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People Crossing Channel from Countries With High Rates of Explosive Violence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/08/2022 - 6:45pm in

New analysis shows how, for the majority of people crossing the Channel into the UK, home has become a place of bombs and shells



A new investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team has exposed the links between Channel crossings and countries with high levels of death and injury as a result of explosive violence. 

Using data collected from Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) between 2020 and 2022, the extent of risk to people's lives from explosive violence in the countries of origin of many of those crossing the Channel can be revealed.

Those countries are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Syria.

The Byline Intelligence Team found that a total of 6,722 people were killed across the six nations as a result of explosive violence, with a further 12,520 people injured. Of the total killed and injured, 510 were children. 

The highest number of civilians killed by explosive violence in the past two years was in Afghanistan – with 2,555 people killed and 4,809 injured. Of these, 46 were children. This was followed by Syria – with 2,167 deaths and 4,530 injured. Of these, 397 were children. 

Incidents include the May bomb attacks across minibuses and mosques in Afghanistan that killed 16 people earlier this year. Last autumn, 14 people were killed by a bomb attack in Damascus, Syria, where civil war has raged for more than a decade. 

The ongoing and often ignored conflicts in Yemen and Ethiopia have also led to hundreds of civilians losing their lives as a result of explosive violence.

Yemen – which has been the setting of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia since 2014 and, until recently, was considered to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world – has seen 797 people killed and 1,596 injured, including 38 children since the start of 2020. In Ethiopia, the figures were 628 killed and 658 injured, of which one was a girl. 

The rates of deaths from explosive violence were lower in Iran (190); Iraq (343) and Sudan (42). However, all three countries are considered unsafe to travel to by the UK Government.

The Political Response

The Byline Intelligence Team's investigation comes after the Ministry of Defence recorded 14 boats crossing the British Channel on Monday – bringing 696 migrant people, a record for the year so far. 

More than 17,000 people have arrived in the UK in small boats in 2022 – exceeding the total for the same period last year, suggesting that the Government’s deterrence policies are not having an effect in preventing people from making the dangerous journey. 

The majority of people arriving into the UK across the Channel, according to the latest Government immigration statistics, came from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Albania and Sudan. Data from November 2021, published by the Refugee Council, also recorded that between January 2020 and May 2021, there were 271 arrivals from Yemen, and 151 from Ethiopia.

While in 2018 and 2019, a clear majority of people arriving via the Channel were from Iran – 80% and 66% respectively – more recently the spread of countries has been more even. In 2021, Iranians made up 30% of arrivals, while 21% were Iraqis, and 9% Syrians.

That year, 11% of those crossing the Channel were from Eritrea, however AOAV data was not available for this country. Between January 2020 and May 2021, 961 people from Vietnam and 571 from Kuwait crossed the Channel but similarly, data was not available.

Both of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have committed to maintaining a 'hostile environment' for immigration – including by saying they would expand a controversial plan to deport those who arrive via the Channel to Rwanda where they can claim asylum.

Those granted asylum will then be expected to remain in the east African country and would have no safe, legal route back to the UK. This is despite the fact that most people arriving into the UK to claim asylum have no links to Rwanda and are more likely to come from the Middle East or East Asia. 

The Rwanda scheme has been implemented despite the vast majority of those who attempt the Channel crossing later being given asylum in the UK.

Government data from the first quarter of this year found that 90% of Afghan people were granted asylum; as were 88% of Iranians; 97% of Syrians; 97% of Eritreans and 92% of Sudanese people. The lowest grant rate was for Iraqis, at 48%. 



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The Afghanistan Impact

The number of Afghan people attempting the Channel crossing has risen considerably since the Taliban's takeover of the country last August.

In the first quarter of this year, 25% of crossings were made by Afghan people seeking asylum in the UK, according to analysis by the NGO Freedom from Torture. Between 1 January 2020 and 30 May 2021, they made up just 5.4% of arrivals (666).

The uptick in numbers of people from Afghanistan entering the UK via this irregular route is in part a response to the lack of safe and legal routes open to vulnerable Afghan people who are suffering persecution and threats from the Taliban – as well as ordinary families struggling to survive in an economic crisis that is leading to widespread malnutrition and suffering. 

The UK Government has opened three pathways on its Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

The first was to resettle those evacuated or eligible for evacuation under Operation Pitting last August.

The second, which launched in June, resettles up to 2,000 Afghan citizens referred by the UNHCR.

The third, also launched in June, is currently prioritising the resettlement of up to 1,5000 eligible, at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni, and will open to wider groups of Afghans at risk in its second year.

“There is a risk that some Afghans may cross the Channel who could have come under resettlement schemes,” said Zehra Zaidi, co-founder of Action for Afghanistan. “But there are no schemes open to some categories of vulnerable people, or for at-risk groups the wait may be another two years, and they may not feel that they have two, three or more years to wait under draconian Taliban rule without placing them and their families even more at risk.

"So we need clarity on the ACRS and clearly defined legal routes to reduce the crossings, and to increase the clarity for deeply vulnerable groups.”

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Oil, Pollution and Global Warming: the Reality for Iraq

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 10:01pm in


Environment, Iraq

Angelo Calianno visits the oil-producing town of Basra and the Mesopotamian marshlands to witness the direct consequences of fossil fuel production on the environment and its inhabitants 


Today more than ever, the problem of energy production has become crucial. The latest conflict between Russia and Ukraine is redefining the race for gas and oil supplies. But what are the consequences for those populations that live where the resources are?

Basra, in southern Iraq, extracts 70% of the nation's crude oil. This province, in line with its resources, should be very rich and technologically advanced.  Instead, it has one of the highest rates of pollution in the entire Middle East. 

