Behind the recriminations over the fall of Ramadi


28 May 2015

The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has provoked a series of charges and counter-charges over who is responsible.

The debacle reprised the collapse of Iraqi security forces in the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, nearly a year ago. Nearly 10 months of US air strikes, stepped-up aid to the Iraqi military, and the deployment of over 3,000 US troops in support of Baghdad have apparently done little to contain, much less defeat, ISIS.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was the most blunt, declaring that the Iraqi forces who melted away in the face of the ISIS offensive lacked the “will to fight.” Similarly, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey commented that the Iraqi security forces were “not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.”

From within the Iraqi government and security forces as well as from Iran, there has been another explanation for the failure of the US intervention launched in August of last year to defeat ISIS: Washington has no real desire to annihilate the Islamist forces, its “war on terror” rhetoric notwithstanding.

The widespread acceptance of this explanation was indicated last week in a speech given by the senior commander of US Special Operations forces in Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer. Speaking before the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, a forum for the military industrial complex held in Tampa, Florida, he reported that it is widely believed in Iraq, including within its security forces, that the Pentagon is “re-supplying” ISIS.

“Without an effective counter-narrative, this quickly took traction, resonating with many throughout Iraq,” Crytzer said. “It’s not just the poor and uneducated that believe it.” The result, he added, was that US forces were at risk of attack from Iraqis fighting ISIS. He cited an attempt to shoot down a US helicopter believed to be ferrying arms to the Islamists and friction between American troops and their Iraqi counterparts.

Crytzer gave no indication why such a “narrative” would resonate so broadly among the people of Iraq, while the media covering his address referred to the charge of US support for ISIS as an Iraqi “conspiracy theory.”

There are no doubt “conspiracy theories”—which explain history as merely the working out of plots hatched by cabals at the pinnacle of society—but there also exist well-documented conspiracies by US imperialism in the Middle East. These conspiracies, which have not always produced the desired results, have decimated entire societies over the last decade.

As if to substantiate the Iraqi suspicions cited by General Crytzer, the US government has—in response to a Freedom of Information Act filing by the right-wing Judicial Watch group—declassified a series of documents, including one secret report produced by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) dated August 12, 2012.

While Judicial Watch has focused entirely on the documents’ supposed substantiation of Republican claims that the Obama administration—and Hillary Clinton, in particular—“lied” about the armed attack on the Benghazi consulate and CIA facility in 2012, it and similar right-wing outfits studiously ignore the far deeper implications of the August 2012 report.

The heavily redacted seven-page DIA document states that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” while noting that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey” support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”

The document accurately predicts that “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… And this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime…”

As for Iraq, the secret report continues: “This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi… ISI [Islamic State of Iraq] could also declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

It should be recalled that this document was issued amid steadily escalating US support for the so-called “rebels” in Syria, with the CIA setting up a secret station in Turkey near the Syrian border to coordinate the funneling of arms, money and supplies to these forces, which, as was clearly known at the time, were dominated by Islamist elements such as Al Qaeda.

The report indicates that Washington and its allies were supportive of these forces carving out an Islamic state in Syria. And, while they saw the spread of such a state to neighboring Iraq as a likely danger, they considered this a chance worth taking in order to prosecute their proxy war for regime-change directed against Damascus and Syria’s backers—Iran, Russia and China.

It also should be recalled that this document was issued precisely at the moment that the entire international coterie of middle-class pseudo-left organizations—from the International Socialist Organization in the US, to the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and the Left Party in Germany—was hailing the US proxy war in Syria as a “revolution,” and even crafting justifications for the US arming of the Islamists.

If Washington is pulling its punches in its supposed war on ISIS, it is not, as the New York Times absurdly suggested this week, out of concern for killing civilians. The US has butchered hundreds of thousands over the course of the last dozen years. Rather, it wants to preserve the Islamist gunmen, who constitute the principal fighting force in its proxy war to topple Assad, just as it employed similar forces to overthrow and murder Libya’s Gaddafi.

The US military/intelligence complex, along with its front-man, Barack Obama, is indifferent to the immense human suffering such polices inflict upon the peoples of the region. They are making their decisions based on strategic calculations in which elements such as Al Qaeda and ISIS are merely pawns in a far wider drive to assert US hegemony by means of aggression and war.

