Will a Torturer Become CIA Director?

Gina Haspel faces a confirmation hearing on Wednesday to become CIA director despite her record of supporting torture, which even the Pentagon admitted does not work, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled on Wednesday to decide whether to recommend that Gina Haspel be confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The mind boggles.

It is no secret that Haspel oversaw detainee torture, including waterboarding, at a CIA “black site” base in Thailand. The nonprofit National Security Archive, housed at The George Washington University, reports that Haspel later drafted a cable ordering the destruction of dozens of videotapes of torture sessions, including some from before her arrival. Haspel also helped feed repeated lies about the supposed effectiveness of torture to CIA superiors, Congress, and two presidents.

So how does President Donald Trump think he can get this nomination approved? It is a sad story. Polling shows that most Americans, including Catholics, have been persuaded by Hollywood films and TV series, other media, and Trump himself that torture works. “Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump told ABC News in January 2017. 

Given the utilitarian tone dominating the discussion, I will first address whether there is any evidence that torture “works,” and then comment on the tendency to equivocate—in what one might call a jesuitical way—about the morality of torture. I must, however, point out upfront that the civilized world has long since decided that torture is intrinsically evil: always wrong. It is also against international and domestic law, of course. But torture is not wrong because it is illegal. It is the other way around. Torture is illegal because it is just flat wrong—always.

Coercing False ‘Intelligence’

On Sept. 6, 2006, Gen. John Kimmons, then the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, chose to address this issue publicly at a Pentagon press conference just one hour before he knew that President George W. Bush would publicly extol the virtues of torture methods that became known as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Gen.l Kimmons said, “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years—hard years—tell us that.”

Here is the exception, however: Torture can “work” like a charm when interrogators are told to coerce false “intelligence” that can be used, for example, to start a war.

Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has explained how his boss was mousetrapped by CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin as Col. Wilkerson was putting the final touches on Secretary Powell’s misbegotten speech on Iraq to the UN Security Council on Feb 5, 2003. Mr. Tenet used information he knew was from torture to mislead Powell into claiming there was a “sinister nexus” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to Col. Wilkerson, Tenet did not tell Powell that this “intelligence” came from a source, Ibn Shayk al-Libi, who had been “rendered” to and waterboarded by Egyptian intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency had officially pronounced unreliable what al-Libi had said, but Tenet never told Powell. Al-Libi then recanted less than a year later, admitting that he fabricated the story about Saddam and al-Qaeda in order to stop the torture.

‘Intrinsic Evil’

Those of us who attended Jesuit institutions decades ago were taught that there was a moral category called “intrinsic evil”—actions that were always wrong, including rape, slavery and torture. Sadly, at my alma mater Fordham University, torture seems to have slipped out of that well-defined moral category into a “gray world.” 

In spring 2012, graduating seniors who were aware of Homeland Security Advisor (and later CIA head) John Brennan’s checkered career strongly opposed the decision by Fordham’s president, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., to invite Brennan, who graduated from Fordham College in 1977, to give the university commencement address on the Bronx campus and be awarded—of all things—a doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa. Brennan was already on record defending “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons abroad and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Many Fordham students saw scandal in that the violent policies Brennan advocated were in stark contrast to the principles that Fordham University was supposed to stand for as a Catholic Jesuit University. Scott McDonald, a graduating senior, asked to meet with President McShane to discuss those concerns, but Brennan remained as commencement speaker. McDonald left the meeting wondering if the moral theologians at Fordham now considered torture a “gray area.”

Last year, Fordham again honored Brennan by appointing him distinguished fellow for global security at the school’s Center on National Security. And Brennan has endorsed the Haspel nomination.

I feel all this on a deep personal level. Not only have I been a proud Fordham Ram since 1953 but, more important, we have nine grandchildren, seven of whom have not yet chosen their college. It pains me greatly not to be able to recommend my alma mater.

Ray McGovern originally drafted this article at the request of the Jesuit weekly, America. It was circulated in-house but then nixed for publication.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington, D.C.. A Fordham alumnus, he spent 27 years as a CIA analyst, from the Kennedy administration to the first Bush administration. He holds a certificate in theological studies from Georgetown and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.




On This Date in Consortium News: May 4, 2004, Apocalypse Again

We begin a new feature, looking back at articles published years ago on Consortium News on the current date. This article by Nat Parry, published on May 4, 2004, is about the madness of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The original version of this article can be found here.

By Nat Parry

Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz character in “Apocalypse Now” applied crystal logic to the madness of the Vietnam War, concluding that what made sense was to descend into barbarism. The U.S. military hierarchy, judging Kurtz’s tactics to be “unsound,” ordered the colonel eliminated to keep at least a façade of civilization.

A reprise of that tragedy — a kind of “Apocalypse Again” — is now playing out in Iraq, with U.S. soldiers sent halfway around the globe to invade and occupy a country supposedly with the goal of protecting the world from violence and introducing democratic freedoms. As in Vietnam, there is a widening gap between the uplifting rhetoric and the ugly facts on the ground.

On April 30, for instance, with previous claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s supposed links to al-Qaeda no longer tenable, George W. Bush touted a humanitarian justification for the invasion. “There are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq,” Bush told reporters as he retreated to this latest line of defense. But now even those minimal standards don’t appear to be true.

The year-long occupation of Iraq – like the war in Vietnam – has led some U.S. troops to engage in behavior that much of the world views as madness or war crimes.

The U.S. assault on Fallujah in April transformed a soccer field into a fresh mass grave for hundreds of Iraqis – many of them civilians – killed when U.S. forces bombarded the rebellious city with 500-pound bombs and raked its streets with cannon and machine-gun fire. There were so many dead that the soccer field became the only place to bury the bodies. Supposedly avenging Saddam Hussein’s old mass graves of the 1980s and 1990s, Bush’s policies have opened up new ones. 

Rape Rooms

Even Bush’s oft-repeated assertion about closing Hussein’s torture chambers and rape rooms no longer can draw a sharp line of moral clarity.

As Bush spoke, worldwide press attention was focusing on evidence that U.S. guards had tortured and sexually abused Iraqi prisoners held at the Abu Ghraib prison, the same prison that Saddam Hussein’s henchmen used. U.S. guards photographed repulsive scenes of naked Iraqis forced into sexual acts and humiliating postures while a U.S. servicewoman gleefully gestured at their genitalia, according to pictures first shown on CBS News’s “60 Minutes II.”

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh disclosed in The New Yorker‘s May 10 issue that a 53-page classified Army report concluded that the prison’s military police were urged on by intelligence officers seeking to break down the Iraqis before interrogation. The abuses, occurring from October to December 2003, included use of a chemical light or broomstick to sexually assault one Iraqi, the report said. Witnesses also told Army investigators that prisoners were beaten and threatened with rape, electrocution and dog attacks. At least one Iraqi died during interrogation.

Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,” said the report written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. In other words, Iraq’s torture and rape rooms were open for business, only under new U.S. management. One victim who faced torture at Abu Ghraib under both Saddam Hussein’s regime and the U.S. occupation said the physical abuse from Hussein’s guards was preferable to the sexual humiliation employed by the Americans. Dhia al-Shweiri told the Associated Press that the Americans were trying “to break our pride.” [USA Today, May 3, 2004

After the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, Bush said he “shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated.” He added that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people.” One would hope not.

But Bush’s protest was reminiscent of the senior officers in “Apocalypse Now” condemning Kurtz’s atrocities and extrajudicial killings, when Kurtz’s barbarism was only the logical extension of that war’s excessive violence. The generals created Kurtz and then had to disavow him. 

In a similar line of argument about Iraq, many people around the world are asking whether Bush should be held accountable for the policies that led to war crimes. Bush ordered the invasion in defiance of the United Nations, deemed his Iraqi enemies to be “evil,” and brought to bear massive firepower against both military and civilian targets.

Restaurant Bombing

Possible war crimes attributable to Bush date back to the conflict’s earliest days. For one, Bush ordered the bombing of a Baghdad restaurant – a civilian target – because he thought Hussein might have been having dinner there. As it turned out, Hussein wasn’t among the clientele, but the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed head of her daughter out of the rubble.

As the official who ordered the invasion, Bush also must bear ultimate responsibility for excesses blamed on U.S. troops who were put in an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous position of both conquering and then occupying a country with a different language and an alien culture. Bush’s invasion plan left U.S. forces stretched thin as they tried to establish order after toppling Hussein’s government in April 2003.

Jittery U.S. soldiers opened fire on demonstrations, inflicting civilian casualties and embittering the population. In Fallujah, some 17 Iraqis were gunned down in demonstrations after U.S. soldiers claimed they had been fired upon. The city has been a center of resistance ever since.

Over the past year, the insurgency has spread across Iraq, even uniting age-old religious enemies, Shiites and Sunnis, in the common cause of ending the U.S.-led occupation. More than 720 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqis have died. By casting the war in Iraq as a clash between good and evil, Bush also arguably created conditions for justifying the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners who supposedly represented the “bad guys.”

Politically, the bloody occupation also has been a disaster for U.S. international standing, fuelling anti-American anger across the Middle East and around the globe. Spontaneous demonstrations have descended on U.S. embassies in many cities.

Even traditional U.S. backers are becoming unnerved at the image of a Christian zealot who thinks he’s guided by the Almighty inflicting death and destruction on an Islamic nation. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, considered one of the staunchest U.S. allies, cancelled a meeting with Bush and declared that current U.S. policies have created “hatred of Americans like never before in the region.” 

There was no hatred of Americans,” Mubarak said, but “after what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred.” He said, “the despair and feeling of injustice are not going to be limited to our region alone. American and Israeli interests will not be safe, not only in our region but anywhere in the world.”

Angry Demonstration

I recently witnessed some of this hatred and anger on the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark, a marked contrast to the unprecedented outpouring of solidarity for Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington. As in other cities around the world, residents of Copenhagen filled the sidewalks outside the U.S. Embassy with flowers and other displays of sympathy for the terror attacks.

On April 16, however, I came across a demonstration of thousands of people, overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim. I walked along, trying to get a feel for the tone. The banners and signs were typical enough, with demands for Denmark and the U.S. to leave Iraq and calls to “Stop Bush’s Massacre.” But there was a militancy and a strident anti-Americanism, unusual for traditionally mild-mannered Denmark.

A sound truck led the march, and when the leader called out a chant, the crowd answered in a deafening response. Chants included, “Jihad!” “Down, down, USA!” and “USA! You will pay!” Some demonstrators displayed an open animosity toward non-Arabs. One Arab man gestured to me with his head, as if to say, “Get out of here.”

The occupation of Iraq may be the most visible reason for the increased anger around the world, but Bush’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is stirring possibly even deeper animosity. By endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to dismantle a few Jewish settlements in Gaza while keeping other parts of the occupied territories, Bush gave America’s stamp of approval to what many around the world see as clear violations of international law.

Until Bush’s endorsement of Sharon’s plan, the U.S. had maintained, along with the European Union and other leaders around the world, that Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders were illegal and presented “obstacles to peace.” But in a drastic change of course, Bush essentially legitimized those settlements, buying into Sharon’s view of a “Greater Israel.”

Beyond reversing 37 years of U.S. government policy towards Israel, Bush gutted his own “road map” to peace by eliminating the core principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action. Bush also has refused to join in denunciations of Israeli “targeted” killings of Palestinians, including Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic spiritual leader and founder of Hamas. EU foreign ministers said the killing of Yassin was “extrajudicial” and had “inflamed the situation” in the Middle East. 

Bush said he found the Israeli attack “troubling” and called the Middle East a “troubled region,” while stressing that Sharon had the right to “defend” Israel against terrorism. The Bush administration also vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Yassin assassination as a setback to the peace process. The U.S. explained that the resolution didn’t condemn Hamas by name, although it did condemn terrorism.

