Obama’s drone warfare: Assassination made routine

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25 April 2015

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of President Obama’s announcement Thursday that two hostages of Al Qaeda, an American and an Italian, were killed in a US drone missile strike in Pakistan is the lack of any significant reaction from official political circles or the media.

There was a certain amount of tut-tutting in the press and expressions of sympathy for the family of Dr. Warren Weinstein, the longtime aid worker in Pakistan who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in 2011 and killed by the US government in January 2015.

But there was no challenge to the basic premise of the drone missile program: that the CIA and Pentagon have the right to kill any individual, in any country, on the mere say-so of the president. Drone murder by the US government has become routine and is accepted as normal and legitimate by the official shapers of public opinion.

Obama’s own appearance Thursday was chilling. He made perfunctory expressions of regret, but only because the latest victims of US drone strikes included an American and an Italian who were being held hostage. It was a transparently poor acting performance, convincing no one but the editors of theNew York Times, who praised Obama’s “candor and remorse.”

After blaming the deaths of Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto on “mistakes” made because of “the fog of war,” Obama declared, “But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” He had decided to admit responsibility for the deaths because “the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad.”

What a farce! Far from admitting “mistakes,” Obama, the political front man for the military-intelligence apparatus, was making clear that the drone assassination program would continue and no one would be held accountable for the latest atrocity.

Today’s America is “exceptional” only in the degree to which the entire ruling elite has embraced a policy of reckless violence around the globe that includes murder, torture and aggressive war. The United States is run by criminals.

A major test of any American president is readiness to approve state killings in his or her capacity as the political representative, not of the American people, but of a cabal of generals and CIA assassins. How much longer before such actions are carried out not just in remote parts of Afghanistan or Yemen, but in major urban centers of major countries, including, ultimately, the United States itself?

The drone strike in Pakistan’s Shawal Valley that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto is part of an unending campaign of death and destruction. Obama did not even have to sign off on this particular missile strike, since he has given the CIA blanket authority to conduct such operations in the predominately Pashtun-populated Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The claim that drone attacks target individuals designated by the US military-intelligence apparatus as “terrorists” is hardly a limitation, given the indiscriminate application of this term to anyone offering significant resistance to US foreign policy, as well as the cynical practice of posthumously applying the label of “enemy combatant” to any military-age male killed by a US drone-fired missile.

Moreover, as events in Syria and Libya demonstrate, yesterday’s anti-American “terrorist” can become today’s “rebel” or “freedom fighter,” the recipient of US cash, military training and weaponry. Similarly, today’s “freedom fighter” or ally in the “war on terror” can become tomorrow’s target for overthrow or assassination.

The CIA recruited Al Qaeda sympathizers for its overthrow of the Libyan regime and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, formerly an ally, and for the ongoing regime-change operation against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The latter effort gave rise to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in which terrorists turned “rebels” were subsequently branded terrorists, in accordance with the twists and turns of US foreign policy.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that the drone missile attack that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto was a “signature strike,” in which targets are not identified by name, but selected on the basis of a pattern of activities supposedly consistent with those of a terrorist group. The CIA carried out a drone missile attack that killed six people, including Weinstein and Lo Porto, based on aerial observation of the comings and goings at the building targeted, without actually knowing who was there or what their relation, if any, was with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Such attacks are in flagrant violation of international law. The US is trampling on the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries where it carries out such strikes.

Drone missile murders are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which forbid deliberate attacks on civilians or military operations that recklessly endanger civilians. According to a study by the human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes targeting 41 supposed terrorists killed a total of 1,147 people, including many women and children.

Not a single significant voice in the US political or media establishment has been raised against the elevation of assassination to a major element of American foreign policy. In the 1970s, when the US Senate’s Church Committee held hearings on CIA assassination plots against a handful of foreign leaders, its revelations had the capacity to shock. There was a reaction even at the highest levels of the political establishment, and the White House was compelled to issue an executive order disavowing murder as a tool of government policy.

Today there is no such reaction. On the contrary, earlier this month the Timesrevealed that congressional leaders had put pressure on the White House and CIA for more acts of drone missile murder. Describing discussions about whether to kill or capture a Texas-born Islamist who had joined Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, the Times reported: “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.” (See: “US targeted second American citizen for assassination”).

The American media is well aware of the drone missile death toll, but covers it up. An article Friday in the Times noted that the White House refuses point-blank to discuss civilian victims of drone missile attacks when they are Pakistani or Yemeni. “When Americans have been killed, however, the Obama administration has found it necessary to break with its usual practice and eventually acknowledge the deaths, at least in private discussions with reporters,” the newspaper wrote.

The lack of any significant protest of the latest revelations of US war crimes is a warning to the working class, both in the United States and internationally. As the WSWS has consistently warned, the war drive of imperialism is inseparably linked to a frontal assault on democratic and social rights.

