Mumbai atrocities enabled by intelligence operations of India, Pakistan and the United States
A senior Indian police officer and anti-corruption investigator last month accused the Indian government of orchestrating the Mumbai terror attacks which occurred nearly seven years ago, according to an Indian government official.
R. V. S. Mani, a former undersecretary in India’s home ministry now in the urban development ministry, testified in July that a senior police officer who investigated the 2004 ‘encounter killings’ of four Indian Muslims in Gujarat by the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch, had told him that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were “set up” by the Indian government.
The police officer, Satish Verma — currently Principal at the Police Training College in Junagadh — is well-known for his secondment to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s elite anti-corruption law enforcement agency, to lead the probe into the 2004 ‘encounter killings.’
The 2004 victims were Ishrat Jahan Raza, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbra, Maharashtra, and three men — Pranesh Pillai (alias Javed Gulam Sheikh), Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar. Gujarat police authorities with the support of Indian government officials claimed that the killings were justified due to credible intelligence linking the four to Islamist terrorists.
Anti-corruption investigator blames government for terror
According to Mani, who has signed affidavits submitted to court on the encounter killings, Satish Verma privately accused successive Indian governments of “orchestrating” not only the Mumbai terror attacks, but also the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
Verma made the allegations while questioning Mani on Indian government claims that intelligence proved Ishrat Jahan’s links to Islamist terrorists. According to the Times of India, the former home ministry official revealed in his affidavits that Verma had said the terror attacks were set up by the government “with the objective of strengthening the counter-terror legislation.”
Verma allegedly claimed that:
“… the 13.12. 2001 (attack on Parliament) was followed by Pota (Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act) and 26/11 2008 (terrorists’ siege of Mumbai) was followed by amendment to the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act).”
According to the Times, Verma refused to confirm or deny Mani’s account of his allegations. “I cannot speak to the media on such matters. Ask the CBI,” he said.
Neither Verma or Mani could be reached for comment.
The allegations have been used by the Indian government to cast doubt on Verma’s role in the CBI investigation
This is not the first time that the Indian government has attempted to use Verma’s work against him. In April last year, Verma complained before India’s Central Administrative Tribune that he was a target of government harassment due to its “intense dislike” of his work investigating the Israt Jahan fake encounter case, and the Gujarat government’s role in it.
Staged counter-terror operation
All three incidents — the 2001 attack on Parliament, 2004 ‘encounter killings’ and the 2011 Mumbai attacks — have been linked to terrorists from the al-Qaeda affiliated Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which also has close ties to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
The CBI’s investigation into the controversial 2004 ‘encounter killings’ found that they had been “staged” by Gujarat police forces, concluding there was no evidence justifying claims that Ishrat Jahan and her fellow victims were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The verdict, outlined in the CBI’s 2013 charge sheet, stated that the police attacks were carried out in cold blood, and “staged” by Gujarat police and the government’s Intelligence Bureau (IB):
“The above said fake encounter was a result of Joint operation of Gujarat Police and SIB [State Intelligence Bureau], Ahmedabad. In this operation the overt acts committed by the accused Gujarat Police officers have been established by the evidence on record.”
The CBI chargesheet corroborated the conclusions of an earlier investigation by an Ahmedabad Metropolitan court, which in 2009 had determined the killings were staged Gujarat intelligence and police officials.
Gujarat authorities claim that IB intelligence showed that Ishrat and the other men were planning to assassinate Modi on behalf of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But according to the CBI probe, “the four people were illegally confined at three different farmhouses for days before the encounter on June 15, 2004.” India’s NDTV reported that the CBI probe had confirmed that weapons found near their bodies, including an AK-56, “were supplied by the Intelligence Bureau.”
India’s Intelligence Bureau: creating terror to fight terror
The Indian state of Gujarat, where incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi was chief minister during this period, is home to a sizeable Muslim minority.
Reviewing the CBI charge sheet and related evidence, Indian journalists Hartosh Singh Bal and Mihir Srivastava noted that the CBI probe had confirmed the role of senior Indian IB officials, “including at least in one case the then IB head in Gujarat, Rajinder Kumar,” who is close to Narenda Modi.
Bal and Srivastava interviewed several senior IB officials who confirmed that “the Ishrat Jahan case was a successful IB operation,” but denied that the encounter victims were disassociated from terrorism.
“The encounter was fake no doubt, according to them, but the information that Ishrat and the other three were part of a larger terror network was true. They went on to say that this was a successful intelligence operation, as the IB was able to infiltrate their sleeper cell and plant informers.”
Bal and Srivastava’s account of one of these interviews provides further alarming evidence of the extent to which counter-terrorism intelligence operations can facilitate terrorism. One high-level Intelligence Bureau executive told the pair:
“… there are hundreds of operations underway at any point of time where an informer has been planted in a sleeper network. This involves being in the company of drug and arms dealers, fake currency smugglers, explosive experts and contract killers. Some operations involve working with the mafia and dealing in and supplying arms. There are safe houses in which certain terrorists are kept, briefed and debriefed, then pushed back into the terror network to extricate information.”
In one particularly alarming passage, the journalists recount that IB officials confirm about 5,000 telephone numbers are being monitored in Delhi. On “special occasions” Indian intelligence services make bespoke IB simcards “available to terror networks and sleeper cells to monitor their activities…
“There have been a few cases where attacks were carried out by terrorists using IB simcards. ‘If these cases were to be investigated, the CBI would say the IB carried out terror attacks. We have a job at hand,’ says the IB official.”
In this context, the revelation that CBI Israt Jahan probe member Satish Verma reportedly accuses the Indian government of facilitating other terrorist attacks linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba raises fundamental questions about the extent to which the lack of democratic oversight over intelligence methods is compromising national security.
The triple cross behind the Mumbai atrocity
Those questions are also relevant in light of the fact that alleged Mumbai attack terror mastermind, David Coleman Headley, was a longtime CIA asset and triple agent.
A previous Times of India investigation in late 2013 found that Headley, who had worked for the CIA for eleven years, had penetrated Lashkar-e-Taiba on behalf of the US intelligence agency and collaborated closely with senior Pakistani ISI officials in planning the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people and wounded 304.
Senior intelligence officials from a US Joint Terrorism Task Force described Headley as a “prized counter-terrorism asset,” whose “proximity” to the attack plans allowed the CIA to repeatedly tip off their Indian counterparts. But, the report revealed, despite his instrumental role in creating and executing those plans, Headley “was allowed to remain in place even as the attack was realized.”
A US intelligence official with expertise on Afghanistan and Pakistan denied that Headley was ever connected to the CIA on condition of anonymity.
Yet Headley’s intimate ties to the US intelligence community emerged in the 2011 Chicago terror trial of Headley’s alleged co-conspirator in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Tahawwur Rana, during which Rana’s attorney Charlie Swift described Headley as a “master manipulator” who worked simultaneously for the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI.
Those allegations raised in court were vindicated when Swift obtained a ‘not guilty’ verdict for Rana for the Mumbai attacks, although Rana was instead convicted of providing support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
According to the Times of India investigation by British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, the Americans wanted to keep Headley running due to how he had gained the trust of a senior al-Qaeda operative, who was close to Osama bin Laden and among the al-Qaeda chief’s potential successors:
“Indian intelligence agents accused their US counterparts of protecting Headley and leaving him in the field, despite the imminent threat to Mumbai. Irate Indian officials claimed that Headley’s Mumbai plot was allowed to run on by his US controllers, as to spool it in would have jeopardized his involvement in another critical US operation.”
The CIA, on the other hand, pointed the finger straight back at India. One senior CIA official accused Indian intelligence of “incompetence” for failing to act on the US agency’s multiple detailed warnings of an impending Islamist assault on Mumbai.
Although many of the US bulletins even reached police authorities patrolling Mumbai, the intelligence warnings were “ignored or downplayed” by Indian officials according to the Times.
Ironically, both the CIA and Indian accusations and counter-accusations all appear to bear significant merit. US officials have maintained a studious silence on David Headley and his CIA patronage to this day, refusing to throw light on the conflict of interest that enabled the Mumbai terror mastermind to “run amok in the field,” in the words of the Times.
Simultaneously, the lack of an in-depth Indian government postmortem into the Mumbai attacks has permitted Indian intelligence agencies to evade awkward questions about their failure to pursue the CIA’s leads on the unfolding plot.
It is not just the Pakistani ISI, then, that has scrambled to cover-up its complicity in the Mumbai attacks. American and Indian intelligence agencies are also busy playing the blame game while maneuvering to conceal their own dubious roles in running ill-conceived intelligence operations enabling the terror attacks.
When under interrogation by Indian police, Headley was under the supervision of FBI officials at all times. Under his plea bargain with US authorities, he agreed to say no more than what he first confessed to the FBI, and in return will avoid the death penalty in the US, as well as extradition to India or Pakistan.
Confidential Indian intelligence records show that Headley had three local contacts on the ground in Mumbai who assisted him with his surveillance and reconnaissance activities in preparation for the terror plot. Yet for reasons unknown, Indian authorities chose not to investigate Headley’s local connections as identified in these files.
Even Headley’s alleged Pakistani handler, ISI officer Sajid Mir (also known as Sajeed Majeed) who played a major role in the Mumbai attacks, continues to operate with impunity.
