructure? Markedly less so.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra etc seem to have another “key leader” droned to death every other week. Have there been any terrorist assassination attempts on Western leader’s lives? None at all.
ISIS et al aren’t unaware of these tactics. They use them all the time… just only against the Syrian government.
The argument that modern terrorists would rather target Western “emblems” for “symbolic attacks” is absurd. Firstly the only “emblem” ever really attacked was the World Trade Center, which was never an emblem until after it was on fire. The Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty are both much bigger symbols to the American psyche. Secondly, nobody ever won a war with symbolic attacks.
No, the only rational analysis is that “terrorists” are either completely incapable of doing any real strategic damage to the West, or somehow judge it to be not in their interests to do so.
It’s easy to see the arguments that modern “terrorism” consistently uses tools and approaches proven to hinder the political progress of any movement, whilst engaging in impotent and pointless “military” tactics that offer no real threat to the Western way of life, or national security.
This kind of “Terrorism” is a relatively recent invention – no rational ideologue truly believes he furthers his minority cause by blowing up buildings or hurting civilians. There is not a single case, in the whole of human history, of these tactics working to secure their stated goal.
Let us revisit the above stated definition of terrorism:
The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”
Well what “political aims” have ever been achieved by modern terrorism? Is Palestine free? Is the American Empire brought low? Has Israel been annihilated? Obviously not, in fact the one time ISIS did attack the IDF, it was by accident. And they apologised.
Rather, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, terrorist attacks routinely (and notionally accidentally) serve one of three political purposes:
1. Create a reason to push for more centralised power within the attacked state – usually increased state powers of surveillance and/or decreased freedom for the citizenry (see London ’05, Paris ’14).
2. Create casus belli for a military intervention, or all out war, on foreign soil (see 9/11).
3. Undermine the security of a foreign government. Forcing them to commit resources to a war (Afghanistan 79, or Chechnya 2000), or else turn the government’s retaliation into a reason to attack them politically (Syria, Libya).
Throughout history terrorist attacks – from Ireland, to Chechnya, to the Maine, to the Reichstag fire – have tended to serve the interests of established power structures. This almost certainly cannot be accidental.
You could argue this is simply governments being opportunistic, but how fine is the line between taking advantage of an opportunity, and creating one? Indeed, given the compartmentalised, bureaucracy-ridden nature of the corridors of power, is there any reason to think such a line exists at all?
In Afghanistan, Muslim terrorists were funded by the CIA to overthrow the socialist government and undermine the USSR. In Ireland, the republican movement was funded by America. In Chechnya the IIB were funded by the CIA with the aim of Balkanising Russia. The list is endless.
Now, you can either subscribe to the naive “blowback” theory, where the government-created and funded terrorists turn on their creators, or you can assume that the same government which employs terrorists to further their interests overseas, will occasionally do so domestically as well.
With that in mind, it’s easy to conclude that “terrorism” is exactly what it sounds like. It exists, not to win a war or secure a freedom or defend a cause, but simply to scare people. The creation of an American military industrial complex that, at the end of the Cold War, suddenly found itself without an enemy. A sprawling Empire with no Barbarians at the gates.
Genuine attacks by CIA-backed lunatics, contrived false-flags or fictitious media creations… it makes no difference. Terrorism is there to act as a constant pulsing threat at the back of the collective imagination. To threaten us without seriously attacking us. To hate us without ever mortally hurting us. To “target” nuclear facilities… but somehow never quite follow through.
The final, absurd embodiment? ISIS. A scary sounding (English) acronym, scrawled across thousands of black banners and battle-standards. En evil empire of faceless men, tooling around the desert in matching Toyotas. Shooting high-definition recruitment videos with David Lean-esque wide-shots, to the strains of their theme song, to be shown on their own TV channel, complete with animated logo. Editing together jarring torture porn in front of stolen green-screens and uploading them to “ISIS-related” social media accounts that somehow never get closed.
If one true goal of terrorism is to promote fear in the citizenry, then the best defense is to reject fear. If terrorism seeks to make us act impulsively and foolishly, we should instead embrace reason.
