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Massacre In Somalia: US Troops To Blame?

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams / The Liberty Report – 2017-11-30 23:55:33

Massacre In Somalia: US Troops To Blame?

Massacre In Somalia: US Troops To Blame?
Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams / The Liberty Report

(November 30, 2017) — In August ten villagers in Somalia were killed in a military raid conducted by US and Somali troops. According to a recent investigation by the Daily Beast, they were killed by Americans.

A subsequent Pentagon/AFRICOM investigation claimed that those killed were all enemy combatants. Who’s telling the truth? But more importantly, why are American troops even operating in a country like Somalia.

There are no legitimate threats to the US in Somalia. The only threats will come if the US continues to kill civilians, which leads to radicalization of the population. More in today’s Ron Paul Liberty Report:

Somalia: US Denies Allegations of
Civilian Massacre in Somalia

Shabelle Media Network

MOGADISHU (November 30, 2017) — The US Africa Command (Africom) on Wednesday denied allegations that an operation carried out in August by American troops in Somalia resulted in civilian deaths.

“After a thorough assessment of the Somali National army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, US Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants,” Africom said in a statement.

Africom’s statement came after the American news website The Daily Beast reported earlier in the day that there was strong evidence the US-led operation resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians, including at least one child.

Citing unnamed sources, The Daily Beast said US Navy Seals fired on unarmed farmers in the village and then took pictures of those shot with weapons falsely planted beside their bodies to appear as though they were armed.

In addition, the news website reported that after opening an investigation into the incident, Somalian federal government officials told The Daily Beast the inquiry confirmed that those shot were civilians and its information was buried after the US government put pressure on Somali officials.

However, Africom denied the claim without addressing The Daily Beast story, saying SOCAF conducts detailed planning and coordination to reduce civilian casualties and to ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict before the US carries out an operation with partner forces.

“US Africa Command and the Department of Defense take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously,” Africom added.

The US has about 500 troops in Somalia, with two new military headquarters in Mogadishu.

US forces have been working with the Somali government to fight the al-Shabaab terror group, which has publicly boasted of its alliance with al-Qaeda and has been fighting Somalia’s internationally recognized government for control of the country since the militant group was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by African Union-led forces.

Copyright 2017 Shabelle Media Network. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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

Reports of a New US War Crime: This Time in Somalia

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

Christina Goldbaum / The Daily Beast – 2017-11-30 23:29:22


Strong Evidence that US Special Operations
Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia

Christina Goldbaum / The Daily Beast

“The body of a pre-teen boy in a brown t-shirt
and dark blue jeans stretched out beside
the pot where he had boiled tea.”

MOGADISHU, Somalia (November 29, 2017) — IT WAS AROUND FIVE IN THE MORNING when Abdullahi Elmi heard the gunfire. Sitting in his small home in Bariire, in southern Somalia, the farm administrator had been recording the names of the laborers who had worked the day before.

Stacks of accounting books sprawled on the floor around him. Across the room, his wife sat with their 3-year-old son who dozed as his mother rocked him back and forth in her arms.

When the sound of gunshots began, Abdullahi thought they were too far away to be heading toward his farm. But within seconds they seemed to grow louder, and closer, sending Abdullahi and his wife, carrying their young son, sprinting through the nearby forest of banana trees in search of safety.

Sheltering beneath the long leaves, Abdullahi came across his neighbor, Goomey Hassan, who had also sprinted into the banana grove with his wife when he heard the barrage of gunfire. The two families waited for 20 minutes before they decided it was safe to return, and began walking cautiously back to their homes, both Abdullahi and Goomey careful to walk in front of their wives in case the gunfire returned.

As the women entered their houses, the two men stood outside to see what had happened, eventually spotting Somali National Army soldiers walking in the distance. At first Abdullahi was relieved, the national army must have come to stop their rival clan from attacking their farm, he thought. But as the soldiers saw the men, they raised their weapons, ordering Hassan and Elmi to get down on the ground.

“I put my hands up and they told us you are under arrest, then I heard the noise from their big cars and I knew this was more than just a clan fight,” Elmi said. “They told my wife to go back in our home and then they went inside to search. I was pleading with them not to take anything.”

When the soldiers finished their search, they ordered the men to move with them toward the scene of the shooting. There Abdullahi and Goomey saw their fellow farmers’ bodies sprawled across the ground. The small pot that one of them had been using to make tea still stood upright near the corpses. And they also saw what they later estimated to be around 20 American soldiers standing around the bodies.

A Somali National Army soldier who was at the scene estimated 10 to 12 Americans were there. Abdullahi felt his chest tighten as he heard his friend, Ali-waay, calling for help, blood from a gunshot wound pouring into the earth around him.

One of the Somali soldiers ordered Abdullahi to put his head on the ground. The bottom of a boot belonging to an American soldier kept it there.

* * *
on Aug. 25 would result in the death of 10 civilians, including at least one child, and become the largest stain on US ground operations in the country since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.

In the operation’s aftermath, hundreds of people in the nearby town Afgoye flooded the city’s streets demanding justice for those killed, and survivors on the farm refused to bury their dead until the Somali government recanted its allegations that they were members Al Shabaab, and offered an apology.

The Daily Beast conducted an investigation into the Bariire operation and its aftermath, interviewing three of the operation’s survivors over the phone from Mogadishu and meeting in person with the Somali National Army Commander in charge of the Somali soldiers who assisted in the operation under the command of soldiers from US Special Operations Forces.

The Daily Beast also met in Mogadishu with over two dozen Somali intelligence officers, political analysts, local leaders, and former and current government officials familiar with the incident. Two of these individuals are also involved in an ongoing local, non-government-sponsored investigation into the incident.

The Daily Beast also met in person with the commander of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces whose purview under the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force includes Bariire, and who was approached by the Americans about their plan to re-capture and hold Bariire.

The vast majority of these sources preferred to speak anonymously, either because they were not authorized to discuss the incident or because they feared possible retribution from either the Somali Federal Government or the Americans for doing so.

The details that emerged paint a damning picture of at least one US ground operation in the African nation. This includes US Special Operators firing upon unarmed civilians, using human intelligence from sources widely considered untrustworthy to Somalis in the region as well as government officials, and instructing their Somali counterparts to collect weapons that were being stored inside a home — not displaced on the field in the course of the firefight — and placing them beside the bodies of those killed prior to photographing them.

In the aftermath of the incident, according to our sources, American diplomats also pressured the Somali government to bury the unfavorable findings of a Somali Federal Government-led investigation.

Hours after the operation, AFRICOM released a statement noting that it was aware of allegations of civilian casualties in the operation and that AFRICOM was “conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.” The AFRICOM press release also stated that “the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with US forces in a supporting role.”

Yet a majority of bullet casings collected from the farm that was attacked, which were seen by The Daily Beast, were from American — not Somali National Army — weapons. This appears to confirm that the Special Operations team did not command SNA while remaining behind during the operation, as the AFRICOM statement would have the public believe, but rather were responsible themselves for firing upon and killing unarmed civilians.

According to Maj. Audricia Harris, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, “this incident remains under investigation” and the DOD cannot comment on any specifics of the employment of US Special Operations forces. She noted that US Special Operations “take all measures during the targeting process to avoid or minimize civilian casualties or collateral damage and to comply with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict.” (The complete list of queries and responses can be viewed here.)

The details surrounding the planning of this incident collected by The Daily Beast suggest, however, that the Special Operations Forces involved in this mission did not sufficiently vet the information they were presented with prior to carrying out this operation.

* * *
has long been a hotspot in Somalia’s decades of conflict, with Bariire town at its heart. The area is one of the most fertile regions in the otherwise barren Somali landscape: here farmers cultivate green fields of bananas, mangos, and tomatoes running parallel to the Shabelle River while businessmen sell the produce in the nearby capital Mogadishu.

But the same lushness that makes the region attractive to farmers has also made it desirable real estate for Al Shabaab: the plentiful crops are ripe for taxation, the vegetation is good for taking cover from drone surveillance, and the Shebelle River creates a natural barrier between Al Shabaab and enemy forces, while its bridges create opportunities for Al Shabaab’s hit and run attacks.

The Islamic extremist group has held sporadic control throughout the region since January 2009, when the Ethiopian forces that had helped oust the Islamic Courts Union, a confederation of Sharia courts that rose to power in southern Somalia in 2006, withdrew from the region.

Though in the years following the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia or AMISOM retook some large towns and established Forward Operating Bases throughout Lower Shabelle, the area remains one of the last large swaths of territory where Al Shabaab maintains pockets of control.

For years the heart of Al Shabaab’s dominance in the area of Lower Shabelle near Mogadishu could be found in Bariire town, located just 45 kilometers from the capital. From this town the group ran courts they used to implement Sharia law in the region and organized attacks carried out in Mogadishu.

According to Minister of Parliament Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, the town had acted as Al Shabaab’s “small capital” near Mogadishu. “[Bariire] had become a nightmare for the Somali government and created problems for Somalia’s security partners,” Fiqi says. “Every security report [Somali Parliament’s Security Committee] received, Bariire was included.”

And the Somali Parliament wasn’t the only one taking note of Bariire. US Special Operators recognized the town’s strategic significance as well, which is why in July this year they approached the Ugandan People’s Defense Force or UPDF Brig. Gen. Kayanja Muhanga, whose responsibilities under AMISOM include Lower Shabelle, about a plan they had developed to retake Bariire town and the surrounding region.

Unlike US operations in years past, this campaign wouldn’t consist of targeted airstrikes or raids, both of which have seen relative success in Somalia. Instead, the US wanted to hold the land they would capture and provide intermittent on-the-ground support with the local force in charge of maintaining control of the territory.

According to Brig. Gen. Muhanga, the Americans were requesting the Department of State sponsored equipment for building Forward Operating Bases or FOBs, such as caterpillars and graders, from a nearby AMISOM FOB, as well as UPDF troops to be retasked with the Somali National Army to hold the terrain in Bariire and beyond.

The UPDF general was skeptical of this plan. His troops were already overstretched across the region; not only would they not be able to provide adequate security for the FOB building equipment, but he questioned whether he could lend enough troops to hold a new FOB with the Somali National Army, which he knew to be under-trained, under-equipped, and likely unable to hold any outposts themselves.

And in addition to foolhardy planning of the hold-terrain operation, the Americans also appeared to be woefully unaware that in this vast and forest-rich region, Al Shabaab isn’t the only factor contributing to instability. Further complicating the security landscape is the ongoing conflict among Somali clans, primarily the Habar Gidr and Biyomal.

The rivalry between them, like most clan conflict in the country, revolves around land and, with the emergence of a functioning Somali state, power.

Though clan alliances and clan conflicts span centuries, the current flare up in Lower Shabelle dates back five years when Biyomal and Habar Gidr renewed their fight over the majority Habar-Gidr-controlled land.

The Biyomal, a smaller clan which have traditionally lived in Lower Shabelle, claim the land is rightfully theirs given their historic presence in the region, while the Habar Gidr began to migrate south to the fertile Lower Shabelle in the 1990s when civil war broke out and their clan won authority in the region. They maintain that having lived on the land for decades they can legitimately call it their own.