This has not stopped US and Indian intelligence agencies from giving each other a helping hand where it counts, while still pointing fingers.
Under US supervision and constrained by the terms of his plea bargain, Headley told Indian intelligence officers who had flown to Chicago in July 2010 that Israt Jahan was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s suicide bomb squad.
Yet Headley’s reconnaissance missions for Lashkar began two years after Jahan and three other men were killed in the ‘fake encounter’, staged by Indian authorities according to a CBI investigation.
Headley’s claim was leapt on by Gujarat authorities to justify their story of the 2004 encounter killings.
Both US and Indian authorities, it seems, are keen to discredit the shocking conclusions of the CBI’s anti-corruption investigators.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye.
He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.
Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Anglia Ruskin University.
Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010).
WASHINGTON — The US armed forces are using a growing number of mercenaries or contractors to operate lethal drone attacks as regular troops are increasingly unwilling to do so, experts told Sputnik.
“‘Private contractors’, mercenaries, have been involved in US drone surveillance and attack for some time, certainly with the CIA, and most probably not only in intelligence analysis, but also in the roles of pilots and sensor operators,” KnowDrones.com Coordinator Nick Mottern told Sputnik on Friday.
The sensor operators are the people who pull the trigger to launch Hellfire missiles and bombs, he said.
Mottern noted the need to hire mercenaries indicates that the US military is not able, for whatever reason, to find enough people within its ranks to do such work.
“This is… because it is involving an increasing amount of killing, and, I suspect, an increasing amount of PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder].”
The situation, Mottern continued, presents a major legal problem for the contracting companies and the military alike, because of the question who should be held accountable for the killing going on conducted by drones.
“[T]he critical decisions of identifying ‘the enemy’ are being made by civilians who are under no official chain of command,” he added.
All drone killing remains clearly in violation of international law and US domestic law against assassination, Mottern pointed out.
Yet, “here we have the US paying civilians to do illegal killing without even the legal accountability applied to the US military,” he said. “[T]he mercenaries are accountable only to their employers who most assuredly are encouraging high kill totals to ensure continued contracts. “
This lack of accountability and of any clear chain of command “obviously means dramatically increased jeopardy for the people under surveillance and drone attack; that is a dramatic increase in the number of people being killed and terrorized,” Mottern explained.
The unwillingness of the US military to comment on this situation is evidence of its illegality, the activist argued.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), Mottern said, has documented up to nearly 6,000 people killed by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, not including those killed in Afghanistan before 2015, or those killed by drone attacks in Iraq, Libya or possibly Syria.
“The extent of drone surveillance, killing and terrorism going on is very likely far beyond what is documented by [the BIJ figures],” Mottern warned.
Upstate Drone Acton activist Ed Kinane told Sputnik on Friday that the scale of drone operations and the amount of carnage they will inflict looks likely to increase in coming months.
“The problem isn’t ‘lack of personnel’; the problem is an overabundance of opportunities for surveillance and killing — thanks to the US military’s drive for assassination, intervention and invasion,” Kinane said.
The continued and increasing cycles of war generate further profit for major defense contractors in the United States and its close allies, Kinane claimed.
“More war equals more profit, [therefore] perpetual war equals perpetual profit [and] more regional instability equals more opportunities to secure control over resources of fractured nations,” Kinane argued.
The intelligence analysts now employed by the Pentagon will likely eventually be involved in domestic police and intelligence work as well, Kinane predicted.
Reprieve | July 28, 2015
The Home Office is refusing to reveal the true extent of secret funding to Pakistan which risks implicating the UK in a wave of executions currently underway.
Human rights organization Reprieve has brought proceedings before the Information Rights Tribunal (IRT) challenging ministers’ refusal to reveal whether Government guidelines were followed when funneling at least £12 million into anti-drugs efforts in Pakistan, largely carried out by the Pakistani Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF). The ANF is responsible for sending more than a hundred alleged drug mules to Pakistan’s 8,500-strong death row, and lists these numbers on its website as ‘Prosecution Achievements.’ Several British citizens are understood to be among those facing execution on drugs charges.
Pakistan has executed some 180 people since resuming executions in December 2014, having widened its hanging campaign in early 2015 to cover all prisoners on the country’s death row – including drug offenders, others convicted of non-violent offences, juveniles, and mentally ill prisoners.
The UK’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance requires ministers to consider the potential risk to human rights of government overseas assistance. However, the Government is refusing to reveal crucial details of its decision-making about the funding, despite the recent resumption of hangings. The Home Office is arguing that publishing the information would both damage its relations with Pakistan, and reveal information which could “relate to” the British security services.
At the Government’s request large portions of the hearings so far have been heard in secret, without the presence of Reprieve, its lawyers, or a Government-appointed security-cleared lawyer known as a ‘Special Advocate’. Reprieve is currently seeking permission to appeal the judge’s decision to refuse the presence of a special advocate.
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“The British public deserves to know how much of its money is funding hangings in Pakistan, particularly as the country continues its aggressive execution spree. If the UK is contributing to putting vulnerable drug mules – including British nationals – on death row in countries like Pakistan, this is a matter of huge public interest. The Home Office should stop hiding behind spurious national security arguments in an effort to dodge taxpayer scrutiny, and instead come clean about the true extent of its aid for executions”.
Fresh controversy has emerged about RAF airmen embedded in an American drone unit, which is known to be carrying out airstrikes in Syria after the charity Reprieve gained access to a joint US-UK memo.
Responding to Reprieve’s request in November, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there were “currently” no RAF personnel embedded with the United States Air Force’s (USAF) 432nd unit based at Creech airbase in Nevada.
It now appears that the response was not given in good faith – while there may have been no personnel at Creech in November, RAF airmen have been embedded there since 2008 and are there presently.
The MoD confirmed on Wednesday there were indeed UK armed forces personnel currently at the base.
If UK personnel are involved in strikes in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, with whom the UK is not ‘legally’ at war, there may be legal issues.
Strikes on Syria would also be illegal given a 2013 parliamentary vote on bombing within the borders of the war-ravaged nation.
The memo concerns the embedding of UK personnel in US units in order to make up for manning shortfalls. It referred to them as “a gift of services to fulfill US air force operational requirements.”
The three-year postings for pilot and sensor operators for both Reaper and Predator drones are described as involving a role in “worldwide operations” and taking part in operations that determine and hit viable targets “in conjunction with the combined air operations center rules of engagement, but always adhering to the legal framework for the operation in question.”
Concerns over the activities of embedded personnel have been under the spotlight over the last two weeks since they emerged after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, also by Reprieve, that UK pilots had been bombing targets in Syria despite the 2013 vote and resulting democratic ban on doing so.
It was later confirmed that each mission, reportedly carried out by Royal Navy pilots operating from US aircraft carriers in the Gulf, received specific parliamentary authorization.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has since defended the operations, saying that UK personnel embedded with allied forces were effectively “foreign troops.”
By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | June 20, 2015
President Obama was, of course, right to denounce the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and to call for an end to such violence.
But this begs the question of whether he will stop his own illegal drone strikes in the Middle East that are just as deadly and a hundred times more numerous than the attack in South Carolina.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism(BIJ), London, just since Mr. Obama came to power, at least several thousand innocent persons (all are presumed innocent unless proven guilty by trial) in Pakistan alone have been murdered by his agents in the CIA and Pentagon. Among the dead are several hundred children. Here are BIJ’s distressing figures for that nation:
All actions 2004 – January 31 2015
Total Obama strikes: 362
Total US strikes since 2004: 413
Total reported killed: 2,438-3,942
Civilians reported killed: 416-959
Children reported killed: 168-204
Total reported injured: 1,142
The Bureau’s reports regarding covert US drone attacks cover both the missions of the CIA and the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
If nothing else, the horror of Charleston should inform the American public of the shock and awe their president is inflicting with grim regularity in the Middle East. His is a campaign that, to our shame and sorrow, is creating immense blowback against America.
Mr. Obama has maintained U.S. forces take great care that only terrorists are killed but an April 26th article in The Wall Street Journal by Adam Entous reports “he secretly approved a waiver giving the Central Intelligence Agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants…”
Entous continued, “The rules were designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Mr. Obama also required that proposed targets pose an imminent threat to the U.S.—but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.” Why, you ask?
Mr. Obama, (who is reputed to be a former CIA employee,) according to RealClearPolitics is “In Thrall to CIA Killing Machine.” Writer Toby Harnden wrote of him on April 16, 2013: “The man who ran as a liberal, anti-war candidate has brushed away concerns about the (drone) attacks. During one meeting he responded to a request for an expansion of America’s drone fleet by saying: ‘The CIA gets what the CIA wants!'”
In his comments about the church murders, Mr. Obama said, “once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” (Much less directing America’s trillion-dollar-a-year killing machine!)
Mr. Obama said further, “let’s be clear… It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency, and it is in our power to do something about it.” (Oh, yes it does! It happens far more often in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, among other places, and the man who is responsible for them and who can do something about it is the same man wearing the long face in the White House.)
With reference to this article, the eminent Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, commented:
As the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior said a generation ago, the United States government is ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’
It is a terrible tragedy and a great shame that nothing has changed today under our first African American President and my fellow graduate of the Harvard Law School who knows better. The massive violence that America perpetrates abroad brutalizes the American People at home. President Obama has taught the world that in his opinion ‘violence works.’ Doctor King is now crying in Heaven.