Bill Van Auken

The fall of Ramadi and the criminality of US imperialism


20 May 2015

Nearly a year after the debacle suffered by US imperialism and the regime it imposed during more than eight bloody years of war and occupation of Iraq—the fall of the country’s second largest city, Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a similar collapse has unfolded in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province.

Attempts by the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to dismiss the events in Ramadi as a minor setback are either disingenuous or delusional. As in Mosul, Iraq’s US-trained and armed regular army largely melted away in the face of an offensive by the Islamist guerrillas. And once again, it has left behind large stores of US-supplied weaponry, ranging from dozens of armored cars and tanks to artillery and other armaments and vast quantities of ammunition, all of it now in ISIS hands.

Just as with Mosul, the fall of Ramadi has unleashed a new humanitarian catastrophe on the war-ravaged people of Iraq, with hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians killed and tens of thousands turned into homeless refugees. Those who remain face the threat of violence at the hands of ISIS as well as sectarian reprisals from the Shiite militias that are massing for a bid to retake the city.

This latest debacle has unfolded nearly 10 months into the Obama administration’s “Operation Inherent Resolve,” the title given to Washington’s latest military intervention in the Middle East. It has provoked criticism within ruling circles of US strategy, which has consisted of US airstrikes against both Iraq and Syria, the deployment of nearly 5,000 US ground troops in Iraq and the launching of a $500 million program to train and arm so-called Syrian “rebels.”

There is a growing drumbeat for sending greater numbers of US ground forces more directly into the fighting. The Washington Post published an editorial Tuesday charging that “the US lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’” ISIS. It demands that the administration commit US military units to “work with Iraqi forces on the ground.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal published a column urging “more ground operations by Special Operations forces” as well as the deployment of “Apache attack helicopters and transport planes,” along with an entire brigade “dedicated to improving operational command and intelligence support.”

It is no accident that amid this drive for the escalation of the ongoing US intervention another, thoroughly dishonest, debate has played out in the context of the 2016 presidential election campaign, over whether the launching of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq was a “mistake” or a justified response to what proved “faulty intelligence.”

The immediate impetus for this phony debate has been calls for Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush—and other Republicans—to account for the actions of the younger Bush’s brother, George W. The cynical aim of both the capitalist politicians and media, however, is to erase from the consciousness of the American people the bitter lessons of being dragged into a criminal war of aggression foisted upon them through scaremongering about “weapons of mass destruction” and ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda. Both were fabrications employed to promote a war whose real aim was securing US hegemony over the energy-rich Middle East.

That there is a difference between “faulty intelligence” and lies is self-evident, just as a “mistake” is not the same thing as a premeditated war of aggression, the principal crime for which the Nazi leadership was tried at Nuremberg.

Jeb Bush’s response has consisted in large measure of the undeniable assertion that not only did he and his brother support the war in Iraq, but that so did the Democratic frontrunner, former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, along with virtually the entire US ruling establishment. In short, there are no clean hands; everyone is implicated in a crime of historic proportions.

Nor, clearly, have these crimes stopped with either the end of the Bush administration or the 2011 withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The US-NATO war that destroyed Libya was launched on the pretext of “human rights.” It was necessary, the public was told, to protect the people of Benghazi from imminent massacre. Today, much of Benghazi—and the entire country—has been reduced to rubble by fighting between rival militias. The death toll mounts daily and millions of Libyans have become refugees.

The predatory aims of this imperialist intervention have been further exposed by the recent revelationthat Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, was promoting the Libya policy recommendations of former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, who was in turn working with a group of capitalist investors on schemes to exploit the oil-rich country’s wealth once its government was smashed and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, murdered.

What incredible mayhem and destruction has been wrought upon the Middle East through the last dozen years of US military aggression! Promoted and defended by Democrats and Republicans alike, this criminal bloodletting has been carried out in the service of naked profit interests. Well over a million people have lost their lives, with millions more maimed or driven from their homes.

Entire countries have been destroyed. In the drive to overthrow and assassinate one secular Arab head of state after another—from Saddam Hussein to Gaddafi to Bashar al Assad—the Pentagon and the CIA have deliberately fomented sectarian tensions, pitting Sunnis against Shia in an even bloodier version of the old colonial strategy of divide and conquer. ISIS is the direct product of this process, spawned by the US intervention in Iraq and then strengthened by the proxy war for regime change in Syria, where it and similar Sunni Islamist militias were armed and funded by Washington’s regional allies, under the guiding hand of the CIA.

