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Monday, April 29, 2013

Other Echoes of Iraq in NATO response to WMD in Syria

“I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? F*ck them!”
- Al Majid, Saddam Hussein's Kurdish genocide point man | 26 May 1987
Ever since US President Barack Obama issued his first warning to the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons in the civil war was a "red-line" that might provoke a US military response, and even more so after reported use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition in December, March and April, there have been many commentators that have heard echoes of US President George Bush's false charges that Saddam Hussein was harboring chemical weapons, the excuse what was used to justify an imperialist war against Iraq, in the current discussion of Syria and chemical weapons.

This report from the NY Times reflects that perspective:
The White House cited the Iraq war to justify its wariness of taking action against another Arab country on the basis of incomplete or potentially inaccurate assessments of its weapons of mass destruction. The press secretary, Jay Carney, said the White House would “look at the past for guidance when it comes to the need to be very serious about gathering all the facts, establishing chain of custody, linking evidence of the use of chemical weapons to specific incidents and actions taken by the regime.”
Why this is a false comparison

There are two very fundamental errors made by almost everyone making this comparison. 1) Saddam Hussein was charged with possession of chemical weapons, whereas Bashar al-Assad is being charge with using them to kill Syrians in the present moment. 2) In the past two years Bashar al-Assad has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians with many other weapons of mass destruction including cluster bombs, artillery bombardment, air strikes, helicopter gunships and ballistic missiles, there was no such human slaughter taking place when Bush and company were making their charges of simple possession.

To make this simplistic comparison. i.e. false charges of WMD in Iraq circa 2003 and questionable charges of WMD in Syria now, without considering these two factors, means comparing apples to oranges. It means talking utter nonsense while mass murder is taking place.

The fact that the charge here is use and not possession, that it is alleged that people have been murdered by the Assad regime with chemical weapons at a time when he is clearly on a mass murder spree, means that to raise Bush's false charges against Hussein as a warning against doing anything to stop the ongoing slaughter in Syria is, in fact, to support that slaughter.

Using this false comparison the international "community" has danced around Assad's use of chemical weapons and even after four attacks killing scores of people and a mountain of other evidence, Obama in now saying that he wants to be absolutely, positively, sure that Assad has used chemical weapons before he declares that his red-line has been crossed. Since there is no serious question as to whether Assad is committing mass murder with just about everything else, this preoccupation with chemical weapons turns into something of a macabre fetish. Consider what we know already.

Evidence of Assad's Chemical Weapons Use

On Saturday, another of Assad's ex-generals has said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army. The general, who foiled this ordered chemical attack and defected 15 March 2013, was interviewed by al Arabia:
A former army general from the chemical weapons branch, Zahir al-Sakit, said he was instructed to use chemical weapons during a regime battle with the FSA in the southwestern area of Hauran.
He is the second defecting general to claim that he had been ordered to use chemical weapons. On Christmas day last year, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, at the time the highest ranking member of Assad's army to defect, did so and he brought with him a gift for the revolution, confirmation that the Syrian Army did use chemical weapons in Homs earlier in December 2012.

We are not talking about some shadowy "Curveball" here. These are officers with a history in the SAA, people the press can interview and their testimony is backed up by a lot of other evidence.

This type of testimony, which is generally neglected, is extremely important because unlike soil samples, videos of victims or even doctor's diagnoses, it establishes firmly who is using chemical weapons in Syria.

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Attacks

In early December 2012 the FSA started reporting the finding of disturbing amounts of chemical warfare suites and gas masks in the military depots they were seizing.

Also the first week of December, US intelligence reported that Assad had been moving his chemical weapons around and even loading sarin gas into bombs. The White House reissued Obama's "red-line" warning but dropped the prohibition against the "movement" of "a whole bunch of chemical weapons."

22 December 2012 | The first use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against its own people took place in Homs. Seven people were killed when a poisonous gas was sprayed in the rebel-held al-Bayyada neighborhood. This use was confirmed by video tapes, witness and doctor testimony and the general who defected days later because he saw things were going where he couldn't. Obama pretended not to see this first crossing of his red-line even while, in secret, his own State department was saying there was a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas. In public the White House was saying it had concluded that Assad had not used chemical weapons in Homs.

19 March 2013 | Two attacks appear to have taken place on this day; in Khan al-Assal, a village west of Aleppo and in Ateibeh, a village outside of Damascus. There has been a lot of video testimony and evidence posted about the attack in Ateibeh. For example a man in a clinic bed reported:
“Missiles came and they exploded, and they discharged something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell.”
Ateibeh is an area that had already been heavily bombed by the regime in the past two years, an unknown number were killed by chemicals in this attack.

The attack on Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo was a chlorine smelling gas according to this report. Naturally the Assad regime blamed the rebels. Time reported:
The attack killed 31 people, including 10 soldiers, and wounded scores more. In the immediate aftermath, the Syrian government and the opposition traded accusations. The government claimed that “terrorists,” its term for the rebels that have been fighting the regime for two years, had fired a “missile containing a chemical substance” at the village of Khan al-Asal in retaliation for their support of the government. Kasem Saad Eddine, spokesperson for the opposition military council of Aleppo, accused the government of attacking its own people in order to smear the opposition.
13 April 2013 | Two women and two children died and 16 others affected after two gas bombs where dropped from an army helicopter in Sheik Maqsoud, Aleppo. While the death toll from this most recent use of chemicals was small, it represented a major escalations of the "In your face factor" because no one but the government is flying helicopters in Syria. It also represents the introduction of a new delivery system. This also produced a lot of video evidence including this, this and this.

Now there is also a bit of physical evident if Times of London reports that soil samples smuggled out of Syria tested positive for sarin are true. The tests were done by UK government scientists at Porton Down after they were retrieve through a MI6 convert mission.

Update 29 April 2013 | Reports of a new possible chemical attack are coming in no sooner than this blog is published. Activists have reported what appears to be a chemical attack in Saraqib, an opposition town in Idlib province. Some of the victims are being treated in Turkey. The cannisters dropped appear to be the same type dropped in Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo. EAWorldView has excellent running coverage on this.

Assad Regime's response to the Charges

There are probably more facts in dispute in this conflict than there are combatants. So when looking at the various stories or accounts that come daily with every incident, it is important to consider the source and to understand that the Assad regime is not an honest source, the Assad regime is a gangster regime.

When it comes to owning up to what could most charitably be called "short-comings", the Assad regime deals with its many internal "My Lai massacres" with smiling denial. It is the gangster response. It is "I don't know nothing. I ain't done nothing. I was home with the flu." It is Al Capone, sitting in the barber's chair telling all the reporters how he abhors violence.

So it should surprise no one that Assad's information minister Omran Ahed al-Zouabi was quick to respond to these new charges of chemical weapons use. On 26 April 2013 he told RT:
“First of all, I want to confirm that statements by the US Secretary of State and British government are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie, I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use it - not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues.”
So if you believe that the Assad regime has acted in a humanitarian and moral manner to this point, you are a fool, but at least your mind will be at ease as to the looming possibilities of a "Halabja" in Syria's future.

Those inclined to give this denial any credit should consider also:
Syria denies using Scuds against rebels13 Dec 2012rebuttal
Syria denies using cluster bombs15 Oct 2012rebuttal
Syria denies Taramseh village 'massacre'15 Jul 2013rebuttal
Syria denies UN claims of government forces massacre15 Jul 2012rebuttal
Syria denies it was behind attack that killed 9027 May 2012rebuttal
Syrian government denies reports of army shelling city of Homs4 Feb 2012rebuttal
Syria Denies Navy Shelling on al-Ramel al-Janoubi Neighborhood15 Aug 2011rebuttal
Syria Denies News on Discovery of Mass Grave in Daraa17 May 2011rebuttal

Al Jazeera English did the Assad regime a real kindness when it truncated the regime's response with the angry "a bold-face lie" phrase because as soon as you include the "we would never do nothing like that" part, the gangster smile starts to show through.

What Standards should be Applied to the Evidence?

The evident required for action in Syria should be a lot less than was required in Iraq because people are being murdered right now. By looking for a lawyer's "beyond a reasonable doubt" level of proof, Obama is giving Assad the benefit of the doubt and setting conditions so strict that they aren't likely to be met before many more people are murdered. It is the wrong standard of proof. The standard of proof, the level of certainty we should demand with regards to Assad's use of chemical weapons must necessarily be much lower than that applied to Hussein's possession of chemical weapons.

An analogy may help clarify why. If the police suspect that someone has an illegal weapon, it is entirely right and proper to demand that they first present their case to a judge and get a search warrant before they are allowed to act on their suspicions. On the other hand, if there is an active shooter taking people down, it would be absurd, even criminal, to demand that the police visit a judge and get his approval before they intervene to save lives.