Soon after the Yassin assassination, Hamas said the U.S. and American leaders should be considered legitimate targets for revenge, reflecting the widely held perception that Israel only carried out the attack after receiving a green light from the Bush administration. Yassin’s successor as leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, called Bush “an enemy of Muslims” and said Bush, together with Ariel Sharon, “declared war against Allah.” But, he added, “Allah declares war against America, Bush and Sharon.” [BBC, March 28, 2004]

Israel then assassinated al-Rantissi, an act also widely condemned by world leaders, including Bush’s closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The EU’s External Affairs commissioner Chris Patten reiterated the EU’s position that “We believe that targeted assassinations are wrong, illegal and counterproductive.”

Again, the Bush administration declined to criticize the killing, saying Israel had a right to defend itself.

Policy Shift

The U.S. has always maintained a close strategic relationship with Israel and has frequently acted as an extension of the Israeli government in the U.N. Security Council. But under Bill Clinton and previous presidents, the U.S. worked as a broker seeking settlement to the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Bush changed that.

Ten days after his inauguration, at the first meeting of the National Security Council, Bush shifted to a more “hands-off” policy, according to Bush’s first Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill whose insider account is presented in Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty.

Bush is quoted as saying, “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back toward Israel. And we’re going to be consistent.” Bush’s analysis of the situation was that Clinton had “overreached,” causing negotiations to fall apart. “That’s why we’re in trouble,” Bush said. 

Recalling a helicopter trip he had taken with Sharon over Palestinian refugee camps, Bush remarked, “Looked real bad down there. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of that situation.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed strong misgivings, predicting that U.S. disengagement would unleash Sharon and lead to “dire consequences,” especially for the Palestinians. But Bush shrugged off the concerns, saying “Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance.” 

Elaborating on this theory, Bush said, “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.”

So years of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict came to an end. Sharon launched some of the deadliest attacks ever seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Palestinians countered with suicide bombings that killed Israeli civilians. The cycle of violence spiralled out of control.

Another early part of Bush’s Middle East strategy was the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. O’Neill, who served on Bush’s National Security Council, said invading Iraq was on the new administration’s agenda from the start. Then, the Sept. 11 attacks gave Bush the political opening to lead the United States into Iraq in March 2003.

After a three-week war that drove Hussein’s government from power, however, U.S. forces struggled to bring order to Iraq and soon were facing a stubborn insurgency. As in Vietnam, the frustration of fighting a shadowy enemy that moves among the population has led to violent excesses, both in battlefield tactics and in interrogation of prisoners.

When Iraqi insurgents killed four American security contractors in Fallujah and a mob mutilated the bodies, Bush ordered Marines to “pacify” the city of 300,000 people. According to some accounts, more than 800 citizens of Fallujah have died in the assault and 60,000 fled as refugees. Now, Arabs are calling Fallujah the “new Jenin,” a reference to Israel’s deadly assault on the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002.

War Crimes?

In attacking Fallujah and in other counter-insurgency operations, the Bush administration again has resorted to measures that some critics argue amount to war crimes. These tactics include administering collective punishment against the civilian population in Fallujah, rounding up thousands of young Iraqi men on the flimsiest of suspicions and holding prisoners incommunicado without charges and subjecting some detainees to physical mistreatment. 

During the siege of Fallujah, British human rights worker Jo Wilding said it was impossible to deliver food and medical aid to besieged civilians because of the threat of American snipers. She said everyone in Fallujah has lost at least one close friend or relative to the American onslaught.

Though U.S. forces insisted they were targeting only armed insurgents, international shock at the heavy firepower against a densely populated city contributed to the Marine decision to forego a full-scale assault on Fallujah. Instead, Marine commanders agreed to send in a former general from Hussein’s army to co-operate with city officials in restoring order.

There have been allegations of war crimes elsewhere in Iraq. In the city of Kut, American soldiers allegedly beat an Iraqi man to death because he refused to remove a picture of wanted Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr from his car. “After the man refused to remove Sadr’s picture from his car, the soldiers forced him out of the vehicle and started beating him with truncheons,” according to Agence France Press.  He was taken to a hospital where he died from wounds sustained in the beating.

Meanwhile, Bush has continued to insist that the U.S. has eliminated a source of “tyranny and despair and anger” in the Middle East by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  In a press conference on April 13, Bush stressed that the war in Iraq is not only part of the struggle against “terrorism,” but is part of an epic battle between the “civilized world” and “Islamic militants,” “radicals,” and “fanatics.” It is a struggle in which “we are changing the world,” Bush said.

The world may indeed be changing, though not exactly in the way Bush suggests. Rather than becoming safer, it appears to be growing less safe. Instead of seeing the United States as a beacon of liberty, more and more people around the world are viewing Americans as arrogant bullies. 

Presidential Race

In Europe and elsewhere, many people – from government leaders to common citizens – have become convinced that Bush is so inextricably tied to the failed policies in the Middle East that new leadership in Washington is a prerequisite for a solution. Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is likely not exaggerating when he says that many world leaders are rooting for his victory.

What is less certain is whether even a Kerry victory would create the conditions to reverse Bush’s policies. On the campaign trail, Kerry has insisted that he would not abandon Iraq though he says he would reach out to the world community to share the responsibilities for bringing order.  Kerry has even advocated committing 40,000 more troops, about a one-third increase in the 135,000 U.S. soldiers currently there.

As for the Iraq invasion, Kerry told Time that he “might have gone to war, but not the way the president did.” Kerry also said he is prepared to act unilaterally in defense of U.S. interests if a situation demands it. “But there is a way to do it that strengthens the hand of the United States,” Kerry said. “George Bush has weakened the hand of the United States.”

Some opponents of the Iraq War have criticized Kerry for not going further. They contend that his position constitutes “Bush-Lite,” although it is possible that Kerry is simply playing it safe, trying not to alienate swing voters who see a danger in a rapid U.S. withdrawal but also see a risk in Bush’s tendency for rash actions and “us-against-them” rhetoric.

At the very least, Kerry might know better than to paint the U.S. into corners with language about a clash between the “civilized world” and “fanatics.” He also might avoid quasi-religious language that casts the struggle as a “crusade” between “good” and “evil.”

The logic of Bush black-and-white world view eliminates the gray areas where political compromise is possible. The “bad guys” must be crushed. “Our side” must be victorious. Anyone not “with us” is “with the terrorists.” Drawing such lines in the sand can have the unintended consequence of pushing some people repulsed by U.S. actions to side with the terrorists when otherwise they would have stayed neutral.

Also, when U.S. soldiers see themselves as confronting “evil” and defending “good,” virtually any tactic becomes justified, whether blasting apart a rebellious city, torturing a suspected enemy or subjecting prisoners to sexual and physical humiliation to “soften them up” for interrogation.

Bush’s Iraq War is forcing Americans to relearn the hard lessons of Vietnam. Like Col. Kurtz in “Apocalyse Now,” U.S. forces are trapped between the unrealistic expectations of politicians back at headquarters and the harsh reality of a counter-insurgency war on the ground. Caught in that paradox, with no reasonable way to achieve the lofty goals, it cannot be surprising that one reaction from at least some soldiers in the field would be a descent into barbarity.

While punishing individual offenders is necessary in such cases, the larger question is: Who among the higher-ups also should be held accountable?

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush




The Latest Act in Israel’s Iran Nuclear Disinformation Campaign

Benjamin Netanyahu’s stage performance about Iran seeking a nuclear weapon not only was based on old material, but evidence shows it was fabricated too, says Gareth Porter in this Consortium News exclusive report.

By Gareth Porter  Special to Consortium News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim in his theatrical 20-minute presentation of an Israeli physical seizure of Iran’s “atomic archive” in Tehran would certainly have been the “great intelligence achievement” he boasted if it had actually happened. But the claim does not hold up under careful scrutiny, and his assertion that Israel now possesses a vast documentary record of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program is certainly fraudulent.

Netanyahu’s tale of an Israeli intelligence raid right in Tehran that carted off 55,000 paper files and another 55,000 CDs from a “highly secret location” requires that we accept a proposition that is absurd on its face: that Iranian policymakers decided to store their most sensitive military secrets in a small tin-roofed hut with nothing to protect it from heat (thus almost certainly ensuring loss of data on CDs within a few years) and no sign of any security, based on the satellite image shown in the slide show. (As Steve Simon observed in The New York Times the door did not even appear to have a lock on it.)

The laughable explanation suggested by Israeli officials to The Daily Telegraph– that the Iranian government was afraid the files might be found by international inspectors if they remained at “major bases” — merely reveals the utter contempt that Netanyahu has for Western governments and news media. Even if Iran were pursuing nuclear weapons secretly, their files on the subject would be kept at the Ministry of Defense, not at military bases. And of course the alleged but wholly implausible move to an implausible new location came just as Netanyahu needed a dramatic new story to galvanize Trump to resist the European allies’ strong insistence on preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Act (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran.

In fact, there is no massive treasure trove of secret files about an Iran “Manhattan Project.” The shelves of black binders and CDs that Netanyahu revealed with such a dramatic flourish date back to 2003 (after which a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said Iran had abandoned any nuclear weapons program) and became nothing more than stage props like the cartoon bomb that Netanyahu used at the United Nations in 2012.

Disinformation Campaign

Netanyahu’s claim about how Israel acquired this “atomic archive” is only the latest manifestation of a long-term

disinformation campaign that the Israeli government began to work on in 2002-03. The documents to which Netanyahu referred in the presentation were introduced to the news media and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) beginning in 2005 as coming originally from a secret Iranian nuclear weapons research program. For many years U.S. news media have accepted those documents as authentic. But despite the solid media united front behind that narrative, we now know with certainty that those earlier documents were fabrications and that they were created by Israel’s Mossad.

That evidence of fraud begins with the alleged origins of the entire collection of documents. Senior intelligence officials in the George W. Bush administration had told reporters that the documents came from “a stolen Iranian laptop computer”, as The New York Times reported in November 2005. The Times quoted unnamed intelligence officials as insisting that the documents had not come from an Iranian resistance group, which would cast serious doubt on their reliability.

But it turned that the assurances from those intelligence officials were part of an official dissimulation. The first reliable account of the documents’ path to the United States came only in 2013, when former senior German foreign office official Karsten Voigt, who retired from his long-time position as coordinator of German-North American cooperation, spoke with this writer on the record.

Voigt recalled how senior officials of the German foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachtendeinst or BND, had explained to him in November 2004 that they were familiar with the documents on the alleged Iran nuclear weapons program, because a sometime source—but not an actual intelligence agent—had provided them earlier that year. Furthermore, the BND officials explained that they had viewed the source as “doubtful,” he recalled, because the source had belonged to the Mujahideen-E Khalq, the armed Iranian opposition group that had fought Iran on behalf of Iraq during the eight year war.

BND officials were concerned that the Bush administration had begun citing those documents as evidence against Iran, because of their experience with “Curveball” – the Iraqi engineer in Germany who had told stories of Iraqi mobile bioweapons labs that had turned to be false. As a result of that meeting with BND officials, Voigt had given an interview to The Wall Street Journalin which he had contradicted the assurance of the unnamed U.S. intelligence officials to the Times and warned that the Bush administration should not base its policy on the documents it was beginning to cite as evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, because they had indeed come from “an Iranian dissident group.”

Using the MEK

The Bush administration’s desire to steer press coverage of the supposedly internal Iranian documents away from the MEK is understandable: the truth about the MEK role would immediately lead to Israel, because it was well known, that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad had used the MEK to make public information that the Israelis did not want attributed to itself – including the precise location of Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility. As Israeli journalists Yossi Melman and Meir Javadanfar observed in their 2007 book on the Iran nuclear program, based on U.S., British and Israeli officials, “Information is ‘filtered’ to the IAEA via Iranian opposition groups, especially the National Resistance Council of Iran.”

Mossad used the MEK repeatedly in the 1990s and the early 2000’s to get the IAEA to inspect any site the Israelis suspected might possibly be nuclear-related, earning their Iranian clients a very poor reputation at the IAEA. No one familiar with the record of the MEK could have believed that it was capable of creating the detailed documents that were passed to the German government. That required an organization with the expertise in nuclear weapons and experience in fabricating documents – both of which Israel’s Mossad had in abundance.

