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A CIA Eyewitness blows the Whistle on Bushie Torturers still Justifying Crimes

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 2:11am

By John Kiriakou | (Foreign Policy in Focus/ | – –

The CIA’s torture-era leadership just won’t repent.

Even after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report saying in no uncertain terms that the CIA had tortured its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. government policy, and that torture never elicited any actionable intelligence that saved American lives, Bush-era CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, and several of their underlings announced plans to release a book justifying torture.

They intend to repeat a lie over and over again in this book: that torture worked. They hope that the American people are either so gullible or so stupid that they’ll believe it. It’s up to the rest of us to ensure that our government swears off committing this crime against humanity.

I know that these former intelligence leaders are lying because I worked with them at the CIA. When I blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program in 2007, they came down on me like a ton of bricks.

It’s not necessarily news that these former CIA heavyweights believe in torture, even if they refuse to call it what it is. Many television news outlets still run clips of George Tenet’s 2007 appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in which he repeats “We do not torture! We do not torture!” as though he were unhinged and living in a dream world. Perhaps what Tenet needs to do is to read the United Nations Convention on Torture, to which the United States is a signatory.

This global accord says that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining…information or a confession, punishing him for an act…or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or when such pain or suffering is inflicted by…a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

It’s plain and simple: The CIA tortured its prisoners. They can call it anything they want. It’s still torture.

These same former CIA leaders already have set up a propaganda website to accompany their book. The site explains away their violations of international law with the lie that torture worked, that it was legal, and that it was smart policy.

President Barack Obama decided to ignore these officers’ violations of the law, to “look forward as opposed to backwards.” I disagree.

If these folks want to talk about torture, let’s talk about torture.

Let’s talk about the prisoners who were killed — murdered — by CIA officers during questioning and why those officers were never brought to trial. Let’s talk about the sexual assault perpetrated against prisoners by CIA officers, but described as “rectal rehydration.” Let’s talk about the CIA’s secret prisons around the world. Let’s talk about the CIA’s doctors involved in the torture program who violated their Hippocratic oaths to “first do no harm.” Let’s talk about the targeting and murder of U.S. citizens overseas without the benefit of trial.

I have no doubt that these former CIA leaders think they are patriots. They believe they have bravely served the country. But what they’re missing is that they didn’t take an oath to protect the CIA. They took an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution. They didn’t do that. Instead, they committed crimes against humanity, and for that they should be prosecuted.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s also a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This commentary is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and OtherWords.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

VICE News from last spring: “Ex-CIA Officer John Kiriakou: “The Government Turned Me Into a Dissident”

Trump in Alabama: Playing George Wallace & making Latinos the new N-Word

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 1:50am

Margaret Howell and Jo Ankier | (TheLipTV Video News Commentary) | – –

“Donald Trump held a pep rally at the Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Alabama on Friday night drawing around 30,000 people. The Republican frontrunner’s speech highlighted his immigration stance, which many have condemned as racist, sparking comparisons to segregationist George Wallace from both his supporters and critics. We look at the event on the Lip News with Margaret Howell and Jo Ankier.”

TheLipTV: “Donald Trump Alabama Rally Brings Out Racist Support”

Can Iraq’s Shiite Militias save the Country from Sectarian Division? Qais al-Khazali thinks So

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 11:33pm

By Mohammed al-Zaidi | Najaf | ( | – –

NIQASH meets Qais al-Khazali, head of one of Iraq’s most feared militias. The cleric and soldier answered critics, talking about what to do when his fighters commit crimes and whether militias are replacing the army.

Most often seen in uniform these days: Qais al-Khazali, leader of the League of the Righteous militia. (photo: الموقع الرسمي للعصائب)

Qais al-Khazali has been described as “one of the most feared and respected militia leaders in Iraq”; he heads the League of the Righteous militia, one of the most extreme and best connected of the unofficial Shiite Muslim militias currently fighting in Iraq against the Islamic State group.

But when al-Khazali came out of his office – located in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf – for this interview, he wasn’t dressed in the military-style outfit he has been seen in a lot recently. Posters of al-Khazali commanding his militias are hanging up around Iraqi cities where many consider him a hero for the fight he and his men are putting up against the Islamic State, or IS, group.

But today al-Khazali was wearing a traditional religious uniform, a turban and a smile. Despite the fact that al-Khazali could be considered an extremely dangerous man, his easy smile and his charismatic responses put those around him at ease. Despite the controversial nature of some of the questions – and indeed, of the organisation he heads – al-Khazali answered everything NIQASH put to him.

