ACTION ALERT: Juvenile Activist To Be Executed — Help Him! Amnesty International
(September 28, 2015) — Arrested at 17. Tortured into Confession. Facing Execution.
Saudi Arabia is among the top three executioners in the world. The number of lives lost to this cruel and inhumane practice will continue to rise unless we stand united against the death penalty. One person is executed every two days.
Over 130 people executed this year.
Executions are often public.
We now have an opportunity to save a young life before it’s too late….
Ali al-Nimr is facing execution for offences he allegedly committed when he was just 17 years old.
Police arrested Ali and then tortured him to secure a signed confession. His offences were demonstrating against the government, attacking security forces and possessing a weapon.
Not only was Ali’s investigation and trial unfair, but he wasn’t allowed to see his lawyer. Facing the real prospect of death, he has now exhausted all appeals and has no one to turn to but us.
Demand that the Saudi Arabian Ambassador and the President of the Human Rights Commissioner take all necessary steps to ensure Aliâ€™s safety and stop the use of the death penalty.
Stop the execution of young Saudi activist
Ali al-Nimr has been sentenced to death by a Saudi Arabian court for alleged offences committed when he was just 17.
Police arrested Ali in February 2012 amidst the ‘Arab Spring’ protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa.
Ali was not allowed to see his lawyer and says that officers tortured him into confessing to charges including ‘demonstrating against the government’, ‘attacking security forces’, ‘possessing a machine gun’, and ‘armed robbery’.
Ali is the nephew of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr — a prominent Shi’a cleric and vocal critic of the government’s treatment of the Shi’a minority — who was also sentenced to death in October 2014.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most prolific executioners in the world. In the last 30 years, it has put 2,200 people to death — sometimes for alleged crimes committed before the age of 18, which violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ali has now exhausted all appeals. He will face execution as soon as the King ratifies his death sentence.
We have a window of opportunity to help before it is too late.
Email the Saudi Arabian Ambassador and the President of the Human Rights Commission and insist they revoke Ali’s death sentence immediately and take steps to end capital punishment.
We will also present your names to the King of Saudi Arabia as part of our global action.
I urge you to quash Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimrâ€™s conviction and death sentence, and ensure that he receives a fair trial in line with international law and standards and without recourse to the death penalty. And please investigate his allegation of torture and other ill-treatment.
Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by anyone below the age of 18.
Please establish immediately an official moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.
How Republican Primaries Create More Pentagon Pork Military reformers debunk the defense establishment wishlists embraced by Fiorina and other hawks Kelley Vlahos / The American Conservative
(September 28, 2015) — When Carly Fiorina told a Republican debate audience what the country needs to have “the strongest military on the face of the planet” — 50 Army brigades, 36 Marine battalions, at least 300 naval ships, a rebuild of the Sixth Fleet and an upgrade of “every leg of the nuclear triad” — it sounded a bit familiar.
“These numbers seem to be pulled straight from a report released by the conservative Heritage Foundation this year,” noted The Daily Beast‘s Kate Brannen, and many of them were. While analysts like Brannen were able to discount the numbers as nothing more than a wish list with a likely $500 billion price tag, Fiorina had already appeared steely and well-informed. The September 16 debate helped propel her forward, both in the polls and the eyes of the fickle media.
Republican candidates use the “super size me” rhetoric to burnish their national security credentials because it works, at least in the short term. It’s a perennial sideshow that has become more gratuitous — and less convincing — as the 9/11 attacks have receded further in the rear view.
But the “more is better” argument, even in a drawdown period after two enormously expensive wars, staggers on like a zombie, reanimated by hawks like Fiorina, who often consult with think tanks funded in part by the defense industry and ex-military officers who serve on the boards of Beltway government contractors.
“And they [advisors] tell them the military is great, and that it just needs more money and people. They tell candidates what they want to hear, and you know what, it’s just going to keep producing these hollow victories at best,” said (Ret.) Army Maj. Don Vandergriff, who is now teaching leadership courses at Fort Benning, Ga., and serving on the new military advisory board at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
“I tell you, if you put more money, more people into the current system, it is going to break our economy and will force us to suffer defeats all over the world.”
Vandergriff’s assessment may sound extreme, but consider how the military has poured $400 billion into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an overly designed, technological fantasy machine that is politically insulated from annual budget cuts.
Despite being the costliest weapons system in US history, the plane has flight issues, can’t dogfight (according to one test pilot), and after 12 years in the making, won’t see service until 2017 at the earliest. Could that money have gone to more critical functions in US counter-terrorism operations abroad? Anything seems better than a plane that won’t fly.
“Debates around the F-35 illuminate how Congress falls short in its fundamental defense role,” said (Ret.) Lt. Col. Anthony B. Carr, a former combat pilot for the US Air Force, and now a law student and senior editor at Harvard University’s National Security Journal. He is also serving on POGO’s new reform team, which hopes to publicly counter the budget myths propagated by the defense establishment.
“The Air Force and Marine Corps can’t be put in a position where they see no choice but to pay for and field a program — even if it means ditching people and weapons still relevant to our defense — for lack of a suitable alternative,” he said, noting the steep personnel cuts — about 19,000 active duty Airmen — after belt-tightening measures in 2014.
If the F-35 represents everything wrong with the state of military budget and procurement, candidates like Fiorina are the perfect emissaries for this topsy-turvy world on the public stage. As she ladles billions in fictional gravy onto the budget, the Pentagon chiefs are trying to do it for real in their annual food fight on Capitol Hill.
Each applause line by Fiorina or any other GOP hawk — like Rubio insisting the administration’s policies are “eviscerating” the military — is one point for the team lobbying Congress. And every rhetorical flourish counts double today as the Pentagon chiefs seek to stop congressional measures that would keep FY 2016 spending under the $499 billion sequestration caps put in place in 2010.
That dramaturgy has been on display all week, as top brass tell the press and lawmakers that the sky will indeed fall down if the military is forced to stay within this limit. The first question is whether Congress can avoid a shutdown by passing a continuing resolution by September 30.
A CR could fund the defense budget at FY 2015 levels until December, paving the way for a real FY 2016 agreement. Critics are worried Congress will continue to pass CRs through the rest of the fiscal year, forcing the Pentagon to live under the $499 billion cap and the administration’s request of $535 billion.
Watch for the words “disaster” and “unacceptable,” along with “danger” and “harm” in regards to this budget scenario. Or worse. We know, according to military leaders who have been unusually accessible to press lately, that “readiness,” “modernization,” and even the nation are already at risk.
In a recent speech, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter raised the specter of Russia and China, which he claimed “have advanced their capabilities.” He continued: “What we have under sequestration or a long-term continuing resolution is a straitjacket. We would be forced to make irresponsible reductions when our choices should be considered carefully and strategically.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work went further, telling Congressional Quarterly that a year-long continuing resolution would be “disastrous,” damaging new start weapons like the next-gen Air Force bomber, planned construction, and multi-year procurement programs.
“There is no organization on earth that would be able to operate under these conditions. Now the reason we do is we make compromises, and the compromises we make are not good for national security,” complained Work.
“The threats that we face are increasing,” said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “So this budget uncertainty exacerbates what is already a pretty challenging circumstance.”
Then there are the military associations defending the DOD’s spending interests on the outside. They include the National Defense Industries Association, led by two retired generals, which serves as a giant megaphone for defense contractors and beltway bandits whose very life depends on a steady diet of U.S. tax dollars (75 percent or more of total revenues in some cases).
“An extended CR would harm our national security and our economy,” the group said in a letter to the House and Senate leadership on September 14, asserting that “a CR makes it difficult to meet ongoing operational needs, which have only become more frequent, dangerous, and pressing since the last budget deal.”
As expected, the rending of clothes and gnashing of the teeth are well underway. While no one — even the reformers — thinks continuing resolutions and keeping to caps through indiscriminate cuts (which are really just slowing growth) are the way to go, groups like POGO continue to insist the basic priorities are all wrong.
They see several issues — the military’s love affair with technology, an antiquated personnel system fraught with unaccountability and too many generals, a lack of oversight, and a global mission — all combining to form a system that runs like an all-you-can-eat buffet engineered by politics and corporate meddling. As for cuts, the Pentagon usually gets what it wants anyway, in the form of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund.
Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO, says the establishment of a military advisory board stacked with veterans with reform experience is just one more way the nonprofit watchdog group is trying to fight hawkish politicians and ubiquitous think tank cheerleaders on their own turf.
“POGO is reviving the legacy of reform-minded military officers working alongside the Center for Defense Information to counter the fact-free rhetoric spewing from the mouths of politicians with real world experience,” she told TAC this week.
The board will be joined by Marine Capt. Dan Grazier, 37, who retired from active duty just four months ago. (Grazier is POGO’s new Jack Shanahan fellow, a position reserved for those with recent combat experience.) While many of his fellow service members might have chosen a more lucrative path in the military-industrial-congressional complex, he’s jumped right into trying to reform it.
“I was a true believer,” he told TAC about his time in Marines. “Then I learned about John Boyd.”
Boyd — a military theorist and strategist who died in 1997 — remains a rock star among the close knit group of military reformers who not only founded POGO in 1981, but continue to honor Boyd’s legacy by serving as persistent critics of Pentagon programs.