The Streets of Basra: Photo: Angelo Calianno

Places like the Nahr Bin Omar refinery are located close to the suburbs, where 90% of the inhabitants have a disease related to the respiration of toxic gases or ingesting contaminated water. As large families are the norm here, most of them are children.

To treat tumours and leukaemia in childhood, there is only the Basra Children's Hospital which has only 125 beds, which are always full. Hundreds of families come here for daily chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. 

15-year-old Karar, treated for leukaemia in the Basra Children's Hospital. Photo: Angelo Calianno

Oil plants still use the "gas flaring" system, that is, they burn in the air the gases derived from the extraction of oil, putting them into the atmosphere. In 2019 alone, it was estimated that more than 100 thousand people were hospitalized because of poisoned drinking water.

Despite all this, in Basra, there is no anti-pollution plan or a real law for the recycling of waste. Some private companies deal with the pollution for those who want to recycle independently, but the city's waste now invades many of the main canals. 

The scourge of pollution does not only cause damage in the places close to the refineries.

The Mesopotamian Marshes: Photo: Angelo Calianno

The "marshes", or the swamps of Mesopotamia, are one of the most important examples of biodiversity in the entire Middle East. Today they could disappear due to pollution, global warming and the engineering works of neighbouring states.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these canals were already sailed by the Sumerians. In ancient scripture, this area was identified as the Garden of Eden.

In 1991, Saddam's opponents took refuge there. The Shiite militias who opposed the dictator used these canals and islands to hide and mount attacks against the regime. Saddam Hussein then ordered massive engineering to drain much of the swamps. In a few months. the "marshes" were drained by 90% and its population dropped from 400,000 to 40,000. It was an unprecedented environmental disaster. Saddam later used the drylands to place missile ramps there.

What is the condition of the "marshes" today? And that of the inhabitants who live there

Chabaish, a town about an hour from Nasiriyah, is the main starting-off point for travelling by canoe to the centre of the Marshes. Crossing the canals you can see unique landscapes, herds of buffaloes walking in the water but also many abandoned huts.

Abu Haider and family. Photo: Angelo Calianno

In one of these, I meet Abu Haider. "I was born and have always lived here,” he told me. Before Saddam, we also worked a lot, fishing, but today there are very few fish and our only livelihood comes from raising buffalo. In recent years, however, in summer it is so hot that we are forced to move to the villages on land, because the marshes are becoming unlivable, without water and with very high temperatures.

Jassim al Asad, director of Nature Iraq in Chabaish, an organization that monitors, raises awareness and protects the environment in Iraq, explained what is happening to the marshes.  

"There are many problems that threaten this area and they have to be tackled one at a time.” he told Byline Times.“The first is definitely global warming. Temperatures, especially in the last four years, have risen a lot, so much so that in summer, the water evaporates. As a result, the remaining water is very salty, this is one of the main causes of death among the buffalo. A very serious problem is the lack of inflow from rivers. Neighbouring nations, such as Iran, have built dams that block some of the main courses, which is why the drying up is so rapid.”

Jassim al Asad. Photo: Angelo Calianno

Jassim explained that the third factor is pollution. “As you have seen for yourself, the city sewers discharge directly into the swamps,” he told me. “Once these canals were navigable in canoes moved by long oars, today with the introduction of motorboats, not only is there more pollution but the roar of the engines scares many species of migratory birds, another fundamental component of the biodiversity of these places. There are many engineering plans in place, although unfortunately, there are not yet the necessary funds. We have high hopes that something can change now that the marshes are also now designated a UNESCO heritage site.”  

Despite the hope of many, the Iraqi government's continued instability does not promise the right conditions for long-term environmental plans. The population of the marshes continues to decrease and, many young people prefer to try their luck on land rather than continue to live in these places that are becoming increasingly inhospitable. 

Iraq continues to focus many of its economic efforts on oil extraction, thus leaving behind development projects for the environment and health. The war in Ukraine has again increased the demand for fossil fuels in this area, thus putting off a better future for many Iraqis who continue to flee for their health and safety.




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Russian-Led Attacks More Deadly for Civilians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 8:30pm in

Although US forces have killed more civilians in conflicts over the past decade, Russian-led attacks using explosive violence are more lethal per incident to civilians, Sian Norris reports


Russian-led attacks using explosive weapons over the past decade are more deadly per incident to civilians than those committed by the US, new data from the research charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) reveals today. 

Data exclusively shared with Byline Times shows that, between March 2012 and February 2022, there have been at least 1,360 Russian or Russian-backed incidents involving explosive weapons, killing 4,390 civilians and injuring 5,062 more. 

This means that, on average, each Russian-led incident led to 6.95 civilians harmed. The incidents killed or injured 13,887 people in total.

In the same time period, US-led attacks using explosive weapons killed 5,812 civilians and injured 2,171, with 22,608 people killed or injured in total.

Although the number of civilian and military casualties are higher, each US-led incident led to 4.2 civilians being harmed. As a result, Russian-led attacks are 65% more injurious to civilians than US attacks.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, there have been further civilian casualties caused by explosive violence deployed by Russian forces, which are not included in the dataset.

Up until 22 March 2022, AOAV’s data, gathered from reputable English language media sources, has reported 493 civilians killed with a further 346 injured. Of these, 55 are children. 



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Civilian Targets

Vladimir Putin’s approach to warfare has long involved the targeting of civilian infrastructure. The investigative journalist organisation Bellingcat has recorded 64 events targeting civilian spaces in Ukraine between 8 March and 22 March. 

Shopping centres, theatres and apartment blocks have all been shelled in that time period, with the Kremlin claiming these are legitimate military targets. At least four civilians were injured in Kherson, after Russian forces fired snipers at a crowd of protesters. 

