Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Good Doctor's Trial: Fairness and Justice?

Dhafir Trial: Fairness and Justice?

by Katherine Hughes - Truthout

My passion for the protection of civil liberties was sparked at the age of 14 when I saw a documentary on the Allies’ liberation of Bergen-Belsen. For the past 40 years, in an effort to understand how something like that could happen, I’ve been reading first-hand accounts of 1930s and 1940s Europe and the former Soviet Union. Over the last 25 years I began noticing similar circumstances in both Europe and the United States: wars creating millions of refugees, financial crises, erosions of workers’ rights and sharpening income inequality, along with national and individual poverty and debt, a xenophobic and racist climate, and attacks on civil liberties, including freedom of speech.

My alarm grew as I witnessed the post-9/11 demonization of Muslims. I have always known that if anything like this happened in my lifetime, not only did I not want any part of it; I did not want to be a bystander. It was for this reason that I decided to attend the trial of Rafil Dhafir, a respected oncologist from upstate New York. I knew virtually nothing about Dhafir before attending almost all of the 17-week trial in 2004. I took copious notes during the proceedings. Because of the injustice I witnessed, I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to let others know about the case: I started a website and have published articles and given interviews. I’m currently working on a documentary.

After publishing my last article, “Anatomy of a ‘Terrorism’ Prosecution: Dr. Rafil Dhafirand the Help the Needy Muslim CharityCase,” in January 2012, I thought I had finally written everything I needed to about this case. A recent incident, however, has made stunningly clear the pattern of US government tactics that have made it impossible, for 12 long years, for Dhafir to mount an effective defense.

The latest incident occurred on June 18, 2014, when, for no given reason, Dhafir was taken out of the general population in the prison where he is serving his sentence and placed in the special housing unit (SHU). This happened in the midst of his last chance at a legal remedy, a 2255 habeas corpus motion. Since Dhafir has no money for an attorney, he has been working on the motion by himself, and conditions within the SHU (at one point he was denied writing material) have made such efforts extremely difficult. The deadline for the 2255 is November 4, 2014. It cannot be extended.

Preparing the 2255 includes reviewing six of the requested 37 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) discs that he finally received after a two-year delay. (He recently received an additional two discs, but has had no chance to review them.) The six discs that he has reviewed have a total of 2,056 pages delivered (95 percent redacted) and 4,029 deleted pages. Even with so many pages missing and so much redacted, these pages clearly show the government’s aim in this case: to connect Dhafir – no matter how tenuously – with Islamic terror and use his conviction as an example of the government’s zeal in protecting the public.

Seven government agencies investigated Dhafir and his charity, Help the Needy (HTN), for many years. They intercepted his mail, email, faxes and telephone calls, bugged his office and hotel rooms, went through his trash and conducted physical surveillance. The FOIA request has revealed that there were many full-time agents working on the case, often doing overtime and working holidays. Many agencies across the country and around the world, in places as widespread as Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa, San Francisco, Chicago, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Canberra, Amman, Cairo and London, were involved. Though government failed to come up with anything that would stand up as such in a court of law, it clearly viewed his case as a terrorism trial.

From the day of the arrest, the government insinuated that Dhafir was a money launderer for terrorists. Long before he went on trial, he was pilloried in the court of public opinion.

A motion granted by Judge Mordue before the trial began meant that the defense could address the government’s actual charges only and could not challenge its insinuations of support of terrorism. Although prosecutors could hint at more serious charges throughout the trial, the defense team couldn’t respond to these inflammatory innuendos head-on. This strategy had devastating consequences not only for Dhafir’s defense at trial, but also for his appeals, which were limited to the district court record.

One of the most exciting things about the 2255 is that, unlike appeals, it gives the defendant a chance to present new evidence to the court, for example, evidence gleaned from the FOIA request, which clearly shows the government’s true intent in this case and that, as late as 2010, it was still fishing for a connection to terrorism.

A letter writing campaign and call-in day was organized to find out the reason Dhafir had been placed in the SHU and to request that he be released back into the general population. The offices of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) also contacted the prison for information about why Dhafir was placed in the SHU. Dhafir, a deeply religious Muslim, spent the whole of Ramadan in the SHU, including Eid al-Fitr (comparable to a combined Easter and Christmas in the Christian tradition). After 73 days in the SHU, he was released without charge on August 29. We are still none the wiser as to why he was put there in the first place.

Background to the Case

Born in Iraq in 1948, Dhafir completed medical school before immigrating to the United States in 1972; he has been a US citizen for almost 40 years. He was a founding member of the Islamic Society of Central New York (ISCNY) and served as its spiritual leader for about seven years. He was an oncologist in an underserved area of Rome, New York, until his arrest, well-known for both his medical skill and his way of giving hope and courage to his patients. Both he and his African-American wife, Priscilla, were very active in Syracuse civic affairs. At trial, Priscilla Dhafir testified that she sat on the board of the YWCA, was a charter member of the Women’s Fund, past director of the CNY Business and Professional Women’s Club, and current treasurer of Syracuse Links, a group of professional women who reached out to youth in the area. Dhafir often spoke at events and on local TV and radio about health and cancer care.

On August 1, 1990, Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, invaded Kuwait and on August 2, US and UK-sponsored UN sanctions (also known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA here in the United States) against Iraq were put in place. On January 17, 1991, the first bombs of the Gulf War were dropped on Baghdad. Before this war, Iraq, a wealthy country, had a First World standard of living. Although organized as a brutal dictatorship, the government provided universal health care and education – including college – for all its citizens. There was virtually no illiteracy and the education system and health system were the best in the region. Women enjoyed equal rights and religious minorities were respected.

The result of the war was total devastation: More bombs were dropped on Iraq in a six-week period than were dropped by all parties together in the whole of World War II. Many types of bombs were used including ones containing depleted uranium (DU), the waste matter from nuclear plants. DU dust has entered the food chain through the soil and the water, and as a result many formerly unknown diseases became prevalent in Iraq. Cancer and birth defects increased dramatically.

According to the United Nations’ own statistics, every month throughout the 1990s, 6,000 children under the age of five in Iraq were dying from malnutrition and lack of access to simple medicines. Three senior UN officials resigned in protest, including Denis Halliday, the UN assistant secretary general. At the time, Halliday was serving as the humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad. In his words, he “had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

As a direct response to this catastrophe, Dhafir founded his charity, HTN, and openly sent humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians during the long embargo. As an oncologist, Dhafir was particularly concerned about the effects of depleted uranium. Between 1990 and 2003, heworked tirelessly to shed light on the plight of the Iraqi people and raise funds to help them. According to the government, Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money. Throughout these years, Dhafir asked US officials if this humanitarian aid was legal and was assured it was – that is, until the morning of his arrest.

At trial, Susan Hutner of the Department of the Treasury in the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) testified that she was involved in the drafting and implementation of the sanctions, and worked on them for 12 years. She said that OFAC did seek to notify targeted populations, but this did not include Iraqis living in this country, mosques or Muslim charities. The target populations were mainly banks, oil companies and other big businesses: Hutner gave presentations to some of these groups.

On February 26, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq, Dhafir and other HTN associates were subjected to high-profile arrests. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called them “funders of terrorism.” No charges of funding terrorism, nor charges of any other aspect of terrorism, were ever brought against Dhafir.

Since the events of 9/11, Muslim charities have been among the biggest targets of the US government in its “war on terror,” and the government has implemented some powerful new tools for prosecution of these cases. Among the list of statutes being used is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), also known as “United States economic sanctions.” IEEPA provides the president of the United States with authority to deal with any “unusual and extraordinary threat” that has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States; this includes a threat to “national security, foreign policy, and the economy.”

Prosecutors armed with the statutes are further empowered by using them in conjunction with the “material support of terrorism” laws, Executive Order 13224, and civil asset forfeiture laws, particularly those under IEEPA, which were amended by the Patriot Act. Under the IEEPA civil asset forfeiture provisions, the government can close down an organization and seize its assets while an investigation is ongoing, without probable cause of criminal activity and without any charges ever being brought against anyone.