Boyd’s teachings emphasized decentralized, objective-driven commands over centralized, method-driven ones; the military’s over-reliance on technology; and of course, the decision cycle theory known as the OODA Loop. Grazier’s dramatic move is just one example of the way Boyd’s approach has touched and made new acolytes out of young service members.
Of course it is no coincidence that the other military advisors — Vandergriff, Carr, Gary “G.I.” Wilson, Mike Wyly, and Danny Davis — share Grazier’s enthusiasm for Boyd’s theories. They too, come up from the “Mafia Fighter” tradition that is the bedrock of POGO.
“I just hope the reform movement can get back on track,” said Wilson, a former Marine infantry officer whose military experience spans the Vietnam War area through Iraq in 2005.
“John Boyd once told me that [military] technology is supposed to be bigger, heavier and more complex because it means more money, more cost overruns and contracts in 38 different states,” said Wilson, who is teaching in California. “It’s not about winning wars, it’s about awarding contracts.”
Grazier said he is slowly encountering the entrenched corporate, political, and military relationships that bloat the budget and dictate the defense establishment orthodoxy in Washington. It’s not so hard now, he tells TAC, to see why Fiorina and others choose to bang the drum and call in the airstrikes on the debate stage.
“Political engineering — I had no idea how bad it was until I got to Washington,” he said. “The tendrils, how far they go, that’s what really surprised me.”
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter and TAC contributing editor. Follow her on Twitter.
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Sorcha Faal / What Does It Mean* – 2015-09-30 10:46:33
(September 27, 2015) — A chilling new Ministry of Defense (MoD) report circulating in the Kremlin today warns that the potential for global chaos has grown “beyond all measure” due to the catastrophic effects being caused by the severe weakening of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) that not only has slammed Europe with the “winter that never left” this year, but is now threatening to unleash upon the world another Little Ice Age (LIA) event.
According to this report, from Scotland, where last winters snow falls never fully melted and has begun falling again, to Sweden, where villagers in KlimpfjÃ¤ll cannot remember there ever having been so much snow left at this time, to Iceland, which has had its coldest summer since 1992, and the massive ice buildup in Greenland — to just name a few — all of these events, and more, point to the reality that the weakening AMOC is, indeed, about to unleash what could very well be the worst winter in modern history.
Unfortunately for the Western peoples, however, in regards to the catastrophic winter dangers to come, this report says, are their government global warming alarmists blaming an El Nino event for its occurring . . . while at the same time refusing to tell their people about the massive cold ‘blob’ growing in the North Atlantic due to the AMOC weakening that is, in fact, what is actually to blame for what is to come.
Agreeing with Russian scientists warning of this global winter danger, this report notes, are several top climate scientists — including Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Michael Mann of Penn State, who in March released their shocking report titled Exceptional Twentieth-Century Slowdown In Atlantic Ocean Overturn Circulation warning of what is to come.
Of the few Western reporters who have reported on the historic Atlantic Ocean current slowdown, this report continues, was the Washington Post‘s Chris Mooney who noted that “for the grid boxes in darkest blue, they had their coldest Jan-Aug on record, and in order for a grid box to be “eligible” for that map, it needs at least 80 years of Jan-Aug values on the record”, while The Telegraph‘s Dan Hyde even more grimly warned that “the earth is 15 years from a period of low solar activity similar to that last seen during the “mini ice-age” of the 17th century, when the Thames froze.”
With solar activity being the truest cause of the AMOC weakening, and the catastrophic winter to come, this report further notes, Russian scientists findings were, also, recently backed up by Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who, in his latest research paper, confirmed the Sun’s role in our planets climate by stating:
“When we compared our new composite to one of the high solar variability reconstructions of Total Solar Irradiance which was not considered by the CMIP5 hindcasts (i.e., the Hoyt & Schatten reconstruction), we found a remarkably close fit.
“If the Hoyt & Schatten reconstruction and our new Northern Hemisphere temperature trend estimates are accurate, then it seems that most of the temperature trends since at least 1881 can be explained in terms of solar variability, with atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations providing at most a minor contribution.
“This contradicts the claim by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that most of the temperature trends since the 1950s are due to changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations (Bindoff et al., 2013).”
Of the greatest global danger, though, facing humanity due to the coming catastrophic winter caused by the weakening AMOC, MoD analysts in this report warn, is not only due to the West’s ignoring the danger and failing to protect their citizens, but also the historical ramifications associated with these mini ice age periods that have seen the complete overturning of societies and governments.
Best explaining these historical periods (cycles), this report says, is the man whom many believe is world’s best economist, Martin Armstrong, who aside from being held by the US government without charges for 7 years due to his refusal to hand over his algorithm able to accurately predict economic crashes, he has also warned about the dangers facing our world due to this now arriving mini ice age by stating:
“If we just take 2015.75 [1 October 2015] and move back in time in 309.6 year intervals, we come not only to the periods when the climate turned very cold, we also come to the periods of the political changes in government.
The 1700s market the start of the uprising against monarchy. The 1396 period market the beginning of capitalism with the Black Death killing about 50% of the European population.
The year 777 was the start of Saxon invasions and Charlemagne beginning to consolidate Europe once again forming nation states. The previous cycle was the fall of Rome. These changes in climate have coincided with political changes. The climate shift to very cold places tremendous stress upon the people and starvation begins to rise.”
As to if the Western peoples, especially Americans, will ever be allowed to know the truth of what is happening it does not appear likely as a new report today states that if any mainstream reporter told the truth to them, their entire reality would crumble.
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Saudi Warplanes Kill 131 in Attack on Wedding Party AntiWar.com
(September 28, 2015) — Adding to the enormous death toll of the Saudi war against Yemen, Saudi warplanes today attacked a wedding party near the port city of Mocha, killing the groom and a huge number of civilians, with at least 131 confirmed dead in the latest reports from medical officials.
The attack does not appear to have been “accidental,” like so many other Saudi airstrikes, but rather targeted a Shi’ite wedding because the groom was seen as being “affiliated” with the Houthis. Actually what this affiliation was is unclear.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Saudi government, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to address the UN General Assembly just hours later, and slammed the Saudi war against Yemen, demanding an immediate end to the airstrikes.
“All sides are showing disregard for human life, but most of the casualties are being caused by airstrikes,” Ban noted. Some 5,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Saudi war, with virtually all of the major incidents the result of airstrikes.
SANA’A (September 29, 2015) — The death toll from an missile strike on a wedding party in Yemen has jumped to 131, medics have said, making it one of the deadliest attacks on civilians during the war and drawing strong condemnation from the UN secretary general.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition that has air supremacy over Yemen has strongly denied any role, and a coalition spokesman suggested local militias may have been responsible.
Residents said on Monday that two missiles tore through tents in the Red Sea village of Al-Wahijah, near the port of Al-Mokha. A local man affiliated with the Houthis — the Shia rebel group who are fighting the coalition — was holding his wedding reception.
A source at a hospital in Maqbana, where the casualties were taken, said on Tuesday that the death toll from the attack had risen to 131, from 27 reported on Monday.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the office of the UN human rights chief, said: “If the numbers are as high as suggested, this may be the single deadliest incident since the start of the conflict.”
The Saudi-led coalition denied on Tuesday its warplanes were behind the bombing.
“The coalition did not conduct any airstrikes in the area over the past three days,” coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told Agence France-Presse, referring to the deadly bombing near the Red Sea city of Mokha. “This is completely false,” he said.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the strikes and called on all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen, “from inside and outside the country, to immediately cease all military activities”.
The Arab coalition began airstrikes in March to drive the Iranian-allied Houthi forces out of wide swaths of the country seized since last year. The coalition is seeking to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Pro-Hadi government forces backed by local militias, Gulf troop reinforcements and air raids have retaken terrain from the Houthis, including the southern port of Aden, where Hadi has set up a temporary base after returning from Saudi exile.
But international rights groups have expressed alarm at the escalating number of civilian deaths in the conflict — at least 2,355 out of more than 4,500 people killed from the end of March to 24 September, according to figures released by the UN on Tuesday.
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$2.7 Billion Later, Pentagon’s Defense Airships
Have Yet to Get Off the Ground David Willman / San Antonio Standard-Times
WASHINGTON (September 26, 2015) — Unknown to most Americans, the Pentagon has spent $2.7 billion developing a system of giant radar-equipped blimps to provide an early warning if the country were ever attacked with cruise missiles, drones or other low-flying weapons.
After nearly two decades of disappointment and delay, the system — known as JLENS (short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense) — had a chance to prove its worth on April 15. That day, a Florida postal worker flew a single-seat, rotary-wing aircraft into the heart of the nation’s capital to dramatize his demand for campaign finance reform.
JLENS is intended to spot just such a tree-skimming intruder, and two of the blimps were supposed to be standing sentry above the capital region. Yet 61-year-old Douglas Hughes flew undetected through 30 miles of highly restricted airspace before landing on the West Lawn of the US Capitol.
At a congressional hearing soon afterward, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, demanded to know how “a dude in a gyrocopter 100 feet in the air” was able to pull off such an audacious stunt. “Whose job is it to detect him?” Chaffetz asked.