By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | May 30, 2015
Today, May 30, 2015, is the 584th anniversary of the day on which Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the British forces occupying France.
The “Maid of Orleans” had the ill luck to be captured while she was rallying her countrymen to throw off the English yoke and a pro-English Bishop, Pierre Cauchon, after a grossly unjust trial, sentenced her to death by fire. “Bishop, I die through you!” she reportedly told him.
Saint Joan, as she is known since her canonization by the Roman Catholic church, was only 19. Despicable as the Bishop’s conduct was, he at least made a pretense of a legal proceeding.
Contrast this with the conduct of President Barack Obama, who likely may be responsible for the drone killings of more than a thousand innocent civilians across the Middle East, and who dispenses entirely with legal niceties.
How is it that Bishop Cauchon is reviled for a single murder yet President Obama routinely wipes out human life on a grand scale and is not prosecuted? How is it that foreign leaders will shake his hand?
Perhaps an indifferent American public is proving Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin correct when he told U.S. ambassador to Moscow W. Averell Harriman, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism(BIJ), London, a non-profit organization known for its meticulous research, reported last month that 515 U.S. drone strikes since 2002 have killed at least, 2,887 people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
The drone strikes, inaugurated by President George W. Bush, “increased during the Obama administration as did the number of casualties,” the BIJ reports. And McClatchy news service, citing a leaked CIA document, reported “the CIA killed people who only were suspected…” of association with militant groups.
As for the right of President Obama to murder people, which is the correct description of what he is doing, Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois and Magna Cum Laude graduate of Harvard Law School, says:
“The ‘honors’ graduate of Harvard Law School President Obama has set himself up as the sole Judge, Jury and Executioner of thousands of human beings in violation of international law, human rights law, the laws of war and the United States Constitution. Harvard Law School taught me that makes Obama a felon and a war criminal and impeachable.”
The president openly admits authorizing the drone killings. As pacifist/author David Swanson of Charlottesville, Va., pointed out in his book “War No More,” Obama killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who “was never charged with a crime, never indicted, and his extradition never sought.” Indeed, many of President Obama’s drone victims could have been arrested and tried had the U.S. gone to local authorities with evidence of their culpability. We need to ask ourselves, “What kind of nation prefers to murder people without a trial? Would you call it Fascist, Communist?”
Swanson cites figures to show that, in Pakistan alone between 2004 and 2013, America made 372 drone strikes, killing between 2,566 and 3,570 individuals, of whom as many as 890 were civilians, including nearly 200 children—every one of them by definition—younger than Joan of Arc.
Imagine, on this 584th anniversary of her death, a nation called America, a country whose evil genius has invented the deadliest killing machines ever, a country spending a trillion dollars a year on war, with 1,000 military bases overseas, and 11 battle fleets patrolling the Seven Seas, and troops in 175 countries, and with its lying spokespersons claiming it is all for ‘defense,’ is turning the clock back to the Medieval Period. Apparently, Americans have lost their sense of proportion, their ethics, their faith, their humanity, and worst of all, even their pity for the victims of their crimes. Saint Joan, be with us today!
When President Barack Obama apologized on April 23 to the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, an American and an Italian, both hostages killed in a drone attack in Pakistan in January, he blamed their tragic deaths on the “fog of war.”
“This operation was fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region,” he said, and based on “hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this (the building targeted and destroyed by drone launched missiles) was an al Qaeda compound; that no civilians were present.” Even with the best of intentions and most stringent of safeguards, the president said, “it is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur.”
The term “fog of war,” Nebel des Krieges in German, was introduced by the Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz in 1832, to describe the uncertainty experienced by commanders and soldiers on the battlefield. It is often used to explain or excuse “friendly fire” and other unintended deaths in the heat and confusion of combat. The term raises vivid images of chaos and ambiguity. Fog of war describes incredible noise and trauma, volleys of bullets and artillery shells, bone jarring explosions, screams of the wounded, orders shouted out and countermanded, vision limited and distorted by clouds of gas, smoke and debris.
War itself is a crime and war is hell, and in its fog soldiers can suffer from emotional, sensory and physical overload. In the fog of war, fatigued past the point of endurance and fearful both for their own lives and for those of their comrades, soldiers must often make split second decisions of life and death. In such deplorable conditions, it is unavoidable that “mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur.”
But Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were not killed in the fog of war. They were not killed in war at all, not in any way war has been understood until now. They were killed in a country where the United States is not at war. No one was fighting at the compound where they died. The soldiers who fired the missiles that killed these two men were thousands of miles away in the United States and in no danger, even if anyone were firing back. These soldiers watched the compound go up in smoke under their missiles, but they did not hear the explosion nor the cries of the wounded, nor were they subjected to the concussion of its blast. That night, as the night before this attack, it can be assumed that they slept at home in their own beds.
The president attests that those missiles were fired only after “hundreds of hours of surveillance” were carefully studied by defense and intelligence analysts. The decision that lead to the deaths of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto was not reached in the crucible of combat but in the comfort and safety of offices and conference rooms. Their line of sight was not clouded by smoke and debris but was enhanced by the most advanced “Gorgon Stare” surveillance technology of the Reaper drones.
Protest at Beale Air Force Base.
The same day as the president’s announcement the White House Press Secretary also issued a release with this news: “We have concluded that Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qa’ida leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto. We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of al-Qa’ida, was killed in January, likely in a separate U.S. Government counterterrorism operation. While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa’ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations.” If the president’s drone assassination program sometimes accidently kills hostages, it also sometimes accidently kills Americans alleged to be members of al-Qa’ida and apparently the White House expects us to take some consolation in this fact.
“Hundreds of hours of surveillance” notwithstanding, and despite being “fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts,” the order to attack the compound was given in the absence of any indication that Ahmed Farouq was there or that Warren Weinstein was not. Three months after the fact, the United States government admits that they blew up a building that they had been watching for days without the slightest idea who was in it.
The “cruel and bitter truth” is actually that Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were not killed in a “counterterrorism effort” at all, but in an act of terrorism by the United States government. They died in a gangland style hit that went awry. Killed in a high-tech drive-by shooting, they are victims of negligent homicide at best, if not of outright murder.
Another “cruel and bitter truth” is that people who are executed by drones far from a battlefield for crimes they have not been tried for or convicted of, such as Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn were, are not enemies lawfully killed in combat. They are victims of lynching by remote control.
“Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment,” admitted General Mike Hostage, chief of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command in a speech in September, 2013. Drones have proven useful, he said, at “hunting down” al Qa’ida but are no good in actual combat. Since al Qa’ida and other terrorist organizations have only flourished and multiplied since Obama’s drone campaigns took off in 2009, one might take issue with the general’s claim for their usefulness on any front, but it is a fact that the use of lethal force by a military unit outside of a contested environment, outside of a battlefield, is a war crime. It might follow that even the possession of a weapon that is useful only in an uncontested environment is a crime, as well.
The deaths of two western hostages, one an American citizen, are indeed tragic, but no more so than the deaths of thousands of Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Somali and Libyan children, women and men murdered by these same drones. Both the president and his press secretary assure us that the events in Pakistan last January were “fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts,” business as usual in other words. It seems that in the president’s view, death is only tragic when it is inconveniently discovered that western non-Muslim people are killed.
“As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” said President Obama on April 23. From the time President Ronald Reagan took full responsibility for the Iran-Contra arms deal to the present, it is clear that a presidential admission of responsibility means that no one will be held accountable and that nothing will change. The responsibility that President Obama accepts for only two of his victims is too paltry for consideration and, along with his partial apology, is an insult to their memories. In these days of governmental evasions and official cowardice, it is crucial that there are some who do take full responsibility for all of those killed and act to stop these acts of reckless and provocative violence.
Five days after the president’s announcement of Weinstein’s and Lo Porto’s murders, on April 28, I was privileged to be in California with a dedicated community of activists outside of Beale Air Force Base, home of the Global Hawk surveillance drone. Sixteen of us were arrested blocking the entrance to the base, reciting the names of children who have also been killed in drone attacks but without a presidential apology or even, for that matter, any admission that they died at all. On May 17, I was with another group of anti-drone activists at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and in early March, in the Nevada desert with more than one hundred resisting drone murders from Creech Air Force Base. Responsible citizens are protesting at drone bases in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, New York at RAF Waddington in the United Kingdom, at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, at the White House and other scenes of these crimes against humanity.
In Yemen and in Pakistan, too, people are speaking out against the murders taking place in their own countries and at great risk to themselves. Lawyers from Reprieve and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights have filed suit in a German court, charging that the German government has violated its own constitution by allowing the U.S. to use a satellite relay station at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for drone murders in Yemen.
Perhaps one day President Obama will be held responsible for these murders. In the meantime, the responsibility that he and his administration shirks belongs to all of us. He cannot hide behind a fog of war and neither can we.
Brian Terrell is a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence and event coordinator for the Nevada Desert Experience. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
As if the Mideast weren’t troubled enough, we now learn from Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times that Saudi Arabia has apparently “taken the ‘strategic decision’ to acquire ‘off-the-shelf’ atomic weapons from Pakistan.”
