Sunday, August 7, 2016

Two Weddings and a Funeral Redux

"Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror" - Barack Obama

A US presidential policy guidance document on drone strikes - often referred to as the 'drone playbook' - was last week made public in edited form in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Politico's Josh Berstein writes:

President Barack Obama has to personally approve the killing of a U.S. citizen targeted for a lethal drone strike outside combat areas, according to a policy Obama adopted in 2013.

The president also is called upon to approve drone strikes against permanent residents of the U.S. and when "there is a lack of consensus" among agency chiefs about whom to target, but in other cases he is simply "apprised" of the targeting decision, the newly-disclosed document [pdf] shows.

The guidance provides more detail on some of the more controversial aspects of the drone strike policy, such as official claims that the government only uses lethal force when it isn't "feasible" to capture someone alive. The document seems to limit the sweep of that restriction by saying that officials can approve a drone strike if they make "an assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation."

That suggests the U.S. can go forward with a strike even if there's reason to believe it might be possible to capture someone at some later point, perhaps if he transits between one place and another. On the other hand, given that those targeted are considered involved in imminent terrorist activities, a delay could potentially cost lives.

[]... the document also makes clear that Obama can bypass the process whenever he sees fit, particularly in situations where those in danger of a terrorist attack are not Americans but "another country's persons." It's unclear whether Obama has ever made such exceptions.

The policy also includes procedures for presidentially-approved last-minute variations to a targeting plan when "fleeting opportunities" arise, as well as policies for Congressional notification. Congressional leaders get an update on so-called "high-value targets" at least every three months, although the policy also allows for so-called "signature" strikes where the specific identity of a target isn't known, just his role.

A 2015 report by the Intercept found that 90% of the victims of drone strikes are not the intended targets.  President Obama, who as we now know is personally required to authorize drone strikes in certain situations, is therefore fully aware that he is likely to be personally bringing about the deaths of completely innocent people - including children - perhaps on a large scale; the definition - in his own words - of a terrorist attack.

The US by now has quite a resume on state-sponsored terror...

In July 2008 47 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a US military airstrike. The group was escorting a bride to her wedding ceremony in the groom's village in Nangarhar province. Three bombs hit the group in succession as they stopped for a rest. The first bomb killed a group of children that were ahead of the main group. The aircraft returned and dropped a second bomb in the middle of the main group, killing a large number of women. The bride and two other girls miraculously escaped the second bomb, but the third finished them as they tried to escape. The US government initially denied that any civilians had been killed until an Afghan government investigation determined the facts. It is known as the Deh Bala wedding party airstrike.

In November of the same year 63 people including 37 civilians - again mostly women and children - were killed in another US military airstrike at a housing complex where a wedding was being celebrated in the village of Wech Baghtu in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Two days after the strike, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that then newly-elected Barack Obama (soon to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) end the killing of civilians: "Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes — this is my first demand of the new president of the United States — to put an end to civilian casualties." A US government official commented, "If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences."

In June 2009 US drones launched an attack on a funeral procession in the city of Makeen, South Waziristan. Militants killed earlier that same day were being buried. 60 people were killed, while other sources claim that there were up to 83 casualties. The 'Makeen airstrike' is considered to be one of the most deadly attacks in the drone era.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based in London has carried out painstaking research on drone strikes, using extremely conservative methods, meaning it is likely that its figures are well below the reality. Its research has found clear evidence that not only do the US and NATO bomb weddings and funerals, they also target rescuers aiming to recover the bodies of their loved ones and neighbors in so-called 'double-tap' strikes.

John Brennan, CIA Director and former top counter-terrorism adviser to Barack Obama stated that the US has the right to unilaterally strike terrorists anywhere in the world, even away from battlefields:

"Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan."

The stance of the US raises serious questions with regard to international law and the strategies employed in the 'war on terror'.

From an earlier article on this blog:

Let's take a closer look at international law. The Third Geneva Convention states that a so-called 'unlawful combatant' is a civilian who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war.

Targeted killing, often executed by drone aircraft, is the intentional killing of a target deemed to be an 'unlawful combatant' not currently in the custody of the attacking power. This assumes that the person has allegedly lost the immunity granted by the Third Geneva Convention because they are allegedly engaged in terrorism or another form of armed conflict. Note that under the most basic concepts of most legal systems, such intent can only be surmised in a court of law or similar tribunal.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided in August 2010 a succinct FAQ of what is wrong with targeted killing, [standing] in stark contrast to the assertions of Mr. Brennan.

From the FAQ:

Both the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force against civilians outside of armed conflict except in very narrow circumstances: as a last resort to prevent an imminent attack that is likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

Allowing the use of warlike tactics far from any battlefield — using drones or other means — turns the whole world into a war zone and sets a dangerous example for other countries which might feel justified in doing the same. If the U.S. claims it can kill suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere — using unmanned drones or otherwise — then other countries will regard killing their enemies within our borders as justified. We wouldn't be okay with the prospect of other countries executing their suspected enemies within U.S. borders.

The targeted killing of individuals who are suspected — but not proven — to be guilty of crimes also risks the deaths of innocent people. Over the last decade, we have seen the U.S. government wrongly imprison hundreds of men as terrorists based on weak, wrong or unreliable evidence, only to eventually free them. The consequence of such mistakes is far greater when the end result is death; there is no recourse for killing the wrong person.

What about innocent until proven guilty? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all NATO nations are signatories to, states in article 11:

"Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence."

Tragic consequences are not limited to the strikes themselves: A Los Angeles Times article reports that a militant group called Khorasan Mujahedin targets people suspected of being US or NATO informants. The group kidnaps, tortures and usually kills suspects, then distributes videotapes of killings in street markets to serve as warnings. Almost certainly many of these 'informants' will be mistakenly kidnapped, while local power brokers will inevitably abuse the climate of fear to remove rivals: more innocent deaths and grief for families.

As stated by the ACLU, John Brennan's attempt to justify these killings sets an extremely dangerous precedent. By US logic, any suspected terrorist defined as 'in conflict' with a nation state is a viable target at any location on the planet. China or Russia, therefore, can now feel perfectly free to target anyone they deem a 'terrorist' anywhere, including - say - a wedding in New York or a funeral in Boston. Can one even begin to imagine what would happen if Russia bombed a New York wedding? Would the Western media label the act as anything other than the most repugnant act of terror possible? Such an action is unacceptable, whatever the justification, and is a textbook example of a terrorist act, hence making the US and its NATO allies purveyors of terrorism on an industrial scale in the nations it targets.

International law, embodied in treaties signed between the nations of the world in good faith, must be regarded neither as an inconvenience nor something to be twisted using weasel reasoning. Any legal 'ambiguity', seized upon by the US and NATO for their own strategic goals, is a threat to world security. This faux-perceived ambiguity must be urgently addressed, and any nation which regards itself as moral must stand up to this campaign of mass murder disguised as warfare. There can only be one answer to the murder of children.

Written by Simon Wood

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Monday, June 6, 2016

West Papua - Crushing Freedom for Profit

“It’s about a political strategy that brings to worldwide recognition the plight of the people of West Papua, forces it onto a political agenda, forces it to the UN, forces an exposure of it and ultimately that allows the people of West Papua to make the choice of the kind of government they want and the kind of society in which they want to live.  That is a fundamental right.” - Jeremy Corybn,  calling for a visit by the UN special rapporteur, the reinstatement of NGOs in the region and questioning of international companies working in West Papua. (6 May 2016)

 "You should tell [Suharto] that we understand the problems they face in West Irian" - National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to President Nixon on the eve of Nixon's July 1969 visit to Indonesia.

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer." - Henry Kissinger

Leader of the UK's Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn last month drew attention to the long-suffering and ignored people of West Papua, stating that 'recognition of human rights and justice should be the “cornerstone” of the UK Labour party’s foreign policy'.  He was addressing a group of international ministers and activists, including West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.  The Indonesian embassy in Australia released a statement dismissing the meeting as a publicity stunt organised by a “small group of Papua separatists and sympathisers”.
Declassified documents published in 2004 by the National Security Archive 'detail United States support for Indonesia's heavy-handed takeover of West Papua despite overwhelming Papuan opposition and United Nations requirements for genuine self-determination'. 

When Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1949, the Dutch government retained control over the territory of West New Guinea. From 1949 until 1961 the Indonesian government sought to "recover" West New Guinea (later known as West Irian or West Papua), arguing that the territory, a part of the former Netherlands East Indies, rightfully belonged with Indonesia.
In late 1961, after repeated and unsuccessful attempts to secure its goals through the United Nations, Indonesia's President Sukarno declared a military mobilization and threatened to invade West New Guinea and annex it by force. The Kennedy administration, fearing that U.S. opposition to Indonesian demands might push the country toward Communism, sponsored talks between the Netherlands and Indonesia in the spring of 1962. Negotiations took place under the shadow of ongoing Indonesian military incursions into West New Guinea and the threat of an Indonesian invasion.

The U.S.-sponsored talks led to the August 1962 New York Agreement, which awarded Indonesia control of West New Guinea (which it promptly renamed West Irian) after a brief transitional period overseen by the UN. The agreement obligated Jakarta to conduct an election on self-determination with UN assistance no later than 1969. Once in control, however, Indonesia quickly moved to repress political dissent by groups demanding outright independence for the territory.

U.S. officials understood at the outset that Indonesia would never allow West Irian to become independent and that it was unlikely to ever allow a meaningful act of self-determination to take place. The Johnson and Nixon administrations were equally reluctant to challenge Indonesian control over West Irian, especially after the conservative anti-Communist regime of General Suharto took over in 1966 following an abortive coup attempt which led to the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 alleged Communists. Suharto quickly moved to liberalize the Indonesian economy and open it to the West, passing a new foreign investment law in late 1967. The first company to take advantage of the law was the American mining company Freeport Sulphur, which gained concessions to vast tracts of land in West Irian containing gold and copper reserves.

Over six weeks from July to August 1969, U.N. officials conducted the so-called "Act of Free Choice." Under the articles of the New York Agreement (Article 18) all adult Papuans had the right to participate in an act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice. Instead, Indonesian authorities selected [1025] West Papuans to vote publicly and unanimously in favor of integration with Indonesia.

The 'Act of Free Choice', now habitually referred to as the 'Act of No Choice' by Papuan independence advocates, was a farce from beginning to end.   The suggestion that almost a million people who had already prepared a flag and an anthem for their imminent independence would unanimously vote for foreign control is derisory.

From New Internationalist:

One of the few journalists there at the time (the world’s media was focused on Indochina), Hugh Lunn, has written an account which records Papuans’ heartfelt and ignored pleas to the outside world. On arriving at his hotel he found a letter soaked in blood which said Indonesia was killing dissenting Papuans. Then a Papuan who came into his room supposedly to repair a light mimed himself being shot in the back of the head while another pretended to be handcuffed. UN staff who spoke to Lunn off-the-record had all experienced but not publicized similar creative requests for international support.

Australia also ignored such pleas. At the request of Indonesia, it arrested two pro-independence activists when they entered Australian-administered Papua New Guinea. They carried testimonies from Papuans calling for independence and for the UN to abandon the Act of Free Choice. These were never delivered – instead the activists were put in jail.

A statement prepared by the US Embassy in Jakarta and presented to Australia before the UN-supervised vote says: ‘Personal political views of the UN team are... 95 per cent of Irianese (West Papuans) support the independence movement and that the Act of Free Choice is a mockery.’

This new evidence confirms that the UN, Australia and the US all knew that the Act of Free Choice was actually what Papuans call the ‘Act of No Choice’. The duplicity is incomprehensible to most Papuans – the UN had embraced many new nations; the US, in its anti-Communist crusade, avowed support for freedom and Australia followed suit. But all these promises and pronouncements were void when it came to their own oppression.

After West Papua was officially proclaimed Indonesian, the small rebel group, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM or Free Papua Movement) although armed only with bows, arrows and spears, provided the Indonesian military with a rationale to clamp down on the province. An estimated 60,000 troops were deployed. From 1967 to 1972 the military violence is estimated to have caused between 30,000 and 100,000 Papuan deaths. Then, in the late 1970s, a series of ceremonies raising the West Papuan flag in the Highlands resulted in the military bombing and strafing of whole villages, killing at least 1,000 people and causing at least 5,000 to flee and hide out in the forest.

To the lasting shame of the United Nations, not only did it knowingly permit this travesty, but its official stance on the Act of Free Choice remains unchanged, making a mockery of its own charter and the idea that it is independent of the influence of powerful nations.

What could explain this turning of a blind eye by the UN?  In an astounding coincidence, the largest gold mine and third largest copper mine in the world is located in this region.  The Grasberg mine is 90.64% owned by the US mining company, Freeport McMoRan (formerly the Texas Freeport Sulphur Company).  By the mid-1980s, with the original mine largely depleted, Freeport explored for other deposits in the area, identifying in 1988 reserves valued at $40 billion at Grasberg just 3 kilometres from the Ertsberg mine.  A 2003–2006 boom caused by extra consumption of copper for Asian electrical infrastructure caused prices to increase from around $1500/ton to $8100/ton, greatly increasing the profitability of the mine.

[As a noteworthy aside, in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens wrote:

In 1989 Freeport-McMoRan paid Kissinger Associates a retainer of $200,000 and fees of $600,000, not to mention a promise of a 2% commission on future earnings.  Freeport-McMoRan also made [Henry] Kissinger a member of its board of directors, at an annual salary of at least $30,000.]

Environmental groups are concerned with the potential for copper contamination and acid mine drainage from the mine tailings into surrounding river systems and groundwater.   Concerns are such that both Freeport and its partner Rio Tinto were excluded from the investment portfolio of The Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world's second-largest pension fund, due to criticism over the environmental damage caused by the Grasberg mine. Stocks at a value of US$870 million were divested from the fund as a result of the decisions.

According to the Free West Papua campaign, 'Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, making billions of dollars for the Indonesian government every year.  The company reportedly pays the Indonesian military around $3 million every year in “protection money”, ensuring that local West Papuans are kept out of the area.  The mine reportedly pumps over 238,000 tonnes of toxic waste into the local river system every day, leading to mass fish deaths and swathes of biologically dead lands'.

Unsurprisingly, the human rights situation is horrific, with numerous incidences of torture, rape and murder:

Many towns and villages have witnessed wholesale massacres of their people. One such example was the 'Biak Massacre' in 1998, where over 200 people including women and children were rounded up by the Indonesian military, loaded onto vessels, taken to sea and thrown overboard.  In 2010 the UK's Channel Four News broadcast a [graphic] report on torture in the region.  In a public report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluded that the Indonesian security forces used rape “as an instrument of torture and intimidation” in West Papua, and “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread”.

There are currently hundreds of West Papuan political prisoners being held in West Papua and across Indonesia. Many are serving long prison terms for peacefully protesting against Indonesian rule or for being members of organisations calling for West Papuan independence.
Filep Karma is a particular case in point, serving a 15 year jail sentence simply for raising the West Papuan national flag. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Conditions in the prisons are often very poor and maltreatment of prisoners is common with many being beaten and tortured while detained. Prisoners have often developed severe health problems and been denied access to medical care.

Many Papuans live in a constant state of fear and intimidation. People living in villages across West Papua can at any time be subject to military sweeping operations.  Under the pretence of looking for insurgents, the military have repeatedly swept through entire rural areas killing arbitrarily and burning whole villages to the ground, destroying subsistence food crops and livestock and forcing people to flee into the forests where they are prone to starvation and disease.

West Papua is currently off limits to international journalists. If discovered without permission they are arrested and deported by the Indonesian authorities. Some have even been attacked and imprisoned.

