Attacking Black Lives Matter and Selling Fear:
Guns and Racism on NRATV Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash @ TruthOut
(July 25, 2017) — Without the drummed-up fear that a black president would take guns away from law-abiding citizens, the National Rifle Association is turning toward vilifying and pillorying the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality in order to drum up gun sales.
One of the platforms it now has at its disposal is NRATV. While the fledging network may not yet be among the choices in your cable television package, or available through existing streaming services, given the power of the gun lobbying organization, NRATV may soon be coming to screen near you.
Launched in October of last year, NRATV’s declared mission is to provide “The most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world.” The network offers such programing as NRANEWs, presented by Ruger, NRAWOMEN, presented by Smith & Wesson, NRACOUNTRY and NRAHUNTING, as well as an array of commentators.
Grant Stinchfield is a host of a program called Stinchfield. During a recent broadcast, Stinchfield let go a broadside against Black Lives Matter, claiming that “racist violence” in South Africa, “where white families are being tortured and killed almost every day in racist violence. . . . is a warning for the United States.” And because of the liberal media, “you will never hear [about this] from the mainstream media in this country.”
Stinchfield interviewed Chuck Holton, a veteran Army Ranger, and co-host — alongside Iran-Contra figure and NRA board member Oliver North — of the NRATV series Frontlines. Holton who appears to be a master of alternative facts and seems to have a hate/hate relationship with African Americans, maintained that “the blatant racism and violence we’re seeing from people like the Black Lives Matter crowd, from people like Louis Farrakhan and his minions, is happening in spades in South Africa.”
The Daily Banter’s Justin Rosario declared that Holton’s words were not just “a racist dog whistle,” they were “an open call to violence against Black Lives Matter.”
“Pair this with the recent ‘liberals are the enemy of freedom’ ad that effectively calls on NRA members to get ready to kill anti-Trump protesters and you have a very stark picture of the NRA’s agenda,” Rosario noted. “No longer content to just sell guns and fear, the gun industry’s mouthpiece is actively inciting violence against the left, using both political and racial tensions as a justification.
When Obama welcomed, and shook hands with, then-president-elect Donald Trump at the White House, Holton tweeted: “Photo finally surfaces of Trump grabbing a pussy.” And two days after Trump’s inauguration, Holton tweeted “Okay! Party’s over. Let’s get busy scrubbing Obama’s mocacchino stain off of America!”
According to Media Matters for America, last August on the NRA’s radio show Cam & Company, “Holton talked about gangs, absent fathers, and welfare, before saying, ‘And you hear college students complain about white privilege. You know my definition of white privilege? It’s just simply the culture that we have created, that our fathers and grandfathers have worked hard to create.’
Holton went on describe white privilege as ‘a culture of individual responsibility, where you take responsibility for your own actions, a culture that respects authority.’ He also positively cited a video about ‘white privilege’ released by ‘alt right’ blogger Stefan Molyneux.”
Immediately after the attack in Manchester, England, which left 22 dead and dozens injured, Holton told Stinchfield that England “has had this coming,” due to the country’s firearms regulations, open borders for refugees, “multiculturalism” and “gender-bending.” At the end of the segment, Stinchfield stated that European countries have “disarmed their citizens, so . . . terrorists operate with impunity.”
After the January 21st Women’s March on Washington, commentator Bill Whittle had Holton, who also works with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, as his guest.
Together they blamed the Women’s March “for vandalism and property damage that took place on Inauguration Day, January 20,” Raw Story reported. Whittle and Holton confidently predicted that a Women’s March on the NRA â€“ scheduled for July 14 â€“ will “certainly not be peaceful.”
“Well, they’re certainly not peaceful. And they’re certainly not even protests. What they are is sort of temper tantrums by spoiled children, is the best way I can describe them,” Holton said.
The July 14 and 15 protests against the NRA â€“ which included a nearly 18-mile walk from NRA headquarters to the U.S. Department of Justice â€“ was carried out peacefully.
The events were in part a response to an incendiary one-minute NRA recruitment video, which featured NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who in the video argues that demonstrators “bully and terrorize the law-abiding until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.”
“They use their media to assassinate real news,” The Blaze’s Dana Loesch said in the ad. “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”
Women’s March co-president Tamika Mallory called the ad is “direct endorsement of violence” against protesters. “We haven’t taken a position that people shouldn’t have guns, we don’t want to prohibit folks from exercising their second amendment rights,” Mallory told CNN ahead of the march.
“But the NRA ad puts our First Amendment rights in jeopardy, it puts the lives of people who are exercising their right to protest in the middle of danger. We are looking for a change in NRA’s behavior and its policies and practices.”
The event’s Facebook page urged the NRA to “take down the recent irresponsible and dangerous advertisement videos from all social platforms immediately; issue an apology to the American people for the video that suggests armed violence against communities of color, progressives and anyone who does not agree with this Administration’s policies; and make a statement to defend Philando Castile’s Second Amendment right to own a firearm and demand the Department of Justice indict the police officer who killed him for exercising his Second Amendment.”
Attacks on Black Lives Matter are nothing new. Since the inception of the movement, conservatives have been gunning for the organization. Recently, Jacob Grandstaff, writing for the conservative Capital Research Center website, argued that the Women’s March against the NRA “show that the group is primarily concerned with Left-wing coalition-building and not women’s issues.”
Grandstaff added: “The Women’s March characterizes itself as a feminist movement organized in opposition to President Donald Trump and his supposedly anti-women comments and political stances. The anti-NRA demonstration, however, appears to have little to do with women; and instead meshes more with the greater Left’s accusations of racism against the NRA.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Water and US National Security
Peter Gleick / Pacific Institute & Army War College & Intellibriefs.com
(July 28, 2017) — Around 2500 BC, Urlama, the King of the city-state of Lagash, diverted water from boundary irrigation canals between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to deprive a neighboring region, Umma, of water.
This act, in a region corresponding to parts of modern day Iraq, Syria, and southern Turkey, was the first recorded political and military dispute over water resources. Four and a half millennia later, water remains an instrument of coercion and a source of tensions and conflict. The Islamic State has reportedly used water as a weapon, depriving communities in Mosul of access to a water supply, and control over water facilities has been used repeatedly, worsening access to safe water for civilian populations.
Fresh water has long been a vital and necessary natural resource, and it has long been a source of tension, a military tool, and a target during war. The links between water and conflict have been the subject of extensive analysis for several decades, beginning with the development of the literature on “environmental security” and water conflicts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In coming years, new factors, including rising populations, industrial and agricultural demand for water, human-induced climate change, and political uncertainties make it increasingly urgent that solutions to water tensions be found and implemented. The failure to address water problems through diplomacy will lead to new and growing security risks, including for the US.
The US and its allies must develop and employ a wide variety of instruments to reduce instability and the risk of conflict related to growing water problems, before military intervention is needed.
Global and Regional Water Challenges
Fresh water is vital for all human economic and social activities, from the production of food and energy, to support for industrial development, to the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Yet freshwater resources are limited, unevenly distributed in space and time, increasingly contaminated or overused, and poorly managed.
These constraints, coupled with growing populations and economies, are putting more and more pressure on natural water resources, even in regions where they were previously considered abundant. Such pressures have the potential to explode into violent conflict.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, military and academic experts concerned about international security and conflict began to shift their focus from realpolitik and superpower politics to an evaluation of other threats to national and international stability. These included environmental threats such as energy security and oil transfers, transboundary environmental pollution, conflicts over water resources, and the potential impacts of climate change.
The fundamental concept, now widely accepted, is that political instability and violence, especially at the local or regional level, are extensively influenced by economic, demographic, and social factors that are themselves sensitive to resource and environmental conditions.
Even in a static world, conditions and challenges in major international river basins would persist. Yet the world is not static, but experiencing dynamic and often rapid changes in demographics and environmental conditions. Populations are growing rapidly, economies are expanding or changing focus, and the climate is undergoing increasingly rapid shifts due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases.
The links between resources and security concerns include direct and indirect impacts. Direct conflicts over access to water are uncommon and almost always local â€“ related to water scarcity and access. But there is also a rise in direct attacks on water systems, such as dams, water treatment and distribution plants, and hydroelectric facilities, in conflicts that start for other (non-resource-related) reasons. In recent years, major dams and water infrastructure have been both used as weapons of war and directly attacked by different sides in the wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as in Ukraine.
Indirect effects include cases in which water resources lead to changes in food production or other economic factors, which in turn contribute to state instability and conflict. In Syria, for example, the civil war is a complicated mix of ethnic, religious, and ideological disputes, but there are also documented links between social unrest and violent conflict related to influences of regional long-term drought, climate change, agricultural crop failures, rising rural unemployment and migration to cities.
It is no accident that water is especially politically controversial in the Middle East: it is an arid, water-short region; every significant river and watershed is shared by two or more countries, including the Nile, Jordan, Tigris, Euphrates, and Orontes. As a result, international agreements about sustainable river management are critical, yet there have been very few successful inter-basin treaties signed for the region.
In recent decades, the lack of adequate international agreements has contributed to a series of political and potentially violent water-related disputes in the region. In 1974, Iraq threatened to bomb the al-Thawra (Tabqa) Dam in Syria and massed troops along the Syrian-Iraq border, alleging that the dam reduced flows of Euphrates water to Iraq.
In 1990, the flow of the Euphrates was temporarily interrupted when Turkey finished construction on the massive Ataturk Dam. Both Syria and Iraq protested the interruption. The political situation was worsened when Turkish President Turgut Ã–zal threatened to restrict water flow to Syria to force it to withdraw support for Kurdish rebels. In June 2015, Islamic State militants shut off and redirected water flows below Ramadi Dam on the Euphrates River in order to facilitate military movements.
Two months later, Syrian rebel groups cut off water from a spring in Ain al-Fijah, reducing water output to Damascus by 90 percent for three days and leading to water shortages and rationing. In December 2015, Russian Federation forces reportedly bombed the al-Khafsa water treatment facility in the city of Aleppo cutting off water for millions of people.
According to Global Water Security, a recent report produced by the US intelligence community, such threats are increasingly relevant to decisions about conflict resolution and national security policy and strategy. Analyzing global and regional water security issues, the report concludes that water problems along with social tensions, poverty, environmental degradation, weak governments, and other factors will contribute to political instability in regions and countries important to US national security.
