Saturday, October 10, 2015

Canadian Sniper: Shooting Down Democracy, or The Military Industrial Media Complex Moves North

Canadian Sniper: Shooting Down Democracy, or The Military Industrial Media Complex Moves North

by C. L. Cook - Pacific Free Press

I attended a screening of 'Election Day Canada: The Rise of Voter Suppression' the other night, one of only three national screenings held before the October 19th federal election. The film promises to be an excellent documentary, if it can raise enough cash to get finished.

Producer, director, writer, editor, money-raiser, and presumably chief bottlewasher, Peter Smoczynski, who's spent more than four years traveling the country and doing interviews to put Election Day Canada together, did something unprecedented in releasing an unfinished film whose subject matter is too important to wait until October 20th.

Naturally, the couple dozen people attending the screening were outraged by the contemptible Mr. Harper's neo-Republican dirty tricksters and their anti-democratic doings, culminating with the enactment of Bill C-23, the lamentable and ironically titled, 'Fair Elections Act.'

After the screening there was a discussion on voter suppression, and the general state of Canada's democracy.

Having interviewed American reporting investigator, Greg Palast several times regarding the 2000 presidential election fix put in by George Bush et al, and the repeated thwarting of the People's will through trickery, official chicanery, and criminality in 2004, Stephen Harper's adoption of the Republican party playbook didn't strike so much as revelatory, but more as a weary Déjà vu. (The front page of today's local newspaper, [Victoria Times-Colonist, October 10th, 2015] bears out the already deleterious effects of the "Unfair Elections Act," seeing participants in advanced polls, from university students to pensioners, suffering hours-long delays, and identification standards cited by frustrated constituents as "ridiculous," (and more colourfully described) being applied; something Palast would recognize from down south.) But, for all its efforts, it's not the Conservative party's gerrymandered ridings, draconian voter ID amendments, Robocalls, or negative advertising suppressing my urge to vote.

The Canada my X-Generation came to political awareness knowing is gone. Stephen Harper promised to end it, but he was, as we say, "A day late and a dollar short." The sad truth is, the murder of the country's liberal democratic aspirations was begun by none other than the Liberal party's consummate Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and capped by his hated Finance Minister and successor, Paul Martin. Harper merely collected the corpse from a deceived and defeated electorate.

With nowhere left to go, Canadians either abandoned the political process, (less than 65% of eligible voters showing up for the Conservative minority inaugural of 2006, 58.8% for its 2008 minority sophomore session, and barely 60% attending its triumphant "majority" victory of 2011) or they gave up altogether, surrendering their progressive hopes and their votes to right-wing extremism. But, that extremism wasn't Harper's.

Canada followed George Bush into Afghanistan in 2001. Though in 2015, after all we've seen, it's still political suicide to question, (or having done so in the past, as Liberal candidate Maria Manna discovered) the official 9/11 narrative, Jean Chretien and millions of Canadians knew way back when, 9/11 did not justify bombing, invading, and occupying Afghanistan. What Canada did was not only morally wrong, and a crime against the peace the United Nations' misapplied Article 51 does not excuse, but was also a national Rubicon crossed.

Since that crossing, all parties in Parliament have sung from the same hymn book, praising "our troops" while blessing their ugly mission over there, if with some reservation. More than anything Stephen Harper can do, or has done to dampen democratic participation in Canada, it's the unholy alliance of the three major parties on the legitimacy of wars fought for Western hegemony leaving voters of conscience in this country nowhere to go, save supporting fringe candidates with little or no hope of election to anything.

(For those who would here pipe in for the Greens, I recommend exploring that "party's" position on Israel's unconscionable and ongoing actions against its neighbours in Syria and Lebanon, and its continuous litany of depravity practiced in the West Bank and Gaza, where even as I write the body count rises).

Following fully fourteen years of full-on global warfare, with all its attendant pomp and propaganda, it shouldn't surprise, America's new role model for heroism should find embodiment in the character of Chris Kyle, the celebrated Navy Seal and killer of more than 160 Iraqi citizens, (all deemed by his superiors to be legitimate targets of war). The deceased author of the book, and subject of the Oscar nominated film, 'American Sniper,' died in true American fashion, gunned down by a mentally disturbed colleague at a shooting range; but not before taking the culture to a new nadir.

The late American journalist, Danny Schechter, among others, has written extensively about the close involvement between Hollywood and the Pentagon, reiterating the term referred to in the title of this piece, "Military-industrial-media complex." The Complex's projects are easy to spot, as are its actors, and it has taken centre stage in America's still globally popular movie business. From Saving Private Ryan, to the Iron Man and Avengers franchise, and Steven Spielberg's latest, the military has taken a keen role in promoting both its cinematically amazing warfare technology, and more subtly an ethos that not only lionizes distant killing, but also condones torture, and the regrettable but inevitable realities of "collateral damage."

The steady stream of increasingly depraved "entertainment" offers from Pentagon/Hollywood has lowered the moral standard to such an extreme, it's not too far a stretch to see the next heroes of the silver screen drawn from the perverts and torturers of the Bagram Air Base Prison, Afghanistan, Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, and the demented souls inhabiting America's plethora of Black Sites around the World. (Or has television's NCIS and 24 covered all that already?). And now, Hollywood North has followed its southern cousin's lead down the Hell-bound path.

Hyena Road is the latest release from Canadian actor, writer, director, and perhaps chief bottlewasher, (it's still Canada after all) Paul Gross. Gross, who previously attempted to bring glory to Canadians past dying and killing for the British Empire during the Great War at Passchendaele, now tries to do the same for Canadians sent to do the next Empire's bidding in Afghanistan. Already dubbed "Canadian Sniper" this new psychic degradation is a fitting tribute to what has become of this sad Canada, and its ancient ideals; ideals like an honest government, respectfully working towards equality, and enabling prosperity for all at home, while playing a positive role in the greater World based on the principles of peace, decency, and democracy. Sounds a quaint and distant notion in the face of the ferocious, winner-take-all and God damn the hindmost attitudes trickling down from Hollywood's Pentagon-approved scriptwriters.

No, Stephen Harper's shenanigans haven't suppressed my vote, I've voted for the hopeless fringe of a lost Canada for years now. But, if you still harbour hope for Canada's democracy, you can catch the trailer of, and maybe pitch in support for, 'Election Day: The Rise of Voter Suppression' on-line at:

Niqab, Symbol of Harper's Desperate Xenophobia

The Niqab – A Symbol For The Fear Gripping Canada

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

Canada is in a political fuss about a little piece of cloth draped across the face of a Muslim woman who insists on wearing a niqab during her swearing of allegiance ceremony to become a citizen of this country. The Harper government has tried to deny her citizenship by launching successive court challenges — it keeps losing, most recently at the Federal Court of Appeal.

The courts have invariably ruled that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives a woman the option to wear a niqab even during such a solemn occasion — she reveals her face privately before the ceremony so she is properly identified.

The specific “she” is Zunera Ishaq, 29, the mother of four boys and a 2008 immigrant from Pakistan to Ontario who is working her way toward teacher certification. She made the decision to wear the niqab when she was 15 years old, against the advice of her siblings, mother and father — in an interview on CBC's The Current (Oct. 11/15), she describes her father as a liberal Muslim science professor. Even her husband, she says, has tried to dissuade her from wearing a niqab. It is, for her, entirely a personal choice.

Andrew Coyne, a political columnist for The National Post (Oct. 1/15), explored this issue with illuminating insight. The number of women who have been denied citizenship since 2011 for refusing to remove their niqab has been exactly two. This is not a national crisis. “Absent some identifiable harm,” writes Coyne, “there is no basis in Canadian law to ban the niqab.”

