Archive | November 5th, 2011

’15,000 strong’ army gathers to take on Syria


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized

An insurgent army which claims to be up to 15,000 strong is being coordinated from Turkey to take on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which risks plunging the region into open warfare.

The national “Syrian Free Army” aims to be the “military wing of the Syrian people’s opposition to the regime”, its leader told The Daily Telegraph from a heavily guarded camp in eastern Turkey.

Confirmation of an armed force operating with the covert approval of the Turkish authorities follows evidence that attacks inside Syria are causing high levels of casualties in the security forces. It also shows the anger of Recep Tayipp Erdogan, the Turkish premier, with Mr Assad, a former ally whose failed promises of reform have caused a deep rift.

“We are the future army of the new Syria. We are not in league with any particular sect, religion or political party. We believe in protecting all elements of Syrian society,” the Army’s leader, Col Riad al-Assad, said.

Made up of defectors from the regime’s army, SFA fighters are conducting “high quality operations against government soldiers and security agents,” Col Assad said.

Last week the SFA claimed responsibility for the killing of nine Syrian soldiers in battles in a town in central Syria. On Friday a further 17 regime soldiers were reported killed in violent clashes with defected former comrades in the city of Homs, a hotbed of resistance.

The violence has continued this week. There have been unconfirmed reports that nine members of the minority Alawite sect to which Mr Assad belongs were dragged off a bus and killed, while 15 members of the security forces were killed by deserters on Wednesday in two attacks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The escalation has given new urgency to Wednesday’s fragile agreement between the regime and the Arab League to withdraw the army from the streets. The Observatory said 20 more people died in Homs on Thursday from gunfire and shelling despite the supposed agreement, while today will see an even bigger test as activists challenge Mr Assad with street protests after Friday prayers.

Col Assad has an extensive Turkish personal security entourage, and access to him is controlled directly by the Turkish foreign ministry.

Turkey’s formal position that it has only a humanitarian role in Syria and Col Assad was coy on whether the SFA was conducting cross border operations.

But he said his men were operating across Syria. “Our fighters protect the borders of dissident towns and villages, and attack soldiers who gun down peaceful demonstrators,” he said. “We are armed with guns and ammunition stolen from the regime”.

The size of the movement is unclear, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to 15,000. Many defectors have fled across the border and are being hosted in guarded camps in Turkey.

Col Assad appealed to the international community to impose a ‘no fly zone’ and a ‘no sea zone’.

“We don’t have the ability to buy weapons, but we need to protect civilians inside Syria,” he said. “We want to make a ‘safe zone’ in the north of Syria, a buffer zone in which the SFA can get organised.” With a small weapons supply, his movement is not yet in a position to pose a serious threat to the regime, but its presence marks a definitive change to the original unified opposition policy of peaceful protest.

Col Assad said he wanted his force to be recognised as the military wing of the Syrian National Council – the umbrella political opposition announced at a conference in Istanbul.

“We are waiting for them to appoint a high delegation and send a representative to speak to us about how we can support their aims militarily,” he said.

A council member speaking anonymously confirmed that ‘off the table discussions’ were taking place. “Our commitment is, and has always been, peaceful resolution, but our patience has a limit,” the source said. “It depends on the political developments among the Arab League, the Middle East and the International Community.

“In 10 days we will present a new plan that is to include a military and political strategy. Here the issue of the SFA may well be put on the table.”


Give war a chance: Syrian Army defectors want to strike back at Assad

Christian Science Monitor

The ‘Syrian Free Army,’ a group of up to 15,000 defected Syrian soldiers camped in Turkey, is seeking to be recognized as the opposition’s military wing.

As the Syrian military continues to kill protesters despite Damascus’s agreement two days ago to withdraw its forces from the streets, a small army of Turkey-backed defectors is seeking international assistance to protect civilians in Syria.

The ‘Syrian Free Army’ (SFA), a band of between 5 and 15 thousand Syrian military defectors camped in eastern Turkey and under Turkish protection, aims to become the military wing of the opposition Syrian National Council. “We are the future army of the new Syria. We are not in league with any particular sect, religion, or political party. We believe in protecting all elements of Syrian society,” Col. Riad al-Assad, the SFA’s leader, told the Daily Telegraph.  Colonel Assad also called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone and a naval blockade to aid the SFA in protecting Syrians from Damascus’s forces.

“We don’t have the ability to buy weapons, but we need to protect civilians inside Syria,” he said. “We want to make a ‘safe zone’ in the north of Syria, a buffer zone in which the SFA can get organised.” With a small weapons supply, his movement is not yet in a position to pose a serious threat to the regime, but its presence marks a definitive change to the original unified opposition policy of peaceful protest.

He told Reuters last month that he believes war is the only way to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the violence against civilians.

Assad says that the SFA is coordinating opposition troops across Syria, though he did not comment on whether the SFA was conducting cross-border raids from its camps in Turkey. Turkey has formally committed only to humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, though the Telegraph notes that it has provided Assad with a personal security detail and controls access to him through its foreign ministry.

Turkey’s support for the SFA further underscores how far Ankara has turned against its southern neighbor. In a commentary for the Christian Science Monitor, Joshua W. Walker writes that Turkey has progressed from silent ally to vocal critic, and is now “leading the push for international action and sanctions against Damascus.”

Ankara is publicly hosting Syrian opposition leaders along with insurgents who have based themselves within Turkey’s borders, and has reportedly been secretly arming the same forces. It’s preparing unilateral sanctions that go far beyond what any Western power has thus far attempted.