How do you stop terrorism? You stop believing what you’re told to believe, and start investigating – every attack that is proved to be false-flag, or shown to have been misrepresented by the media (like the anthrax attacks in 2001, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident) weakens the integrity of future attacks. Every small awakening is a crack in the foundations of this terrible construct.
We need to ask ourselves – who stands to gain from our fear? What interests does public hysteria serve? Who profits from division in the 99%?
A rational and informed populace has only true enemy, and it is not terrorism or any of the other phantom horrors the 1% try to hang in front of our eyes. It is the elite themselves.
On Tuesday thousands will gather to celebrate the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. Organizers of Montréal’s annual Israel Day rally claim it is the largest event of its kind in the country.
A significant proportion of the crowd will come from the city’s 15 Jewish day schools, which receive most of their funds from the public purse. Many of the kids bused downtown will carry Israeli flags and their faces will be painted in its colours. At the 2014 Israel Day rally a 12-year-old Herzliah student, Jon Frajman, told the Montréal Gazette, “if we didn’t support Israel, we wouldn’t have a place to call home.”
(A few years ago I witnessed a similar type of child abuse at an anti-abortion protest in Ottawa packed with Catholic school students.)
Herding students to a weekday rally is a visible form of activism, but it’s a small part of these schools’ crusading for Israel. A recent Canadian Jewish News cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”
Head of Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, Lori Binder told CJN that Israel education is taught from junior kindergarten to graduation. But, “the crescendo I guess, is a full-year course for all our Grade 12 students in a course called Israel advocacy.”
Gray Academy’s Israel advocacy course was set up eight years ago. Recently, the Combined Jewish Appeal Israel Engagement Initiative developed a program for Grade 10 students at Montréal schools called Israel Update and Vancouver’s King David High School organizes an annual trip to Israel for Grade 8 students.
One of the five “Faces of Success” in a Federation CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Moore is quoted stating: “My experience attending Jewish high school imprinted me with a Zionist ethic and a profound appreciation for Israel’s importance. It troubles me that Israel is under constant political threat and that its legitimacy is questioned. What I find especially disturbing is that the language of human rights has been distorted to dispute its right to exist. That is why I’ve decided to go to Israel and examine this issue in depth, and when I return to Canada, to contribute to Israel advocacy.”
Day schools aren’t the only institutional setting in which the young are taught to support Israeli violence and expansionism. Some Jewish Community Centres and summer camps promote Zionism to kids.
The Jewish National Fund has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview. The registered Canadian “charity” offers various youth outreach initiatives to help build the “bond between the Jewish people and their land.” The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing kids dances and a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada’s Education Department, the group “educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel.”
An explicitly racist institution, the JNF promotes an expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael”. The mainstay of their youth outreach, JNF Blue Boxes’ include a map that encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank. Over the last century millions of Blue Boxes have been distributed around the world as part of “educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”
The best way to reverse Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession is to educate and mobilize the broad public about an issue removed from most people’s daily lives. But, there’s also a need to challenge Israeli nationalist opinion within the Jewish community. One way to do so is by criticizing the indoctrination of children. One means might be to respectfully picket JNF events targeted at kids or perhaps by plastering posters about Israeli violence and expansionism around Jewish schools.
While pro-Israel groups would likely denounce such efforts as “anti-Semitic”, children at these institutions deserve to hear an alternative, universalist, anti-racist perspective. They need to know that not all Jews, Montrealers, Torontonians, Canadians, etc. support the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. They need to learn to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting the Israeli nationalist propaganda aimed their way.
Yves Engler is the author of A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon has said that Prime Minister Theresa May would launch a preemptive nuclear strike if she feels it is needed. The majority of Britons seem to support this attitude. But just how dangerous is this kind of rhetoric?
Radio Sputnik’s Brian Becker spoke with Alexander Mercouris, editor-in-chief of The Duran, to try to parse Fallon’s statement.
