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السبت، 31 أغسطس 2013

Syria, a pre-meditated act of aggression

Syria, a pre-meditated act of aggression

by Hans Christof von Sponeck and BRussels Tribunal & Geneva International Centre for Justice on 28-08-2013

The coming US/NATO onslaught on Syria will be another example of the supreme international crime
"Impunity will not survive. People worldwide are disgusted and angry. One thing is certain: they will show it", writes Hans-C von Sponeck, Former UN Assistant Secretary General & UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.
Syria is not Iraq. Yet, the intensifying human drama in Syria does remind of Iraq in the build-up of the US/UK invasion in 2003. Conspiracy theories abounded, disinformation made the news and  political leaders  mislead the public without hesitation. Once again innocent people are fleeing their homes in the millions, are killed in large numbers and physical destruction is all pervasive. These are the facts we have.
At the same time the US Navy and other NATO ships are assembling in the Eastern Mediterranean. “We are ready to strike” are the words from Chuck Hagel, the US Secretary of Defence. A morally, financially and politically exhausted America prefers the rockets  from the sea to  boots on the ground. The decision to go ahead, as with the Iraq war in 2003, rests with the Commander-in-Chief, US President Obama, and his minions in London and Paris, not with the President of the UN Security Council.  The UN weapons inspectors, deployed to Syria to get the facts, are told by Washington, as their predecessors were in Iraq in 2003, “Do not waste your time. You are too late to make a difference”. Once again, a pre-meditated act of aggression is about to take place with no regard to law and the mandate of the UN Security Council.  A sign on the doors of the UN Security Council might as well read: “Until further notice out of order!”
The ramifications of military action against Syria rather than multilateral negotiations are far-reaching. The price will be paid first and foremost by the Syrian people. They are forced to join the many others before them who have become victims of hegemonial double standards. Confrontation will intensify well beyond the borders of the Middle East. Impunity will not survive. People worldwide are disgusted and angry. One thing is certain: they will show it.
Hans-C von Sponeck, Former UN Assistant Secretary General & UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, 28 August 2013

Stop US/NATO intervention in Syria

Stop US/NATO intervention in Syria
by BRussells Tribunal on 28-08-2013
The BRussells Tribunal: "The Syrian Civilian population has been the major victim of all kinds of violence and they definitely don't need anymore bombing and destruction from the US and NATO"

There's nothing "humanitarian" about a new US/NATO war of aggression

Stop US/NATO intervention in Syria

Every U.S. war claims to “punish” a bad act. After the Tonkin Gulf incident and the Vietnam war, the incubator baby massacre in Kuwait and the first Gulf war, the Racak massacre and the Kosovo war, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the second Gulf war, the threat of massacre in Benghazi and the Libyan war, the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian Government Forces is the latest pretext invoked to justify an imminent war.
All the previous pretexts were fabricated or dubious.
What we know is that 12 members of the Syrian rebel forces were arrested in May in Turkey. The rebels possessed 4.5 pounds of Sarin, the neurotoxin gas that allegedly has been used in the recent attack. What we also know is that United Nations Human Rights investigator Carla Del Ponte declared in May: “according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas”.
And even if the latest allegations are true, US airstrikes amount to an illegal aggression according to International Law, as the US and UK want to start an onslaught on Syria without a UN mandate. The US and Europe don't intervene for defending human principles or the Syrian people but for their imperialist interests. Just as in the previous wars, hatred, chaos and destruction is all that can be accomplished by direct U.S. missile strikes against Syria. A US/Nato military action could set the whole region and the world in flames.
The Syrian Civilian population has been the major victim of all kinds of violence and they definitely don't need anymore bombing and destruction from the US and NATO.
We are against all sorts of foreign military intervention, including the militias who turn the struggle into a bloody sectarian violence and threaten the unity of Syria.
Most people in the world have learnt from the disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Even the American people are tiring of these costly and futile wars.
We the people - endlessly faced with leaders who are war criminals, corrupt and without integrity, are really outnumbered by callous violence, greed, the arms industry and hegemony.
We the people demand an immediate stop to aggression against Syria and renewed efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.

For the BRussells Tribunal, the Executive Board, 28 August 2013.

Syria: war or manoeuvre?

Syria: war or manoeuvre?

Bassel Oudat 

Soldiers are seen at the front line during clashes with opposition fighters during a guided tour by the Syrian army in the Damascus suburb of Jobar (photo: Reuters)
While the US talks of proof of a chemical attack by Al-Assad, with sure consequences, some see this as empty rhetoric when Israel doesn’t want an unpredictable regional war, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

The chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta suburb of Damascus that caused 1,300 deaths, of which 60 per cent were women and children, triggered worldwide condemnation. It is difficult to predict where the repercussions will lead, but what is certain is the event will not pass unanswered, unlike other massacres that Syria has experienced in the past two and a half years.

Since 21 August, when the rural outskirts of Damascus were bombarded by toxic weapons, the Bashar Al-Assad regime has persistently denied responsibility for the attack and laid the blame on the armed Syrian opposition. Syrian authorities claim that during a raid of opposition fighters’ underground hideouts on the outskirts of Damascus, government forces discovered chemical substances, some of which could cause asphyxiation.

The regime’s strategic ally Russia and its regional partner Iran have remained, as they have been since the outset of the civil war in Syria, with Damascus’s position. A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated that there was "evidence" that militant insurgents have used chemical weapons. Moscow claimed that the Syrian opposition was preventing the UN inspection team from entering the afflicted area. The area in question is controlled by opposition forces.

The Syrian opposition, for its part, continues to insist that the regime is responsible and has called on international inspectors, who arrived in Damascus two days prior to the chemical attack, to expand the scope of their mission to include an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the massacre. Responding to Russia, opposition spokesmen announced that they were prepared to take measures to guarantee the security and safety of the inspection team during its probe.

France, the US, Turkey and other nations have also laid the blame on the Syrian regime. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that all available information indicates that the Al-Assad regime committed a "chemical massacre" on the outskirts of Damascus. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed the charge and referred to Al-Assad as the "murderous dictator". Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the Syrian opposition had affirmed to him that it would cooperate with the UN chemical weapons inspection team, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised Russia and China for the stances they took while declining to support a UN Security Council call that the Syrian regime allow the UN inspection team to conduct an investigation in the affected area. As for the White House, it instructed US intelligence agencies to collect the facts and evidence that would enable it to take the appropriate decision in response to the attack.

Washington was the source of the most salient and influential reaction so far. US security sources have stated that US intelligence agencies together with allied intelligence agencies have reached the preliminary assessment that Syrian government forces did use chemical weapons in an attack near Damascus. US national security advisors met with President Obama and concluded that the US would act carefully so as to ensure that it took decisions that were consistent with its national interests. Immediately afterwards came leaks from Pentagon sources that the US navy had sent a fourth destroyer equipped with Cruise missiles to the region and that the Sixth Fleet, which covers the Mediterranean basin, will leave another destroyer, the USS Mahan, in the eastern Mediterranean for the time being. Then US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that US naval forces were prepared to take action in the event that the White House made such a decision.

