Archive for the ‘War in the Middle East’ Category

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According to the Independent, president-elect Donald Trump has confirmed campaign promises to withdraw US support for “moderate” terrorist groups in Syria.

He maintains that his administration will focus on defeating the Islamic State, and find common ground with the Syrians and their Russian backers.

Acknowledging strong dislike for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Trump asserts that shoring up his regime is the best way to stem the extremism that has flourished in the chaos of the civil war and threatens the US.

“I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria,” he said in interview with the Wall Street Journal. “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria.”

How strangely logical.

Read more here

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A new batch of U.S. special forces have entered Syria through Turkey and set up camp at the Al-Monbath hill in the countryside of Tell Abyad, a Kurdish-held region north of Raqqa.

In total, 50 American troops – 10 of which are classified as combat advisors – are stationed at the base. The crew is armed to the teeth with heavy weaponry and accompanied by 17 armored vehicles. Communication equipment has been set up while U.S. flags have somewhat controversially been hoisted at the base.

Source: AMN

James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq

BBC (2013)

Film Review

The main purpose of this documentary is to expose the paramilitary death squads Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld created in Iraq. Their ultimate was to suppress the Sunni insurgency which formed in early 2003 to oppose the US occupation.

The film goes a long way towards debunking the propaganda Bush and the corporate media dispensed to the American public that the US enemy in Iraq was an international terrorist organization called al Qaeda. The military force responsible for suicide bombings and roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices) was actually a spontaneous uprising in response to the US invasion and occupation. It was largely organized by Sunni troops and public servants who served in Saddam Hussein’s government and were stripped of their occupations and careers by Bush’s disastrous de-Baathification program.

Cheney and Rumsfeld knew the guerrillas fighting the occupation represented a genuine insurrection. Determined to preserve their puppet Baghdad government at all costs, they called in James Steele, their foremost counterinsurgency expert. Steele, a retired military officer, had extensive experience creating and managing local paramilitary death squads in Vietnam and El Salvador.

In Iraq, Steele organized death squads out of Shia militias who had been brutally oppressed by Saddam Hussein and were eager for revenge. What resulted was a bloody civil war between Shia and Sunni-led fighters. The civil war was responsible for 3,000 deaths a day prior to the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.

The film starts by interviewing embassy and DEA officials who worked directly with Colonel Steele when he was running El Salvador’s paramilitary death squads out of the US embassy in San Salvador.  The preponderance of evidence suggests it was Steele who oversaw the massacre of 25,000 Salvadoran civilians and most likely the assassination of human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero (in 1980 while he was saying mass) and the 1980 rape and murder of four American nuns (Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark and Ita Ford).

Reportedly it was Cheney who recruited Steele to implement the “Salvadoran option” in Iraq. As an ex-military civilian, Steele’s official cover was “energy consultant.” Nevertheless the Iraq commanders who worked with him leave no doubt he was in charge of the specially trained 5,000-strong police commando group formed from Shia militias.

The filmmakers also interview a number of Iraqis who worked in Iraqi prisons and interrogation centers and directly witnessed the torture overseen by Steele. Several members of the Oregon National Guard (deployed to an Iraqi prison detail) were so horrified by one torture session they tried to intervene to stop it. When their military superiors ordered them to stand down and forget what they had seen, they went straight to a local Oregon newspaper. The resulting scandal would lead to the withdrawal of Steele, Coffman and Petraeus from Iraq and the sacking of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.

 

Two days ago, Obama announced he was redeploying  several hundred more troops to Afghanistan as “advisers” to the Afghan army, while grossly minimizing the reality that the Taliban controls most of the country outside of Kabul. 

This is Taliban Country

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

In This is Taliban Country a Danish journalist visits Afghanistan to examine the ongoing campaign by the Taliban to win the “hearts and minds” of the civilian population in the regions under their control.

It’s an open secret that the US lost their 14 year war on the Taliban, even before Obama’s partial draw down of US troops in 2014-2015.* The Taliban, which controls large swathes of territory outside of Kabul, generally enjoys the support of civilians under their rule. They provide the security and stability most Afghans crave after decades of civil war. Moreover they do so far more benevolently than either the corrupt Afghan government with their network of warlords or US occupiers.

