U.S. Central Command’s latest figures on its aerial bombardment of Iraq and Syria reveal that this is the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since President George W. Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003. In the campaign’s first ten months from August 2014 to May 2015, the U.S. and its allies conducted 15,245 air strikes, or an average of 51 air strikes per day.
This is only the latest campaign in a 15-year global air war, largely ignored by U.S. media, in which the United States and its allies have conducted at least 118,000 air strikes against other countries since 2000. The 47,000 air strikes conducted in the 6 ½ years since President Barack Obama took office are only a small reduction from the 70,000 in eight years of the Bush administration, and the current campaign will easily make up that deficit if it continues at this intensity until Obama leaves office.
Afghanistan has been the most heavily bombed country, with at least 61,000 air strikes since 2001. That includes 24,000 bombs and missiles in the first year of the war and a relentless bombing campaign that struck Afghanistan with another 29,000 bombs and missiles between 2007 and 2012, a slow motion version of “Shock and Awe.” That was an average of 13 air strikes per day for six full years, two years under Bush and four under Obama. The heaviest bombardment was in October 2010, with 1,043 air strikes that month, but that total is now eclipsed every month by the new campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq had already suffered about 34,000 air strikes since 2000 before the latest campaign began. There were at least 800 air strikes in the “No Fly Zone” bombing campaign to destroy Iraq’s air defenses between 2000 and 2002; 29,200 air strikes in “Shock and Awe” in 2003, a campaign whose planners compared it to a nuclear attack; and another 3,900 during the U.S. occupation, peaking with 400 strikes in January 2008 as remaining centers of armed resistance were obliterated by air strikes, Spectre gunships and heavy artillery in the climax of the “Surge.”
But until the new campaign in Iraq and Syria, the seven-month NATO-Gulf Cooperation Council bombing of Libya was the heaviest bombardment since “Shock and Awe”, with 7,700 air strikes in seven months, or 36 air strikes per day. NATO and its Arab monarchist allies plunged Libya into intractable chaos and violence, exposing “regime change” as a euphemism for “regime destruction.”
NATO’s destruction of Libya spurred Russia to finally draw the line on its 20-year acquiescence to Western aggression and military expansion. Since then, the U.S. and its allies have persisted in their “regime destruction” policy in Syria and Ukraine, threatening strategically important Russian naval bases in Tartus and Sevastopol, what has evolved from an asymmetric war on a series of relatively defenseless countries into full-blown 1950s-era nuclear brinksmanship.
None of these figures include Israeli air strikes against Palestine, the current Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, or French operations in West Africa, as I haven’t found comparable figures for those campaigns, but they must add many thousand more air strikes to the real total.
Keeping the People in the Dark
In a recent article, Gareth Porter reported that the Pentagon is seriously opposed to putting more “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria, but that the generals and admirals are prepared to keep bombing them more or less indefinitely as the political path of least resistance for themselves and the White House. This may indeed be the “safe” course for a politically-driven administration and a Pentagon that is always thinking of its public image and its future funding.
But it depends on keeping the public in the dark about several critical aspects of this policy. First, there is little public resistance to this policy mainly because few Americans know that it’s happening, let alone understand the full scale of the bloodshed and devastation perpetrated in our names for the past 15 years.
The second thing the Pentagon doesn’t want you to think about is the deceptive role of “precision” weapons in U.S. propaganda. Considering how accurate these weapons really are in relation to the huge numbers of them raining down on country after country, it is not surprising that they have killed or wounded millions of civilians and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and civilian infrastructure, as we see in photographs and video of the ruins of Fallujah, Sirte or Kobani.
A direct hit with a single 500- or 1,000-pound bomb will cause death, injury and destruction up to hundreds of feet from its point of impact, so even accurate air strikes inevitably kill and maim civilians and destroy their homes. But whatever proportion of these 118,000 bombs and missiles have actually missed their targets have wreaked completely indiscriminate death, injury and destruction.
Rob Hewson, the editor of Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the “precision” weapons used in “Shock and Awe” in 2003 missed their targets. Another one third of the bombs and missiles used in “Shock and Awe” were not “precision” weapons to begin with.
Even the Pentagon has not claimed a quantum leap in its “precision” weapons technology since 2003, so it is likely that at least 15 percent are still missing their targets, adding daily to a massive and mounting toll on innocent civilians.
As Hewson told the Associated Press in 2003, “In a war that’s being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi people, you can’t afford to kill any of them. But you can’t drop bombs and not kill people. There’s a real dichotomy in all of this.”
Body Count, a recent report published by Physicians for Social Responsibility, confirmed previous estimates of well over a million people killed in America’s wars since 2000. This and previous studies document the horrific results of what Hewson and other experts understand only too well, that “you can’t drop (100,000) bombs and not kill (hundreds of thousands of) people.”
