The United States military says it will deploy an armor brigade and an aviation brigade totaling about 2,300 soldiers to Afghanistan this winter.
The Pentagon made the announcement in a statement released on Thursday, saying 1,500 soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan this winter, in addition to another 800 troops that will be deployed in support of a training mission known as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
“This deployment is part of a regular rotation of forces in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel,” the press release stated, adding that the soldiers were “well-trained, well-led and fully prepared for the challenges this mission will bring.”
No exact date was given in the announcement for when the US troops will leave for the deployment to Afghanistan.
The United States — under Republican George W. Bush’s presidency — and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban regime from power, but after about one and-a-half-decade, the foreign troops are still deployed to the country.
After becoming the president in 2008, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, vowed to end the Afghan war — one of the longest conflicts in US history – but he failed to keep his promise.
US President-elect Donald Trump, who speaks against the Afghan war, has dubbed the 2001 invasion and following occupation of Afghanistan as “Obama’s war”.
Obama has ordered the military to take on the Taliban more directly and enable Afghan forces battling the militant group.
In October last year, Obama announced plans to keep 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan through 2016 and 5,500 in 2017, reneging on his promise to end the war there and bring home most American forces from the Asian country before he leaves office.
According to US officials, Washington would also maintain a large counter-terrorism capability of terror drones and Special Operations Forces to fight militants in Afghanistan.
There are now about 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, as well as some 6,000 NATO service members, to “train and advise” Afghan security forces fighting Taliban.
Over the past several months, Taliban militants have intensified their pressure with numerous offensives on other key Afghan provinces, including Kunduz and Takhar.
In the military a rearguard action is defined as ‘a defensive action carried out by a retreating army’ and it is an appropriate description of the desperate scrabbling by NATO to convince the rest of the world — and especially Donald Trump — that its existence is justified.
President-elect Trump has never said that the US should actually leave NATO. Certainly Hillary Clinton declared that he ‘wants to pull out of NATO’ but this was just another of her lies, and what he said back in April was that it is ‘obsolete’ which is a gentle way of indicating that it’s hopeless. He did, after all, tell a town hall meeting in Wisconsin: «Maybe Nato will dissolve and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world», but although that may have sent shivers up the supple spine of NATO’s Secretary General Stoltenberg, it was by no means a definitive statement of intention.
The fact remains that The Donald is unhappy with NATO, and he’s perfectly right to consider that it’s a vastly expensive and largely ineffective military grouping that indeed should be disbanded. On the other hand, the massive propaganda campaign waged against Russia has convinced much of the world that Moscow has expansionist plans and that the only way to counter its supposed ambitions is to spend more money — lots and lots more money — and deploy troops and aircraft and ships all over the place to make it look as if gallant little NATO is defending the so-called Free World against the might of an illusory aggressor.
Trump may not have examined the minutiae of the NATO shambles, but in spite of being a bit of a blowhard whose knowledge of international affairs is modest, he’s not a fool, and even he can perceive that NATO has a record of catastrophe.
The Financial Times reported him as saying «Its possible that we’re going to have to let Nato go. When we’re paying and nobody else is really paying, a couple of other countries are but nobody else is really paying, you feel like the jerk». He said that if elected president he would contact many of the other 27 NATO members and put pressure on them to make a larger financial contribution or leave. «I call up all of those countries… and say ‘fellas you haven’t paid for years, give us the money or get the hell out’», he said, to loud cheering.
This may have been populist rhetoric, but it played to the people who matter to him — to the people who elected him. When he becomes President he might well think that he owes them a lot more than he does to NATO.
In March Stoltenberg told NATO countries that «the time has come to invest more in defence» but his motives for doing so were not those of Mr Trump, because Trump, like any businessman, wants to look carefully at expenditure and go on to make a profit, while Stoltenberg wants to spend money — including a great deal of American money — to justify existence of the costly monolith that has grown larger, more expensive and less effective over the past twenty years.
Stoltenberg sought to vindicate NATO’s record by writing an article for Britain’s Observer newspaper to say that NATO had strongly supported the United States following the 9/11 atrocities by joining it in its war in Afghanistan. ‘This,’ he declared, ‘was more than just a symbol. NATO went on to take charge of the operation in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers have served in Afghanistan since. And more than 1,000 have paid the ultimate price in an operation that is a direct response to an attack against the United States.’
The truth differs from what Stoltenberg claims. He is correct in saying that NATO became heavily involved (and lost a thousand troops for no reason at all), but gives the impression that NATO was there, poised and ready to take the leap into action when the US and Britain invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Certainly the forces of the US and the UK were joined by troops from other countries — but it wasn’t until August 2003 that NATO itself managed to become involved, when, as the BBC reported, it ‘assumed control of peacekeeping in Afghanistan – the alliance’s first ever operational commitment outside Europe.’ And things went screaming downhill from that time.
There was no need for NATO, as such, to become involved, because there were plenty of alliance countries with contingents already in Afghanistan (for example, the Germans had been there since January 2002 and Canadians and Italians since December 2001). All that NATO added to the foreign military machine in Afghanistan was yet another layer of military bureaucracy. The result was described in, among other histories, ‘The Good War’, an excellent account of the catastrophe by Jack Fairweather who describes the reaction of President Bush’s National Security Adviser, General Douglas Lute, who saw the map of NATO operations in 2008 and was of the opinion that «each nation was fighting its own private war. Nobody was running the show, and there was no common purpose».
In present-day NATO there are far too many people «running the show» and the purpose of the show itself is far from clear. Stoltenberg and other champions of the continuing existence of the expensive farce claim that there’s a threat from Russia — but if they genuinely believe that Russia is going to invade a NATO member country they belong in a lunatic asylum.
To be blunt, had Russia wanted to invade Ukraine at the time of the US-engineered coup in 2014 (recollect Obama’s admission that the US ‘brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine’), it could have done so with ease. It would have taken about three weeks to defeat the Ukrainian military and occupy the country right up to the border with Poland. But why on earth would it have wanted to do that?
Russia would have been extremely unwise to take such action, because once you invade a country you have to occupy and pacify it, which is extremely difficult — as US-NATO has found to its enormous cost in lives and money in the Afghanistan debacle.
Similarly, for what possible reason would Russia attempt to invade Estonia or Latvia, or any other country for that matter? It would be insane to do so, yet this totally imaginary threat is trotted out as the reason for NATO’s present posture of confrontation. There is never explanation for the US-NATO expansion up to Russia’s borders that took place from 1999 to 2009, which is rightly regarded as confrontational by the Russian people. (And remember that it’s not correct in the west to refer to ‘the Russian people’. Rather, it is mandatory to call the country ‘Putin’s Russia’.)
Stoltenberg’s message to President-elect Trump is that the US-NATO military grouping must continue to confront ‘Vladimir Putin’s Russia’, but Trump has other priorities, not the least being the appalling economic circumstances in regions where he received most support. He’s no fool, and he’s going to pay attention to these voices rather than the plaintive wailing of Stoltenberg who rests his case for US expenditure on the foundation that ‘our proud history is one of common challenges overcome together’.
One thing that Secretary General Stoltenberg had better bear in mind is that President-elect Donald Trump does not care about history, and most decidedly not the history of Europe. He cares about the hard facts of here and now. Not intellectually, but practically. He is devoid of sentiment. Europe and NATO mean nothing to him in terms of nostalgia and all that sob-stuff.
And he’s not going to forget the volume of insults delivered by European political leaders and media, such as ‘loudmouth’ and ‘hatemonger’. In the British parliament he was described as a ‘buffoon, demagogue and wazzock’. The British foreign minister, Boris Johnson (who really is a buffoon), said in June that ‘the only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump’. French President Hollande (another fool) declared that Trump’s ‘excesses’ made him ‘want to retch’ and in one particularly amusing reaction to Trump’s election, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said ‘We hope that Donald Trump will respect the fundamental rights and rules of the European Union,’ in which, be assured, Mr Trump has not the slightest interest.
President-elect Donald Trump might not be the ideal person to enter the White House in January (although Clinton would have been a disaster), but he’s going to try to look after America. NATO’s wellbeing comes way down on his priorities. NATO Secretary General and confronter-in-chief Stoltenberg will continue fighting his rearguard action to keep his wobbly and mega-expensive military circus in existence, but it’s possible that Mr Trump might make the world a safer place by letting the whole thing collapse.
The latest massacre of many innocent people by U.S. forces in Afghanistan provides another demonstration as to why it is imperative that the American people stop deferring to the authority of the national security state and demand the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In a war that has now gone on for 16 years, U.S. forces just killed at least 32 more civilians, many of whom were children. Another 25 people were wounded. Of course, this is on top of all the wedding parties, hospitals, and other victims of U.S. bombing attacks that have brought the death toll from U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to more than 200,000, not to mention the wounded, maimed, homeless, and refugees. In the last seven days alone, 95 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan and 111 injured.
