Tag Archives: War & Peace

The Shame of US Journalism Is the Destruction of Iraq, Not Fake Helicopter Stories

By Christian Christensen
February 7, 2015
Common Dreams, February 5, 2015

 

Screenshot of NBC News coverage during initial wave of U.S. bombing of Iraq in 2003.

The news that NBC’s Brian Williams was not, in fact, on a helicopter in 2003 that came under fire from an Iraqi Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) should come as a surprise to noone. Williams had repeated the lie on several occasions over the course of a decade until a veteran, who was on the actual helicopter that was attacked, had enough of Williams’ war porn and called the TV host out on Facebook. In a quite pathetic effort to cover his tracks, the anchor—who makes in excess of $10 million per year— claimed that his fairy tale was, in fact, “a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women” who had served in Iraq. Twelve years, it seems, is enough time for Williams to confuse being on a helicopter that came under fire from an RPG with being on a helicopter that did not.

Given that Williams works for NBC, his participation in the construction of a piece of fiction during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is apt. US network news, together with outlets such as CNN, aggressively cheer-led an invasion predicated on a massive falsehood: the Iraqi possession of WMD. What is jarring, however, is the fact that Williams’ sad attempt to inject himself into the fabric of the violence is getting more ink and airplay than the non-existence of WMD did back in the early-to-mid 2000s: a lie that provided the justification for a military action that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

From embedded journalists to ultra-militaristic news logos and music, U.S. television news media were more than willing to throw gas on the invasion fire. “Experts” in the studio were invariably ex-generals looking to pad their pensions, while anti-war activists (who spoke for sizable portions of the US and UK populations back in 2003) were avoided like the plague. After all, what news organization wants to be tarred with the “peace” brush when flag-waiving jingoism sells so incredibly well? The one-sidedness of coverage, particularly in the US, bordered on the morally criminal.

Despite some limited soul-searching by journalists a decade after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq about the abject failure of the U.S. news to engage, in a truly critical fashion, with the falsehoods peddled by the Bush administration, the current focus on an inane untruth told by one celebrity news anchor has overshadowed the bigger picture about the US media and Iraq. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

In the post-9/11, pre-invasion period, U.S. citizens proved to be spectacularly misinformed about the 9/11 attacks, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and WMD. When the invasion began, many in the U.S. simply had no clue about what was going on. Was that all the fault of the US media? No, but it’s fair to say a pretty large chunk of the responsibility lay at their feet. Then, once the bombing and street fighting became banal and lost its attractiveness to audiences and advertisers, most U.S. media outlets simply abandoned an Iraq left to fend for itself in a vortex of violence, political instability and corruption. And, who wants to talk about that when you can write about Williams upping his War Zone Reporter street cred? But, if you do want to hear about violence in Iraq, you can rely on Fox News to suggest that this particular hell might also be a liberal conspiracy…

The number of Iraqi citizens who have died as a direct and indirect by-product of the U.S. invasion is enough to populate a mid-sized U.S. city, and thousands continue to die on a monthly basis in non-imaginary attacks.

Yet, here we are, over a decade later, still discussing celebrity fantasies. That isn’t just bad journalism, it’s an affront to all who lost their lives in a brutal and bloody deception. Williams is just sorry about the wrong thing.

Christian Christensen, American in Sweden, is Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrChristensen

 

Top UN Official Says ‘Global War on Terror’ Is Laying Waste to Human Rights

Battling terrorism shouldn’t justify torture or mass surveillance, says Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein

By Thalif Deen, IPS News
February 6, 2015
Common Dreams

 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. (Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

 

The United Nations, which is the legal guardian of scores of human rights treaties banning torture, unlawful imprisonment, degrading treatment of prisoners of war and enforced disappearances, is troubled that an increasing number of countries are justifying violations of U.N. conventions on grounds of fighting terrorism in conflict zones.

Taking an implicit passing shot at big powers, the outspoken U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein of Jordan puts it more bluntly: “This logic is abundant around the world today: I torture because a war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because terrorism, repulsive as it is, requires it.

“I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity or my way of life is being threatened as never before. I kill others, because others will kill me – and so it goes, on and on.”

