As the eight-year term of America’s first black President draws to a close, the media are already in the process of myth-making. There’s room for an honest autopsy of a man who promised a new kind of world, and delivered merely warmed-over soundbites and a few fake tears.
“With Barack Obama’s exit the US is losing a saint.” writes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, whilst Ann Perkins praises his “grace, decency and defence of democracy”. Lola Okolosie rhapsodises on his legacy of “warmth, love, resilience”.
Already the storyline is set – Obama was a good man, who tried to do great things, but was undone by a Republican senate, and his own “sharp intelligence”.
These people, as much as anybody, reflect the cognitive dissonance of the modern press. “Liberals”, to use their own tortured self-descriptor, now assign the roles of good guy and bad guy based purely on aesthetics, convenience and fuel for their vanity. Actions and consequences are immaterial.
For the sake of balance, here is a list of Saint Obama’s unique achievements:
- Obama is the first President in American history to be at war for every single day of an 8 year presidency.
- Obama has carried out 10x more drone strikes than Bush ever did. Every Tuesday a military aide presents Obama with a “kill list”, and the “decent, gracious” Obama picks a few names off a list…and kills them. And their families. And their neighbours. These illegal acts of state-sanctioned murder have killed hundreds of civilians in 5 different countries in 2016 alone. The only reason that number isn’t higher, is that the Obama administration re-classified all males over 18 as combatants, regardless of occupation.
- After declaring he wanted to build a “nuclear free world”, Obama committed to spending $1 TRILLION dollars on rebuilding America’s nuclear weapons.
- Under Obama, the NSA et al. were able to spy on, essentially, the whole world. When this was revealed, not a single intelligence officer or government official was prosecuted. Instead…
- Obama’s administration declared a “war on whistleblowers”, enacting new laws and initiating what they call the “Insider Threat Program”. Manning was prosecuted, Snowden sent into exile and Assange was set-up, discredited and (they hoped) extradited. It has never been more dangerous to be a government whistle-blower, than under Barack Obama
- In terms of foreign policy, despite his press-created and non-sensical reputation as a non-interventionist, American Special Forces are currently operating in over 70% of the world’s 138 countries. The great lie is that, where Bush was a warmonger, Obama has sought to avoid conflict. The truth is that Obama, in the grand tradition of the CIA and American Imperial power, has simply turned all America’s wars into covert wars.
- Before Obama came into office, Libya was the richest and most developed nation in Africa. It is now a hell-hole. Destroyed by war, hollowed-out by corruption. The “liberal” press allow him to agonise over this as his “greatest mistake”, and then gently pardon him for his good intentions. The truth is that Libya was not a mistake, or a misjudgment, or an unforeseen consequence. Libya is exactly what America wanted it to become. A failed state where everything is for sale, a base to pour illegal CIA weapons south into Africa and east into the ME. When war is your economy, chaos is good for business. When secrecy is your weapon, anarchy is ammunition. Libya went according to plan. A brutal plan that killed 100,000s and destroyed the lives of millions more. Libya, like Iraq, is a neocon success story. Syria on the other hand…
- Syria, probably the word that will follow Obama out of office as “Iraq” did his predecessor, is a total failure. Both of stated intent and covert goals. Where the press will mourn Obama’s “indecisive nature” and wish he’d “used his big stick”, the real story is one of evil incompetence, so great that it would be almost comical… if it hadn’t destroyed an ancient seat of civilisation and killed 100,000s of people. Syria (along with Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Sudan) was on the list of the 7 countries America intended to destroy, famously “leaked” by General Wesley Clark. After the fall of Libya, Syria was (essentially) surrounded by American military on all sides. Iraq, Israel, Turkey and America operating out of Libya could pour “freedom fighters” into Syria to bring down “the regime”. When that didn’t work they deployed the trusty “WMD” method, to demand “humanitarian intervention”… the Russians saw that off. Then “ISIS” was created by the CIA, as al-Qaida were before them, and their manufactured barbarism was used as a pretext for invasion. The Russians, again, saw to it that this would not happen.
- Perhaps in the hope of distracting Russia from the ME, or perhaps merely as a short-sighted punitive measure, the Obama administration’s next foreign policy target was Ukraine. Victoria Nuland’s own voice proves how much that “color revolution” was an American creation. Ukraine is broke, even more broke than it was, its people starve and freeze through the winter. The new “democratic government” has shelled 10,000 people to death in the East of the country…. using American weapons.
- In Yemen, the poorest country in the ME is being bombed to shreds by the richest…. again, using American (and British) weapons. Obama’s “defense of democracy” doesn’t extend to criticising, or even discussing, the abhorrent Human Rights record of America’s Saudi Arabian allies, and in an act of brazen hypocrisy, even supported their chairing of the Human Rights Council of the UN.
