Iraqi sources place real death toll in US-led siege of Mosul at 40,000

By Bill Van Auken
21 July 2017

According to intelligence reports from Iraq, the US-led massacre in Mosul has claimed a staggeringly higher toll of Iraqi civilian lives than had previously been reported.

More than 40,000 men, women and children were killed in the grinding nine-month-long siege of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, according to a report published Thursday by the veteran Middle East correspondent for the British daily Independent Patrick Cockburn.

Cockburn’s source is the former finance and foreign minister of the Iraqi government, Hoshyar Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd with close ties to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. The figure was supplied by Kurdish intelligence.

“The figure given by Mr Zebari for the number of civilians killed in the nine-month siege is far higher than those previously reported, but the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government has a reputation for being extremely accurate and well-informed,” reports Cockburn.

The sheer scale of the killing makes the siege of Mosul one of the greatest war crimes of the post-World War II era. While before the city fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June of 2014 it had a population of approximately 2 million, by the time the siege began, there were still at least 1.2 million civilians trapped in Mosul. This population was subjected to horrific violence.

Earlier, the UK-based monitoring group Airwars had provided an estimate of 5,805 civilians killed in airstrikes by the US-led “coalition” between February 19 and June 19. This figure excluded those killed in the four preceding months of the siege, as well as those who died in the last three weeks of the intensive bombardment that reduced western Mosul’s Old City to rubble.

In his interview with Cockburn, Zebari attributed a significant share of the carnage to the relentless artillery bombardment of western Mosul by Iraq’s militarized federal police, using weapons that are inaccurate and of use only in terms of demolishing entire neighborhoods rather than targeting fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The report issued earlier this month by Amnesty International, “At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul,” also pointed to the devastating effect of these bombardments, which were used to compensate for the lack of sufficient numbers of adequately trained Iraqi troops to throw into combat in the crowded streets and alleyways of Mosul’s Old City.

“Pro-government forces relied heavily upon explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions),” Amnesty charged. “With their crude targeting abilities, these weapons wreaked havoc in densely populated west Mosul, where large groups of civilians were trapped in homes or makeshift shelters. Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives.”

The report described the artillery and rocket launchers employed by the Iraqi forces, working closely with US special forces “advisors,” as “indiscriminate weapons” that “must never be used in the vicinity of civilians.”

One indication of the scale of the killing has come, unintentionally, from the Iraqi government itself. Since proclaiming Mosul’s “liberation” on July 10, Iraqi officials have put out a statement claiming that its forces had “liquidated 16,467 terrorists.” When the siege began, US commanders estimated that there were somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 ISIS fighters in the city. An obvious explanation for this discrepancy is that any male Iraqi killed in the city, fighters and civilians alike, has been designated as a member of ISIS.

Despite the fanfare by the Baghdad government over Mosul’s “liberation” and victory over ISIS, fighting is still being reported within the city, with guerrilla bands carrying out lethal attacks on Iraqi government units.

At the same time, there have been multiple reports indicating that the government forces and allied militias have been engaged in savage acts of collective punishment against Mosul’s survivors, including mass summary executions and torture.

Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday that international observers had discovered an “execution site in west Mosul.” It recounted their testimony that they found inside an empty building “a row of 17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, surrounded by pools of blood. They said many appeared to have been blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back.” The human rights group cited a large number of similar incidents along with “relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi made it clear that the government will do nothing to halt these atrocities. He described them as “individual acts and not widespread.”

The US corporate media has all but blacked out the reports of massive civilian casualties and the war crimes carried out since the retaking of Mosul. The Iraqi government itself has sought to bar reporters from the city in order to conceal the scale of the bloodshed and continuing executions.

While largely dropping its coverage of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul, the New York Times Thursday published a hypocritical editorial titled “Avoiding War With Iran,” which expressed some trepidation over the increasingly bellicose acts of the Trump administration aimed at provoking just such a conflict.

The “newspaper of record” suggests that “It is useful to recall the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War arguably America’s biggest strategic blunder in modern times.” It criticizes the Bush administration for launching a war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein “even though he had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and had no nuclear weapons.” It adds, “Mr. Bush decided to fight a pre-emptive war without a solid justification or strategy. Such a stumble into war could happen again.”

Conveniently forgotten in this cynical presentation is the fact that the Times as an institution played a major role in advocating and facilitating the Iraq war.

Its senior correspondent Judith Miller worked intimately with US officials to promote and embellish upon phony “intelligence” on non-existent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.” Thomas Friedman, the paper’s chief foreign affairs columnist, churned out columns advocating what he openly acknowledged would be a “war of choice” against Iraq, justifying it in the name of democracy, human rights and oil.

The newspaper set the tone for the rest of the media in terms of propaganda that paved the way to a criminal war of aggression that claimed the lives of over one million Iraqis and continues to generate mass murder in Mosul.

Even more chilling was an editorial column on Mosul titled “The City Is the Battlefield of the Future,” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Thursday under the byline of one Maj. John Spencer, deputy director of the Modern War Institute at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York.

“The battle for Mosul represents the future of warfare,” Major Spencer argues, adding “U.S. commanders ought to imagine how they would handle a similar environment.”

Clearly, they have more than imagined it–in terms of Iraq–with US commanders directing much of the destruction rained down on the city.

Echoing what is now standard Pentagon doctrine, the major insists that the wars that the US military will confront will be fought in “cities — dense, often overpopulated and full of obstacles: labyrinthine apartment blocks, concealed tunnels, panicking civilians.”

His primary concern is that the Pentagon presently has no systematic training of its troops for urban combat, and that the word “siege”–the barbaric strategy employed against Mosul–does not appear in its training manuals.

He insists that US forces “need to be equipped to operate in large cities with new equipment, formations and doctrine.” He advances a modest proposal for meeting this need: “Major cities such as Detroit and the outer boroughs of New York have large abandoned areas that could be safely redeveloped as urban training sites.”

In other words, American troops are to be trained in the art of urban combat and siege warfare inside American cities. The proposal suggests that what the major is really urging Pentagon commanders to “imagine” is using the military to suppress revolutionary upheavals in the US itself.

WSWS

Why Trump’s Warsaw Speech May Have Been His Most Ominous Yet

NEWS & POLITICS
All that was missing was a rousing chorus of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube (The Guardian)

A surprising omission in Donald Trump’s Warsaw foreign policy address was the president’s failure to hail the 17th century Polish king, John III Sobieski. As Steve Bannon and his fellow hard-right history buffs in the White House must know, it was Sobieski who defeated the Turks in 1683 at the gates of Vienna – and saved central Europe from a Muslim invasion.

The Trump-Bannon worldview depicts Europe and America reeling from a second Muslim invasion. That is what Trump meant as he thundered: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive … Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

The Trump advance team is probably high-fiving each other over their collective brilliance in choosing Warsaw as the venue for the president’s apocalyptic message to Europe. The combination of a welcoming rightwing government that shares Trump’s disdain for a free press and the emotional weight of Polish history seemed irresistible.

There was only one problem: the weight of Polish history makes the current threat from “radical Islamic terrorism” seem petty in comparison.

Trump himself conjured up that blood-soaked history as he talked of Poland being invaded in 1939 by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As the president put it, choosing words of Churchillian eloquence: “That’s trouble. That’s tough.”

To Trump’s credit (a phrase I rarely type), his speechwriters did an artful job of conveying the horrors inflicted on Poland during the second world war, particularly the doomed 1944 uprising by the Home Army that ended with the Nazis leveling Warsaw.

But for all the attempts at Reaganesque rhetorical flourishes, the few sentences in the speech devoted to the Iron Curtain era came across as muted enough to win Vladimir Putin’s approval.