The ongoing tragedy in West Papua is just one more example out of thousands where human welfare is trumped every time by economic, financial and/or geopolitical interests, where the widespread torture, rape and murder of locals are merely PR obstacles.  This is an inevitable consequence of the pursuit of profit, the fundamental principle behind capitalism; a system that is antithetical to preservation of the environment and human rights.

Written by Simon Wood

[Author's note: There are several ways for readers to take action to aid the West Papuan people here.  See also a secretly filmed 2013 Al Jazeera documentary here]

Twitter: @simonwood11

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Obama Does Hiroshima

"He started suffering nosebleeds about a week after the bombing. They called a doctor, and my aunt put a wash basin by his side and stayed up all night taking care of him. But the bleeding from his gums and nose grew worse, and he finally died on the 22nd. Before he breathed his last, he complained that his stomach and legs hurt very much. I was sleeping next to him, and he told me to bring a knife because an atomic bomb was lodged in his stomach. I couldn’t bear to watch him suffer, so I got up to get him a knife, but my uncle scolded me. My brother’s corpse had no blood at all. It was as white as a wax dummy. My mother died in Nagasaki at about the same time, and my sister and younger brother died weeping over her body. I was told they held the funeral for all three on the same day." - Emiko Fukahori, survivor of Nagasaki nuclear bombing [Source]

“Since I only have a few months left in the office, I thought it was a good time for me to reflect on the nature of war. Part of my goal is to recognise that innocent people caught in war can suffer tremendously. And that’s not just the thing of the past. That is happening today in many parts of the world.” - US President Barack Obama on his reasons for visiting Hiroshima [Source]

In Japan for the 2016 G-7 summit, US President Barack Obama will make history as the first acting US president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the world's first nuclear bombing. Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 to 'encourage his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism', might well be expected to explain to observers the inherent contradiction of visiting a scene of unspeakable nuclear tragedy as he authorizes the spending of $1 trillion on 'redesigned nuclear warheads, as well as new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants'.

On August 6th 1945 the US dropped a uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima, directly over Shima hospital. The hospital along with its staff and patients were instantly vaporized and much of the city was destroyed. Three days later a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) was dropped on the city of Nagasaki in Kyushu.

The code names of the bombs, chosen to reflect their design shapes, were taken from the 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon. At least 129,000 people were killed.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima has revived debate over the bombings. Much of this debate has focused on whether the bombings were necessary to force the surrender of the Japanese. Those in agreement with this generally cite the standard historical US government line that multitudes of lives on both sides that would have been lost in a ground invasion were preserved, conventional wisdom that is rarely - if ever - questioned in mainstream analysis. This conclusion, however, which assumes benign and humanitarian motives on the part of the US commanders in killing some to save many, does not stand up to proper scrutiny.

First, one cannot assume benign motives on the part of the US. Indeed, one need only look at the firebombing of Tokyo five months earlier. The Operation Meetinghouse air raid of 9-10th March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II. 330 B-29 bombers - 'packed with various incendiary explosives, including white phosphorous and napalm, a gasoline-based, fuel-gel mixture developed at Harvard University' - were dropped on the civilian inhabitants of Tokyo. The incendiaries were chosen specifically to target the wooden residential structures.

Rory Fanning writing in Jacobin magazine elaborates:

Like a sticky fiery plague, the globs of napalm clung to everything it touched. The M-69s were so effective at starting fires in Tokyo that night that gale force winds turned thousands of individual fires into one massive firestorm. Temperatures around the city raged between 600 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. In some areas, the fires melted asphalt.

[Architect of Tokyo firebombing General Curtis] LeMay planned the attack to coincide with 30 MPH winds in order to intensify the effect of the bombs. Ultimately, sixteen square miles of Tokyo were reduced to ash.

LeMay claimed that the Japanese government relied on residential “cottage” war production, thus making the civilians living in Tokyo a legitimate military target. However, by 1944 the Japanese had essentially terminated its home war production. A full 97 percent of the country’s military supplies were protected underground in facilities not vulnerable to air attack the day of the bombing. The Americans knew this.

The United States had broken Japan’s Red and Purple cipher machines well before 1945, allowing them access to the most classified enemy intelligence. American generals understood the war would soon be materially impossible for the Japanese.

The US Naval blockade had also prevented oil, metal, and other essential goods from entering Japan long before March 9. Japan was so cut off from basic supplies that it was constructing its planes partially out of wood.

The Japanese population at this point in the war was most concerned with starvation. The 1945 rice harvest was the worst since 1909. Surveys commissioned by Japan’s government in April 1945 reported the population was “too preoccupied with the problems of food” to worry about fighting a war. Victory for the Allies was guaranteed by the start of the year.

The most damning evidence against the firebombing can be traced to August 19, 1945, when Walter Trohan of the Chicago Tribune finally published a piece gracefully titled “Roosevelt Ignored M’Arthur Report on Nip Proposals” that he had been sitting on for seven months.

Trohan wrote: Release of all censorship restrictions in the United States makes it possible to report that the first Japanese peace bid was relayed to the White House seven months ago. . . .

The Jap offer, based on five separate overtures, was relayed to the White House by Gen. MacArthur in a 40-page communication, [who] urged negotiations on the basis of the Jap overtures. . . .

The offer, as relayed by MacArthur, contemplated abject surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. President Roosevelt dismissed the general’s communication, which was studded with solemn references to the deity, after a casual reading with the remark, “MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician.”

The MacArthur report was not even taken to Yalta.

In January 1945 — two days before Franklin Roosevelt was to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta — the Japanese were offering surrender terms almost identical to what was accepted by the Americans on the USS Missouri in the Japan Bay on September 2, 1945.

The Japanese population was famished, the country’s war machine was out of gas, and the government had capitulated. The Americans were unmoved. The firebombing and the nuclear attacks were heartlessly carried out. If anyone is guilty of disregarding the “context” of the firebombing of Tokyo, it’s the sycophantic and biased American historians who deride these critical facts.


So why did the Americans continue to raid and terrorize the Japanese civilian population knowing the war could have been over? Many argue that the Americans were flexing their muscles for Russia in anticipation of the ensuing Cold War. Countless pages have been written about this.

But what is too often overlooked is the racism of the day. It is America’s racism that best explains the extent of the firebombing and the nuclear attacks. The racist mindset that all too many Americans were comfortable with in the Jim Crow era easily bled onto the Japanese. The horror stories of the almost two hundred thousand Japanese Americans who lost their livelihoods as a result of Roosevelt’s internment camps are just one example of how Americans saw not only the Japanese but Japanese-Americans.

The firebombing of Japan was about testing new technologies on a civilian population. Significant funds had gone into the development of American military technology — 36 billion in 2015 dollars funded the creation of the atomic bomb. Napalm was new as well. The firebombing of Tokyo marked the first time it was used on a dense civilian population. The Americans wanted to assay their new inventions on a group of people who they thought were less than human.

LeMay famously remarked, “Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time . . . I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.” LeMay later leveraged his war credentials and racism to earn a spot on segregationist Gov. George Wallace’s 1968 presidential ticket.

A 1944 opinion poll found that 13% of Americans favored exterminating the entire Japanese race - man, woman and child - after the war, with 33% saying that Japan should be split up and destroyed as a political entity and 28% advocating 'supervision and control'. While the well-documented atrocities of the Japanese can explain much of this hatred, this dehumanization of the Japanese people as a whole can only have made it easier to justify the mass bombing of civilians. There is ample evidence that a large number of American citizens at the time viewed the Japanese as subhuman.

From a sourced summary of anti-Japanese sentiment [Sources]:

U.S. historian James J. Weingartner attributes the very low number of Japanese in U.S. POW compounds to two key factors: a Japanese reluctance to surrender and a widespread American "conviction that the Japanese were 'animals' or 'subhuman' and unworthy of the normal treatment accorded to POWs." The latter reasoning is supported by Niall Ferguson, who says that "Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians [sic] — as Untermenschen." Weingartner believes this explains the fact that a mere 604 Japanese captives were alive in Allied POW camps by October 1944. Ulrich Straus, a U.S. Japanologist, believes that front line troops intensely hated Japanese military personnel and were "not easily persuaded" to take or protect prisoners, as they believed that Allied personnel who surrendered, got "no mercy" from the Japanese. Allied soldiers believed that Japanese soldiers were inclined to feign surrender, in order to make surprise attacks. Therefore, according to Straus, "[s]enior officers opposed the taking of prisoners[,] on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks ..."

