I am certainly not forgetting. What we did to Iraq is a major crime.
It was the most sickening thing I have witnessed in my lifetime.
This country is a moral disaster. People distract themselves with sports, drinking, popular culture hysteria but it can’t take away the shame of what we are. My greatest regret is that more people did not join the anti war movement. I see the crowds pouring into the soccer stadium here in Portland, eyes glazed over, and wonder, where were they when it counted for something? Why didn’t they join the Peace Movement?
The Oscar Pistorius-Ray Rice Moment September 12, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, South Africa, Sports, Women.
Tags: charlayne humter-gault, femicide, nfl, oscar pistorius, ray rice, reeva steenkamp, roger hollander, South Africa, violence against women, women
add a comment
BY CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, 12 September 2014, The New Yorker
From the moment that the Oscar Pistorius case began unfolding, with the news, the morning after Valentine’s Day last year, that he had shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, there was the small redeeming hope that it could be a teachable moment. The entire world seemed intensely focused on the story. In part, that was because of Pistorius’s celebrity and the physical challenges he overcame—he was born without fibulas, and his feet were amputated below the knee when he was an infant—and the images of Steenkamp, a smiling law-school graduate and model. He claimed that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar, shooting her multiple times through a bathroom door. But, while one man was on trial for murdering his girlfriend, what many believed would be on trial was the horrific epidemic of domestic violence in South Africa and all over the world, including in this country. Even as Pistorius’s trial wound to a close—he was foundguilty of culpable homicide, a charge akin to manslaughter, though he was acquitted of murder—another story involving an athlete was unfolding in the United States: the release of a video showing Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punching his fiancée at the time, now his wife.
Of course, it’s a coincidence that these two cases are in the public eye at the same moment, thousands of miles apart. No, Ray Rice did not kill his fiancée; he knocked her out cold. But, in this country, as in South Africa, the abuse and, yes, the murder of women is beyond horrendous, and most cases go unpunished or, unless the accused is a big guy with big bucks and a big rep, unnoticed. (And many times even then.) Since the Rice revelations, more women in the U.S. have talked publicly about having been abused by their partner—the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft were the labels for many wrenching stories this week. Many had suffered in silence, not speaking about what was happening to them or pursuing justice in the courts. Often—and this is especially true in South Africa, where the justice system and government services to assist women are inadequate, at best—just going to the authorities doesn’t protect women.
In South Africa, according to the civil-society organization Sonke Gender Justice, three women are killed by an “intimate partner” (the term includes current and former relationships) every day. It happens with such frequency that it has a name: “intimate-partner femicide.” There is also, in South Africa, the scourge of “corrective rape,” in which men believe that raping lesbians and gay men will “cure” them of their sexual orientation. (I wrote about this crisis for The New Yorker.) And yet there are few prosecutions.
In South Africa, many are so frustrated with the lack of justice, especially the rape victims—and, even more, gay rape victims—that they don’t even bother to report abuse.
But the domestic abuse and murder of women is not limited to a single place, whether South Africa or a hotel-casino in Atlantic City. The World Health Organization calls violence against women “a global health problem,” with its most recent statistics showing that thirty-five per cent of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence, and thirty-eight per cent of murders of women were committed by an intimate partner. Sonke’s executive director, Dean Peacock, said, “Multiple surveys carried out in nearly all regions of the world have found that the strongest factors associated with men’s use of violence against women are social norms that support men’s collective dominance over women.” Peacock added, “Children’s exposure to violence in the home, alcohol abuse, and easy access to guns all contribute to the unsafe environment women and children find themselves in.”
Those social norms take many forms. Recently, the jihadist onslaught in various parts of the world, which aims to put women back in positions of servitude, has played its part, including in the now almost forgotten abduction of more than two hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Most are still missing.
One question will be whether the mixed official response in the Pistorius and Rice cases advances any meaningful steps being taken to deal effectively with domestic violence and the murder of women. For many, the Pistorius verdict was a disappointment; though he has still been convicted of a serious crime, with the possibility of up to fifteen years in prison, he escaped the most serious consequences. (“This verdict is not justice for Reeva,” her mother, June Steenkamp,said on Friday.) Before the video came out, Rice had only been suspended for two games, even though it was known that he had knocked his fiancée unconscious; he has now been cut from the team and suspended indefinitely. Just how teachable is this Pistorius-Rice moment, at home and globally? There is hope in there, in the sharing of stories and difficult conversations. There is also a long way to go.