It was JLENS’ job, but the system was “not operational” that day, as the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Adm. William E. Gortney, told Chaffetz. The admiral offered no estimate for when it would be.
Seventeen years after its birth, JLENS is a stark example of what defense specialists call a “zombie” program: costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill.
Raytheon Publicity Video
In videos and news releases, Raytheon Co., the Pentagon’s lead contractor for JLENS, has asserted that the system is “proven,” “capable,” “performing well right now” and “ready to deploy today.”
The Los Angeles Times found otherwise: * In tests, JLENS has struggled to track flying objects and to distinguish friendly aircraft from threatening ones.
* A 2012 report by the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office faulted the system in four “critical performance areas” and rated its reliability as “poor.” A year later, in its most recent assessment, the agency again cited serious deficiencies and said JLENS had “low system reliability.”
* The system is designed to provide continuous air-defense surveillance for 30 days at a time, but had not managed to do so as of last month.
* Software glitches have hobbled its ability to communicate with the nation’s air-defense networks — a critical failing, given that JLENS’ main purpose is to alert US forces to incoming threats.
* The massive, milk-white blimps can be grounded by bad weather and, if deployed in combat zones, would be especially vulnerable to enemy attack.
* Even if all those problems could be overcome, it would be prohibitively expensive to deploy enough of the airships to protect the United States along its borders and coasts.
These findings emerged from a review of reports by the Pentagon testing office and the US Government Accountability Office and from interviews with defense scientists and active and retired military officers.
Despite the system’s documented shortcomings, Raytheon and other backers of JLENS have marshaled support in Congress and at the highest levels of the military to keep taxpayer money flowing to the program. They have done so, in part, by depicting JLENS as the answer to an ever-evolving list of threats: cruise missiles, drones and other small aircraft, “swarming” boats, even explosives-laden trucks.
Army leaders tried to kill JLENS in 2010, The Times learned. What happened next illustrates the difficulty of extinguishing even a deeply troubled defense program.
Raytheon mobilized its congressional lobbyists. Within the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to JLENS’ defense, arguing that it held promise for enhancing the nation’s air defenses. At Cartwright’s urging, money was found in 2011 for a trial run of the technology in the skies above Washington, D.C.
Cartwright retired the same year — and joined Raytheon’s board of directors five months later. As of the end of 2014, Raytheon had paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock for serving as a director, Securities and Exchange Commission records show.
The Times sought comment from Raytheon and an opportunity to interview company officials about JLENS. In response, spokeswoman Keri S. Connors said by email that Raytheon “declines to participate in the story.” Cartwright, who remains a Raytheon director, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Philip E. Coyle III, who oversaw assessments of dozens of major weapons systems as the Pentagon’s director of operational testing from 1994 to 2001, said Congress should closely examine whether JLENS deserves any more taxpayer dollars.
The cost of a blimp-borne radar network extensive enough to defend the nation against cruise missiles “would be enormous,” Coyle said in an interview. “When you look at the full system — all the pieces that are required — that’s when it gets really daunting,” he said.
Copyright 2015 Journal Media Group. All rights reserved.
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Middle East Eye’s Peter Oborne spent two weeks in Damascus. This is an account of what he saw:
I went to Syria under the auspices of the Assad government’s Ministry of Information, accompanied much of the time by a government minder. I had no other means of going to government-held territory. I was unable to cross the lines into other areas, and witness the devastation there caused by the government, and hear responses from its victims. I accept that my report is therefore selective, but it is authentic and I believe that the people I met deserve to have their stories told.
It could have been a society wedding in London, Milan or Paris. Instead, the packed event took place in the heart of Damascus’ Christian quarter. The men wore formal suits, the women elegant dresses. As the solemn ceremony led into a cheerful after party at a hotel in the centre of town, it seemed that the brutal civil war ravaging the country did not exist.
Yet everybody I talked to had suffered misfortune or disaster. Some had been kidnapped. Many had lost their businesses. Others had received death threats. They were all resigned to the possibility, in some cases the likelihood, of sudden death.
Without exception, those I spoke to had suffered the loss of friends and relatives in the conflict. The groom had already moved to Germany. He told me he hoped his new wife would join him. Some guests had already left Syria and had returned for the wedding. Almost everyone I spoke to was thinking of emigration.
A 22-year-old medical student told me how her life had changed after almost five years of war: “I used to walk down the street and know half the people I saw. The people round today are not the ones I used to see. Most of my friends have emigrated. Outsiders have come in. It’s like Damascus is my home, but also not my home.”
The young woman explained how refugees from the rest of Syria had changed her Damascus medical school: “Before there were two students in a room. Now there are six, seven or even eight girls in a tiny room.”
One of the ushers said his family used to be rich but that their warehouses in Aleppo had been destroyed. The road to the family farm located 70km away to the northwest is often attacked by rebels, leaving him stranded in Damascus, he said.
He has also been held up at gunpoint, beaten up and robbed just a month ago. He told me that four of his close friends and family had been killed in the previous year: one was a soldier killed in action; mortars had struck others. I asked him if he had thought of leaving.
“No. Syria is a lovely country. I have had offers to work abroad, but I won’t go. This is my hometown. It’s called Damascus.”
Damascus is under siege. There are only three completely safe routes that lead out of the city, one a heavily guarded road that heads towards Beirut and the other south, toward the airport (there are regular flights to Gulf countries and Russia, though not Western states). The main road to Homs in the north was cut off when I made the journey due to rebel action, but we quickly found an alternative, albeit circuitous route.
Let’s briefly try a mental experiment and imagine Damascus is London.
The central area stretching from Hammersmith and Whitechapel and up to St. John’s Wood and Islington is secure enough (barring the thud of incoming mortars every day).
Londoners can safely head out west along the M4 to Heathrow Airport and beyond, so long as they are ready to tolerate long delays at checkpoints. The M1 heading north is also safe, though the motorway can be cut off suddenly by rebel attack.
All of Croydon is in the hands of armed groups, some allied to al-Qaeda, while Brixton has been reduced to rubble. Only a few desperate refugees, scavenging among the ruins, live there now.
A ferocious battle is underway for control of the ruined streets and squares of Clapham, from where rebel fighters relentlessly dispatch mortars towards Whitehall, Westminster and Mayfair. The wealthy hedge-fund managers and corporate financiers who populate these areas have long since left.
Meanwhile gunmen from the Islamic State group — many of them foreign — terrorise the residents of Richmond and Wimbledon. In such areas, citizen militias have been formed to fight the armed groups who (according to government loyalists) are funded and supplied by neighbouring states.
Now back to Damascus: The front line between rebels and government forces runs in a curve around most of the city. Sometimes a single street marks it, elsewhere a stretch of wasteland.
Walk down one street where all the appearance of life seem to be going on (shops, cars, cafes), then turn off and it becomes a parallel world of sandbags, look-out posts, armed men and bunkers.
I drove down with members of the National Defence Force (NDF) — local militias that have sprung up spontaneously to defend local communities — to the industrial suburb of al-Qadam in southwest Damascus.
Within a minute of turning off a busy main road, we were ducking low to avoid incoming fire from IS sniper positions just 270 metres away at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp (government forces laid brutal siege to it before much of it fell under IS control) on the other side of a children’s park.
The militiamen told me that they came under incessant attack from IS, and claimed to have killed two of their fighters the previous day.
Life on the Front Line
In an adjacent street, perhaps 90 metres behind the nearest frontline position, a group of local women were sipping herbal tea in the shade of a fig tree.
The oldest woman, Amali, told me how two days ago her water tank had been struck by a sniper’s bullet, destroying her water supply and causing a flood.
“I fixed it and I am not scared,” she said. “I have lived here for 40 years and I won’t leave. We have a lot of our people killed. My cousin. My nephew. My cousin’s son. They cut his neck from artery to artery. We will not leave our country like the Palestinian people. We will stay here.”
She took me into her house to show me the damage. The outside walls were pockmarked with bullets. Neither Amali, nor her neighbours, can ever climb the stairs to the second floor of their houses for fear of being shot.
Almost every Damascene is aware that they could be hit at any moment. A young woman student told me: “It’s a matter of luck. I feel that I am gambling with my life.”
I asked an old man in a street in north Damascus for directions. He told me: “I go out of my house and I do not know whether I come back. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, next month, next year or in ten years’ time.” A man nearby added: “Now the normal thing in Syria is death. The abnormal thing is that you should live.”
It has been 18 months since I was last in Damascus. Life in the city has become tougher and more dangerous. People are weary of the conflict, the shortages, and the danger. They see no end to the fighting. They feel isolated and abandoned by the world.
When I arrived in the city three weeks ago I wondered where to stay. Fellow journalists suggested the Four Seasons in the centre of the city, much used by the United Nations and international media.
However, it is part of what some call the “green zone”, meaning that it is insulated from the realities of the life around. Just as off-putting, it charges $500 a night, far beyond my means.
I found a hotel in the old walled city. Several centuries old, with a beautiful interior courtyard for which Damascus is famous, the manager told me that before the crisis, Dar al-Yasmin was always full of tourists.
After five years of conflict, the rooms were mainly closed up and without food or drink, and a sputtering tap rather than running water. For more than half of the time, there was no electricity and most nights I went to bed by the light of my mobile phone.