As one crime and debacle follows another, what is most remarkable is that no one is held accountable. Not only is no one involved fired from their posts—much less tried for war crimes—there are not even serious public hearings held to expose the decisions and policies that produced these disasters.

Every element of the ruling strata and every institution of American society are implicated, from the Bushes, Clintons and Obama to Congress, the profit-hungry corporations, the lying media and an overwhelmingly cowardly and self-satisfied academia.

The impunity they have all enjoyed after each criminal war only paves the way for even greater conflagrations. Preventing such global catastrophes is the task of the American and international working class, which alone can mount a genuine struggle against war and the capitalist system that produces it.

Bill Van Auken

Kerry in Riyadh: A meeting of war criminals


8 May 2015

US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared side by side with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh Thursday and praised the monarchical oil regime for its role in the bloody nearly two-month-old war against Yemen, the most impoverished nation in the Arab world.

The Saudi royals were to be commended, he said, for their “initiative to bring about a peaceful resolution through the announcement of their intent to establish a full, five-day, renewable ceasefire and humanitarian pause.”

Kerry used the word “intent” advisedly. Even as he spoke, Saudi warplanes continued to pound Yemeni homes, schools and hospitals into rubble, carrying out at least seven airstrikes Thursday against the port city of Hudaydah and five against the northwestern provincial capital of Sa’ada, a stronghold of Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement that the Saudi regime is determined to crush.

Earlier, Saudi warships fired rockets into the town of Hajjah, striking the Maydi Hospital, and more than 100 airstrikes in other areas of the country left scores dead, many of them women and children.

Neither Kerry nor Jubeir said when the five-day “humanitarian pause” would begin, nor did they provide any specific definition of its terms. Jubeir indicated, however, that it would be dependent on the Houthi rebels laying down their arms.

This is not the first time the Saudi regime indicated that it would call a halt to the bloodbath it has unleashed on Yemen. On April 21, after nearly a month of bombing, it proclaimed that Operation Decisive Storm, the title given to its air war against Yemen, had ended and a new phase centered on achieving a political resolution of the Yemeni conflict would begin. Instead, the air strikes only intensified.

The United Nations has put the death toll from the Saudi-led war at more than 1,400, with thousands more wounded, the overwhelming majority of the casualties civilians. Some 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Bombs have demolished at least 30 schools and the violence has left nearly 2 million school children unable to attend classes.

An estimated 20 million people, or 80 percent of the population, are going hungry as a Saudi-led blockade of Yemen’s harbors together with repeated air strikes that have destroyed runways at the country’s airports have cut off its food supplies.

Speaking in Djibouti, a stop on his way to Saudi Arabia, Kerry postured as if the imperialist power he represents were just one more humanitarian enterprise. He declared that Washington was “deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen” and urged “all sides, anybody involved, to comply with humanitarian law and to take every precaution to keep civilians out of the line of fire.”

Who does the US secretary of state think he’s kidding? Washington is not some benevolent bystander in this bloodbath.

The White House and the Pentagon have backed Saudi Arabia to the hilt since the war began, rushing it fresh arms, including deadly cluster bombs, banned by the vast majority of the world’s nations because of their murderous effect upon civilians. It has set up a US command center in Riyadh to supply the Saudi Air Force with targeting intelligence, and it has dispatched US Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers to the region to carry out daily aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes, so that the airstrikes can continue around the clock.

Last year, Saudi Arabia spent $80 billion on arms, making it the fourth largest weapons purchaser in the world. The Obama administration is preparing to sell it and the other Persian Gulf oil monarchies even more powerful weapons systems.

The US president is scheduled to hold a summit at Camp David next week with the crowned royals of the Gulf Cooperation Council. He is prepared to offer them an advanced ballistic missile defense system as well as bunker buster bombs.

CNN quoted a senior US official as saying that “the president’s goal is building a defense infrastructure and architecture for the Gulf region that also includes maritime security, border security, and counter-terrorism.”

In other words, the Obama administration is further solidifying US reliance on the Saudi monarchy as a key pillar of its drive for domination of the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East. Even as the US and the other major powers negotiate an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, Washington is building up Saudi Arabia and the other reactionary Gulf states for a possible war against Iran.

The nature of the Saudi regime was made abundantly clear on the eve of Kerry’s visit with the mass beheading of five immigrants—two from Yemen and one each from Sudan, Eritrea and Chad. A Saudi national was decapitated on the day the US secretary of state landed in the desert kingdom. After these grisly public executions, the headless corpses of the victims were hung from helicopters to ensure the maximum display of the state atrocity.

