I understand there is some kind of event scheduled for this evening that will feature two known and proven liars mouthing pious rhetoric, brazen falsehoods and scripted zingers in a process carefully crafted by their paid handlers to exclude any substantive examination of genuine issues of vital concern to the citizens whom the two known liars purportedly wish to "serve." I understand this will be followed by an outpouring of fetid gas emitted by a series of third-rate intellects and clueless goobers in various media who will examine the body language and facial expressions of the two proven liars to determine which of the liars might have gained the most political benefit from their lying and zinging and pious posing.The end result of this process will be that one of the two known and proven liars will become the temporary manager of a world-spanning, treasury-bleeding war machine which they will use to kill many innocent people over the next four years while continuing to degrade the lives and liberties of their own citizens on behalf of a brutal, stupid and rapacious elite.
This, we are told, is a very serious event to which very serious people should pay very serious attention. Fortunately, I am an entirely frivolous person, so I will be free to ignore this very serious business. Instead I think I might go out back and throw a few sticks on the fire. Like so:
In the category of "the sky is blue," "fire is hot" and "the sun rises in the east," the Guardian reports on a new study showing that Washington's murderous drone killing campaign in Pakistan is "counterproductive."
The sarcasm above is not meant to cast aspersions on the report itself -- which is detailed, devastating, and very productive -- but on the prevailing mindset in the ruling circles of the West (the self-proclaimed "defenders of civilization") that makes such a study even necessary, much less 'controversial.'
For of course even the denizens of the many secret services and black-op armies and intelligence agencies that make up America's world-straddling security apparat have said, repeatedly, that Washington's policy of murdering, torturing, renditioning and indefinitely detaining innocent people all over the world -- day after day, week after week, year after year -- is in fact creating the very extremism and anti-Americanism the policy purports to combat.
Thus the new report, by the law schools of New York University and Stanford (a famously if not notoriously conservative institution) should be, in a sane and rational world, a case of carrying coals to Newscastle or selling ice to the Inuit: an exercise in redunancy.
But instead, sadly, the report, "Living Under Drones," is a very, very rare instance of speaking truth to the power that is waging a hideous campaign of terror -- there is no other word for it -- against innocent people all over the world.
The personal testimonies gathered by the researchers -- on the ground, in Pakistan -- are shattering ... at least for those who actually believe that these swarthy foreigner are actually human beings, with "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions .. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is." You can be sure -- you can be damned sure -- that the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has never and will never read these stories of the ones he is terrorizing, night and day. These testimonies will never appear beside the scraps of rumor, conjecture and brutal prejudice that constitute the "reports" he sees each Tuesday -- "Terror Tuesday" -- when he meets in the Oval Office with his death squad team to decide who will be assassinated that week.
The Guardian gives a good overview of the report:
The CIA's programme of "targeted" drone killings in Pakistan's tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics. The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis.
Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
"The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling 'targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the report, entitled Living Under Drones, states. ...
The "best available information", they say, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period. ...
"US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning," the American law schools report says. "Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.
"These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims."
The study goes on to say: "Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of 'high-level' militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy."
A powerful story, setting out the lineaments of the report with admirable concision. But then the Guardian correspondent, Owen Bowcott [or his inserting editors], betray heartbreaking naivete:
Coming from American lawyers rather than overseas human rights groups, the criticisms are likely to be more influential in US domestic debates over the legality of drone warfare.
The truth, of course, is that regardless of its "Homeland" provenance, this report will have no influence whatsoever on the non-existent "debate over the legality of drone warfare" in the United States. For beyond the rare, isolated op-ed, there is no "debate" on drone warfare in American political or media circles. The bipartisan political establishment is united in its support of the practice; indeed, both parties plan to expand the use of drones on a large scale in the future. This murderous record -- and this shameful complicity -- will be one of the Peace Laureate lasting legacies, whether he wins re-election or not.