Bush administration officials had highlighted a set of 18 schematic drawings of the Shahab-3 missile’s reentry vehicle or nosecone of the missile in each of which there was a round shape representing a nuclear weapon. Those drawings were described to foreign governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency as 18 different attempts to integrate a nuclear weapon into the Shahab-3.

Netanyahu gave the public its first glimpse of one of those drawings Monday when he pointed to it triumphantly as visually striking evidence of Iranian nuclear perfidy. But that schematic drawing had a fundamental flaw that proved that it and others in the set could not have been genuine: it showed the “dunce cap” shaped reentry vehicle design of the original Shahab-3 missile that had been tested from 1998 to 2000. That was the shape that intelligence analysts outside Iran had assumed in 2002 and 2003 Iran would continue to use in its ballistic missile.

New Nose Cone

It is now well established, however, that Iran had begun redesigning the Shahab-3 missile with a conical reentry vehicle or nosecone as early as 2000 and replaced it with a completely different design that had a “triconic” or “baby bottle” shape. It made it a missile with very different flight capabilities and was ultimately called the Ghadr-1. Michael Elleman, the world’s leading expert on Iranian ballistic missiles, documented the redesign of the missile in his path-breaking 2010 study of Iran’s missile program.

Iran kept its newly-designed missile with the baby bottle reentry vehicle secret from the outside world until its first test in mid-2004. Elleman concluded that Iran was deliberately misleading the rest of the world – and especially the Israelis, who represented the most immediate threat of attack on Iran – to believe that the old model was the missile of the future while already shifting its planning to the new design, which would bring all of Israel within reach for the first time.

The authors of the drawings that Netanyahu displayed on the screen were thus in the dark about the change in the Iranian design. The earliest date of a document on the redesign of the reentry vehicle in the collection obtained by U.S. intelligence was August 28, 2002 – about two years after the actual redesign had begun. That major error indicates unmistakably that the schematic drawings showing a nuclear weapon in a Shahab-3 reentry vehicle – what Netanyahu called “integrated warhead design” were fabrications.

Netanyahu’s slide show highlighted a series of alleged revelations that he said came from the newly acquired “atomic archive” concerning the so-called “Amad Plan” and the continuation of the activities of the Iranian who was said to have led that covert nuclear weapons project. But the single pages of Farsi language documents he flashed on the screen were also clearly from the same cache of documents that we now know came from the MEK-Israeli combination. Those documents were never authenticated, and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, who was skeptical of their authenticity, had insisted that without such authentication, he could not accuse Iran of having a nuclear weapons program.

More Fraud

There are other indications of fraud in that collection of documents as well. A second element of the supposed covert arms program given the name “Amad Plan” was a “process flow chart” of a bench-scale system for converting uranium ore for enrichment. It had the code name “Project 5.13”, according to a briefing by the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, and was part of a larger so-called “Project 5”, according to an official IAEA report. Another sub-project under that rubric was “Project 5.15”, which involved ore processing at the Gchine Mine.” Both sub-projects were said to be carried out by a consulting firm named Kimia Maadan.

But documents that Iran later provided to the IAEA proved that, in fact, “Project 5.15” did exist, but was a civilian project of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, not part of a covert nuclear weapons program, and that the decision had been made in August 1999 – two years before the beginning of the alleged “Amad Plan” was said to have begun.

The role of Kimia Maadan in both sub-projects explains why an ore processing project would be included in the supposed secret nuclear weapons program. One of the very few documents included in the cache that could actually be verified as authentic was a letter from Kimia Maadan on another subject, which suggests that the authors of the documents were building the collection around a few documents that could be authenticated.

Netanyahu also lingered over Iran’s denial that it had done any work on “MPI” or (“Multi-Point Initiation”) technology “in hemispheric geometry”. He asserted that “the files” showed Iran had done “extensive work” or “MPI” experiments. He did not elaborate on the point. But Israel did not discover the alleged evidence of such experiments in a tin-roofed shack in Tehran. The issue of whether Iran had done such experiments was a central issue in the IAEA’s inquiry after 2008. The agency described it in a September 2008 report, which purported to be about Iran’s “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”

No Official Seals

The IAEA refused to reveal which member country had provided the document to the IAEA. But former Director-General ElBaradei revealed in his memoirs that Israel had passed a series of documents to the Agency in order to establish the case that Iran had continued its nuclear weapons experiments until “at least 2007.” ElBaradei was referring to convenient timing of the report’s appearance within a few months of the U.S. NIE of November 2007 concluding that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons-related research in 2003. And the “MPI” document fulfilled precisely that political function.

Netanyahu pointed to a series of documents on the screen as well a number of drawings, photographs and technical figures, and even a grainy old black and white film, as evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons work. But absolutely nothing about them provides an evidentiary link to the Iranian government. As Tariq Rauf, who was head of the IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office from 2002 to 2012, noted in an e-mail, none of the pages of text on the screen show official seals or marks that would identify them as actual Iranian government documents. The purported Iranian documents given to the IAEA in 2005 similarly lacked such official markings, as an IAEA official conceded to me in 2008.

Netanyahu’s slide show revealed more than just his over-the-top style of persuasion on the subject of Iran. It provided further evidence that the claims that had successfully swayed the U.S. and Israeli allies to join in punishing Iran for having had a nuclear weapons program were based on fabricated documents that originated in the state that had the strongest motive to make that case – Israel.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian on U.S. national security policy and the recipient of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014.




The Tragedy of Benjamin Netanyahu

In presenting no new information about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the Israeli prime minister is actually undermining his own country’s security, argues Trita Parsi.

By Trita Parsi

There is something tragic about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The harder he tries, the more he fails. That has been the case with many of his attempts to sabotage diplomacy with Iran and push the US to take military action against the country. And that was certainly the case with his underwhelming powerpoint presentation Monday. What was supposed to be a smoking gun to once and for all nix the Iran nuclear deal, inadvertently made a powerful case as to why the the deal must remain in place.

The Israeli government had promised “significant new revelations” about the nuclear program. Yet Netanyahu offered nothing new. The bulk of his presentation focused on what the world already knew: That between 1999 and 2003, Iran had engaged in activities with possible military dimensions.

As I describe in Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacythese past Iranian activities constituted a tricky dilemma during the nuclear talks. If it was revealed that the Iranians had indeed engaged in illegal military research, that could jeopardize the entire agreement, as voices would be raised to have it punished for its past violations. Completely disregarding it without allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete its investigation—which the Iranians had not been cooperating with—was also not an option. What it came down to was a choice between punishment for Iran’s past violations and guarantees that those violations would never be repeated in the future.

Obama’s Choice

The obvious choice for Obama was the latter: punishing Iran for its past

errors was of little value if punishment came at the expense of a deal that would prevent Iran from building a bomb. Politically, however, this choice was feasible only if the IAEA could complete its investigation—with the cooperation of the Iranians—to make a final judgment on the issue and close the file. The P5+1 needed neither an admission of guilt nor a guilty verdict; they just needed Iran’s cooperation to complete the investigation.

The Iranians feared that giving the IAEA more access would only lead to more demands and investigations. To Iran, it was critical that any investigation would be time-limited, so it couldn’t drag on indefinitely, and delinked from the sanctions relief process, so that the decision to lift sanctions couldn’t be held hostage to the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) investigation.

Eventually, a compromise was reached in which the Iranians would make their documents accessible and their scientists available for interviews for the purposes of producing a time-limited report that would contain both the IAEA’s assessments and Iran’s responses and contributions. The report would essentially include two narratives, which meant that there wouldn’t be an authoritative judgment. More importantly, the sanctions relief process would be linked to the completion of the IAEA investigation and not its conclusion. That is, the IAEA would have to report only that Iran had cooperated with the investigation and that the IAEA’s questions were answered in order for the green light for sanctions reform to be lit.

In July 2015, the head of the IAEA flew to Tehran and concluded a final agreement that established a timeline for resolving the question of Iran’s past activities whereby Iran would turn over all information requested by the IAEA, and the IAEA would provide its final assessment by December 15 of that year.

The IAEA issued its report on December 2, 2015 concluding that Iran had pursued a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, but that this organized program ended that year and that there was no evidence that any undeclared activities had taken place since 2009.

Case Closed

Following the report, the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors voted unanimously to conclude the investigation into Iran’s past weaponization work. The case was officially closed.

Now, without presenting any new information – and without even attempting to claim that Iran’s undeclared activities had continued beyond 2009 or 2015 – Bibi wants to convince the world that he has discovered something new.

He hasn’t.

As one former IAEA official publicly commented: “I just saw a lot of pictures I had seen before.”

Iran’s past military activities are precisely why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is needed: The deal significantly limited Iran’s program and closed off all of Tehran’s pathways to a bomb. And thanks to the inspections regime, Iran cannot engage in any such clandestine activities without getting caught.

All of these restrictions, limitations and inspections will be lost if Donald Trump follows Netanyahu’s advice and kills the deal on May 12.

And therein lies the tragedy of Netanyahu.

By helping to kill the Iran deal, Netanyahu may advance his own political interest, but only by undermining that of Israel’s. Bibi may consider himself the biggest political winner of the Iran deal’s collapse. Yet, Israel will count among some of the biggest losers of this diplomatic travesty.

This article originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy and president of the National Iranian American Council.




Laughing While Pulling the Trigger

Donald Trump has shown “sadism” against Palestinians who’ve turned to Ghandian protests but are still being slaughtered by Israel, says Max Blumenthal in this interview with Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.  His reporting on the brutalities of illegal Israeli occupation has set the standard for real reporting on the issue. Blumenthal has also reported on every aspect of the Israeli/US propaganda machine that works 24/7 to sustain the Israeli occupation.

Blumenthal’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and The Nation Magazine.  He also co-hosts the podcast Moderate Rebels.

Dennis Bernstein spoke with Max Blumenthal on April 19th.

Dennis Bernstein:  I understand you were in the Gaza Strip recently.  You were there just before the latest slaughter along the border fence [on March 30]?

Max Blumenthal: I was there just weeks before the Great March of Return, when Israeli snipers began shooting regular people in Gaza who marched to the border wall to protest their open-air imprisonment.  Preparations were just starting for that march.

I got the chance to interview the wife of a man who had been refused an exit permit to get treatment for cancer.  He was forced to basically sit on his deathbed when he had a condition that could have been treated in the West Bank.  He was one of scores of people documented by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip who were refused exit permits and were forced to die.

Some are wondering why people would rush the border and risk their own lives by walking into the teeth of Israeli snipers. You have to understand that every family in Gaza has a story like this.

DB:  You tweeted a very disturbing video of Israeli soldiers shooting from behind this electric fence.  One of the shots shows them shooting and laughing.

MB:  The video was released by Breaking the Silence, a group of former and current Israeli soldiers who have confessed to crimes they have committed in the field.  They obtained this video, which was taken through a sniper’s scope, showing a sniper shooting an unarmed man and then laughing and cheering about how much they enjoyed doing that.

It really speaks to the perspective of average Israelis regarding people in the Gaza Strip.  They just don’t see them as human, especially younger Israelis who haven’t interacted with Palestinians since the Gaza Strip was sealed off in 2006. Israelis interact with them simply as snipers or drone operators and only a small minority of the Jewish Israeli public sees them as human.

There were some protests in Tel Aviv against the massacres that just occurred  and one of the leaders of that protest, Tamar Sandberg, who is from a left-wing nationalist party called Meretz, was brutally demonized in mainstream Israeli media.  A lot of Israelis who do have questions about what is happening tend to self-censor because the consequences are so high.

DB:   What is happening there between the protesters and the sharpshooters demonstrates what current Israeli policy is. How would you characterize the policy now? Is the situation worse than it was five years ago?