Another element in the Pentagon’s shaky propaganda house of cards is its effort to obscure what bombs and missiles actually do to their victims. Americans watch the Islamic State beheading videos on TV or YouTube but we never see videos of people decapitated or children dismembered by the bombs our taxes are paying for. But our bombs behead people too.
Apologists claim that U.S. bombing is morally superior to the “terrorism” of America’s enemies, because the U.S. killing and beheading of civilians is “unintentional” rather than “deliberate.” The late Howard Zinn, a former U.S. Air Force bombardier and later a history professor, responded to this claim in a letter to the New York Times in 2007:
“These words are misleading because they assume that an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘’unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in an action, like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’
“Does that difference exonerate you morally? The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent. To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”
Millions of ‘Enemies’
In fact, U.S. armed forces are waging war on millions of people for whom becoming combatants in a war would be the last thing they would ever consider if we had not brought our war to their doorsteps. The Center for Civilians in Conflict recently interviewed hundreds of local people who have participated as combatants in conflicts in Bosnia, Libya, Gaza or Somalia. It found that their motivations were almost entirely defensive, to protect themselves, their families, their communities or their countries.
When military forces attack or invade a country, many ordinary people feel compelled to take up arms to defend themselves and their homes. When the forces that put them in this unbearable predicament in the first place treat their efforts to defend themselves as a legal “green light” to target them with force and call them “terrorists,” they are driven to join better organized armed resistance movements that offer them protection in numbers and an effective way to fight back.
The essential first step to breaking the escalating spiral of violence is to force the aggressors, in this case the United States and its allies, to cease their aggression, including their state sponsorship of armed groups or “terrorists” in the affected countries. Then legitimate diplomatic initiatives can begin the difficult work of resolving the complex political and humanitarian problems caused by U.S.-led aggression and beginning to restore peace and security.
In his 1994 masterpiece, Century of War, the late Gabriel Kolko documented that war was the catalyst for all the major political revolutions of the Twentieth Century. While the working people of the world have otherwise failed to “rise up” as Marx predicted, the one thing that has reliably driven them to do so is the horror of war.
The war that the United States is waging today is proving no different. Armed resistance is spreading throughout the affected countries, spawning new ideologies and movements that defy the conceptual frameworks and limited imagination of the U.S. officials whose actions gave birth to them.
U.S. leaders of all stripes, military or civilian, Democrat or Republican, still fail to grasp what Richard Barnet concluded in 1973 as he studied the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, “at the very moment the number one nation has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination.”
The last 15 years of war have served to confirm Barnet’s conclusion. After 118,000 air strikes, millions of casualties, trillions of dollars squandered, and country after country plunged into chaos, the U.S. has failed to gain political control over any of them.
But our complacent leaders and their self-satisfied advisers blunder on, debating who to threaten or attack next: Russia? China? Iran? Which “threat” provides the best pretext for further U.S. military expansion?
As Gabriel Kolko observed, because of “inherent, even unavoidable institutional myopia, … options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not merely plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles.”
But U.S. war-making is not just dangerous and irrational. It is also a crime. The judges at Nuremberg defined aggression, attacking or invading other countries, as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The UN Charter goes one step further and prohibits the threat as well as the use of force.
Benjamin Ferencz, the only surviving member of the prosecution team at Nuremberg, is a fierce critic of illegal U.S. war-making. In response to U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, he dedicated the rest of his life to establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC) that could prosecute senior officials of any government who commit aggression and other war crimes.
Ferencz is hailed as the founding father of the ICC, but his vision of “Law Not War” remains unfulfilled as long as his own country, the United States, refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of either the ICC or the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
By rejecting the jurisdiction of international courts, the U.S. has carved out what Amnesty International has called an “accountability-free zone,” from which it can threaten, attack and invade other countries, torture prisoners, kill civilians and commit other war crimes with impunity.
U.S. government lawyers enjoy the privilege, unique in their profession, of issuing legally indefensible but politically creative legal cover for war crimes, secure in the knowledge that they will never be forced to defend their opinions before an impartial court.
Ben Ferencz very graciously wrote a preface to my book, Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, and he spoke at an event with me and David Swanson in 2011, just before his 91st birthday. Ben talked about Nuremberg and the ICC, and he compared U.S. justifications for its “preemptive” illegal war-making to the defense offered by SS Gruppenfuhrer Otto Ohlendorf at Nuremberg.
As Ben explained, “That Ohlendorf argument was considered by three American judges at Nuremberg, and they sentenced him and twelve others to death by hanging. So it’s very disappointing to find that my government today is prepared to do something for which we hanged Germans as war criminals.”
If we do not hold American war criminals accountable for their crimes, and accept the jurisdiction of international courts to do so if we do not, how else can we serve notice on those who come after them that they must never do this again?
Argentina, Guatemala and other countries in Latin America are prosecuting and jailing mass murderers like Videla and Rios Montt who once took for granted that they could kill with impunity. America’s masters of war should not assume that we will fail to bring them to justice.
