Archive | October 7th, 2014

Disappearances, Deaths of Leftist Mexican Students Spark Federal Investigation


Mexico is an “assassin state,” charges human rights activist, saying Iguala tragedy is “not isolated.”

The faces of the 43 students declared missing after a local Mexican police force opened fire on buses carrying the group to their leftist school. (Photo via Guerrero, Gobierno del Estado)

The faces of the 43 students declared missing after a local Mexican police force opened fire on buses carrying the group to their leftist school. (Photo via Guerrero, Gobierno del Estado)

Responding to the discovery of a mass grave thought to contain the bodies of dozens of students who were attacked by local police last month, Mexican federal agents on Monday were dispatched to the city of Iguala in southern Guerrero state to investigate the scene.

On September 26, two busloads of students from a local teachers college, the Raúl Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School, were attacked. According to surviving students who were interviewed by VICE News, local Iguala police and other armed men “surrounded and confronted the buses on the outskirts of Iguala,” and opened fire.

After the gunfire, six students were dead and dozens of the survivors fled the scene or were detained; forty-three have been declared missing. On October 5, authorities said they had discovered mass graves containing the burned remnants of “at least” 28 bodies thought to be the missing students. However, proper identification through genetic testing could take up to two months, say officials.

President Enrique Peña Nieto called the deaths “outrageous, painful and unacceptable” and said that he had ordered a newly created preventative unit of the federal security forces to take over security in the city, “find out what happened and apply the full extent of the law to those responsible.”

Charged with keeping “law and order” in the city of 140,000, the paramilitary-like forces and convoys of Army trucks are now patrolling the streets of Iguala, while federal soldiers man checkpoints.

According to the Associated Press, “The Guerrero state prosecutor Iñaky Blanco said there was no known motive for the attack, but officials have alleged that local police were in league with a gang called the Guerreros Unidos.” Twenty-two officers from the Iguala force have reportedly been detained.

Though the Mexican government has tried to distance itself from the killings and alleged police corruption by laying the blame on Guerrero governor Ángel Aguirre, in an interview following the disappearances, human rights activist Father Alejandro Solalinde charged that the events in Iguala were not isolated events, and that Mexico was an “assassin state” that has become repressive and persecuted rights activists, youth and journalists,  driving civil society to a breaking point.

The students, known widely as “normalistas,” had reportedly traveled to Iguala to protest an event featuring the Iguala mayor’s wife, María de los Ángeles Piñeda, and solicit donations for supplies for their school. According to VICE News reporter Melissa del Pozo, the school is a “Revolutionary-era rural teachers college known nationally for the ardently leftist politics that guide everything the students do and study.”

The Iguala police force reportedly has a history of clashes with the leftist school. “The Ayotzinapa school has long been an ally of community police in the nearby town of Tixtla,” Manuel Martinez, a spokesman for the students’ families, told AP. Martinez said that along with the teachers’ union and the students, the school “had formed a broad front to expel cartel extortionists from the area last year.”

Caught in the cross-fire of the September attack was another bus mostly containing members of a soccer club from the capital city of Chilpancingo, which was traveling in a nearby area. According to reports, around the same time as the student attack, police or armed men also opened fire on that bus “apparently mistaking it for one carryingnormalistas,” killing three people.

Many of the relatives of those missing have descended on the Ayotzinapa school, which, in response to the murders and disappearances, has become a “hub of planning and organizing for protests as students and relatives have taken to blocking major highways and protesting in Chilpancingo,” del Pozo reports.

On Wednesday, normal schools across Mexico are planning to hold a national strike.

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Twitter Sues Justice Department, FBI for Right to Reveal Scope of Government Surveillance


“Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders,” says the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer

Twitter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to be able to fully disclose to users snooping requests. (Photo:  Maryland GovPics/flickr/cc)

Twitter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in a federal court on Tuesday over what the information network says are over-restrictive laws that prevent full disclosure of the scope of government surveillance.

The suit names as defendants Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice, FBI head James Comey and the FBI, and notes, “The Snowden disclosures have deepened public concern regarding the scope of governmental national security surveillance.”

While technologies companies, like Twitter, Google and Facebook, are able to issue transparency reports, those reports can only identify the number of government requests for user data in broad ranges.

“Our ability to speak has been restricted by laws that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider like us from disclosing the exact number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) court orders received—even if that number is zero,” Ben Lee, a Twitter vice president, wrote in a blog post.

And that, Lee stated, violates the company’s constitutional rights.

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance—including what types of legal process have not been received. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges,” Lee wrote.

Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, issued a statement that “Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders,” and said that he hopes the move will spark similar action by other technology firms.

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We Called It Genocide in Guatemala. Why Not in Gaza Too?


Even some critics of Israel bristled when its recent attacks on Gaza were called “genocidal.” But a closer look reveals disturbing parallels with genocides past.

No, the recent war in Gaza was not “just like the Holocaust.” But Israeli leaders justified and prosecuted the war in ways eerily reminiscent of the perpetrators of other genocides. (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, 70 percent of those killed were civilians.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of genocide. And he has company. The National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Jurists Association, and other legal organizations have asked an International Criminal Court prosecutor to investigate Israel for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Buenos Aires also accuses Israel of genocide.

The accusation has outraged many. As historian Deborah Lipstadt puts it, “People might totally disagree with all aspects of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians—including those in Gaza—but to call this a genocide is to distort both what was done to Jews during World War II and what is being done to Palestinians today.” According to Lipstadt, “Calling what was done in Gaza a genocide is to use the Holocaust memory, symbolism, and imagery for political purposes.”

Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, is no proponent of the “g” word either. “What Israel is doing is bad enough,” he wrote, “without trying to fit it into a category which brings up memories of real genocides—the attempt of the Nazis to wipe out every Jew and every gay person and every gypsy, the attempt of American settlers to wipe out every Native American, etc.”

But genocide does not require an attempt to eliminate an entire people. It requires an intent to destroy a population “in whole or in part.” And mass annihilations of the kind Lerner mentions are not the only genocides on record.

A more relevant comparison is the Guatemalan army’s genocide of Mayan indigenous people. For decades, Guatemala was engaged in a long, asymmetric war against a small guerrilla army that, like Hamas, never presented a serious threat to the ultimate power structure and emerged in response to inequality and dispossession. Last year a court in Guatemala ruled that former Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt was responsible for genocide when the army he commanded killed 1,771 Ixil Mayans, wiping out 5.5 percent of the Ixil Maya population in 17 months.

The comparison is not simply an abstract one. Israel was also deeply implicated in what happened in Guatemala during the Ríos Montt era.

Direct Linkage

Like the United States, which armed and supplied the Guatemalan army throughout much of its war on the rebels, Israel had a hand in Guatemala’s genocide.

Israel began selling arms to Guatemala in the early 1970s but took up the training and arming of Guatemalan forces in earnest when the U.S. Congress cut off aid to Guatemala in 1977 in protest of its gross human rights abuses. When Ríos Montt came to power through a coup, it was with the help of 300 Israeli military advisors. Israelis helped design Guatemala’s scorched earth campaign in the largely indigenous countryside, and Israeli military aides helped develop the plan to relocate those not massacred to “model villages” controlled by the military.

Jane Hunter, who describes Israel’s collaboration with Guatemala in her book Israeli Foreign Policy, notes that in June 1983, the Guatemalan embassy in Washington confirmed that “personnel sent by the Israeli government were participating in the repopulation and readjustment programs for those displaced.” In Hunter’s view, “It is no accident that the Guatemalans looked to the Israelis for assistance in organizing their campaign against the Indians, and, having followed their mentors’ advice, wound up with something that looks quite a bit like the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.”

She goes on to say, “As it is openly acknowledged in the Israeli media that the Palestinian population must not be allowed to exceed the Jewish population, it is common knowledge that the Guatemalan military would like to reduce the Mayan population to a minority.”

Israeli military advisors didn’t regard the massacres in Guatemala as a genocide. But they also weren’t naïve enough to believe that the 667 massacres committed by the army had a necessary counter-insurgency function.

Journalist Robert Parry interviewed Israeli military intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe last year about his work in Guatemala during the massacres. Ben-Menashe emphasized that the Israelis were unaware of the genocidal nature of the Guatemalan military’s campaign against the Ixil. The Israelis did recognize, however, that they “were assisting in mass murders of dark-skinned Guatemalans; the distinction being that the Israelis did not identify the slaughters as genocide against a specific racial or ethnic group.” Ben-Menashe told Perry, “As we saw it, they [Guatemalan military authorities] were targeting all non-white villagers who were sitting on fertile lands that the white Guatemalans wanted.”

Genocidal Similarities

Officially, the massacres in Guatemala were not about land; they were a matter of military necessity. In order to kill the fish (the guerrillas), the Guatemalan army argued, it was necessary to drain the water (the people).

