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The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
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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.”’

4 April

A Second Wave of Genocide Looms in Congo, with Susan Rice on Point November 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Congo, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Libya, Rwanda, Uganda.
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Roger’s note: Susan Rice, who is Obama’s current nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, is appaently as hawkish as they come and would fit comfortably into a McCain or Romney Republican administration.  To distinguish between Obama’s foreign policy and that of the Republicans would require a pretty powerful microscope.  Elsewhere, Glen Ford compares her to Clearance Thomas.  But she has served only under Democrat presidents.  It’s called our two party system.  Recent reports indicate that she holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline (cf. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/susan-rice-keystone-pipeline_n_2207861.html)

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford, Wed, 11/28/2012 – 13:14

Susan Rice has abetted the Congo genocide for much of her political career.”

The invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo by U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda, in 1996, set in motion a genocide that left six million Congolese dead. Another wave of mass killings now looms with this month’s capture of Goma, an eastern Congolese city of one million, by “rebels” under Rwandan and Ugandan control. “People need to be clear who we are fighting in the Congo,” said Kambale Musavuli, of Friends of Congo. “We are fighting western powers, the United States and the United Kingdom, who are arming, training and equipping the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries.” The main player in suppressing information on Congo’s neighbors’ role in the ongoing genocide, is U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

Rice has fought a two-front battle to protect Washington’s murderous clients, delaying publication of a UN Group of Experts report on Washington’s clients’ depredations in Congo, and at the same time subverting efforts within the State Department to rein in Uganda and Rwanda. Last week, Rice blocked the UN Security Council from explicitly demanding that Rwanda immediately cease providing support to M23 rebels who vowed to march all the way to Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Susan Rice has abetted the Congo genocide for much of her political career. Appointed to President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council in 1993, at age 28, she rose to assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1997 as Rwanda and Uganda were swarming across the eastern Congo, seizing control of mineral resources amid a sea of blood. She is known to be personally close to Rwanda’s minority Tutsi leadership, including President Paul Kagame, a ruthless soldier trained at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and mentored by Ugandan strongman (and Reagan administration favorite) Yoweri Museveni, who is believed to have pioneered the use of child soldiers in modern African conflicts.

Rice said not a word about ethnic cleansing and racial pogroms against black Libyans and sub-Saharan African migrant workers.”

On the outside during the Bush years, Rice became a fierce advocate of “humanitarian” military intervention in Africa, urging air and sea attacks on Sudan and championing the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, in 2006. A senior foreign policy advisor on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign team, Rice made it no secret she hoped to be named secretary of state. As UN ambassador, she is the administration’s top gun on Africa, the focus of her outsized aggressions. Rice is widely credited with convincing Obama to launch NATO’s bombing campaign for regime change in Libya. She parroted false media reports that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were raping Libyan women with the aid of massive gulps of Viagra, refusing to back down even when U.S. military and intelligence officials told NBC news “there is no evidence that Libyan military forces have been given Viagra and engaging in systematic rape against women in rebel areas.” Yet, Rice said not a word about ethnic cleansing and racial pogroms against black Libyans and sub-Saharan African migrant workers, including the well-documented erasure of the black city of Tawergha.

Susan Rice’s “humanitarian” instincts, like her boss’s, are highly selective – so much so, that a genocide equal to or greater than the Nazi’s liquidation of European Jewry is invisible to her. More accurately, Rice labors mightily to render the genocide in Congo invisible to the world, suppressing release or discussion of reports on Rwanda and Uganda’s crimes.

Rice labors mightily to render the genocide in Congo invisible to the world.”

The first document, a “Mapping Report,” described human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1993 through 2003. Finally published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October of 2010, after long delays, the document specifically charges Rwandan troops with engaging in mass killings “that might be classified as crimes of genocide.” The more recent report by a UN Group of Experts concludes that M23, the Congolese “rebel” group that captured Goma, is actually “a Rwandan creation,” embedded with Rwandan soldiers that take their orders from Paul Kagame’s military. Uganda also supports M23.

Susan Rice, as an energetic protector and facilitator of genocide, should be imprisoned for life (given that the death penalty is no longer internationally sanctioned). But of course, the same applies to her superiors, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. One would think that the Congressional Black Caucus would be concerned with the threat of a second wave of mass killings in Congo. Not so. A Google search fails to reveal a word of complaint from the Black lawmakers about genocide in Congo or suppression of documentation of genocide – or much of anything at all about Africa since the death of New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on African Affairs, in March of this year.

One would think that the Congressional Black Caucus would be concerned with the threat of a second wave of mass killings in Congo. Not so.”

Instead, incoming Congressional Black Caucus chair Marcia Fudge, of Cleveland, held a press conference with female Caucus members to defend Rice, “a person who has served this country with distinction,” from Republican criticism of her handling of the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. “We will not allow a brilliant public servant’s record to be mugged to cut off her consideration to be secretary of state,” said Fudge.