EO 13224 was issued on September 23, 2001, and introduced a blacklist of organizations and individuals suspected of terrorism, materially aiding terrorism or associating with terrorists. IEEPA and international law permit humanitarian assistance for these suspects, including food, clothing and medicine, but this humanitarian aid is outlawed under the EO 13224. The penalty, for an IEEPA violation, for organizations that knowingly engage in terrorist financing already carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. What this new provision does is “drastically increase the penalties for knowing violations of non-terrorism-related IEEPA offenses.” People with a concern for civil liberties are troubled by the fact that the government provides no legal definition of what they consider a “specially designated terrorist” and by the broad manner in which the government is interpreting the new rules.

Muslim charities and individuals connected with these charities are bearing the brunt of theeffects of this new law. Since September 11, 2001, six major US Muslim charities and many smaller Muslim charities have been shut down. Sadly, the government’s zeal for prosecuting Muslim charities has not abated with time. Just last year, Iranian-American doctor Hossein Lahiji and his wife, Najmeh Vahid, were prosecuted using many of the same legal tools used in Dhafir’s case, including threat of Medicare fraud prosecution.

Before attending this trial, I felt secure that my civil liberties would always be respected; I no longer believe that to be true. I still believe in fairness and justice despite my experience at the trail, and each new injustice that Dhafir suffers only strengthens my commitment to them. It is for this reason that I wish to share some unfair tactics that I witnessed throughout this case. Those who would like more detailed documentation of the government’s role in this case can read my most recent article.

Pretrial: Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Dhafir was subject to a high-profile arrest February 26, 2003: News agencies with helicopters hovered over his house as 85 agents spent the day going through the house and carrying out boxes of evidence, while Ashcroft announced the arrest of “funders of terrorism.” But Dhafir was never allowed to defend himself of this charge in a court of law. This duplicitous government approach continually hampered the defense, not only at trial, but also on appeals.

Dhafir was never released after his arrest and was denied bail six times before his case came to trial 19 months later. This placed many impedimentsin the way of preparing his defense. (Barry Gewanter of the CNYCLU addressed some of the difficulties Dhafir faced on a WCNY Channel 24 program that aired on the eve of his sentencing.)

On March 11, 2003, less than two weeks after Dhafir’s arrest, Steve Emerson of “The Investigative Project On Terrorism” (IPT) testified before the House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. Listed on p. 25, HTN is just one of many Muslim charities included in the testimony. None of these charities’ principals had been anywhere near a court of law, and many had not even been indicted.

In July 2003, Jeffrey Breinholt, then-coordinator of the Department of Justice Terrorist Financing Task Force published a “Terrorist Financing” paper. His paper lists the same cases covered in Emerson’s testimony and sets out the game plan for prosecutions of these cases. In the introduction, he says: “Persons cannot be convicted of the federal crime of terrorism because there is no such crime. Instead, terrorism crimes have developed in the same manner as other crimes, policymakers determine what evil (or ‘mischief’) should be prevented and then craft criminal laws that take into account how such mischief is generally achieved.

On occasion, acts that are criminalized are not ones that should necessarily be discouraged, if committed by persons not otherwise involved in the targeted conduct. In such cases, laws are crafted to criminalize such conduct only in particular circumstances” (p. 3). Breinholt, a team member at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC), published a 2008 article on its site, “Islam in American Courts: 2007 Year in Review.” In it he says, “Next time someone claims that American prosecutors never win terrorism cases, or that Muslims are not more likely to be terrorists than other ethnic enclaves, recommend that they visit a law library, where they will find several published 2007 opinions in the case books where Muslims were successfully prosecuted for conduct related to religiously-inspired violence.” He appears as one of the experts in Emerson’s most recent film, Jihad in America: The Grand Deception.

Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Michael Olmsted, head of the prosecution team, told Dhafir’s three trial lawyers (a black Baptist and two secular Jews) that Dhafir was anti-Semitic. It was patently false, so why did he tell them that?

Dhafir was initially held at the Justice Center in downtown Syracuse where he could meet with his trial lawyers fact-to-face, but after some demonstrations in support of him, he was moved to the Onondaga County Jamesville Correctional Facility. At Jamesville, prisoners were strip searched before they could meet with anyone from the outside and, as a devout Muslim, Dhafir refused to do this. (One of his lawyers, Joel Cohen, offered to be strip searched so that he could meet face to face with Dhafir, but this request was denied.) As a consequence, he now had to meet with his three lawyers through glass; only two could be in the visiting cubicle at any one time, and only one lawyer at a time could talk with him on the phone that connected them with Dhafir. The lawyers had to hold up bits of evidence to the window and ask Dhafir questions.

Because Dhafir couldn’t leave Jamesville prison without a strip search, he had a friend go to the federal building to look through the hundreds of boxes of evidence that had been taken from his house. Mohamed Khater spent 12 days going through the boxes looking for things that Dhafir needed for his defense.
While state and national government officials tarred Dhafir with the “terrorism” brush, District Attorney Glenn Suddaby and the three local prosecutors insisted Dhafir was nothing more than a common white-collar criminal. Yet just before Dhafir’s trial began in October 2004, then-New York Governor Pataki described the case as a “money laundering case to help terrorist organizations … conduct horrible acts,” and described Dhafir and HTN supporters as “terrorists living here in New York State among us . . . who are supporting and aiding and abetting those who would destroy our way of life and kill our friends and neighbors.” It was an announcement perfectly timed to reach potential jurors.


The first indictment against Dhafir contained 14 charges related only to the Iraq sanctions. When he refused to accept a plea agreement, the government piled on more charges and he finally faced a 60-count indictment. This made for a very complicated and expensive 17-week trial. The amount of information was overwhelming.

The motion that Judge Mordue had granted to the government to keep the government’s true motive for pursuing Dhafir out of the courtroom turned into a brick wall for the defense and made the trial surreal at times: Throughout the trial the government could hint at more serious charges pending, but the defense was never allowed to follow this line of questioning. An example of this dynamic can be seen in the testimony of Colleen Williams, a tax preparer Dhafir had hired to help HTN sort out its tax returns and give advice on a 501(c)(3) application for the charity. The government wanted Williams to inform on HTN and she described how FBI Agent Jim Kolbe, IRS Agent Mark Sweeney and US Attorney Brenda Sannes had spent three days, first individually and then together, asking her to wear a recorder in her meetings with HTN defendant Ayman Jarwan. She described them as “waving the flag” and telling her that, “9/11 may not have happened if people were involved.” She felt the HTN people “were being pursued” and got rid of them as a client after only three meetings. She never agreed to wear a wire and refused to refer the case to a government attorney.

For white-collar crime?

Although the government had taken all Dhafir’s money (including HTN money and personal money in Amman, Jordan), the court still granted the prosecution’s request to deny Dhafir transcripts at the expense of the court (50 cents a page). This meant that one of Dhafir’s lawyers typed the proceedings on his laptop, and the defense purchased only those transcripts that it felt it couldn’t do without.

Because Dhafir would not submit to a strip search, five federal marshals ferried him to and from the prison. Two were always in the courtroom: one sat behind Dhafir and another sat adjacent to the jury. They traded off approximately every 40 minutes in full view of the jury. This changing of the guard was on top of federal building and courtroom security and took place at least 250 times during the proceedings. It was a powerful nonverbal message to the jury.

At trial, Osama bin Laden was mentioned with no relevance, and the jury was made aware that Dhafir followed the same Islamic religious tradition, Salafi, as Bin Laden. (Salafi merely means a Muslim who is a strict adherent of the Koran and looks to the ancestors for guidance. It is comparable to someone in the Christian faith who looks to the Scriptures, church fathers and traditions of the early church for guidance.)
Three government agents sat directly behind the three prosecutors, and adjacent to the jury, throughout the trial: FBI Agent Jim Kolbe testified for 16 days, eight of them as the sole witness and eight of them as one of only two witnesses; it was his testimony that, essentially, convicted Dhafir; Social Security agent Michael McCole testified for about 20 minutes; the Defense Department agent, a young blonde woman, did not testify. Why were all three of these agents paid to sit there for the whole of a 17-week white-collar criminal trial?

