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.
Reprieve | April 15, 2015
The family of a hunger-striking Pakistani man detained in Guantanamo Bay has today filed an emergency application with the Islamabad High Court, demanding that the Pakistani government intervene immediately in his case.
Ahmad Rabbani has been on hunger strike for more than two years in protest at his detention without charge or trial in Guantanamo, where he has been held since 2004. An affidavit submitted to the court by human rights organization Reprieve, whose staff recently visited Mr Rabbani, describes the damaging effect on his health of his brutal treatment at the prison – including daily force-feedings and ‘forced cell extractions’ (FCEs).
Mr Rabbani has told his lawyers at Reprieve that his weight has dropped to approximately 40kg, and that he regularly vomits and experiences numbness in his limbs, dizziness and fainting. Mr Rabbani described how his thigh has wasted away to the width of his calf. His lawyers describe him as looking “emaciated” during their latest visit.
The urgent court application demands that the Pakistani government intervene immediately with the U.S. authorities to arrange for the release and repatriation of Mr Rabbani before he either dies or suffers permanent damage to his health. Filed today, the petition is likely to be heard tomorrow (Thurs) in the Court.
The court has previously heard how Mr Rabbani’s constitutional rights to legal defence, fair trial, and humane treatment have all been gravely abused by his detention without charge or trial by the United States – violations which, Mr Rabbani’s lawyers argue, oblige the Pakistani government to take up his case.
Mr Rabbani’s lawyers have also submitted to the court a copy of the US Senate’s recent report into CIA torture, which reveals that his 2002 arrest was a case of mistaken identity. The 2014 report also confirms that Mr Rabbani was initially detained for 540 days in secret CIA jails before his transfer to Guantanamo, and was subjected to a number of violent interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture.
Commenting, Mr Rabbani’s lawyer Alka Pradhan, US Counsel at Reprieve, said: “The US Senate report confirmed that Ahmed Rabbani was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time 13 years ago – and that he was horribly tortured in US secret prisons. But he remains in Guantanamo – and after years of abuse, he is now dangerously ill. Ahmad’s hunger strike is a last desperate cry for help from the Pakistani government. They must now intervene in his case and bring him home.”
The Pakistani parliament has passed a resolution that urges Islamabad to remain neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Yemen, dismissing Saudi Arabia’s request to join its deadly air raids against the Arabian Peninsula state.
“The parliament desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis,” read the resolution which was ratified unanimously on Friday after days of dispute among the lawmakers.
The parliament “underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” the resolution added.
The resolution urged all warring factions in Yemen to put an end to deadly clashes and resolve the conflict through dialogue, warning that the flare-up in the Arab country would “have a critical fallout in the region, including in Pakistan.”
The Pakistani parliament also called on the international community and Muslim countries to push ahead with their efforts to bring about a ceasefire deal in the violence-wracked country.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also attended the parliament session on Friday to express his approval of the resolution.
This is while Riyadh has made repeated calls to Islamabad to take part in the Saudi aggression in Yemen.
The resolution came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrapped up a two-day visit to neighboring Pakistan.
“Military attacks, aerial bombings and the destruction of the infrastructure in this country (Yemen) cannot help resolve the crisis,” said Zarif during a meeting with Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the Pakistani parliament,
“We should all invite all sides to the negotiation table to resolve the regional problems,” Zarif said.
In a meeting with Pakistani army chief General General Raheel Sharif on Thursday, Zarif said, “The past experiences show that the consequences of the military intervention in Yemen will become part of the problems.”
Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Ansarullah fighters started on March 26, without a UN mandate, in a bid to restore power to the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.
According to figures released Thursday by Yemeni media outlets, nearly 450 people have so far been killed since the beginning of the Saudi aggression. Most deaths are reported to be women and children.
Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
However, the Ansarullah movement later said Hadi had lost his legitimacy as president of Yemen after he escaped Sana’a to Aden in February.