This is the world Saint Obama has created. Guantanamo is still open, and terrorist “suspects” are still held there without trial or charge (they are probably still tortured). Other “suspects” can be simply declared guilty, and unilaterally executed… anywhere in the world. The NSA and CIA are illegally monitoring the communications of half the world. If any other leader in the world claimed even 1% of this power, they would be decried as “autocratic”, and their country denounced as a “pariah state”.
The Middle-East is ablaze from Libya to Afghanistan, and from Yemen to Turkey. Relations with Russia are as precarious as at any time since WWII, thanks to America’s efforts to break Russia economically and shatter their global influence. There is no sign that America intends to back-down (see the recent red-scare style hysteria in the American press). Likewise America has positioned itself to have a massive conflict with China in the South China Sea. Obama is, in terms of influence, nothing more than a used-car salesman. His job is not to create policy, but to sell neocon ideas to the general public, but his lack of agency cannot excuse his lack of vision or morals. Under Obama’s notional leadership the world has moved to the very brink of self-immolation in the name of protecting American hegemony. Domestically America still crumbles.
He had a nice smile, and a good turn of phrase. He was witty, and cool, and looked good in a suit… but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t just more of the same. He could say the right things, and sound like he meant them, but he was still a monster. As he moves out to pasture, the press will try to spit-shine Obama’s tarnished halo, to try to convince us that he was a good man at heart and that, as politicians go, we can’t do any better.
But yes, we can.
The American government is ending some economic sanctions against Sudan as a reward for Khartoum’s closer ties with the West and Saudi Arabia, an African American journalist in Detroit says.
“The Sudanese government has shifted its foreign policy more towards Saudi Arabia,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, editor at the Pan-African News Wire.
“This is reflected in their participation in the war against Yemen… also they’ve broken diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Azikiwe said in a phone interview with Press TV on Friday.
“So I think this is a reward for Sudan in regard to moving closer to the West,” he added.
Obama signed an executive order on Friday to ease but not eliminate some trade and investment sanctions against Khartoum, arguing that the East African country has shown “a marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas.”
The outgoing president expressed determination that the situation which led the US to impose and continue the 20-year-old sanctions had changed in light of Sudan’s “positive actions” over the last six months.
Sudan has been under US sanctions since 1997. Washington accuses Khartoum of supporting terrorist groups, and it has blacklisted the country as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.
The US has accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of war crimes related to the conflict-torn Darfur region.
Violence broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels rose against the long-time ruler, accusing Bashir’s Arab-dominated government of marginalizing the region.
Despite strenuous denials, UK-made cluster bombs are indeed being used by Britain’s theocratic ally Saudi Arabia in its war on impoverished Yemen, according to the government’s own inquiries.
The new details have emerged through a leak to the Guardian from sources which claim that internal investigations support claims in the media that the outlawed munitions are in use.
The source said that the findings had been known by the government for up to a month.
However, the paper has also been told that Saudi Arabia – a major UK ally and one of its top arms customers – has not confirmed itself that the banned munitions are being used.
The revelations seem set to pile even more pressure on the UK to stop selling arms to the authoritarian regime.
The UK is a signatory to the 2010 treaty banning cluster munitions, which drop many tiny bomblets from the main device and can create what is in effect a minefield.
A senior defense source told the Guardian that the issue had been “raised at the highest possible levels and we have been trying to establish definitively for some time [if cluster bombs have been used].”
The “highest levels” are said in this case to include Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
In statement Monday after a spokesman for the military said: “The Government takes such allegations very seriously.
“We have analysed the case carefully using all available information, considering all possibilities, and raised the issue with the Saudi-led coalition.”
The UK has also been involved in training Saudi forces in air warfare skills and artillery, it emerged in 2016. Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel are also embedded in Saudi operations headquarters.
It was reported in April that courses were being run by RAF officers as recently as 2015 on ‘international targeting’ over three separate three-week blocks.
This included training on the Storm Shadow missile, which is launched from aircraft to destroy enemy bunkers.
Gunnery instruction on targeting and locating enemy gun batteries was also carried out by a seven-strong detachment of personnel from the Royal Artillery.
The artillery team delivered 52 hours of training to Saudi gunners and included a senior major, a captain, a sergeant major and a sergeant.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the course had been delivered to “a mixed group of soldiers and officers” from the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) field artillery.
The military said its personnel were not involved in “carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets, and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.”