Muslim-majority Turkey’s credibility as a democratic model for the region is being put on the line with every suppressed Syrian protest and refugee who flees to Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan also recognizes Turkey’s historic opportunity: “Turkey is playing a role that can upturn all the stones in the region and that can change the course of history.”

Turkey’s potential involvement in military intervention in Syria is apt to cause political debate within Ankara. Turkey’s English-language Hürriyet Daily News writes that a Turkish opposition leader warned yesterday that the West had a “plot” to invade Syria. “The West has written a plot about democracy and liberty, and they are staging it. But this plot of democracy and liberty is nothing but the plot for an invasion,” Birgül Ayman Güler told the Hürriyet Daily News.

But a Libya-like scenario, of Western military support of native rebels, is still far off. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that the organization has “no intention whatsoever” to intervene in Syria, and Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail writes that Syria’s political and geographical location in the heart of the Middle East put Syria in a very different situation than Libya, one that would make Western intervention very difficult.

But Nation editor Robert Dreyfuss writes in a commentary for the Guardian’s Comment is Free that some hawks, like US Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, are pushing for Western military involvement, and that if the situation continues to get worse, intervention may become possible. “Somehow,” Dreyfuss writes, “things that are ‘totally ruled out’ get ruled in when facts change.”

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“Secret nuclear facility” in Syria is a textile factory


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized

After a four-year search for hidden atomic facilities in Syria, U.N. officials appeared this week to have finally struck gold: News reports linked a large factory in eastern Syria to a suspected clandestine effort to spin uranium gas into fuel for nuclear bombs.

But after further probing by private researchers, Syria’s mystery plant is looking far less mysterious. A new report concludes that the facility and its thousands of fast-spinning machines were intended to make not uranium, but cloth — a very ordinary cotton-polyester.

“It is, and always has been, a textile factory,” said one of the researchers, Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and publisher of the blog Arms Control Wonk.

Lewis and his colleagues were initially intrigued by news reports that linked Syria’s al-Hasakah Spinning Co. to the country’s clandestine nuclear program, which came to light four years ago when Israeli warplanes bombed a building that turned out to be a partly completed plutonium reactor.

The reports, citing Western diplomats and former U.N. officials, said aerial images of the factory were being intensely studied by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been scouring Syria for evidence of other hidden atomic facilities.

While the al-Hasakah plant clearly is now used as a textile mill, its size and shape caught the attention of nuclear experts. Viewed from the air, the facility closely resembles a uranium enrichment plant designed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the one-time head of an international nuclear smuggling ring.

Khan had extensive contacts with Syrian leaders in the 1980s, and some nuclear experts believe he provided them with blueprints for nuclear facilities. U.S. intelligence officials say Syria eventually launched a clandestine nuclear effort centered around the plutonium reactor that was destroyed by Israeli bombs on Sept. 6, 2007. Syria has never acknowledged seeking atomic weapons, and it only recently granted the IAEA limited access to other sites that the agency believes may have been part of its secret nuclear program.

The IAEA has never publicly identified the al-Hasakah factory as part of Syria’s nuclear network, but the renewed focus on the plant prompted Lewis to dig into old records and satellite photos. With help from a European colleague, he traced the facility’s history and eventually located the 62-year-old German engineer who supervised its construction three decades ago.

The engineer appeared mystified by the accounts suggesting that the al-Hasakah plant was originally designed to make enriched uranium. “He burst out, ‘I built that thing!’ ” recalled Lewis’s colleague, German journalist Paul-Anton Krueger, who interviewed the man.

The engineer described how he oversaw the construction of the plant and the installation of 75,000 machines called spindles to spin cotton and polyester into fabric. He said he had last visited the plant in 1991 and “found the factory working rather poorly, but it was still spinning — cotton, and polyester,” Krueger wrote to Lewis in his account of the interview.

To Lewis, the episode underscores the difficulties of ferreting out nuclear secrets using computers and satellite imagery, but it hardly lets Syria off the hook. The search for hidden nuclear sites continues, he said.

“This exonerates the al-Hasakah Spinning Co.,” Lewis said. “I don’t think it exonerates Syria.”

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Libya: Nato to be investigated by ICC for war crimes


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s chief prosecutor, told the United Nations yesterday that Nato troops would be investigated alongside rebel soldiers and regime forces for alleged breaches of the laws of war during the battle to overthrow Col Muammar Gaddafi.

As well as the original charges that Gaddafi and his close family perpetrated attacks on Libyan civilians, there are a series of complaints about the Western alliance and its allies in the National Transitional Council (NTC) under consideration.

“There are allegations of crimes committed by Nato forces, allegations of crimes committed by NTC-related forces … as well as allegations of additional crimes committed by pro-Gaddafi forces,” said Mr Moreno-Ocampo. “`These allegations will be examined impartially and independently by the prosecution.”

In the last weeks of the war, the Gaddafi regime alleged that 85 civilians were killed in a Nato air strike near the front line town of Ziltan. Khaled Hemidi, a regime general, filed a lawsuit before a Belgian civil court in Brussels accusing Nato of killing his wife and three children in an air strike on June 20 near the town of Surman.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo also said that reports continued to emerge that Gaddafi’s son, Saif, is trying to flee Libya with the help of mercenaries. He said his organisation had “received questions from individuals linked to Saif al-Islam about the legal conditions attaching to his potential surrender”.