On March 25, the embattled president fled the southern city of Aden, where he had sought to set up a rival power base, to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after Ansarullah revolutionaries advanced on Aden.
The Ansarullah fighters took control of the Yemeni capital in September 2014. The revolutionaries said Hadi’s government was incapable of properly running the affairs of the country and containing the growing wave of corruption and terror.
China will reportedly finance the so-called ‘Peace Pipeline’ natural gas pipeline from Iran, home to the world’s second largest reserves, to energy-deprived Pakistan. The project was delayed due to US dissent.
The final deal is to be signed during the long-sought visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad in April, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“We’re building it. The process has started,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the WSJ.
First proposed over 20 years ago, the 1045 mile (1682km) pipeline will transfer gas from Iran’s south to the Pakistani cities of Gwadar and Nawabshah. Karachi, the country’s biggest city of 27.3 million, will also be connected via local energy distribution systems already in place.
Iran has said the 560-mile portion that runs to the Pakistan border is already complete, which only leaves $2 billion needed to build the Pakistani stretch.
The project could cost up to $2 billion if a Liquefied Natural Gas port is constructed at Gwadar. Otherwise, the project to complete the Pakistani pipeline will cost between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, the WSJ said. Pakistan is in negotiations with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, a subsidiary of Chinese energy major China National Petroleum Corporation, to finance 85 percent of the project. Pakistan will pay the rest.
The original plan envisioned the pipeline continuing to India, but Delhi dropped out due to US pressure in 2009, Tehran claims. Pakistan, a country of 199 million people faces intermittent blackouts in major cities, and Iran is looking for a place to export its soon-to-not-be-banned gas.
Iran has 33.7 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the June 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP estimates, it has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves at 157 billion barrels.
US-led sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program have stunted Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran’s oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to about one million barrels in 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In March, Iran produced 2.85 million barrels of oil per day, according to data from Bloomberg.
Iran’s Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Ali Larijani says the Islamic Republic supports negotiations among representatives from all parties involved in the Yemeni crisis, describing national dialog as the only way to end the conflict.
During a telephone conversation with Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan Sardar Ayaz Sadiq on Sunday, Larijani lamented the ongoing Saudi airstrikes that have led to the deaths of hundreds of Yemenis and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
“Such military aggression, irrespective of its objectives, is a blow to the Muslim Ummah and benefits the Zionist regime (of Israel) and major powers. The aggressive countries must explain why they are using their facilities to deal a blow to a Muslim state,” the top Iranian legislator pointed out.
Larijani also described Yemenis as a courageous nation, which has bogged foreign intruders down and made them regret their measures throughout history.
He called on aggressive governments to take salutary lessons from the failed Soviet and US-led military campaigns against Afghanistan.
Sadiq, for his part, stated that Islamabad has no intention to become engaged in the Yemen crisis, and seeks the establishment of calm and peace in Yemen in line with the Muslim world’s interests.
Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Yemen started on March 26 without a UN mandate in a bid to restore power to Yemen’s fugitive president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.
Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
On March 25, the embattled president fled Aden, where he had sought to set up a rival power base, to Riyadh after Ansarullah revolutionaries advanced on the port.
The Ansarullah fighters took control of Sana’a in September 2014 and are currently moving southward. The revolutionaries said the Hadi government was incapable of properly running the affairs of the country and containing the growing wave of corruption and terror.
Yemen’s ousted officials have requested a ground intervention to bolster a Saudi-led air offensive against the country’s Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, neighboring Iran has made calls for diplomacy, saying the military campaign is a “strategic mistake”.
Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border with Yemen in preparation for any possible ground offensive, Reuters reported on Tuesday, adding that no exact time to send the troops in has yet been stipulated. Pakistan, which has previously supported Riyadh by deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to provide extra regional security, also said that it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia in the context of the current Yemeni conflict, the agency reported.