As for the collective responsibility we all share for the crimes committed by our country and our armed forces, we must be prepared to pay substantial war reparations to our millions of victims and the countries we have destroyed. We could start by paying the reparations ordered by the International Court of Justice when it convicted the United States of aggression against Nicaragua in 1986, and the $3.3 billion promised by President Nixon to repair at least some of the U.S. bomb damage in Vietnam.
These would be concrete steps to tell the rest of the world that the United States was finally ready to abandon its failed experiment in “the science of killing,” to be bound by the rule of law, and to start cooperating in good faith with the rest of humanity to solve our common problems.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
The latest reports from Vienna indicate that the negotiators from Iran and the “5 +1″ nations, i.e., UN Security Council’s Permanent Powers plus Germany, have reached a tentative deal and are only inches away from turning it into the final agreement.
According to a source close to the Iran negotiation team, as of July 4th, there were still some residual issues regarding the sanctions, the Additional Protocol, and what is referred to as the “Possible Military Dimension (PMD),” but none of these at this stage is going to “break the deal” and are expected to be resolved in the next few days.
One of the reasons for the rapid progress of the Vienna talks has to do with the important Tehran visit of the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was reportedly successful in closing the gaps between Iran and the agency, which has repeatedly confirmed the absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material in Iran and, yet, insisted that it is unable to verify the complete peacefulness of Iran’s civilian program in light of the PMD issues.
From Iran’s vantage point, however, the PMD has been exploited as a license to access Iran’s military secrets, which is why it was important for Mr. Amano to meet with Iranian leaders last week and reach a new understanding on the future scope of IAEA’s inspection access. Certainly, the U.S.’s unreasonable demand for inspections “anytime, anywhere,” is unacceptable and by now the Americans have realized it and retreated from what could have been a deal-breaker.
On the issue of sanctions, Iran has rightly insisted on the concept of simultaneity, so that the other side will not have the luxury of playing with delays after Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations. With respect to the timeline for the removal of sanctions, there would be a UN Security Council resolution that would render moot the existing sanctions resolutions on Iran. By all indications, this is a tremendous diplomatic victory for Iran, thus short cutting a potentially arduous and lengthy process.
Henceforth, with the imminent announcement of a final agreement in Vienna, the stage is set for a tremendous breakthrough in a nuclear stalemate that has blocked normal relations between Iran and the West. In addition to releasing the potential for rapid growth in market relations between the two sides, the final nuclear agreement also carries the seed of “linkage” to anti-terrorism, deemed as a “common threat” by Iran’s lead negotiator, foreign minister Javad Zarif, who has exhorted the West to wrap up the nuclear talks so that both sides can focus on a hitherto missing comprehensive strategy to defeat the growing menace of terrorism, reflected in the on-going barbaric atrocities of the self-declared Islamic State (Daesh).
In terms of the reaction by the conservative Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia, the final nuclear deal ought to bring a new sense of realism to Riyadh, which has been led astray by a senseless, even genocidal, unilateral war on Yemen, which must be brought to an end for the sake of millions of suffering people in Yemen as well as regional stability. Some of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council states such as UAE are eyeing to rip huge economic benefits from the lifting of Iran sanctions and, therefore, it is futile for Saudi Arabia to continue with its anti-deal approach that is bound to put it at odds with some PGCC member states.
Israel, on the other hand, is expected to continue with its current negative campaign against the deal, hoping that the U.S. Congress would ruin it, yet even the Republican opponents of the deal have recently conceded that they lack the votes to override a presidential veto. Hopefully, the nuclear deal will spawn a new era of attention on Israel-Palestinian issue, which has been quietly festering and requires serious global focus, which has to some extent been deflected so far due to the Iran nuclear crisis.
While it remains to be seen what a final nuclear agreement would look like in the technical details, it is a sure bet that it will be complex, multi-layered, and fully dependent on the faithful implementation by both sides, which is why a special dispute resolution commission will be handling the issues of potential non-compliance. A similar panel set up by the 2013 Geneva Agreement was highly successful in this regard and has thus set a positive precedent. One of Iran’s informal complaints during the timeline of the Geneva agreement has been, however, that the U.S. had officially agreed to certain provisions, such as the lifting of restrictions on shipping insurance, and yet would send envoys to Europe to discourage the Europeans from entering into new contracts with Iran. Such “double dealings” with Iran must stop after a final deal is signed, which will sound the death knell for the unjust sanctions regime on Iran.
Saudi fighter jets have once again targeted various areas in war-torn Yemen, killing at least 10 people in the Arab country.
At least 7 people were killed on Sunday night after Saudi warplanes pounded residential areas in the town of al-Ma’ala in Yemen’s southwestern Aden Province, the country’s al-Masirah television reported.
Another two people lost their lives in airstrikes carried out against the al-Zamah district in the northwestern Yemeni city of Sa’ada.
Saudi planes also bombarded Yemen’s coast guard base in the town of al-Makha in the southwestern province of Ta’izz, killing one person.