This and many recent similar stories blame the emergence of Saudi Arabia’s alleged nuclear ambitions on President Barack Obama’s perceived failure to check Iran. “Saudi Arabia is so angry at the emerging nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers that it is threatening to develop its own nuclear capability — one more indication of the deep differences between the United States and the Persian Gulf Arab states over the deal,” commented The New York Times in an editorial on May 15.
Saudi Arabia has been playing the nuclear card for years, however. In 2003, the Saudis leaked a “strategic review” that included the option of acquiring a “nuclear capability” as a deterrent. The Guardian, which broke the story, called it a “worrying development” that reflected “Riyadh’s estrangement from Washington” and “worries about an Iranian nuclear programme.”
In 2006, Saudi Arabia announced its interest in developing a nuclear energy program with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. As journalists reported at the time, “Few observers doubt that promoting the idea of a joint atomic energy program between the predominantly Sunni Arab states is a way for Saudi Arabia to send a message to the United States that the Arab state will match Tehran’s nuclear power if it needs to.”
Years have passed without the Saudis making good on these threats. And, there are strong reasons to question the veracity of leaks about Riyadh’s nuclear intentions now. Many experts seriously doubt whether the Saudis really intend to break their treaty obligations and risk international sanctions by trying to acquire nuclear weapons, particularly when they have lived with a nuclear-armed Israel for years.
Saudi Arabia would require many years to build nuclear weapons from scratch; the country has only a very modest atomic energy research program, not a single nuclear power reactor, and no known enrichment facilities. Thus Riyadh’s nuclear ambitions only make sense if Saudi Arabia has, as often claimed, arranged with Islamabad to obtain fully armed nuclear weapons in exchange for financing Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Such claims, while not totally implausible, remain “speculation,” according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a leading NGO devoted to proliferation issues. Stories about the Pakistan connection originated with a former Saudi diplomat who defected to the United States in the 1990s. He also claimed that Saudi Arabia provided almost $5 billion to Saddam Hussein to finance an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
“Riyadh has denied the veracity of Khilewi’s statements, and most experts dismiss their credibility,” according to NTI. “Most analysts believe it highly unlikely Pakistan would ever follow through with such an agreement, were it to even exist, given a host of disincentives.”
The story has been kept alive over the years by Israeli intelligence leaks. As BBC news reported in 2013, “it is Israeli information – that Saudi Arabia is now ready to take delivery of finished warheads for its long-range missiles – that informs some recent US and NATO intelligence reporting. Israel of course shares Saudi Arabia’s motive in wanting to worry the US into containing Iran.”
Pakistan called the claim of a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia “speculative, mischievous and baseless.” Of course, Islamabad would say that even if the deal were real. But Pakistan would face “huge disincentives” against transferring nuclear weapons, including the threat of international sanctions and the loss of military aid from Washington, notes Philipp Bleek, a proliferation expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
“Moreover,” Bleek writes, “Pakistan is locked in an arms race with archrival India, and New Delhi’s long-term nuclear weapon production capabilities significantly exceed those of Islamabad, so the latter can ill-afford to spare a meaningful number of nuclear weapons.” Pakistan’s recent refusal to send troops to support Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen is further evidence that it is no puppet of Riyadh.
Bleek observes that the very frequency of leaks about Saudi Arabia’s nuclear intentions weighs against the seriousness of that threat:
“History suggests that while some states have trumpeted their potential desire for nuclear weapons — think Germany in the early years of the Cold War, or Japan more recently — they tend not to be those that later went on to actually acquire them. And for good reason: calling attention to proliferation intentions is counterproductive if one is intent on actually proliferating. Instead, states tend to draw attention to their potential proliferation in the service of another goal: rallying others to address the security concerns that are motivating potential proliferation, and especially securing protection from powerful allies.”
Saudi Arabia’s latest nuclear leaks may be having their intended effect of bolstering the Arab monarchy’s bargaining leverage with Washington. Although President Obama stopped short of promising a formal military alliance at the recent summit with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, he reaffirmed America’s “ironclad commitment to the security of our gulf partners,” and promised more wide-ranging military aid, including creation of “an early-warning capability for a regional missile defense system.”
The Obama administration should stop making such concessions in the face of dubious Saudi proliferation warnings. It should simply stick to its course of seeking a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. Such an agreement remains the best guarantee of Saudi Arabia’s long-term security. And in the short term, the Saudis have no legitimate reason to fear Iran’s nuclear program, which is one of the most closely inspected on Earth.
Iran has no known nuclear weapons capability and has enriched uranium only to levels useful for medical or peaceful atomic energy applications. The International Atomic Energy Agency has uncovered no substantiated evidence of Iran attempting to break out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Saudi Arabia is also a signatory.
If the Saudis ignore such evidence and really do seek nuclear weapons from Pakistan, the White House should take a hard line and follow the example set by the Ford administration in 1976, which warned South Korea that it would “review the entire spectrum of its relations” if Seoul moved to develop nuclear weapons.
Ideally, the United States should also begin exploring a more productive strategy for reassuring both Saudi Arabia and Iran without making concessions to either one. Instead of selling more arms, reaching new defense pacts, or cracking down further on Iran, why not get behind Saudi Arabia’s longstanding support for a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East?
That goal was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. It may be a political non-starter for now in Washington, but the surest way to reduce the risk of proliferation in the Middle East would be to inspect, control, and eventually eliminate the region’s one existing nuclear arsenal — in Israel.
By recently releasing a redacted version of top secret “talking points” that Secretary of State Alexander Haig used to brief President Ronald Reagan about Mideast developments in spring 1981, the U.S. government has inadvertently revealed what it still wants to hide from the public some 34 years later – because I found the full version in congressional files in late 1994 and first wrote about it in early 1996.
The key points that the U.S. government still doesn’t want you to know include that in early 1981 Israel already was supplying U.S. military equipment to Iran for its war with Iraq; that the Saudis had conveyed a “green light” supposedly from President Jimmy Carter to Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980; and that the Saudis agreed to finance arms sales to Pakistan and other states in the region.
All three points have relevance today because they reveal the early seeds of policies that have grown over the past three decades into the twisted vines of today’s bloody conflicts. The still-hidden sections of Haig’s “talking points” also could cause some embarrassment to the nations mentioned.
For instance, the Israelis like to present their current hostility toward Iran as derived from a principled opposition to the supposed extremism of the Islamic state, so the revelation that they were supplying U.S. military hardware to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s government, which had held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days, suggests that less noble motivations were driving Israel’s decisions.
Though ex-President Carter has denied encouraging Iraq to invade Iran in September 1980 – at the height of the hostage crisis which was destroying his reelection bid – the Saudis’ “green light” assertion at least indicates that they led Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to believe that his invasion had U.S. backing.
Whether the Saudis deceived Hussein about the “green light” or not, their instigation of the war exposes the origins of the modern Sunni-Shiite conflict, though now the Saudis are accusing the Iranians of regional aggression. The Haig “talking points” reveal that the first blow in the revival of this ancient fight was thrown not by the Shiites of Iran but by the Sunnis of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime with Saudi backing and encouragement.
The Saudi agreement to pay for arms purchases by Pakistan and other regional government sheds light on another aspect of today’s Mideast crisis. Saudi financial help to Pakistan in the 1980s became a key element in the expansion of a radical Sunni jihadist movement that coalesced along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to carry on the CIA-backed war against the Soviet army and secular Afghan forces.
That war – with the United States and Saudi Arabia each eventually pouring in $500 million a year – led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of the modernist, leftist regime in Kabul to be replaced by the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban which, in turn, gave sanctuary to Al-Qaeda led by a wealthy Saudi, Osama bin Laden.
Thus, the outlines of today’s violent chaos across the Middle East were sketched in those years, albeit with many subsequent twists and turns.
The Persian Gulf War
After the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 – with both countries financially drained – Saddam Hussein turned on his suddenly stingy Sunni benefactors who began refusing further credit and demanding repayment of wartime loans. In reaction, Hussein – after consulting with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie and thinking he had another “green light” – invaded Kuwait. That, in turn, prompted a U.S.-led deployment to both defend Saudi Arabia and drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
Although Hussein soon signaled a readiness to withdraw his troops, President George H.W. Bush rebuffed those overtures and insisted on a bloody ground war both to demonstrate the qualitative superiority of the modern U.S. military and to excite the American people about a military victory – and thus to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome.” [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Bush’s military offensive succeeded in those goals but also provoked bin Laden’s outrage over the placement of U.S. troops near Islamic holy sites. The United States became the new target of Al-Qaeda’s terrorist revenge. And, for Official Washington’s emerging neoconservatives, the need to finally and completely destroy Saddam Hussein – then Israel’s bête noire – became an article of faith.
The Persian Gulf War’s demonstration of U.S. military prowess – combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – also encouraged the neocons to envision a strategy of “regime changes” for any government that showed hostility toward Israel. Iraq was listed as target number one, but Syria also was high on the hit list.
By the early 1990s, Israel had grown alienated from cash-strapped Iran, which had withdrawn from the lucrative arms bazaar that Israel had been running for that Shiite government through the 1980s. Gradually, Israel began to realign itself with the Sunnis bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 attacks in 2001 were an expression of the anti-U.S. outrage among Sunni fundamentalists, who were funded by the Saudis and other Persian Gulf oil states, but the intricate realities of the Middle East were then little known to the American people who didn’t much know the difference between Sunni and Shiite and who lacked knowledge about the hostilities between secularists like Hussein and fundamentalists like bin Laden.