Speaking Thursday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., Zeid said the world needs “profound and inspiring leadership” driven by a concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.

“We need leaders who will observe fully those laws and treaties drafted to end all discrimination, the privation of millions, and atrocity and excess in war, with no excuses entertained. Only then, can we help ourselves out of the present serious, seemingly inexhaustible, supply of crises that threatens to engulf us,” he declared.

Last year, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was accused of subjecting terrorist suspects to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including water-boarding, sleep deprivation and physical duress.

The Western nations, who have been involved in air attacks inside Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, have both justified and dismissed thousands of civilian killings as “collateral damage” – even as they continue to preach the doctrine of human rights and the sanctity of civilian life inside the General Assembly hall and the Security Council chamber.

And, meanwhile, there are several countries, including Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which continue to justify the death penalty in the execution of terrorists and the public flogging of bloggers and political dissenters – as part of the war against terrorism.

Last week, the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) was accused of brutally killing a Jordanian air force pilot because Jordan was part of a coalition launching air attacks on ISIL forces.

In return, Jordan reacted swiftly by executing two convicted prisoners – with links to al-Qaeda – as a retaliation for the killing of the pilot.

“It was an eye for an eye,” a Jordanian was quoted as saying.

Last December, 117 of the 193 U.N. member states adopted a General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. But the executions have continued.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has publicly opposed capital punishment, says “the death penalty has no place in the 21st century.”

Javier El-Hage, general counsel at the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS his group applauds the high commissioner’s call for ‘better leadership’ and a ‘global rethink on education’ as the two main weapons the world could benefit from in the struggle against the ‘causes of the worst conflicts and atrocities across the world,’ present and past.

Specifically, on the area of leadership, Prince Zeid called for leaders that are ‘driven by a concern for the fundamental freedoms of all people,’ who fully observe international human rights treaties.

On the educational front, he said children everywhere should be taught what ‘bigotry and chauvinism are,’ the ‘terrible wrongs they can produce,’ and that ‘blind obedience can be exploited by authority figures for wicked ends.’

“As the high commissioner suggests, the worst atrocities of human kind have in fact been caused by bigoted, chauvinist authoritarian leaders representing a fraction or even a majority of a country’s population, but who, through achieving a monopoly in education and information by cracking down on dissent and independent media, pushed radical economic, nationalist, racist or religiously extremist agendas in a way that trampled the rights of minorities and dissenters of all kinds,” Hage added.

For example, nationalist, racist or religiously extremist agendas were used against Jews in Germany, Ukrainians in the Soviet Union, Kurds in Turkey, and against blacks until recently in apartheid South Africa and even most of the Western World until the abolition of slavery.

These discriminatory agendas are still being pushed today against the Uyghur and Tibetan peoples in China and against Christians and different Muslim faiths under theocratic dictatorships across the Middle East, including the ones like Saudi Arabia or Jordan that are friendly to Western democracies, as well as the ones like Iran or Syria that aren’t.

Zeid said international human rights law represents a distillation of humanity’s experience of atrocities, and the remedies to prevent them. But today, leaders are too often deliberately choosing to violate those laws, he complained.

“In the years after the Holocaust, specific treaties were negotiated to cement into law obligations to protect human rights. Countries the world over accepted them – and now alas, all too frequently, ignore them in practice.”

He pointed out that forceful reprisals against atrocities – including attacks on children and “the savage burning of my compatriot the pilot Mu’ath al Kassassbeh” by ISIL – are having limited impact.

“Just bombing them or choking off their financing has clearly not worked… for these groups have only proliferated and grown in strength. What is needed is the addition of a different sort of battle-line, one waged principally by Muslim leaders and Muslim countries and based on ideas.”

Zeid noted a knock-on effect on key civil and political rights in other countries: “The space for dissent in many countries is collapsing under the weight of either poorly-thought out, or indeed exploitative, counter-terrorism strategies. Human rights defenders are therefore under enormous pressure in many parts of the world today…They risk imprisonment or worse in the peaceful defence of basic rights.”

HRF’s El-Hage told IPS throughout the 20th Century, leaders of the Soviet Union and its satellites around the world installed single-party state apparatuses — with strong propaganda machineries and no independent media, instead of open education — that advanced radical economic agendas to the detriment of the majority of their populations.