In the Congressional Black Caucus’ estimation, Rice’s “record” as chief warmonger in Africa and principal suppressor of the facts on genocide in Congo makes her a role model for African Americans, especially young Black women.

Her relationship to the women of Congo is more problematic. Said Kambale Musavuli, of Friends of Congo, which works tireless on behalf of victims of mass rape in eastern Congo: “Why should you want to help a Congolese woman who is raped, when your tax money is supporting the ones that are doing the raping? That’s a contradiction”

In the Age of Obama, the Black American relationship to Africa is suffocating from such contradictions.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Libya: Here We Go Again September 5, 2011

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Published on Monday, September 5, 2011

Chris Hedges
www.truthdig.com, September 5, 2011

 

Here we go again. The cheering crowds. The deposed dictator. The encomiums to freedom and liberty. The American military as savior. You would think we would have learned in Afghanistan or Iraq. But I guess not. I am waiting for a trucked-in crowd to rejoice as a Gadhafi statue is toppled and Barack Obama lands on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit to announce “Mission Accomplished.” War, as long as you view it through the distorted lens of the corporate media, is not only entertaining, but allows us to confuse state power with personal power. It permits us to wallow in unchecked self-exaltation. We are a nation that loves to love itself.

A rebel fighter enters the house of Al-Saadi Gadhafi the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi through a window. (AP / Sergey Ponomarev)

I know enough of Libya, a country I covered for many years as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, to assure you that the chaos and bloodletting have only begun. Moammar Gadhafi, during one of my lengthy interviews with him under a green Bedouin tent in the sprawling Bab al-Aziziya army barracks in Tripoli, once proposed marrying one of his sons to Chelsea Clinton as a way of mending fences with the United States. He is as insane as he appears and as dangerous. But we should never have become the air force, trainers, suppliers, special forces and enablers of rival tribal factions, goons under the old regime and Islamists that are divided among themselves by deep animosities and a long history of violent conflict.

Stopping Gadhafi forces from entering Benghazi six months ago, which I supported, was one thing. Embroiling ourselves in a civil war was another. And to do it Obama blithely shredded the Constitution and bypassed Congress in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Not that the rule of law matters much in Washington. The dark reasoning of George W. Bush’s administration was that the threat of terrorism and national security gave the executive branch the right to ignore all legal restraints. The Obama administration has made this disregard for law bipartisan. Obama assured us when this started that it was not about “regime change.” But this promise proved as empty as the ones he made during his presidential campaign. He has ruthlessly prosecuted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military planners speak of a continued U.S. presence for the next couple of decades. He has greatly expanded our proxy wars, which rely heavily on drone and missile attacks, as well as clandestine operations, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Add a few more countries and we will set the entire region alight.

The NATO airstrikes on the city of Sirte expose the hypocrisy of our “humanitarian” intervention in Libya. Sirte is the last Gadhafi stronghold and the home to Gadhafi’s tribe. The armed Libyan factions within the rebel alliance are waiting like panting hound dogs outside the city limits. They are determined, once the airstrikes are over, not only to rid the world of Gadhafi but all those within his tribe who benefited from his 42-year rule. The besieging of Sirte by NATO warplanes, which are dropping huge iron fragmentation bombs that will kill scores if not hundreds of innocents, mocks the justification for intervention laid out in a United Nations Security Council resolution. The U.N., when this began six months ago, authorized “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” We have, as always happens in war, become the monster we sought to defeat. We destroy in order to save. Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council estimates that the number of Libyans killed in the last six months, including civilians and combatants, has exceeded 50,000. Our intervention, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has probably claimed more victims than those killed by the former regime. But this intervention, like the others, was never, despite all the high-blown rhetoric surrounding it, about protecting or saving Libyan lives. It was about the domination of oil fields by Western corporations.

Once the Libyans realize what the Iraqis and Afghans have bitterly discovered—that we have no interest in democracy, that our primary goal is appropriating their natural resources as cheaply as possible and that we will sacrifice large numbers of people to maintain our divine right to the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuel—they will hate us the way we deserve to be hated. Libya has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world, which is why we react with moral outrage and military resolve when Gadhafi attacks his citizens, but ignore the nightmare in the Congo, where things for the average Congolese are far, far worse. It is why the puppets in the National Transitional Council have promised to oust China and Brazil from the Libyan oil fields and turn them over to Western companies. The unequivocal message we deliver daily through huge explosions and death across the occupied Middle East is: We have everything and if you try and take it away from us we will kill you.