The struggle against war and in defense of democratic rights requires a turn to the working class, the only social force capable of disarming the ruling elite. That is the purpose of the International May Day Online Rally called by the International Committee of the Fourth International for Sunday, May 3. We urge all readers and supporters of the WSWS to register for the rally today.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/25/pers-a25.html

Hillary the Hawk

There’s No Two Ways About It
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by CHARLES DAVIS and MEDEA BENJAMIN

Announcing her latest campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton declared she was entering the race to be the champion for “everyday Americans.” As a lawmaker and diplomat, however, Clinton has long championed military campaigns that have killed scores of “everyday” people abroad, from Iraq to Yemen. As commander-in-chief, there’s no reason to believe she’d be any less a hawk than she was as the senator who backed George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, or the Secretary of State who encouraged Barack Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan. If her nomination is as sure a thing as people say, then antiwar organizing needs to start right away.

Hillary has already won the support of those who continually agitate for war. “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, told The New York Times last summer. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” he said, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

We’re going to call it what it is: More of the same sort of murderous policies that destroyed Iraq, destabilized Libya, killed women and children with cluster bombs and drones in Yemen, and legitimized the undermining of democracy in Honduras. There’s little chance the Republicans will nominate someone better, but given Clinton’s record as a senator and Secretary of State – the latter giving us a very good idea of how she would approach foreign affairs once in office – it will be hard for them to find anyone much worse.

We know that Clinton is no reliable friend of peace. Today she supports diplomacy with Iran, but back in 2009, as Secretary of State, she was adamant that the U.S. keep open the option of attacking the Islamic Republic over never-proven allegations it was seeking the nuclear weapons that Israel already has. Her attempts to portray herself as an ally of those who are pro-peace, as a sort of reluctant imperialist, is the same sort of co-opting distortion that has helped quiet opposition to President Obama’s pro-war agenda. If anything, Hillary is even more militaristic than the ostensibly reluctant warrior she’s campaigning to replace. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from trying to be all things to all people — even people like us.

Indeed, in March 2003, Clinton did something she will probably never willingly do again: She met with CODEPINK to explain her support for war. “I like pink tulips around this time of the year,” she began, “[they] kind of remind ya that there may be a spring. Well, you guys look like a big bunch of big tulips!” It got progressively more awkward after that. “I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,” said Clinton, but, “There is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm’s way and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm and I have absolutely no belief that he will.”

We thought the easiest way to prevent harming the women, children and other living things in Iraq was to stop a war of aggression ostensibly over weapons of mass destruction that UN inspectors on the ground couldn’t find and which were, in fact, never found because they didn’t exist. Clinton, however, was steadfast: “If Saddam were serious about disarming he would have been much more forthcoming. . . . The very difficult question for all of us is how does one bring about the disarmament of someone with such a proven track record of a commitment, if not an obsession, with weapons of mass destruction?”

Her answer: Destroying Iraq by dropping millions of U.S.-made WMDs, including bombs with depleted uranium that have more than doubled the country’s pre-2003 rate of cancer. Speaking to the women of CODEPINK, Clinton even explicitly defended George W. Bush’s unilateralism, citing her husband’s go-it-alone intervention in Kosovo.

In 2011, when the Arab Spring came to Libya, Clinton was the Obama administration’s most forceful advocate for going above and beyond a no-fly zone to depose Muammar Gaddafi, whose U.S.-trained security forces were killing Libyans with the help of weapons and equipment provided by his erstwhile allies in the US, Britain and France. She even out-hawked Robert Gates, the defense secretary first appointed by George W. Bush who was less than enthusiastic about going to war. When Libyan rebels carried out an extrajudicial execution of their country’s former dictator, her response was sociopathic: “We came, we saw, he died,” she said, smiling and laughing. That sent a message that the U.S. would look the other way at crimes committed by allies against its official enemies; indeed, the same policy of tolerance for friends’ war crimes that arguably led Gaddafi to believe he could get away with killing anyone he labeled “Al Qaeda.”

Libya was part of a pattern for Clinton. On Afghanistan, she advocated a repeat of the surge in Iraq, encouraging President Obama to more than double the number of troops there. Her State Department also provided cover for the expansion of the not-so-covert drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen. Clinton’s top legal adviser, Harold Koh, exploited his pre-government reputation as an advocate for human rights to declare in a 2010 speech that not only did the government have the right to detain people without charge at Guantanamo Bay, but it can kill them with unmanned aerial vehicles anywhere in the world.

Clinton practiced “soft power” diplomacy too, of course: After Honduran forces trained at the U.S. School of the Americas carried out a coup against elected president Manuel Zelaya, Clinton’s State Department immediately got to work on legitimizing the regime that seized power. As commentator Mark Weisbrot observes, she even said as much in her book, Hard Choices: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” wrote Clinton. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

The subsequent “free and fair” election would end up being between two candidates who supported a coup opposed by most “everyday people” in Honduras, now one of the most violent, drug-war ravaged countries in the world; she has also called for deporting child refugees fleeing that violence. In Honduras as elsewhere: It seems it’s not the lives of “everyday people” that are of chief concern to politicians like Clinton.

