How the U.S. Narrowly Avoided a Nuclear Holocaust 33 Years Ago, and Still Risks Catastrophe Today September 19, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: amy goodman, command and control, damascus accident, Democracy Now, Eric Schlosser, global zero, norad computers, nuclear accidents, nuclear disaster, nuclear holocaust, nuclear safety, nuclear stockpile, nuclear weapons, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I read this last night, and was not able to get to sleep. I apologize for sharing this nightmare with you, but I think it is something we need to think about. I think it was the Russian playwright, Chekhov, who said that if a fire arm is introduced in the first act, then it is sure to go off in the third act. The nuclear pistol was both introduced and fired in the first act at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have been waiting nervously since 1945 for the tragic third act. What scares me is the almost certainty that with all those tens of thousands of nuclear warheads laying around, the chance that one will either go of intentionally or accidentally is too scary to imagine. Just another one of those inconvenient truths that we ignore at our peril.
Now with respect to the insanity of it. If one of today’s nuclear has the destructive power of 600 Hiroshima bombs, why would any nation need over ten thousand, the way the U.S and Russia do? And how much safer are we if they are reduced down to 1500? The only sane world will be one where there is total nuclear disarmament.
I have not mentioned the obscene cost of maintaining a nuclear armory. See graph below.
http://www.democracynow.org, September 18. 2013
Thirty-three years ago to the day, the United States narrowly missed a nuclear holocaust on its soil. The so-called “Damascus Accident” involved a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile mishap at a launch complex outside Damascus, Arkansas. During a routine maintenance procedure, a young worker accidentally dropped a nine-pound tool in the silo, piercing the missile’s skin and causing a major leak of flammable rocket fuel. Sitting on top of that Titan 2 was the most powerful thermonuclear warhead ever deployed on an American missile. The weapon was about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For the next nine hours, a group of airmen put themselves at grave risk to save the missile and prevent a massive explosion that would’ve caused incalculable damage. The story is detailed in Eric Schlosser’s new book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” which explores how often the United States has come within a hair’s breadth of a domestic nuclear detonation or an accidental war. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified government documents and interviews with scores of military personnel and nuclear scientists, Schlosser shows that America’s nuclear weapons pose a grave risk to humankind.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thirty-three years ago today, the United States narrowly missed a nuclear holocaust on his soil that would have dwarfed the horrors of the Hiroshima bomb blast that killed approximately 140,000 people. The so-called Damascus accident involved a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile mishap at a launch conflict outside Damascus, Arkansas. During a routine maintenance procedure, a young worker accidentally dropped a nine pound tool in the silo, piercing the missile skin and causing a major leak of flammable rocket fuel. Sitting on top of that Titan II was the most powerful thermonuclear warhead ever deployed on an American missile. The weapon was about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For the next nine hours, a group of airmen put themselves at grave risk to save the missile and prevent a massive explosion that would’ve caused incalculable damage.
AMY GOODMAN: To find out what happened next, we turn to a shocking new book called, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety.” In it, author Eric Schlosser reveals how often the United States has come within a hairs breath of a domestic nuclear detonation or an accidental war. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified government documents and interviews with scores of military personnel and nuclear scientists, Schlosser shows that America’s nuclear weapons pose a grave risk to human kind. We are joined by Eric Schlosser, author of a number of books, including the best-selling “Fast Food Nation.” Welcome to Democracy Now! So, talk about that story 33 years ago today.
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Thirty-three years ago, during a routine maintenance procedure, a tool was dropped and it set in motion events that could have led to the destruction of the state of Arkansas and it just so happened that Bill Clinton was the governor at the time. Vice President Mondale was in the state at the time. And it is one of those events that literally could have changed the course of history. So, the book is a minute by minute account of this nuclear weapons accident. It’s unfolding, but I use that narrative as a way to look at the management of our nuclear weapons really from the dawn of the nuclear era to this day.
A great deal has been in the media lately about Pakistani nuclear program, India nuclear program, Iran’s, but not enough attention has been paid to our own and the problems that we have had in the management of our nuclear weapons. And it’s a subject that I think is really, really urgent. It’s interesting, as I was watching Bill McKibben, who I consider a true American hero, and I was just seeing the title of the show, Democracy Now, the whole system of managing nuclear weapons is an inherently authoritarian. And if you look at the kind of secrecy that we have now in this country, and the national security state, it all stems from the development of the atomic bomb, the secrecy around it, and the real point of this book is to provide information to Americans that the government has worked very hard to suppress, to deny an enormous amount of disinformation and misinformation about our weapons program.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also point out, Eric Schlosser, that there is a link between the amount of secrecy around nuclear weapons and the level of their and un-safety. Could you elaborate? Could you explain why that is the case?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: During the Cold War, and to a certain extent, today, there was such intense compartmentalized secrecy within the government, that for example, the engineers and physicists who were designing the weapons weren’t allowed to know how the weapons were being used in the field. And the Air Force and Navy and Army personnel who were handling nuclear weapons didn’t know about the safety problems or safety issues that the designers knew. One of the people I write about in the book is an engineer named Robert Peurifoy who rose to be a vice president at the Sandia National Laboratory, and is a remarkable man who realized that our weapons might be unsafe and pose a threat of accidental detonation.