Britain is in the midst of a general election. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is a well-known opponent of nuclear weapons, despite his party’s general refusal to condemn them.
So Fallon’s statement is purely political in nature, Mercouris explained. It aims to highlight the division between the Labor Party’s dominant faction and its leader, to depict him as a weak candidate.
“It’s a very irresponsible thing to do,” he told Becker.
So far, it’s worked. Mere hours after Corbyn made a statement Sunday that he would never authorize a pre-emptive nuclear strike, members of his party spoke out to the contrary. Interestingly, Mercouris pointed out, many within the Labour Party are perfectly aware of Fallon’s pretense and are “perfectly comfortable to play along,” he said.
There are those within the Labour Party opposed to Corbyn’s leadership, and his resistance to militarism will “freeze these people out,” Mercouris explained, rendering them unable to promote their own more aggressive ideas. These people are eager to deepen the division within the party, he says.
“The subject of the British nuclear weapons is far too serious and far too important to be used in this way,” Mercouris noted, adding that statements like Fallon’s, even if uttered away from media cameras, have a range of ramifications.
“If we start using them or threatening to use them on a regular, routine basis, then, I’m afraid, the whole structure of international relations we know will collapse and we will be in mortally dangerous situation; indeed, the one in which a disaster is likely to happen,” he added.
Mercouris noted an absence of criticism on the global stage toward May or US President Donald Trump for making threats of missile or even nuclear strikes, while other nations such as North Korea are threatened with retaliation merely for testing a nuclear weapon on their soil, calling the perspective of defense talks today akin to “Alice in Wonderland.”
If examined realistically, Mercouris noted, since the Korean war in the mid-20th century, North Korea has not started a single war with a foreign nation; NATO, on the other hand, has waged wars left and right in the meantime.
“It would be a complete reversal of fact to say that North Korea is the danger; it is a country which is in danger, and that’s why it is acquiring nuclear weapons,” he added.
It would be an interesting situation, Mercouris said, should Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping make a similar statement: to announce publicly that their countries would start a nuclear war if they felt threatened.
“The British establishment would have gone absolutely berserk on it,” he said, and waves of denunciation would have followed. “Especially, dare I say, if it would be made by Mr. Putin, who is a particular bogeyman in Britain. The Chinese leadership and North Korea — they’re too far away to concern the British people,” Mercouris said.
South Korean women protesting the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is aimed not to defend them against North Korea, but as a threat to Russia and China, analysts told Sputnik.
Namhee Lee, a UCLA Associate Professor of Modern Korean History, said, “many South Koreans think that the deployment of THAAD is actually to deter China and not North Korea.”
Namhee Lee was a signatory of the Women Cross DMZ group’s letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday calling on him to defuse military tensions and start negotiating for peace to prevent war from erupting on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s missiles are short-range SCUDs with a range of 500 km (300 miles), medium-range Rodong 1s with a range of 1,300km (780 miles) whereas THAAD is most effect for long range and high altitude missiles, the professor said.
“THAAD is not effective against the SCUD missile. THAAD is effective against the Rodong 1, but this missile is not developed to aim against South Korea, rather it is aimed against Okinawa,” she said.
As to the question why the US military was deploying THAAD in South Korea, Lee said, “Because it is aimed against China and Russia; to collect information, which is why China and Russia are upset about the deployment of THAAD.”
Namhee Lee noted the X-bend radar that is integrated with a THAAD system is able to detect missiles at a range of 1,000-5,000 km (600 miles to 3,000 miles).
“Many of China’s missiles can be detected by THAAD’s X-bend radar,” she stated.
Deploying THAAD’s radars also posed health hazards for the people of South Korea, the historian explained.
“Many are also afraid for the health and safety of people living nearby, especially from exposure to radiation from the systems’ powerful radar emissions. Especially Seongju residents who feel that the decision to deploy THAAD was made without their input and without independent health assessments,” she also remarked.
Radar emissions coming from THAAD will cause a great deal of harm to people living close by.
“Those who live within the radius of 100 meters would face the danger of losing lives, and those living within the radius of 3.6 km (six miles) would experience dizziness and vomiting,” she noted.