The intelligence report also identified competition between nations over water, weak economies, and limited technical ability as destabilizing factors in some countries. It concluded that these issues would grow over the next decade.
Similarly, the US Department of Defense and the US intelligence community have acknowledged the reality of environmental disruptions and the risks they pose to US global interests as “threat multipliers” that contribute to destabilizing political and security impacts. The Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board raised this point in the context of the growing likelihood that climate change would worsen drought, famine, flood, and refugee problems.
The 2014 US Quadrennial Defense Review also considered resource issues as threat multipliers that pose significant challenges for the United States and the world at large. The 2014 Review argued that these threats “can enable terrorist activities and other forms of violence.”
A March 2017 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly assessment identified food and water problems as special challenges for security in the Middle East and North Africa, noting, “[d]eteriorating food and water security can lead to domestic unrest, potentially destabilising countries” and “[f]ood and water resources and infrastructure can also be targeted or used as coercive tools in times of conflict.”
The May 11, 2017 statement of the Director of National Intelligence to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted, “[h]eightened tensions over shared water resources are likely in some regions.”
Recent security concerns in Europe have been related to the massive population dislocation and refugee flows driven by the civil war in Syria, as well as by the continued economic and political unrest in Iraq and North Africa. The European Commission has linked the refugee crisis to both the overall political situation in the conflict region as well as to climate change and water problems.
National and international leaders must take steps to reduce the risks and threats associated with water insecurity. Options include: improvements and modifications in water supply and use; reduction in inefficient water practices; agricultural reform; economic strategies to strengthen resilience to climate and water variability; improved resource management; broader political stabilization; diplomatic approaches; and direct military strategies.
For water resources, combinations of these approaches have been synthesized in descriptions of a more integrated management approach, or a “soft path for water.” An application of these kinds of strategies could have reduced the role that water played in the recent Syrian civil war: more efficient agricultural water use would have permitted greater food production and the retention of rural jobs.
Policies to more effectively manage variable supplies could have lessened the economic costs of the drought. Modern technologies such as precision irrigation, soil-moisture monitors, desalination, distributed wastewater treatment, smart metering, and more can also reduce the difficulties associated with sustainable water management.
A long history of political tensions and violence associated with poor water policies and management, combined with new threats associated with growing populations, new ideological challenges, and a changing climate make it urgent that we better understand â€“ and work to reduce — the risks of water-related conflict.
Solutions to water tensions exist but the failure to address these issues greatly increases the risks that violence and conflict over water will grow and that military and intelligence resources will be called into action. The British politician, Tony Benn, said, “War represents a failure of diplomacy.” If we fail to manage water sustainably, strategically, and effectively, water will be an increasing source of conflict. The good news is that smart solutions exist if we have the foresight and initiative to pursue them.
Dr. Peter Gleick is a hydroclimatologist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Army or the US Government.
Portions of this paper were prepared for Gleick, Peter H. 2017. “Water Resources, Climate Change, and the Destabilization of Modern Mesopotamia.” In Water, Security and US Foreign Policy, edited by David Reed, 1st, 149-167. Routledge.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Laura Gottesdiener & Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch – 2017-07-28 20:34:12
The Wrath of the US Along the Euphrates River Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch
(July 28, 2017) — You would barely know it, living in this country, but the essence of modern warfare is what our military tends to call “collateral damage”: the killing or wounding of civilians, not combatants. The Global War on Terror — more than 15 years later a no-name set of conflicts still spreading across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and now the Philippines — has been typical of this. Civilians have died in startling numbers, both directly and thanks to the hardships these conflicts have brought on.
Vast populations have been uprooted from their homes — at one point more than a million people from the Iraqi city of Mosul alone — and often sent fleeing across borders. In other words, from Afghanistan to Libya, the war on terror has (not to mince words) been murder on civilian populations.
In mainstream news coverage, real attention is paid from time to time (and quite rightly) to the continuing brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the civilian deaths caused by their insurgency. And that’s even more the case with the civilian carnage caused by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. When it comes to the US role in civilian deaths, however, it’s been another matter. Clearly, it’s a subject the Pentagon would prefer that we not think about and yet the human toll is all too real.
As I wrote back in 2015, “In 2004 and 2006, The Lancet, a British medical journal, published studies based on scientific surveys of ‘excess Iraqi deaths’ since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticized figure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped. More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000 in 2013 to one million or 5% of the Iraqi population [in 2015].”
The latest range of figures offered by the independent website Iraq Body Count for “documented civilian deaths from violence” since the 2003 US invasion of that country is 177,941-199,231 (a conservative figure, given that word “documented,” and yet far higher than the one for combatants). And keep in mind that that’s just Iraq.
From the beginning, TomDispatch has made an effort to focus its attention regularly on the “collateral damage” from our conflicts. It’s been our conviction that we Americans should feel some responsibility for such carnage in a war that so infamously began with the “collateral” deaths of almost 3,000 innocent American civilians and shows no signs of ending in our lifetime.
This website may, for instance, be the only news source that bothered to keep track of the number of wedding parties obliterated by US air power since 100 or more revelers were wiped out in a village in Eastern Afghanistan by B-52 and B-1B bombers as 2001 ended. The total: at least eight weddings in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), including brides, grooms, and even musicians hired to play at the ceremony.
In the same spirit, TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener, who covered the destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan by US air power for this site back in 2015, turns to the American war against ISIS in Syria and the civilian mayhem taking place on the road to the “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa.
The US War Against Civilians in Syria Laura Gottesdiener / TomDispatch
(July 28, 2017) — It was midday on Sunday, May 7th, when the US-led coalition warplanes again began bombing the neighborhood of Wassim Abdo’s family.
They lived in Tabqa, a small city on the banks of the Euphrates River in northern Syria. Then occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS, also known as Daesh), Tabqa was also under siege by US-backed troops and being hit by daily artillery fire from US Marines, as well as US-led coalition airstrikes.
The city, the second largest in Raqqa Province, was home to an airfield and the coveted Tabqa Dam. It was also the last place in the region the US-backed forces needed to take before launching their much-anticipated offensive against the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.
His parents, Muhammed and Salam, had already fled their home once when the building adjacent to their house was bombed, Wassim Abdo told me in a recent interview. ISIS had been arresting civilians from their neighborhood for trying to flee the city.
So on that Sunday, the couple was taking shelter on the second floor of a four-story flat along with other family members when a US-led airstrike reportedly struck the front half of the building. Abdo’s sister-in-law Lama fled the structure with her two children and survived. But his parents and 12-year-old cousin were killed, along with dozens of their neighbors, as the concrete collapsed on them.
As an exiled human rights activist, Wassim Abdo only learned of his parents’ death three days later, after Lama called him from the Syrian border town of Kobane, where she and her two children had been transported for medical treatment.
Her daughter had been wounded in the bombing and although the US-backed, Kurdish-led troops had by then seized control of Tabqa, it was impossible for her daughter to be treated in their hometown, because weeks of US-led coalition bombing had destroyed all the hospitals in the city.
A War Against Civilians
Islamic State fighters have now essentially been defeated in Mosul after a nine-month, US-backed campaign that destroyed significant parts of Iraq’s second largest city, killing up to 40,000 civilians and forcing as many as one million more people from their homes. Now, the United States is focusing its energies — and warplanes — on ISIS-occupied areas of eastern Syria in an offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates.”
The Islamic State’s brutal treatment of civilians in Syria has been well reported and publicized. And according to Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the battle to “liberate” these regions from ISIS is the “most precise campaign in the history of warfare.”
But reports and photographs from Syrian journalists and activists, as well as first-person accounts from those with family members living in areas under US bombardment, detail a strikingly different tale of the American offensive — one that looks a lot less like a battle against the Islamic State and a lot more like a war on civilians.
These human rights groups and local reporters say that, across Syria in recent months, the US-led coalition and US Marines have bombed or shelled: at least 12 schools, including primary schools and a girls’ high school;
a health clinic and an obstetrics hospital;
Raqqa’s Science College;
a car wash;
at least 15 mosques;
a cultural center;
a gas station;
cars carrying civilians to the hospital;
at least 15 bridges;
a makeshift refugee camp;
the ancient Rafiqah Wall that dates back to the eighth century;
and an Internet cafe in Raqqa, where a Syrian media activist was killed as he was trying to smuggle news out of the besieged city.
The United States is now one of the deadliest warring parties in Syria. In May and June combined, the US-led coalition killed more civilians than the Assad regime, the Russians, or ISIS, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that has been monitoring the death toll and human rights violations in Syria since 2011.
“This administration wants to achieve a quick victory,” Dr. Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights recently told me, referring to the Trump White House. “What we are noticing is that the US is targeting and killing without taking into consideration the benefits for the military and the collateral damage for the civilians. This, of course, amounts to war crimes.”
And nowhere is this war against civilians more acute than in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, where trapped families are living under dozens of airstrikes every day.
Hotel of the Revolution
Located at the confluence of the Euphrates and Balikh rivers in northern Syria, Raqqa was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. By the late eighth century, it had grown into an imperial city, filled with orchards, palaces, canals, reception halls, and a hippodrome for horse racing.
Its industrial quarters were then known as “the burning Raqqa,” thanks to the flames and thick smoke produced by its glass and ceramic furnaces. The city even served briefly as the capital of the vast Abbasid Empire stretching from North Africa to Central Asia.
Toward the end of the thirteenth century, wars between the Mongol and Mamluk empires annihilated Raqqa and its surrounding countryside. Every single resident of the city was either killed or expelled. According to Hamburg University professor Stefan Heidemann, who has worked on a number of excavations in and around Raqqa, the scorched-earth warfare was so extreme that not a single tree was left standing in the region.
Only in the middle of the twentieth century when irrigation from the Euphrates River allowed Raqqa’s countryside to flourish amid a global cotton boom did the city fully reemerge. In the 1970s, the region’s population again began to swell after then-President Hafez al-Assad — the father of the present Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad — ordered the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates about 30 miles upstream of Raqqa.
Wassim Abdo’s father, Muhammed, was an employee at this dam. Like many of these workers and their families, he and Salam lived in Tabqa’s third neighborhood, which was filled with four-story apartment flats built in the 1970s not far from the dam and its power station.