Despite airstrikes delivered by Saudi air forces and their Gulf allies, the Houthis are continuing their offensive against the dwindling loyalists of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was ousted by the rebels and fled to Saudi Arabia, requesting military intervention from the Arab states.
The heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of air offensive was reported on Tuesday, with Saudi troops clashing with Yemeni Houthi fighters. Hadi-allied officials have remained hopeful that Riyadh would send ground troops to turn the tide for the ousted official.
“We are asking for that [Saudi ground operation in Yemen], and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities,” the president’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasseen said an interview with al-Arabiya Hadath TV channel.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian labeled the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake” and called for a dialogue to help solve the crisis in Yemen. “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” the official said in Kuwait, as cited by Reuters, adding that Iran “recommends all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”
“This war is not about Yemen or the Houthis, it’s about what used to be a cold war between the Persians and the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab Gulf. Today the cold war became a real one,” political analyst Roula Taj told RT.
More casualties have been reported in the escalating conflict, with overnight street clashes in Hadi’s stronghold Aden claiming at least 26 lives, Reuters reported, citing a health ministry official. Ten others died during the Tuesday shelling of a residential building close to the residence once used by the president, the agency reported referring to witnesses accounts. In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.
Coalition bombers targeted rebel positions near the airport of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, while fighters from the Houthi militia entered a coastal military base overlooking the Red Sea’s strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Heavy fighting between Hadi loyalists and opponents was also reported in southern province of Dhalea.
On Monday, 45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO).
The airstrikes have also affected the Red Cross medical supplies deliveries to the area, with the planes which are carrying the necessities unable to fly to Yemen.
“In Yemen today we have a very serious humanitarian situation. Hospitals are running at a low capacity… We need to bring in urgent medical supplies to sustain our stocks,” spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Near and Middle East Sitara Jabeen told RT.
She added that the organization was expecting to bring in a plane carrying medical supplies for up to 1,000 patients to Sanaa, “but so far have not been able to get the permission we need to move this plane from Jordan to Yemen.”
So far, the airstrikes have failed to change the military balance in Yemen. While Houthis reportedly found an ally in Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned in 2012 amid mass public protests, some Western officials have alleged that Iran financially supports the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Voicing support for the Saudi bombing campaign, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Iran of seeking regional dominance in the Middle East. Tehran officials said Erdogan’s visit to Iran, which is scheduled for next week, may now be scrapped. The warning came from Iranian MP Esmayeel Kosari in his Sunday interview with the semi-official Fars news agency. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Ankara to act responsibly in the conflict.
Russia has also warned against reducing the complex Yemeni conflict to a simplified stand-off narrative, whether national or sectarian in nature. “We cannot allow it to degrade into a Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Neither can we allow the situation to turn into an open conflict between the Arabs and Iran. We will do everything to prevent it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The intensified fighting in the country provides a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, with Yemen having already been an operational base of Al-Qaeda militants for years. After the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group became one of the world’s biggest exporters of terrorism, with the US considering it the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda.
AQAP claims to be behind January attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, with terrorists saying the main enemy of Islam is now France rather than the United States. The latter has already scaled down its operations against AQAP in the region, undermining an effort dating back to 2002.
The conflict in Yemen may also hamper the campaigns against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where US and its Arab allies found themselves on the same side as Iran. Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) now operate in Yemen, with its militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on mosques in the country’s capital Sanaa, in which over 100 people have been killed and hundreds injured.
A Pakistani Woman named Aafia Siddiqui was abducted from a taxi in Karachi, Pakistan along with her 3 children 12 years ago on March 30, 2003. At the time she was vulnerable, recently divorced from an abusive husband; living with her mother; her father had just died of a heart attack. The youngest child was an infant. Following her abduction, Aafia Siddiqui and her children disappeared from view for 5 years. She spent those years in US Black Site prisons in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can only imagine the torment she suffered there, in a system created to enable the torture and abuse of terrorism suspects. She was a woman alone. They took her children, and threatened them when personal torture was not enough to gain her acquiescence.