MB:   The situation has been the same from 1948 to today.  We can refer to it as “demographic engineering.” Imagine if the United States officially declared itself a white Christian state.  And there were perhaps millions of people in the United States who were not white and Christian. They would have to be warehoused and their population would have to be limited somehow so that they would not compromise the ethnic integrity of the white Christian state.

That is Israel, the Jewish state, where most people in historic Palestine were not Jewish and were forced out of Israel in 1948, 750,000 of them.  Thirty to forty percent were forced into the Gaza Strip. Seventy to eighty percent of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees or descended from refugees.  They cannot return to Israel, simply because they are not Jewish. Israel won’t be a Jewish state if they return there and have families. So Israel must contain them by any means.

In 2006 Israel imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip, which meant that food and goods would be allowed in but only enough to keep people alive, not enough that they could thrive.  This was to put pressure on the population to submit. The population has refused to submit. They have tried various means, including military means, to resist. Now they are using Gandhian unarmed protest, which American liberals have called for for years.  It has been very effective from a public relations standpoint, but it hasn’t changed Israel’s policy at all. Israel is still maintaining its demographic borders through force. The logic behind that is not security, it is demographic maintenance.

DB:  So the strategy is to make it impossible to survive and so the only thing you want to do is either hide or leave.

MB:  Or simply stay in your hole.  In East Jerusalem, where Israel actually seeks to take over, the policy is to force people to leave.  They have a law called the “Center of Life Policy,” where people who are Palestinian have to continually prove that they live there.  And if, for example, Palestinians spend too much time in the West Bank, they lose their residency.

There is another law to keep people from Gaza and the West Bank out of Jerusalem and out of Israel, where 20% of the population are Palestinians.  That’s called the Citizenship and Entry Law. It blocks people who have residency in Gaza or the West Bank from marrying people who are citizens of Israel. The point is to prevent a growth of the Palestinian population within Israel.

There are a whole set of laws aimed at demographic engineering which people don’t really know about in the West, but which represent the foundation of apartheid.  They are absolutely undemocratic.

DB:   Some of the people who fought against apartheid in South Africa say that the situation is worse now for Palestinians.  I have to think of that stage in the movement when Gandhi went to South Africa during the resistance to the pass laws.  People had decided that they were going to put their bodies on the line.

MB:  This has been going on for years and years in the West Bank against the separation wall.  But you have to understand that across the Palestinian population there is a deep desire to engage in this kind of resistance.  In the Gaza Strip people have been trying to do these protests every Friday against the wall and the siege. Now, for the first time, Hamas simply let them.

In the past, Hamas had actually been breaking up some of these protests to keep the border stable and to show that it was a good governor.  This is an expression of the authentic desire of the Palestinian people to resist, to show its face for the first time. The Israeli military apparatus is deeply worried. They have actually advocated assassinating leaders of the protest.

DB:  How about assassinating people who are marked clearly as journalists?

MB:  We lost Yaser Murtaja, a founder of one of Gaza’s most important press agencies, iMedia.  These are some of the bravest journalists in the world, who get the shots that Western journalists can’t get.  Murtaja was widely respected outside Gaza though he had never been able to leave.

After he was shot on site by an Israeli sniper, in the stomach below his vest that was marked “press,” Israel came out and labeled him a Hamas spy with absolutely zero evidence.  And The Washington Post reprinted that allegation in a headline. Why would The Washington Post give any credence to that, even as just an allegation?

DB:  You have written that “US policy on Israel/Palestine is almost entirely controlled by two elements in Washington, the pro-Israeli lobby and the arms industry.”

MB:  The pro-Israel lobby is the second most powerful lobby in Washington, after the NRA.  It is responsible for funding campaigns on both sides of the aisle down to the state level.  A lot of the politicians without a strong donor base can easily make a few pro-Israel statements and pledge to sign on to whatever AIPAC wants them to do, and money will start flowing in through various family foundations and donors.  Kamala Harris is a perfect example. She shows up at AIPAC and makes a series of ridiculously pandering statements about how she used to raise money for Israel as a little kid.

Then you have the arms industry, who Trump holds up as job creators, especially in the swing states.  A lot of those jobs come from US loans to Israel, which now total $4 billion a year. Those loans go straight back into Texas, Colorado, Ohio to pay for the weapons that are shipped to Israel.

Israel actually has a tacit agreement with the United States not to produce any major weapons platforms of its own.  The US will punish Israel if they attempt to produce their own jets. Israel must buy US F-15’s and F-16’s. They must buy from US companies to receive US loans.  So basically the arms industry and its lobbying apparatus are pushing for these multi-billion dollar loan packages to Israel along with the Israel lobby. And where do the weapons fall?  They fall on apartment blocks in the Gaza Strip, and could be falling on Lebanon pretty soon.

DB:   You were just in the Gaza Strip.  Could you describe what daily life is like now for the people there?

MB:  The issue isn’t that there isn’t enough food.  I was there on Valentine’s day and there were all these huge teddy bears there for sale with balloons, the same as here.  But no one can afford to buy them. There is food in the restaurants but no one can afford to eat there, apart from the fortunate few.  But even the upper class is suffering. The middle class has been winnowed out. Every young person with an education wants to leave.

I was able to visit a few friends who were stuck there.  I met a guy there when we were watching a soccer match and he told me that his family is all in Dubai and he came into the Gaza Strip to visit other family.  The gates shut behind him and he has been stuck in Gaza for two years and doesn’t know how to get out to reunite with his family. This is a situation which is really unique in the world.  People are trapped inside and the walls are not lifting.

What impressed me very much was the stoicism of people there, the willingness to cope with the situation and not to cower before one of the world’s most powerful militaries, backed by the world’s lone superpower.

DB:  Is the Trump administration noticeably worse, for example, with its movement of the embassy to Jerusalem?  Or is it just business as usual?

MB:   No, I am actually impressed with how much worse Trump has been able to make things on the ground.  He has very clearly demonstrated a level of sadism toward Palestinians that no other president has.  It has a lot to do with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The administration has substantially reduced funding for the UN Relief Works Agency, which is in charge of Palestinian refugees, about 70% of the population in Gaza.  UNRWA runs first-class schools which give students a first-class secular education. People in Gaza rely substantially on food aid from UNRWA and that is not coming at the same level.  So suffering has increased under Trump and Kushner, whose family is deeply connected to the pro-Israel lobby.

I spoke to an UNRWA source who has been in meetings with Trump and Kushner and he told me that the generals are even afraid of Jared Kushner.  They understand that destabilizing the situation for Palestinian refugees will destabilize the Middle East as a whole and mean trouble for US national security. But there is nothing they can do because they can’t get access to Trump without going through Kushner. You have this guy whose only qualification is marrying Ivanka, who doesn’t even have a security clearance, and he is dictating policy on Israel/Palestine.  It is a terrifying scenario.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.




The (Unrecognized) US Contribution to Bloodshed in Syria

The dominant US. media narrative says only the Syrian government has killed anyone during the seven-year conflict while the US role in Syria’s nightmare is blacked out, says As’ad AbuKhalil in the first part of this Consortium News commentary.

By As`ad AbuKhalil Special to Consortium News

The US government—under Barack Obama and Donald Trump—has managed to exonerate itself from responsibility for the carnage in Syria and the prolongation of the war there. Media of the left and right (those ideological distinctions are meaningless when it comes to the coverage of the Syrian war in the US) have contributed to a narrative that basically presents the US as an innocent bystander to the bloodshed in Syria.

Worse, even when the US clearly engages in bombing which results in high rates of civilian casualties, the US media and the public attributes benevolent motives to the US—first to Obama and then to Trump. You have to believe that Trump orders bombing of Syria (or “bombing of Bashshar,” as US media like to say, implying that US bombs and rockets don’t fall on innocent Syrians) because Trump is moved by scenes of suffering. For this bizarre narrative to set in, it was necessary to engage in falsification and propaganda that far exceeds the propaganda of any party to the conflict. Far from being an outside party, the US has been heavily involved in the Syrian war from the very beginning—and most probably even before that.

The US government (and the compliant media—from the left to the far right) established a convenient explanation for the Syrian conflict: that the US and its allies (some of the most despotic regimes on the face of the earth in addition to the Israeli occupation state) have not contributed to any of the killing in Syria. All the killing in the civil war, this explanation goes—and it has become a civil war, albeit with regional and international dimensions like the Lebanese civil war—has been perpetrated by foes of the US and Israel.

According to this scenario, none of the killing in Syria can be even blamed on the Syrian “rebels”—which also is a convenient label intended to hide the clear Jihadi ideological doctrine of such groups. For example, the “rebels” in Yarmouk are specifically Al-Qa`idah and ISIS, while the “rebels” in Idlib countryside are Al-Qa`idah—but there’s no need to classify them lest the dominant narrative is disturbed.

Because many of those rebels fit into the same camp where the US is located, they can’t be blamed for the carnage. The Syrian government and its allies are solely responsible, according to this narrative. If you suggest otherwise (i.e. that Syrian rebels and their sponsors are also responsible for war crimes just as the Syrian regime, without entering into the question of numbers, because we don’t know yet who-killed-whom or how-many because there is no official tally of the victims, and it is unlikely there ever will be one—just like in Lebanon’s protracted war) you are accused of working for the interests of the Syrian regime, Russian intelligence, and Iranian mullahs.

It Started With Supporting Damascus

US responsibility begins with its support for the Syrian regime over the years. The US and Syria were not always enemies—all stories to the contrary in the US, pro-Zionist press notwithstanding. The US has been on the same side of regional conflicts on many occasions with the Syrian regime. In 1976, Damascus intervened in the Lebanese Civil war (on the side of the right-wing death squads of the Lebanese Forces—which were armed and sponsored by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some European governments). When Syria intervened to crush the alliance of the Palestinian resistance movement and the Lebanese left, it did so with the full knowledge and support of the US and the Saudi government—we now know from declassified US archival documents. 

Syria sought and received US blessing for its intervention and a pledge that Israel would not obstruct it. Even before the Lebanese war, we now know from US declassified documents and/or Wikileaks that the US and the Syrian regime (mostly through the Syrian chief-of-staff, Hikmat Shihabi, and others) worked closely against underground Lebanese communist revolutionary cells like the Arab Communist Organization (whose leader, `Ali Ghadban, was executed by the Syrian regime) as well as the Lebanese Socialist Revolutionary Movement (which stormed the Bank of America in Beirut in 1973, and sought $10 million to support the war effort against Israel).

Long before Syrian regime’s coordination with the US to go after those accused of Islamist radical violence, both governments worked against radical leftist groups even when the Syrian regime was ostensibly aligned with the USSR (of course, the relationship between USSR and Syria reached a crisis point in 1976, and the Syrian government underscored that state of relations in trying to win US support for its role in Lebanon).

But the relationship later soured between the US and Syrian governments in the wake of Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem in 1977. The Syrian government felt, rightly, that the US-Israeli alliance wanted to achieve peace according to Israeli terms and without having to insist on full Israeli withdrawal from those territories which were occupied in 1967. (None of the Arab regimes, including the Syrian, by 1977 were no longer really concerned over those territories of Palestine which were occupied back in 1948).

US and Syria Come to Conflict

The relationship between the Syrian government and the US reached the point of conflict in 1982, when the US sponsored the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and then forced Lebanon to sign a humiliating peace treaty with the Israeli government in 1983. Syria was at odds with the US and the Phalange-installed government and it supported Lebanese foes of the Amin Gemayyel government. As is well known, the US deployed forces in Lebanon between 1982-1984 (in fact, the forces were never withdrawn but merely “redeployed” off the coast of Lebanon in 1984, according to Ronald Reagan’s announcement at the time). During this period, the US and Syria were in direct military conflict, and the US lost a jet over Syria, and a US pilot was captured.