History is replete with conquering forces being cheered when they arrive, whether during the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine in World War II, the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon or our own arrival in Baghdad, and then rapidly mutating from liberator to despised enemy. And once our seizure of Libyan oil becomes clear it will only ramp up the jihadist hatred for America that has spread like wildfire across the Middle East. We are recruiting the next generation of 9/11 hijackers, all waiting for their chance to do to us what we are doing to them.

As W.H. Auden understood:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

The force used by the occupier to displace the old regime always makes sure the new regime is supine and complaint. The National Transitional Council, made up of former Gadhafi loyalists, Islamists and tribal leaders, many of whom detest each other, will be the West’s vehicle for the reconfiguration of Libya. Libya will return to being the colony it was before Gadhafi and the other young officers in 1969 ousted King Idris, who among other concessions had let Standard Oil write Libya’s petroleum laws. Gadhafi’s defiance of Western commercial interests, which saw the nationalization of foreign banks and foreign companies, along with the oil industry, as well as the closure of U.S. and British air bases, will be reversed. The despotic and collapsed or collapsing regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria once found their revolutionary legitimacy in the pan-Arabism of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. But these regimes fell victim to their own corruption, decay and brutality. None were worth defending. Their disintegration, however, heralds a return of the corporate and imperial power that spawned figures like Nasser and will spawn his radical 21st century counterparts.

The vendettas in Libya have already begun. Government buildings in Tripoli have been looted, although not on the scale seen in Baghdad. Poor black sub-Saharan African immigrant workers have been beaten and killed. Suspected Gadhafi loyalists or spies have been tortured and assassinated. These eye-for-an-eye killings will, I fear, get worse. The National Transitional Council has announced that it opposes the presence in Libya of U.N. military observers and police, despite widespread atrocities committed by Gadhafi loyalists. The observers and police have been offered to help quell the chaos, train new security forces and provide independent verification of what is happening inside Libya. But just as Gadhafi preferred to do dirty work in secret, so will the new regime. It is an old truism, one I witnessed repeatedly in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, that yesterday’s victims rapidly become today’s victimizers.

NATO Nations Set to Reap Spoils of Libya War August 29, 2011

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Published on Saturday, August 27, 2011 by Al Jazeera

 

As rebels take Tripoli, foreign powers are eyeing the prize of Libya’s high quality crude oil.

  by Rachel Shabi

 

It looks like the more telling news on Libya has migrated to the business pages. With jubilant reporting of Gaddafi’s imminent downfall seizing headlines, it’s the financial pages that have the clinical analysis. So, for instance, it is in this section that the Independent reports a “dash for profit in the post-war Libya carve up”.

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, like his counterparts in the UK, Italy, the US and other countries, is keen to garner oil contracts once a new government emerges in Libya [Reuters] Similarly, Reuters, under the headline, “Investors eye promise, pitfalls in post-Gaddafi Libya” noted that a new government in that country could “herald a bonanza for Western companies and investors”.

Before Tripoli has completely fallen, before Gaddafi and his supporters have stepped down and before the blood dries on the bodies that have yet to be counted, Western powers are already eyeing up what they view us just rewards for the intervention.

There are no more illusions over how far NATO forces exceeded the UN security resolution that mandated its campaign. For months, NATO officials insisted it was operating within brief – an air campaign, designed to protect civilians under threat of attack. But now it is described as an “open secret” that NATO countries were operating undercover, on the ground.

Add to that the reluctance to broker a negotiated exit, the practice of advising, arming and training the rebels, and the spearheading of an escalation in violence and it looks like NATO’s job morphed from protecting civilians to regime change.

Oil for regime change

And there’s a reason for this sudden rush of honesty over its involvement. As alluded to by the Economist, each country’s contribution to the NATO effort in Libya is expected to have some impact on how much of the spoils it gets in the looming post-war period.

The French Le Figaro newspaper is keen to talk up Libya as “Sarkozy’s war”, while the British Telegraph drops references to the involvement of British military and intelligence officers, including MI6 and the RAF.

Aiding the Libyan rebel forces of the National Transitional Council has created a debt of gratitude. In the context of responsibility for what happens next in Libya, an anonymous British official told the Economist that NATO’s involvement in the Libyan uprising means that: “Now we own it.”

As Reuters reports, “Western companies look well positioned as billions of dollars in oil exploration and construction contracts come up for grabs as part of the reconstruction effort.”

Leaving aside the massive profits from the rebuilding that Libya is now going to need, there are vast oil spoils to distribute. The Libyan oil industry produced 1.6 million barrels a day prior to the war. The country is thought to have 46 billion barrels of reserves – the largest in Africa.

Winners and losers

And this is what the information manager at the rebel-controlled Arabian Gulf Oil Company, Libya’s largest oil producer, had to say about who it now intends to trade with: “We don’t have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.” Those last three countries weren’t involved in the NATO mission in Libya.