Genocide researcher Daniel Goldhagen in his book Worse than War wrote: "So it is no surprise that Americans perpetrated and supported mass slaughters - Tokyo's firebombing and then nuclear incinerations - in the name of saving American lives, and of giving the Japanese what they richly deserved."

Weingartner argues that there is a common cause between the mutilation of Japanese war dead and the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Weingartner both were partially the result of a dehumanization of the enemy, saying, "[T]he widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands."

On the second day after the Nagasaki bomb, Truman stated: "The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true".

Dehumanization makes atrocities easy to justify, even when they are perpetrated against children. A recent example can be found during the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza, when groups of Israelis gathered on a hillside to watch their government's bombs (supplied by nations like the US and UK) striking Palestinian residential areas, cheering in full knowledge that children were being murdered in their homes. Journalist Jonathon Cook has documented how the language of genocide and dehumanization has already entered Israeli mainstream discourse.

With the widespread US racism and hatred against the Japanese established and the benign intentions of the US forces in World War II discredited, a disturbing question arises: were the atomic bombings, as with the firebombing of Tokyo, opportunities taken to test new weapons and substances on a civilian population? The notion must be examined, given that several objectives could be achieved simultaneously in using the bomb (providing motive). These objectives include demonstrating the will and ability to use such destructive, deadly weapons on civilians, thereby sending a terrifying message to the Soviet Union and China, both already identified as powerful future adversaries. The materials and technology could be tested in the field, with the opportunity to examine the physical, medical and psychological consequences of using such a weapon. It was less than a month after the first nuclear test (Trinity) on July 16th 1945 and the first two types of nuclear bomb were rushed to completion soon after. With hindsight, it is a striking coincidence that these two different types were tested on two different Japanese cities? And all this could be justified with a ready-made excuse, one that the American public would easily swallow given the overall feelings toward the Japanese at the time: that thousands of needless American deaths would be averted.

In order to add credence to such a claim, one must discredit the commonly employed argument that use of atomic bombs was unavoidable - absolutely necessary - to spare the lives that would be lost in a ground invasion.

Researcher Jonah Walters writes:

There is no truth to the common argument that the United States military had to use nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians to end World War II.

American leaders at the time understood well that they had other options. In fact, Truman mentions this in his memoirs, recalling his worry that, should American atomic tests fail, the Soviet ground invasion of Japan would precipitate the Japanese surrender, thus amplifying Soviet influence in East Asia. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military had begun planning a detailed ground invasion of their own, a strategy deliberately developed to avoid the use of nuclear warfare in the Pacific.

But more importantly, Japan was profoundly isolated in the region and in the world following the surrender of Nazi Germany. The Japanese state had already begun to collapse, with military and executive bureaucracies in disarray. The Soviet declaration of war — which occurred on August 8, between the bombing of Hiroshima and the bombing of Nagasaki — so panicked Japanese Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki that, when he was advised not to plan a military response to the imminent invasion, he reportedly replied, “then the game is up.”

The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey in Japan after examining numerous documents and interviewing hundreds of military and civilian leaders in Japan after the surrender concluded:

There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated

Another question that arises and adds credence to the theory that the official justifications for using the bomb were lies is the fact that the invasion of Kyushu was planned for October/November. Given that US intelligence was well aware of Japan's desperate situation under the naval blockade, the destruction of its infrastructure and the poor 1945 rice harvest that was causing widespread starvation, and was also long aware of Japan's willingness to surrender under certain terms that could be negotiated, there is no reason why these surrender terms were not discussed before the use of such a terrible weapon was sanctioned.

Indeed, Truman's eagerness and glee at the use of the bomb is documented:

The successful test of the atom bomb on July 16, shortly before the formal opening of the Potsdam Conference, gave Truman what he later called “a hammer on those boys.” Truman’s demeanor at Potsdam completely changed, and he became much more aggressive and arrogant in negotiations with Stalin. During the initial days of the Potsdam Conference, Truman was still seeking to get assurance from the Soviet Union that it would join the war with Japan. However over the next several weeks, it is clear that administration officials hoped that use of the bomb would bring a quick end to the war before the Soviet invasion progressed very far and before Japan made a separate deal with Stalin.

Many of the scientists who worked or supported the Manhattan Project did so because of their intense hatred of Hitler and the Nazi regime. The project was originally justified on the grounds that if Hitler were to acquire the bomb first the consequences would be absolutely devastating. But by the time the United States had perfected the technology, Germany had been defeated. Nevertheless, the Truman administration not only decided to use the bomb, but did so with evident glee. Truman famously declared that he did not lose a night’s sleep over the decision. According to one account, when he heard the news about Hiroshima while crossing the Atlantic, he declared, “This is the greatest thing in history,” and then “raced about the ship to spread the news, insisting that he had never made a happier announcement. ‘We have won the gamble,’ he told the assembled and cheering crew.”

Commenting on this phenomenon, the historian Gabriel Jackson remarked, “In the specific circumstances of August 1945, the use of the atom bomb showed that a psychologically very normal and democratically elected chief executive could use the weapon just as the Nazi dictator would have used it. In this way, the United States—for anyone concerned with moral distinctions in the different types of government—blurred the difference between fascism and democracy.”

A common argument employed to justify the atomic bombings is that Japan 'deserved it' because of its own atrocities. One wonders if these same people would also support a nuclear attack by Vietnam over a major US city, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying most of the buildings, in response to atrocities committed by US forces during the Vietnam War like the My Lai massacre (one among many). Would the American toddlers murdered in their schools also 'deserve it' because troops from their nation did terrible things to people in wars long before their birth? That educated adults can even for a moment entertain the idea that civilians - including infants - can somehow be held responsible for the crimes of their governments and/or soldiers and somehow deserve retribution in the form of violent death is a particularly damning indictment of the current ethical standards of great swathes of humanity, especially those who have grown up and live in an environment saturated by a corporate-owned media that creates a false picture of 'humanitarian wars' waged by Western powers.

The other pressing question that has dominated media analysis and discussion is the question of whether Obama should apologise for the nuclear bombings. State Department officials have ruled out an apology and the Japanese government appears not to expect or require one, for reasons spelled out by Jake Adelstein. He notes that this is despite a 2015 Russian news agency poll that found that 60% of the Japanese people want an apology of some sort.

Any apology offered by Obama on behalf of his nation, however, would be meaningless.

For an apology to have meaning, the sentiments behind the words have to correspond to reality. Implicit in any genuine apology by Obama for the needless deaths of the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be a demonstrated sorrow for civilian deaths elsewhere in the world both now and in the past. This is manifestly not the case. Obama personally authorizes drone strikes from the Oval Office in full awareness of the fact that 90% of drone strike victims are not the intended targets, often innocent bystanders - including hundreds of children.

An honest, heartfelt apology would imply that the United States is concerned with human rights or mass killing. Time and again, the US has proved that the polar opposite is true; that its strategic objectives trump human welfare every time. A fairly comprehensive list compiled of US interventions and actions that have led to deaths in foreign nations estimates that at least 20 million people have been killed by the US since World War II.


Guatemala: In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala. He appropriated some unused land operated by the United Fruit Company and compensated the company. That company then started a campaign to paint Arbenz as a tool of an international conspiracy and hired about 300 mercenaries who sabotaged oil supplies and trains. In 1954 a CIA-orchestrated coup put him out of office and he left the country. During the next 40 years various regimes killed thousands of people. In 1999 the Washington Post reported that an Historical Clarification Commission concluded that over 200,000 people had been killed during the civil war and that there had been 42,000 individual human rights violations, 29,000 of them fatal, 92% of which were committed by the army. The commission further reported that the U.S. government and the CIA had pressured the Guatemalan government into suppressing the guerilla movement by ruthless means.