How many of those 30 people, including the children, who are now being buried had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks? It is a virtual certainty that none of them did.
How did this latest U.S. massacre occur? Afghan government forces, assisted by U.S. troops, decided to raid a home in a densely populated neighborhood in a village where a Taliban commander was supposedly having a meeting. The soldiers got trapped in a narrow dead-end street, where they began taking enemy fire from surrounding homes.
So, what did they do? Naturally, to save their lives, they called in air strikes, which necessarily involved firing missiles into the neighborhood, which killed those 32 people, including children.
The U.S. military’s position is the standard one: The military regrets the loss of innocent life but, they say, they didn’t really have a choice. If they didn’t fire the missiles, the U.S. and Afghan troops would be killed. If they did fire the missiles, the innocent people living in the neighborhood would die. Not surprisingly, the military chose to protect the lives of the soldiers at the expense of those innocent people living in the neighborhood.
But let’s be mindful of an important fact: If U.S. troops had not still be intervening in Afghanistan, there never would have been a U.S. bombing raid on that neighborhood.
How do the people who survived the massacre feel about what happened? Not surprisingly, they were chanting “Death to America!” Americans should think about that the next time there is a terrorist attack in the United States.
Despite the bombing attack, two U.S. soldiers — Captain Andrew Byers and Sgt. First Class Ryan Gloyer — were killed in the battle.
What did they die for? No, they did not die protecting our freedom or keeping us safe. That’s nothing but pabulum for the families of those two soldiers — to make them feel okay about losing their loved ones. They died for nothing, the same thing that those 58,000 plus U.S. soldiers died for in Vietnam.
Freedom and security of the American people have nothing to do with America’s 16-year war in Afghanistan. The Taliban are not coming to get us, any more than the North Vietnamese were coming to get us. The conflict in Afghanistan is nothing more than a civil war, one in which one side is battling to oust a regime that has been installed into power by the U.S. government.
Once the U.S. presidential race is over — a race in which the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan has barely been mentioned — the American people need to demand an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Continued U.S. interventionism is accomplishing nothing positive and is only pouring fuel on the fire, making matters worse for everyone, including innocent women, children, and others in Afghanistan.
A few days after Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia announced their intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court an article appeared in the American journal, Foreign Policy, stating that the ICC is considering investigating allegations of war crimes that may have been committed in Afghanistan. The allegations are spread among the Afghan resistance to the western invasion and occupation of the country, the puppet government installed by the United States, and the United States itself.
This has caused some surprise among observers of the ICC who have correctly criticised the tribunal as an asset of the US and its allies since it has only gone after certain African leaders who stand in the way of western interests while providing complete immunity to other leaders who are useful agents of those interests. Some of them have accused it of racism, a charge difficult to refute but which misses the point that the objective is the projection of imperial power.
The United States, though not a member of the ICC, has established its dominating influence in the staff of the tribunal so that it and its Canadian and EU allies effectively control its machinery, most importantly the prosecution, the administration and the selection of judges. It is because of this influence that the ICC falsely accused Muammar Gadhafi with crimes in 2011 thereby helping it excuse the NATO aggression against Libya and also provoking and excusing his murder.
The ICC is meant to prevent war crimes and war but it has been used in fact to overthrow governments and throw their leaders in prison, or in the tragic case of Muammar Gadhafi, provoke war and excuse murder; just as the ICTY in The Hague was used to justify the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia and the arrest and death in NATO hands of President Milosevic. The ICC continues in that criminal tradition.
But is this announcement a surprise, a hopeful step that the ICC may live up to its claims? The answer is a clear no. The timing of the announcement and its delivery are interesting. It comes within a few days of the disastrous blows to its prestige and credibility with the withdrawal of the African countries. Something needed to be done to try to restore some credibility, some appearance of impartiality; and that is what the announcement does, or tries to do because it will soon be realised that it is a cheap trick, a charade, designed to save the ICC so that the United States and its allies can continue to use it as they see fit, as a means of control, not justice.
It is not a surprise in the first place because the ICC made public its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities on November 12, 2015. In that report there is a section on Afghanistan setting out more or less the contents in the Foreign Policy Report. It makes interesting reading and starts off with a lie that indicates where we can expect this investigation to go.
On page 26 the document states,
“After the attacks of 11 September 2001, in Washington D.C. and New York City, a United States-led coalition launched air strikes and ground operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban, suspected of harbouring Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were ousted from power by the end of the year. In December 2001, under the auspices of the UN, an interim governing authority was established in Afghanistan.”
This is a lie because the Taliban government, a government installed by the United States in the first place, was not “harbouring” Bin Laden. They stated to the US government, when it demanded they turn him over in 2001, that he was in the country but by law they were required to demand that the US provide them with evidence that he was involved in the events in New York. The US flatly refused to provide any evidence to form the basis of a legal extradition so the Afghanistan government refused to hand him over. Any country would have been required by law to do the same. Instead of a file containing evidence they received cruise missiles and exploding bombs. Bin Laden of course was just the excuse, not the reason for the war. So for the ICC to state a lie that serves the narrative of the United States and then to continue with the joke that instead of the US overthrowing the Afghan government, (they were “ousted from power” they say, but how and by who is not said), they in fact helped to reestablish government, with the help of the peace loving UN, is to give the United States immunity from prosecution of the ultimate crime of aggression against Afghanistan that still continues today and all the war crimes that have flowed from that aggression. They bear the ultimate responsibility. But since the ICC sees fit to rewrite history in favour of the United States in its investigation of the war how can we expect it to ever prosecute that nation for the crimes it has committed?
Most of the document discusses allegations of crimes and some attention is paid to allegations against US forces and Afghan government forces but most of it is concerned with crimes of the Taliban. Where it discusses war crimes allegedly committed by the United States it points out that the US is investigating those allegations and has taken disciplinary action against those responsible in hundreds of cases. The question then is whether the United States is properly investigating and then prosecuting those cases in its military discipline system. For if the United States were in fact properly investigating and actively prosecuting soldiers and officials then the ICC cannot step into the situation. Only if this is not being done and cases appear to be sham cases can the ICC claim jurisdiction. This writer cannot imagine the United States ever accepting a finding from the ICC that it is not acting correctly, and having regard to its rewriting of history, I do not expect it to make such a finding.
That this is a public relations exercise is supported by the source of the article, Foreign Policy, which is owned by the Washington Post ; and the writer, David Bosco, who lectures on international law and the ICC at the Washington College of Law, in Washington D.C. has an interesting career. After graduating from Harvard he worked on “refugee issues” in Bosnia, first for an “NGO” then the UN and NATO and interned at NATO Military Headquarters in Belgium, then went to the State Department, and has largely been an editor at the journal and law lecturer ever since. You can understand my doubts of the bone fides of their intentions when you know that.
Why is it that this information had to come from this source and not the ICC itself? The answer is that if it came from the ICC no one would believe it. Its credibility is in tatters. It would look like the face-saving action it is. So it had to be made to look like a revelation of something daring that the ICC was reluctant to make it public, a bold step for mankind, all hush hush, so the US cannot get in the way of justice. But instead of a revelation it looks like a manipulation, a propaganda action to support the ICC as a tool of domination by the west against the rest of the world. And so, the game continues.
Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto, he is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and he is known for a number of high-profile cases involving human rights and war crimes.
For the past eight years millions of people have expended billions of words speculating about exactly how the United States kills people with missiles from drones (and missiles from other sources, such as manned aircraft, targeting people identified with drones). There is good reason to believe that for each such attack there exists a video and audio record of what the drone pilots saw and what they and their colleagues said to each other as they decided to launch a missile and as they observed its results.
This is a level of documentation we rarely have with killings by domestic police officers, who are typically filmed by observers with phones, a method of documentation that excludes the leadup and the aftermath.
It’s also a level of documentation that is almost entirely denied to the public, meaning that it doesn’t actually do us much good. As far as I know we have not seen a single video or heard a single audio recording of a drone murder. The “Collateral Murder” video is a powerful record of a non-drone attack.
With drones, however, we do have one (incomplete) transcript of what was said during the hours leading up and the minutes following one particular attack. This was an attack in Afghanistan in February 2010 that killed zero fighters but numerous innocent civilians. According to survivors, 23 men, women, and children were killed. According to the U.S. military 15 or 16 were killed and 12 wounded. The U.S. military apologized and paid some $4000 to the family of each acknowledged victim.
The ACLU obtained the transcript in 2011, and it was published by the Los Angeles Times, which wrote an account of the incident, but I didn’t pay much attention until the new film, National Bird, dramatized part of it. I think it deserves a bit longer excerpt than either the Times or National Bird provided. So, here is my selection plus commentary. Feel free to read the whole thing at the links above and make of it what you may.