In Trump’s audience in Krasinski Square were Poles who had endured the worst that Hitler and Stalin could inflict on a subjugated nation. It would have been instructive to ask these elderly witnesses to history whether they agree with Trump that today “our freedom, our civilization and our survival” hang in the balance.

What, precisely, is the threat to western civilization?

Lonely religious zealots who drive trucks into crowds and set off bombs in concert halls? An Islamic State in full retreat in Iraq and Syria? Fanatical imams who preach hatred on websites and in YouTube videos?

This is not designed to belittle the cruelty of terrorism. Nor is it an argument against continued vigilance nearly 16 years after the Twin Towers were toppled on September 11.

But an ominous aspect of our era is that any sense of historical perspective has been dropped down the memory hole. In 1962, the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. Anyone who remembers, as I do, cowering under an elementary school desk as supposed protection against an atomic attack should realize what represents a true threat to “our survival”.

Trump’s political career is rooted in the stoking of fear.

After the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016, a CNN/ORC poll found that fear of terrorism was at its highest level since 2003. Trump fed this wave of emotion by declaring at the start of his Republican national convention acceptance speech: “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”

This is a president who dramatically declared in his inaugural address: “This American carnage stops right here and now.” Just a month ago – in the midst of undermining “our survival” by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord – Trump blamed an attack on a Manila casino on terrorism while the local police insisted the mass murderer was a disgruntled gambler.

Without blinding, unreasoning fear, the US probably would not have looked to a counterfeit Big Daddy figure for protection. Only if these are the worst of times would voters have disdained experience (both in the Republican primaries and the general election) and opted for a blustering former reality-show host.

For a president whose grasp of theology abruptly stops at “Two Corinthians,” Trump seems to revel in the concept of a holy war. For that was at the core of his inflammatory rhetoric about the survival of western civilization. About all that was missing from Trump’s Warsaw war cry was a rousing chorus of Onward Christian Soldiers.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/why-trumps-warsaw-speech-may-have-been-his-most-ominous-yet?akid=15838.265072.MmNXfI&rd=1&src=newsletter1079374&t=17

The folly of the next Afghan “surge”

The Folly of the Next Afghan “Surge”

The folly of the next Afghan “surge”
FILE – In this June 29, 2009 file photo, U.S. Army soldiers walk in a line at a reenlistment ceremony for a comrade in Baqouba, Iraq. New research published Wednesday, July 8, 2015 in JAMA Psychiatry shows war-time suicide attempts in the Army are most common in early-career enlisted soldiers who have not been deployed, while officers are less likely to try to end their lives. The study looked at data on nearly 1,000 suicide attempts among almost 1 million active-duty Army members during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from 2004 to 2009. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)(Credit: AP)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single file was our best bet.

The reason was simple enough: improvised bombs not just along roads but seemingly everywhere.  Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Who knew?

That’s right, the local “Taliban” — a term so nebulous it’s basically lost all meaning — had managed to drastically alter U.S. Army tactics with crude, homemade explosives stored in plastic jugs. And believe me, this was a huge problem. Cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to bury, those anti-personnel Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, soon littered the “roads,” footpaths, and farmland surrounding our isolated outpost. To a greater extent than a number of commanders willingly admitted, the enemy had managed to nullify our many technological advantages for a few pennies on the dollar (or maybe, since we’re talking about the Pentagon, it was pennies on the millions of dollars).

Truth be told, it was never really about our high-tech gear.  Instead, American units came to rely on superior training and discipline, as well as initiative and maneuverability, to best their opponents.  And yet those deadly IEDs often seemed to even the score, being both difficult to detect and brutally effective. So there we were, after too many bloody lessons, meandering along in carnival-like, Pied Piper-style columns. Bomb-sniffing dogs often led the way, followed by a couple of soldiers carrying mine detectors, followed by a few explosives experts. Only then came the first foot soldiers, rifles at the ready. Anything else was, if not suicide, then at least grotesquely ill-advised.

And mind you, our improvised approach didn’t always work either. To those of us out there, each patrol felt like an ad hoc round of Russian roulette.  In that way, those IEDs completely changed how we operated, slowing movement, discouraging extra patrols, and distancing us from what was then considered the ultimate “prize”: the local villagers, or what was left of them anyway.  In a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign, which is what the U.S. military was running in Afghanistan in those years, that was the definition of defeat.

Strategic problems in microcosm

My own unit faced a dilemma common to dozens — maybe hundreds — of other American units in Afghanistan. Every patrol was slow, cumbersome, and risky. The natural inclination, if you cared about your boys, was to do less. But effective COIN operations require securing territory and gaining the trust of the civilians living there. You simply can’t do that from inside a well-protected American base. One obvious option was to live in the villages — which we eventually did — but that required dividing up the company into smaller groups and securing a second, third, maybe fourth location, which quickly became problematic, at least for my 82-man cavalry troop (when at full strength). And, of course, there were no less than five villages in my area of responsibility.

I realize, writing this now, that there’s no way I can make the situation sound quite as dicey as it actually was.  How, for instance, were we to “secure and empower” a village population that was, by then, all but nonexistent?  Years, even decades, of hard fighting, air strikes, and damaged crops had left many of those villages in that part of Kandahar Province little more than ghost towns, while cities elsewhere in the country teemed with uprooted and dissatisfied peasant refugees from the countryside.

Sometimes, it felt as if we were fighting over nothing more than a few dozen deserted mud huts.  And like it or not, such absurdity exemplified America’s war in Afghanistan.  It still does.  That was the view from the bottom.  Matters weren’t — and aren’t — measurably better at the top.  As easily as one reconnaissance troop could be derailed, so the entire enterprise, which rested on similarly shaky foundations, could be unsettled.

At a moment when the generals to whom President Trump recently delegateddecision-making powers on U.S. troop strength in that country consider a new Afghan “surge,” it might be worth looking backward and zooming out just a bit. Remember, the very idea of “winning” the Afghan War, which left my unit in that collection of mud huts, rested (and still rests) on a few rather grandiose assumptions.

The first of these surely is that the Afghans actually want (or ever wanted) us there; the second, that the country was and still is vital to our national security; and the third, that 10,000, 50,000, or even 100,000 foreign troops ever were or now could be capable of “pacifying” an insurgency, or rather a growing set of insurgencies, or securing 33 million souls, or facilitating a stable, representative government in a heterogeneous, mountainous, landlocked country with little history of democracy.

The first of these points is at least debatable. As you might imagine, any kind of accurate polling is quite difficult, if not impossible, outside the few major population centers in that isolated country.  Though many Afghans, particularly urban ones, may favor a continued U.S. military presence, others clearly wonder what good a new influx of foreigners will do in their endlessly war-torn nation.  As one high-ranking Afghan official recently lamented, thinking undoubtedly of the first use in his land of the largest non-nuclear bomb on the planet, “Is the plan just to use our country as a testing ground for bombs?” And keep in mind that the striking rise in territory the Taliban now controls, the most since they were driven from power in 2001, suggests that the U.S. presence is hardly welcomed everywhere.

The second assumption is far more difficult to argue or justify.  To say the least, classifying a war in far-away Afghanistan as “vital” relies on a rather pliable definition of the term.  If that passes muster — if bolstering the Afghan military to the tune of(at least) tens of billions of dollars annually and thousands of new boots-on-the-ground in order to deny safe haven to “terrorists” is truly “vital” — then logically the current U.S. presences in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen are critical as well and should be similarly fortified.  And what about the growing terror groups in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia, and so on?  We’re talking about a truly expensive proposition here — in blood and treasure.  But is it true?  Rational analysis suggests it is not.  After all, on average about seven Americans were killed by Islamist terrorists on U.S. soil annually from 2005 to 2015.  That puts terrorism deaths right up there with shark attacks and lightning strikes.  The fear is real, the actual danger . . . less so.