As Ríos Montt explained, “Look, the problem of the war is not just a question of who is shooting. For each one who is shooting, there are ten working behind him.” Ríos Montt’s press secretary added: “The guerrillas won over many Indian collaborators. Therefore, the Indians were subversives, right? And how do you fight subversion? Clearly, you had to kill Indians because they were collaborating with subversion. And then they say, ‘You’re massacring innocent people.’ But they weren’t innocent. They had sold out to subversion.”

Although the Israeli army has employed a professional ethicist, its reasoning today is remarkably similar to genocidal general Efrain Ríos Montt’s 30 years ago. At the height of the recent Gaza conflict, Israeli parliament member Ayelet Shaked posted to Facebook a previously unpublished article written by a close advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the late Uri Elitzur. “Behind every terrorist,” Elitzur wrote, in a clear echo of Ríos Montt, “stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism.” Elitzur elaborated: the actors in a war include “those who incite in mosques, those who write the murderous curricula for schools, those who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants.”

Elitzur’s idea did not remain words on paper but became policy. Aluf Gadi Eizenkot, a major general and current deputy chief of staff in the Israel Defense Forces, articulated a plan known as the Dahiya doctrine, which incorporates the notion that civilians are legitimate targets. He referred to Israel’s massive destruction of the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 and vowed to continue such policies. “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”

The resonance between Gadi Eizenkot’s plan and a 1982 CIA cable explaining the Guatemalan army’s modus operandi in the Ixil Triangle area is inescapable: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.”

The prescription for genocide, written in Guatemala, is being followed in Gaza. In State Violence and Genocide in Latin America, Raúl Molina Mejía explains that in Guatemala the military and elites accepted that “in order to eliminate the opposition, they had to destroy potentially supportive populations. This formulation, in my view, is tantamount to genocide.”

The Dahiya doctrine is no different. It appears, in fact, to be the water/fish formulation renamed. And under the right conditions—given racism, population concerns, a struggle for land, and a guarantee of impunity—its natural unfolding is genocide.

Laying the Groundwork

The Dahiya doctrine requires some PR work. Before they can be killed, civilians have to be reclassified for the sake of the public—including the U.S. public, which funds Israel’s military.

As Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, wrote in an op-ed inYnet News,Israel “must avoid the artificial, wrong, and dangerous distinction between the Hamas people, who are ‘the bad guys,’ and Gaza’s residents, which are allegedly ‘the good guys.’” The civilians, he argued, “are to blame for this situation,” for having elected Hamas. In The Wall Street Journal, Thane Rosenbaum concurred: “On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians,” he claimed.

The conditions for wholesale slaughter were being laid. If no one is a civilian—if everyone is a legitimate target—then killing everyone is permissible. Gilad Sharon, son of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon, wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.” He argued that all of Gaza had to be “flattened.” The deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, Moshe Feiglin, who is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, also urged a total siege, with “no consideration for ‘human shields,’” his term of choice for civilians.

These were calls for genocide. Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide lists five particular characteristics, one of which must be present for an act to be considered genocide. “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” is the one a total siege describes.

A “solution” to Gaza, spelled out by Feiglin in his op-ed, calls for massive military power, forced displacement of the population, and the destruction of Palestinian culture. Israel will conquer Gaza, according to this plan, which will “ease the housing crisis in Israel.” Those Palestinians who accept “Israel’s way of life” will be allowed to remain.

The Dahiya doctrine was in force during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, according to a United Nations Fact Finding Mission. Not much has changed. Of the recent atrocities in Gaza, Amnesty International pointed to “mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead.”

Human Rights Watch faulted the IDF with perhaps not “doing its best to avoid killing and wounding civilians” but stopped short of calling the attacks on civilians deliberate. “Atrocious as much of the Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza has been,” Human Rights Watch said in a July 18 statement, “it is hard to imagine Israeli forces deliberately trying to kill Ismail Bakr, 9, and his three cousins, Ahed, 10, Zakariya, 10, and Mohammad, 11, with an apparent missile attack, particularly when they were directly in front of a hotel full of foreign journalists.” If Israel’s objective was to terrorize the Palestinians into submission, however, shooting the boys would serve that end. When boys playing on the beach next to a hotel full of international journalists can be shot, clearly, no one is safe.

The bombing of UN shelters makes sense in this light, too; if UN shelters can be shelled, repeatedly, no one in Gaza is safe. Regarding the shelling of the Beit Hanoun shelter on July 24, UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson Chris Guinness tweeted, “Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army… Over the course of the day UNRWA tried to coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians to leave and it was never granted.”

Other than a hospital, the shelter was the only inhabited building in Beit Hanoun. A local official had told refugees there that buses were on the way to take them to another shelter. People began to gather in the courtyard. Israeli tanks opened fire. Thirteen people, including six children, were killed, and dozens were wounded.

The shelter in Jabalia was hit days later, after the IDF had been given the coordinates 17 times. Human Rights Watch investigated those attacks and a final one, on August 3 (before which UN officials gave coordinates of the shelter to the IDF 33 times, the final time just an hour before the attack). Human Rights Watch found no evidence of Hamas gunfire from any of the schools and no reason for the IDF to have targeted them.

report on Operation Cast Lead by the National Lawyers Guild lends context to the shelter bombardments. “Another common narrative described Israeli forces gathering civilians into a single location (e.g., a home or a school) that was then shelled by Israeli tanks or warplanes.”

Likewise, in Guatemala, during the campaign of massacres, residents in village after village were herded into the local school or church. The doors were locked. The building was set on fire. One of the reasons the Catholic Church’s Historical Clarification Commission issued a finding of genocide was that the army carefully gathered the whole community together; surrounded the community; or used situations in which people were gathered together for celebrations or market days in order to kill the largest number of group members possible.

Considering Israel’s actions in Gaza in light of these terms, rather than in relation to the Holocaust, and questioning whether the assault on Gaza contains components of genocide is not “a distortion of what happened to the Jews in World War II.” It’s a necessary part of the pledge “never again.”

The Israeli army’s aim in Gaza could have been terror, or collective punishment, rather than extermination. But when terror and collective punishment are effected by killing civilians, genocide is a persistent danger.

A lesson the Israeli government must have learned in Guatemala is that the United States hardly cares. Even as the massacres continued, the United States renewed military aid to the Guatemalan army and covered up the army’s excesses. Ronald Reagan even claimed that Ríos Montt was getting a “bum rap” on human rights. Israel can safely assume that it, too, is free to perpetrate horrors.

In Plain Sight

Few people knew about the carnage unfolding in Guatemala. The Guatemalan and U.S. governments could simply deny the atrocities, saying that guerrillas had duped human rights investigators. This is not the case with Israel and Gaza. With Twitter feeds linking directly to images of children injured and dying in Gaza, Israel and its defenders have had to resort to extreme distortions.

Many powerful figures in the United States, both in the media and in politics, have participated in these distortions. Reporters and commentators showed an astonishing ignorance of international law when they accepted the Israeli government’s claim that if weapons or militants were suspected of being in a building, the building could be destroyed, whether or not “human shields” were present. CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, for example, quoted Golda Meir: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” he intoned. “But we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill theirs.” The IDF, it would seem, had no choice. But human rights groups, in fact, have found no instances of civilians being used as shields in Gaza except, on occasion, by Israeli soldiers.

When confronted with the deaths of civilians in Gaza—many of them children—Israel’s champions frequently declared, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The phrase, when used in response to the deaths of civilians, implies that Gaza’s civilians, and Gaza’s children, are the aggressors against whom defense is required. As in Guatemala under Ríos Montt, the suggestion is that each person can be targeted; there are no civilians in Gaza. If we don’t guard against this notion at every turn and insist on accountability, the massacres and scorched earth policies in Gaza will continue and genocide could ensue. Once everyone has been redefined as a permissible target, killing everyone is permissible.

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Inside the Terrordome: ISIS and America’s Soundtrack of Hysteria


NYPD officers from a Transit Operational Response Canine Heavy Weapons team with a dog patrol in the Times Square subway station in New York. ‘The panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism,’ writes Engelhardt, ‘may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name.’ (Photo: Reuters)

It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.

Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out.  I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued.  At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”

She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.”  Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.

All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York?  ISIS, a danger in Washington?  And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb.  That’s where danger lies in American life.  ISIS, not so much.

The Terrorists Have Our Number

I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that hadbroken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers.  On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi,claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.

I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot.  I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams.  Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all.  The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand!  I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.

In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on.  Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the “direct,” not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life.  These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home”); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they… say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.

The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee.  The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.

If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number.  The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country — and they worked.  Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles.  (In fact, the evidence is already in.  From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)

Now, the Shia opponent of those jihadists had taken the hint and, not surprisingly, the very same path.  The Iraqi prime minister, whose intelligence services had only recently been blindsided when IS militants captured huge swaths of his country, claimed to have evidence that was guaranteed to set loose the professional terror-mongers and hysterics in this country and so, assumedly, increase much-needed support for his government.

Or perhaps that woman I met had instead been struck by the news, only days earlier, that in launching a bombing campaign against the militants of the Islamic state in Syria, the Obama administration had also hit another outfit.  It was called — so we were told — the Khorasan Group and, unlike the IS, it had the United States of America, the “homeland,” right in its bombsites.  As became clear after the initial wave of hysteria swiftly passed, no one in our world or theirs had previously heard of such a group, which may have been a set of individuals in a larger al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel outfit called the al-Nusra Front who had no such name for themselves.