Indonesia: In 1965, in Indonesia, a coup replaced General Sukarno with General Suharto as leader. The U.S. played a role in that change of government. Robert Martens, a former officer in the U.S. embassy in Indonesia, described how U.S. diplomats and CIA officers provided up to 5,000 names to Indonesian Army death squads in 1965 and checked them off as they were killed or captured. Martens admitted that “I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.” Estimates of the number of deaths range from 500,000 to 3 million. From 1993 to 1997 the U.S. provided Jakarta with almost $400 million in economic aid and sold tens of million of dollars of weaponry to that nation. U.S. Green Berets provided training for the Indonesia’s elite force which was responsible for many of atrocities in East Timor.

Chile: The CIA intervened in Chile’s 1958 and 1964 elections. In 1970 a socialist candidate, Salvador Allende, was elected president. The CIA wanted to incite a military coup to prevent his inauguration, but the Chilean army’s chief of staff, General Rene Schneider, opposed this action. The CIA then planned, along with some people in the Chilean military, to assassinate Schneider. This plot failed and Allende took office. President Nixon was not to be dissuaded and he ordered the CIA to create a coup climate: “Make the economy scream,” he said. What followed were guerilla warfare, arson, bombing, sabotage and terror. ITT and other U.S. corporations with Chilean holdings sponsored demonstrations and strikes. Finally, on September 11, 1973 Allende died either by suicide or by assassination. At that time Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, said the following regarding Chile: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” During 17 years of terror under Allende’s successor, General Augusto Pinochet, an estimated 3,000 Chileans were killed and many others were tortured or “disappeared.”

The full sordid, horrifying list, which is not complete, makes it clear that the United States is indifferent to its treaty obligations with regard to international law, human rights and democracy, all the while maintaining an image - carefully cultivated and protected by indoctrinated, 'gatekeeper' journalists in the corporate media - of benign intent.

Obama apologising for the nuclear bombings would be like a still-active serial arsonist apologising to you for burning down your house in the distant past: a fake, meaningless gesture. While US representatives are certainly capable of such dishonesty, it is fortunate at least that the wronged people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be spared treatment of this nature. Their earnest hopes for a nuclear-free world, however, will not be realised by the likes of Obama or any of the presidential candidates that will succeed him.

Hiroshima's online peace memorial guide tells us: 'The flame of peace has burned continuously since it was lit on August 1, 1964. It symbolizes the anti-nuclear resolve to burn the flame until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth'. With NATO posturing on Russia's borders and growing confrontations with China showing no signs of abating, the possibility is there that it is humans that will 'disappear from the earth' before these terrible weapons do.

Co-president Tilman Ruff of the Geneva International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War addressed the Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear weapons on May 13 in Geneva:

The scenario presented by Dr. Helfand last week for a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan used 100 Hiroshima size weapons—fewer than half the 220 nuclear weapons those two states currently possess.

These 100 weapons would constitute less than 0.5% of the nuclear weapons in the world, and less than 0.1% of their explosive yield. More than five million tons of sooty black smoke would be injected high into the atmosphere.

The subsequent global cooling, darkening and drying over decades, is conservatively estimated to put two billion people in jeopardy from starvation.

This is without factoring in markedly increased ultraviolet radiation and disruption of agricultural inputs—seed, fertiliser, pesticides, fuel and transport—that would inevitably follow a nuclear war.

Nor does this estimate include the epidemics of infectious disease that inevitably accompany famines, nor conflict within and between countries over dwindling food supplies.

Declines in food production following such a relatively small regional nuclear war would be greatest at higher latitudes. The nuclear-dependent states in this room who support the “progressive” business-as-usual approach all lie predominantly at mid and high latitudes. They would be among the countries experiencing the greatest declines in their major food crops. In higher latitudes, such as in northern Europe, food production would virtually cease.

Suddenly injecting five million tons of smoke into the upper atmosphere would very likely end human civilization.

Up to 144 nuclear warheads can be carried by one US Ohio class submarine, each 6-30 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. Even at the low end of their yield, if targeted on Chinese cities, the warheads on one submarine would produce 23 million tons of smoke. The US has 14 such submarines, Russia a similar number. Each of them is a global climate catastrophe waiting to happen.

Instead of accepting platitudes from Obama on his earnest desire for world peace, the world must demand action on mankind's possession of this weapon that amounts to a possible death sentence for the entire human species and most life on the planet if there is even one miscalculation or misunderstanding between nuclear-armed powers. In our increasingly volatile global climate, nuclear disarmament must be treated as an urgent priority.

Written by Simon Wood

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Diego Garcia: Justice for the Chagossians

"We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee. (The Status of Women Committee does not cover the rights of birds). Unfortunately, along with the seagulls go some few Tarzans and Man Fridays that are hopefully being wished on Mauritius etc. When this has been done I agree we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly" - Denis Greenhill, then Permanent Secretary of the Colonial Office (later Baron Greenhill of Harrow) in a memo to the British delegation at the UN, writing about the removal of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago. [Original memo source]

The Chagos Archipelago is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean about 500 kilometres south of the Maldives archipelago. It is also home to one of the most shameful and enduring episodes in UK and US history.

In 2007 British historian and journalist Andy Worthington wrote:

The shameful tale of Diego Garcia began in 1961, when it was marked out by the US military as a crucial geopolitical base. Ignoring the fact that 2,000 people already lived there, and that the island — a British colony since the fall of Napoleon — had been settled in the late 18th century by French coconut planters, who shipped in African- and Indian-born laborers from Mauritius, establishing what John Pilger called “a gentle Creole nation with thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a prison, a railway, docks, a copra plantation,” the Labo[u]r government of Harold Wilson conspired with the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to “sweep” and “sanitize” the islands (the words come from American documents that were later declassified).

Although many islanders traced their ancestry back five generations, a British Foreign Office official wrote in 1966 that the government’s aim was “to convert all the existing residents … into short-term, temporary residents,” so that they could be exiled to Mauritius. Having removed the “Tarzans or Men Fridays,” as another British memo described the inhabitants, the British effectively ceded control of the islands to the Americans, who established a base on Diego Garcia, which, over the years, has become known as “Camp Justice,” complete with “over 2,000 troops, anchorage for 30 warships, a nuclear dump, a satellite spy station, shopping malls, bars and a golf course.” So thoroughly were the islands cleared, and so stealthy the procedure, that in the 1970s the British Ministry of Defence had the effrontery to insist, “There is nothing in our files about a population and an evacuation.”

On being deported, Chagossians arrived in Mauritius and The Seychelles to find promises of support and compensation were not kept with many just abandoned on the dock. Many were forced into debt and extreme poverty, whilst rampant inflation severely reduced the compensation’s real value. The little money they eventually received often just paid down debts. Compensation distributed in the 1980s to a limited number of Chagossians was only paid on condition Chagossians signed away any rights to their homeland. Chagossians report this condition was never explained. When compensation did arrive, Chagossians received much less than reported figures, with middlemen skimming off considerable amounts. Many Chagossians have received little or no compensaton to this day. [Sources]

In order to 'encourage' inhabitants to leave the island, a number of measures were taken. The UK Chagos Support Association has published eyewitness testimony:

We were then ordered to bring our dogs to the calorifer (a big building). Once there, our dogs, in total around 1,500, were stacked and forced in the calorifer. All doors and windows of the calorifer were then closed, locking the dogs in the building. We then saw 2 jeeps (land rovers) approach the building and back up in such a way as to bring their exhaust pipes as close as possible to a door; the British and American officers managed to connect the exhaust pipes of the vehicles to inside the building; they then left the vehicles’ engines running and went away. By that time, we had realised that our dogs were being killed and that the calorifer had been converted into a gas chamber. Most of us who had brought our dogs there waited to see what would happen; we tried to convince the officers to let them out, in vain. Pretty soon, we heard the dogs starting to cry, then scream painfully. It was one of the hardest scenes ever. The American and British officers failed to realise that people of African origin ie: the Chagossians, could naturally have pets and fall in love with them. We too considered our pets as members of our family; as much as would be hard today for a white family to suffer its dog being gas chambered, it was equally hard for us there. Our children cried so much in pain and sorrow and we all cried. This is still fresh in our minds.