The popular Iraq/Syria WMD Analogy is the Wrong One

The popular comparison being made between NATO charges against Iraq in the run up to war and Syria now is a completely false one but if we go back a little further in history we can make an apple to apple comparison between Iraq then and Syria now.

We should be comparing the Western response to Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people now to the Western response when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people in 1983-1989. In that case Hussein killed tens of thousands with chemical weapons while the West looked on and did nothing.

So far, that is the analogy that rings true today.

The UN & US response to Iraq's use of chemical weapons

Iraq, under the fascist Baath Party dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, used chemical weapons on a number of occasions in the 1980's both in its long war against Iran and as part of a program of genocide against the Iraqi Kurdish minority.

Between 1983 and 1988 Iraq made at least 14 chemical attacks that took tens of thousands of Iranian and Kurdish lives. Mustard gas was used in almost every attack and it was sometimes supplemented with Tabun or a nerve agent.

One of the biggest attacks came on 15 March 1988, near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, against the Kurdish town of Halabja. First sarin was used and then mustard. 5,000 were slaughtered. We know that it was part of a program of genocide because of Iraqi records that were liberated during the 1991 Kurdish uprising:
On 3 June 1987 the Iraqi proconsul signed a personal directive, numbered 28/3650, declaring a zone that contained over a thousand Kurdish villages to be a prohibited area, from which all human and animal life was to be eradicated. “It is totally prohibited for any foodstuffs or persons or machinery to reach the villages that have been banned for security reasons,” the directive stated.
This gas attack was just one small part of Hussein's genocide against the Kurds which took 400,000 lives in 15 years. Kendal Nezan remembered what happened in Halabja in Le Monde diplomatique, 1998:
When our "friend" Saddam was gassing the Kurds

Ten years ago, the systematic gassing of the Kurdish population of northern Iraq had far less impact on America. Only six months after the slaughter at Halabja, the White House lent Saddam Hussein another billion dollars. And in 1991, at the end of the Gulf war, US troops stood idly by while Saddam’s presidential guard ruthlessly suppressed the popular uprising by the Kurds for which the American president had himself called.

The town of Halabja, with 60,000 inhabitants, lies on the southern fringe of Iraqi Kurdistan, a few miles from the border with Iran. On 15 March 1988 it fell to the Peshmerga resistance fighters of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, supported by Iranian revolutionary guards.

The next morning Iraqi bombers appeared out of a clear blue sky. The people of Halabja were used to the successive attacks and counter-attacks of the Iraq-Iran war that had ravaged the region since September 1980. They thought they were in for the usual reprisal raid. Those who had time huddled in makeshift shelters. The rest were taken by surprise. Wave after wave of Iraqi Migs and Mirages dropped chemical bombs on the unsuspecting inhabitants. The town was engulfed in a sickly stench like rotten apples. The bombing stopped at nightfall and it began to rain hard. Iraqi troops had already destroyed the local power station, so the survivors began to search the mud with torches for the dead bodies of their loved ones.

The scene that greeted them in the morning defied description. The streets were strewn with corpses. People had been killed instantaneously by chemicals in the midst of the ordinary acts of everyday life. Babies still sucked their mothers’ breasts. Children held their parents’ hands, frozen to the spot like a still from a motion picture. In the space of a few hours 5,000 people had died. The 3,200 who no longer had families were buried in a mass grave. More...
Nezan then goes on to tell us how the Iraqi dictator was:
Protected by the West

At that time the regime was not worried about international reaction. In the recording of the meeting of 26 May 1987, Proconsul Al Majid declares: “I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them!” His language may be coarse, but the cynicism of the butcher of Kurdistan, later promoted governor of Kuwait and subsequently minister of defence, was fully justified.

Iraq was then seen as a secular bulwark against the Islamic regime in Teheran. It had the support of East and West and of the whole Arab world except Syria. All the Western countries were supplying it with arms and funds. France was particularly zealous in this respect. Not content with selling Mirages and helicopters to Iraq, it even lent the regime Super Etendard aircraft in the middle of its war with Iran. Germany supplied Baghdad with a large part of the technology required for the production of chemical weapons.
Just as is happening now, there was a lot of controversy, the UN was dispatched to the scene, but nothing was really done:
Despite the enormous public outrage at the gas attack on Halabja, France, which is a depositary of the Geneva Convention of 1925, confined itself to an enigmatic communiqué condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world. The UN dispatched Colonel Dominguez, a Spanish military expert, to the scene. In a report published on 26 April 1988, he confined himself to recording that chemical weapons had been used once again both in Iran and in Iraq and that the number of civilian victims was increasing. On the same day the UN Secretary-General stated that, with respect to both the weapons themselves and those who were using them, it was difficult to determine the nationalities involved.

Clearly, Iraq’s powerful allies did not want Baghdad condemned. In August 1988 the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights voted by 11 votes to 8 not to condemn Iraq for human rights violations. Only the Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, together with bodies like the European Parliament and the Socialist International, saved their honour by clearly condemning Iraq.
In point of fact, the United States was involved in a partnership with Saddam Hussein with regards to the manufacture and use of chemical weapons in this period. As reported here:
According to the Washington Post, the CIA began in 1984 secretly to give Iraq intelligence that Iraq uses to "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. In August, the CIA establishes a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link, and for 18 months, starting in early 1985, the CIA provided Iraq with "data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography...to assist Iraqi bombing raids." The Post’s source said that this data was essential to Iraq’s war effort.

The United States re-established full diplomatic ties with Iraq on 26 November, just over a year after Iraq’s first well-publicized CW use and only 8 months after the UN and U.S. reported that Iraq used CWs on Iranian troops.

In 1985 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to put Iraq back on the State terrorism sponsorship list. After the bill’s passage, Shultz wrote to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Howard Berman, cited the U.S.’ "diplomatic dialogue on this and other sensitive issues," claimed that "Iraq has effectively distanced itself from international terrorism," and stated that if the U.S. found that Iraq supports groups practicing terrorism "we would promptly return Iraq to the list." Rep. Berman dropped the bill and explicitly cited Shultz’s assurances.
Four years later, the US response to the Halabja massacre was no better:
In May, two months after the Halabja assault, Peter Burleigh, Assistant Secretary of State in charge of northern Gulf affairs, encouraged US-Iraqi corporate cooperation at a symposium hosted by the U.S.-Iraq Business Forum. The U.S.-Iraq Business Forum had strong (albeit unofficial) ties to the Iraqi government.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a team to Turkey to speak to Iraqi Kurdish refugees and assess reports that Iraq "was using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population." This report reaffirmed that between 1984 and 1988 "Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran," the UN missions’ findings, and the chemical attack on Halabja that left an estimated 4,000 people dead.

Following the Halabja attack and Iraq’s August CW offensive against Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed on 8 September the "Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988" the day after it is introduced. The act cuts off from Iraq U.S. loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees, items subject to export controls, and U.S. imports of Iraqi oil.

Immediately after the bill’s passage the Reagan Administration announced its opposition to the bill, and SD spokesman Charles Redman called the bill "premature". The Administration works with House opponents to a House companion bill, and after numerous legislation compromises and end-of-session haggling, the Senate bill died "on the last day of the legislative session".

According to a 15 September news report, Reagan Administration officials stated that the U.S. intercepted Iraqi military communications marking Iraq’s CW attacks on Kurds.

U.S. intelligence reported in 1991 that the U.S. helicopters sold to Iraq in 1983 were used in 1988 to spray Kurds with chemicals.

The United Nation's failure to do anything about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons use is informative for the current crisis:
Although the UN's expert mission concluded in March 1986 that Iraq used chemical weapons on Iranian troops, SCR 582 (1986) symmetrically noted "that both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq are parties to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous and Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare signed at Geneva on 7 June 1925" and "deplores...in particular the use of chemical weapons contrary to obligations under the 1925 Protocol". Resolution 588 (1986) did not mention chemical weapons. In 20 July 1987, SCR 598 again deplored "in particular the use chemical weapons contrary to obligations of the 1925 Protocol", but does not elaborate.
During the following years, the UNSC continued to be "dismayed" by chemical weapons' continued use and the "more intensive scale". They passed more resolutions that "condemns vigorously the continued use of chemical weapons" and "expects both sides to refrain from the future use of chemical weapons". By August of 1988 the UNSC was "deeply dismayed" by the "continued use of chemical weapons" and that "such use against Iranians has become more intense and frequent". Because of Western vetoes, the UNSC could never clearly say it was Hussein that was behind the chemical weapons use.
The Security Council could only condemn Iraq by name for using chemical weapons through non-binding Presidential statements, over which permanent members of the Security Council do not have an individual veto. On 21 March 1986, the Security Council President, making a "declaration" and "speaking on behalf of the Security Council," stated that the Council members are "profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops...[and] the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons". The US voted against the issuance of this statement, and the UK, Australia, France and Denmark abstained. However, the concurring votes of the other ten members of the Security Council ensured that this statement constituted the first criticism of Iraq by the Security Council.
At the time, the US and a number of other great powers were supporting Saddam Hussein so there was nothing done about his WMD until be became a problem much later. He didn't have any WMD by then but that didn't matter; he had an ugly reputation for using them.