NIQASH: There’s been a lot of information that indicates that an offshoot of your militia is fighting in Syria under the name, the Haidar al-Karar Brigades. Can you tell us what they are doing there, especially given that they’re often not fighting to protect any Shiite shrines and nor is the Islamic State group there?

Qais al-Khazali: We deny any reports saying that we are present anywhere outside Iraq’s borders. Our fighters are only in Iraq. Together with other militias and the Iraqi army we’ve been able to stop the Islamic State group expanding to other Iraqi cities.

NIQASH: So you deny any coordination with the Syrian government?

Al-Khazali: There is no coordination with the Syrian government, because we do not have any military presence in Syrian territory.

NIQASH: How would you describe your relationship with Iran. Rumour has it that Iran trains your fighters and supports your militia in logistical and financial terms and that in return, you do what they tell you to.

Al-Khazali: We have a good relationship with Iran and there is mutual respect. But that’s not really so unusual because we [in Iraq] have a long history with Iran and Iraq shares borders with Iran. So it is only natural to have a relationship with Iran and to share some common interests.

As for the decisions that the League makes, they are based on what our ruling council decides and they are absolutely independent of Iran. In any decisions we make, we put national interests first and we reject any negative, external interference.

However I want to emphasise that just because we make decisions independently, that doesn’t mean that there might not be any common goals or interests. It is no secret that Iran supports all the militias in this area and we are obviously one of them. In terms of direct support though, everything goes through the central Iraqi government in Baghdad.

NIQASH: In the past few weeks you have made several statements about the need to change Iraq’s political system from a parliamentary one to a presidential one. Could you explain what you’re asking for and why?

Al-Khazali: Today in Iraq we have big problems and everybody knows what they are – namely state services are problematic as are strategic projects and the level of unemployment as well as a raft of other things.

The League of the Righteous believes that one of the main reasons for these problems is the sectarian quota system in Iraq. To resolve this we have suggested that a presidential system be introduced because at the moment, the Prime Minister cannot choose the members of his government. He must bend to the will of the different blocs represented in Parliament who impose candidates upon him. There’s a bad atmosphere between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and its had a negative impact on the government’s work. That is why we make such demands. But such sensitive issues must be left to the Iraqi people to decide.

NIQASH: But in making these requests, some critics have said that what you are really doing is opening the door for the return of former Iraqi prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Khazali: We do not have any special relationship with Nouri al-Maliki. For example, we were not given any special positions within his government when he was in charge. Additionally we didn’t join his electoral bloc during elections; in fact, we contested the elections as a completely separate list.

NIQASH: But you have said on previous occasions that over the past two years your organisation has become closer to al-Maliki. So how do you compare and contrast al-Maliki’s time in power with the past year under Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi?

Al-Khazali: I have never said that. During al-Maliki’s era, there were many positive as well as many negative developments. We have criticised some of al-Maliki’s work and we have evidence of that [criticism]. And when the Shiite coalition disagreed with [al-Maliki’s] State of Law bloc about who should be the next Prime Minister, we announced our official support for al-Abadi.

In terms of al-Abadi, I don’t think he has assessed his own performance thoroughly enough. There are big problems within the Iraqi government and I hope he is able to resolve them. Because we all need him to be successful, for the sake of the Iraqi people. This is what we want.

NIQASH: What are your plans for the future? Does the League plan to be more politically active once the Islamic State group has been driven out of Iraq?

Al-Khazali: We are already participating in the political process and that started as soon as the US left Iraq. We are also armed because we were heeding a call from the Iraqi government and from the highest Shiite religious authorities to defend the country. And yes, we have big political ambitions but these can only be achieved within the law and within the limits of the Iraqi Constitution.

NIQASH: There have been rumours lately that the League has been disagreeing with the Sadrist movement – led by the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr – which also has militias fighting the Islamic State group.

Al-Khazali: There is much more that brings us closer to the Sadrist movement than anything that separates us. It is true that there are some disagreements but we would never go so far as to make them into real conflicts. At the moment we are confronting a very real enemy, one that threatens all Iraqis. So we should forget our differences and place more emphasis on what we have in common so that we may all serve the Iraqi people.

NIQASH: Up until now have you been happy with the Iraqi government’s policies in the conflict with the Islamic State?