None of that is to bemoan the downfall of a terrifying dictator who has kept Libyans crushed and brutalised for decades. Gaddafi’s demise is welcome; the courage of Libyans who fought his regime is staggering and only a stone would fail to be moved by their celebration of freedom now.

But it does not negate those factors to point out that NATO countries have not previously seemed bothered by the bloodiness of this dictator’s 42-year-rule – or that the striking feature of the West’s relationship to the Middle East has been its cynical alliances with repressive rulers, propped up to shut down their populations while opening up resources to foreign access.

It is exactly this track record – of being a corrosive influence and a self-interested broker – that has made Middle Eastern countries wary of any Western intervention in the tide of revolutions now sweeping the region. Libyan rebels asked for help, but were wary of what was viewed as a necessary alliance with Western forces. It does the flow of Arab uprisings a disservice to now glorify NATO’s mission. A liberal intervention for humanitarian ends may be the comfortable hook; but securing assets and resources, as usual, is the real goal.

© 2011 Al Jazeera

A more militarized CIA for a more militarized America April 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, War.
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Glenn Greenwald

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011 09:29 ET

 

AP
Gen. David Petraeus

The first four Directors of the CIA (from 1947-1953) were military officers, but since then, there has been a tradition (generally though imperfectly observed) of keeping the agency under civilian rather than military leadership. That’s why George Bush’s 2006 nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to the CIA provoked so many objections from Democrats (and even some Republicans).

The Hayden nomination triggered this comment from the current Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: “You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence. The CIA is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency.” The then-top Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, said “she hears concerns from civilian CIA professionals about whether the Defense Department is taking over intelligence operations” and “shares those concerns.” On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi cited tensions between the DoD and the CIA and said: “I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden worried that the CIA, with a General in charge, will “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department.” Even the current GOP Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, voiced the same concern about Hayden: “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”

Of course, like so many Democratic objections to Bush policies, that was then and this is now. Yesterday, President Obama announced — to very little controversy — that he was nominating Gen. David Petraeus to become the next CIA Director. The Petraeus nomination raises all the same concerns as the Hayden nomination did, but even more so: Hayden, after all, had spent his career in military intelligence and Washington bureaucratic circles and thus was a more natural fit for the agency; by contrast, Petraues is a pure military officer and, most of all, a war fighting commander with little background in intelligence. But in the world of the Obama administration, Petraeus’ militarized, warrior orientation is considered an asset for running the CIA, not a liability.

That’s because the CIA, under Obama, is more militarized than ever, as devoted to operationally fighting wars as anything else, including analyzing and gathering intelligence. This morning’s Washington Post article on the Petraeus nomination — headlined: “Petraeus would helm an increasingly militarized CIA” — is unusual in presenting such a starkly forthright picture of how militarized the U.S. has become under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner:

Gen. David H. Petraeus has served as commander in two wars launched by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. If confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus would effectively take command of a third — in Pakistan.

Petraeus’s nomination comes at a time when the CIA functions, more than ever in its history, as an extension of the nation’s lethal military force.

CIA teams operate alongside U.S. special operations forces in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Yemen. The agency has also built up a substantial paramilitary capability of its own. But perhaps most significantly, the agency is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones.

Since Obama took office there have been at least 192 drone missile strikes, killing as many as 1,890 militants, suspected terrorists and civilians. Petraeus is seen as a staunch supporter of the drone campaign, even though it has so far failed to eliminate the al-Qaeda threat or turn the tide of the Afghan war. . . .Petraeus has spent relatively little time in Washington over the past decade and doesn’t have as much experience with managing budgets or running Washington bureaucracies as CIA predecessors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden. But Petraeus has quietly lobbied for the CIA post, drawn in part by the chance for a position that would keep him involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.

 

It’s rare for American media outlets to list all of our “wars” this way, including the covert ones (and that list does not even include the newest one, in Libya, where drone attacks are playing an increasingly prominent role as well). But Barack Obama does indeed preside over numerous American wars in the Muslim world, including some that he started (Libya and Yemen) and others which he’s escalated (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Because our wars are so often fought covertly, the CIA has simply become yet another arm of America’s imperial war-fighting machine, thus making it the perfect fit for Bush and Obama’s most cherished war-fighting General to lead (Petraeus will officially retire from the military to take the position, though that obviously does not change who he is, how he thinks, and what his loyalties are).

One reason why it’s so valuable to keep the CIA under civilian control is because its independent intelligence analyst teams often serve as one of the very few capable bureaucratic checks against the Pentagon and its natural drive for war. That was certainly true during the Bush years when factions in the CIA rebelled against the dominant neocon Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith clique, but it’s been true recently as well:

Others voiced concern that Petraeus is too wedded to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the troop-heavy, counterinsurgency strategy he designed — to deliver impartial assessments of those wars as head of the CIA.

Indeed, over the past year the CIA has generally presented a more pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than Petraeus has while he has pushed for an extended troop buildup.