We were then forced to board the ships for Peros Banhos and Saloman Islands. Even though Peros Banhos and Saloman islands were part of the Chagos, we still felt that we were being uprooted from our homeland and in fact we were. Life in Peros Banhos and Saloman was different to life in Diego Garcia and we were emotionally very attached to our Diego Garcia. Most of us come from there.

The ships were scheduled to set sail after sunset. This was very unusual. In fact, this had never happened before. Ships always departed during the day. Once on board, we learnt from one of the crew members that the American and British officers had asked the Captain to leave when it was dark to reduce the chance of uproar and fury on the ship when we saw the ship leaving the lagoon and getting further and further from our land. This is very important to us because it shows that the Americans and British knew that our forced removal would be extremely hard on us and painful, so hard and painful that it could prompt us to cause havoc on board.

We and our well being were worth less than the animals’. These were not even animals which could be consumed or which had a commercial value: They were retired old horses which simply belonged to the plantation’s managers, who had arranged with the American and British authorities (and who had agreed) to have the horses carried delicately.

A Globe and Mail article notes:

Small groups of Chagossians have been allowed three brief visits to the islands. A video of their 2006 visit shows a British officer watching impassively as the islanders sobbed and kissed the ground.

[Note: Detailed information on the plight of the Chagossians and the status of their legal battle can be found here]

Fast forward four decades and the value of Diego Garcia to the US and its allies has become clearer, despite a long campaign of obfuscation and denial by the UK authorities.

It has been used as part of the CIA's 'extraordinary rendition' program:

The British government's problems with missing files deepened dramatically when the Foreign Office claimed documents on the UK's role in the CIA's global abduction operation had been destroyed accidentally when they became soaked with water.

In a statement that human rights groups said "smacked of a cover-up", the department maintained that records of post-9/11 flights in and out of Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean, were "incomplete due to water damage".


First the British government denied renditions ever took place through Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean. Then in 2008 it finally admitted the truth:

For a long time, ministers claimed that anyone who thought the UK was involved in renditions was a conspiracy theorist. Here's foreign secretary Jack Straw in 2005: "Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop."

Three years later, the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, was forced to confess that this was spectacularly untrue, admitting to parliament that two CIA "rendition" flights carrying detainees had in fact made use of the British territory of Diego Garcia – an atoll in the Indian Ocean – in 2002.

Extraordinary rendition violates international law and the United Nations considers it a crime against humanity. Despite this, at least 54 nations are known to have participated in it.

The above instance alone should be a harsh object lesson for anyone - corporate media journalists in particular - who reflexively accept or uncritically report government statements on any issue, especially on issues of priority or strategic importance to administrations. It should also demonstrate that allegations that even top-level government officials dismiss as 'conspiracy theories' can be true.

Further demonstration of UK government mendacity came courtesy of WikiLeaks:

[Mauritius Prime Minister] Navinchandra Ramgoolam spoke out after the Labour government's decision to establish a marine reserve around Diego Garcia and surrounding islands was exposed earlier this month as the latest ruse to prevent the islanders from ever returning to their homeland.

A US diplomatic cable dated May 2009, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed that a Foreign Office official had told the Americans that a decision to set up a "marine protected area" would "effectively end the islanders' resettlement claims". The official, identified as Colin Roberts, is quoted as saying that "according to the HMG's [Her Majesty's government's] current thinking on the reserve, there would be 'no human footprints' or 'Man Fridays'" on the British Indian Ocean Territory uninhabited islands."

A US state department official commented: "Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO's Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT."

Nearly a year later, in April this year [2010], David Miliband, then foreign secretary, described the marine reserve as a "major step forward for protecting the oceans". He added that the reserve "will not change the UK's commitment to cede the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes".

"I feel strongly about a policy of deceit," Ramgoolam said , adding that he had already suspected Britain had a "hidden agenda".

Asked if he believed Miliband had acted in good faith, he said: "Certainly not. Nick Clegg said before the general election that Britain had a "moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home". William Hague, now foreign secretary, said that if elected he would "work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute".

Also only recently revealed, part of the deal to lease the territory to the US included a $14 million discount on the purchase of Polaris nuclear missiles.

Diego Garcia is a vital strategic base for long-range bombing missions and is also utilized for reconnaissance and refuelling. It was used as a launch pad for bombing missions in the 1991 Gulf War as well as in 2001 against Afghanistan and 2003 against Iraq. It now accommodates thousands of military and civilian personnel, most of them British or American.

The Chagossians brought their struggle to the Supreme Court on 22nd June 2015 and a verdict is expected early this year. Furthermore, the leasing deal between the UK and the US expires in December. These two critical events mean that the Chagos issue will soon feature prominently in even mainstream news broadcasts.

Given the geopolitical importance and volatility of the Middle East, it is highly unlikely that the US will be easily willing to give up such a valuable strategic location or allow the return of the original inhabitants and their descendants. Indeed, a taste of the uncompromising US stance on the issue was provided in an undated response to a 2012 petition on the White House official website:

Thank you for your petition regarding the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago. The U.S. recognizes the British Indian Ocean Territories, including the Chagos Archipelago, as the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom. The United States appreciates the difficulties intrinsic to the issues raised by the Chagossian community.

In the decades following the resettlement of Chagossians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United Kingdom has taken numerous steps to compensate former inhabitants for the hardships they endured, including cash payments and eligibility for British citizenship. The opportunity to become a British citizen has been accepted by approximately 1,000 individuals now living in the United Kingdom. Today, the United States understands that the United Kingdom remains actively engaged with the Chagossian community. Senior officials from the United Kingdom continue to meet with Chagossian leaders; community trips to the Chagos Archipelago are organized and paid for by the United Kingdom; and the United Kingdom provides support for community projects within the United Kingdom and Mauritius, to include a resource center in Mauritius. The United States supports these efforts and the United Kingdom’s continued engagement with the Chagossian Community.

Thank you for taking the time to raise this important issue with us.

The UK's indifference to international law and human rights - most recently demonstrated in its reckless dismissal of a UN group ruling that Julian Assange is being arbitrarily detained and illegally denied his freedom - is well documented, albeit behind a carefully maintained veneer of respectability. Maintaining this veneer is a key task of gatekeeper journalists who must at all times ensure that officials on 'our side' are seen to be extending democratic principles and human rights and are accorded gravitas appropriate to such a noble endeavour. There are times, however - as in this instance - when the truth gets out and the people of the world can see the true face of the UK and its closest ally.

There is a prevailing view, kept carefully intact within the pages of corporate media, that while nations like the US and UK may cut corners from time to time, they nevertheless do what they do because they have our best interests at heart and are keeping us safe from enemies overt and unseen. The Chagos issue is an illustrative example of an inverted reality: that in fact the US and UK - as with all imperial powers throughout history - do exactly what they want in order to satisfy their strategic requirements, paying no mind to international law, to mass killing or displacement of peoples; even the destruction of entire nations. Indeed, international law is simply an annoying inconvenience, something to be worked around in order to minimise resistance to their illegal activities. The opening of the marine reserve while claiming it was done for environmental reasons is a particularly cynical example of this dynamic.

It is for this reason that so much effort is expended in the pursuit of whistleblowers and publishing organizations like WikiLeaks and their staff: these are the people who remove the curtain, exposing epic crimes and cruelty and putting carefully staged reputations at risk. For those who commit such transgressions, persecution, smears and harsh punishments are essential in order to make an example of them and discourage like-minded citizens from following their example.

As even a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Chagossians is unlikely to move the UK government to act against the geopolitical imperatives of the US, the only remaining viable option for these gravely wronged people is significant public pressure on elected officials in the hope that at the very least some measure of redress or compromise that the Chagossians can accept is provided; ideally a return to their home and adequate compensation for the terrible injustices perpetrated upon them.