Al-Khazali: The war on the Islamic State is an unusual one. It is a guerilla war and needs special fighting groups and skills. No regular army can fight such a war. So we are not so pleased with the way plans to fight the Islamic State have been developed. But in the end we do believe it is up to the Iraqi army.

Of course, we would place more emphasis on the abilities and skills of the militias because they have a lot of experience in this kind of fighting. That’s why we would call for more militias and more support for the militias, especially when it comes to holding on to areas they have liberated from the IS group.

The militias – made up of around 120,000 fighters – has been able to liberate many cities in Iraq while the Ministry of Defence, with about 300,000 members, has not been victorious.

NIQASH: These kinds of statements of yours have been interpreted in different ways. Some people think that you want militias to take the place of the regular Iraqi army.

Al-Khazali: We are not a substitute for the Iraqi army. On the contrary, we were, and we still are, supporting the army. Our main task is to strengthen the army so that, once again, it becomes capable of protecting the country the way it did before.

But we do also believe that the Iraqi army could really benefit from the experience and skills of the militias. Let’s be realistic. The way the Iraqi military has been developed has not been good. It too was influenced by the sectarian quota, which has influenced all Iraqi institutions. So that the enemy cannot fill this power vacuum we think that the militias could take the place of the army until the army is ready to take on that role again.

NIQASH: Are you cooperating with Iraqi Kurdish forces too? Who do you believe is your best ally in this fight against the IS group?

Al-Khazali: There is no coordination with the Kurds because they do not fight the IS group except on the land they believe is a part of [their region] Iraqi Kurdistan. The best allies for the militias are the Iraqi army and the local tribes.

NIQASH: One of the main criticisms of the militias is that they are undisciplined and that they have committed various violations and crimes after fighting the IS group. These violations have caused resentment in the Sunni areas where the militias are fighting. What are your thoughts on this? And if you did discover violations, will you hold the perpetrators responsible?

Al-Khazali: Every army in the world makes mistakes and some of its members commit violations. But we shouldn’t generalize and say that all soldiers are violators. The same holds true for the militias.

We don’t deny that there have been mistakes and violations. But these happen on an individual level. We believe that such violations should be identified and they should be dealt with according to the Iraqi law and Iraqi judiciary.

That is why we have created a joint operations room, together with the Iraqi army, to follow up on violations and to bring any criminals to justice. We have also managed to take control of this problem and restrict some of the behaviours that have been criticised, which is creating more trust between us and those in the liberated provinces.

That is also why more than 17,000 Sunni Muslims have joined the militias. For the same reason, tribal leaders in the areas [where we are fighting the IS group] have also asked us if they can participate in battles and they have welcomed us.


Israel: Surge in Unlawful Palestinian Home Demolitions: 126 in West Bank Left Homeless

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 11:15pm

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Jerusalem) – The Israeli military unlawfully demolished at least 39 structures in Bedouin Palestinian communities in the West Bank on August 17 and 18, 2015. The demolitions left 126 people homeless, 80 of them children. Four of the communities where the demolitions took place are targeted by an Israeli government plan to forcibly “relocate” 7,000 Bedouin.

Such destruction of private Palestinian property and the forcible transfer of Palestinians violate Israel’s human rights obligations and the laws of occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from destroying private property or forcibly transferring the protected population unless strictly necessary for military reasons. Israel does not claim the demolitions or planned relocations are justified for military reasons.

“This escalation of these unlawful Israeli demolitions comes at a time when the situation in Palestine is under the International Criminal Court’s scrutiny,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel. “The ICC prosecutor should look carefully at these demolitions as part of her preliminary examination into serious crimes committed in or from Palestine.”

The August 17 demolition of the homes in the four Bedouin communities, which are located in or around an area called E-1, left 78 people homeless. This is the largest number of Palestinians displaced in a single day in more than three years, according to United Nations officials. E-1 lies between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, which like all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international humanitarian law. The four communities are among 46 Bedouin communities across Area C, the area of the West Bank under full Israeli control, that Israel plans to relocate to three other sites in the West Bank. On August 18, the Israeli military demolished homes in the Jordan Valley village of Fusa’il, leaving another 48 people homeless, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Israel justifies these demolitions on the grounds that the structures lack Israeli-issued building permits. However, the Civil Administration, the unit in the Israeli military responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, routinely rejects virtually all Palestinian requests for such permits, usually on the basis that these areas have not been zoned for construction. Israel has zoned less than 1 percent of Area C for Palestinian construction. In contrast, Israel has approved master plans for Jewish settlements covering 26 percent of Area C. According to information the Civil Administration provided to the World Bank, between 2000 and 2012 Israel rejected more than 94 percent of Palestinian construction permit requests.