President George W. Bush and his administration exploited that ignorance to rally the public behind an invasion of Iraq in 2003 out of unrealistic fears that Saddam Hussein would share weapons of mass destruction with Osama bin Laden. Beyond the false claims about Iraq having WMDs and about a connection between Hussein and bin Laden, there was little appreciation even within the higher levels of the Bush administration about how the ouster and killing of Hussein would shatter the fragile equilibrium between Sunnis and Shiites.
With Hussein removed, the Shiite majority gained control of Iraq, distressing the Saudis who had, in many ways, launched the modern Sunni-Shiite war by pushing Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 but who now saw Iran’s allies gaining control of Iraq. The Saudis and other Gulf sheiks began financing Sunni extremists who flooded into Iraq to fight the Shiites and their enablers, the U.S. military.
The Saudis also built a behind-the-scenes alliance with Israel, which saw its financial and geopolitical interests advanced by this secret collaboration. Soon, the Israelis were identifying their old arms-trading partners, the Iranians, as an “existential threat” to Israel and pushing the United States into a more direct confrontation with Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Money Seal Israel-Saudi Alliance?”]
The battlefront in the Sunni-Shiite conflict moved to Syria, where Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Sunni states joined in supporting a rebellion to oust the government of President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. As that conflict grew bloodier and bloodier, Assad’s relatively secular regime became the protector of Christians, Shiites, Alawites and other minorities against the Sunni forces led by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the hyper-brutal Islamic State.
In 2014, pressed by President Barack Obama, the Saudis joined an alliance against the Islamic State, although Saudi participation was tepid at best. Saudi Arabia’s true enthusiasm was to push a series of regional proxy wars against Iran and any Shiite-related movements, such as the Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria. If that helped Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, so be it, was the Saudi view.
Though the two redacted paragraphs from Haig’s “talking points” from 34 years ago might seem to be ancient history no longer worthy of the secrecy stamp, the U.S. government still insists on shielding that information from the American people, not letting them know too much about how these entangling alliances took shape and who was responsible for them.
The primary sources for Haig were Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Saudi Prince Fahd (later King Fahd), both of whom are dead, as are several other principals in these events, including Reagan, Hussein and Haig. The two redacted paragraphs – that Haig used in his presentation to Reagan – read as follows, with underlined sections in the original “talking points”:
”Fahd was also very enthusiastic toward your policies. As a measure of his good faith, he intends to insist on a common oil policy at a forthcoming meeting of his Arab colleagues which will include a single price and a commitment to no drop in production. Also of importance was Fahd’s agreement in principle to fund arms sales to the Pakistanis and other states in the area.
“Both Sadat and Fahd provided other bits of useful intelligence (e.g. Iran is receiving military spares for U.S. equipment from Israel). It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.”
The redacted version – with those two paragraphs blacked out – was released by the George H.W. Bush presidential library after the “talking points” went through a declassification process. The release was in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that I had filed in connection with the so-called October Surprise affair, in which the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980 was alleged to have conspired with Iranian officials and Israeli intelligence officers to delay the release of the 52 American hostages held in Iran to ensure President Carter’s reelection defeat.
In 1991, Congress began an investigation into the 1980 issue, suspecting that it may have been a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal which had involved Reagan’s secret arms-for-hostage deals with Iran in 1985-86 (also with Israeli help). The George H.W. Bush administration collected documents possibly related to the 1980 events and shared some with the congressional investigation, including the Haig “talking points.”
But Bush’s operatives – trying to protect his reelection chances in 1991-92 – engaged in delays and obstructions of the congressional inquiry, which finally agreed after Bush’s defeat by Bill Clinton in November 1992 to say that it could find “no credible evidence” that Reagan and Bush had orchestrated a delay in Iran’s release of the hostages. The hostages were finally freed on Jan. 20, 1981, immediately after Reagan was sworn in as president.
Subsequent disclosures of evidence, however, buttressed the long-held suspicions of a Republican-Iranian deal, including documents that the Bush-41 White House had withheld from Congress as well as other documents that the congressional investigation possessed but ignored. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Second Thoughts on October Surprise” or, for more details, Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says President Barack Obama’s narrative of the killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was false.
In an article published on the London Review of Books website on Sunday, Hersh wrote that high-level lying “remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.”
Citing a retired senior US intelligence official, the journalist explained that how the killing of bin Laden was the “high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election.”
“The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account,” Hersh said.
“The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders — General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI — were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions,” Hersh wrote.
He also said bin Laden had been a prisoner of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency at the Abbottabad compound since 2006.
“Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms… that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false,” according to the journalist.
Washington announced on May 2, 2011 that bin Laden was killed by US forces in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
A number of media reports later said the US government was moving to hide files about the US military’s suspected raid on Osama bin Laden.
The lack of transparency over bin Laden’s death has cast further doubt over the announcement.
Regarding President Obama’s announcement of the raid to Americans, Hersh said, “Obama’s speech was put together in a rush.”
He also said the White House refused to respond to his requests for comment.
Body Counts, Drones, and “Collateral Damage” (aka “Bug Splat”)
In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts?
In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.
The Obama administration has adamantly refused to count. Not a body. In fact, for a long time, American officials associated with Washington’s drone assassination campaigns and “signature strikes” in the backlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen claimed that there were no bodies to count, that the CIA’s drones were so carefully handled and so “precise” that they never produced an unmeant corpse — not a child, not a parent, not a wedding party. Nada.
When it came to “collateral damage,” there was no need to count because there was nothing to tote up or, at worst, such civilian casualties were “in the single digits.” That this was balderdash, that often when those drones unleashed their Hellfire missiles they were unsure who exactly was being targeted, that civilians were dying in relatively countable numbers — and that others were indeed counting them — mattered little, at least in this country until recently. Drone war was, after all, innovative and, as presented by two administrations, quite miraculous. In 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta called it “the only game in town” when it came to al-Qaeda. And what a game it was. It needed no math, no metrics. As the Vietnam War had proved, counting was for losers — other than the usual media reports that so many “militants” had died in a strike or that some al-Qaeda “lieutenant” or “leader” had gone down for the count.
That era ended on April 23rd when President Obama entered the White House briefing room and apologized for the deaths of American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, two Western hostages of al-Qaeda. They had, the president confessed, been obliterated in a strike against a terrorist compound in Pakistan, though in his comments he managed not to mention the word “drone,” describing what happened vaguely as a “U.S. counterterrorism operation.” In other words, it turned out that the administration was capable of counting — at least to two.
And that brings us to the other meaning of “Who counts?” If you are an innocent American or Western civilian and a drone takes you out, you count. If you are an innocent Pakistani, Afghan, or Yemeni, you don’t. You didn’t count before the drone killed you and you don’t count as a corpse either. For you, no one apologizes, no one pays your relatives compensation for your unjust death, no one even acknowledges that you existed. This is modern American drone reality and the question of who counts and whom, if anyone, to count is part of the contested legacy of Washington’s never-ending war on terror.
A Brief History of the Body Count
Once upon a time, of course, enemy deaths were a badge of honor in war, but the American “body count,” which would become infamous in the Vietnam era, had always been a product of frustration, not pride. It originated in the early 1950s, in the “meat-grinder” days of the Korean War, after the fighting had bogged down in a grim stalemate and signs of victory were hard to come by. It reappeared relatively early in the Vietnam War years as American officials began searching for “metrics” that would somehow express victory in a country where taking territory in the traditional fashion meant little. As time went on, the brutality of that war increased, and the promised “light at the end of the tunnel” glowed ever more dimly, the metrics of victory only grew, and the pressure to produce that body count, which could be announced daily by U.S. press spokesmen to increasingly dubious journalists in Saigon did, too. Soon enough, those reporters began referring to the daily announcements of those figures as the “Five O’Clock Follies.”
On the ground, the pressure within the military to produce impressive body counts for those “Follies” resulted in what GIs called the “Mere Gook Rule.” (“If it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, it’s VC [Viet Cong].”) And soon enough anything counted as a body. As William Calley, Jr., of My Lai massacre fame, testified, “At that time, everything went into a body count — VC, buffalo, pigs, cows. Something we did, you put it on your body count, sir… As long as it was high, that was all they wanted.”
When, however, victory proved illusory, that body count came to appear to ever more Americans on the home front like grim slaughter and a metric from hell. As a sign of success, increasingly detached from reality yet producing reality, it became a death-dealing Catch-22. As those bodies piled up and in the terminology of the times a “credibility gap” yawned between the metrics and reality, the body count became a symbol not just of a war of frustration, but of defeat itself. It came, especially after the news of the My Lai massacre finally broke in the U.S., to look both false and barbaric. Whose bodies were those anyway?
In the post-Vietnam era, not surprisingly, Washington would treat anything associated with the disaster that had been Vietnam as if it were radioactive. So when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration’s top officials began planning their twenty-first-century wars in a state of exhilarated anticipation, they had no intention of reliving anything that reeked of Vietnam. There would be no body bags coming home in the glare of media attention, no body counts in the battle zones. They were ready to play an opposites game when it came to Vietnam. General Tommy Franks, who directed the Afghan invasion and then the one in Iraq, caught the mood perfectly in 2003 when he said, “We don’t do body counts.”
