Well, you got your lesser evil. Now all we can do is hope that he will do less evil than he did in his first term. Bitter experience, and a nodding acquaintance with history -- and human nature -- mitigate mightily against such a hope, but we are where we are, and that's all we've got.
In any case, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how all our super-savvy lesser-evilist progressives "hold Obama's feet to the fire" in the months to come, as they promised so solemnly to do. You remember, don' t you? How they savagely condemned anyone who so much as thought about not supporting Obama, while pledging to unleash their righteous rage at his crimes and follies -- just as soon as he was safely returned to the White House. I'm sure they'll come down hard on him. Why, I can see it all now.....
"OK, now the inauguration's over, let's get to work. First of all, these drone attacks are criminal atrocities killing scores of innocent people. We can organize a protest march to--" Super-savvy prog: "Hush your mouth! We can't undermine the president right now. We've got to help the Democrats get control of the House in 2014! Or do you want the evil Rethuglicans to keep blocking everything? Wait until after the mid-term elections, then we'll put the pressure on."
"OK, we took back the House in 2014 with a slate of anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk, Blue Dog Democrats. You said it was the savvy thing to do, the lesser evil to replace the anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk Republicans. NOW can we go after Obama -- for the state terrorism of the drone campaign, the 'extrajudicial' murders, the 'disposition matrix,' the torture and imprisonment of the truth-teller Bradley Manning, the support of the brutal coup and murderous repression in Honduras, the fracking, the off-shore drilling, the 'Grand Bargaining' with Social Security and Medicare, the protection of CIA torturers, the global arms dealing, the growing prison population, the growing economic inequality, the ever-more draconian 'security apparatus', the bail-out of the oligarchs and the--"
Super- savvy prog: "Bite your tongue! We can't undermine the president right now! It will hurt the chances of his Democratic successor if we make Obama look bad! Or do you want Paul Ryan to be president? What kind of selfish moral purist are you?"
Oh yeah, they're really gonna make Obama sweat. Things will be different this time around. I can't wait!
There was an election. The winner was a man pledged to murder and plunder. His followers rejoiced that the murder and plunder would be flavored to their taste, done by one of their own. The losers lamented the fate of the nation because their man would not be in charge of the murder and plunder. Bitterness was everywhere. Poison, illusion.
The sun rose. The broken system, heaving and buckling under the weight of its foul excrescences, staggered on.
No answers. No resolution. No mercy, not from the structures; only from ourselves, each to each, one to one, moment to moment, hands touching, clutching, tearing free, in the turbulence of the waves.
UPDATE:Arthur Silber marshals the insights of Hannah Arendt in support of his own powerful arguments against legitimizing a brutal and murderous system that has forfeited all claim to legitimacy. Together, they dismantle the "lesser evil" argument, and make the moral case for refusal -- or as Silber terms it, "the power to say, No." For example, here is Arendt:
In their moral justification, the argument of the lesser evil has played a prominent role. If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, whereas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism which is alien to political circumstances, of being unwilling to dirty their hands ....
Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil … Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of “the lesser evil”— far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite—is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such. …
We see here how unwilling the human mind is to face realities which in one way or another contradict totally its framework of reference. Unfortunately, it seems to be much easier to condition human behavior and to make people conduct themselves in the most unexpected and outrageous manner, than it is to persuade anybody to learn from experience, as the saying goes; that is, to start thinking and judging instead of applying categories and formulas which are deeply ingrained in our mind, but whose basis of experience has long been forgotten and whose plausibility resides in their intellectual consistency rather than in their adequacy to actual events.
… The nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority … asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.
There is much more to the piece; read the whole thing. In many ways, it underscores what has been, essentially, the oft-repeated core message of this blog for many years now, based on the tragically abiding truth stated by the American refusenik Henry David Thoreau, which I'll repeat here yet again, as a last thought before the election:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
The Washington Post has just laid out, in horrifying, soul-slaughtering detail, the Obama Administration's ongoing effort to expand, entrench and "codify" the practice of murder and terrorism by the United States government. The avowed, deliberate intent of these sinister machinations is to embed the use of death squads and drone terror attacks into the policy apparatus of future administrations, so that the killing of human beings outside all pretense of legal process will go on, year after year after year, even when the Nobel Peace Laureate has left office.
They have even come up with a new euphemism for state murder: "disposition." The new "counterterrorism matrix" is "designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the 'disposition' of suspects beyond the reach of American drones," the Post reports.
In other words, it involves expanding and varying the menu of arbitrary murder, mixing the blunderbuss of drone blasts and night raids with more selective "bullet-in-the-brain," "bomb-in-the-car-engine," "polonium-in-the-pea-soup," and "doping-and-defenestration" approaches. Arbitrary murder by unaccountable elites and their spies, paid for by money taken from ordinary citizens who have no say in and no knowledge of what is being done in their names (and who will be the victims of the inevitable blowback from the state terror and murder campaign): this is now being "codified," officially, formally, as the American way.
To be fair -- and by all means, let us be fair with these butchers -- the term 'disposition' is also stretched to cover a multitude of sins: kidnapping, rendition, indefinite detention, turning captives over to proxy torturers. But it is worth remembering that all of these dispositions -- including the murders, wholesale and retail -- involve "alleged" terrorists, terrorist "suspects," people who have found themselves, for whatever reason (or no reason at all) on one of the innumerable "lists" gathered by whatever method (or no method at all) by the many fatly-funded agencies now involved in "counter-terrorism."