Again, in the book, I go through a number of instances that we almost had American weapons detonate on American soil. So, I write about his effort to bring modern safety devices to our nuclear weapons. Through the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get about a 250 page document that listed all these different accidents, mistakes, short-circuits, fires involving nuclear weapons, and I showed it to him, and he had never seen it. This is somebody who were decades was at the heart of our nuclear weapons establishment. So, the secrecy was so intense, that the Air Force wasn’t telling the weapons designers problems that they were having in the field.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us some of those accidents, some of those near misses and how things are being handled today.
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Yeah, I mean, one of the most significant near misses occurred just three days after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. A B-52 bomber broke apart in the sky over North Carolina, and as it was breaking apart, the centrifugal forces affecting the plane pulled a lanyard in the cockpit, which released one of the hydrogen bombs that it was carrying. And the weapon behaved as though it had been released over the Soviet Union, over an enemy target deliberately. It went through all of its arming stages, except one. There was one switch that prevented it from detonating in North Carolina. And that switch, later, was found to be defective and would never be put into a plane today. Straight electricity in the bomber as it was disintegrating could have detonated the bomb.
The government denied at the time there was ever any possibility that weapon could have detonated. Again and again there have been those sort of denials. But, I obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that say conclusively that that weapon could have detonated. I interviewed former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who had just literally entered the administration, and was terrified when he was told the news of this accident when it occurred. The official list of nuclear weapons accidents that the Pentagon puts out lists 32. But the real number is many, many higher than that. And again —
AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the more recent ones?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: Well, just this summer, two of our three Minutemen missile wings were cited for safety violations. A few years ago, the Air Force’s largest storage facility for nuclear weapons, the group that ran it was de-certified for safety violations. And one of the more concerning things right now, this sounds like a Hollywood movie, is the potential vulnerability of our nuclear command and control system being hacked to cyber attack. The Defense Science Board put out a report this year that the vulnerability of our command and control system to hacking has never been fully assessed. There were Senate hearings on the spring that didn’t get very much attention, but in 2010, 50 of our missiles suddenly went off-line and the launch control centers were unable to communicate with them for an hour. It would later turn out to be one computer chip was improperly installed in a processor, but what we have seen with Snowden and a relatively low level private contractor able to obtain the top secrets of the most secret intelligence agency, the cryptography and some of the code management of our nuclear weapons, is being done by private contractors.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is doing it?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think Boeing is doing some of it. And again, they may be doing a wonderful job, but when you’re talking about nuclear weapons, there is no margin for error. If you managed nuclear weapons successfully for 40 years, that is terrific. But if you make one severe error and one of these things detonate, the consequences are going to be unimaginable.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve also said that the command-and-control structure system in place for nuclear weapons has actually weakened since the end of the Cold War. Is that right?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: One of the things that has happened and one of the problems the Air Force is having is once the Cold War ended — and during the Cold War, having control of nuclear weapons was a high prestige occupation in the Air Force and the Navy, but since the Cold War, it has been seen as a career dead-end. So, there have been all kinds of management issues, underinvestment — and I’m not saying we should be building hundreds and hundreds of new bombers or — but if you’re going to have nuclear weapons, no expense should be spared in the proper management.
AMY GOODMAN: How many do we have?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: And what I was going to say was, some of the systems we have right now are 30, 40 years old. We’re still relying on B-52 bombers as our main nuclear bomber. Those are 60 years old. They haven’t built one since the Kennedy administration. The Titan II missile that I write about it some length in my book, one of the problems and one of the causes of the accident was that it was an obsolete weapon system. Secretary of Defense McNamara had wanted to retire it in the mid-1960s and it was still on alert in the 1980s.
And again with nuclear weapons, the margin of error is very, very small.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to President Obama in June. He was speaking in Berlin, in Germany, and called for nuclear reductions.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be. And so, as president, I strengthen our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Because of the New Start Treaty, we are on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.
AMY GOODMAN: That was president Obama speaking in Berlin in June. Shortly afterwards, Fox News contributor, Charles Krauthammer, criticized Obama for discussing nuclear arms reduction.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: The idea that we’re going to be any safer if we have 1000 rather than 1500 warheads is absurd, so why is he doing this? Number one, he has been obsessed with nuclear weapons and reducing them ever since he was a student at Columbia and thought the freeze, which was the stupidest strategic idea of the 1980s, wasn’t enough of a reduction, and second, because I think that is all he has got.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Charles Krauthammer on Fox. Eric Schlosser?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think that given his record on the Iraq war, nothing he says should be taken seriously. The fact of the matter is, every nuclear weapon is an accident waiting to happen or a potential act of mass murder. The fewer nuclear weapons there are, the less likely there is to be a disaster. I think that President Obama on this issue has been quite courageous in calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It’s something that presidents have sought in one way or another since the end of the Second World War. I think that it is urgent that there be real arms control and reduction, not just of our arsenal, but of worldwide arsenals of nuclear weapons.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a video released by anti-nuclear weapons group, Global Zero, that shows many members of Congress don’t even know how many nuclear weapons the United States has. Here members of Global Zero approach Republican Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia, Republican Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, Republican Representative Rob Wittman of Virginia, and Democratic Representative Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California, Republican Representative Mark Amodei of Nevada and Republican Representative Bill Flores of Texas.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: Do you happen to know roughly know how many nuclear weapons we do have?