The US-Saudi axis gives the lie to all the pretexts used by US imperialism to justify the decades of wars that have taken the lives of over a million in the Middle East, from the claim that it intervened to fight for “democracy” to the lie that it was waging a “war on terrorism.”

Even as it continued bombing Yemeni cities, the Saudi air force, with Washington’s blessings, dropped arms and supplies this week to Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) forces in Yemen, a movement that the Obama administration had previously portrayed as the paramount terrorist threat. As the most rabidly sectarian enemies of the Houthis—inspired by the Saudi monarchy’s state religion of Wahhabi Islamism that animates similar movements, from ISIS to Boko Haram—AQAP has now been recast as Yemeni patriots.

As in Iraq, Libya and Syria before it, Washington’s role in the Yemeni war is based not on humanitarian concern, support for democracy or hostility to terrorism. It is pursuing the predatory interests of US imperialism, attempting to offset American capitalism’s economic decline by military means. It is prepared in this process to spill unlimited amounts of blood and to drag the peoples of Middle East, the United States and the entire planet into a third world war.

Bill Van Auken

Record number of internally displaced people globally in 2014


By Niles Williamson
7 May 2015

According to a report issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) on Wednesday, a record 38 million people in 60 countries were displaced by ongoing conflicts from their homes within the borders of their own country through the end of 2014. They comprise the vast majority of the more than 50 million classified as refugees.

The report, “Global Overview 2015,” notes that the number of people internally displaced is equivalent to the combined populations of New York City, London and Beijing. The report marks the third straight year in which the IDMC has tallied a record number of internally displaced people.

The report blames rising wealth inequality for increasing conflict around the globe as marginalized religious, ethnic and tribal minorities seek independence and control over territory. They single out Islamic jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Boko Haram and Al Shabaab whose actions and the response by Western imperialism have caused millions to flee their homes.

11 million people were newly displaced as the result of violent conflict in the course of 2014, with an average of 30,000 people fleeing their homes every day. Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria account for 60 percent of new displacements.

Iraq showed the greatest new dislocation with 2.2 million people escaping from areas seized by ISIS. The Islamic fundamentalist organization launched an offensive in June last year in which it seized control of large swathes of northwestern Iraq including the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The United States responded by launching a new air campaign in Iraq and dispatching thousands of special forces which are assisting the Iraqi military in a counterassault.

A total of at least 3.2 million people are currently internally displaced in Iraq, a legacy of the American invasion and occupation of the country between 2003 and 2011.

In neighboring Syria, where the US and its allies have stoked a civil war against President Bashar al-Assad, at least 1.1 million people were forced out of their homes last year. In total, 35 percent of Syria’s population, approximately 7.6 million people, have been displaced by ongoing fighting in the country’s four-year-old civil war. It is estimated that at least 30 percent of the housing stock registered in the 2014 census has been damaged or destroyed, making return for many impossible.

US imperialism and its allies bear the responsibility for the unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as they have flooded the country with weaponry and provided military training to so-called moderate rebel forces, which include Islamist fighters now aligned with ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, fighting in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war displaced at least 1.3 million people last year, 11 percent of the country’s total population. Competing factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army have been fighting for control over the northeastern provinces which contain key oil fields since the end of 2013.

In the DRC at least a million people were displaced by fighting in the country’s eastern provinces. People fled in the aftermath of a series of massacres carried out by the rebel Allied Democratic Forces in the city of Beni that killed several hundred.

Nearly one million people were displaced in Nigeria last year where the Islamic fundamentalist organization Boko Haram has been involved in an insurgency since 2009. Suicide attacks and other assaults by Boko Haram killed more than 10,000 people throughout northern Nigeria in 2014.

Ukraine was the only European country in which a significant number of people were newly displaced by fighting last year. More than 646,000 people were forced from their homes as a result of fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces backed by the United States and Germany and pro-Russia separatists.

The conflict began after the US and Germany backed a fascist-led coup which ousted pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych. The new pro-Western regime launched a bloody offensive which sought to suppress pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region opposed to the new government.

What the report makes clear is that every continent is affected by the growing numbers of people displaced due to ongoing armed conflicts.

There were at least 436,500 newly displaced people in North and South America in 2014, making a cumulative total of 7 million people. In Mexico more than 281,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the drug cartels and gang violence. More than 500,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are currently displaced as the result of organized crime and gang violence.