But unlike centuries past, clan conflicts in modern Somalia have been complicated first by Al Shabaab and later by the presence of AMISOM, American Special Operations, and other foreign militaries operating in the country.

Since Al Shabaab formed in 2007, the group has thrived on local conflicts, offering support to the militias in their clan wars in exchange for their firepower when Al Shabaab confronts government forces. But farmers in the region, who aren’t part of these militias, though they are often armed to protect their land and livestock, aren’t as lucky. When their territory is taken over by Al Shabaab, they don’t have a choice: either agree to pay taxes to the group and to live under their authority or risk disarmament and death.

This modus operandi creates a military landscape ripe for confusion, where distinguishing Al Shabaab militants from armed farmers in Al Shabaab controlled territories requires accurate, unbiased, on-the-ground intelligence.

Yet because foreign militaries, including US Special Operations, often rely either on clan militias, or the Somali security forces which have incorporated some of these militias into their ranks, for human intelligence, there is ample opportunity for clansmen to label their rivals falsely as “Al Shabaab,” and garner the support of foreign forces, and their much more sophisticated weaponry, in their own clan wars.

When the UPDF commander, cognizant of the difficulties of terrain and this kind of operation, turned down the American’s request for UPDF support and advised against the mission, the Americans turned instead to the Somali National Army’s 20th Brigade, a poor semblance of a military at best.

“I told the US guys the SNA can’t hold ground, they don’t have the weapons to hold ground,” Gen. Muhanga said. “These American guys are our friends, but they came in rushing into operations without understanding the SNA capability because they wanted to achieve something themselves.”

Unlike the SNA’s special forces unit, Danab, which has been trained by the Americans to operate alongside them in ground operations, the SNA brigade this US team approached had not only never been trained by any US Special Operators but also was led by a former Al Shabaab commander, Sheegow Ahmed Ali, who had worked closely with the Biyomal militia in the region, led by Abdullahi Ali Ahmed also known as “Wafo,” in the lead-up to this operation.

The Americans seemingly worked with them ignorant of both the clan dynamics pitting Wafo’s militia against Habargidir clansmen like those on the farm and of a complaint, obtained by The Daily Beast, made by the Lower Shabelle Community Elders committee to the regional president, the minister of interior, the United Nations mission, the US Embassy, the E.U. Delegation and the African Union representative last year about Wafo’s Biyomal militia attacking civilians and using AMISOM protection to do so.

The letter stated that “AMISOM is sheltering and providing logistical support to Biyomal militia forces . . . . while Biyomal Militia is burning farms, looting properties and killing innocent civilians without discrimination (elders, children, women and youth) under the AMISOM protection in their barracks.”

The Daily Beast also learned from multiple Somali government and security officials, that the Americans were using a translator who had a history of suspected manipulation of US Forces.

The translator, known as Bashir, had been involved in a 2016 operation in Galkayo, northern Somalia, in which a US drone strike targeted and killed 22 members of a local militia which had been working in collaboration with US forces, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. After the incident, many believed Bashir was complicit in providing inaccurate intelligence to the American forces because the local force was from a rival clan to his own.

Given that his wife is from the Biyomal clan, many suspect Bashir had helped persuade the Americans that the Habar Gidr on the farm were Al Shabaab as well, though the reason the US would use a translator suspected previously of manipulating them into killing non-Al Shabaab combatants is unclear.

“We don’t believe the Americans have any agenda to kill us, they don’t have an agenda to support one clan against another,” says Ali Osman Diblawe, one of the farmers who was attacked in the operation. “But the Biyomal clan used misinformation and propaganda to wrongly kill us. They persuaded the Somali government and the Americans that we are Al Shabaab, which we are not.”

* * *
is located on one of Lower Shabelle’s fault lines where government soldiers and Al Shabaab militants meet.

Six days before the operation on his farm, the fighting had come so close to his village that he and other farmers fled, returning to their homes a day later when the smoke had settled and Al Shabaab militants vacated the area.

The fighting he and other villagers heard was in Bariire town, where even without the UPDF support, the American Special Operations team had begun their campaign to retake and hold first Bariire and then the surrounding area, according to UPDF Gen. Muhanga.

At first, the strategy appeared to be working: the US and SNA team successfully retook Bariire and set up four outposts on each corner of the city in order to hold it against Al Shabaab as planned.

With their farm just one kilometer away from Bariire town, now seemingly under government control, Diblawe decided to meet with the SNA in Bariire and explain the ongoing clan conflict in the nearly liberated area. Diblawe and some of his fellow villagers owned small arms, mostly old AK-47s, to protect their land against the Biyomal, which he feared the SNA might misinterpret as the farmers being fighters for Al Shabaab.

Diblawe walked with a friend and fellow villager, Ali-waay, to Bariire town where he met with Gen. Sheegow. A rotund man who stands roughly five foot five inches tall, Sheegow didn’t give Diblawe the impression of a feared military commander.

But a glimpse into the 56-year-old’s life before he joined the Somali National Army proves otherwise. Prior to 2012, Sheegow was an Al Shabaab commander who defected to government forces with between 50 and 100 of his fighters. But most suspect it was a defection born from the fear of being imminently captured by Somali government troops than a change of heart.

The first battle his brigade fought with Al Shabaab under the SNA flag, they lost — along with a number of arms and military cars that fell into Al Shabaab’s hands. The incident raised questions about whether the general had lost on purpose in an effort to continue supporting the extremist group.

The Daily Beast met Sheegow in Mogadishu, where three government officials say he was to be reprimanded for the emerging pattern of civilian casualties under his leadership in the part of Lower Shabelle, for which his brigade is responsible. Sheegow denied those claims.

According to Diblawe, during his meeting with General Sheegow he explained that the Biyomal and the Habar Gidr had been fighting over land in the area Sheegow was now responsible for and suggested the general either disarm both groups or reconcile the two clans.

“He told us he would reconcile us with the Biyomal and that there wasn’t anything to worry about,” Diblawe says. Upon returning to his village, he told the villagers about his agreement with Sheegow and instructed them to place all of their small arms in one of the village’s corrugated tin homes, per the instructions of Gen. Sheegow.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Sheegow denied having met with Diblawe prior to the operation, although immediately after the incident he told local media that he had “talked with the farmers in the area and instructed them to put their weapons in their homes to avoid confusion” about who was and wasn’t Al Shabaab.

Waiting for the next steps in the reconciliation process, Diblawe and other villagers returned to their fields, hoping to hear word from Sheegow about when the reconciliation efforts would begin. But days later Diblawe and others in the village noticed something strange looming over their farms with a noise that pierced the sky around them.

Staring at the sky from outside his home, Diblawe though it looked like a strange crow circling the village. But the loud hum that pierced the otherwise peaceful landscape suggested otherwise. Diblawe knew this wasn’t a bird. It was a drone.

* * *
, around five or six in the morning and again around five in the evening,” Diblawe said. “It was clear the Americans with Sheegow were interested in us, that’s why they were using their spy drone above us.”

Diblawe returned to the general, begging Sheegow to let him speak directly with the Americans so he could clarify who the villagers were. Diblawe suggested the foreign force search their farm so they could see the small arms and Diblawe could explain why the villagers were in possession of them.

Again, Sheegow told him to be patient and that the reconciliation process would begin soon. Diblawe returned to his village wary of the general, and feeling disheartened knowing that without the general’s support, he had no chance of trying to communicate with the Americans directly.

The next day villagers spotted the drone hovering overhead again. Diblawe’s concerns grew. He returned to Sheegow for the third time, pleading to speak with the Americans. Again, Sheegow denied him.

That would be Diblawe’s last plea for help. The next morning gunfire tore through his small village and Diblawe’s concerns that the farmers had been mistaken for Al Shabaab were proven true.

* * *
with roughly 20 other villagers to say the morning prayer on Friday, Diblawe had crawled back into his bed hoping to rest a bit more before starting his day. Less than 10 minutes later he heard the sound of gunfire and sprinted out of his bed to his doorstep, from which he saw his neighbor, Ali-waay, standing with his hands up and uniformed men in the distance. Diblawe immediately started running toward the forest behind his house.

“I was barefoot and there were a lot of bullets hitting near me but I didn’t stop for one second, I ran and started heading in the direction of Bariire town, I thought the military there could stop the firing,” he said.

Arriving in Bariire, Diblawe first saw an SNA lieutenant, Mohamed Mohamud Abor, and ran up to him, demanding to see Sheegow. The lieutenant brought the winded farmer to Sheegow’s outpost, where looking the general in the eye Diblawe was overcome by a sense of both despair and bewilderment.

“I asked him why all of this is happening, we just left him here yesterday and told him our concerns, and now the people were being killed,” Diblawe said. “I told him let us rescue the people who are still alive, let us see if we can save these people.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the farm from Diblawe’s house, Abdullahi and Goomey were being escorted to the center of the village by Somali National Army soldiers. Told to lie down on the ground, the two men could hardly believe the carnage around them. Ten of their friends were sprawled across the ground. Some like Ali-waay — the same man who gone to town with Diblawe the day before — were barely alive and calling weakly for help. The soldiers around them were not listening.

Roughly thirty minutes earlier, Goomey had been praying with most of them, and saw the teapot they had begun to brew still sitting on the ground, the body of a pre-teen boy in a brown t-shirt and dark blue jeans stretched out beside it. He knew the others would have been waiting for the tea when the barrage of gunfire began. The Daily Beast has photographs of the villagers taken after the attack, although many are too graphic for publication. They show the teapot, a black water heater, and a large pot scattered around the boy’s body.

Near the boy, Goomey saw his friend, Dangaweyne, who had traveled with him from the nearby town Afgoye to their small village the day before. A few meters away was another wounded man, Abdullahi Abdullahi, weakly shouting “save me, save me!” in the direction of Goomey and Abdullahi Elmi.

Just beyond was Ali-waay, his chest bleeding, begging the men to help him and another man, asking if someone could move his leg which had been contorted after he fell to the ground from a gunshot wound.

Abdullahi asked the Somali soldiers if he could help the men. The Somali soldier looked at Abdullahi for a moment and agreed. But as he started to stand up, an American soldier stopped him. “The American guy got angry and directed me to lie down, so I lay down with my chest on the ground and he put his boot on me to keep me there,” Abdullahi said. With his head tilted to his side, Abdullahi could see the Somali soldiers entering the house where the farmers had kept their old AK-47s.

Carrying the weapons out of the home, the Somali soldiers then placed them beside the bodies of the other villagers. He and Goomey also saw three of the American men, who Goomey describes as one tall man with two shorter men next to him, taking pictures of the bodies with the weapons placed beside them.

One of the men was taking a picture with a small black camera that gave off a flash with each photo taken, while the other two were taking photos on their phones, Goomey says. A Somali National Army soldier who arrived later at the scene estimated there were between 10 and 13 US Special Operators in the village who, he said, were Navy SEALS.

As they were taking photos, Abdullahi saw the Americans point the Somali soldiers to a small house. They entered the makeshift shanty and emerged with a roughly 50-year-old man known as Hassan “Dooro,” whose second name means “chicken” in Somali, because he is a chicken farmer. Abdullahi later learned from Hassan, that the Somali soldiers found him lying under his bed where he had hidden once he heard the sound of gunfire.