As for the third point, it’s simply preposterous. One look at U.S. military attempts at “nation-building” or post-conflict stabilization and pacification in Iraq, Libya, or — dare I say — Syria should settle the issue. It’s often said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Yet here we are, 14 years after the folly of invading Iraq and many of the same voices — inside and outside the administration — are clamoring for one more “surge” in Afghanistan (and, of course, will be clamoring for the predictable surges to follow across the Greater Middle East).

The very idea that the U.S. military had the ability to usher in a secure Afghanistan is grounded in a number of preconditions that proved to be little more than fantasies.  First, there would have to be a capable, reasonably corruption-free local governing partner and military.  That’s a nonstarter.  Afghanistan’s corrupt, unpopular national unity government is little better than the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in the 1960s and that American war didn’t turn out so well, did it?  Then there’s the question of longevity.  When it comes to the U.S. military presence there, soon to head into its 16th year, how long is long enough?  Several mainstream voices, including former Afghan commander General David Petraeus, are now talking about at least a “generation” more to successfully pacify Afghanistan.  Is that really feasible given America’s growing resource constraints and the ever expanding set of dangerous “ungoverned spaces” worldwide?

And what could a new surge actually do?  The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is essentially a fragmented series of self-contained bases, each of which needs to be supplied and secured.  In a country of its size, with a limited transportation infrastructure, even the 4,000-5,000 extra troops the Pentagon is reportedly considering sending right now won’t go very far.

Now, zoom out again.  Apply the same calculus to the U.S. position across the Greater Middle East and you face what we might start calling the Afghan paradox, or my own quandary safeguarding five villages with only 82 men writ large.  Do the math.  The U.S. military is already struggling to keep up with its commitments.  At what point is Washington simply spinning its proverbial wheels?  I’ll tell you when — yesterday.

Now, think about those three questionable Afghan assumptions and one uncomfortable actuality leaps forth. The only guiding force left in the American strategic arsenal is inertia.

What surge 4.0 won’t do — I promise . . .

Remember something: this won’t be America’s first Afghan “surge.”  Or its second, or even its third.  No, this will be the U.S. military’s fourth crack at it.  Who feels lucky?  First came President George W. Bush’s “quiet” surgeback in 2008.  Next, just one month into his first term, newly minted President Barack Obama sent 17,000 more troops to fight his so-called good war (unlike the bad one in Iraq) in southern Afghanistan.  After a testy strategic review, he then committed 30,000 additional soldiers to the “real” surge a year later.  That’s what brought me (and the rest of B Troop, 4-4 Cavalry) to Pashmul district in 2011.  We left — most of us — more than five years ago, but of course about 8,800 American military personnel remain today and they are the basis for the surge to come.

To be fair, Surge 4.0 might initially deliver certain modest gains (just as each of the other three did in their day).  Realistically, more trainers, air support, and logistics personnel could indeed stabilize some Afghan military units for some limited amount of time.  Sixteen years into the conflict, with 10% as many American troops on the ground as at the war’s peak, and after a decade-plus of training, Afghan security forces are still being battered by the insurgents.  In the last years, they’ve been experiencing record casualties, along with the usual massive stream of desertionsand the legions of “ghost soldiers” who can neither die nor desert because they don’t exist, although their salaries do (in the pockets of their commanders or other lucky Afghans).  And that’s earned them a “stalemate,” which has left the Taliban and other insurgent groups in control of a significant part of the country.  And if all goes well (which isn’t exactly a surefire thing), that’s likely to be the best that Surge 4.0 can produce: a long, painful tie.

Peel back the onion’s layers just a bit more and the ostensible reasons for America’s Afghan War vanish along with all the explanatory smoke and mirrors. After all, there are two things the upcoming “mini-surge” will emphatically not do:

*It won’t change a failing strategic formula.

Imagine that formula this way: American trainers + Afghan soldiers + loads of cash + (unspecified) time = a stable Afghan government and lessening Taliban influence.

It hasn’t worked yet, of course, but — so the surge-believers assure us — that’s because we need more: more troops, more money, more time.  Like so many loyal Reaganites, their answers are always supply-side ones and none of them ever seems to wonder whether, almost 16 years later, the formula itself might not be fatally flawed.

According to news reports, no solution being considered by the current administration will even deal with the following interlocking set of problems: Afghanistan is a large, mountainous, landlocked, ethno-religiously heterogeneous, poor country led by a deeply corrupt government with a deeply corrupt military.  In a place long known as a “graveyard of empires,” the United States military and the Afghan Security Forces continue to wage what one eminent historian has termed “fortified compound warfare.”  Essentially, Washington and its local allies continue to grapple with relatively conventional threats from exceedingly mobile Taliban fighters across a porous border with Pakistan, a country that has offered not-so-furtive support and a safe haven for those adversaries.  And the Washington response to this has largely been to lock its soldiers inside those fortified compounds (and focus on protecting them against “insider attacks” by those Afghans it works with and trains).  It hasn’t worked.  It can’t.  It won’t.

Consider an analogous example.  In Vietnam, the United States never solved the double conundrum of enemy safe havens and a futile search for legitimacy.  The Vietcong guerillas and North Vietnamese Army used nearby Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam to rest, refit, and replenish.  U.S. troops meanwhile lacked legitimacy because their corrupt South Vietnamese partners lacked it.

Sound familiar?  We face the same two problems in Afghanistan: a Pakistani safe haven and a corrupt, unpopular central government in Kabul.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, in any future troop surge will effectively change that.

*It won’t pass the logical fallacy test.

The minute you really think about it, the whole argument for a surge or mini-surge instantly slides down a philosophical slippery slope.

If the war is really about denying terrorists safe havens in ungoverned or poorly governed territory, then why not surge more troops into Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan (where al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiriand Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin-Laden are believed to be safely ensconced), Iraq, Syria, Chechnya, Dagestan (where one of the Boston Marathon bombers was radicalized), or for that matter Paris or London.  Every one of those places has harbored and/or is harboring terrorists.  Maybe instead of surging yet again in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the real answer is to begin to realize that all the U.S. military in its present mode of operation can do to change that reality is make it worse.  After all, the last 15 years offer a vision of how it continually surges and in the process only creates yet more ungovernable lands and territories.

So much of the effort, now as in previous years, rests on an evident desire among military and political types in Washington to wage the war they know, the one their army is built for: battles for terrain, fights that can be tracked and measured on maps, the sort of stuff that staff officers (like me) can display on ever more-complicated PowerPoint slides.  Military men and traditional policymakers are far less comfortable with ideological warfare, the sort of contest where their instinctual proclivity to “do something” is often counterproductive.

As U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 — General David Petraeus’ highly touted counterinsurgency “bible” — wisely opined: “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”  It’s high time to follow such advice (even if it’s not the advice that Petraeus himself is offering anymore).

As for me, call me a deep-dyed skeptic when it comes to what 4,000 or 5,000 more U.S. troops can do to secure or stabilize a country where most of the village elders I met couldn’t tell you how old they were.  A little foreign policy humility goes a long way toward not heading down that slippery slope.  Why, then, do Americans continue to deceive themselves?  Why do they continue to believe that even 100,000 boys from Indiana and Alabama could alter Afghan society in a way Washington would like?  Or any other foreign land for that matter?

I suppose some generals and policymakers are just plain gamblers.  But before putting your money on the next Afghan surge, it might be worth flashing back to the limitations, struggles, and sacrifices of just one small unit in one tiny, contested district of southern Afghanistan in 2011 . . .