Even if the current UN investigative mission can make it to Syria and make an investigation, which looks very iffy at this point, it is highly unlikely that the United Nations will actually do anything.

The difference will be that this time, with Syria, Russia will play the bad guy with the veto.

Why would Assad use Chemical Weapons?

From The Independent, Robert Fisk has this report on Sunday:
Syria and sarin gas: US claims have a very familiar ring
Reports of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons are part of a retold drama riddled with plot-holes

Is there any way of escaping the theatre of chemical weapons?...In any normal society the red lights would now be flashing, especially in the world's newsrooms. But no. We scribes remind the world that Obama said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "game changer" – at least Americans admit it is a game – and our reports confirm what no one has actually confirmed. Chemical arms used. In two Canadian TV studios, I am approached by producers brandishing the same headline. I tell them that on air I shall trash the "evidence" – and suddenly the story is deleted from both programmes. Not because they don't want to use it – they will later – but because they don't want anyone suggesting it might be a load of old cobblers.

CNN has no such inhibitions. Their reporter in Amman is asked what is known about the use of chemical weapons by Syria and replies: "Not as much as the world would want to know … the psyche of the Assad regime …." But has anyone tried? Or simply asked an obvious question, posed to me by a Syrian intelligence man in Damascus last week: if Syria can cause infinitely worse damage with its MiG bombers (which it does) why would it want to use chemicals? More...

The Syrian intelligence man's question deserves an answer and that answer goes to the heart of Bashar al-Assad's repression strategy and the role chemical weapons are starting to play in it. Bashar learned well from his father, both in strengths and mistakes.

He learn to rule with an iron fist, but he also learn to finesse it a little better. Halef paid a heavy political price when he exterminated ~18,000 "terrorist" in Homs in a few weeks but Bashar knows better how to boil live frogs in an open pot. He has already killed 3 of 4 times as many by turning up the heat slowly.

He started with snipers targeting peaceful protesters and when that didn't clear the streets, he brought in the tanks.

His weak spot, militarily speaking, has been the ordinary foot soldier. Normally the infantry is the backbone of any army but Bashar's tended to be a little too defection prone whenever they were thrown into battle. Thus we have seen many times in this civil war, the rookie mistake of sending in armor without supporting infantry. In the narrow streets of Homs and Hama, his tanks proved vulnerable even to rebels armed only with Molotov cocktails.

He has always had certain "elite" forces organized along sectarian lines that he could count on even to kill children with knives, no true gangster would leave home without them, but fortunately for us all, such thugs are a tiny minority.

So standoff tools have been his weapons of choice. The goals have been generalized destruction and murder with the aim of punishing any communities that would dare to rise against his rule and making life intolerable in any areas that his regime has been forced out of.

But the strategy has always been to ramp up the slaughter in a slow 'n steady way that would gain greater world acceptance than his father enjoyed. So far he has succeeded admirably. Now ~200 Syrian's a day are being slaughtered and the world doesn't give a fuck.

At first he relied mainly on long range artillery and tank fire. He introduced his air force very slowly, much like he is doing now with chemical weapons.

First there were a few reports of him using helicopters and Migs. They were denied but the reports continued as did the sporadic use of aircraft. As the media lost interest, the air strikes became more regular and wide spread. As regular air strikes against his own cities gained worldwide acceptance, he started upping the ordinances dropped from his planes, as cluster bombs, incendiaries, and barrel bombs were introduced.

As the opposition has gotten better at shooting down his aircraft, they have just worn out, or his air bases have fallen, he has relied on bigger and bigger ballistic missiles. Now the world has signaled its quiet acceptance for a government that fires Scuds at its own cities.

In spite of all this, he is still losing.

Chemical weapons are simply the next logical step in this escalation. Obama saw that too in August and tried to draw a "red-line" in the Syrian sand but Obama forgot about the danger of trying to bullshit a bullshitter.

Assad is testing him on this, and it was Obama himself that told him how with his "whole bunch of" underpass in the "red-line." However much sarin or other chemicals Assad has spread around in the four incidents reported since December nobody can yet argue that he has used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons," not when massacres on the scale of Halabja are considered.

He is introducing chemical weapons slowly, so the world can get used to them again. He may have only used four shells to create four deniable incidents. He may be diluting the poison to give contradictory results. What exactly is a whole bunch? Who can say really?

So to get back to the Intel guys rhetorical question, he is pushed to use chemical weapons in spite of the destruction cause by his Migs because his Migs are wearing out, or getting shot down, or as reported in one case, bombing Assad positions before bailing out over opposition held territory.

He will use chemical weapons because they are the perfect weapon for his type of warfare. He can easily kill large numbers of people and make whole cities uninhabitable and they can be delivered by rockets and artillery so few killers are needed and even they don't have to look at their handiwork.

He just needs to introduce them slowly so the world learns to accept it. In the long run he may make what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds look like a walk in the park.

Don't Look for Anything to be Done Anytime Soon

In spite of the latest flurry of diplomacy around Assad's limited use of chemical weapons, after we have tolerated as many as a hundred thousand dead, two million driven from the country and more than six million driven from their homes, don't look for those that could put a stop to it, to do anything anytime soon. The NY Times reported on Saturday:
President Obama said Friday that he would respond “prudently” and “deliberately” to evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons, tamping down any expectations that he would take swift action after an American intelligence assessment that the Syrian government had used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale in the nation’s civil war.

“Knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. “We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately.”
British PM David Cameron is also counseling against doing anything rash, like rushing in to save lives:
[Cameron] repeated that Britain had no appetite to intervene militarily.

“I don’t want to see that, and I don’t think that is likely to happen,” he said. “But I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome. But we need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions.”
The French also sound like they aren't willing to do anything but talk:
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview to the “Europe 1″ radio station that it is uncertain whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Fabius noted that even if there was use of chemical weapons, it doesn’t change a thing regarding the Western response policy and that the US and Russia are examining all options with France.
And from the Washington Post:
“This is going to be a long-term proposition. This is not going to be something that is solved easily overnight,” Obama said.

The definitive proof the White House is seeking is likely to be weeks or months in the offing, if it comes at all. A U.N. weapons team has been blocked from on-the-ground testing, and it is not clear what other scientific or intelligence information the White House would find persuasive.
RT gives us a sense of the resistance any UN team is likely to receive from Damascus:
Chemical inspection stalled: UN team can’t be trusted ‘politically’ without Russian experts – Syrian information minister

Without hard evidence, American accusations of chemical weapons use in Syria fall short of UN proof standards, says a UN chemical inspector. And in the way proposed, a probe would only result in an Iraqi scenario, the Syrian information minister told RT.
Russia has been Assad's biggest supplier of Scuds, cluster bombs and all the other ordinances with which he is killing his own people. for that reason many believe the proposed Russian experts can't be trusted "politically."

Foreign Policy summed up the situation this way:
His careful, incremental introduction of chemical weapons into the Syrian conflict has turned President Barack Obama's clear red line into an impressionist watercolor, undermining the credible threat of U.S. military intervention. Despite Obama's statement on Friday that "we've crossed a line," Assad knows that the United States does not want to be dragged into a Middle Eastern civil war and is attempting to call Obama's bluff.

The Syrian regime's subtle approach deliberately offers the Obama administration the option to remain quiet about chemical attacks and thereby avoid the obligation to make good on its threats. But even more worrying, Assad's limited use of chemical weapons is intended to desensitize the United States and the international community in order to facilitate a more comprehensive deployment in the future -- without triggering intervention.
At this point, there is no support for military intervention in Syria either from the US government or the people. It is much the same in the UK and the EU.

Back in August, when Barack Obama told Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red-line" while he was already using Migs and cluster bombs and everything else, he gave Bashar a green light to continue his slaughter as he has.

Now Assad is calling Obama's bluff, he is testing the "red-line", but the self-proclaimed "cops of the world" are corrupt and work with the gangsters, so unless people around the world unite in demanding action, Assad is likely to get away with killing a lot more Syrians with poison gas and chemical weapons will have taken a giant step back towards acceptance as a tool of internal mass suppression.