00:38 (JAG25): We are going to hold on containment fires and try to attempt PID, we would really like to take out those trucks.
PID means positive identification. This individual is eager to send missiles into trucks on the ground in Afghanistan but is aware of the need to identify somebody in one or more of them as an armed fighter. In fictional fantasies like Eye in the Sky or presidential speeches, targets must exclude any possibility of killing civilians and the targeted people must be known, specifically identified, be beyond any possibility of arrest, and be “immediate and continuing” threats to the United States of America. None of those criteria or anything like them are even discussed in this actual drone attack. Instead, the question of whether to launch hellfire missiles at automobiles is whether the targeted people are males over 10 years old and whether at least one of them has a gun. As we’ll see, even those standards are not met, but they are discussed.
00:38 (Slasher03): Copy that. Break, break, Slasher, we passed you coords for the vehicle on the west side of the river again you have multiple dismounts in the open break. On the east side of the river there’s an additional vehicle majority of the dismounts are inside a compound located just to the north of that vehicle if you get eyes on that compound. Compound has multiple movers as well as one pickup truck hot.
00:38 (Slasher03): Kirk97, Slasher in addition if you’re able to pick up illumination it appears the two vehicles are flashing lights signaling between.
Before anyone was murdered on this day, everyone was discussed for hours with words like “vehicle,” “compound,” “dismounts,” and “movers” — which simply has to have a different impact than “cars,” “houses,” “pedestrians,” and “people walking around.”
00:41 (Pilot): Does he have a weapon?
00:41 (Sensor): Can’t tell yet
00:41 (MC): Can’t tell
00:42 (Kirk97): Jag25/Slasher03/Kirk97 we are eyes on a vehicle, personnel in the open, definite tactical movement, cannot PID weapons at this time, how copy?
Still, they are hoping to positively identify a weapon. But, in the absence of that justification, they have spotted “definite tactical movement.” How, one wonders, given that these were a bunch of civilian commuters, does such movement differ from a handful of families and students walking about and arranging themselves into a couple of SUVs and a pickup truck?
00:43 (Sensor): possible mortars (reference to what the JTAC is trying to PID)
00:43 (Pilot): Kirk97, good copy on that, be advised personnel in the open, by the vehicles moving tactically definitely carrying objects at this time we cannot PID what they are however we’ve got eyes on and we are working our best
So now there are automobiles with objects and human beings in them, and those automobiles are moving (as they are principally designed to do).
00:44 (Jag25): Jag25, roger, ground force commander’s intent is to destroy the vehicles and the personnel, right now Kirk97 is showing that the individuals egressed the trucks holding cylindrical objects in their hands *radio static*
Personnel egressed some trucks, meaning that some people got out. And they had objects with them. As you read on, see if you notice eagerness or wariness to interpret such a phenomenon as a threat.
00:44 (Pilot): Be ready for a lot of (exploitive deleted) squirters dude
00:44 (Pilot): These guys look to be lookouts, man
People who get out and walk away from a group are “squirters” though not yet “bugsplat” (what drone pilots have sometimes called those they’ve killed). They are also “lookouts.” This identification of them as “lookouts” is made on the basis of the fuzzy little green linear shapes these people appear as in the video being observed, not on the basis of a high resolution color image in which something like binoculars or facial expressions could be identified.
00:45 (MC): See if you can zoom in on that guy, ‘cause he’s kind of like
00:45 (Pilot): what did he just leave there
00:45 (Pilot): Is that a *expletive* rifle?
00:45 (Sensor): Maybe just a warm spot from where he was sitting; can’t really tell right now, but it does look like an object
Well an object could be a rifle. There’s at least a 1% chance, as Dick Cheney would say.
00:45 (Pilot): I was hoping we could make a rifle out, never mind
Why was this man or woman hoping that? Why not fearing it? After all, it could mean being ordered to do something horrific: to kill. Even believing that killing to be somehow justified and possibly even somehow legal, the drone pilot of our imagination faces it regretfully and somberly. Not these guys.
00:45 (Sensor): The only way I’ve ever been able to see a rifle is if they move them around, when their holding them, with muzzle flashes out or slinging them across their shoulders
And yet no such identification happens on this day. Nonetheless, 23 people lose their lives while others lose their limbs. You can see the survivors and hear them tell their stories in National Bird.
00:48 (Slasher03): jaguar25, slasher03 again, on the west side you have 10 pax that are dismounts that appear to be huddled down, hunkered down, holding position they are all static on the east side, you have the original vehicle with 2 dismounts waiting outside, believe you had up to two to three to four that are still inside the vehicle, then just north of that position you have the compound where our 1 individual exited the vehicle and rendezvous, you have multiple movers within that compound as well as a hot pickup truck
Pax does not of course mean peace. It means passengers. “Hot” I believe actually means hot, as pilots are able to observe heat recorded by heat sensors. They sometimes observe the cooling of a body on the ground as the blood leaves it.
************END OF 0023z VIDEO SEGMENT********BEGINNING OF 0054z VIDEO SEGMENT*******
The line above suggests that there is a video we could be shown. Exactly whose embarrassment — er, I mean, national security — overrides our right to see it?
00:54 (Jag25): … we believe we may have a high level Taliban commander …
Don’t they always? If you want to prove they don’t always, make the videos public.
00:55 (Pilot): wouldn’t surprise me if this was one of their important guys, just watching from a distance, you know what I mean?
00:55 (Sensor): yea he’s got his security detail
A group of people, by virtue of containing multiple people, is now wishfully seen as a Taliban bigshot with a “security detail.”
00:55 (Pilot): … Be advised on the west side of the river we still have one vehicle with ten pax, two lookouts, could be definite tactical movement with a commander over watching, definitely suspicious how copy?
These bees are acting suspicious, said Winnie the Pooh.
00:56 (JAG): roger good copy, due to distance from friendlies we are trying to work on justification, we’re gonna need PID
00:56 (Pilot): Good copy on that, no PID on weapons at this time only tactical movements on the west side, can you pass coords for the east please?
00:59 (Sensor): not sure what compound they came from or what we are apparently dealing with.
These guys have no idea who they are looking at, but they are working on coming up with a “justification” to murder them.
00:59 (Pilot): what about the guy under the north arrow, does it look like he is hold’n something across his chest
00:59 (Sensor): yea it’s kind of weird how they all have a cold spot on their chest
00:59 (Pilot): It’s what they’ve been doing here lately, they wrap their *expletive* up in their man dresses so you can’t PID it
The conversation oozes with respect for the people whose country is being “liberated.”
1:00(Sensor): maybe five in the back of the bed 1:00 *broken radio chatter*
1:00 (Jag25): Jag25 have you loud and clear
1:01 (Pilot): Jag25, Slasher03, Kirk97 it looks like the dismounted pax on the hilux pickup on the east side is carrying something, but we cannot PID what it is at this time but he is carrying something
1:02 (Sensor): He slung it on his shoulder whatever it was, just switched arms with it or something, and is getting in the truck
01:03 (Sensor): the screener is reviewing, they think something is up with that dude as well. I’ll take a quick look at the SUV guys, sorry
1:03 (JAG25): Slasher03 JAG25 1:03 (Sensor): what do these dudes got, yeah I think that dude had a rifle
1:03 (Pilot): I do too
There’s a wishful guess that a group of two dozen people traveling through an extremely dangerous country might have a gun. Wait and see what that is taken to justify.
1:04 (Pilot): All players, all Players from KIRK97, from our DGS the MAM that just mounted the back of the hilux had a possible weapon, read back possible rifle
1:04 (JAG25): Kirk we notice that, but you know how it is with ROEs, so we have to be careful with those, ROE’s *broken radio chatter*
1:04 (Sensor): sounds like they need more than possible
A MAM is a military aged male and an ROE a rule of engagement. These guys are figuring out that they should come up with more than the possibility of a gun before blowing up this convoy.
1:05 (JAG25): copy, slasher03 1:05 (Sensor): that truck would make a beautiful target, ok that’s a Chevy suburban
1:05 (Pilot): yeah,
1:07 (MC): screener said at least one child near SUV 1:07 (Sensor): bull (expletive deleted)…where!?
1:07 (Sensor): send me a (expletive deleted) still, I don’t think they have kids out at this hour, I know they’re shady but come on
1:07 (Pilot): at least one child… Really? Listing the MAM, uh, that means he’s guilty
1:07 (Sensor): well maybe a teenager but I haven’t seen anything that looked that short, granted they’re all grouped up here, but.
The eagerness to spot a gun is just not matched by eagerness to spot a child. And having a child on the road with his or her family early in the morning is taken as a sign of evil deeds. Or if the child is a military aged male (later defined as having an age in the “double digits”) that is taken as “guilt.” Guilt is the language of a court. Drone piloting has often been discussed as law enforcement, although it violates numerous laws and does not enforce any.