When Barack Obama became president, the anti-war movement became his first casualty – followed by a group of Pakistanis droned to death three days after his inauguration. We should never lose hope that we can bring about positive change, but actually changing the world for the better requires being aware that whoever sits in the White House come January 2017 is not going to be our friend.

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles. His work has been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The New Republic and Salon.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She is also the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/23/hillary-the-hawk-2/

US troops arrive in Ukraine

US troops arrive at western Ukraine training camp

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By Patrick Martin
22 April 2015

After a convoy across Eastern Europe from their base in Vicenza, Italy, nearly 300 soldiers from the US 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Ukraine Monday, to begin training members of the Ukrainian National Guard. They took up positions at a camp in Yavoriv, a few miles outside of the city of Lviv, the main center of western Ukraine.

The Ukrainian troops working with the Americans include members of the Azov Battalion and other units notorious for their links to neo-Nazi groups. They have marched with modified swastikas and other insignia modeled on the Waffen SS forces that fought alongside Ukrainian nationalists against the Soviet Red Army during World War II.

Operation Fearless Guardian, as the six-month US-Ukraine exercise is called, began with welcoming speeches in the pouring rain delivered by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and other officials. The US is paying the $19 million cost of the exercise as part of a billion-dollar commitment to building up the Ukrainian military against Russia.

More than 180 journalists attended the opening ceremony—a propaganda contingent nearly the size of the American military force—indicating the political context of the training mission, which pits US imperialism and NATO against Russia in an increasingly tense military-diplomatic confrontation.

Poroshenko claimed that the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was “not only a battle for independent Ukraine, it is also a battle for freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.” He hailed Fearless Guardian as the largest joint US-Ukrainian military exercises ever held on Ukrainian soil, declaring, “I am sure the exercises we are launching here today will be effective in reinforcing and stabilizing the situation.”

The Ukrainian president pointed to the other NATO countries participating in the exercises, including 75 British troops who are already there, 200 Canadians scheduled to arrive this summer, as well as hundreds more soldiers from neighboring Poland.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that American soldiers would share the lessons of their military operations fighting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which could be put to use against pro-Russian separatists. “The US special task force has experience received in operations worldwide, and we want to use this experience,” he said.

US and Ukrainian officials briefed the press about the training program, which will involve three Ukrainian battalions, each working for two months with their American trainers, bringing the total number of Ukrainian troops engaged in the exercise to 900.

US brigade operations officer Major Jose Mendez said, “We will be conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs.”

A spokesman for Ukrainian’s anti-terrorist operations command (ATO), Andriy Lysenko, said that the US troops would transfer a large quantity of military equipment in the course of the exercise, including uniforms, bullet-proof jackets, helmets, night-vision devices and communications gear.

He indicated that in addition to artillery and small-unit tactics, the training would include “tactical reconnaissance and information warfare, which includes contacts with civilians in the conflict zone and measures to counter the enemy’s information aggression.” This suggests that the US side will discuss how to deal with a hostile local population, such as that encountered by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Ukrainian troops in the eastern districts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

A detailed account of the training mission, published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, claimed that the US side would push for decision-making during military operations at the small-unit level, as opposed to what the newspaper described as “a top-down command structure” in place in Ukraine because of Soviet-era military training.

This suggests that the US trainers will favor the more aggressive methods of the Azov battalion and other fascist-led units. There have been repeated conflicts during the fighting in the east, because the fascist units opposed any negotiated settlement with the pro-Russian separatists, while the Poroshenko government was concerned over possible international backlash against a too-blatant display of neo-Nazi regalia.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the entry of NATO forces into Ukraine could destabilize the precarious ceasefire.

The role of the neo-Nazis has become a subject of public discussion in Canada, even before Canadian troops arrive in Ukraine for training. Some 200 soldiers from the Petawawa Garrison in Ottawa Valley will be sent to Ukraine during the summer.

At a briefing last week, Defense Minister Jason Kenney admitted that there had been discussion in the military staff about how to avoid training extremists during the exercise in Ukraine. “We’re not going to be in the business of training ad hoc militias,” he claimed. “We will only be training units of the Ukrainian National Guard and army recognized by the government of Ukraine.”

Since the neo-Nazi outfits like the Azov Battalion have been incorporated into the National Guard and are recognized by the Poroshenko regime, this assurance means nothing. A former Canadian diplomat, James Bissett, told the Canadian media, “These militias are being merged with Ukraine’s military so we won’t be able to determine who we are training.” He went on to describe the fascists as “unsavory groups that Canadian soldiers should not be associated with.”

Far from disavowing the fascist militias, Poroshenko is completely dependent on them, not merely to fight the pro-Russian forces in the east, but to serve as the shock troops for his government as it imposes right-wing austerity policies on the Ukrainian working class as a whole, as demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Ukraine’s defense ministry has named Dmitri Yarosh, head of the fascist Right Sector party, as an adviser to the military chiefs.