REP. MORGAN GRIFFITH: Uh…
REP. BLAINE LEUTKEMEYER: Well,…
REP. ROB WITTMAN: The current arsenal, I don’t have an exact number.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: My understanding is it’s about 300.
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: No, no, it is much more than that.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: It’s more than 15,000?
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: In terms of nuclear heads? Of course.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: More than 15,000? Really?
REP. PEDRO PIERLUISI: Well, I don’t know.
GLOBAL ZERO INTERVIEWER: Do you have any idea about how many nuclear weapons we have?
CONGRESSIONAL REP.: Uh, no.
REP. MARK AMODEI: Nope, not the exact number.
REP. BILL FLORES: It changes every day.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to the group, Global Zero, more than 70 members of Congress were polled and more than 99% of them did not know, even roughly speaking, how many nuclear weapons the United States has. Eric Schlosser, your remarks on that?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: It’s not an entirely fair question because the numbers are very different whether they are being counted for the SALT Treaty, how many are in reserve, etc. So it is a difficult thing to say specifically. We have about 1500 under the SALT Treaty deployed. We have a few thousand other—
AMY GOODMAN: And where are they?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: … in reserve. They’re mainly on our nuclear submarines that are at sea. We have 450 strategic land-based missiles that are in the northern Midwest. But it is important to keep in mind that there is grounds for optimism. At the height of the Cold War, the United States had 32,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had 35,000. So right now, the number of weapons that both the Soviet Union and the United States have on alert ready to be launched combined is maybe 2000, 2500. So, to go from 60,000 to 2,500, you know 8,000 to 10,000, is a huge achievement; but there need to be much greater reductions.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there a possibility of a domestic Stuxnet, you know like the U.S. released against Iran, a virus that would affect command and control?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: It is a great concern. These weapons are not connected to the internet, but there are command information systems that run software. During the Cold War, Zbigniew Brezinski was woken up in the middle of the night. He was National Security Adviser. He was told the United States was under attack. He got another call and was basically preparing to call President Carter and advise a retaliation. It turned out that there was a faulty computer chip in the NORAD computers that was saying that Soviet missiles were coming toward the United States and they weren’t. So, as long as you have a weapons stance in which we need to be able to retaliate immediately, it puts enormous pressure on acting quickly and there’s are all kinds of possibilities for error.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what has to be done?
ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think firstly, the reason that I wrote the book, is in a democracy these sort of decisions need to be debated by the American people. And really, since 1944 or 1945, fundamental decisions about nuclear weapons have been made by a small group of policy makers acting in secret. So firstly we need openness, secondly we need a debate, and thirdly we need fewer nuclear weapons much more carefully managed, not only in this country, but in every country.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schlosser, we want to thank you for being with us. “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety” is the book. It has just come out.
General Wesley Clark: Reveals the PLAN September 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: foreign policy, Iran, Iraq, lebanon, libya, Middle East, roger hollander, somalia, sudan, Syria, war, wesley clark
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Roger’s note: Count ‘em, folks, seven countries. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, and finishing up with the grand prize: Iran. The video above is part of a discussion retired General Wesley Clark (Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000) had with Democracy Now’s host Amy Goodman, way back in the good old George Bush days.
You may remember that for a short while back in 2004 Clark was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. With his radical assessment of U.S. interventionist policy in the Middle East, it is not surprising he was not able to gather the kind of financial support needed to run a successful campaign. For the 2008 Democratic nomination, he endorsed Hillary Clinton. Ironically, in a longer speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuVVml5Dp2s), which covers some of the same ground about the Middle East, Clark suggests that electing Democrats is the only way to stop the PLAN for regime change in the seven countries. He proved to be quite a bit less prescient on that point, given that Obama has done a great torch in carrying the neocon Bush torch, even if a few countries have to be skipped on the way to Iran. Not to mention his endorsement of neocon super-hawkm Ms. Clinton. Nevertheless, Clark’s commentary on the current Syria situation continues to refer to the Snow White America and the Seven Dwarf nations scenario (http://whowhatwhy.com/2013/08/31/classic-why-real-reason-for-syria-war-plans-from-gen-wesley-clark/) . But, who is listening?
Was Lincoln Wrong to Fight to Preserve the Union? September 12, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Race, War.