The protest is the last resort for the Koreans to show that they are opposed to the government’s decision to deploy the THAAD system, she observed. … Full article
Following heavy-handed threats, saber-rattling, and Wednesday’s administration meeting with all Senate members, a joint statement by Defense Secretary Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Coates and Secretary of State Tillerson announced a shift in US policy toward North Korea.
On the one hand, it called Pyongyang’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons… an urgent national security and top foreign policy priority.”
On the other, it said Trump “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our Allies and regional partners.”
Instead of a military option, the Trump administration now seeks dialogue and diplomacy to achieve “peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
At the same time, it may designate the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism, maintaining hostility towards its government over responsible outreach.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang’s Permanent Mission to the UN said “(t)he DPRK, as a peace-loving socialist state, highly values the sustaining of the peace most of all, but it neither fears a war nor wants to avoid it,” adding:
“The DPRK has access to a powerful nuclear deterrent to protect itself from the US nuclear threat… The DPRK will react to a total war with an all-out war, a nuclear war with nuclear strikes of its own style and surely win a victory in the death-defying struggle against the US imperialists.”
“It is an unshakable will of the DPRK to go to the end if the US wants to remain unchanged in its confrontational stance.”
Separately on Wednesday, US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris told House Armed Services Committee members that North Korea remains the most “immediate threat” to US regional security, adding it’s trying to develop a “preemptive nuclear strike capability” against US cities.
Fact: Throughout its history, the DPRK never attacked another nation. It threatens none now. If attacked, it’ll surely respond with all the military force it believes necessary.
China, Russia and Pyongyang consider US deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile systems in South Korea highly provocative.
In January, Moscow and Beijing announced unspecified measures to counter them, warning of escalating tensions and instigating an arms race.
Harris said the THAAD system will be operational “in the coming days.” China again expressed “grave concern,” saying THAAD breaks the region’s strategic balance, along with heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Urging cancellation of the deployment, Beijing warned it’ll take all necessary measures “to safeguard its own interests.”
Despite the threat of imminent war abating, regional tensions remain. Trump’s rage for warmaking endangers all independent nations.
On Wednesday after midnight, the Pentagon launched an unarmed Minuteman 3 ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Col. John Moss said “(t)onight’s launch was an important demonstration of our nation’s nuclear deterrent capability.”
America’s only enemies are ones it invents – no others. America’s homeland hasn’t been attacked by a foreign power since the War of 1812 with Britain.
Hawaii didn’t become a US state until March 1959. During WW II, Japan occupied the remote, sparsely inhabited islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians off Alaska from June 1942 until summer 1943.
America’s homeland faces no threats except in response to US aggression on a nation able to retaliate in kind. Otherwise, none exist.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
Since Donald Trump’s victory, tensions in the Korean Peninsula have reached almost unprecedented levels. This aggressive approach from the new administration has accentuated tensions with Pyongyang, leaving one to wonder whether another US war is in the making.
During the election campaign, Trump often took ambiguous and, in some respects, isolationist positions concerning hotspots around the world. The exception to this rule has often been North Korea. Business Insider cites the current US president speaking in January of 2016 about the DPRK with the following words about its nuclear program: «We got to close it down, because he’s getting too close to doing something. Right now, he’s probably got the weapons, but he does not have the transportation system. Once he has the transportation system, he’s sick enough to use it. So we better get Involved».
As soon as he became president, the words became even more threatening, clear and explicit, with this tweet becoming famous: «North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!»
A few weeks later, words were turned into action: the United States and its allies (South Korea and Japan) carried out two enormous exercises between March and April 2017. The first, focusing on land and sea operations and named Foal Eagle, involved tens of thousands of US and South Korean soldiers and naval warships. A few weeks later the Max Thunder 17 exercise kicked in, with dozens of aircraft involved. In both exercises the goal is to focus on the DPRK, with simulations of an attack by the United States and its allies by land, sea and air.