There would be no more “Five O’clock Follies,” not in wars in which victory was assured for “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (as presidents took to calling the U.S. military). And that remains official military policy today. Only recently, for instance, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby responded to a journalist’s question about how many Islamic State fighters and civilians U.S. air power had recently killed in Washington’s latest war in Iraq this way: “First of all, we don’t have the ability to — to count every nose that we shwack [sic]. Number two, that’s not the goal. That’s not the goal… And we’re not getting into an issue of body counts. And that’s why I don’t have that number handy. I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t have asked my staff to give me that number before I came out here. It’s simply not a relevant figure.”
From 2003 to 2015, official policy on the body count has not reflected reality. The U.S. military has, in fact, continued to count bodies. For one thing, it kept and reported the numbers on America’s war dead, bodies that truly counted, though no one would have called the tallies a body count. For another, from beginning to end, the military has been secretly counting the dead on the other side as well, perhaps to privately convince themselves, Vietnam-style, that they were indeed winning in wars where a twenty-first-century version of the credibility gap appeared all too quickly and never left the scene. As David Axe has written, the military “proudly boasts of the totals in official documents that it never intends for public circulation.” He added, “The disconnect over wartime body counts reflects a yawning gap between the military’s public face and its private culture.”
To Count or Not to Count, That Is the Question
But here was the oddest thing: whatever the military might have been counting, the fact that it stopped counting in public didn’t stop the body count from happening. It turned out that there were others on this planet no less capable of counting dead bodies. In the end, the cast of characters producing the public metrics of this era simply changed and with it the purpose of the count. The newcomers had, you might say, different answers to both parts of the question: Who counts?
Over the last century, as “collateral damage” — the deaths of civilians, rather than combatants — has become ever more the essence of war, the importance of who is dying and in what numbers has only increased. When the U.S. military began refusing to make its body count part of a public celebration of its successes, civil society stepped in with a very different impulse: to shame, blame, and hold the military’s feet to the fire by revealing the deeper carnage of war itself and what it does to society, not just to the warriors.
While the previous counters had pretended that all bodies belonged to enemies, the new counters tried to make “collateral damage” the central issue of war. No matter what the researchers who have done such counts may say, most of them are, by their nature, critiques of war, American-style, and included in them were no longer just the bodies, civilian and military, found on the battlefield, but every body that could somehow be linked to a conflict or its fallout, its side effects, its afteraffects.
Think of this as a new numerology of defeat or disaster or slaughter or shame. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, distinctly non-military outfits took up this counting or estimating process. In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published studies based on scientific surveys of “excess Iraqi deaths” since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticized figure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped. More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000 in 2013 to one million or 5% of the Iraqi population this year.
The most famous enumeration of civilian casualties in Iraq, however, comes from the constantly upgraded tally — based on published media reports, hospital and morgue records, and the like — of Iraq Body Count, the independent website that bills itself as “the public record of violent deaths following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” At this moment, its most up-to-date top estimate for civilian deaths since that invasion is 156,000 (211,000, including the deaths of combatants). And these figures are considered by the site and others as distinctly conservative, no more than what can be known about a subject of which much is, by necessity, unknown.
In Afghanistan, there has been less tallying, but the U.N. Mission there has kept a count of civilian casualties from the ongoing war and estimates the cumulative figure, since 2001, at 21,000 (though again, that is undoubtedly a conservative figure). However, when it comes to the American drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, in particular, where the Obama administration has adamantly resisted the idea of significant civilian casualties, the civilian counters have been there under the most impressively difficult circumstances, sometimes with representatives on the ground in distant parts of Pakistan and elsewhere. In a world in which drone operators refer to the victims of their strikes as “bug splat” and top administration officials prefer to obliterate those “bugs” a second time by denying that their deaths even occurred, the attempt to give them back their names, ages, and sexes, to remind the world of what was most human about the dead of our new wars, should be considered a heroic task.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in particular, has done careful as well as dogged work tabulating drone casualties in Pakistan and Yemen, including counts and estimates of all those killed by drones, of civilians killed by drones, and of children killed by drones. It even has a project, “Naming the Dead,” that attempts to reattach names and other basic personal information — sometimes even photos — to the previously nameless dead (721 of them so far). The Long War Journal (a militarized exception to the rule when it comes to the counters of this era) has also kept a record of what it could dig up about drone deaths in Pakistan and Yemen, as has the New America Foundation on Pakistan. In 2012 the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic studied the three sources of such counts and issued a report of its own.
Among the more fascinating reports, the human-rights group Reprieve recently considered claims to drone “precision” and surgical accuracy by doing its own analysis of the available data. It concluded that, in trying to target and assassinate 41 enemy figures in Pakistan and Yemen over the years, Washington’s drones had managed to kill 1,147 people without even killing all the figures actually targeted. (As Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian wrote, “The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.”)
In other words, when it came to counting, civil society rode to the rescue, though the impact of the figures produced has remained limited indeed in this country. In some ways, the only body count of any sort that has made an impression here in recent years has been sniper Chris Kyle’s 160 confirmed Iraqi “kills” that played such a part in the publicity for the blockbuster movie American Sniper.
In his public apology for deaths that were clearly embarrassing to him, President Obama managed to fall back on a trope that has become ever more politically commonplace in these years. Even in the context of a situation in which two innocent hostages had been killed, he congratulated himself and all Americans for the exceptional nature of this country. “It is a cruel and bitter truth,” he said, “that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur. But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
Whatever our missteps, in other words, we Americans are exceptional killers in a world of ordinary ones. This attitude has infused Obama’s global assassination program and the White House “kill list” that goes with it and that the president has personally overseen. Pride in his killing agenda was evident in the decision to leak news of that list to the New York Times back in May 2012. And this version of American exceptionalism fits well with the exceptionalism of the drone itself — even if it is a weapon guaranteed to become less exceptional as it spreads to more countries (in part through recently green-lighted U.S. drone sales to allies).
On the rarest of occasions, Obama admitted in that White House briefing room, drone strikes even kill exceptional people (like us) who need to be attended to presidentially, whose deaths deserve apologies, whose lives are to be highlighted in special media accounts, and whose value is such that recompense is due to their families. In most of the places the drone goes, however, those it kills by mistake are, by definition, unexceptional. They deserve neither notice nor apology nor recompense. They count for nothing.
One thing makes the drone a unique weapon in the world of the uncounted dead on a planet where killing otherwise seems like a dime-a-dozen activity: its pilot, its “crew,” those who trigger the launch of its missiles are hundreds, even thousands of miles away from danger. Though we speak loosely about drone “warfare,” the way that machine functions bears little relation to war as it was once defined. Conceptually, the drone represents a one-way street of destruction. Because in its version of “warfare” only one side can be hurt, its “signature” is slaughter, not war, no matter how carefully it may be used. It is an executioner’s weapon.
In part because of that, it’s also a blowback weapon. Though it may surprise Americans, those to be slaughtered, the hunted, don’t take to the constant buzz of drones in their skies in a kindly fashion. They reportedly exhibit the symptoms of PTSD; they are resentful; they grasp the unfairness and injustice that lies behind the machine and its form of “warfare” and are unimpressed with the exceptionalism of the Americans using it. As a result, drones across the Greater Middle East have been the equivalent of recruitment posters for those who want revenge and so for extremist outfits everywhere.
Drones should be weapons of shame and yet, despite the recent round of criticism here in the wake of the hostage killings, their use is still widely supported in Washington and among the public. The justification for their use, whatever “legal” white papers the Obama administration has produced as cover, is simple enough: power. We send them across sovereign boundaries as we wish in search of those we want to kill because we can, because we are us.
So all praise to the few in our world who think it worth the bother to count those who count for nothing to us. They do matter.
“Slaughter Yemenis civilians, and win a free Bentley.” That pretty much sums up Saudi Arabia’s frivolous four-week military jamboree in Yemen otherwise known as Op “Decisive Storm”, if not its entire foreign (and now military) policy in the region; it may have been a “slip of the tweet” on the part of Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, a Forbes top 100 billionaire who offered via his Twitter account to award Saudi fighter-jet pilots a fleet of 100 Bentley luxury cars, a bonus if you will, for their (bombing) services rendered; nonetheless it paints a vivid, albeit repulsive, picture of how politics are conducted in the oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Gulf: at the deviant whims of their Kings and Princes.
No wonder the Arab World is a complete mess of constant wars and conflicts; everything is subject to the often violent impulses of the ruling monarchies in the GCC club who now seem more than intent on leading the entire region, Kamikaze style, into a sectarian abyss with no foreseeable point of return; and Op Decisive storm, a codename that was shamelessly borrowed from America’s wars on the Arab World, was just that; a violent outburst that started, ended and now has even morphed into Op “Restoring Hope” at the mere sectarian fancies of Saudi Arabia with the helpless lot of Arab governments tagging along for the now routine trip of bombing yet another Arab country back to the stone age, and when you have a seemingly bottomless well of petrodollars, wield all the clout of mainstream media and a far-reaching religious authority; then forming a military coalition, especially one that is purely based on vicious sectarian grounds, is almost as easy as picking players for a football squad.