Why did they think we would come to their aid?

This was the question raised on one of the Sunday morning talk shows when Clarissa Ward pointed out that the Syrian people are starting to become very bitter about the refusal of the world, particularly the United States, to come to their aid and do anything to stop their children from being slaughtered.

I think it is a fair question, so let me propose a few possible answers:

1) Because it is the right thing to do.

2) Because as long as most people can remember, we have been shouting "never again" to the hilltops.

3) Because Superman would never let so many people get slaughtered and not try to stop it, and we have spent billions peddling our culture and polishing our image around the world.

4) Because the United States has justified every war it has ever fought in the name of saving lives.

Syria may become the other side of the proof that it was naked self-interest and greed that have dictated when the United States went to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, even WWII.

If simple humanitarian interests aren't enough to demand that the Assad regime be stopped from any further use of chemical weapons, there is this:

The worldwide ban on the uses of chemical weapons was one of the great progressive victories to come out of the first Great War, and even though they have been superseded by nuclear weapons, which have yet to be placed under any such ban, the importance of continuing to enforce this prohibition against the use of chemical weapons cannot be underestimated. Especially when Assad is demonstrating that they can be used in the suppression of mass resistance to the state in a way that nuclear weapons never can.

That represents a strong reason why the governments of the world might like to re-introduce them as tools and it is exactly why the people of the world must demand that the ban against the use of chemical weapons be strictly enforced, especially in the case of Syria now.

If this is not done, the Assad lesson to oppressive states everywhere will be: "If your people get to bugging you too much, you can just spray them."

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is the media playing games with the dead in #WestTX?

UPDATE Monday 6:00pm pst: The Waco Tribune has published a list of victims.

UPDATE Saturday 10:00am pst: I saw a half-hour of morning news on both Los Angeles local ABC and NBC affiliates that did not mention the explosion at all. It seems that now that the Boston bombers have been taken down, they still don't have time to cover this story, which, according to the Dallas News could have been much worst:
The fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday had at least 540,000 pounds of potentially dangerous ammonium nitrate in a storage building, a 2012 company filing with the state health department shows.

That’s more than 100 times the weight of the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mix that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh used to destroy the Murrah Federal Building 18 years ago Friday.

The size of the explosive fertilizer stockpile on the property of West Fertilizer Co. and Adair Grain became clear Friday as an army of federal, state and local investigators picked through acres of shredded metal and the debris from blasted homes and schools close to the site.

The number of deaths rose to 14 with the discovery of two more bodies Friday. More than 200 people were injured.

The revelation that West Fertilizer had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate in storage on its property is certain to be a key element of the investigations ahead.
Also from the Dallas News report it appears that the Federal government has taken firm control of the situation. From staff writer Brandon Formby filed Saturday 9:36am pst:
Pete and Jacki Arias are tired of waiting.

The West couple spent Saturday morning registering their names, address, phone numbers and family information with officials who said a phone call would let them know when they could return to their house near the blast site.

The couple said they were given no timeframe as to when to expect such information.

"We need to get some straight answers," Pete Arias said.

The couple have been traveling back and forth from Waco each day to keep apprised of information. It's starting to take its toll.

"Don't leave us hanging," Pete Arias said.

He said he didn't know what agency took his information but assumed it was the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek told a crowd of reporters who descended on City Hall for what they believed would be a 10 a.m. press conference that officials are writing a statement and hope to have it finished by noon.

Vanek declined to answer any questions until the ATF says he can. He also said his main concern was keeping his residents informed.

UPDATE Friday 2:28pm pst: KWTX is reporting:
WEST (April 19, 2013)—Two more bodies have been found in the wake of the massive fertilizer plant explosion in West, increasing the death toll to 14, Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Jason Reyes said late Friday afternoon.

Reyes said he expected to have more information later in the day on 60 people who were unaccounted for after the blast.

Earlier Friday Reyes confirmed that 12 bodies were recovered from the area around the West Fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday night in West.

Reyes said all of the remains were taken to the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences, in Dallas, for positive identification.

Reyes said Friday that he can't say how man first responders died Wednesday night in West, but he said the 12 bodies were all found "in the area of the plant."

Only one fallen firefighter has been identified publicly.

A note sent Thursday to members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro identified one of the victims as a Dallas firefighter who joined West firefighters at the scene of the blaze Wednesday night.

Later Thursday, Dallas Fire-Rescue identified the firefighter as Capt. Kenny Harris, 52, who lived in West.
In the town of 2,700, however, word of who died was spreading Friday.

A woman who lived in the apartment complex leveled by the blast says she learned that two volunteer firefighters she knew were dead, one of whom was the best man at her nephew's wedding.

The explosion also left more than 200 injured.

Most of the injured victims were treated and then released, but some remain hospitalized Friday.

Three patients, two of whom are in critical condition, remain at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple and two children, one of whom is in critical condition are at McLane Children’s Hospital.

Seventeen patients remain at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, five of whom are in intensive care.

Others were taken to Providence Health Center in Waco and Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

Reyes said three fire trucks and one ambulance were destroyed in the blast, which also destroyed 50 homes, the 50-unit apartment building and heavily damaged West Intermediate School.

He said 150 buildings have been cleared in the search effort and searchers are expected to clear the remaining 24 Friday.

He described the continuing effort as search and rescue.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said Thursday searchers have found no survivors in the rubble of the dozens of homes and buildings damaged or destroyed by a powerful fertilizer plant explosion, but he told CNN, "We're still holding out some hope."

"It was like a nuclear bomb went off," he said.

Muska told CNN that seven West firefighters died in the blast Wednesday night along with two others, but provided no further details.

McLennan County Justices of the Peace Pete Peterson and Kristi DeCluitt spent the day in West making death pronouncements, but it's still not clear how many lives the blast claimed.

Earlier authorities said the death toll could be as high as 15.

Urban search teams from Texas Task Forces 1 and 2 were in West Thursday, conducting a house-by-house search for the living and dead and by Thursday night they had cleared 80 percent of the damaged houses and three-fourths of a badly damaged 50-unit apartment complex near the blast site, Kelly Kistner of the State Fire Marshal's Office said Thursday night.

The teams will complete the search on Friday, Kistner said.

Over the next two days crews will work to shrink the evacuation perimeter, he said, and residents on the fringes of the blast zone whose residences suffered little damage should then be allowed to return home, he said.

The blast site was cleared as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Kistner said, erasing lingering concerns about a toxic leak or another explosion.

An air quality assessment will be conducted Friday, he said.

Responders are doing a "hard, gut-wrenching job," Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said earlier Thursday.

He said utility workers were accompanying search crews and described them as heroes for facing the same risks as emergency personnel.

In some cases, crews had to reinforce damaged buildings before they could enter to search, authorities said.

No information about fatalities was released during the news conference Thursday night or during a late-afternoon news conference that included Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who vowed to go after price gougers.

McLennan County Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon told reporters the affected area is a "highly populated neighborhood."

The number of injured rose to more than 200 Thursday.

About 100 patients were treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.

Twenty-eight were admitted and five were in ICU Thursday afternoon.

Twelve elderly nursing home residents were treated and then discharged to other care facilities.

The others were treated and later released.

None of the patients at Hillcrest suffered burns or chemical injuries, the hospital said.

Sixty-eight patients were treated at Providence Health Center and 15 were admitted.

"The victims' injuries were consistent with those associated with an explosion; minor burns, broken bones, lacerations, abrasions, head injuries and respiratory distress," the hospital said in a press release.

Scott & White received five patients, three at Scott & White Memorial Hospital, two of whom were in critical condition and two at McLane Children's Hospital, one of whom was in critical condition.

"The people of our community and Central Texas have once again demonstrated our ability to face unexpected challenges and to respond with resilience and strength. We are proud to serve in such a community, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the people of West," said Glenn A. Robinson, chief executive officer of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center Scott & White Healthcare in Waco.

(Numbers To Call, Ways To Help)

(More West Headlines And Information)

Another 42 patients were treated at Hill Regional Hospital in Hillsboro, three of whom were later transferred to Dallas.

The rest were released after treatment, the hospital said Thursday.

Nine victims were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and two remained there Thursday.

Lines formed early Thursday at the Carter BloodCare Center in Waco, where residents waited in the early-morning rain to donate blood for injured survivors.

As of noon, close to 300 people had donated at the center in Waco and many more were still waiting to give. More...