From Pyongyang’s point of view, the deterioration of relations with the US, South Korea and Japan has risen beyond any tolerable limit with a vicious cycle of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, since Trump’s assumption of the presidency. The United States, the world’s premier military power, continually threatens to bomb and invade the DPRK with thousands of soldiers, or threatens to kill Kim Jong-un. As if this situation were not tense enough, the ongoing exercises by the US and her allies suggest a realistic possibility of invasion rather than a simple exercise (usually wars begin simultaneously with great maneuvers, since in such exercises forces are already deployed, operational, and ready to fight). Finally, to top off the madness coming from Washington, Trump repeatedly broached a change in the historical strategic balance reflected by MAD (mutually assured destruction), floating the idea of arming South Korea and even Japan with nuclear weapons.
Nuclear deterrence for peace
In light of all these historical provocations and threats, Kim Jong-un has in recent years had to accelerate his atomic program and demonstrate the consistency of DPRK’s nuclear capability and convincingly deter opponents. In order to asses the capacity of North Korea to hit the US with a WMD, one has to take into consideration two main factors: the ability to create a nuclear warhead, and the method of delivery.
The first, concerning the ability to detonate a domestically manufactured nuclear bomb, is already a fact acknowledged by the international community and demonstrated with five nuclear tests. The second question focuses on the means used to deliver the nuclear weapon. With the first question already a known fact (the DPRK has up to 30 nukes), this only leaves the assessment of missile range and reliability, which will be discussed later. For now, it is important to focus on the motives that may have driven the DPRK to develop an nuclear program. During American exercises, North Korean reservists from the countryside were often summoned from the countryside when they were most needed for harvesting and planting seasons, creating significant strains in the agricultural area so vital to the country’s economy.
Thanks to the nuclear deterrent, the amount of people recalled has been considerably reduced due to the reduction in the likelihood of an American attack on the peninsula.
Obviously nuclear deterrence plays a key part in North Korea’s defensive posture, but we can further consider the lesser known determinants of this strategic choice. First of all we can consider the reduction in military spending on conventional means of war by the possession of a nuclear deterrent. Pyongyang’s ability to almost market its nuclear deterrence with nuclear and missile tests is certainly more cost effective than building thousands of multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and mortar rounds. This does not mean that in a military assessment of conflict, such equipment does not tip the balance of power; we will see that they do exactly this.
The DPRK’s deterrence policy is a much more complex matter than just its nuclear component. The common idea is that with a nuclear bomb Pyongyang is safe. That is true on the basis of the theory of MAD. But with missile defense systems in play, this could change the equation, or maybe not. What really makes the DPRK safe is conventional weapons and geography.
China Cannot Help Disarm Pyongyang
Regarding the considerations made by Pyongyang on nuclear disarmament, it is interesting to note that the North Korean leadership has often referred to the promises made by the west to Gaddafi regarding Libya’s nuclear disarmament, and the consequences of this choice seen in the subsequent attack on Libya and the killing of Gaddafi. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly made it clear that trusting Washington and its allies is simply impossible given these historical precedents.
Another important factor when talking about the Korean Peninsula is the common notion of Beijing’s influence on Pyongyang. Trump has on several occasions made it clear that China is the only actor capable of putting sufficient pressure on Kim in order to force him to disarm or stop missile tests. But this is a political position that leaves many questions and doubts and is based entirely on the notion that Beijing is assisting Pyongyang economically and so has the necessary leverage. This, for Washington, means that if Xi wanted to shut down the Korean economy and oblige DPRK’s leadership to dialogue, he could do so.
Reality, however, shows us that Beijing has little influence on the Korean leader, and a deeper analysis shows how the DPRK is forced to trade and talk to China more out of practical need than any desire to do so. Further evidence shows how the relationship between China and the DPRK is at the very least complicated.
