Syria and the South China Sea: Two flashpoints for world war


27 November 2015

The downing of a Russian bomber by Turkish fighters this week dramatically escalated global tensions and posed point blank the danger of a conflict between nuclear-armed powers. Yet even as the US-led war in the Middle East was placing the world on a knife-edge, President Barack Obama spent last week ramping up the confrontation with China over its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Obama took part in top-level Asian gatherings—the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Manila and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-sponsored East Asia Summit—determined to drive home the point that the US would continue to challenge Chinese maritime claims, even if that led to war.

In the lead-up to the summits, the Pentagon last month provocatively sent the guided missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, within the 12-mile-territorial limit around Chinese-controlled islets and flew nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers close to the same area. Like the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, a provocation, accident or miscalculation on either side in the hotly-contested South China Sea could become the trigger for a catastrophic conflict.

Obama’s first engagement in Manila was on board the Philippine navy’s flagship, the Gregorio del Pilar, speaking to assembled military officials, including the country’s defence secretary and armed forces chief. He used the occasion to again declare his commitment to “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea and announce $250 million to provide “maritime security assistance to our allies and our partners across the region.”

The Obama administration has exploited “freedom of navigation” as the pretext for intervening in the maritime disputes between China and its neighbours ever since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in 2010 that the US had a “national interest” in the South China Sea. While regularly lecturing China over its failure to adhere to international law, Washington has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is supposed to determine the competing maritime claims.

Obama’s announcement in Manila was a deliberate slap in the face to Beijing. China had insisted that the South China Sea not be discussed at the APEC summit, which focusses on trade and economic issues. Obama followed this up in his meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino. He specifically named China, rather than referring to it indirectly, as the chief culprit and demanded it halt reclamation activities, new construction and militarisation.

Over the past five years, the Obama administration has transformed the South China Sea into a dangerous flashpoint. It has encouraged the Philippines and Vietnam, in particular, to more aggressively press their territorial claims against China. The deliberate whipping up of tensions in the area is part of Obama’s “pivot to Asia”—a comprehensive diplomatic, economic and military strategy aimed at establishing unchallenged American domination in Asia and subordinating China to US interests, if necessary by military means.

In Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, Obama sealed a “strategic partnership” with ASEAN leaders, with an emphasis on “ensuring maritime security and safety.” In the closed door leaders’ session of the East Asia Summit, key US allies, including Japan and the Philippines, lined up to criticise Beijing, prompting Chinese officials to hit back. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin defended China’s actions as “beyond reproach” and branded the USS Lassen’s intrusion as a “political provocation” by Washington.

The driving force behind Washington’s actions in the Middle East and Asia is the worsening crisis of world capitalism that erupted in 2008. Determined to maintain its global hegemony, US imperialism is increasingly resorting to military might to offset its historic economic decline. The Obama administration’s willingness to recklessly risk war to achieve its ends in seemingly disparate areas of the globe points to the huge stakes involved.

American geo-political strategists such as former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski have long regarded the huge Eurasian landmass, its people and resources as the key to world domination and thus view China and Russia as the chief obstacles to US ambitions and interests. Washington’s confrontations with Moscow in Syria and Beijing in the South China Sea are components of an overarching strategy aimed at securing a dominant position across this vast region.

China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy cuts across US plans. Beijing has reacted to the US “pivot to Asia” by elaborating an ambitious grand scheme to integrate Eurasia. Announced in 2013, it is known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Silk Road, or One Belt, One Road (OBOR). President Xi Jinping has indicated that China is willing to commit $1.4 trillion to create a comprehensive network of high-speed railways, roads, air and sea links, pipelines, transmission grids and electronic cables linking Europe and Asia.

Beijing is clearly hoping to entice European powers to sign on and, in the process, marginalise the United States. As Wang Yiwei, one of the project’s proponents, declared in May: “The New Silk Road Initiative could help redirect the centre of geopolitical gravity away from the US and back to Eurasia. Europe is faced with an historic opportunity to return to the centre of the world through the revival of Eurasia.”

US imperialism cannot tolerate such a development. Just as the “pivot to Asia” involves the consolidation of military alliances and partnerships throughout Asia directed against China, so the US seeks to disrupt and prevent the emergence of ties between its European allies and Russia and China. There is no question that, given the potential for a conflict involving NATO, Washington gave the green light to Turkey to shoot down the Russian war plane. By doing so, the US effectively sabotaged French plans for closer collaboration with Russia over the war in Syria.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing has any progressive answer to Washington’s military provocations and threats of war. Both regimes represent the class interests of the super-wealthy oligopolies that emerged through the processes of capitalist restoration and accumulated their fortunes at the expense of the working class. Their responses oscillate between cringing appeals to imperialism, and military bluster and actions that only heighten the danger of war.