But that's not all, not by a long shot. These codified murders are also being inflicted on people who are not on any list whatsoever: their names, affiliations, beliefs, intentions -- indeed, their dispositions -- are completely unknown to those who kill them. They are the faceless targets of "signature strikes," which allow American death squads to kill people based on "patterns of activity" which may -- or may not -- signal some possible malign intent -- or none -- toward someone -- or no one -- somewhere -- or nowhere. This rigorous process rests entirely on in the magical mind-reading abilities of drone jockeys ogling a computer screen. If the armchair warrior doesn't like the cut of someone's jib, then he squeezes his joystick and turns the stranger into "bug splatter," to use the term favored by our bold defenders of civilization.
Like last year's NY Times piece that first detailed the murder racket being run directly out of the White House, the new Washington Post story is replete with quotes from "senior Administration officials" who have obviously been authorized to speak. Once again, this is a story that Obama and his team WANT to tell. They want you to know about the murder program and their strenuous exertions to make it permanent; they are proud of this, they think it makes them look good. They want it to be part of their legacy, something they can pass on to future generations: arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder.
Perhaps this fact should be borne in mind by all those anguished progressives out there who keep telling themselves that Obama will "be different, that he will "turn to the left," if we can only get him a second term. No; the legacy of arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder is the legacy he wants. It is the legacy he has been building, with remarkable energy and meticulous attention to detail, day after day, week after week, for the past four years. This is what he cares about. And it is this -- not jobs, not peace, not the environment, not equal rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities, not the poor, not the middle class, not education, not infrastructure, not science, not diplomacy -- that he will apply himself to in a second term. (Along with his only other political passion: forging a "grand bargain" with Big Money to gut the remaining shreds of the New Deal.)
There is little point in going through the Post story and offering detailed comment. The sickening nature of this perpetual-motion death-machine -- and the husk-like inhumanity of those who operate it and the sycophants who applaud it -- are all too plain. Just read the whole thing, and see for yourself. See how these butchers -- our bipartisan elites, our whole respectable, self-righteous establishment -- have trapped us all in an Age of Hell.
UPDATE:Arthur Silber has much more on the moral implications -- and the heartbreaking historical resonances -- of the state murder program. Get over there now, read it -- and weep for where we are, and where we're going.
"...for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument?" -- Shakespeare, Henry V
Even as the presidential candidates meet in ersatz agon to spew their self-serving lies and scripted zingers in a "debate" on foreign policy, the real campaign -- the campaign of blood and bone, of death and terror, being waged in Pakistan by the American government -- goes on it all its horror.
This week, the Mail on Sunday -- one of Britain's most conservative newspapers -- published a story outlining, in horrific detail, the true nature of the drone killing campaign begun by George W. Bush and vastly expanded by Barack Obama. Coming on the heels of a recent report ("Living Under Drones") by teams at Stanford and New York universities on this ongoing war crime, the Mail on Sunday story brings the humanity of the victims -- and the inhumanity of perpetrators -- to the fore. The story concerns legal action being taken in Pakistan on behalf of families of drone-murder victims by Pakistani lawyer and activist Shahzad Akbar and the UK-based human rights group, Reprieve. As the MoS reports, two court cases have been filed that could "trigger a formal murder investigation into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes."
The MoS quotes the Living With Drones report to set the context:
…Between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed since the strikes in Pakistan began in 2004. The report said of those, up to 881 were civilians, including 176 children. Only 41 people who had died had been confirmed as ‘high-value’ terrorist targets.
As the paper notes, full figures on the killings are hard to come by, due to the convenient fact that "the tribal regions along the frontier are closed to journalists." The true death count of civilians is almost certainly far higher.
So who are the thousands of people being slain by brave American warriors sitting at computer consoles on a military bases on the other side of the world? From the MoS:
The plaintiff in the Islamabad case is Karim Khan, 45, a journalist and translator with two masters’ degrees, whose family comes from the village of Machi Khel in the tribal region of North Waziristan. His eldest son, Zahinullah, 18, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, 35, were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone that struck the family’s guest dining room at about 9.30pm on New Year’s Eve, 2009.
Mr Khan said: ‘We are an educated family. My uncle is a hospital doctor in Islamabad, and we all work in professions such as teaching. We have never had anything to do with militants or terrorists, and for that reason I always assumed we would be safe. Zahinullah, who had been studying in Islamabad, had returned to the village to work his way through college, taking a part-time job as a school caretaker. ‘He was a quiet boy and studious – always in the top group of his class.’ Zahinullah also liked football, cricket and hunting partridges. Asif, he added, was an English teacher and had spent several years taking further courses to improve his qualifications while already in work. Asif had changed his surname because he loved to recite Iqbal, Pakistan's national poet.
Well, that's what they claim, right? No doubt the button-pushing drone "pilot" parked safely in his cushy padded chair back in Nevada could ascertain through the computer screen that the quiet student and the poetry-loving teacher were actually "active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm America," to quote the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House, in his only public acknowledgement of the drone campaign. Such miscreants, said the Laureate, are the only people ever killed by this "targeted, focused effort."
Mr Khan, who had been working in Islamabad at the time, hurried back to the village when he got the news. This is what he found:
He got home soon after dawn and describes his return ‘like entering a village of the dead – it was so quiet. There was a crowd gathered outside the compound but nowhere for them to sit because the guest rooms had been destroyed’.
Zahinullah, Mr Khan discovered, had been killed instantly, but despite his horrific injuries, Asif had survived long enough to be taken to a nearby hospital. However, he died during the night.