They say other women came and went from Bagram and the secret prisons in Afghanistan, but Aafia Siddiqui is the only one whose story is known. This is true in part because she had lived, studied and worked in the United States for more than a decade, but even more so because of the devoted persistence of her family, her mother Ismet, and sister Fowzia, who never for one moment ceased their efforts to find her and bring her home. Using their standing as an upper middle class family in Karachi, a conservative Muslim family, well educated, known for their involvement in various aspects of civil society during, the Siddiqui women engaged with the government at all levels, engaged the press to publicize Aafia’s disappearance and to investigate her whereabouts and the circumstances of her disappearance.
Ismet says that shortly after her daughter’s disappearance, a man came to her door and threatened her. He told her to drop the search for her missing daughter or ‘else’. The two women, Ismet and Fowzia, were convinced that Aafia and her children had been detained by either Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) or the CIA. This is not surprising because Pakistani citizens were frequently disappeared during that period, mostly by the Pakistani Secret Police and Intelligence forces complicit with the American CIA and FBI who were casting a broad net to fish for ‘terrorists’ after 9/11/2001. Thousands were abducted and imprisoned for long or short periods of time. A few eventually landed in Guantanamo, but who knows what happened to the rest?. Many never returned. Thousands of Muslim immigrants were rounded up and questioned here in the United States as well. Many of them were tortured. Many were held for months and years with no accessto legal aid or their families. Many were eventually deported despite having committed no crime.
No, Aafia Siddiqui wasn’t the only person rendered during the first years of the Global War on Terror, nor was she the only Pakistani disappeared under the Musharraf regime. We now know that thousands were rendered from the streets of Pakistan and around the globe during the first years following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We know that torture was ubiquitous during that period, while brutal violence against civilians characterized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is extraordinary about Aafia Siddiqui’s case is that she was a woman, and was taken with her children. Also somewhat unusual is the fact that she had spent many years in the US where she went to college and eventually obtained a PhD from Brandeis, married a Pakistani Doctor and had 2 children; and worked for various charities generally leading a conscientious life of good will. She sent Qurans to prisoners, and taught children at a Mosque in an impoverished city neighborhood.
But after 9/11 it all fell apart. She and her husband were not abducted, but they were interrogated. A young Saudi the government was pursuing had stayed for a while in their apartment building. Her husband had used his credit card to buy night vision goggles, he said for hunting. The marriage was becoming increasingly stressed and at times, violent. Aafia had a long scar on her cheek from a cut caused by a baby bottle her husband admitted to throwing at her. Aafia took her children and returned to her parents’ home in Karachi. She was pregnant with their third child when her husband divorced her and remarried. We are told she seemed nervous and agitated during this period. Who wouldn’t be nervous and agitated under those circumstances? And then, one day she set out for a family visit with her uncle, got in the taxi with her children, and disappeared.
In July of 2008, Aafia Siddiqui arrived in Manhattan a week after abdominal surgery to remove a couple of bullets from her intestines, and was brought directly into a courtroom in her wheelchair for arraignment on charges of attacking US military personnel in Afghanistan. After a highly publicized trial during which the press consistently referred to her as ‘Lady al Qaeda’, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison and sent to Carswell Medical Center, a high security federal prison in Texas, where she remains to this day, so we are told.
At the trial, no physical evidence was presented by the prosecution. There was none. Basic questions related to context were neither asked nor answered. Where was Aafia Siddiqui between the time of her disappearance 5 years earlier, and her encounter with the soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan? Why wasn’t she believed when she said she had been rendered and tortured? Why did the Pakistani Government allow her to be extradited from Afghanistan, then pay a small fortune for lawyers for her, lawyers that she did not want or trust because, whatever their qualifications, they had been selected and paid for by the Pakistani government? Why, when a fragile woman, who was obviously physically and mentally broken, said that she had been tortured, did no one investigate her story?
