Saturday, March 28, 2015

GWOT Serpent Swallows Its Tail: The Logic of America's Multiple Long Wars

Another Week, Another War: The Iron Logic of America's Middle East Madness

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

Another week, another war. And yet another American alliance with the forces of Islamic extremism. Washington is clearly the guiding force between the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen -- a move that will almost certainly lead to a protracted and ruinous conflict, spilling over many borders and, as usual, creating fertile ground for more extremism. In other words, America's war profiteers and military imperialists have given themselves another rich seam of loot and power. And in Yemen, as in Syria, the Yanks are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their old allies, al Qaeda, once again.

As usual, some of the best analysis of the latest berserk spasm of Potomac fever comes from the redoubtable As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab." Here's an excerpt from one of his trenchant observations of the situation:

This war is also an American war: it is a gift from the US to the GCC countries who didn't like US policies in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. The Saudi regime is now pursuing the Israeli option: that it will now be more clearly aligned with the Israeli interests in the region and that it will also be aggressive and violent in pursuing regime interests. … On every issue in Arab politics, the Saudi regime is aligned with Israel. Make no mistake about it: Israel is the secret member of the GCC coalition bombing Yemen.

In the 1960s, the Saudi regime ignited a war in Yemen to thwart a progressive and republican alternative to the reactionary immamate regime (and Israel supplied weapons to the Saudi side in that war). In this war, the GCC countries are supporting a corrupt and reactionary puppet regime created by Saudi Arabia and the US. Saudi Arabia never allowed Yemen to enjoy independence. It saw in itself the legitimate heir to the British imperial power in peninsula. The Houthis (with whom I share absolutely nothing) are a bunch of reactionaries but were created due to the very policies and war pursued by the Saudi regime in Yemen and their then puppet, Ali Abdullah Salih. South Yemen had the only Marxist state in the Arab wold and the experiment was sabotaged by the reactionary House of Saud.
In all the Yemeni wars, the Saudi regime always sponsored the option that guaranteed more longevity for war and destruction. This is no exception.

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian notes how the Houthis were transformed from a peaceful movement preaching tolerance and cooperation to a militant sect of warriors. See if you can guess how that happened:

The group was radicalised by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Anti-American demonstrations brought the group into conflict with the government of the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2004, it launched a fully-fledged insurgency. The group has sporadically battled both government forces, which have been backed in recent years by US special forces and drones, and Sunni Muslim extremists belonging to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which set up bases in Yemen after being expelled from Afghanistan.

For committing the heinous crime of protesting an act of aggressive war against an Arab nation, the Houthis were repressed by the Washington-backed Saleh. When they took up arms in response -- just like the Washington-backed rebels in Libya and the Washington-backed rebels in Syria -- the Americans joined in the crackdown with, as Tisdall notes, the usual round of death squads (aka "Special Forces") and village-shredding, child-killing drones.

And now Peace Prize Laureate is back for more, "coordinating" operations for the Saudis, who have 150,000 troops massed on the border, and expecting more from several other nations -- including Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, who, as Tisdall notes, just happens to be "wanted for genocide and war crimes." Meanwhile the Saudi-led attack will give great succour to one of the Houthis' main enemies -- al Qaeda.

Just to recap: the President has lined up the United States shoulder to shoulder with a wanted war criminal, al Qaeda and, of course, the world's primary supporter of violent Islamic extremism, Saudi Arabia.

This is taking place at the same time that Barack Obama is massively escalating U.S. military operations in Iraq, launching a bombing campaign in Tikrit, ostensibly in aid of the Iraqi government's attempt to recapture the city from ISIS but more likely just to keep Iranian-led Iraqi Shiite militias from retaking the town. (Alternatively, some have suggested, not entirely implausibly, that the bombing is actually a bid to save ISIS from defeat by the Iranians, and keep both sides embroiled in conflict; the same strategy followed by the U.S. in the Iran-Iraq War.) In any case, the American bombing campaign has had the entirely predictable -- and no doubt desired -- result of making the fiercely anti-American Shiite militias withdraw, at least temporarily, from the battle for Tikrit.

Obama's intervention in Tikrit is so murderously stupid that even the New York Times -- that ever-eager cheerleader for imperial violence -- calls it "a dangerous escalation":

"President Obama has escalated America’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State without providing a shred of evidence showing how it could advance American interests, or what happens once the bombs stop falling. The strikes are part of a campaign that from the outset has been waged without the authorization from Congress required by the Constitution."