Representatives asked questions such as what would happen if he appeared before judges and the various conviction and acquittal possibilities, the prosecutor told the UN Security Council, which referred the Libya case to the ICC.

The court had “clarified” that under its founding Rome statute “he may request the judges not to order his return to Libya after his conviction or acquittal”.

“Judges can also decide if he may be extradited to another state,” the prosecutor said. “We are also receiving information that a group of mercenaries may be endeavouring to facilitate his escape from Libya. We are calling upon states to do all that they can to disrupt any such operation.”

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said it was possible that Libya’s new government could be given jurisdiction in the case against Saif Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi, the late dictator’s brother-in-law and intelligence chief.

In the written text of a speech to the Security Council, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he was investigating if Gaddafi, who died shortly after his capture by government forces last month, and his former spy chief ordered mass rapes.

The ICC issued warrants on June 27 against Gaddafi, Saif and Senussi accusing them of crimes against humanity during operations against Libyan protests.

Charges against Gaddafi could be formally dropped when the court gets official proof of the former dictator’s death on Oct 20, the prosecutor said.

Saif Gaddafi and Senussi had not been seen since and Mr Moreno-Ocampo said his office was “galvanising efforts” to bring the pair to justice.

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Obama, Sarkozy agree international pressure on Iran must continue


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized


A report due next week from the IAEA nuclear watchdog will be an important opportunity for the world to assess whether Iran is meeting international obligations in its nuclear program, the White House said on Thursday.

Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama said he had discussed his concerns about Iran and its nuclear program with French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the G20 summit, and both had agreed that international pressure must be maintained on Iran.

“The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week and President Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations,” he told reporters.

The United States and its partners are concerned that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon capability. Tehran says the program is peaceful and is aimed at producing energy and for medical purposes.

Western opponents of Tehran hope the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report will make a firm assessment that it believes Iran is working to develop a nuclear weapon; but it is not clear if it will go that far.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have been under additional strain since U.S. officials last month announced an alleged Iranian plot, which Tehran denies, to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

Obama warned at the time that Iran would suffer the “toughest possible” sanctions as a consequence and the White House cast Obama’s discussion as part of that effort.

“What we’re focused on is a diplomatic strategy which… increases the pressure on the Iranians, through financial pressure, through economic sanctions, through diplomatic isolation,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, in response to a question about military options toward Iran.”

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Obama asks Bosnia not to support Palestinian bid


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized 

Associated Press

President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Bosnian leaders urging them not to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N. Security Council, authorities said Thursday.

Bosnia has a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, and its three-member presidency is split on the issue. The Bosniak supports the Palestinians, the Serb is pro-Israeli and the Croat has not made his position clear. Without unanimity, Bosnia must abstain, which counts as a ‘no’ at the Security Council.

As a result, the country has become the focal point of lobbying efforts by Israelis, Palestinians and others with a stake in the outcome of the vote, which may come Nov. 11. The Palestinians claim they have secured eight of nine required votes for a majority on the council, while the U.S. has promised a veto.

According to a statement from the cabinet of the Serb member of the presidency, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker personally handed over Obama’s letter on Wednesday.

“The stand of the U.S. government is that the Palestinian effort on statehood in the U.N. and other places is not going to achieve what we want to see for both the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Middle East,” U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Patrick Moon said. “The solution we all want to see will be achieved through a negotiated settlement.”

The Palestinians are trying to rally nine votes in part to trigger the American veto, believing that would give them a moral victory by placing the U.S. at odds with most of the international community.

The Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, said Thursday that he has been locally and internationally criticized for not supporting the Palestinian bid, but that he is just “acting in the interest of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina … as well as in the interest of the Jewish people, the Palestinians and the peace in the Middle East.”

He said he believes a solution can only be found in a Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and that Reeker told him the U.S. “appreciates his position.”

With peace talks stalled for the past three years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the Security Council in September to admit Palestine as a full member state. The Palestinians say that although any vote will not end Israel’s occupation of lands they claim, they believe a strong international endorsement would boost their position in future negotiations.

Last week, the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers visited Bosnia to argue their sides, but neither the Bosniak nor Serb presidents changed stances.

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Perry would back IsraHell strike on Iran nuke sites


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized 


Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said on Thursday that as president he would support an Israeli air strike on Iran if there is proof Tehran is moving closer to having a nuclear weapon.

“Obviously, we are going to support Israel. And I’ve said that we will support Israel in every way that we can, whether it’s diplomatic, whether it’s economic sanctions, whether it’s overt or covert operations, up to and including military action,” the Texas governor said in an interview on CNN.

“We cannot afford to allow that madman in Iran to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, period,” Perry added.

A UN International Atomic Energy Agency report due next week is expected to unveil new details about the military side of Iran’s nuclear program, while stopping short of explicitly saying Tehran is trying to build such weapons. Iran insists its program is for generating electricity.

Perry’s campaign has been slipping after swiftly rising to the top of opinion polls when he entered the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in August.

Meanwhile, the American administration tried to downplay the growing speculations regarding a nearing attack on the Islamic Republic, saying it would rather exercise and exhaust “tough diplomacy” first.

“We have said many times that we do not seek military confrontation with Iran, but we will use any mean to put pressure on Iran to cooperate with IAEA,” US state Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday.

“We continue to believe that there is still time for diplomacy, and that a diplomatic outcome is possible, and we are working toward that goal,” she added.