Iran has summoned the British ambassador to Tehran over the recent meddlesome remarks made by UK Prime Minister Theresa May against the Islamic Republic. Speaking at the annual summit of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] in the Bahraini capital of Manama on Wednesday, May said Britain would help the GCC states “push back” against what she claimed to be Iran’s “aggressive regional actions.”
An investigative journalist says Theresa May seems to be from the school of “foot in mouth” diplomacy, adding that she is speaking more in the interest of foreign powers such as the United States and Israel than Britain.
“Right at the moment, there is a very important deal being struck between Royal Dutch Shell and Iran as she should know, and she cannot go around talking about Iran’s aggressive actions in the region where actually it is a bit rich coming from her, [because] Britain’s aggressive actions in the region along with the United States have been going on since the First World War. There is also problems because Britain and America have been interfering in the region for a long, long time and so she has been totally hypocritical,” Tony Gosling told Press TV in an interview on Sunday.
He stated that the British premier is ruining the good relations built between Tehran and London.
The analyst also noted that Theresa May represents an “authoritarian” government at the moment in Britain, adding that she neither represents the views of ordinary British people, nor of her own cabinet.
Golsing further opined that UK’s ulterior motive for increasing its presence in the Middle East is arms sales to the Persian Gulf states such as Bahrain.
He also argued that Theresa May has effectively been implanted by the “securocrats” in Britain, that is to say the secret services and the top echelons of the civil service.
“She is walking around the world saying silly things and what is worse she is supping with some of the worst regimes on the planet. We are talking about people like Saudi Arabia with an appalling human rights record, which is smashing poor Yemen, a beautiful country, incredibly historic place, [and also] the poorest country in the Middle East,” he said.
A side-effect of Donald Trump’s election as president could be the improvement in Saudi-Iranian ties. Of course, cynics may argue that it is about time the relationship got better, because it can’t get any worse – short of war. But the Trump factor becomes a stimulus in a positive direction.
Broadly, the US policy (which Hillary Clinton would have happily continued) of playing Saudi Arabia against Iran on the one hand and nudging the Arab allies and Israel to form a united regional front under American leadership on the other hand, is ending. It was a hopeless strategy to begin with, and Trump will not waste time in resuscitating it on its death bed.
Egypt’s recent ‘defection’ to the Russian-Iranian camp in the Syrian conflict (which also anticipates the Trump presidency, by the way), lethally wounds the myth of Arab unity against Iran, which Saudis had been fostering. Interestingly, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry is in New York where he met Vice President–elect Mike Pence on Thursday to hand over a letter from President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to Trump. At the same time, Sisi himself is on a visit to the UAE (which is mediating in the Saudi-Egyptian rift.) Egypt anticipates an easing of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and is positioning itself.
For the Saudi regime, a Trump presidency means that it is losing the war in Syria. The blow to Saudi prestige on the Arab Street, regionally and internationally is enormous. But Saudis are preparing for the eventuality of President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power and the Syrian rebels facing the existential choice of surrendering and accepting the fait accompli (or meeting physical extinction.) The secret talks in Ankara, which have now come to light, between the rebel leadership with Russian intelligence and diplomats underscore that Aleppo is about to fall to the government forces and the war is over.
The ending of the war on such terms constitutes a big victory for Iran. This raises the question: Are the Saudis on a course correction themselves? There is growing evidence that this may be so.
First came the election of Michel Aoun as the new President of Lebanon on October 31, ending two years of deadlock. Aoun is very close to Hezbollah. (Iranian FM Mohammad Zarif was the first foreign dignitary to visit Beirut to congratulate Aoun.) Clearly, in the complicated political tug of war in Lebanon, Saudis appear to have simply retrenched, which facilitated Aoun’s election, piloted by Iran and the Hezbollah.
The consolidation in Lebanon and the sight of victory in the Syrian war (plus the incipient signs of a warming up with Egypt) would significantly strengthen Iran’s hand in regional politics. But, strangely, there is no triumphalism in Tehran. In the normal course, Tehran could have called the Saudis ‘losers’, but that is not happening.
Now comes the thunderbolt — OPEC oil production cut deal in Geneva on Wednesday. Admittedly, the oil market is unpredictable, the role of the US shale industry is uncertain and the OPEC deal needs to be firmed up at the December meeting in Moscow between the cartel and non-OPEC oil producers. But the bottom line nonetheless is that the deal is the final product of a big Saudi concession to Iran. Put differently, if the Saudis had dug in and refused to exempt Iran as a special case from the production cut, the deal wouldn’t have come through.
