Major Investigation Reveals Disturbing Connection Between U.S. Intelligence and Al Qaeda Since 9/11

Seasoned journalist Andrew Cockburn’s major report in Harper’s should have gotten a lot more attention than it did.

Over the past year and a half, the United States and other military coalition members have launched nearly 10,000 strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Zooming out, the United States military has spent nearly the entire 21st century engaged in an amorphous war on terrorism, in which the whole world is a potential battlefield, from Yemen to Somalia to the now-expanding war in Afghanistan. Lurking beneath the surface of the seemingly endless series of military campaigns is the contradictory U.S. historical legacy of direct support for some of the very extremist combatants the war on terror is allegedly predicated on fighting.

A recent in-depth investigation published in Harper’s by journalist Andrew Cockburn finds that the U.S. is “teaming up with Al Qaeda, again,” suggesting that this sinister legacy is alive and well and raising disturbing questions about the logic underlying over 15 years of continuous war.

Cockburn is not the first to point out the United States’ role in backing such forces, and some prominent voices are even openly calling for the U.S. to embrace Al Qaeda. But what his account does offer is a devastating illustration of the historical symmetries, from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria in the 21st century, underlying what he calls the U.S. government’s “cold-blooded” calculations.

Cockburn writes:

In the wake of 9/11, the story of U.S. support for militant Islamists against the Soviets became something of a touchy subject. Former CIA and intelligence officials like to suggest that the agency simply played the roles of financier and quartermaster. In this version of events, the dirty work — the actual management of the campaign and the dealings with rebel groups — was left to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was Pakistan’s fault that at least 70 percent of total U.S. aid went to the fundamentalists, even if the CIA demanded audited accounts on a regular basis.

Fast-forwarding to more recent history, Cockburn notes that U.S. officials have been eager to blame transgressions on allies:

[I]n 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America’s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

But Cockburn cites specific examples in which U.S. involvement was far more direct.

In the spring and summer of last year, a coalition of Syrian rebel groups calling itself Jaish al-Fatah — the Army of Conquest — swept through the northwestern province of Idlib, posing a serious threat to the Assad regime. Leading the charge was Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, known locally as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front). The other major component of the coalition was Ahrar al-Sham, a group that had formed early in the anti-Assad uprising and looked for inspiration to none other than Abdullah Azzam. Following the victory, Nusra massacred twenty members of the Druze faith, considered heretical by fundamentalists, and forced the remaining Druze to convert to Sunni Islam. (The Christian population of the area had wisely fled.) Ahrar al-Sham meanwhile posted videos of the public floggings it administered to those caught skipping Friday prayers.

This potent alliance of jihadi militias had been formed under the auspices of the rebellion’s major backers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. But it also enjoyed the endorsement of two other major players. At the beginning of the year, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered his followers to cooperate with other groups. In March, according to several sources, a U.S.-Turkish-Saudi “coordination room” in southern Turkey had also ordered the rebel groups it was supplying to cooperate with Jaish al-Fatah. The groups, in other words, would be embedded within the Al Qaeda coalition.

A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies. When I asked a former White House official involved in Syria policy if this was not a de facto alliance, he put it this way: “I would not say that Al Qaeda is our ally, but a turnover of weapons is probably unavoidable. I’m fatalistic about that. It’s going to happen.”

And in another example, Cockburn writes:

The determination of Turkey (a NATO ally) and Qatar (the host of the biggest American base in the Middle East) to support extreme jihadi groups became starkly evident in late 2013. On December 6, armed fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other militias raided warehouses at Bab al-Hawa, on the Turkish border, and seized supplies belonging to the Free Syrian Army. As it happened, a meeting of an international coordination group on Syria, the so-called London Eleven, was scheduled for the following week. Delegates from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East were bent on issuing a stern condemnation of the offending jihadi group.

The Turks and Qataris, however, adamantly refused to sign on. As one of the participants told me later, “All the countries in the room [understood] that Turkey’s opposition to listing Ahrar al-Sham was because they were providing support to them.” The Qatari representative insisted that it was counterproductive to condemn such groups as terrorist. If the other countries did so, he made clear, Qatar would stop cooperating on Syria. “Basically, they were saying that if you name terrorists, we’re going to pick up our ball and go home,” the source told me. The U.S. delegate said that the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization, would be welcome at the negotiating table — but Ahrar al-Sham, which happened to be its leading member, would not. The diplomats mulled over their communiqué, traded concessions, adjusted language. The final version contained no condemnation, or even mention, of Ahrar al-Sham.

Cockburn’s piece underscores the seemingly obvious point that there is a contradiction between the U.S. government’s supposed war on terror and its backing of such forces.

The Syrian war alone has killed nearly a quarter of a million people. According to a report released by the United Nations this summer, one out of every 122 people on the planet has been forcibly displaced by war and persecution. Meanwhile, many from within the region have argued that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the U.S. and allies like Saudi Arabia played a profoundly counter-revolutionary force against grassroots movements seeking real, democratic alternatives to authoritarian regimes.

In the past year and a half, ISIS has expanded to over 20 countries. The Global Terrorism Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, estimates that global terrorist incidents have significantly increased since the U.S. war on terror began.

As Iraqi-American activist Dahlia Wasfi told AlterNet over the phone, “The people who live in these countries that the U.S. has determined will be the battlefield—those are the people who are suffering.”

If the dealings Cockburn highlights in his report stem from well-thought-out and calculated policies, they are extremely dangerous. If they are merely the product of incoherence, we are already seeing who pays the price.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/major-investigation-reveals-disturbing-connection-between-us-intelligence-and-al-qaeda-911?akid=13961.265072.7_FAge&rd=1&src=newsletter1050408&t=12

Obama budget proposes increases in military, security spending

obama-budget

By Patrick Martin
10 February 2016

The Obama administration sent its final annual budget proposal to Congress Tuesday, beginning a process that is entirely overshadowed by the ongoing escalation of US military operations around the world.