Several days ago, Jordan, to which some 550,000 Syrian refugees have fled, hosted a meeting of the chiefs of staff of 10 armed forces from Western and Arab nations, including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The participants discussed the regional and international fallout of the Syrian conflict, a scenario for delivering a military strike against targets strategic to the Syrian regime, and the possible reaction to such a strike from Iran. A number of American F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles had remained in Jordan since military manoeuvres conducted there two months ago.

Some observers believe that Iran is wholly to blame for the chemical weapons attack and that Al-Assad had nothing to do with it. They argue that the Syrian regime had no need for chemical weapons to kill 1,300 civilians since killing civilians in large numbers is what it has been doing every day, using conventional weapons, aerial bombardments and mass executions. They claim that the "Iranian action" was part of Tehran’s game to break American will in the region by luring it into another regional war. The theory goes that the Iranians are calculating that the American response would be both harsh and hasty in their eagerness to impose regime change on Syria, towards which end they would bombard crucial regime targets to force it to surrender power within the framework of the Geneva 2 conference.

Other observers suspect that Russia had advanced knowledge of the chemical weapons attack. It would have been difficult for Syrian authorities to conceal a plan of this nature from Russia, which controls huge security breaches in the Syrian army, they argue, pointing to the thousands of retired and active Syrian servicemen who are married to Russian women. These observers suggest that the reason why Russia allowed the attack to go ahead was because it hoped to hasten the transitional process through a scenario that would force Al-Assad to make concessions.

Fahd Al-Masri, media spokesman for the joint command of the Free Syria Army, called for the creation of an international coalition outside of the Security Council framework, to intervene militarily in Syria. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly he said: "The US and the international community should launch aerial strikes against the military and security apparatus of the regime. There must also be an international court for war crimes in Syria." Al-Masri warned that the Syrian regime possessed an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and that it had sent a portion of these to Hizbullah in Lebanon.

According to The New York Times, this week Obama was contemplating the option of aerial strikes against Al-Assad’s forces in retaliation for that regime’s crimes against the Syrian people. The newspaper suggested that the response could take the form of what happened in Kosovo in 1999 when NATO intervened without a UN mandate. CBS added that the Pentagon is currently making preliminary preparations for a missile attack against Al-Assad’s forces from US destroyers in the Mediterranean so as not to put the lives of US soldiers at risk. The US television network stressed that such an assault would be solely "punitive" as opposed to being aimed at the overthrow of Al-Assad and his regime, in order to make him understand that he cannot use chemical weapons with impunity.

According to other US sources, the US military establishment is currently updating the list of critical military facilities and other strategic sites that could be targeted in the event of a strike in response to what experts have described as the worst chemical weapons massacre in two decades.

Loay Al-Maqdad, spokesman of the Free Syria Army chiefs of staff, told the Weekly that he believes the American list is ready and that the naval units that would carry out the strikes are already on alert. "We’re awaiting the zero hour," he said.

In contrast, Syrian opposition activist Walid Al-Bani was not optimistic that the international community would take the necessary steps to protect the Syrian people. "I’m afraid that these movements are being undertaken for totally different reasons. The US will not help bring down the Al-Assad regime without first ascertaining that there is an alternative that will serve its interests. Something might happen, but not what the Syrians hope for. Their path to freedom is still long."

Loay Hussein, president of the opposition Building Syria Movement, is of the opinion that the current talk of US or international military intervention in Syria is "just for media consumption". What would the US have to gain, he asked? "Israel’s interests overrides that of the US and Israel favours stability in the region and does not want it propelled in unpredictable directions. Israel fears that intervention would escalate into a regional war whose foremost participants would be Iran and Hizbullah. The decision to intervene militarily in Syria is contingent not on the US but on Israel’s will. Israel is the region’s policeman."

Certainly there are profound divisions within the governments that are keen to topple Al-Assad. The Obama administration is caught between one camp that is pressing for a strong and immediate attack and another camp that is cautioning against impetuousness. European nations are equally divided on the subject. Some, such as France and Turkey, have voiced their readiness to join an international coalition while others, such as Italy and Germany, are wavering for fear of the repercussions, and because they still believe that the chances are open for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Such divisions and hesitation combined with the inability of Western governments to persuade Russia and China to agree to the idea of toppling the Syrian regime within the framework of a consensus worked out in the UN leaves the question of intervention very much in the air. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine action before convincing proof is produced that the Syrian regime did in fact commit the recent chemical weapons assault. Then, even if a US-lead military operation does take place, the likelihood is that its aim will not be to save Syrian civilians and help them build democracy, since the Washington is committed to serving, first and foremost, the interests of the West, and of the US in particular.

So, as the situation stands, the choices appear to be between wavering and waiting to see which party in Syrian ultimately wins, even if the battle spans many more years to come.


Iraq again slammed with violence

Iraq again slammed with violence

The Common Ills

Iraq is yet again slammed with violence.  Kareem Raheem, Raheem Salman, Sylvia Westall, Yara Bayoumy, Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich (Reuters) count 71 dead today and another 201 injured.  AFP counts over a dozen bombs in Baghdad. In Baghdad, Haddad Salih (BBC News) notes of the areas hit, "Some of these areas are Shia dominat, others are mixed, Shia-Sunni, while Mahmudiya and Saydiyah to the south are mainly Sunni."  Fu Peng (Xinhua) explains, "The attacks occurred during the morning rush hours when 12 car bombs went off in Baghdad, while a suicide bomber struck a restaurant in the nearby town of Mahmoudiyah, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity."

 Sadie Gray (Times of London) repeats  Reuters' report of an eye witness in Sadr City believes he saw a man park a car, eat "breakfast and drank his tea" before setting off a car bomb,  "I heard a huge explosion when I was inside the kitchen.  When I went outside, I saw his car completely damaged and he had disappeared.  Many people were hurt."

In addition to violence in Baghdad, NINA reports a Tikrit roadside bombing left two police officers injured, a Hilla armed attack claimed the life of 1 military captain (eleven soldiers left injured), a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left four other family members injured (all were Shabaks),  and 1 police officer was shot dead in Kirkuk.

Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) points out, "This comes as Iraqi security forces have been conducting "The Revenge for the Martyrs" -- an operation designed to track down al Qaeda members in and around Baghdad."  Because violence doesn't solve violence.  But why should Nouri grasp what his puppet master Barack doesn't?  Alsumaria reports Nouri has declared Iraq to be on maximum alert.  Which means attack the press.  Alsumaria notes Nouri's SWAT forces hace detained an Alsumaria reporter. 