A school in the town of Midi in the northwestern province of Hajjah was also targeted in air raids.
In the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, Saudi jets reportedly pounded the houses of tribal chiefs and businessmen loyal to the Houthi Ansarullah movement in addition to the Republican Guard Academy.
In a retaliatory attack, the Yemeni army backed by Popular Committees targeted the al-Radif military base in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern city of Jizan with six missiles.
Saudi Arabia has been bombarding different areas in Yemen since March 26 without any authorization from the United Nations and heedless of international calls for the cessation of its deadly airstrikes against the impoverished country.
Over 2,600 Yemeni people have been killed and at least 11,000 others injured in the conflict in Yemen since March 19, according to the UN.
Local Yemeni sources put this number at more than 4,500.
Months after the Saudi government pledged to single-handedly meet the United Nations’ (UN) “flash appeal” for humanitarian aid to Yemen, Riyadh is making it clear that the donation doesn’t come without strings attached.
On April 12, as the Saudi-led air campaign rained bombs over Yemen, the UN issued an emergency flash appeal calling for $274 million in aid for the country to address the increasingly dire humanitarian condition. Less than 24 hours later, the call was met entirely by the very government that was leading the attacks against Yemen.
Overseen by the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (UNOCHA), emergency funds are meant to be distributed quickly to where they are most needed. Over two months have passed since Riyadh pledged the full $274 million, however, and the money has yet to be delivered to Yemen.
A UN memo obtained exclusively by VICE news has revealed the reason for this delay is the restrictive conditions the Saudi government has placed on the aid disbursement. What’s more, the UN appears to have consented to these conditions.
On Tuesday, Riyadh announced that $244 million of the total amount pledged will be split between nine UN agencies. The next day, the UN’s undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien sent a letter to the Interagency Standing Committee, a global humanitarian coordinating body for humanitarian agencies.
In the letter, O’Brien explained that the funds would go through the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Work (KSC). He also noted that KSC would dictate the terms of the fund distribution with each of the nine agencies.
“The KSC would like to negotiate the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with each recipient agency,” he wrote. “They would also like to be assured that the Government of Yemen in exile is consulted.”
The memo indicates that the pledge was a calculated move on the part of the Saudi government to monopolize the aid and control where it goes and when. According to VICE, the letter alarmed many aid workers who say that it was too vaguely worded, thereby giving Riyadh leeway for further delays.
“It’s really unusual for a single donor to have any substantive role once they contribute funds, let alone negotiate individual MoUs with agencies,” an anonymous official involved in the Yemen response told VICE.
He also noted the UN’s acquiesce to Riyadh’s stipulations.
“The charitable way of saying it is this is a compromise – the less charitable way of saying it is that they folded,” he said. “Now the UN has punted and handed off the problems to these agencies. I’ve never seen that before.”
The letter comes as the UNOCHA struggles with massive funding deficits in over two dozen countries, including in Yemen where the agency estimates that 80% of the population needs humanitarian aid, and may explain the UN’s agreement to the Saudi government’s stipulations.
“With regard to NGOs, I am aware that there are sensitivities in receiving funding directly from the KSC,” O’Brien wrote, acknowledging the unusual Saudi stipulations. “We therefore must work actively to mobilize additional funds to be allocated directly, or via the Pooled Fund, to our front-line partners.”
However, another aid worker with an organization that delivers humanitarian supplies to Yemen told VICE that O’Brien’s acknowledgement does not take away from the UN’s concession to Saudi over control of the fund disbursement.
“The thing about this communication that we all got, it’s really vague,” he said. “We are trying to assume and guess what they mean by this plan, but it’s not clear. The Saudis might very well sit on it for a long time.”
While it is not unusual for donor countries to have a degree of control over the distribution of funds, InterAction humanitarian vice president Joel Charny notes that emergency situations require agencies like the UN to make the final call.
“It’s not that donors don’t care where the money goes, but there’s a sense that in an urgent case like Yemen you let the professionals make the call,” he said.
O’Brien also told VICE a day before the letter was released that, as a general rule, the UN does not “condone any modality based on geography,” meaning that donors cannot restrict aid distribution from certain areas.
Yet Riyadh has already asked for the restriction of aid distribution to Houthi-held areas in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia launched its air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen in March in an effort to reinstate Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since the beginning of the airstrike campaign, over 2,800 people have been killed in the fighting and 13,000 have been wounded, according to local hospitals.
When Saudi Arabia launched its war against Yemen in March 2015, it presumed that a short, quick, and clean air war would be enough to degrade the alliance of Houthi forces and those loyal to former President Saleh, thereby giving the Saudi-backed government of former President Hadi the necessary space to regain control of the country. However, that simply has not been the case. In fact, not only has the Saudi campaign not achieved these objectives, it has instead precipitated a much more dangerous war which has now spread to Saudi Arabia itself.