The bulk of the $4.1 trillion budget is consumed by ongoing mandatory expenditures like Social Security, Medicare and interest on the federal debt, but fully half of the $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending goes to the Pentagon and related military and intelligence operations.

Overall spending would rise 4.9 percent, largely because of automatic increases in the mandatory programs. Discretionary spending, under terms of a bipartisan agreement reached last fall between the White House and Congress, is to rise barely one percent.

While media coverage focused on the election-year wrangling between the Democrat in the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress, comparatively little attention was paid to the real significance of the budget, which lies in its unstinting funding of ongoing US military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, the Pacific and in cyberspace.

There are several eye-popping increases for high-profile military programs:

  •  Quadrupling of funding for US military preparedness in Eastern Europe, labeled “countering Russian aggression and supporting European allies,” up from just over $1 billion to $4.3 billion;
  •  A 50 percent rise in funding for US military operations in Iraq and Syria, to fight the Islamic State group as well as undermine the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. A total of $7.5 billion is earmarked for that purpose, including $1.8 billion to pay for 45,000 GPS-guided smart bombs;
  •  An increase of 35 percent for cybersecurity, from $14 billion to a whopping $19 billion, much of which goes to the National Security Agency and Pentagon cyberwarfare programs, as well as to revamping the entire federal computer network to make it more impervious to hackers.

Overall military spending will continue to escalate, with the total proposed Pentagon budget set at $582.7 billion. Each of the three main military departments will have larger budgets than any other country on Earth will spend on war preparations: $166.9 billion for the Air Force, $148 billion for the Army and $164.9 billion for the Navy (including the Marine Corps).

In the course of the past week, the Obama administration has announced a series of concessions to demands from the Pentagon or congressional Republicans on specific weapons systems. The Air Force abandoned plans to retire the A-10 Warthog attack plane, extending it for another two years. The Pentagon will also continue buying F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The State Department budget was set at $50 billion and funding for the Department of Homeland Security at just over $40 billion, while the overall spending for the intelligence apparatus is believed to be higher than either of those figures, although the number is officially classified. The State Department and DHS budgets include billions in funding for programs to block immigrants leaving Central America or arrest and deport them once they arrive in the US.

When the spending is added up for all the programs involved in military operations, intelligence, homeland security and other repressive purposes, either foreign or domestic—including funding for the FBI, Bureau of Prisons and other Justice Department programs, and grants to state and local police agencies—the total comes to at least two-thirds of all federal discretionary spending.

There is a stark contrast between the lavish spending on war and repression, and the stinginess in the face of acute human need. Humanitarian aid, largely for the refugees fleeing US wars (or US-instigated civil wars), is pegged at $6.2 billion, about one percent of the total being spent on the military. A proposed increase of $158 million for the Environmental Protection Agency, to deal with the crisis in drinking water in Flint, Michigan and other cities, will cost about as much as a single new F-35 jet fighter.

The new domestic social spending proposed by the White House is entirely cosmetic, for electoral purposes, and not taken seriously by anyone either in the Obama administration or in Congress. The Republican leadership was so openly contemptuous that they announced, for the first time since the present budget process was established in the 1970s, that the House and Senate budget committees would not even bother to take testimony from the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan.

The White House proposed nearly $1 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy to fund about an equivalent amount of new social spending on education, the environment, health care and programs for the poor, knowing full well that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will dismiss both the new taxes and the new spending out of hand.

The sole purpose of this part of the budget is to provide some raw material for the presidential and congressional campaigns of Democratic candidates in the November elections. It is a brazen attempt to bolster illusions in the Democratic Party as a defender of the poor, the sick and the elderly against the Republicans, when the two parties actually work in tandem to serve the needs of corporate America and the super-rich.

The overall budget numbers do give a glimpse of the precarious state of American capitalism as a whole. Even assuming a 2.6 percent annual growth rate—far beyond what is likely given the ongoing financial shocks and the sharp slowdown in China and Europe—the Obama administration projects large and rising federal deficits.

The deficit for the current fiscal year, ending September 30, 2016, is projected to rise sharply from $438 billion last year to $616 billion, mainly because of tax cuts for business that were enacted as part of last December’s bipartisan deal. The federal deficit as a percentage of GDP will jump from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent, above the 3 percent level regarded as the desired ceiling by the International Monetary Fund and debt-rating agencies.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/10/budg-f10.html

Stop the persecution of Julian Assange!

UN panel condemns detention of WikiLeaks founder

2362

5 February 2016

More than five years after first being detained under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden in relation to fabricated allegations of sexual misconduct, and after more than three and a half years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been vindicated by a United Nations human right panel. This body has ruled that his persecution by the Swedish and British governments amounts to “arbitrary detention” and constitutes a violation of international law.

Assange’s sole “crime” is making public secret documents detailing the real and murderous war crimes carried out by the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the conspiracies hatched by the US State Department and the CIA in countries around the world.

For exposing its criminal operations, Washington is determined to silence and punish Assange, using the lies concocted by Swedish prosecutors and the complicity of the British government to achieve its aims.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry Thursday acknowledged that the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) will today issue its findings that Assange has been “deprived of his liberty in an arbitrary manner for an unacceptable length of time.”

The UN panel could only have reached such a decision based on overwhelming evidence that the charges against Assange constitute a legal frame-up mounted for political purposes.

Even before the findings of the UN working group were made known, Assange issued a statement from the Ecuadorian embassy accepting the decision as the culmination of his final legal appeal. He declared that, were the panel to rule against him, he would leave the embassy on Friday “to accept arrest by British police.” He went on to insist that if it found that the Swedish and British governments were acting in violation of international law, “I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”

Neither London nor Stockholm, however, have shown any similar inclination to allow international law and the human rights treaties to which both are signatories to guide their actions.

A spokesman for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron issued a cynical statement insisting that Julian Assange “has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy.” Only last October did British police end a round-the-clock siege of the embassy, announcing that they were pursuing “covert” methods in seeking Assange’s capture. At one point, the British government indicated that it would ignore international law protecting embassies and send security forces to storm the building.