For civil complaints (land disputes, unpaid bills, etc), most residents prefer the Taliban courts to the corrupt government courts (the verdict always depends on who you know). The interpretation of Shariah law varies depending on locale, but most inflict “cruel and unusual” punishments (stoning, chopping off hands and occasionally heads) for serious “crimes” such as adultery.

The Taliban is currently engaged in an ambitious PR campaign to improve their public image as they consolidate their power in Afghanistan. They have allowed some state schools to reopen, including a few primary schools for girls. There is little support for girls’ secondary education, as most Afghan girls marry when they reach puberty.

Taliban leaders claim to have learned from past mistakes. It’s no longer a crime for men to shave their beards or women to appear in public without a burqa. Unlike fifteen years ago, when they first took power, they now allow smoking cigarettes and marijuana and watching TV. Music is still banned.


*Obama halted the withdrawal of US troops in October 2015, when he announced five to ten thousand troops would remain in Afghanistan through 2017.

WikiRebels

Directed by Bosse Lindquist, Jesper Huor (2010)

Film Review

WikiRebels is a documentary about the history of Wikileaks. It traces Julian Assange’s early history from his first arrest for computer hacking at 21. A short time later, posting a secret Church of Scientology manual on-line would lead to a run-in with with a private investigator they hired to track him down in Australia.

Convinced that disclosure of government corruption could serve as a preventative against abuse of power, he and a global network of hactivists registered Leak.com in 1999. Inspired by the collaborative nature of Wikipedia, they changed their name to Wikileaks in 2006. Their goal was to publish evidence of government criminality while simultaneously guaranteeing whistleblowers absolute anonymity.

Some of Wikileaks’s earliest disclosures include the Kenyan president who was embezzling funds and organizing death patrols to target political opponents; the private company dumping toxic waste in the Ivory Coast; email messages from the private account Sarah Palin used to conduct government business; and lists of websites being censored by China, Thailand and Iran.

Enter Bradley Manning

In early 2010, Private Bradley Manning leaked over 100,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks.  These files provide an hour by hour chronicle of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including details of casualties (on both sides) that the Bush and Obama administration had deliberately concealed.

Recognizing he had no way of releasing such a massive amount of data in in a meaningful way, Assange shared the leaked documents with the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, in the hope of widely publicizing them.

The most famous file Manning released is the July 12, 2007 “Collateral Murder File” showing US attack helicopter personnel deliberately firing on unarmed civilians in Baghdad.

US Government Retaliation

The US government instantly retaliated against Assange by leaning on Visa, Mastercard and PayPal to discontinue payment services on the Wikileaks website. This was in addition to threats made in Congress to either assassinate him or kidnap him and try him for espionage.

In August 2010, Assange receives a rock star welcome in Sweden when he arrives for a speaking tour. Within days, he finds himself accused of sexual assault. After comparing notes, two female fans approached Swedish police about compelling him to have an HIV test. After bringing him in for questioning, the police release him without charge.

Filmed in 2010, the documentary ends here – before Assange leaves Sweden for England, a second prosecutor reinstates the charges, a British court orders his extradition to Sweden and he seeks sanctuary in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange fears, as do his supporters, that the Swedish authorities will extradite him to the US, which has laid the groundwork to try (and execute) him on espionage charges.

According to Mother Jones, the sexual assault charges are extremely murky, especially since the woman he’s accused of raping has asked to have the charges dropped. Assange denies forcing either woman to have sex with him. In both cases, the actual accusation is that he had sex without a condom. In one instance, the condom broke. In the other, after having sexual intercourse with a condom, he allegedly initiated intercourse a second time while the woman was half asleep and refused to put on a condom.

In Sweden, the official term is “withdrawal of consent.” Without knowing all the facts, it’s impossible to ascertain, it’s impossible to ascertain whether one or both women did, in fact, withdraw consent.

However the timing of the charges, the fact that one woman has CIA links and the possible role Republican puppet master Karl Rove (a long time adviser to Swedish Swedish Prime Minister Fredric Reinfeldt) Karl Rove played in the affair all suggest Assange may have been framed.

Recently it was announced  that the Swedish prosecutor has finally agreed to come to London to question Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

With the US, Britain, France and Russia rapidly escalating military aggression against Syria, I thought it would be useful to look back at this Al Jazeera documentary from 2004. Al Jazeera analysts were the first to predict (2003) that the US and their allies would lose the war in Iraq.