Peter Symonds

Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet and the danger of world war


25 November 2015
 The downing of a Russian fighter-bomber by Turkish fighter jets yesterday on the Turkish-Syrian border is a flagrant act of war. Turkish authorities have seized on the alleged Russian violation of their airspace to launch a monumental escalation of the proxy war in Syria between Islamist opposition fighters supported by NATO and the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It threatens to provoke all-out war between Russia on the one hand, and Turkey and the rest of the NATO alliance on the other.

Turkish officials claimed that the Russian SU-24 had violated Turkish air space for one minute, while Russian officials said that it never left Syrian air space at all. The Turkish air force did not scramble jets to warn the Russian fighter or escort it back to Syrian air space, but, after allegedly warning the Russian jet for five minutes, shot it down.

It is unthinkable that Turkey would have taken a decision against a powerful neighbor, fraught with incalculable consequences, without direct prior approval from the US government.

US officials supported the Turkish downing of the Russian plane, making clear that they are willing to accept a direct military clash with Russia, a nuclear-armed power, in order to crush its intervention in Syria to defend the Assad regime.

At a press conference yesterday with French President François Hollande in Washington, Obama endorsed the downing of the Russian jet, claiming that Turkey “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.” This amounts to a blank check to Turkish forces to attack Russian fighter jets again, should similar circumstances arise.

Obama then bluntly warned Russia not to attack Islamist opposition militias in western Syria that are supported by NATO: “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after a moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries. And if Russia is directing its energies towards Daesh and ISIL, some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.”

After Obama spoke, former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns again made clear that the Turkish government had acted as a proxy for Washington by shooting down the Russian plane. He told PBS News that US officials were considering declaring a no-fly-zone in the Syrian-Turkish border area. This would mean shooting down Russian fighters overflying the area in order to protect the Islamist opposition forces—that is, doing precisely what Turkey did.

The comments of Obama and Burns underscore the fraud of Washington’s claims to be waging a “war on terror” aimed at the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militia. While claiming to oppose Islamist terrorism, Washington is in fact protecting Islamist militias in the Lattakia mountain areas that include the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, as well as Chechen Islamist fighters. On the pretext of fighting ISIS, Washington is in fact recklessly pursuing its geopolitical ambitions, which in the Middle East currently center on removing Assad from power.

This is only one step in a further confrontation with any powers posing a military obstacle to the ambitions of US imperialism, including Assad’s key allies, Russia and Iran, as well as China. Even as he was preparing to escalate the conflict in the Middle East, Obama exploited top-level summits in Asia over the past week to ramp up the US confrontation with China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

It is becoming ever clearer that ISIS itself emerged and was presented in the international media primarily in line with the shifting needs of the imperialist powers as a pretext for their wars. After the Obama administration sought to justify the pullout from Afghanistan by assassinating Osama bin Laden in 2011—when he was hiding in Pakistan, a key US ally—there was no clear target for the “war on terror.” Washington and the other NATO powers worked directly with Islamist militias as proxies, in the 2011 Libyan war and the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

The situation changed, however, when Washington and Paris were forced to pull back from a planned war in Syria in 2013, due to its unpopularity and deep divisions in the foreign policy establishment. As the NATO powers sought to find a way to justify a war, the claim that they were fighting against Islamist terrorism—though completely belied by their actual record of relying on these forces—again became attractive to them as a way of marketing the war.

Though its operations were little different than the bombings and atrocities carried out by other Islamist militias in Syria, ISIS was selected for attack in the media, while other similar Islamist groups continued to enjoy tacit and even explicit US support.

Yesterday’s events further darken the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the November 13 attacks in Paris, and the terrorists’ astonishing ability to pull off an operation under the noses of the intelligence services. In fact, close connections exist between Islamist terror groups and the NATO powers. The security panic whipped up by ruling circles in Europe after the attacks, along with confusion sown over the phantom war with ISIS, helps these powers create the political climate for the pursuit of their ambitions through catastrophic global wars.

The timing of the shoot-down is highly significant, coming also against the backdrop of conflicts between Washington and imperialist powers in Europe, particularly Germany and France, over the degree of Russian involvement in a planned neo-colonial settlement of the Syrian war. Washington has moved to decisively scuttle European attempts to negotiate a deal with Russia.