The government called more than 50 witnesses to testify, but neglected to call two key people: Kelly Tubbs, Dhafir’s office manager of 10 years who was proud of the fact that Dhafir’s office had never failed an audit, and Maher Zagha, a co-defendant who was the HTN representative in Jordan. Zagha organized the land and sea delivery of food, clothing and medicine to Iraq. The defense called witness for 15 minutes. Why didn’t the government call Tubbs and Zagha? (Sadly the defense didn’t call them either, and I imagine that was at least partly due to finance. Also, two of Dhafir’s lawyers were solo practitioner lawyers from New York City, and had taken the job believing it would be a six-week trial. In fact, because the final indictment had 60 counts including 25 of Medicare fraud, it ran for 17 weeks.)


After the guilty verdicts came down, District Attorney Glenn Suddaby (now a federal judge) told reporters at a news conference that he didn’t want anyone saying anything about terrorism and that, regardless of 9/11, this prosecution would have gone ahead. But six months later, on submitting a sentencing memo that asked for a sentence of not less than 24 years, he announced that Dhafir had links to terrorism. The connection? On several occasions during the 1980s, Dhafir was in Pakistan as a volunteer doctor in mujahedeen refugee camps. On one of these trips, he briefly met and interviewed Abdallah Azzam, who was later known as a teacher and mentor of Osama bin Laden; and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, future Taliban prime minister of Afghanistan. At the time Dhafir met these two, they were friends of the United States, and the government even noted this in a footnote of its memo. Yet Dhafir and other HTN defendants are now listed on the government’s list of successful terrorism prosecutions.


Within weeks of Dhafir’s sentencing, Breinholt, author of the July 2003 “Terrorist Financing” paper mentioned above, and a research and practice associate at the Syracuse University (SU) Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), presented a lecture to a group of third-year law students at SU. Entitled, “A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing,” it contained the essence of his paper and highlighted the Dhafir and HTN case. Greg West, one of the three HTN prosecutors, helped present the lecture, while the other two prosecutors, Michael Olmsted and Steve Green, were in attendance to answer questions. Breinholt told the students that Dhafir’s case had been under-prosecuted and in the context of the lecture’s title the implication was clear. He explained that because the “American public won’t tolerate anything less than the rule of law,” creative ways had to be figured out to draft laws that can be used to prosecute what they are trying to prevent. He told students that a major tool that emerged to gain convictions in terrorist financing cases is the use of International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) violations, and that in order to convict under IEEPA all that was necessary was to build a chain of inferences from available circumstantial evidence. Why was Dhafir never allowed to address the real reason for the government’s prosecution in a court of law?

In December 2006, Dhafir was moved to a special new communication management unit (CMU), in Terre Haute, Indiana. It is completely self-contained and houses, almost exclusively, Arab and/or Muslim prisoners. Prisoners are video monitored 24/7, and there are severe restrictions on communication. Contact with family and friends is limited; outgoing and incoming mail is monitored and copied, with a one- to two- week delivery delay; and no contact visits are allowed. Instead of 300 minutes of phone time a month, prisoners may receive only one 15-minute call a week, which the warden has the power to reduce to just three minutes a month. Unlike the usual weekly or biweekly all-day contact visits, visits in the CMU were for two hours, just twice a month, and restricted to non-contact only. Calls and visits had to be conducted in English unless prior arrangement was made. (Since 2006, there have been some slight changes to these regulations, but nothing substantial.)


It took 18 months to raise the money for two new appeal lawyers. As soon as the appeal team was hired, Olmsted, again, falsely told Dhafir’s lawyers (both secular Jews) that Dhafir was anti-Semitic. What purpose did this serve? (In Dhafir’s statement before sentencing he says: “When my home was ransacked, one of the government’s main targets was my library. They nearly emptied it. What did they take? They took my Islamic books; they came looking for books of certain authors and took all these authors’ books. They took Quran recitation tapes even though these books and tapes are available at any bookstore. They didn’t touch my Encyclopedia Britannica, my Encyclopedia of the American History, none of the books of Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger, nor Norman Schwarzkopf, the memoirs of President Bush Sr., James Baker or Colin Powell. Not the history books about the Jewish people, the famous books of Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister, certainly not the book about the life of Golda Meir. None of the different versions of the Bible including the Arabic Bible were touched nor the books of the Jewish Laws. None of the books confiscated from my library have been returned. What do these books have to do with Medicare, HTN and taxes? I think the court should know this.”)

Initially, the appeal court granted Dhafir transcripts at the expense of the court (they are essential for an appeal). But the government challenged this ruling with completely unverifiable insinuations of personal wealth and persuaded the court to place some $15,000 in additional costs on the defense. Challenging this could have been very costly and there was no guarantee of success, so additional funds had to be raised before the appeal could move ahead.

A decision handed down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2009 upheld Dhafir’s conviction, but suggested the district court look again at the sentencing guidelines. The sentencing guidelines range on which his sentence was based was erroneously increased as if he were a third-party (professional) money launderer rather than the reality, which showed that he transmitted funds derived from the very same offenses which he had been convicted for personally committing (“mail fraud” and “tax fraud”). Seventy-five letters were written to Judge Mordue on Dhafir’s behalf telling, in large part, of extreme conditions in the CMU that were taxing on Dhafir’s health, and asking for clemency. People who wrote to Mordue on Dhafir’s behalf include Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, both of whom resigned from the UN because they were unwilling to implement a genocidal policy of sanctions against Iraq, Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, and many including members of Dhafir’s family, families of his former patients, people from his faith community and people across the world who greatly appreciate his humanitarian outreach. Resentencing was scheduled for January 5, 2012, and just 12 days before it, Dhafir was suddenly moved out of the CMU into the general population at Terre Haute, and then to the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts. At the resentencing on February 3, 2012, Mordue upheld the 22-year sentence.

Although Dhafir was moved out of the CMU to a medium security prison, the security is still strict because of the large number of sex offenders held there. There is a camp at this prison, but Dhafir is ineligible for the camp because of an early security designation by the Bureau of Prisons on Dhafir’s status. In a 2010 challenge to this designation, Dhafir’s appeal attorney Peter Goldberger wrote, “It is submitted that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) improperly found that Petitioner [Dhafir] ‘required monitoring of all communications’ based only on the fact that an AUSA [Assistant United States Attorney] had said he was ‘regarded as a shiek (sic) and Salafi.’ As discussed below, this amounts to classifying Mr. Dhafir as ineligible for a minimum security facility (camp) based only on his religious beliefs.”

“Sheikh” is an honorific term referring to either an elder or leader, or to an Islamic scholar and, as mentioned above, “Salafi” merely means someone who looks to the early Muslims for guidance (as Christian’s look to the original disciples). Dhafir is again challenging this designation in the hope he will become eligible for a camp.

2255 Motion 


Formerly a wealthy and generous man, Dhafir was left penniless as a result of this prosecution. He has no money for a lawyer to work on his 2255 motion and he has been unable to find a pro bono lawyer. In the best of circumstance, working on this by himself would be no easy task. Being put in the SHU for 73 days placed an added and unnecessary burden on him.


How can this have been due process when Dhafir was clearly never held “innocent until proven guilty?”

After more than a decade of investigating Dhafir with, at times, many full-time agents and 24/7 surveillance of both Dhafir and his associates, the government is still unable to find anything that would stand up in a court of law linking Dhafir to terrorists. How much longer will it continue to look?

How much has this whole prosecution cost taxpayers? Is it value for money?

Is keeping Dhafir in prison for another 10 years on top of the 12 he has already served a good use of taxpayer dollars? Does his imprisonment keep us safe from terrorist attacks?