UPDATE Friday 2:30pm pst: KXXV Channel 25 News in Waco is reporting:
County officials tell us the number of people still missing in West is NOT 60, as many reported earlier today and Sen. John Cornyn said. That number is inflated, and includes names of people who are not truly missing, they just may have not answered the phonen when family called to check on them, or they were not home for a welfare check for whatever reason. An accurate number of missing people is significantly lower than that, and a source inside the perimeter told us the casualty list will likely be between 12-20 people. List of names won't be released for a while because next of kin are still being notified.

UPDATE Friday 11:00am pst: According to US Senator John Cornyn 60 people remain unaccounted for with at least 12 confirmed dead, yet all the media is talking about today is Boston and Watertown and the hunt for a terrorist. From the Statesman:
Officials: 12 confirmed dead, 60 remain unaccounted for
Updated: 12:34 p.m. Friday, April 19, 2013
Update 12:35 p.m.: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Friday said 60 people remain unaccounted for in a blast in West that killed at least 12 people and injured more than 160.

Cornyn said he was provided that number by the state deputy fire marshal and Texas Task Force members who are helping with search-and-rescue missions. More...

The very first report I heard on the total missing and possible dead as a result of the Adair Inc., West Fertilizer explosion put the number at 60, but there were no confirmed dead.

Thursday morning I awoke to pretty uniform media reports of between 5 and 15 dead, which sounds like rather cavalier math when human lives are concerned, but those numbers have held up pretty well all day, until now.

Early in the day, Mayor Tommy Muska told a number of media outlets that 35 people had died, including 10 first responders.
The number included five volunteer fire fighters, four emergency responders and an off-duty fire fighter from Dallas who lived in West, the mayor told the newspaper.

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry showed up, the Mayor revised his numbers downward to 14.
I refer you to this tweet, because if you go to the WSJ article now you will see that it has changed already in this fast moving story and it no longer [at this reading - 11:55pst] gives any accounting of the dead.

On the other hand, the Mayor has said that about 35-40 people are still missing and he doesn't expect anymore to be found.

Still, as of the 11 o'clock ABCNews here in Los Angeles, 5 to 15 is the number of dead they are predicting for the West, TX disaster.

The 11 0'clock news didn't even get to the West, TX story until 11:11pm, after eleven minutes on the Boston bombing. I do feel that the dead of West, TX are getting shorted by the media as compared to the three dead in Boston, and its not just their satisfaction with the sloppy numbers.

We know what the three dead in Boston look like, we know their names, their life stories. The dead of West,TX, save one Dallas fire fighter, have remained uncounted and anonymous. And I know its early, but what bothers me is that the media doesn't seem to be in any hurry to change that.

Now the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association has thrown down something of challenge to those numbers games by confirming Mayor Tommy Muska's original story, at least with regards to the first responders:
The State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas said Thursday afternoon in addition to Capt. Harris, they have confirmed five West firefighter deaths, four EMS responder deaths, and one death of a responder from an unknown department. In addition, 11 West volunteer firefighters are in the hospital, according to the association.
According to this late report, from minews26 30 people are still missing, and according to this report, those still missing are not expected to survive.

Obviously, someone knows who is still missing, but the media doesn't tell us who they are or ask us to anguish over their fate.

Could it possibly be that the reason the reporting on these two tragedies is being handled so differently by the media is because a terror attack, even though very rare, can be very useful in their propaganda war, whereas a major industrial accident, the type of thing that takes far more American lives every year, is a big embarrassment to them?

More bits:
Statement Issued By Owner Of West Fertilizer Co.
Willie Nelson To Perform Benefit For West

See also my earlier blog - West TX Fertilizer Explosion: Who planted a bomb next to a high school?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

#WestTX Fertilizer Explosion: Who planted a bomb next to a high school?

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE 7:50 p.m. ET: CNN is reporting:
Some 35 people -- including 10 first responders -- died in an explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Mayor Tommy Muska said, according to USA Today.

"Black Rain" Exercise took place yesterday at Nuclear Power Plant less than 6 miles from West Fertilizer. Coincidence? [see below]

WacoTrib: Three schools in West have been damaged and the students will have to be relocated.

The worst industrial accident in US history killed 581 people when a store of 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded in Texas. That was 66 years ago, almost to the day, on 16, April 1947. A fire on board a ship loaded with the fertilizer and docked in the Port of Texas City set off what has since been known as the Texas City Disaster.

What happened in West, Texas yesterday, at West Fertilizer, owned by Adair Grain, Inc., reminds us that industrial accidents kill a lot more Americans than terrorism, even if they generally receive a lot less press.

While the death toll from the West Fertilizer explosion is said to be in the range of 5 to 15, what happened in Texas City, 66 years ago shows that it could have been much, much worst. Fortunately for all, this explosion happened when the near by middle school and high school were not in session.

But given this history in Texas, some people are starting to ask how it is that Texas and Federal officials allowed a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, which is very explosive, to be manufactured and stored in the middle of a small town and close to schools.

The high school is about 1300ft. from the nearest storage tank at West Fertilizer, the middle school is about 500ft from that site. [Map]

View West TX Fertilizer explosion close to schools in a larger map

This is the Google streetview of West Fertilizer as seen from West Rest Haven Nursing Home about 600ft away. The large building is on the right and the largest tank at West Fertilizer is on the left.

This is West Middle School after the explosion. Imagine the tragedy if this explosion had happened 6 hours earlier?

From this picture of the explosion in appears that the tank that exploded was, in fact, the one closest to the schools.

It looks like a war zone now in West, TX.

And now we find out that his ticking time-bomb planted so close to schools had been inspected in five years. Think Progress is reporting:
West Texas Fertilizer Plant Hadn’t Been Inspected In The Past Five Years
By Bryce Covert
Apr 18, 2013 at 9:01 am
It’s impossible to know at this point whether unsafe workplace conditions were a direct cause of this disaster, but we do know that it was cited for failing to obtain or qualify for a permit in 2006 after a complaint of a strong ammonia smell, a smell that was reported to be “very bad last night.” The plant hasn’t been inspected in the past five years, and in fact only six Texas fertilizer plants were inspected in that time. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is chronically understaffed, which means that a given plant like West Fertilizer can only expect to get a state inspection once every 67 years on average.

With this kind of neglect, worker safety is in serious condition. More than 4,500 people were killed at work in 2010, up three percent from the previous year, meaning that more American workers died on the job in one year than died during the entire Iraq war. This doesn’t even count the others who might suffer from dangerous workplace conditions like those residents of West injured in the blast who didn’t work at the plant.

Death Toll Expected to Rise Dramaticly
The LA Times is reporting:
West, Texas, mayor says 35 to 40 dead in fertilizer plant explosion
By John M. Glionna and Maeve Reston
April 18, 2013, 3:04 p.m.
WEST, TEXAS --The mayor of this city said 35 to 40 people are believed to be dead in a massive fertilizer plant explosion “because they are unaccounted for and still missing.”

“We are out there searching the rubble, looking in each and every house. We are trying to locate each and every citizen,” Mayor Tommy Muska said in a telephone interview with The Times.

Muska said he arrived at the count of 35 to 40 dead because all other residents and first-responders in the area have been identified. Among those who were missing and believed dead, he said, were as many as six firefighters and four emergency medical technicians.

The explosion occurred Wednesday night, damaging or destroying buildings within a half-mile radius. More...

FYI: Donald R Adair, owner of West Fertilizer received gov't farm subsidy payments totaling $874,522 from 1995 through 2011.
A Gary L Adair of West, TX received gov't farm subsidy payments totaling $1,217,338 from 1995 through 2011. Relationship to West Fertilizer not established at this time.

I'm not trying to start a conspiracy theory here but this popped up on my radar, so I will report it:
Regional Exercise Black Rain
Apr17 4/17/2013 8:00 AM - 4/18/2013 5:00 PM Regional EMTF Full Scale Exercise - Black Rain
The North Central Texas region is impacted by a radiological catastrophe at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. The blast and residual fallout results in many injuries and fatalities within the immediate hazard area and the densely populated DFW Metroplex area is affected by blackouts and rolling brownouts due to loss of power generation. Blast and fallout damage results in a critical taxing of the medical community and generates a potential need for medical evacuation and vast number of worried well within the metropolitan population. Region 2 of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force (EMTF) must activate and deploy its Ambulance, AMBUS and MMU Strike Teams to assist with the first response and contamination monitoring efforts of the medical community. More...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

U.S. fears Syria rebel victory

I have been saying for over a year now that the Obama administration wanted to see the Assad regime win its counter-revolutionary struggle against the Syrian people's movement to overthrow him. Even now that they have become convinced that Bashar al-Assad, the man, will have to go, they are hoping to maintain his repressive state machinery.