After the ISIS attacks in Paris and November 14 talks in Vienna, Hollande announced plans to forge a united coalition of the United States, Russia, and the European powers to fight ISIS in Syria and negotiate the ouster of Assad on terms acceptable to all the major powers.

As Hollande arrived for talks with Obama in Washington, however, the downing of the Russian jet presented him with a fait accompli, cutting off his diplomatic overtures towards Russia. The attack, USA Today noted, “badly damaged France’s drive to build an alliance with the United States and Russia to defeat the Islamic State in retaliation for the Paris attacks.”

Since the US- and German-backed coup in Ukraine last year, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has repeatedly warned of the danger of world war. These warnings are being realized with extraordinary speed.

Today, the danger of war between nuclear-armed Russia and the nuclear powers of the NATO alliance is openly referred to in the media and by leading politicians. This danger does not, however, give pause to the reckless assertion of imperialist interests, above all by the United States. Instead, they are stepping up the war drive.

The Russian and Chinese regimes offer no counterweight to the ever more unhinged policies of the imperialist powers.

Events in Syria again point to the catastrophic geopolitical consequences of the dissolution of the USSR a quarter century ago. Moscow is desperate to defend its residual influence in the Middle East and to stop Islamist fighters from Chechnya and other regions of Russia from toppling Assad and returning to fight in Russia, where they can easily exploit the anger caused by disastrous social conditions and by the Russian-chauvinist policies of the Kremlin.

The warning made by Trotsky, that the restoration of capitalism in Russia would be followed by its transformation into a semi-colony, is being fulfilled. Putin’s delusion that the offensive of imperialism can be answered by using Russia’s military might is not only hopeless, it leads to catastrophic consequences. The policy of the Kremlin oscillates between surrender to imperialism and reckless military measures posing the danger of world war with the imperialist powers.

A world war is not only possible, it is inevitable, unless it is stopped by the emergence of a revolutionary movement in the international working class.

The war in Syria emerged and grew into an explosive proxy war, devastating the lives of millions and drawing in all the major powers in the region, as the imperialist powers sought to crush the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The next political offensive of the international working class must base itself on the struggle for socialism against the looming danger of imperialist world war.

World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

The blood on Obama’s hands

Kunduz hospital attack designed “to kill and destroy”

Members of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) look inside the damaged compound of a MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Members of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) look inside the damaged compound of a MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 17, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

6 November 2015

“Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.”

So reads the opening of an initial review issued Thursday by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders—MSF), documenting the horrifying October 3 US airstrike on the charitable agency’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

While spelling out the carnage inflicted upon wounded men, women and children as well as doctors, nurses and other medical staff that day, the report adds to the already overwhelming evidence that the attack was neither an accident nor a case of “collateral damage,” but rather a deliberate war crime ordered by the Pentagon to further US military objectives in Afghanistan.

Among the new information provided by the report is that, after repeatedly providing the Pentagon, the US Army in Kabul as well as the Afghan authorities with the coordinates of the well-known medical facility, MSF staff at the Kunduz hospital received a phone call two nights before the attack from a US government official in Washington. He asked whether it “had a large number of Taliban ‘holed up’ there.” The official was told that the hospital was functioning normally and at full capacity, with some wounded Taliban fighters among the patients.

The hospital, the report states, was well-lit and clearly marked, with MSF insignia on its roof. Based on interviews with some 60 staff members, the report establishes that there were no armed individuals in the facility and, indeed, there had been no fighting, gunshots or explosions in the vicinity of the hospital in the evening preceding the attack.

The attack by the slow-moving, propeller-driven AC-130 gunship lasted between an hour and an hour and 15 minutes, with the plane continuously circling the hospital, hitting it with its multiple rapid-fire cannon, precision bombs and missiles.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, told reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Thursday. “A mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this time.”

The MSF report gives a chilling sense of the brutality of this crime. It recounts that the first area to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit, where immobile patients, including two children, were killed outright or burned to death in their hospital beds.

The operating theaters were then destroyed, with at least two patients killed as they lay on operating tables.

“An MSF nurse arrived at the administrative building covered from head to toe in debris and blood with his left arm hanging from a small piece of tissue after having suffered a traumatic amputation in the blast,” the report recounts.

Staff members described people being mowed down as they tried to flee the airstrike. “MSF doctors and other medical staff were shot while running to reach safety in a different part of the compound,” the report adds.