As the story notes:
Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. George Bush wanted to create a global 'war on terror' without borders, but it has taken Obama's drone war to achieve his dream."
However, there can be no sensible disagreement over certain salient facts: first, the US now has more than 10,000 weaponised drones in its arsenal; second, as many as six Predator drones circle over one location at any given time, often for 24 hours a day, with high-resolution cameras snooping on the movements of everyone below; third, the Predators emit an eerie sound, earning them the name bangana (buzzing wasp) in Pashtu; fourth, everyone in the area can see them, 5,000ft up, all day – and hear them all night long; fifth, nobody knows when the missile will come, and turn each member of the family into what the CIA calls a "bugsplat". The Predator operator, thousands of miles away in Nevada, often pushes the button over a cup of coffee in the darkest hours of the Waziristan night, between midnight and 5am. So a parent putting children to bed cannot be sure they will wake up safely.
Stafford Smith also speaks of his mother, who lived through the attacks by Adolf Hitler's drones -- the V1 and V2 rockets -- toward the end of World War II, and he notes:
So little changes. Current RAF doctrine tells us, euphemistically, how "the psychological impact of air power, from the presence of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to the noise generated by an approaching attack helicopter, has often proved to be extremely effective in exerting influence …" Perhaps they mean "terror", as described by David Rohde, a former New York Times journalist kidnapped and held by the Taliban for months in Waziristan. Rohde, quoted in Living Under Drones, describes the fear the drones inspired in ordinary civilians: "The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death."
Again -- and we've said here over and over, for months, even years: when you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc -- Democrat or Republican -- this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.
Rob Urie looks behind the giddy "gotcha" reaction to Mitt Romney's comments on the "47 percent" of shiftless plebians he wants to abandon. Obama partisans have seized on the leaked remarks as glaring evidence of the "real choice" in this election: between a callous, clueless tool of the brutal financial elite and a genuine man of the people, fighting the good fight for all the people.
But as Urie points out, despite this exciting new narrative in the campaign, there is actually more than one tool in the elite's election toolbox:
It was Spring of 2010, less than a year after the official end of the last recession but still deep in the throes of the Great Recession, that Barack Obama’s ‘deficit commission’ met for the first time. With close to twenty-five million people unemployed or underemployed and the number living in extreme poverty rising quickly, Mr. Obama’s central economic concern was cutting government spending. ‘Entitlements,’ rather than bankers, militarists and tax cheats, were bankrupting the country. And the co-Chairs of the commission he appointed had the solution: cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and corporate taxes and reduce government regulation of business.
With the faux surprise and opportunistic rants that met Mitt Romney’s 47% ‘dependent / victims’ comments, who noticed that none in his audience challenged them? And who among those who have read similar statements from Barack Obama’s ‘deficit’ commission believes that Mr. Obama’s big-money supporters are of different mindsets than Mr. Romney’s?
...The self-satisfied declamations against Mr. Romney’s comments by Democrats and their supporters depend on near complete ignorance of Mr. Obama’s actual policies while in office. Who in Mr. Romney’s audience, including Mr. Romney, benefited from the unconditional bank bailouts that Obama Generals Geithner, Summers and Bernanke orchestrated? Who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement that seals the power of international capital over labor and environmental regulations? And who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s build-out of the domestic infrastructure of surveillance, policing and the legal framework needed to crush rebellion? As Mitt Romney is in the process of demonstrating, it is clearly Barack Obama who is the more effective tool for promoting ruling class interests. ...
Mitt Romney’s public persona is exactly as he is—a deeply clueless aristocrat born to wealth and power whose political interests lie exclusively with those of his class (and race). And his views, as with those of his class, are based on his experience of the world. That many of the rest of us, including Barack Obama, have lived experience quite different from Mr. Romney’s provides us with perspectives different from his. And therein lies the rub—who can better sell the agenda of the ruling class: a conspicuously clueless aristocrat who wears his self-interest on his sleeve or a skilled technocrat who can speak the language of ‘the people’ while serving these same interests?