 

That’s why, noted The Post, there is “some grumbling among CIA veterans opposed to putting a career military officer in charge of an agency with a long tradition of civilian leadership.” But if one thing is clear in Washington, it’s that neither political party is willing or even able to stand up to the military establishment, and especially not a General as sanctified in Washington circles as Petraeus. It’s thus unsurprising that “Petraeus seems unlikely to encounter significant opposition from Capitol Hill” and that, without promising to vote for his confirmation, Sen. Feinstein — who raised such a ruckus over the appointment of Hayden — yesterday “signaled support for Petraeus.”

The nomination of Petraeus doesn’t change much; it merely reflects how Washington is run. That George Bush’s favorite war-commanding General — who advocated for and oversaw the Surge in Iraq — is also Barack Obama’s favorite war-commanding General, and that Obama is now appointing him to run a nominally civilian agency that has been converted into an “increasingly militarized” arm of the American war-fighting state, says all one needs to know about the fully bipartisan militarization of American policy. There’s little functional difference between running America’s multiple wars as a General and running them as CIA Director because American institutions in the National Security State are all devoted to the same overarching cause: Endless War.

* * * * *

I’m excited to be speaking tonight at FAIR’s 25th anniversary event in New York, along with Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and Michael Moore. The event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is sold out, but will be live-streamed in its entirety here

Nobel peace drones April 22, 2011

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By Glenn Greenwald
 

A U.S. drone attack in Pakistan killed 23 people this morning, and this is how The New York Times described that event in its headline and first paragraph:

When I saw that, I was going to ask how the NYT could possibly know that the people whose lives the U.S. just ended were “militants,” but then I read further in the article and it said this:  “A government official in North Waziristan told Pakistani reporters that five children and four women were among the 23 who were killed.”  So at least 9 of the 23 people we killed — at least — were presumably not “militants” at all, but rather innocent civilians (contrast how the NYT characterizes Libya’s attacks in its headlines: “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas”).

Can someone who defends these drone attacks please identify the purpose?  Is the idea that we’re going to keep dropping them until we kill all the “militants” in that area?  We’ve been killing people in that area at a rapid clip for many, many years now, and we don’t seem to be much closer to extinguishing them.  How many more do we have to kill before the eradication is complete?  

Beyond that, isn’t it painfully obvious that however many “militants” we’re killing, we’re creating more and more all the time?  How many family members, friends, neighbors and villagers of the “five children and four women” we just killed are now consumed with new levels of anti-American hatred?  How many Pakistani adolescents who hear about these latest killings are now filled with an eagerness to become “militants”?

The NYT article dryly noted: “Friday’s attack could further fuel antidrone sentiment among the Pakistani public”; really, it could?  It’s likely to fuel far more than mere “antidrone sentiment”; it’s certain to fuel more anti-American hatred: the primary driver of anti-American Terrorism. Isn’t that how you would react if a foreign country were sending flying robots over your town and continuously wiping out the lives of innocent women, children and men who are your fellow citizens? What conceivable rational purpose does this endless slaughter serve? Isn’t it obvious that the stated goal of all of this – to reduce the threat of Terrorism – is subverted rather than promoted by these actions?

Regarding the announcement yesterday that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner was now deploying these same flying death robots to Libya, both The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius and The Atlantic‘s James Fallows make the case against that decision. In particular, Ignatius writes that “surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle.”

I don’t know if that is actually the purpose, though if Ignatius is good at anything , it’s faithfully conveying what military and intelligence officials tell him. If that is the goal, doesn’t that rather directly contradict Obama’s vow when explaining the reasons for our involvement in the war (after it started): “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.” It already seemed clear from the joint Op-Ed by Obama and the leaders of France and Britain — in which they pledged to continue “operations” until Gadaffi was gone — that this vow had been abandoned. But if we’re sending drones to target Libyan regime leaders for death, doesn’t it make it indisputably clear that the assurances Obama gave when involving the U.S. in this war have now been violated. And does that matter?

Finally, when the OLC released its rationale for why the President was permitted to involve the U.S in Libya without Congressional approval, its central claim was that — due the very limited nature of our involvement and the short duration — this does not “constitute[] a ‘war’ within the meaning of the Declaration of War Clause” (Adam Serwer has more on this reasoning). Now that our involvement has broadened to include drone attacks weeks into this conflict, with no end in sight, can we agree that the U.S. is now fighting a “war” and that this therefore requires Congressional approval?

* * * * *

A new NYT/CBS poll today finds that only 39% approve of Obama’s handling of Libya, while 45% disapprove (see p. 17). That’s what happens when a President starts a new war without any pretense of democratic debate, let alone citizenry consent through the Congress.