Back in Bariire, Sheegow had agreed to give Diblawe a vehicle of SNA soldiers to take him to the farm. Sheegow first said he was informing the Americans in Bariire so they could warn their counterparts at the farm, and after around 15 minutes Diblawe headed back in the direction of his village. When they arrived at the scene, Diblawe could hardly believe what he saw and looking at the American soldiers he was amazed by how well equipped they were.

While the SNA soldiers were carrying AK-47s, the Americans had machine guns and three well equipped armoured vehicles. A Somali National Army soldier in Bariire later described the American’s weapons as looking like a more modern and smaller version of an M16 which were outfitted with scopes and were extendable at the back. Goomey also noticed the cars, which he describes as the “color of tea when you add milk to it.”

Once Diblawe arrived, the Somali soldiers who came with him also looked with horror at the scene, some of them saying they knew these men and knew they were civilians. “The Somalis who came later were crying as they were looking at these people, one of them was asking why they killed these people and that he knew Ali-waay, why was he shot,” Abdullahi says.

A few minutes later, the soldier who had told Abdullahi and Goomey to get on the ground, said they were released and got back into their car. With that the Somali and American team packed into their vehicles and left the scene, the message that these were civilians having finally been relayed to them.

With the help of the Somali soldiers who arrived with Diblawe and stayed at the scene, they began collecting the bodies of the dead, still in shock from what had just transpired.

When Abdullahi finally went back to his small home, he saw that the money on his shelf was gone. The soldiers had taken everything.

* * *
the Somali soldiers if he could help the men. The Somali soldier looked at Abdullahi for a moment and agreed. But as he started to stand up, an American soldier stopped him.

“The American guy got angry and directed me to lie down, so I lay down with my chest on the ground and he put his boot on me to keep me there,” Abdullahi said. With his head tilted to his side, Abdullahi could see the Somali soldiers entering the house where the farmers had kept their old AK-47s.

Carrying the weapons out of the home, the Somali soldiers then placed them beside the bodies of the other villagers. He and Goomey also saw three of the American men, who Goomey describes as one tall man with two shorter men next to him, taking pictures of the bodies with the weapons placed beside them.

One of the men was taking a picture with a small black camera that gave off a flash with each photo taken, while the other two were taking photos on their phones, Goomey says. A Somali National Army soldier who arrived later at the scene estimated there were between 10 and 13 US Special Operators in the village who, he said, were Navy SEALS.

As they were taking photos, Abdullahi saw the Americans point the Somali soldiers to a small house. They entered the makeshift shanty and emerged with a roughly 50-year-old man known as Hassan “Dooro,” whose second name means “chicken” in Somali, because he is a chicken farmer. Abdullahi later learned from Hassan, that the Somali soldiers found him lying under his bed where he had hidden once he heard the sound of gunfire.

Back in Bariire, Sheegow had agreed to give Diblawe a vehicle of SNA soldiers to take him to the farm. Sheegow first said he was informing the Americans in Bariire so they could warn their counterparts at the farm, and after around 15 minutes Diblawe headed back in the direction of his village. When they arrived at the scene, Diblawe could hardly believe what he saw and looking at the American soldiers he was amazed by how well equipped they were.

While the SNA soldiers were carrying AK-47s, the Americans had machine guns and three well-equipped armoured vehicles. A Somali National Army soldier in Bariire later described the American’s weapons as looking like a more modern and smaller version of an M16 which were outfitted with scopes and were extendable at the back. Goomey also noticed the cars, which he describes as the “color of tea when you add milk to it.”

Once Diblawe arrived, the Somali soldiers who came with him also looked with horror at the scene, some of them saying they knew these men and knew they were civilians. “The Somalis who came later were crying as they were looking at these people, one of them was asking why they killed these people and that he knew Ali-waay, why was he shot,” Abdullahi says.

A few minutes later, the soldier who had told Abdullahi and Goomey to get on the ground, said they were released and got back into their car. With that, the Somali and American team packed into their vehicles and left the scene, the message that these were civilians having finally been relayed to them.

With the help of the Somali soldiers who arrived with Diblawe and stayed at the scene, they began collecting the bodies of the dead, still in shock from what had just transpired.

When Abdullahi finally went back to his small home, he saw that the money on his shelf was gone. The soldiers had taken everything.

With little public acknowledgment of wrongdoing from the national government, a former official then began an independent investigation into the operation, in the course of which he collected the shell casings from the area in the days after the attack.

The Daily Beast saw photos of the shells taken at the scene as well as five individual shell casings in person in Mogadishu.

According to multiple weapons experts consulted by The Daily Beast, the casings are a mix of both 7.62×39 mm rounds, mostly likely from AK-47s such as those used by the SNA, and 5.56×45 mm NATO rounds on M27 disintegrating belt links.

The 5.56x45mm rounds are used by M249 Squad Automatic Weapons or their lighter versions, the Mark 46 or Mark 48 machine guns, which are known to be used by US Special Operators. These links are also stamped “ALK,” which indicates manufacture at the Lake City Ammunition Plant, a US government owned facility in Independence, Missouri, which manufactures and tests small caliber ammunition for the US military.

The Somalia National Army is not in possession of any weapons that would fire such rounds. According to a former high-ranking intelligence official who is now a senior security advisor to the Somali Federal Government, the Somali National Army only carry AK-47s, PKMs, and some DSHk machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks due to the longstanding arms embargo the U.N. Security Council imposed in January 1992.

Additionally Diblawe, Goomey, and Abdullahi, all eye witnesses of the attack’s aftermath, noted that the Somali National Army soldiers present were carrying AK-47s which do not incorporate the type of machine gun belt link which composed the majority of those casings collected on the farm, while the American soldiers were carrying what they described as machine guns.

This evidence strongly suggests that the American team themselves fired upon the farmers and that soldiers serving under the US Special Operations Command can be held directly responsible for the deaths of these unarmed civilians.

* * *
, roughly one month after this operation, the four outposts the Americans had established with the SNA around Bariire town were overrun by Al Shabaab forces. According to the UPDF commander, the Americans and Somalis had set up three outposts on each corner of the city, two on the north side of the town with Danab, which had been posted to Bariire after the farm incident, and SNA forces and one on the south side across the Shabelle River with Gen. Sheegow’s SNA forces, with a bridge crossing over the river connecting them.

Early that morning, Al Shabaab detonated two vehicle born IEDs or VBIEDs in Bariire, the first of which destroyed the bridge connecting Sheegow’s outpost to the two others on the other side of the river.

After the bridge was destroyed, another VBIED hit the Danab base and Al Shabaab fighters began to assault both the Danab and SNA northern outposts. By the end of the two hour long siege, at least 40 soldiers were dead, according to a member of the SNA, and at least 10 of their vehicles and much of their equipment had been seized by Al Shabaab.

“The Americans came with that over-confidence that they could hold Bariire, but even if you have better weapons, you have to know the terrain,” says Gen. Muhanga, who also noted the Americans had visited the outposts the day before they were overrun, but left to return to Mogadishu. “I warned them those outposts would be overrun, I warned them that those boys would be killed.”

The loss of Bariire town signaled the end of the failed US military campaign to retake and hold the area from Al Shabaab. Today, the town is under the control of Al Shabaab — and Diblawe, Abdullahi and Goomey, who have lost ten of their friends, are once again subject to Al Shabaab’s extremist rule.

UPDATE, 1:30 P.M. EST, Nov. 29, 2017:

In an apparent rush to preempt The Daily Beast‘s investigation of the Bariire incident, published earlier today, AFRICOM announced this afternoon that it had concluded its investigation. It offers no evidence whatsoever to corroborate its findings. This is the full text:

August 25 Civilian Casualty
Allegation Assessment Results Released

After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, US Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

United States Africa Command
Stuttgart, Germany Nov 29, 2017

After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, US Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

Before conducting operations with partner forces, SOCAF conducts detailed planning and coordination to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties and to ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict. US Africa Command and the Department of Defense take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.

For details on the Aug. 25 operation, visit: http://www.africom.mil/media-room/pressrelease/29846/civilian-casualty-allegations-in-somalia

That link leads to the initial statement about the operation in August, which provides no details whatsoever:

Civilian casualty allegations in Somalia
We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.

We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.

We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with US forces in a supporting role.

US forces are in Somalia at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia and are committed to helping Somali forces neutralize al-Shabaab and bring stability to the region.

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

The Deadliest Year on Record for Global Land Defenders

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

The Oakland Institute & Global Witness – 2017-11-30 22:44:41

Special to Environmentalists Against War

The Deadliest Year on Record for Global Land Defenders
The Oakland Institute

(November 23, 2017) — 2017 is on course to be the deadliest year on record for land rights defenders. 153 activists have been assassinated this year — and those are the ones we know of. Thousands more face displacement, violence, intimidation, and arrest — all for standing up for their right to live on their land.

This is a reality we know only too well.

From Mr. Okello Akway Ochalla, the indigenous leader who is serving nine years in an Ethiopian jail for speaking out about human rights abuses in his home region of Gambella, to Nasako Besingi, who was arrested in September for his ongoing activism to halt land grabs in Cameroon, to Paul Palosualrea Pavol, a community leader in Papua New Guinea who is fighting a restraining order that prohibits him from stepping foot on his own land.

The criminalization of our partners has never been so great, or so deadly.

“It’s a disaster. People have been evicted from land that is the basis of their livelihoods, their culture, and their social fabric. People have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed because they demanded their right for the land.”
– Ethiopian Land Rights Defender

In the face of this growing crisis, in 2015 the Oakland Institute launched a Legal Defense Fund. To date, this fund has supported land rights defenders in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Palestine, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Senegal.

The groups we support through this fund aren’t professional NGOs. They don’t have access to pro bono lawyers, large budgets, or international media. Often they don’t even have a postal address. They are communities of pastoralists, indigenous groups, and farmers at the forefront of the global struggle for land and life who are taking risks every day in the name of justice.

And when the bulldozers or the police arrive, the Oakland Institute is proud to be by their side!

You see, over the years we’ve learned that advocating for land rights, indigenous groups, and agroecological alternatives is about much more than just writing policy briefs. It’s also about organizing lawyers, support networks, and bail money for community leaders when they are detained; denouncing the anti-terrorism legislation that locks up land rights defenders; and standing up for the rights of those who take risks everyday around the world for their land, life, and freedom.

Our Legal Defense Fund allows us to do this critical work. Please join us in our commitment to stand with our community partners, day-in-and-day-out, in the fight for justice around the world.

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank, bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues of our time.

Connect With Us
The Oakland Institute, 1506 40th Avenue, Oakland, CA 94601. (510) 474-5251. www.oaklandinstitute.org

The Dramatic Rise in Killings of
Environmental Land Defenders

2014 Global Witness Report

“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees.
Then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest.
Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.”

— Chico Mendes

Executive Summary

(2014) — Never has it been more important to protect the environment, and never has it been more deadly. Competition for access to natural resources is intensifying against a backdrop of extreme global inequality, while humanity has already crossed several vital planetary environmental boundaries.

At the same time, more and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the frontline of the battle to defend their environment from corporate or state abuse, and from unsustainable exploitation.