Tags: abraham lincoln, andrew schmookler, civil war, civil war death toll, confederacy, csa, democracy, guy gugliotta, history, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I have long wondered what would have happened if the Civil War had not occurred, and what is now the United States was instead the USA and the CSA. Of course, hindsight is 20\20, but that should not deter us from such an analysis. Certainly on the face of it, Lincoln’s stated primary objective to preserve the Union in order for the great experiment in democracy to survive, can be questioned on the grounds of what that quasi-fascist imperium that it has turned into. Many do not realize that Lincoln was not a dyed-in-the-wool abolitionist, that he made it clear that he could live with slavery if it meant avoiding secession. This raises the question, obviously unanswerable, of how long it would have taken to end the institution of slavery in the slave South if it had remained outside the Union. But everything has to be weighed against the consequence of the Civil War, which was one of the bloodiest in history, with an estimated three quarters of a million dead, which represents around four percent of the male population. And, of course, that is not to mention the wounded and maimed. Also, given the failure of reconstruction and that fact that in a very real sense the Civil War is still being fought, it is not unrealistic to question Lincoln’s decision to go to war.
OpEdNews Op Eds 9/11/2013 at 10:28:11
Abraham Lincoln is generally rated by historians as the nation’s greatest president ever. He was certainly an extraordinary man with a great spirit. His level of compassion, his inclination to forgive those who wronged him, his craving for peace–in all these ways, he seems to us now, and seemed to a great many of his contemporaries, an exceptionally humane man. Also, his navigating of the most complex of waters, during our nation’s greatest crisis, suggests a man of astonishingly acute and subtle judgment.
But for at least a decade I have been wondering about the wisdom and rightness of the main decision of his presidency, the judgment on which almost everything else about his presidency rested: to go to war against the secessionist South in order to preserve the Union.
Mr. Lincoln by CallMeWhatEver
Lincoln decided to use force to hold the Union together for two main reasons. One is that he believed the secession unconstitutional, and thus that his oath of office, to defend the Constitution, required that he enforce the irrevocability of the states’ membership in the Union. That position was at least arguable, so I don’t think Lincoln needed to feel absolutely honor-bound to resort to war.
His other reason was that he believed profoundly in the American experiment in democracy — a government of the people, for the people, and by the people — and he believed further that the nation’s breaking apart into two nations would grievously discredit the American experiment and therefore the very idea of democracy. He believed that keeping alive this “last, best hope on earth” required keeping the Union together, by force if necessary.
I’ve not come across serious Civil War scholars who question that judgment. But I am unconvinced of its validity.
It is not clear to me that the example of the American democracy would have been discredited if the two regions — which had become in many ways like two different cultures, aside from the deep polarization that had antagonized the two against each other — had negotiated a separation. When Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, that peaceful division seemed an accomplishment to their credit.
If I could place myself back in early 1861, and were in a position to advise the newly-elected President, this is what I would have counseled:
“Offer to sit down with the Confederates and negotiate over the question of their independence. Keep the military option open, use it subtly as an inducement to come to terms favorable to the Union of which you would still be president. Your unwillingness to allow slavery to spread further into the American territories can guide the terms you would accept. See if this can be accomplished peacefully.”
Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight: I know that the war would be more terrible than either side expected at the outset. (Nonetheless, during the 1850s, as the specter of secession loomed, many did anticipate that the outcome might be a nightmarish war.)
Still, as with all counter-factual history, my hindsight doesn’t enable me to see whether my proposed alternative would have worked out better.
In The Federalist Papers, one of the arguments presented for the former colonies to form “a more perfect Union” is that if the colonies break into more than one nation, history suggests the great danger that these sovereign entities would in time find themselves at war with each other. My proposal to Lincoln, the logic of The Federalist would suggest, might only postpone the war.
Indeed, I expect that danger is even greater than the general history of intersocietal relations would suggest. For I do believe that the spirit animating the South was one that was itching for a fight, and I am quite uncertain whether peace would have been possible. Here are three reasons I might be wrong about the chances for a peaceful resolution.
First, I wonder if the Confederate States of America would have been willing to cede to the Union, as part of the price of secession with peace, ownership of the territories of the West that were not yet admitted as states. If I’m right about the spirit animating the South, it might well have been impossible for Lincoln to have achieved acceptable terms.
Third, if I’m right about the South being, at some level, driven toward conflict — driven, I might say, to destruction (this will be the subject of the next installment) — then that, too, might have made a peace between the USA and the CSA difficult to maintain.
Despite all those, I believe that an attempt at negotiating the division of the United States into two nations would have been preferable to the course taken.
Lincoln never considered it. (Many others in the North advocated a position like mine: let the South go, they said, weary of the trouble-making and bullying they’d experienced from that region.)
Perhaps Lincoln’s reasons were good. Perhaps this compassionate man — who was also a very complex man– had a dark side that expressed itself in his rigid determination to undo the secession of the South through war.
I don’t know if Lincoln is to be faulted here. But I hold some space in my thinking for the idea that, in the course Lincoln took, the North bears some responsibility for the fact that the central issue of that era was decided not peacefully but through a monstrous war.