The OPEC deal signifies a tectonic shift in the Saudi-Iranian equations, which is below the radar as of now. It is not only about big money, but also the return of Iran to OPEC’s cockpit — indeed, about OPEC’s future itself. True, the Russians played a forceful role behind the scenes to bridge the gap between Riyadh and Tehran and push them to come closer. True, again, Saudis are in serious financial difficulty and the OPEC deal is expected to bring in more income out of a rise in oil price. However, in the final analysis, the Saudis did accommodate Iran’s demand that a restoration of the pre-sanctions OPEC production quota is its national prerogative and it must be exempted from any production cut. (NBC News gives a riveting account of how it all happened — How Putin, Khamenei, and a Saudi Prince Made the OPEC Deal.)
It is this shift in the Saudi mindset — away from the dogged attitude that Iran must be relentlessly punished even if that were to mean inflicting on itself a few bleeding self-wounds — that catches attention. Again, on Iran’s part too, it is this strangest of strange behaviour – total absence of triumphalism that the Saudis blinked in Geneva – is highly significant.
Simply put, taken together with the happenings in Lebanon, Iran is careering away from anti-Saudi grandstanding and rhetoric. Indeed, a similar roll back is discernible on the Saudi side also lately. (The Asharq al-Awsat newspaper recently replaced its editor-in-chief; Prince Turki bin Faisal has said Trump should not abandon the Iran nuclear deal.)
These are early days, but signs are that there is a thaw in the Saudi-Iranian ties. Given the Middle Eastern political culture, Saudi Arabia and Iran could be moving toward a modus vivendi sooner than one would have expected. Yemen will be the litmus test of a rapprochement.
Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement has expressed its readiness to end fighting and join a national unity government in the conflict-ridden country suffering from a deadly Saudi aggression.
“Ansarullah’s position has been and still is with stopping the war and the establishment of a national unity government that incorporates all political components,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of Ansarullah’s Political Council, told Reuters on Wednesday.
He made the announcement in response to a question on recent remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that Saudi Arabia and the Houthis had agreed to observe a cessation of hostilities from November 17.
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of the Political Council of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement
Speaking after talks in Oman on Tuesday, Kerry said that he had presented Houthi delegates with a document outlining a ceasefire and peace deal.
The Houthis had agreed to observe the truce, provided the other side implemented it, he said, adding, “And thus far the Emiratis and the Saudis… they have both agreed to try to move forward with this.”
Yemen’s warring sides had further reached a consensus to work out a “national unity government in a safe and secure Sana’a… as a goal towards the end of the year,” the top Us diplomat pointed out.
Elsewhere in his comments, Bukhaiti confirmed that the Riyadh regime had agreed to end its offensive against Yemen.
“The new thing is in the position of Saudi (Arabia), which has agreed in principle to stop the war as one of the parties to the conflict,” he said.
On Tuesday, however, Yemen’s former foreign minister, Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi, complained that Kerry’s announcement had not been coordinated with the country’s resigned government.
Saudi Arabia has come under international opprobrium for the sheer size of the casualties from the war it is leading since March 2015 to crush the Houthis and reinstate the former Yemeni administration.
The war has killed at least 11,400 civilians, according to a recent tally by a Yemeni monitoring group. There have also been countless reports about the deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilian infrastructure by the Saudi forces and mercenaries.
The Houthi Ansarullah movement took state matters into their own hands in the wake of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s resignation and escape, which threw Yemen into a state of uncertainty and threatened a total security breakdown in the country.
The UK government has rejected calls by lawmakers to temporarily stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom’s war crimes in Yemen.
Britain has signed off £3.3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since March 26, 2015, when it launched a war in Yemen in order to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and restore power to Saudi-backed former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Two committees of MPs recently released a joint report, urging the government to suspend arms sales until the United Nations conducts an investigation into the Saudi atrocities, The Independent reported Monday.
The committees include the International Development and Business Committee, which both sit on a parliamentary ‘super committee’ known as the Committee on Arms Export Control (CAEC).
The Foreign Affairs Committee, a third constituent committee of CAEC, did not endorse the report, but suggested that British courts should decide the legality of the sales.
Meanwhile, a legal challenge has been launched by Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which is set to be heard in the coming months.
The UK government has rejected the calls by the two committees, saying it “is confident in its robust case-by-case assessment and is satisfied that extant licenses for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.”
“We continue to assess export license applications for Saudi Arabia on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application,” The Independent quoted the government as saying in an official response.
The government said that it would continue its arms sales to any country, unless its assessments show that the items are being used in violation of UN human rights laws.
“The key test for our continued arms exports is whether there is a clear risk that those exports might be used in a commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL),” it added.
The response was issued by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Priti Patel.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade told The Independent that “the government is in denial about the devastating impact of the Saudi-led bombardment and its own complicity in it.”