In the besieged city of Mariupol, hospitals have also been considered a legitimate military target, with three pregnant women killed in the recent attack on a maternity hospital in the city. A heavily pregnant woman who was photographed while being carried out on a stretcher to safety was one of those who lost their lives, along with her child. The doctors tried to save her baby by performing a caesarean section. When it was clear the child would not survive, the mother reportedly said “kill me now”. She died not long after. 

The tactics deployed against civilians in Ukraine are familiar to people in Syria, where Russian forces have assisted the dictator Bashir al-Assad with a bombing campaign since 2015.

At least nine hospitals in Syria were targeted by explosive violence between 2015 and 2020, killing 37 civilians including medical staff. Schools, residential neighbourhoods, a prison and markets have also been the focus of attacks, with the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure amounting to war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch

Russian-led explosive violence was also instrumental in the siege of Aleppo in 2016, with the treatment of that city offering a disturbing playbook for the current scenes in Mariupol.

Syrian Government forces sealed off Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern half, depriving citizens of basic necessities. At the same time, Russian forces conducted a brutal bombing campaign against the population. In the entire course of Syria’s war, 51,731 named individuals have been killed in Aleppo. These are not all casualties from Russian-led attacks, and they are not all civilians. 

People in Mariupol are now facing the same trauma – under siege and under bombardment. The fear among the Ukrainian people is that Putin will repeat his Syria strategy in their country, besieging and bombarding town after town. 

US Killings

The US shares a poor record on killing civilians, not least in Iraq and Afghanistan which it invaded in 2003 and 2001 respectively, and in the campaign against ISIS. 

AOAV’s data shows that 5,812 civilians have been killed and 2,171 injured in US-led explosive violence attacks since March 2012. 

Most recently, a drone strike by US forces in Kabul led to the killing of 10 civilians. Seven of those killed were children. 

In 2017, the US military admitted that 105 civilians were killed in an airstrike carried out against the Iraqi city of Mosul, while days earlier a US-led airstrike killed 35 civilians in Syria.  

According to the US military’s own numbers, 1,417 civilians have died in airstrikes in the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Since 2018 in Afghanistan, US air operations have killed at least 188 civilians. This may be an underestimate, as analysis from The New York Times found that “many allegations of civilian casualties had been summarily discounted”.

During the Iraq War, the battle between US forces and Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah saw 600 civilian casualties, of which half were women and children. Not all the civilians were killed by US personnel or through explosive violence. 

AOAV’s data is based on English language media reports of explosive violence. There may be more incidents from Russian-backed forces in Syria that have not been included, having instead been reported as attacks from the Assad regime, but as their methodology is consistent across the world it means comparing nation states such as the US and Russia is possible.

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team




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Chris Hedges: Worthy and Unworthy Victims

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/03/2022 - 9:21am in

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) —Rulers divide the world into worthy and unworthy victims, those we are allowed to pity, such as Ukrainians enduring the hell of modern warfare, and those whose suffering is minimized, dismissed, or ignored. The terror we and our allies carry out against Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Somali and Yemeni civilians is part of the regrettable cost of war. We, echoing the empty promises from Moscow, claim we do not target civilians. Rulers always paint their militaries as humane, there to serve and protect. Collateral damage happens, but it is regrettable.

This lie can only be sustained among those who are unfamiliar with the explosive ordinance and large kill zones of missiles, iron fragmentation bombs, mortar, artillery and tank shells, and belt-fed machine guns. This bifurcation into worthy and unworthy victims, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky point out in “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” is a key component of propaganda, especially in war. The Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, to Moscow, are worthy victims. Russia is their savior: The 1.5 million refugees and the millions of Ukrainian families cowering in basements, car parks and subway stations, are unworthy “Nazis.”

Worthy victims allow citizens to see themselves as empathetic, compassionate, and just. Worthy victims are an effective tool to demonize the aggressor. They are used to obliterate nuance and ambiguity. Mention the provocations carried out by the western alliance with the expansion of NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany, a violation of promises made to Moscow in 1990; the stationing of of NATO troops and missile batteries in Eastern Europe; the U.S. involvement in the ouster in 2014 of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, which led to the civil war in the east of Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s army, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and you are dismissed as a Putin apologist.

It is to taint the sainthood of the worthy victims, and by extension ourselves. We are good. They are evil. Worthy victims are used not only to express sanctimonious outrage, but to stoke self-adulation and a poisonous nationalism. The cause becomes sacred, a religious crusade. Fact-based evidence is abandoned, as it was during the calls to invade Iraq. Charlatans, liars, con artists, fake defectors, and opportunists become experts, used to fuel the conflict.

Celebrities, who, like the powerful, carefully orchestrate their public image, pour out their hearts to worthy victims. Hollywood stars such as George Clooney made trips to Darfur to denounce the war crimes being committed by Khartoum at the same time the US was killing scores of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was as savage as the slaughter in Darfur, but to express outrage at what was happening to unworthy victims was to become branded as the enemy, who of course, like Putin or Saddam Hussein, is always the new Hitler.

Saddam Hussein’s attacks on the Kurds, considered worthy victims, saw an international outcry while Israeli persecution of the Palestinians, subjected to relentless bombing campaigns by the Israeli air force and its artillery and tank units, with hundreds of dead and wounded, was, at best, an afterthought. At the height of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, worthy victims were the Republicans battling the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Soviet citizens were mobilized to send aid and assistance. Unworthy victims were the millions of people Stalin executed, sometimes after tawdry show trials, and sent to the gulags.