1:07 (Pilot): Yeah review that (expletive deleted)…why didn’t he say possible child, why are they so quick to call (expletive deleted) kids but not to call (expletive deleted) a rifle
1:08 (MC): two children were at the rear of the SUV… I haven’t seen two children
1:09 (Sensor): little bit of movement by the SUV. I really doubt that children call, man I really (expletive deleted) hate that.
1:10 (MC): is this the child entering the rear of the SUV?
1:10 (Sensor): they’re moving, I’ll stay with the pickup truck
1:11 (Pilot): they just threw someone into the back of that truck, and were like, wrestling with somebody did you see that?
1:11 (Senor):Yeah I saw those two dudes wrestling.
1:11 (Pilot): they probably are really using (expletive deleted) human shields here, that’s probably what that is.
Here is an incredible case of believing ones own propaganda. People are here imagined to be forcing victims into their trucks in order to use them as “human shields,” a phenomenon as ill conceived in U.S. culture as “voter fraud.”
1:21 (Pilot):yeah, exactly man. So what’s the, we passed him potential children and potential shields, and I think those are both pretty accurate now, what’s the ROE on that?
1:21 (Sensor): Ground commander assessing proportionality, distinction
And here we are back to eye-of-the-murderer medieval “just war” theory in which someone pretends to determine that killing a certain number of children would be “proportionally” acceptable, although no empirical test of such a thing has ever been devised, and President Obama claims that no shots are fired by his drone warriors without “near certainty” that no civilians will be harmed. You can’t calculate how many civilians are acceptable to kill AND claim that you’re certain of not killing any.
01:32 (Sensor): Wonder what these other dudes at this compound are doing. Picked‐up at third vehicle on their train.
01:33 (MC): Guilty by association.
I suppose they know that’s not a legal term.
01:48 (Pilot): JAG25 just want to confirm that you copied we have about 20 pax dismounted, they are outside the trucks praying at this time and we’re 3 1⁄2 miles from the friendly location.
01:48 (Sensor): … Praying? I mean seriously, that’s what they do.
01:48 (MC): They’re gonna do something nefarious.
When I was very briefly in Afghanistan I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t pray. I also didn’t meet anyone who did anything nefarious. I have also never heard a presidential speech in which President Obama explains that he targets people who pray.
01:50 (MC): Adolescent near the rear of the SUV.
01:50 (Sensor): Well, teenagers can fight.
01:50 (MC): Pick up a weapon and you’re a combatant, it’s how that works.
01:52 (Sensor): Oh sweet target. I’d try to go through the bed, put it right dead center of the bed.
01:53 (MC): Oh that’d be perfect.
01:52 (Sensor): Like more of them from the other vehicles are around this one right now.
Such cool, level headed reluctance to use excessive force is no doubt what we would hear in police videos as well.
01:54 (Sensor): MAM near SUV appear to be holding a weapon.
01:54 (Jag25): Roger, still awaiting confirmation.
01:54 (Pilot): JAG25 be advised, our screener just called 1 MAM near the SUV in the line of 3, appears to be holding a weapon.
01:56 (MC) :one weapon on ground may have picked it up and walking around the pickup.
01:56 (Sensor): I didn’t quite catch that but I believe it.
I didn’t see it either. Should I believe it too?
02:29 (Pilot): Can’t wait till this actually happens, with all this coordination and *expletive*
(agreement noises from crew)
02:29 (Pilot): Thanks for the help, you’re doing a good job relaying everything in (muffled), MC. Appreciate it
02:48 (Sensor): Still a sweet *expletive* target, geez….Take out the lead vehicle on the run and then uhh bring the helos in
02:54 (MC): Looks like they’re bringing a Reaper in
02:54 (Sensor): *Expletive*that, man
02:54 (MC): just claim we’re here first
02:54 (MC): At least we know these guys have weapons
02:55 (Muffled talking off comms, some profanity, a chuckle)
Laughing and eagerness to be the one to pull the trigger.
02:58 (Sensor): Hey, that dude just put a weapon down right above the truck. See it?
02:59 (Pilot): See it. See if DGS will call that
DGS is an office that is supposed to approve before eager pilots push the button. A veteran in National Bird describes routinely trying to restrain the eagerness of pilots at Creech Air Force Base to kill.
03:01 (Sensor): Aww where is he going? Just pulling off the road maybe. They probably mostly left their weapons in the vehicles. I’ll be damned, it looks like a short dude back there.
No weapons? They must be inside. A child? It must be a short dude.
03:05 (Pilot): Jag 25 standby one. Kirk 97, we’re checking. Looks mostly to be military aged males. We have seen approximately two children. Standby.
03:05 (Pilot): Dude the only thing I can see if this isn’t something [expletive deleted]is the locals trying to get away. You know what I mean? But I don’t think so.
Here a pilot surmises the situation accurately but chooses not to believe it.
03:06 (Sensor): 24 or 25 at the praying stop.
03:07 (Sensor): CLASSIFIED view I saw the one that looked short enough to be a child.
03:08 (Pilot): And Jag 25, our screeners are currently calling 21 MAMs no females, and 2 possible children. How copy?
03:08 (JAG25): Roger. And when we say children, are we talking teenagers or toddlers?
03:08 (Sensor): I would say about twelve. Not toddlers. Something more towards adolescents or teens.
03:08 (Pilot): Yeah adolescents
03:10 (Pilot): And Kirk 97, good copy on that. We are with you. Our screener updated only one adolescent so that’s one double digit age range. How Copy?
03:10 (JAG25): We’ll pass that along to the ground force commander. But like I said, 12‐13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous.
03:11 (Sensor): Oh we agree. Yea.
04:05 (Pilot) : Yeah. Alright, so the plan is man, uh, we’re going to watch this thing go down, the helo’s are going to take out as much as they can and when they Winchester we can play clean up.
04:07 (Pilot) : As long as you keep somebody that we can shoot in the field of view I’m happy.
Happy! It’s good to stay positive about your job! Everybody knows that.
04:09 (Pilot) : Yeah, well that’s what we were talking on this. I was talking to the JTAC he said the exact same thing man. Um they called them an adolescent. We called it you know… most likely double digits age range. And he was like that’s old enough to be dangerous.
04:13 (Pilot): It’s a cool looking shot
04:13 (Sensor): O, awesome
04:16 (Sensor): Roger. And, oh … and there it goes!
04:16 (unintelligible) 04:16 (Pilot): Our engagement
04:16 (Pilot): It was backing up
04:16 (Sensor): Stand by
04:16 (Sensor): Have another guy … did they get him too? Yep.
04:16 (Pilot): They took the first and uh the last out. They’re going to come back around
04:16 (Safety Observer): I see squirters at the first one
Missiles have just blown up the first and third of the three automobiles packed with people.
04:16 (Pilot): Uh, follow what you think makes the most sense. In fact, stay on the middle truck for now …
04:16 (Sensor): I will
04:16 (Pilot): … until they take that out or we do
04:17 (MC): Do we want to switch back to other frequency?
04:17 (Pilot): I tried, nobody was talking to me over there
04:17 (Sensor): Looks like they’re surrendering
04:17 (Sensor): They’re not running
04:17 (Pilot): CLASSIFIED
[NOTE: At this point, additional voices appear on the recording – presumably those of the safety observers – and identifying which individual is speaking at any given time becomes very difficult.]
04:18 (Sensor): That guy’s laid down? They’re not running.
04:18 (Safety Observer): Dude, this is weird
04:18 (Sensor): They’re just walking away
04:18 (Sensor): I think I’ve got the bulk of whoever’s left in the field of view
04:18 (Pilot): Yeah, I think so
Now we start to see that these eager killers really had convinced themselves that they were targeting dangerous enemies. When their victims behave like civilians, they are disturbed by it.
04:18 (Unknown): Oh!
04:19 (Pilot): Holy [expletive deleted]
04:19 (Sensor): I don’t know about this. This is weird.
04:19 (MC): Yeah
04:19 (Pilot): Got nowhere to go
04:19 (Pilot): Probably confused as [expletive deleted]
04:19 (Sensor): Oh yeah, they just got thrown from the vehicle, too
04:19 MIC(?): We did call, we did tell them there was adolescents in the second vehicle, so I thought that was the reason they didn’t shoot the (unintelligible) second vehicle
04:19 (Safety Observer): No
04:19 (Sensor): Current recommended target is … I just want to do the most veh‐ … either this one, the most … or the one with the guys in the front, they were in the lead vehicle
04:19 (Pilot): There’s like a trail of like three or four (unintelligible)
04:19 (Sensor): Right
04:19 (Pilot): … to the right of your crosshair
04:19 (Sensor): Yeah, and those are, that’s the most, the most, most individuals, right there
04:19 Pilot(?): Yeah, I’d say let’s do that then
04:20 (Sensor): But I’ll keep this field of view … the previous field of view, uh, so we can maintain eyes on as many as possible
And yet, the momentum here is still for killing the survivors.