Dhafir is in his 60s and has a number of health issues that affect his ability to endure the circumstances in which he is serving his sentence. He developed a heart condition after his arrest and has not always had the medication his condition requires. He has also had two extremely painful episodes of gout that could easily have been prevented if he had been given medication. And he had to wait a long time to have a painful hernia treated, and suffered a recurrence of the hernia which required further surgery. After his August 29 release from the SHU, he was deprived of his medication, including his heart meds, for over a week. If he does not get relief soon, he will almost certainly die in prison.

Is this fairness? Is this justice?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kerry Reprises Syria Chemical Weapons Song

US lays new chemical weapon allegations against Syria

by Peter Symonds -

19 September 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday laid fresh allegations of chemical weapons use against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, thereby establishing another pretext for turning the imminent US air war in Syria against the regime in Damascus. A year ago, the Obama administration exploited the now discredited claims that the Syrian military had carried out a gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in order to prepare a devastating aerial assault on the country’s armed forces, infrastructure and industry.

While the attacks were called off at the last minute, the US has never relinquished its aim of regime-change and has seized on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) atrocities to justify a new, illegal war of aggression.

Speaking in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry renewed the claim that the Syrian military was using chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. “We believe there is evidence of Assad’s use of chlorine, which when you use it—despite it not being on the list—it is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he said.

Last September, the Syrian government agreed to the destruction of its stockpiles of chemical weapons and the facilities used to manufacture and store them. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced last month that it had completed the task of supervising the destruction of the materials and facilities. Yet, at the time, Kerry continued to press the issue, claiming that “much more work must be done” to deal with “discrepancies and omissions” in Syria’s chemical weapons’ declaration last year.

Now, as the US is about to launch air strikes on ISIS militias in Syria, Kerry has publicly revived the issue. Chlorine was never part of last year’s agreement because it is a basic chemical with many industrial applications. As such it also provides a convenient device for making further lurid allegations against the Assad regime.

Claims that the Syrian military used chlorine against opposition-held villages can be traced to an “independent investigation” carried out by the right-wing British newspaper, the Telegraph, in April. The Telegraph, which has links to the British military and intelligence establishment, passed on soil samples from the villages to the OPCW, which issued a report last week confirming strong traces of chlorine and ammonia. The UN body could not and did not, however, determine who used the gas.

Just as the US exploited the Ghouta gas attack last year as a casus belli for war on Syria, so Kerry used the latest chemical weapons claims to make clear that the US is still gunning for Assad. He declared that there was no “long-term future” for Assad in power, adding:

“The Syrian opposition is not going to stop fighting Assad. We recognise that reality.”

Kerry’s comments underline the real purpose of Washington’s plans to train and arm at least 5,000 “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters. While nominally aimed against ISIS, these militias would form the core of armed forces to oust Assad and establish a pro-Western regime in Damascus. Yesterday the US Senate, following a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, overwhelmingly approved—78 to 22—the Obama administration’s plan to build up anti-Assad forces in Syria.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee that he and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey had signed off on detailed plans for air strikes on ISIS targets inside Syria. Referring to the US Central Command, Hagel said: “CENTCOM’s plan includes targeted actions against ISIL [ISIS] safe havens in Syria, including its command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure.” He added: “Our actions will not be restrained by a border that exists in name only.” All that is now required is Obama’s approval.

According to a SyriaDeeply report this week, civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa, currently held by ISIS, are already fleeing. Abu Ahmad, who left with his family, said: “We will not stay in our homes waiting for death to find us because of some targeting error.” A shop keeper inside Raqqa told the Guardian:

“I believe most of the casualties will be civilian. The majority will be from Raqqa and very few from ISIS.”

The timing of the stepped-up war inside Iraq and air strikes in Syria is likely to be determined during next week’s UN General Assembly meeting. The Australian Financial Review reported today: “The final plans to wage war against Islamic State will be co-ordinated in private meetings between world leaders in New York… clearing the way for action to start.” Obama is due to address the General Assembly and chair a meeting of the UN Security Council.

The Obama administration is still trying to consolidate its “coalition of the willing” to wage war in the Middle East. President Francois Hollande announced yesterday that France was prepared to carry out air strikes in Iraq, but not in Syria, citing concerns that extending the air war would strengthen the Assad regime. The British government has held off making detailed commitments until the results of the Scottish referendum are finalised.

Kerry declared on Wednesday that some Arab countries were committed to military action, saying: “We have significant levels of support to conduct military operations.” He did not name specific nations, however. Turkey has refused to allow US war planes to operate from its military bases but this week revived plans to establish a buffer zone along its border with Syria as a possible staging area for pro-Western, anti-Assad militias.

Obama has repeatedly declared that the US will not commit ground troops to combat in Iraq and Syria. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has sent war planes and 600 military personnel to Iraq, including 150 SAS special forces, repeats the same mantra.

The worthlessness of such statements was underscored by an Australian “retired senior defence insider” who commented in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald: “You don’t send in the SAS to run seminars and give white-board presentations back at headquarters. These guys are our most highly trained killers, and that’s what they will be doing.”

The determination of the US and its allies to play down their involvement in a war in the Middle East stems from real fears of the emergence of anti-war opposition on a scale beyond that which erupted against the criminal US-led invasion on Iraq in 2003.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Chronicles of ISIS: Stranger than Fiction, or Just Fiction?

Foreign Affairs as Opera Buffa: The Global Fight Against ISIS

by John Chuckman - Chuckman Blog

There is a forgotten 1933 movie serial called The Three Musketeers in which three members of the French Foreign Legion are rescued by an American, a young John Wayne, using the machine gun on his biplane to mow down Arab bad guys threatening the Legionnaires in the Sahara.

What was John Wayne doing flying around the French Sahara? He had flown over from France to visit his girlfriend. Why did he have a machine gun mounted on his plane? There wouldn’t be a story otherwise.

Like all such series, it is silly, but it is notable for a plot which includes a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle led by a mysterious and evil figure called El Shaitan, someone who wants to destroy the Legion and, after many false leads, turns out in the last reel to be a western merchant rather than an Arab.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Substitute al-Qaeda for the Devil’s Circle, substitute Osama bin Laden for El Shaitan, and substitute the Mideast for North Africa. John Wayne remains John Wayne, symbol as they used to say on the voiceover for the 1950s Superman television show, “for the American way of life.” It does sound as though the script for al-Qaeda was lifted from the old serial. I’m sure someone at Langley would be able to confirm that. With all its twists and turns around the identity of El Shaitan, the story would make a great libretto for an extravagant opera buffa, or a Broadway comedy musical.

Of course, we had indisputable proof years ago, in the testimony of a former British Foreign Minister and several other significant world figures, that there was indeed no such organization as al-Qaeda, the Arab word commonly meaning “hole” or “toilet,” hardly the choice of cutthroats. The term was a convenient Washington insider shorthand to designate scattered, unrelated populations of Islamic bad guys, as Washington saw them, lurking in deserts and on mountain redoubts or maybe even hiding in Western cities, ready to spring into action at a signal from El Shaitan, I mean, Osama bin Laden. But the fact that al-Qaeda does not exist, as is the case so many times with facts, made no impression on Americans, and especially not on their ever-vigilant press, and certainly had no influence on a lunatic policy called the War on Terror.

Of course, the root cause of 9/11 and so many other acts of angry, frustrated, and powerless people is America’s embrace of the seemingly never-ending injustice and brutality of Israel towards millions of Arabs. But Washington doesn’t deal with hard realities; it is too busy always dealing with self-created fantasies like al-Qaeda. After all, it is the same in its own society. Police brutality, corrupt elections, massive abuses of lobbyists, crying need for reform of a truly sick democracy, massive urban poverty, poor public education, and a dark and overwhelming military-intelligence influence are not topics of discussion in America’s government. No, American politicians’ ideas of domestic issues are proposed flag-desecration amendments, The Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish, the role of drones in cities, supplying the nation’s police forces with surplus armored vehicles and gear from all the nation’s wars, stopping the flow of poor refuges, especially children, from all the horrors America has helped create in Central America and Mexico, maintaining the world’s largest prison population at minimum cost, and paying less taxes.