Realistically, it is difficult to ignore the contribution of the former Soviet Union, and then Russia, to the DPRK’s conventional and possibly nuclear development. The last parade of arms on April 15, 2017 saw the DPRK parade hardware very similar to that of the Russian military, especially the large Topol-M. Of course Beijing has a longstanding interest in the DPRK and with the state’s survival. The DPRK ensures that there are no hostile forces on China’s southern border. Beijing has learned the lessons from the end of the Cold War, where, following various pledges to Russia not to extend NATO into Eastern Europe, NATO subsequently expanded right up to Russia’s borders, directly threatening the Russian Federation.
Beijing supports the DPRK to avoid a unified Korea under US guidance that would pose a real threat to the Chinese state. In this context, Beijing faces diplomatic consequences at an international level, facing criticism and threats of armed intervention in the DPRK if Beijing does not do something to stop the North Korean leader.
It is a very complicated situation for Beijing, which finds itself between a rock and a hard place, having little real ability to influence Kim’s choices. From the point of view of the DPRK, the best outcome would be an agreement with the United States and Japan to loosen sanctions and embargoes. The problem is what these nations ask for in return is complete disarmament. For the reasons cited above, this solution is virtually impossible because of the complete lack of trust by all actors.
From words to nothing
At this point it is good to go to the heart of the matter and to analyze the most interesting aspects. First of all, Trump’s actions in Syria, as well as the use of a MOAB in Afghanistan, sought to put pressure on Kim Jong-un to make him come to the negotiating table. This obviously did not work, it being utterly unrealistic to commence negotiating with Pyongyang on the basis of threats of war. The DPRK has been besieged for over 50 years, and 50 cruise missiles, or a ten-ton bomb, will hardly do anything to change their position or scare them. The DPRK is neither Syria nor Afghanistan.
The subtle line between deception and perception in the Korean nuclear affair is certainly of great interest. We should begin by saying what we know. The DPRK as a country is a tightly state monitored system from many points of view, in terms of information, the internet, computer systems. Any information we read in the mainstream media on the DPRK should therefore be treated as propaganda. Two aspects are to be considered, namely what the DPRK wants western military planners to believe, and what the western press wants public opinion to know and believe about the DPRK. Let us take a practical and vital example in this discussion by looking at the range of the missiles mentioned in previous paragraphs.
We start with a basic premise stated by Washington, namely that the United States will prevent the DPRK from developing a missile (ICBM) capable of reaching American territory with a nuclear warhead. The DPRK is in response developing an ICBM that can reach US soil in order to gain the ultimate deterrent weapon and so ensure its safety. In reality, we cannot know what the DPRK’s capabilities are until they test them. And with regard to that, the US administration has limited interest in publicizing possible DPRK achievements and hinting that Pyongyang could hit the US with a nuclear warhead. That would then arouse domestic pressures exerted throughout the press, politics, think-tanks, the military, the intelligence community, and external actors (Japan and Korea) to attack North Korea.
Likewise, the DPRK has no interest in eventually testing an ICBM already knowing well that the United States would have its back against a wall, leaving it with no choice but to attack.
Two dozen former U.S. intelligence professionals are urging the American people to demand clear evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical incident before President Trump dives deeper into another war.
AN OPEN MEMORANDUM FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Subject: Mattis ‘No Doubt’ Stance on Alleged Syrian CW Smacks of Politicized Intelligence
Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, during a recent trip to Israel, commented on the issue of Syria’s retention and use of chemical weapons in violation of its obligations to dispose of the totality of its declared chemical weapons capability in accordance with the provisions of both the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“There can be no doubt,” Secretary Mattis said during a April 21, 2017 joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, “in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all.” To the contrary, Mattis noted, “I can say authoritatively they have retained some.”
Lieberman joined Mattis in his assessment, noting that Israel had “100 percent information that [the] Assad regime used chemical weapons against [Syrian] rebels.”
Both Mattis and Lieberman seemed to be channeling assessments offered to reporters two days prior, on April 19, 2017, by anonymous Israeli defense officials that the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack on the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun was ordered by Syrian military commanders, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s personal knowledge, and that Syria retained a stock of “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons.