But the conflict did not last long, as the US and Saudi Arabia worked to arrange for Syrian re-entry into Lebanon in 1987, and a year later the Ta’if accords were reached, where the Syrian regime was basically permitted to control Lebanon in return for Syrian military and political support for the US war on Iraq in 1991. At that time, the US was close to the Syrian-Egyptian-Saudi axis in Arab politics, which lasted throughout the era of Hafidh Al-Asad. There is much about the US relationship with Syria during that era that we don’t know about, regarding coordination in the fight against “terrorism” despite differences in definition of terrorism between the two sides.

The era of Bashshar Al-Asad didn’t completely end Syrian coordination with the US. The Syrian regime, just like other Arab regimes, worked with the US to share information about “Jihadi” groups and even helped in the torture of individuals deemed dangerous by US intelligence agencies. Yet, the two countries had many disagreements especially in the area of the Arab-Israeli “peace process”. But the real conflict between the two sides began to build up right after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

(Part Two to follow)

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 




Weapons Inspector Refutes U.S. Syria Chemical Claims

Scott Ritter is arguably the most experienced American weapons inspector and in this interview with Dennis J. Bernstein he levels a frank assessment of U.S. government assertions about chemical weapons use.

By Dennis J Bernstein

In the 1980’s, Scott Ritter was a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, specializing in intelligence.  In 1987, Ritter was assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency, which was put together to go into the Soviet Union and oversee the implementation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.  This was the first time that on-site inspection had been used as part of a disarmament verification process.

Ritter was one of the groundbreakers in developing on-site inspection techniques and methodologies. With this unique experience behind him, Ritter was asked in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, to join the United Nations Special Commission, which was tasked by the Security Council to oversee the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.  From 1991 to 1998, Ritter served as a chief weapons inspector and led a number of teams into Iraq.

According to Ritter, in the following Flashpoints Radio interview with Dennis Bernstein conducted on April 23rd, US, British and French claims that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons against civilians last month appear to be totally bogus.

Dennis Bernstein:  You have been speaking out recently about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Could you outline your case?

Scott Ritter: There are a lot of similarities between the Syrian case and the Iraqi case.  Both countries possess weapons of mass destruction. Syria had a very large chemical weapons program.

In 2013 there was an incident in a suburb of Damascus called Ghouta, the same suburb where the current controversy is taking place.  The allegations were that the Syrian government used sarin nerve agent against the civilian population. The Syrian government denied that, but as a result of that incident the international community got together and compelled Syria into signing the Chemical Weapons Convention, declaring the totality of its chemical weapons holdings, and opening itself to be disarmed by inspections of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  Russia was chosen to be the guarantor of Syria’s compliance. The bottom line is that Syria had the weapons but was verified by 2016 as being in 100% compliance. The totality of Syria’s chemical weapons program was eliminated.

At the same time that this disarmament process was taking place, Syria was being engulfed in a civil war which has resulted in a humanitarian crisis.  Over a half million people have died. It is a war that pits the Syrian government against a variety of anti-regime forces, many of which are Islamic in nature: the Islamic State, Al Nusra, Al Qaeda.  Some of these Islamic factions have been in the vicinity of Ghouta since 2012.

Earlier this year, the Syrian government initiated an offensive to liberate that area of these factions.  It was very heavy fighting, thousands of civilians were killed, with massive aerial bombardment. Government forces were prevailing and by April 6 it looked as if the militants were preparing to surrender.

Suddenly the allegations come out that there was this chemical weapons attack.  It wasn’t a massive chemical weapons attack, it was dropping one or two so-called “barrel bombs,” improvised devices that contained chlorine gas canisters.  According to the militants, between 40 and 70 people were killed and up to 500 people were made ill. The United States and other nations picked up on this, saying that this was proof positive that Syria has been lying about its chemical weapons program and that Russia has been behind Syria’s retention of chemical weapons.  This is the case the US made to launch its missile strike [on April 14].

There are a lot of problems with this scenario.  Again, why would the Syrian government, at the moment of victory, use a pinprick chemical attack with zero military value?  It added nothing to the military campaign and invited the wrath of the West at a critical time, when the rebels were begging for Western intervention.

Many, including the Russian government, believe that this was a staged event.  There has been no hard evidence put forward by anyone that an attack took place.  Shortly after allegations of the attack came out, the entire town of Douma was taken over by the Syrian Army while the rebels were evacuated.

The places that were alleged to have been attacked were inspected by Russian chemical weapons specialists, who found zero trace of any chemicals weapons activity.  The same inspectors who oversaw the disarmament of Syria were mobilized to return to Syria and do an investigation. They were supposed to start their work this past weekend [April 21-22].  They arrived in Damascus the day after the missile strikes occurred but they still haven’t been out to the sites. The United States, France and Great Britain have all admitted that the only evidence they have used to justify this attack were the photographs and videotapes sent to them by the rebel forces.

I have great concern about the United States carrying out an attack on a sovereign nation based on no hard evidence.  The longer we wait, the longer it takes to get inspectors onto the site, the more claims we are going to get that the Russians have sanitized it.  I believe that the last thing the United States wanted was inspectors to get on-site and carry out a forensic investigation that would have found that a chemical attack did not in fact take place.

DB: It is sort of like cleaning up a police crime scene before you check for evidence.

SR: The United States didn’t actually bomb the site that was attacked.  They bombed three other facilities. One was in the suburbs of Damascus, a major metropolitan area.  The generals said that they believed there were quantities of nerve agent there. So, in a building in a densely populated area where we believe nerve agent is stored, what do we do?  We blow it up! If there had in fact been nerve agent there, it would have resulted in hundreds or even thousands of deaths. That fact that nobody died is the clearest evidence yet that there was no nerve agent there.  The United States is just winging it, making it up.

One of the tragedies is that we can no longer trust our military, our intelligence services, our politicians.  They will manufacture whatever narrative they need to justify an action that they deem to be politically expedient.

DB: Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015?  I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

SR: They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government.   It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels.  It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people.  Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute.  You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation.  So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

DB: Who has been supporting this particular group of rebels?

SR:  On the one hand, we have the actual fighters, the Army of Islam, a Saudi-backed fundamentalist group who are extraordinarily brutal.  Embedded within the fighters are a variety of Western-trained and Western-funded NGOs such as the White Helmets and the Syrian-American Medical Society.  But their primary focus isn’t rescue, in the case of the White Helmets, or medical care in the case of the Syrian-American Medical Society, but rather anti-regime propaganda.  Many of the reports that came out of Douma originated with these two NGO’s.

DB: You mentioned “chain of custody.”  That’s what was most ridiculous about sending in inspectors.  The first thing you would want to do is establish chain of custody and nail down the crime scene.

SR: I was a participant in the Gulf War and we spent the bulk of that war conducting a massive aerial campaign against Iraq.  I was one of the people who helped come up with the target list that was used to attack. Each target had to have a purpose.

Let’s look what happened in Syria [on April 14].  We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria.  It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed.  So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment.  That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists?  They just make it up.  

If I had been a member of that inspections team, I would have been able to tell you with 100% certainty what took place at that site.  It wasn’t that long ago that the allegations took place, there are very good forensic techniques that can be applied. We would be able to reverse engineer that site and tell you exactly what happened when.  Let’s say an inspection team had gone in and we found that there was sarin nerve agent. Now, the US government can say, there is not supposed to be any sarin nerve agent in Syria, therefore we can state that the Syrians have a covert sarin nerve agent capability.  But still you don’t know where it is, so now you have to say we assess that it could be in this bunker.

We bombed empty buildings.  We didn’t degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capability.  They got rid of it. We were among the nations that certified that they had been disarmed.  We just created this phantom threat out of nothing so that we could attack Syria and our president could be seen as being presidential, as being the commander in chief at a time when his credibility was being attacked on the home front.

DB: Amazing.  That helps clarify the situation.  Of course, it also leaves us terrified because we are so far away from the truth.

SR: As an American citizen who happens to be empowered with knowledge about how weapons inspections work, how decisions are made regarding war, I am disillusioned beyond belief.

This isn’t the first time we have been lied to by the president.  But we have been lied to by military officers who are supposed to be above that.  Three top Marine Corps officers stood before the American people and told bald-faced lies about what was going on.  We have been lied to by Congress, who are supposed to be the people’s representatives who provide a check against executive overreach.  And we have been lied to by the corporate media, a bunch of paid mouthpieces who repeat what the government tells them without question.

So Donald Trump can say there are chemical weapons in Syria, the generals parrot his words, the Congress nods its head dumbly, and the mass media repeats it over and over again to the American public.

DB: Are you worried that we might end up in a shooting war with Russia at this point?

SR: A week ago I was very worried.  If I am going to give kudos to Jim Mattis it will be because he took the desire of Trump and Bolton to create a major crisis with Russia over the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use and was able to water that down into putting on a show for the American people.  We warned the Russians in advance, there were no casualties, we blew up three empty buildings. We spent a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer money and we got to pat ourselves on the back and tell everybody how great we are. But we avoided a needless confrontation with the Russians and I am a lot calmer today about the potential of a shooting war with Russia than I was a week ago.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio of this interview and the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Amid Missiles and Bombs in Damascus 

In this special report to Consortium News from the Syrian capital, Jeff Klein describes a people getting back on their feet after the defeat of jihadists in Ghouta, while explosives remain a part of daily life.

By Jeff Klein  Special to Consortium News

In Damascus

A loud and persistent booming woke everyone up here in the early hours of the morning on Saturday, April 14. To a visitor from Boston it sounded like Fourth of July fireworks over the Charles River. But this was Damascus and the thunder was from exploding missiles in the long-awaited attack by Donald Trump and his British and French allies. 

The bombardments started precisely at 4am local time and continued for the better part of an hour. Only the timing was a surprise here, as Trump had been threatening a reprisal attack for the alleged use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus the previous week.  

By all accounts, most Syrians were unfazed by the missile attack.  There were videos of Damascenes cheering from rooftops as air defense rockets were launched over the city to intercept the US, French and British missiles. 

Trump’s tweet that the attack had been “perfectly carried out” is likely an overstatement. The Russian and Syrian militaries claim that the majority of the incoming missiles were shot down or diverted electronically from their targets, although this is impossible to verify.  But it is being reported that two unexploded missiles were handed over to the Russians for technical examination.

In any case, before and after photos of the alleged military/chemical research center in Damascus show pretty thoroughgoing destruction.  But the US attacks had been so fully telegraphed – there were claims that the Russians were informed in advance of the targets – that the buildings were empty and there were no reported fatalities.

Of course, if these Damascus targets had actually been chemical weapons facilities as charged there would have been massive civilian casualties from the fallout.  There were none.

A ‘Fake’ Chemical Attack

Syrians I spoke to here all derided the chemical attack charge as fake news.  Nearly everyone else I met in the region, of varying political views, shared the same opinion.  In fact it is hard for anyone to fathom why the Syrian army would use chemical weapons when they were on the verge of military victory in Ghouta.  To the question of cui bono?(who benefits) it was hard to avoid the sense that only the so-called rebels and the enemies of Syria could gain any advantage from this alleged chemical attack—such as bringing in Western air strikes.

It was an ironic time for an American to be in Syria.  Arriving on Friday the 13th from Beirut with a group of international activists, including Americans, Canadians, Brits, Irish, Germans, one Swiss and one Dutch, we passed with some tension and delay at the Syrian-Lebanese border. But ultimately we received our visas after some intervention from the authorities in Damascus. 

Our hotel, Beit al Wali, is a beautifully restored Ottoman period mansion in the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City. Syrians had invested heavily in the tourist sector before the war in the expectation of attracting badly needed hard currency, but of course these days there are hardly any foreign visitors apart from a small number of well-to-do Lebanese.

Defending Secular Syria

Bab Touma is a traditionally Christian part of town, but there are also many mosques here, in some cases directly neighboring churches of the 12 Christian denominations said to exist in Syria. Orthodox (Greek, Syrian and Catholic Melchite) are the majority, but there are also Roman Catholic, Maronite, Armenian and even evangelical churches. The restaurants in Bab Touma are frequented by mixed crowds of Muslims and Christians, drinking beer or Arak and smoking shisha (water pipes). Liquor stores and bars are commonplace here.