Well, as al-Qaeda fades into the sunset, we are suddenly flooded with media noise about an even more bizarre organization called ISIS (or ISIL) which honorable and honest Western leaders – try not laugh: Obama, Cameron, and Hollande - insist is ready to attack us in city streets, sabotage power grids, and poison water supplies if we don’t start bombing the crap out of them in Iraq and Syria. Some of America’s more bizarre congressmen are also blubbering about an ISIS invasion from Mexico, calculatingly dragging in paranoid fears over the widely disliked situation on America’s southern border concerning refugees.

What’s that about Syria? Don’t all the chilling tales of ISIS come from Iraq? Well, pretty much so, but ISIS is said to be very ambitious. Tales of its growth and spread resemble lines from the script of a cheap 1950s science fiction film called The Blob. And besides, Syria is what the United States really cares about, now that Iraq drags itself around almost like a veteran with three limbs nearly severed.

We have indisputable proof in the testimony from a certain former NSA employee, that ISIS is the creation of Mossad and American intelligence. As with so many of America’s recent ghastly projects in the Middle East, financing comes from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis having spent the last 13 years desperately repenting their (still undefined) role in events around 9/11, even to the point of secretly embracing Israel in their regional plans and plots. The Saudis remain under great pressure to cough up wads of cash whenever America now beckons with a new bone-headed project.

All the creeps - various collections of mindless fundamentalists, soldiers of fortune, just plain opportunists, and CIA thugs - working to overthrow Assad’s government in Syria also receive their bounty, just as they receive weapons and refuge in Turkey. 

ISIS first worked in Syria as just one of several rag-tag armies assembled by the United States and its helpers to destroy a peaceful nation which has had the temerity to oppose some of American policy, especially with regard to Israel. Again, to remind readers, the incident at Benghazi, Libya, involving the killing of an American ambassador and a great deal of embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was precisely about gathering up violent people and arms in the wasteland created there and shipping them off to Turkey in order to create hell in Syria.

But ISIS is just too over-the-top even for opera buffa. Its creation served several dark aims. First, it serves as a lure for malcontents from many places, many of its recruits being American or English, drawing them together at one location. The leadership of ISIS, associated to a certainty with Israel and the United States, can gather information from these recruits about their associates or organizations in various countries. Effectively, after doing any dirty work assigned to them, the recruits are being set up to be killed, either by American air strikes or by the opponents they face in their work. Few in ISIS would know who the “undercover cops” are and who the bad guys are to be used and disposed of like so much toilet paper. The method reflects Israel’s secret services’ long, ugly use of Palestinians to undermine Palestinians.

Second, ISIS served as a mechanism to topple Nouri al-Maliki, recently prime minister of Iraq, a figure with whom Washington had become very unhappy, chiefly owing to his friendliness with Iran, yet another target of the American/Israeli Axis. Maliki proved lucky compared to most leaders Washington sets up and with whom it becomes disenchanted: they generally end up as the proverbial Mafia figures fitted with cement overshoes at the bottom of a river. Maliki was given a good scare with the advancing blood-curdling hordes of ISIS and wisely understood it as his cue to exit.

Third, ISIS has served as an excuse to work with the Kurdish population in Iraq, more or less separately from the national government. This involves giving weapons and intelligence to Kurds and furthering their de facto separation from Iraq, thus greatly weakening any future Iraq since the Kurdish areas have a great portion of the country’s crude oil. After all, the most basic reason for America’s invasion of Iraq was to eliminate it as even a potential enemy of Israel. There also have been some mysterious disappearances of Iraqi crude shipments, which may well have ended up in Israel.

Fourth, the ISIS move back into Syria provides the perfect excuse for American bombing there, something President Putin of Russia managed to prevent earlier with some deft statesmanship. America has already warned President Assad, busy fighting an engineered civil war created by the same folks who created ISIS, that they will attack his defences if he interferes with their bombing his country. Incidentally, no one consulted the Syrian government on any of this, America having already recognized the collection of rabble and criminals called the Free Syrian Army as legitimate.

American air power and perhaps ground troops, while using the excuse of fighting ISIS, will attempt to swing the engineered civil war back in favor of the “rebels,” Assad’s national forces having had considerable success in defeating them recently. The failure to achieve Assad’s overthrow is one of the more worrying developments in America’s bloody scheme for a re-birth of the Middle East, a plan which seeks to surround Israel with a giant cordon sanitaire, albeit at the cost of more than a million innocent lives. Never mind death or homelessness, such matters never are never concerns of American policy except where there is an advantage to be gained. Look at their filthy work in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt.

It is of course remotely possible that ISIS, in attempting to set up “an Islamic state” comprising parts of both Iraq and Syria, has gone rogue, out of the control of its handlers – that kind of event being called blowback in the dirty intelligence business – but I think likely it was always in the script. Most ISIS recruits are destined to die after doing what their handlers told them to do, and along the way President Assad’s country is to be further destroyed and if possible reduced to the kind of paraplegic-like nation Iraq has become.

ISIS started as no more than a couple of thousand guys in pick-up trucks with rifles and grenade launchers. It grew, drawing bizarre recruits from many countries, as its reputation for ferocity was artificially played up by the western press. There are after all always and everywhere a fair number of individuals drawn to violence and dangerous adventure. You might call its wanderings in Iraq a gestation period for bigger things, the ultimate goal being an acceptable way to help topple Assad while disposing of a collection of unwanted people. This all amounts to a giant-scale police entrapment scheme, something our courts consistently strike down, but this is entrapment played for keeps on a scale of thousands of lives.

The pick-up truck brigade proved enough to scare off group after group of well-armed units of the Iraqi army – especially with bags of loot from the Saudis tossed into tents at night. Of course, gradually, ISIS did manage to collect some vehicles and tanks left behind by Iraqi forces and present something more threatening.

If you just think about it, how would unprofessional recruits have the least idea of how to operate sophisticated weapons? Imagine operating modern tanks or artillery without expert training? But ISIS has plenty of undercover experts to train them and make them seem more formidable. The head of ISIS is a man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an American prisoner for a time. He seems to know America’s greatest pug-ugly senator and roaming unofficial ambassador for killing, John McCain (judging from a number of photos on the Internet showing them together), and he is, according to a number of sources, actually a former Jewish actor named Elliot Shimon, trained by Mossad for a different kind of theater.

Now we’ve had a crescendo of beheadings supposedly captured live on video, only each of these is a patent fraud. Even the mainstream press, the last to discover almost anything worth knowing these days, have now admitted the first one was a fraud, although not before many columnists and commentators spewed great quantities of self-righteous outrage on the subject.

Not that the victims probably haven’t died somehow or other, but they were not beheaded by a mysterious eight-foot British giant dressed in black and armed with a paring knife.

Staged beheadings of course are intended to revolt people and rouse support for Western governments to act. The real beheadings which occur regularly in Saudi Arabia - there was a batch of 19 only recently - are never shown on American news, nor are they even discussed. But a single video of a fake terrorist beheading is played and replayed and commented on endlessly with indignation over such horror.

And the hundreds of Palestinians, including children, whom Israel has beheaded with bombs and artillery never make an appearance on television or rate any commentary.

A Shale Boom for Canada's Montney Basin

Canada's Shale Boom: More To Come In Montney

by James Burgess -

In the world of a constantly changing oil and gas environment, the Montney shale basin is the sleeping giant that holds the key to accelerating Canada's shale oil and gas boom, but the real treasure within this giant is a tight liquids-rich zone (approximately 15-20 miles wide) that has big and small players alike narrowing their focus for the potential of a giant payout.

A pervasive hydrocarbon system in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) in Alberta and British Columbia, the Montney is estimated to hold 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas, almost 29 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and over 136 billion barrels of oil.

But it is the tight liquids rich fairway (approximately 15-20 miles wide) that contains high concentrations of both free condensate and natural gas liquids that everyone is pursuing in what may very soon be one of the largest commercially viable plays in the world.

