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Death from the Sky: Searching for Ground Truth in the Kunduz Hospital Bombing

April 30th, 2016 - by admin

May Jeong / The Intercept – 2016-04-30 02:14:32


A patient — later identified as 43-year-old Baynazar Mohammad Nazar, a husband and father of four — lies dead on an operating table inside the MSF Kunduz Trauma Center, Oct. 10, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Quilty/Oculi)

Death from the Sky
Searching for Ground Truth in the Kunduz Hospital Bombing

May Jeong / The Intercept

(April 28, 2016) — When the Taliban overran Kunduz last September after a monthlong siege, the northern Afghan city became the first to fall to the insurgency since the war began in 2001. A week earlier, many Kunduz residents had left town to observe Eid al-Adha, the sacrificial feast honoring Abraham’s act of submission to God. The heavy fighting sent the remaining Kunduzis fleeing as dead bodies littered the streets.

On Friday, October 2, the city lay quiet, with just one building lit up against the dark sky. Most other international organizations had evacuated when the fighting began, but the Kunduz Trauma Center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres remained open throughout the battle for the city. It was one of the few buildings with a generator.

Throughout the week, violence seemed to lap against the walls of the hospital without ever engulfing it. All around the 35,620-square-meter compound, the site of an old cotton factory, fighting ebbed and flowed. Doctors and nurses marked the intensity of battle by the freshly wounded who arrived at the gate. According to MSF, the hospital treated 376 emergency patients between September 28, when the city fell, and October 2.

The last week had seen much bloodshed, but Friday was uncharacteristically calm: no fighting nearby, no gunshots, no explosions. “I remember seeing a child flying a kite,” recalled Dr. Kathleen Thomas, “and thought to myself, today is a calm day.” That evening, while more than 100 MSF employees and caretakers slept in a basement below the hospital, several staff members remained awake, preparing for what the night might bring.

There were 105 patients in the hospital, including three or four Afghan government soldiers and about 20 Taliban fighters, two of whom appeared to be of high rank. Hospital staff stepped outside to take in the bracing autumn air, something they’d lately refrained from doing for fear of stray bullets. The night sky was open and clear.

Some 7,000 feet above, an AC-130 gunship was preparing to fire. At 2:08 a.m., on October 3, a missile began its descent, gliding through a cloudless sky.

About two hours earlier, nurse Mohammad Poya lay down on the concrete floor of the hospital’s administrative office. Poya had a few hours for sleep, but instead dead bodies were on his mind. In the morning he had visited the morgue to find its refrigerators full.

Earlier in the week, Poya had asked the orderlies to pack the dead in as tight as possible. When there was no more space, he asked the cleaners to scrub the front porch of the morgue so that the excess corpses could be stacked there. What Poya hated most was carelessness. Many died undignified deaths in Afghanistan; the least the hospital could do was to show the dead the respect that had eluded them in life.

Poya was especially worried about the fighting that had ensnarled the streets around the compound. With all major roads blocked, the hospital was running low on supplies. Corridors overflowed with the wounded, and a decision was made to triage patients earlier than usual to avoid wasting resources on those least likely to survive. The last thought Poya remembers having before finally falling asleep was that they would have to start turning away patients.

Earlier that Friday, at 1 p.m., Guilhem Molinie, the head of MSF in Afghanistan, sat at his desk in Kabul to write an email to a contact in the US 3rd Special Forces Group, which had been deployed to Kunduz after the fall of the city. “Questions in case things go bad,” the subject line read. It wasn’t the first time that week he had taken precautions.

On Monday, when a Taliban victory seemed certain, Molinie called an insurgent contact to reaffirm the hospital’s neutral position. He did the same with the other side, sending a letter with GPS coordinates of the hospital to the Afghan National Security Council, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Health, the US Embassy, USAID, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the agency’s body tasked with responding to complex emergencies.

The UN forwarded Molinie’s email to Col. Paul Sarat, the deputy commander of NATO’s mission in the north, as well as to Maj. Gen. Abdul Hamid, who headed the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army, which is responsible for the country’s northern nine provinces. Molinie tried to reach out to Freedom’s Sentinel, the US counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, but was not successful; he assumed he had done enough.

Andres Romero, MSF’s head liaison with the US government, forwarded the coordinates to Carter Malkasian, an old Afghan hand and an adviser to top US military officer Joseph Dunford of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Malkasian emailed Romero to inquire whether the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban.

Romero told him no, but this information appeared not to have traveled back to the special operations forces on the ground, since on Friday, according to the Associated Press, a senior officer with the 3rd Special Forces Group wrote in his daily report that the hospital was under Taliban control and that he planned to clear the grounds in the coming days.

Among the units accompanying the 3rd Special Forces Group were Afghan commandos and the 6th Special Operations Kandak, reporting to the Ministry of Defense; 222 and 333 national mission units, reporting to the Ministry of Interior; and a police special unit already based out of Kunduz. The men had not worked together before, and they were now in charge of leading the battle to take back Kunduz city.

“They just got thrown up there, into an environment they didn’t know much about,” said a security analyst based in northern Afghanistan, who was formerly an adviser to the US special operations forces in Afghanistan.

The security analyst asked not to be identified by name, as did many of the dozens of individuals who were interviewed for this article in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some were not authorized to speak on the record; others, including residents of Kunduz and Afghan security personnel, feared retaliation for doing so.

The picture that emerges from these firsthand accounts, as well as from interviews with several high-ranking Afghan officials, is one of remarkable chaos and uncertainty, even by the standards of war.

Those on the ground said it was not clear who was in charge, and those in charge seemed not to have had a clear understanding of what was happening on the ground at any given point before, during, and after the fall of the city.

At 10 p.m., Molinie returned to his office to speak with Heman Nagarathnam, who was in charge of the hospital in Kunduz. It was a quiet night and Nagarathnam stepped out for a cigarette to take the call. The nightly check-ins had allowed Molinie to keep updated on the goings-on around the hospital.

Molinie knew, for instance, that on Tuesday a local Taliban representative visited Nagarathnam to give his reassurance. He knew that the hospital lay in a Taliban-controlled area, but that Afghan soldiers were still crossing the front line to bring in patients. By Wednesday, however, worries of a Taliban takeover had pushed soldiers to the provincial hospital, which was in an area controlled by government forces.

At one point that week, government forces had regained the city’s central square, before losing it again to the Taliban. On Friday night, Nagarathnam relayed his concerns that the hospital was now located in an area vulnerable to counterattack. They discussed the 2,000 sandbags that he had ordered to defend the hospital against stray bullets. A little after 1:30 a.m., he went to bed.

For some time, Molinie told me, something had been bothering him. “It was never clear who was in charge of what,” he said, in reference to the metastasizing 15-year-old conflict. The current war in Afghanistan was being run by two distinct commands: NATO’s Operation Resolute Support (RS) and US Forces-Afghanistan’s Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Resolute Support was a non-combat mission with a limited mandate to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces.

Freedom’s Sentinel, successor to Operation Enduring Freedom, was the latest version of America’s so-called war on terror. It was meant to hunt down al Qaeda remnants, but without the rigor of public scrutiny, Freedom’s Sentinel seemed to have spiraled beyond its already vague mandate.

Despite President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement that America’s combat mission in Afghanistan would end in 2015, Molinie had noticed that many military operations seemed to be outside the bounds of both Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel.

It was never clear where one mission ended and another began. Long before January 2016, when President Obama expanded the counterterrorism mission of Freedom’s Sentinel to include the fight against the Islamic State, for instance, there were already airstrikes targeting ISIS in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

When I asked Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesperson for both NATO and US Forces-Afghanistan, to explain the differing missions of the two commands, he said: “Think of it as a big box marked RS and inside that you have a small box marked Freedom’s Sentinel but inside that box you have two smaller boxes marked Resolute Support and another one marked counterterrorism.”

When I inquired how we might tell all these different boxes apart, Lawhorn conceded, “It’s not always clear under what authority an action is taken.” The same was true, he said, of what happened in Kunduz.

Back at the hospital, Poya had finally fallen asleep when he was suddenly awakened by a terrible sound. Outside his window, the intensive care unit was on fire. He looked up and saw that a plane — called a boongana by locals because of the dull hum the plane emits — was orbiting the hospital.

How to describe the barrage that followed? Poya experienced the bombing as an interminable terror, a series of deafening noises interrupted by terrifying silence. Death felt certain, so he called his father to describe where the family might find his remains. He saw a colleague, a 35-year-old pharmacist, shot dead while trying to escape the compound through its south gate.

An AC-130 is a plane built around a gun. Its pylon turns allow for the Gatling-style cannon to fire as many as 6,000 rounds per minute. It is the most lethal air weapons platform: It flies longer, carries more weapons, and is deadlier than any other aircraft. The same gunship was responsible for capturing Kunduz from the Taliban and al Qaeda in the early days of the US-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan.

Then, as now, up to 14 crew members on the plane would have been assisted by a joint terminal attack coordinator on the ground, who would have walked the crew through training the 105-mm howitzer on the target to aim, then fire.

At 2:09 a.m. Molinie woke up to a phone call. Nagarathnam was on the line telling him the hospital was on fire. Minutes later, another call informed him that the hospital was being attacked from the air.

Molinie called his Special Forces contact at the J3 operations department who told him he didn’t know of any airstrikes in the area. Molinie then called the UN, whose contacts at NATO said that RS was not aware of any operations either.

Believing that it had to be an Afghan military operation, Molinie contacted the deputy interior minister and the operational commander with the Defense Ministry. Molinie charted the sequence of events in a logbook. The last item, at 2:53 a.m., reads, “Plane still around. Just bombed again.”

By the time the attack was over, the intensive care unit, the emergency room, and the operating theaters were burned to a husk. The corrugated tin roof had peeled off, and only the walls remained standing, pockmarked with cannon fire.

The aircraft had fired 211 shells, killing 42 patients and staff who had trusted in the hospital’s neutral and protected status. Patients had burned in their beds. Six charred bodies awaited forensic investigation to determine their identity; they had been burned beyond recognition.

The AC-130 had destroyed the main building of the MSF hospital, but all other structures remained intact. The trajectory of the damage neatly matched the GPS coordinates that Molinie had sent around just three days earlier. It was evident that the Americans were involved, but in the early days, no one knew in what capacity or to what end.

From the beginning, the US military struggled to keep its story straight. Officials initially denied that US forces had attacked the MSF hospital at all, saying that the building might have sustained collateral damage from an adjacent airstrike. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, stated that US forces were taking fire when the airstrike was called in.

On October 4, Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, admitted that “there was American air action in that area” and that “there was definitely destruction in those structures and the hospital.” The narrative shifted the next day when Gen. Campbell said Afghan forces had come under fire and called in the airstrike.

MSF called for an independent investigation, denouncing the attack as a war crime. After a six-week investigation, Gen. Campbell held a briefing in Kabul, on the day before Thanksgiving, and presented what was now the official version of the events: The attack was the result of a cascading series of human errors and mechanical failures.

On September 30, 2015, he said, the Afghan forces and their US advisers established themselves at the provincial chief of police compound. The Afghan forces planned a clearing operation and the US forces agreed to have support on standby.

According to Campbell, the aircrew believed they were coming to the rescue of ground forces that were taking fire, a “troops in contact situation.” They rushed to take off, skipping the pre-mission briefing.

Campbell said the crew was given a new mission after takeoff, an order to bomb a local office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan government’s primary intelligence agency, that had been taken over by the Taliban.

“During the flight,” he said, “the electronic systems onboard the aircraft malfunctioned, preventing the operation of an essential command and control capability and eliminating the ability of aircraft to transmit video, send and receive email, or send and receive electronic messages.”

The crew entered GPS coordinates for the NDS facility, but the electronic system brought the plane to an empty field instead. From the empty field, they located the “closest, largest building” that matched the commander’s description. The internal NATO investigation found the aircrew did not observe hostile activity.

Gen. Campbell said that the military had not followed its own rules of engagement during the Kunduz airstrike. The US commander who called in the strike did not have eyes on the target; he was several hundred meters away, in the visual range of neither the NDS nor the MSF hospital. Nor was the strike necessary for force protection.

In contrast to the US military’s narrative, the Afghan government’s response has been more consistent. Immediately following the attack, Afghan authorities came out saying the strike was justified because the hospital was a Taliban stronghold.

Maj. Abdul Kabir, an Afghan air liaison officer who helped coordinate airstrike requests during the fighting in Kunduz, told me that no one had briefed government forces on a mission specific no-strike list.

A NATO official who worked on the joint Afghan-NATO investigation said that the previous rules of engagement did not include the no-strike list, but that the item had since been added. Kabir and others said they had noted no difference in the rules of engagement after the Kunduz strike.

Sediq Sediqi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, said that 10 to 15 terrorists were hiding in the hospital. National security adviser Hanif Atmar said the government would take full responsibility, as “we are without doubt, 100 percent convinced the place was occupied by Taliban,” according to meeting notes reviewed by the AP. Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai also told AP that the hospital was used as shelter for insurgents.

MSF has repeatedly denied that armed Taliban fighters were present in the hospital, and no one has presented any credible evidence to support accusations to the contrary.

In his November briefing, Gen. Campbell said that the “individuals most closely associated with the incident have been suspended from their duty positions,” pending disciplinary measures. Yet the US has steadfastly refused to countenance an independent investigation, which has led to suspicions of a cover-up.

“Had the authorities said it is a terrible mistake from day one, then it would have been easier to believe that it was a mistake,” MSF’s Molinie told me. “But because in the beginning Afghan senior officials said the hospital was bombed because it was a Taliban base, it is difficult for us to swallow the 100 percent mistake scenario.”

Gen. Campbell had just landed in Washington, D.C., when he heard the news from Kunduz. The fall of the city had apparently come as a surprise to everyone, including the Taliban. One exception was the governor of Kunduz, Omar Safi, who spent most of his short 10-month tenure sounding desperate alarm at the imminent fall of the city.

Safi told me he wrote 35 letters to the US National Security Council, even breaching protocol and emailing Gen. John Campbell directly for air support. Campbell told Safi that the new mandate did not allow for close air support for Afghan forces.

Even so, before departing for Washington, in an effort to decentralize command within forces, Campbell had deputized strike authority to a subordinate, a tactical level commander who would make decisions in the pitch of battle.

The city had been on the verge of collapse all through 2015, but had always managed to remain under government control. It nearly fell in April, when the Taliban began another bid for the city. Then came another scare in June, when the northeastern districts fell to the Taliban while the center held. By the fall, said the security analyst based in northern Afghanistan, “It was the third time everyone had seen that movie.”

“I don’t think anyone had any clue about what was going on on the ground,” said the security analyst, who monitored the fall of Kunduz closely. He remembers calling up the political adviser to Gen. Campbell to inform him that the city was about to fall.

“I sent him a text saying the UN office had been overrun and that it was on fire. He wrote back, ‘We just checked and it’s only a couple of the outlying buildings that are on fire.’ If someone had said that about RS HQ, ‘No, it’s not the HQ. It’s just the PX that’s on fire,’ I don’t think it would have gone over so well.”

According to Brig. Gen. Ashraf Khan, Afghan air ops commander for the north, less than 24 hours after Kunduz fell, Gen. Campbell authorized the use of AC-130s by ground commanders.

In a telephone interview, Gen. Campbell said that he would not comment on rules of engagement, but said, “If somebody was under attack and they needed to use the AC-130, why would they have to wait until I landed to ask for permission to do that? You know what I’m saying? You always have the right to self-defense. I’m not talking Kunduz — I’m talking any time.”

“If they have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who has to call me who’s on an airplane, by that time, the guys on the ground are dead.”

“There is always going to be somebody in charge,” Campbell said. “When you have changes in leadership, you lay out who has the authority to do what, in all cases.” He said that he had visited the site of a C-130 crash before he left Afghanistan, and then as soon as he landed in Washington, he found out about the Kunduz strike. “The initial reports said we had hit a hospital, and I know we don’t target hospitals so something had to go wrong.”

In an ordinary scenario, an Afghan force on the ground requests an airstrike through its chain of command at the Ministry of Defense, which in turn contacts NATO. A request requires an eight-line form including the grid location, threat level, and other details such as geographical or biographical information submitted via email, and takes two to three days for approval, according to flight coordinators.

But in the heat of combat, strikes can be requested via an unencrypted mobile phone and may be approved in less than 20 minutes, according to an RS flight coordinator who spoke to The Intercept.