Reports from Yemeni sources have confirmed that the Houthis and their allies have launched a number of rockets into Saudi Arabia’s Jizan province while also launching an assault on three military bases in various parts of the country. Of course, the attacks have sent an unmistakable message to Riyadh that there will be a price to pay for the continued bombardment of Yemen; that the Saudis cannot simply act with impunity.
War Spreads Beyond Yemen’s Borders
The fact that Houthi and Saleh forces are able to successfully attack key Saudi military installations has undoubtedly rattled a few nerves in Riyadh. While the recent assaults have not been the first, they have been perhaps the most open demonstration of the military capacity of the Yemeni forces to strike at Saudi assets.
It has been reported that the Houthi-Saleh combined forces have attacked and possibly taken control of a military base in the Southwestern province of Jizan, strategically located on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. While of course embarrassing for the Saudi government, this development is far more than simply a public relations nightmare; it is a strategic disaster. While Yemeni forces have pounded the base in Jizan, there have been scattered reports of Yemeni attacks against other Saudi military installations, including in the East of the country, as well as in the Northwest. If these reports are to be believed, then nearly the entirety of Saudi Arabian territory is within the range and capability of Yemeni rockets.
There is clear progress from the perspective of the Ansarullah movement (aka the Houthis) and their military allies if one compares the attacks they launched back in April, and those they are carrying out today. While there were a number of high profile attempts to break through Saudi defenses on the borders and make significant gains at the time, all such attacks were either entirely repelled or were mostly unsuccessful; however today, less than two months later, Houthi offensives are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, quite predictably, increasingly effective. Although Ansarullah has fired rockets and made offensive moves towards a number of key Saudi installations throughout the country, their major breakthroughs have come in the strategic Jizan province, right near the Yemeni border.
And it remains the areas closest to the border with Yemen where the real concrete gains have been made by the anti-Saudi coalition. Whether the Houthis and their allies are able to take operational control of the Saudi bases, or merely to attack them and flee is somewhat secondary. What is of primary importance is the simple fact that essentially the entire southwestern portion of Saudi Arabia is now under direct threat from the combined Houthi-Saleh forces, in addition to newly formed militias quietly developing inside Saudi Arabia in the area near the Saudi-Yemeni border.
A Saudi Civil War?
The formation of militias committed to waging war against the House of Saud may be the single most troubling development for Riyadh. Perhaps the most significant of these is the so called ‘Ahrar al-Najran’ Movement, a coalition of regional tribes in the southwest of the country that have combined forces with anti-Riyadh Saudi political activists to create an independence movement that has taken up arms against the Saudi government.
Ahrar al-Najran presents a complex problem for the Saudis because it is comprised primarily of tribes whose lands were originally within Yemeni territory until they were occupied by Saudi forces in 1934. According to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) :
[The] Ahrar al-Najran Movement [is] calling for independence from Saudi Arabia…Abu Bakr Abi Ahmed al-Salami, a leader of Ahrar al-Najran, says the movement which brings together different tribal groups is set to launch its first battle in parts of south Najran occupied by the Saudi army… There are four main reasons why the movement wants to declare independence from Saudi Arabia:
1. General dissatisfaction in Saudi Arabia with the way officials in Riyadh handle day-to-day administration of affairs,
2. Riyadh’s policy to keep the south impoverished,
3. Aggression against Yemen and the massacre of defenseless people there by the Saudi regime,
4. Failure of the Saudi government to view the residents of the south as first-class citizens, thus violation [sic] of their legitimate rights.
Needless to say, from the perspective of the Saudis, a nascent independence movement within their borders is just about the worst possible outcome of their decision to wage war on Yemen. And considering the already tense situation in the majority Shia province of Qatif, it seems Saudi Arabia has become a political powder keg just waiting for a spark. Undoubtedly the Ansarullah Movement understands this perfectly well, and is now preparing to make its move, matches in hand.
Indeed, while the Saudis will likely move quickly to assert control over the southwestern regions, the Shias of the east – undoubtedly with a bit of tacit and/or overt support from the Houthis – might find this an opportune moment to begin organizing themselves into more than just periodic demonstrations and upsurges of righteous indignation to be quickly met with vicious force.
It should be remembered that recent months have seen violent raids and clashes between Saudi security forces and residents throughout the Qatif province of Eastern Saudi Arabia, the most violent of which having taken place in the town of Awamiyah. In response to protests against Riyadh’s war on Yemen, the regime’s security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown that perhaps most accurately could be called violent suppression. As one activist and resident of Awamiyah told the Middle East Eye back in April, “From 4pm until 9pm the gunfire didn’t stop… Security forces shot randomly at people’s homes, and closed all but one of the roads leading in and out of the village… It is like a war here – we are under siege.” A number of videos uploaded to YouTube seem to confirm the accounts of activists, though all eyewitness accounts remain anonymous for fear of government retribution.
Such actions as those described by activists in Awamiyah, and throughout Qatif, are nothing new. Over the last few years, the province has repeatedly seen upsurges of protests against the draconian policies of the government in Riyadh. Were such protests to once again erupt, and were they to coincide with the burgeoning Sunni independence movement in the Southwest, one could then rightly characterize the unrest as a general uprising: truly a nightmare scenario for the Saudi government.
Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen has taken a tremendous toll on that impoverished country, with untold thousands of casualties, countless families displaced, infrastructure devastated, and the delivery of basic services slowed to a trickle, if not cut off altogether. The Saudis have perpetrated a flagrantly illegal aggression against the nation and people of Yemen, committing a laundry list of war crimes that the world has, by and large, completely ignored. But the Saudis may have to pay a price for this crime, a price far higher than they likely ever imagined.
The House of Saud may have control over the oil, and thereby control over the peninsula, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it does not have total control over its people. And, while no one knows whether a true general uprising in Saudi Arabia will come to pass, the war in Yemen might possibly be the spark that finally sets the oil drum ablaze.
Reprieve | June 24, 2015
The Guardian and the New York Times have today revealed the existence of documents showing the contribution made by UK intelligence agency GCHQ to US drone strikes in Yemen.
The British Government has to date refused to comment on its role in such strikes, describing them consistently as “a matter for the Yemeni and US Governments.”
However, legal charity Reprieve has previously raised concerns over European complicity in covert drone strikes – considered by many experts to be in violation of international law – through the sharing of intelligence and the provision of infrastructure.
In Germany, Reprieve has helped civilian drone strike victim Faisal bin ali Jaber to bring a case against the Government over the role played in Yemen strikes by the military base at Ramstein.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Reprieve unearthed a contract showing that a high-tech data link had been provided between RAF Croughton – a base leased by the US in Lincolnshire – and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, from where US strikes against Yemen have reportedly been launched.
Commenting, Reprieve legal director Kat Craig said: “This is yet more damning evidence of the key role played by the UK in the illegal US drone war. This campaign has taken place in the shadows, killing hundreds of civilians while leaving their families with no access to justice. President Obama won’t even confirm it is taking place; while the UK and Germany follow his lead by stonewalling questions on the part they play. It is time Europe came clean on the support it provides to this misguided campaign, which the evidence suggests is making the world a more dangerous place for all of us.”
This week, one government intelligence agency, after patiently and methodically tracking a terrorist leader for months through precise electronic surveillance, successfully targeted him for death by drone. Also this week, a government intelligence agency eliminated a terrorist leader through a drone strike without even knowing the leader was present, basing its decision to use lethal force on sophisticated analysis of militants’ patterns of life.
Bizarrely, this was the same agency, and this was the same terrorist leader.
On Tuesday, hardly before the dust in Yemen had settled, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, relying on information provided by anonymous sources, supplied the public with the first narrative. In this version, the CIA killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, “general manager” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “by building a methodical case on his whereabouts over months from information collected through technical means.”
On Thursday, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, also relying on information provided by anonymous officials, supplied the second narrative. In this version, al-Wuhayshi was dead not because the CIA had tracked him down but because the Obama administration had “eased” certain drone-strike guidelines in Yemen and permitted the CIA to carry out “signature strikes” — strikes that take place without the agency’s specific knowledge of the identities of the individuals marked for death.
Rarely do the rival motives of anonymous officials come so nakedly into view, and conflict, around a single event. One faction immediately tries to capitalize on the al-Wuhayshi strike as evidence of the CIA’s other-worldly tracking abilities, even in the fog of a confusing and fraught war in Yemen. At the same time, another faction exploits the same strike to make a public case for expanding the use of a controversial targeting technique that the Obama administration earlier said, in an effort to assuage public concerns about the lawfulness of the drone program, it would retire.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” is the “test of a first-rate intelligence.” Here, though, the government’s conflicting stories seem something less than first-rate or intelligent — they seem amateurish and ham-handed. They also seem to suggest a total lack of concern for the possibility that anyone will ever hold officials accountable for their statements.
Lake, Rogin, and Miller work in a field in which reliance on anonymous sources is probably unavoidable and sometimes even illuminating. In this instance, though, they can’t all be right, and their competing stories serve as another reminder — in case any were needed — that the statements of anonymous intelligence officials are often efforts to mislead and manipulate, and that much of the “information” the government has provided the public about the drone program is merely propaganda.
Regrettably, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. A federal district court judge — the same judge who earlier dismissed a constitutional case relating to the government’s killing of four Americans in Yemen — ruled on Thursday that the CIA isn’t legally obliged to release any information about the drone program it hasn’t already released. For the time being at least, the CIA will continue to decide what the public knows about the CIA’s activities — even if it can’t keep its own story straight.
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By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | June 20, 2015
President Obama was, of course, right to denounce the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and to call for an end to such violence.