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IsraHell’s Big Bluff


 by crescentandcross in Uncategorized 

How we’ll go to war with Iran
Justin Raimondo
In the summer of 2008, an op ed piece by Benny Morris, an Israeli historian of note, warned:

“Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months – and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war – either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.”

The Israeli government has been openly threatening Iran with attack for years, and we have learned not to take their outbreaks of war hysteria too seriously. During the last year of George W. Bush’s final term in office, there was heightened speculation that Tel Aviv was pressuring Washington to launch such an attack, and indeed it appears Vice President Dick Cheney argued for precisely that, albeit to no avail. Now the war talk has been revived by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, along with his defense minister, Ehud Barak, has not only been arguing within the Cabinet for such a strike, but has now supposedly moved into the implementation stage.

We are told by the Israeli media that there is a big debate going on, with two former top officials – Meir Dagan, recently retired as head of the Mossad, and Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet – going so far as to leak the specifics of Bibi’s scheme in order to torpedo the plan. Dagan is said to have remarked that the war plans are the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard – and he’s quite right.

The problem with this alleged plan is that Israel doesn’t have the military capacity to do the job and do it well: Iran’s nuclear facilities are enclosed within hardened sites, and are spread out to such a degree that Israeli war planes would have trouble reaching them. While the Israelis have recently tested a long-range missile that has the capacity to hit Iranian targets, the idea that they could take out all the intended targets in one fell swoop is simply a fantasy. Therefore, this alleged “debate” taking place within the Israeli leadership, complete with a phony investigation” by Netanyahu into who leaked the nonexistent Israeli attack “plan,” is a non-event. The whole thing, in short, is a bluff.

But who is being bluffed here? Not the Iranians, who are surely aware of Israel’s incapacity. The volume of the war hysteria is being turned up with one purpose in mind: the Israelis want the US to do their dirty work for them. This is a threat aimed not only – or even primarily – at Iran, but at us.

This has been their modus operandi throughout all the years of the “special relationship”: it’s “special” because there is no reciprocity involved. Our unconditional support for the Israeli settler colony has always been an albatross hung ‘round our necks, and never more so than post-9/11, when the need for US allies within the Muslim world is vital. We support them financiallymilitarily, and politically, while getting absolutely nothing but grief – and more demands – in return.

Under the Bush administration, at least in the beginning, the Israelis had a free hand in Washington, at least as far as the White House was concerned. Their agents of influence permeated the national security bureaucracy and were in place when the 9/11 attacks occurred, ready and willing to carry out a policy that benefited Israel at America’s expense. This has always been Israel’s ace in the hole: the existence of a strong domestic lobby in America to push its interests to the exclusion of all else. While support for Israel is nearly reflexive in the GOP, in part due to the influence of Christian evangelicals of the dispensationalist persuasion, the lobby is also firmly entrenched in the Democratic party, especially in its Clintonian wing. 

The lobby’s open hostility to the Obama administration – based on the mere possibility that there would be a more even-handed approach to the Middle East after Bush – culminated in Vice President Joe Biden’s disastrous visit to the Jewish state, where he was ambushed and humiliated by the Israelis.

However, the relationship soon jelled into a more traditional, less openly adversarial mode. Under the “team of rivals” rubric – pushed by plagiarist and court historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her hagiographic book on Abraham Lincoln’s administration, and Bush idolatorturnedObamaite Andrew Sullivan – the divisions in the winning Democratic coalition would be healed by replicating Lincoln’s historic compromise with his rivals, incorporating them into the Cabinet. This campaign was successful because it both flattered Obama, likening him to one of the giants of American history, and reduced his power in the key realm of foreign policy – the one area where he is perceived as “weakest,” at least from the War Party’s perspective.

The ruling elite was prepared for “change” in all but one area, and so a bargain was struck: Obama would stick to domestic policy, where he would have his hands full anyway, and the Clinton gang would get to set the foreign policy agenda, with the ultimate authority – and responsibility – vested in the President.

With Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State, the question of America’s relationship to Israel was turned over to the right-wing of the Democratic party, which has always been among the happiest hunting grounds of the Israel lobby. It was the Clinton administration, you’ll recall, that nearly freed convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, until a rebellion in the military-intelligence community made Bill back off: as a kind of compensation prize, the Israelis got a pardon for financier and reputed Mossad asset Marc Rich, Clinton’s last disgraceful act carried out in the Oval Office. Hillary’s record when it comes to the Palestinian question is down-the-line support for the official Israeli position, with only minor disagreements — such as occurred over the settlements issue — that are soon “resolved” in Israel’s favor.

The announcement of a “plot” by the Iranians to blow up a Washington restaurant with the Saudi ambassador in it was met by near universal skepticism, except where it counts – in Washington and the capitals of Europe. Yet this almost comical tall tale is just the first shot over the bow in the ongoing propaganda   war: next week we’ll be hearing from that den of thieves known as the United Nations, whose nuclear watchdog agency will issue a new report on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research, which promises to be more serious. The British, for their part, have announced their support for military action in advance, and the rest of the West, along with our Arab satraps, is bound to follow in their wake. It is left to the Americans, however, to give the command to strike – not the Israelis.

Israeli efforts to drag us into a war with Iran have so far been limited to provoking Tehran’s proxies in the region – Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian Ba’athists – into a direct confrontation with the US. The Netanyahu regime has abandoned this policy of indirection and gradualism,   however, and instead opted for a direct assault on the problem: by constantly threatening to strike themselves, the Israelis are counting on their domestic lobby to push the Americans into acting preemptively. 