A former Afghan NDS official said that the initial raw report about insurgents being in the MSF hospital was corroborated with signals intelligence — phone or radio communications that were tracked back to the compound. These two streams of information, he said, along with eyewitness accounts, elevated the information into “finished intel,” indicating that the Taliban were inside the hospital.

Yet according to a former Afghan government adviser, the aftermath of the hospital strike was marked by uncertainty. “Don’t forget intelligence is about information and misinformation.”

According to the former government adviser, in the days following the hospital strike, the Afghans were under immense pressure from the US military to stay in line. President Ashraf Ghani, who issued a statement expressing his “deep sorrow,” was sympathetic to MSF’s call for an independent fact-finding mission, but when the US refused to participate, the Afghans were “put in a position of saying no.”

“The Americans put their foot down and said that’s not going to happen,” the former adviser said. “[They] made it very clear that that could result in a loss of support.” The threat of possible war crimes charges loomed over the discussion.

In the absence of an independent investigation, a joint Afghan-NATO Combined Civilian Casualty Assessment Team was deployed to Kunduz. President Ghani also assigned an Afghan-led commission overseen by former NDS head Amrullah Saleh, which ended up excluding the hospital strike from its investigation.

The MSF bombing brought to the surface the underlying tensions within the coalition government, led by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Discord between the two men had resulted in a standoff, which their political rivals cited as the reason for the fall of Kunduz.

Indeed, the defeat came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the national unity government, which according to its detractors had achieved nothing. Even amid deteriorating security, due to the persistent animus between the two leaders, Afghanistan did not yet have a permanent defense minister.

More than 20 Afghan government officials and members of security forces interviewed for this article held as an unassailable belief that the Taliban had attacked Afghan forces from inside the hospital. That deeply held conviction remained resolute even in the face of mounting counterevidence.

“[The fall of] Kunduz was a considerable loss of face for the government,” the former government adviser told me. National security adviser Hanif Atmar was “belligerent,” he said, on the issue of Kunduz. “He is a very thoughtful and intelligent person. He wouldn’t jump to conclusions. But in this case, it didn’t seem like he wanted to find the truth.”

“It was a very emotional time for everybody,” the former government adviser said. “It was a huge loss of prestige. Morale was zero.”

In this strategic and emotional nadir, according to Mark Bowden, the United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan, there arose a feeling that “things previously not legitimate became more legitimate.” The general sense among the Afghan forces was that the war was going nowhere good. In a losing battle, all becomes fair, including the bombing of a hospital that many had come to believe was harboring insurgents.

On the night of the hospital strike, a unit commander with the Ministry of Defense special forces was at the police headquarters taking fire from the direction of the hospital. “Vehicles were coming out of there, engaging, then retreating,” he told me. When I pointed out that he couldn’t have seen the gate of the hospital from where he was, several hundred meters away, he said that he was sure because he had personally interrogated a cleaner who told him that the hospital was full of “armed men using it as a cover.”

The cleaner told the commander that there were Pakistani generals using the hospital as a recollection point and that they had set up a war room there. When I challenged his line of vision again, he responded, “Anyone can claim anything. The truth is different.”

Saleh, the author of the 200-page Afghan commission report on the fall of Kunduz and head of one of the many informal political coalitions opposing the current government, believed that the “hospital sanctity had been violated” and held out as evidence 130 hours of recorded conversations with more than 600 interlocutors. “I spoke with the MSF country director,” Saleh told me recently. “They don’t deny that the hospital was infiltrated by the Taliban.”

MSF has consistently denied that armed fighters were present in the hospital.

Saleh claimed that Afghan forces had been taking fire from the southeastern wall of the hospital, used as a shield by the insurgents. Ismail Masood, chief of staff to the governor of Kunduz, who sat in on meetings with the NDS and other intelligence agencies, said he had also heard that “it was in the parking area to the east where the Taliban were present.”

Neighbors, however, remembered something different. Abdul Wahab, a gatekeeper working across the street from the hospital, told me that the Taliban regularly brought their injured to the trauma center, but that he never saw any armed insurgents enter it, nor did he recall seeing any weapons fire coming from the hospital.

Abdul Maroof, whose warehouse shares its north wall with the hospital, said he saw “as many as a hundred” Taliban fighters entering the NDS office across the street, but never the hospital.

MSF, for its part, stated that on the day of the strike, “No fighting was taking place around the hospital, no planes were heard overhead, no gunshots were reported, nor explosions in the vicinity of the hospital.”

“I have all my sympathies with the victims,” Saleh said. “But it doesn’t serve the purpose of the survivor to say, yes, there was fighting. They have to show themselves as victims, which they are anyway.” Saleh said the hospital was “part of the tragedy but not the whole tragedy.”

In a war that has seen a box of propaganda leaflets dropped from a plane crush a 5-year-old girl to death, and wedding parties assaulted by aircraft, a hospital bombing did not appear to him to be out of the ordinary.

A former Afghan special forces captain was indignant at what he considered unwarranted media coverage of the hospital strike. “This is going to limit airstrikes,” he told me. “And without airstrikes, we would have lost Kunduz. We need the Americans to stand with us,” he said. “Stories like these are going to hurt innocent people. When Daesh take over Afghanistan, the first person to be raped or killed will be you, the foreigner.”

“Afghans have little consideration for the Geneva Conventions,” a former senior Western official told me. “Their main concern is continuing to have US backing and aerial support. Their biggest fear after the strike was that this would put a chill on their being able to request US air support when shit hits the fan.”

Maj. Abdul Kabir, the air liaison officer, wanted me to understand how difficult war can be. “Will you let your men get killed because of a silly rule? Are you saying fighting is easy?” I said that I had never been in such a situation but could imagine the challenge. “From one side, you have the Taliban attacking you, and from another side, you have your soldiers saying they are just meters away. And then we have these international rules that make it difficult to fight the enemy.”

“Have you tasted fear?” Kabir asked. Before I could answer, he pulled out a pistol. We were sitting in a hotel room in Mazar-e-Sharif, waiting to board a helicopter to Kunduz. “When I put this pistol to your head, do you feel afraid?” I told him that I understood the point he was making. “In war, you don’t feel too kind for your enemy. You don’t show kindness because you want to kill him so that you can save your own life.”

Others who could not fully imagine the American military’s capacity for failure simply subscribed to ex post facto reasoning. “They cannot believe this is a mistake, and so they work backwards,” Molinie said. They clung to “an ideological vision of facts” and “saw things through the prism of their own beliefs.”

Lt. Abdullah Gard, who heads the Ministry of Interior’s Quick Reaction Force, said he had been unhappy about the hospital ever since the MSF opened a clinic in Chardara district, a Taliban stronghold. MSF had noticed that the patients were experiencing delays that resulted in loss of limb, or life, and so last June, the group opened the stabilization post on the other side of the front line.

To Gard and his men, that sealed the fate of the hospital. In the eyes of the besieged Afghan military fighting a losing war, MSF had veered too far to the other side. In the binaries that dictate the conflict, in which only two positions are made possible, being a neutral player was an untenable position. War makes monsters of the other; those who do not stand with us become those who stand against us.

“They are seen as belligerents in the fight rather than an impartial group,” the security analyst based in northern Afghanistan told me. “In the government’s eyes, Chardara went too far.”

Gard spoke of MSF with the personal hatred reserved for the truly perfidious. He accused the group of “patching up fighters and sending them back out,” a line I heard repeatedly. Cmdr. Abdul Wahab, head of the unit that guarded the provincial chief of police compound, told me he could not understand why in battle an insurgent could be killed, but the minute he was injured, he would be taken to a hospital and given protective status.

Wouldn’t it be easier, he asked, wouldn’t the war be less protracted or bloody if they were allowed to march in and take men when they were most compromised? He had visited the MSF hospital three times to complain. Each time a foreign doctor explained the hospital’s neutral status and its no-weapons policy, which mystified him.

The Kunduz attack was neither the first nor the last attack on a hospital run by an international organization. On February 17, a Swedish-run clinic in Wardak province was raided by the Afghan Special Forces. The troops barged into the 10-bed clinic as helicopters circled above.

Accompanying them were English-speaking mentors who did not participate in the raid but were in the vicinity when the Afghan forces grabbed two patients and a caretaker who appeared to be underage, and dragged them to an abandoned shop. Twenty minutes later, gunshots rang out. Later, all three were found executed. Officials from Resolute Support informed the Swedish Committee that an investigation had been opened.

This was at least the eighth time a medical facility supported by the Swedish Committee had been raided or searched by international forces in four years. Nearly all of the clinics the group operates are in Taliban-controlled or contested territories, where need is greatest.

One particular raid in 2009 in a Swedish Committee-run clinic in Wardak came days after a NATO airstrike had killed as many as 125 near Kunduz. In 2009, as in 2016, the airstrike inspired outcry from international observers, but that raid, also a possible violation of international law, did not garner much attention.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, between 2014 and 2015 there was a 50 percent increase in the number of threats or attacks on medical facilities in Afghanistan that were reported to the organization.

Unlike the headline-grabbing Kunduz strike, many of these small slights and violations go unnoticed, even as they chip away at something much more integral. “There are clearly strong feelings within government [that] the Taliban are legitimate targets wherever they are,” the UN’s Mark Bowden told me.

After the Kunduz strike, Emergency, an international NGO, built a 40-foot bunker beneath its trauma center in Helmand.

On March 2, Gen. Campbell left his position without a promotion, raising suspicion that his involvement, or at least his culpability, in the Kunduz strike may be much larger than has been publicly revealed.

He will retire on May 1. Campbell had been rumored to be next in line to head US Central Command, the “heir apparent.” But the MSF incident appeared to have “played a role in Campbell being put out to pasture,” a former Western official said.

Asked about being passed over for the Central Command position, Gen. Campbell replied, “It’s not that people sit and think, ah shoot, I want to be the next CENTCOM commander. I didn’t do that. We do whatever job we are assigned.” His retirement, however, resulted from being offered a job he didn’t care to take.

“I mean, there are all sorts of rumors. I don’t know what goes on there, but the secretary called me up and asked me to take up another command position. I was very honored and thanked him for his trust and confidence, and to the president as well, but for me at this point in time, it is not something I want to do so I respectfully declined. That’s all.”

Campbell reiterated his November statements about the Pentagon’s investigation, which may be released in redacted form tomorrow. About the initial claims of collateral damage, he responded, “I would not authorize anybody to say collateral damage. That’s stupid. All it does is upset people.”

“I don’t think the story changed,” he said. “I think we learned from the investigation more and more. We just couldn’t talk about it until the investigation was finished. Once the investigation was finished, then you have to let all the disciplinary action play out.”

On March 16, US defense officials indicated that more than a dozen ground-level US military personnel had been disciplined for misconduct leading to the strike.

Deliberately targeting a hospital is a war crime, after all, but so is the indiscriminate killing of civilians outside a hospital. And it’s worth noting, according to a Western security analyst who is an expert on Kunduz, that “even if they had struck the NDS headquarters, there still would have been civilian casualties.”

The NDS office, which the US military has said was the intended target, stands in a residential neighborhood, as do the private home and the tea factory that were also bombed on the night of the MSF hospital strike. An AC-130, the analyst pointed out, is a disproportionate and indiscriminate weapon, not appropriate for use in civilian areas in the dead of night.

A former Afghan special forces commander who was at the command and control center in Kunduz during the fight assured me I would never get to the bottom of the attack. The reason why I couldn’t figure out exactly what had happened, he said, was the fog of war.

“Ground truth is impossible to know. Even those who were there wouldn’t be able to tell you what they saw.” Not the MSF internal investigation, not the joint Afghan-NATO inquiry, not the Saleh commission, and certainly not the 5,000-page military investigation by US Central Command would tell us what happened that night, he assured me.

“Have you ever been in a fire fight? It passes like a dream.” The final sentence of the Saleh report echoed his sentiment. “Facts are never solid and we cannot feel them and they will remain this way.”

What is solid, however, are the 211 shells that were fired at a hospital in northern Afghanistan one night last October, and that those shells were felt by the 42 men, women, and children who were killed, and that they will remain that way, victims of incompetence or prejudice or both. Ground truth may be elusive, but it exists; someone along the military chain of command gave an order, which directly resulted in the loss of innocent lives.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Punishments but No Criminal Charges in US Attack on Hospital

April 30th, 2016 - by admin

Robert Burn / Associated Press – 2016-04-30 02:05:46


WASHINGTON (April 29, 2016) — A US aerial gunship attack on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people occurred because of human errors, process mistakes and equipment failures, and none of the aircrew or US ground troops knew the target was a hospital, a top US general said Friday.

“This was an extreme situation” complicated by combat fatigue among US special operations forces, Gen. Joseph Votel told a Pentagon news conference. Votel headed US Special Operations Command at the time of the tragic attack last fall. In March he took over US Central Command, which oversees military operations in Afghanistan.

Sixteen military members have been disciplined for their roles in the tragedy, Votel said. None face criminal charges.

Votel said investigators concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. However, they also determined that these failures did not amount to a war crime, he said.

“The label ‘war crimes’ is typically reserved for intentional acts — intentional targeting (of) civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations,” Votel said. “Again, the investigation found that the incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors, process errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew they were striking a hospital.”

Votel expressed “deepest condolences” to those injured and to the families of those killed. He said the intended target of the US attack was a compound about a quarter-mile away from the hospital.

No criminal charges have been leveled against US military personnel for mistakes that resulted in the Oct. 3, 2015, attack on the civilian hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, operated by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. The group has called the attack a war crime and demanded an independent investigation.

Votel said that the trauma center was on a US military no-strike list but that the gunship crew didn’t have access to the list because it launched its mission on short notice and as a result did not have the data loaded into its onboard systems. He said the military has sought to avoid similar mistakes in the future by requiring that such data be pre-loaded into aircraft.

The Pentagon on Friday released a memorandum from Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordering military commanders to take a series of steps over the next four months to “mitigate the potential for similar incidents in the future.”

Among other things, Carter ordered that the Kunduz scenario be incorporated into pre-deployment training as an example of the kind of complicated situations that troops may face in Afghanistan or other war zones.

Central Command released a redacted version of the full investigation report on Friday, including details about what exactly led a US AC-130 gunship to bomb the hospital and how those mistakes were made.

“The investigation determined that all members of both the ground force and the AC-130 air crew were unaware that the aircraft was firing on a medical facility throughout the engagement,” Votel said. “The investigation ultimately concluded that this tragic incident was caused by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures.”

Votel said 16 military members, including officers as well as enlisted, have been disciplined. He said none of their names will be released to protect the privacy of the individuals and in some cases because they are still assigned to sensitive or overseas positions.

According to one senior US official, a two-star general was among about 16 disciplined.

A number of those punished are US special operations forces. Among the 16, some were given letters of reprimand and admonishment; one officer was removed from command; some were suspended from their duties and some were given extensive retraining. No one was sent to court-martial.

“It is important to point out that these adverse administrative actions can carry severe repercussions on the careers and professional qualification of these individuals,” Votel said, to include possible denial of promotion or advancement and possible removal from the service.

The crew of the AC-130, which is armed with side-firing cannons and guns, had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a building 450 yards from the hospital, the US military said in November.

Hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at the hospital even though they saw no hostile activity there. Votel on Friday confirmed that no hostile firing was seen there.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The US Is Killing More Civilians in Iraq and Syria Than It Acknowledges

April 30th, 2016 - by admin

Paul Wood / Global Post – 2016-04-30 01:41:24


A Syrian boy looks out from a window inside the bullet-riddled facade of his home after what activists said were overnight US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State in Raqqa on Nov. 24, 2014.

The US Is Killing More Civilians in Iraq and Syria Than It Acknowledges
Paul Wood / Global Post

The report into al Hatra concludes, in its strangulated military language:
“The NCV [Non-Combat Victims] = 0 objective was not met.”

ISTANBUL, Turkey (February 4, 2016) — Al Gharra is a mud-brick village built on hard, flat Syrian desert and populated by the descendants of Bedouin. It is a desolate place. Everything is dun colored: the bare, single-story houses and the stony desert they stand on. There is not much farming — it is too dry — just a few patches of cotton and tobacco.

Before the war, villagers got a little money from the government to look after the national park on Mount Abdul-Aziz, a barren rock that rises 3,000 feet behind the village and stretches miles into the distance.

Mount Abdul-Aziz is named after a lieutenant of the 12th-Century Muslim warrior Saladin, who built a fort to dominate the plain below. There is a military base there today too, which changes hands according to the fortunes of Syria’s civil war.