Between 2003 and 2008, US officials repeatedly denied having Aafia Siddiqui in custody. They insisted that she was not in the system anywhere. But, when she showed up in 2008, they had a story all ready to tell about her involvement with al Qaeda, conferring with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some of his associates. They actually said she was married to his nephew Ammar al Baluchi, a charge her family absolutely denies. She was only recently divorced, and had just birthed a child when she disappeared. The specific accusation against Siddiqui was that she had got a mailbox in Maryland for Majid Khan, a young man who had associated with Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in Karachi. He had allowed his visa to lapse while he was visiting family in Karachi, and needed a US mailbox address to reapply for it so he could return to the US. Khan was accused of plotting to commit terrorist attacks on returning to the USA.
But this isn’t the crime Aafia Siddiqui was tried for, just a story leaked to the press. Majid Khan was detained a few weeks before Aafia Siddiqui and her children were. Like her, he had lived in the United States for some years and had attended high school here. Raised in a middle class suburb of Baltimore, he was restless and unable to decide what to do with his life, so he went to Karachi to visit the extended family and married there. Members of his family were initially detained with him, then later released. According to his brother, Majid Khan was tortured and beaten during this period, and coerced into making unreliable and false confessions
Although he may have known KSM and his nephew, Khan was never proven to do anything other than talk and spin stories. After touring the black sites and being tortured for a couple of years, Khan landed in Guantanamo where he apparently continued talking and spinning stories. Majid Khan was eventually able to arrange a plea deal for early release from Guantanamo in 2012 in exchange for testimony against Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Ammar Al Baluchi and others. Perhaps Siddiqui did help Majid Khan with his immigration problem. He was a kid who needed help. That is an immigration violation that might keep her from returning to the US. But we don’t even know for sure that she even did that. We do know that Khan told a lot of stories in return for a plea deal in 2012 that capped his sentence at 19 years.
The government, however, claimed that Aafia Siddiqui spent the 5 years she was missing in a terrorist cell developing chemical and biological weapons. She was a scientist, after all, with a PhD. When she was arrested in Pakistan, there were some chemicals in her bag along with some recipes for biological and chemical weapons written in her handwriting and a picture of the statue of liberty, an odd choice for someone who had lived many years in Boston area and Texas before that. These items were brought into evidence. Again, when Aafia Siddiqui explained that she wasn’t that kind of scientist, that she was an educator, she was ignored. Her PhD was in neuroscience as it pertains to learning capabilities. This is a matter of public record at Brandeis University. She was Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, but neither a physician, a chemist nor even a biologist except in a narrow tangential sense. She said she wrote in the documents what she was told to write by men who threatened to harm her children if she did not do as they wished.
Aafia Siddiqui suffered from severe PTSD which made it difficult for her to present a consistently calm and pleasant demeanor during trial. She told the court she had been tortured during the time she was missing, but this testimony was dismissed as untrue and irrelevant. The government, of course, had denied it. She didn’t want the highly paid lawyers hired on her behalf by the Pakistani government because she didn’t trust the motivation of the Pakistani government, and she didn’t like the way they were building her case. But the judge chose to ignore her protest and allowed those lawyers to continue. Judge Berman was privately informed of the details the US held against Siddiqui. The story was apparently leaked to the press as well. But it wasn’t told in open court where she might have refuted it. The jury convicted despite the lack of physical evidence on charges normally bringing a sentence of around 15 years. They did not convict on the charge of premeditation, but Judge Berman added a ‘terrorism’ enhancement to her verdict, and sentenced Aafia Siddiqui to 86 years in a federal prison.
Today, Aafia Siddiqui remains in the psychiatric division of Carswell, seven years into her 86 year sentence. She had a hard time early on, and apparently was beaten at one point, by the guards? Other inmates? That we don’t know. We do know she was in solitary after that. She hasn’t been allowed to receive mail. I, myself, have sent her many letters, all returned. Early on they came back unopened, marked ‘undeliverable’. When I called the prison to inquire whether I had the wrong address, the person who answered went off to ask advice on what to tell me. He said, when he returned to the phone, that she refused her mail. A few months later when I was in jail myself (for direct action protest at the gate of Hancock AFB) I received a letter from my attorney, and realized that they have to open your mail and inspect it before offering it to you. After I called again to question this issue, my letters started coming back opened.