When I left the hotel in the evening there was no lighting in the narrow, cobbled alleyways. People stumbled along by the light of torches. The old city suddenly felt very mediaeval indeed.
By staying there, I was able to share the life of ordinary Damascenes. Besides the electricity and water shortages, the most obvious problem was the mortars.
During many of the interviews I carried out, they made a background thud every few minutes, in most cases reassuringly far away, just occasionally exploding with a thunderous bang nearby.
Damascenes ignore them, not even looking up when they land. Nowhere is exempt from the mortars (though very few reach the heart of the city). They fall on Sunni Muslim, as well as Christian or Alawite areas.
For example, when I visited the Grand Ummayad Mosque, in the heart of the Old City, I found that it had been struck several times, most recently about three months ago when a mortar landed in the courtyard near the entrance, killing two workmen.
The mortars come without warning and have a tendency to arrive in sequence — I was advised that if one lands nearby it is best to take cover because another may be on the way. Their intention is to destroy morale and force people out of Damascus.
The day I arrived, mortars killed three students and injured 25 others just after they had taken their end-of-year exams at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.
I went to visit one of the survivors, a 20-year-old engineering student, at the hospital. He was recovering from severe injuries to his abdomen and thorax.
“I didn’t have a gun in my hand,” he said. “We were not fighting anyone. We are at university.”
He expressed determination in wanting to “go back to my faculty with my paper and pen. I want to prove that I am not afraid and can continue normal life”.
Talks between Pro-government Militias and Rebels
There are many rebel groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. In Damascus, they can be divided into two broad categories: those which want to replace the Assad government while retaining the existing Syrian state, and those which want to replace Assad with some version of a theocracy.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), set up in the early months of the war, was by far the most important example of the first category. Partly comprised of army officers who had defected, it received backing from the West.
Over the course of the war, the FSA has met with a series of numbing setbacks. It has steadily lost ground to jihadist movements set on obliterating the modern, constitutional conception of Syria as a secular country.
In Damascus, IS has begun to make progress over the past 12 months, bringing a fresh dimension of undiluted horror to the war. Pro-government militiamen told me that, unlike the jihadists of al-Nusra or Jaysh al-Islam, there can be no negotiation with IS.
The rise of IS, however, has brought a dramatic reconciliation between rebel and government factions. A contact in the National Defence Force took me to a military outpost in west Damascus in order to meet one of the leaders of the local Free Syrian Army battalion.
The two men explained to me that after three years of fighting they had started to negotiate. This grizzled FSA fighter — I will call him Abdullah — told me how he had joined up with the opposition inside his native al-Qadam (an outer district of Damascus) at the start of the war along with other members of his tribe who were outraged by the brutal reaction of the security state at the start of rebellion.
Abdullah and his friends had spent three years fighting a battle against government forces that had left al-Qadam, which neighbours Yarmouk, ruined. Locals say that the population of 110,000 has been reduced to just 6,000.
In recent months, however, he said that many FSA fighters had switched to fight alongside government forces.
“We saw that the men we were fighting were Syrians. There were no Hezbollah. In our last battle there was a lot of blood. Many dead. After the end of the battle we exchanged bodies. Then talks started.”
At first, these were fraught with suspicion. In the first meeting some rebel leaders wore suicide vests, primed to explode if they were killed in order to head off the danger of ambush. I was told they contained a special sensor causing it to explode if breathing stops.
The FSA leader said that when IS arrived in the district a few months ago “we worked out that the real enemy is IS.” He added that he had gone to see an IS leader, an Iraqi called Abu Salem, to ask him: “Why do you want to kill us? We are Muslim. We are people like you. Why don’t you just attack the government directly?”
Abu Salem replied: “What do you do if you have a snake inside your house and outside the house. Which do you kill first? The inside snake.”
The situation was very dangerous and unstable. The day I met the FSA fighter, he told me that IS had just laid down an ultimatum which “demanded that the people of al-Qadam should join with them. If we refused, then they will fight us and announce al-Qadam as a state for IS.”
The FSA turned the offer down. Then came bad news. A group of FSA fighters had defected after IS had “bought a street” in al-Qadam, securing loyalty with money and weapons.
This was not so surprising. IS has much better pay. Free Syrian Army fighters told me that IS fighters get paid 80,000 Syrian lira ($250) a month whereas they were only paid 5,000 lira (about $20).
The FSA men told me that they used to get much better money from Qatari and Turkish sources, but this source of funds was cut off seven months ago when they started to cooperate with pro-government forces.
Plummeting Syrian Pound Causes Cost of Living Crisis
Living standards have collapsed since the start of the conflict, even for those in work. A doctor’s salary is approximately $150 a month. Five years ago, at an exchange rate of 50 lira to the dollar, that was the equivalent to $600 — enough to live in middle class comfort.
Since then, the Syrian pound has slid to less than 20 percent of the value it held five years ago, and it continues to fall fast and relentlessly. When I arrived at the Masnaa border crossing from Beirut on 2 September, I exchanged my dollars at 300 lira each. But by the time I left the country two weeks later, the exchange rate had dropped by more than 10 percent to 340 lira per dollar.
If it continues to fall at the current rate for another 12 months, the Syrian lira will be worth 1,300 to the dollar, meaning that a doctor’s salary will be worth only $25 a month. It is hard to see how ordinary Damascenes can survive at all in such circumstances.
This makes life unbearably difficult for many because prices have surged ahead. Bottles of water (a necessity during Syria’s scorching summers) have risen from about 15 lira to around 150 lira, a kilogram of tomatoes used to cost 15 lira but exceeds 200 lira. Student notebooks, formerly 100 lira, now cost 500.
The most expensive item by far is accommodation. Thanks to the surge of displaced people into Damascus, the rent of a two bedroom flat is now about 70,000 lira a month, which is more than twice the salary of an average state employee. As one Syrian said to me: “[In order] to move to Damascus [one] needs two salaries just to pay for somewhere to live.”
The Assad government has frozen prices on basic commodities including petrol, gas, rice and sugar, all of which are supplied on the presentation of an official card. But this system of rationing inevitably leads to shortages.
Long queues, stretching back for hundreds of metres, now form outside petrol stations and have become a major source of traffic blockage, along with ubiquitous checkpoints.
It is no wonder that so many Syrians turn their thoughts to leaving the country. Samir, a dentist, told me that he had got engaged at the beginning of the war.
“My fiance and I threw a party. A whole load of people at our engagement party had left Syria by the time of the wedding. We had to make a new set of friends. Now most of the people at our wedding have left too. Every day you hear about someone else leaving.”
I suggested to him that Syrians who left during the war could be seen as unpatriotic, pointing out that some British still consider those people (for instance the poet WH Auden and the novelist Christopher Isherwood) who fled to the United States during the 1940 blitz as cowards.
He replied: “Some call emigrants traitors. On the other hand people worry about the safety of their children.”
“Yesterday my neighbour who works in a bank said to me that he was thinking of leaving and asked for my view. I said to him that it was none of my business. You have to decide yourself.”
My friend said that he wanted to remain in Syria. But he added: “By staying I am gambling with my life, my wife’s life and the life of my children if we have them. But the fear that someone might get hurt while taking this gamble is devastating. That is the argument that my wife is putting to me.”
Samir said he too might leave one day. “I am not saying that one day I will not leave. Maybe I will have to. I think the worst is what we are going through now, the mortars, the living conditions.”
Commute from Terror
Before the war, tourism was a staple of the national economy. However, earlier patterns of travel have re-emerged. People come on pilgrimage to Damascus. Christians stay in Bab Tuma in the Old City before travelling onwards to the ancient centres of Maaloula (some 40km north of the capital) and Saidnaya (some 20km north). When I went to the Great Ummayad Mosque I came across a party of black-robed Shia ladies from Basra, who had come to worship Hussein the martyr.
In the courtyard, I fell into conversation with an old man who had made an especially harrowing pilgrimage. He had arrived in Damascus the previous day from Raqqa, IS’s self-proclaimed headquarters.
He told me about a terrifying journey by bus (tickets cost 2,500 lira each) which involved 23 checkpoints before reaching Syrian government territory. The man, a civil servant, told me he had come to pray for a sick relative, and planned to return the following day.
I asked why he didn’t stay in Damascus. The man told me that that his home was in Raqqa and that IS would seize his house if he left it unattended for long.
He told me about how Raqqa fell to the militants: “There were the Free Syrian Army there, IS and all sorts of other forces. IS were strongest. They told us that you are welcome to join us. Otherwise you will be killed.”
“We were terrified that day from the executions and murders. First of all they killed the soldiers. Then they killed civilians. They chopped off heads and put them beside the roads and beside the main square. They execute women as well as men. If they know a woman has a son in the army, they will kill her.” He said that IS fighters in Raqqa were foreigners.
“There are Egyptians, Tunisians, Afghans, Koreans, Malaysian, natives of Azerbaijan, Chinese. The majority are from Saudi Arabia.” He said that he only seen “one or two” British fighters.
These IS fighters, he said, exert a reign of terror. Public TV in every square churns out IS’s notorious videos displaying deaths and beheadings. The local school, he said, had been turned into a lodging house for fighters.