I was banned from the Daily Kos because I persisted in this view, which they labeled a "Conspiracy Theory."
However, as the revolution in Syria goes into its third year and Obama continues to support the rebellion with words, and little else, it is becoming increasing clear to all which side of this struggle he is really on.

That being said, I would like to welcome the Wall St. Journal to the "lunatic fringe" because they also see that US imperialism, under the leadership of Barack Obama, is no friend of the revolution. Of course the WSJ article is riddled with factual and analytical errors, as to effectively pointed out by Scott Lucas at EAWorlView, not the least of which is the WSJ assertion that this is a new policy, it is not, or that it's "for Now." Its for always. The imperialists will always fear a people's victory.
U.S. Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now

Administration Belief That Islamists Would Prevail Has Driven Efforts to Boost Moderate Fighters
April 16, 2013, 8:29 p.m. ET
Senior Obama administration officials have caught some lawmakers and allies by surprise in recent weeks with an amended approach to Syria: They don't want an outright rebel military victory right now because they believe, in the words of one senior official, that the "good guys" may not come out on top.

Administration officials fear that with Islamists tied to al Qaeda increasingly dominating the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, too swift a rebel victory would undercut hopes for finding a diplomatic solution, according to current and former officials. It would also shatter national institutions along with what remains of civil order, these people say, increasing the danger that Syrian chemical weapons will be used or transferred to terrorists.

This assessment complicates the White House's long-standing push to see President Assad step from power. It also puts a spotlight on the U.S.'s cautious approach to helping the opposition, much to the frustration of U.S. allies including France and the U.K., which want to arm Syria's moderate rebels.

The result of this shift, these officials say, is the U.S. has sought a controlled increase in support to moderate rebel factions. President Barack Obama is expected as early as this week to authorize the provision of nonlethal military aid such as body armor and night-vision goggles to moderate fighters, though officials said Mr. Obama still opposes sending American arms and taking unilateral military action.

The administration goal, according to people briefed on the effort, is to provide enough aid to strengthen U.S.-vetted fighters without tipping the balance so far that Islamists who dominate rebel ranks will be able to overrun the regime and its institutions. More...
In short, US policy is that this struggle, which has already killed about a hundred thousands lives and displaced millions more, should go on a while longer while it gets it ducks in a row and finds a "diplomatic solution."

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made separate appearances before Congress today and talked about the Obama administration's contradictory Syria policy. One of the things that came out is that Obama is not asking the pentagon for recommendations on how to help the rebels defeat Assad. The NY Times reports:
Top Obama Officials Differ on Syrian Rebels in Testimony to Congress
Published: April 17, 2013
Senator Levin asked if President Obama had requested that the Pentagon recommend how to apply “any additional military pressure” on the government [of Assad]. To Mr. Levin’s surprise, they said he had not. “We’ve had national security staff meetings at which we’ve been asked to brief the options, but we haven’t been asked for a recommendation,” General Dempsey said.

“We’ve not been asked,” Mr. Hagel added. “As I said, I’ve not been asked by the president.”
The reason the pentagon isn't being asked for recommendations for regime change in Syria is because the White House really isn't interested in regime change in Syria. They want to keep the murderous bastard.

Now even well known neocon Daniel Pipes is openly supporting the Assad Regime:
The Case for Supporting Assad
16 April 2013
Analysts agree that “the erosion of the Syrian regime’s capabilities is accelerating,” that it continues to retreat step-by-step, making a rebel breakthrough and an Islamist victory increasingly likely. In response, I am changing my policy recommendation from neutrality to something that causes me, as a humanitarian and decades-long foe of the Assad dynasty, to pause before writing: Western governments should support the malign dictatorship of Bashar Assad. More...
As usual, Daniel Pipes is lying. He was never neutral about the Syria revolution.

Its near the end game, and these false supporters and being force to drop the mask is all.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Islamaphobia & the Boston Bombing | Islamaphobia & the Left

The terror attack at the Boston Marathon took place while I was putting the finishing touches on this extensive essay on Islamaphobia. As of now, ~ 4:30pm pst 16 April 2013, officials say they are clueless as to why this happened and who is responsible for it. No one has claimed responsibility. They have no suspects and are just beginning their investigation. It is just too soon.

Curious minds want to know yet nothing has been reported giving us even a clue as to who of what is behind this mass murder attack save one thing: Yesterday, news came out that they were talking to someone that had been injured in the bombing that they emphasized was not a suspect. This morning it has been further leaked that he is a Saudi national and his apartment was searched overnight.

If nothing was found overnight or in his apartment that would change his status from victim to something else, then he is likely one of the most cleared persons of anyone involved. This doesn't stop the media from speaking in innuendo. He is not a suspect, "as of now" the NBC reporter adds in the morning report.

Former FBI director John Miller told CBS News:
He is a Saudi national who was near the scene of the blast. When the blast happened he began to run. Now, in context, a lot of people began to run. A civilian who thought he was acting suspiciously chased him down and tackled him and then turned him over to Boston police, saying, I saw this guy hanging around over there acting suspiciously. And then he ran. That may mean a lot, it may mean nothing at all.
Update 17 April: After contemplation, I find this story suspicious. I'm aware of but two types of terrorist bombers, those that blow themselves up with their bombs and those that plant their bombs and walk away. Running from a bomb that has already exploded and injured you isn't at all suspicious unless you are an Arab.

Examples of the racist tweets stirred up by this episode can be found here.

The New York Post was much more direct in its reporting:
Authorities ID person of interest as Saudi national in marathon bombings, under guard at Boston hospital
9:14 PM, April 15, 2013
Investigators have a suspect — a Saudi Arabian national — in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The Post has learned.

Law enforcement sources said the 20-year-old suspect was under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.

Fox News reported that the suspect suffered severe burns.

It was not immediately clear why the man was hospitalized and whether he was injured in the attack or in his apprehension.

The man was caught less than two hours after the 2:50 p.m. bombing on the finish line of the race, in the heart of Boston. More...
If this 20 year old Saudi man was close enough to be badly burned by a blast, I would expect investigators to talk with him. In fact, I would expect that they have talked to everyone they could in the immediate area of the explosions, including all of the victims that can talk.

At this point, when we so badly want to point the finger, Islamaphobia is being stoked by selectively highlighting certain information. They are doing this now, while they can, irregardless of who is really responsible, just as they did immediately after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Then today the Saudi student is cleared by authorities but the damage is already done and this bombing has been given an Islamist connection not supported by the facts. The Washington Post reported:
Injured Saudi is a witness, not a suspect, in Boston bombing
By Greg Miller
Tuesday, April 16, 9:05 AM
U.S. law enforcement officials said Tuesday that a Saudi national injured in the Boston Marathon bombing is regarded as a witness, not a suspect.

The Saudi, who is recuperating at a Boston hospital, is in his 20s and is in the United States on a Saudi scholarship to study at a university in the Boston area. More...
So now it's on to "Authorities are saying the bombs were pressure cooker bombs, like the kind used in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Yes, and India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sweden, France and the United States among others. Its a simple design, very popular with the children, but that won't stop the media from using the type of bomb to imply an Islamist connection.

And now on to the main article:

Islamaphobia and the Left

My first mass protest took place on 28 August 1963 and it had a lot of religious overtones. A Baptist preacher gave the most remembered speech of the event and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, played a leading role not only in getting a quarter million people to the mall in Washington, but in the whole civil rights struggle that was to have such a progressive impact on this country and the world.

I was born in 1948 and raise Presbyterian, which is already Christianity light, by the time Dr. King was telling us his dreams, and long before I became a communist, I was already an atheist and philosophically opposed to all religions. After I left Atlantic City for college, I didn't attend any regular religious services until I started attending chapel in St. Louis County Jail while I served four months for protesting the War in Vietnam.

In the county jail, I learned what oppressed people living in a totalitarian environment have learned throughout the ages, that the poor religious institutions allowed, and the meager freedoms allowed the oppressed to indulge in them, may afford the best, if not the only, opportunity for social, meaning political, organization against the oppression. With the connivance of a sympathetic chaplain, we got a lot done in those meetings, I mean services, in the St Louis County Jail.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1976, I was all ready a member of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) and yet I found that much of my best political work was done in churches and with black ministers. For example, when Eula Love was murdered by the LAPD in 1979, we organized the Southwest Communities United for Justice [SCUJ] out of Reverend Merriweather's church and led protests across the city that culminated in a march of more than 5,000 on city hall. The RAP SHEET, April 1979, published by the Citizen's Commission on Police Repression wrote:
Black Ministers Blast LAPD

In a public hearing before the City Council's Police, Fire and Public Safety Committee on March 29th, more than a dozen prominent black ministers offered a scathing critique of the LAPD's activities in the black community. The ministers, including Rev. Milton M. Merriweather, Bishop H.H. Brookins and Rev. James Lawson, charged the LAPD with brutality, racism, and improper tactics in the city's predominantly black south central area. More,,,
I know I don't have to belabor the importance of the black church and the black clergy in the social justice movement with progressives in the US. I justed wanted to remember those times because although Rev. Merriweather was the real powerhouse behind the SCUJ and bringing in the black ministers allowed us to mobilize widely, I was the Chief Organizer of the SCUJ.