This plan appears to be working. Although the last US intelligence assessment [.pdf] of Iran’s nuclear capabilities asserted with near certainty that Tehran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003, the War Party isn’t too concerned about making its case airtight: the Israel lobby has both parties, and Congress, in its hip pocket, and with Hillary leading the charge the “existential threat” to Israel’s very existence will be met with US force. It’s only a matter of timing.

The War Party, however, has another problem, and that is the objective factors which militate against another war at this time, number one being the imminent collapse of the world economic system, and specifically the instability of the banks. As the dominoes of the Euro-zone fall one upon the other, and the US banking system itself comes under threat, the question of how to finance this war, even while its economic consequences – starting with $200 a barrel oil prices – are visited upon our heads. 

This problem can be solved, however, if the political consequences of this “perfect storm” of war and economic implosion line up with the stars. With America at war, the economic privations we will have endured anyway will be masked by the general numbness induced by the atmosphere of crisis. Your home has been foreclosed? You’ve lost your job, or you can’t get to your job because it costs $100 in gas to travel one way? Blame it on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the “nuclear madman” of the Middle East. 

The very real financial crisis of the West will be resolved by the introduction of yet another crisis, in this case a completely manufactured and ginned up one. Imbued with new authority, the Obama administration will take full advantage of the wartime atmosphere to impose “emergency” economic measures, commandeering the economy in the name of “national security” and getting the Republicans to go along with it on “patriotic” grounds. We’ll be subjected to endless demands for bipartisan “unity” in the face of a foreign “threat,” with both “left” and “right” factions of the War Party inundating the air waves and the blogosphere with war propaganda.

Can it be stopped? Looming economic disaster can’t be forestalled much longer: no matter how many band-aids they put on the cancer, the only cure for the underlying illness is the shock of deflation – and a meteoric plunge in the standard of living. The social and political consequences of such a descent would threaten the very foundations of our political system, and tear the fabric of society apart: war, in such a circumstance, is a unifying factor, one that directs the energy and anger of the populace outward, at some fake foreign “enemy,” rather than at the real enemy, which is right there in Washington, D.C. 

In the face of this, the supposedly “anti-government” ideology of the Republican “tea party” would vanish overnight, and aside from criticizing the President for not prosecuting the war with sufficient militance, the GOP would line up behind the commander-in-chief. A new comity would come to Washington. Cut the budget? Not in wartime! The only way the Republicans are going to allow a tax hike, which the Obamaites have been yearning for – and which Occupy Wall Street supports in the form of a “transaction tax” – will be if they call it a “war tax,” or a “kill the Muslims tax.” Such a meeting of the minds is in the works. 

As both parties march us off to war with Iran, the reality of who holds the power in this country comes ever clearer in focus: the “team of rivals” that binds the Obamaites to the Clintons also includes to the Republican party establishment when it comes to the question of war and peace. All these factions compete with each other in seeing how low they can kowtow to the Israel lobby: Pat Buchanan’s quip that Washington is “Israeli-occupied territory” is right on the mark. 

The Zionist project of a Greater Israel faces two big obstacles: Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran. The Syrians are being taken care of in other ways, but the Iranians are a harder nut to crack. The only hope is to drag the US into a military confrontation with Iran, and let our GIs fight and die for Israel.   The question is how to sell this to the American people. Even if the Iranians were to be so foolish as to weaponize their nuclear capabilities – and there is no convincing evidence that they are doing so – this would hardly constitute a credible threat to the United States, or even to Israel. After all, the US faced off with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, which had enough nukes to extinguish all life on the planet: and yet the stand off lasted throughout the cold war, which never did get hot enough to allow for a nuclear exchange. Both sides were deterred by the horrific consequences of their own weaponry, and the world escaped the worst case scenario. 

Indeed, by this measure, a nuclear-armed Iran is hardly an “existential threat” to Israel. For the equalization of the military balance of power would result in a tense but lasting “peace,” and eliminate the possibility that Israel – which does have nuclear weapons, and plenty of them – would use nukes against Iran or anyone else in the region, without fear of retaliation in kind.

Such logic, however, is alien to the Washington mindset, which cannot frame the question objectively and has lost all sight of American interests when it comes to the Middle East. This is the result of the distortion of the policymaking process, which has fallen under the undue influence of foreign lobbyists who serve Israel’s interests above all. This is why the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal – the single most destabilizing factor in the Middle East – never comes up in our discourse. 

The Israel lobby is hell-bent on war, and is likely to get it: but they have to be careful. To launch such a project in the midst of a presidential election season is a risky business. They must do everything in their power to prevent the election from becoming a referendum on the war question, and the simplest way to do that is to make sure both major candidates are securely in the War Party’s camp. That’s the only way they can win: by rigging the outcome. 

What’s needed is a mass mobilization against this administration’s war plans, but frankly I see little hope of such a movement arising. The left in this country is so tied to the Obama administration that such a development is highly unlikely to get off the ground, and the right – except for the Ron Paul brigades – is certain to line up in favor of military action in defense of Israel, which they love more than their own country. 

In short, we are headed for disaster. As Bette Davis once put it: fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

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US Sergeant denies killing Afghan civilians, admits to cutting off fingers


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized 

 Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, seen here in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in 2010, now faces murder charges.