Preachers at the Friday mosque change every Friday, he said. For the most part, they were Saudi or Egyptian. He told me about imams carrying Kalashnikovs and wearing a loaded suicide belt as they preached.
“All the time,” he said. “They talk about the apocalypse and how this is the last of times. They say that they are soldiers of God and that they are fighting the war at the end of time. They insist that it is written in the Quran that God has sent them with their black flags.”
This belief that the world has entered the end times as predicted in ancient prophecy is very widely held, and not just among Muslims. Many Christians, I was told, believe this too. One of the signs of the end of the world is a sighting of white horses, and there are said to have been numerous of these. The fall of Damascus itself would be regarded as another infallible sign that the final days are imminent.
Protecting Syria’s Education System
Despite everything, life goes on. Children went back to school for the autumn term while I was there — a normal and welcoming sight. I travelled to the suburb of Eastern Ghouta, the traumatised district in southeastern Damascus where hundreds died after chemical weapons fell on a rebel area in 2013, nearly provoking Britain and the West to make bombing raids against the Assad government.
The manager of the educational authority was a powerfully built man who described to me in detail the difficulties of running a school system in an area that has experienced so much killing and destruction.
Average class sizes had more than doubled from around 35 before the crisis to 75 today. So great is the weight of numbers that in some schools the day is divided into two shifts.
This was partly because of pressure for space from displaced children, and partly because of destruction. Some schools have been turned into accommodation centres for refugees. Six of his schools had been destroyed in the fighting, and some 30 out of 450 teachers had been killed.
“Sometimes they are targeted by armed groups and sometimes they are kidnapped from work,” he said.
Teachers, like doctors and government officials, are regarded as authority figures and therefore fair game for rebels.
To my astonishment, he informed me that his educational authority also manages schools in rebel areas. “We run 61 schools for all grades, with 19,000 students.”
This creates a delicate and dangerous issue with the school syllabus. Syrian national education is almost identical to the European system. Education is free and compulsory, from ages 6-15. The schools are mixed and the subject taught are liberal and secular: maths, sciences, geography, history, languages (French, English, and Arabic).
Religious studies embrace Christianity as well as Islam, and concentrate on propounding a message of religious toleration.
So what happens in rebel held schools, given that much of East Ghouta is now under the control of Islamist groups?
The education authority chief said “the government sends all the books, all the equipment and all the education facilities to schools in rebel areas. The teachers come into Damascus monthly to collect their salaries.”
He added that the “armed groups try to add to the curriculum materials about Sharia law and Wahhabism, while getting rid of anything which promotes Syrian nationalism.”
However, he said that teachers try to resist this pressure, bolstered by supportive parents. “Most of the teachers,” he told me, “live there with their families, which gives them strength.”
Standing up to armed men in these desperate circumstances can only require superhuman reserves of moral determination and courage. The head mistress of one school in East Ghouta was one of the bravest and admirable women I have ever met.
Veiled and wearing a long black dress, she told me of her personal battle to prevent al-Nusra imposing its monochrome vision of education on her school.
“They changed the curriculum, separated boys from girls, ended sports for girls, and cancelled art lessons. They cancelled physics teaching because they said its doctrine that energy is eternal is false. They said only God lasts forever.”
“They wanted us to stop teaching girls science and mathematics, to emphasise the importance of jihad, and to teach the girls to encourage their husbands towards jihad.”
She refused to cooperate. Al-Nusra seized her and took her to prison. She was subjected to interrogation by a Tunisian (nick-named al-Tunisie) with a long, white beard who told her he was from the “repentance council”.
First, he accused her of being a spy. Then he offered her money to bring in the Wahhabi school syllabus that al-Nusra demanded. He also offered her cash to smuggle medical and other goods between government and rebel areas.
When she refused all these inducements, al-Tunisie threatened to put her in front of a sharia court where she would, he said, be awarded 100 lashes.
These conversations took place in her prison cell. At length, she told me: “I decided to face him down. I decided to use his religion against him.”
“I asked him ‘why are you sitting here with me alone? I am a woman and you are a man. It is forbidden that you should look at me without a veil.'”
She won the argument and was allowed to go back to her school (though she was not trusted and was followed everywhere she went).
Then she secured a remarkable coup and arranged for her schoolchildren to cross the fire line between government and rebel forces in order take their high school exams.
This plan was strongly supported by the students’ parents, and it worked well. But after that she felt more than ever a marked woman. She felt obliged to flee with her two children, Fadi and Hadi.
After a series of adventures, when they lived in secret with a family of strangers in a safe house, they managed to cross the rebel lines and return to government-held territory, where she returned to teaching.
But her inspiring and heroic story has a tragic sequel. A few weeks after their escape, she was supervising an exam when a mortar landed in the garden outside where her two sons were playing.
Twelve-year-old Fadi was killed outright while her younger son Hadi was injured and has yet to overcome the psychological trauma.
Many teachers in East Ghouta have gone through similar horrifying and intense experiences. The principal of one school told me how rebels took over her neighbourhood 12 months ago. The rebels knocked on the door of her family home, where she was asleep with her husband and four children, at 4am.
The rebels targeted government workers and minority groups.
“My neighbourhood was mostly Sunni,” she said. “But they started to ask who were Christian or Alawite. The Sunni women covered the Alawite women and refused to say who was from a minority.”
The rebels were merciless: “They killed people in front of our eyes. My brother-in-law was an officer in the army. They shot him in the back and the shoulder. His wife started crying: ‘Please help him. He will die.'”
“They refused. They said ‘let him die slowly’ and called him a ‘dead animal.'”
Then her cousin, a supervisor in a furniture shop, was heard telling his daughter to call for army assistance. “They shot him. He fell down dead in front of his daughters.” Amid all the confusion, her family managed to escape.
Another teacher, Ahmed, was disturbed along with his wife, his 18-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter two hours later on the same morning.
They were ordered to go and stand in the street, where residents were divided into groups. Young men were informed they would be drafted to fight as jihadi fighters.
Anyone with a picture of President Assad was arrested on grounds of pro-government views. The rebels repeatedly asked Ahmed and others: “What is your sect?” Ahmed, like most of the inhabitants of East Ghoutta, is Sunni.
In this desperate moment, shooting started. He told me: “My wife and daughter were hit. My daughter received a bullet in the thigh, and my wife was hit in the neck. She died in front of me.”
In his grief, Ahmed started shouting at the rebels. “I have a fight with them,” he told me.
Amid the ensuing chaos he left his son grieving over his dead mother while he took his badly injured daughter to search for urgent medical help.
Thanks to amazing luck, they found a medical centre that carried out an emergency operation. A nearby family then took pity on them, and at great risk allowed them to hide in their house.
The following day they discretely abandoned their temporary refuge, walked up to a government checkpoint, which allowed them through to safety. Later, the family was reunited when Ahmed met his son again. The young man had secured a decent burial for his mother, and also escaped.
They now live as displaced people. Ahmed told me: “I don’t care about my life now. I care about my children, not about my own life.”
Others live in yet greater desperation. Before I left East Ghoutta, I asked to visit al-Dukhaniah school, a once flourishing establishment that had been educating 1,200 students until fighting forced the school to close in July last year.
The school had now become a base for rebel forces. “The Islam army was here,” could be read on the school wall. Everything had been destroyed, but I picked up a book of religious instruction from the rubble.
It asked: “Can you name five of the beautiful things that God has created for us?” A schoolchild had written: “Rivers, mountains, seas, pearls, stars.”
As I absorbed the incongruity of all this I realised I was being observed by a man and his young son. He told me that his name was Mahmood, that he lived locally and that his wife was dead, shot in the back during last year’s fighting by a sniper.
Mahmood and his three sons had fled the fighting after she was killed, and lived in a park in central Damascus for several weeks before finding more secure accommodation in a government camp.
Recently they had come back to their old home, and now made a living foraging for old pieces of plastic and iron and selling them for scrap.
I asked him to take me to his home. We picked our way through the destruction (so thorough in places that there was total silence, not even birdsong) until after about ten minutes we came to his little house.
There was no electricity or water. The family group lived in one bedroom and one smaller room doubled as a kitchen and bathroom.
The bedroom was incredibly hot and humid and lit by a single candle, by the light of which Mahmood’s sister was attempting to read the Quran to her two small children.
I realised that nine people lived in this damp and fetid house — Mahmood and three sons, his sister and her two children, a nephew and Mahmood’s new wife.
The children did not go to school because the family did not have the means to buy them uniforms, books and satchels.
A Dostoyevsky Novel
Interviewing the men and women who have gone through tragedy on this epic scale is hard to bear. Many conversations were as naked and heartbreaking as reading a Dostoyevsky novel.
People have suffered more than anyone should ever be asked to suffer. They have displayed physical and moral courage at which an outsider can only marvel. They have suffered tragedies on a scale beyond ordinary comprehension.
I set aside a morning for myself the day I left Damascus, and walked down Straight Street and towards Bab Sharqi, the eastern gate of the Old City.
I turned left, walked up a cobbled street, and at length found the house of St Ananias, the first Bishop of Damascus who answered God’s instruction to heal St Paul after he was struck blind.