Clintonians Flock With Vultures Over Argentina July 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Argentina, Congo, Economic Crisis, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: Argentina, Bill Clinton, Congo, conn hallinan, cristina kirchner, Economic Crisis, hedge funds, hillary clinton, paul singer, Peru, roger hollander, the clintons, vulture investor
add a comment
Roger’s note: I confess to an intense dislike of the Clintons and their retinue. Whereas right wing ideologues and bigots make no secret of where they stand, the Clinton crowd pose as progressives as they and their close friends and supporters become millionaires whilst enacting and promoting policies that are damaging to the constituencies they claim to represent. From Bill the president we had drastic welfare reductions camouflaged as “reforms,” and the deregulation that led to the 2008 economic crisis that resulted in thousands losing their homes. From Hillary the Secretary of State we had super hawk foreign policy, a continuation of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, and support for military coup d’etat in Honduras, Egypt and now the Ukraine — all in the service of US corporate and geopolitical interests. A pox on their house.
By Conn Hallinan, OpEdNews Op Eds 7/24/2014 at 15:16:53
It is no surprise that right-wing Republican and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer should be trying to wring hundreds of millions of dollars out of Argentina for a debt that Buenos Aires doesn’t really owe him. He screwed tens of millions of dollars out of poverty-stricken Peru and the Republic of Congo using the same financial sleight of hand. What may surprise people, however, is that key leaders in the administration of former President Bill Clinton are helping him do it.
Singer, who owns Elliot Management, a $17 billion hedge fund, is the leading “vulture investor” — a financial speculator who buys up the bonds of debt strapped nations for pennies on the dollar and then demands payment in full. When Argentina defaulted on its foreign debt in 2001, Singer moved in and bought up $48 million in bonds. He is now demanding that those bonds be paid at full-face value — $1.5 billion — plus interest and fees. It is a move that could derail Argentina’s long climb back into solvency, as well as undermine debt settlements worldwide.
A recent decision by federal District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan may not only force Argentina to pay the vultures, it could unravel a 2006 debt deal between Buenos Aires and other creditors. Under the highly controversial principle of “pari passu” (“equal ranking among creditors”), if the vultures are compensated, so must all the other creditors, even those who settled back in 2006. That bill could reach $15 billion. Given that Argentina has only about $28 billion in foreign reserves, the tab could send Buenos Aires into a recession or force the country into bankruptcy.
The “sleight of hand” involves the fact that the countries the vultures prey on are not really in debt to creditors such as Singer and Eric Hermann of FH International Asset Management LLC. The hedge funds look for distressed countries, then buy their debt at bargain basement prices and sit on it. In the meantime, other creditors cut a deal to take a reduced payment on their bonds, which in turn helps improve the debtor’s economy and allows it to emerge from default.
That’s when the vultures sue, threatening to shut down outside aid programs, seize assets and freeze debtor nations out of international finance if they don’t pay up. Recent examples involving Singer include the Republic of Congo being forced to pay him $90 million on a $10 million investment. Singer’s investment of $48 million in Argentina’s debt would net him a 1,608 percent profit if Buenos Aires pays in full. Peru was similarly plundered.
Singer’s rap sheet is consistent with hard-nosed vulture tactics. He is a leading Republican fundraiser, and a member — along with former Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraq War designer Richard Perle — of the right-wing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. He helped bankroll Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and is a bitter critic of “unpayable” social welfare programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But the people who head up the main lobbying organization behind Singer’s current campaign, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), sit on the high councils of the Democratic Party and would likely be part of any Hillary Clinton administration.
The task force is essentially a front for several vulture funds, conservative and libertarian business groups, and agricultural organizations, like the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which would like to damage Argentina’s cattle export business. And its executive director is Robert Raben, former counsel for liberal Congressman Barney Frank, Democratic counsel for the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration.
ATFA’s two co-chairs are Clinton’s former undersecretary of commerce, Robert Shapiro, and Clinton appointee to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg. Shapiro was an adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and a senior adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 run for the White House. Soderberg, who served as a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy, was also a member of Clinton’s National Security Council and an alternative representative to the U.N. with the title of ambassador. She is currently a Democratic Party activist in Florida and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Raben, Soderberg and Shapiro have written numerous opinion pieces on Argentina using their Clinton administration credentials and, depending on the publication, have not always disclosed their lobbying ties. The three snookered the progressive Huffington Post into running opinion pieces until journalists Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim uncovered their ties to ATFA. HuffPo subsequently removed the articles from its website.
Because of the huge debt burdens borne by nations from Latin America to Europe, the Griesa decision has opened up a Pandora’s box of trouble. A number of financial institutions and countries — including the International Monetary Fund and organizations representing 133 nations — have condemned the vultures or filed amici curiae briefs on behalf of Argentina, fearing that the decision could chill future debt negotiations and threaten economies trying to work themselves out of the red.
Given the ongoing hangover from the 2007-08 international meltdown, there is a lot of vulture food out there.
The key role being played by important Democratic Party activists in this cruel business — for there is no other word to describe taking money from countries struggling to emerge from debt and recession — may seem contradictory. And yet it was the Clinton administration that deregulated national and international finance and fought so hard for policies that ended up impoverishing some of the countries the vultures are now preying on.