Human Rights Watch has documented how the cumulative impact of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian construction and related demolitions, along with other restrictive policies, have resulted in the forcible transfer of Palestinians. Palestinians who are unable to build homes are compelled to move to areas of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control or to emigrate from Palestine altogether. The August 17 and 18 demolitions in the very communities Israel has earmarked for “relocation” suggests a close relationship between Israel’s zoning, construction, and demolition policies and the forcible transfer of Palestinians, Human Rights Watch said.

Israel carried out the most recent demolitions despite concerted international pressure to keep it from carrying out demolition orders against the entire village of Susiya, in the southern West Bank. So far those demolitions have not occurred.

The ICC statute classifies as a war crime an occupying power’s transfer of its own civilians “directly or indirectly” into territory it occupies. The deportation or transfer of people in the occupied territory from their homes to other locations within or outside this territory is also a war crime under the ICC statute. Since the beginning of 2011, Israeli demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have left more than 4,652 Palestinians homeless, including 1,103 in 2013 and 1,215 in 2014.

“International pressure may have so far saved Susiya, but it hasn’t saved the hundred-plus Palestinians elsewhere in the West Bank from demolition of their homes,” Jarrah said. “The lack of redress for clearly unlawful acts is why the ICC’s current examination is so crucial.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Israeli bulldozers demolish 12 Palestinian homes in Jordan Valley”

They’re Baaack! Neoconservatives, Netanyahu, and the GOP set up US-Iran War of 2017

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 11:34pm

By David Bromwich | ( )

“We’re going to push and push until some larger force makes us stop.”

David Addington, the legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, made that declaration to Jack Goldsmith of the Office of Legal Counsel in the months after September 11, 2001. Goldsmith would later recall that Cheney and Addington were the first people he had ever met of a certain kind: “Cheney is not subtle, and he has never hidden the ball. The amazing thing is that he does what he says. Relentlessness is a quality I saw in him and Addington that I never saw before in my life.”

Goldsmith did not consider himself an adversary of Cheney and Addington. He probably shared many of their political views. What shocked him was their confidence in a set of secret laws and violent policies that could destroy innocent lives and warp the Constitution. The neoconservatives — the opinion-makers and legislative pedagogues who since 2001 have justified the Cheney-Bush policies — fit the same description. They are relentless, they push until they are stopped, and thus far they have never been stopped for long.

The campaign for the Iraq war of 2003, the purest example of their handiwork, began with a strategy memorandum in 1996, so it is fair to say that they have been pitching to break up the Middle East for a full two decades. But fortune played them a nasty trick with the signing of the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran. War and the prospect of war have been the source of their undeniable importance. If the Iran nuclear deal attains legitimacy, much of their power will slip through their fingers. The imperialist idealism that drives their ventures from day to day will be cheated of the enemy it cannot live without.  

Iran might then become just one more unlucky country — authoritarian and cruelly oppressive but an object of persuasion and not the focus of a never-ending threat of force. The neoconservatives are enraged and their response has been feverish: if they were an individual, you would say that he was a danger to himself and others. They still get plenty of attention and airtime, but the main difference between 2003 and 2015 is the absence of a president who obeys them — something that has only served to sharpen their anger.

President Obama defended the nuclear deal vigorously in a recent speech at American University. This was the first such extended explanation of a foreign policy decision in his presidency, and it lacked even an ounce of inspirational fluff.  It was, in fact, the first of his utterances not likely to be remembered for its “eloquence,” because it merits the higher praise of good sense. It has been predictably denounced in some quarters as stiff, unkind, ungenerous, and “over the top.”   

Obama began by speaking of the ideology that incited and justified the Iraq War of 2003. He called it a “mindset,” and the word was appropriate — suggesting a pair of earphones around a head that prevents us from hearing any penetrating noise from the external world. Starting in the summer of 2002, Americans heard a voice that said: Bomb, invade, occupy Iraq! And do the same to other countries! For the sake of our sanity, Obama explained, we had to take off those earphones:

“We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place.  It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy; a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus; a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.  Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history.  And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak — even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.” 