Or perhaps I do need to belabor that importance, because it seems that the moment you replace shouts of "Hallelujah" with cries of "Allahu Akbar", the Left's tolerance for religion in the people's struggle goes way down and many on the Left see popular support for Islam among the revolutionary forces in Syria, in their time of struggle and need, as reason enough to disavow support for their revolution.

The role of religion in the lives of the oppressed

When Africans were first brought to the American continents in chains, they had religions taken away and religions given. Any native, non-Christian religion, including Islam, was completely suppressed, in its place was given the masters favorite variety of the Christian religion. Religion was crucial to slavery in two ways; it allowed the master to live with himself, and it allowed the slaves to live with themselves.

A characteristic of most religions is that they promise the downtrodden a better life later on and counsels them to put up with the present and look forward to a place in the future were rich men and their camels can't come. Christianity excels at that, which is why it became the chosen religion of kings, capitalists and slave holders alike.

The slaves were bound to accept anything that gave them a weekly respite from their toils, an opportunity to learn something new and the chance for a social gathering. And the words of the preacher must have sounded soothing to the slave. It is often noted that Marx called religion the opium of the people, but his full meaning is more rarely quoted:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
-- Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843
Karl Marx understood very well the role of religion in the lives of the oppressed. Is it any wonder that African slaves, newly planted on colonial shores should turn so strongly to it? Or that Syrians today, in their hours of travail, should fall back on it? And yet there are those on the Left that dis them for it! But I get ahead of myself.

The slave owner promoted religion among the slaves because of its opium-like qualities, it helped to sooth the slave into accepting slavery, but as Marx noted, religion is a two edged sword. It was taken up by the slave as a form of protest. So religion helped the slave live with slavery.

The promotion of Christianity to the slave was also central to the slave owner's mythology that there was anything redeeming about the institution of slavery. The belief that he was somehow saving souls while he was breaking bodies was just about the only thing keeping mirrors on the walls of the big house. So Christianity prospered in the Antebellum South.

That great Marxist historian of American slavery, Eugene Genovese, died on 26 September 2012, but he wrote Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made in 1976. I think this excerpt captures something important about the relationship between religion and politics and helps to explain why the political struggles of the oppressed so often come dressed in a religious garb:
In this secular, not to say cynical, age few tasks present greater difficulty than that of compelling the well educated to take religious matters seriously. Yet, for all except the most recent phase of the history of a minority of the world's peoples, religion has been embedded in the core of human life, material as well as spiritual. Bishop Berkeley spoke a simple truth: "Whatever the world thinks, he who hath not much mediated upon God, the human mind, and the summum bonum may possibly make a thriving earthworm, but will most indubitably make a sorry patriot and a sorry statesman."

The philosophical problem of religion, its truth and falsehood, represents a domain only partially separate from that of politics. Since religion expresses the antagonisms between the life of the individual and that of society and between the life of civil society and that of political society, it cannot escape being profoundly political. The truth of religion comes from its symbolic rendering of man's moral experience; it proceeds intuitively and imaginatively. Its falsehood comes from its attempt to substitute itself for science and to pretend that its poetic statements are information about reality.
It can surprise no student of history that people involved in struggle should turn to their religion or that activists with the most noble of motivations, grounded in their religion, should be found in the front ranks of the struggle for social justice.

Islam and the Black Liberation Movement

History reports that in 1819, Francis Scott Key, the composer of The Star Spangled Banner, supplied an Arabic translation of the Bible to Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim scholar from what is now Senegal who had been enslaved in the United States. By some estimates, as many as 10% of the African slaves were Muslim. It was stamped out and they were converted; as slaves they had little say in the matter.

After the turn of the 20th century, a kind of Islam started to make a comeback among northern urban blacks that were looking to express their nationalism through the practice of a religion that had not been forced on them by the slave owners. The Moorish Science Temple was established in Newark, NJ in 1913 as a black nationalist Islamic community by Noble Drew Ali. After he died in 1929, part of his group joined the Nation of Islam [NOI] which was founded in Detroit in 1930 by the mysterious Wallace D. Fard. Elijah Muhammed took over after Fard's unexplained disappearance in 1934.

Because it so completely rejected the slave owner's religion without rejecting religion all together, many of the most militant blacks have been drawn to it, not the least of which was Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Arabic: الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎), an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist.

When Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammed Ali, the media howled with outrage and when he very publicly refused to fight in Vietnam, he did so because of his Muslim religious convictions. Even though he expressed his motivations in terms of backwards religious beliefs, his actions gave a powerful impulse to the anti-imperialist movement against the war.

The role of Christianity in the civil rights struggle was met with a much higher level of acceptance than the role of any sort of Islam because Christianity is the dominate religion and already familiar. Probably no one on the Left would brand the national liberation movement we know as the civil rights movement, reactionary, because of the prominent role the Christian religion and its clergy played in leading it, but because Islam is different, because it has been so demonized in the West, different standards are applied.

The government also attempts to use these differences to drive a wedge into the black liberation movement by branding the Nation of Islam as too radical or too Islamic to be accepted as a legitimate part of the movement, much the way the Obama administration is doing today by branding al Nusra as a terrorist organization and therefore unacceptable as a part of the Syrian opposition.

Islamaphobia and the Syrian Revolution

I have gone into this history so as to provide a bit of perspective about the role of religion in political struggle in general and national liberation struggles in particular because with regards the the revolution in Syria we are hearing some people belittling the struggle because of what they see as an Islamic takeover giving it a reactionary nature.

To give one example of that, the tiny Left group the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) recently took a position withdrawing support for the Syrian Revolution because of what they perceive as the domination of Islamists in the movement, hence one of the principles of their new position is:
3. We oppose all manifestations of Islamism amongst the Syrian political opposition and rebel militias.
Can anyone imagine a Left group taking a parallel position about Christian activism in the civil rights movement?

Pham Binh critiques this position in a very good piece on The North Star:
Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution?
1 April 2013
As the Syrian revolution progresses, support for it abroad among Marxists recedes.

The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) is not alone in trading its support for the revolution for “a plague on both your houses” neutrality. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) made an almost identical shift, albeit theirs seems to be based on smears and falsehoods about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rather than an all-sided assessment of the contradictions of the Syrian opposition. Although neither group is terribly influential, the essentials of the narrative both have adopted about Syria is the predominant one among progressives in the West thanks to outlets like The Nation, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, MRZine Online, Mondoweiss, Global Research, Black Agenda Report, Jacobin, among many others. More...
These are the same Left elements that were slow to show support for the Arab Spring, showed up at Occupy only after it began, have done what little they could to undermine the Libyan people's struggle to replace the Qaddafi regime and have denigrated their successes since. They have largely abandoned the Syrian Revolution and are now using the fact that right-wing religious elements have come to their aid as a chief excuse for this abandonment. How ironic.

In addition to the usual fall back on religion in times of great danger and struggle, what might be called the "no atheists in foxholes" syndrome, it must be remembered that the Syrian people have every reason to believe that they have been abandoned by the international, secular, world, and equally so by the international Left. If the imperialist stand has been "No MANPADS for You!", the Left stand has been "No Lincoln Brigade for You!" In fact, the bulk of the foreigners that have come to Syria to join the fight against Assad have done so for religious reasons that were either humanitarian or opportunistic.

The missing Left leadership

In the wake of World War II, many people in Asia, Africa and Latin America were able to win their independence. This was no less true in North Africa and the Middle East. There was also a cold war thing doing on.

The imperialists correctly saw that the Left wing influences in these movements, those that counselled non-alignment, alignment with the Soviet bloc or socialism, were most dangerous to their interests, so they worked very hard at suppressing the Left wing everywhere, including in North Africa and the Middle East. This had both direct and indirect effects that strengthened the influence of both right-wing religious leaders and fascists in the region.

If this wasn't bad enough, much of the Left abandoned the people on their own, by tailing after Soviet interests that called for support of so-called "anti-imperialist" dictators. In Syria, the two so-called communist parties support the fascist Assad regime, as do thousands of so called communists around the globe who still tail after the former Soviet Union.