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pushed Argentina to privatize its state-owned industries, tie its currency to the dollar and institute the “Washington Consensus” of combining tax cuts with austerity. The result was economic disaster. From 1998 to 2002 Argentina’s economy shrank 20 percent and half the population fell below the poverty line.
Buenos Aires defaulted on its $100 billion debt in order to staunch the hemorrhage and pull the country out of an economic death spiral. In 2006, it negotiated a deal with 92.4 percent of its debt holders to pay 30 and 50 cents on the dollar. It was that deal that drew the vultures, which swooped in, scooped up some of the debt and then refused to accept the settlement.
The 2001 default blocked Argentina from tapping into international finance to tide it over until the economy recovered, but policies to end austerity and increase government spending eventually did the job. The economy grew at an average rate of 6 percent from 2002 to 2012 and Argentina paid off the IMF in 2006 and the Paris Club countries (representing the world’s 20 largest economies) in 2014.
But the vultures now threaten to undo much of this.
The Obama administration has come down on the side of Argentina because it is worried that financial institutions will shift their business to London if “pari passu” is allowed to stand. Hillary Clinton, however, has been quiet on the subject of international debt and Argentina. Given that her husband’s administration helped push Argentina off the cliff, that is hardly a surprise.
What is disquieting is that Clinton and people such as Raben, Shapiro and Soderberg have an economic philosophy that many times marches in step with that of Wall Street.
According to The New York Times, the financial sector was the second largest contributor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run for the White House. She is also close to the center-right Third Way think tank that advocates cutting Social Security and tends to be allergic to financial regulations. It is hard to imagine a Hillary Clinton administration stacked with Wall Street insiders and hedge fund lobbyists coming down on the vultures.
Clinton’s most recent comment on the debt crisis was to complain that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001, rhetorically putting herself in the same boat as tens of millions of indebted people in the U.S. and around the world. “Dead broke” in Chappaqua, N.Y., is not quite the same as “dead broke” in Brazzaville, or in the growing number of homeless encampments around the U.S.
Argentina is currently negotiating a compromise with the vultures, who have Buenos Aires over a barrel. The country desperately needs outside financing to exploit its huge Vaca Muerta gas reserves and to underwrite agricultural exports. “These hedge funds are equipped with an instrument [the New York court decision] that forces struggling countries into submission,” saysEric LeCompte, executive director of the anti-poverty religious organization Jubilee USA Network.
Countries are wising up to the hedge funds. Many of them now require that a debt agreement include a collective action clause (CAC), in which a majority or two-thirds vote by creditors is binding on all and would block a handful of vultures from tying up agreements. Because they signal economic fragility however, the CACs will string out negotiations and may result in higher interest rates.
In the meantime, the vultures have backed Buenos Aires against the wall. At a minimum, Democratic candidates for the presidency should make it clear that they stand with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. One way would be to endorse campaigns by organizations such as Oxfam and Jubilee to forgive foreign debt, and to make it clear they will also press for financial regulations to block vulture speculation.
In the world, vultures are estimable creatures. There is a “yuck” factor, but at least they wait until their prey are dead before making a meal of them, and they do clean up after themselves. The vultures of Wall Street prey on the living and leave behind an unspeakable mess.
Read more of independent journalist Conn Hallinan’s work at his blog, Dispatches from the Edge.
Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, “A Think Tank Without Walls, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the (more…)
Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’ July 15, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arwa mhanna, child casualties, chris hedges, civilian casualties, dime, dime bombs, experimental weapons, gaza, halocaust, history, israel, midle east, netanyahu, palestinian children, Palestinians, rania khalek, raul hilberg, roger hollander, safaa el derawi, white phosphorous, Yeshayahu Leibowitz
add a comment
ROGER’S NOTE: HERE ARE A FEW ARTICLES ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST WITH A PERSPECTIVE YOU ARE NOT LIKELY TO FIND IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA.
Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.
The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.
“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”
There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.
The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. There is massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.
“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”
Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
The belief that a race or class of people is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book“Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.
The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.
The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:
The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.
Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killedin Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.
When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.
A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.
Tags: al-sisi, egypt, egypt coup, egypt military, el-sisi, foreign policy, gaza strip, hillary clinton, john kerry, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, sheldon richman, us egypt
add a comment
Roger’s note: just yesterday I posted on Egypt’s iron-fisted repression of the media via its harsh and politically motivated sentences of Al Jazeera journalists. But the US alliance with respect to Egypt is so blatantly hypocritical, that it bears reinforcement. Of course this is really nothing new. The US has never met a military dictatorship it didn’t like, unless it happened to be Communist or otherwise independent of the US sphere of influence. This article also reflects libertarian blind schizophrenia (the author is associated with various “freedom” enterprises), acutely critical of US foreign policy in a way that puts ninety percent of Democrats and Republicans to shame, but Neanderthal on domestic issues where in the name of individual freedom they in effect support the objectives of the very corporate military industrial complex that is the driving force behind the imperial foreign policy. And put the blame on Obama as if he isn’t following the same path as every administration since the beginning of the American Empire.