While I was reporting from El Salvador in 1984, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko was murdered by the regime in Poland. His death was used to excoriate the Polish communist government, a stark contrast to the response of the Reagan administration to the rape and murder of four Catholic missionaries in 1980 in El Salvador by the Salvadoran National Guard. President Ronald Reagan’s administration sought to blame the three nuns and a lay worker for their own deaths. Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said, “The nuns were not just nuns. The nuns were also political activists.” Secretary of State Alexander Haig speculated that “perhaps they ran a roadblock.”

For the Reagan administration, the murdered churchwomen were unworthy victims. The right-wing government in El Salvador, armed and backed by the United States, joked at the time, Haz patria, mata un cura (Be a patriot, kill a priest). Archbishop Óscar Romero had been assassinated in March of 1980. Nine years later it would gun down six Jesuits and two others at their residence on the campus of Central American University in San Salvador. Between 1977 and 1989, death squads and soldiers killed 13 priests in El Salvador.

It is not that worthy victims do not suffer, nor that they are not deserving of our support and compassion, it is that worthy victims alone are rendered human, people like us, and unworthy victims are not. It helps, of course, when, as in Ukraine, they are white. But the missionaries murdered in El Salvador were also white and American and yet it was not enough to shake US support for the country’s military dictatorship.

“The mass media never explain why Andrei Sakharov is worthy and Jose Luis Massera, in Uruguay, is unworthy,” Herman and Chomsky write. “The attention and general dichotomization occur ‘naturally’ as a result of the working of the filters, but the result is the same as if a commissar had instructed the media: ‘Concentrate on the victims of enemy powers and forget about the victims of friends.’ Reports of the abuses of worthy victims not only pass through the filters; they may also become the basis of sustained propaganda campaigns. If the government or corporate community and the media feel that a story is useful as well as dramatic, they focus on it intensively and use it to enlighten the public.”

“This was true, for example, of the shooting down by the Soviets of the Korean airliner KAL 007 in early September 1983, which permitted an extended campaign of denigration of an official enemy and greatly advanced Reagan administration arms plans,” Herman and Chomsky write. “As Bernard Gwertzman noted complacently in the New York Times of August 31, 1984, US officials ‘assert that worldwide criticism of the Soviet handling of the crisis has strengthened the United States in its relations with Moscow.’ In sharp contrast, the shooting down by Israel of a Libyan civilian airliner in February I973 led to no outcry in the West, no denunciations for ‘cold-blooded murder,’ and no boycott. This difference in treatment was explained by the New York Times precisely on the grounds of utility in a 1973 editorial: ‘No useful purpose is served by an acrimonious debate over the assignment of blame for the downing of a Libyan airliner in the Sinai Peninsula last week.’ There was a very ‘useful purpose’ served by focusing on the Soviet act, and a massive propaganda campaign ensued.”

It is impossible to hold those responsible for war crimes accountable if worthy victims are deserving of justice and unworthy victims are not. If Russia should be crippled with sanctions for invading Ukraine, which I believe it should, the United States should have been crippled with sanctions for invading Iraq, a war launched on the basis of lies and fabricated evidence.

Imagine if America’s largest banks, J.P Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo were cut off from the international banking system. Imagine if our oligarchs, Jeff Bezos, Jamie Diamond, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, as venal as Russian oligarchs, had their assets frozen and estates and luxury yachts seized. (Bezos’ yacht is the largest in the world, cost an estimated $500 million and is about 57 feet longer than a football field.) Imagine if leading political figures, such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and US “oligarchs” were blocked from traveling under visa restrictions. Imagine if the world’s biggest shipping lines suspended shipments to and from the United States. Imagine if US international media news outlets were forced off the air. Imagine if we were blocked from purchasing spare parts for our commercial airlines and our airliners were banned from European air space. Imagine if our athletes were barred from hosting or participating in international sporting events. Imagine if our symphony conductors and opera stars were forbidden from performing unless they denounced the Iraq war and, in a kind of perverted loyalty oath, condemned George W. Bush.

The rank hypocrisy is stunning. Some of the same officials that orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, who under international law are war criminals for carrying out a preemptive war, are now chastising Russia for its violation of international law. The US bombing campaign of Iraqi urban centers, called “Shock and Awe,” saw the dropping of 3,000 bombs on civilian areas that killed over 7,000 noncombatants in the first two months of the war. Russia has yet to go to this extreme.

“I have argued that when you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime,” a FOX News host said (with a straight face) recently to Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s National Security adviser during the Iraq War.

“It is certainly against every principle of international law and international order and that is why throwing the book at them now in terms of economic sanctions and punishments is also a part of it,” Rice said. “And I think the world is there. Certainly, NATO is there. He’s managed to unite NATO in ways that I didn’t think I would ever see after the end of the Cold War.”

Rice inadvertently made a case for why she should be put on trial with the rest of Bush’s enablers. She famously justified the invasion of Iraq by stating: “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her rationale for preemptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws is a criminal war of aggression, is no different than that peddled by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who says the Russia invasion is being carried out to prevent Ukraine from obtaining nuclear weapons.

And this brings me to RT America, where I had a show called “On Contact.” RT America is now off the air after being deplatformed and unable to disseminate its content. This was long the plan of the US government. The invasion of Ukraine gave Washington the opening to shut RT down. The network had a tiny media footprint. But it gave a platform to American dissidents who challenged corporate capitalism, imperialism, war, and the American oligarchy.