This not only triggered atrocities, such as mass starvation, which were not a result of direct physical repression of minorities (like the Ukrainian famine), but instead of an economic policy that rejected individual rights and limited the ability of small farmers and business owners to provide for themselves by controlling their own mobility, access to resources, property rights, freedom of information and their ability to associate with others in mutual cooperation.

While promoting the idea that they could help the masses, these authoritarians let the individual members of such masses suffer—even starve, he added.

Ushered by US Intervention, Chaos in Yemen Threatens Wider War

Yemen in danger of splitting into two – again

By Thalif Deen, IPS News
January 28, 2015
Common Dreams

 

yemen.jpg

Soldiers are seen near the house of Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Sanaa January 24, 2015. Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets on Saturday in the biggest demonstration yet against the Houthi group that dominates Yemen, two days after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s resignation left the country in political limbo. As one analyst noted, Yemen is just the most recent example of failed American foreign policy in the Middle East. (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

 

UNITED NATIONS – When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

 

CIA Torture Whistleblower Wants to Know: ‘Where’s the Prosecution?’

In interview given from Loretto Prison, John Kiriakou says authorization of CIA torture came from the top

By Lauren McCauley
January 21, 2015
Common Dreams, January 20, 2015

 

CIA whisteblower John Kiriakou as depicted in portrait artist Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series. (Credit: Robert Shetterly)

 

John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent and whistleblower who was jailed for revealing secrets about the CIA torture program, wants to know why there’s been no accountability for the brutal crimes now-documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

In a phone interview from Loretto Prison in Pennsylvania, Kiriakou told The Intercept’s Andrew Jerell Jones that after the report’s release, his cousin had printed the over 500-page unclassified executive summary of the report and mailed it to him in five separate envelopes.

Kiriakou, an 18-year veteran of the CIA who in 2007 revealed to news media some of the first details about the agency’s widespread use of torture, said that the primary thing that shocked him upon reading the Senate report is that agents, some of whom acted without authorization and whose crimes are now widely documented, continue to walk free.

“We knew about the waterboarding, we knew about the cold cells, we knew about the loud music and the sleep deprivation. We knew about all the things that have been ‘approved’ by the Justice Department,” Kiriakou said. “But what we didn’t know was what individual CIA officers were doing on their own without any authorization. And I would like to know why those officers aren’t being prosecuted.”

When asked about the brutal treatment of detainees, namely Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman, who was killed in the prison, Kirakou said: “The man was murdered in cold blood, so where’s the prosecution? You come home, you murder somebody in cold blood, you get a promotion and a $2,500 bonus. That is not the message we ought to be sending.”

To date, the father of five is the only CIA agent who has gone to jail in connection with the torture program. Kiriakou was prosecuted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing classified information to a reporter. After agreeing to a plea deal in October 2012, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Though outraged by the impunity of the rogue CIA actors, Kiriakou confirmed to Jones that approval of the torture program came all the way from the top.

He said: “I remember sitting at a meeting with one of the top three officials at the CIA when the program was approved. And throughout the conversation, he kept on saying, ‘I can’t believe the president signed off on that program. I can’t believe it.’ He kept saying it. Because it was so radical and violent that even internally we didn’t think there would be permission forthcoming. And there was. And it got out of hand, and it was a slippery slope and the ball kept rolling down the hill. And the next thing you know, we’re killing people.”

The complete interview is available to read at The Intercept.

Surveillance Is Just First Phase as NSA Plans ‘Guerilla’ Tactics for Global Cyberwar

Surveillance Is Just First Phase as NSA Plans ‘Guerilla’ Tactics for Global Cyberwar

By Jon Queally
January 20, 2015
Common Dreams

 

The National Security Agency intelligence service isn’t just trying to achieve mass surveillance of Internet communication. The digital spies of the Five Eyes alliance want more. Documents from the archive of Edward Snowden indicate they are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control. This slide is from an NSA presentation on its Quantumtheory program.

 

New revelations eminating from the documents leaked to journalists by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has a far more developed and sinister approach to cyberwarfare than previously known.