Aafia Siddiqui hasn’t spoken to her family in more than a year. She has a brother, also in Texas, but he has not been able to see her. No one has had contact with her for over a year now. The last time she was given a chance to talk to her family, to her mother and sister, and the 2 children returned to them after she was imprisoned in the US, was following a national press conference outside the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC and a well-publicized protest outside Carswell Prison. At the time, Fowzia asked her why she was refusing her mail, and she replied ‘What mail?”
Last year Robert Boyle, a new attorney hired by the family, submitted a motion to vacate to Judge Berrman, requesting that he throw out the verdict because Aafia’s repeated requests for an adjournment of the proceedings so she could find an acceptable attorney were ignored. The motion lays out a detailed argument that Siddiqui’s request was sane and reasonable, and described the potential bias of the Pakistani government and the ways in which their choice of attorneys, even well-known human rights lawyers, might not have been in her best interest. Judge Berman called the lawyers in a few days later and said that Aafia Siddiqui had written a letter to him, asking that the motion be dismissed, and that he was therefore required to dismiss it. He went on to say that he had, in any case, no intention of granting the motion.
Since then, another six months have passed with no word to anyone from Aafia Siddiqui. It’s true she is likely depressed. Is she sick? Is she being heavily medicated? Is she alive? An appeal that had earlier been rejected which focused on procedural issues. This motion that Judge Berman says she asked to have dismissed very directly mirrored her own concerns at the time of the trial. It’s true; she may have done this out of depression or despair. But if she was too disturbed for the Judge to support her initial request in the court room, why was her current request honored without a hearing?
Aafia Siddiqui said that she had been tortured and raped. Why her assertion was dismissed as a fabrication with no investigation, and why were any investigations into her claims treated as collateral conspiracy theories? How did she neatly fall into the hands of US soldiers just as the family felt their sources were near locating her? Why did the Pakistani Government allow her to be extradited if they thought she was innocent? Where is Aafia Siddiqui now and what is her status?
The fact is that Aafia Siddiqui’s story is not so different than many of the other Pakistani, Afghan and Arab men swept up after 9/11. Why is it so unbelievable? All of the evidence is in her favor except for the ‘secret’ evidence and the fact that the US denies her assertions. Would we expect anything different from them? We have heard the stories of others illegally swept up in the rendition program. But maybe we don’t want to believe they would do that to a woman. We’ve heard a lot of stories about horrors visited on women by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Vietnam, but maybe we don’t want to think that might happen to a vulnerable middle class housewife with a PhD in Education. What would they do to cover up committing these atrocities against this kind, well educated, English speaking woman who had spent nearly half her life in the US when she was detained? And to cover up the cover up?
Although a conservative estimate, physicians’ groups say the figure ‘is approximately 10 times greater’ than typically reported
How do you calculate the human costs of the U.S.-led War on Terror?
On the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, groups of physicians attempted to arrive at a partial answer to this question by counting the dead.
In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.
However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”
Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure “is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.
In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation’s total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.
Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.
The researchers identified direct and indirect deaths based on UN, government, and NGO data, as well as individual studies. While the specific number is difficult to peg, researchers say they hope to convey the large-scale of death and loss.
Speaking with Democracy Now! on Thursday, Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-author of the forward to the report, said:
“[A]t a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.”
According to Gould’s forward, co-authored with Dr. Tim Takaro, the public is purposefully kept in the dark about this toll.
“A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization cause by decades of outside military intervention,” they write. “As such, under-reporting of the human toll attributed to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate of through self-censorship, has been key to removing the ‘fingerprints’ of responsibility.”