I bought a ticket, went down to the ancient chapel and prayed for Syria. I prayed for the refugees. I prayed for the dead. I prayed for al-Ghouta and al-Qaddam. I prayed for the victims of the rebels and for the victims of the government. I prayed for truth. I prayed for all the brave people I had met. I prayed for no more horror. I prayed for an explanation. I prayed for hope.
I was alone in the chapel except for one couple that must have suffered some unbearable loss — the woman was sobbing. They stayed for a short while after placing a candle not far from the altar. Following their example I lit one too. Then I went back down on my knees, and I prayed and I prayed and I prayed.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Starving Civilians in Yemen Wish for Death
To Escape Horrors of War Nawal Al-Maghafi, Video Editor / Middle East Eye
SANAA (September 22, 2015) — “They deprived me of my sons,” Khadija Al-Bayna told me. “They were our breadwinners; now I don’t know whether I should be crying in mourning or because I no longer know how we will pay for tomorrow’s meal.”
Mohammed and Ahmed died two days earlier, killed by an airstrike that hit the Al-Sham water-bottling plant, where they had been working for two years. They were minutes away from finishing their shift for the day.
The plant was located deep in the Hajjah desert province, off Yemen’s western coast. As most of the locals have been pointing out in the days since, it was the only business outlet of note for miles around.
In total, 12 families lost at least one son to the airstrike. The Al-Baynas lost two, both of who were their breadwinners and livelihood. The strike was the latest episode in a six-month air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states who have been trying since March, with mixed results, to defeat the Houthi militiamen who seized the capital, Sanaa, more than a year ago.
From the very start, the military campaign has had an unquestionably sectarian character to it. Saudi Arabia’s stated objective has been to roll back the gains secured by Zaidi Shia Houthis in the past year and reinstate the rule of Yemen’s deposed president, Abdu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh in March as the Houthi insurgency pursued him to the port city of Aden.
As in most conflicts, civilians caught in the middle have had to bear the brunt of the cost, with thousands falling victim to indiscriminate targeting — whether from coalition airstrikes or heavy weaponry shelling by the Houthis. While estimates vary, many believe the death toll for the first six months of the coalition campaign has already surpassed the 4,500 mark.
“That’s it! Everything is gone, the business, the people,” the plant manager, Mohammed Al-Razoom, cried as he walked us around what was left of his factory in Hajjah, a desolate landscape of burnt bottles and machinery.
Speaking to Reuters, the coalition commander, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, insisted that the plant was not a bottling factory but had been used by the Houthis to make explosive devices.
When asked about Asseri’s comment, Al-Razoom picked a water bottle up and cried in dismay: “These are the weapons and missiles the Saudis are targeting?”
‘There Is Absolutely No One Helping Us’
Now, a few kilometres away from the site of the strike — on the outskirts of Hajjah’s Beni Hassan district — shanty tents sprawl across the desert expanse, a makeshift Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp housing thousands of people who had fled their homes.
Most say they’re seeking a place of refuge from the violence, but, in truth, such a place no longer exists in Yemen. On the day we visited the camp, four airstrikes struck; the force of their impact lifted everyone off the ground and threw them a few feet away.
“We thought we would be safe here, but the airstrikes follow us wherever we go,” Khadija Ahmed, who had fled to the camp with her husband and four children, told MIDDLE EAST EYE.
“At least at home we had food, we had our farmland, we had our goats. Here, we are starving. There is absolutely no one helping us.”
Despite the ferocity of the bombing campaign, a bigger burden on the country’s civilians has been the blockade imposed by the coalition since March. While this is officially aimed at cutting-off arms supplies to the Houthis, the blockade has had a disastrous impact on a civilian population relying on imports for 90 percent of its staple food needs.
According to the UN, Yemen is now on the brink of famine yet this continues to be one of most underfunded â€“ and underreported — humanitarian crises in the world.
Meanwhile, the mood in Sanaa, which had been relatively calm for weeks, was soured by news of the killing of 45 soldiers from the UAE by Houthi forces near Marib, 120km to the east of the capital.
“Sanaa will pay the price tonight!” a distraught Sanaanite friend predicted when we received the news. Ominously, we heard coalition jets roaring above us moments later — a terrifying sound — especially when one knows the jets can, and will, strike at any moment.
Airstrikes by the UAE air force were predictably ferocious, striking targets in Sanaa but also in Marib and the Houthis’ stronghold, Saada. The civilian death-toll reached over 30 casualties that night alone. The cycle of violence had been the same for weeks: every time the Houthis engaged in fighting against coalition ground troops in Marib, or at the Saudi border, civilians all over Yemen braced themselves for the inevitable, seemingly indiscriminate, retaliatory airstrikes by the coalition.
Needless to say, the coalition’s repeated assurances that its air campaign has been strictly confined to high-precision targeting of military Houthi positions have been invariably greeted with a great deal of scepticism by most Yemenis.
The scepticism seems amply justified: In the past six months of fighting alone, coalition airstrikes have hit a busy marketplace, IDP camps, residential complexes, the port of Sanaa as well as the Old City (a UNESCO world heritage site) to name but a few.
Sanaa Devastated by Bombing Campaign
The next morning, we went on a tour of civilian areas that had been hit by overnight airstrikes, including two apartment complexes and a university building in Sanaa. One of the apartment complexes was home to a Syrian family that had fled their own civil war two years earlier. “The airstrikes followed them from Syria to Sanaa; it’s Qadar (divine fate)!” exclaimed the buildings’ owner as he surveyed the heap of rubble where his building used to stand; teddy bears and charred laundry still visible among the rocks and dirt.
As we drove through Sanaa, the city was unrecognisable. The town’s famous Diplomatic Quarter was now a ghost town; unsurprising considering its location at the foot of the Faj Attan mountain, which has seen the most intensive bombings of the air campaign.
Nearby, a school was closed: it had been hit twice. The longer we drove, the more it became evident that this was the fate of most of the town’s civilian infrastructure: Dozens of schools, homes, shops, and restaurants were all hit by either coalition airstrikes or Houthi shelling. At site after site, devastation had descended everywhere. Meanwhile, the stories of the residents kept coming; an endless flow that was both compelling and overwhelming.
Reaching the Old City, we discovered it was also hit; at the time of our visit the Saudi coalition denied it was responsible for the airstrike that hit the site but only days after we left it was hit again — airstrikes killed 15 civilians from three families and left two gaping holes at the centre of what used to be an area of picturesque serenity.
Airstrikes Are ‘War Crimes’
Human rights groups have been vocal in insisting that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes amount to war crimes. According to the UN, more than a thousand civilians are believed to have died as a result of the strikes alone, a number which continues to rise steadily yet has, so far, generated little international attention or outrage.
Last week, the UN Human Rights chief, Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called for an independent inquiry into violations, both by coalition and Houthi forces. He also welcomed plans announced by President Hadi, who has returned to Aden, at least briefly, to “investigate all violations”. Several international human rights organisations, however, promptly expressed doubts over whether a government in exile, one utterly dependent on political and military Saudi patronage, can be trusted to conduct an impartial inquiry.
In the meantime, the coalition’s relentless bombing campaign continues to fuel popular anger and resentment against Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Western arms exporters such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The UK, in particular, has been one of the leading arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, granting the kingdom 37 export military licenses since the beginning of its Yemeni campaign in March.
“The UK Government is quietly fuelling the Yemen conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, potentially in breach of both domestic and international laws on the sales of arms,” Oxfam said in a statement earlier this month.
The legal framework governing the arms trade prohibits deals where there is a clear risk that weapons might be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuses. Human rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of potential war crimes, pointing to a pattern of airstrikes in civilian areas that included no obvious military targets.
Concerns over the effectiveness and rationale of the coaliton’s strategy extend beyond human rights considerations.
Prior to the start of the campaign, the United States’ main fight in the region was its decade-long counter-terrorism effort against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, many believe the current campaign has not only strengthened AQAP but also provided the catalyst for the emergence of an Islamic State group offshoot in Yemen.
The latter is now openly competing with AQAP by launching its own offensive against Yemen’s Zaidi Shia community, including an attack earlier this month on a Houthi mosque that killed 20 people.
“The first bomb wasn’t so bad,” Mohammed, one of the survivors, told MIDDLE EAST EYE. “At first, we didn’t realise it was a suicide bomber, but as we all gathered to rescue the injured I became suspicious of a car parked outside. I screamed for everyone to run but the bomb blew up before most could do so.”
As he spoke, Mohammed picked up a ball-bearing from the ground â€“ a macabre remnant of the suicide-bomber’s vest â€“ holding it in his hand. “This is all Saudi Arabia and America’s doing,” he cried. “They brought this to us. We used to pray in peace and safety. Now we pray knowing we might not return home.”
According to the UN, 80 percent of Yemen’s 25 million inhabitants are today on the brink of famine. In a visit to the Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, we met Randa Ahmed, a young mother holding her two-year-old boy, HaMiddle East Eyed.
“They tell me to eat well so I can breastfeed him. But with this crisis, my husband is stuck at home and we just cannot afford food.” That morning, her son desperately needed oxygen but, because of the blockade, the hospital had no basic supplies on its premises. HaMiddle East Eyed made it through that day but Randa had to be sent home two days later; the hospital had been forced to close down.