(image by Media With Conscience)
Sheldon Richman, June 26, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry, en route to troubled Baghdad, stopped in Cairo, where he announced that Washington would soon release a briefly withheld portion of the more than a billion dollars in aid that the Egyptian military receives each year from American taxpayers.
Kerry affirmed the “historic partnership” between the U.S. and Egyptian governments, while expressing confidence “that the  Apaches [helicopter gunships] will come, and that they will come very, very soon.” The New York Times noted that “the Egyptian military has been especially eager” to receive the gunships.
Considering how the military government treats the Egyptian people, one can fully believe it.
Let’s remember that in 2011, when Egyptians took to the streets to demand an end to the decades-long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, the Obama administration — in particular then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton — stood by Mubarak until the bitter end. Two years earlier, when asked about Mubarak’s despicable human-rights record, which was documented in State Department reports, Clinton said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.” That statement led some to wonder if she was the right person to be handling the Egyptian crisis for the U.S. government.
Moreover, the New York Times reported, State Department cables given to WikiLeaks revealed that “relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public ‘name and shame’ approach of the Bush administration.” (Behind the scenes, the Times reported, diplomats repeatedly “raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.”) Military aid to the government continued to flow.
The Egyptian people’s uprising led to their first elections and a victory for candidates associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite its reputation among American hawks, had forsworn violence decades before. The administration of President Mohammed Morsi (June 2012 – July 2013) was marred by repression, exclusion, incompetence, an uncooperative opposition, and public discontent, but that did not justify what followed: a military coup, the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition, violence against peaceful demonstrators, silencing of opposition media, jailing of journalists on the thinnest of pretexts, and death sentences for hundreds of Egyptians, including the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. All this was topped off this past spring by the election of former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president, with a suspicious 95 percent of the vote.
This is the regime that Kerry and Obama wish to work with in pursuit of their “historic partnership.” Do they think the world is blind and deaf?
The U.S. ruling elite has long seen Egypt’s military as a bulwark against the sort of popular political change that would conflict with the regional hegemonic program of American administrations and their ally Israel. For example, in 1978 Israel and Egypt signed an accord at Camp David under prodding by then-president Jimmy Carter in return for billions of dollars in annual military aid from America’s taxpayers. With the two countries putting aside their historic differences, Egypt was removed as an ally of the Palestinians in their struggle for an independent state on the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, and in the Gaza Strip, whose borders are controlled by Israel. Mubarak helped enforce the brutal Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed in 2007. For that reason, Palestinians welcomed the dictator’s ouster and the election of Morsi, and received the news of the coup against Morsi with apprehension.
But the coup — which the Obama administration was reluctant to identify as such — served U.S. government interests. Its alliance with Egypt’s military dictatorship shows the hypocrisy of Barack Obama’s paeans to freedom and self-government. Americans should be embarrassed.
Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF’s monthly journal, Future of Freedom . For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman , published by the Foundation for Economic Education in (more…)
The Egyptian Counterrevolution Will Not Be Televised June 27, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Egypt, Mining.
Tags: al-jazeera, amy goodman, denis moynihan, egypt coup, egypt repression, el-sisi, Media, military aid, muslim brotherhood, press freedom, roger hollander, sisi
add a comment
Roger’s note: the Egyptian “elected” dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, attended training sessions in the UK and the USA. He is no doubt an “asset” of these two powerful paragons of Western democracy. It only matters that he is pro-American, no matter how oppressive and tyrannical with respect to the Egyptian media and opposition. If Obama says the Egyptian coup was not a coup, who is there to contradict him, as long as the US millions in military aid keep flowing.
Published on Thursday, June 26, 2014 by Truthdig
Egypt sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists this week to severe prison terms, in court proceedings that observers described as “farcical.” Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged with fabricating news footage, and thus supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in a military coup a year ago and labeled a terrorist organization. Along with the three jailed journalists, three other foreign journalists were tried and convicted in absentia. Greste, who is Australian, and Fahmy, who is Canadian-Egyptian, received seven-year prison sentences. Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, was dealt a 10-year sentence, ostensibly because he had an empty shell casing in his possession, which is an item that many journalists covering conflicts pick up off the street as evidence. The prosecutors called that possession of ammunition. The harsh, six-month pretrial imprisonment, the absurd trial itself and now these sentences have generated global outrage. A movement is growing to demand clemency or release for these three journalists. But while the words of the Obama administration support their freedom, the U.S. government’s actions, primarily in pledging to resume military aid to Egypt, send the opposite message.