As for the Swedish government, the foreign ministry in Stockholm issued a brief note asserting that the UN’s ruling “differs from that of the Swedish authorities” and would not alter its legal vendetta against the WikiLeaks founder.

The British and the US governments have regularly invoked the findings of the UN panel on arbitrary detentions when they could be used to lend a “human rights” pretext to imperialist operations against countries like China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba. That the actions taken by London and Washington themselves should be subject to international law, however, is rejected out of hand.

What they find impermissible is the exposure of their crimes, which have killed and wounded millions, while turning many millions more into homeless refugees. This is why they have not only hounded Assange, but placed Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning in prison for 35 years.

Manning was convicted by a drumhead military tribunal in 2013 on charges of “aiding the enemy” for providing WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including the “collateral murder” video showing an Apache helicopter’s gun sight view of the 2007 massacre of 12 Iraqi civilians. Also leaked were the “Afghan war diary” and the “Iraq war logs,” exposing multiple war crimes committed by the US military, and over 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables revealing Washington’s counterrevolutionary intrigues around the globe.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed the NSA’s wholesale collection of every form of data on the planet, from US and non-US citizens alike, in open violation of the US Bill of Rights and international law, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow.

There are a number of other such cases, including that of ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, the only person punished in connection with the CIA’s torture of detainees—sent to prison for publicly exposing it. The Obama administration has prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act for leaking secret information to the media than all other US presidents combined.

Assange can expect even worse if he falls into the clutches of the British police and the Swedish authorities, who are acting as the agents of the US military and intelligence apparatus. He has been the subject of a secret grand jury investigation for over five years and is undoubtedly charged in a sealed indictment with espionage and other crimes against the state that could bring him life in prison or even the death penalty. Meanwhile, leading political figures in the US have openly called for his assassination.

Assange, Manning, Snowden and others have faced relentless persecution for daring to lift the lid on the secret operations of the US government.

This witch hunt is driven by the deepest needs of the American state, which functions as the instrument of a financial oligarchy. It defends this ruling layer’s vast wealth and monopoly on political power against the masses of working people in the US and around the world, while seeking to offset the economic decline of American capitalism by waging ever-more dangerous wars of aggression. Given the criminal character of these operations, a regime of secrecy and increasingly dictatorial methods is indispensable.

The only genuine constituency for the defense of democratic rights is the working class. Working people must come to the defense of Assange, Snowden, Manning and other victims of state conspiracies and repression.

Any attempt to arrest or extradite Assange must be answered with mass demonstrations and work actions in the UK, the US and all over the world.

This campaign in defense of Assange and the other victims of state repression can go forward only as part of the struggle of the international working class against the capitalist system, whose historic crisis threatens humanity with both world war and police state dictatorship.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/05/pers-f05.html

America’s New Vietnam Is the Middle East

WORLD

Rather than a rush to yet more war, it’s time to have a real national debate on the subject.

Close up of the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on silky fabric.
Photo Credit: Ronnie Chua

Who even remembers the moment in mid-February 2003, almost 13 years ago, when millions of people across this country and the planet turned out in an antiwar moment unique in history? It was aimed at stopping a conflict that had yet to begin. Those demonstrators, myself included, were trying to put pressure on the administration of George W. Bush not to do what its top officials so visibly, desperately wanted to do: invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, garrison it for decades to come, and turn that country into an American gas station. None of us were seers. We didn’t fully grasp what that invasion would set off, nor did we imagine a future terror caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but we did know that, if it was launched, some set of disasters was guaranteed; we knew beyond a doubt that this would not end well.

We had an analysis of the disaster to come and you could glimpse it on the handmade signs we carried to those vast demonstrations (some of which Irecorded at the time): “Remember when presidents were smart and bombs were dumb?”; “Contain Saddam — and Bush”; “Use our might to persuade, not invade”; “How did USA’s oil get under Iraq’s sand?”; “Pre-emptive war is terrorism”; “We don’t buy it, liberate Florida”; and so on. We felt in our bones that it was no business of Washington’s to decide what Iraq should be by force of arms and that American imperial desires in the Greater Middle East were suspect indeed. And we turned out to make that point so impressively that, on the front page of the New York Times, journalist Patrick Tyler referred to us as the planet’s second superpower. (“The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”)

Of course, this vast upsurge of global opposition would prove to be right on the mark, while all the brilliant policymakers and pundits in Washington who beat the drums loudly for war were desperately wrong. And yet the invasion did happen and, in its disastrous wake, we, not they, were wiped out of history. None of us would be consulted when the retrospectives began. No one would want to hear from those who had been right about the invasion (only officials and “experts” who had been dismally wrong). In the process that pre-war movement of ours would essentially be erased from history.

Mind you, we knew that, whatever we did, George W. Bush was bound and determined to invade Iraq. As I put it that February, “I’m not a total fool. I know — as I’ve long been writing in these dispatches — that this administration is hell-bent for a war. The build-up in the Gulf during these days of demonstrations has been unceasing. I still expect that war to come, and soon. Nonetheless, I find myself amazed by the variegated mass of humanity that turned out yesterday… The world has actually spoken and largely in words of its own. It has issued a warning to our leaders, which, given the history of ‘the people’ and the countless demonstrations of the people’s many (sometimes frightening) powers from 1776 on, is to be ignored at the administration’s peril.”

On that, unfortunately, I was wrong. We were indeed ignored and it didn’t prove to be “at the administration’s peril” (not in the normal sense anyway). The large-scale antiwar movement barely made it into the war years. There were a couple of massive demonstrations still to come, but as time went on, as things got worse, as the situation in Iraq devolved and those millions of demonstrators were proven to have been unbearably on the right side of history, the antiwar movement itself essentially disappeared, except for scattered veterans’ groups and heroic protesters like the members of Code Pink.