Al-Ka’abneh Bedouins made homeless in Beit Hanina

Al-Ka’abneh Bedouins made homeless in Beit Hanina

By Fatima Masri 

Members of the Al-Ka'abneh Bedouin tribe amongst the ruins of what was once their home. All photos by Vivian Calle

On August 19th the Bedouin community of Beit Hanina -East Jerusalem- was  brutally woken up by an Israeli raid that tore their homes to the ground. 
An estimated two-hundred Israeli soldiers stormed the makeshift structures at around 6 AM, threatening its inhabitants with guns and forcing them out of the perimeter outlining the area in which all structures were to be demolished. 
Mohammad 'Assem Izhiman Ka’abneh, one of the Bedouins living in the community, remembers: "We have been held at gun point by some soldiers while the others surrounded the area so that we could not defend our land." 
Two dogs were employed to disperse the sheep and free the area for bulldozers to take action. In three hours, 53 people – 28 of which are children – were made homeless and obliged to witness while their houses being turned into debris. 
The Israeli forces have set 28 August as a deadline for the Bedouins to clear up the remains of their own homes and leave the land. Mohammad 'Assem Izhiman Ka’abneh has been charged with the cost of the demolition of his own home, no less than 70,000 shekels. If his family is found still living on the land, in addition to the fee he will be jailed. 
A view of some of the destroyed shelters with Israel's Separation Wall in the background.
Of the 53 Bedouins living in the area, only 18 are still present on the land. The children, accompanied by several adults, have been moved to a safer place, near Jericho. "We had nowhere to make them sleep, we are here under the sun," Mohammad says in grief. Unlike most Bedouin communities, in Beit Hanina, many of the children are registered at school and some of them have even reached university levels. Due to the displacement, the children will be forced to drop-out of their school in al-Ram, northeast of Jerusalem. 
Nine tents have been provided by the Red Cross and Lajna al-Murabitin, a  volunteer-based association that monitors the Israeli violations in Jerusalem. "No one else has given us any help. Bedouins are isolated, forgotten by the Palestinian Authority and by humanitarian organizations," says Mohammad, while pointing at the desolated scenario surrounding him. "Our hope is in God, but we also hope that someone will intervene before the 28th." 
No alternative location has been proposed by the Israeli forces. The Ka’abneh clan has nowhere left to go. "We will scatter around", says Mohammad, "There is no other land in which we could move to all together." Family ties are severed; the Bedouin heritage is dismantled together with the makeshift structures. 
The tiny plot of land in the outskirts of Beit Hanina is all these Bedouins know. Despite being present in the area since the 1950s, they have never been officially registered and, therefore, never had permission to move freely within the boundaries of Jerusalem. Isolated from Jerusalem on one side, in 2004 the Segregation wall cut off the community from the West Bank on the other side. 
Once free, the land the Bedouins call home will soon be used to enlarge the adjacent Atarot settlement industrial area, despite legally being Palestinian private property. Israel uses the Absentee Property Law of 1950 to transfer the land abandoned by the Palestinian refugees of 1948 to the State of Israel. In East Jerusalem, anyone who was not present at the time of the annexation (1967) automatically lost its property. Home demolitions are frequently carried out on the pretext that the structures are built without permits, expressly denied to Palestinians, in clear national-ethnic discrimination. 
Bedouins are in the frontline against the Israeli settlement expansion scheme, commonly referred to as the "Greater Jerusalem" plan, comprising a 440 square kilometre area linking 17 Jewish settlements and dozens of outposts to the city of Jerusalem. Less than one quarter of this area lies within the pre-1967 borders.
Nadi Sbeh, from the organisation, Lajna al-Murabitin, stresses the importance of the Beit Hanina episode: "I live in Shu’afat, far from here, but this is something that should concern all Palestinians. Today they demolished houses in this area, but tomorrow they could reach my home and the home of every Palestinian." 
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICHAD) states that Israel’s policies entail not only displacement, but forced deportation, which may rise to the level of a war crime.
The intensity and aggressiveness with which Israel seeks to establish its dominion over Palestinian land provides a yardstick to measure its intention of establishing an occupation that can no longer be considered temporary.
A young Bedouin girl standing beside her families re-constructed shelter in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem. 


339 drone attacks in 11 years claimed 400 civilian lives: Pak govt

339 drone attacks in 11 years claimed 400 civilian lives: Pak govt


ISLAMABAD: The government informed the National Assembly on Monday that 339 drone attacks had been recorded in the country since 2004, according to findings of a number of unofficial organisations which followed America’s policy to use drones worldwide. A written answer submitted to the house in response to a question said that 400 civilians had died in the tribal belt as a result of the attacks. There was no mention of the number of terrorists killed.

The focus of the answer was on how the government disapproved of the attacks, termed them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and was building pressure through likeminded organisations, countries and the UN against their legitimacy.

Minister of State Khurram Dastagir Khan was filling in for the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz.

Nabil Gabol of the MQM criticised Mr Aziz’s continuous absence from the house and asked the speaker to ensure his attendance in view of the importance of his ministry.

To a flurry of questions in which members sought a clarification whether the government had any underhand understanding with the US government to allow the use of drones in the tribal areas, Mr Khan’s categorical answer was 'no’.

He said the government hadn’t found any written agreement between Pakistan and the US on the use of drones, but it could be safely assumed that the previous two governments led by the PML-Q and PPP had silently agreed, hence they never forcefully raised the issue.

Dr Shireen Mazari of the PTI asked if there was no such agreement, why the government did not take adequate measures to stop drones from entering the country’s airspace.

"Pakistan and the US have a broad-based relationship and considering its importance the government is trying to resolve the issue of drone attacks," the minister said.

Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party urged the government to tell the people why it couldn’t stop the Americans from using drones in the country.

The prime minister in his first speech in the National Assembly on June 5 had reaffirmed his party’s stance that drone attacks must end. The Foreign Office lodged a strong protest with the US government against recent drone strikes.

During a recent visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Pakistan the issue was discussed in detail, the minister said, claiming that since then the frequency of the attacks had decreased.

He said Pakistan’s stance had been endorsed by UN Counter-Terrorism Special Rapporteur Ben Emerson who said during his visit to Pakistan in March that the drone attacks violated the country’s sovereignty and had resulted in the death of around 400 civilians.

On Aug 19, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told a Security Council meeting on protection of civilians that "the current lack of transparency surrounding their (drone) use creates an accountability vacuum and affects the ability of victims to seek redress".

She said she was "seriously concerned about human rights implications for the protection of civilians from armed drone strikes carried out in the context of counter-terrorism and military operations, including in Pakistan and Yemen".

Replying to other questions, Mr Khan said the army was adequately responding to unprovoked firing by India from across the Line of Control in Kashmir, but the government was against escalating the tension. "We have raised the issue at all available forums."


5 myths used to justify drone assassinations What we misunderstand about these high-tech killings

5 myths used to justify drone assassinations
What we misunderstand about these high-tech killings