“One MSF staff member described a patient in a wheelchair attempting to escape from the inpatient department when he was killed by shrapnel from a blast,” the report states. “Other MSF staff describe seeing people running while on fire and then falling unconscious on the ground. One MSF staff was decapitated by shrapnel in the airstrikes.”

The US airstrike turned what had been the principal medical facility for over one million people in northeastern Afghanistan into hell on earth. In addition to wantonly killing patients and medical staff, it left the region’s entire population without badly needed medical care.

There are two plausible theories that have been advanced to explain the attack. The first, based on reporting by AP, indicates that the strike was ordered out of suspicion that a Pakistani intelligence officer who was coordinating operations with the Taliban was present in the hospital. In other words, mass murder against innocent civilians was carried out as part of a “targeted assassination” against one man.

The other explanation is that the US military decided to obliterate the hospital because it was treating wounded Taliban fighters.

In either case, under international law the attack constitutes a war crime, the kind of offense for which Nazi officers were tried and convicted at Nuremberg.

But not so under the legal rationales for US criminal aggression fashioned under the Obama administration.

As the four-part series, “The Pentagon’s Law of War Manual,” being finalized on the WSWS today establishes, the pseudo-legal doctrine that has been crafted for the US military, while giving a formal nod to international law’s prohibition against targeting civilians, makes clear that in practice such attacks are not only allowed but encouraged.

“Civilians may be killed incidentally in military operations; however, the expected incidental harm to civilians may not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage from an attack,” the law of war manual states. In other words, the US military is allowed to kill civilians, and the greater the military objective, the more innocent men, women and children, not to mention doctors, nurses and patients, may be slaughtered.

Similarly, while stating that “feasible precautions” should be taken to “avoid” civilian casualties, the manual goes on to affirm that, if US commanders determine that “taking a precaution would result in operational risk (i.e., a risk of failing to accomplish the mission) or an increased risk of harm to their own forces, then the precaution would not be feasible and would not be required.” This is a clear mandate to US military officers to wipe out however many civilians they deem necessary to “accomplish the mission” or reduce their own casualties.

No doubt, within the US chain of command, such calculations were made to arrive at the decision to order an AC-130 to slowly and deliberately reduce a civilian hospital to rubble, killing at least 30 patients and medical staff and wounding many others.

The responsibility for this crime lies not merely with the crew of the flying gunship, the commanders on  the ground in Afghanistan or the top brass of the US military. It extends to the top of the US political establishment, including President Barack Obama and his top aides, who have done so much to make murderous violence around the world routine, from aggressive war, to drone assassinations to cold-blooded massacres.

The White House and the Pentagon have thus far stonewalled MSF’s demand for an independent investigation into the Kunduz hospital massacre.

Even more telling, Joanne Liu, president of MSF, reported this week that the agency had appealed to some 76 governments seeking support for an impartial investigation, but had received none. “The silence is embarrassing,” Liu told Reuters.

Behind this apparent indifference by capitalist governments around the globe to the horrors unleashed by the US military in Kunduz lies the recognition that this attack constituted not the exception, but the rule, not the product of a “tragic error” or “collateral damage,” but the inevitable expression of  the criminality of American imperialism.

Bill Van Auken

Washington prepares for World War III


5 November 2015

The US military-intelligence complex is engaged in systematic preparations for World War III. As far as the Pentagon is concerned, a military conflict with China and/or Russia is inevitable, and this prospect has become the driving force of its tactical and strategic planning.

Three congressional hearings Tuesday demonstrated this reality. In the morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a lengthy hearing on cyberwarfare. In the afternoon, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee discussed the present size and deployment of the US fleet of aircraft carriers, while another subcommittee of the same panel discussed the modernization of US nuclear weapons.

The WSWS will provide a more detailed account of these hearings, which were attended by a WSWS reporter. But certain preliminary observations can be made.

None of the hearings discussed the broader implications of the US preparations for war, or what a major war between nuclear-armed powers would mean for the survival of the human race, and even of life on our planet. On the contrary, the hearings were examples of what might be called the routinization of World War III. A US war with China and/or Russia was taken as given, and the testimony of witnesses and questions from senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, concerned the best methods for prevailing in such a conflict.

The hearings were component parts of an ongoing process. The witnesses referred to their past writings and statements. The senators and representatives referred to previous testimony by other witnesses. In other words, the preparations for world war, using cyber weapons, aircraft carriers, bombers, missiles and the rest of a vast array of weaponry, have been under way for a protracted period of time. They are not a response to recent events, whether in the South China Sea, Ukraine, Syria or anywhere else.