The three journalists who were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison are Al-Jazeera correspondent Sue Turton, along with Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour from Doha, Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, Turton told me: “The verdicts left us all here at Al-Jazeera quite stunned. We dared to believe that the verdict would be ‘not guilty,’ because we had sat and watched the court sessions over the past few months, and we’d seen absolutely no evidence that the prosecution had brought that proved in any way, shape or form the charges against us.”
Jailed journalist Greste has won awards for his work around the world for Reuters and the BBC prior to Al-Jazeera. Fahmy was working as Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief at the time of the trio’s Dec. 29, 2013, arrest. He has also worked for CNN, contributed to The New York Times and worked with “PBS NewsHour.” Margaret Warner, the chief foreign-affairs correspondent for “NewsHour,” worked with Fahmy while covering the Egyptian revolution in 2011 when her crew was attacked. She said of Fahmy’s efforts that day: “He absolutely saved our lives. I’m no legal expert, but I can tell you that Mohamed Fahmy struck me … as nothing more and nothing less than a professional journalist.”
In a letter sent to the newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, more than 75 journalists, including “Democracy Now!” correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who is himself Egyptian-American, wrote: “As journalists, we support the release of all of our Egyptian or international colleagues who may be imprisoned for doing what they believed to be their jobs.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists noted, “While the focus has been on the Al-Jazeera journalists, in fact Egypt is currently holding at least 14 journalists in prison, placing the country among the world’s worst repressors.” Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to appeal to President Sisi, writing: “All three men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression. Egypt must immediately drop the charges against the three journalists and let them go free.”
Of course, not all voices calling for freedom are equal. When the sentences were handed down in court this week, Mohamed Fahmy shouted from his cage, “Where is John Kerry?” It was a very important question. The day before the verdict was issued, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo, meeting with Sisi.
Egypt has long been one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, averaging $1.5 billion-$2 billion per year since 1979. Since the coup d’etat last year, that aid has been halted, but the U.S. says it is resuming military aid. One of Kerry’s former colleagues in the Senate, Patrick Leahy, warned, “The harsh actions taken today against journalists is the latest descent toward despotism.” So how is it that the U.S. is restoring more than $500 million in military aid right now?
From his home in Australia, Peter Greste’s father, Juris Greste, said, “Journalism is not a crime,” echoing the sentiment that has gone global. In newsrooms the world over, from the BBC and the Toronto Star to Hong Kong, journalists and staff are posting photos of their mouths covered with tape, protesting Egypt’s oppression of the press. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should take heed. A threat to the freedom of the press is a threat to the public’s right to know. It is the flow of information, not the flow of military aid, that is essential to the functioning of a democratic society.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Tags: claudia lefko, francis boyle, genocide, gulf war, Iraq, iraq genocide, Iraq war, madeleine albright, roger hollander, rwanda, rwanda genocide, samantha powers
add a comment
Roger’s note: Once again it feels surrealistic. That the genocidal actions of the United States government, which result in literally millions of deaths, is something that can be IGNORED. I can understand the sentiment: stop the world, I want to get off. But, of course, that is defeatism, and as unequal as it sometimes appears, the struggle for a just world, free of war, must go on.
Boyle mounted another campaign before the 2003 US/UK invasion of Iraq, using his original genocide petition. This time he contacted senior Iraqi government officials, asking them to grant him the legal authority to file lawsuits against the US and UK governments in the World Court. He felt the case for genocide was even stronger in 2003, based of comments made by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a 1996 TV interview on 60 Minutes. When asked if the reported deaths of a half million Iraqi children was “worth it” in terms of US policy in Iraq, Albright answered, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
This statement, according to Boyle,
Is what criminal lawyers call a classic ‘Admission Against Interest.’ This Statement by the then sitting U.S. Secretary of State, acting within the scope of her official duties and speaking in the name of the United States government, could be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and filed to prove that the United States of America possessed the required mens rea (criminal intent) necessary to commit the international crime of genocide. Under both international law and U.S. domestic law, to be guilty of a crime a person or a state must possess the requisite mens rea at the same time that he or she or it commits the criminal act (actus reus).
Iraqi government officials also declined to involve themselves in his case. Prof. Boyle called these failures “one of the great disappointments of my life.” As he added it up, more than 3.3 million Iraqi men, women and children died as a result of US/UK actions between 1991 and 2011 when the US officially ended hostilities with Iraq: 200,000 killed in the first Gulf War; 1.7 million dead as a result of sanctions; and 1.4 million dead as a result of the illegal invasion of 2003.
Tags: Africa, africom, black caucus, boko haram, central african republic, glen ford, kidnapped girls, michelle obama, nigeria, nigerian army, roger hollander, susan rice
add a comment
Roger’s note: the average North American’s lack of knowledge and understanding of Africa the the United States’ continued role there is astounding, present company included. Here is a bit of eye opening reporting for the always reliable Black Action Agenda’s Glen Ford.