Obama on Libya: George W. Bush 2.0 March 31, 2011

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Wed, Mar 30, 2011

Remind Obama, War Profiteers, War is SO over

by Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

His lines may be better delivered, but Barack Obama is sounding – and acting – more like the heir to George W. Bush than the change-maker sold to the public in his award-winning ad campaign. Indeed, when not sending billions of dollars to repressive governments across the globe, the great liberal hope is authorizing deadly drone strikes and military campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and now, in his most morally righteous war yet, Libya.

Strutting out to a podium before an audience of uniformed military personnel – wonder where he got that idea from – a confident, some would say cocky, American president offered a fierce albeit belated speech justifying another preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to the United States. And if you closed your eyes, you could almost hear that faux-Texas drawl.

“As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe,” the president declared, adopting his predecessor’s favorite title for himself. “I’ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests.”

Put another way, President Obama says he will only start a war – without consulting Congress, much less the public – when it is absolutely necessary for defending the “homeland” or for, you know, whatever he deems an “interest.”

Enter Muammar Gaddafi, a caricature of a tyrant who the Obama administration just a matter of weeks ago was looking to sell $77 million in weapons, including more than 50 armored troop carriers. Back then – mid-April – Gaddafi was a thuggish but reliable client in his old age. And he happened to rule over a country that has the largest oil reserves in Africa.

Funny how friendship works.

But a few short weeks ago, Gaddafi became unreliable – a public relations nightmare – when he started using the weapons he purchased from his erstwhile allies against his own people. Like Saddam Hussein before him, he became a liability.

So now Obama believes Gaddafi to be a “tyrant” who has lost his “legitimacy” – as if there was anything “legitimate” about his previous 42 years of dictatorial rule. On Monday, the president argued war was necessary to prevent Gaddafi from massacring rebel forces and their supporters in Benghazi. Such a massacre “would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” said the war president. “I refused to let that happen.”

I – me – the imperial president. Cue the commander-in-chief landing on an aircraft carrier.

But if the threat of a massacre is what spurs President Obama to action, what are we to make of his reaction to Israel’s massacre of more than 1,400 Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, or what Amnesty International calls “22 days of death and destruction? Giving Israel an additional $30 billion in American weapons is a rather curious response, no?

And what about the hundreds of civilians killed by drone attacks in Pakistan since Obama took office – as many as 1,850 according to the New America Foundation? In early March, the very administration cloaking its new war in moralizing rhetoric carried out a massacre of 40 Pakistani civilians – a massacre the president who authorized the attack couldn’t even be bothered to comment on.

Right now, the Obama administration is actively supporting brutal regimes in Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain – to name a few – where protest movements are being violently suppressed on the American taxpayers’ dime. And the Obama administration is selling $60 billion in weapons to the Saudis, who not only oppress their own dissidents but recently occupied neighboring Bahrain and violently cracked down on peaceful protesters there with the U.S.’s stamp of approval.

So if one thing’s clear, it’s that the U.S. government is fine with tyranny – when it’s “pro-American” (business). Fancy rhetoric aside, there is no “freedom agenda.”

Speaking to reporters this week, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough conceded as much, saying that the White House doesn’t “make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent.” Rather, “We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”

And as history professor and war supporter Juan Cole helpfully notes, the rebels control significant swaths of oil-rich territory and have taken “key oil towns” thanks to the U.S.-led bombing campaign – of 200 cruise missiles fired so far, 193 have been fired from American warships. They are also on the verge of taking 80 percent of the Buraiqa Basin, writes Cole, which “contains much of Libya’s oil wealth.”

Bingo: We just found “our interests.” And unsurprisingly, they don’t involve protecting innocent people from being killed so much as they do protecting the natural resource on top of which they’re dying – and then having the freshly liberated locals pick up the tab for American contractors to rebuild everything American missiles destroyed.

Major General Smedley Butler had it right: war is a racket.

But even assuming Obama has the best of intentions – with which the road to hell is paved, mind you – U.S. intervention in Libya is more likely to do harm than good. Besides the inevitable “collateral damage,” meaning widowed mothers and orphaned children, war sets off an unpredictable chain reaction of evil – evil that no side has a monopoly over.

Indeed, The Los Angeles Times reports that while the intervention is sold as in defense of human rights, the Libyan rebels on whose behalf the U.S. is intervening are actively rounding up hundreds of their perceived political opponents and imprisoning them without charge in Gaddafi’s former torture chambers. Those being rounded up are primarily black immigrants, with rebel spokesman Abdelhafed Ghoga telling the paper that suspected Gaddafi mercenaries who don’t voluntarily turn themselves in will be subjected to extra-judicial “justice” (read: murder) for being “enemies of the revolution.” If they seize the country, who will stop roundups – and massacres – in Tripoli and elsewhere of those deemed to be supporters of the Gaddafi regime, perhaps for no reason other than the color of their skin?