An Army staff sergeant accused of leading a rogue “kill squad” charged with murdering three Afghan civilians took the stand Friday during his court martial and denied carrying out the killings. Yet he admitted to cutting off body parts as part of what prosecutors called a gruesome practice of keeping battlefield “trophies.”

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs’ surprise testimony came a week after his court martial began. It is the first time Gibbs has publicly presented his version of what happened with the platoon he led from the Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade.

He is the highest-ranking soldier charged in what prosecutors say was a rogue “kill squad” that allegedly targeted Afghan civilians and made it look like they’d been insurgents.

Gibbs has pleaded not guilty.

Twelve soldiers have been charged in the case. Three have pleaded guilty to murders and agreed to testify against fellow soldiers. Another six have been convicted of lesser crimes.

More about the allegations against the Stryker Brigade

Besides the murders, Gibbs also has been charged with removing body parts from his alleged victims, such as teeth and fingers, to keep as souvenirs; planting “drop weapons” to fake attacks on soldiers; and intimidating several of his own unit members to prevent them from speaking out against the unit’s alleged murder plots and rampant drug use.

Having already served a tour in Iraq, Gibbs was on his second tour in Afghanistan when he took over the brigade’s 3rd platoon. Its previous leader lost a leg in a roadside bombing, an attack that Gibbs said adversely affected his morale and others.

“I should’ve been on the truck that day,” he testified Friday.

Soldiers from his platoon testified during the court martial for Gibbs — who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and has told investigators that his six skull tattoos are to track his kills in Iraq and Afghanistan — that he called Afghans “savages,” talked about how he killed civilians in Iraq and told them they should not hesitate to fire when in a difficult spot.

This photo from the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Calvin Gibbs’ tattoos that are suspected to represent his “kills.”

“If they are put in a tight situation, don’t not pull the trigger,” Gibbs said he advised members of his new platoon. “You won’t go to jail for it.”

He testified Friday about telling soldiers serving under him in Afghanistan how he “lit … up” a car coming toward him in Iraq, while he was manning a nighttime checkpoint. Inside the car was an unarmed Iraqi family, Gibbs said.

He recalled how, immediately after this shooting, another soldier called him a “sicko” and said he would “fry” for the family’s deaths. But his superiors later told him he would not face charges, Gibbs’ testified.

Another soldier — Private Jeremy Morlock — testified that Gibbs bragged about the Iraq killings and claimed the incident showed that troops could target civilians without facing repercussions.

Morlock is serving a 24-year sentence for the killing of three Afghan civilians. He agreed to testify against other soldiers as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Gibbs’ attorney said Morlock and other soldiers who have testified against Gibbs did so to save themselves from longer jail sentences.

The defendant, himself, insisted Friday that never murdered civilians in Afghanistan.

Still, Gibbs did admit that — in January 2010 — he removed fingers from the body of a dead Afghan man, which is against Army regulations. The man is one of three Gibbs is accused of murdering.

He testified about later giving the fingers to the soldier that prosecutors say shot the man, in part because “people wanted to prove they were there.”

“I was numb to the situation,” Gibbs told the court about why he had ripped the fingers from the corpse. “I wasn’t thinking, it’s sickening. I am embarrassed.”

Defense attorney Phillip Stackhouse showed a photo of Gibbs and two other soldiers posing with the body of a different Afghan man. Gibbs has been charged with shooting that man in February 2010 in cold blood and planting an AK-47 near the body to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.

Morlock, who is also in the photo, testified previously that Gibbs fired the weapon to make it look like they had come under attack first.

On Friday, Gibbs maintained the man had fired on the three soldiers as they patrolled a village in Kandahar Province, insisting he shot back to protect himself and fellow soldiers.

“He got the drop on me,” Gibbs testified. “He engaged me with two to three rounds” before the man’s weapon malfunctioned.

The staff sergeant admitted to using shears to cut off this man’s finger after killing him, saying, “That was the finger he tried to kill me with, I was pretty pissed off about it.”

Speaking in a calm, steady voice throughout his day-long testimony, the staff sergeant denied testimony from fellow soldiers that he goaded his men into targeting civilians and employed “off the books” weapons.

He also denied murdering a third man — the mullah of a village, who two fellow soldiers have testified Gibbs killed with a grenade — in March 2010. Yet Gibbs acknowledged he cut off out one of that man’s fingers.

“I compared it to keeping antlers off a deer,” the staff sergeant testified, saying he agreed to let his soldiers take their own “trophies.” “I didn’t want to disappoint them. I didn’t want to come across as a pussy, which I am not.”

Gibbs also admitted Friday to taking part in the beating of Pvt. Justin Stoner, who complained about other soldiers smoking hashish in his room. For good measure, Gibbs said he showed Stoner several dead men’s severed fingers and told him, “Better not to talk.”

But Stoner did talk, telling investigators that Gibbs’ platoon had begun making up their own missions and selecting their own targets.

Military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said the case — to be decided by a five-person panel including three military officers and two enlisted personnel — should be over by the end of next week. If convicted on all counts, Gibbs could face a life sentence in military prison.

“I am terrified,” the staff sergeant said Friday, when asked by his attorney about how he felt about testifying.


Army sergeant shot Afghan “with a smile”: witness


A U.S. Army sergeant accused of murdering three unarmed Afghan civilians casually shot one victim “with a smile on his face,” then pulled a tooth from the dead man’s mouth, a fellow soldier testified on Wednesday.