So it would seem that the Left really has nobody better to blame for the lack of progressive leadership in the Arab Spring uprisings generally or the Syrian Revolution in particular than itself.

Islam and the Syrian Revolution

In many Arab Spring uprisings, conservative Muslim organizations along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood have been able to use the new freedoms, together with the head start their already existing organization, base and political experience gave them to grab political power early. They did that in Tunisia and Egypt but not in Libya. In Syria, they will definitely be a player, role TBD.

In the environment of this general rise in religiosity generated by the hardship and the struggle of the Syrian Revolution, other religious players, including Islamists and jhadists, have come to the fore. Many of these groups have a legitimate role to play in a future democratic Syria in spite of their reactionary political views.

Nor are jihadist groups like Jabhat al -Nusra and Islamic groups like Ahrar al-Sham, to be confused, although Western governments and Western media often do just that. "Conflating the two groups is like mixing Christian fundamentalists with the Amish." writes Adnan Khan in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

Regardless of the reactionary and opportunistic motives of the leadership of either the Islamists or the jihadist, it must be remembered that the majority of those that join these groups to so because of humanitarian, internationalist or patriotic reasons.

While many on the Left may use the presence of jhadists and Islamist fractions as reason to deny support for the revolution, the imperialists will attempt to mobilize Islamaphobia as a wedge to divide and defeat the movement. Here again, an example from history may prove useful.

Government & Media attacks on the Nation of Islam then

In the early 60s, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner ran the following article:
Black Muslim Founder Exposed as a White
Ed Montgomery
July 28, 1963
Black Muslims by the thousands pay homage to Wallace Farad, their “Prophet From Mecca,” in the mistaken belief that as founder of the black supremacy cult he is one of their own…Yet Wallace Fard is, admittedly, an enterprising, racketeering fake. He is not a Negro. He is a white man masquerading as a Negro.

His true name is Wallace Dodd. He was born in New Zealand, on February 26, 1891. His father was British – arriving in New Zealand via Australia on a sailing schooner. His mother was a Polynesian native.

Dodd's police ‘rap sheet' includes conviction for bootlegging and a San Quentin Prison term for the sale of narcotics.
This story was syndicated and became part of the media "legend" of NOI. It was a lie, it was planted as part of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO which is accurately described on the NOI website dedicated to it:
COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic organizations deemed "subversive".
COINTELPRO tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare, planting false reports in the media, smearing through forged letters, harassment, wrongful imprisonment, extralegal violence and assassination. Covert operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971, however the FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception.
COINTELPRO became public when a group of anonymous activists, calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, started sending a stolen collection of over 1,000 FBI files on the program to media outlets.

This was almost four decades before WikiLeaks or Anonymous. The virtual world was virtually non-existent in '71. The files they stole were from file cabinets. The folders they were in were made of paper. Computers were in short supply back then so they had to steal the files the old fashion way. Crowbar in hand, they broken into the tiny two-man FBI office in Media, PA on the night of 8 March 1971 while the whole world was distracted by the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight.

COINTELPRO was used against many groups in the social justice movements at the time including the Weatherman and the Black Panthers, but they waged an especially fierce campaign against the NOI that predated COINTELRO by a long shot, the FBI was raiding NOI offices as early as 1942, and most likely continue their campaign to this day.

Anyone familiar with the NOI and its activists, such as Malcolm X, and certainly anyone who has ever worked with them in the movement, knows that they have a very dedicated and ethical membership and can be a very positive force for change in spite of holding certain reactionary religious views that put them at odds with both secularists and Christians in the movement. All smart activists see these difference as contradictions among the people, recognize that they are on the right side of the struggle, and deal with those differences accordingly.

The FBI plan with regards to the NOI has always been to leverage Islamaphobia, even among black activists, and to focus on some of the more extreme views of the NOI to drive a wedge between them and the rest of the Afro-American liberation movement. The goal has been to weaken that movement as a whole by precipitating sectarian splits within it. It was no accident that COINTELPRO kicked off in 1956 with a renewed investigation into the NOI after the Chicago field office started receiving reports of an “explosion in the Nation of Islam membership.”

Government & Media attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra now

More recently the US government, again with the help of its media allies, has been targeting Jabhat al-Nusra with a COINTELPRO type campaign, and the reason is essentially the same as the reason the NOI was targeted when it was, Jabhat al-Nusra has seen explosive growth in the past few months and it has also been winning many military victories against the Assad regime forces. These are the reasons it is being targeted now and not because of its alleged al Qaeda affiliations.

While it is true that al-Nusra is led by an Islamic fundamentalist and jhadist outlook that believes in establishing a new Caliphate, and a bunch of other reactionary right wing mythology, the way some Jews believe in the establishment of a Greater Israel that extends from the Nile to Euphrates and some Christians believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, was created in seven days, and all non-Christians will rot in hell, history has shown that a fantastic view of the past or a reactionary outlook on the future does not, all by itself, prelude a group from serving a progressive cause in the present.

Presently al Nusra is playing an important part in the united front of Syrian organizations carrying out the armed resistance to the Assad regime. They were founded in Syria and they claim to be an organization of mainly Syrian fighters, although they have recruited many fighters from outside of Syria and have reportedly received both weapons and other support from Arabs outside of Syria. Because they are organized, experienced, disciplined and well supplied, they have been winning battles. Because they have been winning battles, they have been winning popular support. The young Arabs that are joining their ranks now are not joining because they are impressed by their vision of a new Caliphate, they are joining because they are impressed with their success in the fight against the common enemy.

While the main forces fighting under the secular banner of the Free Syrian Army, and other more moderate Islamists forces, know they have very important differences with jhadist like al Nusra as to what kind of Syria should be build after Assad, they also think the job at hand is getting rid of Assad.

Al Nusra has long maintained that it is an independent jhadist organization and not a branch of al Qaeda in Syria, but the media will not allow these declarations to get in the way of a good story, especially since latest reason for not doing anything to stay Assad's bombs or provide more support for his opposition revolves around these supposed al Qaeda connections.

Al Nusra has never attacked US citizens, conducted operations outside of Syria or targeted civilians in Syria, still Obama had it put on the terrorist blacklist last November by branding it as an al Qaeda affiliate. Then last week they claimed they had the proof via a pair of statements from the leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Last Monday 8 April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) made a bold assertion in which they took credit for creating Jabhat al-Nusra and said the two groups were merging under the new name of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. ISI is actually a much more important group than al Qaeda in Iraq, but it lacks the branding that the US audience needs so al-Baghdadi was recast as the head of AQI for the news reports. Even before al Nusra responded, the Long War Journal was saying that it confirmed Obama's destination of the group as an al Qaeda affiliate.

On Wednesday 10 April 2013, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, a leading figure in Jabhat al-Nusra, responded by saying that Jabhat al-Nusra was an independent Syrian group and would continue to operate under its own name. While the whole point of al-Golani's response was to say that JAN remained a local group and not part of ISI, he made a serious PR blunder when he praised the ideas of al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri in such Arabic that a bad translation could claim he pledged "allegiance" to the al Qaeda chief. The media had the story they were looking for, an al Qaeda connection to the Syrian rebels, and they weren't going to let the facts in in the way.

EAWorldView did a very good job of dissecting and exposing this whole media branding campaign:
Syria Special: The Media Creates the "Al Qa'eda Myth"
The facts are that a local Syrian faction, albeit one of the most important in the insurgency, has responded to pressure from a powerful foreign group by insisting on its independence. It has made clear that its operations, and its approach to politics and society during and after the conflict, are driven by its concerns in Syria.

This is a difficult story to understand, however, given the ground-level complexities of a rapidly-changing conflct with multiple actors. So the Western media, and analysts like Fishman, choose the easier if false construction of Al Qa'eda inserting itself into part of the insurgency, exploiting the common short-hand in popular consciousness of Us v. Them.

Scott Lucas did a video that talks about this in more detail:

Scott Lucas can shout the truth to the treetops. It doesn't matter. The myth has already been repeated enough in the English language media that it has become the reality. Now the myth is threatening to turn into a UN resolution that will hand the Syrian people another setback. Reuters is reporting:
France says U.N. talks begin on Qaeda-linked Syria rebels
7:48 am, April 12, 2013
PARIS - The U.N. Security Council has begun informal talks on whether to impose sanctions on Syria's rebel al-Nusra Front after it pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri this week, France said on Friday. More...
As I have reported earlier, Obama's CIA has already been planning for armed drone strikes against al Nusra. Yes, there is a serious possibility that Obama will intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict after all, but on the side of Bashar al-Assad. With the rising chorus of myth making we saw last week around al Nusra as al Qaeda, it sounds like those drones may soon be on their way.

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