Despite these agricultural and industrial developments, Raqqa remained a small provincial capital. Abdalaziz Alhamza, a cofounder of the watchdog group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is made up of media activists from Raqqa living in the city as well as in exile, writes that the local news normally didn’t even mention the city in its weather forecasts.
In the mid-2000s, a drought began to wither the local cash crops: cotton, potatoes, rice, and tomatoes. As in other regions of Syria, farmers migrated from the countryside into the city, where overstretched and ill-functioning public services only exacerbated long-simmering dissatisfactions with the Assad regime.
As the 2011 rebellion broke out across Syria, Wassim Abdo and thousands of others in Raqqa, Tabqa, and nearby villages began agitating against the Syrian government, flooding the streets in protest and forming local coordinating councils.
The regime slowly lost control of territory across the province. In March 2013, after only a few days of battle, anti-government rebels ousted government troops from the city and declared Raqqa the ?first ?liberated provincial capital? in all of Syria. The city, then the sixth largest in Syria, became “the hotel of the revolution.”
Within less than a year, however, despite fierce protests and opposition from its residents, ISIS fighters had fully occupied the city and the surrounding countryside. They declared Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State.
Despite the occupation, Wassim’s parents never tried to flee Tabqa because they hoped to reunite with one of their sons, Azad, who had been kidnapped by ISIS fighters in September 2013. In retirement, Muhammed Abdo opened a small electronics store. Salam was a housewife. Like tens of thousands of other civilians, they were living under ISIS occupation in Tabqa when, in the spring of 2017, US Apache helicopters and warplanes first began appearing in the skies above the city.
US Marines armed with howitzers were deployed to the region. In late March, American helicopters airlifted hundreds of US-backed troops from the Kurdish-led militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces? to the banks of the dammed river near the city. Additional forces approached from the east, transported on American speedboats.
By the beginning of May, the Abdos’ neighborhood was under almost daily bombardment by the US-led coalition forces. On May 3rd, coalition warplanes reportedly launched up to 30 airstrikes across Tabqa’s first, second, and third neighborhoods, striking homes and a fruit market and reportedly killing at least six civilians.
The following night, another round of coalition airstrikes battered the first and third neighborhoods, reportedly killing at least seven civilians, including women and children. Separate airstrikes that same night near the city’s center reportedly killed another six to 12 civilians.
On May 7th, multiple bombs reportedly dropped by the US-led coalition struck the building where Muhammed and Salam had taken shelter, killing them and their 12-year-old grandson. Three days later, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced that they had fully seized control of Tabqa and the dam. The militia and its US advisers quickly set their sights east to the upcoming offensive in Raqqa.
But for the Abdo family, the tragedy continued. Muhammed and Salam’s bodies were buried beneath the collapsed apartment building. It took 15 days before Wassim’s brother Rashid could secure the heavy machinery required to extract them.
“Nobody could approach the corpses because of the disfigurement that had occurred and the smell emanating from them as a result of being left under the rubble for such a long period of time in the hot weather,” Wassim told me in a recent interview.
That same day their bodies were finally recovered. On May 23rd, his parents and nephew were buried in the Tabqa cemetery.
“In Raqqa There Are Many Causes of Death”
A few days after the Abdos’ funeral, the US-led coalition began dropping leaflets over Raqqa instructing civilians to flee the city ahead of the upcoming offensive. According to photos of leaflets published by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the warnings read, in part, “This is your last chanceâ€¦ Failing to leave might lead to death.”
ISIS fighters, in turn, prohibited civilians from escaping the city and planted landmines in Raqqa’s outskirts. Nevertheless, on June 5th, dozens of civilians heeded the coalition’s warnings and gathered at a boat stand on the northern banks of the Euphrates, where they waited to be ferried out of the city.
Before the war, families had picnicked along this riverbank. Teenagers jumped into the water from Raqqa’s Old Bridge, built in 1942 by British troops. A handful of river front cafes opened for the season.
“The river is the main monument of the city, and for many people there’s a romantic meaning to it,” Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, currently co-writing Brothers of the Gun, a book about life in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, told me.
But on June 5th, as the families were waiting to cross the river to escape the impending US-backed offensive, coalition warplanes launched a barrage of airstrikes targeting the boats, reportedly massacring as many as 21 civilians.
The coalition acknowledges launching 35 airstrikes that destroyed 68 boats between June 4th and June 6th, according to the journalistic outlet Airwars. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend later boasted about the tactic, telling the New York Times: “We shoot every boat we find.”
The day after the attack on fleeing civilians at the boat stand, the long-awaited US-backed ground offensive officially began.
After three years of ISIS rule, Raqqa had become one of the most isolated cities in the world. The militants banned residents from having home internet, satellite dishes, or Wi-Fi hotspots. They arrested and killed local reporters and banned outside journalists. On the day US-backed troops launched their ground offensive against the city, ISIS further sought to restrict reporting on conditions there by ordering the imminent shutdown of all Internet cafes.
Despite these restrictions, dozens of Syrian journalists and activists have risked and still risk their lives to smuggle information out of besieged Raqqa — and their efforts are the only reason most Western reporters (including myself) have any information about the war our countries are currently waging there.
Every day, these media activists funnel news out of the city to exiled Syrians running media outlets and human rights organizations. The most famous among these groups has become Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which won the 2015 International Press Freedom Award for its reporting on the ISIS occupation and now publishes hourly updates on the US-backed offensive.
All this news is then compiled and cross-checked by international monitoring groups like Airwars, whose researchers have now found themselves tracking as many as a half-dozen coalition attacks resulting in civilian casualties every day.
It’s because of this work that we know the Raqqa offensive officially began on June 6th with a barrage of airstrikes and artillery shelling that reportedly hit a school, a train station, the immigration and passport building, a mosque, and multiple residential neighborhoods, killing between six and 13 civilians.
Two days later, bombs, artillery shells, and white phosphorus were reportedly unleashed across Raqqa, hitting — among other places — the Al-Hason Net Internet cafe, killing a media activist and at least a dozen others. (That journalist was one of at least 26 media activists to be killed in Syria this year alone.) Other bombs reportedly hit at least eight shops and a mosque. Photos also showed white phosphorus exploding over two residential neighborhoods.
White phosphorus is capable of burning human flesh to the bone. When exposed to oxygen, the chemical ignites reaching a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so flammable that its burns can reignite days later if the bandages are removed too soon.
US military officials have not denied using white phosphorus in the city. The Pentagon has, in fact, published photos of US Marines deployed to the Raqqa region transporting US-manufactured white phosphorus munitions.
Its spokesmen claim that the US military only uses this incendiary agent to mark targets for air strikes or to create smoke screens and therefore remains in accordance with international law. But in the days after the reported attack, Amnesty International warned: “The US-led coalition’s use of white phosphorus munitions on the outskirts of al-Raqqa, Syria, is unlawful and may amount to a war crime.” (Amnesty similarly accused the US of potentially committing war crimes during its campaign against ISIS in Mosul.)
Following the reported white phosphorus attacks on June 8th and 9th, Raqqa’s main commercial and social avenue — February 23rd Street — reportedly came under three straight days of bombing. Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, who grew up in that city, recalls how that street had once been lined with cafes, entertainment venues, and shops. Its western edge runs into Rashid Park, one of the city’s main public spaces. Its eastern edge stretches to the ancient Abbasid Wall.
Between June 9th and June 11th, as many as 10 civilians were killed in repeated bombings of February 23rd Street and its major intersections, according to reports compiled by Airwars. (These sorts of air strikes, ostensibly aimed at limiting the mobility of ISIS fighters, were also employed in Mosul, parts of which are now in ruins.)
On those same days, four adults and four children were reportedly killed in airstrikes on Raqqa’s industrial district, another 21 civilians were killed in the west of the city, and at least 11 more civilians, again including children, when airstrikes reportedly destroyed homes on al-Nour street, which is just around the corner from the al-Rayan Bakery, bombed less than two weeks later.
On that day, June 21st, a Raqqa resident named Abu Ahmad was returning from getting water at a nearby well when, he later told Reuters, he began hearing people screaming as houses crumbled. He said that as many as 30 people had died when the apartment flats around the bakery were leveled. “We couldn’t even do anything,” he added. “The rocket launchers, the warplanes. We left them to die under the rubble.”
Only a few days earlier, coalition warplanes had destroyed another source of bread, the al-Nadeer bakery on al-Mansour Street, one of Raqqa’s oldest thoroughfares.
In July, the US-led coalition bombed the ancient Abbasid Wall, and US-backed troops breached Raqqa’s Old City. US advisers began to operate inside Raqqa, calling in more airstrikes from there.
More and more names, photographs, and stories of the coalition’s victims were smuggled out by local journalists. According to these reports, on July 2nd, Jamila Ali al-Abdullah, her three children, and up to 10 of her neighbors were killed in her neighborhood. On July 3rd, at least three families were killed, including Yasser al-Abdullah and his four children, A’ssaf, Zain, Jude, and Rimas.
On July 5th, an elderly man named Yasin died in an airstrike on al-Mansour Street. On July 6th, Anwar Hassan al-Hariri was killed along with her son Mohammed, her daughter Shatha, and her toddler Jana. Five members of the al-Sayyed family perished on July 7th.
Sisters Hazar and Elhan Abdul Aader Shashan died in their home on July 12th, while seven members of the Ba’anat family were killed on July 13th, as was Marwan al-Salama and at least ten of his family members on July 17th.
Hundreds more were reportedly wounded, including Isma’il Ali al-Thlaji, a child who lost his eyesight and his right hand. And these are, of course, only some of the reported names of those killed by the US-led coalition.
“In Raqqa, there are many causes of death,” the journalists at Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently wrote. These include “indiscriminate airstrikes by international coalition warplanes, daily artillery shelling by Syrian Democratic Forces, and ISIS mines scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.”
For those who survive, conditions inside the city only continue to worsen. Coalition bombing reportedly destroyed the two main pipes carrying water into the city in the 100-degree July heat, forcing people to venture to the banks of the Euphrates, where at least 27 have been reportedly killed by US-led bombing while filling up jugs of water.
A Coalition in Name Only
The United States has launched nearly 95% of all coalition airstrikes in Syria in recent months, meaning the campaign is, in fact, almost exclusively an American affair.