04:20 (Bam Bam 41): Kirk 97, Bam Bam 41, confirm, uh, those were hits on the vehicles you were watching
04:20 (Pilot): And Bam Bam, Kirk 97, that is affirm, that is uh three good hits on all three of our vehicles. We are still tracking.
Now all three vehicles have been blown up and burned.
04:20 (Sensor): I’m going to zoom in on the rear vehicle again real quick. It looks … it looks like there’s a bunch of people just hanging out
04:23 (Safety Observer): Are they wearing burqas?
04:23 (Sensor): That’s what it looks like
04:23 (Pilot): They were all PIDed as males, though. No females in the group
04:23 (Sensor): That guy looks like he’s wearing jewelry and stuff like a girl, but he ain’t … if he’s a girl, he’s a big one
We sense reluctance to recognize that there are females among those targeted.
04:23 (Pilot): Bam Bam, uh Kirk 97, we are eyes on the squirters at this time. No weapons PIDed yet.
04:26 (Unknown): Wow 04:26 (Sensor): (unintelligible) That truck is so dead
04:26 (Unknown): Wow
04:27 (Sensor): Trying to, to PID veh‐, uh, weapons, but yeah, we can scan
04:27 (Sensor): The thing is, nobody ran
04:27 (Safety Observer): Yeah, that was weird
04:27 (Sensor): So, all the squirters are, have returned to the road at this point
04:27 (Unknown): Yeah
04:27 (Safety Observer): We need to probably let them know that
04:30 (Pilot): Bam Bam41, uh, Kirk97. We are still eyes on, uh, eyes on trying to PID [Positively Identify] any weapons, uh, on the remaining MAMs [Military Age Male]. Uh, we had previously PID’ed weapons in the group but, uh, nothing at this time. We’re still looking.
04:32 (MC): There’s one guy sitting down.
04:32 (Sensor): What you playing with? (Talking to individual on ground.)
04:32 (MC): His bone.
04:33 (Sensor): Thanks, thanks SOTF‐South.
04:34 (Sensor): So, it looks like those lumps are probably all people.
04:34 (Safety Observer): Yep.
04:34 (MC): I think the most lumps are on the lead vehicle because everybody got…the Hellfire got…
04:35 (Sensor): Yeah, there’s definitely no weapons on the guys in the middle vehicle.
04:36 (MC): Is that two? One guy’s tending the other guy?
04:36 (Safety Observer): Looks like it.
04:36 (Sensor): Looks like it, yeah.
04:36 (MC): Self‐Aid Buddy Care to the rescue.
04:36 (Safety Observer): I forget, how do you treat a sucking gut wound?
04:37 (Sensor): Don’t push it back in. Wrap it in a towel. That’ll work.
04:38 (Pilot): They’re trying to *explicative* surrender, right? I think.
04:38 (Sensor): That’s what it looks like to me.
04:38 MC: Yeah. I think that’s what they’re doing.
04:39 (UNKNOWN): On those individuals. Break.
Uh, exiting from that vehicle was probably about 4 personnel. Believe possibly two of those, maybe 3, were female. They wore bright colored clothing. Uh, those remaining personnel are gathered just west of the middle vehicle. They’re standing about 20 meters to the west.
04:40 (MC): Screener said there wasn’t any women earlier.
04:40 (Sensor): Those are all people.
04:40 (MC): Yeah.
04:40 (Sensor): That’s what I was worried about.
04:40 (Safety Observer): What?
04:40 (Sensor): What are those? They were in the middle vehicle.
04:40 (MC): Women and children.
04:40 (Sensor): Looks like a kid.
04:40 (Safety Observer): Yeah. The one waving the flag.
04:41 (Pilot): Kirk97. Uh, negative, we are still observing at this time. Still no weapons PID, everything else matches with your assessment. Uh, still looking.
04:41 (Sensor): Nah, that guy doesn’t have a weapon…just shru, shrugged off his coat. Nothing underneath.
04:42 (Pilot): Anything on ICOM?
04:42 (MC): Nothing so far. I think the rocket hit the front of the street here.
04:42 (Pilot): He’s calling females? They said 21 males, no females.
04:42 (MC): Earlier, yeah.
04:42 (Sensor): Now they’re calling 3 females and 1 child. 1 possible child.
04:42 (MC): Called him a adolescent earlier.
04:43 (Sensor): Yeah, at this point I wouldn’t…I personally wouldn’t be comfortable shooting at these people.
04:43 (MC): No.
04:43 (Sensor): Uh, esp…especially just on DGS’s…If I couldn’t tell with my own eyeball that they had weapons, I wouldn’t just go off of DGS’s, uh, (another crew member: Yeah.) assessment…for this reason.
04:43 (Pilot): That lady is carrying a kid, huh? Maybe.
04:43 (Safety Observer): No.
04:43 (MC): No. 04:43 (Sensor): Uh, yeah.
04:43 (MC): The baby, I think on the right. Yeah.
04:43 (Sensor): Yeah.
04:43 (Pilot): The middle.
04:43 (MC): Yeah.
04:43 (Sensor): Right there in the crosshairs.
04:43 (Safety Observer): *Explicative,* let them know, dude. Have them pass it to Jag. There’s…
04:43 (MC): Yeah.
04:44 (Safety Observer): Yeah, they called out the kid.
04:44 (MC): Yep. 04:44 (Sensor): I got another kid.
04:44 (Safety Observer): That’s one of the adolescents from earlier.
04:45 (Pilot): Bam Bam41, Kirk97. Uh, just be advised, uh, our DGS is calling out, uh, potential 3 females and, uh, 2 adolescents, uh, near the center vehicle. Uh, just want to confirm that you saw that and passed to Jag.
04:48 (Sensor): These guys all need to get their asses kicked.
04:48 (MC): What’s that?
04:48 (Sensor): These dudes over here. Ones that are standing up…[Radio static]
04:48 (Broken Radio Transmission) Jag25, Bam…(static)
04:48 (Sensor): All their women are over here. Kids.
04:48 (Safety Observer): I know.
04:48 (Sensor): They’re sitting around on their ass over by the blown‐up truck.
International School in Even Yehuda, Israel, on February 15, 2016. (photo: YouTube)
What is so remarkable and troubling about the presentation we’ve heard today is that what Russia really wants from the U.N. is credit. Congratulations, Russia, you’ve stopped, for a couple days, from using incendiary weapons. Thank you for not using cluster bombs in civilian areas. Thank you for staying the hand of brutality with regard to bunker buster weapons. You don’t get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day or a week. – Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, October 26, 2016
Samantha Power is the face of American diplomacy at the UN, where she gives ardent voice to American hypocrisy, deceit, intellectual dishonesty, and mockery of the rest of the world. Appalling as her performance has been, her portrayal is accurate, right down to her denial-laden confidence in American exceptionalism.
Power’s comment above came in the midst of a discussion of the carnage in Syria, a discussion without substance or pity, without a care for ending the killing. Her tone and content were in sharp, ugly contrast to the report of UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien addressing the Security Council about the layered wars in Syria that began with peaceful protests early in 2011:
Each month, I have come before you and presented an ever-worsening record of destruction and atrocity, grimly cataloguing the systematic destruction of a country and its people. While my job is to relay to you the facts, I cannot help but be incandescent with rage. Month after month, worse and worse, and nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering.
Stephen O’Brien is “incandescent with rage” at the outrage that is Syria, and the perhaps greater outrage of inaction by the Security Council as a body as well as its individual states. O’Brien bears witness to destruction and atrocity that the council cannot stop and to which its member states contribute. They do not express rage, incandescent or otherwise; they express the snide posturing of politics and tactical advantage.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Federation’s ambassador to the UN, said O’Brien had delivered a sermon, not an objective report. Churkin said that the Russian Federation continued to negotiate with armed groups, continued to deliver humanitarian aid by the ton, and continued the eight-day-old bombing pause. Churkin said Aleppo was worse because the Al Nusra Front had not yet fulfilled its promise to separate from more moderate opposition forces. Churkin said that negotiation demands were constantly changing, that fighters used civilians as human shields, that a political solution should remain the first priority, and that New Zealand should be thanked for working to build a consensus among the members to end the fighting.
The American response is as heartbreaking as ever:
What is so remarkable and troubling about the presentation we’ve heard today is that what Russia really wants from the U.N. is credit.