The morning following the missile attack, after a mostly sleepless night, we were led around the neighborhood by our Syrian translator and guide. Abdul-Razzaq, who had worked in the tourist industry for 25 years, was knowledgeable and professional.

Like many Syrians, Abdul-Razzaq readily acknowledged the need for reforms in the country and is critical of high-level corruption. But he also believes that winning the war is the immediate priority.  He tells us “You don’t argue about what color to paint the walls while your house is burning down.” He adds: “This is not a war of Syrians, but an attack by the enemies of Syria.”  That was a very common sentiment in Syria, but falls into the category of Syrian voices which are rarely heard in the US. 

Our guide seemed to know everyone in the old city. He questioned dozens of people we met on the streets and in the shops on their response to Trump’s missile attack. My Arabic is good enough to understand the questions and answers, so there was no question of mistranslation.  Nor was there any sign of coerced response.

Most locals in Bab Touma were buoyed by the recent government recapture of Eastern Ghouta, where the neighboring rebel-held town of Jobar had been the source of daily rockets and mortars launched against this part of the city.  We were shown many sites of these attacks on the walls and roads of the area, including the locations where people had been “martyred.” More than a hundred Damascus civilians had been killed by these attacks in recent months – of course little reported in the Western press – and the residents were clearly relieved that their town was now safe.

The American Donkey

Compared to this, Trump’s missiles were a minor annoyance.  Nearly everyone ridiculed the attack as a “show” from that American “donkey.”  The atmosphere in the city was much more relaxed than it had been when I visited two years ago, reflecting a string of government military advances since then. 

Of course, the missile attack was also derided by many war cheerleaders of both parties in Washington as “insufficient.” Israel and rebel supporters inside and outside the country expressed their disappointment. Sadly, the justification for the attack was also given credence by many self-described US progressives. Anyone who doubted the veracity of the supposed chemical attack in Duma, or whose first priority was to oppose illegal attacks on Syria has been smeared viciously.  

Pearson Sharp, a reporter for the right-wing libertarian One America News Network and former Trump supporter was accused, in effect, of being a Russian agent by the progressive media for his on-the-scene reporting from Duma; at the same time he was being relentlessly attacked by viewers of his network for being disloyal to Trump.

The evening after the missile attack, hotel Beit al-Wali prepared a festive dinner for us – it was the birthday of Mario, one of the Germans among our group.  Present also was the British journalist Vanessa Beeley, who has exposed much of the phony Western propaganda coming out of Syria – and been vilified for it – together with some locals, including the very colorful Syrian comic who goes by the name of “Treka.”  Treka grew up in Nigeria among the Syrian expat business community there, sports long dreads and speaks in very colloquial but accented English. He defies all stereotypes about Arabs and Syrians. Treka has posted many videos critical of the MSM narrative abroad, and his latest, deriding the claim of the government chemical attack in Ghouta, is here.  

On the Road Back to Damascus

Returning to Damascus on Thursday April 19 after a visit to Aleppo, we were met this time by the roar of jets over the city and the continuous thunder of  bombs and artillery. The Syrian army  and their Russian ally were attacking the neighborhoods and Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk on the southern outskirts of the city.  It was strange to be driving along roads in Damascus less than a kilometer away from the bombing.  Few residents of the capital seemed to pay any attention at all, the nonchalant routine of 7 years of war.

Yarmouk had been long held by elements of terrorist groups Daesh (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front (now known under the name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham). Nearly all the original Palestinians had long gone, becoming refugees for the second time elsewhere in Syria or in Lebanon.  Some of them were fighting in Palestinian units alongside the Syrian army.

After the recapture of Eastern Ghouta, this was an effort by the government to clear out the last remaining opposition-held zone near the capital. Reports are that the rebels have agreed to evacuate, though as this is being written the air and artillery attacks are continuing.

If Yarmouk is retaken in its entirety it will represent another major military victory for the Syrian government and a key step toward defeating the remains of the armed insurgency.  

In fact, the comprehensive military defeat of the rebels, now overwhelmingly dominated by sectarian religious extremists, remains the principle hope for peace and reconciliation within the country. This was the fervent wish of nearly all the Syrians we spoke with — in the government-held areas to be sure, but this now represents more than 80% of the population.

The task of reconstruction will be immense.  As we drove back to Damascus on Thursday we passed mile after mile of devastated landscape just outside the capital in what had shortly before been territory held by the armed insurgents in Eastern Ghouta. As in Aleppo, rebuilding has already begun, but it will take an enormous amount of resources to complete.  

By rights, the nations who have intervened to destroy Syria – the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel – should bear the cost of reconstruction, but this this is unlikely to occur. These same countries have not stopped their attacks on Syria, nor are there any signs that the US is planning to give up its illegal occupation of the east of the country. Nevertheless, justice demands a reckoning.

The reckoning should also include Leftists or progressives inside and outside Syria who enthusiastically echo the MSM propaganda war and even clamor for more attacks in the name of a “revolution” that had ceased to be a plausible reality years ago. 

Not so far back, those who opposed the Iraq War were smeared as supporters of Saddam Hussein, a charge that honest anti-war activists easily dismissed. Today, defending Syria from foreign aggression and advocating the right of Syrians to choose their own future apparently makes one an “Assad apologist” in some Progressive circles. These same commentators seem to ignore civilian casualties from the US-led aerial destruction of Mosul and Raqqa, while rarely even mentioning the ongoing US and Turkish illegal occupation of Syrian territory.

Syria has not been the proudest moment for the international Left.

 

Jeff Klein is an anti-war activist who has written and spoken frequently on the Middle East




How Many Millions Have Been Killed in America’s Post-9/11 Wars? Part 3: Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen

In the third and final part of his series, Nicolas JS Davies investigates the death toll of U.S. covert and proxy wars in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen and underscores the importance of comprehensive war mortality studies.

By Nicolas J S Davies Special to Consortium News

In the first two parts of this report, I have estimated that about 2.4 million people have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while about 1.2 million have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a result of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.  In the third and final part of this report, I will estimate how many people have been killed as a result of U.S. military and CIA interventions in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Of the countries that the U.S. has attacked and destabilized since 2001, only Iraq has been the subject of comprehensive “active” mortality studies that can reveal otherwise unreported deaths. An “active” mortality study is one that “actively” surveys households to find deaths that have not previously been reported by news reports or other published sources.

These studies are often carried out by people who work in the field of public health, like Les Roberts at Columbia University, Gilbert Burnham at Johns Hopkins and Riyadh Lafta at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, who co-authored the 2006 Lancet study of Iraq war mortality.  In defending their studies in Iraq and their results, they emphasized that their Iraqi survey teams were independent of the occupation government and that that was an important factor in the objectivity of their studies and the willingness of people in Iraq to talk honestly with them.

Comprehensive mortality studies in other war-torn countries (like Angola, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda) have revealed total numbers of deaths that are 5 to 20 times those previously revealed by “passive” reporting based on news reports, hospital records and/or human rights investigations.

In the absence of such comprehensive studies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, I have evaluated passive reports of war deaths and tried to assess what proportion of actual deaths these passive reports are likely to have counted by the methods they have used, based on ratios of actual deaths to passively reported deaths found in other war-zones.

I have only estimated violent deaths.  None of my estimates include deaths from the indirect effects of these wars, such as the destruction of hospitals and health systems, the spread of otherwise preventable diseases and the effects of malnutrition and environmental pollution, which have also been substantial in all these countries.

For Iraq, my final estimate of about 2.4 million people killed was based on accepting the estimates of the 2006 Lancet study and the 2007 Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey, which were consistent with each other, and then applying the same ratio of actual deaths to passively reported deaths (11.5:1) as between the Lancet study and Iraq Body Count (IBC) in 2006 to IBC’s count for the years since 2007.

For Afghanistan, I estimated that about 875,000 Afghans have been killed.  I explained that the annual reports on civilian casualties by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) are based only on investigations completed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), and that they knowingly exclude large numbers of reports of civilian deaths that the AIHRC has not yet investigated or for which it has not completed its investigations.  UNAMA’s reports also lack any reporting at all from many areas of the country where the Taliban and other Afghan resistance forces are active, and where many or most U.S. air strikes and night raids therefore take place.

I concluded that UNAMA’s reporting of civilian deaths in Afghanistan appears to be as inadequate as the extreme under-reporting found at the end of the Guatemalan Civil War, when the UN-sponsored Historical Verification Commission revealed 20 times more deaths than previously reported.

For Pakistan, I estimated that about 325,000 people had been killed.  That was based on published estimates of combatant deaths, and on applying an average of the ratios found in previous wars (12.5:1) to the number of civilian deaths reported by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) in India.

Estimating Deaths in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen

In the third and final part of this report, I will estimate the death toll caused by U.S. covert and proxy wars in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Senior U.S. military officers have hailed the U.S. doctrine of covert and proxy war that found its full flowering under the Obama administration as a “disguised, quiet, media-free” approach to war, and have traced the development of this doctrine back to U.S. wars in Central America in the 1980s.  While the U.S. recruitment, training, command and control of death squads in Iraq was dubbed “the Salvador Option,” U.S. strategy in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen has in fact followed this model even more closely.

These wars have been catastrophic for the people of all these countries, but the U.S.’s “disguised, quiet, media-free” approach to them has been so successful in propaganda terms that most Americans know very little about the U.S. role in the intractable violence and chaos that has engulfed them.

The very public nature of the illegal but largely symbolic missile strikes on Syria on April 14, 2018 stands in sharp contrast to the “disguised, quiet, media-free” U.S.-led bombing campaign that has destroyed Raqqa, Mosul and several other Syrian and Iraqi cities with more than 100,000 bombs and missiles since 2014.

The people of Mosul, Raqqa, Kobane, Sirte, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tawergha and Deir Ez-Zor have died like trees falling in a forest where there were no Western reporters or TV crews to record their massacres.  As Harold Pinter asked of earlier U.S. war crimes in his 2005 Nobel acceptance speech,

“Did they take place?  And are they in all cases attributable to U.S. foreign policy?  The answer is yes, they did take place, and they are in all cases attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.  It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

For more detailed background on the critical role the U.S. has played in each of these wars, please read my article, “Giving War Too Many Chances,” published in January 2018.

Libya

The only legal justification for NATO and its Arab monarchist allies to have dropped at least 7,700 bombs and missiles on Libya and invaded it with special operations forces beginning in February 2011 was UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures” for the narrowly defined purpose of protecting civilians in Libya.

But the war instead killed far more civilians than any estimate of the number killed in the initial rebellion in February and March 2011, which ranged from 1,000 (a UN estimate) to 6,000 (according to the Libyan Human Rights League).  So the war clearly failed in its stated, authorized purpose, to protect civilians, even as it succeeded in a different and unauthorized one: the illegal overthrow of the Libyan government.

SC resolution 1973 expressly prohibited “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”  But NATO and its allies launched a covert invasion of Libya by thousands of Qatari and Western special operations forces, who planned the rebels’ advance across the country, called in air strikes against government forces and led the final assault on the Bab al-Aziziya military headquarters in Tripoli.

Qatari Chief of Staff Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya, proudly told AFP,

“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were in the hundreds in every region.  Training and communications had been in Qatari hands. Qatar… supervised the rebels’ plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces.”

There are credible reports that a French security officer may even have delivered the coup de grace that killed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, after he was captured, tortured and sodomized with a knife by the “NATO rebels.”

A parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry in the U.K. in 2016 concluded that a “limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into an opportunistic policy of regime change by military means,” resulting in, “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa.”

Passive Reports of Civilian Deaths in Libya

Once the Libyan government was overthrown, journalists tried to inquire about the sensitive subject of civilian deaths, which was so critical to the legal and political justifications for the war.  But the National Transitional Council (NTC), the unstable new government formed by Western-backed exiles and rebels, stopped issuing public casualty estimates and ordered hospital staff not to release information to reporters.