By Robert Greenwald

August 28, 2013
America’s never-ending war on terrorism is almost always depicted in the mainstream media as a military and intelligence agency fight on a global battlefield. But it is also a propaganda war where the public is fed inaccuracies from Washington, especially when it comes to overseas killings by U.S. military drones.
Here are five myths perpetuated by the military and its weapons makers that seek to make Americans feel good about drones and the White House’s policy of targeted assassinations.
Myth No. 1: They Target High-Level Terrorists
Only 2 percent of drone strikes have killed "high value targets," former counter-terror adviser to David Petraeus, David Kilcullen, notoriously remarked in a New York Times column early in the Obama presidency, where he said that 50 civilians were killed for every "high-value target" assassinated. That means that 98 percent of drone-caused deaths have been a mix of low-level militants, civilians, or another dubious Pentagon classification called "unknown militants."
This spring McClatchy and later NBC reported that 25 percent of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan have been classified as "unknown militants." So by its own admission, the CIA has no idea whom they are killing about a quarter of the time. Keep in mind that if a military-aged male is killed in a strike he is automatically presumed to be a militant. The implication being, there is a huge room for error, and many of these "unknown militants" are likely civilians. In one case, the CIA classified 20-22 "unknown militants" killed. This strike actually killed around 40 civilians.
Myth No. 2: Drones Are Accurate
The Pentagon rhetoric touting "pinpoint" and "laser" accuracy of drones is baseless. Dr. Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group with close ties to the U.S. military, studied the record in Afghanistan and found that drone strikes were no more accurate than traditional air power. So, after all this talk about the ability to discern enemies through surveillance, they are no more accurate than traditional flybys. This rhetoric has allowed us to kill innocent children.
Notably, this study was done in Afghanistan, where there is ample ground and human intelligence for selecting and assessing targets, as well as people who investigate the aftermath of the strikes. But that is not the case in Pakistan and Yemen, which means that the strikes have been more deadly for civilians. The implications from this reality are cynical and cavalier: Either the information on the ground is faulty, or drone operators are OK with certain levels of civilian casualties. Regardless, drones fall far short of the hyped rhetoric coming from the Obama administration.
Myth No. 3: Drone Targets Imminently Threaten America
The mainstream media have played into the CIA/administration’s selective leaks about drones, especially the concept of a "kill list." This military branding conjures up a process of carefully selected enemies who pose imminent threats to the U.S. However, the reality of "signature strikes" undercuts this P.R. construction.
Never officially acknowledged by the administration, signature strikes target unknown suspected militants who display "pattern of live" behavior associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban. What the "patterns" consist of is officially a secret. What we do know is that as soon as signature strikes were implemented there was a spike in the number of drone strikes and the number of people killed in strikes.
Furthermore, reporting has recently revealed that the original authorization for drone strikes in Pakistan came from now deposed President Musharraf. The only way he would approve of the strikes was if the CIA killed his enemies. These "side-payments" became a characteristic of the CIA program. Instead of focusing on enemies of the U.S., the CIA played along with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, and its military to hit targets who posed no threat to the U.S.
Myth No. 4 Drones Are Cheap
Setting aside the moral, legal and efficacy arguments about drones, the mantra from the administration, lobbyists and their lackeys in Congress has been drones’ low per-unit cost of $4 million to $5 million. According to Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight, "This is quite incorrect." He states, "The actual cost for a Reaper unit is $120.8 million in 2012 dollars." This is far above the $27.2 million F-16C or the $18.8 million A-10. Seemingly, this "aura of inevitability" about investing in this new revolutionizing weapon is the military-industrial-complex at its self-serving worst.
Myth No. 5: Drones Are Making Americans Safer
They are not, in fact. Not only are drones effectively destabilizing a nuclear power, Pakistan, in one of the most conflict-ridden regions of the world, they are inciting waves of suicide bombers to attack Pakistan. They are also directly threatening the U.S.
In a global age of connectivity there is a new phenomenon of self-radicalization. People who identify with the Muslim Diaspora are seeing their kinsmen being murdered by America in a most brutal way. The Boston Marathon bombers are only the latest example of this phenomenon. The most notorious self-radicalized terrorist was Faisal Shahzad, who, in 2010, tried to blow up New York’s Times Square. When asked about his motive, he directly cited drones.
These rebels with a cause will sadly become the norm as we push and provoke more of the world’s 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion Muslims into the political fringes where American violence begets more violence.
* * *
Last fall I traveled to Pakistan where I witnessed firsthand the horror and challenges people of Pakistan face while living under drones. I went to Pakistan to investigate the civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes and to speak with Pakistani people about how drone strikes impact their families, their communities and their lives. During my travels I met Rafiq ur Rehman and his son and two young daughters whose mother was killed in a drone strike. Rafiq’s daughters reminded me of my daughters at a very young age and speaking with them left a significant impression on me. It helped drive my desire to create our upcoming film on drones.
We’re working to break through the myth and expose the truth about drone strikes.
Please donate to our crowd-funding campaign on IndieGogo to help us finish and release our documentary on "America’s Drone Wars."
Every dollar makes a difference – support this cause by getting the word out and SHARE this page with your friends and family.


الجمعة، 30 أغسطس 2013

Why is a BBC journalist on an expenses-paid propaganda junket to Israel?

Why is a BBC journalist on an expenses-paid propaganda junket to Israel?

Benjamin Doherty

Israeli army spokesperson Avital Leibovich speaks to MICS 2011 participants at IDC Herzliya.(Media in Conflicts Seminar)

Dozens of young journalists, including at least one working for the BBC, are in Israel this week for a government-backed junket designed to give them "a more positive attitude" toward Israel’s policies.
The journalists are attending the Media in Conflicts Seminar (MICS) at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya (IDC Herzliya).
Now in its fifth year, the seminar is the brainchild of the advocacy group StandWithUs.
The Media in Conflicts Seminar is "hasbara for foreign media personnel, diplomats and youth from all over the world," according to the website of Israel’s Ministry for Public Diplomacy (which was recently absorbed into the prime minister’s office).
Hasbara is a Hebrew word that literally translates as "explaining" but is used specifically to describe government propaganda and outreach efforts to gain support for Israel’s policies.
According to the ministry, the Media in Conflicts Seminar specifically targets non-Jewish Europeans.


Those attending this year include Zahra Ullah, a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales1; Indre Anskaityte, a radio journalist from Lithuania; Rachel Dzanashvili, a freelance contributor to Fox News; Tomas Halasz, a photographer from Slovakia; Joseph Shawyer, a staffer at the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency; Mariana Granja, a reporter for Agence France Presse; and Gayatri Parameswaran, a contributor to Al Jazeera and Radio Netherlands.
George Hale, a senior editor for Ma’an News Agency, confirmed that Shawyer was attending the seminar. However, Hale told The Electronic Intifada in an email that Shawyer was doing so "in a personal capacity, not on behalf of Ma’an."
Hale added that Shawyer is "not a member of the news team."
US journalist Anna Lekas Miller was accepted to attend, but announced on Twitter on Sunday that she was denied entry to Israel. Afghan journalist Mirwais Jalalzai reported on the MICS Facebook page that he was denied a visa as well.
Previous participants include Florence DaveyAttlee of CNN International, Carl Fridh Kleberg of Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå, and Keith Demicoli of Television Malta.
The Electronic Intifada asked Felix Gaedtke, who lists MICS 2012 as professional education on his resume, if MICS organizers disclosed to him their funding from and affiliation with the government propaganda ministry. He replied "I don’t remember what the organisers told us about the funding for the seminar."
MICS published lists of participants and speakers for 2009 and 2010 on the IDC Herzliya web site. Past participants can also be seen in videos posted to the MICS YouTube channel.