Written by Simon Wood

[Author's note: Readers can help the Chagossians even in small ways that will take almost no time at all by following this link. I urge you to share this article around and do what you can to help]

[Further research: Watch John Pilger's 2004 documentary, Stealing a Nation]

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Open Letter to Supporters of Syria Airstrikes

“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world." - US Vice President Joe Biden in a 2014 speech at Harvard University

"Six weeks later, I saw the same officer, and asked: 'Why haven’t we attacked Iraq? Are we still going to attack Iraq?' He said: 'Sir, it’s worse than that.' He said – he pulled up a piece of paper off his desk – he said: 'I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years – we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.'" - US General (Retired) Wesley Clark in a 2007 speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

"I am aware, of course, that people will have to take elements of this on the good faith of our intelligence services, but this is what they are telling me, the British Prime Minister, and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability." - Tony Blair in the House of Commons, 24th September 2002

"War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it." - George Orwell

Millions of British citizens along with hundreds of their elected representatives have come to the conclusion that the UK should extend airstrikes upon Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria. In order to make an intelligent decision on anything, it is necessary to examine all relevant information in an honest and neutral manner, particularly when the decision could lead to lost lives.

Are you aware of all the facts - current and historical - on the ground in this extremely complex scenario? Can you honestly say that your decision is based on airtight information presented to you in an unbiased manner from your media sources?

No honest person can answer yes to either of these questions, given the hostility of the region to journalists and the enormous amount of propaganda (misinformation and disinformation) floating around on all sides.

There must therefore be a significant element of doubt; yet despite this, you have made a decision to support air strikes. That is like throwing an unknown clear liquid onto a fire, hoping it is water. Considering that deaths of innocent people you have never met may occur on an industrial scale as a result of your support, I urge you to think again based on the following considerations.

In the introduction to the (highly recommended) book The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, Julian Assange writes [emphasis in bold mine]:

[] Journalist Dahr Jamail [] draws on a wide range of WikiLeaks materials to argue that the United States had a deliberate policy of exacerbating sectarian divisions in Iraq following its invasion and occupation in the belief that the country would be easier to dominate in such circumstances. The consequent devastation is documented in painstaking detail using WikiLeaks materials, including US cables, Congressional Research Reports dating between 2005 and 2008, and the Iraq War Logs from 2010.

Jamail pays specific attention to the 'Sahwa' movement - the US-sponsored program of counter-insurgency that was implemented to respond to the growing influence of al Qaeda affliates among Sunni Iraqis disaffected by the Shia-dominated US-client government of Nouri al-Maliki. The United States paid large numbers of Iraqis to defect from the Sunni insurgency and instead fight against al Qaeda, on the promise of receiving regular employment through integration into the Iraqi military.

As Jamail argues, the failure of the Maliki government to honor this promise saw huge numbers of US-trained, US-armed and US-financed - but now unemployed - Sunni militants return to the insurgency, eventually swelling the ranks of the former al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, which in 2014 became known as ISIS, or the 'Islamic State'.

Across Iraq's northeaster border, in Syria, the cables also describe how the scene was set for the emergence of ISIS. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, warmongers in the media have demanded the Western military pounding of Syria to depose Bashar Al-Assad - presented, in typical liberal-interventionist fashion as a 'new Hitler'. The emergence of the Islamic State, to which the Assad government is the only viable counterweight within Syria, has thrown this propagandistic consensus into disarray. But US government designs on Syrian regime change, and its devotion to regional instability, long pre-date the Syrian civil war, as is demonstrated in the cables.

It is clear that US intervention and policy - with the help of the UK and others - in Iraq paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State. History (though - tragically - not history lessons) is littered with examples of the disastrous consequences of interventions by outside powers. In coming to a decision to support air strikes in Syria, you have discarded this fact as unimportant or irrelevant.

It gets worse. As reported by investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, 'a declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Bashar al-Assad'.

Ahmed continues:

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition”  —  which included al-Qaeda in Iraq  — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.

The US viewed IS as a 'strategic asset' and therefore made no effort to halt its expansion. When you made your decision to support air strikes, were you aware of this policy that has directly led to the emergence of the IS nightmare we are faced with today? Should you really be trusting the words of US officials and those of their allies (chiefly the UK) when this report clearly demonstrates their double dealing? What else were you unaware of when you pledged your support?

In learning about IS and how and where it gets its oxygen to survive, the last thing you - and the families of the victims of the Paris attacks in particular - may want to hear is that a NATO member nation and professed ally of the West in fighting terrorism is in fact deeply involved in aiding the Islamic State in the hope that it will help bring about the removal of President Assad. A large number of serious allegations, published in international and reputable sources, have been made about Turkey.

Some samples [see original for sources]:

An ISIS commander told The Washington Post on August 12, 2014: "Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies."

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), produced a statement from the Adana Office of the Prosecutor on October 14, 2014 maintaining that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups. He also produced interview transcripts from truck drivers who delivered weapons to the groups. According to Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish government claims the trucks were for humanitarian aid to the Turkmen, but the Turkmen said no humanitarian aid was delivered.

The Daily Mail reported on August 25, 2014 that many foreign militants joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq after traveling through Turkey, but Turkey did not try to stop them. This article describes how foreign militants, especially from the UK, go to Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border. They call the border the "Gateway to Jihad." Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.

Britain's Sky News obtained documents showing that the Turkish government has stamped passports of foreign militants seeking to cross the Turkey border into Syria to join ISIS.

The BBC interviewed villagers, who claim that buses travel at night, carrying jihadists to fight Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Armed Forces.

A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to ISIS.

According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained ISIS militants for special operations.

An ISIS commander told the Washington Post on August 12, 2014, "We used to have some fighters -- even high-level members of the Islamic State -- getting treated in Turkish hospitals."

On September 13, 2014, The New York Times reported on the Obama administration's efforts to pressure Turkey to crack down on ISIS extensive sales network for oil. James Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that Turkey has not fully cracked down on ISIS's sales network because it benefits from a lower price for oil, and that there might even be Turks and government officials who benefit from the trade.

According to Diken and OdaTV, David Cohen, a Justice Department official, says that there are Turkish individuals acting as middlemen to help sell ISIS's oil through Turkey.

Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that ISIS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters. On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined ISIS 4 days ago.

Seymour Hersh maintains in the London Review of Books that ISIS conducted sarin attacks in Syria, and that Turkey was informed. "For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria's neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan 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."

Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: "Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is ISIS strong only in Kobane's east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the ISIS." In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobani, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes ISIS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey.

According to an op-ed written by a YPG commander in The New York Times on October 29, 2014, Turkey allows ISIS militants and their equipment to pass freely over the border.

Military action, with all the risks of escalation and mass civilian casualties, must surely always come as a last resort, when all other options have been tried. When you made your decision to support airstrikes, did you consider the fact that first seriously cracking down on Turkey's evident support for IS might severely curtail its capabilities?

It is likely that the mass media, as the major source of information on the situation, will have profoundly affected your decision. Have you noticed, though, that every time a tragic event occurs that can be tied to Syria or Assad (and any other target du jour) in some way there is an almost instantaneous and concerted campaign from all major outlets, including the 'liberal-left' newspapers like the Guardian, urging intervention? Just two months ago it was poor little Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy washed up onto a beach, that triggered an avalanche of calls for the same. [Note: while some newspapers may officially oppose intervention (with varying degrees of qualification) in editorials, the net effect of running dozens of pro-intervention articles in opinion sections is more significant].

I wrote an article about these calls at the time and urge you to read it in full because almost all of it remains relevant now, but the article concluded [see original for sources]:

The corporate media has concealed covert activities within Syria going back several years; has blacked out a Pentagon report demonstrating US prediction, supply and use of ISIS as a strategic asset; is again reporting selectively regarding ‘good’ and ‘bad’ dictators; and has engaged in this precise kind of rhetoric in the past before every intervention.