In any case, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, morgues were overflowing during the war and many people buried their loved ones in their backyards or wherever they could, without taking them to hospitals.

A rebel leader estimated in August 2011 that 50,000 Libyans had been killed.  Then, on September 8th 2011, Naji Barakat, the NTC’s new health minister, issued a statement that 30,000 people had been killed and another 4,000 were missing, based on a survey of hospitals, local officials and rebel commanders in the majority of the country that the NTC by then controlled.  He said it would take several more weeks to complete the survey, so he expected the final figure to be higher.

Barakat’s statement did not include separate counts of combatant and civilian deaths.  But he said that about half of the 30,000 reported dead were troops loyal to the government, including 9,000 members of the Khamis Brigade, led by Gaddafi’s son Khamis.  Barakat asked the public to report deaths in their families and details of missing persons when they came to mosques for prayers that Friday. The NTC’s estimate of 30,000 people killed appeared to consist mainly of combatants on both sides.

The most comprehensive survey of war deaths since the end of the 2011 war in Libya was an “epidemiological community-based study” titled “Libyan Armed Conflict 2011: Mortality, Injury and Population Displacement.”  It was authored by three medical professors from Tripoli, and published in the African Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2015.

The authors took records of war deaths, injuries and displacement collected by the Ministry of Housing and Planning, and sent teams to conduct face-to-face interviews with a member of each family to verify how many members of their household were killed, wounded or displaced.  They did not try to separate the killing of civilians from the deaths of combatants.

Nor did they try to statistically estimate previously unreported deaths through the “cluster sample survey” method of the Lancet study in Iraq.  But the Libyan Armed Conflict study is the most complete record of confirmed deaths in the war in Libya up to February 2012, and it confirmed the deaths of at least 21,490 people.

In 2014, the ongoing chaos and factional fighting in Libya flared up into what Wikipedia now calls a second Libyan Civil War.  A group called Libya Body Count (LBC) began tabulating violent deaths in Libya, based on media reports, on the model of Iraq Body Count (IBC).  But LBC only did so for three years, from January 2014 until December 2016.  It counted 2,825 deaths in 2014, 1,523 in 2015 and 1,523 in 2016. (The LBC website says it was just a coincidence that the number was identical in 2015 and 2016.)

The U.K.-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project has also kept a count of violent deaths in Libya.  ACLED counted 4,062 deaths in 2014-6, compared with 5,871 counted by Libya Body Count.  For the remaining periods between March 2012 and March 2018 that LBC did not cover, ACLED has counted 1,874 deaths.

If LBC had covered the whole period since March 2012, and found the same proportionally higher number than ACLED as it did for 2014-6, it would have counted 8,580 people killed.

Estimating How Many People Have Really Been Killed in Libya

Combining the figures from the Libyan Armed Conflict 2011 study and our combined, projected figure from Libya Body Count and ACLED gives a total of 30,070 passively reported deaths since February 2011.

The Libyan Armed Conflict (LAC) study was based on official records in a country that had not had a stable, unified government for about 4 years, while Libya Body Count was a fledgling effort to emulate Iraq Body Count that tried to cast a wider net by not relying only on English-language news sources.

In Iraq, the ratio between the 2006 Lancet study and Iraq Body Count was higher because IBC was only counting civilians, while the Lancet study counted Iraqi combatants as well as civilians.  Unlike Iraq Body Count, both our main passive sources in Libya counted both civilians and combatants.  Based on the one-line descriptions of each incident in the Libya Body Count database, LBC’s total appears to include roughly half combatants and half civilians.

Military casualties are generally counted more accurately than civilian ones, and military forces have an interest in accurately assessing enemy casualties as well as identifying their own. The opposite is true of civilian casualties, which are nearly always evidence of war crimes that the forces who killed them have a strong interest in suppressing.

So, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I treated combatants and civilians separately, applying typical ratios between passive reporting and mortality studies only to civilians, while accepting reported combatant deaths as they were passively reported.

But the forces fighting in Libya are not a national army with the strict chain of command and organizational structure that results in accurate reporting of military casualties in other countries and conflicts, so both civilian and combatant deaths appear to be significantly under-reported by my two main sources, the Libya Armed Conflict study and Libya Body Count.  In fact, the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) estimates  from August and September 2011 of 30,000 deaths were already much higher than the numbers of war deaths in the LAC study.

When the 2006 Lancet study of mortality in Iraq was published, it revealed 14 times the number of deaths counted in Iraq Body Count’s list of civilian deaths.  But IBC later discovered more deaths from that period, reducing the ratio between the Lancet study’s estimate and IBC’s revised count to 11.5:1.

The combined totals from the Libya Armed Conflict 2011 study and Libya Body Count appear to be a larger proportion of total violent deaths than Iraq Body Count has counted in Iraq, mainly because LAC and LBC both counted combatants as well as civilians, and because Libya Body Count included deaths reported in Arabic news sources, while IBC relies almost entirely on English language news sources and generally requires “a minimum of two independent data sources” before recording each death.

In other conflicts, passive reporting has never succeeded in counting more than a fifth of the deaths found by comprehensive, “active” epidemiological studies.  Taking all these factors into account, the true number of people killed in Libya appears to be somewhere between five and twelve times the numbers counted by the Libya Armed Conflict 2011 study, Libya Body Count and ACLED.

So I estimate that about 250,000 Libyans have been killed in the war, violence and chaos that the U.S. and its allies unleashed in Libya in February 2011, and which continues to the present day.  Taking 5:1 and 12:1 ratios to passively counted deaths as outer limits, the minimum number of people that have been killed would be 150,000 and the maximum would be 360,000.

Syria

The “disguised, quiet, media-free” U.S. role in Syria began in late 2011 with a CIA operation to funnel foreign fighters and weapons through Turkey and Jordan into Syria, working with Qatar and Saudi Arabia to militarize unrest that began with peaceful Arab Spring protests against Syria’s Baathist government.

The mostly leftist and democratic Syrian political groups coordinating non-violent protests in Syria in 2011 strongly opposed these foreign efforts to unleash a civil war, and issued strong statements opposing violence, sectarianism and foreign intervention.

But even as a December 2011 Qatari-sponsored opinion poll found that 55% of Syrians supported their government, the U.S. and its allies were committed to adapting their Libyan regime change model to Syria, knowing full well from the outset that this war would be much bloodier and more destructive.

The CIA and its Arab monarchist partners eventually funneled thousands of tons of weapons and thousands of foreign Al-Qaeda-linked jihadis into Syria.  The weapons came first from Libya, then from Croatia and the Balkans. They included howitzers, missile launchers and other heavy weapons, sniper rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and small arms, and the U.S. eventually directly supplied powerful anti-tank missiles.

Meanwhile, instead of cooperating with Kofi Annan’s UN-backed efforts to bring peace to Syria in 2012, the U.S. and its allies held three “Friends of Syria” conferences, where they pursued their own “Plan B,” pledging ever-growing support to the increasingly Al-Qaeda-dominated rebels.  Kofi Annan quit his thankless role in disgust after Secretary of State Clinton and her British, French and Saudi allies cynically undermined his peace plan.

The rest, as they say, is history, a history of ever-spreading violence and chaos that has drawn the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, Iran and all of Syria’s neighbors into its bloody vortex.  As Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies has observed, these external powers have all been ready to fight over Syria “to the last Syrian.”

The bombing campaign that President Obama launched against Islamic State in 2014 is the heaviest bombing campaign since the U.S. War in Vietnam, dropping more than 100,000 bombs and missiles on Syria and Iraq.  Patrick Cockburn, the veteran Middle East correspondent of the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, recently visited Raqqa, formerly Syria’s 6th largest city, and wrote that, “The destruction is total.”

“In other Syrian cities bombed or shelled to the point of oblivion there is at least one district that has survived intact,” Cockburn wrote. “This is the case even in Mosul in Iraq, though much of it was pounded into rubble. But in Raqqa the damage and the demoralization are all pervasive.  When something does work, such as a single traffic light, the only one to do so in the city, people express surprise.”

Estimating Violent Deaths in Syria

Every public estimate of the numbers of people killed in Syria that I have found comes directly or indirectly from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), run by Rami Abdulrahman in Coventry in the U.K.  He is a former political prisoner from Syria, and he works with four assistants in Syria who in turn draw on a network of about 230 anti-government activists across the country.  His work receives some funding from the European Union, and also reportedly some from the U.K. government.

Wikipedia cites the Syrian Centre for Policy Research as a separate source with a higher fatality estimate, but this is in fact a projection from SOHR’s figures.  Lower estimates by the UN appear to also be based mainly on SOHR’s reports.

SOHR has been criticized for its unabashedly opposition viewpoint, leading some to question the objectivity of its data.  It appears to have seriously undercounted civilians killed by U.S. air strikes, but this could also be due to the difficulty and danger of reporting from IS-held territory, as has also been the case in Iraq.

SOHR acknowledges that its count cannot be a total estimate of all the people killed in Syria.  In its most recent report in March 2018, it added 100,000 to its tally to compensate for under-reporting, another 45,000 to account for prisoners killed or disappeared in government custody and 12,000 for people killed, disappeared or missing in Islamic State or other rebel custody.

Leaving aside these adjustments, SOHR’s March 2018 report documents the deaths of 353,935 combatants and civilians in Syria.  That total is comprised of 106,390 civilians; 63,820 Syrian troops; 58,130 members of pro-government militias (including 1,630 from Hezbollah and 7,686 other foreigners); 63,360 Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and other Islamist jihadis; 62,039 other anti-government combatants; and 196 unidentified bodies.

Breaking this down simply into civilians and combatants, that is 106,488 civilians and 247,447 combatants killed (with the 196 unidentified bodies divided equally), including 63,820 Syrian Army troops.

The SOHR’s count is not a comprehensive statistical survey like the 2006 Lancet study in Iraq.  But regardless of its pro-rebel viewpoint, the SOHR appears to be one of the most comprehensive efforts to “passively” count the dead in any recent war.

Like military institutions in other countries, the Syrian Army probably keeps fairly accurate casualty figures for its own troops.  Excluding actual military casualties, it would be unprecedented for SOHR to have counted more than 20% of other people killed in Syria’s Civil War. But SOHR’s reporting may well be as thorough as any previous efforts to count the dead by “passive” methods.

Taking the SOHR’s passively reported figures for non-military war deaths as 20% of the real total killed would mean that 1.45 million civilians and non-military combatants have been killed.  After adding the 64,000 Syrian troops killed to that number, I estimate that about 1.5 million people have been killed in Syria.

If SOHR has been more successful than any previous “passive” effort to count the dead in a war, and has counted 25% or 30% of the people killed, the real number killed could be as low as 1 million.  If it has not been as successful as it seems, and its count is closer to what has been typical in other conflicts, then as many as 2 million people may well have been killed.

Somalia

Most Americans remember the U.S. intervention in Somalia that led to the “Black Hawk Down” incident and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1993.  But most Americans do not remember, or may never have known, that the U.S. made another “disguised, quiet, media-free” intervention in Somalia in 2006, in support of an Ethiopian military invasion.

Somalia was finally “pulling itself up by its bootstraps” under the governance of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a union of local traditional courts who agreed to work together to govern the country.  The ICU allied with a warlord in Mogadishu and defeated the other warlords who had ruled private fiefdoms since the collapse of the central government in 1991.  People who knew the country well hailed the ICU as a hopeful development for peace and stability in Somalia.

But in the context of its “war on terror,” the U.S. government identified the Islamic Courts Union as an enemy and a target for military action.  The U.S. allied with Ethiopia, Somalia’s traditional regional rival (and a majority Christian country), and conducted air strikes and special forces operations to support an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to remove the ICU from power. As in every other country the U.S. and its proxies have invaded since 2001, the effect was to plunge Somalia back into violence and chaos that continues to this day.