Lonely Pashmul

So, on we walked — single file, step by treacherous step — for nearly a year.  Most days things worked out.  Until they didn’t.  Unfortunately, some soldiers found bombs the hard way: three dead, dozens wounded, one triple amputee.  So it went and so we kept on going.  Always onward. Ever forward. For America? Afghanistan? Each other? No matter.  And so it seems other Americans will keep on going in 2017, 2018, 2019 . . .

Lift foot. Hold breath. Step. Exhale.

Keep walking . . . to defeat . . . but together.

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/30/the-follow-of-the-next-afghan-surge_partner/?source=newsletter

The Reichstag Fire Next Time

The coming crackdown

When each day brings more news than we are used to seeing in a week, and the kind of news that only the most catastrophic imagination can accommodate, we find ourselves talking about the Reichstag fire. Time feels both accelerated and slowed down, and so we imagine that we have been talking about the fire for years. It is the new president’s new clothes: invisible, yet always present in our perception of him.

The Reichstag fire, it goes almost without saying, will be a terrorist attack, and it will mark our sudden, obvious, and irreversible descent into autocracy. Here is what it looks like: On a sunny morning you turn on the television as you make coffee, or the speaker in your shower streams the news, or the radio comes on when you turn the ignition key in your car. The voices of the newscasters are familiar, but their pitch is altered, and they speak with a peculiar haste. Something horrible has happened—it is not yet clear what—and thousands are dead, and more are expected to die. You hear the word “terror.” You feel it.

Illustrations by Lincoln Agnew. Source photographs: Adolf Hitler © Hulton Archive/Getty Images; crowd saluting Hitler © Visual Studies Workshop/Getty Images

You reach for your cell phone, but the circuits are busy, and will be for hours—it will take you the rest of the day to check in with your loved ones. They are safe, but changed. And so are you. So are all of us. Tragedy has cast its shadow over every space where you encounter strangers: the subway, your child’s school, your lunch spot. People are quieter, less frivolous, yet they are not subdued. They share a sense of purpose that is greater than their fear. They are experiencing something they’d only read about: War has come to their land. Everyone is a patriot now.

You used to scoff at that word, or argue that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. But now you find that the word expresses what you are. Now is not the moment for dissent. A couple of public intellectuals insist that it is, and you feel embarrassed for them. They quickly fade from the scene, and this serves to underscore an unprecedented sort of unity.

Nowhere is this unity more evident than in Washington. Bills are passed unanimously. These laws give new powers to the president and his security apparatus. The president, unpopular and widely considered incompetent before the attack, now steps up to direct the war effort. His demeanor—which some used to deride as primitive—is well suited for this new black-and-white era. His administration institutes sweeping surveillance to ferret out enemies at home, and wages one war and then another abroad.

American public life is profoundly transformed. The press becomes uncritical of the government. There is no outright censorship; correspondents are part of the effort now, as they were during the Second World War. American casualties pile up, the foreign carnage is enormous and unmeasured, but there is scant domestic resistance. Only at the margins of politics and the media do some people question the usefulness and legality of the war effort.

The government pushes the limits further, cutting off access to the judiciary for those deemed the enemy. The president is no longer unpopular, and he can impose his will on Washington and the country. The country is in a forever war, a state of exception that has taken away many American freedoms, some of which were ceded voluntarily.

That is what we talk about when we talk about the Reichstag fire, and it has already happened. Like sad versions of the characters in The Wizard of Oz, who set off in search of traits they already possess, we are living in fear of an event that will catapult us into a terrifying future, when the event has already occurred—and has given us our terrifying present.

The actual fire in the Reichstag—the German parliament building—burned on the evening of February 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor four weeks earlier, and already he had begun placing restrictions on the press and expanding the powers of the police. Yet it is the fire, rather than Hitler’s toxic first steps, that is remembered as the event after which things were never the same, in Germany or in the world.

Hitler capitalized on the fire by taking an uncompromising militant stand: “There will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.” This, in turn, probably boosted his popularity, paving the way for a victory for the Nazi Party in parliamentary elections a week later.

Hitler immediately began cracking down on the political opposition. The day after the fire, the government issued a decree allowing the police to detain people without charges, on the grounds of prevention. Activists were rounded up by his paramilitary forces, the SA and the SS, and placed in camps. Less than a month later, the parliament passed an “enabling act,” creating rule by decree and establishing a state of emergency that lasted as long as the Nazis were in power.

Anschluss—the annexation of Austria—was still five years away, and the start of the Second World War six and a half, but the Reichstag fire was used to create a state of exception, as Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s favorite legal scholar, called it. In Schmitt’s terms, a state of exception arises when an emergency, a singular event, shakes up the accepted order of things. This is when the sovereign steps forward and institutes new, extralegal rules. The emergency enables a quantum leap: The sovereign has to have enough power to declare a state of exception, and then by that declaration he acquires far great­er, unchecked power. That is what makes the change irreversible, and the state of exception permanent.

Every galvanizing event of the past eighty years has been compared to the Reichstag fire. On December 1, 1934, Sergei Kirov, the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad, was murdered by a lone gunman. The killer, Leonid Nikolaev, was arrested and executed, but the assassination is remembered as the pretext for creating a state of exception in Russia. Show trials and mass arrests followed, swelling the gulag with people accused of being traitors, spies, and terrorist plotters. To handle the volume, the Kremlin created troikas—three-person panels that doled out a sentence without reviewing the case, much less hearing from the defense.

More recently, Vladimir Putin has relied on a succession of catastrophic events to create irreversible exceptions. In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and cities in southern Russia killed hundreds. This allowed Putin to proclaim that he could summarily execute those deemed “terrorists” and became a pretext for a new war in Chechnya. In 2002, the three-day siege of a Moscow theater served as a demonstration of the principle of summary execution: Russian law enforcement pumped the theater full of sleeping gas, entered the building, and shot the hostage-takers as they lay unconscious. The Kremlin also used the theater siege as a pretext to ban the already cowed media from covering anti-terrorist operations. Two years later, more than three hundred people, most of them children, died following an attack at a school in Beslan, in southern Russia. Putin used this catastrophic event to cancel the elections of local governors, effectively abolishing the country’s federal structure.

The thinking that transforms tragedy into crackdown is not foreign to the United States. During the crisis that followed the Alien and Sedition Acts at the turn of the nineteenth century, the ruling Federalists and the opposition Republicans accused each other of treason and a fatal lack of vigilance, of being Jacobin puppets. The courts, stacked with Federalist appointees, wasted no time shutting down opposition newspapers.

Half a century later, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without civilian judicial review. He did this to be able to indefinitely hold rebels whom he judged a danger to the Union—but whom, he said, “the courts, acting on ordinary rules, would discharge.” It wasn’t until 1866 that the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional.

By the next major war, the First World War, speech perceived as critical of or detrimental to the American war effort was punished with prison sentences as long as ten years. Historian Geoffrey Stone has called Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act of 1918 “the most repressive legislation in American history.” Thousands of people were arrested—many without a warrant—and 249 anarchist and communist activists were deported to Soviet Russia. It wasn’t until later that Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis started on a dissenting streak that ultimately restored and clarified free-speech protections.

The Second World War brought another presidential assault on the Constitution: the internment of more than a hundred thousand Americans of Japanese descent. Then came the ­McCarthy era, when the government took up spying on the enemy within and accusations of treason, whether or not they were supported by evidence, ruined life after life. The next generation of Americans lived through the secrecy, deceit, and paranoia of the Vietnam War years, which culminated in a president who had his opponents prosecuted and wiretapped. For Americans in the twentieth century a state of exception came close to being the rule.