U.S. official have publicly acknowledged an al-Qaeda presence among the rebels, bringing to mind U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. And with the self-proclaimed leadership consisting of former top-level Gaddafi cronies who had no problem with the regime’s human rights abuses four weeks ago, those lionizing the rebels – and suggesting the U.S. illegally arm them — should take a closer look at who the U.S. and its allies are preparing to put in power when Gaddafi’s gone.

The Obama administration and supporters of the war — who a month ago couldn’t tell the difference between Benghazi and Baghdad — portray the intervention in Libya as a simple morality tale, with evil on one side and good on the other. But the reality is more nuanced than the applause lines the president laid out in his speech. In the real world, peace is rarely achieved by dropping bombs and installing the most avowedly “pro-American” locals you can find in power. Just look at Afghanistan and Iraq, where George Bush started wars that Barack Obama has only continued – and in the case of the former, escalated.

“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” Obama said this week. “The United States of America is different.” And credit where credit’s due, he’s right: From Gaza to the Arabian peninsula, Obama doesn’t stand idly by while others carry out atrocities – he funds and arms those carrying them out.

And just like Bush, he doesn’t let his hypocrisy get in the way of a good war.

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org).

Charles Davis (http://charliedavis.blogspot.com) is an independent journalist who has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations across the country, and freelanced for the international news wire Inter Press Service.

Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They “Protect” Civilians? March 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Libya, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
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Wednesday 23 March 2011

by: Dave Lindorff  |  This Can’t Be Happening | News Analysis

Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They "Protect" Civilians?
On a tour led by an official of the Libyan government, a girl is seen next to a house covered in shrapnel marks on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli that government officials said was targeted by western air strikes, March 25, 2011. (Photo: Moises Saman / The New York Times)

President Obama’s criminal launch of an undeclared and Congressionally unauthorized war against Libya may be compounded by the crime of spreading toxic uranium oxide in populated areas of that country.

This is latest concern of groups like the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, which monitor the military use of so-called depleted-uranium (DU) anti-tank and bunker-penetrating shells.

Images of Libyan civilians and rebels celebrating around the burning hulks of the Libyan army’s tanks and armored personnel carriers, which had been hit by US, French and British aircraft ordinance in the early hours of the US-led assault on the forces of Col. Muammar Gaddafy, could well have been unknowingly inhaling the deadly dust of the uranium weapons favored by Western military forces for anti-tank warfare.

Specifically, the British-built Harrier jets used by British naval air forces and also by US Marine pilots, are often equipped with pod-mounted cannons that fire 20 mm shells–shells that often have uranium projectiles designed to penetrate heavy armor.

So far, the US has not introduced its A-10 Thunderbolts, known also as Warthogs, into the Libyan campaign, probably because these sub-sonic, straight-wing craft, while heavily armored, are vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles which Libyan forces are known to possess in large numbers. Once the air-control situation is improved by continued bombardment, however, these specialized ground-attack aircraft will probably be added to the attacking forces. The A-10 has a particularly large automatic cannon which fires an unusually large 30 mm shell. These shells are often fitted with solid uranium projectiles for attacking tanks, APCs or groups of fighters holed up in concrete bunkers.

A-10s were heavily used in the Balkan conflict, and officials of Kosovo were dismayed to learn that some 11 tons of uranium weapons were fired there, leaving dangerous uranium dust fallout in their wake.

The US military is fond of DU weapons because the material, made from uranium from which the fissionable U-235 has been removed, because it is extremely heavy, and, in alloy form, also extremely hard. Because of its mass, such projectiles can penetrate even the heaviest armor. Then, in the heat caused by the collision with an object, the uranium bursts into flame at extreme heat, causing an explosive (and toxic) inferno inside a tank or other vehicle, which usually also ignites any ammunition being carried. Soldiers inside a target vehicle are incinerated. The problem is that the resulting uranium oxide produced by such explosions, besides being highly toxic chemically, is also a microscopic alpha-emitter, which if inhaled or ingested by human beings is extremely carcinogenic and mutagenic.

Cities in Iraq where DU weapons were heavily used, such as Basra, Samara, Baghdad, Mosul and probably especially Fallujah, which was virtually leveled in a November 2004 Marine assault, are showing high rates of birth defects, many of which, along with unusually high rates of leukemia, medical experts say are emblematic of fetal radiation damage.

A University of Michigan peer-reviewed study of births in Fallujah published in December 2010 found that of 547 births in Fallujah General Hospital in May of 2010, six years after the all-out US assault on that city of 300,000, in which DU weapons were reportedly used widely, 15% of babies had birth defects–a rate more than five times higher than the global average of 2-3%.

It would be a tragic irony if rebels in Libya, after calling for assistance from the US and other NATO countries, succeeded in overthrowing the country’s long-time tyrant Gaddafy, only to have their country contaminated by uranium dust–the fate already suffered by the peoples of Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. 