But in some ways, attempting any kind of rational analysis of the situation and its strategic ramifications is pointless. The burning hell that the United States has made of the region with its war of aggression against Iraq and its repeated violent interventions is beyond any sensible comprehension. Washington supported Islamic extremists in Libya -- now its trying to combat those same extremists. Washington fights with al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, and against al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. Washington wages war against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen while fighting alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Washington backed and participated in Ethiopia's aggressive war that destroyed Somalia's first stable government in a generation -- and now has spent years fighting the extremists who arose in the vacuum … while putting the leader it originally ousted back in power. Washington's aggressive, repressive military-security apparatus has grown to gargantuan proportions for the ostensible reason of fighting Islamic extremism -- while Washington is the strongest ally and chief weapon-supplier to the chief source of Islamic extremism in the world today, Saudi Arabia. Washington (belatedly) backed the overthrow of the military dictator Mubarak in Egypt and now supports the restoration of the Mubarak regime under another military dictator. Washington sanctions and condemns as a war criminal the leader of Sudan -- and is now fighting alongside the war criminal leader of Sudan in Yemen.

The one certain thing you can say about this bizarre goulash of iron and blood is that it doesn't make any rational sense. At least, not in the terms usually used to discuss policy goals, geopolitical concerns and the national interest. Nor in the terms used by the policymakers themselves for their aims: fighting terrorism, national security, advancing democracy, establishing peace and stability, etc. Look at the situation in the region before the "War on Terror" and look at it today: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen torn by war and chaos, extremist militias controlling cites and whole regions, the armed forces of many nations on the attack, millions of people displaced, atrocities on every side. The present horror far surpasses the worst case scenarios of those who warned of the wide-ranging disasters sure to come from the invasion of Iraq.

There is no rational way to reconcile the stated goals with the policy outcomes of the War on Terror (or whatever one wants to call the incessant, ever-expanding military campaigns of the United States and its extremist, repressive allies). The War on Terror began as a monstrous hybrid of imperialist adventurism, blood-money boondoggle and psychosexual power trip for the stunted, blunted second-rate souls who hold sway in our corrupt system. Its only real purpose is to perpetuate itself in any way it can, both wittingly and unwittingly. It has become the system, it is now the organizing principle of the American state and its relations to other countries.

Seen in this light -- not the light of reason or coherence or consistency, but the shooting flames of a drone-bombed house -- American policy makes perfect sense.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Beat Goes On: Feds Shocked! Discovery of Police Brutality in Philly

Feds Rediscover Police Brutality In City of Brotherly City - 17 years and still brutality and corrupt

by Linn Washington Jr. - This Can't Be Happening

The report slammed the Philadelphia Police Department for its historically flawed use of fatal force, directed primarily at non-whites, underscoring a repeated finding that Philadelphia’s Police Department has long owned one of the worst reputations of any police department in the United States.

Philly's finest being cop, judge and
gangbangers on 8-year-old in 2012

The “persistence and regularity” of brutality and corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) indicate that “the city and its police force are failing to act to hold police accountable,” that report stated.

The almost total failure of officials in Philadelphia to hold errant police officers accountable, the report noted, solidifies a “culture of impunity” that leads to new generations of police officers learning quickly that “their leadership accepts corruption and excessive force.”

Those tough assessments of “shortcomings” within the Philadelphia Police Department are not contained in the damning report on deadly police practices in Philadelphia released on March 24th by the U.S. Justice Department. Rather, the harsh assessments of PPD failings, which would seem to merit prompt attention and reform, were in a report issued in 1998 by the organization Human Rights Watch.

The stark failure of authorities in Philadelphia –- successive police supervisors and City Hall officials, and three mayors –- to halt the police misconduct identified seventeen years ago by HRW makes the policing problems identified in the latest USJD report entitled the “Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department” all the more damning and appalling.

The latest report by the Justice Department contains 91 recommendations for reform within the PPD –- an agency that was found to have seen its officers involved in 394 shootings during a seven-year period where 81 percent of the targets were African-American men and 59 percent of the police shooters were white. Better training for police officers was one of that report’s recommendations in response to a finding that police too frequently used deadly force in inappropriate situations including deadly force against unarmed persons.

That USJD report emerged from a two-year examination of the PPD that uncovered serious “operational deficiencies” that have produced an average of one citizen shot by police per week between 2007 and 2013. Those police shootings and other questionable police conduct, the USJD report stated, contributed to “significant strife between the community” and the PPD.

Among the many examples of failures by officials to forthrightly attack police misconduct and abuse is the conduct of Philadelphia’s mayor in 1998, Ed Rendell, who prior to serving as mayor was the city's elected district attorney.

Rendell, who later served two-terms as Pennsylvania’s governor, as mayor had blasted that ’98 HRW report as inaccurate. It's the same response he had for another report critical of police misconduct in Philadelphia released that year by Amnesty International. Rendell's dismissive stance to charges of police corruption and abuse of citizens was typical of a man who begun his political career with a successful campaign to be Philadelphia’s District Attorney in the late 1970s in which he railed against the police brutality then rampant in the city during the regime of the infamous cop-turned-mayor, Frank Rizzo.

During the 1970s, police abuse in Philadelphia, from brutal beatings to fatal shootings, was so bad that the US Justice Department sued Mayor Rizzo plus nearly two dozen top City Hall and Police Department officials, charging them with actively aiding police brutality. That 1979 lawsuit was the first-ever filed against a mayoral administration by the USJD in American history. A federal judge in Philadelphia curtly dismissed that lawsuit on a specious technicality, exposing one of the least examined elements of police brutality: judges who all to readily turn a blind-eye to abusive misconduct.