In 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad held the base; next it was the rebels of the Free Syrian Army; then the so-called “Islamic State” (IS); and finally the Kurds, who advanced and took the mountain last May under the cover of American warplanes.

Abdul-Aziz al Hassan is from al Gharra, his first name the same as the mountain’s. He left the village while the Islamic State was in charge, but it is because of a bomb from an American plane that he cannot go back. What happened to his family is the story of just one bomb of the 35,000 dropped so far during 10,000 missions flown in the US-led air war against the Islamic State.

“The only thing that matters to me is my family’s security.”


Al Hassan is in his 20s, small, soft-spoken, with chestnut-brown skin. He said the war did not affect al Gharra much back when the regime or the Free Syrian Army occupied the mountain’s military base. But he remembers the day that the Islamic State came.

“I was sitting in front of the house when a jeep passed by and stopped at the shrine to Saladin’s commander,” he said. “They gathered all of the people. One said: ‘We are the Islamic State. We are here to create an emirate based on Sharia [Islamic law].'”

From that day, they decreed, men had to be in the mosque, the women at home. If a woman wanted to go to the market, she had to walk with a husband, brother or son. No one outside the family could see women uncovered, even at home. “It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what Islam was. But they didn’t even like the way we prayed. Everything we did was wrong in their eyes.”

Still, the presence of Islamic State fighters in the village was rare. They largely stayed within the base. “We managed to live normal lives most of the time. We had family and friends and loved ones around us. We entered each others’ houses for gatherings or parties. We shared the same happiness and sadness.”

The US-led coalition occasionally launched airstrikes in the distance. The ground shook “like an earthquake;” sometimes a house fell down. But it wasn’t the bombs or even the dictates of the Islamic State that made al Hassan first leave home. It was the grinding poverty, worsened by war.

‘There was no bread and no work,” he said. He took his wife and daughter and drove to Turkey. “My father stayed there to keep the house. The moment you leave, IS takes it. All our belongings are there.”

While al Hassan was in Turkey, as spring turned into summer last year, the war took another turn. Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, controlled territory that stopped just short of the mountain. Backed by American air power, they began an offensive to recapture it from the Islamic State.

Al Gharra stood in the way. The road to the nearest town — Hasaka, held by the Kurds — was about a mile away from the village. The first bomb fell on that road between 10 and 11 in the morning on May 6. Then a plane started circling over the village. People were afraid to stay in their homes. They ran into the open.

Al Hassan’s father, Ismail, tried to run as well. But he was too late. The villagers remember seeing the plane point its nose down and dive, dropping a bomb. It then climbed away. Al Hassan’s father lay on the ground in a crumpled heap, dead, in front of the ruins of his house.

An uncle phoned to tell al Hassan what had happened. He rushed back to the village from Turkey. His father had died on the first day of the Kurdish offensive to take the mountain. It was still going on when al Hassan returned. “Most of the people had fled because a drone was still roaming around.

The airstrikes didn’t stop . . . one every 15 to 30 minutes,” he said. There were more bombs as the Kurdish forces advanced. “Any village would be heavily bombed until the Kurds managed to get inside. Then they’d let it be. The airstrikes were unbelievable. It was complete destruction. They kept bombing until they got to the mountain.”

The Kurds told reporters covering the offensive that there were a thousand Islamic State fighters at the mountain base. But Al Hassan is adamant that no Islamic State fighters were in the village when his father died. “The Islamic State were not there at the time of the bombing,” he said. “Whenever they expected a strike, they would leave the villages.”

And anyway, he went on, they had already sent their troops to try to block the Kurdish advance at the frontline close to Hasaka. “During the airstrikes there was no one. There is no need to lie about this. I don’t support any of the groups fighting this war. The only thing that matters to me is my family’s security.”

There were no independent witnesses in al Gharra to say whether or not Islamic State fighters were there. The YPG general commanding the assault on what the Kurds call Mount Kezwan thought so, or at least he was inclined to see villagers and Islamic State fighters as one and the same.

He was quoted as saying that “many of the local villages are Arab and they often support IS [the Islamic State].” And in the offensive against the jihadist group, the Kurds are often fighting for land they would claim as part of their own future state. They see the Arabs in some of the towns and villages they have captured as aliens with no right to be there.

Al Hassan left his village for the second time — again with his family — a day before the Kurdish forces took full control of the area. They fled over the mountain and drove through Raqqa, the place the Islamic State calls its capital, before crossing the Turkish border.

“When the Kurds arrived, they kicked everybody out under the pretext that IS had littered the village with booby traps,” he said. “So the entire village left. Almost half of the village was destroyed — then it was completely empty.”

Before they left, they buried his father in a simple grave in the village’s small cemetery. Ismail was 55 and left behind 10 children. Al Hassan was the eldest. “Death comes for all of us. But he wasn’t old and he was the entire family’s provider.” His father’s house — now a pile of rubble — had been home for the whole extended family.

“Even if we went back, where would we live? In our destroyed house?” Al Hassan asked bitterly. “Does the American government think we have money? Do they think I can just go back and rebuild our house?” He and the rest of the family are now stuck in Turkey . . . refugees.

The US military could not confirm whether or not bombs were dropped on al Gharra (also known as al Gharba). A spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State, offered a vague response to our questions. He simply said the coalition had “conducted a number of airstrikes near al Hasaka” on May 6 and 7.

When pressed about whether the mountain or the village was hit on those days, the spokesman replied: “We can confirm that Abdul-Aziz mountain is geographically close enough to be considered ‘near al Hasaka.’ However, we do not have a record of striking that particular mountain.”

As a result of al Hassan’s testimony provided by GlobalPost, US Central Command — CENTCOM — said it would look again at whether it did bomb the village. For now, the United States has no record of killing any civilian in al Gharra. GlobalPost found other instances of US airstrikes — detailed below — that probably killed civilians but which were not officially investigated, or which were investigated and dismissed.

In almost a-year-and-a-half of bombing Iraq and Syria, the United States admits to killing just 21 innocent people. An independent monitoring group says the real figure could be more than a thousand.

The explanation for the US military’s impossibly low number can be found in the very way it investigates its own airstrikes. A CENTCOM spokesman told us that all civilian casualties were investigated — even if something as insubstantial as an anonymous post to Twitter was the only source. But some US investigations were cursory at best, amounting to what appears to be willful blindness.

In an airstrike on one Syrian village — also detailed below — it seems that simple confusion over place names meant that civilian casualties were never investigated and were left uncounted. A coalition spokesman eventually said that CENTCOM would review that case too, after GlobalPost pointed out the village on a map.

“No other military on Earth takes the concerns
over collateral damage and civilian casualties
more seriously than we do.”

— Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby

Standing orders — the Rules of Engagement — give every mission in Operation Inherent Resolve the goal of causing zero civilian casualties. But given the immense firepower deployed in Iraq and Syria, killing civilians is frighteningly easy, especially from the air. American pilots and their commanding officers are heavily dependent on information from Kurdish troops.

In several cases we have looked at, witnesses say civilians were at the scene but the pilots — or the Kurds calling in the strike — thought they were Islamic State fighters. In the few cases where the United States admits killing civilians, the explanation is often the same: the civilians ran into the target area just after the pilots pulled the trigger.

It is difficult — almost impossible — to visit territory controlled by the so-called Islamic State. But we know about airstrikes from witnesses, survivors, human rights activists, video uploaded to YouTube and even lists of the dead published on Facebook. If you believe that evidence, many more civilians are dying in American airstrikes than the US government acknowledges.

People in Iraq and Syria can see what is happening. And so can the enemy. The Islamic State portrays the conflict as a war on Sunnis and a war on Muslims. When the coalition kills civilians — and does not investigate and apologize — the Islamic State fills the void with propaganda. The war against the Islamic State is ultimately a war for Sunni public opinion. Things look very different from the ground.

War will always result in civilian casualties — and some in the US military want the strategy to recognize that. Those in uniform cannot state their views openly but a former US Air Force general, David Deptula, argues that the current policy is imposing restrictions on the fighting men and women in the field well beyond the laws of war.

“The laws of armed conflict do not require, nor do they expect, a target of zero unintentional civilian casualties,” he told me. “There is no such thing as immaculate warfare, it’s a horrible thing, an ugly thing, and . . . we need to finish it as rapidly as possible . . . What is the logic of a policy that restricts the use of air power to avoid the possibility of collateral damage, while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?”

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, has said: “No other military on Earth takes the concerns over collateral damage and civilian casualties more seriously than we do.” Yet as the examples below show there has been no honest official estimate of how many civilians the United States has killed in Iraq and Syria.

Even if civilian casualties are an inevitable part of a “just” war, the Western public is being fed the comforting illusion that war can be fought without shedding innocent blood.

And that is simply not the case.


What may be one of the worst tragedies of the campaign against the Islamic State is said to have taken place on another part of Syria’s Hasaka front in December. Al Khan is a tiny village. Most of the people have fled to Lebanon or Turkey. Perhaps a hundred stayed behind.

They say the village was hit by rockets and strafed in the early hours of Dec. 7, killing some 47 civilians, half of them children. We spoke to one of the residents by phone, an Arab man in his 30s who, fearing reprisals from the Kurds, wants to be known only by his nickname, Abu Khalil.

The war against the Islamic State here is, again, being waged by American aircraft above and Kurdish militia forces on the ground. Abu Khalil accepts that there was an Islamic State presence in al Khan. But he said: “There were fewer than 10 fighters in the village, including two locals. And they all stayed together at one place.”

Abu Khalil does not support the Islamic State. He is a former civil servant in the Syrian education ministry and once served in the regime army (he deserted). “People in al Khan didn’t like IS and always avoided talking to them,” he said. The villagers even tried to expel them.

According to one report, there was an altercation that escalated into an exchange of fire. The Islamic State apparently responded by sending reinforcements to the village. This convoy, it seems, was spotted by the Kurds, who no doubt thought they were seeing a big movement of troops to the frontline — and called in air support.

If this version of events is true, it is a bitter irony for the villagers. It would mean their brave opposition to the Islamic State resulted in a brutal attack by American aircraft.

Abu Khalil is haunted by that night of carnage and destruction.

“It was past midnight. We were sleeping. We were suddenly wakened by a huge explosion. The house shook. The windows shattered. There was shrapnel in the walls. I ran out and saw my neighbor’s house completely destroyed. He told me, ‘Abu Khalil, I managed to rescue my wife and son but I can’t find my six-month-old baby. Help me!’ I could hear people calling from underneath the rubble. My neighbor’s mother was crying out. She’s 70. I pulled her out, along with a boy and his mother. They were all OK.

“My mother and my aunt both came running to help dig through the rubble. But while we did this, a helicopter — an Apache — came overhead. It fired. They had machineguns with explosive bullets. I was hit. I still have the shrapnel in my body. I fell into the hole made by the airstrike. That was what saved me. The helicopter circled round again and fired a second time. My mother and aunt were killed. The woman and her son I’d rescued were killed. Everyone but me was killed.

“Three powerful rockets were used in the first airstrike. They left a two-meter deep hole in the ground. Anyone could see the hole until the Kurdish militia filled it. They don’t let anyone go near the place or take pictures. Nineteen people died in that one house.

“It was the Americans. For the past year-and-a-half, the only aircraft that fly over our area have been American.”

The US military emphatically denied that they bombed al Khan on Dec. 7, though a spokesman said there were airstrikes in the area of al Hawl, a small town a few miles away. But when the spokesman showed us a map marking the location of the airstrike, it was in the same area where a group of local activists had told us al Khan was located.

This was where the locals said the rocket attack had taken place. Confusion over place names happens often enough for the US military to plausibly deny responsibility for civilian casualties and to avoid launching a full investigation.

There was confirmation of an airstrike on al Khan from another important source — the Kurdish forces on the ground — though they denied there had been any civilian casualties at all. Abu Khalil’s account of the attack is consistent with interviews given elsewhere, though there are still many things that are unclear about the events in al Khan.

Exactly how many Islamic State fighters were there? How many of them were killed? Were they close to the house that was hit? As in al Gharra, the village in the shadow of the mountain, there are no independent witnesses. In both cases, the airstrikes were almost certainly called in by Kurdish spotters. Information from the Kurds is passed on to a coalition “targeting cell.”

Though the coalition’s aircraft are capable of striking with great precision, what they hit — who they hit — depends on the quality of that information. The coalition rarely has eyes and ears on ground. It is left to the pilots to confirm the target, from thousands of feet up.


The limitations of the pilot’s view are clear in the very first report the US published about civilian deaths caused by Operation Inherent Resolve. A family died because two pilots could not see they were there.

The report says the pilots simply did not know they were firing on civilians. It was published in November 2015. Until then, the US military had not admitted to causing a single civilian casualty despite 15 months of bombing.

The report described an attack on March 13 of last year against an Islamic State checkpoint outside al Hatra in northern Iraq. Al Hatra is the site of one of the world’s oldest cities, dating back to the 3rd Century BC. Saddam Hussein restored the ruins, laying bricks stamped with his name into the ancient walls.

When the Islamic State arrived, they used sledgehammers, Kalashnikovs and a bulldozer to demolish what they believe are the city’s “idolatrous” statues. Then they turned the site into a training camp, installing a checkpoint on the road nearby.

Two US aircraft were given permission to fire on that checkpoint because it seemed — to the pilots and to everyone involved in the so-called “kill chain” — that no civilians were in the strike area. But a Kia sedan and a Chevy Suburban had been stopped at the checkpoint. They were there long enough for the pilots to think that the vehicles were helping the fighters there.

Evidence emerged later that members of a family were in the car: two women and three children. The Suburban is thought to have had at least one other civilian and perhaps too, a family group.

Through the dense thicket of military acronyms and jargon in the report, the horror of what happened emerges. The planes were A-10 “Warthogs,” snub-nosed aircraft used against tanks. The A-10s are built around a huge seven-barrel machine gun, like a Gatling gun, the “GAU Avenger,” which fires 50 to 70 rounds a second.

Each shell is the size of a bottle of beer and the nose is weighted with a third of a kilogram of depleted uranium. One bullet can cut a human being in half; a stream of them can punch through armor or turn a person into red mist.

The Warthog’s cannon makes a distinctive, terrifying noise during an attack. The gun fires so rapidly it sounds like fabric tearing, or a piece of heavy furniture being dragged across a wooden floor (as one journalist described it while watching A-10s over Baghdad in 2003).

The two Warthogs in al Hatra came in on their strafing run. They would have fired in two-second bursts, hitting the vehicles and checkpoint with at the very least 200 rounds, probably more.

According to the report, four people got out of one of the vehicles just after the cannon was fired. The bullets hit the vehicles, which exploded in a ball of fire, incinerating everyone close by. “Post strike, both vehicles are on fire and it appears like there is one person still moving at the rear of the sedan,” the report said.

As in al Gharra and al Khan, the victims may well have been people who opposed the Islamic State. The women and children were killed as they were trying to leave territory held by the militant group, according to an email sent to the US military by an Iraqi woman. (The email was sent to claim compensation for the destroyed vehicles.)

Prompted by the email to investigate further, the US military found its own evidence that non-combatants had been at the scene. Analysis of video from the Warthog’s camera in the “targeting pod” on the wing showed people getting out of the car and: “One of the persons observed . . . presents a signature smaller than the other persons. This was assessed as a possible child.” Officials determined this by measuring the height of the shadow when the image was blown up on a large screen.

The pilots could not have done such analysis in flight and the report says: “There is no evidence the aircrew had any opportunity to detect civilians prior to their strike.” The spokesman for US Central Command, Col. Patrick Ryder, told reporters by video-link from Baghdad: “It’s safe to say . . . that if we knew there were civilians we would not have conducted a strike.”

The report into al Hatra concludes, in its strangulated military language: “The NCV [Non-Combat Victims] = 0 objective was not met.”

US forces, then, have orders to try not to kill civilians — it is a mission objective. But that is not the same as an absolute prohibition. And the National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, has said that bombing in Iraq and Syria would not be held to the same safeguards used in Afghanistan, which only allow strikes when there is “near certainty” of no civilian casualties.

While the standard for strikes may be rigorous — a goal of zero civilian casualties — a target can be ruled free of non-combatants based on little more than an educated guess by the pilots. The pilots’ methods are reminiscent of the CIA’s controversial “signature” strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those strikes are called in based not on certain intelligence but because targets have suspicious patterns of behavior, “signatures” of terrorists. Being present in a militant area could be enough.