“The French and British are launching about half a dozen strikes a week now,” Chris Woods, director of Airwars, explained to me. “The Belgians maybe one or two a week.” In comparison, in Raqqa province last month the US launched about twenty air or artillery strikes every single day.
In June alone, the US-led coalition and US Marines fired or dropped approximately 4,400 munitions on Raqqa and its surrounding villages. According to Mark Hiznay, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, these munitions included 250-pound precision-guided small diameter bombs, as well as MK-80 bombs, which weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds and are equipped with precision-guided kits.
The bombs are dropped by B-52 bombers and other warplanes, most taking off from the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, or the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier stationed off Syria’s coast in the eastern Mediterranean.
Hundreds of US Marines, most likely from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are also positioned outside Raqqa and are firing high explosive artillery rounds into the city from M777 Howitzers. In late June, the Marines’ official Twitter feed boasted that they were conducting artillery fire in support of US-backed troops 24 hours a day.
The result of this type of warfare, says Airwars’ Chris Woods, is a staggering increase in civilian casualties. According to an analysis by the group, since President Trump took office six months ago, the US-led campaign has reportedly killed nearly as many civilians in Syria and Iraq as were killed in the previous two and a half years of the Obama administration.
And for surviving civilians, the conditions of war don’t end once the bombing stops, as life today in the city of Tabqa indicates.
As of mid-July, according to Wassim Abdo, Tabqa still has neither running water nor electricity, even though displaced families have begun returning to their homes. There’s a shortage of bread, and still no functioning schools or hospitals.
The Tabqa Dam, which once generated up to 20% of Syria’s electricity, remains inoperable. (US-led coalition airstrikes reportedly damaged the structure repeatedly in February and March, when they burned the main control room, causing the United Nations to warn of a threat of catastrophic flooding downstream.)
The US-backed troops in Tabqa have, according to Abdo, banned the Internet and US officials admit that children in the area are being infected by diseases carried by flies feeding off corpses still buried in the rubble.
Meanwhile, less than 30 miles to the east, the battle for control of Raqqa continues with tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the besieged city. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend has indicated that the US-led coalition may soon increase the rate of airstrikes there yet again.
From Wassim Abdo’s perspective, that coalition campaign in Syria has so far killed his parents and nephew and ruined his hometown. None of this, understandably, looks anything like a war against ISIS.
“My opinion of the international coalition,” he told me recently, “is that it’s a performance by the international community to target civilians and infrastructure and to destroy the country.” And this type of warfare, he added, “is not part of eliminating Daesh.”
Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and a news producer with Democracy Now! Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and frequently at TomDispatch. Special thanks on this piece go to Alhasan Ghazzawi.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2017 Laura Gottesdiener
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(July 26, 2017) — For the largest living things standing on the planet, California’s giant sequoias have an unassuming, almost gentle aura to them. The recognizable cinnamon-colored bark is soft and fibrous. Its cones are modest. When cut down, the trees tend to shatter and won’t produce reliably sturdy timber.
These majestic plants have a lineage stretching back to the Jurassic period, but fears over their future have prompted a somewhat counterintuitive plan presented to the Trump administration — in order to save the giant sequoias, some say, their surrounding area must be stripped of protected status.
As part of the Trump administration’s determination to roll back regulation and open public land to private industry, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is currently undertaking a review of more than two dozen national monuments declared since the 1990s.
The stated goal of the review is to reboot extractive industries such as mining and logging. Supporters of the Giant Sequoia monument fear a unique ecosystem is at risk from timber industry advocates who would peel back protections.
“If this were a different administration and there was a push by the timber industry and its allies to shrink the monument, I wouldn’t take it too seriously,” said Chad Hanson, a rangy tree ecologist who has agitated for greater sequoia protections for the past two decades. “But the Trump administration? Oh, yeah. We are taking this threat very seriously.”
At a boisterous public meeting in June, the Tulare County supervisors voted 3-2 in support of a plan to shrink the Giant Sequoia national monument, which contains the majority of the world’s population of the towering trees, to less than a third its current size.
The decision sparked bellowing acrimony that required the county sheriff to step in to restore calm. “It kind of got out of control,” said Steve Worthley, vice-chairman of the board of supervisors in Tulare County, California.
Worthley, an attorney and former corporate counsel for Sequoia Forest Industries, argues that the government isn’t doing enough. “We have had a passive system and it ain’t working — we are losing giant sequoia groves because we aren’t taking care of the land,” said Worthley. “If we’re going to have groves in the future, we have to get back to active management.”
In a letter to Zinke, the supervisors decry a “tree mortality epidemic” fueled by lengthy drought and raging wildfires. The solution, the county members suggest, is to reduce the size of the monument area so that loggers can remove trees that may combust and threaten the stands of sequoias.
A 328,000-acre connected protected area on the slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada would be transformed into small pockets of no-logging zones covering just the sequoia clusters themselves — a plan that some scientists warn would degrade the wider ecosystem and, ultimately, the sequoias.
Giant sequoias, the bulkier cousins of the coastal redwoods found along California’s coast, only grow in scattered sites along a 260-mile stretch of the Sierra Nevada’s western face. A precise cocktail of moisture, elevation and temperature help provide the trees’ heft.
General Sherman, the most famous giant sequoia of all, is 275ft tall and 36ft in diameter at the base. Some trees are even taller, taking 2,000 years and longer to push more than 300ft towards the heavens.
The Sierra Nevada range boasts three national parks — Yosemite, Sequoia national park and Kings Canyon national park — but it wasn’t until the creation of the Giant Sequoia national monument in April 2000 that the majority of giant sequoia groves were placed under formal federal protection.
Bill Clinton used his authority under the antiquities act to carve out the protected area, which is split in two zones adjacent to Sequoia national park. The 33 giant sequoia groves are mixed among ponderosa pine, white fir, incense cedar, dozens of animal species and a clutch of chalet-like houses with pitched roofs arranged alongside narrow, twisting roads.
The monument is dotted with grandiose granite domes, limestone caverns and archaeological sites that have been shaped by glaciers, volcanic activity and early inhabitants.
Clinton’s predecessor, George HW Bush, visited the area to declare a more informal ban on logging in the sequoia groves only in 1992. The tree the president stood next to when signing the proclamation was subsequently dubbed the “Bush bush” and residents of this largely conservative outpost were left with the impression the region’s timber industry would be left largely unmolested. Then the monument came.
Kent Duysen’s family has run sawmills in Tulare County since the 1960s. The creation of the national monument may have been hailed by conservationists but it also resulted in the rapid closure of Duysen’s largest mill in the summer of 2000, putting 105 people out of work.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, work-wise,” he said. “There wasn’t enough timber to keep it running. It was a land grab by Clinton.”
Duysen, who now operates just one sawmill near the town of Terra Bella, said he’s “sick of the out-and-out lies” of environmentalists who he said falsely claim he wants to cut down the sequoias.
“I’ve heard it for years,” he said. “We don’t want to cut them. But the forest needs to be thinned out. The opponents of the reduction in the monument aren’t locals, they are from Los Angeles or San Francisco or from out of state. I would say 90% of the people here support the change in the size.”
Tulare County is a “home-rule sort of county set within a liberal state”, according to Gary Adest, a biologist who moved to the area 30 years ago and now runs a 772-acre ranch with his wife, Barbara, near the small town of Springville.
“Donald Trump seems to have a hatred of everything Barack Obama did,” said Adest, who cuts a striking figure with his pointy beard and explosive Hawaiian shirts. “Well, local people here feel the same about Bill Clinton — a liberal guy in Washington telling you how you’re going to run your backyard.”
Tulare County, which is roughly twice the size of Delaware, reaches from the southern Sierra Nevada across a vast slab of the flat farmland of the San Joaquin valley. An 1884 map of the county, which hangs in the supervisors’ building, extols the “Italian sky” and fertile soils that provide a “treasury of wealth to the general farmer”.
Yet unemployment is notably high here and the county has one of the worst poverty rates in California. Trump won 53% of the county’s vote in last year’s election. Tourism is a bright spot — the county pulled in about $380 million last year from visitors who flock to see the sequoias — that could be blighted by a shrunken monument.
“Let me put it this way,” said Eric Coyne, deputy Tulare County administrator, in May. “Somebody from Ohio is probably helping to pay for your police and fire.”
Worthley insists the monument must be cut down to around 90,000 acres to help stem a number of huge fires he believes put the sequoias at risk. A buildup of vegetation in the untouched monument, he contends, is providing the kindling for fires sparked by lightening, faulty power lines or accidents.
And while the US Forest Service, which manages the monument, has the authority to remove dead trees and reduce fuel load through controlled fires, Worthley said in practice the agency had done “virtually nothing”.
“There is so much fuel that when a fire gets going it’s like a nuclear bomb,” he said. “We have lost great sequoias. They can handle a bit of heat but they are still living things and the heat is so intense, the tree just fries.”
Hanson is scathing about this stance, pointing to numerous studies that show how fire has actually been suppressed in many protected areas — to the detriment of giant sequoias. Worthley, Hanson said, is “completely ignorant and knows nothing about tree ecology”.
Giant sequoias have evolved for millions of years alongside fire. They drop serotinous cones that open up in the heat, with the half-inch seeds found inside germinating best in the ashy remnants of a recent forest fire. The trees are also extremely hard to kill off with fire — a thick hide of bark protects the living tissue within. Flames can gouge holes in the trees, creating cave-like “cat faces” that can house hibernating bears, but this doesn’t usually doom the tree.
Hanson also quibbles with the idea that logging removes fire fuel. The timber industry, after all, wants to remove sizable trees — which aren’t the things that spread fire. The debris left behind, the scraps of bark and branches, along with bushes, provide a more effective kindling for flames.
“If you curb fire even more, that will harm the sequoias,” Hanson said. “We have been loving them to death, in a way. They depend on fire to help release seeds and reproduce.
“Opening up the monument to more logging won’t reduce fire intensity, it will just damage the habitat. We need to let more fires burn in remote areas, and suppress them near people and property. Let fire be fire out in the forest.”
Culling trees outside the sequoia groves also puts at risk a broader web of biodiversity. The black backed woodpecker, for example, relies upon fire-damaged trees to create its nests. The cavities the birds leave behind provide a home for a host of animals that can’t do this beak-breaking work themselves, such as bluebirds and wrens, as well as flying squirrels, martens and chipmunks.