My public denunciation of the invasion of Ukraine was treated very differently by RT America than my public denunciation of the Iraq war was treated by my former employer, The New York Times. RT America made no comment, publicly or privately, about my condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine in my ScheerPost column. Nor did RT comment about statements by Jesse Ventura, a Vietnam veteran and former Minnesota governor, who also had a show on RT America, and who wrote: “20 years ago, I lost my job because I opposed the Iraq War and the invasion of Iraq. Today, I still stand for peace. As I’ve said previously, I oppose this war, this invasion, and if standing up for peace costs me another job, so be it. I will always speak out against war.”

RT America was shut down six days after I denounced the invasion of Ukraine. If the network had continued, Ventura and I might have paid with our jobs, but at least for those six days they kept us on air.

The New York Times issued a formal written reprimand in 2003 that forbade me to speak about the war in Iraq, although I had been the newspaper’s Middle East Bureau Chief, had spent seven years in the Middle East and was an Arabic speaker. This reprimand set me up to be fired. If I violated the prohibition, under guild rules, the paper had grounds to terminate my employment. John Burns, another foreign correspondent at the paper, publicly supported the invasion of Iraq. He did not receive a reprimand.

My repeated warnings in public forums about the chaos and bloodbath the invasion of Iraq would trigger, which turned out to be correct, was not an opinion. It was an analysis based on years of experience in the region, including in Iraq, and an intimate understanding of the instrument of war those in the Bush White House lacked. But it challenged the dominant narrative and was silenced. This same censorship of anti-war sentiment is happening now in Russia, but we should remember it happened here during the inception and initial stages of the invasion of Iraq.

Those of us who opposed the Iraq war, no matter how much experience we had in the region, were attacked and vilified. Ventura, who had a three-year contract with MSNBC, saw his show canceled.

Those who were cheerleaders for the war, such as George Packer, Thomas Friedman, Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier and Nick Kristof, who Tony Judt called “Bush’s useful idiots,” dominated the media landscape. They painted the Iraqis as oppressed, worthy victims, who the US military would set free. The plight of women under the Taliban was a rallying cry to bomb and occupy the country. These courtiers to power served the interests of the power elite and the war industry. They differentiated between worthy and unworthy victims. It was a good career move. And they knew it.

There was very little dispute about the folly of invading Iraq among reporters in the Middle East, but most did not want to jeopardize their positions by speaking publicly. They did not want my fate to become their own, especially after I was booed off a commencement stage in Rockford, Illinois for delivering an antiwar speech and became a punching bag for right-wing media. I would walk through the newsroom and reporters I had known for years looked down or turned their heads, as if I had leprosy. My career was finished. And not just at The New York Times but any major media organization, which is where I was, orphaned, when Robert Scheer recruited me to write for Truthdig, which he then edited.

What Russia is doing militarily in Ukraine, at least up to now, was more than matched by our own savagery in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Vietnam. This is an inconvenient fact the press, awash in moral posturing, will not address.

No one has mastered the art of technowar and wholesale slaughter like the US military. When atrocities leak out, such as the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians or the prisoners in Abu Ghraib, the press does its duty by branding them aberrations. The truth is that these killings and abuse are deliberate. They are orchestrated at the senior levels of the military. Infantry units, assisted by long ranger artillery, fighter jets, heavy bombers, missiles, drones, and helicopters level vast swaths of “enemy” territory killing most of the inhabitants. The US military during the invasion of Iraq from Kuwait created a six-mile-wide free-fire zone that killed hundreds if not thousands of Iraqis. The indiscriminate killing ignited the Iraqi insurgency.

When I entered southern Iraq in the first Gulf War it was flattened. Villages and towns were smoldering ruins. Bodies, including women and children, lay scattered on the ground. Water purification systems had been bombed. Power stations had been bombed. Schools and hospitals had been bombed. Bridges had been bombed. The United States military always wages war by “overkill,” which is why it dropped the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs on Vietnam, most actually falling on the south where our purported Vietnamese allies resided. It unloaded in Vietnam more than 70 million tons of herbicidal agents, three million white phosphorus rockets — white phosphorus will burn its way entirely through a body — and an estimated 400,000 tons of jellied incendiary napalm.

“Thirty-five percent of the victims,” Nick Turse writes of the war in Vietnam, “died within 15 to 20 minutes.” Death from the skies, like death on the ground, was often unleashed capriciously. “It was not out of the ordinary for US troops in Vietnam to blast a whole village or bombard a wide area in an effort to kill a single sniper.”

Vietnamese villagers, including women, children, and the elderly, were often herded into tiny, barbed wire enclosures known as “cow cages.” They were subjected to electric shocks, gang raped and tortured by being hung upside down and beaten, euphemistically called “the plane ride,” until unconscious. Fingernails were ripped out. Fingers were dismembered. Detainees were slashed with knives. They were beaten senseless with baseball bats and waterboarded.  Targeted assassinations, orchestrated by CIA death squads, were ubiquitous.

Wholesale destruction, including of human beings, to the US military, perhaps any military, is orgiastic. The ability to unleash sheets of automatic rifle fire, hundreds of rounds of belt-fed machine-gun fire, 90 mm tank rounds, endless grenades, mortars, and artillery shells on a village, sometimes supplemented by gigantic 2,700-pound explosive projectiles fired from battleships along the coast, was a perverted form of entertainment in Vietnam, as it became later in the Middle East. US troops litter the countryside with claymore mines. Canisters of napalm, daisy-cutter bombs, anti-personnel rockets, high-explosive rockets, incendiary rockets, cluster bombs, high-explosive shells, and iron fragmentation bombs — including the 40,000-pound bomb loads dropped by giant B-52 Strarofortress bombers — along with chemical defoliants and chemical gases dropped from the sky are our calling cards. Vast areas are designated free fire zones — a term later changed by the military to the more neutral sounding “specified strike zone” — where everyone in those zones is considered the enemy, even the elderly, women, and children.