As for these women, adds Coyne,

“Far from weak and submissive, they give every sign of being obstreperously independent, rock-ribbed individualists willing to assert their rights even in the face of a hostile majority. ...In their ornery unwillingness to bend to others' sensitivities, in their insistence on going their own way on a matter of principle, those women are in the finest Canadian tradition of hell-raising.” 

In short, they are the kind of strong and resolute people we want in this country.

The only reason the niqab became a nationally divisive issue is because the Harper government made it one, said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who called it “a weapon of mass distraction”. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says his party continues to support minority rights.

Ishaq eloquently expressed her defiance and defence outside the Federal Court of Appeal building where the government lost its recent case. She expressed disappointment with the attention the government was giving her case, "when there is so much more that merits the attention of Canadians at this time." She noted, "I'm also disappointed that Mr. Harper continually twists the facts of my case for his gain. I wish to confirm that I will be identified without my veil for the purposes of the ceremony.” On the issue of principle she added, “This has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with my right — and the right of all Canadians — to think, believe and dress without government interference."

True to form, the Harper government says it will seek leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada — which it will probably lose. Meanwhile, Zunera Ishaq has identified herself, pledged a tearful oath of allegiance, and is now a Canadian citizen — in time for the federal election.

But the Ishaq niqab incident fits a pattern, part of the intolerance that has been building in Canada during the last decade. Don't trust foreigners, refugees, minorities, scientists, civil servants, charity groups or environmentalists. Any of them could be engaged in nefarious acts undermining a good and righteous government. It's part of the erosion of co-operation and trust that is fracturing and polarizing this country.

The resulting fear is spreading. We now worry obsessively about the economy, jobs, corporations, trade agreements, retirement funds, Chinese investments, the high cost of homes, the very rich, the very poor, the homeless, food banks, medical marijuana, safe injection sites for drug addicts, plus the cost of education, daycare, pharmaceuticals and even taxes — what we ironically pay to alleviate these worries. Environmental regulations have been so relaxed or neglected that we also worry about wild salmon, orcas, mountain cariboo, oil spills, clean water, polluting mines, carbon dioxide emissions, extreme weather, melting glaciers, and rivers that are either drying up or flooding.

The sense conveyed is of a country fragmenting into suspicious individuals and conflicting factions — of a Canada tearing itself apart. The prime minister won't talk to the provincial premiers, they then can't talk to him, so national policies are not implemented. Confidence has been so eroded that we can't trust the health care system, pension plans, fair voting, senators, the PMO, the Privy Council Office, or even the integrity of Parliament itself. Omnibus bills, premature closure on debates and obfuscation preclude traditional democratic processes. Questions are evaded rather than answered.

Truth, it seems, has become secondary to blatant political ideology and expedience. Environmental assessment reviews are rendered invalid by narrow frames of reference, undue constraints on testimony, conflicts of interest, collusion, and conspicuous prejudice. The mail is no longer being reliably delivered. Even casting a ballot in a national election has become inexplicably difficult. Lose transparency and the result is rampant suspicion.

In 1919, as the 20th century was shifting into its next chaotic phase of depression and wars, the Irish poet William Butler Years wrote so powerfully in The Second Coming: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...”.

This is Canada these days. It's a mess. And the niqab fuss is a symbol of why.

Ask Israel: Why Shoot a Motionless Mother of Four Down?

Video: Israelis Shoot Motionless Arab Woman

by Jonathan Cook -  Dissident Voice

October 9th, 2015

In the age of phone cameras, we have become increasingly used to photos and videos of Palestinians in the West Bank being shot by soldiers in unjustifiable circumstances.

Think of 18-year-old Hadeel Hashlamon, who was killed late last month at a checkpoint in Hebron. A series of photos of her suggest, in the words of Amnesty International, that she was “executed” by the soldiers there. She was shot multiple times and left to bleed to death.

The army claimed she had a knife, which they photographed on the ground nearby. But whether she was carrying the knife or it was planted there, still an issue that has not been resolved, the more important point is this: she posed no threat, let alone a lethal one, to anyone when she was killed.

Now we have a disturbing video of a similar shooting but this time not in the occupied territories. This occurs inside Israel and the victim is an Israeli citizen — a member of the country’s Palestinian minority, which comprises a fifth of Israel’s population.

Israa Abed, a 30-year-old mother of three from Nazareth, was shot today at the central bus station in Afula, close to Nazareth. She was surrounded by many soldiers, police and what appear to be armed Israeli civilians. The soldiers there are probably passengers on the many buses that pass through Afula.

The Israeli media initially reported that she was shot while trying to stab a security guard. The video (above) shows that to be definitively not the case. She is shot after long moments of standing apparently terrified in the bus station, in what looks like a state of all-consuming panic, as more and more people point their guns at her.

From the quality of this video it is near-impossible to know whether she is holding a knife. But it is possible to see that, like Hashlamon, she poses no threat to any of the soldiers when she is shot. That point is underlined by the fact that several soldiers and policemen move closer to her, not away from her, in the final moments before she is shot. She does little more than sway throughout the video, appearing to turn when a policeman runs directly towards her as several gun shots ring out on the sound track.

Fortunately, she appears to have survived the shooting and is reported to be in a stable condition in hospital.

But this video is troubling for several reasons.

First, and most obviously, this woman was shot when she posed no immediate threat. The person or people who opened fire did so with no possible justification, apart from their own fears. One cannot help wondering whether the ease with which Israeli Jews shoot Palestinians, whether fellow citizens of Israel or victims of the occupation, reflects long-dominant discourses in the Israeli education system, media and politics that dehumanise “Arabs”.

Second, the shooting seems to occur not because the armed people around her fear they are in danger, but because the group push themselves into a collective frenzy about the alleged knife. In this kind of atmosphere, someone is going to pull the trigger sooner or later.

This is very similar to another recent video, in which a group of religious (and unarmed) Jews chase after Fadi Alloun in a large open area in Jerusalem calling for him to be shot. When security forces turn up, the video shows police opening fire, apparently on the orders of the crowd, killing him. Again, Alloun does not appear to be posing a threat to anyone at the time he is shot.

Third, Israeli politicians, including the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, have called on Israeli Jewish civilians to carry their weapons at all times and be ready to use them. This video shows where this policy is likely to lead: summary justice carried out by the most unhinged link in the security chain.

Fourth, it is a deeply worrying new trend inside Israel that Jewish civilians are starting to mimick the settlers in the occupied territories in believing they should be carrying out revenge attacks themselves. Today, a Jewish man in Dimona stabbed four Palestinians, two of them Israeli citizens. This video offers a vivid illustration of the mood of victimhood that is sweeping Israel, one that makes Israelis fast on the trigger and ready to play the role of avenging angel.

It is bad enough that Palestinians in Israel have to face security forces that treat them like an enemy. But things will get much, much worse when even the highly prejudicial rule of law in Israel is replaced by the lynch mob.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

Shabbos, Bloody Shabbos: IDF Joins Settler Killing Spree

10 Palestinian Civilians Killed and 187 Civilians Wounded, Including 27 Children

by Palestinian Center for Human Rights

Using excessive force, on Friday, 9 October 2015, Israeli forces killed seven Palestinian civilians, and wounded 67 civilians, including 17 children and a Turkish photojournalist, in five locations near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Israeli forces opened fire at hundreds and young men and children who demonstrated in protest against attacks by Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

10 Palestinian Civilians Killed and 187 
Civilians Wounded, Including 27 Children, 
Physician and Turkish Journalist, by Israeli 
Forces in the OPT; Seven of the Victims 
Were Killed in the Gaza Strip in Few Hours.

In the past 48 hours, Israeli forces killed also three Palestinian civilians in East Jerusalem and Hebron and wounded 120 others, including 10 children and a physician, throughout the West Bank.

Field investigations indicate that Israeli forces used excessive lethal force in the Gaza Strip in violation of the principles of proportionality and military necessity.