A chorus of outraged public opinion demands that the “international community” and the Nigerian military “Do something!” about the abduction by Boko Haram of 280 teenage girls. It is difficult to fault the average U.S. consumer of packaged “news” products for knowing next to nothing about what the Nigerian army has actually been “doing” to suppress the Muslim fundamentalist rebels since, as senior columnist Margaret Kimberley pointed out in these pages, last week, the three U.S. broadcast networks carried “not a single television news story about Boko Haram” in all of 2013. (Nor did the misinformation corporations provide a nanosecond of coverage of the bloodshed in the Central African Republic, where thousands died and a million were made homeless by communal fighting over the past year.) But, that doesn’t mean the Nigerian army hasn’t been bombing, strafing, and indiscriminately slaughtering thousands of, mainly, young men in the country’s mostly Muslim north.
The newly aware U.S. public may or may not be screaming for blood, but rivers of blood have already flowed in the region. Those Americans who read – which, presumably, includes First Lady Michelle Obama, who took her husband’s place on radio last weekend to pledge U.S. help in the hunt for the girls – would have learned in the New York Times of the army’s savage offensive near the Niger border, last May and June. In the town of Bosso, the Nigerian army killed hundreds of young men in traditional Muslim garb “Without Asking Who They Are,” according to the NYT headline. “They don’t ask any questions,” said a witness who later fled for his life, like thousands of others. “When they see young men in traditional robes, they shoot them on the spot,” said a student. “They catch many of the others and take them away, and we don’t hear from them again.”
The Times’ Adam Nossiter interviewed many refugees from the army’s “all-out land and air campaign to crush the Boko Haram insurgency.” He reported:
“All spoke of a climate of terror that had pushed them, in the thousands, to flee for miles through the harsh and baking semidesert, sometimes on foot, to Niger. A few blamed Boko Haram — a shadowy, rarely glimpsed presence for most residents — for the violence. But the overwhelming majority blamed the military, saying they had fled their country because of it.”
In just one village, 200 people were killed by the military.
In March of this year, fighters who were assumed to be from Boko Haram attacked a barracks and jail in the northern city of Maiduguri. Hundreds of prisoners fled, but 200 youths were rounded up and made to lie on the ground. A witness told the Times: “The soldiers made some calls and a few minutes later they started shooting the people on the ground. I counted 198 people killed at that checkpoint.”
All told, according to Amnesty International, more than 600 people were extrajudicially murdered, “most of them unarmed, escaped detainees, around Maiduguri.” An additional 950 prisoners were killed in the first half of 2013 in detention facilities run by Nigeria’s military Joint Task Force, many at the same barracks in Maiduguri. Amnesty International quotes a senior officer in the Nigerian Army, speaking anonymously: “Hundreds have been killed in detention either by shooting them or by suffocation,” he said. “There are times when people are brought out on a daily basis and killed. About five people, on average, are killed nearly on a daily basis.”
Chibok, where the teenage girls were abducted, is 80 miles from Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
In 2009, when the Boko Haram had not yet been transformed into a fully armed opposition, the military summarily executed their handcuffed leader and killed at least 1,000 accused members in the states of Borno, Yobe, Kano and Bauchi, many of them apparently simply youths from suspect neighborhoods. A gruesome video shows the military at work. “In the video, a number of unarmed men are seen being made to lie down in the road outside a building before they are shot,” Al Jazeera reports in text accompanying the video. “As one man is brought out to face death, one of the officers can be heard urging his colleague to ‘shoot him in the chest not the head – I want his hat.’”
These are only snapshots of the army’s response to Boko Haram – atrocities that are part of the context of Boko Haram’s ghastly behavior. The military has refused the group’s offer to exchange the kidnapped girls for imprisoned Boko Haram members. (We should not assume that everyone detained as Boko Haram is actually a member – only that all detainees face imminent and arbitrary execution.)
None of the above is meant to tell Boko Haram’s “side” in this grisly story (fundamentalist religious jihadists find no favor at BAR), but to emphasize the Nigerian military’s culpability in the group’s mad trajectory – the same military that many newly-minted “Save Our Girls” activists demand take more decisive action in Borno.
The bush to which the Boko Haram retreated with their captives was already a free-fire zone, where anything that moves is subject to obliteration by government aircraft. Nigerian air forces have now been joined by U.S. surveillance planes operating out of the new U.S. drone base in neighboring Niger, further entrenching AFRICOM/CIA in the continental landscape. Last week it was announced that, for the first time,AFRICOM troops will train a Nigerian ranger battalion in counterinsurgency warfare.