Estimating the Death Toll in Somalia

Passive sources put the violent death toll in Somalia since the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2006 at 20,171 (Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) – through 2016) and 24,631 (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project  (ACLED)).  But an award-winning local NGO, the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Mogadishu, which tracked deaths only for 2007 and 2008, counted 16,210 violent deaths in those two years alone, 4.7 times the number counted by UCDP and 5.8 times ACLED’s tally for those two years.

In Libya, Libya Body Count only counted 1.45 times as many deaths as ACLED.  In Somalia, Elman Peace counted 5.8 times more than ACLED – the difference between the two was 4 times as great.  This suggests that Elman Peace’s counting was about twice as thorough as Libya Body Count’s, while ACLED seems to be about half as effective at counting war deaths in Somalia as in Libya.

UCDP logged higher numbers of deaths than ACLED from 2006 until 2012, while ACLED has published higher numbers than UCDP since 2013.  The average of their two counts gives a total of 23,916 violent deaths from July 2006 to 2017. If Elman Peace had kept counting war deaths and had continued to find 5.25 ( the average of 4.7 and 5.8) times the numbers found by these international monitoring groups, it would by now have counted about 125,000 violent deaths since the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in July 2006.

But while Elman Peace counted many more deaths than UCDP or ACLED, this was still just a “passive” count of war deaths in Somalia.  To estimate the total number of war deaths that have resulted from the U.S. decision to destroy Somalia’s fledgling ICU government, we must multiply these figures by a ratio that falls somewhere between those found in other conflicts, between 5:1 and 20:1.

Applying a 5:1 ratio to my projection of what the Elman Project might have counted by now yields a total of 625,000 deaths.  Applying a 20:1 ratio to the much lower counts by UCDP and ACLED would give a lower figure of 480,000.

It is very unlikely that the Elman Project was counting more than 20% of actual deaths all over Somalia.  On the other hand, UCDP and ACLED were only counting reports of deaths in Somalia from their bases in Sweden and the U.K., based on published reports, so they may well have counted less than 5% of actual deaths.

If the Elman Project was only capturing 15% of total deaths instead of 20%, that would suggest that 830,000 people have been killed since 2006.  If UCDP’s and ACLED’s counts have captured more than 5% of total deaths, the real total could be lower than 480,000. But that would imply that the Elman Project was identifying an even higher proportion of actual deaths, which would be unprecedented for such a project.

So I estimate that the true number of people killed in Somalia since 2006 must be somewhere between 500,000 and 850,000, with most likely about 650,000 violent deaths.

Yemen

The U.S. is part of a coalition that has been bombing Yemen since 2015 in an effort to restore former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to power.  Hadi was elected in 2012 after Arab Spring protests and armed uprisings forced Yemen’s previous U.S.-backed dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to resign in November 2011.

Hadi’s mandate was to draw up a new constitution and organize a new election within two years.  He did neither of these things, so the powerful Zaidi Houthi movement invaded the capital in September 2014, placed Hadi under house arrest and demanded that he and his government fulfill their mandate and organize a new election.

The Zaidis are a unique Shiite sect who make up 45% of Yemen’s population.  Zaidi Imams ruled most of Yemen for over a thousand years. Sunnis and Zaidis have lived together peacefully in Yemen for centuries, intermarriage is common and they pray in the same mosques.

The last Zaidi Imam was overthrown in a civil war in the 1960s.  In that war, the Saudis supported the Zaidi royalists, while Egypt invaded Yemen to support the republican forces who eventually formed the Yemen Arab Republic in 1970.

In 2014, Hadi refused to cooperate with the Houthis, and resigned in January 2015.  He fled to Aden, his hometown, and then to Saudi Arabia, which launched a savage U.S.-backed bombing campaign and naval blockade to try to restore him to power.

While Saudi Arabia is conducting most of the air strikes, the U.S. has sold most of the planes, bombs, missiles and other weapons it is using.  The U.K. is the Saudis’ second largest arms supplier. Without U.S. satellite intelligence and in-air refueling, Saudi Arabia could not conduct airstrikes all over Yemen as it is doing.  So a cut-off of U.S. weapons, in-air refueling and diplomatic support could be decisive in ending the war.

Estimating War Deaths in Yemen

Published estimates of war deaths in Yemen are based on regular surveys of hospitals there by the World Health Organization, often relayed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).  The most recent estimate, from December 2017, is that 9,245 people have been killed, including 5,558 civilians.

But UNOCHA’s December 2017 report included a note that, “Due to the high number of health facilities that are not functioning or partially functioning as a result of the conflict, these numbers are underreported and likely higher.”

Even when hospitals are fully functioning, many people killed in war do not ever make it to a hospital.  Several hospitals in Yemen have been struck by Saudi air strikes, there is a naval blockade that restricts imports of medicine, and supplies of electricity, water, food and fuel have all been affected by the bombing and the blockade.  So the WHO’s summaries of mortality reports from hospitals are likely to be a small fraction of the real numbers of people killed.

ACLED reports a slightly lower figure than the WHO: 7,846 through the end of 2017.  But unlike the WHO, ACLED has up to date data for 2018, and reports another 2,193 deaths since January.  If the WHO continues to report 18% more deaths than ACLED, the WHO’s total up to the present would be 11,833.

Even UNOCHA and the WHO acknowledge substantial underreporting of war deaths in Yemen, and the ratio between the WHO’s passive reports and actual deaths appears to be toward the higher end of the range found in other wars, which has varied between 5:1 and 20:1.  I estimate that about 175,000 people have been killed – 15 times the numbers reported by the WHO and ACLED – with a minimum of 120,000 and a maximum of 240,000.

The True Human Cost of U.S. Wars

Altogether, in the three parts of this report, I have estimated that America’s post-9/11 wars have killed about 6 million people.  Maybe the true number is only 5 million. Or maybe it is 7 million. But I am quite certain that it is several millions.

It is not only hundreds of thousands, as many otherwise well-informed people believe, because compilations of “passive reporting” can never amount to more than a fraction of the actual numbers of people killed in countries living through the kind of violence and chaos that our country’s aggression has unleashed on them since 2001.

The systematic reporting of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has surely captured a larger fraction of actual deaths than the small number of completed investigations deceptively reported as mortality estimates by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.  But both of them still only represent a fraction of total deaths.

And the true number of people killed is most definitely not in the tens of thousands, as most of the general public in the U.S. and in the U.K. have been led to believe, according to opinion polls.

We urgently need public health experts to conduct comprehensive mortality studies in all the countries the U.S. has plunged into war since 2001, so that the world can respond appropriately to the true scale of death and destruction these wars have caused.

As Barbara Lee presciently warned her colleagues before she cast her lone dissenting vote in 2001, we have “become the evil we deplore.”  But these wars have not been accompanied by fearsome military parades (not yet) or speeches about conquering the world. Instead they have been politically justified by “information warfare” to demonize enemies and fabricate crises, and then waged in a “disguised, quiet, media free” way, to hide their cost in human blood from the American public and the world.

After 16 years of war, about 6 million violent deaths, 6 countries utterly destroyed and many more destabilized, it is urgent that the American public come to terms with the true human cost of our country’s wars and how we have been manipulated and misled into turning a blind eye to them – before they go on even longer, destroy more countries, further undermine the rule of international law and kill millions more of our fellow human beings.

As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “We can no longer afford to take that which is good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion.  The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live.”

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




Israelis Continue to Open Fire on Gaza Protestors: An Eyewitness Account

An Interview with Gaza-based Palestinian Journalist, Wafa Al-Udaini

By Dennis J Bernstein

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the Palestinian death toll since March 30, 2018 “has risen to 33, including 4 children and 1 photojournalist, and the number of those wounded has risen to 2,436, including 410 children, 66 women, 22 journalists and 9 paramedics.”

There have been no Israeli casualties.

According to PCHR, on Friday, April 20th, Israeli snipers “killed 4 Palestinian civilians, including a child, and wounded 274 others, including 41 children, 6 women and 1 journalist, in addition to hundreds suffering tear gas inhalation, including PCHR’s fieldworkers who were documenting the Israeli forces’ suppression of the entirely peaceful demonstrations near the border fence with Israel, east of the Gaza Strip.”

PCHR maintains that “for the fourth week in a row and upon a decision by the Israeli highest military and political echelons, the Israeli forces used lethal force against the peaceful protesters, who did not pose any threat to the soldiers’ life.” There is a cell phone camera recording now being widely distributed that appears to show Israeli snipers and soldiers cheering as they gun down unarmed Palestinians fleeing in the distance.

On April 17th, I spoke with Gaza-based Palestinian Journalist Wafa Al-Udaini who has been an eyewitness to all the Gaza protests in the ongoing anti-occupation, Right to Return protests since late March. Al-Udaini’s friend and colleague, Yaser Murtaja, a photojournalist and camera person for a Gaza-based media production company was shot on April 6th by Israeli sharp-shooters and died the next day of his wounds.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Pictures posted on social media by local journalists and witness testimony from local journalists show that Murtaja was wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet that were both clearly marked with the words “PRESS” when he was hit.”

In the following interview, Al-Udaini offers an eye-witness recounting of the initial protest in Gaza on March 30th, in which at least 18 protesters were killed by Israeli snipers and well over a thousand people were wounded.

Dennis Bernstein: We are going to hear now some eyewitness accounts, some very troubling testimony of the way in which Israeli snipers, from a long distance away, behind a fence and across a field, began to gun down hundreds of people, wounding over a thousand protesters and killing at least 18 Palestinians on the first day.  It was truly horrifying.

Some people were protesting, some were praying, and others, like Wafa Al-Udaini, were sitting down for a meal during the long day of anti-occupation protests, when Israeli snipers opened fire and began to gun down unarmed Palestinians.

Wafa Al-Udaini, tell us a bit of your background and then tell us what you witnessed on March 30th and the other protest days that you were an eye-witness to.

Wafa Al-Udaini: I live here in the Gaza Strip.  My grandparents were

expelled from Beersheba by Israeli gangs in 1948.  Now I live as a Palestinian refugee in the Gaza Strip. I work as a journalist for different websites and on radio.  I am also an activist, the leader of a youth group here composed of students and journalists who work to present Palestinian issues to the world.

We were so excited about the Great March of Return protests, which began on the 13th of March.  It was a peaceful and secular march, where all Palestinians, male and female, elderly and children, came to the border fence to resist peacefully.  I took my family with me and we brought along something to eat and drink. We sat together and shared our food. We were asserting our right to demonstrate and reminding the world of our right to return to the land we occupied before we were driven from our homes.  I brought my camera and intended to livestream the event. We were about 700 meters from the Israeli side.

DB: Could you talk about when you realized that the soldiers were opening fire on civilians?  Were people around you being shot?

WAU: At the moment, I was interviewing people around me about what life was like before 1948, stories they had heard from their grandparents.  Then suddenly I heard shots and I saw people running. I asked what was happening and they told me that the Israelis were opening fire. A man fleeing with his children told me some had been murdered.  The Israelis began throwing teargas and they gunned down people who were fleeing.

DB: Let me explain to people that there is the border fence, which is electrified, and then there is a major piece of land between the fence and where the protest was happening.  My understanding is that the soldiers were sharpshooters and they were picking people off from the other side of the fence.

WAU: Exactly.  It had nothing to do with “defense,” because of the distance and because we were unarmed.  They fired on women holding the Palestinian flag. This was their crime. Claims of self defense are just ludicrous.

DB: A friend of yours, a journalist, Yaser Murtaja, was gunned down on April 6th. I understand he was wearing his press vest, that clearly marked him as a journalist. He was gunned down and killed by Israeli snipers.  Do you think he might have been shot because he was wearing his press vest, and the Israelis weren’t crazy about there killing fields being broadcast around the world?

WAU: Yes.  The Israelis are realizing that they can’t continue to fool people indefinitely.  This camera footage of all of this flies in the face of any claims that the Israeli army is acting in self defense.  These on-the-ground images show Israeli propaganda for what it is.

DB: It appears they are willing to wipe out peaceful protesters while the rest of the world is watching, while the US government continues to provide them with arms, and while the Western corporate press works to bury the real story.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.