Samantha Power responded to the Russian assertion of facts not with rebuttal, but with sarcasm, mockery, and pettiness. Hers is an essentially ad hominem response that allows no credit for a bombing halt of any duration. And no wonder. Power speaks for a country that bombs others more or less at will for as long as it likes. The US has bombed Afghanistan without serious surcease since 2001, and Iraq almost as long. The US continues to participate in the Saudi Arabian coalition’s relentless bombing of Yemen’s hospitals, schools, and funerals, taking part in war crimes as part of a criminal war.
Congratulations, Russia, you’ve stopped, for a couple days, from using incendiary weapons.
Mockingly, the ambassador from the country of military shock and awe acts as if her hands are clean from decades of devastation visited upon the region. Power acts as if the US aerial destruction brought to bear on defenseless tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan or defenseless urban civilians in Syria, Iraq and Yemen had never happened. Power has nothing to say about American use of depleted uranium weapons that leave their targets – both people and the land – as radioactive threats to human health for generations.
Thank you for not using cluster bombs in civilian areas. Thank you for staying the hand of brutality with regard to bunker buster weapons.
The US/Saudi assault on Yemen uses cluster bombs in civilian areas, but Samantha Power has no sarcastic objection to that. The US manufactures cluster bombs – banned by most of the rest of the world – to sell to the Saudis to use in civilian areas in Yemen. The US had no hesitation using bunker-busting bombs in laying waste to Iraq.
You don’t get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day or a week.
Beyond her heavy-handed mockery, Power offered nothing useful. She might have admitted the constant pattern of American war crimes, especially since 2001, whether torture, kidnapping, imprisonment at dark sites, drone strikes, or any of the other horrific acts of American policy throughout the Middle East since World War II. Being the United States means never having to say you’re sorry, no matter how sorry your human rights record, no matter how sorry your fidelity to international law, and worst of all in the world of power politics, no matter how sorry your actual accomplishments are. No matter how monstrous American behavior becomes, Samantha Power is paid to praise it as the necessary actions of the world’s indispensible nation.
In 2008, when Samantha Power was part of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, she famously called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” So does it take one to know one?
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reprieve | October 30, 2016
Personnel on military bases in the UK have been involved in choosing targets for a secret US drone campaign which has killed hundreds of civilians in violation of international law, documents obtained by human rights charity Reprieve indicate.
Job adverts and CVs identified from publicly-available sources show that the US Air Force has employed a “MQ-9 REAPER [drone] ISR Mission Intelligence Coordinator” at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire; while a Private Military Contractor (PMC) has advertised for an “All Source Analyst – Targeting” to work at the same base.
RAF Molesworth is leased to the US, but the UK Government has refused to answer questions on whether it plays a role in the covert drone campaign – which carries out missile strikes outside of warzones with minimal accountability.
British Ministers have said that “the US does not operate RPAS [drones] from the UK,” but have refused to answer questions on whether bases in the UK play a role in choosing targets and drawing up the US ‘kill list.’
A third job advert from contractor Leidos for someone to provide “FMV [full motion video] intelligence analysis in support of USAFRICOM… and Special Operations Command Africa,” also at Molesworth, indicates that the base may be involved in supporting illegal covert drone strikes in countries such as Somalia, where neither the US nor the UK is publicly at war. Along with the CIA, US Special Operations Command is the main player in the drone programme.
Concerns have been raised over the legality of the US covert drone programme, its lack of transparency, and reports that it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. The UN has warned that it may violate international law, and British ministers have refused to be drawn on their view of its legality. President Obama has to date refused even to formally acknowledge that the CIA is carrying out drone strikes, because of the programme’s covert status. A 2014 study by Reprieve found that covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan had killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named individuals.
The revelations come on top of documents published recently by The Intercept on the role played by Menwith Hill – another UK/US intelligence base – in identifying targets in Yemen, one of the main theatres in which the covert drone programme operates. One document states that targets at Yemeni internet cafes are “tasked by several target offices at NSA and GCHQ.” The document’s header shows it was copied to the UK, meaning that the British Government must have already been aware of the role its intelligence and bases were playing.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said:
“These documents are the strongest evidence yet that the US may be conducting its illegal, secret drone war from bases on British soil. Simply to say that drones are not flown from the UK is missing the point, if it is personnel on British soil that are at the top of the so-called ‘kill chain’ and British agencies who are feeding targets into those lists.
“The US drone programme, conducted in the shadows, has killed hundreds of civilians without any accountability. The British Government has questions to answer over its own involvement in this secret war and how much responsibility it bears for those deaths.”
Officially, of course, the national bird of the United States is that half-a-peace-sign that Philadelphia sports fans like to hold up at opposing teams. But unofficially, the film National Bird has it right: the national bird is a killer drone.
Finally, finally, finally, somebody allowed me to see this movie. And finally somebody made this movie. There have been several drone movies worth seeing, most of them fictional drama, and one very much worth avoiding (Eye in the Sky ). But National Bird is raw truth, not entirely unlike what you might fantasize media news reports would be in a magical world in which media outlets gave a damn about human life.
The first half of National Bird is the stories of three participants in the U.S. military’s drone murder program, as told by them. And then, just as you’re starting to think you’ll have to write that old familiar review that praises how well the stories of the victims among the aggressors were told but asks in exasperation whether any of the victims of the actual missiles have any stories, National Bird expands to include just what is so often missing, and even to combine the two narratives in a powerful way.
Heather Linebaugh wanted to protect people, benefit the world, travel, see the world, and use super cool technology. Apparently our society did not explain to her in time what it means to join the military. Now she suffers guilt, anxiety, moral injury, PTSD, sleep disorder, despair, and a sense of responsibility to speak out on behalf of friends, other veterans, who have killed themselves or become too alcoholic to speak for themselves. Linebaugh helped murder people with missiles from drones, and watched them die, and identified body parts or watched loved ones gather up body parts.
Even while still in the Air Force, Linebaugh was on a suicide watch list and had a psychologist recommend moving her to a different sort of job, but the Air Force refused. She has episodes. She sees things. She hears things. But she’s forbidden to discuss her work with friends or even with a therapist who doesn’t have the proper “security clearance.”
We let Daniel down even more than Heather. He says he actually opposed militarism but was homeless and desperate, so he joined the military. We could have given him a house for much less than we paid him to help murder people at Fort Meade.
Lisa Ling worked on a database filled by drone surveillance that compiled information on 121,000 “targets” in two years. Multiply that by a dozen years. With 90% of victims not among the targets, add up how many people would die in the targeting of the whole list. That’d be over 7 million. But it’s not numbers that have poisoned the souls of these three veterans; it’s children and mothers and brothers and uncles lying in pieces on the ground.
Ling travels to Afghanistan to see the place at ground level and to meet with drone victims. She meets a little boy who lost his leg and his 4-year-old brother and his sister and his father. On February 2, 2010, drone “pilots” at Creech Air Base murdered 23 innocent members of one family.
The filmmakers have voices read the written transcript of what the drone operators said to each other before, during, and after sending in the missiles that did the damage. This is worse than Collateral Murder. The people whose job it is to identify children and others who should not be murdered have identified children among the group of people being targeted. The “pilots” at Creech are eager to reject this information and to get on to killing as many people as they can. Their lust for blood drives the decision process. Only after they’ve killed 23 people do they recognize children among the survivors, and the lack of guns.
We see the bodies brought home to bury. Those injured describe their suffering, physical as well as mental. We see people being fitted with artificial legs. We hear Afghans describe their perception of drones. They imagine, just as many Americans may imagine, and just as viewers of Eye in the Sky would imagine, that drone operators have a clear, high resolution view of everything. In fact, they have a view of fuzzy little blobs on a computer screen that looks like it was created in the 1980s.
Linebaugh says there is no way to distinguish the little “civilian” blobs from little “militant” blobs. When Daniel hears President Obama claim that there is always near certainty that no civilians will be killed, Daniel explains that such knowledge is simply not possible. Linebaugh says she was often on the side of the conversation telling the “pilots” at Creech not to murder innocents, but that they always pushed for permission to kill.
Jesselyn Radack, attorney for whistleblowers, says in the film that the FBI told two whistleblowers that a terrorist group had put them on a kill list. She said that the FBI has also contacted Linebaugh’s family and warned her that “terrorists” have been searching for her name online, suggesting that she fix this problem by shutting up. (She had written an op-ed in the Guardian).
The FBI also raids Daniel’s house, arriving with 30 to 50 agents, badges, guns, cameras, and search warrants. They take away his papers, electronics, and phone. They tell him he is under investigation for a possible indictment under the Espionage Act. This is the World War I-era law for targeting foreign enemies that President Obama has made a routine of using to target domestic whistleblowers. While Obama has prosecuted more people under this law than did all previous presidents combined, we probably have no way of knowing how many people have been explicitly threatened with the possibility.