The Chibok abductions have served the same U.S. foreign policy purposes as Joseph Kony sightings in central Africa, which were conjured-up to justify the permanent stationing of U.S Special Forcesin the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, in 2011, on humanitarian interventionist grounds. (This past March, the U.S. sent 150 more Special Ops troops to the region, claiming to have again spotted Kony, who is said to be deathly ill, holed up with a small band of followers somewhere in the Central African Republic.) The United States (and France and Britain, plus the rest of NATO, if need be) must maintain a deepening and permanent presence in Africa to defend the continent from…Africans.
When the crowd yells that America “Do something!” somewhere in Africa, the U.S. military is likely to already be there.
Barack Obama certainly needs no encouragement to intervention; his presidency is roughly coterminous with AFRICOM’s founding and explosive expansion. Obama broadened the war against Somalia that was launched by George Bush in partnership with the genocidal Ethiopian regime, in 2006 (an invasion that led directly to what the United Nations called “the worst humanitarian crisis is Africa”). He built on Bill Clinton and George Bush’s legacies in the Congo, where U.S. client states Uganda and Rwanda caused the slaughter of 6 million people since 1996 – the greatest genocide of the post War World II era. He welcomed South Sudan as the world’s newest nation – the culmination of a decades-long project of the U.S., Britain and Israel to dismember Africa’s largest country, but which has now fallen into a bloody chaos, as does everything the U.S. touches, these days.
Most relevant to the plight of Chibok’s young women, Obama led “from behind” NATO’s regime change in Libya, removing the anti-jihadist bulwark Muamar Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died,” said Hillary Clinton) and destabilizing the whole Sahelian tier of the continent, all the way down to northern Nigeria. As BAR editor and columnist Ajamu Baraka writes in the current issue, “Boko Haram benefited from the destabilization of various countries across the Sahel following the Libya conflict.” The once-“shadowy” group now sported new weapons and vehicles and was clearly better trained and disciplined. In short, the Boko Haram, like other jihadists, had become more dangerous in a post-Gaddafi Africa – thus justifying a larger military presence for the same Americansand (mainly French) Europeans who had brought these convulsions to the region.
If Obama has his way, it will be a very long war – the better to grow AFRICOM – with some very unsavory allies (from both the Nigerian and American perspectives).
Whatever Obama does to deepen the U.S. presence in Nigeria and the rest of the continent, he can count on the Congressional Black Caucus, including its most “progressive” member, Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only member of the U.S. Congress to vote against the invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001. Lee, along with Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and fellow Californian Karen Bass, who is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on African, gave cart blanch to Obama to “Do something!” in Nigeria. “And so our first command and demand is to use all resources to bring the terrorist thugs to justice,” they said.
A year and a half ago, when then UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s prospects for promotion to top U.S. diplomat were being torpedoed by the Benghazi controversy, a dozen Black congresspersons scurried to her defense. “We will not allow a brilliant public servant’s record to be mugged to cut off her consideration to be secretary of state,” said Washington, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
As persons who are presumed to read, Black Caucus members were certainly aware of the messy diplomatic scandal around Rice’s role in suppressing United Nation’s reports on U.S. allies’ Rwanda and Uganda’s genocidal acts against the Congolese people. Of all the high profile politicians from both the corporate parties, Rice – the rabid interventionist – is most intimately implicated in the Congo holocaust, dating back to the policy’s formulation under Clinton. Apparently, that’s not the part of Rice’s record that counts to Delegate Norton and the rest of the Black Caucus. Genocide against Africans does not move them one bit.
So, why are we to believe that they are really so concerned about the girls of Chibok?
Inside the Brutality of Egypt’s New Regime: 2,500 Killed, 16,000 Political Prisoners, Torture Allegations Are Widespread April 23, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, Women.
Tags: civilian casualties, codepink, egypt, egypt coup, egypt dictatorship, egypt massacres, egyptian junta, human rights, kate chandley, kerry, medea benjamin, morsi, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander
add a comment
Roger’s note: just to document one more time that the United States doesn’t give a shit about democracy as long as a government is in alliance with its geopolitical objectives. Emperor Obama declared the Egyptian coup not to be a coup, and that is that. Egypt’s military government, led by a US trained general, probably as much or more brutal than the overthrown Mubarak regime, continues to support Israel and the isolation of Gaza in accord with US wishes. And “we wonder why they hate us.”
After a recent CODEPINK delegation to Egypt ended up in deportations and assault, we have become acutely aware of some of the horrors Egyptians are facing in the aftermath of the July 3 coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Over 2,500 civilians have been killed in protests and clashes. Over 16,000 are in prison for their political beliefs and allegations of torture are widespread. Millions of people who voted for Morsi in elections that foreign monitors declared free and fair are now living in terror, as are secular opponents of the military regime, and the level of violence is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. With former Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi set to become the next president in sham elections scheduled for May 26-27, the Egyptian military is trampling on the last vestiges of the grassroots uprising that won the hearts of the world community during the Arab Spring.