This is exactly the kind of judgment the Warthog pilots used when targeting the two vehicles held at the Islamic State checkpoint. The report into al Hatra also said that one of the planes dropped a 500-pound bomb on a shack at the checkpoint.

“Prior to weapon impact but after weapon release a single adult sized PAX (person) is seen slowly moving to the north,” the report said. “This person is knocked down by the weapon impact and not seen moving again.” Was that a fighter, or a farmer? It is impossible to say.

One other revealing finding of the report is that the people getting out of the car were glimpsed only after the pilot had fired. It would have taken three or four seconds for the cannon rounds to hit the checkpoint.

Even if the pilot had realized in that time that they were civilians, he could not have done anything about it. This is the theme of several other US government reports into civilian casualties published in January 2016. Here are three excerpts from a Pentagon press release (Italics added by GlobalPost):

On June 19, 2015, near Tall al Adwaniyah, Syria, during a strike against two ISIL vehicles, it is assessed that one civilian was injured when appearing in the target area after the US aircraft released its weapon.

On June 29, 2015, near Haditha, Iraq, during strikes against one ISIL tactical unit and two ISIL vehicles, it is assessed that two civilians were injured. After the US aircraft engaged the target and two seconds prior to impact, a car slowed in front of the ISIL vehicles while a motorcycle simultaneously passed by.

On July 4, 2015, near Ar Raqqah, Syria, during a strike against an ISIL High Value Individual, a car and a motorcycle entered the target area after the weapon was released. It is assessed that three unidentified civilians were likely killed.

In all these cases, the Pentagon’s reporting says that people wandered into the firing line after the pilot had squeezed the trigger. That is a consequence of fighting in built up areas.

Taking all the published investigations so far, the US military acknowledges causing the sum total of 21 civilian deaths in the campaign against the Islamic State. Such a low number is wildly implausible.

Airwars, an independent monitoring group that tracks allegations of civilians casualties, says that at least 862 and as many as 1,190 non-combatants have died in coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria.

The Airwars count is made by collating reports from several sources for each strike: human rights activists and the media, Facebook posts, and testimony from survivors and relatives of the dead. Each casualty report is judged credible based on the amount of detail and whether it is consistent with other evidence.

The head of Airwars, Chris Woods, says the “smart bombs” used by Western air forces have clearly reduced the risk to civilians on the battlefield. Nevertheless, he says that in Afghanistan, for example, more civilians died in airstrikes than were killed by foreign ground troops. Airpower was the single greatest cause of civilian death by international forces, killing one civilian for every 11 airstrikes.

In Iraq and Syria, the ratio could be even worse, he says, because there are more attacks on “targets of opportunity” than those based on intelligence. And the campaign is being fought mainly in built-up areas where it is hard to distinguish the enemy.

“In the end, the generals who ran Afghanistan, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, managed to start getting civilian casualties down by admitting they were killing civilians,” he said. War fighters were only forced to change tactics when confronted with the effects of what they were doing.

“Right now, we are in the denial phase with the coalition. They don’t admit to killing civilians and we think that’s wrong. . . . The military is starting to believe their own myth of absolute precision . . . this fantasy lulls Western audiences into feeling more comfortable with our countries being at war because we think we don’t kill civilians anymore. I’m afraid the reality is far from that.”

He went on: “It is probably fair to say that the coalition is taking more care than we have ever seen in any air war in recent history, but that’s relative precision and civilians are still dying . . . hundreds of them.”


In September 2014, doctors at a hospital in the southern Turkish city of Iskenderun were presented with a mystery. An injured Syrian boy, four or five years old, was brought there in a coma. He had no identifying documents and no parents, or anyone else, claimed him. Doctors wrote a Turkish name on his chart and kept him in intensive care.

They would learn later that the child came from a village called Kfar Derian, just over the border. He was a victim of the very first US airstrikes in Syria. How the coalition responded to what happened in Kfar Derian at least partly reveals why official figures fail to show the true extent of civilian casualties.

US airstrikes in Syria began in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 22, 2014. Two warships, one in the Red Sea and one in the Arabian Gulf, launched waves of cruise missiles, 47 in all. Some of them were aimed at Islamic State targets in Iraq; some at the Islamic State in Syria. But eight of those missiles were for the Khorasan group, which is part of Al Qaeda. One of them — it seems — hit the village of Kfar Derian.

“The attack happened at night,” said Abu Mohammed, a 30-year-old from a neighboring village. He remembered seven or eight impacts spread across the mountainous terrain, coming 30 seconds apart, one after the other. “When the Syrian regime attacked, it was always in the day. The explosions were very big. When the people saw this they said the missiles came from the sea.”

Khorasan was unheard of until it was identified as a threat by the US government. The US said its members were experienced Al Qaeda operatives preparing bomb attacks on Western airlines. They were embedded with Al Qaeda’s Syrian ally, the Nusra Front (which is engaged in its own war with the Islamic State).

The day after the attack, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that a missile hit a Nusra building, killing many fighters. But they said the explosion was so big that the blast wave also demolished a house 100 yards away — a Tomahawk cruise missile packs a 1,000-pound bomb and flies in at 550 mph. It can cause devastation over a wide area.

The activists counted the bodies of 13 civilians in the house, including five women and five children. Abu Mohammed, speaking long after these events, put the number of dead much higher — “six families” — and denies there were armed men in the village: “The people were shepherds, nothing else.”

After the attacks he was asked by local people to go to Turkey to look for a mother and son whose bodies could not be found in the rubble.

Three days later, he found the mother in a mortuary. After a week, he still couldn’t find the little boy. “We searched everywhere for him.” Then, having almost given up hope, he showed a picture of the boy at a hospital. Doctors recognized him.

The 5-year-old was not registered under his own name, Humam Darwish. “When I first saw him he was in intensive care, no movements, just breathing, inhaling and exhaling, nothing more. They told us they couldn’t do anything for him.”

Humam did not wake up for months. He is now an orphan — his mother, Fatima, and his father, Mohammed, are both gone — living in a children’s home, and very far from the alert, inquisitive little boy he used to be. Abu Mohammed calls him the sole survivor of a massacre.

“Houses were bombed,” he said. “Families died. There were no survivors. The only one who lived was that child.” His testimony has differences with the activists’ account, most importantly his claim that no fighters were in the village. But both agree there were civilian casualties in Kfar Derian.

The US military says the eight missiles did not even succeed in wiping out Khorasan. The militants slipped away, tipped off by reconnaissance flights before the strike. Abu Mohammed said: “A day before, there was many scout planes over the area that was bombed.”

The Pentagon has never accepted that it killed civilians in the Khorasan strikes. Two days afterwards, the Pentagon press secretary, Admiral Kirby, was asked about civilian casualties in Kfar Derian. He replied: “We don’t have any credible operational reporting . . . that would sustain those allegations.”

A year later, a declassified internal military document concluded, “no further inquiry required.” This was because: “A review of BDA [battle damage assessment] imagery did not credibly determine that civilians were present at the site. Open source images presented as casualties from the strikes actually came from previous GoS [government of Syria] strikes.”

The monitoring group Airwars say that coverage of Kfar Derian on one English language website did, wrongly, use a picture of a child killed in a regime bombing. But this is the only case they can find of such false reporting, while there were many other genuine images of the strike that Central Command could have used as the basis for an investigation.

Woods, the head of Airwars, said such images were ignored for “pure propaganda” reasons — propaganda aimed at Americans, since Iraqis and Syrians already knew people were dying in coalition airstrikes. But Woods says it’s a mistake to think the information can be controlled, when anyone with a camera phone can post video of an airstrike online in minutes. “We know more about the civilian victims of this war, by all parties, than we’ve ever known in any conflict in history. That’s war today.”

He went on: “The Pentagon operates in this weird bubble where it pretends social media hasn’t been invented. It just ignores all these allegations of civilian casualties … If the coalition are not engaging in that territory [responding to claims of civilian casualties on social media], they are effectively ceding it to the Islamic State. The coalition needs to be more honest with Iraqis and Syrians.”

The conventional wisdom is that bombing must increase support for the Islamic State. The conventional wisdom may be wrong, although it is hard to be sure as there is no way to measure public opinion in the “Caliphate.”

In the early days of the campaign in Syria, there were some anti-coalition demonstrations with placards declaring: “This is a war on all Sunnis.” But they may have been orchestrated, with people press-ganged to attend.

There have been few, if any, large and spontaneous popular protests against the bombing. That maybe because the coalition has killed relatively few noncombatants in Syria compared to the Islamic State and the regime.

In January 2015, a group of Syrian doctors said that indiscriminate air attacks by the regime caused 80 percent of civilian casualties, while the Islamic State caused 15 percent, and the coalition 5 percent.

But those who are directly affected by US bombs are, as you would expect, bitter.

“You build in your countries and destroy in ours?” asked Abdul-Aziz al Hassan, who lost his father in the bombing at al Gharra. “Is this how you bring democracy? Stop it. Really, stop it. People are tired.”

Abu Khalil, survivor of the devastating attack in al Khan, said he wanted compensation from the United States for the death of his mother. Abu Mohammed, who spoke to us about Kfar Derian simply condemned the United States as “Zionists,” echoing both jihadi and regime propaganda. He wanted nothing to do with America.

All of them sounded more weary than angry.

Paul Wood is a BBC Middle East correspondent and contributor to GlobalPost‘s Longreads on Conflict.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Hidden Costs of US Air War: Schools, Homes, Apartments Destroyed and Hundreds of Civilians Killed

April 30th, 2016 - by admin

Nicolas J. S. Davies / Consortium News – 2016-04-30 01:08:40

Hidden Costs of US Air War

Hidden Costs of US Air War
Nicolas J. S. Davies / Consortium News

The presence of several thousand
ISIS militants in a city of 1.5 million people
does not justify indiscriminate bombing
or attacks on civilian targets.

(April 25, 2016) — USA Today reported on April 19 that US air forces bombing Syria and Iraq have been operating under new, looser rules of engagement since last fall.

The war commander, Lt Gen Sean McFarland, now orders air strikes that are expected to kill up to 10 civilians without prior approval from US Central Command, and US officials made it clear to USA Today that US air strikes are killing more civilians as a result of the new rules.

Under these new rules of engagement, the US has conducted a major escalation of its bombing campaign against Mosul, an Iraqi city of about 1.5 million people, which has been occupied by Islamic State since 2014. Reports of hundreds of civilians killed in US air strikes reveal some of the human cost of the US air war and the new rules of engagement.

Previous statements by US officials have absurdly claimed that over 40,000 US air strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed as few as 26 civilians. Speaking to USA Today, a senior Pentagon official who is briefed daily on the air war dismissed such claims, noting that heavier civilian casualties were inevitable in an air war that has destroyed 6,000 buildings with over 40,000 bombs and missiles.

Professor Souad Al-Azzawi, the award-winning Iraqi environmental scientist from Mosul who conducted the first studies of the health effects of depleted uranium after the First Gulf War, has compiled a partial list of air strikes that have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure in Mosul, most of them since the new US rules of engagement went into effect.

The list is based on reports by Mosul Eye, Nineveh Reporters Network, Al Maalomah News Network, other local media and contacts in Mosul and is not intended as a complete list of civilian casualties or civilian infrastructure destroyed.

Missing a Crisis
As I reported for ConsortiumNews in January, this kind of “passive reporting” from war zones can only capture a fraction of actual civilian casualties, and an even smaller fraction in areas outside government control and beyond the reach of conventional media:

-Many government buildings have been destroyed. As US officials told USA Today, such attacks are often conducted at night to minimize civilian casualties, but they have killed night-time security guards and civilians in neighboring buildings.

* Telephone exchanges have been systematically bombed and destroyed.

* Two large dairies were bombed, killing 100 civilians and wounding 200 more, including local people lining up outside to buy milk and dairy products.

* Multiple daytime air strikes on Mosul University on March 19 and 20 (the 13th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq) killed 92 civilians and wounded 135, mostly faculty, staff, families and students. Targets included the main administration building, classroom buildings, a women’s dormitory and a faculty family apartment building from which only one child survived.

April 20, 2016) — Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi sent this video to Nicolas Davies along with some commentary. Al-Azzawi reports that on March 19/20, 2016, 13 years after shock and awe, the United States bombed the University of Mosul and did so at 1:05 p.m., a time when the area is most crowded. The US bombed Kough Restaurant, and all the victims were civilians.

The US bombed the University headquarters, the women’s education college, the science college, the Mosul University publishing center, and the girls dormitories.
Writes Al-Azzawi:
“Killing innocent civilians will not solve the problem of ISIL, it will push more people to join them to be able to revenge for their losses and their beloved ones.”

Professor Dhafer al Badrani, former Dean of Computer Sciences College in Mosul University, got killed along with his wife in the American bombing of Mosul University on Sunday March 20, 2016.

The US planes bombed the faculty members’ residential building. Only one child of the whole building survived. Wives and children of other faculty members are among the victims.
Latest casualty counts: 92 killed and 135 injured.

* 50 civilians (including entire families) were killed and 100 wounded by air strikes on two apartment buildings, Al Hadbaa and Al Khadraa.

* A mother and her four children were killed in an air strike on a house in the Hay al Dhubat district in East Mosul on April 20, next door to a house used by Islamic State that was undamaged.

* 22 civilians were killed (including 11 members of one family) in an air strike on houses in front of the Mosul Medical College.

-20 civilians were killed and 70 wounded by air strikes on the Sunni Waquf building and surrounding houses and shops.

* The Nineveh Plains water treatment plant was bombed in October 2014, and another water treatment plant and a hospital were shut down by an air strike on a power station in northeast Mosul in July 2015.

* Flour mills, a pharmaceutical factory, auto repair shops and other workshops have been bombed, with civilian casualties, all over Mosul.

* The Central Bank of Mosul in Ghazi Street and the main and local branches of two other banks, Rafidain and Rasheed, have been bombed, with heavy damage and civilian casualties in the areas surrounding each of them. After the first bank was struck, all the cash was removed from the others before they were bombed a few weeks later.

* Three workers were killed and 12 wounded in an air strike on the former Pepsi bottling plant.

* The Governor’s residence and guest houses and the Turkish consulate were hit by air strikes.

* An air strike on a fuel depot in an industrial area ignited an inferno that caused 150 casualties on April 18.

* Urban planning and engineering planning offices were bombed in Hay Al Maliyah.

* Air strikes targeted a food warehouse, power plants and electric sub-stations across West Mosul.

* The Al Hurairah Bridge was destroyed by air strikes.

Punishing Civilians
At the very least, US air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul, as well as destroying much of the civilian infrastructure that people depend on for their lives in already dire conditions. And yet this is, by all accounts, only the beginning of the US-Iraqi campaign to retake Mosul.

One and a half million civilians are trapped in the city, 30 times the United Nation’s estimate of the number of civilians in Fallujah before the November 2004 assault by US Marines that killed 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly civilians.

Meanwhile Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) is preventing civilians from evacuating the city, believing that their presence protects its forces from even heavier bombardment.

International humanitarian law is absolutely clear that military attacks on civilians, civilian areas and civilian infrastructure are strictly prohibited. The presence of several thousand ISIS militants in a city of 1.5 million people does not justify indiscriminate bombing or attacks on civilian targets.

As the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq warned US officials in a Human Rights Report in 2007, “The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian nature of an area.”

Bombing food warehouses, flourmills and water treatment plants is also a war crime.

As Jean Ziegler, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, protested in 2005, as US forces besieged other cities in Iraq, “A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq, where the coalition’s occupying forces are using hunger and deprivation of food and water as a weapon of war.” He called this, “a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

The controlled leak of the new rules of engagement to USA Today appears to be an “information operation” to provide political cover for air strikes that violate the laws of war and are killing large numbers of civilians, as the US escalates its air strikes against Mosul and other cities occupied by Islamic State.

Controlling Information
Post-Cold War US military strategists have theorized that sophisticated US “information warfare” can shape public perceptions to remove political constraints on the use of US military force.

As Major Ralph Peters, an officer responsible for “future warfare” in the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, wrote in a 1997 military journal article, “We are already masters of information warfare . . . we will be writing the scripts, producing (the videos) and collecting the royalties.”

Peters also predicted that US forces would “do a fair amount of killing . . . to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault.”