Investors aren't exactly shying away from the challenge, and the overall trend within this large basin is a shift towards liquids-rich areas, which is what the Middle Montney (the middle portion of the Montney resource) is all about.

Initially, companies targeted the Upper Montney, and the entire formation was viewed more as a dry gas play with high productivity and immense gas in place. Through the technological advances that have begun to move up to Canada and a general de-risking of the play, the Middle Montney is proving that there is a very large liquids-rich fairway available with a potential for incredible returns and economics.

Canadian supermajor Encana (NYSE:ECA) - a Montney shale heavyweight-is focusing its drilling to the east of the formation. Last year, Encana announced it would spend over 25 percent of its capex for 2014 on the Montney, and the liquids-rich plays in the eastern area will get the lion's share of this, with 80-85 new wells planned for this year alone.

There are also a number of growing mid-cap players and one micro-cap honing in on this liquids-rich scene and benefitting from supermajor drilling, including mid-cap NuVista (NVA.TO) and micro-cap Blackbird Energy (BBI.V).

Earlier this month, NuVista signed a deal to purchase another 12.5 gross sections of undeveloped land in the Montney's liquids-rich zone, which puts its total at over 220 gross sections, while Blackbird has 117 sections of multi-zone Montney rights-again, with a focus on the liquids-rich zone.

It's a very fast-paced game of follow the leader

When Encana drilled a well in a previously unproven Middle Montney area and came up with two very economic middle Montney wells that both had condensate gas ratios of approximately 100 barrels of oil per million feet of gas, Navistar responded by immediately buying up land in the vicinity, driving prices up over $2.9 million per section. Blackbird followed suit, capturing a 36-section land position right between Shell and Encana and next to NuVista, which drilled a well with 2,195 boe/d.

And while there is still land available here, prices are rising fast, which makes the situation interesting for the small player like Blackbird Energy, which finds that its land value alone is higher than its current market cap.

Explorers and producers are surrounding the Middle Montney in a pincer movement, and liquids-rich sweet spots are shaping up to be the key to unlocking this next North American treasure chest. And the end of the day, the amount of shale gas under Montney's surface would be enough to supply Canada's needs for 145 years, making it one of the top basins in the world, outdone only by Qatar.


Genocides Convenient and Otherwise: Going to Noah's Mountain

Convenient Genocide: Another Failed War to Re-Arrange the Middle East

by Ramzy Baroud - Palestine Chronicle

A few months ago, not many Americans, in fact Europeans as well, knew that a Yazidi sect in fact existed in northwest Iraq. Even in the Middle East itself, the Yazidis and their way of life have been an enigma, shrouded by mystery and mostly grasped through stereotypes and fictitious evidence. Yet in no time, the fate of the Yazidis became a rally cry for another US-led Iraq military campaign.

It was not a surprise that the small Iraqi minority found itself a target for fanatical Islamic State (IS) militants, who had reportedly carried out unspeakable crimes against Yazidis, driving them to Dohuk, Irbil and other northern Iraqi regions. According to UN and other groups, 40,000 Yazidi had been stranded on Mount Sinjar, awaiting imminent “genocide” if the US and other powers didn’t take action to save them.

The rest of the story was spun from that point on, as the Yazidis - whose very existence was rarely acknowledged in most international media - became a rally cry for US-western intervention in Iraq. The logic for intervention that preceded the latest US bombing campaign of IS targets, which started in mid-June, is similar to what took place in Libya over three years ago. Early 2011, imminent “genocide” awaiting Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi was the rally cry that mobilised western powers to a war that wrought wanton killings and destruction in Libya. Since NATO’s intervention in Libya, which killed and wounded tens of thousands, the country has fallen prey to an endless and ruthless fight involving numerous militias, armed, and financially and politically-backed by various regional and international powers. Libya is now ruled by two governments, two parliaments, and a thousand militia.

When US special forces arrived to the top of Mount Sinjar, they realized that the Yazidis had either been rescued by Kurdish militias, or were already living there. They found less than 5,000 Yazidis there, half of them refugees. The mountain is revered in local legend, as the final resting place of Noah’s ark. It was also the final resting place for the Yazidi genocide story. The finding hardly received much coverage in the media, which used the original claim to create fervour in anticipation for Western intervention in Iraq.

We all know how the first intervention worked out. Not that IS’ brutal tactics in eastern, northern and central Iraq should be tolerated. But a true act of genocide had already taken place in Iraq for nearly two decades, starting with the US war in 1990-91, a decade-long embargo and a most destructive war and occupation starting in 2003. Not once did a major newspaper editorial in the US bestow the term “genocide” on the killing and maiming of millions of Iraqis. In fact, the IS campaign is actually part of a larger Sunni rebellion in Iraq, in response to the US war and Shite-led government oppression over the course of years. That context is hardly relevant in the selective reporting on the current violence in Iraq.

It goes without saying, US policymakers care little for the Yazidis, for they don’t serve US interests in any way. However, experience has taught that such groups only become relevant in a specially tailored narrative, in a specific point in time, to be exploited for political and strategic objectives. They will cease to exist the moment the objective is met. Consider for example, the fact that IS has been committing horrific war crimes in western and northern Syria for years, as did forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and militants belonging to the various opposition groups there. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and wounded. Various minority groups there faced and continue to face genocide. Yet, somehow, the horrifying bloodshed there was not only tolerated, but in fact encouraged.

For over three years, little effort was put forward to find or impose a fair political solution to the Syria civil war. The Syrians were killing each other and thousands of foreigners, thanks to a purposely porous Turkish borders were allowed to join in, in a perpetual “Guernica” that, with time, grew to become another Middle Eastern status quo. In fact, all of us are guilty in permitting the Syrian genocide to perpetuate with all of its barbarity and gruesomeness to this day. It is as if we learned to co-exist with some acts of genocide, but not others. Many fortified themselves behind a mountain of self-tailored evidence that one party was committing all the crimes, and the others and their supporters were, in fact, innocent or in a state of self-defence.

Weren’t the massacres of Aleppo in fact genocide? The siege of Yarmouk? The wiping out of entire villages, the beheading and dismembering of people for belonging to the wrong sect or religion?

Even if they were, it definitely was not the kind of genocide that would propel action, specifically western-led action. In recent days, as it was becoming clear that the US was up to its old interventionist games, countries were being lined up to fight IS. US Secretary of State John Kerry was shuttling the globe once more, from US to Europe, to Turkey, to Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and still going. "We believe we can take on ISIL (previous name for IS) in the current coalition that we have," he said. But why now?

The French are also keen on fighting IS. After all, France was one of the two main parties in the Asia Minor (Sykes-Picot) Agreement in 1916, which divided Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between France and Britain. Major wars and upheavals didn’t alter the old colonial borders imposed on the Arabs since then, as much as the IS, whose numbers are being artfully overstated from 10 thousand up to 31 thousand, according to the CIA. Francois Hollande flew to Baghdad in a reported show of support for Iraq’s new government. In actuality, he was there, ahead of a Paris conference on Iraq, to show a united western front, and that the Obama administration was not alone in this war. France, of course, has its own calculations in Syria and Lebanon, and will find the right moment to cease in its support of the US war.

In his speech on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Obama declared war on IS. Obama’s tangled foreign policy agenda became even more confused in his 13-minute speech from the White House. He promised to “hunt down” IS fighters “whenever they are” until the US ultimately destroys the group, as supposedly, it has down with al-Qaeda. IS, of course, is a splinter al-Qaeda group, which began as an idea, and thanks to the US global “war on terror”, has morphed into an army of many branches. The US never destroyed al-Qaeda; but it inadvertently allowed the creation of IS.

"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," Obama said. 

Of course, he needed to say that, as his Republican rivals have accused him of lack of decisiveness and his presidency of being weak. His democratic party could possibly lose control over the Senate come the November elections. His fight against IS is meant to help rebrand the president as resolute and decisive, and perhaps create some distraction from economic woes at home. Obama is using the same language that his predecessor, George W. Bush used, and is appealing to the same fear and trepidation of the foreign menace created by the media and fed to the US public for many years.