A fire that tore through 29,000 acres of the southern Sierra Nevada last August has resulted in a “beautiful, spectacular regeneration” for wildlife, according to Hanson.
“The giant sequoia ecosystem isn’t just the sequoia groves,” he said. “They are the centerpiece but there is a broader landscape that includes rare species that have huge home ranges. If you only have protections for the groves, the ecosystem would start to unravel and fall apart.”
Hanson said this process would ultimately harm the giant sequoias, either through the lack of reproductive fire or the loss of groundwater through the stripping away of trees that knit together the landscape. “Eventually the risk is that you’d have older trees dying and not being replaced,” he added.
The local brawl over the Giant Sequoia national monument predates the Trump presidency but it has striking similarities to how the national conversation has stalled on important issues. Science is deployed to counteract nostalgia, and vice versa. The two sides talk past each other. The common ground of agreed-upon facts shrinks and then calcifies.
For those who hope to retain the monument in its current form, the best hope is not that the administration will be swayed by evidence but that it simply will be distracted by even more contentious protected lands elsewhere.
“There is an attitude here about a way of life, that ‘My daddy did this, I’m doing this and my sons and daughters should do this’, ad infinitum,” said Adest, the biologist, who still is considered a newcomer, 30 years on.
“But in Washington DC, I don’t think this monument shows up on the radar. I don’t think they know the issues here. So I don’t think it will change. But who knows.”
America’s public lands are under threat. The Guardian has launched an ambitious reader-funded project on the fight over the future of our mountains, parks, rivers and trails. The window to contribute closes soon — on 31 July. We’d like to thank the thousands of readers who have already made This Land is Your Land possible, and we welcome additional contributions.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
In Colfax, Louisiana, the Military Is Burning Waste
With No Regard for the People Who Live There Kelly Macias / The Daily Kos
(July 21, 2017) — Though the face of the mainstream environmental movement is largely white, environmental justice is an issue of pressing concern for people of color. There is a direct link between race, class, and environmental issues and black people are on the forefront of our nation’s environmental crisis — with exposure to lead paint, and the chance of living in proximity to landfills and toxic waste sites disproportionately affecting our community.
Flint, Michigan’s water crisis is one of the more notable and recent cases in which government systems not only failed to protect the well-being and health of poor black people, but one in which they further punished them by also trying to make them pay for the very services that poisoned them in the first place.
Unfortunately, this story is not an isolated occurrence. In Colfax, Louisiana, the US military burns explosives and munitions waste, with little regard for the people who actually live there.
The burns take place several times each day, and when they do, they turn parts of Colfax into a virtual war zone.
“It’s like a bomb, shaking this trailer,” said Elouise Manatad, who lives in one of the dozen or so mobile homes speckling the hillside just a few hundred yards from the facility’s perimeter. The rat-tat-tat of bullets and fireworks crackles through the woods and blasts rattle windows 12 miles away.
Thick, black smoke towers hundreds of feet into the air, dulling the bright slices of sky that show through the forest cover. Manatad’s nephew Frankie McCray — who served two tours at Camp Victory in Iraq — runs inside and locks the door, huddling in the dark behind windows covered in tinfoil.
The stockpile of aging explosives are burned at a plant in Colfax which is “the only commercial facility in the nation allowed to burn explosives and munitions waste with no environmental emissions controls, and it has been doing so for the military for decades.”
So given that the Environmental Protection Agency has no oversight whatsoever, it’s really hard to believe that the waste is not poisoning Colfax’s 1,532 residents. Not shockingly, those residents happen to be mostly black. And economically, they are struggling, with the average resident earning $13,800 a year.
The company that runs the plant, Clean Harbors, claims it became a target for controversy two years ago after a stockpile of these very same munitions blew up at a former Army ammunition plant in Minden, Louisiana — just 95 miles north of Colfax.
After the residents became furious about possible exposure to toxins, that’s when the military agreed to transfer and dispose of the explosives in Colfax. It’s worth noting that Minden is larger than Colfax, and almost half of its residents are white.
Many of the black residents living close to the plant see the history differently. They say they have for years harbored concerns over their health. Manatad suffers from recurring strokes and respiratory infections. She says at least five of her neighbors have thyroid disorders, a condition that has been linked to exposure to perchlorate. Residents gossip about former burn facility employees who died of cancer.
Though the state has found Clean Harbors in violation of several regulations and one state representative has sponsored a bill to ban the burning of hazardous waste, they continue to burn it. This is because they have a powerful lobby behind them — the Department of Defense as well as Louisiana’s chemical industry.
They argue that this is about losing jobs and US soldiers being able to detonate their weapons properly. Of course, there’s nothing like invoking a little patriotism to justify poisoning people. And frankly, who cares about the lives of a few thousand poor black folk when there is money to be made by burning waste, right?
Environmental activists and residents are doing their best to push back against Clean Harbors but, sadly, they are the ultimate underdog in this story. This country has shown time and time again that rich white men who run governments and corporations win over poor, black people.
This is the injustice of America, where cash and greed win out over protecting people’s health and right to live with air free of toxic fumes.
“I’m pretty sure if they was living in an environment like this they wouldn’t be pleased either, because it’s not safe,” said Annie Tolbert, 80, resting from the heavy heat in her fenced-in porch. Tolbert takes a puff of steroids from an inhaler, prescribed for her severe asthma. “They are not going to listen to us because we are black.”
“But we are citizens, too.”
Happy endings are rare in real life, but every so often the underdog wins. Let’s hope the residents of Colfax are the David to Clean Harbor’s Goliath.
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Don’t Believe the Dangerous Myths of ‘Drone Warrior’ Alex Edney-Browne, Lisa Ling / Los Angeles Times Op-Ed
(July 16, 2017) — Drone pilots have been quitting the US Air Force in record numbers in recent years — faster than new recruits can be selected and trained. They cite a combination of low-class status in the military, overwork and psychological trauma.
But a widely publicized new memoir about America’s covert drone war fails to mention the “outflow increases,” as one internal Air Force memo calls it. Drone Warrior: An Elite Soldier’s Inside Account of the Hunt for America’s Most Dangerous Enemies chronicles the nearly 10 years that Brett Velicovich, a former special operations member, spent using drones to help special forces find and track terrorists. Conveniently, it also puts a hard sell on a program whose ranks the military is struggling to keep full.
Velicovich wrote the memoir — about his time “hunting and watching in the cesspools of the Middle East” — to show how drones “save lives and empower humanity, contrary to much of the persistent narrative that casts them in a negative light.” Instead, the book is, at best, a tale of hyper-masculine bravado and, at worst, a piece of military propaganda designed to ease doubts about the drone program and increase recruitment.
There is something particularly unseemly about Hollywood’s enthusiasm for bringing Velicovich’s version of drone warfare to the big screen.
Velicovich and the book’s co-author, Christopher S. Stewart, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reinforce the myth that drones are machines of omniscience and precision. Velicovich exaggerates the accuracy of the technology, neglecting to mention how often it fails or that such failures have killed an untold number of civilians.
For instance, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults in its attempts to take out Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, who reportedly is still alive.
And yet, “I have no doubt that we could find anyone in the world,” Velicovich writes, “no matter how hidden they are.” One might ask Velicovich to explain the deaths of Warren Weinstein, an American citizen, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian citizen — both aid workers who were killed by an American drone strike that was targeting Al Qaeda members in Pakistan.
“We believed that this was an Al Qaeda compound,” President Obama announced three months after the strike, “that no civilians were present.” Indeed, the Air Force had clocked hundreds of hours of drone surveillance of the building. It had used thermal-imaging cameras, which are supposed to identify a person’s presence by his or her body heat when the line of sight is obstructed. Nevertheless, the surveillance somehow failed to notice two additional bodies — Weinstein and La Porto — who were being held hostage in the basement.
Perhaps the aid workers went unnoticed because, according to a forthcoming report on the limitations of drone technology co-authored by Pratap Chatterjee, the executive director of the watchdog group CorpWatch, and Christian Stork, thermal-imaging cameras “cannot see through trees and a well-placed blanket that dissipates body heat can also throw them off,” nor can they “see into basements or underground bunkers.”
Even more insidious are the memoir’s attempts to co-opt the psychological torment of drone operators and intelligence analysts and turn it into a narrative of valor and stoicism. “I fought to keep my eyes open,” Velicovich writes of working while sleep-deprived. “Every hour wasted was another hour the enemy had to plan, another hour it had to kill.”
Compare that portrayal with the reality as described by Col. Jason Brown, commander of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing. “Our suicide and suicidal ideation rates were way higher than the Air Force average,” Brown told the Washington Post earlier this month, explaining why full-time psychiatrists and mental-health counselors have been introduced into the drone program.
“They were even higher than for those who had deployed.” Suicide rates have fallen as a result of the mental-health teams, Brown said. The work itself hasn’t changed.
The film rights to “Drone Warrior” were bought over a year ago, with much fanfare, by Paramount Pictures. (The studio also optioned the life rights to Velicovich’s story.) In the acknowledgments section of the memoir, Velicovich mentions that the forthcoming movie will be directed and produced by Michael Bay, the filmmaker behind “Transformers,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon.”
This development is predictable. The US military and Hollywoodhave long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Filmmakers often gain access to locations, personnel, information and equipment that lend their productions “authenticity.” In return, the military often gets some measure of control over how it’s depicted.
Pentagon officials and CIA staff are known to have advised and shared classified documents with the filmmakers behind “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Oscar-nominated movie that misrepresented the CIA’s controversial torture and rendition program as having been instrumental in locating Osama bin Laden.
The CIA also has been linked to the production of “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning depiction of how that agency rescued American hostages in Iran.
But there is something particularly unseemly about Hollywood’s enthusiasm for bringing Velicovich’s version of drone warfare to the big screen. In “Drone Warrior,” the American military may have a powerful platform for portraying its program as effective and its operators as heroic — instead of overworked and distressed. We have to wonder if Velicovich was approached by the US military to write his memoir. It certainly could help with their attrition problem.
Alex Edney-Browne (@alexEdneybrowne) is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she is researching the psycho-social effects of drone warfare on Afghan civilians and veterans of the US Air Force’s drone program.