But this begs the question of whether he will stop his own illegal drone strikes in the Middle East that are just as deadly and a hundred times more numerous than the attack in South Carolina.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism(BIJ), London, just since Mr. Obama came to power, at least several thousand innocent persons (all are presumed innocent unless proven guilty by trial) in Pakistan alone have been murdered by his agents in the CIA and Pentagon. Among the dead are several hundred children. Here are BIJ’s distressing figures for that nation:
All actions 2004 – January 31 2015
Total Obama strikes: 362
Total US strikes since 2004: 413
Total reported killed: 2,438-3,942
Civilians reported killed: 416-959
Children reported killed: 168-204
Total reported injured: 1,142
The Bureau’s reports regarding covert US drone attacks cover both the missions of the CIA and the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
If nothing else, the horror of Charleston should inform the American public of the shock and awe their president is inflicting with grim regularity in the Middle East. His is a campaign that, to our shame and sorrow, is creating immense blowback against America.
Mr. Obama has maintained U.S. forces take great care that only terrorists are killed but an April 26th article in The Wall Street Journal by Adam Entous reports “he secretly approved a waiver giving the Central Intelligence Agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants…”
Entous continued, “The rules were designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Mr. Obama also required that proposed targets pose an imminent threat to the U.S.—but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.” Why, you ask?
Mr. Obama, (who is reputed to be a former CIA employee,) according to RealClearPolitics is “In Thrall to CIA Killing Machine.” Writer Toby Harnden wrote of him on April 16, 2013: “The man who ran as a liberal, anti-war candidate has brushed away concerns about the (drone) attacks. During one meeting he responded to a request for an expansion of America’s drone fleet by saying: ‘The CIA gets what the CIA wants!'”
In his comments about the church murders, Mr. Obama said, “once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” (Much less directing America’s trillion-dollar-a-year killing machine!)
Mr. Obama said further, “let’s be clear… It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency, and it is in our power to do something about it.” (Oh, yes it does! It happens far more often in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, among other places, and the man who is responsible for them and who can do something about it is the same man wearing the long face in the White House.)
With reference to this article, the eminent Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, commented:
As the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior said a generation ago, the United States government is ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’
It is a terrible tragedy and a great shame that nothing has changed today under our first African American President and my fellow graduate of the Harvard Law School who knows better. The massive violence that America perpetrates abroad brutalizes the American People at home. President Obama has taught the world that in his opinion ‘violence works.’ Doctor King is now crying in Heaven.
The plane carrying the representatives of Yemen’s political factions, including those of the Houthi Ansarullah movement, to attend the UN-brokered talks in the Swiss city of Geneva has not arrived in its destination yet due to Egypt’s refusal to allow them to enter its airspace.
The delegation left the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Sunday afternoon, but was forced to have a long stop in Djibouti.
Sources close to Ansarullah delegation currently in Djibuti said that Saudi Arabia seeks to manipulate the talks in Geneva as Riyadh creates obstacles to the presence of Yemeni negotiators in the meeting.
Egyptian authorities have reportedly not allowed the plane to cross the country’s airspace due to the Saudi pressure.
According to reports, two other Houthi representatives were also expected to arrive in Geneva from Oman.
The negotiations aimed at ending the deadly conflict in the Arab country were supposed to start in Geneva early on Monday with Yemeni political factions and former regime officials in attendance.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will also be present in the talks, is expected to meet with representatives of Yemen’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi prior to holding talks with the Ansarullah delegation.
UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi on Sunday called on all parties involved in Yemen’s conflict to observe a renewed “humanitarian pause” due to Saudi Arabia’s incessant airstrikes on the impoverished country.
Sources have confirmed Hadi will attend the meeting.
The talks brokered by UN special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed aim to secure a ceasefire, and accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the war-racked Yemeni people.
The UN envoy said that the talks will be the beginning of “preliminary inclusive consultations” to find a solution to the conflict that has claimed more than 2,500 lives and triggered a “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis.
In a statement issued early July, the UN urged all Yemeni parties “to engage in these consultations in good faith and without preconditions in the interest of all Yemeni people.”
However, the meeting, which was initially scheduled for May 28, was delayed after Hadi refused to attend the negotiations.
The Un-brokered peace talks come as Saudi Arabia continues its military aggression against the Yemeni people.
Riyadh launched a military campaign against its impoverished neighbor on March 26 – without a UN mandate- in an attempt to undermine the Houthi revolutionaries and restore power to Hadi, who is a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia.
The Old Town of Sanaa, Yemen (image from wikipedia.org by flickr user ai@ce)
The director-general of UNESCO has said she is “shocked” after an airstrike destroyed three houses in the Old City of Sanaa, where the oldest building dates back over 1,400 years.
Planes belonging to the anti-rebel coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, and endorsed by the United States, bombed a house, where a senior commander of the Shiite Houthi rebels, was purportedly hiding.
The airstrike, the first direct hit on the Old City since airstrikes began 11 weeks ago, caused the destruction of a trio of three-story buildings, and the death of five people, all presumably belonging to the same family. Houthi sources said there were six casualties, and five buildings were decimated.