Smith called the response “very weak,” saying that it is indicative of the fact that “arms company profits are still being prioritized over the human rights and lives of Yemeni people.”
He noted that those who issued the response “could stop the arms sales right now” instead of “offering uncritical military and political support” to Saudi Arabia.
The UK government is “helping arms companies like BAE to sell even more weapons” to the Saudis, he added.
Since the beginning of the aggression, almost 10,000 people, including over 2,000 children, have been killed.
London has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Riyadh for 40 years.
A senior Iranian official says the US and West intend to partition countries in the Middle East, warning that the breakup of Muslim states will lead to “dangerous” consequences.
“What is pursued by the US and Western countries is to partition Syria into four parts and the same issue is also envisaged for Iraq to be divided into three parts and also for Yemen to be divided into at least two parts,” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on international affairs, said in a meeting with a Tunisian parliamentary delegation in Tehran on Saturday.
He added that the disintegration of Muslim countries would lead to “dangerous consequences and outcomes.”
“Terrorists and extremists are a tool in the hands of the Americans and the Zionists, supported by them. The aim of terrorism and arrogant powers is to weaken and partition Muslim countries,” the senior Iranian official said.
He pointed to the dangerous conditions and the presence of terrorists in the region and said, “There is an undesirable and dangerous situation surrounding Tunisia, which has led to insecurity in the region.”
Velayati emphasized that Muslim countries have great resources and can potentially become an important part of the world power, warning; however, that they could turn into “ineffective governments” in case of their division.
He expressed hope that the ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria as well as conflicts in regional countries would end.
Gruesome violence has plagued the northern and western parts of Iraq ever since Daesh terrorists mounted an offensive there more than two years ago, and took control of portions of Iraqi territory.
The foreign-sponsored conflict in Syria, which started in March 2011, has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people, according to an estimate by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
The Obama administration has carried out a deliberately deceptive campaign accusing Iran of covertly sending arms to the Houthis by sea, a claim that Washington cites to help justify the Saudi massive air attack against the Houthis that began last year.
By repeating the accusation over and over, the administration has been largely successful in turning a dubious allegation into accepted fact, even though it is contradicted by evidence that is well-documented on the public record.
Secretary of State John Kerry introduced the new variant of the Obama administration’s familiar theme about Iran’s “nefarious activities” in the region two weeks after Saudi Arabia began its bombing in Yemen on March 26, 2015. Kerry told the PBS NewsHour, “There are obviously supplies that have been coming from Iran,” citing “a number of flights every single week that have been flying in.” Kerry vowed that the United States was “not going to stand by while the region is destabilized.”
Later, the administration began accusing Iran of using fishing boats to smuggle arms to the Houthis. The campaign unfolded in a series of four interceptions of small fishing boats or dhows in or near the Arabian Sea from September 2015 through March 2016. The four interceptions had two things in common: the boats did have illicit weapons alright, but the crews always said the ship was bound for Somalia – not Yemen and the Houthis.
But instead of acknowledging the obvious fact that the weapons were not related to the Iran-Houthi relationship, a U.S. military spokesman put out a statement in all four cases citing a U.S. “assessment” that the ultimate destination of the arms was Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.
The choice of wording was significant. The intelligence community says that it “assesses” that something is true only when it does not have clear-cut proof on the matter. In the case of the alleged Iranian use of fishing dhows to smuggle arms to the Houthis, the U.S. spokesmen did not cite a single piece of evidence for that “assessment” in any of the four cases. In fact, when asked for some justification for it, the military spokesman refused.
The first fishing dhow was intercepted in the Arabian Sea on Sept. 25, 2015, by a member of a 31-nation coalition called the Combined Maritime Forces patrolling the Arabian Sea and nearby waters for piracy. The coalition ship found the dhow to be carrying 18 Konkurs anti-tank missiles, 71 other anti-tank shells and 54 missile-launchers.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet later issued a statement that said, “Based on statements from the dhow’s crew the port of origin of the dhow and its illicit weapons cache is believed to be Iran.” It also said the anti-tank missiles were thought to be of Iranian and Russian origin, and that the papers on the ship had indicated that it had been checked by ports and customs officials in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.
But the crew of the vessel had said that it was bound not for Yemen but for Somalia, as the spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet acknowledged to The Associated Press. A Saudi military spokesman suggested that Iran intended to reroute the arms later from Somalia to Yemen, but offered no evidence.
On Feb. 27, 2016, an Australian ship intercepted a second fishing dhow off the coast of Oman. The Australians found 1,989 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenades and 40 PKM machine guns on board. The Australian Defense Force issued an official statement on the seizure that did not mention Iranian involvement. It said the boat appeared to be “stateless” and that its cache of weapons was “destined for Somalia.” The Australian Defense Force spokesman explained to CNN that the conclusion was based on interviews with crew members.