This report shines a light on the sharp end of this rapidly worsening and poorly understood problem. The issue is notoriously under-reported, but between 2002 and 2013, we have been able to verify that 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment. Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week.

There were almost certainly more cases, but the nature of the problem makes information hard to find, and even harder to verify. However, even the known level of killings is on a par with the more high-profile incidences of 913 journalists killed while carrying out their work in the same period.

The death rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which are not documented in this report.

This rapidly worsening crisis appears to be hidden in plain sight. A lack of systematic monitoring or awareness of the growing threat to environmental and land activists is enabling killings and a wide range of other abuses, while national governments and judicial systems are regularly failing to protect their citizens from harm.

In June 2012, Global Witness’ report, A Hidden Crisis, was released at the Rio+20 Summit. Nearly 25 years after the assassination of Brazilian rubber tapper and forest activist Chico Mendes, the report warned of a growing human emergency in the world’s land and forestry sectors — killings were steadily rising as protection of the environment emerged as a key battleground for human rights.

The report’s findings and recommendations were noted at the summit, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay commenting, “It is shocking, but it is not a surprise to me because this is what my own office has been finding in respect of the land claims of indigenous people, not only here in Brazil but elsewhere.”

Yet in the month after the Rio summit, 18 environmental and land defenders were murdered across seven countries. The day the summit closed, two advocates for fishermen’s rights were abducted nearby in Rio de Janeiro state. Almir Nogueira de Amorim and Joao Luiz Telles Penetra were found executed a few days later. They had long campaigned to protect Rio’s fishing communities from the expansion of oil operations. To date, no-one has been held to account for their killings.

They were just two of 147 known killings of activists in 2012, making it the deadliest year on record to be defending rights to land and the environment.

In December 2014 government officials from around the world will gather for the next climate change talks in Lima, Peru. Without urgent action, they are once again likely to be discussing ways to protect the conditions for life on the planet, while the murder and intimidation of ordinary people actually defending the environment and land go ignored.

This report aims to increase awareness and improve understanding of this crisis, asks why so little is being done to address it, and makes recommendations for what must happen. Given that a lack of information on this issue was identified as a key driver of the problem in “A Hidden Crisis,” we have refined our data-gathering methodology and definition of those affected.

We hope this will provide a solid foundation for future research and monitoring by Global Witness and others. We have also looked into the underlying causes of the problem globally and in specific countries, and consulted widely with partners in the field to see what work is being done, and how it can be supplemented. Finally, we have updated our statistics to cover the two years since our last publication.

People have died protecting a wide range of environmental needs and rights, but dominant themes also emerge. Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation. Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit.

In many cases, their land rights are not recognised by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as ‘anti-development’. Yet local communities are invariably struggling to secure good livelihoods as a result of their stewardship of natural resources, which is fundamental to sustainable development. Often, the first they know about a deal that goes against their interest is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.

This problem is poorly understood and addressed. Where cases are recognised or recorded, they are generally seen in isolation and not as part of a larger trend. Definitions of those affected vary widely, with the unique set of problems these defenders face often seen solely in terms of their human rights or environmental dimension.

Plenty of excellent and highly courageous work is being done by NGOs in specific contexts, generally in a single country or region, but they need more and better support from outside. A key theme emerging from our consultation process was the view that a more coordinated, concerted effort is required from governments, civil society and international bodies such as the UN to monitor and tackle this crisis as a global phenomenon in its own right.

Our analysis highlights an endemic culture of impunity, which national governments and their aid donors have a responsibility to address. Often, defenders face threats from the very people supposed to protect them — a number of cases involve state security forces, often in collaboration with corporations and private landowners.

The lack of political will to ensure large resource deals are done fairly and openly appears matched by the lack of political will to deliver justice for those killed in resulting conflicts.

Evidence suggests that responsibility rarely only lies with the person pulling the trigger — complex and secretive networks of vested interests ultimately lie behind these crimes. Just 10 perpetrators are known to have been tried, convicted and punished between 2002 and 2013 — around one per cent of the overall incidence of known killings.

This lack of redress for victims and their families has an additional silencing effect on environmental activism, in turn deterring others from protecting rights to the environment and land. In the words of Isolete Wichinieski, National Coordinator of the Commisao Pastoral da Terra (CPT) in Brazil, “what feeds the violence is the impunity.”

Weak understanding of rights or ability to exercise them is one of the main reasons why environment and land activists are one of the most vulnerable groups of human rights defenders, according to Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders: “[they] are particularly disadvantaged due to the often limited knowledge they have about their rights and lack of information on how to claim them, scarce resources and weak organisational capacity.”

Meanwhile, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox commented to Global Witness:
“Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them. Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health. The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”

The aim of this report is to push for this to happen, firstly by making the problem more visible and urgent for governments, policymakers and the wider public. We have included extended case studies that focus on countries where the issue is particularly serious, in the Philippines and Brazil, to help better understand these contexts. Brazil is particularly badly affected, accounting for over half the global total of deaths from 2002-2013.

These findings are very likely just the tip of the iceberg in two important respects. Firstly, rising fatalities are the most acute and measurable end of a range of threats including intimidation, violence, stigmatisation and criminalisation. However, lack of public information around these threats and security implications for those in danger make it very difficult to track and systematise this data.

Secondly, there are without doubt more cases than we have been able to verify. Because of the live, under-recognised nature of this problem, an exhaustiveglobal analysis of the situation is not possible.

For example, African countries such as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Zimbabwe that are enduring resource-fuelled unrest are highly likely to be affected, but information is almost impossible to gain without detailed field investigations. In future, Global Witness hopes to carry out such work to further bring this issue to national and international attention.

But others must act as well, and they must do so now. What we can say with grim conviction is that we have a dramatically worsening global situation, and that national governments, companies and the international community must do much more to stop the violence, intimidation and murder of those we should be celebrating as heroes.

Key Facts
* Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the rate doubling to an average of two people a week in the past four years.

* Only 10 perpetrators are known to have been tried, convicted and punished between 2002 and 2013 – around one per cent of the overall incidence of known killings.

* Brazil is the most dangerous place to be defending rights to land and the environment, with 448 cases, followed by Honduras (109) and the Philippines (67).

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

More Guns on America’s Streets as Army Prepares to Start Selling Weapons to US Citizens

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

Jared Keller/ Task and Purpose – 2017-11-30 22:08:42


The Army Plans On Selling Off Its
Remaining Arsenal Of M1911 Pistols

Jared Keller/ Task and Purpose

(November 21, 2017) — The .45 ACP M1911A1 pistol has served the US armed forces for more than a century in every war zone and hotspot on the planet — and thanks to this year’s federal defense budget, it will serve civilians for the foreseeable future.

The $700 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that Congress sent to President Donald Trump’s desk on Nov. 16 included an amendment that required the Secretary of the Army to transfer a cache of small arms and ammo “no longer actively issued for military service” to the government-sponsored Civilian Marksmanship Program, including the M1911 and M1911A1 pistols, the M-1 Garand, and .22 rimfire rifles.

The 1911 semiautomatic pistol, invented by legendary firearms inventor John Moses Browning, proved extremely reliable in the hands of American Expeditionary Forces during the opening years of World War I. According to the National Interest, Army Sergeant Alvin C. York neutralized six German soldiers who charged him with fixed bayonets using nothing but his 1911, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor and heroism.

Although the 1911A1 variant that emerged in the US after WWI was phased out of regular military service in favor of the Beretta 92 pistol (aka the M9) starting in 1985, its power persists. The Marine Corps ordered 12,000 M45A1 Close Quarter Battle Pistols, a 1911-modeled firearm from Colt Defense in 2014; the pistols went to MARSOC Raiders, with a handful going to special operations-capable Marine Expeditionary Units.

The last transfer of 1911s to the CMP was in 2015, when President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that included a measure to transfer 10,000 pistols for sale to the program; lawmakers have stated that May that the DoD spends $2 a year to store each of its 100,000 surplus 1911s. With 10,000 already transferred and 8,300 additional pistols “sold or disposed of,” per Guns.com, that means there are at least 80,000 1911s ready and waiting for a nasty civilian to give them a good home.

Jared Keller is a senior editor at Task & Purpose and contributing editor at Pacific Standard. Follow Jared Keller on Twitter @JaredBKeller

The Army Is Selling the Rest of Its Vaunted
M1911 Pistols — Here’s How to Get One

Jared Keller / Task & Purpose

(November 30, 2017) — After writing about the potential mass sale of the Army’s surplus .45 ACP M1911 pistols through the government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), I received a f— ton of emails over the course of my Thanksgiving travel that broke down into two main categories:

1. It’s Medal of Honor, not “Congressional” Medal of Honor (I’m a civilian and moron, so thank you for correcting me!)
2. When and where can I grab one of these bad boys!?

At the moment, details are scarce. The $700 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes the transfer of weapons “no longer actively issued for military service,” including thousands of M1911 and M1911A1 pistols, to the CMP is currently sitting on President Donald Trump’s desk. And according to the military surplus pipeline, “the limited number and the exceedingly high demand” for the sidearm has sparked congressional scrutiny that’s prompted the board of directors to reexamine how it handles future sales.

It’s tricky to speculate on legislation that hasn’t even passed and what will likely become a brand new sale process, but given the excitement over the sidearm that’s accompanied American troops into every conflict zone for more than a century, we can’t help but attempt to read the tea leaves on the future of the legendary pistol:

How many M1911 pistols are going to be available?
A US Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime-raid force fires an M1911 .45 caliber pistol at a range in Jordan during Eager Lion 2013.We Are The Mighty via US Marine Corps

The DoD doesn’t publicly post arsenal inventories for obvious reasons, but thank God for Rep. Mike Rogers. In 2015, the Alabama Republican introduced a similar transfer amendment to the NDAA, stating that the Pentagon spends “about $2 per year to store 100,000 Model 1911s that are surplus to the Army’s needs.”

President Barack Obama later signed an NDAA that included a measure to transfer 10,000 pistols to the CMP, although Guns.com notes that only around 8,300 have been shelled out in recent years, mostly to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program .

So that’s, what, around 90,000 M1911s up for grabs in the long run?

Why is 90,000 a ‘limited number’?
This year’s NDAA amendment regarding the weapons transfers stipulates that only between 8,000 and 10,000 M1911 pistols will go to the CMP each year, and only for the next two years — which means collectors may have to fight over a scant 16,000 bad boys.

Well, let’s take the worst-case scenario: that only 8,000 M1911 pistols ship to the CMP annually. That shakes out to a little more than a decade of releases assuming the measure passes consistently every two years, which seems likely given its inclusion in the 2015 and 2017 NDAAs.

On the downside, this means competition will be fierce — but on the upside, you’ll have multiple chances to grab an M1911 should you miss your first shot.

Oh s—! So when can I grab one?
Well, this annual sale thing assumes that the actual transfer goes smoothly — which it won’t because, you know, logistics. Guns.comsmartly notes that all military surplus firearms that originate from the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama go through a rigorous inspection and testing process to assess the condition of each firearm. Given that most of the Army’s M1911 stockpile was manufactured before 1945, a significant portion will require repairs or simply end up as scrap due to missing parts.