End the US-led Armed Intervention in Libya March 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Libya, War.
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(Statement of Focus on the Global South, March 22, 2011)

Focus on the Global South supports the democratic opposition in Libya that seeks to end the 43-year-old dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi.   Focus shares the Libyan people’s desire to be free of a corrupt and repressive ruler who does not hesitate to employ massive force against his own people to hang on to power. 

Focus cannot, however, support the massive armed intervention launched by the United States, France, and Britain on Sunday, March 20. 

A “No Fly Zone” to protect civilians is one thing.  An armed assault aimed at regime change is another thing altogether.  The latter is the intent of the US/UK/French-led intervention, which, although displaying the figleaf of a United Nations Security Council resolution, goes far beyond the defensive aims of a no-fly zone to cross over into aggression against Libya. 

Firing on ground troops and preemptively and indiscriminately destroying anti-aircraft installations will bring about precisely that loss of life that the intervention ostensibly seeks to prevent.  Civilians are being killed by the western assault when civilians were supposedly the very people the action was supposed to protect.

The fight for democracy waged by the Libyan people must be supported, but not by western military action that is an instrument of regime change.  This action may ostensibly have humanitarian objectives, but its main objective is to reassert western hegemony in a region that is caught up in the winds of democratic change.   

Owing to its support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the US has lost much of its credibility among the Arab peoples.  Indeed, the US may be said to be one of the targets of the Arab democratic revolution.  In this context, the intervention in Libya for regime change is Washington’s belated attempt to appear as a pro-democratic force, shore up its tattered legitimacy, and remind the Arab nations of its strategic hegemony in the region.   Yet the world will not miss the hypocrisy of a hegemon which shouts that it is supporting democracy in Libya while it stands on the side as a reactionary regime it has armed and supported, Saudi Arabia, has invaded and is crushing democratic forces in Bahrain. 

The West’s “armed intervention for democracy “ will not advance the cause of democracy.  Indeed, it will discredit it by associating democracy with a western show of force. The intervention in Libya risks stoking forces as powerful as the democratic movement: Arab nationalism and Islamic solidarity.  It will end up creating conflicts among movements which should be complementary, and the only victor will be western hegemony.

We in Focus on the Global South call for an immediate end to the US/UK/French-led war on Libya. 

We call on global civil society and on governments throughout the world  to support the Libyan people’s struggle for democracy against Gaddafi. 

We ask especially the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt to come to the aid of the Libyan people.

We call for an end to all efforts to maintain or reassert US hegemony in the Middle East.

Arab revolts for change…a feeling of déjà vu! March 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya.
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BentAljazair

Me…an ordinary Algerian woman.
The rest is all in my writings…all in my silent ellipsis …

By BentAljazair

Long time ago…in the Middle East – 1916-1918…the Arabs wanted to rise up against the Ottoman Empire. They wanted change! They wanted to get rid of the Turkish tyranny!

The British Empire offered them a helping hand…the empire promised freedom for all the Arabs…they believed it…Arabs thought, it is their right to use any mean to gain freedom from tyranny…so they backed the British army in their fight against the Ottoman empire (which was the Muslim khilafa at that time, but that is another story)…the local Arabs even helped General Allenby in the 3rd battle of Gaza… yes Gaza… they helped the Trojan British horse get inside Palestine …and the way was open to the holy land…to all the Middle East…

After the defeat of the Turks…it is the strong British empire that filled the vacuum left by the fall of the Ottoman empire…and the British empire didn’t honor its promises …and the Arabs didn’t get freedom … their land got reshaped …sliced into many states under British occupation and the ruling of new local tyrants…

…and the best of the best…a precious bit of their land was given to the… Zionists!

Almost a century later…the whole region still suffers from the consequences of these “British manipulated” Arab revolts…

Without the help of the Arabs …the British Empire wouldn’t have occupied the region…

Without the miscalculation of the Arabs there would have been no land to be given to the Zionists…

Without the betrayal of the Arabs the Muslim khilafa wouldn’t have fallen…(but that’s another story)

The Arabs’ resentment against the Turks was used by the British to topple the Ottoman empire …the Arabs didn’t have any alternative to offer to the Ottoman empire…they just wanted to get rid of it…but the power vacuum had to be filled… and the British empire had power, a plan and a clear goal…occupation!

 Revolt is not revolution!

One century later…

…2011 in the Middle East …the Arabs want to rise up against their ruling dictators. They want change! They want to get rid of tyranny! The US Empire offered them a helping hand…the empire promises freedom, democracy  for all the Arabs…and the Arabs still believe the promises…made by Western empires…and Arabs still think… it is their right to use …any mean to gain freedom from tyranny…

…trading local tyrants for …new global ones…

same old… Arab story…

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