Based on new and separate reporting from the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel, the National Security Agency is engaged in what amounts to “guerilla warfare” in which its clandestine hacking operations are designed to be undetectable, untraceable, and therefore, totally unaccountable.

As the team of journalists reporting for Der Spiegel describe it, “the US government is currently undertaking a massive effort to digitally arm itself for network warfare.” And, they report, the NSA—along with its intelligence partners around the world—”have adopted ‘plausible deniability’ as their guiding principle for Internet operations.”

NYT: The Story of North Korea

In North Korea, before there was ‘The Interview’—the recent film that had its destiny changed from a Hollywood flop to an international incident—there was the NSA.

According to new reporting by the New York Times, the incidents surrounding the alleged hacking by the North Korean government on Sony Pictures Entertainment last year must be seen through the context of earlier attempts, dating back to 2010, when the U.S. National Security Agency made complex efforts to digitally-infiltrate North Korea.

The Times reports:

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

A classified security agency program expanded into an ambitious effort, officials said, to place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers, a force that South Korea’s military recently said numbers roughly 6,000 people. Most are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Bureau 121, its secretive hacking unit, with a large outpost in China.

Der Spiegel: The Digital Arms Race: NSA Preps America for Future Battle

And as Der Speigel reported on Sunday, the NSA has been building and expanding its offensive cyberwarfare capabilities for years:

According to top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seen exclusively by SPIEGEL, they are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control, including power and water supplies, factories, airports or the flow of money.

During the 20th century, scientists developed so-called ABC weapons — atomic, biological and chemical. It took decades before their deployment could be regulated and, at least partly, outlawed. New digital weapons have now been developed for the war on the Internet. But there are almost no international conventions or supervisory authorities for these D weapons, and the only law that applies is the survival of the fittest.

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan foresaw these developments decades ago. In 1970, he wrote, “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” That’s precisely the reality that spies are preparing for today.

The US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have already established their own cyber forces, but it is the NSA, also officially a military agency, that is taking the lead.

Later in the report, Der Spiegel describes how a new document from the Snowden archive reveals that NSA operatives saw internet surveillance to be only a first step in their desire to “control it all”—a phrase used to describe near total digital awareness of global communication networks. According to their review of the document:

From a military perspective, surveillance of the Internet is merely “Phase 0” in the US digital war strategy. Internal NSA documents indicate that it is the prerequisite for everything that follows. They show that the aim of the surveillance is to detect vulnerabilities in enemy systems. Once “stealthy implants” have been placed to infiltrate enemy systems, thus allowing “permanent accesses,” then Phase Three has been achieved — a phase headed by the word “dominate” in the documents. This enables them to “control/destroy critical systems & networks at will through pre-positioned accesses (laid in Phase 0).” Critical infrastructure is considered by the agency to be anything that is important in keeping a society running: energy, communications and transportation. The internal documents state that the ultimate goal is “real time controlled escalation”.

One NSA presentation proclaims that “the next major conflict will start in cyberspace.” To that end, the US government is currently undertaking a massive effort to digitally arm itself for network warfare. For the 2013 secret intelligence budget, the NSA projected it would need around $1 billion in order to increase the strength of its computer network attack operations. The budget included an increase of some $32 million for “unconventional solutions” alone.

The Der Spiegel journalists described the NSA’s tactics as a kind of digital “guerilla warfare” in which “little differentiation is made between soldiers and civilians.”

“It’s a stunning approach,” they write, “with which the digital spies deliberately undermine the very foundations of the rule of law around the globe. This approach threatens to transform the Internet into a lawless zone in which superpowers and their secret services operate according to their own whims with very few ways to hold them accountable for their actions.”

 

Adding More Proof ‘War Is Over’ Is a Myth, NATO Commander Warns of Inevitable Deaths to Come

‘The war in Afghanistan has not ended’

By Sarah Lazare
January 10, 2015
Common Dreams, January 9, 2015

 

A U.S. Army helicopter taking off from Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2012. (Photo: DoD/public domain)

A U.S. Army helicopter taking off from Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2012. (Photo: DoD/public domain)

 

The public should expect more U.S military casualties in Afghanistan, the top commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) recently warned, in the latest sign that, despite U.S. claims, the war is not actually over.