Rupert Murdoch is a board member of a company that is drilling for oil in the Golan Heights while his newspapers sound the clarion call that may open the way for a (hoped for) post-Assad Western puppet government.

Meanwhile stocks in arms companies are at record levels and the refugee crisis is now a major humanitarian disaster at World War 2 levels, with refugee populations particularly high from nations where the US and its allies have acted (covertly or overtly).

The corporate-owned media, particularly in this case newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, have a vested interest in endless war, in that not only does conflict drive up fear, increasing clicks as people seek information and therefore generating enhanced ad revenue, but it also keeps their own advertisers happy.

Media watch group FAIR explains:

One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

The Guardian and other newspapers play it smart. The straight reporting is generally of a high quality, but they leave it to op-eds, editorials and other comment pieces by regular or guest columnists to advance any agendas they may have. The 'Comment Is Free' section in the Guardian frequently features pro-interventionist articles with - of course - a few dissenting voices thrown in as figleaves. As readers expect the same level of fact-checking in the straight reporting from their Pulitzer-Prize winner to apply in the comment pieces, a lot of misrepresentation and even outright lies can slip through the net.

Take, for instance, a recent article published in the Guardian written by Dan Jarvis MP, who was among the initial names raised as a possible contender for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, and may one day replace him if Corbyn is ousted.

In his article outlining his qualified support for airstrikes in Syria he wrote:

They [the Paris attacks] underline how Islamic State hates us for who we are, not for what we do.

This is pure propaganda, red meat for the revenge-hungry masses, a statement wholly unsupported by any facts that demonstrates enormous ignorance - wilful or otherwise - of Western foreign policy and the devastating effects it has had on the Middle East. He might as well have channeled Bush's 'they hate us for our freedoms' speech.

Later he wrote:

[] we should be using our economic power as well as military resources. Isis is trading like a state, so we need to follow the money. That should include economic sanctions, cutting off the finances and targeting the human trafficking operations that fund its bloodshed.

He only mentions human trafficking as the source of IS funding, when in fact an enormous amount comes through illicit oil sales (with secret links to British companies) and also extortion of 'taxes' from residents and businesses under IS control. The link provided by Jarvis leads to a New York Times report that makes it clear that human trafficking is just one of many sources of funding, but certainly not the primary one. By citing only this one activity, Jarvis makes clear his agenda is to influence people's emotions over the issue. An honest analysis would have cited oil or extortion revenues, but that would lead to the obvious question: instead of bombing, why not crack down on the oil trade?

This is a relatively minor point but such intentional misrepresentation is rife throughout comment pieces, with facts declared as truth based on spurious or nonexistent evidence or statements from 'official sources'. The comment pieces allow the Guardian and other newspapers to disavow responsibility for the bias and inaccuracies put across in those sections with the boilerplate 'these are the opinions of the author alone' disclaimer. They also allow for overblown, mawkish nonsense that really has no place in serious analysis.

In deciding to support airstrikes, have you considered the possibility that you have been misled by this false information? Don't the demonstrated vested interests of the corporate media raise the possibility that you're being led around by the nose to reach a desired viewpoint?

Have you not noticed the pattern that every time a tragedy occurs, maximum advantage is taken of it for intervention? Don't the manifest humanitarian disasters that have resulted from the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya present an urgent need for caution as we prepare to plunge into another conflict? Do you not think it is possible the government are opportunistically playing on your understandable desire for 'something to be done about IS', knowing full well the outrage generated by the Paris attacks? Do you really believe there are no other options and that we are at the last resort stage?

It is important to remember that the removal of Assad is routinely presented as part and package of the proposed actions against IS. Since when did democracy mean that outside powers install a new leader? Why not instead allow the Syrian people to decide their leader in free elections?

In making his case for airstrikes, David Cameron made a number of unfounded claims that should set off alarm bells ringing for anyone who remembers Tony Blair's rush to invade Iraq. In particular, Cameron's claim of '70,000 moderate fighters' already seems destined to be the new '45-minute warning'. Twelve years on from Iraq and we all now know about the outright lies told by top government officials that were uncritically reported in the media. Are you really going to fall for it again? Is it not just possible that Cameron might be trying to earn a place at the table to divide up Syria for British corporate interests if Assad falls?

Recall that a study by the Pulizer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity found that 'following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about Saddam Hussein's Iraq' with 'at least 935 false statements [from top government officials] in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses'.

Cameron is keen to stress that British weapons are extremely accurate, meaning that civilian casualties will be kept to a minimum. His Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, claimed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that Britain's Brimstone missiles are so accurate that no innocents have been killed in a year of bombing IS targets in Iraq.

The Daily Mirror reports:

Mr Fallon said he has to personally approve any target selected for air strikes, and intelligence allows him to distinguish between terrorists and "people in headscarves selling shoes."

He then made an astonishing claim about the accuracy of RAF strikes.

"The RAF have been striking with the permission of Parliament in Iraq for over a year now," he said. "And our estimate is that there hasn't yet been a single civilian casualty because of the precision of their strikes.

Back in the real world, human rights group Reprieve made a study of 'precise' US strikes that found 41 men were targeted but 1,147 people were killed:

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.

If you still support air strikes after reading all of the above, it is possible that you are incapable of seeing the clear agenda of the corporate media and Western government officials to win over public opinion by means of deception, just as they did in the run-up to the Iraq disaster. It means that you have decided that 'something has to be done', despite the fact that there are other options besides bombing the IS strongholds that also contain hundreds of thousands of civilians, any number of whom may be killed and who may suffer greatly when vital civilian infrastructure (read about the recent Medecins Sans Frontiere strike here) is destroyed, whether by accident or design.

It means that you believe - against all reasonable logic - that these strikes will defeat IS, despite the fact that IS has been bombed for years and has only become stronger. You believe that this will somehow not exacerbate the refugee crisis that has already reached levels comparable to those during the Second World War. You feel that the slaughter of completely innocent people, including kids, toddlers and babies, the ones you shed so many tears over washed up on the beach or in Paris, is 'worth it' (like former US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright) to defeat IS because you believe (erroneously) that other avenues have not been and can not be attempted to deal with this crisis. These assertions go hand in hand with support for airstrikes - you can not have one without the other.

If you're OK with this, I suspect little else will sway you. Perhaps cost?

According to Sky News, each 6-hour Tornado mission costs £210,000. As for the payload, 4 Paveway bombs cost £22,000 each and 2 Brimstone missiles cost £105,000 each. Therefore if a Tornado is sent out on a 6-hour mission and it drops all of its payload, it would cost £508,000.

That can pay for one of the following:

◾20 Paramedics
◾20 Police Officers
◾20 Teachers
◾19 Nurses
◾18 Firefighters
◾18 Junior Doctors

[Based on the average salary of each profession for one year.]

If any of these arguments have raised an inkling of doubt in your mind that you might, by supporting these strikes, just be making yourself complicit in the completely unnecessary murder of yet more innocents, please write to your MP today, put pressure on celebrities and other high-profile figures to speak out, and inform other people who may be unaware of the facts as best you can.

IS thrives on sectarian division and conflict. The US and the UK need instead along with Russia and other influential powers like France and Germany to put pressure on the key regional states involved in this proxy war to work toward a negotiated settlement, and to put serious pressure on the gulf states who fund terrorism for their own geopolitical and economic ends. Turkey must also be reined in as a key enabler of the ability of IS to commit atrocities. The illicit oil trade and flow of fighters across the border at the very least can be readily stopped with real political will. These actions must be seriously attempted before military action can be considered, and there is still time to do so.

In a recent article (that you should read) Jürgen Todenhöfer wrote:

Is it really so hard to see that the attempt to defeat terrorism with wars has failed? That we have to rethink the war on terror? That we have to finally start treating the Muslim world as true partners, and not as a cheap petrol station we can raid when we feel like it? Bombing civilians will recruit new terrorists. Again and again.

Is it really so hard?

Written by Simon Wood

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