That same media has also cleverly devalued and branded conflicts, and acts of genocide in ways consistent with US foreign policy agendas. While the Yazidis were purportedly stranded on mount Sinjar, Israel was carrying out a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Over 2,150 were killed, mostly civilians, hundreds of them children, and over 11,000 wounded, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Not an alleged 40,000 but a confirmed 520,000 thousand were on the run, and along with the rest of Gaza’s 1.8 million, were entrapped in an open-air prison with no escape. But that was not an act of genocide either, as far as the US-western governments and media were concerned. Worse, they actively defended, and, especially in the case of the US, UK, France and Italy, armed and funded the Israeli aggression. Just as the Israeli army was running out of badly needed ammunition to carry out its war crimes, the US was quick to ship more weapons to Israel. Thanks to US aid and backing, the Gaza genocide was finalised to perfection.

Experience has taught us that not all “acts of genocide” are created equal: Some are fabricated, and others are exaggerated. Some are useful to start wars, and others, no matter how atrocious, are not worth mentioning. Some acts of genocide are branded as wars to liberate, free and democratize. In that case, body count is not important. Other acts of genocide are to be encouraged, defended and financed.

But as far as the US involvement in the Middle East is concerned, the only real genocide is the one that serves the interests of the west, by offering an opportunity for military intervention, followed by political and strategic meddling to re-arrange the region. The first Bush Administration tried but failed, the second Bush Administration flirted with the “New Middle East” idea and also failed, and now, Obama.

The US experience in Iraq also taught us that its effort will only succeed in exacerbating an already difficult situation, yielding yet more disenfranchised groups, political despair and greater violence. If the US war on Iraq and Afghanistan failed so miserably to achieve any long term political objectives, despite the trillions of dollars spent there and the hundreds of thousands of lives taken, Obama’s chances of success now are close to nil.

Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People's History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A picture taken on 13 September, 2014 shows a box of 50 cal ammunition for machine guns which was offered to Kurdish forces by French President Francois Hollande during his visit to Iraq (AFP)
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Humanitarian War's Homelessness Problem

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

by David Swanson - World Beyond War

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live. (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.)

Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees.

Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem

Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers. The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.


Teachable Moments at the Bucca Camp

Lessons Learned in the Bucca Camp

by Kathy Kelly - ICH 

In January of 2004 I visited “Bucca Camp,” a U.S.-run POW camp named for a firefighter lost in the 2001 collapse of New York’s World Trade Center. Located near the isolated port city of Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq, the network of tent prisons had been constructed by U.S. Coalition authorities. Friends of five young men thought to be imprisoned there had begged our three-person Voices delegation to try and visit the camp and find out what had happened to their loved ones.

This was a year before the capture of Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, who, starting in 2005, would spend four years in the camp under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on his way to becoming the head of the recently founded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Our friends with the Christian Peacemaker Teams had developed a database of people thought to be held by the U.S. military. They assembled their list of 6,000 prisoners as much through contact with terrified loved ones as through tireless and persistent correspondence with U.S. authorities.

They were able to find the “Capture Tag” numbers for two of the prisoners. These two people, at least, were still alive and at the camp.

With a translator, our small Voices delegation headed from Baghdad to Basra and then on to Umm Qasr, assuredly one of the bleakest spots on the planet. It was Saturday afternoon. At the outskirts of the prison, a U.S. soldier politely told us that we were too late. Saturday visiting hours were over, and the next visiting day would be the following Thursday. Reluctant to leave, we explained that we’d come a long way, along a dangerous road, and that we wouldn’t be able to come back a second time. An hour later, jostling on the benches of an army jeep, we were taken over bumpy desert terrain to the prison visitor’s tent.

There we met with four of the five young men, all in their early twenties, and listened as they shared stories of humiliation, discomfort, monotony, loneliness and great fear born of the uncertainty prisoners face held on zero credible evidence by a hostile power with no evident plans to release them. They seemed immeasurably relieved that we could at least tell their relatives they were still alive.

Upon leaving, we asked to speak with an officer in charge of the Bucca Camp. She said that the outlook for the young men being released wasn’t very positive, but she thought it would be worthwhile to try approaching the International Commission of the Red Cross. “Be glad they’re here with us and not in Baghdad,” she said, giving us a knowing look. “We give them food, clothes, and shelter here. Be glad that they’re not in Baghdad.” I was surprised. At least in Baghdad it wouldn’t be so difficult to visit them. She repeated herself, “I’m just telling you, be glad they’re not in Baghdad.”

Later, in May of 2004, I began to understand what she meant. On May 1, CNN released pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison: The hooded man. The man on a leash. The pyramid. These pictures are now burned into people’s minds. Suddenly there were very few places that seemed as horrible as that prison. Yes, we were very glad the young men we visited were not in Baghdad.

To be very clear, these men at Bucca had been marched naked in front of women soldiers. They’d been told to say “I love George Bush” before they could receive their food rations. They’d slept on the open ground in punishingly cold weather with no mat beneath them and only one blanket. The guards had taunted them and they had had no way of telling their friends they were still alive. But worse humiliation and torture were inflicted on detainees in other U.S. prison centers throughout Iraq.

The November 3, 2005 issue of the New York Review of Books quoted three officers, two of them non-commissioned, stationed with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury in Iraq.

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief… Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs. The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief, where soldiers would go to the PUC tent on their off-hours to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC.” 

“Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

“Smoking” was not limited to stress relief but was central to the interrogation system employed by the 82nd Airborne Division at FOB Mercury. Officers and NCOs from the Military Intelligence unit would direct guards to “smoke” the detainees prior to an interrogation, and would direct that certain detainees were not to receive sleep, water, or food beyond crackers. Directed “smoking” would last for the twelve to twenty-four hours prior to an interrogation. As one soldier put it: “[The military intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate.

Maybe half of the detainees at Camp Mercury, released because they were clearly uninvolved in the insurgency, were nonetheless bearing memories and scars of torture. As one sergeant told Human Rights Watch, “If he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.”

When U.S. politicians want to sell a war, their marketing is top notch: they can count on the U.S. public to buy that war at least long enough to become irretrievably committed to it, as long as the advertising for that war leaves them feeling threatened. And no brand, in quite a long time, has been as frightening as the Islamic State.

The violence that brought the Islamic State into being, and which now promises to extend its legacy into ever wider regional violence and polarization, has a long history.

In between the first two Iraq wars, in numerous trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, our Voices delegation members grew to understand the unbearable weariness and suffering of Iraqi families eking out an uncertain existence under punishing economic sanctions.

Between the wars, the death toll in children’s lives alone, from externally imposed economic collapse and from the blockade of food, medicine, water purification supplies and other essentials of survival, was estimated by the U.N. at 5,000 children a month, an estimate accepted without question by U.S. officials.

The most shocking death figures from our 2003 invasion, estimating the eventual toll from war and social breakdown at credibly more than one million, were underestimates as they inevitably took as baseline the inhuman conditions under our years of economic warfare in Iraq.

On September 16, 2014, the New York Times reported on a newly released UN report which notes that in Iraq, “the share of hungry people has soared: Nearly one in four Iraqis are undernourished, according to the report, up from 7.9 percent of the population in the 1990-92 period.”

And now, the U.S. government says that U.S. intervention is once again needed to improve and civilize the nation of Iraq,

It’s widely acknowledged that the 2003 invasion of Iraq radicalized Al-Baghdadi, with his humiliation at Camp Bucca further hardening him. Then the haphazard flood of weapons and easy cash into both Iraq and Syria fueled potential for further war.