Meanwhile, the head of the Central Investigation Department of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Vasily Vovk, told Ukraine’s ICTV channel that there were no fascist or ultra-right parties in Ukraine at all, only individuals. “We have no information available about any kind of radical far-right parties, organizations or groups,” he claimed. “Ultra-radical groups and organizations are neither registered, nor identified.”

Vovk was attempting to walk back a statement he made April 18, noting that a group calling itself the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) had taken responsibility for the murders of pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna and pro-Russian former member of parliament Oleg Kalashnikov, who were both assassinated last week in Kiev.

 

The author also recommends:

Canada sending troops to Ukraine on two-year training mission
[18 April 2015]

US Army to train Ukrainian fascist militias
[1 April 2015]

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/22/ukra-a22.html

Libya’s boat refugees and “humanitarian” imperialism

TK DAYS

By Johannes Stern and Bill Van Auken

21 April 2015

The horrific death toll of African and Middle Eastern refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe is a damning indictment of all the major imperialist powers, and most particularly the United States.

The American president, Barack Obama, and his former secretary of state, Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, have blood up to their elbows. They set the present catastrophe in motion through brutal wars for regime change waged under the hypocritical and discredited banner of “human rights.”

At least three more boats packed with refugees from North Africa and the Middle East were reported to be in distress in the Mediterranean on Monday, with a minimum of 23 more people said to have drowned.

This adds to the many hundreds of people, perhaps 1,400, who have lost their lives over the past week in a desperate bid to escape military violence by the US and its European allies, civil wars stoked by Washington and the European Union, and pervasive poverty exacerbated by the machinations of imperialism in the region.

On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said distress calls had been received from an inflatable life raft carrying 100 to 150 migrants and a second boat with some 300 people aboard. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a caller reported that 20 people died when one of the vessels sank in international waters.

In a separate incident, at least three migrants, including a child, died when a boat, apparently coming from Turkey, ran aground off the Greek island of Rhodes. Video footage showed the wooden boat, with people crowded on the deck, heaving in the Aegean Sea just off the island. Eyewitnesses told the local radio station that there were many Syrians, but also people from Eritrea and Somalia.

The latest drownings follow the deaths of close to 950 people on Sunday in the sinking of a refugee boat off of Libya. According to the Italian Coast Guard, the completely overloaded boat capsized about 130 miles off the Libyan coast.

“We were 950 people on board, including 40 to 50 children and 200 women,” a survivor from Bangladesh told the Italian news agency ANSA. Many people were trapped in the hold of the ship and drowned under horrible circumstances. “The smugglers had closed the doors and stopped them leaving,” said the man.

Over 500 more people died the previous week in two separate sinkings of boats attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 1,700 people attempting to immigrate to Europe have died in transit, 50 times the number for the same period last year. According to the IOM, the number of people dying in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe rose by more than 500 percent between 2011 and 2014.

Of course, 2011 was the year that the US and its NATO allies, principally France and Britain, launched their war for regime change in Libya, under the fabricated pretext that they were intervening to prevent a massacre by the government of Muammar Gaddafi in the eastern city of Benghazi.

This “humanitarian” mission initiated a six-month US-NATO bombing campaign that killed at least 10 times the number who died in the scattered fighting between government troops and armed rebels that had preceded it. This imperialist intervention, which utilized Islamist militias with ties to Al Qaeda as its proxy ground forces, left Libya descending rapidly into chaos and destruction.

Nearly two million Libyan refugees—more than a quarter of the population—have been forced to flee to Tunisia to escape an unending civil war between rival Islamist militias and two competing governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the eastern city of Tobruk. According to the web site Libya Body Count, some 3,500 people have been killed just since the beginning of 2014—three years after the US-NATO intervention.

The escalating barbarism in Libya has included mass executions. The latest, made public in a video released Sunday by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was of some 30 Ethiopian migrants. This follows by less than two months the similar mass beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS, which has seized Libya’s eastern port city of Derna as well as parts of the city of Sirte.

There were no such mass sectarian murders in Libya before the US-NATO war for regime change, nor for that matter did Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias exist as any more than a marginal force. These elements were promoted, armed and backed by massive airpower after the major imperialist powers decided to topple and murder Gaddafi and carry out a new rape of Libya.

The disastrous consequences of this predatory neocolonial intervention are now undeniable. It is only one in a growing number of imperialist wars and interventions in the oil-rich Middle East and North Africa that have destroyed entire societies and turned millions into refugees. These include the wars in Iraq, Syria and now Yemen, as well as interventions by the imperialist powers or their regional proxies in Mali, Somalia and Sudan.

According to Amnesty International, the escalating conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have “led to the largest refugee disaster since the Second World War.” Amnesty estimates that 57 million people have been forced to flee worldwide in the last year, 6 million more than in 2012.