Many of the Palestinian victims were shot in the upper parts of their bodies, reflecting an Israeli intention to cause maximum casualties among Palestinian civilians, who did not pose any serious threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers stationed in fortified military sites far away from the demonstrators.

According to investigations conducted by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), at approximately 13:15 on Friday, 9 October 2015, dozens of young men and children headed to the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, particularly the vicinity of Nahal Ouz military post, to the east of al-Shujaiya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, to express solidarity with the popular uprising in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Once they approached the border and threw stones at Israeli forces stationed behind it, Israeli forces opened fire at them. As a result, 4 Palestinian civilians were killed and 31 others, including 11 children, were wounded.

A Turkish journalist, Metin Yuksel Kaya, an Anadolu Agency photojournalist, was also injured as a bullet hit his camera and its shrapnel hit his fingers. The civilians who were killed were identified as:

1. Shadi Hussamuddin Dawla, 24, from al-Zayotoun neighborhood in Gaza City, hit by a bullet to the abdomen;

2. Ahmed Yahia al-Herbawi, 20, from al-Nussairat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, hit by a bullet to the chest;

3. Abdul Majid Majdi al-Wehaidi, 18, from Jabalya, hit by a bullet to the neck;

4. Ziad Nabil Ziad Sharaf, 18, from al-Tuffah neighborhood in Gaza City, hit by a bullet that entered the chest and existed the back.

At approximately 14:45, dozens of young men and children gathered in the east of al-Farrahin area in Abassan village and Khuza'a village, east of Khan Yunis. They headed towards the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel raising Palestinian flags.

Once they approached the border and threw stones at Israeli forces stationed there, Israeli soldiers opened fire at them.

Israeli soldiers continued to fire at the Palestinian demonstrators sporadically until the evening. As a result of the Israeli gunfire, two Palestinian civilians, were killed and 11 others were wounded, including a young man who was seriously wounded and was pronounced dead on Saturday morning.

The Palestinian civilians who were killed were identified as:

1. Mohammed Hisham Mohsen (al-Reqeb), 18, from Bani Suhaila village east of Khan Yunis, hit by a bullet to the chest;

2. Adnan Mousa Abu Olayan, 23, from Bani Suhaila village east of Khan Yunis, hit by a bullet to the head;

3. Jihad Zayed Salem Obaid, 21, from Deir al-Balah, hit by a bullet to the abdomen and he succumbed to his wound at 05:50 on Saturday, 10 October 2015.

Similar clashes erupted between Palestinian civilians and Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip to the east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah and al-Boreij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, and in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces fired at those civilians wounding 67 of them, including 17 children.

Five of the wounded are in critical conditions. Additionally, dozens of civilians suffered tear gas inhalation as Israeli forces fired dozens of tear gas canisters at them.

Following these incidents, Israeli authorities decided to close Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing in the northern Gaza Strip for three days, thus tightening the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, on Saturday morning, 10 October 2015, Israeli soldiers positioned at Shufat checkpoint, north of East Jerusalem, shot dead Ahmed Jamal Salah, 22, with a bullet to the head from a close range, during clashes near the checkpoint. Another two civilians were also wounded.

When Salah was wounded, Israeli forces left him bleeding on the ground for a long time. They then transported him to Hadassa Hospital in Israel where he was later pronounced dead.

At approximately 11:30 on Friday, 9 October 2015, Israeli forces positioned along the road linking between the Ibrahimi Mosque and "Kiryat Arba" settlement, east of Hebron, shot dead Mohammed Fares Abdullah al-Ja'bari, 19, from Khillat Haddour area in the southeast of Hebron, with several bullets, when he was near the road leading to "Givat Havot" settlement outpost. Al-Ja'bari was transported by an Israeli ambulance to "Kharsina" settlement.

His body was delivered to Palestine Red Crescent Society at approximately 21:00 on the same day. Israeli forces claimed that al-Ja'bari stabled an Israeli soldier and attempted to seize his gun before other soldiers shot him.

Following the Friday prayer, clashes erupted between Palestinian civilians and Israeli forces in various areas in Hebron, during which young men threw stones at Israeli soldiers who fired in response live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters.

As a result, 15 Palestinian civilians, including two children and a physician, were wounded. The physician, Omar Aaqel, 25, was wounded by a rubber-coated metal bullet to the eye, due to which he lost his eye.

Earlier, on Thursday evening, 8 October 2015, Israeli forces shot dead Wissam Jamal Faraj al-Mansi, 20, with a dum dum bullet to the head, and wounded 33 others – 6 ones with live ammunition and the others with rubber-coated metal bullets – in Shu'fat refugee camp, north of Jerusalem.

Israeli forces that had moved into the camp opened fire at a number of young men who threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli military vehicles.

According to PCHR's documentation, in the past 24 hours, 120 Palestinian civilians, including 10 children, were wounded by Israeli forces throughout the West Bank. Dozens of civilians also suffered tear gas inhalation used by Israeli forces.

PCHR strongly condemns the use of excessive force by Israeli forces against the Palestinian civilians in disregard for the their lives.

PCHR calls upon the international community to take immediate and effective actions to put an end to such crimes and reiterates its call for the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to fulfill their obligations under Article 1; i.e., to respect and to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances, and their obligation under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

These grave breaches constitute war crimes under Article 147 of the same Convention and Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions.

Related Link(s):

"Oops!" US Military Explains Hospital Bombing

‘We’re sorry’: Latest US War Crime is the Murderous Destruction of a Hospital in Afghanistan

by Dave Lindorff  - This Can't Be Happening

Really? The best that Nobel Peace Laureate President Obama can do after the US bombs and destroys a hospital in Afghanistan, killing 22 people, including 12 volunteer doctors from Doctors Without Borders, is to say, “We’re sorry”?

No wonder people around the globe hate the US.

What's left of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz 
following a 20-minute US bombing and gunship attack that killed 22, 
including 12 medical personnel and three children

A decent human being in the White House would be calling for an independent international investigation into the incident and would be insisting that heads would roll! After all, the initial reports out of the Pentagon were that the strike had been called in to protect threatened American troops -- an action that would be a clear war crime since hospitals have special protected status under the internationally accepted laws of war.

Only later did the Pentagon backpedal and claim that the strike was a “mistake” that had been called-in by Afghan government forces. But that alibi founders on reports from Doctors Without Borders that days before the assault on their facility in the Taliban-held city of Kunduz, their organization had provided the US with clear coordinates of the hospital, so as to avoid any such “accident.” [1]

But hey, this is America. We don’t do justice. We don’t have to because, as “the exceptional nation,” we are always just in our actions. We kill and maim and then we say we’re sorry (but only if Westerners get killed and maimed as in this instance). And then we move on.

Hospitals? The US always claims it’s an accident, or “collateral damage,” when they get hit. It’s never a matter of deliberate targeting.

But people on the ground where the bombs and rockets fall know better: That the American military has been targeting hospitals and ambulances deliberately for decades. The US bombed hospitals in North Korea in the 1950s. And it bombed them in North Vietnam with a regularity that made a joke of claims to the contrary.

In fact, painting a red cross or a red crescent on the roof of a hospital in an area where the US is conducting one of its many illegal wars is simply an invitation to be bombed.

In the all-out assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November/December 2004, hospitals were deliberately bombed, as well as raided by US troops, ambulances were shot up and hit with bombs and rockets, and fleeing civilians were mowed down as they swam a river to escape. No apologies were offered -- presumably because no volunteer Western medical personnel were killed.

In Kunduz, the assault on the hospital in question lasted over an hour, from 2:08 until 3:15 am with sorties coming in and dropping more bombs every 15 minutes. And this attack involved not just bombs and rockets, but also a deadly spraying of intense fire by an A-130 aerial gunship (popularly known in the US military as "Puff the Magic Dragon") designed to kill every living thing within the area of the target. Those who weren’t hit by direct fire or exploding bombs died (including three children) in the ensuing raging fire. The hospital was destroyed totally. If this was a "mistake" it was a long and repetitive one.