The Israeli intelligence followed on the heels of an April 13, 2017 speech given by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that, once information had come in about a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, the CIA had been able to “develop several hypothesis around that, and then to begin to develop fact patterns which either supported or suggested that the hypothesis wasn’t right.” The CIA, Pompeo said, was “in relatively short order able to deliver to [President Trump] a high-confidence assessment that, in fact, it was the Syrian regime that had launched chemical strikes against its own people in [Khan Shaykhun.]”
The speed in which this assessment was made is of some concern. Both Director Pompeo, during his CSIS remarks, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, during comments to the press on April 6, 2017, note that President Trump turned to the intelligence community early on in the crisis to understand better “the circumstances of the attack and who was responsible.” McMaster indicated that the U.S. Intelligence Community, working with allied partners, was able to determine with “a very high degree of confidence” where the attack originated.
Both McMaster and Pompeo spoke of the importance of open source imagery in confirming that a chemical attack had taken place, along with evidence collected from the victims themselves – presumably blood samples – that confirmed the type of agent that was used in the attack. This initial assessment drove the decision to use military force – McMaster goes on to discuss a series of National Security Council meetings where military options were discussed and decided upon; the discussion about the intelligence underpinning the decision to strike Syria was over.
The danger of this rush toward an intelligence decision by Director Pompeo and National Security Advisor McMaster is that once the President and his top national security advisors have endorsed an intelligence-based conclusion, and authorized military action based upon that conclusion, it becomes virtually impossible for that conclusion to change. Intelligence assessments from that point forward will embrace facts that sustain this conclusion, and reject those that don’t; it is the definition of politicized intelligence, even if those involved disagree.
A similar “no doubt” moment had occurred nearly 15 years ago when, in August 2002, Vice President Cheney delivered a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney declared. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” The message Cheney was sending to the Intelligence Community was clear: Saddam Hussein had WMD; there was no need to answer that question anymore.
The CIA vehemently denies that either Vice President Cheney or anyone at the White House put pressure on its analysts to alter their assessments. This may very well be true, but if it is, then the record of certainty – and arrogance – that existed in the mindset of senior intelligence managers and analysts only further erodes public confidence in the assessments produced by the CIA, especially when, as is the case with Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction – the agency was found so lacking. Stuart Cohen, a veteran CIA intelligence analyst who served as the acting Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, oversaw the production of the 2002 Iraq National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to make case for Iraq possessing WMD that was used to justify war.
According to Mr. Cohen, he had four National Intelligence Officers with “over 100 years’ collective work experience on weapons of mass destruction issues” backed up by hundreds of analysts with “thousands of man-years invested in studying these issues.”
On the basis of this commitment of talent alone, Mr. Cohen assessed that “no reasonable person could have viewed the totality of the information that the Intelligence Community had at its disposal … and reached any conclusion or alternative views that were profoundly different from those that we reached,” namely that – judged with high confidence – “Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of the 150 kilometer limit imposed by the UN Security Council.”
Two facts emerge from this expression of intellectual hubris. First, the U.S. Intelligence Community was, in fact, wrong in its estimate on Iraq’s WMD capability, throwing into question the standards used to assign “high confidence” ratings to official assessments. Second, the “reasonable person” standard cited by Cohen must be reassessed, perhaps based upon a benchmark derived from a history of analytical accuracy rather than time spent behind a desk.
The major lesson learned here, however, is that the U.S. Intelligence Community, and in particular the CIA, more often than not hides behind self-generated platitudes (“high confidence”, “reasonable person”) to disguise a process of intelligence analysis that has long ago been subordinated to domestic politics.
It is important to point out the fact that Israel, too, was wrong about Iraq’s WMD. According to Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli Intelligence Officer, Israeli intelligence seriously overplayed the threat posed by Iraqi WMD in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War, including a 2002 briefing to NATO provided by Efraim Halevy, who at the time headed the Israeli Mossad, or intelligence service, that Israel had “clear indications” that Iraq had reconstituted its WMD programs after U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998.