Colombia accounted for 90 percent of the Americas’ total displaced population. The 6,044,200 people counted as displaced in Colombia account for 12 percent of the country’s total population. In addition to gang violence, many in Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala have been displaced by illegal and legal logging operations and cultivation of crops such as cocoa, poppies for opium, marijuana and palm oil.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 10 million of the world’s internally displaced peoples, and at least 4.5 million people newly displaced in 2014. The insurgency in Somalia headed by the Islamic jihadist group Al Shabaab has contributed to the more than 1 million displaced people in that country. Displaced people in Somalia suffer from the highest rate of severe malnutrition in the impoverished country.

At least 3.8 million people were newly displaced in the Middle East and North Africa in 2014, bringing the total to 11.9 million. In just the last four years alone, 7.8 million people have been forced out of their homes. The number of people forced to flee their homes in Libya, destabilized by a US-NATO air assault in 2011, increased more than six-fold from 2013 to 400,000. The Middle East and North Africa now account for 31 percent of the world’s internally displaced people, up from just 14 percent in 2011.

South Asia accounted for 1.4 million new displacements with a total of 4.1 million displaced by violence. In Pakistan the number of displaced people grew from 746,700 to 1.9 million. The US has carried out years of drone attacks and backs military operations against an Islamic insurgency in the country’s northwestern FATA region. In neighboring Afghanistan, which has been subjected to continuous US military operations since 2001, the number of displaced people grew by more than 170,000 to 805,400.

In Southeast Asia, 95 percent of the 855,000 displaced people are in Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines. While the region saw 134,086 new displacements in 2014, it was the only region that experienced a decline in the overall total, mainly in Burma and the Philippines.

‘Indiscriminate’ Killing in Gaza Was Top-Down War Plan, say Israeli Veterans

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Over 60 officers and soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Protective Edge’ anonymously testify about acts they committed or witnessed

IDF soldiers deployed during “Operation Protective Edge.” (Photo: IDF/flickr/public domain)

The “massive and unprecedented harm” inflicted on the population of Gaza during last summer’s 50-day Israeli military assault stemmed from the top of the chain of command, which gave orders to shoot indiscriminately at civilians, according to the anonymous testimony of more than 60 officers and soldiers who took part in “Operation Protective Edge.”

The Israeli group Breaking the Silence, an organization of “Israeli Defense Force” veterans who engaged in combat, on Monday released the 240-page collection of testimony entitled,This is How We Fought in Gaza.

“While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field,” the report states, “the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”

Breaking the Silence said that the war on Gaza operated under the “most permissive” rules of engagement they have ever seen.

“From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians,” said Yuli Novak, director of the group, in a press statement. “We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical failure in the IDF’s rules of engagement, and that this failure comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the result of ‘rotten apples.'”

Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on earth—home to an estimated 1.8 million people, over 60 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Approximately 2,194 Palestinians were killed in last summer’s attack, at least 70 percent of Palestinians killed in the assault were non-combatants, according to the United Nations. The assault damaged and destroyed critical civilian infrastructure—including houses, shelters, and hospitals—and nearly a year later, hardly any reconstruction has taken place and the civilian population remains strangled by an economic and military siege.

Numerous soldiers said that, during the war, they were told that all people in given areas posed a threat and were ordered to “shoot to kill” every person they spotted.

“The instructions are to shoot right away,” said an anonymous First Sergeant who deployed to Gaza City. “Whoever you spot—be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes—shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”

Some said they were lied to by their commanders, who told them there were no civilians present.

“The idea was, if you spot something—shoot,” said an anonymous First Sergeant identified in the report as having deployed to the Northern Gaza Strip. “They told us: ‘There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there. If you spot someone, shoot.’ Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza, it’s cool, no big deal.”

Soldiers testified that thousands of “imprecise” artillery shells were fired into civilian areas, sometimes as acts of revenge or simply to make the military’s presence known. Civilian infrastructure was destroyed on a large scale with no justification, often after an area had already been “cleared,” they said.

“The motto guiding lots of  people was, ‘Let’s show them,'” said one Lieutenant who served in Rafah. “It was  evident that that was a starting point.”

One Staff Sergeant described perverse and deadly acts committed by soldiers:

During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting– you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.

While numerous human rights organizations and residents have exposed war crimescommitted during last year’s assault on Gaza, this report sheds light on the top-down military doctrine driving specific attacks by ground and air.