Lisa Ling(@ARetVet) served in the US military as a technical sergeant on drone surveillance systems before leaving with an honorable discharge in 2012. She appears in the 2016 documentary on drone warfare, “National Bird.”
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Humans Have Created 9 Billion
Tons of Plastic in the Last 67 Years Tim Radford / Climate News Network
(July 24, 2017) — Scientists have calculated yet another item on the human shopping list that makes up the modern world: plastics. They have estimated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts, as yet another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance.
Altogether, since about 1950, with the birth of a new industry, more than 8.3 billion tonnes (or 9.1 tons) of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded. Of that total, 6.3 billion tonnes are classified as waste.
Of that waste, only 9 percent has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated and 79 percent of what is essentially indestructible man-made material is either in landfill or polluting the environment.
And much of that waste is now in the sea: in 2010, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances, plastic debris has now been found in all the world’s oceans. In 2010, an estimated eight million tonnes was swept downriver or blown by the winds into the sea. By 2050 landfill sites could be holding 12 billion tonnes.
“Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an engineer at the University of Georgia, Athens, and one of the partners in the study.
“Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.”
In the last two centuries, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and in paving roads and erecting office blocks, tenements, ports, factories and other structures have created a “technosphere” with a mass of 30 trillion tonnes.
In the course of doing so they have changed the planet so comprehensively that many millions of years from now, evidence of human presence will be marked by at least one geological stratum containing fossilized evidence that could have been left by no other lifeform.
Such changes have been so profound that earth scientists now propose a new name for this geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
Although polymers such as Bakelite appeared early in the 20th century, large-scale production did not begin until after World War II, and plastics made from fossil hydrocarbons grew to become the third biggest manmade fabric output, after cement and steel.
In 1960, plastic made up less than one percent of municipal solid waste; by 2005, in middle and high-income countries, it made up more than 10 percent.
The researchers combed through the industry data to compile production statistics worldwide for resins, fibers and additives and to use these to work out the types of plastics now in the environment, most of it as discarded packaging: half of all plastic output becomes waste within four years of use. And in the years from 1950 to 2015, nearly half of all human plastic production was in the last 13 years.
“There are people alive today who remember a world without plastics. But they have become so ubiquitous that you can’t go anywhere without finding plastic waste in our environment, including our oceans,” Jambeck said.
The researchers make the point that plastics do not decompose; they may fracture and divide into ever smaller granules, but they accumulate, often with horrific consequences for wildlife, to create spoilheaps of discarded plastic cups, bottles and bags and other indestructible waste almost everywhere on the ocean shores.
This waste is now an ecological problem: the latest study has at least established the scale of the problem.
“What we are trying to do is to create the foundation for sustainable materials management,” said Roland Geyer, of the University of California Santa Barbara, who led the study.
“Put simply, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and so we think policy discussions will be more informed and fact-based now that we have these numbers.”
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(June 30, 2017) — For the entire month of July, I’m completely cutting out single-use plastics to help clean our oceans. Will you join me?
Last week, we shared a blog with some great tips [see below] from the Greenpeace readers like you on reducing your plastic footprint — now I want to challenge our community to take our plastic reduction efforts to the next level.
Here’s the problem with plastic.
It’s no secret that plastic pollution is a huge issue.
Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean. Photos and articles pop up in our news feeds and on our screens of turtles with straws in their noses or birds with plastic filled stomachs, and we see plastic trash nearly everywhere we go. Corporations sell us products in plastic packaging that are meant to be used for minutes, but they last a lifetime or longer.
We simply have to phase out the production of single-use plastic packaging — and quick. By reducing the amount of plastic we use, we can all play a part in the transition away from single-use plastic packaging.
Join me in the Plastic-Free challenge
Saturday marks the beginning of the Plastic Free July challenge. For 31 days, I am committing to going plastic-free. I’ll be putting some of your tips into practice in my daily life (thanks!) and avoiding all single-use plastic packaging for the entire month.
Gulp. That means no single use cups, straws, utensils, produce bags, food packaging, zipper bags, to-go containers, and more.
And I’m hoping that you’ll join me. It can be for a day or two, a week, or the whole month — but see how long you can go avoiding ALL single-use plastics. If you’re looking for an intermediate step, try steering clear of the top four: plastic bags, water bottles, straws, and coffee cups.
Use this month as an opportunity to explore alternatives in your community and try new things. Look for stores selling food in bulk and bring your own containers. Use reusable produce bags at the grocery store. Get coffee in a travel mug and carry a set of utensils with you when eating on the go.
There are many more tips and ways to get involved at the Plastic Free July website (http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/).
If you need more tips, encouragement getting through the month, or just want someone to talk to as we go through this plastic-free experiment together, tweet me @katemelges! I’d love to hear about your journey to zero plastic. Good luck!
Kate Melges is an oceans campaigner based in Seattle. She leads Greenpeace’s Ocean Plastics work. Kate’s focus is ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean.
(June 22, 2017) — We asked the Greenpeace community to send us your top tips for phasing out single-use plastic — and you did not disappoint.
In the United States, we’re surrounded by single-use products designed and manufactured to be thrown away without a second thought. Disposable cups, grocery bags, packaging, plastic water bottles, condiment packets — all of these products are built with no destination in mind but the landfill.
Products like these are so ubiquitous in our daily lives that it’s even easy to forget the harm they’re causing. But make no mistake, our over-reliance on plastic has drastic consequences for health and the environment. According to one study, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
If we want to reverse that trend, it’s up to us to demand reusable, recyclable products and make strides to reduce our plastic consumption in our own lives — something that Greenpeace supporters know all about!
Three weeks ago, we shared an article about breaking free from plastic pollution one lifestyle choice at a time and asked you to chime in with any tricks of your — and you did!
Here are ten of our favorite ideas for reducing your plastic footprint from Greenpeace supporters like you. Thanks to everyone who shared!
“Forgot your reusable bag at home? Running more errands than you have reusable bags for? I found a fantastic solution! I bought a cheap small laundry basket and placed it in the trunk of my car. I can walk a cart full of un-bagged groceries to my car and load them into that.
“I only have two reusable bags â€¦ after each store I unload the bag into the laundry basket and I’m onto the next store with an empty bag. Added bonus? The laundry basket has convenient handles and is much more durable and easier to carry that several bags. I can take everything inside in one trip!”
— from Kathleen S.
“Bring your reusable bags when you go shopping and choose the products that have ‘smarter’ packages.”
— from Stefano M.
“When dining out, if I have something left that I want to take home, I ask for a piece of foil instead of letting them bring a styrofoam container for it. They are usually taken aback at first but many times then see what a good idea it is.”
— from Julie T.
“Bring your own glass containers for leftovers at restaurants. Leftovers are so easy to heat the next day!”
— from Sheila J.
“Pack lunch in reusable containers (I use mason jars) for work instead of getting takeout. Make a big pot of coffee in the morning and bring some to work in a thermos or travel mug. This saves a ton of money too! Keep a favorite coffee mug, a water bottle or drinking cup, fork, spoon, and bowl in your desk drawer.”
— from Lydia P.
“One of the best ways I recently broke with plastic was buying a safety razor, along with a pack of 150 blades. The razor is actually more comfortable than plastic ones, and works fine with Dr. Bronners organic liquid soap. I spent a total of Â£30 on a razor that will last until I die and blades that will last a number of years. Zero plastic.”
— from Chris H.
“I stopped using plastic wrap and bought reusable beeswax coated cloth. It works great!”
— from Brittany V.
“Hold back on online shopping. E-commerce packaging is a major — and growing — source of waste. A single tube of lipstick or a single battery often arrives in an absurdly large box stuffed with an unnecessary amount plastic, paper and foam peanuts.”
— from Joan S.
“I buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk and use a push pump on a mason jar. Another option are the solid shampoos and conditioners from Lush that you can keep in a tin can. I also use oils on my skin like coconut from glass jars. For deodorant a mix of baking soda and coconut oil works great. Toothpaste can be made with a similar mix and a little of peppermint essential oils.”
— from Sarah E.
“I recently found compostable straws! I still wash them out and reuse. After I put up my shopping I hang the cloth bags close to the door. I take them to the car next time I go out. I often give presents in cloth or canvas shopping bags, cosmetic bags or simply wrapped in cloth.”
— from Mary R.
Plastic pollution is definitely a big problem to take on, but the solution starts with us. By purchasing more eco-conscious alternatives to plastic (and just purchasing less stuff), we have the power to pressure companies to provide better, longer-lasting products and help protect our oceans.
Nathalie Arfvidson is the Online Campaigning Intern for Greenpeace USA based in San Francisco. She studied Aquatic Biology and she is interested in plastic pollution, sustainability, and renewable energy.
(July 27, 2017) — We celebrate the centennial of the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade, held on July 28, 1917.
At the break of summer 1917, racial tension simmered across the nation. In East St. Louis, white residents launched a bloody attack on the rapidly expanding black community. Dozens of black residents were killed and thousands more were left homeless after their neighborhood was burned to ashes.
The NAACP wasted no time in composing a retort and soon issued a call for a Silent Protest Parade. “You must be in line,” the Association commanded.
On July 28, nearly 10,000 black men, women, and children wordlessly paraded down New York’s Fifth Avenue. Silently marching to the beat of a drum, the throngs of protesters clutched picket signs declaring their purpose and demanding justice.
“Make America safe for democracy.”
“We march because we deem it a crime to be silent in the face of such barbaric acts.”
“We march because we want our children to live in a better land.”
Their tactic was silence, but their message resounded: anti-black violence is unjust and un-American.
It was the first protest of its kind in New York, and the second instance of African Americans publically demonstrating for civil rights.
The NAACP has issued marching orders many times in the years since: in 1965, we marched in Selma in pursuit of our right to vote; in 2012, we held a second Silent March in New York to denounce stop-and-frisk policing; in 2015, we marched 1,002 miles from Selma to Washington, D.C. on our Journey for Justice.
At our 108th Annual Convention in Baltimore this week, we marked the Silent Parade’s centennial with an interactive art installation. Art Force 5 invited convention attendees to collaborate on a mosaic memorial that will debut today in New York City.