“Those who claim that each high-profile human rights abuse is an aberration, committed by a 'rogue' officer, are missing the point: human rights violations persist in large part because the accountability systems are so defective,” that 1998 HRW report correctly stated.

The report on human rights violations inside the United States released in March 2014 by the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee listed “Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials” as a grave problem across America. “The Committee is concerned about the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces…and reports of excessive use of force by certain law enforcement officers…”

The 1998 HRW report, which cited police brutality as one of the most “serious and divisive human rights violations” in the United States, stated, “Police officers engage in unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings and unnecessarily rough physical treatment in cities throughout the United States, while their police superiors, city officials and the Justice Department fail to act decisively to restrain or penalize such acts or even to record the full magnitude of the problem.”

Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey requested the USJD review of his department. The Obama Justice Department had ignored repeated pleas and petitions to investigate PPD fatal shootings and brutality from activists in Philadelphia, including the local chapter of the National Action Movement founded by Civil Rights leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Commissioner Ramsey, who co-chaired President Obama’s recently established panel on police practices, directed Philadelphia’s controversial and ineffective ‘Stop & Frisk’ racial profiling program that targeted over 200,000 pedestrians, primarily African-American males, in 2014 alone. Only five percent of those contentious encounters initiated by police uncovered either weapons or drugs –- the contraband that was the stated purpose for the "Stop & Frisk" policy.

Ending racial profiling was a recommendation of both Obama’s panel and the U.N. Human Rights Committee.

Philadelphia’s divisive "Stop & Frisk" is the prime anti-crime initiative of current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who hired Ramsey. Nutter, when a Philadelphia City Councilman in the mid-1990s, bucked opposition from Mayor Rendell to resurrect the city’s civilian police oversight entity. But as mayor himself later, Nutter acted to neuter the oversight entity he had helped create by cutting funding.

Establishing effective civilian oversight nationwide is a recommendation of Obama’s police practices panel.

Another Obama panel recommendation to improve policing and police-community relations is infusing more non-whites into law enforcement ranks.

However, in Philadelphia, Commissioner Ramsey and Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams are African-American, as is Mayor Nutter.

Current Philadelphia DA Seth Williams has quickly (and predictably) rejected the Obama panel recommendation for the establishment of special prosecutors to handle serious police abuse cases. Williams also opposed the death penalty moratorium instituted recently by Pennsylvania's new Governor Tom Wolf. That UN Human Rights Committee report called for elimination of the death penalty in America, citing its disproportionate impact of minorities and its propensity to ensnare the innocent.

The focus on police misconduct in Philadelphia overshadows other corrosive practices by law enforcement and their supportive politicians around the state of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Attorney Generals Office is currently in court fighting against a new trial for two inmates serving life sentences for a 1995 murder that evidence indicates they did not commit.

The effort by Lorenzo Johnson and Corey Walker to get a new trial is based on evidence of innocence and misconduct by police investigators that the AGs Office withheld during the trial that led to their conviction. Included in the AG's attempt to block a new trial is an effort to strip Walker of his attorney, Rachel Wolkenstein. The AGs Office claims Wolkenstein’s history of criticisms of improprieties in the justice system plus her work with political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal make it “intolerable” for her to practice law in Pennsylvania.

That 1998 Human Rights Watch report that examined police misconduct in 14 cities, stated, “Severe abuses persist because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it all too likely that officers who commit human rights violations escape due punishment to continue their abusive conduct.”

While Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane (herself the subject of a criminal investigation over charges of leaking grand jury testimony) appears intent on retaining the recalcitrance of prosecutors, fellow Democrat and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, nearing the end of his last term as mayor, has announced his intention to address reported failings within the city's police department.

Nutter, following release of the Department of Justice report, quickly appointed a panel to oversee implementation of the recommendations made in the report. If successful, Nutter’s initiative would do something the majority of his Philadelphia mayoral predecessors have not: bring accountability to policing in the city that birthed America’s democracy.

If it happens, it will be a reform long overdue, especially for the hundreds who may have died unnecessarily at the hands of Philadelphia cops.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Media "Criminalization" of Protest Doing Service for Police State Tactics in Quebec

Mainstream media attempting to criminalize anti-austerity movement

by Stefan Christoff - The Media Co-op


Many mainstream media reports on anti-austerity street protests in Montréal over recent days work to criminalize the thousands joining the actions and to justify police violence.

Absent from media reports are any specifics on the injuries taking place due to the multiple police assaults, or any serious info on the heavy use of pepper spray and flash bang grenades.

Ta blessure de flic, is a social media page that has been set-up for people to share info on police brutality and photos of their wounds, working to raise awareness of the real physical repression coming down on the growing anti-austerity movement in Québec.