One First Sergeant explained that soldiers were taught to indiscriminately fire during training, before their deployments. “One talk I remember especially well took place during training at Tze’elim—before entering Gaza [the Gaza Strip]—with a high ranking commander from the armored battalion to which we were assigned. He came and explained to us how we were going to fight  together with the armored forces. He said, ‘We do not take risks, we do not spare ammo—we unload, we use as much as possible.'”

No Israeli soldiers, commanders, or politicians have been held accountable for war crimes, and the Israeli government has resisted international human rights investigations, from Amnesty International to the United Nations.

Breaking the Silence says it “meticulously investigates” testimony to ensure its veracity. The group garnered global media headlines when it launched a report featuring testimony from Israeli soldiers who took part in the 2009 military assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead.” In that report, soldiers testified about indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including use of chemical weapon white phosphorous.

Hitler’s ghost still haunts Berlin’s psyche, 70 years on

As the April 30 anniversary of the Nazi leader’s death approaches, there is a divide between the wish to avoid the shameful past and a need to acknowledge it
A bust of Adolf Hitler lies amid the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in 1945.
A bust of Adolf Hitler lies amid the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in 1945. Photograph: Reg Speller/Getty Images

This Thursday, April 30,  marks the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death but, like his birthday last Monday, it will understandably go unmarked. For many years the spot where he killed himself was also unmarked. The past can be an unwanted presence in Berlin.

It is, after all, only 25 years since a huge concrete wall separated east from west and communism from capitalism. At first, in an effort to reunify the divided city, the site of the demolished wall was so comprehensively built over that it was hard to know it had been there.

Tourists became so baffled that a cobblestone outline was laid down in the centre of town to show where the wall had stood.

Today there are also a couple of preserved sections of the wall, a Checkpoint Charlie display, a dedicated museum and even kitsch celebrations of the infamous East German car, the Trabant. After a period of determined “moving on”, the German capital has grown more at ease with the past that it was in such a rush to escape.

But less so in the case of the past that originally led to the city’s division – the Nazi era. There are few surviving buildings or monuments to testify to the period in which Berlin was the Nazi capital, when it was to become Welthauptstadt Germania – an Albert Speer-designed world capital of a massively expanded German nation.

The Olympic stadium, site of the 1936 Games, still exists, the disused Tempelhof airport and, most notably, the forbidding former ministry of aviation from which Hermann Göring boasted of dominating the European skies.

It is now the home of the ministry of finance, which many believe dominatesEurope in a far more effective manner than the Luftwaffe could ever have done.

The rest of Nazi Berlin was buried at the end of the war by a mixture of RAF and US bombing and Red Army artillery. The memory of what it had been was further interred on both sides of the wall by a concerted effort to wipe out the legend of the man who continues to cast his ominous shadow over Berlin: Hitler.

On 30 April 1945, with the Red Army only streets away, Hitler killed himself in the Führerbunker beneath the Reich Chancellery in the city centre. His body was then taken out into the open, doused in petrol and set alight in a bomb crater.

No one is sure what happened to his remains, although the Soviets believed that they had taken possession of them and kept them hidden in secret. But like some cursed relic, they were deemed too dangerous to conserve and in 1970 the Soviets had them dug up, incinerated and the ashes thrown into a river.

The Führerbunker itself was blown up and built over. But when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, it was discovered that much of the bombproof structure was still intact and it was reburied all over again.

Today it sits beneath the car park of a grey pebble-dash apartment block built during the East German era. Until nine years ago, there was no sign that identified its location, although interest in the place had been greatly increased by the filmDownfall (Der Untergang), which depicted Hitler’s demented last days.

The film proved to be a psychological breakthrough for Germans because it showed Hitler as a human being, albeit one riven by delusion, psychopathic rage and megalomaniacal dreams of violence.

When in 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup, there was concern that visiting football fans would go in search of the bunker and disturb local residents. So a discreet board was placed in the car park informing visitors of the history beneath their feet.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photograph: Alamy

A couple of hundred yards from the spot is Peter Eisenman’s haunting memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. For all the Nazis’ brutality as an invading force, it is the industrial genocide perpetrated on six million Jews that singles Hitler out as uniquely evil.