The Israeli intelligence assessments on Iraq, Mr. Brom concluded, were most likely colored by political considerations, such as the desire for regime change in Iraq. In this light, neither the presence of Avigdor Leiberman, nor the anonymous background briefings provided by Israel about Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, should be used to provide any credence to Secretary Mattis’s embrace of the “no doubt” standard when it comes to Syria’s alleged possession of chemical weapons.
The intelligence data that has been used to back up the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use has been far from conclusive. Allusions to intercepted Syrian communications have been offered as “proof”, but the Iraq experience – in particular former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unfortunate experience before the U.N. Security Council – show how easily such intelligence can be misunderstood and misused.
Inconsistencies in the publicly available imagery which the White House (and CIA) have so heavily relied upon have raised legitimate questions about the veracity of any conclusions drawn from these sources (and begs the question as to where the CIA’s own Open Source Intelligence Center was in this episode.) The blood samples used to back up claims of the presence of nerve agent among the victims was collected void of any verifiable chain of custody, making their sourcing impossible to verify, and as such invalidates any conclusions based upon their analysis.
In the end, the conclusions CIA Director Pompeo provided to the President was driven by a fundamental rethinking of the CIA’s analysts when it came to Syria and chemical weapons that took place in 2014. Initial CIA assessments in the aftermath of the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons seemed to support the Syrian government’s stance that it had declared the totality of its holding of chemical weapons, and had turned everything over to the OPCW for disposal. However, in 2014, OPCW inspectors had detected traces of Sarin and VX nerve agent precursors at sites where the Syrians had indicated no chemical weapons activity had taken place; other samples showed the presence of weaponized Sarin nerve agent.
The Syrian explanation that the samples detected were caused by cross-contamination brought on by the emergency evacuation of chemical precursors and equipment used to handle chemical weapons necessitated by the ongoing Civil War was not accepted by the inspectors, and this doubt made its way into the minds of the CIA analysts, who closely followed the work of the OPCW inspectors in Syria.
One would think that the CIA would operate using the adage of “once bitten, twice shy” when assessing inspector-driven doubt; U.N. inspectors in Iraq, driven by a combination of the positive sampling combined with unverifiable Iraqi explanations, created an atmosphere of doubt about the veracity of Iraqi declarations that all chemical weapons had been destroyed. The CIA embraced the U.N. inspectors’ conclusions, and discounted the Iraqi version of events; as it turned out, Iraq was telling the truth.
While the jury is still out about whether or not Syria is, like Iraq, telling the truth, or whether the suspicions of inspectors are well founded, one thing is clear: a reasonable person would do well to withhold final judgment until all the facts are in. (Note: The U.S. proclivity for endorsing the findings of U.N. inspectors appears not to include the Khan Shaykhun attack; while both Syria and Russia have asked the OPCW to conduct a thorough investigation of the April 4, 2017 incident, the OPCW has been blocked from doing so by the United States and its allies.)
CIA Director Pompeo’s job is not to make policy – the intelligence his agency provides simply informs policy. It is not known if the U.S. Intelligence Community will be producing a formal National Intelligence Estimate addressing the Syrian chemical weapons issue, although the fact that the United States has undertaken military action under the premise that these weapons exist more than underscores the need for such a document, especially in light of repeated threats made by the Trump administration that follow-on strikes might be necessary.
Making policy is, however, the job of Secretary of Defense Mattis. At the end of the day, Secretary of Defense Mattis will need to make his own mind up as to the veracity of any intelligence used to justify military action. Mattis’s new job requires that he does more than simply advise the President on military options; he needs to ensure that the employment of these options is justified by the facts.
In the case of Syria, the “no doubt” standard Mattis has employed does not meet the “reasonable man” standard. Given the consequences that are attached to his every word, Secretary Mattis would be well advised not to commit to a “no doubt” standard until there is, literally, no doubt.
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret) and former Office Division Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA
Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)
Brady Kiesling, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, ret. (Associate VIPS)
Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
Lisa Ling, TSgt USAF (ret.)
Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator (GG-12) HQ, Department of the Army
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)
Sarah G. Wilton, Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.); Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret.)
Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)