‘We always bury people quickly in our culture. The funeral was at three o’clock that afternoon, and more than 1,000 people came,’ Mr Khan said. ‘Zahinullah had a wound on the side of his face and his body was crushed and charred. I am told the people who push the buttons to fire the missiles call these strikes “bug-splats”.
‘It is beyond my imagination how they can lack all mercy and compassion, and carry on doing this for years. They are not human beings.’
In this, however, Mr Khan is wrong, and therein lies the tragedy: the people who killed his brother and thousands of other innocents, and have carried on doing it for years, are indeed human beings -- all too human. The lack of mercy and compassion they exhibit is one of our endemic human traits -- and one that has been assiduously, relentlessly, deliberately -- and profitably -- cultivated for years by our bipartisan elites, who sow fear and hatred and dehumanization to advance their agenda of domination, playing upon -- and rewarding -- what is worst in our common human nature, while mocking, denigrating and punishing what is best.
One of the officials targeted in the lawsuit is former CIA general counsel John Rizzo. As the paper notes:
Mr Rizzo is named because of an interview he gave to a US reporter after he retired as CIA General Counsel last year. In it, he boasted that he had personally authorised every drone strike in which America’s enemies were ‘hunted down and blown to bits’.
He added: ‘It’s basically a hit-list. The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.’
That's nice, isn't it? Noble, worthy, honorable, isn't it? Again, these are the mafia thug values being embraced, lauded, supported and reinforced at every turn by the most respectable figures throughout American politics and media, including of course the popular media, where TV shows and movies abound with tough guys "doing whatever it takes" to kill the dehumanized "enemy" and "keep us safe."
The second case now before the Pakistani courts involves "signature strikes," the policy of killing unknown people simply because you don't like how they look or how they act. No evidence -- not even false evidence, not even the thin scraps of rumor and innuendo and ignorance that constitute the overwhelming majority of "intelligence reports" -- is required before the well-wadded Cheeto-chewer in Nevada crooks his finger and fires a drone. The MoS quotes a Pakistani official describing the signature strikes:
‘It could be a vehicle containing armed men heading towards the border, and the operator thinks, “Let’s get them before they get there,” without any idea of who they are. It could also just be people sitting together. In the frontier region, every male is armed but it doesn’t mean they are militants.’
One such signature strike killed more than 40 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on March 17 last year. The victims, Mr Akbar’s dossier makes clear, had gathered for a jirga – a tribal meeting – in order to discuss a dispute between two clans over the division of royalties from a chromite mine.
Some of the most horrifying testimony comes from Khalil Khan, the son of Malik Haji Babat, a tribal leader and police officer. ‘My father was not a terrorist. He was not an enemy of the United States,’ Khalil’s legal statement says. ‘He was a hard-working and upstanding citizen, the type of person others looked up to and aspired to be like.
"What I saw when I got off the bus at Datta Khel was horrible,’ he said. ‘I immediately saw flames and women and children were saying there had been a drone strike. The fires spread after the strike. The tribal elders who had been killed could not be identified because there were body parts strewn about. The smell was awful. I just collected the pieces that I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.’
...He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by a missile’.
This is another aspect of the drone campaign that I noted in a recent post here about the drone campaign: it is not just an illegal military operation, it is -- and is designed to be -- a terrorist campaign. It is meant to terrorize the population of the targeted regions, to keep the people there enslaved to fear and uncertainty, never knowing if the buzzing drone flying high and unreachable above their heads will suddenly spew out a Hellfire missile on their house, their school, their farm, their hospital, and blow them or their loved ones into unidentifiable shreds. It is a terrorist campaign -- not a random attack here and there, not an isolated spasm of violence -- but a continual, relentless, death-dealing campaign of terror designed to poison the daily lives of innocent people and force their cowed acquiescence to the dictates of domination.
II. It goes without saying that this story, or the Living Under Drones report, or the abominable implications of the terrorist campaign were not discussed during the "debate" Monday night between the two clowns who are fighting for the chance to drench themselves in human blood for the next four years. (For the most thorough -- and harrowing -- consideration of these implications, including the electoral implications, see this powerful piece by Arthur Silber.) The fact that the drone campaign is actually one of the greatest threats to the national security of the American people will not impinge upon the "debate." Why should it? Neither candidate is the least bit interested in the security of the American people. In fact, both are firmly committed to imposing the drone terror campaign on the American people themselves (as Silber, again, notes here).
In a recent article, Daniel Ellsberg -- a courageous and worthy dissident for many decades -- shocked many by cataloging the many war crimes and moral atrocities of the Obama Administration, then ending with a fervent rallying cry for us all to .... support Obama. (Vast Left has more on this.) Here, Ellsberg echoes a familiar argument during this election cycle, voiced more vehemently not long ago by another honorable campaigner, Robert Parry. My response to Parry then applies equally to Ellsberg now, and to all those good progressives who advocate a 'reluctant' but 'realistic' vote for Obama:
Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of "moral ambiguity." What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power -- the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties -- cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.
You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the "extrajudicial" murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he "surges" a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation's coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do -- slash Social Security and Medicare -- you must support him.
For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing -- nothing -- that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of "the left." He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy -- kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away -- and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.
I confess I cannot follow such logic. But in his article, Ellsberg compounds the puzzlement when he tries to clinch his case by citing Henry David Thoreau, of all people. Ellsberg writes:
I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”
In other words, Ellsberg is using a call for resistance to civil authority to justify supporting a civil authority which he himself acknowledges is committing war crimes and destroying American democracy. Again, I find this "reasoning" unfathomable.