On the domestic front, the US’s information warfare has proven so effective that most Americans know almost nothing of the real impacts of US military operations. The median response to a 2007 AP-Ipsos poll that asked Americans how many Iraqis had died as a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was 9,890, or 1.5 percent of the total revealed in 2006 by a comprehensive mortality study. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Victory of ‘Perception Management.'”]

But internationally, the wartime conditions now afflicting people from Afghanistan to Nigeria to Ukraine have created new realities that render Western narratives increasingly suspect and drive an urgent quest for other ones that can better explain the violent and chaotic world in which more and more people are forced to live.

The presumption that US information warfare could brainwash the world to provide political cover and impunity for systematic US aggression and other war crimes is collapsing under the real-world impacts of US policy.

Spreading Extremism
Wahhabi jihadism is thriving in the new reality born of the US government’s hubris and aggression.

The fundamental contradiction of the militarized “war on terror” has always been that US aggression and other war crimes only reinforce the narratives of jihadi groups who see themselves as a bulwark against foreign aggression and neocolonialism in the Muslim world.

Meanwhile US wars and covert operations against secular enemies like Hussein, Gaddafi and Assad keep creating new zones of chaos where the jihadis can set up shop.

US officials, not least President Barack Obama, have acknowledged publicly that there is therefore “no military solution” to jihadism.

But successive US administrations have proven unable to resist the lure of military expansion and escalation at each new stage of the crisis, unleashing wars that have killed about 2 million people, plunged a dozen countries into complete chaos and exploded Wahhabi jihadism from its original safe havens in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to countries across the world.

In 2014, as I wrote at the time, the mostly Sunni Arab people of northern and western Iraq had been tortured, terrorized and murdered by US- and Iranian-backed death squads for ten years and accepted the rule of Islamic State as the lesser of two evils.

If the US and its Iraqi allies now follow through with their threatened assault on Mosul, the resulting massacre will join Fallujah, Guantanamo and Obama’s drone wars as a new, powerful symbol and catalyst for the next mutation of Wahhabi jihadism, which is likely to be more globalized and unified.

But although Al Qaeda and Islamic State have proven adept at manipulating US leaders into ever-escalating cycles of violence, the jihadis cannot directly order American pilots to bomb civilians. Only our leaders can do that. So our leaders bear the moral and legal responsibility for these atrocities, just as Islamic State’s leaders bear the responsibility for theirs.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Battle for Truth over Saudi Arabia’s Ties to 9/11

April 28th, 2016 - by admin

Andrew Bacevich / Los Angeles Times Op-Ed – 2016-04-28 18:03:07


The Battle for Truth over Saudi Arabia’s Ties to 9/11
Andrew Bacevich / Los Angeles Times Op-Ed

In matters relating to war and peace, US officials tell us what in their judgment we need to know . . . Why not allow Americans to judge for themselves?

(April 27, 2016) — Of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia. What does that fact signify?

According to senior US officials, little or nothing. From the outset, they treated the national identity of the terrorists as incidental, connoting nothing of importance. It was as if the 15 murderers just happened to smoke the same brand of cigarettes or wear the same after-shave.

Had they come from somewhere other than Saudi Arabia, a different attitude would surely have prevailed. Imagine if 15 Iraqis had perpetrated the attacks. In Washington’s eyes, Saddam Hussein’s direct involvement would have been a given. Fifteen Iranians? US officials would have unhesitatingly fingered authorities in Tehran as complicit.

Saudi Arabia, however, got a pass. In its final report, the 9/11 Commission said it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually” had funded Al Qaeda. This artfully crafted passage was an exercise in damage control, designed to preserve the existing US-Saudi relationship from critical scrutiny.

The effort never fully succeeded, skeptics suspecting that there might be more to the story. Today those doubts find expression in demands to declassify 28 pages of a congressional investigation said to detail Saudi relations with and support for the Al Qaeda terrorist network before September 2001.

According to a Monday report by the Associated Press, the Obama administration may finally do just that. Whether the 28 pages sustain or refute suspicions of Saudi involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks will remain impossible to say absent such executive action.

Yet implicit in this dispute is an issue of even greater moment: Who ultimately exercises jurisdiction over truth?

Does it fall within the exclusive province of the state? Or do judgments about truth rightfully belong to the people?

On anything that touches national security — an infinitely elastic concept — the state has long since staked out its position: Views expressed by government authorities are authoritative.

In matters relating to war and peace, US officials tell us what in their judgment we need to know. They deny access to information that we ostensibly could misconstrue, or that they deem too dangerous for us to possess.

In effect, the state curates truth. In doling out information, curators working at the behest of the state — a category that includes more than a few journalists — fashion narratives that may not be entirely accurate but that have the compensatory virtue of being expedient. In some instances, the aim of the narrative might be to obfuscate past mistakes, thereby sparing policymakers embarrassment. More commonly, the purpose is to facilitate the exercise of power along certain lines.

By characterizing the events of Sept. 11 as a bolt out of the blue unrelated to past actions by the United States, the version of truth constructed in the wake of those events served both purposes. Rather than prompting a reassessment of prevailing US policies — the problematic US relationship with Saudi Arabia among them — it upheld those policies, justifying their perpetuation and not incidentally affirming the wisdom of those who devised them in the first place.

No wonder the foreign policy establishment insists that the 28 pages remain secret; not only might the document challenge the state’s preferred Sept. 11 narrative, but the

demands for its declassification also call into question the establishment’s very authority to control that narrative.

Opposing the pages’ release, Philip Zelikow, the Washington insider who served as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, describes them as “unvetted, raw material.” The contents, he insists, are “misleading.” Besides, were they to become public, “hundreds, if not thousands” of pages of additional material would also need to be declassified.

Why not allow Americans to judge for themselves? Why not make available those thousands of relevant pages? The answer is self-evident: Because in the estimation of those such as Zelikow, ordinary citizens are not to be trusted in such matters; policy must remain the purview of those who possess suitable credentials and can therefore be counted on to not rock the boat.

But the boat needs rocking. In the Middle East, the foreign policy establishment has made a hash of things. Indulging that establishment further serves no purpose other than to perpetuate folly. Releasing the 28 pages just might provide a first step toward real change.

Andrew Bacevich is author of the new book America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Seymour Hersh ‘Horrified’ by Obama’s Move to Put ‘Boots on the Ground’ Inside Syria

April 28th, 2016 - by admin

Amy Goodman / Democracy Now! – 2016-04-28 17:58:13


‘Horrified’: Seymour Hersh Reacts to Obama’s Plan
To Send 250 More US Special Ops Troops to Syria

Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!

(April 28, 2016) — President Obama has announced the deployment of 250 more Special Operations troops to Syria in a move that nearly doubles the US presence in the country. This comes just days after the Obama administration announced 217 more troops would be sent to Iraq to help in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

As the US expands its presence in Iraq and Syria, we speak with the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has just published a new book titled The Killing of Osama bin Laden. In the introduction, Hersh writes:
“It’s now evident, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, that Obama’s foreign policy has maintained many of the core elements of the Global War on Terror initiated by his predecessor — assassinations, drone attacks, heavy reliance on special forces, covert operations and, in the case of Afghanistan, the continued use of American ground forces in combat. And, as in the years of Bush and Cheney, there has been no progress, let alone victory, in the fight against terrorism.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on a 100-city tour marking Democracy Now!’s 20th anniversary. Today, we’re broadcasting from the Roundhouse, the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Legislature.

President Obama has announced the deployment of 250 more Special Operations troops to Syria in a move that nearly doubles the US presence in Syria. This comes just days after the Obama administration announced 217 more troops would be sent to Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS. Earlier today, President Obama addressed the wars in Syria and Iraq during a speech in Germany.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, the most urgent threat to our nations is ISIL. And that’s why we’re united in our determination to destroy it. And all 28 NATO allies are contributing to our coalition, whether it’s striking ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq, or supporting the air campaign or training local forces in Iraq or providing critical humanitarian aid. And we continue to make progress, pushing ISIL back from territory that it controlled.

And just as I’ve approved additional support for Iraqi forces against ISIL, I’ve decided to increase US support for local forces fighting ISIL in Syria. A small number of American Special Operations forces are already on the ground in Syria, and their expertise has been critical as local forces have driven ISIL out of key areas.

So, given the success, I’ve approved the deployment of up to 250 additional US personnel in Syria, including special forces, to keep up this momentum. They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces as they continue to drive ISIL back.

AMY GOODMAN: As the US expands its presence in Iraq and Syria, we turn to the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, when US forces killed hundreds of civilians. In 2004, Sy Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He has just published a new book titled The Killing of Osama bin Laden.

In the introduction, Hersh writes, quote: “It’s now evident, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, that Obama’s foreign policy has maintained many of the core elements of the Global War on Terror initiated by his predecessor — assassinations, drone attacks, heavy reliance on Special Forces, covert operations and, in the case of Afghanistan, the continued use of American ground forces in combat. And, as in the years of Bush and Cheney, there has been no progress, let alone victory, in the fight against terrorism.”

Seymour Hersh, it’s great to have you back on Democracy Now! Congratulations on your book. Why don’t we start by talking about what President Obama announced in his speech in Germany today, just hours before this broadcast: increased troop presence in Syria. What does it mean?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, one of the words he doesn’t mention is Russia. Look, I can’t begin to tell you what’s in his mind. It’s a little amazing at this stage he’s putting more forces in, but that’s — you know, that’s his prerogative, I guess, as president. Always makes good news. Nobody ever — nobody seems in this country ever to object too much when we put more people on the ground.

But the real winner in the last year or so of the war there has been the Russians. And the Russians — the bombing was much more effective. If you remember, the president had said publicly, when Putin decided to put his air force hard at work there, he said it would be a quagmire, they wouldn’t be able to get out, it’s going to be, you know, schadenfreude — it would be like what happened to us in Afghanistan, and is happening to us, and certainly did happen to us in Vietnam. But they did it. They came in, and they did very well.

I will tell you right now, Russian special forces are in the fight against ISIS with the Syrian army, with Hezbollah, with the Iranian army, the Quds Force. And the Russians have done an awful lot to improve the Syrian army in the past year — retrained them, reoutfitted them, etc., etc., etc. It’s a much better army since the Russians came in. The fighting in Palmyra that the Syrian army and the Russian special forces did was much bloodier.

ISIS fought to the death. It was a terrible toll on everybody, but it was a victory for the Syrian army. We know all these things. The Syrian army is much better. It’s probably going to — probably — we don’t know. I don’t know. Nobody knows. It will probably take Raqqa, the former capital city, if you will, ad hoc capital city of ISIS. ISIS is on the run, particularly in Syria, not necessarily in Iraq.

And I just don’t understand what the president is doing, why he wants to engage more. But, you know, it’s not my call. I would also — I’ve been told there are many more forces in Iraq than we’re publicly announcing, including even some elements of one of our airborne divisions.

What the hell? As usual, we don’t really know what the game plan is. I do not understand why he’s decided to jump into a war that was being run by — it’s being won right now by the Syrian army and its allies, including Russia. I just — I can just speculate that our anti-Putin, anti-Russian instinct in America continues apace. That’s all.

AMY GOODMAN: In your introduction to your new book, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, you write, “In a review of my interviews about Obama’s early decision to raise the ante in Afghanistan, one fact stood out: Obama’s faith in the world of special operations and in Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan who worked closely with Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2008 as director of [JSOC] the Joint Special Operations Command.” Seymour Hersh, can you elaborate on this?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, it’s amazing. Look, you win the presidency — hope and peace, or whatever it was — and you discover, because of — you know, you don’t have the power you might dream you would have. You can’t get a lot of things done, because you’ve got a very hostile Congress. And so — and presidents, inevitably, in frustration — look, I’ve been in this town since the ’60s.

There’s nothing more wonderful for a president — you can feel more like a president by taking a walk with somebody from the Special Operations community or, earlier, the CIA in the Rose Garden, and getting rid of somebody you don’t like, whether you’re — in the case of — what we do now is we do targeted assassinations. Earlier, I think we just moved them out of office or did operations, you know, political operations. But now it’s really just, you know, we hit people.

You know, there’s a weekly meeting in which they go through names of people to target, assassinate, including, in some cases, an American, without any due process. It’s been a wonderful movement. I don’t mean to be too sarcastic about it, but what — you know, this guy ended up in the same place in far too many times, as you read and as I wrote, as Bush and Cheney were.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what these Special Ops forces are doing, both in Iraq and Syria?

SEYMOUR HERSH: I really don’t know. I mean, I know what I’m told, but I just don’t know what the truth is. Clearly, they’re going to be engaged more. They’re helping to plan operations. But I — we’re great at — we do a lot of dirty tricks in the world. You know, we were inside Iran in the first decade of this year, when the — before the Iranians began to talk seriously about getting rid of their nuclear weapons, that don’t exist, that never did exist. [Emphasis added — EAW]

We were doing operations inside the Iranian — the borders, and also we even went inside Tehran with surrogates. I mean, yes, we went inside Tehran. We did monitoring for nuclear activity, etc., etc. So we’ve been deeply involved in that world in covert operations. And how much first-hand stuff, I don’t really have. I haven’t actually talked to somebody who was in Tehran, but we were doing a lot of stuff, including working with people who were doing stuff like blowing up mosques and trying to whack Iranian scientists. [Emphasis added — EAW]

So I assume — one target I do know, the president has designated, is he really wants to take out Mr. Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. He’s been a high-priority assassination target for more than a year. We could be doing something like that.

But we’re certainly working with the — there’s not much you can do in Iraq, because the Iraqi army — you know, it’s the usual story: They’re going to run away.

We’ve been — one of the great classic lies of America is, every year, some two-star general who’s involved with training either the Afghans or, in earlier years, the Vietnam — Vietnamese, or the Iraqi army, they come before Congress. And the two-star looks them in the eye. He’s the general in charge of training, and his promotion depends on not so much what he does, but what he says, I guess, at this point. And he tells the Congress how wonderful it’s going on, we’ve got x number of divisions ready to fight.

And the congresspeople all nod. It’s a little parody that goes on. And, of course, the armies cut and run, and they’re no good, and they haven’t been. And the Iraqi army we have right now, that we’re talking so wonderfully about, is not going to go near Mosul. It’s going to be hand-to-hand fighting. If we ever do go into Mosul, we’re going to [inaudible]. So, there you are. You know, I —

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, were you surprised by President Obama’s announcement today in Germany?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Horrified. I just don’t think it’s the way to go. I think it’s just putting us into — you know, as you mentioned in your introduction, we’ve been doing this war against terror, against an idea, since after 9/11, you know? And how are we doing, fellas? How’s it going there?

You know, has the amount of opposition to us spread? Has the hatred of America grown more intense? We are truly a very-much-hated country in the Middle East. And it’s partly because of the way we fight our wars — with drone attacks and a lot of force, the prisons that we did. And Abu Ghraib was just one of many prisons. And a lot of killing goes on by us, you know.

And here’s how things have changed, for me, anyway. I’m writing the same kind of stories now about this president, very critical stories, because, you know, somebody has to hold him to — you know, at least based on what I think is as good as evidence I’ve ever had in all the stories I wrote for The New York Times in the ’70s.

I was there for six, seven, eight years as a sort of a hotshot there in the Washington bureau. And I wrote a lot of stories, won a lot of prizes, going after the president, going after wars, going after Kissinger, writing about illegal activities.

And all of a sudden, the same stories, still anonymous — I mean, I wrote them anonymously then, and I’m writing them anonymously now. And some of the people I knew then, believe it or not, are still operating now. And it’s like, we can’t do that.

It’s like the American press has moved to the right, as many elements in this country, as you see, when the Sanders case has moved to the left. It’s a much more outspoken opposition to some of the things we — the way we run campaigns. And underneath that is — of those people who support Sanders, also really dislike much more intensely the wars that are going on and the lies that are being told. But, you know, times have changed.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy Hersh, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh for the hour today. He has a new book out; it’s called The Killing of Osama bin Laden. We’re going to also talk about that, the latest in what’s known about the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan, the Saudi government’s support for him in hiding there, what the US knew, as well as many other issues. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute . . . .

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Power of Protest: House Resolution Honors Vietnam Anti-war Protesters

April 28th, 2016 - by admin

Tom Hayden / Vietnam War Summit & Hon. Barbara Lee / US House of Representatives – 2016-04-28 17:49:50


“Boys Who Said NO! Indiegogo Tease and pitch from Judith Ehrlich on Vimeo.