...Democrats and their supporters seem to want to continue their role of recent decades as constructive functionaries in a system designed to facilitate and perpetuate the fortunes of an economic elite, a ruling class, which has found ever more effective ways of siphoning off the wealth created by working people and nature while increasing their domination and control over our lives. The results are the largest and most oppressive prison system in the world, the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in human history, the largest and most deadly military in human history, used to promote the fortunes of the ruling class, and environmental catastrophe.
...Mitt Romney’s views, and those of his class, are emblematic of the extreme class division that comes with extreme income and wealth division. ... But his actual policies would look as much like Barack Obama’s as Barack Obama’s do like George W. Bush’s. Defenders of Mr. Obama’s signature achievement, his scheme to force people to buy health insurance from private insurers that have no intention of willfully paying claims, have Mitt Romney to thank for it—it was his plan. And how would Barack Obama’s unconditional and ongoing bailouts of corrupt bankers have gone over if Wall Street McMoneybags Romney had engineered them? The real choice isn’t what either party is claiming it is. The real choice is between the existing political economy and one that at least stands a chance of working. And neither party is offering that choice.
No: what they are offering is yet another draught from the poisoned chalice, filled with the rancid bipartisan brew of war, ruin, injustice and fear.
The anguished Othello -- fatally fouled in the puppeteer's strings -- pointed to his death-dealing work on behalf of empire in the Syrian city of Aleppo as one of the crowning achievements of his life. Indeed, he re-enacted this bloody imperial service -- against Muslim infidels -- in taking his own life: "And say besides, that in Aleppo once,/Where a malignant and turban'd Turk/Beat a Venetian and traduced the state/I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus."
One hears a great deal of talk about the civil war in Syria, most of it thickly greased with hot globs of propaganda from interested parties on all sides. But there are very few unfiltered reports from the ground by writers with the knowledge and experience to move among the fighters and actually understand what they are seeing and hearing.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is one of those rarities. Many of us recall his remarkable reportage in Iraq, where he ranged back and forth between insurgents and invaders at the height of the carnage, giving us some the clearest pictures of what was really happening behind the smoke of the "surge."
In Monday's Guardian, Abdul-Ahad explores the tense relations on the rebel side between the Free Syria Army troops backed by the West, and the foreign 'jihadis' now flooding into the country. As one of the fighters -- a veteran Iraqi insurgent -- notes, the United States is once more on the same side with its old jihadi allies. And once more, we are seeing the old template playing out once more, as the Washington-led West empowers radical extremists to achieve short-term geopolitical ends -- oblivious, as always, to the long-term effects of unleashing violent forces you cannot possibly control.
Abdul-Ahad's extensive report, from the frontlines in Aleppo, should be read in full, but here are few extracts:
Abu Omar gave an order in Arabic, which was translated into a babble of different languages – Chechen, Tajik, Turkish, French, Saudi dialect, Urdu – and the men retreated in orderly single file, picking their way between piles of smouldering rubbish and twisted plastic bottles toward a house behind the front line where other fighters had gathered.
…Hundreds of international fighters have flocked to Syria to join the war against Bashar al-Assad's government. Some are fresh-faced idealists driven by a romantic notion of revolution or a hatred for the Assads. Others are jihadi veterans of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. … The Syrians refer to the internationals collectively as the "Turkish brothers".
…The men were also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. When the Syrians asked them where they were from, a blond French-speaker said they were Moroccans, the Chechens said they were Turks and the Tajiks said they were Afghans.
..Abu Salam, a rugged Iraqi with a black keffiyeh wrapped around his head, said he had fought the Americans in Falluja when he was a young man. Later he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and spent many years fighting in different cities before moving to Syria to evade arrest. These days he was a commander of the one of the muhajiroun [foreign fighter] units. I found him watching a heated debate between the Syrian commanders about how to defend the buckling frontline.