The American press, led by the New York Times, writes of refugees fleeing poverty and violence in the Middle East and North Africa without so much as mentioning the actions of the United States and its European allies that have caused the humanitarian catastrophe. What is unfolding in the Mediterranean is not a tragedy; it is an imperialist war crime.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/21/medi-a21.html

We’re facing a new Cold War

Noam Chomsky: 

The linguist and philosopher on the warped coverage of Putin’s Russia and the ways we whitewash our war crimes

Noam Chomsky: We're facing a new Cold War
Noam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

JacobinEarlier this month, Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson, both high school educators, sat down with Noam Chomsky in his Cambridge, MA office. In a brief conversation, edited and condensed here for clarity, they covered a wide range of topics — the projection of US power abroad and the stories told to justify it; COINTELPRO and domestic repression; the failures of the mainstream media; the West’s posture toward Putin; and much more. As always, we’re happy to publish Professor Chomsky’s invaluable insights.

Dan Falcone

I was recently in correspondence with a good friend of yours, Richard Falk, and we were discussing Juan Cole’s idea of “essentialism” as it pertains to the Muslim world. And this led me to think about how essentialism is present in liberal education.

For instance, take a good and appropriate cause like education for Muslim girls and how they face Taliban oppression. This is important to fight, obviously, but often the struggle is taught without the mentioning of American foreign policy or our own international crimes isolated from the entirety of the phenomenon.  This type of lesson planning in secondary education gets laudatory reviews. Could you help me in contextualizing this?

Noam Chomsky

Well take, say, the Taliban education that comes out of madrassas in Pakistan, and is funded by our main ally, Saudi Arabia, and was supported by the Reagan administration — because it was part of the support of Pakistan, primarily as a war against the Russians.

Well, the United States tried to keep the Russians in Afghanistan, and the goal was very explicitly stated by the CIA station chief in Islamabad, which got around the insurgency. What he said was, we don’t care about the liberation of Afghanistan. We want to kill Russians. A large part of that was to also support the worst dictatorship in Pakistan, the General Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship, who was allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

The Reaganites pretended they didn’t know, but of course they did, so that they could keep pouring funds in. The other thing that they were doing was radically “Islamizing” Pakistani society. So, the Saudis are not only the most extreme radical fundamentalists in the Islamic world and our main allies, but also a kind of missionary, and they have plenty of money. They have other wealthy sectors too, but they pour money into building mosques, Quranic schools, and so on. That’s where a lot of the Taliban came from.

So yes, we had a big role in it — plus, it’s worse than that.  I mean if you take a look at the serious history after the Russians withdrew, they left behind the Najibullah government, which was pretty reasonable in many ways. In fact, for women, at least in Kabul and places like that, they’re way better off than they’ve been any time since the Russians.

And the Najibullah government, which was pretty popular, maintained itself until two events took place. 1) The Russians withdrew, pulled out, ended support, and 2) The US maintained support for the mujahideen, who are mostly religious extremists and fundamentalists — guys who throw acid at women if they aren’t wearing the right clothes and so on. And they devastated Kabul, they practically destroyed it. They took over. Their rule was so awful that when the Taliban came in, they were actually welcomed.

Well, that’s part of history too, you know? Plus a lot that’s happened since isn’t very pretty. So yeah, if you want to study the education of the Taliban, these are things to do. And it’s not that we can’t read things, like you can read the story of Malala Yousafzai, which is very evocative.

She talks about the warlord society and so on, which the US instituted. There are other things one could read. I mean, there’s a very good book by Anand Gopal which came out recently. Although he’s pretty sympathetic to the US position, so it’s mostly about what he calls “mistakes” — how the United States essentially reconstructed the Taliban by misunderstanding the society.

But what he describes is very persuasive. He goes through, and he knows the country very well. And he describes in great detail how the gangsters and warlords and criminals manipulated the US forces. Some group would say, you’ve got to attack these guys over there, they happen to be a personal enemy claiming that they’re Taliban supporters. So the US would send in Special Forces and bombers and beat the shit out of everyone — and upgraded Taliban supporters.

Gopal says the Taliban basically withdrew when the US invaded. But then we helped them come back by means like these; through reconstructing the insurgency, which the government now can’t control. 

DF

So, there’s a simultaneous support for the bandits . . .

NC

Part of it was purposeful by the Reagan administration. Part of it is maybe just kind of arrogant ignorance. Assuming we understand how to do things when you know actually nothing about the society and just hit it with a sledgehammer and you end up supporting, maybe inadvertently, the most criminal elements who then are using the sledgehammer for their own purposes. You know, to smash up their personal enemies.

DF

I remember some of your talks after September 11, 2001, you were mentioning how there was a lot of praise for works in the social sciences where authors were reviewing books that would say America’s really only flaw is not doing enough in reaction to other people’s crimes.