One youth participant in the recent night rally had two teeth smashed by a police shield. In a social media post, the person describes the incident, outlining that a full-on hit to the face took place after some simple street banter with the riot police, the type of exchange that is so common to demonstrations. Below is a translation of the original text :

On March 24, I was walking on the sidewalk at the corner of Robert-Bourassa / University and Sherbrooke.

I am actually far away from the demonstration. In the middle of nowhere, on the sidewalk, two armed police with shields and batons cross my path. In shock by all that I had just seen, I mumbled to them :

''Have you have no shame?”

They seem to not hear me, only one of them then responded to me in what seemed to be a relatively friendly tone :

“Excuse me, I didn’t hear you, come closer, so that I hear your question.”

So I moved closer and told them, in a tone that wasn’t resentful, but more sounding like an open question :

''Have you no shame hitting demonstrators who are young and mostly non-violent?”

Here was the answer : A full face shield bash that pulverizes my two pallets (teeth).

These cops then decided to not give their ID #s, or their names, preferring instead to flee quickly in a Montreal police van.

In short, last night, a person walking on a sidewalk downtown was attacked by two police officers after asking a simple question. Repression is powerful, and today it works, because today I am scared, I am terrorized. Is this not terrorism?

Please share.''

No mainstream media outlets have seriously covered this incident, zero written reports in the Anglophone press, an illustration by example on how the media often works to normalize police violence against social movements by generally failing to report on such specific examples.

CTV Montréal anchor Mutsumi Takahashi introduced a painfully bias segment on Tuesday’s night protest this way, “It was a rough and sometimes aggressive crowd that confronted police last night.” Having been present on the ground throughout the entire protest this framing is simply ridiculous, the demonstration was festive and emotionally buoyant, even including a beautiful saxophone soloist playing passionately throughout the action.

Beyond missing the many important messages and ideas vocalized at the protest, the CTV report also described the current movement as “anti-democratic,” an incredible and false assertion about an organizing process that is intrinsically constructed on the grassroots power of general assemblies.

Also the CTV report unraveled with a classic set-up, running commentary and banter between a ridiculously bias news anchor and reporter, both questioning the legitimacy of the protest and then moving to only quote the notoriously propagandistic police spokesman Ian Lafrenière. A report that fails to even achieve mainstream journalistic standards in refusing to broadcast any voices from the protest, or the growing anti-austerity movement.

Politically the protest was focused not specifically on the police, but on larger ideas, an expression of collective opposition to the austerity policies of the Québec Liberal government, that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in society. Also missing in the mainstream media coverage, is the real sense of urgent concern expressed within the movement about the environmentally destructive path that neo-liberal economic models are now enforcing on Québec, through corporate friendly ploys like Plan Nord.

As usual the vast majority of media coverage is failing to focus on the ideas being expressed at the protest, the many reasons why there is an unprecedented mobilization against austerity currently taking place in Québec.

Absent in the coverage is any focus on the dreams of a movement that is focused social justice, on reversing government policies that will only equal increased economic violence and inequality in our society.

Stefan Christoff is a community organizer, musician and media maker living in Montreal, find Stefan @spirodon

Broadening War As Yemen Threatens Regional Order

Yemen Beware As It Threatens US-Backed Order

by Finian Cunningham - SCF

The crisis in Yemen is the latest manifestation of the old order desperately trying to cling on to a dwindling power base. That old order has been backed by the United States and its allies among the Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships as a bulwark against a popular uprising that could lead to democratisation in the poorest Middle Eastern country. If such an outcome were to succeed, the repercussions for the autocratic Gulf monarchies would be deeply destabilising. Saudi Arabia, which shares a southern border with Yemen, is the primary concern for this spreading "instability".

That is why the House of Saud is now issuing all sorts of grave warnings of "foreign interference" and blaming Iran for "aggression." Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal this week said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is ready to send in a military force to "protect Yemen’s sovereignty". The GCC comprises the six monarchial states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. All are stalwart American client regimes.

Meanwhile, Washington is urging Yemeni rival factions to «return to the United Nations-mediated peace talks». Samantha Power, the US representative on the UN Security Council, said:

"To preserve Yemen's security, stability and unity, all parties must refrain from any further unilateral and offensive military actions."

UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, amid warnings of all-out civil war, said this week that imminent talks were scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital, Doha. Al Jazeera reported that "any agreement reached would be signed in [Saudi capital] Riyadh."

The venues of Doha and Riyadh are hardly neutral places to conduct peace talks. The rebels in Yemen, led by the northern Houthi movement, have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the US, of repeatedly interfering in the country’s strife to support the old order and to offset any democratic change. Seen from this point of view, the UN-mediated talks are thus being capped with a veto wielded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. That would explain why Washington is so keen to push the talks, knowing that they will not produce anything substantive in terms of democratic progress in Yemen.