But I too often quote a line by Thoreau that has had a great impact for me. In fact, I would say that it encapsulates my entire political philosophy in this dirty, degraded Age of Empire:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
If only more of our compatriots would say the same.
Years ago, I wrote several pieces about the savage decimation of Fallujah by American forces in 2004. Some of those pieces [here and here, for example] pointed to the highly credible evidence that chemical weapons were used against the people of Fallujah -- most of them non-combatants locked into the city by an American ring of steel. I pointed to testimony by Iraqi doctors -- including doctors working for the American-imposed occupation government -- and by American soldiers themselves involved in the fighting.
These posts -- and the sources they were based on -- were roundly criticized by some high-profile antiwar voices. We were told that this kind of "wild" atrocity story would give war hawks a weapon for undermining the credibility of the antiwar movement: "Look, them anti-war hippies are all a bunch of kooks; now they're claiming the US is using chemical weapons! You can't believe anything they say." However, the only "debunking" of the story at that time came solely from American officials denying that any chemical weapons at all were used in Fallujah. I always found it odd that antiwar figures who had done so much to expose the continuing lies of the aggressors were now taking the denials of these well-proven liars at face value. But that's how it was -- for awhile.
Later on, of course, the Pentagon itself finally admitted using white phosphorus shells in Fallujah -- a chemical weapon that can inflict hideous injuries on its victims. And in subsequent years, the evidence of the chemical weapons attacks on Fallujah has been growing stronger and more extensive -- not just for the confessed use of WP, but for other weapons as well.
As we have noted here many times, the invasion of Iraq is a war crime that goes on and on. The legacy of this "extraordinary achievement" (as Peace Laureate Obama once called it) continues to produce atrocities in the lives -- and bodies -- of innocent victims, planting seeds of horrendous suffering that will last for generations.
The Independent has the latest medical evidence on the American use of chemical weapons against the Iraqi people. You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts:
It played unwilling host to one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. Fallujah's homes and businesses were left shattered; hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. Its residents changed the name of their "City of Mosques" to "the polluted city" after the United States launched two massive military campaigns eight years ago. Now, one month before the World Health Organisation reveals its view on the legacy of the two battles for the town, a new study reports a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.
High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
There is "compelling evidence" to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. Similar defects have been found among children born in Basra after British troops invaded, according to the new research.
US marines first bombarded Fallujah in April 2004 ... Seven months later, the marines stormed the city for a second time, using some of the heaviest US air strikes deployed in Iraq. American forces later admitted that they had used white phosphorus shells, although they never admitted to using depleted uranium, which has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.
...The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects.
.. Dr Savabieasfahani said that for the first time, there is a "footprint of metal in the population" and that there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities". She called the "epidemic" a "public health crisis".
Dr Savabieasfahani said she plans to analyse the children's samples for the presence of depleted uranium once funds have been raised. She added: "We need extensive environmental sampling, of food, water and air to find out where this is coming from. Then we can clean it up. Now we are seeing 50 per cent of children being born with malformations; in a few years it could be everyone."
Although the wary pundits who criticized the early chemical weapons stories were wrong about this particular case, they were right about the overarching truth of the situation: the invasion and occupation of Iraq was ian horrific war crime in itself, regardless of what weapons or tactics were or were not used. Even without the chemical weapons, the death squads, the tortures of Abu Ghraib, the rapes and rampages, the deliberate empowerment of violent extremists, the endless barrage of lies, and the world-historical levels of corruption and war-profiteering that characterized the reality of the war, this act of aggression would still be a work of the most vile, most putrid, most irredeemable evil.
The destruction of Fallujah was like a black hole, where all the evil of the war was sucked in and concentrated with unbreakable force. So I think it's worth reiterating, once more, the actual context of this atrocity that is now reverberating through the twisted, tormented bodies of children born long after the guns have fallen silent. This is from a piece I wrote in 2010, quoting from an early post written during the attack itself.
I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.
"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
I will not forget Artica Salim. I will not forget Fallujah. I will not "move on." I will not become part of the inferno.
The 2009 military coup in Honduras was one of the earliest stains on the foreign policy record of Barack Obama. Coming just six months into his term -- and a little more than four months before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- the coup, and the American reaction to it, gave the clearest indication possible that there would be no change in the Standard Operating Procedure of the Potomac Empire under his watch.
The coup has had a long, dismal and murderous aftermath, which we have often noted on these pages, such as here, here, here, here, and here. (Give them a gander, if you have the stomach for a quick acid bath of reality after all the sugared propaganda of the presidential campaign.)
Those posts were based largely on some of the excellent pieces of reportage and analysis on Honduras that have appeared over the years. All of them are easily available to anyone interested in the conduct of American foreign policy -- a set which would include, one presumes, the many self-identified "progressives" who write about American politics on a daily basis. Yet as we noted here just a few months ago, "the repression, death and corruption engendered in Honduras with Obama’s aid and complicity have been remarkable – [but] have gone completely unremarked by the legion of progressives who rightly strained at the slightest gnat of evil during George W. Bush’s lawless regime but now happily swallow whole camels of crime when Obama wears the purple. Blind guides indeed."