At a time when Americans should have been in the streets saying hell no, we better not go, the Bush administration and then the Obama administration were repeating the same militarized mistakes endlessly, while turning the Greater Middle East into a charnel house of failure. Today, as Pentagon officials prepare for their next set of forays, interventions, drone assassination campaigns, and special ops raids in, among other places, Libya — and what could possibly go wrong there? — next to no one is pressuring or opposing them, next to nothing is in their way. As a result, TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus’s latest post on what’s missing from the missing antiwar movement in America couldn’t be more timely. Tom Engelhardt

America’s New Vietnam in the Middle East: A Civil War Story About the Islamic State Might Spark a Peace Movement

by Ira Chernus

It was half a century ago, but I still remember it vividly. “We have to help South Vietnam,” I explained. “It’s a sovereign nation being invaded by another nation, North Vietnam.”

“No, no,” my friend protested. “There’s just one Vietnam, from north to south, divided artificially. It’s a civil war. And we have no business getting involved. We’re just making things worse for everyone.”

At the time, I hadn’t heard anyone describe the Vietnam War that way. Looking back, I see it as my first lesson in a basic truth of political life — that politics is always a contest between competing narratives. Accept a different story and you’re going to see the issue differently, which might leave you open to supporting a very different policy. Those who control the narrative, that is, are likely to control what’s done, which is why governments so regularly muster their resources — call it propaganda or call it something else — to keep that story in their possession.

Right now, as Americans keep a wary eye on the Islamic State (IS), there are only two competing stories out there about the devolving situation in the Middle East: think of them as the mission-creep and the make-the-desert-glow stories. The Obama administration suggests that we have to “defend” America by gradually ratcheting up our efforts, from air strikes to advisers to special operations raids against the Islamic State. Administration critics, especially the Republican candidates for president, urge us to “defend” ourselves by bombing IS to smithereens, sending in sizeable contingents of American troops, and rapidly upping the military ante. Despite the fact that the Obama administrationand Congress continue to dance around the word “war,” both versions are obviously war stories. There’s no genuine peace story in sight.

To be sure, peace activists have been busy poking holes in the two war narratives. It’s not hard. As they point out, U.S. military action against IS is obviously self-defeating. It clearly gives the Islamic State exactly what it wants. For all its fantasies of an apocalyptic final battle with unbelievers, that movement is not in any normal sense either planning to attack the United States or capable of doing so. Its practical, real-world goal is to win over more Muslims to its side everywhere. Few things serve that purpose better than American strikes on Muslims in the Middle East.

If IS launches occasional attacks in Europe and tries to inspire them here in the U.S., it’s mainly to provoke retaliation. It wants to be Washington’s constant target, which gives it cachet, elevating its struggle. Every time we take the bait, we hand the Islamic State another victory, helping it grow and launch new “franchises” in other predominantly Muslim nations.

That’s a reasonable analysis, which effectively debunks the justifications for more war. It’s never enough, however, just to show that the prevailing narrative doesn’t fit the facts. If you want to change policy, you need a new story, one that fits the facts far better because it’s built on a new premise.

For centuries, scientists found all sorts of flaws in the old notion that the sun revolves around the Earth, but it held sway until Copernicus came up with a brand-new one. The same holds true in politics. What’s needed is not just a negative narrative that says, “Here’s why your ideas and actions are wrong,” but a positive one that fits the facts better. Because it’s built on a new premise, it can point to new ways to act in the world, and so rally an effective movement to demand change.

At their best, peace movements in the past always went beyond critique to offer stories that described conflicts in genuinely new ways. At present, however, the U.S. peace movement has yet to find the alternative narrative it needs to talk about the Islamic State, which leaves it little more than a silent shadow on the American political scene.

Vietnam Redux

That’s not to say that the peace movement is stuck story-less. One potentially effective narrative that might bring it back to life is sitting in plain view, right there in the peace activists’ most common critique of the U.S. war against the Islamic State.

IS is not making war on the U.S., the critique explains, nor on Europe. Its sporadic attacks on those “infidel” lands aim primarily to radicalize Muslims living there in hopes of recruiting them. Indeed, all IS strategies are geared toward winning Muslims to its side and gaining more traction in predominantly Muslim lands. That’s where the vast majority of IS-directed or inspired violence happens, all over what Muslims call dar al-Islam, “the home of Islam,” fromNigeriato Syria to Indonesia.

The problem for the Islamic State: the vast majority of Muslims are just not buying its story. In fact, IS is making enemiesas well as friends everywhere it goes. In other words, it is involved in a civil war within dar al-Islam.

Every step we take deeper into that civil war is a misstep that only makes us more vulnerable. The stronger our stand against the Islamic State, the more excuses and incentives we give it to try to attack us, and the easier it is for IS to recruit fighters to do the job. The best way to protect American lives is to transcend our fears and refuse to take sides in someone else’s civil war.

That’s the positive narrative waiting to be extracted from the peace movement’s analysis. One big reason the movement has had such a paltry influence in these years: it’s never spelled out this “Muslim civil war” narrative explicitly, even though it fits the facts so much better than either of the war stories on offer. It radically shifts our perception of the situation by denying the basic premise of the dominant narrative — that IS is making war on America so we must make war in return. It points to a new policy of disengagement.

And it’s a simple, powerful story for Americans because it’s so familiar. It sends us back half a century and half a world away — to Vietnam. At that time, my friend and (a bit later) I, too, embraced the narrative that Vietnam was indeed gripped by a civil war. That explanation would play a major role in boosting the success of the Sixties peace movement. Within a few years, many millions of Americans, citizens and soldiers alike, saw the conflict that way — and not so many years after, all U.S. troops were gone from Vietnam.

The peace movement’s story then was both simple and accurate. No, it said, we’re not the good guys protecting one independent nation from invasion by another nation. Nor are we fighting an enemy intent on doing us harm. Boxing champion Muhammad Ali got it right when he said: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”

Intervening in Vietnam’s civil war cost us more than 58,000 American lives anddid untold damageto the vets who survived, not to speak of what it didto millions of Vietnamese. It showed us that, no matter how superior our technology, we could not swoop in and win someone else’s civil war. Our intervention was bound to do more harm than good.