Indeed, Samantha Power has taken to discredit the Houthi movement by alleging that it is responsible for all the recent violence in the country. Power told the UN Security Council this week that the Houthi rebels have «consistently undermined Yemen’s transition». Amazingly, or perhaps not, she did not make mention of Saudi-backed extremists who last week killed more than 130 people in two mosque bombings in the capital, Sanaa. Ironically, it is the US and Saudi Arabia and their unswerving support in sustaining the old regime that is undermining "transition" to a more democratic and peaceful polity in Yemen.

The old regime in Yemen is headed up by Mansour Hadi, who is openly backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. For nearly 30 years he served as the vice president under the strong-arm dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was also backed to the hilt by Washington and Riyadh.

Saleh was notorious for his kleptocracy, siphoning of huge wealth for his family and entourage from Yemen’s modest oil industry. His son was made commander of the Republican Guard and was being groomed for succession until the Arab region’s popular protests in 2011 threatened to upset the family-run apple cart. Despite a brutal crackdown against largely peaceful protests, in which hundreds were gunned down on the streets of the capital, the American and Saudi sponsors of Saleh managed to stave off his overthrow by spinning out «talks» and eventually coming up with a «deal» that afforded the dictator and his ruling clique lifetime immunity from prosecution. As part of that US-Saudi-brokered "compromise," Saleh’s long-time deputy, Mansour Hadi, was made president in February 2012 after a non-contested «election». His presidency was only supposed to be a transitional position until the advent of full elections and the reconstitution of a representative parliament.

For the past three years, the US-Saudi process of transition has been nothing but a cynical rearguard action to retrench the old order, in which the majority of Yemen’s 24 million population are shut out from democratic control of the country’s politics and economics. The old kleptocratic order would thereby persist in its disenfranchisement of the Yemeni population while serving the geopolitical interests of Washington and its client Arab monarchies. Prime among those interests is the deterrence of democratic change in the region, as American political analyst Noam Chomsky has consistently argued.

The northern-based Houthis are adherents to a Shia sect of Islam. They have received political support from Shia Iran, but Saudi claims of Iranian fifth columnists are wildly overblown. Also, in the Houthis’ recent push for democratic change in Yemen their political vision has been notably inclusive of all religions and tribes. The Houthis, also known as Ansarullah, have spearheaded the ouster of the old regime simply because they have felt the most grievances of exclusion under the old Western, Saudi-backed order.

Last September, Houthi frustration over continual delay in the promised political transition boiled over when they took over the capital Sanaa by force of arms. One of its leaders Mohammed Abdulsalam said then:

 "This is a strategic victory for all Yemenis. But it is only the beginning of a long campaign to defeat corruption endemic in Yemen’s governing system. Today is the beginning of an age different from the past as the voice of all of the nation is being heard."

The Houthi movement can therefore be rightly seen as much more than just a narrow Shia sect, and one that seems to be genuinely agitating for a more democratic, inclusive Yemen.

When the Western-Saudi puppet president Hadi was forced last September to speed up the overdue transition, it is notable that Saudi Arabia began issuing dire warnings of Yemen’s collapse and Iranian foreign aggression, as it has once again cited this week. Meantime, Riyadh began to step up its support for Al Qaeda-linked groups in Yemen, who embarked on a campaign of car bombings and shootings in the capital and other towns loyal to the pro-democracy movement. Warnings of chaos had a self-fulfilling quality because of covert Saudi sponsoring of chaos. One month after the Houthis took over Sanaa in September last year, a car bomb claimed by Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (which is linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) killed more than 50. Last week, saw another atrocity when two Shia mosques were bombed by the same group, killing more than 130. In between those atrocities there have been numerous other massacres carried out by the Al Qaeda-linked extremists, mainly directed at the Houthi community.

The systemic link between Saudi rulers and Islamist terror groups is not a matter of contention. It has been well documented elsewhere, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. So too are the links between US and NATO allies and the same terror groups who function as proxies for regime change or pretexts for foreign military intervention. There are contradictions, of course, such as Saudi Arabia (and Qatar) claiming to be allies in the US-led so-called war on terrorism against Al Qaeda. Washington and Riyadh claim to be waging a counterinsurgency campaign in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, which the US has targeted with its aerial drones for the past decade.

Western powers, including the US, Britain, France and Germany, followed moves by the Persian Gulf monarchies to shut down embassies in Yemen earlier this year. This had the effect of heightening tensions and destabilising the country. The rush to evacuate Yemen had the unmistakable air of a forced abandonment to contrive a state of emergency, which would undermine the Houthi push for political transition. This puts Samantha Power’s recent accusations against the Houthis in a more enlightening context.

Now the deposed puppet-president Mansour Hadi has set up a base in the southern port city of Aden – the old British colonial "Protectorate." Hadi and his clique are calling for foreign military intervention from the Saudi-led GCC states to "restore order" – a phrase that reveals more than intended. It is patent that the Aden remnant is speaking according to a US-Saudi script aimed at giving a legal fig leaf for justifying foreign interference, whose real intent is to roll back a popular uprising.