ACTION ALERT: Film Documents Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War
Features Joan Baez, Daniel Ellsberg, David Harris and others

Indiegogo Film Fundraising Campaign Currently Underway

(April 22, 2016) — The Boys Who Said NO!, a documentary in progress, will be the first film to document the story of the young men who chose prison rather than be conscripted, in order to help end the American War in Vietnam. This was the first incidence in US history of mass refusal to fight in order to stop a war.

Nonviolent direct action movements in the United States fought to abolish slavery, win the vote and other rights for women, fulfill the promise of civil rights, and move the nation towards equality and peace. In this tradition, thousands of young people followed their consciences during the Vietnam War, troubled by our conduct of the war, and by war itself.

Over half a million young men evaded or resisted the draft. Tens of thousands were arrested, risking fines and prison terms for their active, visible refusal to cooperate with the draft and the military. More than 3,250 served time in federal prison.

Featuring interviews with the men and women involved, and archival materials, The Boys Who Said NO! tells the important but little known story of those who organized resistance to the draft and risked prison for refusing military service. The film explores the impact these men, and the women who worked with them, had on society, on the draft and the war, and on their own future lives. Their experiences speak to many conflicts and strugles today.

BOYS is directed by Judith Ehrlich, Oscar-nominated for The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The film features folk singer and peace activist Joan Baez, draft resistance organizer David Harris, whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers detailing massive government deception about the war, and former Weatherman Mark Rudd, among many others.

The film has mounted an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that lasts through April 30 to help raise funds to complete the film. Over 200 individuals have donated to the campaign so far. Visit the film’s website at www.boyswhosaidno.com to learn more.

The Power of Protest, Restoring the Memory of the Peace Movement
Tom Hayden / Remarks to the Vietnam War Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library

AUSTIN, Texas (April 26, 2016) — Thank you Mark Updegrove, Director of the LBJ Library. Thank you Colonel Mark Franklin, Chief of History and Legacy at the Pentagon’s Vietnam Commemoration Office. Thank you Jim Knotts & Reema Ghazi, from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Thank you Jim Popkin for reaching out at the beginning of this process.

Thank you for your gracious invitation to this significant opportunity for introspection into the Vietnam War and its peace movement opposition. The reconstructions of our legacies live on. I myself have just finished my third book on Vietnam, to be published next year by Yale University Press, tentatively titled Vietnam and the Power of Protest.

My earlier books appeared decades ago: The Other Side, with Staughton Lynd [1966, New American Library, 1966], and The Love of Possession Is a Disease with Them [Holt Rinehart Winston, 1972]. I also have taught Vietnam classes at Immaculate Heart College, Pitzer and Scripps colleges in Claremont, and a seminar with Democratic staff in the US House of Representatives. Currently, I am excited by the works of Viet Thanh Nguyen, on memory and forgetting, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize this month for his novel, The Sympathizer.

The debate over the War and anti-war movement is still alive. Last year 1,000 peace activists gathered at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. to challenge and engage with the Pentagon’s narrative of the war, which we considered to be unbalanced. Those discussions, held at Fort Myer, have been fruitful, unresolved, and ongoing. I note the presence here today of Joe Galloway, who took part in that first Fort Myer’s dialogue.

Today I am distributing a new House of Representatives Resolution by Rep. Barbara Lee, a peace and justice leader over many years, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the movement to end it.

The resolution reads in part that, “The movement to end the Vietnam War was one of the largest and most prolonged efforts to achieve peace and justice in many generations and war critical to bringing and end to the war.”

There is no question of our impact. We helped turn two presidents out of office. We ended military conscription. Year after year, our numbers in the streets grew until it reached millions and became the largest peace movement in our country’s history. The peace movement was not unlike the “general strike” described by W.E.B. Dubois in his history of Reconstruction.

It included resistance and walkouts among our troops from military bases to battleships. It spread through communities of color, African-American, Puerto Rican, Latino, Native American, and Asian-American, and from there to campus communities in unprecedented student strikes and moratoriums. While hippies were being demonized, they too were withdrawing from what they considered a repressive and militarized culture.

The movement led as well to the opposition of many Democrats and not a few Republicans. The military, the universities, and the political order were shaken by the withdrawal of millions from their first attachment to the status quo.

American women withdrew from militarism and helped lead the anti-war movement too, as did so many then-closeted LGBT people. The whole phenomenon deserves greater respect and serious research at future conferences like this.

Though many Americans will agree with this assessment, many others hold firm to the belief expressed by President George H.W. Bush after the first Gulf War in 1991 that “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” Thousands of Americans and millions of Iraqis later died in this war to stamp out a syndrome, which President Bush likened to a mental disorder.

The fundamental reason for these persistent efforts to reclaim victory in Vietnam is a fear in many politicians and their national security advisers of accepting our defeat in 1975. Many of us would argue that the Vietnam war was doomed to failure as early as 1946 when our government armed the French for their march to folly at Dienbienphu, then blocked the nationwide elections promised by the Geneva Accords of 1954.

An official acceptance of defeat in battle, a kind of Custer Syndrome, would lead to a reputational loss as well a painful acknowledgement to military families that their sons fought honorably but under misguided policies imposed by a bipartisan caste of politicians. The political corollary at home was a frightening threat to our own democracy, from McCarthyism to Watergate to COINTELPRO.

This backlash continues today. I felt it was astonishing that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who was a founding member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War [VVAW] was viciously ‘swift-boated’ out of the presidential race in 2004.

He suffered wounds in actually fighting communist forces while so many others in office sat home and enjoyed their immunity. An exception that fought and suffered was Senatir John McCain, who went on with Kerry to a historic diplomatic breakthrough when the US-Vietnam relationship was normalized.

The irony is that our two countries are in a de facto partnership to promote trade and limit China’s expansionism in the Pacific. I myself pray that the partnership fulfills our obligation to do everything possible to treat Agent Orange victims and remove the unexploded ordinance that continues to wound or kill this generation of Vietnamese civilians.

Here is another painful contradiction we must confront. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese troops were paid for, trained and sent to their deaths under our command, but their honor has never been recognized.

One reason that our own government does not recognize their fate is that such a change in policy would entitle their families to benefits. The Boat People are honored, but not the Saigon troops who sacrificed for us. Reconciliation requires respect for their side, from Hanoi to Washington DC.

The people of Laos and Cambodia are receding from our memory as well.

I ask you, are we not all Vietnam veterans in our own way? Were we not all lied to and divided by our government? Isn’t the shared experience of our generation that we were mutually manipulated into that cauldron? And who was responsible, those of us in our twenties or those who were in power? Judge for yourselves.

Dr. Henry Kissinger, who operated from the very pinnacle of power during those Indochina Wars, and who defended the establishment throughout, must especially reflect on the responsibilities he carries. I personally would welcome a real dialogue with Dr. Kissinger, which requires a frank admission of the part one played.

I personally regret my own part in many decisions the peace movement made, and await an acknowledgement and apology from Dr. Kissinger as well. This conference offers a great opportunity for inner reconciliation. In the absence of that opportunity, I must decline your invitation to the dinner with Dr. Kissinger on April 26.

In gratitude,
Tom Hayden

Rep. Barbara Lee Recognizes
Vietnam Peace Movement in House Resolution

WASHINGTON (APRIL 21, 2016) — Rep. Barbara Lee has introduced a House Resolution (H.Res.695) recognizing the Vietnam anti-war movement as, “one of the largest and most prolonged efforts to achieve peace and justice in recent generations and was critical to bringing an end to the war.” Rep. John Conyers became a co-sponsor as an effort begins to seek endorsements from other congressional representatives.

The Lee resolution is a direct result of last year’s May 1-2 commemoration of the movement at a conference in Washington DC.

The peace resolution will draw the ire of Republicans and reluctance of some Democrats. The Vietnam peace movement is the only Sixties movement that has been marginalized instead of memorialized.

Yet it was a life-changing experience for many during the war, including thousands of soldiers and veterans, and the US government has tried to stamp out what they call “the Vietnam Syndrome.”

The Lee Resolution is an organizing tool for anyone wanting to respond to the Pentagon’s recent false narrative of history on its website. If grass-roots organizers visit, engage and petition their congressional offices, there is a strong chance for reinvigorating the continuing debate over Vietnam.

Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War,

Ms. LEE submitted the following RESOLUTION

Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War,
Whereas the Vietnam War began on 1964 and ended in 1975;

Whereas more than 58,000 United States citizens were killed, approximately 10,786 were wounded, and 75,000 veterans left seriously disabled;

Whereas it is estimated that more than 1,500,000 people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia died as a result of the War, and many more were wounded or displaced;

Whereas thousands of people continue to suffer from the lethal effects of exposure to Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance;

Whereas the movement to end the Vietnam War was one of the largest and most prolonged efforts to achieve peace and justice in recent generations and was critical to bringing an end to the War;

Whereas the movement to end the Vietnam War was broad and included students, professors, workers, draft resisters, United States service members and veterans, musicians and artists, candidates for Congress and the presidency, and mobilized a majority in opposition to the Vietnam war;

Whereas the movement generated the largest protests, moratorium actions, and mobilizations in United States history, including a strike of 4,000,000 students from across the Nation following the United States invasion of Cambodia in 1970, multiple acts of protest and resistance on military bases and ships around the world, and the rise of Vietnam Veterans Against the War;

Whereas United States expenditures on the Vietnam War impacted domestic resources, including for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty;

Whereas the 1970 blue-ribbon Scranton Report on campus unrest in the United States recognized the growing opposition to the Vietnam War by stating that, ”The crisis on American campuses has no parallel in the history of this nation. This crisis has roots in divisions of American society as deep as any since the Civil War. If this trend continues, if this crisis of understanding endures, the very survival of the nation will be threatened”;

Whereas Vietnam peace memorials have been erected at Kent State University in Ohio, the steps of Sproul Hall at the University of California, and the peace memorial adjacent to the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California;

And Whereas peace and reconciliation research programs were widely incorporated in high school and university classrooms after the Vietnam War era: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives —
(1) Commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War;

(2) Recognizes that the movement to end the Vietnam War was one of the largest and most prolonged efforts to achieve peace and justice in recent generations and was critical to bringing an end to the War;

(3) Acknowledges the role of those who participated in public protests, teach-ins, and opposition to the War, and the many people who supported political candidates of both parties who sought to end the War;

(4) Applauds the establishment of educational programs at colleges and universities across the United States that are focused on conflict transformation and peace building; and

(5) Urges continued efforts during this 50th anniversary period to reflect on the lessons learned from the Vietnam War and to recommit to sustained diplomacy that prevents conflict.

April 26-28th in Austin, Texas, the Vietnam War Summit presented by the LBJ Presidential Library, with a keynotes by Henry Kissinger and John Kerry, and panel with Tom Hayden, Marilyn Young, and David Maraniss titled, “The War At Home”.

Also join Tom Hayden on May 7 at Skylight Books in LA for a conversation with this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, author Viet Thanh Nguyen, to discuss his new book NOTHING EVER DIES: VIETNAM AND THE MEMORY OF WAR.

War and Environmental Collapse

April 28th, 2016 - by admin

David Swanson / Excerpt From “War Is A Lie” (Just World Books, 2016) – 2016-04-28 17:37:52

War Is A Lie

War and Environmental Collapse
David Swanson / Excerpt From “War Is A Lie” (Just World Books, 2016)

The environment as we know it will not survive nuclear war. It also may not survive “conventional” war, understood to mean the sorts of wars the US government now wages. Intense damage has already been done by wars and by the research, testing, and production done in preparation for wars.

At least since the Romans sowed salt on Carthaginian fields during the Third Punic War, wars have damaged the earth, both intentionally and — more often — as a reckless side-effect.

General Philip Sheridan, having destroyed farmland in Virginia during the Civil War, proceeded to destroy American bison herds as a means of restricting Native Americans to reservations. World War I saw European land destroyed with trenches and poison gas.

During World War II, the Norwegians started landslides in their valleys, while the Dutch flooded a third of their farmland, the Germans destroyed Czech forests, and the British burned forests in Germany and France.

Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War “rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality,” according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School.

Leaning divides war’s environmental impact into four areas: “production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste.”

Nuclear weapons testing by the United States and the Soviet Union involved at least 423 atmospheric tests between 1945 and 1957 and 1,400 underground tests between 1957 and 1989. The damage from that radiation is still not fully known, but it is still spreading, as is our knowledge of the past. New research in 2009 suggested that Chinese nuclear tests between 1964 and 1996 killed more people directly than the nuclear testing of any other nation.

Jun Takada, a Japanese physicist, calculated that up to 1.48 million people were exposed to fallout and 190,000 of them may have died from diseases linked to radiation from those Chinese tests. In the United States, testing in the 1950s led to untold thousands of deaths from cancer in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, the areas most downwind from the testing.

In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered.

Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91.

In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer. You can run from war, but you can’t hide.

The military knew its nuclear detonations would impact those downwind, and monitored the results, effectively engaging in human experimentation. In numerous other studies during and in the decades following World War II, in violation of the Nuremberg Code of 1947, the military and the CIA have subjected veterans, prisoners, the poor, the mentally disabled, and other populations to unwitting human experimentation for the purpose of testing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as drugs like LSD, which the United States went so far as to put into the air and food of an entire French village in 1951, with horrific and deadly results.

A report prepared in 1994 for the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs begins:
During the last 50 years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel have been involved in human experimentation and other intentional exposures conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD), often without a servicemember’s knowledge or consent.

In some cases, soldiers who consented to serve as human subjects found themselves participating in experiments quite different from those described at the time they volunteered. For example, thousands of World War II veterans who originally volunteered to “test summer clothing” in exchange for extra leave time, found themselves in gas chambers testing the effects of mustard gas and lewisite.

Additionally, soldiers were sometimes ordered by commanding officers to “volunteer” to participate in research or face dire consequences. For example, several Persian Gulf War veterans interviewed by Committee staff reported that they were ordered to take experimental vaccines during Operation Desert Shield or face prison.

The full report contains numerous complaints about the secrecy of the military and suggests that its findings may be only scraping the surface of what has been hidden.

In 1993, the US Secretary of Energy released records of US testing of plutonium on unwitting US victims immediately following World War II. Newsweek commented reassuringly, on December 27, 1993: “The scientists who had conducted those tests so long ago surely had rational reasons: the struggle with the Soviet Union, the fear of imminent nuclear war, the urgent need to unlock all the secrets of the atom, for purposes both military and medical.

Oh, well that’s all right then.

Nuclear weapons production sites in Washington, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, and elsewhere have poisoned the surrounding environment as well as their employees, over 3,000 of whom were awarded compensation in 2000.

When my 2009–2010 book tour took me to more than 50 cities around the country, I was surprised that many of the peace groups in town after town were focused on stopping the damage that local weapons factories were doing to the environment and their workers with subsidies from local governments, even more than they were focused on stopping the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Kansas City, active citizens had recently delayed and were seeking to block the relocation and expansion of a major weapons factory. It seems that President Harry Truman, who had made his name by opposing waste on weaponry, planted a factory back home that polluted the land and water for over 60 years while manufacturing parts for instruments of death thus far used only by Truman. The private, but tax-break-subsidized factory will likely continue to produce, but on a larger scale, 85 percent of the components of nuclear weapons.

I joined several local activists in staging a protest outside the factory gates, similar to protests I’ve been part of at sites in Nebraska and Tennessee, and the support from people driving by was phenomenal: many more positive reactions than negative.

One man who stopped his car at the light told us that his grandmother had died of cancer after making bombs there in the 1960s. Maurice Copeland, who was part of our protest, told me he’d worked at the plant for 32 years. When a car drove out of the gates containing a man and a smiling little girl, Copeland remarked that toxic substances were on the man’s clothes and that he had probably hugged the little girl and possibly killed her.

I can’t verify what, if anything, was on the man’s clothes, but Copeland claimed that such occurrences had been part of the Kansas City plant for decades, with neither the government, nor the private owner (Honeywell), nor the labor union (the International Association of Machinists) properly informing workers or the public.

With the replacement of President Bush with President Obama in 2009, opponents of the plant expansion deal hoped for change, but the Obama administration gave the project its full support. The city government promoted the effort as a source of jobs and tax revenue. As we’ll see in the next section of this chapter, it was not.

Weapons production is the least of it. Non-nuclear bombs in World

War II destroyed cities, farms, and irrigation systems, producing 50 million refugees and displaced people. The US bombing of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia produced 17 million refugees, and as of the end of 2008 there were 13.5 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world.