This doesn’t just whittle down the available pool of M1911 pistols for eager collectors but slows the actual distribution and sale process to a crawl. “The odds of finding a mint-in-the-box specimen that has escaped 70-years of Army life without being issued will be slim,” as Chris Eger put it , “but even those guns will have to be checked and certified.”

Great, so that’s the ‘what’ and the ‘when.’ Now: How do I get one?
First of all, you’ll need to satisfy the general federal and state-level restrictions (age, background check, etc.) around firearms. But more importantly, you need a membership with a CMP-affiliated club — and luckily for you, the organization has a handy search engine to help you find your nearest favorite new hangout, where membership tends to run around $25 annually.

HOWEVER: If you’re a veteran or a member of one of CMP’s ” special affiliates ” — congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, professional organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, or an active-duty service member, reservist, National Guardsman, or retiree — you’re essentially good to go.

Okay, cool, but how do I GET one?
You’ll need to provide proof of American citizenship, through a birth certificate, passport, or another official document.

You’ll also need a copy of your official CMP club membership card (duh) or a Club Member Certification Form. (An odd side note: Apparently this means you can only use your military ID as proof of citizenship if you’re E-5 or above? What’s the deal with that? Get at me if you know why.)

No more forms, idiot — HOW DO I GET ONE?
Once the 2018 NDAA passes, the CMP will likely make an announcement on their site regarding sales [following submission of a “Civilian Marksmanship Program Universal Order Form” — EAW]/

And when they do: Holy Ordering Form, Batman!

Copyright 2017, Task & Purpose.

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

Polar Bears Massing on Russian Island — A Sign of Arctic Change

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

Maria Antonova / Agence France-Presse – 2017-11-30 11:23:59


Polar Bears Crowd on
Russian Island in Sign of Arctic Change

Maria Antonova / Agence France-Presse

Tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic spotted some 200 polar bears in September roaming on a mountain slope where they had feasted on a whale carcass, but scientists see the gathering as a sign of the Arctic changing (AFP Photo/Max Stephenson).

MOSCOW (November 22. 2017) — A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that some 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.

“It was a completely unique situation,” said Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve where the encounter in September happened. “We were all gobsmacked, to be honest.”

The bears had come to feast on the carcass of a bowhead whale that washed ashore, later resting around the food source. The crowd included many families, including two mothers trailed by a rare four cubs each, Gruzdev told AFP.

Climate change means ice, where polar bears are most at home, is melting earlier in the year and so polar bears have to spend longer on land, scientists say.

This might wow tourists but means the bears, more crammed together on coasts and islands, will eventually face greater competition for the little food there is on land.

Locals are also at risk from hungry animals venturing into villages.

Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia’s Chukotka in the northeast, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.

It is also considered the birthing centre for the species, with the highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic, Gruzdev said.

“A whale is a real gift for them,” he said. “An adult whale is several tens of tonnes” that many bears can feed on for several months.

Studies have shown that, compared with 20 years ago, polar bears now spend on average a month longer on Wrangel Island because “ice is melting earlier and the ice-free period is longer,” said Eric Regehr, from the University of Washington, the lead American scientist on the US-Russian collaborative study of Wrangel Island polar bears.

Changing ice conditions could also be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there, Regehr said.

This autumn, the number of bears observed was 589, far exceeding previous estimates of 200-300, he said, calling it “anomalously high”.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates there are about 26,000 polar bears in the Arctic, with a long-term “potential for large reductions” due to ice loss.

Ice is key as polar bears hunt exclusively on the ice surface, often staking out seals by their breathing holes.

Nothing Can Replace Seals
Regehr said the polar bear population in the shared US-Russian Chukchi Sea “appears to be productive and healthy” at the moment, but as time spent on land continues to increase, the bears’ nutrition and body condition will be affected.

“The question is at what point the population will begin to experience negative effects, is that at one and a half months (more time on land than normal), two months, more?” he asked.

“We don’t know exactly, but there is a threshold somewhere in the future.”

Despite some food sources on land — including musk oxen, lemmings, or even grass — nothing can completely replace the energy-packed seals that bears have evolved to rely on.

“They are resourceful and adaptable animals, and some bears will probably find something to eat, but the number of bears we currently have in the Arctic definitely cannot be sustained on land,” Regehr said.

That made the image of hundreds of bears around the whale carcass both impressive and concerning, he said.

“There is evidence that it foreshadows the future: larger numbers spending more time on the island and ultimately less time on the sea ice with fewer prey, with a negative cascade of effects.”

Moving Walruses
One effect is the increasing chance of conflict between polar bears and humans, for example in native Chukchi settlements, all of which are located on the coast.

Since mid-October, polar bears have been coming dangerously close to a Chukotka village called Ryrkaipy, which is located near Kozhevnikov Cape, an important site for walrus gatherings, or haulouts, that lies about 200 kilometres (about 124 miles) south of Wrangel Island.

With changing ice conditions, walruses can be forced to come ashore in steep unsuitable areas.

This year, hundreds died as the huge animals crushed one another, possibly after being disturbed by a predator, said Viktor Nikiforov, a polar bear specialist and coordinator of Marine Mammals expert centre.

The problem is that some walrus corpses then floated to the village, attracting polar bears. “One bear broke the window of a house,” Nikiforov said.

The village went on high alert, forbade children to walk to school and cancelled some public events, reports said.

Nikiforov said scientists and locals used bulldozers to move walrus corpses away from the village. He echoed concerns that bears spend more time ashore as the ice-free period becomes longer.

“The concentration of people and animals in one area increases and there is conflict,” he said.

“We cannot stop climate change, but we can sort out the situation on the shore and make life easier for the bears,” he said, referring to measures such as bear patrols to minimise conflict with humans.

“With changes in nature, that has to be attended to.”

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

A Pentagon Nuclear Dumpsite Is About to Be Swamped by Rising Sea Levels

November 30th, 2017 - by admin

Joe McCarthy / Global Citizen – 2017-11-30 11:20:35


A Tiny Island Used as a Nuclear Dumpsite
Is About to Be Submerged by Water

Joe McCarthy / Global Citizen & EcoWatch

The 100-meter-wide crater on Runit Island was deemed a good place to dump as much plutonium-contaminated soil as possible. Google Earth.

(November 28, 2017) — The Enewetak Atoll is all but invisible on Google Maps. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, the ribbon of land is home to a small indigenous population that has seen their way of life eroded by decisions far outside of their control.

For more than half a century, the atoll, which is part of the Marshall Islands, has been contaminated by nuclear explosions and waste, according to ABC Australia. The decades ahead could leave it submerged by rising sea levels.

In this way, Enewetak “is at the intersection of two of the biggest problems of the last century and this century, nuclear weapons and sea level rise,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York who has studied the atoll, told Global Citizen.

Both of these problems are at risk of converging, ABC Australia reported, because the main holding container for the atoll’s nuclear waste is being compromised by rising waters.

The atoll’s problems began in the 1940s and 1950s when the US began using it for nuclear bomb tests. The people of Enewetak were evacuated and 67 nuclear bombs were dropped, devastating wildlife, spreading nuclear toxins far and wide, and creating massive craters.

One of those craters was on Runit Island. In the late 1970s, the US began to partially clean the nuclear waste from the island. Some of the radioactive chemicals had relatively short half-lives, Michael Gerrard wrote in an op-ed, and were left to naturally decay despite their risks. Another toxin, plutonium-239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and had to be dealt with.

The 100-meter wide crater on Runit Island was deemed a good place to dump as much soil contaminated with plutonium as possible. Chunks of unexploded plutonium-239 were also disposed of in the hole.

When the cleanup was finished — far below standards that would be deemed sufficient in the US, according to Gerrard — a massive concrete shell was built to cover the hole.

No reinforcements were made to the bottom and sides of the hole, meaning the waste directly interacts with the soil and a dumpsite for radioactive waste fails to meet standards for normal trash landfills, Gerrard said.

The displaced people of Enewetak Atoll were finally allowed to return in 1980, despite the widespread contamination of their home. Traditional forms of fishing, farming and gathering had to be abandoned because the wildlife became too contaminated, ABC Australia reported.

And despite the ongoing threat posed by the non-reinforced radioactive dumpsite, no adjustments have been made to it, ABC noted. That’s because the radiation outside the dome exceeds the radiation inside of it, according to the US Department of Energy report, so the release of the waste wouldn’t make a major environmental difference.

Rising sea levels have compromised the dome in the years since its construction, a problem that has only grown worse in recent years, and a powerful typhoon could destroy it, according to the report.

The Marshall Islands are around six feet above sea level, and large parts of Enewetak are at risk of being submerged in the years ahead. Current flooding rates are already making the islands uninhabitable once again, according to ABC Australia.

“It’s important to recognize that the Marshall Islands are doubly screwed,” Gerrard said. “They were the site of nuclear explosions by the US, and one of the things that they left behind was this nuclear dome and the other thing is the country is going underwater because of greenhouse gas emissions for which the US is major contributor.”

Ultimately, the people of Enewetak may once again be uprooted from their native lands, especially if contamination becomes worse, ABC Australia noted.

“That dome is the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age,” Marshall Islands climate change activist Alson Kelen told ABC Australia. “It’ll be a very devastating event if it really leaks,” he said. “We’re not just talking the Marshall Islands, we’re talking the whole Pacific.”

The threat faced by Enewetak reflects a larger nuclear threat around the world, Gerrard said. Globally, nuclear power facilities are generally built along coastlines, because of how much water they use and to be close to cities and towns.

The destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan made clear just how precarious this arrangement can be — six years after the disaster, nuclear waste is still pouring out of the facility. Rising sea levels could put other reactors and dump sites around the world at risk, especially if extreme weather continues to intensify as expected.

The people of Enewetak know all too well what it’s like to live in what is essentially a nuclear dumpsite. Keeping the atoll safe by both mitigating climate change and further cleaning its islands could show the rest of the world how to navigate a potentially perilous future.

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

Routed in Syria, the US Should Admit Its Crime, Face Punishment

November 28th, 2017 - by admin

David Macilwain / Russia Insider – 2017-11-28 21:29:07


Routed in Syria, the US Should Admit Its Crime, Face Punishment
David Macilwain / Russia Insider

(November 25, 2017) — Now the day of reckoning has arrived, marked by the meeting of Presidents Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Their conference was also a meeting of militaries, whose cooperation and success on the battlefield against Western-backed terrorists has brought us to this point. So we need to be clear about what happened, and what did not happen.

Syria has been under siege for six and a half years — longer than the siege of France in WW2 — to which the siege of Syria bears some superficial similarities. Such analogies can be misleading — France was under “collaborative occupation” by Germany, while Syria’s situation more resembles that of France in World War One — the similarities are rather in the question of guilt.

In both World Wars, there was little debate or doubt over who was the aggressor; France was not invaded because of preceding provocations or attacks on Germany, or seizure of its territory. Western powers who came to France’s aid in both wars did so to defeat German forces and restore French sovereignty over its own territory.

Such is the case with Syria, and this crucial point is now emphasised by the successful defeat of the invading and occupying forces. Syria played no part in starting the war in March 2011, either by provocations against its neighbours or in abuse of its own population that might justify “humanitarian intervention” (though noting that such infringement of another state’s sovereignty may in any case not be authorised under international law).