But a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command, Lt. Ian McConnaughey gave an entirely different political slant to the interception. In an e-mail to NBC News, McConnaughey said. “Based on the dhow’s course, Iran is believed to be its port of origin and the source of the illicit weapon,” he said. McConnaughey said the crew was “assessed” to be Iranian – implying that the crew itself had not indicated that.
McConnaughey acknowledged to NBC and The Telegraph, “According to coalition forces it is believed that the vessel’s destination was in the vicinity of Somalia.” But the CENTCOM spokesman indicated that it didn’t matter; the U.S. was insisting on its narrative about covert Iranian arms to the Houthis.
“[T]he initial U.S. assessment is the weapons’ final destination was likely to be the Houthis in Yemen,” McConnaaughey told NBC and The Telegraph.
When this writer asked McConnaughey by e-mail why the U.S. “assessed” that the weapons were intended for Yemen, despite the evidence to the contrary, he responded, “We are not going to discuss the intelligence and other information that led us to our assessment.”
A Third Shipment
On March 20, a French navy destroyer intercepted a third fishing dhow off the Island of Socotra in the northern Indian Ocean and found several hundred AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns and antitank weapons. The official statement on the seizure from the Combined Maritime Forces stated categorically, “The dhow was spotted heading toward Somalia.”
And because the weapons were “deemed to be destined for Somalia,” it explained, they “were seized under the United Nations Security Council mandated arms embargo in accordance with UNSCR 2244(2015).” That Security Council resolution mandates an embargo on Eritrea.
Australia and other states participating in the Combined Maritime Forces were thus challenging the U.S. propaganda line. But again the U.S. military used the news media to reinforce the line about Iran smuggling arms to the Houthis. Commander Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, told CNN that “according to a U.S. assessment,” Yemen was the “likely destination” of the arms.
A fourth interception – the third in three weeks – occurred on March 28 by a U.S. Navy ship that was not operating as part of Combined Maritime Forces but directly under U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. That allowed the Naval Forces Central Command to issue its own news story on April 4.
In its lead paragraph, the report said the United States “assessed” that the shipment of illicit arms on board the dhow “originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen.”
An Earlier Ruse
The Obama administration also had sought to promote the charge that Iran was covertly sending weapons to the Houthis by sea more than two years earlier. In January 2013, the Yemen client government backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia had claimed that its forces had intercepted a ship with a large cargo of weaponry that came from Iran and was on its way to Yemen to deliver them to the Houthis.
The Obama administration supported that charge in briefings to journalists. After the Saudi air war against Yemen began in 2015, the U.S. pushed for a report by an experts group on sanctions against Iran that would give the charge credibility.
But the 2013 claim was soon exposed as a ruse. A Security Council Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea revealed in a June 2013 report that the crewmembers had told diplomats who interviewed them that ship’s cargo of diesel fuel was bound for Somalia, not Yemen. And, since the weapons were hidden under the diesel fuel tanks, the weapons could be accessed only after those tanks had been emptied, in other words after the ship docked in Somalia.
The monitoring group learned from authorities in the Puntland region of Somalia, where most of the smuggled weapons have entered the country, that this was a widely used method of smuggling arms into the country.
Furthermore, the monitoring group determined that the wide range of types of weapons on board the ship, which was intercepted in January 2013, as well as of their original sources indicated that the weapons cache had been assembled by arms merchants. Authorities in Puntland provided data to the monitoring group showing that most of the shipments of weapons into Puntland in the months before January 2013 had come from politically well-connected arms merchants in Yemen.
Some of the fishing boats that were intercepted with illicit arms on board in 2015-16 had Iranian owners. But the monitoring group report reveals that the real reason is the role of such Iranian fishing vessels in illegal fishing in Somali waters. The vast majority of the hundreds of fishing vessels involved in such illegal fishing networks were either Iranian or Yemeni. As many as 300 were believed to be Yemeni-owned, while Iranian-owned 180 of them.
The monitoring group said it was investigating unconfirmed reports that some of those illegal fishing vessels were also being used to carry out arms smuggling and that it had established “other connections between the illegal fishing networks and networks involved in the arms trade and connected to al-Shabaab in northeastern Somalia.”
But the Obama administration has no interest in the considerable evidence gathered by the monitoring group that provides a more credible explanation for the arms found on those four fishing dhows.
Such an explanation isn’t political useful, whereas the accusations of Iranian smuggling of arms to the Houthis fulfilled multiple political and bureaucratic interests, justifying Saudi Arabia’s bloody U.S.-backed air campaign over Yemen and endless Washington alarms about “Iranian aggression.”