Not all the periods of exception are remembered as repressive: In State of Exception, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben notes that Franklin Roosevelt invoked emergency powers for the passage of the New Deal in 1933, arguing that economic catastrophe warranted “broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” Writing in 2005, Agamben drew a narrative line from the state of exception in Europe following the First World War to that in America following 9/11.

As long as war is raging, political consensus supports the crackdowns. Legal scholar Stephen Holmes calls this wisdom “the intuitive claim that grave emergencies require discretionary authority to act outside and against inherited rules and standard operating procedures.” There is no proof that such a response is effective—and there is even copious evidence that it leads to abuse of power and damage to society—but the temptation to both seize and cede power in the face of fear proves irresistible time after time.

Source photographs: Donald Trump © JB Lacroix/WireImage; Vladimir Putin © Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images; Barack Obama © Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images; George W. Bush © Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images; protest © Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto/Getty Images; drone © Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

The war that began in 2001 is unlike other wars: The enemy is not a nation or an army but a tactic, one that has existed for millennia. This war cannot be won, because a tactic cannot be eradicated. A war that cannot be won cannot end, and so it has not. Nor have the liberties surrendered by Americans in response to 9/11 been restored. Under President Obama, the war on terror morphed into the more grammatically sensible war on terrorism. The Patriot Act became the Freedom Act. The use of torture appears to have been largely discontinued, but the camp at Guantánamo Bay continues its shameful existence—with a reduced number of inmates, though numbers are never a good measure of liberty. Millions of Americans who voted in the last election have lived with the war on terror for as long as they can remember.

In his farewell address in Chicago, Obama could claim only that he had “worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said, interrupted by cheers before continuing, “who are just as patriotic as we are.” Over the course of more than fifteen years, the essential premise—that the United States is at war, and that the Other in this war is Muslims—has remained unchanged. Trump claims that Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11, while Obama says that they are just as patriotic as we are; that they are not us is one of the few things the two men agree on.

The current state of exception rests in part on the national state of emergency, which George W. Bush declared three days after the September 11 attacks, which he renewed every year of his presidency, and which Obama also renewed every September of his. The president’s ability to impose and renew a state of emergency is technically limited by the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which requires Congress to vote on the state of emergency within six months of the day it is imposed. But such a vote has never occurred—even though the act has been invoked at least fifty-three times. In practice, the president wields unilateral power over emergencies.

The National Emergencies Act can be invoked for disasters beyond an actual war—Obama declared a national emergency in anticipation of the swine flu epidemic in 2009—but it invariably represents both an outsized reaction to a perceived threat and a journey outside what we maintain is normal national and social conduct. At any given time in the past decade, roughly thirty simulta­neous states of emergency have been in effect. Dozens of executive orders, and numerous other directives and regulations, have stemmed from these states of emergency—all of them creating powers that would be impossible in the increasingly illusory normal state of things. A state of emergency allows the president to unilaterally seize control of the media, food supplies, and commercial vessels, for instance. The fact that Bush and Obama did not utilize some of the more extreme possibilities of the state of emergency testifies only to their restraint, not to the legal limitations. At the same time, we know less and less about the powers the government has exercised; since 2001, an ever-increasing number of these emergency powers have been classified.

The state of exception also rests on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed by Congress three days after the attacks in 2001. It gives the president sweeping power to

use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.

The law, passed with a single dissenting vote, remains in force as the nation enters its fourth post-9/11 presidential term.

Today, when it is said that a terrorist attack is sure to happen, it is assumed that the attack will be carried out in the name of the Islamic State. The premise of inevitability is notable—one would think that such acts of terror occurred in the United States on a regular basis. Since September 11, 2001, however, there have been eleven attacks ostensibly driven by jihadist ideology; they have claimed a total of ninety-five lives. “The death toll has been quite similar to other forms of political—and even non-political—violence Americans face today,” a recent report from the New America foundation summarized. The report referred only to domestic terrorism and mass shooting incidents, but many more Americans have died at the hands of the state: In the first four months of this year, the use of deadly force by police claimed three times as many lives. These killings, extrajudicial by definition, are a symptom of the state of exception, which has turned the police into a military force. As a nation we insist on being united in fear of the one-in-millions chance of a particular kind of violence. That we seem so certain of the outlines of the Reichstag fire to come reveals the fact that it has already occurred.

Among the victims of the sixteen-year-old state of exception are hundreds of individuals identified, prosecuted, and sentenced under emergency rules. Since the war on terror began, the United States has prosecuted an average of forty terrorism cases per year, about half of them on the basis of informant operations. Convictions that result from such cases—and convictions result almost without fail, usually as the result of a plea bargain—fetch higher sentences because of something known as the terrorism adjustment in federal sentencing guidelines. The adjustment went into effect following the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 but was used most widely after 9/11. This was a law passed by Congress, yet it created an exceptional category of crime that could not be addressed by normal law. One example is the prosecution of two Iraqi refugees who were tried in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for allegedly intending to help insurgent fighters battling U.S. forces back home. The men were convicted of terrorism, even though the accusation against them—that they aided fighters confronting an army—doesn’t fit standard definitions of terrorism. They were sentenced to life in prison, in the case of a man arrested at the age of twenty-three, and forty years behind bars, for the one who cooperated with the prosecution. This was the case that Trump aide Kellyanne Conway presumably had in mind when she conjured the memory of the Bowling Green Massacre—something that never happened but, according to the logic the country has applied over the past decade and a half, could have happened.

A key characteristic of the most frightening regimes of the past hundred years is mobilization. This is what distinguishes the merely authoritarian regimes from the totalitarian ones. Authoritarians prefer their subjects passive, tending to their private lives while the authoritarian and his cronies amass wealth and power. The totalitarian wants people out in the square; he craves their adulation and devotion, their willingness to fight and die for him. Mobilization was just as important an element of Hitler’s 1933 consolidation of power as his crackdown. Victory rallies, national holidays, and parades demonstrated, even forced, the unity of a nation. In Germans into Nazis, historian Peter Fritzsche makes no mention of the Reichstag fire but devotes a chapter to the May Day parade of 1933, a daylong, citywide spectacle “carefully choreographed to .?.?. demonstrate the national sense of purpose that was now said to animate the German people.”

To totalitarianism watchers, Trump’s campaign rallies, which segued into his victory rallies, including his “America First” inauguration, have looked familiar and perhaps more worrisome than an imaginary future fire. To historians of the twenty-first century, however, they will likely look like logical steps from the years of war rhetoric that preceded them, not quantum leaps. A nation can be mobilized only if it knows its enemy and believes in its own peril.

It is not clear how many Germans attended that May Day parade because the spirit moved them and how many were compelled by fear or force. Four and a half decades later, in “The Power of the Powerless,” the Czech dissident Václav Havel described an individual who “lives within a lie,” the lie of the official ideology, without consciously accepting or rejecting it. Totalitarianism robs a person of the very ability to form an opinion.

Fear has a way of catapulting citizens into the inside of a lie. Following the apartment-building bombings of 1999, Russians huddled together, forming neighborhood patrols, eyeing strangers and neighbors alike with suspicion, and then threw their support behind the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In one of his first public statements, the unknown, gray little politician promised to hunt down terrorists and “rub them out in the outhouse,” rhetorically trampling the foundations of the justice system.

Americans, too, have finely honed instincts for banding together in the face of an attack. Within hours of the September 11 attacks, 150 members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps and sang “God Bless America.” Some of them held hands. The strongest country on the planet was making a spectacle of fear and resolve. The following day, a train traveling between Boston and New York was stopped because passengers had been alarmed by the presence of a Sikh man; he was removed. Two days later, enabling legislation—bills on war powers and the state of emergency—were passed.