“I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape. I am shocked by the images of these magnificent many-storyed tower-houses and serene gardens reduced to rubble,” said Irina Bokova in a statement.
“This destruction will only exacerbate the humanitarian situation and I reiterate my call to all parties to respect and protect the cultural heritage in Yemen. This heritage bears the soul of the Yemeni people, it is a symbol of a millennial history of knowledge and it belongs to all humankind.”
The current Yemeni capital has been inhabited for over 2,500 years, and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. It features tightly packed rammed earth and burnt brick houses, mosques and public baths, all decorated with elaborate geometric patterns.
UNESCO, charged with preserving historic and natural landmarks, is the second UN agency to draw attention to the conflict this week. The turmoil has seen more than 2,500 lose their lives.
“20.4 million people are now estimated to be in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, of whom 9.3 million are children,” Jeremy Hopkins, deputy representative of UNICEF, the emergency relief arm of the UN, said in Sanaa on Thursday.
“The de facto blockade on Yemen’s ports, though there is some easing, means fuel is not coming into the country, and since pumps are mechanized that means over 20 million people don’t have access to safe water.”
On Friday, the coalition issued a statement saying it wouldn’t stop its ground and bombing campaign until an April UN resolution, demanding Houthi withdrawal is implemented.
Yemen existed as two separate and often hostile states prior to reunification in 1990, and tensions have resurfaced since Shia President Saleh was deposed in 2012. His Shia supporters, reportedly aided by Iran, occupied the capital Sanaa in September last year.
With the current Sunni President Hadi forced into exile, other Sunni states, including most Gulf monarchies, Egypt and Pakistan have stepped in to return him to power, deploying a force of over 150,000 troops and 150 warplanes.
Reprieve – June 8, 2015
A Yemeni man, whose innocent nephew and brother-in-law were killed in an August 2012 U.S. drone strike, has today filed a lawsuit in his ongoing quest for an official apology over his relatives’ deaths.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber, who filed suit today in Washington D.C., lost his brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in the strike. Salem was an anti-al Qaeda imam who is survived by a widow and seven young children. Waleed was a 26 year old police officer with a wife and infant child of his own. Salem had given a sermon preaching against extremism just days before he and Waleed were killed.
The lawsuit requests that the D.C. District Court issue a declaration that the strike that killed Salem and Waleed was unlawful, but does not ask for monetary compensation. Faisal is jointly represented by Reprieve and pro bono counsel at law firm McKool Smith.
Leaked intelligence – reported in The Intercept – indicates that U.S. officials knew they had killed civilians shortly after the strike. In July 2014 Faisal’s family were offered a bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked US dollar bills at a meeting with the Yemeni National Security Bureau (NSB). The NSB official who had requested the meeting told a family representative that the money came from the US and that he had been asked to pass it along.
In November 2013 Faisal travelled to Washington D.C. and met to discuss the strike with Senators and White House officials. Many of the individuals Faisal met offered personal regrets for the deaths of Faisal’s relatives, but the U.S. government has refused publicly to acknowledge or apologise for the attack.
In April of this year, President Obama did apologise for the drone deaths of an American and an Italian citizen held in Pakistan – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – and announced an independent inquiry into their killings. The complaint notes the discrepancy in the President’s handling of those cases and the bin ali Jaber case, asking: “The President has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians with drones; why are the bereaved families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?”
Faisal bin Ali Jaber said: “Since the awful day when I lost two of my loved ones, my family and I have been asking the U.S. government to admit their error and say sorry. Our pleas have been ignored. No one will say publicly that an American drone killed Salem and Waleed, even though we all know it. This is unjust. If the U.S. was willing to pay off my family in secret cash, why can’t they simply make a public acknowledgement that my relatives were wrongly killed?”
Anwar Majed Eshki, a former top adviser to the Saudi government (R), and Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shook hands during the Jun 4, 2015 meeting in Washington.
A report has revealed that representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have secretly met five times since the beginning of last year to discuss their positions against Iran.
The five bilateral meetings were held over the last 17 months in India, Italy, and the Czech Republic, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
The outlet cited one participant, Shimon Shapira, a retired Israeli general, as saying, “We discovered we have the same problems and same challenges and some of the same answers.”
Also on Thursday, well-known former Saudi and Israeli officials attended a rare meeting of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
The event saw Anwar Majed Eshki, a former top adviser to the Saudi government, and Dore Gold joining former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Riyadh and Tel Aviv both oppose, what they call, the expansion of Iran’s regional influence and have not refused in the past to show fierce opposition to the potential of a final agreement between world powers and Tehran on the Islamic Republic‘s peaceful nuclear energy program.
The two sides also share alliance with the United States and opposition – emerging in the form of an overt bloody aggression on the part of Riyadh – to the Houthi Ansarullah movement of Yemen.
On May 23, a London-based paper reported that Israel had offered to provide the technology used in its Iron Dome missile system against rockets from Yemen, with the proposal being sent via American diplomats during a meeting in the Jordanian capital of Amman.