The chilling account followed testimony from several other ex-peers of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs who recalled that he referred to Afghan villagers as “savages” and once told another soldier, “the Army needs more people who can kill people.”

U.S. Military The portraits of Gibbs as a cold-blooded, renegade squad leader with a deep ethnic hatred of the very people U.S. troops were supposed to be protecting from Taliban forces emerged during a third day of testimony in his court-martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

But defense lawyers sought to discredit the prosecution’s star witness, former Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, with a video clip he shot of himself delivering a profanity-laced, racist diatribe against a group of Afghan men detained by U.S. troops.

Morlock’s ranting, craven appearance in the video contrasted sharply with his calm, focused demeanor in court earlier this week, when he took the stand to paint Gibbs as the instigator behind murders of innocent villagers staged to look like legitimate combat engagements.

Morlock, previously sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in the same three killings with which Gibbs is charged, quoted Gibbs on Monday as telling him: “‘We can get away with it. It’s that easy.’”

The court-martial caps an 18-month investigation of the most egregious case of atrocities by U.S. military personnel during 10 years of war in Afghanistan — killings initially exposed through a probe of rampant drug abuse among soldiers.

Photos seized as evidence in the case of Morlock, Gibbs and other soldiers posed grinning with the bodies of Afghan casualties have drawn comparisons to the inflammatory Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq in 2004.

Gibbs, 26, of Billings, Montana, is the highest-ranking of five enlisted men from the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade charged with murdering Afghan villagers while deployed last year in Kandahar province.

He also was charged with cutting fingers off Afghan bodies as war trophies and beating a fellow soldier who had alerted superiors to hashish use in their unit. Seven other Stryker soldiers were charged with lesser offenses. Most already have reached plea deals and have been sentenced.


One of them, Ashton Moore, convicted on drug charges, testified on Wednesday about a conversation in which Gibbs asked Moore if he would be willing to shoot an Afghan without knowing whether he was an enemy combatant.

“I said, ‘no’ (and) he said, ‘I think the Army needs more people who can kill people,’” Moore recalled.

The climax of Wednesday’s proceedings came in testimony from former Army Specialist Adam Winfield, 23, about how he, Gibbs and other troops searched a village for signs of Taliban activity during a routine patrol in May 2010 and encountered a family huddled inside one home.

“Just an old man, his family and a bunch of kids, just a normal house, nothing going on,” Winfield said, recounting that Gibbs gestured at the man and asked, “Is this the guy?”, then discussed how the man might have attacked them with a grenade.

Having heard Gibbs and Morlock boast about two previous slayings, Winfield testified, he realized this was the next “guy to be killed.” Gibbs then led the individual outside and around a corner.

“It was just a matter of seconds — boom, boom, boom,” Winfield testified, adding that Gibbs ordered the others to yell, “Grenade, grenade!” as he set off an actual grenade that mangled the victim’s legs, then yelled at his men, “You guys were supposed to shoot.”

After the ensuing pandemonium, Winfield said, he moved close enough to see the victim lying on the ground and watched as “Gibbs shot him two more times with a smile on his face.”

Next, Winfield testified, Gibbs bent down and “pulled a tooth from the guy” and offered it to Winfield, who said he responded, astonished, by saying, “I’ll just get it later.”

Winfield himself pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.

A fourth co-defendant charged as a member of the self-styled Stryker “kill team,” Andrew Holmes, pleaded guilty in September to a single count of murder and was sentenced to seven years prison. The fifth soldier charged with murder, Michael Wagnon, still faces a court-martial.

If convicted on all charges, Gibbs faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He pleaded not guilty on the first day of his court-martial last Friday. The trial is expected to run through at least the end of next week.

Posted in AfghanistanComments Off on US Sergeant denies killing Afghan civilians, admits to cutting off fingers

State Department training Islamic political parties in Egypt


by crescentandcross in Uncategorized

U.S. assistance to Egypt is helping political parties of all ideologies prepare for the upcoming elections — even Islamic parties that may have anti-Western agendas.

“We don’t do party support. What we do is party training…. And we do it to whoever comes,” William Taylor, the State Department’s director of its new office for Middle East Transitions, said in a briefing with reporters today. “Sometimes, Islamist parties show up, sometimes they don’t. But it has been provided on a nonpartisan basis, not to individual parties.”

The programs, contracted through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), include helping political parties in Egypt conduct polling, provide constituent services, and prepare for election season. NDI’s chairwoman is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. IRI’s chairman is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

Taylor said that none of the U.S. funding that has gone to election preparation is coordinated or vetted through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.

“It absolutely does not go to the SCAF,” he said, noting that the Egyptian military still receives billions in military aid from the United States.

Taylor, who just got back from a trip to Egypt and Tunisia, said that he left Egypt unworried about the SCAF holding on to power after the coming elections.

“They wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn’t like the governing business,” he said. “I do believe that they are uncomfortable governing. Some would say they’re not doing a great job of it. “

Taylor led a similar office in the 1990s that coordinated policy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. He is pressing for $2 billion in new aid to Egypt, half in loans and half in debt forgiveness, but acknowledged that the U.S. fiscal situation is not nearly as good now as it was then.

“This is a tight time on budgets here, as we all know. And when [State Department spokeswoman] Toria [Nuland] and I worked together earlier, we had a lot more money to put in to the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe,” he said. “Now, that having been said, we recognize that there are other countries that are eager to provide support, and we support that.”