Trump does not have to declare war—this has already been done—or even proffer an assessment of the danger. But he has already shown that he can deftly use the coercive power of the state of being at war—this is, possibly, the only political tool of which the president has instinctive mastery. During his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump orchestrated more than two minutes of applause for the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL. It was 125 seconds of naked cynicism that left no one in the audience any choice but to stand and applaud. The following day Breit­bart falsely claimed that several top Democrats had refused to do so. This was a preview of the coercion by national unity that we talk about when we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, but it was also reminiscent of the early weeks and months following 9/11, when Bill Maher and Susan Sontag were shamed for breaking rhetorical ranks.

In Russia, it took many years for Putin to consolidate power, and it wasn’t until 2012 that his regime assumed its current retro-totalitarian character. Over the years, the use of terrorist attacks to justify successive crackdowns has grown familiar and gradually transformed the country’s thinking. The lack of logical connections between events and their ostensible consequences, along with the general degradation of the judicial system and law enforcement, eroded all trust in the government—to the extent that every time a terrorist attack occurred, many Russians assumed that the government, no matter what it said, was behind it. When a bomb went off in the St. Petersburg Metro in April, killing fourteen people, journalists and Russia watchers instantly assumed that the Kremlin had organized the attack in order to detract attention from or to stifle emergent anti-corruption protests.

Over the years many Russians, including me, have come to believe that the apartment-building bombings in Moscow and elsewhere were organized and carried out by the FSB, the intelligence agency, in order to shore up Putin’s power grab. There has never been a transparent and satisfying investigation of the blasts, but the available evidence stacks up in favor of this theory.

When we talk about the Reichstag fire, we speak not only about an event that precipitates a state of exception and launches coercive national mobilization but also of a conspiracy. Many Germans were certain that the Reichs­tag fire was set by the Nazis themselves. So much evidence supported this theory that for decades after the Second World War a Nazi conspiracy was the historians’ consensus. During the same period, it was generally accepted that the Kirov murder was a secret-police assassination. But when all the available information on the Kirov murder was excavated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no proof to back up the conspiracy theory: It is now believed that Kirov was killed by his assistant’s jealous husband. In the 1960s, reporting cast doubt on the theory that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag, but in the 1990s, a new wave of evidence suggested they may have been involved after all. Historians continue to debate the issue. (A young Dutch Communist was apprehended at the scene, tried, and sentenced to death by beheading.) It is certainly too early to exonerate Putin and the FSB for the apartment bombings, but the Russian autocrat may eventually be proved to have simply seized an opportunity, as he has done many times since. For now, though, we do not know enough, and this paucity of information, too, is one of the signs of an autocracy.

Autocracies thrive on and engender fear, ignorance, and—their combined product—conspiracy theory. Writing in his diary in January 1934, the linguist Victor Klemperer assessed a genre of joke. “Conversations in heaven are popular. The best one: Hitler to Moses: But you can tell me in confidence, Herr Moses. Is it not true that you set the bush on fire yourself?” The joke shows Hitler and the satirist sharing a conspiratorial worldview: The person telling the joke believes that the führer set the Reichs­tag fire and also that Hitler sees the world through the lens of his own deception. Everyone is both a conspirator and a conspiracy theorist.

The September 11 attacks, like all unimaginable events, spawned conspiracy theories. Trutherism spread far and wide; its younger cousin, birtherism, grabbed hold of a smaller but more vocal constituency. By the time Trump was elected president, America was living through an epidemic of conspiracy thinking. Some were convinced that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring from a pizza shop in Washington; others that every recently dead Russian man was connected to Trump’s election victory. No one now seems to believe that most things are what they seem: usually, a mess.

When we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, we talk about the consequences of a catastrophic event. But in our case, these consequences—a legal state of exception, a sense of living under siege, popular mobilization, and an epidemic of conspiracy thinking—are already in place. Indeed, they are the preconditions of our current predicament. Trump used the conspiracy thinking and the siege mentality to get himself elected. Once president, he used the state of exception to begin lobbing missiles, dropping bombs—nothing less than the so-called Mother of All Bombs. Mobilization, the popular sense of being together in constant battle, ensured that Trump’s first forays into war looked good on TV. At the same time, Trump overestimated the power given to him by the siege mentality. When he attempted to ban Muslims from entering the United States, for example, he encountered great popular and institutional resistance.

Here lies our best hope for reversing the effects of the next Reichs­tag fire: American civil society is strong—far stronger, paradoxically, than it was before the election. And something remains of what Hannah Arendt observed in a letter from 1946:

People here feel themselves responsible for public life to an extent I have never seen in any European country. For example, when all Americans of Japanese descent were locked up willy-nilly in concentration camps at the beginning of the war, a genuine storm of protest that can still be felt today went through the country.

What struck Arendt was the spontaneous and active expression of solidarity on the part of ordinary Americans who “declared that if something like that could happen, they no longer felt safe themselves.”

The comparison to contemporary protests may not be entirely straightforward. Leading arguments rested on the impossibility of religious discrimination; popular protest relied on a general sense of injustice and the rational argument that banning the entry of people from seven majority-Muslim countries would do little to protect Americans from terrorism. But by pointing to the ineffectiveness of the proposed ban, some of these arguments unwittingly reinforced the idea that Americans can make themselves safer by shutting out some part of the world.

Most recent protests share a fundamental flaw: They project the assumption that things were fine until America inexplicably elected Trump. The women’s marches, the immigrants’ marches, the scientists’ marches, the protests in defense of the Affordable Care Act and freedom of speech, and the earliest of the protests, which simply expressed outraged disbelief at the results of the election, all serve the purpose of staking out the current norms and vowing to defend them. It’s hard to argue with the urge; all indications are that the current norms are far preferable to the reality of the near and distant future. Yet most of the protests live within a lie—the fiction that the threats of the Trump presidency are not only grave but also new. His war against the national press is a grotesque blowup of many years’ worth of growing regimentation of access, concentration of power, and government opacity. Trump’s war on immigrants builds on the mass deportations of the Obama years, which were themselves built on the siege mentality of the Bush years. Trump’s casual bomb-throwing is enabled by the forever war begun nearly sixteen years ago.

To confront the threat we face, it is not enough to advance the rational argument that an American has a lesser chance of dying in a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee than of being struck by lightning. Nor is it enough to focus on the grave injustice of tarnishing immigrants as potential criminals and Muslim refugees as potential terrorists. It is most certainly not enough to revel in the beauty, intelligence, and wit of the many people who have come out to protest Trump’s attacks on humanity and its planet. There is, in fact, no room for self-congratulation in the actions we need to take.

To be worthy of the lofty name “resistance,” the opposition to Trump must aim to break the country’s post-9/11 trajectory. It must question the very premise of the war on terror, challenge the very fact of a perpetual state of emergency, and confront not only the Trump presidency but the legacy of the Bush and Obama Administrations. Organizations such as the A.C.L.U. have been doing this for years. The Trump presidency has not only, paradoxically, brought the group millions of dollars, it has also, potentially, rallied millions of people to the cause. Now is the time to stop waiting for the Reichs­tag fire and start battling the consequences of the one we already had—Trump and the legal and public conditions that are enabling his presidency.

 

 

US forces accused of firing white phosphorus into Mosul and Raqqa

By James Cogan
12 June 2017

Videos published by the Amaq news agency show artillery exploding over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria that analysts believe could be white phosphorus rounds. Amaq, which often publishes information provided by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sources, claims that the areas which are shown being bombarded are ISIS-held sectors of the cities still populated by large numbers of civilians.

One video was posted on June 4, showing a daytime barrage on what is said to be the Zanjiji district of western Mosul. An ISIS flag is flying at the top of one of some multistory buildings in the foreground of the area being bombarded. The artillery shells explode in the fashion of white phosphorus munitions, igniting fires.