This is, in a nutshell, how the Saudi Government managed to crowbar eight countries into a military coalition comprising a mishmash of Gulf Cooperation Council members (sans Oman), Gulf Cooperation Council rejects (Jordan and Morocco) and Gulf Cooperation Council scroungers (Egypt and Sudan) to intervene in Yemen against a local political movement that just so happens to adhere to a religious sect that is often faintly (and inaccurately) traced back to Shia Islam. You could almost instantly smell the vile stench of oil and sectarianism all over Saudi Arabia’s latest, ongoing still, disastrous endeavor in Yemen.
The Saudis’ delusional sales pitch this time was that Iran (who else?) was about to take over Yemen via local militant “Shia” proxies attempting a coup against the “legitimate” government of outgoing/incoming/fleeing president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi (still holed up in Riyadh till now); therefore a military intervention with all (Sunni) guns blazing was in urgent order to safeguard “legitimacy” and maintain “stability” in an already impoverished and war-torn Yemen, and we know just how much the GCC club adores peace and stability in the region, its horrific portfolio of destabilization handiwork in Libya, Syria and Iraq is a bloody testament to that.
Of course legitimacy in this (Saudi) context refers to a flip-flopping, weakling of an interim president who, only with the help of Saudi money and support, managed to win a presidential election where he was actually the only candidate on the ballot, a president who outstayed both his tenuous welcome and his presidential term, resigned, fled to the port city of Aden, rescinded his resignation and declared himself president again only to flee once more, chased after by his people, into the waiting arms of the Saudis (perhaps better known to everyone else as his sole meal tickets) but of course not before demanding that his oil-rich patrons bomb his own country into smithereens because evidently that’s what “legitimate” presidents do, at least in the GCC’s book (of horrors).
Show me one of Saudi Arabia’s (many) lackeys in the region who didn’t ask for foreign military intervention into his own country, and I’ll show you Flying Pigs! The standard refrain of extending open invitations for foreign powers to wage devastating wars is strictly (and curiously) espoused by those whom the Saudi Kingdom considers (or designates) “legitimate representatives” of their people. From the Bahraini monarchy to the current Libyan government to the 14th of March alliance in Lebanon and the entirety of the Syrian opposition mismatched posses; not one of these handpicked Saudi puppets has missed an opportunity to ask, in fact beg, for the bombardment of his own country by a foreign government, as if it’s a mandatory rite of passage for those who wish to be on the Saudi payroll/leash and get the GCC’s stamp of approval. And this Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi (none) character, whose return to power in Yemen was the only stated goal behind Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen, is no different.
We’re told that the current blitzkrieg in Yemen is all about “restoring legitimacy”, but it’s near-impossible to take that claim seriously without bursting into an uncontrollable wave of laughter; none of the Saudi-led coalition members are exactly known for their democratic credentials, on the contrary; If you played a word-association game, the words “dictatorship”, “tyranny” and “authoritarianism” (or any random combination thereof) would elicit every single time the exact member list of the coalition currently bombing Yemen today into their warped versions of democratic rule and legitimacy.
In fact the war on Yemen is essentially nothing but an ego-boost for the Saudis in response to what’s perceived by the Kingdom as Iran’s growing influence in the region especially after an interim nuclear deal was signed with the west; a shot of (military) adrenaline for the oil-rich Kingdom to assert its political relevance and nothing beyond that at a time when its foreign policy is beginning to resemble a non-stop tragic-comedy of errors and blunders.
This ego-trip masquerading as a military operation has left, so far, more than a 1,000 Yemenis killed, countless others wounded and the wanton destruction of the country’s infrastructure; and although we’re thankfully spared the sight of Saudi-led coalition forces’ spokesman waffling around, trying in vain to finagle a military feat out of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas in Yemen in his daily briefings (or awkward rendezvous with his pro-war, GCC-funded media entourage); the war still goes on, given a new lease of life under a new codename; “Restoring Hope”, despite its “rosy” moniker which has tasteless PR written all over it, promises to be just as vicious and devastating as Decisive Storm if not more; now that free Bentleys are at stake here for outstanding achievements in criminality, I’m sure these hefty royal “incentives” will show in the destructive zeal the next time coalition pilots fly their sorties and drop their load of explosives on unsuspecting Yemenis.
We were told that Decisive Storm had “fulfilled its objectives”, according to a statement by Saudi Defense Ministry. What objectives? We don’t know; deposed Yemenis president is still in Riyadh and the Houthis along with the Yemenis army control much of the ground in Yemen, now unless the real objective was the step-by-step reenactment of Israel’s wars on the Gaza strip, in which case: mission accomplished indeed with flying colors (or overflowing blood of Yemenis!), the Saudis cannot claim any success whatsoever beyond reducing the country to debris and waste; a feat that was bizarrely celebrated in GCC-funded media as a “decisive blow” to Iranian influence in the region.
At the start of Operation Decisive Storm; then Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., current foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir said that the military operation was “…designed to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by a violent extremist militia”; protecting the people of Yemen… by bombing them into blind submission and a state of near-servitude, to keep the country an impoverished Saudi implantation and nothing more, I mean how dare the Yemenis even entertain the outrageous notion of self-determination when (Saudi) fate has ordained they be reduced to nothing more than an Oil-rich Kingdom’s backyard for gutter politics and inglorious exploits (or Achilles heel for that matter).
And no, in his statement; Ambassador Al Jubair was not referring to Al Qaida or the Islamic State militias which have been laying all manner of terror and destructive waste to Libya, Iraq and Syria with complete financial, logistical, political and ideological cover from the legitimacy-loving GCC folk, by “violent extremist militia”; Al Jubair was referring to the Ansarullah group; an indigenous Yemeni faction accused of being a mere tail for Iran, you know unlike the very independent Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, when in fact it does enjoy considerable political sway and popularity in Yemen.
Al Jubair also said that “all of Saudi Arabia’s allies were consulted before launching military operations in Yemen”. I’m guessing the consultations went something like this: the Saudis telling their allies to jump and everyone replying in unison, with a-cheese-eating-grin on their faces: “how high? … and please write those checks out to cash”.
And that’s the long version too.
“Coalition of the Willing…. to Get Paid from the GCC”
Only Pakistan, which the Saudis were hoping would join in the fun of leveling another impoverished Arab country into rubble; solely based on its “Sunni credentials” of course… and nuclear power, managed to bow out of this “coalition of the unwitting” escapade; thanks, ironically, to the only problem the Saudis can’t just fix or deal with no matter how much money they throw at it: Democracy… or a semblance thereof; when the Pakistani Parliament unanimously voted to remain neutral in the war on Yemen (i.e.: not to be a member of the GCC’s Suicide Squad parade).
There you can find a group of people with enough sense about them not to blindly follow the Saudis’ caprices into the Yemenis quagmire for a handful of cash and oil barrels, and heed instead the national interests of their own country first. Sadly this was not the case with the rest of coalition members whom are mostly made up of Arab governments posing as hired yes-men for Saudi Arabia (or yes-men posing as governments for that matter).
First we have Egypt; fresh out of an economic bash in Sharm Al Sheikh, which will sure keep Egypt locked in a tight GCC financial death grip for years to come, with billions of (petro) dollars dropping off his pockets; General Abdel Fattah al Sisi (“legitimate” President of Egypt, lest we forget, because this war is all about defending legitimacy against coup’d’etats) was the first in line to fully commit to Operation Decisive Storm, ground-troop-warts and all.
The man who sold himself to Egyptians as the Second Coming of President Jamal Abdel Nasser trampled all over Nasser’s legacy by fighting the Saudis’ dirty war in Yemen in an unholy alliance with the reactionaries of the Gulf (to paraphrase Nasser himself who’s probably rolling in his grave right about now).
Suddenly and at the flick of a (Saudi) switch; Egypt’s priorities were reshuffled beyond recognition or even the slightest bit of logic to best suit the GCC’s depraved interests in the region; the Houthis taking control of the Yemeni capital somehow became an existential threat to Cairo’s national security, trumping even threats coming from a terrorism-infested Sinai peninsula or over 1,000 km of open borders with the abyss of lawlessness and violence that is Libya today. And Bab Al Mandeb Strait in Yemen became the top priority for Sisi’s Egypt at a time when the land of the Nile faces potential drought and is threatened with the vanishing face of its landmark river, thanks to Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, along with another coalition member: Sudan.
Desperately wanting to prove that he too can wade in sectarian blood with the best of them; Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, probably lured by the promise of future-petrodollar-riches and the perfect opportunity to break his ICC-imposed isolation, stumbled over himself to heed Saudi Arabia’s call to (Sunni) arms and bomb some “infidel” Yemenis into god-forsaken oblivion (according to Sudanese state owned media). Never mind the embarrassing fact that the Sudanese “Air Force”, which is now dropping its load of bombs with a wanton exuberance on Yemeni civilians, stood completely idle and useless when Israel, on more than one occasion, practically used the entire country of Sudan as an open-field target practice for its fighter jets and F-16s under the pretext of targeting weapons’ depots and convoys destined for Palestinian Resistance factions in Gaza. Talk about priorities gone south.