Winning friends

New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner speaks to MICS 2011 participants at IDC Herzliya.
(Media in Conflicts Seminar)
"The purpose of the seminar is to find young journalists who will work in the world of media, as well as those who aspire to be 'opinion makers’ in their countries, and to put them through workshops about media coverage of conflict zones," organizers stated in a fundraising appeal.
According to its official website, the Media in Conflicts Seminar includes "A 5-day fully subsidized stay in Israel (Not including airfare)" and a "strategic tour of Jerusalem and the conflict areas."
It also boasts that "participants develop skills to face the challenges of conflict reporting, create a priceless professional network and experience the world’s most covered conflict zone."
In addition to seminars on "terrorism," and military and political topics, the participants meet Israeli political leaders, academics and senior Israeli journalists.
Past speakers are a who’s who of Israeli political and military echelons, including Avital Leibovich, who became notorious as army spokesperson during the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, and former Minister of Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein.
In 2011, the seminar was addressed by Ethan Bronner, then the ethically-challenged New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem. BBC Arabic journalist Ahmad Budeiri also addressed the seminar in 2012.
This year’s seminar will be addressed by Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Ilana Stein.
The organizers have touted the success of previous seminars, claiming, "The impact of MICS is evident in [the participants] subsequent media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Ties to the government

The Media in Conflicts Seminar bears the hallmarks of Israel’s strategy to fight "delegitimization," laid out in 2010 by the Reut Institute, a think tank with military-intelligence ties.
In an influential report, Reut recommended that Israel "maintain thousands of personal relationships with political, cultural, media and security-related elites and influentials" around the world.
A 2009 press release says the project is "Approved by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora."
A 2012 report by Molad, the center for the renewal of Israeli democracy, includes an appendix that identifies the Media in Conflicts Seminar as part of the government’s "hasbara apparatus."
The Molad reports notes, referring to MICS, that "the Minsitry of Public Diplomacy organizes a yearly seminar, in cooperation with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzeliya, for members of the media and senior journalists from Europe to develop personal, intimate relationships that encourage a more positive attitude towards Israel’s foreign and domestic policies."

Conceived by StandWithUs

The Media in Conflicts Seminar was conceived by the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship recipients in 2009.
StandWithUs is the multi-million dollar US-based anti-Palestinian advocacy group that works closely with the Israeli government.
A press release and an email newsletter published in 2009 by IDC Herzliya identify Taly Gerber, an artillery Instructor in the IDF Field Intelligence Unit, Nuphar Schwartz and Sharon Savariego as the main organizers of the first seminar.
While IDC Herzliya students have held online fundraisers and a vintage clothing sale for the Media in Conflicts Seminar, these have raised no more than a few hundred dollars.
The total cost of the Media in Conflict Seminar in 2010 was 150,000 shekels ($41,600), of which 80,000 ($22,000) was paid by the Israeli government and the rest by StandWithUs, according to an official Ministry of Public Diplomacy budget.

IDC Herzliya: hotbed of government propaganda

The Media in Conflicts Seminar claims that it is a "student initiative" at IDC Herzliya, and the unsuccessful online fundraising campaigns can perhaps be seen as an effort to lend authenticity to this claim.
In fact, IDC Herzliya students are heavily involved in state propaganda efforts, and the seminar is only one example.
IDC Herzliya itself is an Israeli academic institution that has become synonymous with an annual conference attended by military and political leaders who have often used it as a platform for racist and belligerent statements.
One perk of attending the Media in Conflicts Seminar is access to the annual IDC Herzliya conference.
And as Yara Sa’di reported for The Electronic Intifada last month:
IDC Herzliya’s Ambassador Club is a year-long program for more than two hundred students from thirty countries run in partnership with StandWithUs. The program includes lectures on media, economy and history in order to "arm the students with the latest surveys and data and to teach them how to present the Israeli narrative" in North America and Europe. At the end of the course, each participant receives "an accreditation endorsed by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs," according to the StandWithUs website.
Last November, during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, students there set up a "war room" to "send out messages in support of the attack on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter."
IDC Herzliya would therefore appear to be the ideal model for the recently revealed "covert" effort to recruit students at all seven Israeli universities into a social media propaganda program run out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Media in Conflicts Seminar is no place for journalists

Given the clear government backing and propaganda goals of the Media in Conflicts Seminar, it is inappropriate for any media organization seeking to maintain its credibility reporting on Palestine and the Israelis to allow its staff to participate in this junket.

  1. After publication of this post, Zahra Ullah changed her LinkedIn profile and Twitter profile to show that her affiliation with BBC Wales has ended. At the time the post was published, her Twitter bio stated clearly that she was a "broadcast journalist currently working at BBC Wales." 


‘Violent chaos’: Libya in deep crisis 2 years since rebels took over

‘Violent chaos’: Libya in deep crisis 2 years since rebels took over



On this day two years ago, Libyan rebels were transferring their government to Tripoli. However, the anniversary is marred by an acute parliamentary crisis, a severe economic slump and the country becoming the main base for Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.

August could have been a month of festivities in Libya, marking the watershed in the rebels’ fight against Muammar Gaddafi, who had to flee Tripoli. Even though it would still be two months before the fugitive dictator was captured and brutally killed, the insurgents celebrated their victory and had their government transferred from the cradle of the revolution, Benghazi, to the capital.

The euphoria of the revolution has all but gone now, as Libya finds itself mired in deep political crisis as well as economic turmoil.

"We do not feel the taste of happiness, security and stability," a resident of Tripoli is cited as saying by Libya Herald, "nor did we have any benefit from the government. People are now feeling insecure and live in fear because of killings that are being witnessed all over Libya."

The government’s ruling Justice and Construction party, controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, has been facing tough confrontation with the opposition. Fearing the Egypt-style scenario, the president of congress, Nuri Abu Sahmain, had militias allied to the Brotherhood summoned to the capital.

The main opposition party, the National Forces Alliance, which mostly consisted in anti-Gaddafi rebels, has announced the suspension of its political activity in protest against the move.

"I am not sure that it will be right to assume that there is a government in Libya. There is no army, no police, armed militias are in control. There is violent chaos," Yehudit Ronen, professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, told RT.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a wave of assassinations has killed dozens of politicians, activists, judges and members of security agencies.

"At least 51 people have died in a broadening wave of apparent political assassinations in the cities of Benghazi and Derna in volatile eastern Libya. Authorities have not prosecuted anyone for these crimes," an HRW report of August 8 states.

Militias, representing diverse interests have impacted decision-making in Libya. Earlier this year armed groups held the Libyan Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry besieged, pushing through the Political Isolation law, according to which Gaddafi-era officials were denied the right to be part of the new government.

"All we hear is very troublesome, because we hear about clandestine detention centers, detention centers that are run by militias that are not accountable to anybody," Juan Mendez, UN rapporteur on torture told RT.

Unable to cope with militias the government has reportedly turned to Gaddafi-era surveillance techniques, according to anonymous officials the Wall Street Journal.

With all of these troubling reports coming out of Libya, there’s quite an optimistic vision of the situation though within the General National Congress (GNC).

"Now we have improved dramatically. We have security committee for Benghazi. We have a special committee in the GNC that’s dealing with the Human Rights Watch," said Suleiman Awad Faraj Zubi, a member of parliament, in an interview with RT.

However he admitted that the government did "have a lack of power on the ground in certain areas."

Those must be the areas voicing their desire to break away from Libya as Cyrenaica and Fezzan, which are seeking autonomy. Both of the regions possess oil reserves, which could be blocked if the breakaway spirit prevails.

Two years after Gaddafi regime fall the country’s constitution is yet to be adopted. There are fears that once finally in place, the constitution will fail to address the needs of all of the diverse communities within the country.