A second video, dated June 8, shows several explosions, again consistent with white phosphorus shells, over the surrounded ISIS “capital” of Raqqa. The artillery also appears to immediately trigger intense fires.

Many militaries around the world still use white phosphorus munitions, ostensibly as a means of rapidly creating a dense smoke screen. It can, however, be used as an incendiary weapon. The “smoke” it produces sets alight combustible materials and causes horrific burns to human flesh. It was used extensively during World War II by US and allied forces to attack enemy troop concentrations and set areas ablaze. It was widely used during the American wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In 1980, the use of white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon to target civilians was ruled a war crime under international law.

It has continued, however, to be used to set ablaze urban areas and terrorize civilian populations. Documented or alleged cases include: the 1994 Russian assault on Grozny in Chechnya; the April and November 2004 US attacks on the Iraqi city of Fallujah; the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon; the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Palestinian city of Gaza; and by American forces in Afghanistan during the so-called “surge” ordered by the Obama administration in 2009.

There is overwhelming evidence that the US Marines—commanded by now secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis—used white phosphorus as an incendiary, not smoke-creating, weapon over civilian-populated areas of Fallujah. The Bush administration and Pentagon dismissed allegations of criminality, asserting that it was legitimate as American forces were seeking to force armed insurgents out of their defensive positions.

In a widely cited statement in November 2005, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable explained US military tactics regarding its use as an antipersonnel weapon: “When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke—and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground—will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.”

US Marine artillery batteries, fielding 155mm howitzers and equipped with white phosphorus rounds, are participating in the assaults on both Mosul and Raqqa. An estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped in the ISIS-held areas of both cities.

Upon taking office in January, the new administration of President Donald Trump signaled that it had ordered the lifting of “restrictions” on American forces fighting ISIS that were purportedly limiting civilian casualties. Over the months since, the number and intensity of US air strikes on Mosul and Raqqa have dramatically increased, along with the toll of civilian deaths and injuries.

Secretary of Defense Mattis has stated on several occasions that the US and its local Iraqi and Syrian proxies are now implementing “annihilation tactics” against ISIS.

Prior to the allegations of war crimes relating to the use of white phosphorus, evidence had already emerged in Mosul of the torture and extrajudicial murder of alleged ISIS fighters by US-backed forces.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/12/wpho-j12.html

Forget Comey. The Real Story Is Russia’s War on America

WAR ROOM

Why are we focusing on who leaked what to whom, when our democracy is under siege?

June 11, 2017

It was a breezy, surprisingly pleasant summer week in Washington as the frenzy around potential Trump-Russia revelations reached near-carnival levels. On Thursday, brightly clad groups scattered across the lawns of Capitol Hill could almost have been picnickers — if not for the mounds of cable leashing them to nearby satellite trucks. Every news studio in D.C. seemed to have spilled forth into the jarring sunlight, eager for the best live backdrop to the spectacle that awaited. Bars opened early for live viewing of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. Political ads against Comey — who isn’t running for anything — aired during coverage of the hearing, often back-to-back with vibrant ads praising President Trump’s first foreign trip, where he “[united] forces for good against evil.”

Only D.C.’s usually opportunistic T-shirt printers seemed to have missed the cue, forced to display the usual tourist “FBI” fare in rainbow spectrum but offering no specialty knitwear for the occasion. The conversion of America’s political arena into a hybrid sporting event/reality show was nonetheless near complete.

Russian state media — eagerly throwing peanuts into the three-ring circus in the days before by endlessly looping Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s mockery of America’s “hysteria” on all things Russia, and on the day after by running headlines of American “collusion” with ISIS — was dead silent on either of this week’s Senate hearings, during both of which intelligence leaders offered bleak and candid assessments of the cascading Russian threat against America.

And this is perhaps the banner flying over the investigations circus: Missing from the investigation of the supposed Russia scandal is any real discussion of Russia.

The starkest aspect of Comey’s prepared statement was the president’s lack of curiosity about the long-running, deep-reaching, well-executed and terrifyingly effective Russian attack on American democracy. This was raised more than once in the hearing — that after Trump was briefed in January on the intelligence community’s report, which emphasized ongoing activity directed by the Kremlin against the United States, he has not subsequently evinced any interest in what can be done to protect us from another Russian assault. The president is interested in his own innocence, or the potential guilt of others around him — but not at all in the culpability of a foreign adversary, or what it meant. This is utterly astonishing.

Since the January intelligence report, the public’s understanding of the threat has not expanded. OK, Russia meddled in the election — but so what? Increasingly, responsibility for this is born by the White House, which in seeking to minimize the political damage of “Trump/Russia” is failing to craft a response to the greatest threat the United States and its allies have ever faced.

Even if the president and his team were correct, and the Comey testimony definitively cleared the president of potential obstruction of justice or collusion charges — even if that were true, that does not also exonerate Russia. Nonetheless, this is a line the president seems to want drawn.

So here are the real issues — about Russia; about the brutal facts we have yet to face; and about some hard questions we need to ask ourselves, and our political leaders, and our president.

1. No matter what is true or not, we have moved toward the fractured, inward-looking, weakened America that President Putin wants to see.

An honest assessment of where we are reads like the setting of a dystopian spy novel. Paid advertising is defaming private American citizens viewed as opponents of the president, while political ads praise our glorious leader. The policy process is paralyzed while both party caucuses, once well-oiled legislative and messaging machines, have factionalized into guerrilla-like cells. The same can be said of many government agencies, whose halls remain quiet, awaiting political appointees who may never arrive. Policies are floated and tweeted and drafted and retracted. There are uneasy relationships between the White House and the intelligence community, and between the White House and Congress, and between the White House and other parts of the White House — which is bleeding over into how the intelligence community interacts with the Congress, as well.

This factionalization mirrors a deep and deepening public divide, which has been greatly accelerated by a war on truth. The Russian narrative is increasingly being echoed by far right media, and finding its way into mainstream conservative media. Episodes of violent unrest, and the potential for wider chaos, don’t seem far off.

Meanwhile, no one seems to be watching what Russia is still doing to us. No one is systematically speaking about the tactics of Russian hybrid warfare, and that these go beyond “fake news” and “hacking” into far-reaching intelligence operations and initiatives to destabilize Western countries, economies and societies. No one is talking about how Russia provides training for militants and terrorists in Europe, even as U.S. generals say it is supporting the Taliban as it attacks American forces in Afghanistan. No one is leading a unified effort to roll back Russian influence in Europe or Asia or the Middle East. No one is commenting on Russia’s new efforts to entrench its presence near eastern Ukraine, escalate the fighting there and destabilize the government in Kyiv.

No one is commenting on how Russia is sparking and fueling Middle Eastern wars — first a physical one spiraling out from Syria, and now a diplomatic one that sweeps across the region. In a very real sense, if you want a glimpse of the world that Putin’s “grey Cardinal” Vladislav Surkov imagined when he described nonlinear warfare — “all against all” — the current churn throughout the Middle East, the Gulf states and North Africa is a pretty good example. This is a massive realignment that deeply affects U.S. interests, and which will cost us, in blood and treasure, in immeasurable ways.

But no one is commenting on the new hardware and manpower that Russia has deployed to the eastern and southern Mediterranean, or to its eastern and western borders. Our trenches will draw nearer again after the summer exercise season, but who will man them on the Western side is more uncertain. Europe’s newfound fortitude is absolutely critical — but their military capabilities will lag their ambitions for years to come.