Yet even as our good progressives are plunging daggers into anyone who dares even suggest an alternative to the Doctrine of Lesser Evilism which has become the core of their partisan faith -- a doctrine that guarantees the perpetuation of the corrupt and brutal system they loudly abhor -- the American-approved carnage and terrorism in Honduras goes on. Nick Alexandrov has written yet another of those excellent pieces referenced above about this forgotten -- but continuing -- tragedy. From Counterpunch:
After the Honduran military staged a coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton backed the ensuing fraudulent elections the Organization of American States and European Union refused to observe. Porfirio Lobo won the phony contest, and now holds power. ...
The coup’s plotters, it should be emphasized, knew exactly what they were doing. Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, a military lawyer who advised them on legal issues, was very open about it, informing the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro, “We committed a crime, but we had to do it.” U.S. officials seem to have taken slightly longer to recognize the obvious, but Wikileaks documents indicate that, by late July, they understood that what had transpired was “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Obama’s legal training, cosmopolitan background and cabinet stuffed with intellectuals were all irrelevant in this situation, like so many others. A different set of factors drives U.S. foreign policy...
And what kind of people -- what kind of system -- have Obama and his Secretary of State (and possible future successor) embraced and supported so eagerly? Alexandrov tells us:
Returning to Honduras, we see that conditions there are beginning to call to mind those of, say, El Salvador in the ’80s—good news, perhaps, for aspiring financial executives eager to launch the next Bain Capital. But as the business climate improves, everyday life for Hondurans working to secure basic rights has become nightmarish. Dina Meza’s case is just one example.
A journalist and founder of the Committee of Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Meza received two text messages from the Comando Álvarez Martinez (CAM) last February: “We are going to burn your ‘pipa’ (vagina) with caustic lime until you scream and then the whole squad will have fun.” The follow-up warning told her she would “end up dead like the Aguán people,” referring to the poor campesinos that are being slaughtered on land owned mainly by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest Hondurans.
The most recent government-led assault on Honduran farmworker rights can be traced back to the 1992 Law of Agricultural Modernization. International finance lobbied aggressively for that decision, which reversed the limited land reform implemented in the preceding decades, and drove the desperately poor into city slums or out of the country, inspiring those who remained to form self-defense organizations. The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is one of these groups. With the help of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a human rights lawyer, the campesinos recently won back legal rights to several plantations.
Well, that sounds good, right? A grass-roots organization working peacefully within the system to secure its legal rights under the national constitution. Isn't that the kind of thing that American foreign policy professes to encourage throughout the world? Unfortunately, the denouement of this good news story shows what our bipartisan elites really support:
On September 23, Trejo took some time off to celebrate a friend’s wedding at a church in Tegucigalpa. During the event he received a call, and stepped outside to take it. The gunmen were waiting for him. They shot him several times, and he died soon after arriving at the hospital. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts,” Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguán’s peasants, explained, “they killed him.” They killed Eduardo Diaz Madariaga, a human rights lawyer, the following day, presumably for similar reasons.
It is in these conditions that Honduras has been opened for business.
And of course, this is only the beginning. American elites have big plans for Honduras: they are looking to build whole cities under corporate control.
The American economist Paul Romer proposed recently that several neoliberal “charter cities”—complete with their own police, laws, and government—be built there, and an NPR reporter recently reviewed this idea enthusiastically in a piece for the New York Times.
This plan is being pushed relentlessly by the elites in Washington and Tegucigalpa. And as always, everywhere, these gilded, coddled, respectable figures play the most adamantine hardball. The Associate Press has more on the wider context of Trejo's murder:
Trejo had also helped prepare motions declaring unconstitutional a proposal to build three privately run cities with their own police, laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds ...
Trejo “had denounced those responsible for his future death on many occasions,” said Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguan’s peasants. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts, they killed him.”
AP then adds the hardly necessary coda:
No arrests have been made in Trejo’s killing.
At least part the Honduran Supreme Court seems to to have realized -- belatedly -- the true nature of the plan that so enthused the good centrist serious liberals at NPR, as Alexandrov reports:
Voting 4-to-1 that the charter cities are unconstitutional, [a committee of the Supreme Court] concluded that Romer’s plan “implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution;” worth recalling is that Zelaya was thrown out for allegedly violating the same document.
But again, this epiphany may come too late. As Greg Grandin, Yale history professor and author of an earlier attempt by American corporatist extremists to build a bosses' paradise in Latin America, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, notes (via Corey Robin), this committee ruling could well be overturned by the full court -- especially with all the aforesaid corporate baksheesh floating around.
In any case, this same Supreme Court has accepted the installation of the self-confessed illegal government of elitist coup-plotters; their protestations now at threats to "national sovereignty" ring hollow. In any case, what can they do about it? If the elites decide they want their 'charter cities,' what's to stop them from ignoring the constituational legalities as they did in overthrowing the inconvenient Zelaya? No doubt they will find eager backers in Washington if they find law and democracy an impediment to their agenda. As Gradin also notes:
Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall ... and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
"Freedom" here means the freedom of rapacious elites to enrich themselves -- and impoverish, repress and kill others -- without the slightest restraint. A commenter on the Corey Robin thread in which Grandin's quote appears puts it succinctly:
I first heard about the Honduras project from a Reason.com article that starts with the line: “A roadblock on a very interesting plan to create experimental, freedom-friendly governing structures down in Honduras…” I absolutely love the fact that Reason.com describes a plan to use eminent domain to seize land from poor indigenous communities and hand it over to multi-national corporations “freedom-friendly.” Not to mention the absolute denial of freedoms the workers of this for-profit city can come to expect if it’s ever built.