Each of the hearings presumed a major US conflict with another great power (sometimes unnamed, sometimes explicitly designated as China or Russia) within a relatively short time frame, years rather than decades. The danger of terrorism, hyped incessantly for the purposes of stampeding public opinion, was downplayed and to some extent discounted. At one point in the Senate hearing on cyberwarfare, in response to a direct question from Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the panel witnesses all declared that their greatest concern was nation-states, not terrorists.

One of the witnesses at that hearing was Dr. Peter W. Singer, listed as a “Strategist and Senior Fellow” for New America, a Washington think tank. He titled his presentation, “The Lessons of World War 3.” He began his prepared statement with the following description of that imagined conflict:

“US and Chinese warships battle at sea, firing everything from cannons to cruise missiles to lasers. Stealthy Russian and American fighter jets dogfight in the air, with robotic drones flying as their wingmen. Hackers in Shanghai and Silicon Valley duel in digital playgrounds. And fights in outer space decide who wins below on Earth. Are these scenes from a novel or what could actually take place in the real world the day after tomorrow? The answer is both.”

None of the hearings saw any debate about either the likelihood of a major war or the necessity of winning that war. No one challenged the assumption that “victory” in a world war between nuclear-armed powers is a meaningful concept. The discussion was entirely devoted to what technologies, assets and human resources were required for the US military to prevail.

This was just as true for the Democratic senators and representatives as for their Republican counterparts. By custom, the two parties are seated on opposite sides of the committee or subcommittee chairmen. Without that arrangement, there would be no way of detecting, from their questions and expressions of opinion, which party they belonged to.

Contrary to the media portrayal of Washington as deeply divided between parties with intransigently opposed political outlooks, there was bipartisan agreement on this most fundamental of issues, the preparation of a new imperialist world war.

The unanimity of the political representatives of big business by no means suggests that there are no obstacles in the path of this drive to war. Each of the hearings grappled, in different ways, with the profound crisis confronting American imperialism. This crisis has two major components: the declining economic power of the United States compared to its major rivals, and the internal contradictions of American society, with the deepening alienation of the working class and particularly the youth.

At the House subcommittee hearing on aircraft carriers, the chairman noted that one of the witnesses, a top Navy admiral, had expressed concern over having “an 11-carrier navy in a 15-carrier world.” There were so many challenges confronting Washington, he continued, that what was really needed was a navy of 21 aircraft carriers—double the present size, and one that would bankrupt even a country with far more resources than the United States.

The Senate hearing on cybersecurity touched briefly on the internal challenge to American militarism. The lead witness, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency and former head of the Pentagon’s CyberCommand, bemoaned the effect of leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Army private Chelsea Manning, declaring that “insider attacks” were one of the most serious threats facing the US military.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked him directly, referring to Snowden, “Should we treat him as a traitor?” Alexander responded, “He should be treated as a traitor and tried as such.” Manchin nodded heartily, in evident agreement.

While the witnesses and senators chose to use the names of Snowden and Manning to personify the “enemy within,” they were clearly conscious that the domestic opposition to war is far broader than a few individual whistleblowers.

This is not a matter simply of the deep-seated revulsion among working people in response to 14 years of bloody imperialist interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and across North Africa, important as that is.

A war between the United States and a major power like China or Russia, even if it were possible to prevent its escalation into an all-out nuclear exchange, would involve a colossal mobilization of the resources of American society, both economic and human. It would mean further dramatic reductions in the living standards of the American people, combined with a huge blood toll that would inevitably fall mainly on the children of the working class.

Ever since the Vietnam War, the US military has operated as an all-volunteer force, avoiding conscription, which provoked widespread opposition and direct defiance in the 1960s and early 1970s. A non-nuclear war with China or Russia would mean the restoration of the draft and bring the human cost of war home to every family in America.

Under those conditions, no matter how great the buildup of police powers and the resort to repressive measures against antiwar sentiments, the stability of American society would be put to the test. The US ruling elite is deeply afraid of the political consequences. And it should be.

Patrick Martin

New evidence that US Army deliberately targeted hospital in Kunduz


By Joseph Kishore
27 October 2015

It is now more than three weeks since the October 3 massacre by US military forces of medical personnel and patients at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical center in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Aided by the media, the US military and the Obama administration are continuing their efforts to cover up and whitewash a war crime.

On Monday, the Associated Press published a report providing further confirmation that the facility was targeted and bombed by US military personnel with full knowledge that it was a functioning hospital. The attack lasted for an hour, destroying the building and killing 30 people, including at least 13 MSF staff members and 10 patients.