Fifty years later, we are repeating the same self-defeating mistake. Military action against the Islamic State is leading us into another Vietnam-like “quagmire,” this time in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East. Once again, we have enmeshed ourselves in a complex civil war abroad with no strategy that can lead to victory. It was wrong then. It’s wrong now.

To put it mildly, the U.S. has a less than stellar track record when it comes to intervening in other people’s civil wars. We’ve also interfered quite selectively.  In the last two decades, we stayed out of brutal conflicts in places like theCongo and Sri Lanka. So a decision not to intervene militarily in a foreign civil war should be familiar enough to Americans.

To become neutral is not to condone the grim brutality and reactionary values of the Islamic State. It’s hardly likely that twenty-first-century peace activists will give the IS anything like the sympathy many Vietnam-era protesters offered the insurgents of that moment. In this case, becoming neutral merely means suggesting that it’s not Washington’s job to fight evil everywhere. Its job is to adopt the strategies most likely to keep Americans safe.

That’s a view most Americans already hold to quite firmly. So the “Muslim civil war” story just might get a sympathetic hearing in the public arena.

The Bewildering Maze Of Muslim Civil War

Of course, the Islamic State is not involved in what we conventionally think of as a civil war, in which two sides fight for control of a single nation. Even inside Syria, the number of factions involved in the struggle, including the oppressive government of Bashar al-Assad and rebels of every stripe from al-Qaeda-linked to Saudi-linked to U.S.-linked ones, is bewildering. Since IS is fighting for control not just of Syria but of all dar al-Islam, many other movements, factions, and forces are involved in this Muslim civil war as well.

Some observers are too quick to simplify it into a battle of “traditionalists versus modernizers.” In the U.S. mainstream media that usually translates into a desire for us to intervene on behalf of the modernizers. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is probably the best-known advocate of this view. Others simplify it into a battle between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Since Iran is the leading Shi’ite power, those in the media tend to favor the Sunnis.

All these simple pictures are painted to build support for one side or another. The only kind of peace they aim at is one that leaves their favored side victorious.

In fact, no simple dichotomy can capture the tangled maze of struggles in dar al-Islam. Sunni traditionalists battle other Sunni traditionalists (for example, al-Qaeda versus IS). Modernizers join traditionalists to fight other traditionalists (for example, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in an uneasy alliance to weaken IS). Sunnis and Shi’ites become allies too (for example, Kurdish Sunnis and Iraqi Shi’ite militias allied againstIS). The U.S. supports both Shi’ites (like the government of Iraq) and Sunnis (like the oil-rich Gulf States), while it resists the growing power of both Shi’ites (like Iran) and Sunnis (like IS).

By emphasizing the true complexity of the Muslim civil war, a peace movement narrative can cast that war in a different light. Precisely because there are not two clearly demarcated sides, it makes no sense to cast one side as the good guys and launch our planes and drones to obliterate the bad guys. It’s bound to lead to incoherence and disaster, especially in this situation, where the Islamic State, however repugnant to most Americans, is arguably no worsethan our staunch allies, the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

Given the confusing, some might say chaotic, maze of intra-Muslim conflict, it is equally senseless to go on promoting the American fantasy of imposing order. (“Without order,” Friedman has written, “nothing good can happen.”) Taking this road so far has, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, actually meant unleashing chaos in significant parts of the Greater Middle East. There’s no reason to think the same road will lead anywhere else in the future.

Bring the Boys, Girls, and Drones Home

The Muslim civil war story leads directly to a radical change in policy: stop trying to impose a made-in-America order on dar al-Islam. Give up the dubious gratification of yet another war against “the evildoers.” Instead, offer genuinely humanitarian aid, with no hidden political agenda, to the victims of the civil war, especially those fleeing a stunning level of violence in Syria that the U.S. has helped to sustain. But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war. Become, as we have in other civil wars, a genuine neutral.

To call this change of narrative and policy a tall order is an understatement. There would be massive forces arrayed against it, given the steady stream of verbal assaults the Islamic State levels against Washington, which have already inspired one terrible mass killing on American soil. We don’t know when, or if, other attacks will succeed in the future, whether organized by IS or carried out by “lone wolves” energized by that outfit.

The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that none of this is evidence of a war directed against America. It’s mainly tactical maneuvering in a Muslim civil war. For the Islamic State, American lives and fears are merely pawns in the game. And yet this reality in the Middle East runs against something lodged deep in our history. For centuries, most Americans have believed that our nation is the center of world history, that whatever happens anywhere must somehow be aimed directly at us — and we continue to see ourselves as the star of the global show.

Most Americans have also been conditioned for decades to believe that what’s at stake is a life-or-death drama in which some enemy, somewhere, is always intent on destroying our nation. IS is at present the only candidate in sight for that role and it’s hard to imagine the public giving up the firmly entrenched story that it is out to destroy us. But half a century ago, it was difficult to imagine that the story of Vietnam would be just as radically transformed within a few years. So it’s a stretch, but not an inconceivable one, to picture America, a few years from now, ringing with cries that echo those of the Vietnam era: “U.S. out of dar al-Islam.” “Bring the boys — and girls and bombers and drones — home.”

And if anyone says the analogy between Vietnam and the current conflict is debatable, that’s just the point. Rather than a rush to yet more war, it’s time to have a real national debate on the subject. It’s time to give the American people a chance to choose between two fundamentally different narratives. The task of the peace movement, now as always, is to provide a genuine alternative.

Ira Chernus is a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of “MythicAmerica: Essays.” He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/americas-new-vietnam-middle-east?akid=13941.265072.3QB7qD&rd=1&src=newsletter1050050&t=10

Drone, a Norwegian-made documentary: “We just made orphans out of all these children”

By Joanne Laurier
29 January 2016

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

Drone, directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei, about the illegal CIA drone program, has been screened at various documentary film festivals and played in certain theaters in North America.