The Control Room – Propaganda of the Iraq War

Directed by Jehane Noujaim (2004)

Film Review

The Control Room is about the Qatar TV network Al Jazeera and their coverage of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. It alternates between footage of the Doha control room and the US Central Command media center. Highlights include vignettes of US officials condemning Al Jazeera for showing footage of civilian casualties and dead and captured Americans.

Because of the Pentagon’s tight control over US media, Al Jazeera was the only mainstream outlet to address the issue of civilian or GI deaths.

Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996 and several Arab countries banned it for criticizing their regimes. In 2003, they would broadcast coverage of the US invasion to 40 million Arab viewers, eventually becoming the most popular Arab TV station.

Their analysts would also be the first to predict (in 2003) that the US had “miscalculated” by invading Iraq – that the Iraqi resistance would eventually defeat the occupation.

The commentary by Al Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader is definitely the high point of the film, especially his discussion of the importance of propaganda in war. I was really surprised by his strenuous efforts to balance pro-US and pro-Iraqi propaganda.

I was astounded by his comment that he would take a job at Fox News if they offered it to him – to “trade the Arab nightmare for the American dream.” He speaks openly about his plans to send his children to the US to study.

The most heart-wrenching part of the film involves the deliberate assassination (via a US missile) of Al Jazeera reporter Tarek Ayyoub as he was broadcasting from the roof of the Al Jazeera building in Baghdad. His death would result the first of many anti-occupation protest marches.

Inside the Dark Kingdom: Butchery, Slavery and History of Revolt

Abby Martin (2015)

Film Review

Inside the Dark Kingdom is a documentary celebrating the irony of Saudi Arabia’s selection to head the UN Panel of Human Rights. The blatant hypocrisy of the (successful) US campaign for this tyrannical kingdom to champion global human rights is obvious from the simple statement of facts. As is the duplicity of trying to depose the so-called “bloody dictator” of Syria while openly supporting the Saudi reign of terror.

The film investigates Saudi Arabia’s brutal and arbitrary criminal justice system, their brutal oppression of women, their virtual enslavement of migrant workers, their recent invasion of Yemen, their role in 9-11 and their reliance on US military assistance to suppress human rights organizing.

Saudi trials take place in secret, often without legal representation for the accused. Saudi subjects can be beheaded, stoned or crucified for crimes such as adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality and drug use and imprisoned and lashed for human rights advocacy or being victimized by sexual assault (typically rape victims receive more lashes than the men who rape them). Forty-five percent of Saudi executions are for non-violent drug crimes.

Saudi Uprisings

You rarely hear about Saudi Arabia’s long history of popular uprisings (and their brutal suppression) in the corporate media. The US first began collaborating with the Saudi royal family to suppress human rights in 1953, when Aramco (Arabian Oil Company workers) went on strike demanding a union. The US responded by establishing the US Training Mission in Saudi Arabia, which assisted the Saudi government in torturing and assassinating union leaders.

Saudi Arabia had their first failed revolution in 1962, when a Shia-led uprising demanded that oil profits be used to address poverty rather than to increase the wealth of American oil companies and the Saudi royal family.

Inspired by the 1979 revolution in Iran, rebels in the eastern Shia region of Saudi people launched massive street protests. These were crushed when the government tortured and assassinated key leaders and destroyed (via bombing) of dissident civilian enclaves.

The Saudi Arab Spring

Following the Arab Spring rebellions that blossomed in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, there were Arab Spring rebellions in three major Saudi cities. The royal family responded by declaring martial law and banning any mainstream or social media favorable to the Arab Spring or unfavorable to the royal family. After arresting, torturing and/or assassinating of key organizers (and their families), the government immediately quadrupled their arms imports from the US.

The primary purpose of all this military hardware is to suppress dissent, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in Bahrain (the Saudi Army invaded Bahrain to suppress their Arab Spring uprising) and Yemen. Since April, 150,000 Saudi troops have invaded Yemen and killed 4,000 Yemenis – more than half of them civilians.

The 1945 Oil Protection Agreement

Martin also traces the history of the unique US-Saudi relationship, which started in 1945 with the signing of an official Oil Protection Agreement and the installation of a US naval base.

Dating back to 1988 the last four US presidents have had close business and personal relationships with the Saudi royal family. At present the Saudi princes are major donors to the Clinton Foundation.