On its website, Doctors Without Borders (a French-based international organization actually called Medicine Sans Frontieres) writes damningly of the prolonged assault on its facility, saying:

From 2:08 AM until 3:15 AM local time today, MSF’s trauma hospital in Kunduz was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15-minute intervals. The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, were repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.

The organization also reports that there was no fighting going on anywhere near their hospital, which gives the lie to the Pentagon's claim that the attack was in response to a call from the ground for air support.

Doctors Without Borders isn’t mincing words. Its president, Dr. Joanne Liu, has called the attack a war crime, and she wants it investigated not by the US military, which is like asking the Mafia to investigate its own hit, or for that matter, for a police department to investigate a police officer’s killing of an unarmed civilian, but rather by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, a body established precisely for that purpose, and recognized by 76 nations (but not by the US).

Incidentally, it's worth point out that the US has been lambasting Russia now for over a year for not agreeing to support an international inquiry into the downing of Malaysian Flight MH-17 over Ukraine (Russia has said that the commission was stacked and not unbiased, which is correct, as Russia was not allowed to participate, and even the Malaysian government has criticized its work). Meanwhile, there is no sign that the US would accept an international investigation into this hospital bombing by its planes conducted by an organization that has long been in place to do just that -- investigate war crimes.

How do you spell hypocrisy?

This latest atrocity occurred in Afghanistan, a country where the president claims the 14-year US invasion is over. Clearly it’s not.

War crimes, under international law, must be investigated, and the perpetrators punished. When a country responsible for a war crime by its military refuses to do that, those in authority, up to and including the top leadership in the military chain of command, are considered to be guilty of the same war crime. That would include a president and commander-in-chief who refuses to investigate and punish war criminals under his command.

Of course, this president is already guilty of not prosecuting the war criminals who preceded him in the White House, President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, who launched the criminal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. So what does he have to fear in committing yet another war crime by covering up this latest atrocity by US forces?

The sad reality is: nothing.

As much as the Republicans who control Congress hate America’s first black president, and as much as they’d like to punish him, it won’t be for war crimes, because the members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, are all war lovers, and nearly all of them, for having backed America’s criminal wars, are really war criminals themselves.

As for the American people, we are just the latest incarnation of those long-pilloried “good Germans” -- the silent majority in Weimar Germany who by their support or their silence in the early 1930s enabled or supported the rise of Adolph Hitler.

Evolution of a lie: The sequence of US explanations for the attack on the hospital in Kunduz

On Saturday, October 3 (day of the attack), Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said:

"U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz city at 2:15am (local), Oct 3, against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation."

On Sunday, October 4, Gen. John Campbell, U.S. military chief in Afghanistan, said:

"U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz city at 2:15am (local), Oct 3, against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces in the city of Kunduz. The strike was conducted in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility."

On Monday, October 5, Gen. John Campbell, U.S. military chief in Afghanistan said,

"We have now learned that on October 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports, which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf."

On Tuesday, October 6, Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"On Saturday morning our forces provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fires was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility ... I assure you that the investigation will be thorough, objective and transparent."

Analysis: The initial explanation seeks to claim the hospital was not targeted. When the level of destruction proved that it was in fact the target, the fall back a day later seeks to continue that claim, less explicitly, but ends up almost admitting to the war crime of targeting a hospital. The third explanation one more day later seeks to pass the buck by claiming Afghan forces called in the strike. On day four, the US has to admit it made the decision to attack on its own and hit the hospital on purpose but "by mistake." Never addressed is the claim by Doctors Without Borders that they provided clear coordinates of the hospital the the military days before precisely to avoid any mistaken attack on the compound.


Patterns of Atrocity: Another Palestinian Woman Gunned Down by Israeli Military

Video: Israeli troops surround, then shoot unarmed Palestinian woman with her hands up

by Ghassan Bannoura - IMEMC News 

October 10, 2015 

In Al Afula town, near Nazareth city, Israeli troops and police officers shot and critically wounded a Palestinian woman at a bus stop on Friday.

Still image from video of unarmed woman shot in 
Nazareth (circle around unarmed woman)

The woman was identified as Esra’ Zidan Abed, a mother of four, who is from Nazareth city.

A video that was released on Facebook shows that around 10 Israeli police officers surrounded Abed, who held her hands up before she was shot from close range.

The video showed that the woman had no weapon.

Later Israeli troops stormed Abed’s family home in Nazareth and arrested her father and another member of the family. According to Pannet online site, the Nazareth municipality issued warning to all Palestinian residents to take caution, as all Palestinians are becoming targets for Israeli police attacks.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Five Against the Empire

Five Leaders Challenging Western Imperialism: Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi, Jinping, Hassan Rouhani, and Jeremy Corbyn

by James Petras - ICH

 October 09, 2015

Western imperialism, in all of its manifestation, is being challenged by five political leaders, through diplomacy, moral persuasion and public pressure.

In recent time, Pope Francis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised fundamental questions concerning (1) war and peace in the Middle East and the Caucuses; (2) climate change and the destruction of the environment; (3) economic sanctions, military threats and confrontation; and (4) growing inequalities of class, gender and race.

The New Global Agenda 

These five protagonists of a new global agenda differ from past critics from the left both in the style and substance of their politics.

The politics of change, reform and peace in the near immediate period has a particular complex, heterodox complexion, which contains traditional conservative and popular components. 

These leaders have a global audience and major impact on world public opinion – and indirectly and directly on Western politics. 

Defying Past Left-Right Divisions

These five leaders defy the traditional left-right division. Pope Francis demands immigrant rights, equal pay for women, diplomacy and peace negotiations instead of war, and greater class equality. He excoriates neoliberal, capitalism (“the dung of the devil”).

But he also defends traditional Catholic doctrine on abortion, divorce, contraception and homosexuality. He opposes class struggle and social revolution in favor of class collaboration, dialogue, and negotiations.

President Putin favors negotiations and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. He is an ardent advocate of a global coalition to fight Islamic terrorism. He has sharply reduced western pillage of the Russian economy and restored salaries, pensions and employment. He has restored Russian military capacity and national security and reduced terrorist assaults from the Caucuses.

At the same time Putin supports some of the biggest Yeltsin era billionaires; is closely aligned with the conservative Russian Orthodox Church; and is excavating the remains of the last tyrannical Russian Tsar to honor him and his family.

President Xi Jinping has played a leading role in promoting increases in consumer spending, wages, pensions and social welfare. He has deepened links with US high tech industries and signed off on a major reduction of carbon fuels and pollution, offering $3 billion dollars to fund alternatives for less developed countries. He has fired, prosecuted and jailed over 250,000 corrupt government and party officials who exploited and abused the public, while limiting operations of speculative Western hedge funds.

At the same time, Xi retains the authoritarian one party system; defends China’s one hundred-plus billionaires; and restricts all forms of independent class political and trade union organizations.

Hassan Rouhani is both devout practicing Muslim and a staunch advocate of peace. He supports a ‘nuclear-free Middle East’. He is a consequential opponent of terrorism by Salafist Islamists, Zionists, Christians and Hindus. He is the leading critic of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and a principled defender of national self-determination. Internally he has reduced authoritarian state controls and censorship of free expression and promoted scientific and technological research – in a country where half of research scientists are women.

President Rohani has signed a high risk peace agreement with the US and its partners (5 + 1) dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities and opening its military installations to international inspection by an international atomic agency of dubious neutrality. 

At the same time, Rohani opposes a secular state, supports liberalizing the economy, invites foreign multi-nationals to exploit lucrative oil and gas fields, and supports the corrupt and regressive US backed Shia regime in Iraq.

Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected head of the British Labor Party, has been a consequential critic of neo-liberal capitalism and a strong advocate of public ownership of strategic economic sectors. He backs a highly graduated progressive income tax to finance a comprehensive welfare program.

He advocates a democratic foreign policy that opposes Anglo-American and Israeli imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

However, upon taking office as head of the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist Labor Party, he confronts a parliamentary party dominated by his adversaries. His appointments to the “shadow cabinet” are overwhelmingly pro-NATO and pro-European Union; some even oppose his Keynesian budgetary agenda. Moreover, Corbyn endorses ‘working in the EU’ and promises to support a ‘yes vote’ in any referendum, even as the world witnessed how the EU imposed harsh austerity budgets on Latvia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries in financial straits. 

The Collective Impact of the Five 

There is no question that these five leaders have made a major impact on world public opinion on issues of peace, climate change, equality and the need to reach international agreements. In most cases one or more of the leaders have exercised greater influence on a specific public or region and have had a greater impact on some issues over others. 

The Pope, for example, has greater influence on Christians; Rohani on the Muslim public; Putin, Corbyn and Xi on secular opinion. Xi and the Pope have a greater impact on proposals for climate change. Putin, the Pope, Rohani and Xi are prominent in advocating peaceful resolution of conflicts; Corbyn and the Pope on reducing inequalities and securing social justice. 

With the exception of Corbyn and Xi, all support traditional religious beliefs and observances. Most are ‘ecumenical’ in the sense of supporting religious tolerance. 

Most important, all pursue these goals through persuasion, diplomacy and winning over public opinion. None of these world leaders have invaded or overthrown incumbent adversarial regimes or occupied countries. All are leading opponents of terror – especially ISIS. 

President Putin is playing a leading role in challenging President Obama to join a broad coalition, including Bashar Assad and Iran, in fighting ISIS terrorism. 

Washington, despite its rhetorical hostility, was pressured to respond – ‘partially favorable’. 

President Putin has also taken the initiative in the Middle East. He leads a coalition, including Iraq, Iran and Syria to co-ordinate the war against terrorism. 

China’s President Xi has committed military forces in support of the Russia’s anti-terrorist proposal for Syria. The Pope has offered tacit support via his pronouncements against terrorism and for international coalitions. 

As a consequence of the massive flood of refugees resulting from the US-EU-Saudi-Turkey support of Islamist mercenaries invading Syria and Iraq, several European allies of Washington are reconsidering their anti-Assad policies. They are moving toward the broad front proposals of Putin-Rohani-Xi and the Pope.

The social-economic impact of the Pope’s call for social justice is less apparent, apart from the routine lip-service from Western leaders. Among the quintet, Rohani is looking toward ‘market solutions’: inviting Western and Asian investors to revitalize the oil industry. Xi is cracking down on big time fraudsters in China and abroad, but has yet to embrace a comprehensive welfare and incomes policy. Putin presides over a petrol-economy in recession and has relied on private corporate oligarchs and overseas investors to regain growth. Corbyn’s egalitarian pronouncements have little impact among Labor Party politicians and his shadow cabinet. Moreover, he appears reluctant to mobilize the rank and file Labor activists for a fight for his program within the Party. 

The climate change and environmental struggle received robust backing from the Pope –in his speeches to the US Congress, the United Nations and in his mass gatherings. 

President Xi reinforced the message by proposing to fund a massive clean air program for the less developed countries, while setting rigorous targets to reduce pollution in China. There is no doubt that their message is well received by all environmental groups and the general public. Some political leaders, including Obama, appear to be, in part, receptive. 

Rohani, Putin and Corbyn have played only a minor role in the defense of the environment. 

Response of the Western Powers 

The US, EU, Japan, Israel and Australia, referred to as the ‘Western Powers’ paid lip service to the cause of peace, while continuing to pursue military objectives via air wars, cross border terrorist activities and military build ups. 

In general terms, they manipulate a double discourse – of talking peace and bombing adversaries. 

However, the Western Powers feel the pressure of ‘the quintet,’ which is winning the political ideological contest. The ‘Russian threat’ is no longer viewed as credible by most of the international public. China’s international financial initiatives have gained major support from across the globe. 

Japanese militarization has provoked mass domestic unrest and regional concerns – especially in Southeast Asia. 

Israel is a pariah, not just in the Middle East but is increasingly viewed with hostility by the rest of international public opinion. 

Germany, Europe’s leading economic power, has been discredited because of the massive fraud scandal by Volkswagen, its leading automobile maker and major exporter. 

In other words, while the Western Powers retain military superiority and important markets, their overseas policies have suffered severe setbacks and their leaders have lost credibility. Their domestic and overseas supporters are turning against them. Moreover, the moral authority of Western leaders has been severely questioned by the Pope’s harsh critique of the ‘exclusionary’ policies toward immigrants and refugees, the excessive greed of capitalism, the reliance on force instead of diplomacy and the massive human suffering due to capitalism’s unrelenting destruction of the environment. 

The Pope’s generalities would not have had such a powerful political impact, if they were not accompanied by (1) the selective use of arms and diplomacy emanating from President Putin; (2) the diplomatic successes of President Rohani; and (3) the economic muscle of President Xi, in support of economic development and international co-operation on the environment and climate change.


From widely divergent origins and diverse ideological backgrounds, five political leaders have set a new agenda for dealing with war and peace, equality and inequality, security and terrorism and environmental protection. Except for Jeremy Corbyn, who in any case will probably be rendered impotent by his own party’s elite, none of these progressive leaders’ ideologies is derived from the secular left. 

They challenge the status quo, and raise the central issues of our time, at a time when the secular left is marginal or self-destructs (as Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos or Italy’s Five Stars in Southern Europe). 

Faced with this heterodox reality, the Left has the choice of (1) remaining in sterile isolation; (2) embracing one, some, or all of ‘the quintet’; (3) or aligning with them on specific pronouncements and proposals. 

The five have sufficient drawbacks, ‘contradictions’ and limitations to warrant criticism and distance. But in the big picture, on the major issues of our time, these leaders have adopted progressive policies, which warrant whole-hearted active support. They are the only ‘show’ in the real world – if we are serious about joining the struggle against imperial wars, terrorism, environmental destruction and injustice.

James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York

Which Party Will Address the TPP (Before the Election)?

TPP Deal Sparks Election Campaign Discussion: Will we get straight answers about the TPP before the October 19 election?

by Peter Ewart  - News 250

It was a moment of high political theatre. Todd Doherty, Conservative candidate in Cariboo-Prince George, was extolling the virtues of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal at the all-candidates meeting at UNBC in Prince George. The trade deal, according to Doherty, was going to be a virtual bonanza for northern British Columbia in terms of more jobs, forestry exports, and overall prosperity.

NDP candidate Trent Derrick burst the bubble by asking a simple question. Had Mr. Doherty actually read the TPP?

Oh yes, cover to cover, Doherty replied.

In detail? The actual text? Derrick asked.

Yes, Doherty repeated.

At that point, rumblings emerged from the audience and other candidates. How could Doherty have read the text of the deal, which runs 1,500 pages, when it had been drafted in deep secrecy and a high profile figure like U.S. presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton had not even been able to get her hands on it yet?

Challenged on his claim by Trent Derrick and followed up by Liberal candidate Tracy Calogheros, Doherty ran for cover. He had only read a summary of the deal, he now claimed, supplied by the Conservative Party.

Calogheros countered: “That’s not right. It isn’t right, it isn’t honest, and it’s why this country doesn’t trust your government” (1).

The incident underscores a fundamental problem with the entire way this TPP deal is being inserted by the Harper government into the election campaign. Essentially, it is arguing that its candidates should be praising the deal to high heavens even though the text has not been released yet, and even though Conservative candidates like Doherty, despite his claim, have not read it.