The most publicized case is the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists and their co-defendants, charged with falsifying news and working with the Muslim Brotherhood. On April 10, there was a ludicrous update in the trial, when the prosecution came to courtpresenting a video that was supposed to be the basis of their case but consisted of family photos, trotting horses, and Somali refugees in Kenya. The judge dismissed the “evidence” but not the charges.
The high-profile case is just a taste of wide-ranging assault on free expression. The government has closed down numerous TV and print media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt the third deadliest countries for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.
An incident that shows how the judicial branch is now working hand-in-glove with the military is the horrific March 24 sentencing of 529 Morsi supporters to death in one mass trial. The entire group was charged with killing one police officer. The trial consisted of two sessions, each one lasting less than one hour. Secretary of State Kerry said that the sentence “defies logic” and Amnesty International called the ruling “grotesque.”
And if you think that a US passport entitles a prisoner to due process, look at the tragic case of 26-year-old Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan. Soltan served as a citizen journalist, assisting English-speaking media in their coverage of the anti-coup sit-in at Rabaa Square that was violently raided by police and resulted in the death of over 1,000 people. In jail for over 7 months, Soltan has been on a hunger strike since January 26 and is now so weak he can’t walk. His situation in prison has been horrifying. When he was arrested, he had a wound from being shot that had not yet healed. Prison officials refused to treat him, so a fellow prisoner who was a doctor performed surgery with pliers on a dirty prison floor, with no anesthesia. His trial has been postponed several times, and there is no update on when it might actually take place. (Activists in the US are mobilizing on his behalf.)
Female activists also face dehumanizing experiences. In February, four women who were arrested for taking part in anti-military protests say they were subjected to virginity testswhile in custody–a practice that coup leader Abdel al-Sisi has supported. In addition to the horror of virginity tests, Amnesty International has also reported that women in prison in Egypt face harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor and not being allowed to use the bathroom for 10 hours from 10pm to 8am every day. Egyptian Women Against the Coup and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights has reported beatings and sexual harassment of female prisoners.
The internal crackdown may be getting worse, not better. New counter-terrorism legislationset to be approved by Egypt’s president would give the government increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents. Two new draft laws violate the right to free expression, including penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for verbally insulting a public employee or member of the security forces. They broaden the existing definition of terrorism to include actions aimed at damaging national unity, natural resources, monuments, communication systems, the national economy, or hindering the work of judicial bodies and diplomatic missions in Egypt. “The problem with these vaguely worded ‘terrorist offenses’ is that they potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.
The draft legislation also widens the scope for use of the death penalty to include “managing or administering a terrorist group.” The Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist group by the Egyptian authorities in December (though no factual evidence was provided that it is engaged in terrorist attacks).
The US government refuses to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, and has continued to give Egypt $250 million in economic support, as well as funds for narcotics controls, law enforcement and military training. But the bulk of the foreign military funding of $1.3 billion has been suspended.
On March 12, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that he wanted to resume the aid and would decide “in the days ahead.” Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US aid because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control over the Suez Canal and the close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries. To renew the funding, Kerry must certify that Egypt is meeting its commitment to a democratic transition and taking steps to govern democratically. The constitutional referendum was held January 14-15, but opponents werearrested for campaigning for a “no” vote. The May presidential election, taking place under such repressive conditions with the main opposition group banned, will certainly not be free and fair. The same can be said for the parliamentary elections that are expected to occur before the end of July.
“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”
The Obama Administration should insist that political dissidents be released, laws restricting public assembly be lifted, the Muslim Brotherhood be declassified as a terrorist organization and allowed to participate in all aspects of public life, and criminal investigations be launched into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials. Only when the Egyptian junta lifts its iron curtain should the US consider resuming military aid.
The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
Tags: al-nusra, arms traffick, Benghazi, chemical weapons, christopher stevens, cia, dia, erdogan, foreign policy, ghouta, libya, martin dempsey, MI6, Obama, Pentagon, Petraeus, porton down, roger hollander, sarin gas, Seymour Hersh, Syria, syria civil war, syria jihadist, syria rebels, turkey
add a comment
Roger’s note: Commentary Magazine referred to this article as “Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory.” I am reminded of the saying: “paranoids can have real enemies.” There are conspiracies. The CIA, for example, has been “conspiring,” both at home and abroad since the end of WWII. Hersch has based most of this report on a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) document that the DIA says never existed. Someone is lying. You will have to decide for yourself.
None of this surprises me. What I really find interesting is that the real hawk when it came to the near all-out attack on Syria was none other than President Obama himself (with help from Secretary of State John Kerry, the country’s number one “diplomat”). It was the generals and the Pentagon that didn’t want to go to war. How’s that for irony? And, while on the subject of irony, it took the neo-Stalinist Putin to bail Obama out from what likely would have been a Middle East holocaust.
Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’