New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll
Published: April 2, 2012
For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history.
But new research shows that the numbers were far too low.
By combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000.
The new figure is already winning acceptance from scholars. Civil War History, the journal that published Dr. Hacker’s paper, called it “among the most consequential pieces ever to appear” in its pages. And a pre-eminent authority on the era, Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University, said:
“It even further elevates the significance of the Civil War and makes a dramatic statement about how the war is a central moment in American history. It helps you understand, particularly in the South with a much smaller population, what a devastating experience this was.”
The old figure dates back well over a century, the work of two Union Army veterans who were passionate amateur historians: William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore.
Fox, who had fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, knew well the horrors of the Civil War. He did his research the hard way, reading every muster list, battlefield report and pension record he could find.
In his 1889 treatise “Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865,” Fox presented an immense mass of information. Besides the aggregate death count, researchers could learn that the Fifth New Hampshire lost more soldiers (295 killed) than any other Union regiment; that Gettysburg and Waterloo were almost equivalent battles, with each of the four combatant armies suffering about 23,000 casualties; that the Union Army had 166 regiments of black troops; and that the average Union soldier was 5 feet 8 1/4 inches tall and weighed 143 1/2 pounds.
Fox’s estimate of Confederate battlefield deaths was much rougher, however: a “round number” of 94,000, a figure compiled from after-action reports. In 1900, Livermore set out to make a more complete count. In his book, “Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America, 1861-65,” he reasoned that if the Confederates had lost proportionally the same number of soldiers to disease as the Union had, the actual number of Confederate dead should rise to 258,000.
And that was that. The Fox-Livermore numbers continued to be cited well into the 21st century, even though few historians were satisfied with them. Among many others, James M. McPherson used them without citing the source in “Battle Cry of Freedom,” his Pulitzer-winning 1988 history of the war.
Enter Dr. Hacker, a specialist in 19th-century demographics, who was accustomed to using a system called the two-census method to calculate mortality. That method compares the number of 20-to-30-year-olds in one census with the number of 30-to-40-year-olds in the next census, 10 years later. The difference in the two figures is the number of people who died in that age group.
Pretty simple — but, Dr. Hacker soon realized, too simple for counting Civil War dead. Published census data from the era did not differentiate between native-born Americans and immigrants; about 500,000 foreign-born soldiers served in the Union Army alone.
“If you have a lot of immigrants age 20 moving in during one decade, it looks like negative mortality 10 years later,” Dr. Hacker said. While the Census Bureau in 1860 asked people their birthplace, the information never made it into the printed report.
As for Livermore’s assumption that deaths from disease could be correlated with battlefield deaths, Dr. Hacker found that wanting too. The Union had better medical care, food and shelter, especially in the war’s final years, suggesting that Southern losses to disease were probably much higher. Also, research has shown that soldiers from rural areas were more susceptible to disease and died at a higher rate than city dwellers. The Confederate Army had a higher percentage of farm boys.
Dr. Hacker said he realized in 2010 that a rigorous recalculation could finally be made if he used newly available detailed census data presented on the Internet by the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.
The center’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series had put representative samples of in-depth, sortable information for individuals counted in 19th-century censuses. This meant that by sorting by place of birth, Dr. Hacker could count only the native-born.
Another hurdle was what Dr. Hacker called the “dreadful” 1870 census, a badly handled undercount taken when the ashes of the war were still warm. But he reasoned a way around that problem.
Because the census takers would quite likely have missed as many women as men, he decided to look at the ratio of male to female deaths in 1870. Next, he examined mortality figures from the decades on either side of the war — the 1850s and 1870s — so that he could get an idea of the “normal” ratio of male to female deaths for a given decade. When he compared those ratios to that of 1860-70, he reasoned, he would see a dramatic spike in male mortality. And he did. Subtracting normal attrition from the male side of the equation left him with a rough estimate of war dead.
It was a better estimate than Fox and Livermore had produced, but Dr. Hacker made it clear that his was not the final answer. He had made several assumptions, each of which stole accuracy from the final result. Among them: that there were no war-related deaths of white women; that the expected normal mortality rate in the 1860s would be the average of the rates in the 1850s and 1870s; that foreign soldiers died at the same rate as native-born soldiers; and that the War Department figure of 36,000 black war dead had to be accepted as accurate because black women suffered so terribly both during and after the war that they could not be used as a control for male mortality.
The study had two significant shortcomings. Dr. Hacker could make no estimate of civilian deaths, an enduring question among historians, “because the overall number is too small relative to the overall number of soldiers killed.” And he could not tell how many of the battlefield dead belonged to each side.
“You could assume that everyone born in the Deep South fought for the Confederacy and everyone born in the North fought for the Union,” he said. “But the border states were a nightmare, and my confidence in the results broke down quickly.”
With all the uncertainties, Dr. Hacker said, the data suggested that 650,000 to 850,000 men died as a result of the war; he chose the midpoint as his estimate.