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Reprieve | October 30, 2016
Personnel on military bases in the UK have been involved in choosing targets for a secret US drone campaign which has killed hundreds of civilians in violation of international law, documents obtained by human rights charity Reprieve indicate.
Job adverts and CVs identified from publicly-available sources show that the US Air Force has employed a “MQ-9 REAPER [drone] ISR Mission Intelligence Coordinator” at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire; while a Private Military Contractor (PMC) has advertised for an “All Source Analyst – Targeting” to work at the same base.
RAF Molesworth is leased to the US, but the UK Government has refused to answer questions on whether it plays a role in the covert drone campaign – which carries out missile strikes outside of warzones with minimal accountability.
British Ministers have said that “the US does not operate RPAS [drones] from the UK,” but have refused to answer questions on whether bases in the UK play a role in choosing targets and drawing up the US ‘kill list.’
A third job advert from contractor Leidos for someone to provide “FMV [full motion video] intelligence analysis in support of USAFRICOM… and Special Operations Command Africa,” also at Molesworth, indicates that the base may be involved in supporting illegal covert drone strikes in countries such as Somalia, where neither the US nor the UK is publicly at war. Along with the CIA, US Special Operations Command is the main player in the drone programme.
Concerns have been raised over the legality of the US covert drone programme, its lack of transparency, and reports that it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. The UN has warned that it may violate international law, and British ministers have refused to be drawn on their view of its legality. President Obama has to date refused even to formally acknowledge that the CIA is carrying out drone strikes, because of the programme’s covert status. A 2014 study by Reprieve found that covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan had killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named individuals.
The revelations come on top of documents published recently by The Intercept on the role played by Menwith Hill – another UK/US intelligence base – in identifying targets in Yemen, one of the main theatres in which the covert drone programme operates. One document states that targets at Yemeni internet cafes are “tasked by several target offices at NSA and GCHQ.” The document’s header shows it was copied to the UK, meaning that the British Government must have already been aware of the role its intelligence and bases were playing.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said:
“These documents are the strongest evidence yet that the US may be conducting its illegal, secret drone war from bases on British soil. Simply to say that drones are not flown from the UK is missing the point, if it is personnel on British soil that are at the top of the so-called ‘kill chain’ and British agencies who are feeding targets into those lists.
“The US drone programme, conducted in the shadows, has killed hundreds of civilians without any accountability. The British Government has questions to answer over its own involvement in this secret war and how much responsibility it bears for those deaths.”
The army officer assigned to investigate alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen played a key role in the 2011 crackdown on Arab Spring protesters in Bahrain, MEMO can reveal. In the wake of the start of the ongoing 2011 uprising, Bahrain’s military lawyer Colonel Mansour Al-Mansour presided over the First Instance Court of National Safety, a tribunal set up to process the trial and prosecution of hundreds of peaceful protesters and human rights and pro-democracy activists after they took to the streets calling for urgent reform of the tiny Gulf monarchy.
Al-Mansour now acts as legal adviser to the Joint Incident Assessments Team (JIAT), the body set up by the Saudi-led coalition to investigate bombings against civilian targets. He is playing a key role in assessing whether human rights violations have taken place.
Amongst Al-Mansour’s notorious convictions are the so-called “Bahraini Thirteen”, a group of activists, journalists and politicians who alleged torture, including sexual assault and beatings, during their detention. Several media and foreign human rights monitors were barred from observing their trial, the conduct of which drew strong criticism from the United Nations, European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Religious leader Mirza Al-Mahroos, who was convicted by Al-Mansour to fifteen years in prison, said that he was “unable to stand due to the severity of what had happened to me.” This was a reference to the alleged daily torture and beatings during his pre-trial detention; on one occasion, he claimed that an interrogator stuffed shoes into his mouth. “I could not look at [the judges] because of the beatings on my eyes,” he recalled. Al-Mansour, he complained, had failed to respond to complaints of torture when raised.
According to Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Al-Mansour sentenced protesters vindictively on behalf of the Bahraini regime. “Rather than being held accountable,” he told MEMO, “Al-Mansour has been promoted to whitewash the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. His story is a clear marker of the descent of Bahrain and the Gulf further into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”
Others convicted by Al-Mansour include Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a human rights activist and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, as well as the academic and writer Abduljalil Al-Singace, who was arrested initially on his return from Britain where he attended an event in the House of Lords in parliament in August 2010. Al-Singace was detained for six months before being released at the height of the protests, re-arrested, then sentenced by Al-Mansour to life imprisonment. Both men continue to serve their sentences and have been on several hunger-strikes in protest at their incarceration.