While we should be apologizing to, comforting, and aiding these young people rather than denying them the right to speak to anybody and threatening them with decades in prison, Lisa Ling did manage to find some kindness. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan told her that they forgave her. As the film ends, she’s planning another trip to Afghanistan.
In the past week, Burundi and South Africa have joined Namibia in declaring their intention to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They are likely to be followed by a parade of other African countries, jeopardizing the future of an international court that has prosecuted 39 officials from eight African countries but has failed to indict a single person who is not African.
Ironically, African countries were among the first to embrace the ICC, so it is a striking turnaround that they are now the first to give up on it.
But it is the United States that has played the leading role in preventing the ICC from fulfilling the universal mandate for which it was formed, to hold officials of all countries accountable for the worst crimes in the world: genocide; crimes against humanity; and war crimes – not least the crime of international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg defined as “the supreme international crime” from which all other war crimes follow.
As the ICC’s founding father, former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, lamented in 2011, “You don’t have to be a criminologist to realize that if you want to deter a crime, you must persuade potential criminals that, if they commit crimes, they will be hauled into court and be held accountable. It is the policy of the United States to do just the opposite as far as the crime of aggression is concerned. Our government has gone to great pains to be sure that no American will be tried by any international criminal court for the supreme crime of illegal war-making.”
The U.S. has not only refused to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC over its own citizens. It has gone further, pressuring other countries to sign Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIA), in which they renounce the right to refer U.S. citizens to the ICC for war crimes committed on their territory.
The U.S. has also threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries that refuse to sign them. The BIAs violate those countries’ own commitments under the ICC statute, and the U.S. pressure to sign them has been rightly condemned as an outrageous effort to ensure impunity for U.S. war crimes.
Resistance to U.S. Impunity
To the credit of our international neighbors, this U.S. strategy has met with substantial resistance. The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that BIAs are incompatible with E.U. membership, and urged E.U.- member states and countries seeking E.U. membership not to sign them.
Fifty-four countries have publicly refused to sign BIAs, and 24 have accepted cut-offs of U.S. aid as a consequence of their refusal. Of 102 countries that have signed a BIA, only 48 are members of the ICC in any case, and only 15 of those countries are on record as having ratified the BIAs in their own parliaments.
Thirty-two other ICC members have apparently allowed BIAs to take effect without parliamentary ratification, but this has been challenged by their own country’s legal experts in many cases.
The U.S. campaign to undermine the ICC is part of a much broader effort by the U.S. government to evade all forms of accountability under the laws that are supposed to govern international behavior in the modern world, even as it continues to masquerade as a global champion of the rule of law.
The treaties that U.S. policy systematically violates today were crafted by American statesmen and diplomats, working with their foreign colleagues, to build a world where all people would enjoy some basic protections from the worst atrocities, instead of being subject only to the law of the jungle or “might makes right.”
So current U.S. policy is a cynical betrayal of the work and wisdom of past generations of Americans, as well as of countless victims all over the world to whom we are effectively denying the protections of the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and other multilateral treaties that our country ignores, violates or refuses to ratify.
Avoiding the jurisdiction of international courts is only one of the ways that the U.S. evades international accountability for its criminal behavior. Another involves an elaborate and well-disguised public relations campaign that exploit the powerful position of U.S. corporations in the world of commercial media.
Major Propaganda Funding
The U.S. government spends a billion dollars per year on public relations or, more bluntly, propaganda, including $600 million from the Pentagon budget. The work of its P.R. teams and contractors is laundered by U.S. newspapers and repeated and analyzed ad nauseam by monolithic, flag-waving TV networks.
These profitable corporate operations monopolize the public airwaves in the U.S., and also use their financial clout, slick marketing and the support of the U.S. State Department to maintain a powerful presence in foreign and international media markets.
Foreign media in allied countries provide further legitimacy and credibility to U.S. talking-points and narratives as they echo around the world. Meanwhile, Hollywood fills cinema and TV screens across the world with an idealized, glamorized, inspirational version of America that still mesmerizes many people.
This whole elaborate “information warfare” machine presents the United States as a global leader for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, even as it systematically and catastrophically undermines those same principles. It enables our leaders to loudly and persuasively demonize other countries and their leaders as dangerous violators of international law, even as the U.S. and its allies commit far worse crimes.
Double Standards in Syria/Iraq
Today, for instance, the U.S. and its allies are accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes in east Aleppo, even as America’s own and allied forces launch a similar assault on Mosul. Both attacks are killing civilians and reducing much of a city to rubble; the rationale is the same, counterterrorism; and there are many more people in the line of fire in Mosul than in east Aleppo.
But the U.S. propaganda machine ensures that most Americans see one, in Mosul, as a legitimate counterterrorism operation (with Islamic State accused of using the civilians as “human shields”) and the other, in east Aleppo, as a massacre (with the presence of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the former Nusra Front, virtually whited out of the West’s coverage, which focuses almost entirely on the children and makes no mention of “human shields”).
The phrase “aggressive war” is also a no-no in the Western media when the U.S. government launches attacks across international borders. In the past 20 years, the U.S. has violated the U.N. Charter to attack at least eight countries (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria), and the resulting wars have killed about two million people.
A complex whirlwind of conflict and chaos rages on in all the countries where the U.S. and its allies have lit the flames of war since 2001, but U.S. leaders still debate new interventions and escalations as if we are the fire brigade not the arsonists. (By contrast, the U.S. government and the Western media are quick to accuse Russia or other countries of “aggression” even in legally murky situations, such as after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014 that ousted the elected president of Ukraine.)
Systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions are an integral part of U.S. war-making. Most are shrouded in secrecy, and the propaganda machine spins the atrocities that slip through into the public record as a disconnected series of aberrations, accidents and “bad apples,” instead of as the result of illegal rules of engagement and unlawful orders from higher-ups.
The senior officers and civilian officials who are criminally responsible for these crimes under U.S. and international law systematically abuse their powerful positions to subvert investigations, cover up their crimes and avoid any accountability whatsoever.
When British playwright Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he bravely and brilliantly used his Nobel lecture to speak about the real role that the U.S. plays in the world and how it whitewashes its crimes. Pinter recounted a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in London in the 1980s in which a senior embassy official, Raymond Seitz, flatly denied U.S. war crimes against Nicaragua for which the U.S. was in fact convicted of aggression by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Seitz went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., and then Vice-Chairman of Lehman Brothers.
As Pinter explained: “this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.
“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
If in 2016 the world seems to be more violent and chaotic than ever, it is not because the United States lacks the will to use force or project power, as both major party candidates for President and their military advisers appear to believe, but because our leaders have placed too much stock in the illegal threat and use of force and have lost faith in the rule of law, international cooperation and diplomacy.
After a century of commercial dominance, and 75 years of investing disproportionately in weapons, military forces and geopolitical schemes, perhaps it is understandable that U.S. leaders have forgotten how to deal fairly and respectfully with our international neighbors. But it is no longer an option to muddle along, leaving a trail of death, ruin and chaos in our wake, counting on an elaborate propaganda machine to minimize the blowback on our country and our lives.
Sooner rather than later, Americans and our leaders must knuckle down and master the very different attitudes and skills we will need to become law-abiding global citizens in a peaceful, sustainable, multipolar world.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
Despite his repeated public statements opposing “American boots on the ground,” President Barack Obama—just shy of the end of his time in office— has been expanding U.S. military presence in war-torn Somalia as the Pentagon has deployed up to 300 U.S. special forces and increased airstrikes in the African country, the New York Times reported Sunday.
U.S. special operation troops have been “heavily involved” with Somali and African troops, U.S. and African officials told the newspaper, as part of operation “Somalia Campaign” which Obama has quietly and secretly spearheaded in a bid to fight the al-Qaida-aligned Shabab group.
The special forces are carrying out, along with other local troops, more than six raids a month against what they claim are extremist group positions.
Officials told the newspaper that the U.S. troops get to interrogate alleged militants first before they are passed on to local Somali authorities, which brings to mind the countless accounts of torture and brutal interrogation methods carried out by U.S. agents and soldiers in the past.
What’s more troubling is that information about the airstrikes—where hundreds of people are being killed—are not being made public.
One of the deadliest airstrikes by the U.S. in the county came in March when the Pentagon said its military jets killed more than 150 alleged Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony.”
Another airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who are supposedly U.S. allies against the Shabab, Somali officials told the New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon admits to very few of the hundreds of operations taking place in Somalia, labeling them as “self-defense strikes.”
However, analysts and observers of the conflict have said “this rationale has become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” meaning that the only reason U.S. forces are facing any threat at all from Shabab group is because of their very deployment into the country in the first place.
This year alone Obama has authorized airstrikes and covert operations in at least seven countries and the Somalia campaign comes as the outgoing president intends to pass on his administration’s model for how to carry out foreign interventions—like in Syria, Iraq and Libya—to his successor.