Whatever the case, it seemed that the Obama administration and connected intelligence outfits had our number, too.  Although Khorasan was reputedly plotting against airplanes, not subways, transportation systems were evidently our jugular when it came to such outfits.  This group, we were told in leaks by unnamed American intelligence officials, was made up of a “cadre” or “collection” of hardened, “senior” al-Qaeda types from Afghanistan, who had settled in Syria not to overthrow Bashir al-Assad or create a caliphate, but to prepare the way for devastating attacks on the American “homeland” and possibly Western Europe as well.  It was, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper put it, “potentially yet another threat to the homeland,” and it was “imminent.”  As U.S. Central Command insisted in announcing the bombing strikes against the group, it involved “imminent attack planning.”  The Khorasan Group was, said Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.”

Had we not hit them hard, they would be — so American intelligence officials assured us — on the verge (or at least the verge of the verge) of developing bombs so advanced that, using toothpaste tubes, rigged electronic devices, or possibly clothes soaked in explosives, their agents would be able to pass through airport security undetected and knock plane after plane out of the sky.  Civilization was in peril, which meant that blazing headlines about the plot and the group mixed with shots of actual bombs (ours) exploding in Syria, and a sense of crisis that was, as ever, taken up with gusto by the media.

As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pointed out in a devastating report at theIntercept, the whole Khorasan story began to disassemble within a day or so of the initial announcement and the bombing strikes in Syria.  It took next to no time at all for that “imminent threat” to morph into “aspirational” planning; for reporters to check with their Syrian sources and find that no one knew a thing about the so-called Khorasan Group; for the taking down of those airliners to gain an ever more distant (and possibly even fictional) look.  As ever, however, pointing out the real dangers in our world was left largely to non-mainstream sources, while the threat to our way of life, to Washington and New York, lingered in the air.

Terror-Phobia and a Demobilized Citizenry

This sort of soundtrack has been the background noise in our lives for the last 13 years.  And like familiar music (or Muzak), it evokes a response that’s almost beyond our control.  The terror about terror, sometimes quite professionally managed (as in the case of the Khorasan Group), has flooded through our world year after year after year.  ISIS is just a recent example of the way the interests of a group of extremists in making themselves larger than life and the interests of groups in this country in building up or maintaining their institutional power have meshed.  Terror as the preeminent danger to our American world now courses through the societal bloodstream, helped along by regular infusions of fear from the usual panic-meisters.

On that set of emotions, an unparalleled global security state has been built (and funded), as well as a military that, in terms of its destructive power, leaves the rest of the world in the dust.  In the process, and in the name of protecting Americans from the supposedly near-apocalyptic dangers posed by the original al-Qaeda and its various wannabe successors, a new version of America has come into being — one increasingly willing tobulldoze the most basic liberties, invested in the spread of blanket secrecy over government actions, committed to wholesale surveillance, and dedicated to a full-scale loss of privacy.

You can repeat until you’re blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits arevanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life.  It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work.  So, in a sense, that woman was right.  For all intents and purposes, without ever leaving Iraq and Syria, ISIS is in Washington — and New York, and Topeka, and El Paso (or, as local fear-mongers in Texas suggest, ready to cross the Rio Grande at any moment), and Salt Lake City, and Sacramento.  ISIS has, by now, wormed its way inside our heads.  So perhaps she was right as well to suggest that Washington and New York (not to speak of wherever you happen to live) are not great places to be right now.

Let’s be honest.  Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons.  Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name.

The history of the demobilization of the American people as a true force in their own country’s actions abroad could be said to have begun in 1973, when a draft army was officially put into the history books.  In the years before that, in Vietnam and at home, the evidence of how such an army could vote with its feet and through its activism had been too much for the top brass, and so the citizen army, that creation of the French Revolution, was ended with a stroke of the presidential pen.  The next time around, the ranks were to be filled with “volunteers,” thanks in part to millions of dollars sunk into Mad Men-style advertising.

In the meantime, those in charge wanted to make sure that the citizenry was thoroughly demobilized and sent home.  In the wake of 9/11, this desire was expressed particularly vividly when President George W. Bush urged Americans to show their patriotism (and restore the fortunes of the airlines) by visiting Disney World, vacationing, and going about their business, while his administration took care of al-Qaeda (and of course, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq).

In the ensuing years, propaganda for and an insistence that we “support,” “thank,” and adulate our “warriors” (in ways that would have been inconceivable with a citizen’s army) became the order of the day.  At the same time, that force morphed into an ever more “professional,” “expeditionary” and “foreign” (as in Foreign Legion-style) outfit.  When it came to the U.S. military, adulation was the only relationship that all but a tiny percentage of Americans were to be allowed.  For those in the ever-expanding U.S. military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-corporate complex, terror was the gift that just kept giving, the excuse for any institution-building action and career enhancement, no matter how it might contravene previous American traditions.

In this context, perhaps we should think of the puffing up of an ugly but limited reality into an all-encompassing, eternally “imminent” threat to our way of life as the final chapter in the demobilization of the American people.  Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection.  The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you “safe.”

Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions.  Welcome to the Terrordome.

Posted in Middle East, Iraq, SyriaComments Off on Inside the Terrordome: ISIS and America’s Soundtrack of Hysteria

The Civil War and 150 Years of Forgotten US Military Atrocities


Sheridan’s Scorched Earth Campaign

George Orwell wrote in 1945 that “the nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” The same moral myopia has carried over to most Americans’ understanding of the Civil War. While popular historians have recently canonized the war as a practically holy crusade to free the slaves, in reality civilians were intentionally targeted and brutalized in the final year of the war.

The most dramatic forgotten atrocity in the Civil War occurred 150 years ago when Union Gen. Philip Sheridan unleashed a hundred mile swath of flames in the Shenandoah Valley that left vast numbers of women and childrens tottering towards starvation.  Unfortunately, the burning of the Shenandoah Valley has been largely forgotten, foreshadowing how subsequent brutal military operations  would also vanish into the Memory Hole.

In August 1864, supreme Union commander Ulysses S. Grant ordered Sheridan to “do all the damage to railroads and crops you can… If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”  Sheridan set to the task with vehemence, declaring that “the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war” and promised that, when he was finished, the valley “from Winchester to Staunton will have but little in it for man or beast.”

Because people lived in a state that had seceded from the Union, Sheridan acted as if they had automatically forfeited their property, if not their lives.    Some Union soldiers were aghast at their marching orders. A Pennsylvania cavalryman lamented at the end of the fiery spree: “We burnt some sixty houses and all most of the barns, hay, grain and corn in the shocks for fifty miles [south of] Strasburg… It was a hard-looking sight to see the women and children turned out of doors at this season of the year.” An Ohio major wrote in his diary that the burning “does not seem real soldierly work. We ought to enlist a force of scoundrels for such work.” A newspaper correspondent embedded with Sheridan’s army reported: “Hundreds of nearly starving people are going North . . . not half the inhabitants of the valley can subsist on it in its present condition.”

After one of Sheridan’s favorite aides was shot by Confederate soldiers, Sheridan ordered his troops to burn all houses within a five mile radius. After many outlying houses had been torched, the small town at the center – Dayton –  was spared after a federal officer disobeyed Sheridan’s order. The homes and barns of Mennonites – a peaceful sect who opposed slavery and secession  – were especially hard hit by that crackdown, according to a 1909 history of Mennonites in America.

By the end of Sheridan’s campaign, the former “breadbasket of the Confederacy” could no longer even feed the women and children remaining there.  An English traveler in 1865 “found the Valley standing empty as a moor.” Historian Walter Fleming, in his classic 1919 study, The Sequel to Appomattox, quoted one bedeviled local farmer: “From Harper’s Ferry to New Market, which is about eighty miles, the country was almost a desert… . The barns were all burned; chimneys standing without houses, and houses standing without roof, or door, or window.” John Heatwole, author of “The Burning: Sheridan’s Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley” (1998),  concluded: “The civilian population of the Valley was affected to a greater extent than was the populace of any other region during the war, including those in the path of Sherman’s infamous march to the sea in Georgia.” Unfortunately, given the chaos of the era at the end of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath, there are no reliable statistics on the number of women, children, and other civilians who perished thanks to “the burning.”

Some defenders of the Union military tactics insist that there was no intent to harshly punish civilians. But, after three years of a bloody stalemate, the Lincoln administration had adapted a total war mindset to scourge the South into submission.  As Sheridan was finishing his fiery campaign, Gen. William Sherman wrote to Gen. Grant that “[U]ntil we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of it’s roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources.” Sherman had previously telegrammed Washington that “[T]here is a class of people – men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.” President Lincoln congratulated both Sheridan and Sherman for campaigns that sowed devastation far and wide.

burning sheridan troops cheering

Troops cheering Sheridan amid the flames of the Shenandoah Valley.