Activists created the NAACP in 1909 to fight racialized violence. Then, we called it “lynching.” Today, we call it “police brutality.” But the effect is the same, and so is the ferocity of our retort.
For more than a century, the NAACP has protested, litigated, and legislated to defend our dignity and our lives. Today, we keep marching. We are at school board meetings, county courthouses, and in the halls of government fighting for our rights because we still cannot afford to stand idle in the face of an administration that is so keen on rolling back our rights.
(July 28, 2017) — The only sounds were those of muffled drums, the shuffling of feet and the gentle sobs of some of the estimated 20,000 onlookers. The women and children wore all white. The men dressed in black.
On the afternoon of Saturday, July 28, 1917, nearly 10,000 African-Americans marched down Fifth Avenue, in silence, to protest racial violence and white supremacy in the United States.
New York City, and the nation, had never before witnessed such a remarkable scene.
The “Silent Protest Parade,” as it came to be known, was the first mass African-American demonstration of its kind and marked a watershed moment in the history of the civil rights movement.
As I have written in my book “Torchbearers of Democracy,” African-Americans during the World War I era challenged racism both abroad and at home. In taking to the streets to dramatize the brutal treatment of black people, the participants of the “Silent Protest Parade” indicted the United States as an unjust nation. This charge remains true today.
One hundred years later, as black people continue to insist that “Black Lives Matter,” the “Silent Protest Parade” offers a vivid reminder about the power of courageous leadership, grassroots mobilization, direct action and their collective necessity in the fight to end racial oppression.
One of the great accomplishments of the Black Lives Matter movement has been to demonstrate the continuum of racist violence against black people throughout American history and also the history of resistance against it. But as we continue to grapple with the hyper-visibility of black death, it is perhaps easy to forget just how truly horrific racial violence against black people was a century ago.
Prior to the “Silent Protest Parade,” mob violence and the lynching of African-Americans had grown even more gruesome. In Waco, a mob of 10,000 white Texans attended the May 15, 1916, lynching of a black farmer, Jesse Washington. One year later, on May 22, 1917, a black woodcutter, Ell Persons, died at the hands of over 5,000 vengeance-seeking whites in Memphis.
Even by these grisly standards, East St. Louis later that same summer was shocking. Simmering labor tensions between white and black workers exploded on the evening of July 2, 1917.
For 24 hours, white mobs indiscriminately stabbed, shot and lynched anyone with black skin. Men, women, children, the elderly, the disabled â€” no one was spared. Homes were torched and occupants shot down as they attempted to flee. The death toll likely ran as high as 200 people.
Looking Back at the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riots
East St. Louis this weekend is commemorate the 1917 race riot, which resulted in dozens or hundreds of deaths and injuries, as well as burned buildings in the city. Tim Vizer firstname.lastname@example.org
The city’s surviving 6,000 black residents became refugees.
East St. Louis was an American pogrom. The fearless African-American anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells traveled to the still smoldering city on July 4 and collected firsthand accounts of the aftermath. She described the incident as an “awful orgy of human butchery.”
The devastation of East St. Louis was compounded by the fact that America was at war. On April 2, President Woodrow Wilson had thrown the United States into the maelstrom of World War I. He did so by asserting America’s singularly unique place on the global stage and his goal to make the world “safe for democracy.” In the eyes of black people, East St. Louis exposed the hypocrisy of Wilson’s vision and America itself.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People quickly responded to the massacre. Founded in 1909, the NAACP had yet to establish itself as a truly representative organization for African-Americans.
With the exception of W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the NAACP’s co-founders and editor of The Crisis magazine, the national leadership was all white. Branches were overwhelmingly located in the North, despite the majority of African-Americans residing below the Mason-Dixon line.
James Weldon Johnson changed things. Lawyer, diplomat, novelist, poet and songwriter, Johnson was a true African-American renaissance man. In 1916, Johnson joined the NAACP as a field secretary and made an immediate impact. In addition to growing the organization’s southern membership, Johnson recognized the importance of expanding the influence of the NAACP’s existing branches beyond the black elite.
Johnson raised the idea of a silent protest march at an executive committee meeting of the NAACP Harlem branch shortly after the East St. Louis riot. Johnson also insisted that the protest include the city’s entire black community.
By noon on July 28, several thousand African-Americans had begun to assemble at 59th Street. Crowds gathered along Fifth Avenue. Anxious New York City police officers lined the streets, with clubs at the ready, prepared for trouble.
At approximately 1 p.m., the protest parade commenced. A group of black clergymen and NAACP officials made up the front line. W.E.B. Du Bois, who had recently returned from conducting an NAACP investigation in East St. Louis, and James Weldon Johnson marched side by side.
The parade was a stunning spectacle. At the front, women and children wearing all-white gowns symbolized the innocence of African-Americans in the face of the nation’s guilt. The men, bringing up the rear and dressed in dark suits, conveyed both a mournful dignity and stern determination to stand up for their rights as citizens.
They carried signs and banners shaming America for its treatment of black people. Some read, “Your hands are full of blood,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” “Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?” Others highlighted the wartime context and the hollowness of America’s ideals: “We have fought for the liberty of white Americans in six wars; our reward was East St. Louis.”
A Poem Dedicated to East St. Louis
Eugene Redmond reads a poem dedicated to East St. Louis and what it has overcome. Kaley Johnson email@example.com
Throughout the parade, the marchers remained silent. The New York Times described the protest as “one of the most quiet and orderly demonstrations ever witnessed.” The silence was finally broken with cheers when the parade concluded at Madison Square.
The “Silent Protest Parade” marked the beginning of a new epoch in the long black freedom struggle. While adhering to a certain politics of respectability, a strategy employed by African-Americans that focused on countering racist stereotypes through dignified appearance and behavior, the protest, within its context, constituted a radical claiming of the public sphere and a powerful affirmation of black humanity.
It declared that a “New Negro” had arrived and launched a black public protest tradition that would be seen in the parades of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter marches of today.
Chad Williams is associate professor of African and Afro-America Studies at Brandeis University.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Audit the Pentagon before We
Increase Defense Spending by Tens of Billions Michael C. Burgess and Grover Norquist / USA Today Op-ed
(July 17, 2017) — American taxpayers have the right to know what we’ve bought, how much it cost, where it is, whether it’s working and what we need for the future.
It is time to audit the Pentagon.
In 1990, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act requiring every department and agency in the federal government to produce verifiable financial statements that can be fully audited. To date, each major agency has been able to complete this task except one — the Department of Defense (DOD).
This is unacceptable.
Right now our nation is facing a real crisis. The US debt is teetering on the edge of $20 trillion and our servicemen and women are finding themselves without all the resources required to fulfill their missions and defend our country. The DOD is one of the largest employers in the world, with over 2.8 million active duty servicemen and women, national guardsmen, reservists, and civilians.
In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon budget reached nearly $600 billion. Our country faces many threats. We must provide for America’s national defense while still being responsible with taxpayer dollars.
The Founding Fathers noted the importance of defense in the very first line of the United States Constitution. Congress initially created the War Department in 1789, but following World War II, President Truman proposed a new defense structure.
Even at this time in our history, we were spending more on defense than the government could afford. In his proposal to Congress, President Truman cited wasteful military spending as a reason for demanding a more unified and accountable defense department.
In the last 70 years, not much has changed. In 2014, the Marine Corps announced it had successfully passed an audit, but had to retract its announcement upon further scrutiny.
The Defense Business Board, an organization of private sector executives whose purpose is to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the DOD, issued a report in January 2015 revealing at least $125 billion in administrative waste with a bottom line that “we are spending a lot more money than we thought.”
The Government Accountability Office — Congress’ eyes and ears on the ground for keeping the federal government accountable — stated in 2013 that it could not complete an audit of the entire federal government because the DOD could not produce verifiable documents. According to GAO’s assessment: “The main obstacles to a GAO opinion on . . . consolidated financial statements were: Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable.”
Imagine average Americans citing the complexity of their finances for their failure to comply with an IRS audit.
The first step to reining in our spending and getting waste under control is a full audit of the federal government. The Pentagon must conform to the same level of accountability that other public sector agencies are held to when it comes to the spending of taxpayer dollars. The national defense is too important to remain a black box.
The Trump administration is proposing a military buildup with an increase in the defense budget of at least $54 billion, to be paid for in part by eliminating waste. That is a great deal of money. American taxpayers have the right to know how and how well their taxes have been spent in the last few years.
What did those tax dollars buy? How many tanks do we have? Where are they? Do they still work? If Americans need to sacrifice more to maintain our military strength, step one is to have a fully informed citizenry. A full audit of the Pentagon will make it clear how much we have spent, what we bought with our money, and what we need for the future.
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, a fiscal conservative and the most senior medical doctor in the House, represents Texas’ 26th Congressional District. Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. Follow them on Twitter: @michaelcburgess and @GroverNorquist
(May 31, 2017) — As America prioritizes its spending in a dangerous world, the White House has proposed a hard-power budget that emphasizes military investments to deter war. Yet what it first would deter is any cost-effective work to reduce the wars abroad — civil upheaval in weak or failing states — that greatly threaten US interests and global stability.
This “national security budget” would dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the State Department, USAID and United Nations peacekeeping operations, and end funding for the small, specialized US Institute of Peace — all vital tools for keeping America safe. We would be left with one massively expensive and blunt instrument — the United States military — to deal with any and all foreign policy challenges.
Viewed from home, the impulse to abandon most stabilization work abroad can seem understandable, if only because the violent collapse of a South Sudan or Somalia may feel too distant to matter. Even where mediation and peacekeeping can resolve wars, the results can be difficult to measure and can take years.
For many Americans, it seems better to deal only with the most urgent crises, sending our forces to surgically clean things up and return home. But a budget that cripples low-cost stabilization of weak states is foolish — the national security equivalent of, say, prohibiting maintenance on dams and bridges until they visibly begin to collapse.
New analyses of the world’s roughly 30 civil wars find that they are lengthening, now averaging more than 20 years’ duration. As Syria illustrates, they also are becoming more contagious. With global influence diffusing from its earlier concentration in the hands of superpowers, contending powers in any given region are backing proxy forces and fueling wars in weak states.