Both militarily and politically, the conflict was not a “civil war” in the sense that it arose from internal disputes between different ethnicities, religions, or even political and economic conflict. Supporters of the government and the Syrian Arab Army or opponents of the Opposition could be found amongst all of these different groups, though the converse was not the case.

Defying their claims to represent “the Syrian People” and “democracy,” the armed opposition and its support base within Syria were almost exclusively Sunni and hostile to everyone else, an extremism defined by the slogan “Christians to Beirut and Alawites to the grave.”

Although in some sense the war developed into a civil war, as sectarian tension was stoked by the increasingly jihadist nature of the insurgency, this may be seen as the cornerstone of the “Syrian conspiracy.”

As happened in Bosnia 25 years earlier, mixed ethnic communities who had peacefully coexisted for centuries were turned against one another by foreign actors in a fundamentally malicious plan to “divide and rule.”

It is frankly astonishing, and barely comprehensible, that today we can still see the very same actors — the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and their supporters — continuing to pursue the same illegitimate agenda practically unchanged, even as the victors of the Resistance define the terms of a settlement in Sochi and Moscow.

Those terms, as the culmination of the series of meetings in Astana and their work on deconfliction zones and ceasefire agreements, have shut the US and its Gulf partners out of the settlement. After years of pointless “negotiations” in Geneva achieved nothing because of US duplicity, the Astana meetings have been a remarkable success, such that cooperation and reconciliation between nearly all Syrian groups on the ground is now moving ahead very rapidly.

Appropriately enough, the only remaining groups who continue to fight the Syrian Army and launch attacks on civilians around Damascus and Idlib are also the only ones supported by the malignant “Friends of Syria” and their “Syrian National Opposition” club, now holding their own “me too” gathering in Riyadh. This club of losers is a sorry sight, even as it is displayed to the world through the Western media, and given legitimacy by the presence of the UN’s Stephan de Mistura.

The pronouncements from “The 2nd Expanded Syrian Opposition Meeting” in Riyadh, made by its Saudi spokesperson and apparent mastermind Adel al Jubair, now have no relevance or authenticity, though they retain an air of menace, backed by six years of lies and unstinting support for takfiri mercenaries in Syria.

The calls from these “anti-Syrians” for a “political transition” excluding Assad has become a parody, while the true leaders in the defence of Syria stand proudly in front of their people, in Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Beirut.

It reminds one of a small town council meeting, where amongst the motions on car parking spaces and plastic waste collection there is a resolution to support a mission to Mars.

But this is not such a meeting, and the continuing support of the UN both for the members of the SNC — some of whom are directly linked to terrorist groups still killing people in Syria — and for the illegitimate and corrupt agenda of this fake “Syrian Opposition” group, is highly disturbing. Even Turkey, whose partnership with Saudi Arabia in supporting the “Army of Conquest” accompanied its long support for the SNC, has changed sides to join Russia and Iran in Sochi.

That the UN could still put its weight behind the conspirators responsible for the war on Syria, when the true depths of their collusion and cooperation with terrorist groups including Islamic State has now been exposed, is a credit to the stranglehold the Western propaganda narrative has over its subject populations, including the UN.

This narrative can no longer be sustained, particularly following the most recent exposure of collaboration between the US and IS in the “liberation” of Raqqa by the BBC, that most influential voice of the UK establishment.

However, those in the centres of Western power who pretend they can just retreat from the virtual battlefront under the protection of the Geneva conventions afforded to surrendering forces, are deceiving us yet again.

Unlike Germany’s forces in World War Two, who were forced to accept the terms of trial and punishment, followed by decades of penance and reparations, the aggressor nations neither accept nor even recognise their responsibility for the Syrian catastrophe.

But this grand deception — a well-planned and ruthlessly executed scheme to push the interests and agenda of the US and its local allies at any cost, simply cannot go unrecognised and unpunished. It is not enough for them simply to retreat, and keep their powder — and that of their terrorist proxies — dry till the next “opportunity” arises or is created.

Syria’s President is not a vengeful man, and the current straightened circumstances in Syria don’t allow such a luxury; his government’s recent demand that US coalition forces immediately leave Syrian territory may have to suffice so long as it is enforced.

That coalition includes Australia, and while the Australian government refuses to confirm its role in assisting Islamic State in Eastern Syria as part of the US coalition operations, “enforcement” must mean its forces will be targeted without warning if they are on or over Syrian territory. The strong support Australia is already giving to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also amounts to proxy aggression against Syria in this context.

While it may be a hollow threat to “make the aggressor nations pay” for what they have done to Syria while a state of delusion and denial is entrenched across the Western cultural and political hemisphere, it cannot simply be forgotten or overlooked.

Even though Syrians have already shown themselves capable of forgiving their own brethren for being swept up by the fake revolution and even for committing terrible atrocities against each other, they must not be expected to be so generous to those foreign criminals who knowingly and intentionally inflicted so much pain and destruction on them.

As “intermediaries” in this war, it is now up to us to relentlessly pursue our own governments on behalf of Syrians until our leaders’ guilt in planning or colluding in this terrible crime is proven and admitted and some sort of penance imposed. At the very least our efforts through alternative media platforms such as this one must prevent such a monstrous and murderous conspiracy from being hatched ever again.

If that seems almost impossible, then we must go further — confronting our leaders directly, publicly demanding that they reject the Saudi-backed “Syrian Opposition” as illegitimate, and support Russia’s forthcoming Syria conference and settlement plans unambiguously.

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

Is North Korea Really a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’?

November 28th, 2017 - by admin

Ron Paul / Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity & AntiWar.com – 2017-11-28 21:23:14

Is North Korea Really a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’?

Is North Korea Really a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’?
Ron Paul / Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity & AntiWar.com

(November 28, 2017) — President Trump announced last week that he was returning North Korea to the US list of “state sponsors of terrorism” after having been off the list for the past nine years. Americans may wonder what dramatic event led the US president to re-designate North Korea as a terrorism-sponsoring nation.

Has Pyongyang been found guilty of some spectacular terrorist attack overseas or perhaps of plotting to overthrow another country by force? No, that is not the case. North Korea is back on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism because President Trump thinks the move will convince the government to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program. He believes that continuing down the path toward confrontation with North Korea will lead the country to capitulate to Washington’s demands. That will not happen.

President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued that North Korea deserved to be back on the list because the North Korean government is reported to have assassinated a North Korean citizen — Kim Jong-Un’s own half-brother — in February at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

But what does that say about Washington’s own program to assassinate US citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son under Obama, and later Awlaki’s six-year-old daughter under Trump? Like Kim’s half brother, Awlaki and his two children were never tried or convicted of a crime before being killed by their own government.

The neocons, who are pushing for a war with North Korea, are extremely pleased by Trump’s move. John Bolton called it “exactly the right thing to do.”

Designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will allow President Trump to impose the “highest level of sanctions” on North Korea. Does anyone believe more sanctions — which hurt the suffering citizens of North Korea the most — will actually lead North Korea’s leadership to surrender to Washington’s demands? Sanctions never work. They hurt the weakest and most vulnerable members of society the hardest and affect the elites the least.

So North Korea is officially a terrorism-sponsoring nation according to the Trump Administration because Kim Jong-Un killed a family member. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is in the process of killing the entire country of Yemen and no one says a word. In fact, the US government has just announced it will sell Saudi Arabia $7 billion more weapons to help it finish the job.

Also, is it not “state-sponsorship” of terrorism to back al-Qaeda and ISIS, as Saudi Arabia has done in Syria?

The truth is a “state sponsor of terrorism” designation has little to do with actual support for global terrorism. As bad as the North Korean government is, it is does not go abroad looking for countries to invade. The designation is a political one, allowing Washington to ramp up more aggression against North Korea.

Next month the US and South Korean militaries will conduct a massive military exercise practicing an attack on North Korea. American and South Korean air force fighters and bombers will practice “enemy infiltration” and “precision strike drills.” Are these not also to be seen as threatening?

What is terrorism? Maybe we should ask a Yemeni child constantly wondering when the next Saudi bomb overhead might kill his family. Or perhaps we might even ask a Pakistani, Somali, Iraqi, Syrian, or other child who is terrified that the next US bomb will do the same to his family. Perhaps we need to look at whether US foreign policy actually reflects the American values we claim to be exporting before we point out the flaws in others.

Reprinted from The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity.

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

The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order

November 28th, 2017 - by admin

Marjorie Cohn / Truthout – 2017-11-28 20:52:08


The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order
Marjorie Cohn / Truthout

(November 25, 2017) — On November 19, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command, declared he would refuse to follow an illegal presidential order to launch a nuclear attack. “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail,” the general explained at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia. “You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

Gen. Hyten is correct. For those in the military, there is a legal duty to obey a lawful order, but also a legal duty to disobey an unlawful order. An order to use nuclear weapons — except possibly in an extreme circumstance of self-defense when the survival of the nation is at stake — would be an unlawful order.

There is cause for concern that Donald Trump may order a nuclear strike on North Korea. Trump has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons. In early 2016, he asked a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing and then queried, “If we have them why can’t we use them?” During a GOP presidential debate, Trump declared, “With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

As the heated rhetoric with North Korean president Kim Jong-un escalated, Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” by pursuing diplomacy with North Korea. Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. During his visit to South Korea earlier this month, Trump distinguished his administration from prior ones, who refrained from using nuclear weapons against North Korea. “This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past,” he said. “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”

In April, “multiple senior intelligence officials” told NBC News that the administration was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike” if they thought North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test. Preemptive strikes violate the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of military force except in self-defense or with permission from the UN Security Council.

A Duty to Obey Lawful and Disobey Unlawful Orders
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that all military personnel obey lawful orders. Article 92 of the UCMJ provides, “A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the laws of the United States. . . . .” Additionally, both the Nuremberg Principles and the Army Field Manual create a duty to disobey unlawful orders.

Article II of the Constitution states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” However, Article I specifies that only Congress has the power to declare war. Taken together, the articles convey that the president commands the armed forces once Congress authorizes war.

The president can only use military force in self-defense or to forestall an imminent attack. There must exist “a necessity of self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” under the well-established Caroline Case. A president has no lawful authority to order a first-strike nuclear attack.

In its advisory opinion, “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined in 1996 that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.”

The ICJ continued, “However . . . the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” That means that while the use of nuclear weapons might be lawful when used in self-defense if the survival of the nation were at stake, a first-strike use would not be.

Article 509 of Field Manual 27-10, codifying a Nuremberg Principle, specifies that “following superior orders” is not a defense to the commission of war crimes, unless the accused “did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful.”

“Every violation of the law of war is a war crime,” Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states. The law of war is largely contained in the Geneva Conventions.

Gen. Hyten, who said he had been trained in the law of war for many years, cited its four guiding principles: distinction, proportionality, necessity and unnecessary suffering.

The first is distinction. “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives,” Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol 1, says. Article 85 describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach, which is considered a war crime. Nuclear weapons do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Another guiding principle is proportionality. “Loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained,” according to the US Army Field Manual FM27-10: Law of Land Warfare. The damage a US nuclear weapon would inflict — the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — would vastly exceed the military object of destroying North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Military necessity is also a well-established law of war. It allows “those measures not forbidden by international law which are indispensable for securing the complete submission of the enemy,” according to the Lieber Code. It is never necessary to use a nuclear weapon, except in certain hypothetical cases of self-defense if the survival of the US were at stake.