This will not be our third Iraq invasion. U.S. assaults, achieved through munitions, through children’s forced starvation, through white phosphorous, through bullet fire, through blockaded medicines, emptied reservoirs and downed power lines, through disbanded police forces and abandoned state industries and cities left to dissolve in paroxysms of ethnic cleansing – it is all one continuous war, beginning long before we finally turned on our former client Saddam in 1991, the longest war in U.S. history, continued now, extending into the future until it has no end that we can plausibly foresee.

One year to the day before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King urged a turn away from the war in Vietnam and a desperately needed rebirth, a “revolution of values” that was all that could free America from future such commitments. It would be so much better for the world if, instead of hearing President Obama’s September 10 speech justifying renewed U.S. military offensives in the region, we could have heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. In it, he begs us to see ourselves as we are seen by our so-called enemies. It’s not easy to look in that mirror, but understanding the history of previous U.S. wars and policies, against Iraq, would help us look for alternatives.

We need not choose blindness, or the hatred that lets us be herded in fear. We can reach out with truth, with compassion, with the activist courage that leaps from heart to heart, rebuilding sanity, civility, community, humanity, resistance. We can find hope in our own active work to prove that humanity persists, that history can yearn toward justice and that a love which is in no way comfortable, sentimental bosh remains vigorously at work in a world with such need of it.

Kathy Kelly ( ) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( )

This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Putin to Obama's Rescue: Russia Secures US Air Strike Accord with Syria

Reported US-Syrian Accord on Air Strikes

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

The Obama administration, working through the Russian government, has secured an agreement from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to permit U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in parts of Syria, according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.

President Barack Obama in his weekly address 
on Sept. 13, 2014, vowing to degrade and 
ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and 
Syria. (White House Photo) 

The reported agreement would clear away one of the chief obstacles to President Barack Obama’s plan to authorize U.S. warplanes to cross into Syria to attack Islamic State forces – the concern that entering Syrian territory might prompt anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian government’s missile batteries.

The usual protocol for the U.S. military – when operating in territory without a government’s permission – is to destroy the air defenses prior to conducting airstrikes so as to protect American pilots and aircraft, as was done with Libya in 2011. However, in other cases, U.S. intelligence agencies have arranged for secret permission from governments for such attacks, creating a public ambiguity usually for the benefit of the foreign leaders while gaining the necessary U.S. military assurances.

In essence, that appears to be what is happening behind the scenes in Syria despite the hostility between the Obama administration and the Assad government. Obama has called for the removal of Assad but the two leaders find themselves on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State terrorists who have battled Assad’s forces while also attacking the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and beheading two American journalists.

In a national address last week, Obama vowed to order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. So, in this case, Syria’s behind-the-scenes acquiescence also might provide some politically useful ambiguity for Obama as well as Assad.

Yet, this secret collaboration may go even further and include Syrian government assistance in the targeting of the U.S. attacks, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. That is another feature of U.S. military protocol in conducting air strikes – to have some on-the-ground help in pinpointing the attacks.

As part of its public pronouncements about the future Syrian attacks, the Obama administration sought $500 million to train “vetted” Syrian rebels to handle the targeting tasks inside Syria as well as to carry out military ground attacks. But that approach – while popular on Capitol Hill – could delay any U.S. airstrikes into Syria for months and could possibly negate Assad’s quiet acceptance of the U.S. attacks, since the U.S.-backed rebels share one key goal of the Islamic State, the overthrow of Assad’s relatively secular regime.

Just last month, Obama himself termed the strategy of arming supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels “a fantasy.” He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Obama’s point would seem to apply at least as much to having the “moderate” rebels face down the ruthless Islamic State jihadists who engage in suicide bombings and slaughter their captives without mercy. But this “fantasy” of the “moderate” rebels has a big following in Congress and on the major U.S. op-ed pages, so Obama has included the $500 million in his war plan despite the risk it poses to Assad’s acquiescence to American air attacks.

Neocon Wish List

Without Assad’s consent, the U.S. airstrikes might require a much wider U.S. bombing campaign to first target Syrian government defenses, a development long sought by Official Washington’s influential neoconservatives who have kept “regime change” in Syria near the top of their international wish list.

For the past several years, the Israeli government also has sought the overthrow of Assad, even at the risk of Islamic extremists gaining power. The Israeli thinking had been that Assad, as an ally of Iran, represented a greater threat to Israel because his government was at the center of the so-called Shiite crescent reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut and southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah.

The thinking was that if Assad’s government could be pulled down, Iran and Hezbollah – two of Israel’s principal “enemies” – would be badly damaged. A year ago, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren articulated this geopolitical position in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

More recently, however, with the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front having seized Syrian territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – forcing the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers – the balance of Israeli interests may be tipping in favor of preferring Assad to having Islamic extremists possibly penetrating directly into Israeli territory.

Direct attacks on Israel would be a temptation to al-Nusra Front, which is competing for the allegiance of young jihadists with the Islamic State. While the Islamic State, known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, has captured the imaginations of many youthful extremists by declaring the creation of a “caliphate” with the goal of driving Western interests from the Middle East, al-Nusra could trump that appeal by actually going on the offensive against one of the jihadists’ principal targets, Israel.

Yet, despite Israel’s apparent rethinking of its priorities, America’s neocons appear focused still on their long-held strategy of using violent “regime change” in the Middle East to eliminate governments that have been major supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, i.e. Syria and Iran.

One reason why Obama may have opted for a secretive overture to the Assad regime, using intelligence channels with the Russians as the middlemen, is that otherwise the U.S. neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would have howled in protest.

The Russian Hand

Besides the tactical significance of U.S. intelligence agencies arranging Assad’s tacit acceptance of U.S. airstrikes over Syrian territory, the reported arrangement is also significant because of the role of Russian intelligence serving as the intermediary.

That suggests that despite the U.S.-Russian estrangement over the Ukraine crisis, the cooperation between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been extinguished; it has instead just gone further underground.

Last year, this subterranean collaboration between Obama and Putin represented a potential tectonic geopolitical shift in the Middle East. In the short term, their teamwork produced agreements that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria last September (by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal) and struck a tentative deal with Iran to constrain but not eliminate its nuclear program.

In the longer term, by working together to create political solutions to various Mideast crises, the Obama-Putin cooperation threatened to destroy the neocons’ preferred strategy of escalating U.S. military involvement in the region. There was the prospect, too, that the U.S.-Russian tag team might strong-arm Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

So, starting last September – almost immediately after Putin helped avert a U.S. air war against Syria – key neocons began taking aim at Ukraine as a potential sore point for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explaining how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.

By early 2014, American neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals were conspiring “to midwife” a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a phrase used by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in an intercepted phone conversation with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was busy handpicking leaders to replace Yanukovych.

A neocon holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, Nuland had been a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which prepared the blueprint for the neocon strategy of “regime change” starting with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The U.S.-backed coup ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and sparked a bloody civil war, leaving thousands dead, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But the Gershman-Nuland strategy also drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin, seeming to destroy the possibility that their peace-seeking collaboration would continue in the Middle East. [See’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]

New Hope for ‘Regime Change’

The surprise success of Islamic State terrorists in striking deep inside Iraq during the summer revived neocon hopes that their “regime change” strategy in Syria might also be resurrected. By baiting Obama to react with military force not only in Iraq but across the border in Syria, neocons like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put the ouster of Assad back in play.

In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, McCain and Graham used vague language about resolving the Syrian civil war, but clearly implied that Assad must go. They wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda was a distortion at best – in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement – the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: a necessary step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.

That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran always meant to follow. The idea was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. But the neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.

Still, the neocons retained their vision even after Bush and Cheney departed. They remained influential by holding onto key positions inside Official Washington – at think tanks, within major news outlets and even inside the Obama administration. They also built a crucial alliance with “liberal interventionists” who had Obama’s ear. [See’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]

The neocons’ new hope arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But it was hard to envision expanding the war into Syria without ousting Assad.

Now, however, if the source’s account is correct regarding Assad’s quiet assent to U.S. airstrikes, Obama may have devised a way around the need to bomb Assad’s military, a maneuver that might again frustrate the neocons’ beloved goal of “regime change.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.