When will Canadians get access to the text? “In a few days”, says Conservative trade minister Ed Fast (2). But even that claim has a touch of “now you see, now you don’t” about it. Pressed on his statement, Fast admitted that we might not get the full text, but rather “a form of the text” that may not be “full scrubbed.”

Furthermore, Fast said that he “can’t commit to releasing the so-called side letters” which are “individual agreements between countries on specific sectors.”

However, these “side letters” have definite relevance to British Columbians. For example, 250 News has repeatedly raised the issue as to whether the TPP deal impacts raw log restrictions and other related forestry policy that could impact British Columbia negatively (3). Indeed, there were various news reports this summer that, in the TPP negotiations, Japan was pushing hard for Canada to lift restrictions on raw log exports.

So far, the Harper government has been silent about any downsides to the forestry sector and forestry-based communities.

However, on October 8th, Fast also did reveal that there is a “side letter” that includes “a deal on processed and unprocessed forestry productions between Canada and Japan”. But it appears the Harper government will not be revealing the contents of this side letter anytime soon, despite the fact it sounds like it could very well have provisions in it dealing with raw log exports.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” If the Harper government wants to garner votes over the TPP trade deal, it needs to make the actual text available to Canadians. Along with that, it should at least reveal the contents of this “side letter” with Japan about forestry. If there is nothing negative in it about raw log exports or forestry policy, let that be clarified.

Is that too much to ask before the October 19th election? Even a Conservative candidates like Todd Doherty might be grateful to have a glance at the side letter, and, wonder of wonders, maybe even the full text of the TPP deal.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

1) Kurjata, Andrew. “That awkward moment when you say you’ve read the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
2) “Ed Fast says text of TPP trade deal available within days.” Canadian Press. October 8, 2015.
3) Ewart, Peter. “Are raw logs part of the TPP trade deal?” 250 News. October 7, 2015.

Acceptable (War) Crimes: Rationalizing Hospital Bombing

US Lies and Excuses for Bombing Hospital

by Jonathan Cook - Dissident Voice

Here is the US changing its story for the FOURTH time of why it launched an air strike on the Doctors without Borders hospital in the Afghan town of Kunduz at the weekend, massacring at least 22 patients and hospital staff.

As Glenn Greenwald has doggedly pointed out, the western media have been faithfully changing their account repeatedly and largely uncritically of what happened to keep in line with US claims. CNN and the New York Times have been particularly egregious offenders. The media monitoring group FAIR has also produced a revealing overview of the NYT’s coverage of the strikes on the hospital.

Almost all of the corporate media began by distancing the US from the attack, with some indicating that it was possible the hospital’s destruction simply coincided with US air strikes in that area. The BBC used the painfully evasive “Afghan air strike” in an early headline, suggesting the possibility of an illusory Afghan air force, to keep the US out of the picture.

Then, the US admitted it was responsible but claimed the strike was an accident. The problem, however, was that this story too was not credible: Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) had given the US and Afghan forces the GPS coordinates of the hospital and called the US military to tell them of the attack during the strike to no avail.

Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, exemplified the western liberal community’s torturous efforts to avoid considering US responsibility for such a serious war crime. He wanted us to think about Assad rather than Kunduz in this astonishing, deflectionary tweet (since deleted). 

(Note that this a familiar practice by the HRW team: I wrote at length about similar efforts by their investigators to try to accuse Hizbollah of more serious breaches of international law than Israel when considering the same war crimes.)

Next, the US admitted it had intentionally targeted the medical facility, but did so because, it claimed, there were Taliban fighters using it as a base, even though no evidence was produced and Doctors without Borders staff absolutely denied that had been the case.

Now a US general is blaming Afghan forces for directing the US to strike the hospital.

This slipperiness by the US is visible only because Doctors without Borders, a western organisation, ran the hospital, their staff were among those killed, and they have been waging a relentless campaign exposing the US authorities’ mendacity, forcing the army – and its media stenographers – to keep changing tack.

Had this been a local Afghan-run hospital, or a wedding party, the US claims would have gone entirely unchallenged, and the media would have treated them unquestioningly, as they initially tried to do here.

Thanks to the Doctors without Borders, we have now reached the point where the US has been forced both to admit and justify a very serious war crime.

The intense reluctance of the western media to use the same language of outright condemnation faced with the fact of a US war crime that it regularly employs when offered (usually by the same US authorities) an allegation of a similar war crime by an official enemy – say, Russia or Syria’s Assad – exposes quite how much of a propaganda role our media willingly fulfils.

War crimes are war crimes, except, it seems, when they are committed by us and reported by our media.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

Murder as Heroic: America's Death Ethos Reaches Its Logical Conclusion

The Murderer as American Hero

by Ron Jacobs - CounterPunch

The preponderance of torturers and killers that make up the modern day heroes imposed upon the populace is appalling. Equally appalling is the willingness with which so many of us accept the definition of these humans of questionable character as heroic.

From Chris Kyle of American Sniper infamy to the fictional characters in the US television crime series NCIS, the common denominator is the characters’ self-righteous sense that they are somehow better than those whom they beat and kill. The fact is they are not. If they were committing the same deeds for those whom they kill, they would not be heroes, but at the least the viewer would understand the moral equivalency. In other words, murders are murderers no matter who they kill for.

I have not seen American Sniper and have no intention of doing so. The book was a difficult and repulsive read all by itself. Actually seeing reenactments of the murders described and hearing the nationalistic and racist dialogue onscreen is more than I want to deal with. However, I do watch NCIS.

Every episode I view I ask myself why I watch it. The national security rationale that is the foundation of the show and the forays into propaganda for the US Marine Corps, National Security Agency and the entire US warfare state is against everything I believe in. At the same time, the apparent integrity of the primary characters and the interpersonal relationships keep me coming back for the next episode.

It is that latter fact of individual integrity that takes me to the next aspect of this piece. I recently read an article in the conservative weekly of the Catholic Church in the United States, the National Catholic Register. The article is titled “Catholic, Christian and Killing for a Living” and is essentially an interview with retired Marine sniper Jack Coughlin, who intentionally killed dozens of people in US military war zones during his military career. Without any sense of irony, Coughlin is described in the article as “pro-life.” He also justifies the murders he undertook in the name of fighting “evil.” Of course, left unsaid is that many of the fighters and other people he and his fellow snipers kill also believe they are fighting “evil.”

Jethro Gibbs, the head agent on the NCIS team (played by Mark Harmon), is also a former Marine sniper. Although he is rarely bothered by the memories of the murders he committed (nor by the killings he and his team commit in every episode), his justification is usually of a more personal nature. Indeed, the defining murder he committed as a sniper was the killing of a drug trafficker that murdered his first wife and daughter. If any killing haunts him it is this one. Yet, it does not stop him from killing again. Likewise, any qualms felt by the individuals employed as snipers in today’s military are apparently not enough to change any aspect of the military’s use of these killers.

Instead, what the civilian sees is greater and greater justification for the killing that comes with war; and greater and greater equating of murder with heroic action. The war in Iraq, which the Catholic Church did not think met its just war doctrine, nevertheless produced Catholic snipers, pilots, and other military-approved killers, not to mention torturers, all of whom exist today with relatively clear consciences. Why? Because their religion (like virtually every other) provides them with enough theological loopholes to continue living without examining the nature of their deeds.

Then, there are the politicians. Here in the United State the interminable election season is beginning. Politicians from both parties are gathering supporters, building campaign bank accounts, hiring writers and advertising companies. They are also redesigning their public personas and redefining their political positions depending on what their advisors tell them the polls are saying. As I write, the media is full of potential presidents explaining their positions on the Iraq invasion of 2003 and the succeeding occupation. All of this is occurring while the somewhat contrived phenomenon known as the Islamic State claims to have taken another Iraqi city. The brother of former president George W. Bush claims that it was faulty intelligence that caused his brother’s administration to go to war in Iraq. Most of the other Republican candidates agree. Of course, this is nonsense. As anyone who was cognizant in 2002 remembers, the intelligence wasn’t faulty. It said there were no active WMD. It was the determination of the neocon wing of the US ruling class that denied that intelligence, made up their own, and sent the US military off. The Democrats followed willingly. Even those who voted against the original authorization for war, like candidate Bernie Sanders, usually voted to fund it after the troops were in country.