Amidst the mayhem and desperation, there are sadly no indications things will improve anytime soon. The coalition forces and Hadi loyalists are currently conducting military training exercises in Marib, in preparation for a ground offensive on Sanaa. This presages dark days, possibly weeks or months, ahead for a population already facing calamitous food and medicine shortages.
As we prepared to leave her, Khadija Ahmed held her remaining three children tightly towards her and whispered, “I wish an airstrike would just kill us all — all of us — in an instant! As least I wouldn’t have to see them afraid and hungry anymore.”
As she spoke, her son suddenly looked up to the sky, a terrified look spreading across his face: the airplanes overhead had returned.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
At Least 70 Killed at Yemen Wedding Following Saudi-led Coalition Raid MIDDLE EAST EYE and Agencies
(September 28, 2015) — A Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding in southwest Yemen on Monday, killing at least 70 people including children, medics and witnesses said.
“The bodies of 31 people, including children, have been taken to a hospital in Mokha city,” a medical source said, adding that dozens more were wounded in the bombardment of a wedding hall in the Red Sea city. Most of the wounded are in serious conditions, the medic said.
Witnesses reported that warplanes struck the wedding hall in Mokha, which is controlled by Houthis. Social media users said air strikes hit the women’s tent at the celebration, a claim that could not be immediately verified.
The attack on the wedding comes a day after residents in two villages — Bani Zela and Zaylaa — near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabi said coalition strikes on Sunday had killed more than 50 people. A local in Bani Zela told Reuters that civilians were pursued by coalition helicopters as they fled their homes.
An anonymous Saudi source in the New York Times was quoted on Monday, saying they denied their involvement in the attacks.
The Saudi-led coalition launched an air campaign against the Houthis in late March in support of embattled President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh.
In the past, air strikes have hit non-military areas, drawing criticism from rights groups. In late August, an air raid hit a bottled-water factory in the northern Hajja province, killing 17 civilians and 14 rebels.
A similar strike in July at the residences of employees of a power plant in Mokha killed 65 civilians. Another attack on a dairy plant in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in April left 35 civilians dead.
(September 28, 2015) — Saudi-led coalition airstrikes pounded Yemen on Sunday, killing more than 50 people on Sunday night. In a Yemeni village near the border with Saudi Arabia, airstrikes killed 23 Houthis, according to local residents.
Helicopters and planes from the Saudi-led coalition attacked a building in the village of Zaylaa, in the northwestern Hajja province, believing it to be under the control of Houthi forces, residents told media.
The strikes follow another attack near the Saudi border on the village of Bani Zela which killed 25 civilians also on Sunday, medical sources said.
“People were fleeing their homes as the helicopters pursued,” a village resident who called himself Khaled told Reuters. “They committed a massacre for no reason,” he said.
Saudi sources denied involvement in the attack. “This is totally false news. We deny it,” said one official, quoted anonymously in the New York Times.
Saudi General Killed
A Saudi general was also killed by Houthi shelling that hit the Kingdom’s border province of Jazan, the army said on Sunday.
The general is the second highest-ranking Saudi military official killed over the weekend, after a colonel and a border guard died in a gun battle near the border on Friday.
A coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstrikes on Houthi militiamen and forces loyal to ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saudi Arabia says it wants to reinstate exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who since March has been living in Riyadh after fleeing Houthi advances on the southern city of Aden. Last week, Hadi returned to Aden for a 48-hour visit hailed as a “victory” by commentators supportive of Saudi Arabia.
“The coalition’s success in returning President Hadi to Aden marks a strategic shift in the course of Operation Decisive Storm,” wrote Salman Aldosary, editor-in-chief of Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. “The Saudi-led coalition has achieved one success after another, without resorting to annoying propaganda or bombastic statements.”
“The real goal of the war in Yemen was, and still is, the security and stability of the Yemeni people, which will be gradually achieved no matter how loud the Houthis scream.”
The war in Yemen has caused a massive humanitarian crisis in the desperately poor country, which was already the poorest in the region. More than 2,100 civilians, including at least 400 children, have been killed in the conflict, while over 1.4 million people have been displaced.
Naval embargoes and fighting around ports have created food shortages in a country that imports 90 percent of its food. Saudi Arabia has promised to restore what it calls “legitimacy” in Yemen.
However, many Yemenis have blamed the kingdom — and its international backers, including the US — for exacerbating an already precarious situation in the country.
“Saudi bought the world’s silence,” wrote Sanaa-based analyst Hisham al-Omeisy on Twitter after the attacks over the weekend. “We’re poor, no shame in that, but I promise you, poor & now suffered injustice, Yemen has stronger resolve.”
(September 27, 2015) — Airstrikes launched by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have killed 25 civilians, according to medics. The village of Bani Zela, in north-western Yemen near the border with Saudi Arabia, saw a sustained attack by helicopters on Sunday.
“People were fleeing their homes as the helicopters pursued,” a village resident who called himself Khaled told Reuters. “They committed a massacre for no reason,” he said.
Medical officials in the village told Reuters that most of the dead were women and children.
Previous attacks causing large-scale civilian deaths, which appear to have been based on faulty intelligence, have included an airstrike on a refugee camp that killed 45 people.
Two months later Houthi fighters fired mortars at a boat carrying internally displaced people fleeing from the southern port city of Aden, killing at least 40 people.
The attack comes a day after a senior Saudi officer and a border guard were killed in a gun battle along the frontier with Yemen.
Colonel Hassan Ghasoum Ageeli and a deputy sergeant died late on Friday in the Jazan district, and four other guards were lightly wounded, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Sunday’s airstrike is the latest in a months-long campaign led by Saudi Arabia that aims to oust the Houthi rebels who took over much of the country last year.
The Houthis, whom Saudi Arabia suspects of having Iranian backing, have been hit hard by the bombing campaign, particularly in their northern stronghold of Saada, but have nonetheless continued to launch cross-border attacks, and claim to have control of territory inside Saudi Arabia.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Is Bernie Sanders an American Empire Denier? Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News
(September 26, 2015) — Should progressives back Bernie Sanders even though he backs Israel against the Palestinians, US meddling in Ukraine, the new Cold War with Russia, and at least some US bombing of the Islamic State in Syria?
Or should we maintain our anti-imperialist purity and stand aside? My bias is to back Bernie, warts and all. But, at the same time, I think we need to face up openly and honestly to Bernieâ€™s mixed record, especially on foreign policy.
Few on the left have savaged that record more harshly or unfairly than journalist Chris Hedges, an ordained Presbyterian minister, who damns Bernie as not a true socialist, democratic or otherwise.
â€œYou cannot be a socialist and an imperialist. You cannot, as Bernie Sanders has done, support the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and be a socialist. You cannot, as Sanders has done, vote for every military appropriations bill, including every bill and resolution that empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people, and be a socialist. And you cannot laud, as Sanders has done, military contractors because they bring jobs to your state.â€
Setting himself up as a one-man vanguard to define socialism on behalf of the benighted and brainwashed masses, Hedges preaches with the certainty of those who have seen the light and know the way to secular salvation, whether in Athens, Barcelona, or Peoria. But he loses himself in a sectarian wilderness, offering no way to get from where we are to where we want to go.
Welcome to the old-time religion. In nearly every American election, purists like Hedges push the left into the same sterile debate. Should we fight within the Democratic Party, where we will likely be co-opted? Or should we create a third party, where we will likely be ineffective?
Both are usually dead ends, convincing many of us to put the majority of our energy into organizing and direct action outside the electoral and Congressional arena, as we did in the civil rights, free speech, and anti-war movements of the 1960s.
But that was then, this is now. Thanks primarily to the energy and common-sense proposals of Bernie Sanders, millions of Americans have opened their minds to the possibility of a democratic and egalitarian control of the economy, which is not a bad working definition of socialism for the 21st century. We need to talk to, work with, and learn from these Americans, and most of them will vote in the Democratic primaries.
This could pose a huge problem, as Hedges argues. But it does not have to. US politics is not a closed system, not with party primaries that can become hard-to-control free-for-alls. Just watch how Donald Trump and Ann Coulter are changing the conservative movement and Republican Party to take as their defining issue a nativist opposition to migrants.
This Republican rebranding will likely continue even if Trump fails to win the nomination, Inshallah. Far worse, the anti-migrant and anti-Muslim wave will become even more dangerous if, as seems likely, the migrant crisis on this side of the Atlantic further strengthens Europeâ€™s far right and neo-fascists. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Democratic Party can similarly change in a positive direction, but not if we join Hedges in the wilderness and refuse to take advantage of the opening that Bernie is helping to expand. Change will not be easy. It will be step-by-step, not a revolutionary flash. And the odds are very much stacked against us. But change can happen even in a party of militarists and imperialists.
One small example. In 1966, Ramparts editor Robert Scheer ran for Congress against a New Dealish incumbent who supported Americaâ€™s war in Vietnam. Horror of horrors, Bob ran as a Democrat, and those of us at Berkeley who helped organize his unconventional campaign took a lot of guff.