Soldiers and marines who attempt to report the war crimes they witness can face a fate worse than being pressured, discredited, or ignored. On Sept. 12, 1969, Nick Turse writes in his book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam,” George Chunko sent a letter to his parents explaining how his unit had entered a home that had a young Vietnamese woman, four young children, an elderly man, and a military-age male. It appeared the younger man was AWOL from the South Vietnamese army. The young man was stripped naked and tied to a tree. His wife fell to her knees and begged the soldiers for mercy. The prisoner, Chunko wrote, was “ridiculed, slapped around and [had] mud rubbed into this face.” He was then executed.

A day after he wrote the letter, Chunko was killed. Chunko’s parents, Turse writes, “suspected that their son had been murdered to cover up the crime.”

All of this remains unspoken as we express our anguish for the people of Ukraine and revel in our moral superiority. The life of a Palestinian or an Iraqi child is as precious as the life of a Ukrainian child. No one should live in fear and terror. No one should be sacrificed on the altar of Mars. But until all victims are worthy, until all who wage war are held accountable and brought to justice, this hypocritical game of life and death will continue. Some human beings will be worthy of life. Others will not. Drag Putin off to the International Criminal Court and put him on trial. But make sure George W. Bush is in the cell next to him. If we can’t see ourselves, we can’t see anyone else. And this blindness leads to catastrophe.

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He was the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: Worthy and Unworthy Victims appeared first on MintPress News.

Empire of Destruction: Mosul reveals Myth of Precision Bombing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/07/2017 - 3:39pm in

By Tom Engelhardt | (Via ) | – –

You remember. It was supposed to be twenty-first-century war, American-style: precise beyond imagining; smart bombs; drones capable of taking out a carefully identified and tracked human being just about anywhere on Earth; special operations raids so pinpoint-accurate that they would represent a triumph of modern military science.  Everything “networked.”  It was to be a glorious dream of limited destruction combined with unlimited power and success.  In reality, it would prove to be a nightmare of the first order.

If you want a single word to summarize American war-making in this last decade and a half, I would suggest rubble. It’s been a painfully apt term since September 11, 2001. In addition, to catch the essence of such war in this century, two new words might be useful: rubblize and rubblization. Let me explain what I mean.

In recent weeks, another major city in Iraq has officially been “liberated” (almost) from the militants of the Islamic State.  However, the results of the U.S.-backed Iraqi military campaign to retake Mosul, that country’s second largest city, don’t fit any ordinary definition of triumph or victory.  It began in October 2016 and, at nine months and counting, has been longer than the World War II battle of Stalingrad.  Week after week, in street to street fighting, with U.S. airstrikes repeatedly called in on neighborhoods still filled with terrified Mosulites, unknown but potentially staggering numbers of civilians have died.  More than a million people — yes, you read that figure correctly — were uprooted from their homes and major portions of the Western half of the city they fled, including its ancient historic sections, have been turned into rubble.

This should be the definition of victory as defeat, success as disaster.  It’s also a pattern.  It’s been the essential story of the American war on terror since, in the month after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush loosed American air power on Afghanistan.  That first air campaign began what has increasingly come to look like the full-scale rubblization of significant parts of the Greater Middle East. 

By not simply going after the crew who committed those attacks but deciding to take down the Taliban, occupy Afghanistan, and in 2003, invade Iraq, Bush’s administration opened the proverbial can of worms in that vast region. An imperial urge to overthrow Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, who had once been Washington’s guy in the Middle East only to become its mortal enemy (and who had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11), proved one of the fatal miscalculations of the imperial era.

So, too, did the deeply engrained fantasy of Bush administration officials that they controlled a high-tech, precision military that could project power in ways no other nation on the planet or in history ever had; a military that would be, in the president’s words, “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.”  With Iraq occupied and garrisoned (Korea-style) for generations to come, his top officials assumed that they would take down fundamentalist Iran (sound familiar?) and other hostile regimes in the region, creating a Pax Americana there.  (Hence, the particular irony of the present Iranian ascendancy in Iraq.)  In the pursuit of such fantasies of global power, the Bush administration, in effect, punched a devastating hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  In the pungent imagery of Abu Mussa, head of the Arab League at the time, the U.S. chose to drive straight through “the gates of hell.”

Rubblizing the Greater Middle East

In the 15-plus years since 9/11, parts of an expanding swathe of the planet — from Pakistan’s borderlands in South Asia to Libya in North Africa — were catastrophically unsettled. Tiny groups of Islamic terrorists multiplied exponentially into both local and transnational organizations, spreading across the region with the help of American “precision” warfare and the anger it stirred among helpless civilian populations.  States began to totter or fail.  Countries essentially collapsed, loosing a tide of refugees on the world, as year after year, the U.S. military, its Special Operations forces, and the CIA were increasingly deployed in one fashion or another in one country after another.

Though in case after case the results were visibly disastrous, like so many addicts, the three post-9/11 administrations in Washington seemed incapable of drawing the obvious conclusions and instead continued to do more of the same (with modest adjustments of one sort of another).  The results, unsurprisingly enough, were similarly disappointing or disastrous.

Despite the doubts about such a form of global warfare that candidate Trump raised during the 2016 election campaign, the process has only escalated in the first months of his presidency.  Washington, it seems, just can’t help itself in its drive to pursue this version of war in all its grim imprecision to its increasingly imprecise but predictably destructive conclusions.  Worse yet, if the leading military and political figures in Washington have their way, none of this may end in our lifetime.  (In recent years, for example, the Pentagon and those who channel its thoughts have begun speaking of a “generational approach” or a “generational struggle” in Afghanistan.)