…One Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn't go off. "Don't say it didn't go off," Abu Salam admonished him. "Say you don't know how to fire it. We used to shoot these same RPGs at the Americans and destroy Abrams tanks. What's a T72 to an Abrams?"
…He seemed nonchalant about the prospect of defeat. "It is obvious the Syrian army is winning this battle, but we don't tell [the rebels] this. We don't want to destroy their morale. We say we should hold here for as long as Allah will give us strength and maybe he will make one of these foreign powers come to help Syrians."
The irony was not lost on Abu Salam how the jihadis and the Americans – bitter enemies of the past decade – had found themselves fighting on the same side again.
A few days later, in Bab al Hawa, Abdul-Ahad gets a hint of what is likely in store if the shaky rebel alliance of secularists and sectarians (the latter often sharply at odds with each other) overthrows the Damascus regime: more war.
At the border post of Bab al Hawa some days later, a confrontation was brewing between the jihadis and Syrian rebels.
Fighters from the Farouq brigade – one of the best-equipped and most disciplined units in the FSA – were sleeping on the grass in the shadow of a big concrete arch. The fighters wore military uniforms and green T-shirts emblazoned with insignia of the brigade – an achievement in the disarray of the revolution. They had many tanks and armoured vehicles captured from the Syrian army parked around the border post, under cover.
Nearby, a group of 20 jihadis had gathered in a circle around a burly Egyptian with a chest-long silver beard. "You are in confrontation with two apostate armies," the Egyptian told the men, referring to the Syrian army and Free Syrian Army. "When you have finished with one army you will start with the next."
The standoff between the two groups came to a grisly conclusion, Abdul-Ahad reports:
I spoke to the regional commander of the Farouq brigade, a muscular young lieutenant from the southern province of Dara'a called Abdulah Abu Zaid. "I will not allow the spread of Takfiri [the act of accusing other Muslims of apostasy] ideology," he told me in his military compound a few kilometres from the border post. "Not now, not later. The Islam we had during the regime was disfigured Islam and what they are bringing us is also disfigured. The Islam we need is a civil Islam and not the takfiri Islam."
The jihadis, he said, had looted and stolen from the local people and demanded protection money from local businesses in order not to steal their merchandise. "I managed to stop them," he said, "and I won't let them spread here." Later that day he issued an ultimatum to their commander, a Syrian called Abu Mohamad al Abssi, to leave the area with his foreign jihadis or he would be killed.
I met Abu Mohamad, a monosyllabic doctor, the next day. He emphasized that he had been struggling against the regime since 1992 while the Free Syria Army were defected officers who until recently served the regime. The Arab spring was, he said, a result of Islamic fervor. "We will never leave our positions here," he said in a quiet voice. "God willing, we will win."
A few days later, Abu Mohamad's body was found in a ditch. He had been kidnapped and killed.
As always, while our well-wadded Western interventionists sit safely in glitzy TV studios or cozy Congressional offices and cry havoc, it is others who are devoured by the dogs of war. A hydra-headed, multisided conflict has been unleashed in Syria, and our warmongers are seeking frenziedly at every turn to worsen it.
Their concern for the "Syrian people" -- whose plight they have happily ignored for decades -- is only skin deep; it never surfaced until a chance arose to, in their minds, give a hot-foot to their grand enemy du jour, Iran. (Just as Jimmy Carter midwifed the global jihadi movement more than 30 years ago in order to hobble the Soviets in Afghanistan.) Unfortunately for the Syrians, it is their skin, and that of their children, which will be seared as these cycles of violence, exacerbated at every turn by war profiteers and the cozy imperial cowards -- who, unlike Othello, never fight in the front lines or take responsibility for their crimes -- go on and on.
NOTE: Another excellent source for direct reports and cogent insights on the Syrian war is, of course, As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," who wields a double-edged analytical sword on the depredations of all parties involved in the worsening, widening conflict.