From Baghdad to Ramadi, Al-Gharaib to Mosul, and all points between and around, a fair amount of the onus for this war resides with those politicians and the people who voted for them again and again. The torturers in US-run prisons, the civil war fomented by US intelligence, the massive civilian casualties—all of this is their responsibility. So is the current situation in that country, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and South Asia. So are groups like Islamic State, which, according to recent reports in various Israeli media, is actually coordinating some of its attacks in Syria with Tel Aviv. At the same time, recent press releases from the US Pentagon have informed the world that the United States has Special Forces troops operating in Syria. In other words, there are ground troops in Syria.

The incredible popularity of films like American Sniper prove, if nothing else, that the willingness to continue this imperial path of foolish and deadly destruction has plenty of support among those in the imperial nation. Whatever the reasons beyond those that serve the war industry and its benefactors, the brutality, senselessness, and plain old death of war is spreading, not shrinking.

As for those other reasons, what could they be? Why are mass murderers in the uniform of supposedly civilized nations (like the US) celebrated while those, like Chelsea Manning, who expose their crimes, are imprisoned or, even worse, ignored? What is it in the populations of these countries that invokes their support for actions they would find reprehensible if they were being perpetrated on their children and homes? Why do they celebrate the men who commit said acts?

In 1967 Norman Mailer released a novel titled Why Are We In Vietnam? This exercise by Mailer is the story of a couple 18 year-old Texans off on a hunting trip with their wealthy fathers. The quartet are consumed with an overload of braggadocio and testosterone. The story of the trip, which is full of whiskey and tales of past sexual conquests, racial slurs and assumptions of American exceptionalism, is told through the eyes of one of the younger men. It is obviously meant as a psychological metaphor for why the US fought in Vietnam. Like the film The Deer Hunter and a number of other films having to do with killing America’s enemies, the nature of US machismo and its curious confusion with racism and homophobia, Why Are We In Vietnam? puts forth the proposition that not only is the rugged individualism of the white-skinned pioneer essential to the myth of the US conquest of the North America continent, it is also essential to the expansion of US capitalism as well. Indeed, it is part and parcel of why US history has more years of slaughter than it does years of peace.

-Originally published in Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives June 2015.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:
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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Looting Syria's (and World) Cultural Heritage

Confronting "Looting to Order" and "Cultural Racketeering" in Syria

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch

Damascus  - One of the many gut-wrenching dimensions of the soon to be five-year Syrian crisis is that whenever one surveys the conflict on the ground and concludes that the maelstrom can’t possibly get any worse, it plummets deeper into the abyss. The condition of people in Syria has never been worse in modern times.

This is also the case with the spreading cultural cleansing of our shared global heritage in Syria which this observer views as a precursor to ethnic cleansing. This scourge has been documented in detail by studies from the UN, EU, Archaeologists, Syria’s Directorate General of Museums and Antiquities (DGAM) and others who closely monitor the desecration, looting and destruction at archaeological sites. According to the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) and other surveys, more than 1/3 of Syria’s 10,000 archaeological sites are currently under the control of Da’ish (ISIS) who are looting them on an industrial scale for sale globally on the black market. It is not known with precision which or how many other Islamist nihilist militias are controlling other sites. A new report from the US Congress reports that 30,000 people have traveled, including 250 from the US, to join terror groups in the Middle East and Isis in particular, doubling the numbers of one year ago. “We are witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history,” the report warned.​

According to the Antiquities Coalition, raising just $1 million from illicit trafficking of historic artifact in Syria supplies the group with more than 11,000 AK-47 machine guns or 1,250 rocket launchers. This is one of the reasons why Satellite images are revealing that archaeological sites in Syria are increasingly dotted by thousands of illegal excavations.

It is recalled that the looting following the United States-led 2003 invasion of Iraq involved organized international gangs, sometimes with corrupt “Operation Iraqi Freedom” coalition military personnel involved that were contracted to raid the National Museum in Baghdad and Mosul Museum. Mosul Museum director Bernadette Hanna-Metti and Mosul Museum curator Saba al-Omari reported that radio carrying looters also targeted specific antiquities at Nimrud, some with “shopping lists” in hand. Site director Muzahim Mahmud reported that the looters “ignored everything else, went right to that frieze” of a winged man carrying a sponge and a holy plant, “and took it” in a customized looting operation, fulfilling “orders from a buyer.”

The 18 statues that were intercepted as part of one lot in Jordan during 2004 were determined to be filling orders from dealers and within weeks of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad, US. Customs intercepted an illicit shipment of 669 of its artifacts en route to an antiquities dealer in New York. But apart from police reports labeling these acts “looting to order”, “theft to order”, “stolen to order” or “commissioned theft” no one has even been charged with a crime. Going back to 2005, when al Qaeda was trafficking in looted antiquities, it was second as a source of funding only to kidnappings and ransom.

Similar cultural crimes are being committed today in Syria. It has been documented that Da’ish (ISIS), and Jabhat a-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) use WhatsApp and Skype (Parkinson, Albayrak, & Mavin, 2015), and some militia are using smartphones (Sogue, 2014) as well as employing social-media savvy experts around the world, often teenagers, to design and execute looted antiquities marketing programs.

The financial incentives to looting are very powerful such that to date the international community’s existing methods of prevention are largely ineffective.

But we must not be idle bystanders to a fire sale of our and Syria’s national and historical heritage.

So what can we do now that the continuing destruction of our cultural heritage has sparked a fresh round of global outrage? How can it be harnessed to save other heritage sites under nihilist Da’ish control? Short of defeating the entrenched jihadists militarily which appears highly unlikely anytime soon?

The challenges are great. The tens of thousands of foreign would-be jihadists who have now poured into Syria, most to join the perceived “A-team-Varsity Squads” of Da’ish (ISIS) and Jabhat Al Nusra. There is little evidence of success from international efforts to diminish their ranks. Few on the ground are much impressed by the new Russian hyped 4+1 planned coalition or the Russian proposed bilateral coordination with the U.S. against Islamic State. This is partly because currently, an average of about 1,000 foreign fighters are arriving every month ready to turn Syria into Russia’s new “Afghanistan” with pledges to fight for as long as it takes to expel Putin’s arriving forces. In the past year jihadists from 20 additional countries have entered Syria bringing to more than 100 the total number of countries with fighters in Syria.

Many suggestions have been heard by this observer in Syria including from local officials and citizens who are on the front lines trying to preserve and protect the cultural heritage that we all share. Some are proposing that cultural heritage benefactors buy the looted objects off looters and errant regular citizens and secure them in safety vaults somewhere until the fighting ends. This has actually been done in Syria with modest success but given its sensitivity, without much publicity. It has been reported that nearly 330,000 artifacts, many from lawless non-state actor areas, have been moved to safety from imminent danger from jihadists and profiteers.

The Syrian government currently has 2,500 people working to save Syria’s past, on both sides in many parts of Syria. Fourteen DGAM employees have been killed so far. It’s Director-General Dr. Abdul Karim has reported to this observer and others that “We saved 99 per cent of the collection in our museums. It’s good. It’s not just for the good of the government. It’s for the opposition, for humanity, for all Syria. It is our common identity, our common heritage.”