In this Yemeni development there is an unerring analogy with the Bahrain pro-democracy movement. In mid-March 2011 when a Bahraini popular uprising was threatening to overthrow the kleptocratic regime of the Al Khalifa monarchy, the Saudis led a GCC military force into the Gulf island-state to crush that pro-democracy movement. Again, as with Yemen, the Saudis invented the pretext of Iranian aggression as a political cover for its actions. The Americans and the British, too, went fully along with the Saudi ruse in Bahrain to crush a democratic opening and to shore up the old order.

The old order of autocratic, despotic rule in the Arab region is sacrosanct, as far as Washington and its petrodollar allies are concerned. Democracy, or even the mere possibility of democracy, cannot be tolerated. For that would threaten the fascist order that underpins American global hegemony. Yemen is now entering dangerous political territory. It is threatening the Washington-ordained order, not just in the country, but in the entire oil-rich region. A US-backed Saudi-led military intervention to "restore order" is therefore on the way. That could take the form of an overt invasion, as in Bahrain, or a ramped-up covert terror campaign to drown the country in blood.

Foisted on his Own Petard, Industry Shill Moore Bails When Interviewer Calls his RoundUp Glyphosate Bluff

Tell Us Moore


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Drawing a Line in the Water: Heiltsuk Defend Herring Spawn

First Nation taking herring concerns to Jimmy Pattison’s Canfisco

by Damien Gillis - Common Sense Canadian

A delegation of Heiltsuk First Nations and their supporters will be taking the central coast community’s concerns over a recent herring fishery in their territory to to the Jimmy Pattison-owned Canfisco processing plant in Vancouver this afternoon.

Pattison is the largest owner of commercial herring licences and boats in BC, many of which took part in a highly controversial herring seine opening on Sunday and Monday in Spiller Channel, near Bella Bella. Heiltsuk members were caught by off guard when DFO opened the commercial seine fishery Sunday night without advising them first. The community had declared its territory closed to the commercial herring kill fishery this year due to concerns of the health of the stock.

Retired DFO herring specialist Dr. Ron Tanasichuk 
concurs with the Heiltsuk’s concerns, noting:

The forecasting methodology that DFO uses now for central coast herring is actually quite flawed…DFO’s forecasts are likely twice as much as they should be.

On that basis, Tanasichuk agrees there should have been no commercial fishery this year.

“The stocks are in recovery,” said Heiltsuk legal services coordinator Carrie Humchitt during the opening in Spiller Channel, “but they haven’t reached a level of recovery that can allow this kind of fishing to occur.”

“Our community was misled,” noted Chief Counsellor Marilyn Slett on the manner in which DFO openend the fishery. “We weren’t treated in good faith by DFO.”

Now, as seiners begin delivering their cargo to Canfisco’s Vancouver dock, Heiltsuk members living in Vancouver will make their concerns known to the fishing giant. They are calling on supporters to join them at 3 pm today at Canfisco, on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.

A parallel rally will be held in Bella Bella this afternoon as well.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
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The Money to be Made in California's Drought

California Water Wars: Another Form of Asset Stripping?

by Ellen Hodgson Brown - Dissident Voice

March 24th, 2015 

In California’s epic drought, wars over water rights continue, while innovative alternatives for increasing the available water supply go untapped.

Wars over California’s limited water supply have been going on for at least a century. Water wars have been the subject of some vintage movies, including the 1958 hit The Big Country starring Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood’s 1985 Pale Rider, 1995’s Waterworld with Kevin Costner, and the 2005 film Batman Begins. Most acclaimed was the 1975 Academy Award winner Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, involving a plot between a corrupt Los Angeles politician and land speculators to fabricate the 1937 drought in order to force farmers to sell their land at low prices. The plot was rooted in historical fact, reflecting battles between Owens Valley farmers and Los Angeles urbanites over water rights.

Today the water wars continue on a larger scale with new players. It’s no longer just the farmers against the ranchers or the urbanites. It’s the people against the new “water barons” – Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto, the Bush family, and their ilk – who are buying up water all over the world at an unprecedented pace.

A Drought of Epic Proportions

At a news conference on March 19, 2015, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon warned, “There is no greater crisis facing our state today than our lack of water.”

Jay Famiglietti, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, wrote in the Los Angeles Times on March 12th:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Maps indicate that the areas of California hardest hit by the mega-drought are those that grow a large percentage of America’s food. California supplies 50% of the nation’s food and more organic food than any other state. Western Growers estimates that last year 500,000 acres of farmland were left unplanted, an amount that could increase by 40% this year. The trade group pegs farm job losses at 17,000 last year and more in 2015.

Farmers with contracts from the Central Valley Project, a large federal irrigation system, will receive no water for the second consecutive year, according to preliminary forecasts. Cities and industries will get 25 percent of their full contract allocation, to ensure sufficient water for human health and safety. Besides shortages, there is the problem of toxic waste dumped into water supplies by oil company fracking. Economists estimate the cost of the drought in 2014 at $2.2 billion.