NC

It goes on right now. Take a look at the current issue of Middle East JournalIt is one of the more free, open, most critical of professional journals. It’s been pretty good in the past, but there’s a symposium. It’s a large part of the issue, and it includes ambassadors, generals, and all kinds of big shots. They’re discussing the problems in the Middle East, the total chaos and what can we do better than in the past to stabilize the Middle East?

I mean, where did the chaos come from in Iraq and Libya? We did it. But the only question you can ask is how can we perform better in stabilizing the Middle East? Then of course there are these destabilizing elements like Iran, a rogue state, and the greatest threat to world peace. How are they to be stabilized in the Middle East?

If you take a look after the nuclear agreement, immediately there’s a lot of commentary. The New York Times had a front page, a think piece, from one of their big thinkers, Peter Baker. It says basically in agreement, you can’t trust Iran. You know, they destabilize the Middle East, and then he gives a list of reasons — each of them very interesting. But the most interesting is that one of the main crimes of Iran is that they were supporting militias that killed American soldiers.

In other words when we invade and destroy another country, that’s stabilizing, and if someone defends themselves that is destabilizing. That shows up in popular culture like this horrible film American Sniper. Take a look at it. The memoir is worse than the film, but it comes out that the first kill, the one he’s really proud of, is a woman and a child who are holding a grenade when their town is being attacked by American marines.

And they are savages, monsters, we hate them, they have to be murdered, and everybody’s applauding. I mean, even the New York Times arts pages was talking about what a wonderful film it was. It’s just mind-boggling.

DF

Speaking of mind-boggling, and international terror, I wanted to ask about domestic terror. I wanted to ask you about COINTELPRO. It does not get a lot of mentioning in the social science or historical educational curriculum. Can you tell me about COINTELPRO and the importance of teaching and learning about it in the democratic society?

NC

It’s an understatement to say it receives little attention. COINTELPRO was a program by the national political police, the FBI, which is basically what they are. It ran through four administrations, and it was conscious. It began by going after the Communist Party in the 1950s. It then extended into the Puerto Rican independence movement and the American Indian movements, the women’s movement, and the whole New Left. But the main target was the black movement.

It was a major program of disruption and went all the way to direct political assassination. The worst case was Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were simply murdered in a gestapo-style attack set up by the FBI. They were very effective black organizers. The FBI didn’t care much about the criminals, but they wanted to go after the effective organizers. It happened to have been exposed in the courts at about the same time as Watergate. I mean, in comparison to this program, Watergate is a tea party, nothing.

I was asked by the New York Review to write a brief article and a symposium when Watergate was exposed. But I had just read about this. I said look, Watergate is showing how famous people receive bad names in private and that shakes the foundation of the republic? And at the very same time you get the exposure of this incredible program, which went all the way to political assassination so it’s far more significant.

DF

The following of the stories that are the petty crimes insulate the powerful from the major crimes.

NC

If you look at yesterday’s New York Times, there’s a very interesting comparison between two stories. One of them is a front-page story, big continuation page. It’s about the journalistic malfeasance found in the Rolling Stone article. It’s a huge statement about terrible reporting. You know, they said the crime was a lack of skepticism, a terrible journalistic crime.

They have another article on Laos, which is quite interesting. It’s about an important woman, a Lao-American woman who’s working on trying to do something about the unexploded bombs that are killing people over in Northern Laos. And it cites a source, the right source, Fred Branfman, and his book, Voices from the Plain of Jars. And that’s where they get their information from.

Then it says, for the United States, the target of the US bombing was the Ho Chi Minh Trail where North Vietnamese were coming to South Vietnam and the Lao collaborators with the North Vietnamese. What are the facts in Fred Branfman’s book? The US was attacking Northern Laos. In fact, it’s shown on the map they were attacking, and it had nothing to do with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, no North Vietnamese.

Why were they doing it? Fred documented it. He quotes Monteagle Stearns, who was asked in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, why are we bombing this remote area of Northern Laos and wiping it out? And he gives the answer. He says there was a bombing halt over North Vietnam. And we had all these planes around and we didn’t have anything to do with them. So we destroyed Northern Laos.

That’s transmuted in the New York Times into straight government propaganda. And that’s an absolutely colossal lie. Is that going to beinvestigated by the Columbia Journalism Review? We’re going to have front-page stories? No. It’s an amazing comparison, and it’s every day.

Saul Isaacson

Stephen Cohen has argued that we’re closer to war with Russia than we have been since the Cuban missile crisis. Do you think he’s overstating the crisis in Ukraine?

NC

I don’t think so. I mean the government of Ukraine that came in after the coup, the parliament, voted almost unanimously to pursue membership in NATO. As Cohen and many others have pointed out, that is something utterly intolerable to any Russian leader. It’s kind of as if the Warsaw Pact had taken over South America and was now going to include Mexico and Canada. So, yeah, that’s serious.