The use of drones by the United States for purposes of assassinations has greatly increased over the past decade. Hessen Schei’s movie brings together opponents of this specialized killing tool, including authors, commentators, human rights attorneys and investigative journalists.

The real heart and strength of Drone lies in its interviews with two former drone operators from the US Air Force, Brandon Bryant and Michael Haas, both young men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brandon Bryant in Drone

Bryant and Haas served in time periods that straddled the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. One of Bryant’s entries in his diary: “On the battlefield there are no sides, just bloodshed. Total war. Every horror witnessed. I wish my eyes would rot.”

Hessen Schei presents images and stories focusing on the northwestern Pakistani province of Waziristan, a region that has been a particular target of homicidal American drone bombing.

Reprieve, the British human rights organization whose founder, Clive Stafford Smith, is interviewed in the film, points out: “To date, the United States has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—all countries against whom it has not declared war. The US’ drones programme is a covert war being carried out by the CIA.”

In the documentary, Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, further observes that “nowhere has been more bombed by the CIA than Waziristan. The first recorded CIA done strike in Pakistan took place in 2004. The number of those strikes has accelerated.” He calls it “an industrialized killing program.”

In Waziristan, a young drone strike survivor, Zubair Ur Rehman, shyly tells the camera that “the drones circulate 24 hours a day. Two or three at a time. Always two, but often three or four. When we hear the sound of the drones, we get scared. We can’t work, play or go to school. It is only when it’s cloudy that we don’t hear the drones.”

The barbaric strikes, which have increased sharply under the Obama administration, are illegal under international and US law and amount to war crimes. In the Hessen Schei film, Pakistani photojournalist Noor Behram displays his dossier of devastating photographs of child victims of drone attacks: “Every time I sleep, I hear the cries of the children.”

Drone also deals with the attacks on the would-be rescuers of the victims of the drone strikes. This is what the American military refers to as a “double tap.” Missiles are launched, killing and injuring people. Moments later, when nearby residents race to the scene to help the wounded, another round of missiles is fired. As one analyst points out, the US government, in many cases, has no idea whom they are killing.

Aftermath of drone attack in Pakistan

Imran Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, affirms that “when people gather round to save the injured [from a drone strike], there’s another drone attack! … You can hear the cries of the injured for hours because no one goes to help them.”

Another of the movie’s commentators emphasizes, “It’s never been easier for an American president to carry out killing operations at the ends of the earth … and when you define the world as a battlefield, it’s a very broad range of operations you can carry out.”

According to Woods: “You’ve got the president signing off on particular death lists; you have the US Air Force flying the drones; the Central Intelligence Agency responsible for the strikes; CENTCOM [United States Central Command] involved in launching and targeting of strikes; NSA [National Security Agency] providing intelligence for strikes … the entire apparatus of the United States government has been bent towards the process of targeted killings over the past decade.”

As a means of recruiting drone pilots, the military has developed “militainment”—war presented as entertainment. In the warped minds of the armed forces’ top brass, video gamers have skill sets that it values.

Former drone operator Bryant, who served as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011, movingly explains that “I didn’t really understand what it meant to kill at first. … We sat in a box for nearly 12-hour shifts. … We’re the ultimate voyeurs. The ultimate Peeping Toms. No one is going to catch us. We’re getting orders to take these peoples’ lives. It was just a point and click.”

One of Drone’s interviewed experts argues the more distant the perpetrator is from the victim, the crueler the act of killing. The separation in space creates and encourages indifference. He refers to “the psychology of distance.”

Haas, who served in the US military from 2005 to 2011, participated in targeted killing runs from his computer at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada that ended the lives of insurgents and others in Afghanistan some 8,000 miles away: “I joined when I was barely 20 years old. I did not know what I was in for. I thought it was the coolest damn thing in the world. Play video games all day and then the reality hits you that you may have to kill somebody.

“In our control room, they had a picture of the September 11 [2001] plane hitting the second [World Trade Center] building. They make you pissed off all over again just before you go do your job. ‘These guys have to die. These guys deserve to die.’ And you’ve got to make it happen.”

As opposed to the remorse felt by the former airmen, Andy Von Flotow, chairman of Insitu, which builds unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the state of Washington, was in on the ground floor in the development of drones. He boasts that “we started this unmanned aircraft business in the early 1990s, shortly after GPS made it possible.” His company built a small airplane with a camera on it in 1999 to help tuna fisherman. While the fishermen did not buy the planes, “George Bush took us into his adventures.” Flotow claims that “we have 25 percent of unmanned flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. … War is an opportunity to do business.”

One of the most intense moments in the film occurs when Bryant opens up to the filmmakers: “I didn’t really understand what it meant to kill at first. It was horrible. The first time was horrible. The second time was horrible. The third time was numbing. The fourth time was numbing. But of course the first time sticks with you the longest [he describes the procedure]. … Then I watched this man bleed out … and I imagined his last moments. I knew I had ended something I had no right to end. I swore an oath, I did what I was supposed to do. I followed through with it. … It was like an image of myself was cracking up and breaking apart.”

Earlier in the film, he says: “Over the last five and one half years, 1,626 people were killed in the operations I took part in. … When I looked at that number, I was ready to put a bullet in my brain.”

Fellow drone operator Haas discloses that “you never knew who you were killing because you never actually see a face—just silhouettes and it’s easy to have that detachment and that lack of sympathy for human life. And it’s easy just to think of them as something else. They’re not really people, they’re just terrorists.” His military superiors, he remarks, “don’t have to take that shot or bear the burden—I’m the one who has to bear that burden. They don’t have to do the actions or live with the repercussions … and we just made orphans out of all these children. They don’t have to live with that. I do.”