"Libyan society consists of Arabs, Berbers and Tebu, so the constitution should represent all segments of Libyan society and if any group of Libyan society is ignored, then this means exclusion," Najmi Maylowd, Berber protestor told RT.

Earlier in August the Berbers stormed the Libyan parliament to protest against what they believe is their marginalization. The Berbers – who make up 10 percent of the population – fear their language and culture are not going to be protected by the future constitution. On July 25, Berbers shut down a gas pipeline, going through their territory in the western district of Nalout.

Meanwhile, work at Libya's oilfields and ports have been regularly paralyzed because of sporadic strikes by security guards.

"Libya has lost $1.6 billion in oil sales since July 25 until today," Oil Minister Abdelbari al-Arusi was cited by Reuters on August 16.

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan even promised to use military force to prevent striking at the country's main ports. Libya’s two main crude oil terminals have however remained shut, which means the country’s economic recovery after the 2011 unrest has been derailed.

And as if economic turmoil and infighting weren't enough, reports emerged of Al-Qaeda making Southern Libya its new base of operations, following its members being ousted from the nearby Mali, following the French intervention to fight the Islamist insurgency there.

At least that was what an anonymous top Libyan intelligence official said in an interview to The Daily Beast.

"Libya has become AQIM’s [Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb] headquarters," the intelligence source was cited as saying.

Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-Africa Newswire, predicts that the instability in the post-Gaddafi Libya will only get worse.

"This kind of revolution has been detrimental to the wellbeing of the Libyan people. What we’ve seen over the last few years is a total disruption of Libyan society. There’s no plan for the national restoration of Libya. Many of the key political players involved in an attempt to run Libya right now are divided over tribal, regional as well as political levels," Azikiwe told RT.

"And until the general national council government there reigns in the malicious and tries to bring about some type of national reconciliation process, the economic decline and consequently the social instability will intensify."


الخميس، 29 أغسطس 2013

Obama Gives Bush "Absolute Immunity" For Everything

Obama Gives Bush "Absolute Immunity" For Everything

by Abby Zimet

Days before Bradley - now Chelsea - Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq, the Obama Department of Justice filed a petition in federal court arguing that the perpetrators of those crimes - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al - enjoy "absolute immunity" against criminal charges or civil liability. The filing came in a suit brought by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, who alleges that the planning and waging of the Iraq war under false pretenses constituted a "crime of aggression" under a law used in the Nuremberg trials. With neither Congress nor Obama willing to hold Bush & Co. accountable for the Iraq catastrophe, supporters see the suit as a last-chance tactic to force the issue back into the public eye - an effort the Obama adminstration clearly opposes. More, all dispiriting, on the increasingly flawed Bush-Obama-lesser-of-two-evils thesis, and the current culture of impunity.


الأربعاء، 28 أغسطس 2013

Eavesdropping on the Whole World

Eavesdropping on the Whole World

Pratap Chatterjee


BERKELEY, California, August 25, 2013 (IPS) - How do U.S. intelligence agencies eavesdrop on the whole world? The ideal place to tap trans-border telecommunications is undersea cables that carry an estimated 90 percent of international voice traffic.

These cables date back in history to 1858 when they were first installed to support the international telegraph system, with the British taking the lead to wire the far reaches of its empire. Today a multi-billion dollar shipping industry continues to lay and maintain hundreds of such cables that crisscross the planet – over half a million miles of such cables are draped along the ocean floor and snaked around coastlines – to make landfall at special locations to be connected to national telecommunications systems.

The original cables were made of copper but about 25 years ago, they were replaced by fibre-optic cables. The oldest undersea cable was Trans Atlantic-8 (installed in 1988 by AT&T to transmit data from Tuckerton, New Jersey to Bude, Cornwall) which transmitted data at 280 megabits per second.

The latest cables like Yellow/Atlantic Crossing 2 (installed in 2000 and upgraded in 2007 by Level Three Communications from Brookhaven, New York to Bude, Cornwall) is capable of transmitting data at an astonishing 640 gigabits per second, which is roughly equal to 7.5 million simultaneous phone calls.

In order to make sure that data and voice are transmitted quickly and accurately across the world even if cables break or equipment fails, cable companies break the data into separate tiny packets that are dispatched over what they call "redundant fibre optic paths" across the ocean before it is captured and re-assembled on the other side, where it also becomes easy to intercept the data unobtrusively.

This is where Glimmerglass, a northern California company that sells optical fibre technology, comes in. In September 2002, the company started to ship a pioneering technology to help transmit data accurately over multiple optical paths.

Their patented "3D Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System (MEMS) mirror array" is composed of 210 gold-coated mirrors mounted on microscopic hinges, each measuring just one millimeter in diameter, etched on a single wafer of silicon.

Each mirror can be individually managed by remote operators anywhere in the world to capture or bounce the light signals and even more importantly, communicate with the other mirrors to make sure that the rest of the array stays in place, allowing very accurate data transmission. This technology slashed the cost of optical switching by a factor of 100, and the company claims that the switches are very robust with an expected failure rate of once in 30 years.

For telecommunication companies, Glimmerglass offers three hardware racks to handle optical data – the entry level "100″ system which can handle as many as 96×96 fibre ports for traffic as high as 100 gigabits per second all the way up to the "600″ system which can handle 192×192 fibre ports. It also offers the "3000″ system which can hold up to 12 racks.

A major advantage of the Glimmerglass technology, according to the company, is that operators can "monitor and test remote facilities" at undersea cable landings from a central office and then select any one of multiple optical signals to distribute it to multiple recipients, as well as the ability to redirect any signal.

"With Glimmerglass Intelligent Optical Systems, any signal travelling over fibre can be redirected in milliseconds, without adversely affecting customer traffic," the company writes on its website. "At a landing site, this connectivity permits optical layer connections between the wet side and dry side to be re-provisioned in milliseconds from the Network Operations Center with a few clicks of a mouse."

In another section of the public website the company also promotes a product named Glimmerglass Intelligent Optical System (IOS) that combines the 3D-MEMS switches with another Glimmerglass product called CyberSweep into an integrated product that has the ability to "monitor and selectively intercept communications".

"Service Providers can use the speed and flexibility of the IOS to select and deliver signals to Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA)," add company brochures uncovered by Wikileaks. "The agency gains rapid access, not just to signals, but to individual wavelengths on those signals (and) make perfect photonic copies of optical signals for comprehensive analysis."

Could the new Glimmerglass optical switching technology be the means by which the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is tapping international phone calls, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper?

Vanee Vines, a spokesperson for the NSA, declined to comment on either Glimmerglass or the tapping of the undersea cables. Glimmerglass officials did not return multiple email and phone calls.

But Glimmerglass has told industry media that it sells this technology to some major government intelligence agencies.

"We’ve become a gold standard in the intel and defence community. They’re managing these optical signals so they can acquire, split, move and obtain the necessary information to protect the country," Robert Lundy, the CEO of Glimmerglass for the last nine years, told Fierce Telecom, an industry blog, in an interview about global malware threats.

"At their undersea landing locations, their major points of presence, on a selective basis they need to acquire and monitor those optical signals rather than wait to get it off somebody’s, when it hits a PC or cellphone."