It was only two years ago when the Saudis practically humiliated Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir when they blocked their own airspace to his plane as he was heading to… yes you guessed it, Iran to attend the inauguration of then newly elected president Rouhani, and now here is Al Bashir jumping into (criminal) action alongside the Saudis to bomb another Arab country into the throes of sectarian discord and potential partition.
Give that a moment’s thought and you might get a headache: Sudan, a country which itself is still reeling from a Western-sponsored partition scheme, is actively (and foolishly) participating in carving up yet another Arab country into two warring entities. There’s an almost Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it.
GCC hopefuls Jordan and Morocco of course happily tagged-along with the Saudis into yet another sectarian misadventure in what’s starting to look like a long drawn out series of auditions to join the GCC club which entail the two tiny monarchies to get down and dirty in the destruction of other Arab countries for the benefit (and amusement) of the Saudis; starting with Libya and Syria, and God knows where it’s going to go after Yemen; but you can be sure it’ll be under the spurious pretext of the “Shiite threat”,
And then you have the Arab League whose complete transformation from a schlocky, ineffectual entity into the proverbial make a wish foundation for the imperial West was epitomized in full shameless splendor in the unfortunate case of Yemen.
Gone are the days when the Arab League would grovel at the feet of NATO governments to intervene militarily somewhere in the Arab world or co-conspire with the West for yet another foreign invasion of one of its member states, now the Arab League, essentially nothing more than a mere echo chamber for the mercurial whims of the GCC nowadays, is finally taking matters into its own unreliable hands and summoning its American-made military might.
No time for niceties of the UNSC resolutions under the seventh chapter sort à la Libya or good-ol’ fashioned UN sanctions; Nah, the Arab League will no longer stoop to such pedestrian and banal methods, in the latest Arab League summit in Sharm Al Shaikh, the one which hastily rubber-stamped the Saudi war on Yemen, Arab leaders decided to resurrect a 65-year old near-dead defense pact and form a joint military force, which was about as thoughtful and welcome a notion as a fourth Netanyahu term, to counter… the Shiite threat in Yemen; kind of makes you yearn for the not-so-distant days when Arab Summits were all about vacuous, fig-leaf statements and “strong-worded” condemnations at best and public bickering and laughable finger-pointing at worst.
To put things into proper, albeit depressing perspective; neither Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine nor America’s criminal invasion of Iraq has ever prompted Arab governments to even get near that defense pact; the GCC’s unhealthy obsession with Iran, bordering on hysteria, did.
Sectarianism is the New Black
“The Israel occupation of Palestine does not exist; it is a figment of our collective imagination. Iran is the enemy and Netanyahu and co. are allies.” that’s the only way we can reconcile ourselves with the bleak reality of the Arab world today which can be summed up in one word: Iranophopia… on Wahhabi steroids.
It’s quite telling when Netanyahu’s latest address to the Congress and the entirety of the last Arab league summit seem blurred into one big anti-Iran screed; Netanyahu could’ve made the same exact firebrand speech in Sharm Al Shaikh, steeped in anti-Iran buffoonery and short on intelligence, and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place or different… except for the number of standing ovations which I suspect would have been significantly higher than what he received from the jump-and-applaud-every-other-line U.S. Congress back in March.
So Iran… or Shiism (two interchangeable terms in GCC political discourse) is the enemy, evidently the alleged threat posed by Iran (and represented through the mere “presence” of Shiite indigenous communities in some Arab countries) supersedes the real existential threat posed by the Israeli expansionist project in Palestine (does anybody remember Palestine these days?) and beyond, notions like “Arab unity” and “Arab joint military pact”, which were constantly mocked by the monarchies of the Gulf as “wooden language” whenever they’re used in the context of the Palestine/Israel conflict, are now being used (and abused with a xenophobic fervor) by the GCC-camp only in relation to Iran.
So the GCC is perfectly fine with droves of illegal European settlers migrating all the way to Palestine, expelling Palestinians from their lands and squatting comfortably in their midst, but when it comes to indigenous Yemenis for instance, god forbid they “march towards the city of Aden”.
Pan-Arabism is for suckers; sectarianism is the new black in the Arab world… in the literal and most depressing sense of the word. The map of the Arab world has been reconfigured into areas of contending Saudi and (alleged) Iranian influence, and feuding mini-statelets laden with sectarian discord and internal bloodletting thanks only to Saudi Arabia’s growing and self-inflected paranoia against the “Shiite threat”.
Nothing makes sense in the Arab world unless put in a sectarian bracket; this is what more than ten years’ worth of a constant barrage of fear-mongering against Shiites has yielded so far; a trail of failed Arab states and conflict-ridden regions.
The Saudis (controlling the majority of media outlets in the Arab World along with the rest of the GCC) have managed to turn a minority religious sect, approximately one-fifth of the world’s Muslims if not less, into the new big bad boogeyman for the remaining majority of Muslims, and what started as laughable, clumsy attempts courtesy of the GCC at provoking friction among Muslims in the wake of Bush’s invasion of Iraq; is now a no-holds-barred sectarian confrontation engulfing the Arab world where everything from suicide bombings all the way up to F-16s goes, with Israel comfortably cheering from the sidelines, unencumbered in its occupation of Palestine, as both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide tear each other to shreds.
Speaking of Israel; “the coalition of willing… to get paid from the GCC” is taking entire pages right out of the Israeli military’s own scorched-earth playbook by carpet-bombing civilian areas, vital infrastructure, schools, hospitals, factories, dairy plants, airports, one football stadium and, on at least two occasions, refugee camps, all the while imposing a no-fly-zone (we all know how the GCC is fond of those) coupled with a draconian siege reminiscent of that forgotten Israeli blockade on Gaza, which by the way, went totally unreferenced in the final statement of the latest gung-ho Arab Summit. Collective punishment is the name of the military campaign here, a strict “disciplinary” treatment delivered via extensive aerial bombardment to keep the Yemeni population in check and obediently toeing the Saudi line. I wonder where we have seen all of this before.
The parallels between Operation Decisive Storm/Restoring Hope and Israel’s own criminal wars on Gaza are ominously striking and equally horrid; the guilty-by-nonexistent-association doctrine, pioneered and espoused by Israel to justify its deliberate targeting of civilians by deeming all Palestinians in Gaza, including newborns and children, to be members of Hamas, was adopted with a demented zeal by the GCC in their own military misadventure in Yemen.
Thus all these ashen-faced victims of the coalition’s bombing campaign are militant “Shia Houthis”, and every charred skeleton, burned beyond recognition and crumbling in the arms of a shrieking loved one, is that of an Iranian agent’s, or so it’s reported in the callous sectarian coverage of Gulf-funded media which seem to fetishize the murder of Yemenis and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure with frenzied abandon, even the “courtesy” of at least shoving some of the nameless casualties of the air strikes under the euphemism of “Collateral Damage” is not extended to the Yemenis; just like it wasn’t extended to the Libyans when the city of Sirte was virtually flattened to the ground during Operation “Odyssey Dawn for Benghazi/Living Hell for the rest of the country”, these weren’t residential areas and universities that NATO was bombing back then we were told, but Gaddafi’s military command and control centers. In Yemen it’s Houthis’ training camps or “concentration centers”, whatever that means.
The deliberate de-Yemenization and even dehumanization of the victims of Operation Decisive Storm/Restoring Hope is practiced on a daily basis on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels. Constantly referring to the victims of the bombing campaigns strictly as “Houthis”, prompting the viewer to think they’re an invasive alien breed and not indigenous people comprising almost 40% of the Yemeni population, while true Yeminis, according to the GCC, are those Hadi-supporters pathetically paraded all over Gulf-funded networks rallying in support of the Saudi airstrikes on their country.
Aljazeera Arabic TV talk-show host Faisal Al Qasem (known for his vulgar and trashy persona which makes Jerry Springer look like the paragon of classy journalism) summed up the entire sordid coverage of GCC funded media of the war on Yemen when he screamed at one of his guests; “look at the Houthis, just look at their faces… they don’t even look like us Arabs”.
Remember those leaflets with badly translated, “pseudo-apologetic” Arabic messages that the Israeli Army used to dump on Gazans before bombing the living daylights out of them with all manner of cluster ammunition and dime bombs? Well the same leaflets with the same exact clumsy messages are being dropped on Yemenis courtesy of the GCC’s coalition of the unwitting in another disgusting display of kinship verging on pathological idol-worship towards the IOF’s criminal tactics. Thus claims by Houthi rebels that the coalition is using White Phosphorous (Israel’s favorite weapon of choice) may not be that farfetched; the harrowing images trickling out of Yemen and shown on (few) Media outlets are proof positive that Yemen is being used as a test ground for GCC’s multi-billion dollar, American-made arsenal of death and destruction, including the use of internationally banned weapons.
The complete lack of subtlety in borrowing from the Israeli military’s book (of terrorism) and openly recycling its brand of criminality up to the smallest details against the Yemenis leaves no doubt that the alliance between the GCC and the Zionist entity has taken another gigantic leap forward into an all-hands-on-deck political, military and diplomatic integration.
The war on Yemen, like all wars waged on defenseless populations including Israel’s mass murdering sprees against Palestinians, is nothing but an ego boost, Decisive Storm/Restoring Hope was probably prompted by the Interim nuclear agreement Iran managed to strike with the West last month; I don’t even want to imagine how the Saudis will react if and when a full comprehensive deal is reached come June 30.