According to the AP, “A day before an American AC-130 gunship attacked the hospital, a senior officer in the Green Beret [Army] unit wrote in a report that US forces had discussed the hospital with the country director of the medical charity group, presumably in Kabul, according to two people who have seen the document.”

A report from “a senior Green Beret officer from 3rd Special Forces Group” on October 2 stated, “MSF report that they have personnel in the trauma center,” according to the AP, citing two sources who have seen the report.

The AP states that it was the Green Berets, the Special Forces division of the US Army, that called in the attack.

According to the AP, the Army believed that the hospital was being used by the Taliban, which had recently taken control of the city. This has been repeatedly denied by MSF, both before and after the attack.

The report also cites MSF spokesman Tim Shenk, who notes that in the days before the attack, “an official in Washington” asked the group “whether our hospital had a large group of Taliban fighters in it.” Shenk continues: “We replied that this was not the case. We also stated that we were very clear with both sides to the conflict about the need to respect medical centers.”

The involvement of “an official in Washington” raises questions as to whether personnel in the Obama administration played a direct role in selecting and targeting the hospital.

The report follows a previous article citing a former intelligence official who said special operations analysts had mapped the entire area and drawn a circle around the hospital.

The new report adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that US forces knowingly and deliberately destroyed a hospital that was performing civilian functions, a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions and a violation of the US War Crimes Act. According to the latter, those found guilty of committing such a crime can be subject to life imprisonment or death.

Among the possible motivations for the attack is the fact that the hospital was the only major medical center in northeastern Afghanistan, and it provided aid to all those injured in the escalating conflict between US forces and the Taliban-led insurgency. Beyond those immediately killed, hundreds or even thousands will die as a result of their loss of access to medical care.

In a statement released on October 23, which reported an increase in the death toll from 22 to 30, MSF noted that the destruction of the hospital “will have a huge impact on access to surgical care for hundreds of thousands of people in the region… Last year, more than 22,000 patients received care at the hospital and more than 5,900 surgeries were performed.”

It added, “All that now remains of the three operating theaters, the ER and outpatient departments, and the intensive care unit are collapsed roofs, blackened walls, floors thick with dust, and twisted pieces of metal that were once beds and trolleys.”

The attack may also have been intended to send a message to Pakistan. According to the earlier AP report, the US Army forces suspected that the hospital was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. MSF, however, has stated that it had no Pakistanis on its staff and that none of those killed who have been identified were Pakistani.

In either case, the US military was making clear that it was prepared to take any action and commit any crime to maintain its position in Afghanistan. Only days after the attack, the Obama administration announced that it would maintain up to 10,000 troops in the country at least through the end of 2016.

The White House and the military continue their efforts to whitewash the war crime. Since the massacre, military officials have issued a series of self-contradictory statements about what happened, including claims that the attack was a “mistake.”

On October 15, a US military patrol entered the bombed out hospital facility without informing MSF, a violation of previous agreements. An MSF official said that the entry “damaged property” and “destroyed potential evidence.”

Over the weekend, the military announced that General John F. Campbell, the overall commander of operations in Afghanistan, has appointed Major General William B. Hickman to lead a supposedly “independent” investigation into the incident. The character of this investigation was indicated by Campbell, who said in a statement, “We will be forthright and transparent and we will hold ourselves accountable for any mistakes made.”

The attack on MSF was not a “mistake.” It was a crime. The purpose of Hickman’s inquiry will be to cover up for those responsible.

FBI director admits use of spy planes over Ferguson and Baltimore


By Tom Hall
26 October 2015

FBI Director James Comey admitted in testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee that the agency conducted surveillance flights over mass protests against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland over the past year, at the request of local police departments. Comey’s remarks confirmed an earlier Associated Press report revealing the FBI’s extensive use of secret flyovers throughout the country.

The hearing itself, mislabeled as being dedicated to the “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” was a further indication of the ability of government agencies like the FBI to carry out illegal mass surveillance against the American population with impunity. Comey contradicted himself at key points through his testimony, which the members of the Committee allowed to pass without comment.

He absurdly claimed in his testimony that the FBI’s flyovers are not used for “mass surveillance,” but only to track specific individuals targeted by an investigation, despite the obvious fact that low-flying, camera-equipped aircraft are ideally suited to follow large numbers of people simultaneously over a wide area. As the ACLU noted recently on its website, new technologies that are now commercially available to police departments nationwide can monitor an area of 25 square miles from low-circling aircraft.