Keith May, his deputy in charge of business development, has gone even further. "We believe that our 3D MEMS technology – as used by governments and various agencies – is involved in the collection of intelligence from sensors, satellites and undersea fibre systems," May told the magazine. "We are deployed in several countries that are using it for lawful interception."

Fulfilling a dream

Analysis of bulk telecommunications data to track as yet unknown targets has long been on the NSA wish list. For decades, the agency stuck to following specific individuals because there was no way to capture and analyse everything.

In 2000, two rival projects were commissioned to try to collect "all the signals all the time". Science Applications International Corporation, based in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, was given a contract to design a collection system called TrailBlazer, while the NSA’s in-house Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC) worked on a project called ThinThread.

TrailBlazer was eventually jettisoned as unworkable after 1.2 billion dollars had been spent. ThinThread was more successful, according to its proponents, because it was able to selectively process important information and dump the rest. The designers also created controls to anonymise the data collection to avoid violating privacy laws.

ThinThread could "correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, G.P.S. equipment, and any other 'attributes’ that an analyst might find useful in pinpointing 'the bad guys,’" writes Jane Mayer in the New Yorker magazine, based on her interviews with former NSA staff.

Unfortunately for the SARC team, ThinThread was vetoed by upper management at the NSA in August 2001. But after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, the NSA is believed to have returned to the drawing board. Rumor has it that the project was restarted, stripped of any privacy controls.

Some of the scientists who worked on the project recently came forward to say that they had made a mistake.

"I should apologise to the American people," William Binney, a former NSA staffer who was in charge of designing ThinThread, told Mayer. "It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world."

Pratap Chatterjee is executive director of CorpWatch. This story originally appeared on


Banks investigate BT over Yemen drone strike link

Banks investigate BT over Yemen drone strike link


A number of major financial institutions are investigating telecoms firm BT over its alleged involvement in the US’ covert drone warfare programme.

The firms considering their investments in BT – after human rights charity Reprieve filed a complaint with the UK Government – include Standard Life, Blackrock, ING and Lloyds.  Lloyds said in a letter to Reprieve that they have "asked our investment arm to investigate this matter in full."

The concerns centre on BT’s role in providing communications infrastructure between a US base in the UK and Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, from which US drones over Yemen are operated.  The CIA and US Special Forces carry out covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan which have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties – and are considered to be illegal under international law as they take place outside of war zones.

In response to questions from journalists over their involvement in the covert drone programme, BT have said that they are "comfortable having the US government as a client," and that "what they do with it [the service provided by BT] is their concern rather than ours."

However, a number of BT’s investors have confirmed that they are looking into the issue.  Lloyds has told Reprieve that it "has requested analysis of the issues you raise from the research agencies it uses for human rights issues," while ING has said it is "keen to understand the outcomes" of the complaints procedure which will be carried out by the UK Government under OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines.

Commenting, Reprieve CSR Advocate Catherine Gilfedder said: "BT’s response to date has been to refuse to address how the US government uses the company’s systems.  If the company is playing a key role in the US’ illegal drone war, then its investors and its customers deserve to know.  Hundreds of civilians have died as a result of covert drone strikes, the latest step in the misguided 'War on Terror’ – BT must come clean on whether or not it is involved in this."


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office:

2. Reprieve wrote to a number of investors concerning their stakes in BT, and BT’s alleged role in supporting covert US drone strikes in Yemen.  The following are extracts from their responses:

"I have…asked our investment arm to investigate this matter in full."

And in a subsequent response:

"Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, our investment business, has requested analysis of the issues you raise from the research agencies it uses for human rights issues.  It will also be contacting BT directly to understand its position. We note that you have requested this issue is investigated by the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines.  This could help clarify the status of BT's involvement in this case.  We look forward with interest to the outcome of any investigation undertaken as a result of your complaint.  We will monitor developments on this issue closely."

"As we understand, Reprieve filed a complaint with regard to this issue with the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. We are keen to understand the outcomes of the NCP complaint procedure. Could you please keep us informed of any response by the UK NCP."

"I can confirm that we have discussed your letter with representatives of BT."

Standard Life
"We will consider this matter as part of our engagement processes"

Universities Superannuation Scheme Limited
"We will monitor the situation, and will await the outcome of any review by the OECD National Contact Point Research into this issue."

Ameriprise Financial
"We will await the outcome of the complaint filed with the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises."

No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops”

No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops”

By Steven Salaita 

Enlisted military and veterans hold the american flag during the national anthem prior to the Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball game (Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill)
Compulsory patriotism does nothing for soldiers who risk their lives -- but props up those who profit from war

My 16-month-old son was having a bad day. When he doesn’t sleep in the car, he usually points and babbles his approval of all the wonderful things babies notice that completely escape adult attention. On this afternoon, though, he was teething and hungry, a lethal scenario for an energetic youngster strapped into a high-tech seating apparatus (approved and installed, of course, by the state).

When it became clear he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sleep it out, my wife and I stopped at a nondescript exit, the kind one finds every six miles in the South, with two gas stations and three abandoned buildings (if you’re lucky, you also get a Hampton Inn and Cracker Barrel). While she tended to the baby, I entered a convenience store — one of those squat, glass and plastic rectangles that looks like a Sears & Roebuck erector set — praying it would have something other than beer, cigarettes and beef jerky.

I settled on two Kraft mozzarella sticks, resisting the urge to purchase for myself a shiny red can of Four Loko.

"That’ll be $1.82," the lady at the counter cheerily informed me. After I handed her two ones, she asked, "Would you like to donate your change to the troops?" I noticed a jar with "support our troops" taped to it in handwritten ink.

"No, thank you," I answered firmly.

"Well … OK, then, sir," she responded in subtle reproach, her smile not quite so ascendant anymore. "You have a good day now."

She had good reason to be disappointed. The vast majority of customers, I imagine, spare a few dimes and pennies for so important a cause. Her response evinced more shock than anger. She wasn’t expecting a refusal of 18 cents, even from a guy who looks very much like those responsible for the danger to our troops.

Besides, nobody likes to have their altruism invalidated by a recalcitrant or ungrateful audience.

I could have asked how the donations would be used, but no matter the answer I would have kept my 18 cents. I don’t consider patriotism a beneficent force, for it asks us to exhibit loyalty to nation-states that never fully accommodate their entire populations. In recent years I’ve grown fatigued of appeals on behalf of the troops, which intensify in proportion to the belligerence or potential unpopularity of the imperial adventure du jour.