If anything, so many years after it was launched, the war on terror shows every sign of continuing to expand and rubble is increasingly the name of the game.  Here’s a very partial tally sheet on the subject:

In addition to Mosul, a number of Iraq’s other major cities and towns — including Ramadi and Fallujah — have also been reduced to rubble. Across the border in Syria, where a brutal civil war has been raging for six years, numerous cities and towns from Homs to parts of Aleppo have essentially been destroyed. Raqqa, the “capital” of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, is now under siege. (American Special Operations forces are already reportedly active inside its breached walls, working with allied Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces.) It, too, will be “liberated” sooner or later — that is to say, destroyed.

As in Mosul, Fallujah, and Ramadi, American planes have been striking ISIS positions in the urban heart of Raqqa and killing civilians, evidently in sizeable numbers, while rubblizing parts of the city.  And such activities have in recent years only been spreading.  In distant Libya, for instance, the city of Sirte is in ruins after a similar struggle involving local forces, American air power, and ISIS militants.  In Yemen, for the last two years the Saudis have been conducting a never-ending air campaign (with American support), significantly aimed at the civilian population; they have, that is, been rubblizing that country, while paving the way for a devastating famine and a horrific cholera epidemic that can’t be checked, given the condition of that impoverished, embattled land.

Only recently, this sort of destruction has spread for the first time beyond the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. In late May, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, local Muslim rebels identified with ISIS took Marawi City. Since they moved in, much of its population of 200,000 has been displaced and almost two months later they still hold parts of the city, while engaged in Mosul-style urban warfare with the Filipino military (backed by U.S. Special Operations advisers). In the process, the area has reportedly suffered Mosul-style rubblization.

In most of these rubblized cities and the regions around them, even when “victory” is declared, worse yet is in sight. In Iraq, for instance, with the “caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi now being dismantled, ISIS remains a genuinely threatening guerilla force, the Sunni and Shiite communities (including armed Shiite militias) show little sign of coming together, and in the north of the country the Kurds are threatening to declare an independent state. So fighting of various sorts is essentially guaranteed and the possibility of Iraq turning into a full-scale failed state or several devastated mini-states remains all too real, even as the Trump administration is reportedly pushing Congress for permission to construct and occupy new “temporary” military bases and other facilities in the country (and in neighboring Syria).

Worse yet, across the Greater Middle East, “reconstruction” is basically not even a concept. There’s simply no money for it. Oil prices remain deeply depressed and, from Libya and Yemen to Iraq and Syria, countries are either too poor or too divided to begin the reconstruction of much of anything. Nor — and this is a given — will Donald Trump’s America be launching the war-on-terror equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the region.  And even if it did, the record of the post-9/11 years already shows that the highly militarized American version of “reconstruction” or “nation building” via crony warrior corporations in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been one of the great scams of our time.  (More American taxpayer dollars have been poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan alone than went into the whole of the Marshall Plan and it’s painfully obvious how effective that proved to be.)

Of course, as in Syria’s civil war, Washington is hardly responsible for all the destruction in the region. ISIS itself has been a remarkably destructive and brutal killing machine with its own impressive record of urban rubblization.  And yet most of the destruction in the region was triggered, at least, by the militarized dreams and plans of the Bush administration, by its response to 9/11 (which ended up being something like Osama bin Laden’s dream scenario).  Don’t forget that ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was a creature of the American invasion and occupation of that country and that ISIS itself was essentially formed in an American military prison camp in that country where its future caliph was confined.

And in case you think any lessons have been learned from all of this, think again.  In the first months of the Trump administration, the U.S. has essentially decided on a new mini-surge of troops and air power in Afghanistan; deployed for the first time the largest non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal there; promised the Saudis more support in their war in Yemen; has increased its air strikes and special operations activities in Somalia; is preparing for a new U.S. military presence in Libya; increased U.S. forces and eased the rules for air strikes in civilian areas of Iraq and elsewhere; and sent U.S. special operators and other personnel in rising numbers into both Iraq and Syria.

No matter the president, the ante only seems to go up when it comes to the “war on terror,” a war of imprecision that has helped uproot record numbers of people on this planet, with the usual predictable results: the further spread of terror groups, the further destabilization of state structures, rising numbers of displaced and dead civilians, and the rubblization of expanding parts of the planet.

While no one would deny the destructive potential of great imperial powers historically, the American empire of destruction may be unique.  At the height of its military strength in these years, it has been utterly incapable of translating that power advantage into anything but rubblization.

Living in the Rubble, a Short History of the Twenty-First Century

Let me speak personally here, since I live in the remarkably protected and peaceful heart of that empire of destruction and in the very city where it all began.  What eternally puzzles me is the inability of those who run that imperial machinery to absorb what’s actually happened since 9/11 and draw any reasonable conclusions from it.  After all, so much of what I’ve been describing seems, at this point, dismally predictable.

If anything, the “generational” nature of the war on terror and the way it became a permanent war of terror should by now seem too obvious for discussion.  And yet, whatever he said on the campaign trail, President Trump promptly appointed to key positions the very generals who have long been immersed in fighting America’s wars across the Greater Middle East and are clearly ready to do more of the same.  Why in the world anyone, even those generals, should imagine that such an approach could result in anything more “successful” is beyond me.

In many ways, rubblization has been at the heart of this whole process, starting with the 9/11 moment.  After all, the very point of those attacks was to turn the symbols of American power — the Pentagon (military power); the World Trade Center (financial power); and the Capitol or some other Washington edifice (political power, as the hijacked plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania was undoubtedly heading there) — into so much rubble.  In the process, thousands of innocent civilians were slaughtered.