Our revenge was that Bob nearly won, leaving his political soul largely intact and opening the way for the extremely progressive Ron Dellums to win the seat in 1970. Feel free to chuckle that Hedges wrote his anti-Sanders screed for Truthdig, a website run by Scheer, whose views remain quite different from those of his colleague.
Rather than damning Sanders for being â€œa full-fledged member of the Democratic Caucus,â€ we need to understand why he and so many other self-identified liberals and socialists came to support the permanent war economy, the military-industrial complex, and the unending intervention in the affairs of other countries. The causes are deeply rooted in earlier failures of our capitalist economy coming out of World War II and how the first Cold War served as a response to them.
We clearly have a lot of re-education to do. But it suffices for now to recognize a simple fact of economic reality. While a militaristic and imperialistic government could once promise both guns and butter, those days are long gone.
Now we have to choose between a warfare state and a welfare state, which Bernie has largely done. He has chosen to favor his domestic policies, where he is unquestionably a democratic socialist, though much less so than the British Labour Partyâ€™s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
What, then, of Bernieâ€™s foreign policy? To be fair, which Hedges is not, Bernie opposed both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq and is generally dovish, seeing war as a last resort and a fatal threat to the domestic programs he wants to expand.
He has also backed the path of diplomacy, supporting the nuclear deal with Iran. But, in his speeches and voting record, he has tended to back Obama and the idea that the US has a positive and humanitarian role to play by intervening, especially in the Middle East.
â€œI believe that the United States should have the strongest military in the world,â€ he told ABCâ€™s Martha Raddatz. â€œWe should be working with other countries in coalition. And when people threaten the United States or threaten our allies, or commit genocide, the United States, with other countries, should be prepared to act militarily.”
Sadly, no serious presidential candidate could say less. But he could say more. He could speak out against Americaâ€™s imperial policies, which increasing numbers of Americans now oppose. He could, but I doubt he will. Bernie prefers to ignore the American Empire and, in effect, deny that it even exists.
Our job as progressives is to make that difficult for him. Just as he pushes Hillary Clinton on environmental issues, we should push Bernie to openly confront the evils of empire.
This is why we need to use the Democratic primaries rather than avoid them, and how we can use them to build an ongoing socialist movement that will become increasingly anti-imperialist. That, Rev. Hedges, is part of how we get from where we are to where we want to go.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, “Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.”
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
(September 24, 2015) — “The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, featured a pivotal and highly controversial scene in which one of the young male protagonists is raped by an older youth. That harrowing section of the best-selling book highlighted the rampant sexual abuse of children in Afghanistan. Now, a revelation — even more horrifying — has implicated real-life US soldiers serving in that country.
The New York Times on Sunday reported how troops have been instructed to condone the routine rape of Afghan children by our warlord allies. The story is a cringe-inducing example of how corrupt our war in Afghanistan has been.
So rampant is the phenomenon of child rape by Afghan military commanders that it has a name: bacha bazi, which translates into “boy-play.” In some cases, rapes have taken place on US military bases under the noses of American soldiers. But US troops were told to look the other way because Washington considers the rapists’ help in fighting the Taliban central to its military strategy.
Consequently, according to the Times, “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of village — and doing little when they began abusing children.” The hypocrisy of arming human rights violators against the purportedly violent Taliban did not escape the notice of some US troops who attempted to speak out but encountered retaliation.
When confronted with the revelations, the top brass of the US military justified its apparent policy of excusing child rape among allied commanders. Spokesman Col. Brian Tribus, who is stationed in Afghanistan, told the Times, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law,” and that US troops are not obligated to even report the crimes.
“An exception, he said, is when rape is being used as a weapon of war.” Strangely, the rape of Afghan children by our warlord friends is not considered a weapon of war, even though the victims are the most vulnerable members of the Afghan public that the US has claimed to protect in the longest war it has ever waged.
As we approach the 14th anniversary of the start of the war, it is instructive to look back at the warnings that the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the leading Afghan women’s rights group, issued in the early weeks of the war.
After the Taliban fled Kabul and US-backed warlords called the Northern Alliance (NA) entered the capital, RAWA wrote, “The retreat of the terrorist Taliban from Kabul is a positive development, but entering of the rapist and looter NA in the city is nothing but a [sic] dreadful and shocking news for about 2 million residents of Kabul.”
But RAWA’s warnings fell on deaf ears, because defeating the Taliban outweighed the brutality of our warlord allies. Over the years, RAWA and many other groups and individuals have warned against allying with the criminal warlords, but the US has ignored them.
The child rape story should not surprise us. The current Afghan government, which is supposed to symbolize the democratic progress resulting from the US war, has at its highest echelons an alleged mass murderer.
Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum was deeply implicated in the murder of hundreds, possibly thousands, of captured Taliban soldiers in 2001. As in the case of child rape, US military commanders looked the other way and refused to investigate the killings, since they occurred at the hands of a man who, for years, was on the CIA’s payroll.
Nearly a decade and a half of US occupation has resulted in a country so dangerous that, according to the latest United Nations report on Afghanistan, “Civilians continued to bear the brunt of the Afghan conflict in the first half of 2015,” and “casualties are projected to equal or exceed the record high numbers documented last year.”
In fact, civilian casualties spiked a whopping 60 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2014. The UN explained that the rise was “mostly due to increased civilian casualties caused by pro-Government forces during ground engagements.” “Pro-government forces” is simply another phrase for US-backed forces.
Under the US occupation of Afghanistan, the drug trade has also flourished. Just as warlords have been allowed to rape children and murder captives, US troops have looked the other way as their drug lord allies have cultivated and sold opium and heroin.
Afghanistan is now the No. 1 global supplier of heroin. Author Julien Mercille points out in his book “Cruel Harvest: US Intervention in the Afghan Drug Trade,” that “US policies . . .have followed a historical pattern of toleration and protection of strongmen involved in narcotics.”
US-backed warlords reside in so-called “Poppy Palaces,” built from the spoils of the drug trade, even as ordinary Afghans struggle to meet their most basic needs. Drug addiction has skyrocketed so much among poor Afghans that it has resulted in whole villages of addicts, ranging from ages 10 to 60.
The McClatchy publishing company reports that when Afghanistan’s minister for counternarcotics, Gen. Khodaidad, was asked what the US military has done to help eradicate opium and heroin, his response was, “Nothing.”
When the story of the alleged mass murder involving Dostum came to light in 2009, The New York Times quoted former US Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper: “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’
“In last Sunday’s piece in the newspaper, Col. Tribus gave a similar explanation for why child rape is being ignored. The article’s author, Joseph Goldstein, went on to write that there is a “reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men. . . .”
Thanks to the US, warlords in Afghanistan seem to have free rein to rape, kill, and grow and sell drugs. By continually empowering these strongmen, Washington has effectively warped Afghan society. Women, children and ordinary Afghan men are paying the price of this supposed culturally sensitive reluctance to address problems like rape, murder and drugs.
It is no wonder, then, that ordinary Afghans are fleeing. About 13 percent of the refugees making their way to Europe in the past few months have been Afghan. Desperate Afghans wait in line for hours to obtain their passports and leave any way they can. They hope to elude the violence unleashed by US policies in the form of rapist and murderous warlords on one side and the Taliban and Islamic State on the other.
Strengthened by the US, Afghanistan’s warlords are determined to retain their power. In a news report posted on RAWA’s website, journalist Sadaqat Ali points out how the fiefdoms of US-backed warlords are being passed down from one generation to the next.
When militia leaders die, their sons take their places, and, according to Ali, “this new generation also knows how to exploit the process of democracy to remain in power. They have inherited from their fathers how to use their militia and financial strength to rig elections.”
Despite lower levels of US media coverage, the Afghanistan War continues. President Obama reneged on a promise to pull out troops, citing, among other reasons, the emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
If the results of the 14-year occupation are any indication, there is no reason to believe that continued US presence will in any way reduce violence. In addition to Islamic State, the Taliban are so strong that they continue to launch brazen attacks, such as that in Helmand province last month, when two US Army Humvees obtained by the militant group were used in a mass shooting at a checkpoint.
One of the few bright spots to emerge within Afghan society in recent months is bold media coverage by Afghans themselves. An English-language news satire website called Afghan Onion, inspired by The Onion, has begun to relentlessly mock warlords and the Taliban.
On its Twitter feed, Afghan Onion posts headlines about warlords like Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (“Just in: Sayyaf reveals it’s been two months he has not received God’s revelations. Crisis?”) and even the late Taliban leader (“Mullah Omar wins posthumous Emmys for best villain”).
Similar to how RAWA operates, the site’s founders enjoy the anonymity the Internet affords, essential to avoid death at the hands of the men it shames. The Los Angeles Times, in a report about the Afghan Onion, quoted a founder of the website, who started the project in response to the last election, which he denounced as a “funny joke” and “a theater for foreign meddling.”
Still, Afghanistan is a dangerous place to be a journalist. In August, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee reported dozens of beatings, threats and detentions of journalists inside Afghanistan. Just as in other cases, the majority of the incidents — 72 percent — were attributed to “government organizations,” which are, of course, allied with the US
We consider the Taliban — and now Islamic State — to be the worst threats to Afghan people. But the pattern of the mayhem and cruelty in Afghanistan is so clear, it ought to have a “Made in the USA” label on it.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.