But Taylor also said that promises of financial assistance to Egypt from other countries in the region have not materialized, leaving Egypt’s government with little choice but to accept billions of dollar in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank — loans that come with strings attached.

“The IMF was in Egypt, and they put an offer of about $3 billion on the table for the finance minister. The finance minister was interested. He went to the SCAF. The SCAF said, ‘No, thank you.’ The finance minister told the IMF, ‘No, thank you.’ But just last week when I was there, he told me that he’s likely to be able to accept an IMF offer this time,” Taylor said.

Egypt owes the United States about $1 billion over the next three years from previous loans, but if Congress agrees, the State Department wants to let Egypt keep that money and spend it on its political transition, with U.S. consultation.

“We, the United States government, will agree with you, the Egyptian government, on how to spend that billion dollars in Egypt,” Taylor said. “But it won’t come here. It won’t come back to the Treasury. It’ll stay there and do projects that we are working on right now.”

Taylor said the money would be spent on an “identifiable” joint project that would show Egyptians that “yes, we do care if your transition works.”

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The hypocrisy and showbiz of red poppy day for the war dead


The politicians wearing red flowers on Remembrance Day have cheerfully authorised the decimation of jobs, welfare and public education to defend Britain’s military spending and nuclear arsenal.

By Laurie Penny

New Statesman

1 November 2011

This article was first published in the New Statesman on 07 November 2010

Who is that lurking in the background? No other than arch-war criminal Tony Blair, who has plenty of dead on his hands to remember on red poppy day.

On a rainy Thursday in Cheshire, at a base belonging to Europe’s largest arms dealer, veterans laid down paper poppies in memory of fallen soldiers.

This was no protest, however: BAE systems, a prominent supporter of the Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal, cheerfully hosted the solemn ceremony to mark the beginning of the Appeal at its Radway Green facility.

Officials from the arms and munitions company, which rakes in billions from international wars and is subsidised by the British government, watched as servicemen and schoolchildren planted crosses in front of the base.

The awkwardness of their presence passed unnoticed in a country that seems to have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of remembrance.

It might seem a little disrespectful to describe Remembrance Sunday and the rash of poppies that precedes it as “just show business”, but that is precisely how Harry Patch, the final survivor of the 1914-1918 war, characterised the ceremonies in his memoir, The Last Fighting Tommy.

Patch died last year at the age of 111; there is now nobody left living who truly remembers the futility of the war that sustains our patriotic imagination. Remembrance Day has been expanded to commemorate all fallen British servicemen and women, but in practice the events of the day focus on the two World Wars — and no wonder.

British children are raised on the mythology of those wars, in part because, particularly in the case of the Second World War, there were clear moral and practical reasons why conflict was unavoidable, and more to the point, we won.

Neither of these things can be said of the desert wars currently providing BAE with a healthy market for their wares. Soaked n the powerful narrative of righteous heroism, the poppy of remembrance has become a fig-leaf for the overseas military interests of successive governments.

There are good reasons to donate to the Royal British Legion, especially with government support for veterans so notoriously constipated, but poppy-wearing, especially by public officials, is tainted with hypocrisy.

The poppy was chosen as an euphemistic symbol of the horrors of war by a generation for whom those horrors were all too immediate; it should be doubly offensive, then, that almost a century later members of the British administration wear poppies while sending young people to fight and die far from home for causes they barely comprehend.

It is understandable that friends and relatives of the fallen might wish to find meaning and purpose in the offensive futility of war. It is unforgivable that governments and businesses should seek to do the same. It behoves our leaders to be mindful of the ugly, unsentimental nature of conflict, but instead the mounting death toll is listed with precisely the sort of macabre piety that horrified Private Patch.

When the human wastage of a body count becomes an emotional excuse for continuing a military offensive, in order to properly honour the fallen it’s time to question our attitudes to war.

“Sacrifice” is the word continually used to associate this cynical and relentless carnage with public nostalgia for the glory of past victories. There are, however, two meanings to the word. One can sacrifice, in the sense of willingly giving one’s life for a cause, or one can be a sacrifice, offered up for slaughter by one’s betters in the name of God, or greed, or homeland.

It is this second understanding of sacrifice that we should bear in mind this poppy day. Even in the First World War, not all of the men and boys shot by their own side for cowardice or driven out “like cattle”, in Wilfred Owen’s words, in front of the German machine guns, died with future generations in mind. Not all of them bled willingly, for king and country; some of them simply bled because they had been seriously injured, because their leaders deemed it appropriate for them to die in pain and terror.

A million paper flowers, rooted in the dark earth of this country’s frantic military self- fashioning, will never be enough to mop up the carnage.

Of course, there are those for whom the paper poppy is undesirable by virtue of being rather too declasse. If you’re one of them, you might consider going all out and purchasing a poppy pin encrusted with Swarovski crystals, as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole have just done. What more fashionable way could there be to pay tribute to the unnecessary slaughter of millions than with a sparkly bit of political bling?

As we celebrate another Remembrance Sunday, we should remember that the politicians wearing red flowers in Whitehall have cheerfully authorised the decimation of jobs, welfare and public education in order to defend Britain’s military spending and nuclear arsenal and offer tax breaks for business.

They have sacrificed the life chances of a generation of young and working-class people while making rhetorical sops towards “the national interest”, and that is not remembrance, nor is it any way to honour the memory of the Great Generation. That, in fact, is “just show business”.

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