These insights emerge in a study of civil wars by 35 international security specialists for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The study, to begin publication this fall, observes that international mediation and peacekeeping often has worked, to little fanfare, in halting civil wars of the past three decades. And a major conclusion is that the system must be strengthened and reshaped if it is to help meet threats from civil wars and other intrastate violence. These threats include:
* The breeding of new terrorist movements. Stanford University political scientist James Fearon details “the remarkable increase in the share of conflicts that involve avowedly jihadist rebel groups, from around 5% in 1990 to more than 40% in 2014.” These wars are hothouses for radicalization and terrorism, providing the space, inspiration and training grounds for their growth.
* The largest forced migration of people ever measured. Civil wars have uprooted the bulk of the world’s 65 million displaced people, the most since World War II. Where masses of migrants find no hope for their futures, this crisis lays foundations for an even broader, new generation of ISIS-style extremists. Mass migrations already strain politics from Australia to Europe to America, threatening to undermine humanitarian and democratic values that built the world’s most developed states.
* A potential tipping point of global disorder. Consider this near-miss in the 2014 Ebola outbreak: The virus swept quickly through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — all weak states recovering from civil wars. Had the epidemic erupted during those wars, with no local government institutions that could be engaged to control it, the United States and its allies would have faced the nightmare of deploying tens of thousands of troops to either forcibly quarantine an entire region of Africa or to fight their way in, halt the wars, and battle the epidemic at the same time.
We face this danger now in the war-damaged, ungoverned spaces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The impulse to ignore such crises not only lets them fester; it erodes the international norms of behavior that have preserved global stability, and kept us from that tipping point of disorder, in the 70 years since World War II’s end.
Americans’ fatigue at the persistent violence of Iraq and Afghanistan obscures the good news that international mediation and peacekeeping has halted many wars, and at comparatively low cost. Peacekeeping operations had a role in 41% (21 out of 51) civil wars halted since 1991, Fearon finds, and appear to lower the recurrence of wars once stopped.
The cost to the United States of a U.N. peacekeeping soldier this year is less than 4% of what it cost taxpayers in 2007 to deploy one US soldier to fight the insurgency in Iraq.
Small teams of mediators from the US Institute of Peace have strengthened peace accords that halted civil wars in Colombia and Nepal. Unnoticed amid Iraq’s trauma, USIP trained Iraqi teams that have stopped communal warfare in several cities — precisely the stabilizer now needed to preserve the victory as Iraqi forces push ISIS fighters out of Iraq’s Mosul region.
US military interventions usually are more protracted and expensive than initially anticipated; and the results since World War II have often been disappointing. If war is the failure of diplomacy (of which USAID’s development assistance is an important component), then a budget that guts our ability to conduct diplomacy will certainly lead to more wars.
As the administration’s first draft of a 2018 budget has failed to face this reality, that act of leadership now falls to Congress and the American people.
Karl Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, commanded US and allied forces in Afghanistan (2005-07) and was US ambassador to Afghanistan (2009-11). He is the Oksenberg-Rohlen fellow and a professor at Stanford University.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US-Trained Iraqi Soldiers Committing War Crimes in Mosul 16th Division Caught in Multiple Incidents Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 27, 2017) — There have been more than a few stories in the last couple of weeks detailing myriad war crimes by the Iraqi military in Mosul. A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) takes that a step further by linking a specific Iraqi Army division, the 16th Division, to multiple incidents.
These war crimes read much like the others. Naked Iraqis, handcuffed and escorted into an alley by Iraqi troops from the 16th Division, before gunshots ring out. Mounds of bodies found, killed in similar summary executions, all supposed “ISIS suspects.”
Pointing all this out isn’t just piling on about what are really already a well documented litany of war crimes in Iraq. Rather, because the US trained and armed the 16th Division, this has very specific legal implications for the US.
Leahy’s Law obliges the US to suspend direct military aid to the 16th Division, unless the Iraqi government shows that they are making serious efforts to prosecute war criminals, and to prevent such actions in the future, neither of which they’ve ever made even a token attempt to do.
Iraqi Forces Admit to Killing Women and Children Soldiers’ Final Orders in Mosul: Kill Anything That Moves Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 26, 2017) — The extremely ugly final weeks of the Iraqi “liberation” of Mosul is leading to an aftermath where untold hundreds of corpses remain buried under the rubble of the Old City. The corpses include some ISIS fighters, of course, but also a massive number of civilians.
That’s reflective of what Iraqi soldiers say were their orders in the final days of the battle, kill anything that moves. Iraqi forces eagerly did so, with one noting that they “killed them all, men, women, and children. We killed everyone.”
There is little chance that the dead will even be counted, with Iraqi forces sending in armored bulldozers to cover over all the rubble, crushing the uncovered bodies along with the former homes they lived in.
One Iraqi major insisted reports that the change came as the result of Iraqi prisons being full was false, saying that Iraq has plenty of prisons, but makes “very few arrests” in Mosul, noting that Iraqi troops summarily execute people for more or less anything.
Civilians caught going down to the Tigris River for water, because they’re dying of thirst, are routinely killed, he noted. The reporters in the city who would normally witness this sort of action are bullied, their cameras’ memory confiscated, and convinced to quietly leave town.
As Iraqi officials were celebrating “victory” in Mosul in recent weeks, attack helicopters were overhead just blocks away, targeting everyone that was still moving in the shrinking ISIS districts. The memory of what happened burned into the minds of the locals, Iraq now has an uphill battle trying to govern Mosul as anything but an occupied city, taken in the most brutal of fashions.
Iraq: US-Trained Forces Linked to Mosul War Crimes
US Should End Support for Abusive Iraqi 16th Division Human Rights Watch
BEIRUT (Beirut) â€“ An Iraqi army division trained by the United States government allegedly executed several dozen prisoners in Mosul’s Old City, Human Rights Watch said today. Two international observers detailed the summary killings of four people by the Iraqi army’s 16th Division in mid-July 2017, and saw evidence that the unit had executed many more people, including a boy.
The US government should suspend all assistance and support to the 16th Division pending Iraq’s full investigation of the allegations and appropriate prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said. Under the “Leahy Law,” the US is prohibited from providing military assistance to any unit of foreign security forces if there is credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights and no “effective measures” are being taken to bring those responsible to justice.
“The US government should make sure it is no longer providing assistance to the Iraqi unit responsible for this spate of executions but also suspend any plans for future assistance until these atrocities have been properly investigated,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the widespread abuses by Iraqi forces and the government’s abysmal record on accountability, the US should take a hard look at its involvement with Iraqi forces.”
Two international observers independently told Human Rights Watch that on a day in mid-July at about 10 a.m. in Mosul’s Old City, they saw a group of Iraqi soldiers who identified themselves as members of the 16th Division lead four naked men down an alleyway, after which they heard multiple gunshots. The observers said other soldiers standing in the street told them that the four men were Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters.
The observers said that they had been in the area throughout the morning and witnessed no fighting or gunfire in the area. One said they saw the soldiers beat the four men with their rifle butts before leading them away.
They said they photographed the incident but a commander later took their camera and deleted the pictures, then ushered them into a nearby building. While they were inside, they heard gunshots. An officer then came in and told the observer to leave the area.
One of the observers said that as they were leaving the area, they saw through the doorway of a damaged house about 20 meters down the street the bodies of a number of naked men lying in the doorway. They said one of the dead men was lying with his hands behind his back and appeared to have been handcuffed, and there was a rope around his legs.
The observer returned the next day and photographed three naked bodies and a mattress that appeared to cover additional bodies that they had seen the previous day, and shared the photo with Human Rights Watch.
The observer said the damaged building was adjacent to a building used by the 16th Division as a base in the area. Both observers said that the only Iraqi armed forces they saw while they were in the area were from the 16th Division.
US Defense Department officials have said that they trained and provided support to the Iraqi 16th Division. In November 2015, Maj. Michael Hamilton, an officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, which took a lead in training Iraqi units, told Breaking Defense, an online defense magazine, that, “The 16th Division . . . was a new unit when we first came in country” and that the 82nd Airborne guided them from “rudimentary training” all the way through operations in Ramadi.
He added that, “they were probably the most successful Iraqi army unit participating in that operation.” Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm whether US training and support is ongoing.
The Iraqi 16th Division has been implicated in other extrajudicial executions. On the same day they saw the four men being led away, both observers saw a body lying on the rubble near the division’s base that appeared to be of a boy about 14.
Photos of the body, which Human Rights Watch examined, seem to show a deceased male wearing only underwear, with a gunshot wound to his head and his hands bound by a plastic zip tie. A soldier from the 16th Division told one observer that his fellow soldiers had recently executed the boy because he had been an ISIS fighter.
The next day, two 16th Division soldiers escorted one observer through an area of rubble along the Tigris River and showed the observer the severed head of what the soldiers said was an American female ISIS sniper whom they had decapitated. It was not clear whether they decapitated her alive or after her death.
The soldiers then led the observer to a nearby area and showed the observer at least 25 bodies lying on mounds of rubble, and bragged that these were ISIS fighters whom they and their fellow soldiers had executed.
The observer shared photos of the severed head and the bodies with Human Rights Watch.
One of the observers said they saw several bulldozers in the area running over and burying bodies under rubble. The soldiers told them they were aiming to block the exits of any underground tunnels where ISIS fighters might still be hiding.
Throughout the military operation to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces detaining and holding at least 1,200 men and boys in inhumane conditions without charge, and in some cases torturing and executing them under the guise of screening them for ISIS-affiliation.
In the final weeks of the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch has reported on executions of suspected ISIS affiliates in and around Mosul’s Old City, including the discovery of a mass execution site.
Under the “Leahy Law,” the US government is required to suspend assistance to the 16th Division until the Iraqi government takes three steps, which are often known as “remediation components”: impartial and thorough investigations; impartial and thorough prosecutions or administrative actions, as appropriate; and proportional sentencing or comparable administrative actions.
Despite acknowledging that Iraqi forces committed violations of the laws of war during the Mosul operation and promising to punish those responsible, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held any soldiers accountable for executing, torturing, and abusing civilians or captured fighters.
Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings and mutilation of corpses, by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility.
Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes. Despoiling dead bodies and other outrages on personal dignity are violations of the laws of armed conflict and may amount to war crimes.
“The US military should find out why a force that it trained and supported is committing ghastly war crimes,” Whitson said. “US taxpayer dollars should be helping to curtail abuses, not enable them.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.