The carnage inflicted by Sheridan, Sherman, and other northern commanders made the South’s post-war recovery far slower and multiplied the misery of both white and black survivors. Connecticut College professor Jim Downs’ recent book, Sick From Freedom, exposes how the chaotic situation during and after the war contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of freed slaves.

After the Civil War, politicians and many historians consecrated the conflict and its grisly tactics were consigned to oblivion.  The habit of sweeping abusive policies under the rug also permeated post-Civil War policy towards the Indians (Sheridan famously declared “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”) and the suppression of Filipino insurgents after the Spanish-American War. Later historians sometimes ignored U.S. military tactics in World War Two and Vietnam that resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

The failure to recognize how wars routinely spawn pervasive brutality and collateral deaths lowers Americans’ resistance to new conflicts that promise to make the world safe for democracy, or rid the world of evil, or achieve other lofty sounding goals. For instance, the Obama administration sold its bombing of Libya as a self-evident triumph of good over a vile despot; instead, chaos reigns in Tripoli. As the administration ramps up bombing in Syria and Iraq, both its rhetoric and its tactics echo prior U.S. misfires. The proclaimed intentions of U.S. bombing campaigns are far more important than their accuracy.

Since 1864, no prudent American should have expected this nation’s wars to have happy or uplifting endings.  Unfortunately, as long as the spotlight is kept off atrocities, most citizens will continue to underestimate the odds that wars will spawn debacles and injustices that return to haunt us.

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Sweden, Palestine and the United States

The Consequences of American Hypocrisy

Sweden’s new Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, has announced that that nation will be the first of the European Union to grant official recognition to Palestine. To date, 134 of the 193 member states of the United Nations recognize Palestine. This is a reasonable step that will, hopefully, set the example for other European nations to do the same.

The United States, Israel’s best friend in all the world, and that bottomless pit of financial assistance for Israel, is, not surprisingly, seriously displeased. A spokeswoman for President Barack Obama said this: “We believe international recognition of a Palestinian state is premature. We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognitions by both parties.”

Here we go with the ‘negotiated outcome’ nonsense again, nonsense that much of the world dismisses, but that the U.S. clings to, knowing that there can be no ‘negotiated outcome,’ but toeing the Israeli party line.

When Israel carpet-bombs Palestine, a nation it occupies, U.S. spokespersons say that Israel ‘has a right to defend itself’. They don’t see what most of the rest of the world does: that it is illogical for an occupying force to ‘defend’ itself against the people it occupies.

But this is the model that worked for a while for the U.S. public-relations machine, when terrorist U.S. soldiers were occupying Iraq. Iraqi freedom fighters, resisting the cruel oppression of the U.S., were labelled ‘insurgents’. For the U.S., anyone opposing occupation by it or its allies is an ‘insurgent’. Someone opposing a government that has somehow displeased the U.S. is not only a ‘freedom fighter’, but is given whatever level of support the U.S. deems appropriate, often in the form of bombs and/or ground troops. And since the Israeli lobby has purchased the U.S. governing body, and pays its annual maintenance fees, Palestine doesn’t have a chance of U.S. support.

Does anybody outside the White House or the hallowed halls of Congress reasonably believe that the U.S. can be an objective broker in bringing about a settlement between Israel and Palestine? Let’s look at some basic, very pertinent facts about the situation.

* The U.S. provides Israel with $3 billion in foreign aid each year. It provides Palestine with nothing.

* Among the aid provided to Israel is some of the most advanced weaponry in the world. Palestine is not provided with as much as a single gun.

* When the United Nations proposes to officially criticize any aspect of the Israeli occupation, the U.S. uses its veto power to prevent it.

* The U.S. condemns any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, but supports the carpet-bombing of the Gaza Strip by Israel, with bombs the U.S. provides.

* The killing of any Israeli by a Palestinian is lamented by the U.S., but the deaths of over 2000 Palestinians, nearly a quarter of them children, garners barely a mention.

When the U.S. announces a new round of worthless, meaningless and futile talks between Israel and Palestine, and asks that each side refrain from doing anything to jeopardize them, it isn’t unusual for Israel to announce new settlements on land it is ‘confiscating’ (read: stealing) from Palestine. The U.S. huffs and puffs, and says timidly that this may be counter-productive, but, as Israel well knows, will do nothing meaningful to prevent the new settlement construction.

Despite this, the world’s governments don’t laugh in the face of U.S. proclamations about its efforts to bring about a peaceful solution in the Middle East. The people of the world, however, seem to be taking a second look.

One need not wonder what the U.S. could do, if Congress and the President were not beholden to the Israeli lobby. Simply cutting the purse strings would do the trick. The United Nations, were it not constrained by its own internal inadequacies, could send a ‘peacekeeping’ force to prevent further settlement activity. And while they were about it, that same force could end the cruel, crippling, illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Any reasonable person (this, of course, does not include U.S. elected officials; ‘reasonable’ is hardly a term to describe them) would wonder why this isn’t done. Why, they might ask, does the U.S., despite the power of the Israeli lobby, allow Israel to spit in its face? Do these officials have no sense of pride? Have they no sense of shame?

The answer to those last two questions, unfortunately, is no. With very few exceptions (this writer can’t even think of any at the moment), these officials grovel at the feet of the Israeli lobby, paying homage at the unholy altar of AIPAC (American Israel Political Affairs Committee), receiving the financial largess that that lobby funnels to them, while they, in turn, throw the human rights of the Palestinian people under the proverbial bus. What, they might ask, is the worth of a dead Palestinian baby, when they have campaign coffers to fill?

Perhaps that is what is required: a powerful, wealthy Palestinian lobby. The U.S., despite all its lofty proclamations, isn’t what is generally called a representative democracy. Such a thing represents the will of the people who, ostensibly, are given periodic opportunities to replace those whom they elect. The U.S. represents the will of the rich and the powerful, including oil companies, weapons manufacturers (this writer refuses to call them ‘defense’ contractors; they have little or nothing to do with defense), and Israel, all of which have well-funded lobbies that set government policy. They do this by spending sufficient monies to assure the election and perpetual re-election of those officials that do their bidding. The Supreme Court, in its infamous ‘Citizens United’ decision, has only fostered and supported this model.

So hypocritical U.S. officials continue to fund groups opposing governments that displease it, often with disastrous long-term results. They ignore the suffering of people oppressed by its financial benefactors, decrying the human rights abuses of some countries, while countenancing and even financing the unspeakable human rights abuses of others. And when it appears that the citizenry is getting a sense of this injustice, there is always a war to start, an invented threat to address, and an American flag to wave to get everybody back in line. And like lemmings, much of the citizenry rushes out to put a brand new ‘support the troops’ bumper sticker on their car. And the current victimization of people like the Palestinians continues, while a new population experiences the horror of U.S. terrorism.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, EuropeComments Off on Sweden, Palestine and the United States

Why I$raHell Gaza War can be Classified as Genocidal

Setter Colonialism is Inherently Eliminationist

In his cogent commentary in the October 3-5 weekend edition of CounterPunch “The Tale of Two UN Speeches,” Uri Avnery, critiquing the UN speech of Palestinian state president Abbas, wrote: This led Abbas to use very strong language – so strong as to defeat its main purpose of promoting peace. He used the word “genocide” – not once, but three times…During the Gaza war, more than 2000 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, many of them children, almost all by bombardment from land, air and sea. That was brutal, even atrocious, but it was not genocide. Genocide is a matter of hundreds of thousands, millions, Auschwitz, the Armenians, Rwanda, Cambodia.”

Avnery, as with most commentators who are not familiar with the 1948 United Nations Covenant on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, misinterprets its intent and requirements for application. Here are the requirements for genocide, any one of five situations:

-killing members of the group;


-causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

-deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

-imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

-forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[1]

The term “genocide” was coined following the Shoah, or Holocaust, and its prohibition was enshrined in the United Nations convention adopted in 1948. In the convention, any one of five acts is considered genocide if “committed with intent to destroyin whole or in part, a national,ethnicalracial or religious group”[2]

Therefore, Avnery is wrong in two respects: The numbers of persons from the targeted group killed outright are not the deciding factor. Nor did the vast governmental murders in Cambodia fall under the definition of genocide (some have called it “auto-genocide”) in international law, but was, of course, a war crime punished as such. As Avnery says erroneously of the Gaza war was true of Cambodia: “That was brutal, even atrocious, but it was not genocide.”

Regarding the most recent Gaza war, a case could be made, and has been made by the State of Palestine, for genocidal intent. Settler colonialism is inherently eliminationist, that is, genocidal. [3]

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s latest book is An Indigenous People’s History of the United States


[1]  “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Geno
cide,” Paris, 9 December 1948,

[2]  My emphasis:

[3]  See: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).

Posted in Palestine Affairs, GazaComments Off on Why I$raHell Gaza War can be Classified as Genocidal

America’s “Terrorist Academy” in Iraq Produced ISIS Leaders

The University of Al-Qaeda?

“Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.”