No Contingency Plan

The massive Delta water tunnel project, designed to fix Southern California’s water supply problems by siphoning water from the north, was delayed last August due to complaints from Delta residents and landowners. The project remains stalled, as the California Department of Water Resources reviews some 30,000 comments. When or if the project is finally implemented, it will take years to complete, at an estimated cost of about $60 billion including financing costs.

Meanwhile, alternatives for increasing the water supply rather than fighting over limited groundwater resources are not being pursued. Why not? Skeptical observers note that water is being called the next commodity boom. Christina Sarich, writing on, asserts:

Numerous companies are poised to take advantage of the water crisis. Instead of protecting existing water supplies, implementing stricter regulations, and coming up with novel ways to capture rainwater, or desalinizing seawater, the corporate agenda is ready, like a snake coiled, to make trillions off your thirst.

These coiled snakes include Monsanto and other biotech companies, which are developing drought-resistant and aluminum-resistant seeds set to take over when the organic farmers throw in the towel. Organic dairy farmers and ranchers have been the hardest hit by the drought, since the certified organic pasture on which their cows must be fed is dwindling fast.

Some critics suggest that, as in Chinatown, the drought itself is man-made, triggered not only by unprecedented carbon emissions but by “geo-engineering” – spraying the skies with aluminum and other particulates, ostensibly to shield the earth from global warming (though there may be other motives). On February 15, 2015, noted climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford asserted that geo-engineering was the only way to rapidly cool the earth. He said:

A small fleet of airplanes could do what large volcanos do — create a layer of small particles high in the atmosphere that scatters incoming sunlight back to space. Cooling the Earth this way, could be fast, cheap and easy.

That technique also suppresses rainfall. According to U.S. patent #6315213, filed by the US military on November 13, 2002:

The polymer is dispersed into the cloud and the wind of the storm agitates the mixture causing the polymer to absorb the rain. This reaction forms a gelatinous substance which precipitate to the surface below. Thus, diminishing the cloud’s ability to rain.

Suspicious observers ask whether this is all part of a larger plan. Christina Sarich notes that while the state thirsts for water, alternatives for increasing the water supply go untapped:

Chemical Engineers at MIT have indeed figured out how to desalinate water – electrodialysis having the potential to make seawater potable quickly and cheaply without removing other contaminants such as dirt and bacteria, and there are inexpensive nanotech filters that can clean hazardous microbes and chemicals from drinking water. Designer Arturo Vittori believes the solution to the water catastrophe lies not in high technology but in a giant basket that collects clean drinking water from condensation in the air.

Tapping Underground Seas

Another untapped resource is California’s own “primary” water — water newly produced by chemical processes within the earth that has never been part of the surface hydrological cycle. Created when conditions are right to allow oxygen to combine with hydrogen, this water is continually being pushed up under great pressure from deep within the earth and finds its way toward the surface where there are fissures or faults. This water can be located everywhere on the planet. It is the water flowing in wells in oases in the desert, where there is neither rainfall nor mountain run-off to feed them.

A study reported in Scientific American in March 2014 documented the presence of vast quantities of water locked far beneath the earth’s surface, generated not by surface rainfall but from pressures deep within. The study confirmed “that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth… approaching the sort of mass of water that’s present in all the world’s oceans.”

In December 2014, BBC News reported the results of a study presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in which researchers estimate there is more water locked deep in the earth’s crust than in all its rivers, swamps and lakes together. Japanese researchers reported in Science in March 2002 that the earth’s lower mantle may store about five times more water than its surface oceans.

Dramatic evidence that earthquakes can release water from deep within the earth was demonstrated last August, when Napa was hit with a 6.0 quake. Solano County suddenly enjoyed a massive new flow of water in local creeks, including a reported 200,000 gallons per day just from Wild Horse Creek. These increased flows are still ongoing, puzzling researchers who have visited the area.

Where did this enormous waterflow come from? If it were being released from a shallow aquifer, something would have to replace that volume of withdrawal, which was occurring at the rate of over 1,000 gallons per minute – over 10 times the pre-quake flow. Massive sinkholes or subsidence would be expected, but there were no such reports. Evidently these new waters were coming from much deeper sources, released through crevices created by the quake.

So states Pal Pauer of the Primary Water Institute, one of the world’s leading experts in tapping primary water. After decades of primary water studies and successful drilling projects, Pauer has demonstrated that this abundant water source can be accessed to supplement our current water supply. Primary water may be tapped directly, or it may be found commingled with secondary water (e.g. aquifers) fed from atmospheric sources. New sophisticated techniques using airborne geophysical and satellite data allow groundwater and primary water to be located in rock through a process called “fracture trace mapping,” in which large fractures are identified by thorough analysis of the airborne and satellite data for exploratory drilling.

Pauer maintains that a well sufficient to service an entire community could be dug and generating great volumes of water in a mere two or three days, at a cost of about $100,000. The entire state of California could be serviced for about $800 million – less than 2% of the cost of the very controversial Delta water tunnels – and this feat could be accomplished without robbing the North to feed the South.