It’s interesting the way Putin is treated. I think it is maybe in the same Middle East Journal I read recently, talking about supporting the US position on the Ukraine, and some serious person saying this will be opposed by North Korea, the Islamic state, and Stephen Cohen. [To question the US position on Ukraine means you will receive threats from] Stalinist apologists and get a bitter pronunciation of dismissal and ridicule.

SI

He also suggests that we’re on the verge of a new Cold War.

NC

It’s serious. I mean, look, Gorbachev agreed to the unification of Germany — and even its incorporation with NATO, which is an amazing concession if you look at history. But there was a quid pro quo: that NATO would “not expand one inch to the east,” that was the phrase, meaning to East Germany.

Once NATO had expanded to East Germany, Gorbachev was infuriated. He was informed by the Bush 41 administration that it was only a verbal promise. It wasn’t on paper, and the implication is if you’re dumb enough to accept a gentleman’s agreement with us, that’s your problem. Then Clinton came in, expanded NATO to the borders of Russia. And now it’s gone further, even to Ukraine which is right at the heart of, apart from historical connections, of Russian geo-strategic concerns. That’s very serious.

SI

And it’s getting so little press, so little coverage in the US.

NC

Not only little coverage but what there is, is insane. I mean it’s all about what a lunatic Putin is. There’s an article in one of the psychology journals about how he must have Asperger’s or some other articles about how he has brain damage. I mean, you can like him or not, but his position is perfectly understandable. 

DF

Finally, can you comment on the Holocaust Memorial and how the museum connects itself to the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect?” (R2P) What is America’s interest with R2P or the “Responsibility to Protect?”

NC

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was established in the 1970s, part of a huge expansion of Holocaust studies, memorials, etc. The date is of some significance. The right time would have been decades earlier, but that was before US relations with Israel were established in their current form (after the 1967 war), and inconvenient questions might have been raised about the US’s attitudes towards the Holocaust and particularly towards survivors.

Also striking is the absence of any remotely comparable reaction to enormous US crimes, such as virtual elimination of the indigenous population and the vicious slave labor camps that had an enormous role in the prosperity of the country. The lesson seems to be clear: we can lament the hideous crimes of others, when it is convenient to do so, but only the crimes of others.

As for R2P, there are two versions of the doctrine. One was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Changes from earlier UN resolutions are slight, and crucially, it maintains the essential provisions of the UN Charter barring the use of force without Security Council authorization (or in response to armed attack, irrelevant here).

The second version, in a report by a commission headed by Gareth Evans, is almost the same, but with one crucial difference: it authorizes regional groups to intervene with force within what they take to be their domains without Security Council authorization. There is only one regional group that can act this way: NATO.

So the Evans version essentially allows NATO (meaning the US) to resort to force when it chooses to do so. That is the operative version. Appeal is made to the innocuous UN version to justify the resort to force.

The case that was in everyone’s mind was the NATO attack on Serbia in the Kosovo conflict, bitterly condemned by most of the world but applauded by the NATO countries as a wonderful tribute to their magnificence.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements.

UN imposes arms embargo on rebels as Yemen slaughter continues

yemen-civil-war-400x277

By Niles Williamson
15 April 2015

The UN Security Council voted on Tuesday to impose an arms embargo on leading members of the Houthi militia as well as Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of former longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution was passed with 14 votes in favor and Russia abstaining.

The text of the embargo was drafted by Jordan, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council. The Jordanian monarchy is actively participating in the anti-Houthi air assault in Yemen being spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.

The Salehs have given support to the Houthi militia that seized control of Yemen’s capital in September, ousting President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and placing him under house arrest. Hadi fled for the southern port city of Aden in February before leaving the country in March for Saudi Arabia in the face of a Houthi-led assault on his compound.

While the Security Council resolution calls for the Houthis to “immediately and unconditionally end violence,” it says nothing about the airstrikes being carried out on a daily basis by a coalition of Arab Gulf States headed by Saudi Arabia.

Since March 26 Saudi coalition air forces have launched more than 1,200 airstrikes against targets throughout Yemen, with some strikes killing scores of civilians. A bomb dropped on the Al Mazraq refugee camp in northern Yemen on March 30 killed at least 30 civilians. An airstrike on a dairy factory in the port city of Hodeida on April 1 killed at least 37 workers.

The Saudi monarchy, with US backing, has launched a widespread air assault against Houthi-controlled military targets as well as major urban areas. Street fighting in Aden between Houthi forces and armed forces opposed to them has left hundreds dead and hundreds more wounded, littering the streets with corpses.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, released a statement Tuesday warning about the destruction of infrastructure and the high rate of civilian casualties in the three-week-old campaign. “Every hour we are receiving and documenting disturbing and distressing reports of the toll that this conflict is taking on civilian lives and infrastructure,” he said. “Such a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities.”

Hussein noted that coalition airstrikes have hit residential areas and homes throughout the country, including in the provinces of Taiz, Amran, Ibb, Al-Jawf and Saada. An airstrike that hit a residential area in Taiz on Sunday killed ten civilians and injured seven others.