It really encapsulates the concept of property right’s “original sin” quite beautifully- - in order to create landed private property, you have to steal it, at the point of a gun, from the people who were using it, and then use the power of government to enforce your ownership.
And as Alexandrov notes in the conclusion to his Counterpunch piece, this brutal, murderous system will continue, unabated, unrestrained, no matter which of the "original sinners" in the current imperial court squabble come out on top in November.
Mile after mile, the Maine countryside floated by, on a bright Saturday morning in the dying summer. Town after town, closed-up storefronts and makeshift shops hawking "antiques" and used books, over and over, trailing like kudzu along the speeding highway. It was like everybody in the whole country was doing nothing but selling their junk back and forth to each other. It was beautiful land -- magnificent land, green and fertile, seeded with abundance, easy on the eyes -- now reduced to tawdry struggle against final desperation. Degradation had already been accepted, long ago, been surrendered to without a fight; they didn't even notice it anymore, how crabbed and threadbare, how harsh and mean life had become. All they were doing now was dredging up the refuse of a forgotten time, and swapping it for coins to buy one more month with their nostrils just above the waterline.
Flying out of Atlanta on a midweek, mid-day plane, taking the quick jump to Nashville. A soldier gets on, in olive-gray camo; he's in his forties, dark-haired, managerial. A soft plump office guy leaps up to help him with his overhead bag, then leans across the aisle to strike up a conversation. "Flying in for R&R, eh?" he says to the soldier. There's a giddy, groupie excitement in his manner. "It's tough out there, ain't it? Where you stationed?" Visions of hot deserts and exotic enemies are dancing in his head. "Lexington, Kentucky," the soldier says.
A few minutes later, a motherly stewardess bustles back and tells the soldier, "There's a seat up front in business class. We want you to have it." The soldier demurs, says he's fine where he is, don't worry about it, but the stewardess insists, others urge him on, and finally, well, a better seat -- why the hell not? He takes it. The office guy says breathlessly, "Don't worry about your bag. I'll bring it up for you when we land!" So off they go. A minute later, an announcement blares: "We are proud to have one of our fighting men on board with us today. We want to honor him for everything he's done for our country." A storm of applause all around. Another soft, frattish young man in the seat behind me calls out: "You can see there's no liberals on this plane!"
Suddenly I flash to the scene in Doctor Zhivago, when the doctor and his family are fleeing war-torn Moscow on a cattle train. A commissar comes in to announce the sanitation regulations, then adds: "The first carriage of this train is occupied by sailors of the heroic Kronstadt Sailors' Soviet!" He looks up sternly, expecting applause -- and the passengers comply. I also think of a book I'd read recently about the onset of World War I, and the hyperinflated worship of the military that marked Prussian-dominated Imperial Germany. There was an anecdote in the book about an American academic visiting Berlin before the war. He was strolling with a German colleague when they met a starched young officer walking toward them on the sidewalk. The American passed him without notice, but the German professor went into a panic, sternly upbraiding the American for failing to show due respect: he should have acknowledged the officer -- and stepped off the sidewalk in deference. He hastened after the officer to apologize for the ignorant foreigner.
I don't applaud the camo-clad manager based in Lexington, Kentucky. Not out of some kind of puritanical pique or knee-jerk scorn, but simply because I have no idea what he has "done for our country." Maybe he's a drone pilot, murdering civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. Maybe he'd been a member of a "surge" death squad during our war crime in Iraq. Maybe he sits in an office and pushes paper, or totes bags for a general, or requisitions toilets. How can I know what he might have done -- or not done -- that would merit applause? The mere fact that he is employed by the military and wears olive-gray camo does not alone seem sufficient to warrant a display of public honor.
Yet I confess I feel a moment of apprehension: will I be sternly upbraided for not joining in, for not "supporting our troops"? It seems an odd situation for an American citizen to find himself in: commanded to pay homage to a military man, and wary of the reaction of his fellow citizens for not doing so. It seems yet another degradation that has come upon us -- unresisted, unexamined, meekly, blindly surrendered to.
In Tennessee, my father's grave -- with its military marker -- was covered over with dead grass and dirt blown across it by a recent mowing. My brother's grave -- with its military marker -- was a few steps away, dusty, but a little less obscured. The sun was blazing hot in the shadeless field. Unbidden, my children knelt down on the harsh, burnt grass, and cleared away the markers with their small hands.
Here's a reworked sketch about a soldier I would gladly applaud, whether he is in uniform, in mufti ... or prison stripes: Bradley Manning, the Peace Laureate's prize captive -- tortured, isolated, mocked into scorn for the crime of "speaking hard truth to the state." His ordeal is one more degradation, one more surrender in a spirit-broken land.
I understand there is some kind of event scheduled for this evening that will feature two known and proven liars mouthing pious rhetoric, brazen falsehoods and scripted zingers in a process carefully crafted by their paid handlers to exclude any substantive examination of genuine issues of vital concern to the citizens whom the two known liars purportedly wish to "serve." I understand this will be followed by an outpouring of fetid gas emitted by a series of third-rate intellects and clueless goobers in various media who will examine the body language and facial expressions of the two proven liars to determine which of the liars might have gained the most political benefit from their lying and zinging and pious posing.The end result of this process will be that one of the two known and proven liars will become the temporary manager of a world-spanning, treasury-bleeding war machine which they will use to kill many innocent people over the next four years while continuing to degrade the lives and liberties of their own citizens on behalf of a brutal, stupid and rapacious elite.