“All of us as commanders have reminded our senior leadership … the war in Afghanistan has not ended, [just] the combat mission for NATO,” General Philip Breedlove told Stars and Stripes, according to an article published Thursday.

“It’s hard to say, but we are going to continue to have [U.S.] casualties” in Afghanistan, Breedlove continued, according to journalist Carlo Munoz. “It is going to be unavoidable.”

Meanwhile, Afghan society continues to pay a steep price for U.S.-led war and occupation of Afghanistan, which has been waged over 13 years and counting.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports that 2014 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the global body began making such reports in 2009. Civilian casualties overall were up 19 percent from 2013, rising to 33 percent among children, UNAMA reports. These numbers do not include the impact of social upheaval, mass displacement, poverty, and starvation on the Afghan population.

Breedlove’s statements come amid fresh revelations that the Obama administration still considers Afghanistan an “area of active hostilities” and therefore has determined that drone reforms ostensibly aimed at reducing civilian deaths do not apply in the country.

Furthermore, they follow numerous Obama administration maneuvers to prolong the war, including the signing of the Bilateral Security agreement with Afghanistan, which extends U.S. presence at least another decade, and the passage of an order authorizing a more expansive U.S. military mission at least through this year.

 

 

12 Dead, Others Wounded After Gunmen Attack Offices of French Satirical Magazine

Two or more perpetrators being sought after slaying workers at Charlie Hebdo, a newspaper known for satire that has been targeted with violence in the past for its irreverent coverage of religious figures

By Common Dreams staff
January 7, 2015
Common Dreams

 

Firefighters carry an injured man on a stretcher in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Pari. (Photo: Philippe Dupeyrat/AFP)

 

Twelve people are reportedly dead, with others wounded, after two gunmen stormed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday.

Updates on Twitter: #CharlieHebdo

Early reports indicate that ten magazine staffers and two police officers who responded to the scene were among those killed.

After the assault, according to Channel 24 News in France, the “attackers fled the building and their whereabouts are currently unknown.”

The Associated Press reports:

France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced security at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Top government officials were holding an emergency meeting and President Hollande planned a nationally televised address in the evening.

A witness who works nearby, Benoit Bringer, told the iTele network he saw multiple masked men armed with automatic weapons at the newspaper’s office in central Paris. The attackers went to the second floor and started firing indiscriminately in the newsroom, said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” he said.

Luc Poignant, an official of the SBP police union, said the attackers left in a waiting car and later switched to another vehicle that had been stolen.

Paris prosecutor’s spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre confirmed that 12 people were killed in the attack.

Video images on the website of public broadcaster France Televisions showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great”— could be heard among the gunshots.

Tracking developments, the Guardian newspaper is offering live updates and provided this summary of events at approximately 8 AM EST:

  • An unknown number of gunmen entered the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this morning and opened fire.
  • So far, 12 people have been confirmed dead – 10 Charlie Hebdo staff and two police officers. Five others are seriously wounded.
  • The attackers fled the scene and later hijacked a car. They have not been caught.
  • The terror alert in Paris have been raised to its highest level.
  • French president François Hollande said the country was in shock following what he said was a terrorist attack.
  • Charlie Hebdo magazine had been the subject of violent attacks in the past, following its publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Its offices were firebombed in 2011, and recent threats had also been made against it and other media groups.

As CNN points out, the magazine has been at the center of controversy for years:

The Paris-based weekly satirical magazine became famous for its daring takedowns of politicians, public figures and religious symbols. And while the motive behind Wednesday’s massacre is not yet clear, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons mocking Islamic extremism have angered some Muslims in recent years and made it a target for attacks.

The magazine’s most recent tweet on Wednesday was a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, the terror group which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq in recent months.

In November 2011 the magazine released an issue depicting a bearded and turbaned cartoon figure of the Prophet Mohammed with a bubble saying, “100 lashes if you’re not dying of laughter.” Its offices were burned to the ground by a Molotov cocktail the same day.

Police surveillance had reportedly been fairly tight around the magazine’s offices until recently — and there had been 24-hour surveillance before that, according to CNN’s Jim Bittermann in Paris.