–Nafeez Ahmed, How the West Created the Islamic State, CounterPunch

“The US created these terrorist organizations. America does not have the moral authority to lead a coalition against terrorism.”

– Hassan Nasralla, Secretary General of Hezbollah

The Obama administration’s determination to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pushing the Middle East towards a regional war that could lead to a confrontation between the two nuclear-armed rivals, Russia and the United States.

Last week, Turkey joined the US-led coalition following a vote in parliament approving a measure to give the government the authority to launch military action against Isis in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear that Turkish involvement would come at a price, and that price would be the removal of al Assad. According to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News:

“Turkey will not allow coalition members to use its military bases or its territory in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if the objective does not also include ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted on Oct. 1…

“We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions, nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it,” Erdoğan said in his lengthy address to Parliament.”..

“Turkey cannot be content with the current situation and cannot be a by-stander and spectator in the face of such developments.” (“Turkey will fight terror but not for temporary solutions: Erdoğan“, Hurriyet)

Officials in the Obama administration applauded Turkey’s decision to join the makeshift coalition. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hailed the vote as a “very positive development” while State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We welcome the Turkish Parliament’s vote to authorize Turkish military action…We’ve had numerous high-level discussions with Turkish officials to discuss how to advance our cooperation in countering the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”

In the last week, “Turkish tanks and other military units have taken position on the Syrian border.” Did the Obama administration strike a deal with Turkey to spearhead an attack on Syria pushing south towards Damascus while a small army of so called “moderate” jihadis– who are presently on the Israeli border– move north towards the Capital? If that is the case, then the US would probably deploy some or all of its 15,000 troops currently stationed in Kuwait “including an entire armored brigade” to assist in the invasion or to provide backup if Turkish forces get bogged down. The timeline for such an invasion is uncertain, but it does appear that the decision to go to war has already been made.

Turkish involvement greatly increases the chances of a broader regional war. It’s unlikely that Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, will remain on the sidelines while Turkish tanks stream across the country on their way to Damascus. And while the response from Tehran and Moscow may be measured at first, it is bound to escalate as the fighting intensifies and tempers flare. The struggle for Syria will be a long, hard slog that will probably produce no clear winner. If Damascus falls, the conflict will morph into a protracted guerilla war that could spill over borders engulfing both Lebanon and Jordan. Apparently, the Obama administration feels the potential rewards from such a reckless and homicidal gambit are worth the risks.

No-Fly Zone Fakery

The Obama administration has made little effort to conceal its real objectives in Syria. The fight against Isis is merely a pretext for regime change. The fact that Major General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Chuck Hagel are angling for a no-fly zone over Syria exposes the “war against Isis” as a fraud. Why does the US need a no-fly zone against a group of Sunni militants who have no air force? The idea is ridiculous. The obvious purpose of the no-fly zone is to put Assad on notice that the US is planning to take control of Syrian airspace on its way to toppling the regime. Clearly, Congress could have figured this out before rubber stamping Obama’s request for $500 million dollars to arm and train “moderate” militants. Instead, they decided to add more fuel to the fire. If Congress seriously believes that Assad is a threat to US national security and “must go”, then they should have the courage to vote for sending US troops to Syria to do the heavy lifting. The idea of funding shadowy terrorist groups that pretend to be moderate rebels is lunacy in the extreme. It merely compounds the problem and increases the prospects of another Iraq-type bloodbath. Is it any wonder why Congress’s public approval rating is stuck in single digits?

TURKEY: A Major Player

According to many sources, Turkey has played a pivotal role in the present crisis, perhaps more than Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Consider the comments made by Vice President Joe Biden in an exchange with students at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University last week. Biden was asked: “In retrospect do you believe the United States should have acted earlier in Syria, and if not why is now the right moment?” Here’s part of what he said:

“…my constant cry was that our biggest problem is our allies – our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends – and I have the greatest relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with – the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world…

So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they had seen the Lord. Now we have – the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor – it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.”

Biden apologized for his remarks on Sunday, but he basically let the cat out of the bag. Actually, what he said wasn’t new at all, but it did lend credibility to what many of the critics have been saying since the very beginning, that Washington’s allies in the region have been arming and funding this terrorist Frankenstein from the onset without seriously weighing the risks involved. Here’s more background on Turkey’s role in the current troubles from author Nafeez Ahmed:

“With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.” (“How the West Created the Islamic State, Nafeez Ahmed, CounterPunch

Notice how the author points out the involvement of “CIA operatives”. While Biden’s comments were an obvious attempt to absolve the administration from blame, it’s clear US Intel agencies knew what was going on and were at least tangentially involved. Here’s more from the same article:

“Classified assessments of the military assistance supplied by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar obtained by the New York Times showed that “most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups… are going to hardline Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”

Once again, classified documents prove that the US officialdom knew what was going on and simply looked the other way. All the while, the hardcore takfiri troublemakers were loading up on weapons and munitions preparing for their own crusade. Here’s a clip that Congress should have read before approving $500 million more for this fiasco:

” … Mother Jones found that the US government has “little oversight over whether US supplies are falling prey to corruption – or into the hands of extremists,” and relies “on too much good faith.” The US government keeps track of rebels receiving assistance purely through “handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field,” and the judgment of its allies. Countries supporting the rebels – the very same which have empowered al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists – “are doing audits of the delivery of lethal and nonlethal supplies.”…

the government’s vetting procedures to block Islamist extremists from receiving US weapons have never worked.” (“How the West Created the Islamic State”, Nafeez Ahmed, CounterPunch)

These few excerpts should help to connect the dots in what is really a very hard-to-grasp situation presently unfolding in Syria. Yes, the US is ultimately responsible for Isis because it knew what was going on and played a significant part in arming and training jihadi recruits. And, no, Isis does not take its orders directly from Washington (or Langley) although its actions have conveniently coincided with US strategic goals in the region. (Many readers will undoubtedly disagree with my views on this.) Here’s one last clip on Turkey from an article in the Telegraph. The story ran a full year ago in October 2013:

“Hundreds of al-Qaeda recruits are being kept in safe houses in southern Turkey, before being smuggled over the border to wage “jihad” in Syria, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The network of hideouts is enabling a steady flow of foreign fighters – including Britons – to join the country’s civil war, according to some of the volunteers involved.

These foreign jihadists have now largely eclipsed the “moderate” wing of the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is supported by the West. Al-Qaeda’s ability to use Turkish territory will raise questions about the role the Nato member is playing in Syria’s civil war.

Turkey has backed the rebels from the beginning – and its government has been assumed to share the West’s concerns about al-Qaeda. But experts say there are growing fears over whether the Turkish authorities may have lost control of the movement of new al-Qaeda recruits – or may even be turning a blind eye.” (“Al-Qaeda recruits entering Syria from Turkey safehouses, Telegraph)

Get the picture? This is a major region-shaping operation that the Turks, the Saudis, the Qataris, the Americans etc are in on. Sure, maybe some of the jihadis went off the reservation and started doing their own thing, but even that’s not certain. After all, Isis has already achieved many of Washington’s implicit objectives: Dump Nuri al Maliki and replace him with a US stooge who will amend the Status of Forces Agreement. (SOFA), allow Sunni militants and Kurds to create their own de facto mini-states within Iraq (thus, eliminating the threat of a strong, unified Iraq that will challenge Israeli hegemony), and create a tangible threat to regional security (Isis) thereby justifying US meddling and occupation for the foreseeable future. So far, arming terrorists has been a winning strategy for Obama and Co. Unfortunately for the president, we are still in the early rounds of the emerging crisis. Things could backfire quite badly, and probably will.

(NOTE: According to Iran’s Press TV: “The ISIL terrorists have purportedly opened a consulate in Ankara, Turkey and use it to issue visas for those who want to join the fight against the Syrian and Iraqi governments….The militants are said to be operating freely inside the country without much problem.” I have my doubts about this report which is why I have put parentheses around it, but it is interesting all the same.)

CAMP BUCCA: University of Al-Qaeda

So where do the Sunni extremists in Isis come from?

There are varying theories on this, the least likely of which is that they responded to promotional videos and propaganda on social media. The whole “Isis advertising campaign” nonsense strikes me as a clever disinformation ploy to conceal what’s really going on, which is, that the various western Intel agencies have been recruiting these jokers from other (former) hotspots like Afghanistan, Libya, Chechnya, Kosovo, Somalia and prisons in Iraq. Isis not a spontaneous amalgam of Caliphate-aspiring revolutionaries who spend their off-hours trolling the Internet, but a collection of ex Baathists and religious zealots who have been painstakingly gathered to perform the task at hand, which is to lob off heads, spread mayhem, and create the pretext for US-proxy war. Check out this illuminating article on Alakhbar English titled “The mysterious link between the US military prison Camp Bucca and ISIS leaders”. It helps explain what’s really been going on behind the scenes:

“We have to ask why the majority of the leaders of the Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had all been incarcerated in the same prison at Camp Bucca, which was run by the US occupation forces near Omm Qasr in southeastern Iraq….. First of all, most IS leaders had passed through the former U.S. detention facility at Camp Bucca in Iraq. So who were the most prominent of these detainees?

The leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, tops the list. He was detained from 2004 until mid-2006. After he was released, he formed the Army of Sunnis, which later merged with the so-called Mujahideen Shura Council…

Another prominent IS leader today is Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who was a former officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein. This man also “graduated” from Camp Bucca, and currently serves as a member on IS’ military council.

Another member of the military council who was in Bucca is Adnan Ismail Najm. … He was detained on January 2005 in Bucca, and was also a former officer in Saddam’s army. He was the head of a shura council in IS, before he was killed by the Iraqi army near Mosul on June 4, 2014.

Camp Bucca was also home to Haji Samir, aka Haji Bakr, whose real name is Samir Abed Hamad al-Obeidi al-Dulaimi. He was a colonel in the army of the former Iraqi regime. He was detained in Bucca, and after his release, he joined al-Qaeda. He was the top man in ISIS in Syria…

According to the testimonies of US officers who worked in the prison, the administration of Camp Bucca had taken measures including the segregation of prisoners on the basis of their ideology. This, according to experts, made it possible to recruit people directly and indirectly.

Former detainees had said in documented television interviews that Bucca…was akin to an “al-Qaeda school,” where senior extremist gave lessons on explosives and suicide attacks to younger prisoners. A former prisoner named Adel Jassem Mohammed said that one of the extremists remained in the prison for two weeks only, but even so was able to recruit 25 out of 34 inmates who were there. Mohammed also said that U.S. military officials did nothing to stop the extremists from mentoring the other detainees…

No doubt, we will one day discover that many more leaders in the group had been detained in Bucca as well, which seems to have been more of a “terrorist academy” than a prison.” (The mysterious link between the US military prison Camp Bucca and ISIS leaders, Alakhbar English)

US foreign policy is tailored to meet US strategic objectives, which in this case are regime change, installing a US puppet in Damascus, erasing the existing borders, establishing forward-operating bases across the country, opening up vital pipeline corridors between Qatar and the Mediterranean so the western energy giants can rake in bigger profits off gas sales to the EU market, and reducing Syria to a condition of “permanent colonial dependency.” (Chomsky)

Would the United States oversee what-amounts-to a “terrorist academy” if they thought their jihadi graduates would act in a way that served US interests?

Indeed, they would. In fact, they’d probably pat themselves on the back for coming up with such a clever idea.

Posted in USAComments Off on America’s “Terrorist Academy” in Iraq Produced ISIS Leaders

ISIS and Islam: The Ugly Truth


“ISIS fundamentalist militants who are casting terror into the heart of the civilized world are but a copycat of the mujahideen of early Islam. Whether we like it or not this is the ugly truth”

Author’s Note: (pardon the long note for this post is being updated)

Radicals and fanatics didn’t get radicalized by intelligence agencies e.g. CIA, MOSSAD, Turkish MiT… etc. Rather they get recruited by those secret agencies because they are hilariously fanatics and stupidly radicalized (reverse logic; a stereotype of herd mentality)

If we are talking about mercenaries and operatives recruited by foreign intelligence agencies, then Those ISIS militants would have panicked the minute US & allies started bombing them with air strikes.   That’s what mercenaries and trained agents do, once they’ve grabbed the money they run and hide the minute they smell heat around the corner.

But that’s not what is taking place, those ISIS terrorists are not only standing their ground, but they are, to everybody’s astonishment, on the offensive again both in Syria and Iraq. Practically 25 kilometers from raiding into Baghdad.

What does that tell us? Simply … One thing, those wacky fundamentalists sincerely believe in what they are doing. That they are waging a holy war of Jihad and that god is on their side.

I also expect some zealots of the so called moderate Muslims and many others of conspiracy theory addicts to get slightly offended/shocked by my post.

Fervently they will try and refute my thesis by cherry-picking some benign verses from the Quran that call for benevolence and peace. But if they get to cherry-pick, why deny the fundamentalists and fanatics the same right?

This is the core of the problem, a divine book like the Quran (and that also goes for the Old and New Testament) shouldn’t be like a magician’s pocket; one time a dove is pulled out of it, and oftentimes a dagger.

Reforming the rationale of interpreting the holy book of the Quran and also reforming the mainstream narrative of Islam is the only way this magnificent religion is to survive the fundamentalist take over.

 By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat

The world has not seen such brutality and savagery in modern times. Horrible Stories were told about the Celts, the Aztecs and the Mongols; nevertheless they always remained stories of the remote past.   But what the militants of the so called “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – ISIS” are doing is something else, what they are perpetrating defy any literary power to try and put it into words.

Driven by what they see as divine command and wreaking havoc and devastation only thought possible in Hollywood productions the Islamic militant group ISIS has pushed the definition of terrorism to a new and scary limit.

Their ongoing banquet of carnage has to be seen, not only to be believed but to grasp how religion, that should have united humans in peace, could turn into a license to lawless slaughter. (Watch this extremely graphic video of ISIS brutal mass execution of Iraqi civilians and soldiers – watch at your discretion)

Contrary to what most commentators have said, it is not the graphic scenes of mass execution and beheading of hundreds of innocent civilians by ISIS that I find most repulsive, the American war on Iraq has left thousands killed in cold blood and countless numbers born with anomalies caused by US radioactive lethal weaponry (Hi-tech savagery that often goes unreported by MSM)

What I personally find really scary in the ISIS militants is that they carry out their onslaught seemingly without any shred of guilt or shame. The militants/Mujahideen go about their business as usual; beheading their opponents’ minutes after they fall into their captivity. And minutes later they all go and join each other in a humble prayer to god.

Following the scripture literally

Now what’s interesting, or rather shocking, is the fact that those hideous acts of terrorism are executed by people who claim they are devout Muslims.

I know that the whole world, including the Islamic world, is viewing ISIS Mujahideen as the ultimate example of brutal terrorism and modern time’s savagery.

But this world view doesn’t concern me as much as how those Muslim terrorists really view themselves. Moreover, why a supposedly devout Muslim would/should end up as a global terrorist just for merely doing what his faith oblige him to undertake.

Ladies and gents, regardless of who is funding ISIS and the fact that many of their militants, including Abu Bakr El Baghdadi have been trained in US military base in Jordan and maybe some of their top leaders have been also recruited by CIA, one fact remains so obvious and yet so bewildering.

Those ruthless ISIS terrorists sincerely believe they are pious devotees of Islam’s god “Allah” and that they act according to his holy scripture “Quran” and they are the true followers of his prophet “Mohamed”

You won’t believe this but in a strange way those ISIS terrorists are telling the truth, or what they were made to believe is the truth.

The ugly truth is that ISIS terrorists are acting literally according to some of the many Quran’s verses that incite fighting and killing non-Muslims in almost cold-blooded way.

“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.” Quran (2:216)

Now, and before we elaborate any further, let’s get this one thing about Quran straight. Like Judaism, Islam is a religion of laws. Actually Judaism and Islam are so much alike the Quran, not the Christian Bible, should be labeled “The New Testament” … after all, both Quran and the Tanakh are the product of the same Arabic nomadic culture (A topic expanded upon in upcoming series of articles)

While the Gospels of Christianity have been influenced/softened by the Greco-Roman philosophy and separated from the state by the power of Jesus’ famous line “”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” The Tanakh and Quran kept their strong tribal culture and binding laws unmitigated over the centuries.

As a Christian, as long as you believe in Jesus Christ, you only need the scripture as a spiritual guideline but in Judaism and Islam you’re bound by the canon of your faith to embrace their rules as the instruction book of your day to day life.

The Hebrew/Muslim laws tell their followers what to eat and what not to eat and drink, how to get married, how to get divorced, how to get into the bathroom … and yes how and when to kill the non-believers.

The key point here is how should the Holy Scripture especially those of Islam be interpreted? The verses of any holy scripture should be interpreted in accordance with their historical context, but that is not what the Muslims, at least nowadays, do. (This is the focal source of all extremism and terrorism)

Islam’s dilemma

The dilemma of Islam, it has been for a while actually, is that its theologians, Imams and clerics refuse/fail to view the scripture, especially the verses that promote fighting and jihad, within the frame of its historical context.

They’d rather keep them open-ended as part of an eternal and always relevant words of Allah. Most conservative Muslim clerics are under the impression that binding many of the verses to its historicity might restrain the authority of a big chunk of the scripture, and consequently the influence of the Islamic clergy.

This dilemma has been ignored for centuries, thus paving more ways and opening more doors for ultra-conservative literalism, also known as fundamentalism (closest backdoor to violence and terrorism)

That said, the more any Muslim conservative reads verses from Quran and memorize Hadith (sayings) by prophet Mohamed, the more he is likely to take it absolutely literally and automatically apply it to his current life and affairs. (Not to mention that piles of Hadith are of doubtful source and purpose)

“Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”.  Quran (3:151)

If we to interpret the above verse in its historical context we will learn that some Pagan tribes of the Arab Peninsula were terrified and finally defeated by the raids of Mohamed and his followers back in the early seventh century.