Comey subsequently contradicted this claim when he effectively admitted that the FBI’s spy planes were deployed to Ferguson and Baltimore to spy on the protests as a whole and not specific individuals. “If there is tremendous turbulence in a community, it’s useful to everybody, civilians and law enforcement, to have a view of what’s going on,” Comey told the Committee. “Where are the fires in this community? Where are people gathering ? Where do people need help? And sometimes the best view of that is above rather than trying to look from a car on the street (emphasis added).”

In fact, the federal government closely coordinated with state and local police from day one in both Ferguson and Baltimore in directing the military-style crackdown on largely peaceful protesters. Leading Washington officials, including Barack Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder, lent their voices to the demonization of protesters in order to legitimize the use of violence against them. There can be no doubt that the FBI, an organization with a long history of political repression against dissident groups, was intimately involved at the highest levels in the direction of the crackdown.

Comey then explained under direct questioning that the agency does not obtain warrants before carrying out flyovers, because, as he claimed, “We are not collecting the content of anybody’s communication or engaging anything besides following someone in that investigation … The law is pretty clear that you don’t need a warrant for that kind of observation.” However, Comey later admitted to the Committee that at least some FBI planes are also equipped with “Stingray” technology, which mimics cell phone towers in order to fool nearby phones into establishing connections with it, enabling police to monitor communications and track users’ whereabouts.

Although the Justice Department changed its internal policy last month to require the FBI and other agencies to obtain search warrants before using “Stingray” devices, state and local police are able to use their own devices, subsidized by the federal government, with complete secrecy and without even token oversight. Furthermore, while a recent Justice Department memo banned agencies from using drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment,” this restriction does not apply to manned aircraft such as those operated by the FBI.

Comey’s claim of a limited scope for surveillance does not square with the extraordinary level of secrecy surrounding the program. The Associated Press story this June, which first revealed the FBI’s use of surveillance flights, traced over 50 aircraft to shell companies set up by the bureau throughout the country, and found that the agency had conducted more than 100 flights in 11 states during a one-month span this spring.

The AP found that some flights circled “large, enclosed buildings,” such as malls and airports, “where aerial photography would be less effective than electronic signals collection,” suggesting the use of “Stingray” technology.

Furthermore, numerous flyovers have been observed in Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb with the country’s largest Arab-American community and which has been subjected to routine harassment by local and federal police since the September 11th attacks.

Comey’s frank admission of the FBI’s use of aerial surveillance was met with hardly a word of protest from the members of the House Judiciary Committee, ostensibly tasked with overseeing the activities of the federal police. Neither Comey’s claim that the FBI planes were not conducting “mass surveillance” in Ferguson nor his argument that such flights did not require a warrant were challenged by the Committee. Instead, members of the Committee competed with one another in showering Comey and his organization with fawning praise.

The day following his testimony before Congress, Comey gave a speech at the University of Chicago Law School in which he attempted to pin the blame on a supposed rise in crime rates on the increased public scrutiny of police in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing last year. Comey was in Chicago in advance of this week’s conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Comey said. “I’ve been told by a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video … Lives are saved when those potential killers are confronted by a police officer, a strong police presence and actual, honest-to-goodness, up-close ‘What are you guys doing on this corner at 1 o’clock in the morning’ policing. We need to be careful it doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos, or there will be profound consequences.”

The theory that a spike in violent crime nationwide in US cities is due in part to fear on the part of police that their activities will be recorded by hostile bystanders and posted on Youtube, known as the “Ferguson Effect,” has no basis in fact.

In the first place, there is no evidence that, outside of a few municipalities, there has been a statistically meaningful spike in violent crime in the United States at all. Second, the claim that police are legitimately concerned that they could face punishment if videos of their activity were recorded does not hold water when even officers who have been filmed committing acts of murder have not been disciplined, let alone arrested and charged with a crime. Finally, the only significant slowdowns in arrest rates this year have been due to work slowdowns, such as those organized in New York City and Baltimore, directed against city administrations deemed to be insufficiently fervent in their defense of the police.

Instead, the Ferguson Effect “theory” is a politically-motivated slander against police brutality protesters designed to portray police as victims and shield their activities from scrutiny. It has been most heavily promoted by right-wing demagogues and officials of local police unions. Even the New York Times, which functions as a compliant mouthpiece for the American state, was compelled to admit in its reporting of Comey’s remarks that the existence of a “Ferguson Effect” was “far from settled.”