The CIA drones program is global assassination without trial. The operations of this state-run murder machine are kept shrouded in secrecy by the Obama administration. While the outlook of the creators of Drone is not strong—essentially consisting of appeals to the United Nations and the Pakistani government—the movie provides further insight into the lawless and ruthless character of US foreign policy.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/29/dron-j29.html

Pentagon prepares another war in Libya

01-war-in-libya

29 January 2016

A little less than five years after launching a war against Libya on the “humanitarian” pretext of preventing a supposedly imminent massacre, the United States and its European allies are preparing a new military assault against the oil-rich North African country under the bloodstained banner of the “war on terrorism.”

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook confirmed Wednesday that Washington is “looking at military options” in relation to Libya and acknowledged that US special operations troops are operating on the ground there in a bid to “get a sense of who the players are, who might be worthy of US support and support from some of our partners as we go forward.”

The Pentagon spokesman’s remarks echoed earlier comments by the US military’s senior commander. “It’s fair to say that we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] in conjunction with the political process” in Libya, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last Friday. “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”

As for the presence of special operations troops, that story too was no secret, though largely blacked out by the corporate media. A photograph posted on the Facebook page of the Libyan air force last month showed about 20 American commandos dressed in civilian clothes and carrying automatic weapons. According to the caption that accompanied the photograph, the Libyan forces in charge of the air base “refused their intervention, disarmed them and forced them off Libyan lands.”

Pentagon officials confirmed the incident, while telling NBC News that similar US units have been “in and out of Libya” for “some time now.”

The “human rights” pretext foisted on the public in 2011 and the “terror” pretext being employed today are equally fraudulent. They are both designed to conceal the predatory objectives of military interventions carried out with the aim of imposing US semi-colonial hegemony over countries and regions sitting on top of vast energy resources—in Libya’s case the largest oil reserves on the entire African continent.

It is, however, a measure of the uninterrupted growth of American militarism and the corresponding degradation of American democracy that, while in 2011 Obama delivered a televised speech to the nation providing his phony justifications for the war and then secured a UN Security Council resolution as a legal fig leaf for naked aggression, in 2016 a Marine Corps general casually remarks that he has the authority to launch a new war whenever he sees fit.

In 2011, the story was put out that Libya’s longtime ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, was on the brink of carrying out a wholesale massacre of “peaceful political protesters” in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Only Western intervention could save lives, Obama and his NATO allies insisted, and there was no time to waste.

These assertions were echoed and amplified by an entire coterie of pseudo-lefts. Some of them, like the French New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) embellished upon the arguments of the imperialist powers, insisting that the defense of the “Libyan revolution” was the paramount issue. In the words of the NPA’s prominent spokesman, academic Gilbert Achcar, “You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians.”

Similarly, the University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, whose “left” credentials stemmed from his rather qualified opposition to the Iraq war, declared, “To make ‘anti-imperialism’ trump all other values in a mindless way leads to frankly absurd positions.” For emphasis, he added, “If NATO needs me, I’m there.”

With such support, US imperialism and its European allies, invoking the neocolonialist doctrine of “R2P” (responsibility to protect), turned the UN’s resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to prevent the bombardment of Benghazi into a carte blanche for a war for regime change that saw massive US-NATO bombardments, the deaths of some 30,000 Libyans and the lynch mob torture and murder of Gaddafi in October 2011.

After it was all over, NGOs and human rights groups like the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International acknowledged that there were no factual grounds for claiming that Benghazi had been threatened with a “massacre.”

In the five years that have followed, however, the Libyan people have been plunged into a real and hellish humanitarian catastrophe. As many as two million Libyans, roughly a third of the prewar population, have been forced into exile in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. Those who remain face catastrophic conditions, with hundreds of thousands internally displaced by the fighting that has raged between rival militias ever since the toppling of Gaddafi.

Human Rights Watch, which supported the US-NATO war of 2011, reported this month that the militias that rule the country have “indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, arbitrarily seized people, tortured and looted, burned, and otherwise destroyed civilian property in attacks that in some cases amounted to war crimes.” It adds that these forces “attack, abduct and disappear, and forcefully displace people from their homes,” while “[t]he domestic criminal justice system collapsed in most parts of the country, exacerbating the human rights crisis.” Thousands of Libyans, as well as foreigners, are imprisoned without charges or trials, many since 2011, in a system of militia-run jails where torture is endemic.

No one, of course, is invoking “R2P” today, under conditions that are indescribably worse than what existed in March of 2011. On the contrary, the pretext for the war now being prepared is combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has established a stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, the former hometown of Gaddafi that was largely demolished in a protracted siege in 2011.

Those within the political establishment and the media who bother connecting the growth of ISIS in Libya to the US-NATO intervention of 2011 habitually present the matter as a sin of omission: Washington and its allies failed to follow up the bombing campaign with a “nation-building” occupation.

This is, of course, a deliberate cover-up for very real crimes that were committed. ISIS is not some accidental beneficiary of chaos in Libya. Its own growth and development were intimately bound up with the US-NATO war, in which similar Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias were lavishly armed and funded to serve as ground troops.

After the overthrow and murder of Gaddafi, these same elements, along with vast quantities of arms looted from Libyan government stockpiles, were funneled into Syria as part of a CIA-orchestrated effort to stoke a war for regime change in that country. This operation greatly strengthened ISIS and similar outfits, while Libyans who had been sent to fight in Syria returned home, resulting in the Islamist group’s spread along Libya’s northern coastline.

Thus, the source of the supposed ISIS terrorism threat in Libya—which is the pretext for yet another war—is the endless and escalating succession of military interventions by US imperialism itself, which have plunged the entire region into bloodshed and chaos, while threatening to ignite a global conflagration.

Bill Van Auken

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/29/pers-j29.html

A modern Antigone: Son of Saul by László Nemes

By Dorota Niemitz
28 January 2016

Directed by László Nemes; written by Nemes and Clara Royer, based on the book The Scrolls of Auschwitz and various prisoners’ memoirs

Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s debut feature film, Son of Saul, treats almost unimaginable horror: a day and a half in the life of a member of the Sonderkommando [special unit], made up of prisoners who staffed the gas chambers, at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. More than one million people were murdered at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, 90 percent of them Jews, transported from all over German-occupied Europe.