As a result Hitler and the Nazis have come to occupy the extreme end of the moral spectrum, the immoral end. If you want to make a point about where racism, nationalism, militarism, flag-waving or almost any dubious behaviour might lead, you need only cite the Nazis. In fact there is a rule governing internet debate known as Godwin’s law that states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

It’s as if all wrong paths lead to Auschwitz. That can be a paralysing thought and in many ways it has inhibited Berlin’s and Germany’s ability to take stock of the past.

Living under the injunction never to forget hasn’t necessarily led Germans to remember more clearly. And the blurriest of issues remains why they allowed Hitler to do what he did.

There are whole libraries of books devoted to the subject, each applying different degrees of responsibility and knowledge. The historian Michael Stürmer made his reputation by arguing that Germans needed to develop a positive view of their history.

He says: “Germans knew and they didn’t know. The idea that all Germans knew what was going on is absurd, but there were no Germans who could not see people with the yellow star and should have asked themselves, ‘Where are they being sent to? Why are the trains coming back empty?’”

He agrees that for a long time after the war Germans suppressed the truth, partly through shame, partly because many members of the Nazi state had been redeployed in the state apparatus of both West and East Germany, and partly because the division of the country enabled each side to blame the other for the Nazis. To the communists, Nazism sprang out of capitalism, and to the democrats of the west it was the totalitarian twin of Stalinism. “It was not so much that people openly lied,” says Stürmer. “But between not lying and speaking the horrible truth there was a vast gap.”

Soon though, no one who was an active Nazi will be alive and direct responsibility will cease to be a live moral issue but solely a vexed academic one. The current trial of Oskar Gröning, an SS guard at Auschwitz, is probably the last of its kind. Once again it unearths horrific details that few have the appetite to take in.

“There is a very widespread wish to avoid the topic unless you are an author who can make some money out of it.”

Before the war there were 170,000 Jewish Berliners. Fifty-five thousand of them lost their lives in the Holocaust and most of the rest fled abroad. By the 1980s the affiliated Jewish community was down to 3,800, but an influx of Russian Jews since 1990 has taken the numbers up to 10,500, although there could be significantly more who are non-affiliated.

Alter, whose father survived Auschwitz and whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, says it has been a struggle to identify himself as German but, having sought help for his “personal traumas”, he has come to terms with his nationality. That said, he would leave tomorrow if he felt the position of Jews was under increased threat.

The security checks and metal detectors that are standard at Jewish institutions and schools are things he has learned to live with. What frustrates him is a lack of openness about the past. “I’m 55 and I’ve never met someone who was an adult in the 1930s and 1940s who said, ‘I was a Nazi and made a mistake’ or even ‘I was a Nazi and don’t regret it’. No, they all had no knowledge, were against it, their parents were in the Socialist party, they hid a Jew in the attic. I’ve never met anyone who had the courage to say, ‘I believed in it.’ If there is not an admission of guilt, then you can’t forgive.”

History can exert a tenacious hold on even the most reluctant captives, but Berlin has slowly established a normalised identity at the heart of Europe. More secure in its future, it can also be more open about its past.

There are strong rumours of plans to make the Führerbunker accessible to the public. The fear has been that the site could be used to glorify him, but what is there to glorify?

Hitler went to his death vowing to destroy Germany. It would be a measure of his failure if a secure Germany is now able to expose where that pathetic death took place.


Hitler, presiding over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich, retreats to his Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945.

As Soviet forces converge on Berlin on 22 April, Hitler suffers a nervous collapse after being told that forces led by SS General Felix Steiner will not rescue Berlin.

By 27 April, Berlin is cut off from the rest of Germany. Hitler receives reports that Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, has offered to surrender to the western allies.

On 29 April, Hitler marries Eva Braun in a civil ceremony held in the Führerbunker.

Later that day Hitler, sceptical about the potency of the cyanide capsules he has received from the SS, tests one on his dog, Blondi, which dies.

At 1am on 30 April Hitler is informed by officers that all forces he had been hoping would come to the rescue of Berlin had either been encircled or forced onto the defensive.

Later on 30 April Hitler commits suicide, shooting himself in the mouth. Braun takes a fatal overdose of cyanide. Hitler’s remains, as he had requested, are doused in petrol and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside.

On the morning of 1 May, Stalin is informed of Hitler’s suicide, but three days pass before his body is found.

Germany officially surrenders on 7 May in the French city of Reims. Fighting ends at 11.01pm on 8 May, which is declared VE Day.