Finally, there is the principle of unnecessary suffering. “It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering,” according to Article 35.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. A nuclear attack on North Korea would kill and maim untold numbers of people.

If the president ordered a nuclear strike, Gen. Hyten said he would offer legal and strategic advice, but he would not violate the laws of war simply on the president’s say-so.

Who’s in the Nuclear Chain of Command?
Last month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) worried that Trump may be leading the United States “on the path to World War III.” On November 14, Corker convened the first congressional hearing on the president’s power to use nuclear weapons since 1976.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national security interests.”

Ret. Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of the US Strategic Command, testified at the hearing that the military can refuse to follow what it views as an illegal order, including an order to launch a nuclear strike. To be lawful, an order must come from a source with legal authority and must be legal under the law of armed conflict, Gen. Kehler added.

Duke University Professor Peter Feaver testified that the president does not simply press a button to launch nuclear weapons. He can only give an order to others, who would then cause “missiles to fly.”

However, although he cannot “press a button,” the president has considerable power to manipulate circumstances in ways that would allow him to launch those missiles. Brian McKeon, senior policy adviser in the Pentagon in the Obama administration, testified that if a commander balked at carrying out a launch order, the president could tell the secretary of defense to order the reluctant commander to launch the missiles. “And then, if the commander still resisted,” McKeon added, “you either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander.” One way or another, McKeon said, the president would get his way.

Moreover, Bruce Blair, former nuclear missile launch officer and cofounder of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, told the Associated Press that a president can send a nuclear attack order directly to the Pentagon war room. From there, Blair said, that order “would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys.”

William Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, concurs. Perry told Politico that defense secretary James Mattis could not necessarily stop a nuclear launch order. “The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command,” Perry said. “So, in a five- or six- or seven-minute kind of decision, the secretary of defense probably never hears about it until it’s too late.”

Ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) advocated congressional reassertion of authority. He said they should not trust the generals or a set of protocols to act as a check on the president, or rely on individuals hired by the president to resist an illegal order.

“Donald Trump can launch nuclear war as easily as his Twitter account,” Cardin cautioned.

Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional War Powers
On October 27, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) introduced H.R. 4140, the No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act. The bipartisan bill, which currently has more than 60 co-sponsors, would prohibit the use of any federal funds to launch a military strike against North Korea or to introduce the US Armed Forces into hostilities with North Korea before Congress either declares war on, or enacts an authorization for the use of military force in, North Korea.

Contact your Congress member and insist that he or she sign on to H.R. 4140 as a co-sponsor.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. She is co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. The second, updated edition of her book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, was published in November. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

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Cuba Verde: Can Cuba’s Low-carbon Ecological Adaptations Endure?

November 28th, 2017 - by admin

Bill Weinberg / Earth Island Journal – 2017-11-28 20:18:26


Cuba Verde
As the long-isolated Caribbean nation opens up to global markets, will its low-carbon ecological adaptations endure?

Bill Weinberg / Earth Island Journal

(Autumn 2017) — Bicycle-taxi driver Yeral Garcia has a detailed mental map of his city and a keen sense of the events on the world stage that led to him pedaling tourists like me around Old Havana this spring. Before becoming a bici-taxista a few years ago, the 34-year-old worked as a longshoreman on the Havana docks. García says he pays the equivalent of $10 a month for his license, as well as $3 a day to rent the trike from its owner.

Still, in spite of the expenses, Garcia views his new job as a step up, one that allows him to support his young daughter. He makes about three times as much pedaling tourists around the city than he did on the docks. “It’s hard work, but it pays well,” he said. “Not to get rich, but to survive.”

I listened on as he deftly maneuvered through a tangle of traffic. He spoke of the hardship after 1991, the year that the Soviet Union collapsed. “The country was paralyzed. Those were terrible years. But the government began importing bicycles. That’s where this came from,” he added, gesturing to his sturdy pedal-cab.

Indeed, Havana’s bike-taxis are not merely convenient means of transportation in an increasingly crowded and hectic city — they can also be seen as potent symbols of that post-Soviet era. Years before they were retrofitted to shuttle tourists around town, these rugged, muscle-powered vehicles served a more pressing purpose: carrying food and other goods around the city during the interval of crisis and scarcity known among Cubans as the “Special Period.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia cut off the flow of cheap oil and ended the guaranteed prices for Cuban sugar, devastating the island’s economy. In Havana, storefronts were shuttered, gas stations were closed, and the infrequent public buses became dangerously overcrowded. As food supplies dwindled, malnutrition became alarmingly common.

The agony of the Special Period was deepened by US policy. With Cuba already hit hard by the implosion of the Soviet Union, Washington severely tightened the embargo it had put in place in 1962. The 1992 Torricelli Act and 1996 Helms-Burton Act imposed sanctions on foreign countries and non-US companies trading with Cuba.

photo Miguel DiscartDuring Cuba’s “Special Period,” bicycles served as a petroleum-free means of transporting food and other goods around Havana.

The country’s leaders responded by implementing a number of petroleum-free alternatives aimed at making the country self-sufficient. With cars few and far between, bicycles became nearly ubiquitous on Havana’s streets. Urban gardens sprang up on unused patches of land.

In rural areas, there was an official push for organic methods, in the absence of petrochemical fertilizers. With the old economy breaking down, these alternatives at least got people to work in the morning and put some food on the table. Amid the suffering and emergency conditions of the Special Period, Cuba became a kind of unlikely ecological laboratory.

Although Cuba’s ecological revolution was a response to suddenly imposed austerity, environmentalists from around the world took inspiration from the sustainable, low-cost, low-carbon adaptations the country developed to cope with energy scarcity.

Many looked to this model as an exemplar of the changes critical for human survival in the coming century, faced as we are with global climate disaster from fossil fuel emissions, the decline of soils from overdependence on petrochemical fertilizers, and endless wars in the Middle East driven by the imperative to control oil resources. Such measures, they argued, could be instructive for countries of the developed world that might, someday soon, be faced with energy crises of their own.

The Special Period largely came to an end when Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1999 and began providing Cuba with subsidized oil. The economy gradually recovered, and became considerably more open in 2006, after Raúl Castro took over executive powers from his aging brother Fidel. President Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba in 2015, anticipating an end to the embargo.

Today, Cuba has all but weathered the crisis, and is opening to the world economy in ways not seen since before the 1959 revolution. The government is wooing foreign investment, particularly in the tourism sector.

This economic transformation is obvious in Havana. Public buses now run regularly and are not as overcrowded. In the historic district of Old Havana, a kind of quasi-gentrification has taken hold. Brand new double-decker tourist buses idle in front of hotels bustling with foreign visitors.

Many of the iconic 1950s Detroit model cars, kept roadworthy through years of embargo by endless improvisation, sport shiny new paint jobs — though most still lack catalytic converters for pollution control.

Meanwhile, the bici-taxis are coming under heavier regulation. Under a new rule issued by Havana provincial authorities, bici-taxistas can be fined if they venture out of the municipality in which they are registered. Since metropolitan Havana is a single province, and each district its own municipality, this will certainly cut back on fares. None of these so-called signs of “progress,” it seems, bode well for the survival of Cuba’s eco-friendly alternatives.

This is how I ended up in Yeral Garcia’s bike-taxi in April, wending through Havana’s traffic. I wanted to see for myself Cuba’s recent economic transformation and how the ecological adaptations put in place during the Special Period were faring. As necessity erodes, will the ecological models developed during the Special Period wither along with it?

This was not my first trip to Cuba. The changes in the country since my first visit 24 years earlier have been drastic. That year, 1993, I was invited for a conference on urban bicycle transportation. It also marked the very worst of the Special Period.

Food shortages had reduced the average daily caloric intake of Cubans to a fraction of what it had been a few years earlier, and rolling blackouts turned large sections of Havana into an eerie ghost city at night. I remember bicycling back to my hotel after dark through streets of utter blackness, unable to see the pavement under my wheels.

At the Havana convention center where the conference was held, a banner over the stage read “la bicicleta lego para quedarse” (the bicycle has come to stay). Foreign attendees joked that we were witnessing the “Velorution in the Revolution,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the neologism coined by bicycle advocates for the consciousness shift leading to their mass acceptance, and to Régis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution?, the 1967 book on Cuba’s challenge to Latin America’s traditional left.

One of the organizers of the event was Gina Rey, then the director of an advisory think-tank to Havana’s government. In an interview with her after the conference, I asked if she was confident the bicycle would survive the eventual end of the crisis. She admitted she wasn’t sure. “The threat exists that when we overcome this difficult stage there will be a move back to automobiles,” she said. “It depends on what we can do to develop social awareness of the advantages of the bicycle apart from the economic situation.”

photo Flickr user marcel601Fruit and vegetable stands like these, a legacy of Cuba’s Special Period, remain common in Havana. The majority of the produce sold at the stands is grown on the island, much of it on urban farms within the city itself.

I caught up with Gina Rey again on my latest trip, almost a quarter century after our first visit. Today she is an urban planning specialist and a professor at the University of San Gerónimo in Havana. Where bicycles were concerned, the threats she had described to me all those years ago had come to pass. At the height of the Special Period there were nearly one million bicycles in Havana.

“Today it can’t be more than 100,000,” she said, citing lack of road safety and the disappearance of bicycle lanes, as well as other policies that have prioritized motorized transportation.

While the country’s bicycle programs did not fare well after the Special Period, other legacies of the ecological model have continued to flourish — such as urban farms and gardens. In Central Havana, fruit and vegetable stands are found every few blocks. The buhoneros, or street hawkers, sell organic bananas, pineapples, peppers, cabbage, carrots, onions, and garlic — often from bike-mounted carts. The vast majority of these crops are grown on the island — much of it on urban farms within Havana itself.

Rey said that these farms “are now part of the national urban agriculture program, which has continued its growth and development in a sustainable manner. In Havana, the results have been good, and this can continue improving at the community level, with an ever-more participatory process in the city’s neighborhoods.”

To get a better sense of just how these urban farms, or organopónicos, work, I took a taxi out to Vedado, a once-upscale district west of downtown Havana. At the heart of Vedado sits the Plaza of the Revolution, Cuba’s center of administrative power. Here, Che Guevara’s iconic face looks down from the wall of the interior ministry building. Just a couple of blocks from this expansive square, housing projects stand alongside faded mansions.

On one of these streets, I met with Isbel Díaz Torres, a handsome man whose clean-cut appearance belies his heretical politics. In addition to teaching literature at Havana’s Casa de Cultura, he’s one of Cuba’s handful of leftist dissidents. His network, the Cuban Critical Observatory, was founded after Raúl Castro’s assumption of power in 2006, with the goal of bringing an anti-capitalist voice to the agitation for greater freedom.

Díaz took me for a walk just a few blocks from his apartment. We passed big lots planted with bright-green rows of spinach, lettuce, chives, celery, parsley, and cauliflower. Workers with hoes tilled the ground behind fences intertwined with fruit-bearing vines. At one farm of no more than a few acres named Organopónico Plaza after the municipality that encompasses Vedado, I spoke with a few workers.