But if we to interpret it literally and maybe relevant to the present point in time, then we are talking about ISIS mujahideen casting terror, by mass execution and beheading like the early Muslim fighters used to do, into the hearts of the followers of the infidels Bashar Al-Assad of Syria and Al- Maliki of Iraq, for they ruled not according to Islamic Sharia.

Do you see how terrifyingly simple this is, and how terrifyingly complicated this has become?

At this point in my article I expect many to be offended by my candid exposition and they might try and refute my thesis by irritably commenting “Early Muslims and Mujahideen never killed fellow Muslims” and my reply would be “yes they did; Sunnis killed Shia in Karbala (680 A.D) and a bloody perpetual conflict between the two sects has ensued ever since till this very day. (Not to mention the massacres perpetrated by Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates)

Bad Dogma

While everybody is agitatedly following the news and videos of ISIS, nobody is asking the logical question “How did such a group of dangerous fanatics create in the first place?

ISIS has created not only due to militarization by US army nor recruitment by CIA but primarily because of misinterpreted scripture and bad dogma.

Another ugly truth is the fact that early Muslims of the Arab Peninsula, during and following the death of Mohamed, were so brutal in their fighting and raids.

The early Muslims Sahabah” were economically desperate; as a newly formed community they needed money and craved for influence so they began by raiding trade caravans in the Peninsula (the ancient spices and incense road) and ended up raiding Persian, Roman and Egyptian territories.

Beheading the enemies, as a means to evoke fear, was a common practice in the ancient Arabian tribal wars. Khalid Bin Walid, the military commander of the early days of the Islamic state never hesitated to behead the fighters of his enemies.

The Islamic records reveal that Bin Walid after the battle of Ullais 633 A.D, aka the battle of blood river, spent a whole day and night beheading 7000 soldiers and dumping them in the river(flowing it with their blood) in rejoice and gratitude for Allah’s brought-victory over the Persians.

Submit to Islam and be safe. Or agree to the payment of the Jizya, and you and your people will be under our protection, else you will have only yourself to blame for the consequences, for I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life. (Khalid Bin Walid’s letter to the Sassanid Persians before he raided their empire – very similar to ISIS raid threats)

Now, could you see the example ISIS mujahidin are following. What ISIS did to the Christians of Mosul is no different than what Bin Walid had earlier done, with the blessings of Islam’s Caliphate at the time, to the Christians of the Sassanid Empire.

Contrary to what the clergy or Islamic media claim, ISIS and Al Qaeda is not the exception, the millions of so called moderate Muslims around the world are.

Those fundamentalist Islamists who are casting terror into the heart of the civilized world are but a copycat of the mujahidin of early Islam. Whether we like it or not this is the ugly truth.

The reason why the majority of Muslims does not act like ISIS nor condone its crimes is because those millions of the so called moderate Muslims have not been prone to fundamentalist Islamic teaching through indoctrination (intellectual hypnosis)

Once they are, even if they were brought up in western communities, a considerable faction of them especially those with assimilation and economic problems will turn into dogmatic Jihadists ready to be recruited by ISIS.

As a matter of fact one of the most alarming ISIS-related phenomena is western Jihadists. The influx of European, American, Canadian and even Australian fundamentalist Muslims into ISIS held territories has by far been worrying (both Westerners and moderate Muslims)

This massive signing up to ISIS radical ideology, if anything, means that Muslims with their current unchecked fundamentalist religious narrative are not and actually will not be able to assimilate into western community and culture. This is a grave sign of failing multiculturalism that needs more time and space than this post allows.

Another important factor that many tend to overlook is that the majority of world’s Muslims act according to preconceptions that their own indigenous culture and traditions have mainly contributed to and not only Islam. Hence the term “moderate Muslims” denotes an attitude/mindset brought about by a blend between different cultures, be it Egyptian, Syrian or Persian and Islam.

That’s why hordes of moderate Muslims disgustedly point the finger at radical groups like ISIS and cry out “That’s not our Islam” …well of course it’s not.

And indeed that intercultural blend is also the reason why the fundamentalist and harsh Bedouin side of Islam has been ameliorated enough to allow millions of Muslims to coexist with their fellow men of other creeds and theology over the long centuries.

Reforming Islam

ISIS could be a peril to Islam’s reputation and future around the world, but there is a good flip-side to this situation. Never before in recent times have the Muslim clergy had the opportunity and the imperative to embark on reforming Islam.

Jihadist groups and the rise of political Islam won’t be eradicated or even curbed by air power and drone attacks. ISIS, Al Qaeda, al-Nusra front and Muslim Brotherhood won’t be dismantled except by reforming and changing the mainstream narrative of Islam. For Muslims, nothing short of that will be like burying their heads in the sand.

ISIS is a reason enough for high profile Muslim scholars to start purifying the Hadith from tons of controversial sayings and teachings, doing more harm than good, claimed to have been told by Mohamed.

ISIS is a reason enough to start a new approach in interpreting the Quran’s verses especially those narrating the chronicles of Mohamed and followers’ battles against pagans.

Launching a new school of credible and enlightened Muslim scholars that will respect the historical context of the scripture verses is the first step toward reforming Islam.

This couldn’t have been more urgent a time, for world Muslims have been leaning dangerously towards fundamentalism and extremism throughout the last 80 years (ever since the establishment of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and following the rise of Wahhabi tide in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan)

If this rare opportunity for reforming Islam passed unnoticed and unexploited, then we will suffer from endless and more powerful tides of fundamentalist Jihadist groups.

And we have to beware of the fact that the groups that will follow ISIS will be more cruel and tougher and they will definitely attract huge numbers of mujahideen, so huge no military coalition will be able to break them down.

Most probably the current coalition led by US will be able to dismantle ISIS militarily but not ideologically. The task of dismantling ISIS bad ideas and dangerous dogma is the vital battle that Muslims themselves led by their scholars and clergy should undertake.

I will wind up with one of ISIS favorite verses that one always hears it narrated in the background, along with their official ode/anthem in most of the execution and beheading videos. And according to ISIS “fitna” here means nonbelievers in Islam.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on ISIS and Islam: The Ugly Truth

Syria: Engaging the Opposition with More than Weapons


Syria: Engaging the Opposition with More than Weapons

Government and Rebels Negotiate Education, Utilities, and Reduction of Violence Issues

by  Franklin Lamb,   …in Tadmon – Kafr Sousa neighborhoods, Damascus.

The Syrian war is turning into a lose-lose situation for everyone but those who have made money

The Syrian war is turning into a lose-lose situation for everyone but those who have made money

[ Note:  This is the second great piece we have gotten from Franklin on his journeys out into the field to talk to the local people living through the Syrian conflagration day after day.

Mass media pretty much sticks to the bare bones material. Gone are the deeper human interest reports that were used as Sunday newspaper specials to explore the human cost.

Most of this decline in real coverage began with the networks who had subsidized the news from their commercial programming, something they felt obligated to do as part of their license obligations. But when Reagan got conned via his inner circle with their free enterprise pitch to open media up to the consolidation that they (the Neo-Con forerunners) wanted, we ended up with the controlled media that we have now.

Your average Republican delegate is generally clueless to how this was orchestrated, hence there is no move to push for expanded anti-trust legislation to roll this back. And the bad guys were thinking way ahead of the game. The World Trade Organization treaties we have signed also opened out our media to be acquired by off shore groups of a certain persuasion, and not by accident. So any move to go back to a more independent would run into those legal hurdles.

Israeli Zionists, the most successful kid killers of modern times

Israeli Zionists, the most successful kid killers of modern times

This is just one example of how Americans have not only lost their freedom, but even participated in it via  having it pitched to them in a package that has the appropriate “feel goodie” ideological wrapping on it.  This is the whole purpose of pre-staging propaganda, where the control of the media covered above plays such a key role.

You might wonder how can people be so blind to see something so obvious, a hugely funded con game that went on for years. Here is another example.

We have been briefing various groups sympathetic to Israel’s “right to defened itself” by having to bomb schools, hospitals and refugee centers to knock out rockets and weapons storage facilities. 

We asked them how many secondary explosions have they seen from these strikes that would have proved the claim. They go silent. There have been no secondary explosions, because Hamas does not store stuff there because the IDF has always bombed these places.

All of the Western governments knew this was an ongoing hoax by the Zios, including the UN, but not one of them said a word about it. Gordon has a piece coming out to lay it all out. So yes, people really are that stupid, and that is one of the big problems we face in turning things around.

You begin acclimating your targeted population to anestheticize them to going along with something that they never would have without the proper “conditioning”.  Added to that are diversion, burn up the clock issues they are baited with to make sure whatever activist funds and time  are used up on issues that the bad guys couldn’t care less about.