A long civil war in Sudan led to a famine there in 1988. Rwanda’s brutal civil war pushed people into areas inhabited by endangered species, including gorillas. The displacement of populations around the world to less habitable areas has damaged ecosystems severely.

Wars leave a lot behind. Between 1944 and 1970 the US military dumped huge quantities of chemical weapons into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1943, German bombs had sunk a US ship at Bari, Italy, that was secretly carrying a million pounds of mustard gas. Many of the US sailors died from the poison, which the United States dishonestly claimed to have been using as a “deterrent,” despite keeping it secret. The ship is expected to keep leaking the gas into the sea for centuries.

Meanwhile the United States and Japan left over 1,000 ships on the floor of the Pacific, including fuel tankers. In 2001, one such ship, the USS Mississinewa was found to be leaking oil. In 2003 the military removed what oil it could from the wreck.

Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth, oblivious to any announcements that peace has been declared. Most of their victims are civilians, a large percentage of them children. A 1993 US State Department report called land mines “the most toxic and widespread pollution facing mankind.”

Land mines damage the environment in four ways, writes Jennifer Leaning: “fear of mines denies access to abundant natural resources and arable land; populations are forced to move preferentially into marginal and fragile environments in order to avoid minefields; this migration speeds depletion of biological diversity; and land-mine explosions disrupt essential soil and water processes.”

The amount of the earth’s surface impacted is not minor. Millions of hectares in Europe, North Africa, and Asia are under interdiction. One-third of the land in Libya conceals land mines and unexploded World War II munitions. Many of the world’s nations have agreed to ban land mines and cluster bombs. The United States has not.

From 1965 to 1971, the United States developed new ways of destroying plant and animal (including human) life; it sprayed 14 percent of South

Vietnam’s forests with herbicides, burned farmland, and shot livestock. One of the worst chemical herbicides, Agent Orange, still threatens the health of the Vietnamese and has caused some half-million birth defects.

During the Gulf War, Iraq released 10 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf and set 732 oil wells on fire, causing extensive damage to wildlife and poisoning ground water with oil spills. In its wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq, the United States has left behind depleted uranium.

A 1994 US Department of Veterans Affairs survey of Gulf War veterans in Mississippi found 67 percent of their children conceived since the war had severe illnesses or birth defects. Wars in Angola eliminated 90 percent of the wildlife between 1975 and 1991. A civil war in Sri Lanka felled five million trees.

The Soviet and US occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. US bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan’s forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.

To these examples of the types of environmental damage done by war must be added two key facts about how our wars are fought and why. Wars are often fought for resources, especially oil. Oil can be leaked or burned off, as in the Gulf War, but primarily it is put to use polluting the earth’s atmosphere, placing us all at risk.

Oil and war lovers associate the consumption of oil with the glory and heroism of war, so that renewable energies that do not risk global catastrophe are viewed as cowardly and unpatriotic ways to fuel our machines.

The interplay of war with oil goes beyond that, however. The wars themselves, whether or not fought for oil, consume huge quantities of it. The world’s top consumer of oil, in fact, is the US military. Not only does the US military fight wars in areas of the globe that happen to be rich in oil; it also burns more oil fighting those wars than we do in any other activity.

We pollute the air in the process of poisoning the earth with all variety of weaponry. The US military burns through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th in oil consumption.

If you removed the Pentagon from the total oil consumption by the United States, then the United States would still rank first with nobody else anywhere close. But you would have spared the atmosphere the burning of more oil than most countries consume, and would have spared the planet all the mischief the US military manages to fuel with it. No other institution in the United States consumes nearly as much oil as the military.

In October 2010, the Pentagon announced plans to try a small shift in the direction of renewable energy. The military’s concern did not seem to be continued life on the planet or financial expense, but rather the fact that people kept blowing up its fuel tankers in Pakistan and Afghanistan before they could reach their destinations.

How is it that environmentalists have not prioritized ending wars? Do they believe the war lies, or are they afraid to confront them? Each year, the US Environmental Protection Agency spends $622 million trying to figure out how we can produce power without oil, while the military spends hundreds of billions burning oil in wars fought to control the oil supplies.

The million dollars spent to keep each soldier in a foreign occupation for a year could create 20 green energy jobs at $50,000 each. Is this a difficult choice?

This extract is published with the permission of Just World Books and cannot be republished without express permission from JWB. A new, updated edition of Swanson’s War Is a Lie was launched on April 5 and can be purchased from Amazon.com, your local bookstore, on online at the JWB website: http://www.justworldbooks.com/war-is-a-lie

War Is A Lie (New Edition) Book Tour Schedule:
* May 19, Sarasota, FL, 7:00 p.m. Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center 525 Kumquat Court, Sarasota, FL

* May 20, Jacksonville, FL, 7:00 p.m., Florida Christian Center Auditorium, 1115 Edgewood Ave S, Jacksonville, FL 32205, (904) 381-4800.

* May 21, Gainesville, FL
7:00 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida
4225 NW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32605
(352) 377-1669
Sign up on FB.

* May 28, San Francisco, CA
11 a.m. to 1 p.m., David Swanson interviewed by Daniel Ellsberg, at San Francisco Main Public Library, 100 Larkin Street.
Sign up on FB.

* May 28, Marin County, CA
4 to 6 p.m., David Swanson in conversation with Norman Solomon, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA
Sign up on FB.

* May 29, Oakland, CA
3 to 4 p.m., David Swanson interviewed by Cindy Sheehan, at Diesel: A Bookstore, 5433 College Avenue at Kales (near Manila), Oakland, CA
Sign up on FB.

* May 29, Berkeley, CA
7:00 to 9 p.m., David Swanson “War Is A Lie”, with Cindy Sheehan, at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, sponsored by the BFUU Social Justice Committee and Codepink Golden Gate. 1924 Cedar St. @ Bonita, Berkeley, CA Contact: Cynthia Papermaster, papermasterc@gmail.com
Sign up on FB.

* May 30, Fresno, CA
2 to 4 p.m., David Swanson and Cindy Sheehan at a Peace Fresno event
Community United Church of Christ
5550 N. Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93710

* June 11 St. Paul, MN, 6 p.m. at Macalester Plymouth Church Social Hall 1658 Lincoln, St. Paul, MN.
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June 12 Minneapolis, MN, 9 and 11 a.m. at St. Joan’s 4533 3rd Ave So, Minneapolis, MN, plus peace pole dedication at 2 p.m.
Sign up on FB.

Judge Rules CIA Torture Suit Can Begin

April 27th, 2016 - by admin

Jenna McLaughlin / The Intercept & The Center for Torture Accountability – 2016-04-27 22:45:24


Judge Grants Torture Victims
Their First Chance to Pursue Justice

Jenna McLaughlin / The Intercept

(April 22, 2016) — A civil suit against the architects of the CIA’s torture program, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, will be allowed to proceed, a federal judge in Spokane, Washington, decided on Friday.

District Judge Justin Quackenbush denied the pair’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit launched against them on behalf of three victims, one dead, of the brutal tactics they designed.

“This is amazing, this is unprecedented,” Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the plaintiffs, told The Intercept after the hearing. “This is the first step towards accountability.”

What’s so unprecedented is that this is the first time opponents of the program will have the chance to seek discovery evidence in the case unimpeded by the government. In every other past torture accountability lawsuit, the government has invoked its special state-secrets privileges to purportedly protect national security.

But since the extraordinarily detailed and revealing executive summary of the Senate’s torture report was published in 2014, after years of investigation, the government now says almost everything is declassified already.

The three plaintiffs are Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the estate of Gul Rahman, who died at a CIA black site known as the “Salt Pit.” Each was kidnapped and subjected to extreme physical and psychological torture and experimentation, though none was ever charged with a crime.

The two living plaintiffs were not at the hearing, but Watt said he was thrilled to text his client Abdullah Salim, now living in Tanzania, the good news. “When I first met with him, I told him the likelihood we’d get as far as we have so far was highly unlikely. To tell him that we won today — you know, it’s historic.”

Mitchell and Jessen’s proposed framework for “enhanced interrogation” involved trying to drive detainees to a state of “learned helplessness” through unbearable suffering, to the point they would be willing to totally comply. The theories behind the tactics were drawn from the psychologists’ experiments on dogs decades prior.

The defendants were not present at the hearing either, but their lawyers argued that Mitchell and Jessen were not directly involved in, and therefore are not responsible for, the victims’ capture and treatment.

“They did not make decisions about Plaintiffs’ capture, treatment, confinement conditions, and interrogations; and they did not perform, supervise or control Plaintiffs’ interrogations,” defense attorney Christopher Tompkins argued in a brief filed in the case.

Dror Ladin, the ACLU attorney who argued in court at Friday’s hearing, argued that Mitchell and Jessen directly composed and supervised the program, and were paid to do so for years — and therefore should not escape responsibility, according to Guardian reporter Maria L La Ganga, who blogged the hearing live.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Bruce Jessen
The Center for Torture Accountability

* Born in 1949, raised in Idaho
* Joined the Air Force as an enlisted man, attended college and graduate school while in the service
* Ph.D. in psychology, Utah State University. Dissertation on family therapy.
* In late 2001, obtained copy, possibly through CIA channels, of alleged “Al-Qaeda training manual” that discussed resistance to standard interrogation procedures.
* From 2002 on, left air force to work with fellow psychologist James Mitchell in private corporation, Mitchell Jessen Associates, that contracted with the CIA to supervise “enhanced” interrogation procedures–i.e., torture.

Jessen’s military background, contacts,
draw him into CIA planning for detainee interrogation

As chief psychologist for the air force’s SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) program, Jessen helped train special forces and aviation officers and enlisted men in dealing with abuse that might be expected if they were captured by enemy forces.

SERE training, based on the experience of American soldiers captured in the Korean and Vietnam wars, included isolation, mock interrogations, and exposure to waterboarding and other forms of torture. Jessen reported to Col. Roger Aldrich, a Special Forces officer regarded as a “legendary military survival trainer.”

Aldrich is believed to have well-developed contacts within the CIA, who may have brought him into the early post-9/11 discussion/planning stages regarding interrogations of suspected enemy combatants.

Perhaps through Aldrich, a copy of a document alleged to represent an “al-Qaeda training manual” was obtained by Jessen, who shared it with James Mitchell, a fellow psychologist recently retired from the military, who had worked with Aldrich and Jessen in the SERE program.

Aldrich had already contacted the CIA regarding SERE, which he considered the military’s most valuable resource with respect to interrogation expertise. In truth, however, SERE only orchestrated mock interrogations; no one in the program, certainly not Mitchell or Jessen, had expertise in actual interrogations.

Jessen retires from the military for a
private-sector opportunity as a civilian torturer

Although the “training manual” that wound up in the hands of Jessen and Mitchell does not mention al-Qaeda by name and may in fact be a CIA-produced document, they were able to use it as the basis for a torture contract proposal.

Their argument was that al-Qaeda was familiar with standard interrogation techniques, as described in the “training manual,” and thus was prepared to counter them. Only SERE-like torture could crack these “trained terrorists” and induce them to reveal helpful information regarding their organization and its plans.

The proposal utilized psychological jargon in asserting that the goal of the torture should be “learned helplessness,” a conditioned response to dehumanizing treatment. Jessen and Mitchell wrote up the proposal as though these ideas were original to them, but it is likely that military colleagues, perhaps including Col. Aldrich, helped them tailor the write-up to the interests of the CIA.

During the immediate post-9/11 period, when interest in military service peaked dramatically, Jessen bucked the trend by resigning his commission. He and Mitchell formed a company known as Mitchell Jessen Associates (MJA), which consisted basically of a phone answering service and possibly a small office in Spokane, WA. MJA contracted with the CIA to conduct torture sessions at black sites around the globe.

Mitchell and Jessen often personally led the “enhanced interrogations” and/or trained others. While Mitchell maintained something of a public profile, participating in conferences and other activities so as to sustain MJA’s reputation as a “professional” outfit, Jessen apparently remained more or less under cover for long periods, quietly completing CIA torture assignments.

Sources on Bruce Jessen
The New York Times
Psychologists Shielded US Torture Program, Report Finds by James Risen

The Guardian
US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’ by Spencer Ackerman

The Intercept
Emails Reveal Close Relationship Between Psychology Group and CIA by Cora Currier

Psychologists met in secret with Bush officials to help justify torture — report by Raya Jalabi

The New York Times
Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses by THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Slate Magazine
CIA on the Couch: Why there would have been no torture without the psychologists. by Steven Reisner

The Daily Beast
The Luxury Homes That Torture and Your Tax Dollars Built by Michael Daly

Huffington Post
Bruce Jessen Built CIA Interrogation Program; Quit Role As Mormon Bishop by Reuters

IB Times
Who Are Jim Mitchell And Bruce Jessen? CIA Torture Psychologists Were Experts In Communist Chinese Interrogation by Philip Ross

EXCLUSIVE: CIA Psychologist’s Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush’s Torture Program by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye

The Spokesman-Review
Fairchild’s torture ties extend their reach by Shawn Vestal

Eurasia Review
US Pentagon Releases Training Manual Used As Basis For Bush’s Torture Program by Andy Worthington

CIA: Detainee’s Torture Drawings, Writings, “Should They Exist,” to Remain Top Secret by Jason Leopold

The Guardian
Guantanamo files: US agencies fought internal war over handling of detainees by Ewen MacAskill

Eurasia Review
The Dark Desires Of Bruce Jessen: The Architect Of Bush’s Torture Program by Andy Worthington

The Atlantic
Was Bush Torture Really About Interrogation? by Andrew Sullivan

CIA Psychologist’s Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush’s Torture Program by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye

Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Valtin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 1): NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen (Expose Part 1) by Valtin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 3): Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

Roger Aldrich, the Al-Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Aldin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 2) : Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Jeff Kaye

Torture planning began in 2001, Senate Report Reveals by Mark Benjamin

Global Research
The CIA’s Torture Teachers by Mark Benjamin

James Mitchell
The Center for Torture Accountability

* Designed and implemented CIA torture methods
* Retired from US Air Force in May 2001 as an officer administering SERE training–programs training military personnel to withstand possible enemy torture
* June 2001-April 2002, operated several firms providing services associated with “extreme situations.” Contacted CIA with torture contract proposal.
* April 2002-?? as principal in new company, Mitchell, Jessen & Assocs., contracted with CIA to provide torture services

Mitchell proposes torture program
to CIA as a money-making contract for his private firm

Shortly after 9/11, James Mitchell asked Air Force psychologist Bruce Jessen to let him see a top-secret document, believed to be the al Qaeda training manual. Based on its contents, he wrote a proposal for a torture interrogation program, which he and Bruce Jessen offered to run for the CIA as private contractors, to be paid “more than $1,000 a day” plus expenses, tax free.

In April 2002, when an al Qaeda prisoner being held at a CIA safe house in Thailand began talking to FBI interrogators, contributing “actionable intelligence” about al Qaeda personnel and activities, the CIA took Mitchell up on his offer and invited him to try his methods on the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah.

Mitchell showed up in Thailand, announced to FBI interrogators that he was taking over, with the blessing of top officials in Washington, and ordered that Zubaydah be confined “like a dog” to a small box.

When Zubaydah ceased cooperating with interrogators, Mitchell ordered waterboarding and other torture. He videotaped the process and submitted daily email reports to Washington, apparently to Alberto Gonzales, who at the time was serving as Bush’s personal lawyer. Mitchell is believed to have received daily authorization from Gonzales to continue and/or ramp up the torture.

Mitchell’s torture methods had no
basis in experience, training, or science

Mitchell and Jessen had never before conducted a single interrogation. Jessen’s military assignment — and Mitchell’s former assignment, before he retired from the air force in mid-2001 — was to monitor mock interrogations and torture sessions for training purposes (military SERE training), so that military personnel might get a taste of possible mistreatment they could expect if they fell into enemy hands.

Mitchell and Jessen had persuaded the CIA and/or the White House that suspected terrorists detained in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere were different from all previous prisoners that military and FBI interrogators had handled in the past; the new prisoners, Mitchell insisted, had been trained to resist ordinary interrogation methods and would respond only to torture.

Mitchell explained to experienced interrogators on the scene that this theory was “science,” but no scientific data has ever emerged in its support. Mitchell’s methods, administered by civilian contractors he hired and “trained” on the job, became the standard approach for handling high-value prisoners and many ordinary detainees as well. Torture videotapes he produced (for “training”) were later destroyed by the CIA.