Obama gave CIA free rein for drone assassinations in Pakistan


By Bill Van Auken
28 April 2015

The killing of US and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto in a January 2015 drone strike stemmed, at least in part, from a secret order by President Barack Obama exempting the Central Intelligence Agency drone war in Pakistan from restrictions supposedly imposed on drone attacks in other countries.

According to current and former US officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal Monday, the administration tightened the rules governing drone warfare in 2013, but issued a secret waiver allowing the CIA an essentially free rein in carrying out its murderous campaign in northwestern Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, near the Afghan border.

President Obama made an extraordinary public admission of US responsibility for the killing of the two Western hostages in a White House announcement last Thursday. In the course of his remarks–which he cynically boasted were proof of an “American democracy, committed to openness”–Obama stated that the deadly operation last January had been “fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region.”

What he left concealed was the fact that the guidelines for “the region” were at odds with the formal rules existing everywhere else.

The US president outlined these rules in a speech delivered at the National Defense University in May 2013, insisting that drone strikes would be ordered only against alleged “terrorists” posing “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and only under conditions of “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

These purported restrictions were made public as part of the administration’s effort to lend a veneer of legality to a state assassination program that is in flagrant violation of both international law and the US Constitution. The American president arrogated to himself the power to order the killing of anyone- including American citizens- without charges, much less trials. In his speech, Obama acknowledged that he authorized the killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a subsequent US drone strike.

The reality is that the supposed restrictions have been observed nowhere in the world. In Somalia and Yemen, just as in Pakistan, strikes have claimed the lives of numerous civilians, while the targets selected for remote-control murder posed no “imminent threat” to the US.

In Pakistan, however, the CIA’s covert drone program was relieved of even the pretense of observing such constraints. Initially, the rationale was the need to eliminate forces opposed to the US occupation of Afghanistan, which was supposed to end last year. Now, with the occupation extended, the unfettered drone warfare is continuing.

Not only is the CIA under no obligation to ascertain that the targets pose an “imminent threat” to the American people, it does not have to identify them at all, carrying out “signature strikes” in which behavior observed from an altitude of 50,000 feet– military aged men traveling in a convoy or carrying weapons, for example– is sufficient reason to take human lives with Hellfire missiles.

The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto were the result of such a “signature” attack. While the CIA concluded that someone at the compound where they were held was an Al Qaeda leader, they did know the identity of the person they were trying to kill.

Such strikes have taken a massive toll in human life. According to a recent study by the British-based human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes aimed at killing 41 supposed terrorists took the lives of a total of 1,147 men, women and children. In the attempt to assassinate one Pakistani militant, Baitullah Mehsud, the CIA carried out seven separate strikes, killing a total of 164 people.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has tallied 383 drone strikes against Pakistan alone between 2004 and the beginning of 2015, killing and maiming thousands of civilians.

Yet Thursday’s apology for the deaths of two Westerners was the closest the Obama administration has ever come to acknowledging civilian casualties inflicted by the CIA drone war. In his “democratic” and “open” announcement last Thursday, Obama stated only that “a US counterterrorism operation… in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni.” No mention was made of the agency responsible, the CIA, or the weapon used- a drone.

This was no accident. According to the Journal report, whether or not to acknowledge the CIA’s role was the subject of a dispute within the administration, with the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department insisting that such an admission would threaten the continuation of the CIA program and provoke a conflict with the Pakistani government.

Others– the Journal names Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper– insisted that disclosing the CIA’s role was necessary if the administration was to maintain the pretense of “transparency” that Obama promised in his speech two years ago.

The decisive argument, according to the Journal’s account, was that of the US Attorney General’s office, which “warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality.”

Among these cases is that of Kareem Khan, whose 17-year-old son, Zahinullah Khan, died instantly, along with his uncle Asif Iqbal and another man identified as Khaliq Dad, a stonemason, when a Hellfire missile fired by a CIA drone tore through their home in the North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan in 2009. The family had no involvement with Al Qaeda or any other militant group.

A senior judge in Pakistan last month ordered the opening of a criminal case in connection with the drone killings against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John Rizzo. The charges are murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

The case could also set the stage for a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against the CIA and the US government by the relatives of the many more Pakistani civilians reportedly killed in drone strikes.

The drone strikes constitute war crimes under international law, which bars the arbitrary deprivation of human life and extrajudicial executions. The role of the CIA, which under international law is not a legal combatant, but rather a kind of state-run Murder, Inc., itself makes these strikes criminal.

For all of these reasons, the Obama administration is compelled to maintain a veil of secrecy over its drone assassination program.