Human Rights Watch called the conduct of the trials “unfair”, characterised by “serious due process violations.” The organisation’s official report concluded that “serious abuses included denying defendants the right to counsel and to present a defence, and failure to investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation.” Those on trial included health workers, with one nurse convicted of “destroying moveable property in furtherance of a terrorist purpose” because she allegedly stepped on a photo of the prime minister.
Al-Mansour has since specialised in humanitarian law and attended training sessions from the Bahraini Red Crescent Society and the International Committee for the Red Cross, as well as advising his country’s Shura (Consultative) Council in March, on whether to adopt the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. This includes bans on dangerous unexploded ordinance, incendiary devices and other bombs “deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects.” Before the council approved the accession, Al-Mansour reassured legislators that the convention would not apply to the use of weapons within the kingdom.
The convention is actually a watered-down version of the international treaty on “cluster bombs”; Bahrain currently refuses to sign this. Instead, the government in Manama calls for “explosive ordnance that has been primed, fused, armed or otherwise prepared for use and used in an armed conflict” to be cleared from civilian areas after being dropped, rather than banned outright. The legislation clarifies that such ordinance may have been “fired, dropped, launched or projected, and should have exploded but failed to do so.”
Opting for this diluted version of a cluster bomb ban over an outright prohibition preferred by other countries, the Saudi-led coalition has since been accused of using such munitions in Yemen. This is highly controversial because the “bomblets” often fail to explode.
As concerns have mounted internationally about alleged war crimes committed by the coalition air forces in Yemen, Al-Mansour has played a prominent role in playing down the allegations to local, regional and international media. He appeared in media briefings conducted in Riyadh while wearing civilian clothing.
In August, Al-Mansour claimed that a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital hit by coalition air strikes had been used as a base by Houthi militias. MSF refuted the story, saying that the tented clinic had been set up in an empty field in a residential neighbourhood where many internally displaced people had gathered, noting there had been no air strike, nor any fighting in the area, for several months. The GPS coordinates of the MSF medical facilities had also been shared with the Saudis on the morning of the attack. All six of the incidents investigated by JIAT found no wrong-doing on the part of the coalition. MSF has since been forced to withdraw from Yemen after several incidents of a similar nature in which, again, there was found to be no coalition wrong-doing.
JIAT has since admitted that a recent coalition attack on a funeral, which Houthi rebels claim killed eighty-two Yemenis and the UN says could have killed up to a hundred and forty, was the result of a commander who failed to obtain permission from his seniors for the strike. “Naturally, these people must be confronted about what led to this mistake,” Al-Mansour said. “They have the right to defend themselves, but if it becomes clear that legal measures should be taken, the coalition forces are concerned with that.” This, remember, is the man assigned to investigate allegations of war crimes in the same country by the same Saudi-led coalition.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani says terrorists have created chaos in the Middle East, adding that the continuation of conflicts and acts of terror will serve the Israeli regime’s interests.
“The [critical] situation and chaos in the region has been created by a number of terrorists and the enemy does not want this chaos to end,” Larijani said on Saturday.
He added that all Muslim countries, including Syria, Yemen and Iraq, are entangled in conflicts and only the Israeli regime benefits from such a chaotic situation.
“Superpowers formed an anti-terror coalition in coordination with 60 countries but since they do not want to see the end of wars in the region and regard such an end as detrimental to the Zionist regime [of Israel], they are fanning the flames of tensions in the region,” Larijani said.
He noted that even American and Israeli experts and strategists have confirmed that the current conflicts in the Muslim world best serve the interests of the Zionists and that any success by Iran and the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, would be detrimental to them.
The top Iranian parliamentarian added that whenever promising prospects emerge for putting an end to the regional conflicts, the world powers rush to hold meetings and try to prolong the crises.
He said these powers have reinforced their links with terrorist groups operating in regional countries and are covertly providing them with weapons and military equipment.
Since March 2011, Syria has been hit by militancy it blames on some Western states and their regional allies. The Syrian military is engaged in an operation to rid the country of Daesh and other terrorist groups.
Over the past months, Syria has managed to recapture swathes of land from Daesh and other groups in the east and north of the country. The Syrian military has used the assistance of fighters from Hezbollah as well as advisory military support from Iran. Russia also helps Syria in the fight against terrorists through a series of coordinated airstrikes on their positions.
This is while Iraqi army troops, backed by fighters from allied Popular Mobilization Units, have been engaged in military operations to win back regions held by Daesh and have managed to liberate most of these areas.
The militants have been committing heinous crimes against all ethnic and religious communities in the northern and western parts of Iraq.