The Water Wars Continue

California officials have been unresponsive to such proposals. Instead, the state has undertaken to regulate underground water. In September, a trio of bills were signed establishing a framework for statewide regulation of California’s underground water sources, marking the first time in the state’s history that groundwater will be managed on a large scale. Water has until now been considered a property right. The Los Angeles Times reported:

[M]any agriculture interests remain staunchly opposed to the bill. Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the bills “may come to be seen as ‘historic’ for all the wrong reasons” by drastically harming food production.

. . . “There’s really going to be a wrestling match over who’s going to get the water,” [Fresno Assemblyman] Patterson said, predicting the regulation plans will bring a rash of lawsuits.

And so the saga of the water wars continues. The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. One of its former directors, Ismail Serageldin, stated, “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

In the movie Chinatown, the corrupt oligarchs won. The message seemed to be that right is no match against might. But armed with that powerful 21st century tool, the Internet, which can generate mass awareness and coordinated action, right may yet prevail.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ blog articles are at Read other articles by Ellen, or visit Ellen's website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Tim Anderson, Krista Roessingh, Janine Bandcroft Mar. 25, 2015

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook -

Stephen Harper stood before Canada's parliament yesterday to present a motion to both extend the duration of the country's "mission" in Iraq beyond the six months previously promised, and to expand the scope of Canadian Forces war-making beyond the borders of Iraq into Syria, belying a second promise previously made when seeking the House's blessings last year.

The prime minister explained the turnaround, saying; “ISIL’s fighters and much of its heavier equipment are moving freely across the Iraqi border into Syria, in part for better protection against our airstrikes.”

Among the many things left out of Mr. Harper's motion was the provenance of that equipment.

Listen. Hear.

Last month, Iraq's government announced the shoot down of British planes full of military gear; gear destined not for "our" allies but for the same "ISIL" Harper would have us dedicate more blood and treasure to defeat.

It's a complex situation, made moreso for parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle, and Canadians generally, because they and we don't have the information needed to make rational decisions. But, faith trumps knowledge every time for the current government.

Tim Anderson is a an Australian solidarity activist and academic at the University of Sydney. He studied economic development, human rights, and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific region and in Latin America. He studied in Cuba, publishes essays, produces videos, and works on solidarity campaigns with the people of Cuba. His latest articles, published at Global Research, explore the complex web of local and international interests at play in Syria and Iraq conflict.

Tim Anderson in the first half.

And; many British Columbians remember the 'War in the Woods,' a watershed moment in the long struggle to protect the province's ecological viability. Today, in Area 7, the Department of Oceans and Fisheries designation for the waters off the Great Bear Rainforest, in Heiltsuk territory, another such moment may be taking place, with a Tribal Council order to halt the commercial herring roe kill-fishery.

Krista Rossingh is media liaison with, the Denny Island-based environmental organization dedicated to, "Defend wildlife and their habitat on Canada's Pacific coast."

Taking to the water to protect herring stocks in the second half. 

And; Victoria Street Newz publisher emeritus and CFUV Radio broadcaster, Janine Bandcroft will join us at the bottom of the hour to bring us up to speed with some of what's good to do in and around our town, and beyond there too, in the coming week. But first, Tim Anderson and getting behind the "official truth" of the Syria/Iraq conflict.
Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Wednesday, 1-2pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, and on the internet at: And now heard at Simon Fraser University's . He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, Check out the GR blog at:

G-Radio is dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.

Dirty Secrets and Official Truths: Syria's Houla Massacre

The Houla Massacre Revisited: "Official Truth" in the Dirty War in Syria

by Tim Anderson - Global Research

This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention.

However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.

The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.

The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).

A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).

Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.

The Houla massacre

After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.

The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).

Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).

Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:

‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).

These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).

The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:

‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).

This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.

Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.

Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.

Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.

The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:

‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).

All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).

A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:

‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).

He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:

‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.

Inconvenient Evidence

First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).

Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:

‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47).
 The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).

German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:

‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).

Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:

‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).

German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:

‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.

Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:

‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).

The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).

Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called ‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said:

‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).

Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’
(ANNA 2012).

Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived,

‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).

Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station.

‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). 

The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.

TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports
Source/report Method and conclusion
  • Mother Agnes Mariam FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government
  • Most western media reports Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’
  • British and French government Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks
  • UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.
  • UN HRC Commission of Inquiry Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)
  • FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.
  • Syrian Government, state news agencies and television Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families
  • German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families
  • German journalist Rainer HERMANN Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families
  • Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs
  • Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families
  • Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.

Dissent at the UN

The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said

‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’

The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.

The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.

The Aftermath

Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.

The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.

The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
Tim Anderson is an Australian solidarity activist and academic at the University of Sydney. He studied economic development, human rights, and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific region and in Latin America. He studied in Cuba, publishes essays, produces videos, and works on solidarity campaigns with the people of Cuba. 


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