The magazine, which was founded in 1970, has insisted in the past that its goal has never been to provoke anger or violence.

“The aim is to laugh,” Charlie Hebdo journalist Laurent Leger told BFM-TV in 2012. “We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

“You don’t throw bombs, you discuss, you debate. But you don’t act violently. We have to stand and resist pressure from extremism.”

Calling for ‘End the Drone Wars,’ Activists Cut Their Way into UK Air Force Base

Four people arrested for aggravated trespass after entering RAF Waddington armed with banners and reports of civilian deaths

By Jon Queally
January 5, 2015
Common Dreams

 

end_drones.jpg

The four who participated in the action were (from left): Chris Cole (51) from Oxford, and Penny Walker (64) from Leicester, Gary Eagling (52) from Nottingham, and Katharina Karcher (30) from. Coventry were arrested inside RAF Waddington and are currently being held by police at Lincoln police station. (Photo: End the Drones/Facebook)

 

Four demonstrators opposed to Britain’s prolonged participation in foreign wars and use of armed drones were arrested on Monday after cutting through a fence at the Waddington Royal Air Force base near Lincolnshire, UK.

According to the Guardian, RAF Waddington has been the growing focus of recent protests over Britain’s operation of unmanned aerial vehicles, which are controlled from the base.

Before being intercepted and arrested for criminal trespass, the small group said their intention was to create a “New Year gateway for peace” by cutting a hole in the security perimeter. The four carried a banner which said “End the drone wars” as well as reports documenting the number of civilian casualties arising from recent UK, NATO and coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the BBC reports:

The group were protesting at RAF Waddington about the use of armed drones, controlled from the base, which they claim cause civilian casualties.

The four, from Oxford, Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry, are currently in police custody.

An RAF spokesman said operation of the drones – known as Reapers – was unaffected.

The group, calling itself End The Drone Wars, named the protesters as Chris Cole, 51, from Oxford, Katharina Karcher, 30, from Coventry, Gary Eagling, 52, from Nottingham and Penny Walker, 64, from Leicester.

Explaining the reasons for their action on Monday, the demonstrators released a joint statement, which read:

We come to RAF Waddington today to say a clear ‘no’ to the growing normalisation and acceptability of drone warfare. Thanks to the marketing of drone war as ‘risk free’, ‘precise’ and above all ‘humanitarian’, war has been rehabilitated and accepted as virtually normal by those who see little or nothing of the impact on the ground thousands of miles away. Remote wars mean most no longer hear, see or smell the impact of bombs and missiles. With just a little effort we can almost believe that war is not happening at all.

But behind the rebranding, war is as brutal and deadly as it has always been with civilians killed, communities destroyed, and the next generation traumatized. And so we have come to RAF Waddington, the home of drone warfare here in the UK to say clearly and simply ‘End the Drone War’.

Monday’s direct action is only the latest in a series of protests directed at the RAF’s participation in the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

Ignoring Doubts, US Imposes Sanctions on North Korea Over Hacks

As experts question FBI’s conclusion, White House says new restrictions are first step of response

By Nadia Prupis
January 3, 2014
Common Dreams

 

(Image via The Interview)

(Image via The Interview)

 

The U.S. imposed new economic sanctions against North Korea on Friday after blaming the country for the recent hacks into Sony Pictures’ systems.

Although the identity of the hackers is still unknown and there is little evidence to support the FBI’s official consensus that North Korea orchestrated the attack, which released tens of thousands of Sony’s emails and files, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to approve the sanctions as the “first aspect” of what the White House called a “proportional” response against the country.

The order placed sanctions on 10 North Korean officials and three government agencies. The officials will have their financial assets in the U.S. frozen and will be forbidden from using the American banking system.

Obama has also said the U.S. is considering putting North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But all three groups, including the country’s intelligence agency, an arms exporter, and a defense research agency, are already on the U.S. sanctions list. It remains unclear how these sanctions are meant to deter or weaken any potential cybersecurity moves.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement Friday, “Today’s actions are driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct.”