In some ways, much of the rubblization of the Greater Middle East in recent years could be thought of as, however unconsciously, a campaign of vengeance for the horror and insult of the air assaults on that September morning in 2001, which pulverized the tallest towers of my hometown.  Ever since, American war has, in a sense, involved paying Osama bin Laden back in kind, but on a staggering scale.  In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, a shocking but passing moment for Americans has become everyday life for whole populations and innocents have died in numbers that would add up to so many World Trade Centers piled atop each other.

The origins of TomDispatch, the website I run, also lie in the rubble. I was in New York City on that day. I experienced the shock of the attacks and the smell of those burning buildings.  A friend of mine saw a hijacked plane hitting one of the towers and another biked into the smoke-filled area looking for his daughter.  I went down to the site of the attacks with my own daughter within days and wandered the nearby streets, catching glimpses of those giant shards of destroyed buildings.

In the phrase of that moment, in the wake of 9/11, everything “changed” and, in a sense, indeed it did.  I felt it.  Who didn’t?  I noted the sense of fear rising nationally and the repetitious ceremonies across the country in which Americans hailed themselves as the planet’s most exceptional victims, survivors, and (in the future) victors.  In those post-9/11 weeks, I became increasingly aware of how a growing sense of shock and a desire for vengeance among the populace was freeing Bush administration officials (who had for years been dreaming about making the “lone superpower” omnipotent in a historically unprecedented way) to act more or less as they wished.

As for myself, I was overcome by a sense that the period to follow would be the worst of my life, far worse than the Vietnam era (the last time I had been truly mobilized politically).  And of one thing I was certain: things would not go well. I had an urge to do something, though no idea what.

In early October 2001, the Bush administration unleashed its air power on Afghanistan, a campaign that, in a sense, would never end but simply spread across the Greater Middle East. (By now, the U.S. has launched repeated air strikes in at least seven countries in the region.) At that moment, someone emailed me an article by Tamim Ansary, an Afghan who had been in the U.S. for years but had continued to follow events in his country of birth.

His piece, which appeared at the website Counterpunch, would prove prescient indeed, especially since it had been written in mid-September, just days after 9/11.  At that moment, as Ansary noted, Americans were already threatening — in a phrase adopted from the Vietnam War era — to bomb Afghanistan “back to the Stone Age.”  What purpose, he wondered, could possibly be served by such a bombing campaign since, as he put it, “new bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs”?  As he pointed out, Afghanistan, then largely ruled by the grim Taliban, had essentially been turned into rubble years before in the proxy war the Soviets and Americans fought there until the Red Army limped home in defeat in 1989.  The rubble that was already Afghanistan would only increase in the brutal civil war that followed. And in the years before 2001, little had been rebuilt.  So, as Ansary made clear, the U.S. was about to launch its air power for the first time in the twenty-first century against a country with nothing, a country of ruins and in ruins.

From such an act he predicted disaster. And so it would be. At the time, something about that image of air strikes on rubble stunned me, in part because it felt both horrifying and true, in part because it seemed such an ominous signal of what might lie in our future, and in part because nothing like it could then be found in the mainstream news or in any kind of debate about how to respond to 9/11 (of which there was essentially none). Impulsively, I emailed his piece out with a note of my own to friends and relatives, something I had never done before. That, as it turned out, would be the start of what became an ever-expanding no-name listserv and, a little more than a year later, TomDispatch.

A Plutocracy of the Rubble?

So the first word to fully catch my attention and set me in motion in the post-9/11 era was “rubble.”  It’s sad that, almost 16 years later, Americans are still obsessively afraid for themselves, a fear that has helped fund and build a national security state of staggering dimensions.  On the other hand, remarkably few of us have any sense of the endless 9/11-style experiences our military has so imprecisely delivered to the world. The bombs may be smart, but the acts couldn’t be dumber.

In this country, there is essentially no sense of responsibility for the spread of terrorism, the crumbling of states, the destruction of lives and livelihoods, the tidal flow of refugees, and the rubblization of some of the planet’s great cities.  There’s no reasonable assessment of the true nature and effects of American warfare abroad: its imprecision, its idiocy, its destructiveness.  In this peaceful land, it’s hard to imagine the true impact of the imprecision of war, American-style. Given the way things are going, it’s easy enough, however, to imagine the scenario of Tamim Ansari writ large in the Trump years and those to follow: Americans continuing to bomb the rubble they had such a hand in creating across the Greater Middle East.

And yet distant imperial wars do have a way of coming home, and not just in the form of new surveillance techniques, or drones flying over “the homeland,” or the full-scale militarization of police forces. Without those disastrous, never-ending wars, I suspect that the election of Donald Trump would have been unlikely. And while he will not loose such “precision” warfare on the homeland itself, his project (and that of the congressional Republicans) — from health care to the environment — is visibly aimed at rubblizing American society. If he were capable, he would certainly create a plutocracy of the rubble in a world where ruins are increasingly the norm.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: There’s no way I can thank you enough for your remarkable response to my recent summer appeal for funds to keep TomDispatch rolling along. You are simply the best! If any of you meant to send in a few dollars but forgot, check out our donation page. I’m 73 years old today and still going reasonably strong. That is, I suppose, a miracle of sorts. I’m planning to take the weekend off, so the next TD post will appear on Tuesday, July 25th. In the meantime, I’m expecting TomDispatch to accompany me not just into my 74th year, but my 75th as well thanks to the continuing generosity of all of you! Tom]



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now!: “Amnesty Accuses U.S. Coalition of War Crimes in Mosul: Scale of Death Much Higher Than Acknowledged”

World Vision Welcomes Abbott’s Iraq Funding

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/01/2015 - 9:11am in


Iraq, Tony Abbott