This, we are told, is a very serious event to which very serious people should pay very serious attention. Fortunately, I am an entirely frivolous person, so I will be free to ignore this very serious business. Instead I think I might go out back and throw a few sticks on the fire. Like so:
In the category of "the sky is blue," "fire is hot" and "the sun rises in the east," the Guardian reports on a new study showing that Washington's murderous drone killing campaign in Pakistan is "counterproductive."
The sarcasm above is not meant to cast aspersions on the report itself -- which is detailed, devastating, and very productive -- but on the prevailing mindset in the ruling circles of the West (the self-proclaimed "defenders of civilization") that makes such a study even necessary, much less 'controversial.'
For of course even the denizens of the many secret services and black-op armies and intelligence agencies that make up America's world-straddling security apparat have said, repeatedly, that Washington's policy of murdering, torturing, renditioning and indefinitely detaining innocent people all over the world -- day after day, week after week, year after year -- is in fact creating the very extremism and anti-Americanism the policy purports to combat.
Thus the new report, by the law schools of New York University and Stanford (a famously if not notoriously conservative institution) should be, in a sane and rational world, a case of carrying coals to Newscastle or selling ice to the Inuit: an exercise in redunancy.
But instead, sadly, the report, "Living Under Drones," is a very, very rare instance of speaking truth to the power that is waging a hideous campaign of terror -- there is no other word for it -- against innocent people all over the world.
The personal testimonies gathered by the researchers -- on the ground, in Pakistan -- are shattering ... at least for those who actually believe that these swarthy foreigner are actually human beings, with "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions .. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is." You can be sure -- you can be damned sure -- that the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has never and will never read these stories of the ones he is terrorizing, night and day. These testimonies will never appear beside the scraps of rumor, conjecture and brutal prejudice that constitute the "reports" he sees each Tuesday -- "Terror Tuesday" -- when he meets in the Oval Office with his death squad team to decide who will be assassinated that week.
The Guardian gives a good overview of the report:
The CIA's programme of "targeted" drone killings in Pakistan's tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics. The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis.
Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
"The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling 'targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the report, entitled Living Under Drones, states. ...
The "best available information", they say, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period. ...
"US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning," the American law schools report says. "Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.
"These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims."
The study goes on to say: "Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of 'high-level' militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy."
A powerful story, setting out the lineaments of the report with admirable concision. But then the Guardian correspondent, Owen Bowcott [or his inserting editors], betray heartbreaking naivete:
Coming from American lawyers rather than overseas human rights groups, the criticisms are likely to be more influential in US domestic debates over the legality of drone warfare.
The truth, of course, is that regardless of its "Homeland" provenance, this report will have no influence whatsoever on the non-existent "debate over the legality of drone warfare" in the United States. For beyond the rare, isolated op-ed, there is no "debate" on drone warfare in American political or media circles. The bipartisan political establishment is united in its support of the practice; indeed, both parties plan to expand the use of drones on a large scale in the future. This murderous record -- and this shameful complicity -- will be one of the Peace Laureate lasting legacies, whether he wins re-election or not.
As the story notes:
Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. George Bush wanted to create a global 'war on terror' without borders, but it has taken Obama's drone war to achieve his dream."
However, there can be no sensible disagreement over certain salient facts: first, the US now has more than 10,000 weaponised drones in its arsenal; second, as many as six Predator drones circle over one location at any given time, often for 24 hours a day, with high-resolution cameras snooping on the movements of everyone below; third, the Predators emit an eerie sound, earning them the name bangana (buzzing wasp) in Pashtu; fourth, everyone in the area can see them, 5,000ft up, all day – and hear them all night long; fifth, nobody knows when the missile will come, and turn each member of the family into what the CIA calls a "bugsplat". The Predator operator, thousands of miles away in Nevada, often pushes the button over a cup of coffee in the darkest hours of the Waziristan night, between midnight and 5am. So a parent putting children to bed cannot be sure they will wake up safely.
Stafford Smith also speaks of his mother, who lived through the attacks by Adolf Hitler's drones -- the V1 and V2 rockets -- toward the end of World War II, and he notes:
So little changes. Current RAF doctrine tells us, euphemistically, how "the psychological impact of air power, from the presence of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to the noise generated by an approaching attack helicopter, has often proved to be extremely effective in exerting influence …" Perhaps they mean "terror", as described by David Rohde, a former New York Times journalist kidnapped and held by the Taliban for months in Waziristan. Rohde, quoted in Living Under Drones, describes the fear the drones inspired in ordinary civilians: "The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death."
Again -- and we've said here over and over, for months, even years: when you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc -- Democrat or Republican -- this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.
The anguished Othello -- fatally fouled in the puppeteer's strings -- pointed to his death-dealing work on behalf of empire in the Syrian city of Aleppo as one of the crowning achievements of his life. Indeed, he re-enacted this bloody imperial service -- against Muslim infidels -- in taking his own life: "And say besides, that in Aleppo once,/Where a malignant and turban'd Turk/Beat a Venetian and traduced the state/I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus."
One hears a great deal of talk about the civil war in Syria, most of it thickly greased with hot globs of propaganda from interested parties on all sides. But there are very few unfiltered reports from the ground by writers with the knowledge and experience to move among the fighters and actually understand what they are seeing and hearing.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is one of those rarities. Many of us recall his remarkable reportage in Iraq, where he ranged back and forth between insurgents and invaders at the height of the carnage, giving us some the clearest pictures of what was really happening behind the smoke of the "surge."