North Korea has denied its involvement in the hacks, and cybersecurity experts continue to question the veracity of the FBI’s conclusions. According to the Associated Press, anonymous “senior officials” would not elaborate on how the bureau made its determinations, and only “repeated their assertion that North Korea was responsible and said independent experts don’t have access to the same classified information as the FBI.”

This is the first time that the U.S. has imposed sanctions on another nation as revenge for a cybersecurity attack on an American company.

Civilian Deaths Soar in Iraq as US Soldiers Dig In for ‘Long Haul’

Increasing numbers of American soldiers are on their way to Iraq even as the threat of combat casualties for those already on the ground appears to be rapidly escalating

By Jon Queally
January 1, 2015
Common Dreams

 

An American soldier stands guard at the Taji base complex, which hosts Iraqi and U.S. troops. (Photo: Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)

 

As a new year begins and the number of U.S. military forces inside Iraq continues to increase, reporting by the Washington Post on Friday shows that despite repeated claims by the Obama administration that American soldiers are not “combat troops,” those stationed on the ground are  coming closer and closer to the edge of battles being waged between Iraqi forces and Islamic State fighters.

The Post reports:

In Iraq’s western Anbar province, more than 300 U.S. troops are posted at a base in the thick of a pitched battle between Iraqi forces, backed by tribal fighters, and well-armed Islamic State militants.

The militants, positioned at a nearby town, have repeatedly hit the base with artillery and rocket fire in recent weeks. Since the middle of December, the U.S.-led military coalition has launched 13 airstrikes around the facility.

U.S. troops have suffered no casualties in the attacks. But the violence has underlined the risks to American personnel as they fan out across Iraq as part of the expanding U.S. mission against the Islamic State, even as President Obama has pledged that U.S. operations “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

According to a recent article in the Army Times, there are approxomately 1,600 U.S. soldiers now on the ground in Iraq with another 1,300 soon to join them. Those troops are so far being deployed to four so-called “training sites” strategically placed around the country, some of them close to ongoing battles. Quoting Maj. Gen. Paul Funk, commander of Coalition Joint Forces Land Component Command-Iraq and the 1st Infantry Division, the Times reports that the number of these training sites will likely increase as assessments continue and the new war in Iraq continues. The U.S. and its partners, Funk said, are in the “fight for the long-haul”—a comment that mirrors what top Pentagon officials have said about the prospect for a protracted engagement by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“In Iraq… the continuing killing of civilians has marked the entire period from 2003-2014: sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but never ceasing.” —Iraq Body Count

On New Years Day, the independent group Iraq Body Count released its annual report saying that 2014 was the deadliest year in Iraq for civilians since the height of the U.S.-initiated war that began in 2003. According to the group’s analysis:

17,049 civilians have been recorded killed in Iraq during 2014 (up to Dec 30). This is roughly double the number recorded in 2013 (9,743), which in turn was roughly double the number in 2012 (4,622). These numbers do not include combatant deaths, which even by the most cautious tallies have also seen a sharp rise in 2014.

The conflict in Iraq that began with the US/UK invasion of March 2003 has continued now for nearly twelve years. During this period, not a single day has passed without Iraqi civilians being killed. The year 2014, however, reflects an increase in violence to levels not seen since the worst years of 2006 and 2007. The rise of the group Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL) as a major force in the conflict, as well as the military responses by the Iraqi Government and the re-entry of US and Coalition air forces into the conflict, have all contributed to the elevated death tolls.

Regarding the current situation, including the re-introduction of U.S. forces and escalated fighting both on the ground and from the air, the group offered this assessment:

There is a new brutality on the ground and renewed attacks from the air. ISIS and the Iraqi army have caused thousands of civilian deaths this year, while the international coalition has yet again been responsible for civilian killings, for the first time since US withdrawal three years previously. Iraqi civilians are once again being killed by all sides.

As the pattern of violence shows, following the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011 and the subsequent implementation of anti-Sunni policies by the Iraqi government, between 2012 and 2013 the death toll more than doubled. In 2014, largely in connection with the rise of ISIS and the military response to it, the death toll has nearly doubled again, making 2014 the third most lethal for civilians (after 2006 and 2007) since the 2003 invasion. The continuing killing of civilians has marked the entire period from 2003-2014: sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but never ceasing.