He emphasized that his methodology was far from perfect. “Part of me thinks it is just a curiosity,” he said of the new estimate.
“But wars have profound economic, demographic and social costs,” he went on. “We’re seeing at least 37,000 more widows here, and 90,000 more orphans. That’s a profound social impact, and it’s our duty to get it right.”
From Hiroshima to Syria, the enemy whose name we dare not speak September 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, War.
Tags: al-assad, assad, atomic bomb, chemical weapons, depleted uranium, east timor, gareth evans, gaza, genocide, global center, hiroshima, humanistarian intervention, john pilger, liberal fascism, Middle East, norman pollack, roger hollander, security council, suharto, syria war, Vietnam War, War Crimes, white phosphorous, wilfred burchett
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Roger’s note: In referring to the United States of America, celebrated documentary film maker John Pilger states, ” The great unmentionable is that humanity’s most dangerous enemy resides across the Atlantic.” This is the “inconvenient truth” most Americans are either to uninformed or willfully naive to acknowledge. Any U.S. president, of either party, unless she/he is willing to face some form of assassination at the hands of the imperial military-industrial complex, has no choice other than to play the role of war criminal, the present Nobel Peace Laureate included.
OpEdNews Op Eds 9/10/2013 at 15:43:17
A Solution for Syria September 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, War.
Tags: assad, avaaz, chemical weapons, Iran, Obama, roger hollander, rouhani, syria massacre, syrian opposition
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Just weeks ago the kids in this image were gassed to death in their sleep, but it feels the world has forgotten them and got stuck in a debate between US strikes or doing nothing. Now there is a glimmer of hope for a peaceful way to stop these massacres.
Syria’s bloody war has been fuelled by rivalry between Iran, Assad’s main backer, and the US and their allies. But this vile chemical attack has changed their discourse: Iran’s new moderate president condemned the gassing and Obama signalled he’d work with “anybody” to resolve the conflict. Let’s urgently call on both leaders to sit down to talks and bring the warring parties together before any more lives are lost.
Right now, the global drums of war are beating over Syria, but if enough of us make sure Rouhani and Obama know the world wants bold diplomacy, we could end the nightmare for thousands of terrified Syrian children under threat of new gas attacks. We have no time to lose. Click now to join this urgent call — when we reach one million signers we will deliver the petition directly to the two presidents:
Syria’s the most brutal war of our generation, and this chemical attack on innocent civilians is the worst our world has seen in 30 years. The world has a responsibility to protect Syrians from extermination, but for two years the international community has been shamefully gridlocked and has failed the innocent victims. Now, despite overwhelming evidence that Assad’s forces launched the attack, Syria’s backers have sown doubt and, wary of war, the world is unsure about a humanitarian intervention. These talks are a new chance to stop the bloodshed.
It’s always been believed that the US would never talk to Iran and that Iran would never help the US solve the Syrian crisis, but current evidence points to change and hope. President Obama may launch strikes, but he has no public support for a longer war, and he is looking for a way out of a sustained conflict. And 130 members of the US Congress are calling on President Obama to talk with Iran. A massive global public push for diplomacy right now could push Obama towards talks.
Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad spent billions supplying cash and weapons to the Assad regime. But the new President Rouhani was elected on a ticket to build bridges with the West and favours a political settlement with the Syrian opposition. The chemical attack is eroding Iranian public support for Assad, rekindling painful memories of Iraq’s gas attacks on Iran, and insiders say pressure is building to reconsider Iran’s support for Assad. This could be a tipping point to bring Rouhani to the table.
Talks won’t stop the horror overnight, but there is no quick and easy solution. We urgently need to get started on a path that can stop the killing of innocent children and bring the world closer together rather than tear us further apart. Let’s get the US and Iran to start talks now:
A roadmap has already been put in motion for a Syrian peace process in Geneva, but this is the first time there could be the political will to overlook all the differences and sit down. Iran is the only country in the world with sufficient influence in Syria to push the regime to the table. And the US, with its Middle East allies, can push the opposition to sit down.
It took the horror of the Second World War to get the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights. Maybe the horror of Syria might finally push the US and Iran, and their moderate presidents, to address longstanding differences and build the basis for a more lasting peace for Syria and the region, with consequences for a host of global issues from nuclear proliferation to peace in Israel and Palestine. Our community has stood by the Syrian people from the very beginning. Now they need us more than ever. Let’s give it our best shot.
Alice, Luis, Ian, Emily, Bissan, Antonia, Ricken, Lisa, Mais and the whole Avaaz team
PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=23917
Syria Offers Opportunity For US-Iran Talks (Al Monitor)
Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Keeps Eye on Iran Policy (New York Times)
No, Iran Doesn’t Need Assad (The Atlantic)
For Syria’s sake, end Iran’s isolation (Guardian)
Iran ex-president says Syria government launched gas attacks: news agency (Reuters)
Over 130 Reps. Sign Bipartisan Dent-Price Letter to President Urging Diplomacy on Iran
Iran’s Rouhani acknowledges chemical weapons killed people in Syria (Reuters)
Can Syrian Chemical Weapons Issue Lead to US-Iran Opening? (Al Monitor)
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The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable September 5, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: answer coalition, anti-war, brian becker, dc demonstration, foreign policy, john kerry, John McCain, Middle East, neo-conservatives, Obama, roger hollander, Syria, syria protest, syria war, war
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The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable.