Somalia will be remembered as another large stain in Obama’s record as the country is considered one of the largest targets for Washington’s drone program that has been accused of killing civilians, with very loose guidelines on collateral damage.
Britain is fighting at least seven covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa, outside of any democratic oversight or control. Whitehall has in effect gone underground, with neither parliament nor the public being allowed to debate, scrutinise or even know about these wars. To cover themselves, Ministers are now often resorting to lying about what they are authorising. While Britain has identified Islamic State (among others) as the enemy abroad, it is clear that it sees the British public and parliament as the enemy at home.
Britain began training Syrian rebel forces from bases in Jordan in 2012. This was also when the SAS was reported to be ‘slipping into Syria on missions’ against Islamic State. Now, British special forces are ‘mounting hit and run raids against IS deep inside eastern Syria dressed as insurgent fighters’ and ‘frequently cross into Syria to assist the New Syrian Army’ from their base in Jordan. British special forces also provide training, weapons and other equipment to the New Syrian Army.
British aircraft began covert strikes against IS targets in Syria in 2015, months before Parliament voted in favour of overt action in December 2015. These strikes were conducted by British pilots embedded with US and Canadian forces.
Britain has also been operating a secret drone warfare programme in Syria. Last year Reaper drones killed British IS fighters in Syria, again before parliament approved military action. As I have previously argued, British covert action and support of the Syrian rebels is, along with horrific Syrian government/Russian violence, helping to prolong a terrible conflict.
Hundreds of British troops are officially in Iraq to train local security forces. But they are also engaged in covert combat operations against IS. One recent report suggests that Britain has more than 200 special force soldiers in the country, operating out of a fortified base within a Kurdish Peshmerga camp south of Mosul.
British Reaper drones were first deployed over Iraq in 2014 and are now flown remotely by satellite from an RAF base in Lincolnshire. Britain has conducted over 200 drones strikes in Iraq since November 2014.
SAS forces have been secretly deployed to Libya since the beginning of this year, working with Jordanian special forces embedded in the British contingent. This follows a mission by MI6 and the RAF in January to gather intelligence on IS and draw up potential targets for air strikes. British commandos are now reportedly fighting and directing assaults on Libyan frontlines and running intelligence, surveillance and logistical support operations from a base in the western city of Misrata.
But a team of 15 British forces are also reported to be based in a French-led multinational military operations centre in Benghazi, eastern Libya, supporting renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. In July 2016, Middle East Eye reported that this British involvement was helping to coordinate air strikes in support of Haftar, whose forces are opposed to the Tripoli-based government that Britain is supposed to be supporting.
The government says it has no military personnel based in Yemen. Yet a report by Vice News in April, based on numerous interviews with officials, revealed that British special forces in Yemen, who were seconded to MI6, were training Yemeni troops fighting Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and also had forces infiltrated in AQAP. The same report also found that British military personnel were helping with drone strikes against AQAP. Britain was playing ‘a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program’. In addition, the UK spybase at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire facilitates US drone strikes in Yemen.
Britain has been widely reported (outside the mainstream media) as supporting the brutal Saudi war in Yemen, which has caused thousands of civilian deaths, most of them due to Saudi air strikes. Indeed, Britain is party to the war. The government says there are around 100 UK military personnel based in Saudi Arabia including a ‘small number’ at ‘Saudi MOD and Operational Centres’. One such Centre, in Riyadh, coordinates the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen and includes British military personnel who are in the command room as air strikes are carried out and who have access to the bombing targets.
The UK is of course arming the Saudi campaign: The British government disclosed on 13 October that the Saudis have used five types of British bombs and missiles in Yemen. On the same day, it lied to Parliament that Britain was ‘not a party’ to the war in Yemen.
A secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ that Britain signed with Saudi Arabia in 2014 has not been made public since it ‘would damage the UK’s bilateral relationship’ with the Kingdom, the government states. It is likely that this pact includes reference to the secret British training of Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia, which has taken place since mid-2015. Operating from a desert base in the north of the country, British forces have been teaching Syrian forces infantry skills as part of a US-led training programme.
In Afghanistan, the public was told that British forces withdrew at the end of 2014. However, British forces stayed behind to help create and train an Afghan special forces unit. Despite officially only having ‘advisors’ in Afghanistan, in August 2015 it was reported that British covert forces were fighting IS and Taliban fighters. The SAS and SBS, along with US special forces, were ‘taking part in military operations almost every night’ as the insurgents closed in on the capital Kabul.
In 2014, the government stated that it had ended its drone air strikes programme in Afghanistan, which had begun in 2008 and covered much of the country. Yet last year it was reported that British special forces were calling in air strikes using US drones.
Pakistan and Somalia
Pakistan and Somalia are two other countries where Britain is conducting covert wars. Menwith Hill facilitates US drone strikes against jihadists in both countries, with Britain’s GCHQ providing ‘locational intelligence’ to US forces for use in these attacks.
The government has said that it has 27 military personnel in Somalia who are developing the national army and supporting the African Union Mission. Yet in 2012 it was reported that the SAS was covertly fighting against al-Shabab Islamist terrorists in Somalia, working with Kenyan forces in order to target leaders. This involved up to 60 SAS soldiers, close to a full squadron, including Forward Air Controllers who called in air strikes against al-Shabab targets by the Kenyan air force. In early 2016, it was further reported that Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose troops operate with UK special forces, was saying that his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go ‘over the border’ to attack al-Shabaab.
The RAF’s secret drone war, which involves a fleet of 10 Reaper drones, has been in permanent operation in Afghanistan since October 2007, but covertly began operating outside Afghanistan in 2014. The NGO Reprieve notes that Britain provides communications networks to the CIA ‘without which the US would not be able to operate this programme’. It says that this is a particular matter of concern as the US covert drone programme is illegal.
Even this may not be the sum total of British covert operations in the region. The government stated in 2015 that it had 177 military personnel embedded in other countries’ forces, with 30 personnel working with the US military. It is possible that these forces are also engaged in combat in the region. For example, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, has said that in the Gulf, British pilots fly US F18s from the decks of US aircraft carriers. This means that ‘US’ air strikes might well be carried out by British pilots.
Britain has many other military and intelligence assets in the region. Files leaked by Edward Snowden show that Britain has a network of three GCHQ spy bases in Oman – codenamed ‘Timpani’, ‘Guitar’ and ‘Clarinet’ – which tap in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf. These bases intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, which information is then shared with the National Security Agency in the US.
The state of Qatar houses the anti-IS coalition’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid airbase. The government says it has seven military personnel ‘permanently assigned to Qatar’ and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ working at the airbase. These are likely to be covert forces; the government says that ‘we do not discuss specific numbers for reasons of safeguarding operational security’.
Similarly, the government says it has six military personnel ‘permanently assigned’ to the United Arab Emirates and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ at the UAE’s Al Minhad airbase. Britain also has military assets at Manama harbour, Bahrain, whose repressive armed forces are also being secretly trained by British commandos.
Kenya and Turkey
Kenya hosts Britain’s Kahawa Garrishon barracks and Laikipia Air Base, from where thousands of troops who carry out military exercises in Kenya’s harsh terrain can be deployed on active operations in the Middle East. Turkey has also offered a base for British military training. In 2015, for example, Britain deployed several military trainers to Turkey as part of the US-led training programme in Syria, providing small arms, infantry tactics and medical training to rebel forces.
The web of deceit
When questioned about these covert activities, Ministers have two responses. One is to not to comment on special forces’ operations. The other is to lie, which has become so routine as to be official government policy. The reasoning is simple – the government believes the public simply has no right to know of these operations, let alone to influence them.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told parliament in July that the government is ‘committed to the convention that before troops are committed to combat the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter’. This is plainly not true, as the extent of British covert operations show.
Similarly, it was first reported in May that British troops were secretly engaged in combat in Libya. This news came two days after Fallon told MPs that Britain was not planning ‘any kind of combat role’ to fight IS in Libya.
There are many other examples of this straightforward web of deceit. In July 2016, the government issued six separate corrections to previous ministerial statements in which they claimed that Saudi Arabia is not targeting civilians or committing war crimes in Yemen. However, little noticed was that these corrections also claimed that ‘the UK is not a party’ to the conflict in Yemen. This claim is defied by various news reports in the public domain.
British foreign policy is in extreme mode, whereby Ministers do not believe they should be accountable to the public. This is the very definition of dictatorship. Although in some of these wars, Britain is combatting terrorist forces that are little short of evil, it is no minor matter that several UK interventions have encouraged these very same forces and prolonged wars, all the while being regularly disastrous for the people of the region. Britain’s absence of democracy needs serious and urgent challenging.
twitter – @markcurtis30