Ricardo J. Elia, an archaeologist at Boston University, endorsed a moratorium on purchasing trafficked item, arguing that “looting is a function of a system that runs on supply and demand. Would it not be possible for museum associations, dealer associations, auction houses, and private collections to say “look: this is a horrific crisis. Let’s just stop these things. Let’s diminish the demand side.” To avoid collecting potentially looted antiquities, Richard Stengel, US under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, recently proposed: “Don’t sell; don’t buy. That’s the best solution.”

A similar proposal comes from American cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire who has prepared a proposal to avoid purchasing “blood antiquities.” It also promotes as a protective measure a “Don’t Buy” initiative backed by strict due diligence. It is worthy of implementation and can be linked to the 2009 Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts authored by individual collectors that is being considered again given our current cultural heritage crisis. It urges the public and all buyers to protect archaeological heritage and uphold the law, check sources, collect sensitively, recognize the collector’s role as custodian, keep artifacts in one piece and consider the significance of groups of objects, promote further study, and dispose of artifacts responsibly.

To achieve these goals, the ethics code highlights common sense due diligence and acquisitions advice, including: “Ask the vendor for all relevant paperwork relating to provenance, export etc. Take extra care if collecting particular classes of object which have been subjected to wide-scale recent looting. Verify a vendor’s reputation independently before buying. Assure yourself that they are using due diligence in their trading practices, and do not support those who knowingly sell fakes as authentic or offer items of questionable provenance. Do not dismember any item, or acquire a fragment which you believe to have been separated from a larger object except through natural means. Consider the implications of buying an item from an associated assemblage and the impact this could have on study. Liaise, where possible, with the academic and broader communities about your artifacts.”

One encouraging sign that those destroying our cultural heritage may be more apt to face legal accountability before the International Criminal Court in The Hague is this month’s arrests and extradition of the alleged Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi also known as “Abu Tourab” who the ICC claims was a member of Ansar Dine, an affiliate of Al Qaida. He appeared on 9/30/2015 before the ICC and was formally charged with involvement in the 2012 destruction of 14 of the 16 mausoleums and other historic buildings including a Mosque, in Timbuktu, Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, nicknamed the “City of 333 Saints’” is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and during the 15th and 16th centuries, operated 180 schools and universities that received thousands of students from all over the Muslim world. According to Corrine Dufka of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, “The Abu Tourab case signals that there will be a price to pay for destroying the world’s treasures.”

On a related matter, during his 9/28/2015 UN General Assembly address, Ban Ki-moon called for the Syrian crisis to be referred to the International Criminal Court. This would include jurisdiction over all cultural heritage crimes committed at Syria’s archaeological sites.

Several encouraging and admirable public and private initiatives are employing creative ways to protect Syria’s millennia-long cultural heritage are currently underway as experts and locals scramble to save what they can. Others are about to be launched, and all warrant our support. .

Some of the current initiatives include, but are not limited to the following.

The Million Image Database is a large-scale scholarly project targeting both object documentation, and trafficked object identification. The project is sending thousands of low-cost, easy-to-use 3-D cameras to volunteers across the Middle East to document sites and objects in their area. Images and videos collected in this way are received for processing by the project’s technical team in the United Kingdom via uploads to the project’s website. Some of these images will be used to create detailed maps of Syrian sites, and to create 3-D models of buildings and artifacts that will be usable as blueprints for full-scale reconstruction. The project website is closed to the public to protect volunteer’s anonymity and also to ensure that the initiative remains a purely scholarly venture, not a social media platform for activists, according to Alexy Karenowska, the project’s director of technology. But she assures that as project progresses, it will find a way to share storytelling from the material to the public. The images are to be collated in a huge, publicly accessible database. Available to all, and under development in collaboration with UNESCO, the vision for this resource is for an ever-growing archaeological catalogue which brings together scholarly information about sites and artifacts, raises awareness of cultural heritage and cultural heritage preservation, and provides a new platform for the identification of trafficked objects. The database will be integrable with existing catalogues and lists of known missing or stolen items and employ the latest image comparison and feature recognition based search technology, removing the need for those inspecting suspect cargo or objects to have specialist knowledge.

Another project would carry out far more detailed scans of antiquities in Syria using laser scanners. The scanners bounce lasers off the surface of objects in the field, measuring millions of points a second to create a data set known as a point cloud. The data can be used to create 3-D images accurate to two or three millimeters to create models or virtual tours of the sites or allow full-scale reconstructions. This project, called “Anqa,” the Arabic word for the phoenix, the legendary bird that rises from the ashes, aims to laser-scan 200 objects in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region, according to the California-based scanning company CyArk. It hopes to work with DGAM and other antiquities agencies in Syria, as well as UNESCO, to deploy teams in Damascus and other accessible areas.

A recently launched campaign is taking a more low-tech approach aiming at directly protecting at least some sites. The project, by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), provides supplies and funding to local experts and volunteers for crates and other items to store artifacts and also sandbags to pack around unmovable structures to give some protection against shelling or bombs. This, according to LeeAnn Gordon, project manager for Conservation and Heritage Preservation at ASOR also using satellite images to track destruction of antiquities. One problem this initiative has to deal with is that US policy toward Syria prohibits the funding of governmental groups, thus limiting ASOR’s options in a country divided between government-controlled, and jihadist held areas.

We can all help raise awareness in our communities and instruct our politicians to tighten and enforce current national and international laws and to ratify the instruments of international humanitarian law that protect cultural heritage. Specifically the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague 1954) and its two Protocols (1954 and 1999), as well as the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris 1970); to implement them swiftly and efficiently into national legislation and in accord with their spirit and overarching goal to preserve cultural heritage, and to observe and enforce them.

Irina Bokova, the Director of UNESCO has called on governments to implement the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2199 which was adopted in February of this year and lays out serious penalties for the illegal importation of antiquities trafficked from regions under cultural threat.

Traveling around Syria one comes upon many heritage unfunded preservation projects through the initiative of local private citizens who love their country and want to preserve the cultural heritage of all of us. Some are reportedly being accomplished in rebel held areas where there is little technology and no resources. One of countless examples is the work of a history teacher, Suleiman al-Eissa who lives in Busra Sham, one of UNESCO‘s six World Heritage sites in Syria. As reported recently by the AP, Suleiman al-Eissa, a history teacher leads a self-created “revolutionary” antiquities department to protect the ruins in his hometown of Busra Sham in southern Daraa province one of the six UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mr. Al-Eissa, like many Syrians, is documenting in writing current damage at local archaeological sites while guarding some sites from looting.

We can and must support new dedicated groups like Heritage for Peace and the more than two dozen NGO’s recently formed that are working to protect archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq. In each of our communities we can work on strengthening our national capacities, training for soldiers, more resources, experts on the ground, and better coordination with armed forces, Interpol, and other actors while encouraging volunteer organizations willing to send international volunteers experts as Cultural Heritage Monitors on the scene. Their work would be to assess, protect, and investigate cultural property destruction and looting. All this while working with locals of all religions and ethnicity who want to protect our and their cultural heritage. In other words we need to establish the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross and Blue Shield providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict.

As Dr. Emma Cunliffe, an archaeologist at Oxford University pointed out recently: “Today’s Monument’s Men are often volunteers. Some are local people, such as the Syrian Association for Preserving Heritage and Ancient Landmarks, who work in Aleppo (a UNESCO World Heritage City) to try and save the monuments and buildings there during the current conflict. In 2006, America formed a Committee of the Blue Shield, a group of individuals committed to the protection of cultural property worldwide during armed conflict. The UK Committee was established last year, and other committees are located across the world.”

And there are many others.

The growing global groundswell of popular support spawning an international volunteer movement to confront and expel the non-state actors endangering our cultural heritage in Syria is cause for hope. And it’s a clarion call for each of us to join the growing public support for confronting ‘looting to order’ and ‘cultural racketeering’ in Syria to preserve and protect our shared culture heritage for those who follow us.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (
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