One was Director Jorge Albertini, who told me he quit his job as a police officer to oversee the farm. “I like this better,” he said, smiling. I asked about the agricultural methods being used to generate such yield and he quickly responded, “One-hundred percent organic! Chemicals are prohibited.”

The workers explained to me that many of these farms began spontaneously, yet often under the informal direction of bureaucrats who worked in the nearby government office buildings and were looking to feed their own employees during the Special Period.

Soon after, they were formally recognized, and organized as collectives. But to this day, Vedado’s organopónicos remain closely linked to the bureaucracy, with some selling produce to the Council of State, the highest governing body in Cuba, which has its headquarters nearby.

The organopónicos are all on state lands that stood vacant at the time of the Special Period. Overseen by Havana’s Empresa Agropecuaria Metro, or Metropolitan Agriculture Company, the farms are the product of a decree issued by the Council of Ministers in 1993, known as Law 142, which opened state-owned lands to local cooperatives.

Some consider this Cuba’s “third agrarian reform” following those decreed in 1959 and 1963, which effectively abolished large private plantations, known as latifundios. Law 142 broke up the big state-run farms in the countryside into smaller entities called Basic Cooperative Production Units, or UBPCs.

By the mid ’90s, there were around 3,000 UBPCs across the country comprising 3 million hectares or nearly 60 percent of Cuba’s agricultural lands. As they were institutionalized, the urban farms were incorporated into the country’s system of UBPCs, accounting for a total of 35,902 hectares in Havana alone, and more than one million hectares across Cuba’s cities and towns.

It’s not just the scale of the experiment that has grown; yields, too, have steadily increased, as horticultural methods for increasing output on small plots have improved.

Part of this same thrust of reform was the establishment of a system of free farmers’ markets in 1994, which allowed residents to buy local produce from private stands outside the official system of distribution and rationing.

In 2000, the Havana-based Alexander Humboldt Institute of Fundamental Research on Tropical Agriculture issued the Technical Manual of Organoponicos and Intensive Gardens, to encourage the urban farming movement. And state institutions such as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Camaguey began developing biofertilizers and biopesticides that utilize insectivores and natural compounds instead of industrially manufactured toxins. All of these developments were critical in the emergence and flourishing of the UBPCs.

Sinan Koont, who wrote the most in-depth study of the organopónicos in English, Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba, described their positive impact:

When vacant lots that have turned into garbage dumps are reconstituted as green spaces full of trees, flowers, vegetables, and ornamental plants, the result is not only aesthetic improvement — although urban beautification is certainly a desirable end in itself. In urban agriculture, however, these sites typically also become focal points in the community.

Whereas formerly they avoided the unsightly unofficial garbage dump and site of criminal activity, people now come to the new neighborhood parcels or organopónicos to buy vegetables, fruits, and medicinal and spiritual plants, and to interact with their neighbors.

However, in spite of the thriving organopónicos, Díaz expressed doubt about the long-term survival of community agriculture. Contrary to official claims, he said, the informal family gardens are being abandoned around the city. He noted that two how-to books on gardening and household self-sufficiency — El Libro de La Familia (The Book of the Family) and Por Nuestras Propias Esfuerzas (By Our Own Efforts) — both immensely popular during the Special Period, have been all but forgotten today and are out of print. “The perspective of growing your own food on plots proved temporary, now that we have oil and chemicals again.”

Moreover, though this model has found a niche in the cities with the organopónicos, Díaz said that the industrial-scale, chemical-intensive model of agriculture that predominated before the Special Period has re-emerged in the countryside. He pointed to growing areas of land under control of CubaSoy, a military-owned company, which is using its own brands of GMO seeds to produce soy for animal feed.

“In the ’90s, there was a diversification of crops and a move to organic methods, because it became necessary,” Díaz said. The irony, Diaz noted, is that “experts are going to seminars around the world to talk about this, while Cuba is moving away from this model.”

Diaz’s skepticism notwithstanding, there are some places in the countryside where the organic model has proven resilient — and that’s where I headed next.

After my stay in Havana, I traveled west, following what is now an established tourist trail to Viñales, a town of some 30,000 residents nestled at the foot of the spectacular Sierra de los órganos range. Limestone monoliths known as mogotes rise dramatically here, walls of bare rock creeping and crowned with lush vegetation.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, Viñales has parlayed its impressive scenery and the cachet of organic agriculture into an eco-tourism boom — a parallel economy overlaid atop the traditional campesino, or peasant, sector. In the countryside outside town, straw-hatted peasants driving oxen-drawn ploughs can be seen alongside tourists on mountain-bikes. Nearly every house in town has been turned into a bed-and-breakfast, which has been permitted by the government since 1997.

photo Konrad LembckeThe organic agriculture model instituted during the Special Period remains deeply rooted in Viñales and the surrounding countryside, where small farms have begun producing large quantities of fruits and vegetables in addition to tobacco.

The organic agriculture model instituted during the Special Period remains deeply rooted in Viñales — as it is in much of the surrounding province of Pinar del Río. For years, cultivation of the “intensive” crop tobacco, better suited to small plots than sugar, has allowed the survival of small landholders.

More recently, these small farms have been producing large quantities of fruits, vegetables, and staples such as the root crop malanga for the local market. I asked one young campesino who gave me a ride in his horse-drawn buggy how his family came to own its land. He answered proudly, “El Barbudo” — The Bearded One, Fidel Castro. Another I spoke to, working his field as I was hiking past, had a Che Guevara tattoo on his chest.

Despite increasing liberalization, the campesino sector is still largely protected. While the big state farms are mostly dedicated to export crops, the campesino sector in large part feeds the country, and has been key in Cuba’s push for “food sovereignty.”

Limits on the size of private agricultural holdings are still in place, and restrictions on the sale of agricultural lands are only being lifted tentatively. Small landholders can sell to the state or each other, or merge their lands in private cooperatives. However, mortgages, leases, and liens are prohibited.

One of the valley’s biggest tourist draws is Finca Agro-Ecológica El Paraíso, the Paradise Agro-Ecological Farm. Every day, tourists arrive by the busload to sit at long tables on the big porch for a multi-course lunch of dishes made from various greens, tubers, and legumes — all organic and all grown on the Finca — followed by a tour of the vegetable beds and fruit trees.

Wilfredo García Correa, owner and founder of the Finca, told me some of the history as he led me around the grounds. “Organic agriculture began here in the Special Period, and it has been expanding little by little since then,” he said. “The Special Period provided the impetus, but we came to realize the benefits. Every year more campesinos in Viñales go organic. The Russian advisors encouraged petro-chemicals in the old days, but now they have been almost completely abandoned in the Sierra de los órganos.”

García said he began with a small private plot. Then, in the early 2000s, the government granted parcels of unused adjacent state land. Some areas were heavily overgrown with marabú, an invasive weed. Over the last decade and a half, García has turned these unloved swaths of land into a thriving, self-contained, organic farm.

He showed me one vital part of the outfit, its vermiculture operation, which uses earthworms to break down organic waste into humus. Fat rabbits munched leaves in suspended cages, their droppings collected below to fertilize the beds that grow more greens for both rabbit and human consumption. Eventually the rabbits themselves are also eaten. “It’s a completely closed system,” García said.

Nearby, he reached into a honeycomb with his knife to scrape out a taste for me — produced by a local variety of bee, the melipona, that does not sting. He showed me non-chemical pest-control methods perfected through years of experimentation. Different colored flowers are planted to attract insects, then coated with grease to trap them, or treated with tabacina — water infused with tobacco, fatal to the pests but harmless to the plants.

García proudly pointed out the framed certificates of achievement he has received from the Agriculture Ministry and the National Association of Small Farmers, which hung on the porch of the Finca. He expressed his belief that the successful experiment in Viñales is ultimately a fruit of the agrarian reform. “Land to those who work it,” he said, quoting the slogan of campesino movements across Latin America. “This is very important.”

Despite the successful melding of farming and tourism here in Viñales, there are few similar models elsewhere in the country. Like most Caribbean countries, Cuba must import more than two-thirds of its food — although now more than half the vegetables consumed on the island are grown inside the country. The state still formally owns nearly 80 percent of Cuba’s arable rural land, some 5 million hectares.

Since 2009, about 1.5 million hectares of idle state lands have been leased to private farmers on ten-year terms. Of what remains under direct state control, some 700,000 hectares are still dedicated to sugar production.

Such realities underscore present-day Cuba’s vulnerabilities, said Samuel Farber, the Cuban-born author of Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, and several other books critical of the Castro regime from a leftist perspective.

“Current economic prospects do not presently look good for Cuba,” Farber told me over coffee back in New York, where he lives. “In spite of a boom in tourism, low growth rates and low productivity continue to plague the Cuban economy. Low commodity prices in the world market have affected nickel, an important Cuban export.”

External events also pose a threat. Venezuela’s political crisis has clearly been felt, and deep cutbacks of Venezuelan oil shipments recently halted operations at Cuba’s Cienfuegos refinery. Last year, at the start of an eight-month cessation of Venezuelan oil shipments, Cuba’s then economy minister Marino Murillo even warned of possible blackouts — an implicit invocation of the Special Period, when widespread power outages were commonplace in Havana.

And yet, in some ways, today’s Cuba is better positioned to weather a potential future crisis — for instance, due to growth in the country’s alternative energy sector. Gina Rey noted that Cuba is closer to self-sufficiency in many ways than before the Special Period. “New models have emerged, such as the use of solar energy,” she told me. “There already exist several photovoltaic fields in [Havana], and this is expected to continue expanding.”

Cuba stands at an economic crossroad today. It could build on the legacy of its Special Period adaptations, expanding the ecological model developed a generation ago to deepen its self-sufficiency. Or it could further open to foreign capital — seeking investment at any cost and joining global capitalism’s “race to the bottom.”

Left-dissidents like Díaz and Farber agree with Cuban officialdom on at least one thing: opposition to the US embargo. But the end of the embargo (certainly less likely under President Trump) would also mean new contradictions and challenges.

More foreign dollars would likely mean a diversification of oil sources to ride out interruptions from Venezuela. That in turn would likely lead to more development, more cars on the roads, and more carbon in the atmosphere. In such a scenario, it’s not hard to imagine organic agriculture being further marginalized, or reduced to small-scale tourist attractions in places like Viñales.

Caught between the pull of global capitalism and the centralist ideas inherited from the days when the nation emulated Soviet Russia, it is unclear whether Cuba faces renewed crisis or greater prosperity.

But one thing is certain — the ecological ethic it developed during the Special Period has survived as a third alternative. Its core ideas have been gaining wider acceptance far beyond Cuba’s shores. Bicycle transportation, urban horticulture, and chemical-free agriculture — the key adaptations of the Special Period — underpin the “no growth” policies and organic farming methods on the rise across much of the world today.

The dark nights of Cuba’s crisis are still, paradoxically, shedding light to help guide humanity away from its present dystopian course.

Bill Weinberg writes widely on Latin America and ecological issues, including for his website: CounterVortex.org

Reprinted with permission of the author and Earth Island Journal.

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