Obama, Kerry and the mass media are working overtime to conjure up the image of “inevitability” in order to demoralize and paralyze the anti-war opposition that clearly represents the sentiment of the vast majority of the people in the United States.
We reject the concept of the inevitability of this attack.
All power does not rest in the hands of the war makers. The people oppose this next war. We must organize and organize and organize.
Right now there are deep divisions within the summits of the political and economic establishment about the reckless act of aggression being planned against a country in the heart of the Middle East. Such opposition is not based on principle but rather fear that once the war starts it is impossible to know what regional and possibly global chaos could follow.
Under such political circumstances, a mass opposition can have a decisive impact even inside the centers of world imperialism.
John Kerry has adopted all the rhetoric of Bush and the neo-conservatives. “America is the indispensable nation” he tells the world. This is the language of the neo-con criminals who took the lives of a million Iraqis and thousands of U.S. service members. The hubris of Kerry is indistinguishable from that of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz — the grouping that put Syria on their “hit list” back in 2001.
In 2008, tens of millions of people campaigned for Barack Obama and against John McCain. They did so with enormous passion and the belief that the era of endless war in the Middle East would finally come to an end. Today, Obama and McCain are like brothers as they try to dragoon the country into the next war. McCain is always for imperial war. He has never met a war that he didn’t like. He has made a political career as cheerleader-in-chief for the death and destruction of people in weaker and more vulnerable countries. Today, he is Obama’s most important ally in Congress.
The Middle East contains two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves. The U.S. policy has been to destroy all independent, nationalist regimes whose origin was in the anti-colonial revolutions of the post-World War II era. The U.S. government wants only puppets and proxies in this resource-rich region.
The people of this country can rise and take their place as a major factor in the calculations of the war makers who speak in their name. This is not the time for hand wringing or passivity. The die has NOT been cast. We must all do everything in our power everyday in the coming days to mobilize opposition and spread the word to say “No War Against Syria!”
This Saturday, September 7 (initiated by the ANSWER Coalition) and Monday, September 9 (initiated by the Syrian American Forum) there will be major marches from the White House to the Capitol Building to tell Congress “Vote NO on war against Syria!” On Saturday, September 7, assemble at the White House at 12 Noon and on Monday, September 9, assemble at the White House at 10:00 a.m., both followed by a march to Congress. Click here for details about the D.C. demonstrations and here for a list of demonstrations taking place nationwide.
Tags: anti-war, roge hollander, Syria, syria war, washington march
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March on Washington to say “Vote NO to war against Syria!”
Saturday, September 7 @ 12 noon
Gather at the White House + March to the Capitol Building
Get on the bus to DC! Help spread the word!
Now is the time for the people to step up pressure on Congress and demand that they vote NO to any resolution authorizing a military attack on Syria. Time is of the essence.
On Saturday, September 7, people are descending on Washington, D.C., for a major demonstration that will assemble at the White House at 12 Noon and then march on the Capitol Building as Congress returns to and prepares to vote. This demonstration is endorsed by the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK, UNAC and many other organizations.
Get on the bus to DC!
A bus will be leaving from New York City to the demonstration on Saturday morning. Get your bus ticket right now to attend this urgent March on Congress!
Get info about transportation from:
Help spread the word!
HANDS OFF SYRIA ACTIONS MOMENTUM GROWS September 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, hezbollah, imperialism, john kerry, Obama, palestinian resistance, roger hollander, Syria, syria attack, syrian government, war, war profiteering, weapons inspectors
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Roger’s note: This is a concise and precise statement of the folly of the government/media plan to attack Syria. From the current Senate hearing it is becoming more obvious that this is all about regime change and has nothing to do with chemical warfare. The burning question is: how to stop the continual blatant violations of international law with impunity for purely imperial objectives, putting in governments in the Middle East that will support U.S. objectives of monopolizing oil reserves.
For more information on actions:
President Obama has called for a vote in Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. Congress is scheduled to return on Monday, Sept 9. President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. When the UN Security Council would not support the U.S. war, Bush turned to the U.S. Congress for a war vote giving him “all necessary means”. Ten years later Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million US soldiers were deployed to Iraq. Today thousands of U.S. and NATO soldiers are disabled, traumatized and 1/3 will suffer from PTSD. Just as in Iraq, Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam this is again a U.S. war based on lies. Bombing Syria is NOT a ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is another war for Wall Street Profit! This time there is a risk of global confrontation or even world war. This war will only serve the billionaires and militarists who profit from war and conquest. The workers and poor will pay, in Syria and here in the U.S.
STATEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL ACTION CENTER
The people have made it crystal clear: We don’t want another war!
Last week there were demonstrations and rallies against bombing Syria in at least 48 U.S. cities. , the Times Square demonstration will be one of dozens across the country. , September 9, as Congress goes back into session, the Syrian American Forum and others will protest in front of the White House, then march to the U.S. Congress.
The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds $4 trillion dollars.
The cruise missiles the US is planning to fire at Syria cost $1.5 million apiece. The profits of the missile’s maker, Raytheon, is soaring — but our cities are crumbling. People are hurting from joblessness, foreclosures, sequester cuts and furloughs. Hospitals and schools are closing.
We need funds for job programs, healthcare and education, NOT billions wasted on war and destruction.
War propaganda always accompanies war. In 2003 before the massive attack on Iraq, it was the lie of “weapons of mass destruction.”
In 1991 in the first US war on Iraq it was wild claim that Iraqi soldiers were killing “incubator babies.”
In the Vietnam War it was the testimony that U.S. ships were being fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin.
It is ludicrous to think that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on the same day that UN weapons inspectors arrived in Syria. The inspectors were less than ten miles away from the attack and had been invited by the Syrian government.
The U.S. is the last country on earth that should start a war on the basis of combating war crimes.
The Pentagon’s 2004 assault on the city of Fallujah, Iraq alone left the residents there with staggering rates of cancer, birth defects and infant mortality due to the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.
Just last month the recipient of $1.5 billion in annual military aid, the Egyptian government, brutally cleared the streets, killing many hundreds at protest encampments that included men, women and children.
By far, the world’s largest stockpile of chemical, nuclear and every other kind of weapon belongs to the United States — the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilians.
No, President Barack Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry don’t care about the people of Syria one bit. What they care about is removing a government that gives aid to the Palestinian resistance, Hezbollah and other victims of the Israeli brutality. The repressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms beat down the people of the region so that U.S. oil companies can have unfettered access to oil profits.
We don’t want another war for the 1%. The rich will win and the people in the U.S., Syria and the entire Middle East region will lose.
Hands off Syria!
Some of the organizations, coalitions and community groups endorsing demonstrations: (Full list in formation.)
Syrian American Forum
United National Antiwar Coalition-UNAC
Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights
International Action Center
Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY
Harlem Tenants Council
La Peña del Bronx
U.S. Peace Council
Veterans For Peace / Chapter 021, NJ
People’s Power Movement
World Can’t Wait
International League for People’s Struggles/US
People’s Organization for Progress
Jersey City Peace Movement
Fight Imperialism Stand Together – FIST
Pakistan USA Freedom Forum
Honduras USA Resistencia
Al Quds Committee
Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY
Grannies for Peace
Black Waxx, NY
Guyanese American Workers United, New York, NY
Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement
Advocates For Peace And Social Justice, West New York, NJ
SI Solidarity Iran
People’s Video Network
International Action Center
c/o Solidarity Center
147 W. 24th St., FL 2 • New York, NY 10011
War for Profit September 3, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: monarchy resources, roger hollander, Syria, syria attack, syria missiles, syria oil, syria rockets, war profiteering
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ROGER’S NOTE: THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT
I RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING EMAIL TODAY:
|A Previous Report that Rose up to|
|Date:||9/2/2013 3:59:50 P.M. Central Daylight Time|
|Sent from the Internet (Details)|
It`s your turn to make money on war. It`s the very time to make
it. The moment the first rockets touch the ground in Syria, oil
prices will go up the same as Monarchy Resources Inc (M_O NK)
stock price! Begin earning $$$ on Tuesday, Sep 03rd, 2013, buy
M_O NK shares!!!
Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible? September 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, Colin Powell, Dale Gavlak, ghouta, jim naureckas, john kerry, Mnar Muhawesh, Prince Banda, putin, roger hollander, sarin gas, saudi arabia, Syria, syrian rebels, Yahya Ababneh
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Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).
The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?
The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.
Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”
On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?
In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.
When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.
Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.
Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.
Unlike the U.S. government, Mint does not have much of a track record, having been founded only about a year and a half ago (CJR, 3/28/12). The founder of the for-profit startup is Mnar Muhawesh, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American woman who believes, reasonably enough, that “our media has absolutely failed our country” (MinnPost, 1/18/12). One of its two reporters on its Syrian chemical weapons piece, Dale Gavlak, is a longtime Associated Press Mideast stringer who has also done work for NPR and the BBC. AP was one of the few US corporate media outlets to question official assertions about Iraqi WMDs, contrasting Powell’s assertions with what could be discerned from on-the-ground reporting (Extra!, 3-4/06).
Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch, 7/13).
Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”
Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”
This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.
Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.
Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.
Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.
The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”
However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.
Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.
More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.
In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.
Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.
“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.
“Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.
“Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.
According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.
“They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.
Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.
The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:
His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.
Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.
Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”
But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.
Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:
Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.
It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.
Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates .
Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at email@example.com
Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism, He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.