Our relationships with our truest allies are frayed and fraying — and not just in headlines, but in trust and intelligence sharing and functionality, even as critical ambassadorships and administration jobs gape open. Those who remain, especially from the Pentagon and military commands — Defense Secretary James Mattis and the EUCOM and SOCOM commanders, notably — have been patrolling Europe with trips and reassurances, good work that was undone when the president removed mention of Article 5 from his speech at NATO headquarters. Though he committed to the principle of collective defense on Friday during a news conference with the president of Romania, that one act of petulance is devastating to years of NATO’s strategic planning.

Even behind closed doors, Trump reportedly did not once mention Russia to the NATO heads of state — not to discuss Russian attacks against our allies, and not to discuss Russia’s menacing of NATO skies, seas and borders. Instead, he browbeat our allies. Maybe it’s news to the White House — but it was Russia’s aggression, not Trump’s hectoring, that inspired the alliance to boost national military spending. Days later, the sting still on the slap, Trump lashed out at the mayor of London following a terror attack. These words and images, next to those of the president yukking it up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, add a dangerous element of fragility to the greatest military alliance in history.

It leaves us to wonder — who does President Trump imagine will come to our aid after the next attack on our soil? Who does he imagine will stand next to our troops and ease the burden at the front lines in the many wars he is fighting?

For while our attention is on the center ring and who may next find their head inside the lion’s mouth, we are engaged in expanding special warfare in Africa, a tense standoff on the Korean peninsula, expanding operations in the Middle East. The president has requested a military budget to match this operational appetite — even if his inability to manage Congress makes it near-certain this will be trapped behind a continuing budget resolution until after the midterm elections. The Pentagon is clear on the purpose and direction of these operations, but the president’s tirades against countries hosting our men and military assets — Qatar, South Korea, Germany, etc. — complicate our ability to execute on-task.

Even Putin admits that “patriotic” Russian hackers were behind the attack on America — a fact the president will still not mention without caveat. Trump is isolated, manages those around him with Stalinesque puppeteering, and rightly views himself as under attack. But even if given every benefit of the doubt about the election, it is clear he does not think Russia is a threat.

2. Russia has altered American policies, our relationships with our allies and our view of our place in the world.

To be clear: I am not saying Trump did not win the election, or that he didn’t have considerable momentum toward the end of the campaign. Candidate Trump had a narrative that captured many hearts and minds — but this did not happen in a vacuum, but rather a landscape awash in Russian active measures.

A constantly misunderstood narrative was revisited during the Comey hearing — questions about whether Russian actions “changed” the vote. The focus on whether this means Russia physically changed votes is the greatest diversion tactic of all. Ironically, D.C.’s political class — whose existence is based upon the ability to deploy narratives that get some people to vote, and others not to — refuses to admit that outside interests could change a small percentage of votes in the Rust Belt.

If the Trump campaign itself has openly discussed its use of data-backed information operations to conduct targeted voter-suppression campaigns, possibly at the individual level — why would we believe the Russians wouldn’t be experimenting with the same tools and tactics? Do we really think Russian-friendly parties, oligarchs and state-owned interests hire U.S. political consultants and pollsters and technology firms merely to run ad campaigns, rather than to learn how to use these things against us?

These tools and tactics in the information space work better against America than anywhere else because there are a lot of us, and because English is the language of internet — and the amplification factor because of these things is staggering, especially when one of our presidential candidates was borrowing and repeating Russian narrative and disinformation. What possible claim could any sensible American politician make that these factors had no impact in the decisionmaking process of the American voter?

In fact, you can track the radical changes in the belief of certain narratives during the time period Comey identified as when the most intensive Kremlin-led activities were underway (beginning in summer 2015 through present day). During this time frame, Republican views on free trade agreements dropped 30 points, from roughly the same as Democrats to radically divergent (Democratic views remained relatively steady). Putin’s favorability rating increased, even while unfavorable views remained constant, fueled by a 20-point increase among Republicans and an 11-point increase among Independents. Between early 2016 and now, Republican views of whether media criticism can help keep political leaders in line — which for the previous five years was almost identical to Democratic views — dropped by 35 points.

An isolationist America that is softer on Russia and more in favor of authoritarian traits in leaders fits right into the narratives that the Kremlin nurtures and spends billions to promote. And if views changed so dramatically on these aspects of Russian narratives — why is it we believe their efforts didn’t change any votes?

In many ways, the trust-based, state-based U.S. voting system is surprisingly resilient to basic hacking or meddling. Every state, sometimes every county, runs its own elections with its own rules with its own machines (or not) serviced by their own vendors. Certainly, there are easy ways to hack this infrastructure — technicians servicing software, unsecured machines, etc. — but the decentralized system makes it a complicated affair. It’s uncertain and it’s messy and it would leave a trail of money and evidence that can be found and exposed.

Far simpler, it turns out, is just hacking people — getting them to change their views over time without realizing that they are doing so on the basis of deliberately coercive and false information that is targeted at them because they exhibit certain traits and habits that “data scientists” have profiled. And no one can prove anyone did anything.

And yes, this is indeed terrifying. So yes, it would be great if everyone would move on from denying the existence of the “hacked votes” no one is looking for to looking instead at the far more important issue: that Russian information warfare has come of age thanks to social media. Perhaps then, the tens of thousands of “programmers” working for Russia’s three largest data companies will make a lot more sense.

3. It will happen again; it is still happening now.

One final point, on the tactical weaponization of discrete pieces of information. Ours was not the only case where hacking introduced info or disinfo that came to dominate specific parts of the information space (particularly when massively amplified by botnets that know how to game the algorithms).

Just this week, the planting of a single false report, allegedly by Russian hackers, was used to justify a diplomatic rift that will fuel the realignment of the Middle East. Russia has been working to accelerate this process since 2011, when it used the Syrian civil war as a pretext to deploy to the region. It is no accident that this realignment has meant a proxy war that has empowered Iran — which has been helping kill Americans in Iraq since at least 2004 — and special efforts targeting countries that the U.S. has relied on for regional basing and power projection — including Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Iraqi Kurdistan.

This tactic works because it prays on doubts and grievances that are already present — as the best information warfare does. Truth doesn’t matter. Once we know how we feel about something, who cares what the truth is? And information is just one act of Russia’s shadow war.

***

So this is where we are, six months after first taking stock of what Russia did to America. We are paralyzed and divided, watching a salacious sideshow of an investigation while Russian initiatives are underway in countless places, completely unchecked. The American president, eager to be rid of this “cloud,” has equated dismissing Russia’s global imperialist insurgency with loyalty to him.

As I wrote for Politico in January, Russia is clear about what its objectives are. When I said then that Russia was at war with the United States, this was an edgy, controversial view. Now, it is regularly repeated by senators and TV commentators. But our societal understanding of the war we face has not expanded fast enough.

Even looking only at the advance of Russian military assets — men, materiel, supporting infrastructure — the picture is grim. And yet the most concise encapsulation of the Russian concept of hybrid warfare — the chart depicting the “Gerasimov doctrine,” developed by the Russian chief of the general staff — shows that information warfare is the constant through all phases, and that the ideal ratio of nonmilitary to military activities is 4:1. The more important war is, by far, the shadow war. And yet we still refuse to accept what’s happening.

I don’t know why we just choose not to believe what Russia says, when they have repeatedly outlined what their strategic goals are and then moved to achieve them by force and guile. But it’s a bridge of disbelief we need to be willing to cross.

The war is in the shadows. And right now, Russia is winning. There is only one question that we should be asking: What are we going to do to protect the American people from Russian acts of war — and why doesn’t the president want to talk about it?

Molly K. McKew (@MollyMcKew), an expert on information warfare, also advises governments and political parties on foreign policy and strategic communications. She advised Georgian President Saakashvili’s government from 2009-2013, and former Moldovan Prime Minister Filat, who has been a political prisoner since 2015, in 2014-2015.

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html