In addition to donating change to the troops, we are repeatedly impelled to "support our troops" or to "thank our troops." God constantly blesses them. Politicians exalt them. We are warned, "If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them." One wonders if our troops are the ass-kicking force of P.R. lore or an agglomeration of oversensitive duds and beggars.
Such troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger. A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to "support our troops" is explicitly asking its citizens not to think. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation.
I returned to the car, wondering if it will ever be possible to escape the inveterate branding of war as a civic asset in the United States. My son happily grabbed his snack and giggled as I jingled the change before dropping it into the ashtray.
* * *
The troops are now everywhere. They occupy bases and war zones throughout the Arab world and Central Asia and have permanent presence in dozens of countries. They also occupy every tract of discursive territory in the United States. The troops are our omnipresent, if amorphous, symbols of moral and intellectual austerity.
No televised sporting event escapes celebration of the troops. Networks treat viewers to stars and stripes covering entire football fields, complementing the small-but-always-visible flags the studio hosts sport on their lapels. The national anthem is often accompanied by fighter jets and cannon blasts. Displays of hypermasculine prowess frame the reciprocal virtues of courage and devotion embedded in American war mythology.
Corporate entities are the worst offenders. On flights, troops are offered early boarding and then treated to rounds of applause during the otherwise forgettable safety announcements. Anheuser-Busch recently won the Secretary of Defense Public Service Award and in 2011 "Budweiser paid tribute to America’s heroes with a patriotic float in the Rose Parade®." The Army’s website has a page dedicated to "Army Friendly Companies"; it is filled with an all-star lineup of the Forbes 500 as well as dozens of regional businesses.
I do not begrudge the troops for availing themselves of any benefits companies choose to offer, nor do I begrudge the companies for offering those benefits. Of greater interest is what the phenomenon of corporate charity for the troops tells us about commercial conduct in an era of compulsory patriotism.
It tells us, first of all, that corporations care far less about the individuals who happen to have served in the military than they do about "the troops" as an exploitable consumer category. Unthinking patriotism, exemplified by support of the troops (however insincere or self-serving), is an asset to the modern business model, not simply for good P.R., but also for the profit it generates.
Multinational corporations have a profound interest in cheerleading for war and in the deification of those sent to execute it. For many of these corporations, the U.S. military is essentially a private army dispatched around the world as needed to protect their investments and to open new markets. Their customers may "support our troops" based on sincere feelings of sympathy or camaraderie, but for the elite the task of an ideal citizenry isn’t to analyze or to investigate, but to consume. In order for the citizenry to consume an abundance of products most people don’t actually need, it is necessary to interject the spoils of international larceny into the marketplace.
* * *
"Support the troops" is the most overused platitude in the United States, but still the most effective for anybody who seeks interpersonal or economic ingratiation. The platitude abounds with significance but lacks the burdens of substance and specificity. It says something apparently apolitical while patrolling for heresy to an inelastic logic. Its only concrete function is to situate users into normative spaces.
Clichés aren’t usually meant to be analyzed, but this one illuminates imperialism so succinctly that to think seriously about it is to necessarily assess jingoism, foreign policy, and national identity. The sheer vacuity and inexplicability of the phrase, despite its ubiquity, indicates just how incoherent patriotism is these days.
Who, for instance, are "the troops"? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany? Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq? The ones I’ve seen many times in the Arab world acting like an Adam Sandler character? "The troops" traverse vast sociological, geographical, economic and ideological categories. It does neither military personnel nor their fans any good to romanticize them as a singular organism.
And what, exactly, constitutes "support"? Is it financial giving? Affixing a declarative sticker to a car bumper? Posting banalities to Facebook? Clapping when the flight attendant requests applause?
Ultimately, the support we’re meant to proffer is ideological. The terms we use to define the troops — freedom-fighters, heroic, courageous — are synecdoche for the romance of American warfare: altruistic, defensive, noble, reluctant, ethical. To support the troops is to accept a particular idea of the American role in the world. It also forces us to pretend that it is a country legitimately interested in equality for all its citizens. Too much evidence to the contrary makes it impossible to accept such an assumption.
In reality, the troops are not actually recipients of any meaningful support. That honor is reserved for the government and its elite constituencies. "Support our troops" entails a tacit injunction that we also support whatever politicians in any given moment deem the national interest. If we understand that "the national interest" is but a metonym for the aspirations of the ruling class, then supporting the troops becomes a counterintuitive, even harmful, gesture.
The government’s many appeals to support the troops represent an outsourcing of its responsibility (as with healthcare, education and incarceration). Numerous veterans have returned home to inadequate medical coverage, psychological afflictions, unemployment and increased risk of cancer. The free market and corporate magnanimity are supposed to address these matters, but neither has ever been a viable substitute for the dynamic practices of communal policymaking. A different sort of combat ensues: class warfare, without the consciousness.
As in most areas of the American polity, we pay taxes that favor the private sector, which then refuses to contribute to any sustainable vision of the public good. The only serious welfare programs in the United States benefit the most powerful among us. Individual troops, who are made to preserve and perpetuate this system, rarely enjoy the spoils. The bonanza is reserved for those who exploit the profitability of warfare through the acquisition of foreign resources and the manufacture of weapons.
Supporting the troops is a cheerful surrogate for enabling the friendly dictators, secret operations, torture practices and spying programs that sustain this terrible economy.
* * *
My wife and I often discuss what our son might grow up to accomplish. A consistent area of disagreement is his possible career choice. She can think of few things worse than him one day joining the military (in any capacity), while I would not object to such a decision.
Those who know me might be surprised by my position, but it arises from a belief consistent with my political outlook, that the power of institutions can never overwhelm the simple act of thinking. In other words, even if the military as an institution often does bad things, the individuals that comprise the military do not have to become bad people. Soldiers can certainly be awful human beings, but so can professors, clerks, musicians, executives, landscapers and athletes.
This way of thinking also inversely demystifies the troops, who are burdened with untenable narratives of heroism the vast majority (like those in all professions) do not deserve. I am neither smart nor foolish enough to define "heroism," but I am comfortable saying the mere fact of being a soldier doesn’t automatically make one a hero, just as the mere fact of being in prison doesn’t necessarily make one evil.
If we recognize that the troops are in fact human beings, then we simultaneously accept that they are too complex to be reduced to patriotic ephemera. Such recognition is unusual, though. People speak frequently of "our troops," highlighting the pronoun as if it is imperative to their sense of national belonging. It is an act of possession that projects fantasies of virtue onto an idealized demographic in the absence of substantive virtuous practices that might otherwise foster national pride. Plutocracy ravages the state; we rebuild it with narratives of glory and selflessness, the troops acting as both the signifier and the signified in this nationalistic uplift.
The selflessness of our troops is particularly sacred. Not only do they bring order and democracy to lesser peoples; they also risk (and sometimes give) their lives for the good of others, so that civilians might continue driving, shopping, dining and watching movies, the hallmarks of American freedom. That these notions of sacrifice connote a Christ-like narrative of individual-death-for-collective-pleasure only endows them with even greater cultural power.
Whether or not our son ever joins the military, questions about the deployment of mythological slogans in the service of socioeconomic iniquity need to be addressed. His joining or not joining will have no effect on that need, which will remain even if he becomes a teacher or doctor. I want him to enter into adulthood in a world where people impeach and diminish the mystification of corporate plunder. More than anything, I want him to participate in the process, whether he does it from a barrack, a cubicle or a corner office.
It would be wise to avoid countervailing slogans, such as the assertive but nonetheless meager Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home! One goal is to disrupt and rethink, something much easier to accomplish in the absence of shibboleths. Another goal is to continue exploring why support for troops as prescribed by sports leagues and conglomerates actually does a great disservice to the human beings who comprise the military and reinforces a plutocratic imperium for those who do not.
Next time you are asked to "support our troops," then, remember that in a country where wealth decides the fate of so many communities, such an uncritical gesture isn’t even worth the change from a broken dollar.