Schools and hospitals throughout the country have been damaged or destroyed by airstrikes. Eight hospitals in the provinces of Aden, Dhale, Sanaa, and Saada have been hit by coalition bombs.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Ivan Simonovic, UN Deputy Secretary General for Human Rights, warned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, saying that a majority of those killed so far have been civilians. “Over 600 people killed, but more than half of them are civilians.” Of the civilian deaths counted by the UN, at least 84 have been children and 25 were women.

While the United States has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi coalition from the onset of the assault, it has been gradually increasing its involvement in the conflict. American imperialism has long sought to maintain its control over Yemen, which lies next to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a major oil choke point.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration has a direct hand in the selection of targets for airstrikes. Pentagon war planners at a joint operations center are directly approving every target selected by the Saudi military. The US military planners also provide the Saudis with the specific locations where they should drop the bombs.

“The United States is providing our partners with necessary and timely intelligence to defend Saudi Arabia and respond to other efforts to support the legitimate government of Yemen,” Alistair Baskey, White House National Security Council spokesman told reporters on Sunday.

US warships stationed off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea have also begun assisting the Saudi-led coalition in enforcing a blockade of the country. On April 1, US sailors boarded a Panamanian-flagged ship in the Red Sea in search of weapons supposedly bound for the Houthis. The search did not turn up any weapons.

American drones continue to fly over Yemen in support of Saudi operations against the Houthi militia and the targeting of members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

An apparent drone strike on the southeastern port city of Mukalla Sunday killed senior AQAP leader Ibrahim Al Rubaish and as many as six other people. Rubaish, a Saudi national, had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp from 2002 until his release back to Saudi Arabia in 2006. He reportedly fled to Yemen in 2009 and joined AQAP, and the US recently placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

While neither the CIA nor the Pentagon have claimed responsibility for the attack, it was likely carried out by the US, since Mukalla, which was seized by AQAP fighters earlier this month, has yet to be targeted by Saudi airstrikes. If confirmed, the attack would mark the first US drone strike in Yemen in nearly six weeks.

It has been three weeks since US Special Forces evacuated the Al Anad airbase north of Aden. Al Anad had served as the main hub for the officially secret American air war, which has killed more than 1,000 people in Yemen since 2009.

Meanwhile, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are actively preparing a possible ground invasion of the country. The Egyptian military dictatorship reported that it and the Saudi monarchy are discussing a “major military maneuver” along with other Gulf states in the coming days.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/15/yeme-a15.html

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Preserving a Site and a Ghastly Inventory

CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

OSWIECIM, Poland — To visit Auschwitz is to find an unfathomable but strangely familiar place. After so many photographs and movies, books and personal testimonies, it is tempting to think of it as a movie-set death camp, the product of a gruesome cinematic imagination, and not the real thing.

Alas, it is the real thing.

That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: “To preserve authenticity.” The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.

It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.

Photo

A display of childrens’ shoes belonging to some of the victims of the camps.CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.

The job can be harrowing and heartbreaking, but it is often performed out of a sense of responsibility.

“We are doing something against the initial idea of the Nazis who built this camp,” said Anna Lopuska, 31, who is overseeing a long-term master plan for the site’s conservation. “They didn’t want it to last. We’re making it last.”

The strategy, she said, is “minimum intervention.” The point is to preserve the objects and buildings, not beautify them. Every year, as more survivors die, the work becomes more important. “Within 20 years, there will be only these objects speaking for this place,” she said.

The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, 43, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”

Last year, a record 1.5 million people visited to take that measure, more than three times the number in 2001, putting even more strain on the aging buildings.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps, 90 percent of them Jews. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.

Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” saidJonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.

The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose designed to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”

On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.

“We can’t stop time,” Ms. Jastrzebiowska said. “But we can slow it down.”

Photo

Visitors to the site crossing the railway line by the ramp where those arriving at the camp disembarked. CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.

In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work makes you free,” which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign’s theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.

The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. “Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here,” Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl’s wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. “This is something hard to describe,” she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.

Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said her mother thought she was crazy to come work at Auschwitz. “There are moments when I think, What am I doing here?” she acknowledged. But then she thinks of the bigger picture. “Everyone who works here must feel this importance,” she said. “If we didn’t feel that, no force would make us stay here.”

Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

Almost all the conservators here are Polish and studied conservation at Polish universities — this is, after all, a Polish state museum, which employs some 287 people, plus 264 guides who operate in some 18 languages.

Most conservators are under 40, young enough not to feel any sense of responsibility for the Second World War — “It’s not our fault that the camp was built here,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said — but old enough to have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Few have any regular contact with Jews who aren’t survivors or visitors.

Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.

The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler’s rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children’s drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, all the names of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.

The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing bearing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.

The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/arts/international/at-auschwitz-birkenau-preserving-a-site-and-a-ghastly-inventory.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0#