Washington torture memos
aimed specifically at protecting Mitchell

His work with Zubaydah and apparently also with a second prisoner preceded official legal clearances for torture.

Paperwork associated with the legal maneuvering suggests that some of the lawyers and other top-level officials were familiar with Mitchell’s program and wished to establish it on secure legal footing.

The firm Mitchell Jessen and Associates still operates out of Spokane, Washington, It advertises its expertise in “understanding, predicting and improving performance in high-risk and extreme situations.”

Sources on James Mitchell
The Guardian
US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’ by Spencer Ackerman

The New York Times
Psychologists Shielded US Torture Program, Report Finds by James Risen

The Intercept
Emails Reveal Close Relationship Between Psychology Group and CIA by Cora Currier

Psychologists met in secret with Bush officials to help justify torture – report by Raya Jalabi

The New York Times
Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses by THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Slate Magazine
CIA on the Couch: Why there would have been no torture without the psychologists. by Steven Reisner

The Daily Beast
The Luxury Homes That Torture and Your Tax Dollars Built by Michael Daly

IB Times
Who Are Jim Mitchell And Bruce Jessen? CIA Torture Psychologists Were Experts In Communist Chinese Interrogation by Philip Ross

The Spokesman-Review
Fairchild’s torture ties extend their reach by Shawn Vestal

Eurasia Review
US Pentagon Releases Training Manual Used As Basis For Bush’s Torture Program by Andy Worthington

CIA: Detainee’s Torture Drawings, Writings, “Should They Exist,” to Remain Top Secret by Jason Leopold

Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Valtin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 1): NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen (Expose Part 1) by Valtin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 3): Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

Roger Aldrich, the Al-Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Aldin (Michael Otterman)

American Torture
Expose (Part 2) : Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Jeff Kaye

Fire Dog Lake
Did Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Begin After May 28, 2002? by Marcy Wheeler

NPR.com / All Things Considered
Did White House OK Earliest Detainee Abuse? by Ari Shapiro

The Washington Independent
James Mitchell Asked, ‘Please Can I Torture Abu Zubaydah?’; Did Alberto Gonzales Say Yes? by Spencer Ackerman

The 13 People Who Made Torture Possible by Marcy Wheeler
der Spiegel Online The Torture Business: CIA Outsourced Development of Interrogation Plan by John Goetz and Britta Sandberg, transl. Christopher Sultan

Salt Lake Tribune
LDS lawyers, psychologists had a hand in torture policies by David R. Irvine, Brig. Gen., ret.

Torture planning began in 2001, Senate Report Reveals by Mark Benjamin

Rohrschach and Awe by Katherine Eban

Global Research
The CIA’s Torture Teachers by Mark Benjamin

© Center for Torture Accountability |

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

American Nuremberg: US Officials Guilty of War Crimes

April 27th, 2016 - by admin

Tom Englehardt / TomDispatch & Tikkun Magazine & Rebecca Gordon / Hot Books – 2016-04-27 19:05:43


American War Crimes That Still Ought to Be Prosecuted
Tom Englehardt / TomDispatch & Tikkun Magazine

(April 25, 2016) — Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world. In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the US military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or ” a hell of a lot worse “), the killing of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria.

All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes. This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual ” war crimes ,” and that the US military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders.

In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president. (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)

These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did.

Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”). They also let the US military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody.

They green-lighted the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (” black sites “) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries.

In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes. (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)

At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist. (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.) At places like Abu Ghraib , the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance.

The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or ” harsh techniques ” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then. And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency.

In 2014 , in fact, as its director he actually defended such torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.

To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things, it’s a future nightmare ,to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials. When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely.

Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder.

She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books, April 2016), that couldn’t be more relevant. It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory.

The Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t
The Shameful Ordeal of Abu Zubaydah

Rebecca Gordon / Hot Books

(April 5, 2016) — The allegations against the man were serious indeed.

* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.

* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”

* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.

* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by US military forces.

None of it was true.

And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.

So who was this infamous figure, and where is he now? His name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, but he is better known by his Arabic nickname, Abu Zubaydah. And as far as we know, he is still in solitary detention in Guantánamo.

A Saudi national, in the 1980s Zubaydah helped run the Khaldan camp, a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation of that country. In other words, Zubaydah was then an American ally in the fight against the Soviets, one of President Ronald Reagan’s ” freedom fighters.” (But then again, so in effect was Osama bin Laden.)

Zubaydah’s later fate in the hands of the CIA was of a far grimmer nature. He had the dubious luck to be the subject of a number of CIA “firsts”: the first post-9/11 prisoner to be waterboarded; the first to be experimented on by psychologists working as CIA contractors; one of the first of the Agency’s “ghost prisoners” (detainees hidden from the world, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which, under the Geneva Conventions, must be allowed access to every prisoner of war); and one of the first prisoners to be cited in a memo written by Jay Bybee for the Bush administration on what the CIA could “legally” do to a detainee without supposedly violating US federal laws against torture.

Zubaydah’s story is — or at least should be — the iconic tale of the illegal extremes to which the Bush administration and the CIA went in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. And yet former officials, from CIA head Michael Hayden to Vice President Dick Cheney to George W. Bush himself, have presented it as a glowing example of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract desperately needed information from the “evildoers” of that time.

Zubaydah was an early experiment in post-9/11 CIA practices and here’s the remarkable thing (though it has yet to become part of the mainstream media accounts of his case): it was all a big lie. Zubaydah wasn’t involved with al-Qaeda; he was the ringleader of nothing; he never took part in planning for the 9/11 attacks. He was brutally mistreated and, in another kind of world, would be exhibit one in the war crimes trials of America’s top leaders and its major intelligence agency.

Yet notorious as he once was, he’s been forgotten by all but his lawyers and a few tenacious reporters. He shouldn’t have been. He was the test case for the kind of torture that Donald Trump now wants the US government to bring back, presumably because it “worked” so well the first time. With Republican presidential hopefuls promising future war crimes, it’s worth reconsidering his case and thinking about how to prevent it from happening again.

After all, it’s only because no one has been held to account for the years of Bush administration torture practices that Trump and others feel free to promise even more and ” yuger ” war crimes in the future.

Experiments in Torture
In August 2002, a group of FBI agents, CIA agents, and Pakistani forces captured Zubaydah (along with about 50 other men) in Faisalabad, Pakistan. In the process, he was severely injured — shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach. He might well have died, had the CIA not flown in an American surgeon to patch him up.

The Agency’s interest in his health was, however, anything but humanitarian. Its officials wanted to interrogate him and, even after he had recovered sufficiently to be questioned, his captors occasionally withheld pain medication as a means of torture.

When he “lost” his left eye under mysterious circumstances while in CIA custody, the agency’s concern again was not for his health. The December 2014 torture report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (despite CIA opposition that included hacking into the committee’s computers) described the situation this way: with his left eye gone, “[i]n October 2002, DETENTION SITE GREEN [now known to be Thailand] recommended that the vision in his right eye be tested, noting that ‘[w]e have a lot riding upon his ability to see, read, and write.’ DETENTION SITE GREEN stressed that ‘this request is driven by our intelligence needs [not] humanitarian concern for AZ.'”

The CIA then set to work interrogating Zubaydah with the help of two contractors, the psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. Zubaydah would be the first human subject on whom those two, who were former instructors at the Air Force’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training center, could test their theories about using torture to induce what they called ” learned helplessness ,” meant to reduce a suspect’s resistance to interrogation. Their price? Only $81 million.

CIA records show that, using a plan drawn up by Jessen and Mitchell, Abu Zubaydah’s interrogators would waterboard him an almost unimaginable 83 times in the course of a single month; that is, they would strap him to a wooden board, place a cloth over his entire face, and gradually pour water through the cloth until he began to drown.

At one point during this endlessly repeated ordeal, the Senate committee reported that Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Each of those 83 uses of what was called “the watering cycle” consisted of four steps:

“1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms 3) raising the water-board to clear subject’s airway 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information.”

The CIA videotaped Zubaydah undergoing each of these “cycles,” only to destroy those tapes in 2005 when news of their existence surfaced and the embarrassment (and possible future culpability) of the Agency seemed increasingly to be at stake. CIA Director Michael Hayden would later assure CNN that the tapes had been destroyed only because “they no longer had ‘intelligence value’ and they posed a security risk.”

Whose “security” was at risk if the tapes became public? Most likely, that of the Agency’s operatives and contractors who were breaking multiple national and international laws against torture, along with the high CIA and Bush administration officials who had directly approved their actions.

In addition to the waterboarding, the Senate torture report indicates that Zubaydah endured excruciating stress positions (which cause terrible pain without leaving a mark); sleep deprivation (for up to 180 hours, which generally induces hallucinations or psychosis); unrelenting exposure to loud noises (another psychosis-inducer); ” walling ” (the Agency’s term for repeatedly slamming the shoulder blades into a “flexible, false wall,” though Zubaydah told the International Committee of the Red Cross that when this was first done to him, “he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall”); and confinement for hours in a box so cramped that he could not stand up inside it.

All of these methods of torture had been given explicit approval in a memo written to the CIA’s head lawyer, John Rizzo, by Jay Bybee, who was then serving in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In that memo Bybee approved the use of 10 different “techniques” on Zubaydah.

It seems likely that, while the CIA was torturing Zubaydah at Jessen’s and Mitchell’s direction for whatever information he might have, it was also using him to test the “effectiveness” of waterboarding as a torture technique. If so, the agency and its contractors violated not only international law, but the US War Crimes Act, which expressly forbids experimenting on prisoners.

What might lead us to think that Zubaydah’s treatment was, in part, an experiment? In a May 30, 2005, memo sent to Rizzo, Steven Bradbury, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, discussed the CIA’s record keeping. There was, Bradbury commented, method to the CIA’s brutality. “Careful records are kept of each interrogation,” he wrote.

This procedure, he continued, “allows for ongoing evaluation of the efficacy of each technique and its potential for any unintended or inappropriate results.” In other words, with the support of the Bush Justice Department, the CIA was keeping careful records of an experimental procedure designed to evaluate how well waterboarding worked.

This was Abu Zubaydah’s impression as well. “I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques,” Zubaydah would later tell the International Committee of the Red Cross, “so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.”

In addition to the videotaping, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services required a meticulous written record of every waterboarding session. The details to be recorded were spelled out clearly:

“In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

Again, these were clearly meant to be the records of an experimental procedure, focusing as they did on how much water was effective; whether a “seal” was achieved (so no air could enter the victim’s lungs); whether the naso- or oropharynx (that is, the nose and throat) were so full of water the victim could not breathe; and just how much the “subject” vomited up.

It was with Zubaydah that the CIA also began its post-9/11 practice of hiding detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross by transferring them to its ” black sites ,” the secret prisons it was setting up in countries with complacent or complicit regimes around the world. Such unacknowledged detainees came to be known as “ghost prisoners,” because they had no official existence.

As the Senate torture report noted, “In part to avoid declaring Abu Zubaydah to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which would be required if he were detained at a US military base, the CIA decided to seek authorization to clandestinely detain Abu Zubaydah at a facility in Country _______ [now known to have been Thailand].”

Tortured and Circular Reasoning
As British investigative journalist Andy Worthington reported in 2009, the Bush administration used Abu Zubaydah’s “interrogation” results to help justify the greatest crime of that administration, the unprovoked, illegal invasion of Iraq. Officials leaked to the media that he had confessed to knowing about a secret agreement involving Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who later led al-Qaeda in Iraq), and Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein to work together “to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.”

Of course, it was all lies. Zubaydah couldn’t have known about such an arrangement, first because it was, as Worthington says, “absurd,” and second, because Zubaydah was not a member of al-Qaeda at all.

In fact, the evidence that Zubaydah had anything to do with al-Qaeda was beyond circumstantial — it was entirely circular. The administration’s reasoning went something like this: Zubaydah, a “senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,” ran the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan; therefore, Khaldan was an al-Qaeda camp; if Khaldan was an al Qaeda camp, then Zubaydah must have been a senior al Qaeda official.

They then used their “enhanced techniques” to drag what they wanted to hear out of a man whose life bore no relation to the tortured lies he evidently finally told his captors. Not surprisingly, no aspect of the administration’s formula proved accurate. It was true that, for several years, the Bush administration routinely referred to Khaldan as an al-Qaeda training camp, but the CIA was well aware that this wasn’t so.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report , for instance, made this crystal clear, quoting an August 16, 2006, CIA Intelligence Assessment, “Countering Misconceptions About Training Camps in Afghanistan, 1990-2001” this way:

“Khaldan Not Affiliated With Al-Qa’ida. A common misperception in outside articles is that Khaldan camp was run by al-Qa’ida. Pre-11 September 2001 reporting miscast Abu Zubaydah as a ‘senior al-Qa’ida lieutenant,’ which led to the inference that the Khaldan camp he was administering was tied to Usama bin Laden.”

Not only was Zubaydah not a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant, he had, according to the report, been turned down for membership in al-Qaeda as early as 1993 and the CIA knew it by at least 2006, if not far sooner. Nevertheless, the month after it privately clarified the nature of the Khaldan camp and Zubaydah’s lack of al-Qaeda connections, President Bush used the story of Zubaydah’s capture and interrogation in a speech to the nation justifying the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. He then claimed that Zubaydah had “helped smuggle Al Qaida leaders out of Afghanistan.”

In the same speech, Bush told the nation, “Our intelligence community believes [Zubaydah] had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” (a reference presumably to Khaldan). Perhaps the CIA should have been looking instead at some of the people who actually trained the hijackers — the operators of flight schools in the United States, where, according to a September 23, 2001 Washington Post story, the FBI already knew “terrorists” were learning to fly 747s.

In June 2007, the Bush administration doubled down on its claim that Zubaydah was involved with 9/11. At a hearing before the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger, discussing why the Guantánamo prison needed to remain open, explained that it “serves a very important purpose, to hold and detain individuals who are extremely dangerous… [like] Abu Zubaydah, people who have been planners of 9/11.”

Charges Withdrawn
In September 2009, the US government quietly withdrew its many allegations against Abu Zubaydah. His attorneys had filed a habeas corpus petition on his behalf; that is, a petition to excercise the constitutional right of anyone in government custody to know on what charges they are being held.

In that context, they were asking the government to supply certain documents to help substantiate their claim that his continued detention in Guantánamo was illegal. The new Obama administration replied with a 109-page brief filed in the US District Court in the District of Columbia, which is legally designated to hear the habeas cases of Guantánamo detainees.

The bulk of that brief came down to a government argument that was curious indeed, given the years of bragging about Zubaydah’s central role in al-Qaeda’s activities. It claimed that there was no reason to turn over any “exculpatory” documents demonstrating that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, or that he had no involvement in 9/11 or any other terrorist activity — because the government was no longer claiming that any of those things were true.

The government’s lawyers went on to claim, bizarrely enough, that the Bush administration had never “contended that [Zubaydah] had any personal involvement in planning or executing… the attacks of September 11, 2001.” They added that “the Government also has not contended in this proceeding that, at the time of his capture, [Zubaydah] had knowledge of any specific impending terrorist operations” — an especially curious claim, since the prevention of such future attacks was how the CIA justified its torture of Zubaydah in the first place.

Far from believing that he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person in” al-Qaeda, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had once claimed, “the Government has not contended in this proceeding that [Zubaydah] was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaida.”

And so, the case against the man who was waterboarded 83 times and contributed supposedly crucial information to the CIA on al-Qaeda plotting was oh-so-quietly withdrawn without either fuss or media attention. Exhibit one was now exhibit none.

Seven years after the initial filing of Zubaydah’s habeas petition, the DC District Court has yet to rule on it. Given the court’s average 751-day turnaround time on such petitions, this is an extraordinary length of time. Here, justice delayed is truly justice denied.

Perhaps we should not be surprised, however. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, CIA headquarters assured those who were interrogating Zubaydah that he would “never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.” In fact, “all major players are in concurrence,” stated the agency, that he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” And so far, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The capture, torture, and propaganda use of Abu Zubaydah is the perfect example of the US government’s unique combination of willful law-breaking, ass-covering memo-writing, and what some Salvadorans I once worked with called “strategic incompetence.”

The fact that no one — not George Bush or Dick Cheney, not Jessen or Mitchell, nor multiple directors of the CIA — has been held accountable means that, unless we are very lucky, we will see more of the same in the future.

Rebecca Gordon teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books, April 2016). Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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