Son of Saul

Henryk Mandelbaum, the last survivor of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, who died in 2008, called the unit members living corpses. Their average life expectancy in the position was two to four months. Under threat of death, the Nazis used them to conduct people to the gas chambers and burn their bodies in the crematoriums.

Most of the death camp Sonderkommando members were Jews. An aspect of the Nazis’ diabolical plan was to make the victims partially responsible for the Holocaust. To other camp inmates they were traitors. Only about 200 of them survived the war.

The unit members had to extract gold teeth, remove jewelry and other valuables, cut hair and disinfect the chambers. After reducing the burnt corpses to ash, they had to throw them into the nearby river. Isolated for fear of spreading panic, they received more food than other prisoners, but had little time for sleep or rest. The work was constant, the tempo brutal. Many, of course, could not cope and experienced nervous breakdowns, some committed suicide. After being forced to cover traces of the Nazi crimes, the “bearers of secrets” themselves were shot.

Nemes’s Son of Saul depicts the events of October 7, 1944, when one of the biggest Sonderkommando uprisings took place. Some 450 out of 663 special unit prisoners took part in the revolt. Learning that they were slated for extermination, the prisoners attacked the SS and Kapos with two machine guns, axes, knives and grenades, killing three and wounding 12 German soldiers, as well as blowing up Crematorium IV. The rebellion was quickly crushed by the SS.

All the insurgents were killed. Those who managed to escape and reach the nearby village, Rajsko, were surrounded in a barn and blown up with hand grenades. Five young Jewish women who worked for the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, a munitions plant within the Auschwitz complex, and who had smuggled small amounts of gunpowder to aid the uprising, were later hanged.

Unlike previous portrayals of the Sonderkommando, such as the one in Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone, which treated the conduct of the individual members as “shameful,” Son of Saul is a sincere attempt to depict the complex reality of the concentration camp and the multiplicity of connections between victims and their oppressors.

Son of Saul

Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Jew who––humiliated and paralyzed in the face of the enormous scale of the hellish mass murder––numbly collaborates with the Nazis to stay alive. After witnessing the murder of a teenage boy who has just arrived in a transport from Hungary, and believing the youth might be his son born out of wedlock, Saul decides to steal the body to ensure the boy’s proper burial.

The recreated reality of the movie is brutally precise and historically accurate. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély uses a technique similar to that of the Dardenne brothers, following his main character very closely, providing a deliberately narrow field of vision, to immerse the viewer in the immediate surroundings. We can almost smell the dirt on Saul’s body, feel his torment. Screams and moans in Yiddish, Hungarian, Polish, Russian and German substitute for a soundtrack and broaden the imagery’s realism.

Despite the blurry background, we are well aware of what is taking place at all times. It is precisely the lack of details that horrifies the most. Then there are the scenes in which terrible discoveries are subtly conveyed, such as the realization that the mountains of dust shoveled into the river are composed of human remains.

Judaism forbids cremation of the body and treats it as a sin. The corpse needs to be wrapped in a tallit, a special fringed garment, and buried as quickly after death as possible.

Like Sophocles’ Antigone, who defies the tyrant Creon’s edict forbidding the burial of her rebel brother, Polynices, Saul revolts against the brutal laws of the Nazi totalitarian state in defense of human and, to him, divine principles. He knows beforehand the rules and the consequences––his “crime” is conscious and deliberate. Until the very end Saul remains untouched by and indifferent toward the authority that will crush him. Suffering beyond endurance, he accepts his fate: He can do nothing but die.

Saul dies, but all is not lost for humanity. We know the Nazi regime ultimately collapsed, like that of the of the King of Thebes in Greek mythology.

In Son of Saul Nemes accomplishes something rare for a modern artist, skillfully reviving the principles and themes of an ancient drama, sculpting the essence of a human tragedy. The viewer might question the uncompromising religious values Saul stands for. But it is undeniable that his clash with the camp authorities is of immense importance to human beings today who sense the vast gap between their innate sense of “what is right” and the doings of the global rulers.

Son of Saul

Saul is defending an old and annihilated order, now only an unreal shadow. By desperately searching for a rabbi in a world where such an individual’s functions have been obliterated, he seeks to link the nonexistent with the existent. The respect paid to the body of what might be his offspring becomes a symbol of universal honor paid to all those slaughtered and then burnt in defiance of their religion in the inferno of crematoriums. Stealing the boy’s body becomes an act of retribution: the extermination of the Jews will not be completed because something will be left of them, even if in a grave.

In Nemes’s film, there is little room for subjectivity nor much interest in Saul’s individual personality: the man is a universal “self” and represents the community of people caught up by forces bigger and independent of themselves. He is an actor confronted on the stage not only with his oppressors, but with the chorus of camp resistance members who accuse him of “failing the living for the sake of the dead.” One of the chorus members, a Soviet soldier, even kicks him in the gut.

There is something fixated and even psychotic in Saul’s determination. It makes him endanger his own life––and the lives of other––to fulfill his “duty.” Had he not lost the gunpowder due to his obsession with the dead body, would the uprising have been successful?

It is perhaps difficult to identify with the cold, robot-like, half-dead Saul. But it is also difficult to condemn him. His face, although at times it resembles a predator’s, should invoke some compassion. Saul’s condition speaks to something broader than his own individual fate: the wretchedness of all those forced against their will to toil for a system they did not create, merely to survive.

Despite the film’s physical and intellectual constraints, which reduce the conflict largely to the ethical plane and omit any reference to the historical roots of the horrors it depicts, Son of Saul is a valuable artistic achievement. It is a matter of utmost importance that such a work reaches global cinemas. Fascist political tendencies are again on the rise and various European governments are adopting Nazi-style measures against refugees, including the confiscation of their money and valuables upon entry into miserable camps.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/28/saul-j28.html