In Monday's Guardian, Abdul-Ahad explores the tense relations on the rebel side between the Free Syria Army troops backed by the West, and the foreign 'jihadis' now flooding into the country. As one of the fighters -- a veteran Iraqi insurgent -- notes, the United States is once more on the same side with its old jihadi allies. And once more, we are seeing the old template playing out once more, as the Washington-led West empowers radical extremists to achieve short-term geopolitical ends -- oblivious, as always, to the long-term effects of unleashing violent forces you cannot possibly control.
Abdul-Ahad's extensive report, from the frontlines in Aleppo, should be read in full, but here are few extracts:
Abu Omar gave an order in Arabic, which was translated into a babble of different languages – Chechen, Tajik, Turkish, French, Saudi dialect, Urdu – and the men retreated in orderly single file, picking their way between piles of smouldering rubbish and twisted plastic bottles toward a house behind the front line where other fighters had gathered.
…Hundreds of international fighters have flocked to Syria to join the war against Bashar al-Assad's government. Some are fresh-faced idealists driven by a romantic notion of revolution or a hatred for the Assads. Others are jihadi veterans of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. … The Syrians refer to the internationals collectively as the "Turkish brothers".
…The men were also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. When the Syrians asked them where they were from, a blond French-speaker said they were Moroccans, the Chechens said they were Turks and the Tajiks said they were Afghans.
..Abu Salam, a rugged Iraqi with a black keffiyeh wrapped around his head, said he had fought the Americans in Falluja when he was a young man. Later he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and spent many years fighting in different cities before moving to Syria to evade arrest. These days he was a commander of the one of the muhajiroun [foreign fighter] units. I found him watching a heated debate between the Syrian commanders about how to defend the buckling frontline.
…One Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn't go off. "Don't say it didn't go off," Abu Salam admonished him. "Say you don't know how to fire it. We used to shoot these same RPGs at the Americans and destroy Abrams tanks. What's a T72 to an Abrams?"
…He seemed nonchalant about the prospect of defeat. "It is obvious the Syrian army is winning this battle, but we don't tell [the rebels] this. We don't want to destroy their morale. We say we should hold here for as long as Allah will give us strength and maybe he will make one of these foreign powers come to help Syrians."
The irony was not lost on Abu Salam how the jihadis and the Americans – bitter enemies of the past decade – had found themselves fighting on the same side again.
A few days later, in Bab al Hawa, Abdul-Ahad gets a hint of what is likely in store if the shaky rebel alliance of secularists and sectarians (the latter often sharply at odds with each other) overthrows the Damascus regime: more war.
At the border post of Bab al Hawa some days later, a confrontation was brewing between the jihadis and Syrian rebels.
Fighters from the Farouq brigade – one of the best-equipped and most disciplined units in the FSA – were sleeping on the grass in the shadow of a big concrete arch. The fighters wore military uniforms and green T-shirts emblazoned with insignia of the brigade – an achievement in the disarray of the revolution. They had many tanks and armoured vehicles captured from the Syrian army parked around the border post, under cover.
Nearby, a group of 20 jihadis had gathered in a circle around a burly Egyptian with a chest-long silver beard. "You are in confrontation with two apostate armies," the Egyptian told the men, referring to the Syrian army and Free Syrian Army. "When you have finished with one army you will start with the next."
The standoff between the two groups came to a grisly conclusion, Abdul-Ahad reports:
I spoke to the regional commander of the Farouq brigade, a muscular young lieutenant from the southern province of Dara'a called Abdulah Abu Zaid. "I will not allow the spread of Takfiri [the act of accusing other Muslims of apostasy] ideology," he told me in his military compound a few kilometres from the border post. "Not now, not later. The Islam we had during the regime was disfigured Islam and what they are bringing us is also disfigured. The Islam we need is a civil Islam and not the takfiri Islam."
The jihadis, he said, had looted and stolen from the local people and demanded protection money from local businesses in order not to steal their merchandise. "I managed to stop them," he said, "and I won't let them spread here." Later that day he issued an ultimatum to their commander, a Syrian called Abu Mohamad al Abssi, to leave the area with his foreign jihadis or he would be killed.
I met Abu Mohamad, a monosyllabic doctor, the next day. He emphasized that he had been struggling against the regime since 1992 while the Free Syria Army were defected officers who until recently served the regime. The Arab spring was, he said, a result of Islamic fervor. "We will never leave our positions here," he said in a quiet voice. "God willing, we will win."
A few days later, Abu Mohamad's body was found in a ditch. He had been kidnapped and killed.
As always, while our well-wadded Western interventionists sit safely in glitzy TV studios or cozy Congressional offices and cry havoc, it is others who are devoured by the dogs of war. A hydra-headed, multisided conflict has been unleashed in Syria, and our warmongers are seeking frenziedly at every turn to worsen it.
Their concern for the "Syrian people" -- whose plight they have happily ignored for decades -- is only skin deep; it never surfaced until a chance arose to, in their minds, give a hot-foot to their grand enemy du jour, Iran. (Just as Jimmy Carter midwifed the global jihadi movement more than 30 years ago in order to hobble the Soviets in Afghanistan.) Unfortunately for the Syrians, it is their skin, and that of their children, which will be seared as these cycles of violence, exacerbated at every turn by war profiteers and the cozy imperial cowards -- who, unlike Othello, never fight in the front lines or take responsibility for their crimes -- go on and on.
NOTE: Another excellent source for direct reports and cogent insights on the Syrian war is, of course, As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," who wields a double-edged analytical sword on the depredations of all parties involved in the worsening, widening conflict.