The decision by Comey to publically solidarize himself with the arguments of the far-right was allegedly a source of some embarrassment to the Obama administration (the Times cited unnamed officials who “privately fumed” at Comey’s remarks).

However, the administration itself has deliberately allowed killer police to operate with impunity, intervening against the plaintiffs in every police brutality case heard by the Supreme Court, and, through its massive expansion of government surveillance and funneling of military hardware to local police departments, has contributed significantly to erecting the scaffolding of police state forms of rule.

If Comey felt secure in scapegoating police brutality protesters the day after he confirmed that the FBI conducted surveillance against them, it is because he knows his agency is subjected to virtually no democratic restraints.

Vast majority of those killed in US drone strikes not intended target


By Niles Williamson
17 October 2015

Secret US government documents published this week by The Intercept have shed new light on the bureaucratization and institutionalization of the American government’s international drone murder operation.

The documents, a series of secret Pentagon briefing slides and internal reports outlining details of their drone killing programs in Africa and the Middle East, were leaked to The Intercept by an anonymous source within the intelligence community who has worked on drone killing operations.

Under the guise of the “war on terror” that began in 2001, two separate but parallel drone assassination operations, one overseen by the Pentagon and the other by the CIA, have been developed to carry out regular drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq. These operations have now been extended to Syria.

One selection of documents given to The Intercept provides a summary of a military campaign in Afghanistan, codenamed Operation Haymaker, carried out in Kunar and Nuristan provinces between January 2012 and February 2013 that highlights the chaos and death produced by drone assassination attempts.

The internal documents reveal that during a five-month period, ninety percent of those people killed by drone strikes in the operation were not direct targets. Out of the 235 people killed in Operation Haymaker only 35 were direct targets; the other 200 were bystanders. The operation had targeted not only alleged members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban for death, but also members of local Salafist militia groups that were actively resisting the US occupation.

The number of civilians and other unintended targets killed in drone strikes over the last decade has not impacted the rapid growth of the bureaucratic mechanisms used to target and kill. Over the next four years, the military is planning to expand its drone capability by 50 percent.

The latest leaks about the American drone program also reveal the disturbingly sanitized jargon that government officials use when engaged in plotting assassinations.

The documents refer to a person who has been marked for assassination as an “objective”; in many of the documents this is abbreviated to simply “obj.” The process of hunting down an individual who has been targeted for death is denoted as “find, fix, finish.” The act of murder by drone is referred to as a “kinetic action” or “targeted killing.”

One of the slides provides an overview of the “kill chain” process that is used for approving targeted individuals for death. The process involves two distinct steps, moving from “developing a target” to the “authorization of a target.”

After President Obama gives his assent, an authorized target is moved into a “targeting cycle,” a two-month period in which the military has the authority kill them. Once the military feels they have a fix on their target, they move to the final step, “actioning,” i.e. murder.

When a drone missile is fired and kills its intended target, this is declared to be a “jackpot.” A drone strike that successfully destroys a cell phone sim card that was used to locate and target suspects is referred to as “touchdown.”

If a missile is fired and it does not kill its intended target but instead kills other people, these are reported as “EKIA,” enemies killed in action. Military-aged men killed in drone strikes are routinely declared by the US military to have been an “enemy.”

Detailed dossiers known as “baseball cards” are drawn up by the US military on targeted individuals with information on their location, day-to-day activity, and any connections to other people that have been targeted for death.

While the first drone missile assassination took place in 2002 under the administration of President George W. Bush, it was only after President Barack Obama took office that the use of drones for killing those designated as terrorists and enemies of the United States was dramatically expanded.

According to a conservative estimate by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, nearly 2,500 people, including at least 314 civilians, have been killed in drone strikes outside the declared war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan since Obama took office in 2009.

Due to the secretive nature of the drone program, along with its use in Iraq and Afghanistan, the actual total number of people killed is certainly much higher. By September 2010, the list of people in Afghanistan targeted to be killed or captured had grown to 744.

Glenn Carle, a former senior CIA officer in the clandestine services, defended the drone program in an interview with The Intercept, stating, “The Obama administration has been quite ruthless in its pursuit of terrorists. If there are people who we, in our best efforts, assess to be trying to kill us, we can make their life as short as possible. And we do it.”

Speaking to The Intercept, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, made clear that the entire focus under Obama has been and will continue to be on assassination. “The drone campaign right now really is only about killing. When you hear the phrase ‘capture/kill,’ capture is actually a misnomer. In the drone strategy that we have, ‘capture’ is a lower case ‘c.’ We don’t capture people anymore,” Flynn said.