That way if an opposition does catch on and starts trying to push back, they immediately run into a huge amount of well-funded issue competition to drown out their message. If it were not for the Internet and then alternative media birthing that brought us, we would be toast already…finite’…Jim W. Dean ]

Franklin in Yarmouk during one of the truces for aid supplies

Franklin in Yarmouk during one of the truces for aid supplies

To my knowledge this observer has never been-nor likely ever will be-accused of being particularly astute and certainly not the least bit prescient.  Yet, the more Syrians I meet in Damascus neighborhoods –seemingly from a fairly broad spectrum of political views, I am changing some earlier assumptions and tentative judgments about ’”this interminable Syrian war.”  

While any sort of a timetable to end this horror is not yet discernible, the beginnings of putting much of it behind this ten millennia birthplace of civilization may be fairly imminent.

Eighteen months ago, more than a dozen neighborhoods in the Damascus suburbs were engaged in moderate to intense fighting between rebels and the Syrian army. Today, only four neighborhoods are under fairly heavy fire, Jobar, Daraya, al-Qabun and Yarmouk.  In most of the others, the government and rebels appear to be seeking an accommodation of sorts.

Residents from Tadmon as well as some Damascus University students offered this observer some examples of how both sides of the civil war are trying to work positively with their sworn enemies despite the conflict approaching its fourth year.

One major quality of life necessity is electricity in our homes. Supplying power to its areas is a major concern of both sides in this conflict. Frankly even the current Syrian system appears far better than in Lebanon which regularly sees road blockades and burning of tires to protest the nearly half century of incompetence and indifference of politicians in delivering as few as six hours of daily electricity and that depending on which area and which confession controls relevant cabinet ministries.

In these days of civil war in Syria the government delivers power two hours on and two hours off and full power during the night from 10 pm to 10 a.m.  Not too bad by Levant standards.  Even rebel groups in an increasingly number of neighborhoods, and to a lesser extent in the countryside, get government power. In some rebel neighborhoods electricity is being delivered to residents 24/7.

This is achieved by militia stealing power via cables they run to other neighborhoods.  They quite often seem to get away with it but occasionally they fight among themselves as happened earlier this month in Al Qudsayya when a dozen or so Nusra fighters routed around 50 FSA types caught hooking up wires under neighborhood buildings. Nusra and the FSA fight over a myriad of issues and especially over high-rise buildings.

To get the real story you have to bring a solid reputation with you

To get the real story you have to bring a solid reputation with you

Tall buildings are at a premium for obvious reasons including being desirable for sniper nests and mortar launchings.  Many neighborhood clashes occur in full view of army checkpoints that control neighborhood egress.  Whether or not the army has orders not to interfere or engage with militias, they reportedly often do.

Militia and army commanders, if not on exactly friendly terms, sometimes meet and parley as deemed necessary in an effort to create and maintain neighborhood peace. This practice appears to work for the benefit of both sides and is reportedly spreading, particularly around Damascus.

When rebel factions fight one another, as they often do and endanger a neighborhood, the army appears increasingly ready to will “mediate.”  If their orders to end the residents endangering fight are not immediately followed the army can and often does cut power to all sides until they receive pledges to honor the governments ‘recommendations.”

Rebel and government “contracts” as the locals call them, cover many subjects, some seemingly odd if not very bizarre.  One example. As news reports suggest the government’s policy is to pacify the neighborhoods so refugees can return and it has made remarkably progress around Damascus despite an increase in rebel mortar firings into Damascus from approximately 6 per day a year ago to as many as 23 per day currently.

It is reported on good authority from eyewitnesses, that certain army checkpoints  will actually allow armed militiamen to  pass through army checkpoints freely if they will head to Jobar or Duraya or other ‘fighting fields”  to challenge the army there and keep local peace in their local community.  Some do.

Last week, according to a student who lives in al-Qabun, there was a potentially serious problem but it was solved at one of the periodic meetings between rebel leaders and army officers. The unusual problem was that when a dozen or so rebels headed to the army checkpoint to go fight the same army near Jobar they were observed carrying two AK-47’s each.

The local army commander was livid because by the expressed terms of an earlier agreement each rebel fighter could only safely pass and return through the neighborhood army checkpoint if he was carrying only one AK.  The rebels protested complaining that they need two, always fight with two and it was no big deal for the army to let them pass.

The army insisted on only one AK-47 per rebel fighter and threatened to not only stop rebels from exiting and entering their neighborhood but that if they did not keep the earlier agreement the army would attack the rebel positions, presumably with artillery or airstrikes.  This caused panic among the local civilians, many of whom have relatives in the FSA, Nusra, and even Da’ish.

AK-47's are almost like tooth brushes. Eveybody has one.

AK-47′s are almost like tooth brushes. Eveybody has one.

Long story made short, the rebels listened to their parents and relatives as well as to the reasoning of the army and finally agreed that they would carry only one AK-47 each thru the army checkpoints on route to fight the army a few kilometers away.

According to two eyewitnesses to these events, all sides shook hands at the checkpoint as the rebels handed their second AK-47’s to the army for “safe keeping.”

An unwritten rule between the army and their sworn enemies en route to try to kill them is that if the rebel gets killed the army checkpoint guys gets to keep his weapon.

This is not to say the army and the rebels are in league, but the Syrian government is working to secure the neighborhoods and does not want to resort to bombing if they can obtain their objectives by other means. One hears of many ‘contracts’ being made among sworn enemies around Syria in order to try to end this slaughter.

Another brief example.  Last week saw the doors of 17,486 of Syria’s  22,192  public schools open their doors. This according to Dr. Farah al-Mutlak, Deputy Minister of Education of the SAR, who generously gave this observer his time to discuss the current challenges for children in Syria. The gap of approximately 4,500 schools between the above figures is caused by the fact that 2,613 of Syrian schools, as of opening day were controlled by rebels including Da’ish.

The 688 former schools are now being used to house homeless refugees, 1,385 are war damaged and currently can’t be used. The figure was higher but over the past year the government has been able to repair 435.  In addition, approximately 128,000 children are attending “school clubs” in particularly volatile areas of Syria. This year alone, 72,000 children in Syria and 587,000 child refugees have received psychosocial support.

Excited and sometimes apprehensive children by the thousands are arriving for the new school year and according to Janet Hasan, Principal of the Salahedine Primary and Middle School in the Mezzeh neighborhood of central Damascus which was among those this observer visited, her school which normally teaches 600 girls now has 1,436. Class size has traditionally been 30 students of average.  Today, the average class size at Salahedine School is 60 students per class.

Principal Janet Hasan, adapting her school to war conditions

Principal Janet Hasan, adapting her school to war conditions

Yet despite severe overcrowding the classes appear very well organized and when the results of last June’s Baccalaureate were announced 94% of Principal Hassan’s students passed.

According to educator Hasan and some of her faculty this observer met with,  due to the crisis attending school is enormously important for the children to experience at least some love and normalcy with peers and authority figures while learning about more than  only the obvious effects of war on their lives.

​94% of last years graduating class at Salahedine school past their crucial Baccalaureate Exams opening the door to universities and higher education

If militias are in control  of an area with a public school,  efforts are being made by both parties to keep it peaceful and toward this goal the government and the militia, “cooperate” with the exception of Da’ish (IS) who have set up essentially Madrassas that do not teach anything  much at all-but memorizing the Koran.

Da’ish forbids teaching music, dancing, studying philosophy, western literature or other ‘secular subjects.’  Al Nusra does not, unlike Da’ish, insist on a Madrassa type education in public schools which so far are a big success this new year and working to the benefit of the children and their exhausted and often destitute families.

Virtually every educator, government official and critic of the Assad regime with whom this observer has discussed what the Syrian government is doing to provide quality education for youngsters these days  have agreed that all sides, except Da’ish, are trying at different levels to cooperate to help Syria’s cherished youth. All also express abhorrence at what is happening to Syrian school children forced to take refuge in Lebanon.

In Lebanon, there’s simply no space in many schools nor much political will left to help Syrian or Palestinian refugees plus the education system is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of child refugees. Around 80 percent of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon don’t attend school, according to Save the Children and UNHCR.

One of the driving forces for the ongoing conflict is inflicting group punishment

One of the driving forces for the ongoing conflict is inflicting group punishment

One positive sign is that partly due to the Syrian Ministry of Education seeking international help, more than $316m was pledged this week, according to Dr. al-Mutlak, to support Syrian children affected by the conflict.

This assistance is part of a UN-led initiative to alleviate the impact of the crisis on young people. Despite this wonderful and much needed help a funding gap of more than $ 200 million remains.

Another issue that both sides are trying to resolve at citizens request is to open the neighborhoods on the weekends so residents can move around.  Currently in as many as a dozen Damascene neighborhoods  the rebels prevent residents from leaving their area on Friday because they believe they should pray and stay at home.

Some militias close the neighborhoods they control during both Friday and Saturday. Both sides have indicated that a mutually agreed resolution may be near so residents can head to the beautiful parks and old city for sightseeing or visit friends and family.

There is growing evidence here that the government and the rebels are trying to collaborate in various ways in order to save and entire generation of their children from being denied education due to the ravages of ongoing civil war. This massive catastrophe for Syria and the region can be ended if the above noted trend continues.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Syria: Engaging the Opposition with More than Weapons

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