In this precise catalogue of mental traits, Obama was careful to name no names, but he made it easy to construct a key:

A mindset characterized by a preference for military action: President George W. Bush ordering the U.N. nuclear inspectors out of Iraq (though they had asked to stay and complete their work) because there was a pressing need to bomb in March 2003;

A mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissing the skeptical challenge and eventual non-participation of France and Germany as proof of the irrelevance of “old Europe”;

A mindset that exaggerated threats: the barely vetted New York Times stories by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, which an administration bent on war first molded and then cited on TV news shows as evidence to justify preventive war;

Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pooh-poohing the estimate by Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki that it would take 400,000 troops to maintain order in Iraq after the war;

Insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history: the bromides of Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on the indwelling Arab spirit that yearns for American-style democracy across the Middle East.

Obama went on to assert that there was a continuity of persons as well as ideas between the propagandists who told us to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq in 2003 and those now spending tens of millions of dollars to ensure that Congress will abort the nuclear deal. “The same mindset,” the president remarked, “in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States, than anything we have done in the decades before or since.”

Those people have never recognized that they were wrong. Some put the blame on President Bush or his viceroy in Baghdad, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer, for mismanaging the occupation that followed the invasion; others continue to nurse the fantastic theory that Saddam Hussein really was in possession of nuclear weapons but somehow smuggled them across the border to Syria and fooled both U.S. reconnaissance teams and the U.N. inspectors; still others maintain that Shiite militias and weaponry dispatched to Iraq from Iran were the chief culprits in the disaster of the postwar insurgency.

Bear in mind that these opinion-makers, in 2003, hardly understood the difference between Shiite and Sunni in the country they wanted to invade. To put the blame now on Iran betrays a genius for circular reasoning. Since all Shia militias are allied by religion with Iran, it can be argued that Iraq was not destroyed by a catastrophic war of choice whose effects set the region on fire. No: the United States under Bush and Cheney was an unpresuming superpower doing its proper work, bringing peace and democracy to one of the dark places of the earth by means of a clean, fast, “surgical” war. In 2004 and 2005, just as in 2015, it was Iran that caused the trouble.

Simple Facts That Are Not Known

Because the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scorned the nuclear deal without any attention to detail, the president felt compelled in his speech to recognize candidly the difference of national interest that exists between Israel and the United States. Though we are allies, he said, we are two different countries, and he left his listeners to draw the necessary inference: it is not possible for two countries (any more than two persons) to be at once different and the same.  Obama went on to connect the nations in question to this premise of international politics:

“I believe [the terms of the agreement] are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest.  And as president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”

The last affirmation is critical. A president takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States” — that is, to attend to the interest of his own country and not another.

The danger of playing favorites in the world of nations, with a partiality that knows no limits, was a main topic of George Washington’s great Farewell Address. “Permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded,” said Washington, because

“a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

There are Americans today who submit to a ruling passion that favors uniquely the interests of Israel, and the president had them in mind when he invoked his duties under the Constitution toward the only country whose framework of laws and institutions he had sworn to uphold. Genuine respect for another democracy formed part of his thinking here. Not only was Obama not elected to support Netanyahu’s idea of America’s interest, he was also not elected by Israelis to support his own idea of Israel’s interest.  

In a recent commentary in Foreign Affairs, the prominent Israeli journalist and former government adviser Daniel Levy pointed out a fact that is not much remembered today regarding Netanyahu’s continuous effort to sabotage negotiations with Iran. It was the Israeli prime minister who initially demanded that nuclear negotiations be pursued on a separate track from any agreement about the trade or sale of conventional weapons. He chose that path because he was certain it would cause negotiations to collapse. The gambit having failed, he now makes the lifting of sanctions on conventional weaponry a significant objection to the “bad deal” in Vienna.  

Obama concluded his argument by saying that “alternatives to military action will have been exhausted if we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports. So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.” A measured statement and demonstrably true.

But you would never come within hailing distance of this truth if you listened to the numbers of Congressional Republicans who repeat the neoconservative watchwords and their accompanying digests of the recent history of the Middle East. They run through recitations of the dramatis personae of the war on terror with the alacrity of trained seals. Israel lives in a “dangerous neighborhood.” Islamists are “knocking on our door” and “looking for gaps in the border with Mexico.” Iran is “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” Barack Obama is “an appeaser” and “it’s five minutes to midnight in Munich.” Elected officials who walk on two legs in the twenty-first century are not embarrassed to say these things without the slightest idea of their provenance.

If there was a fault in the president’s explanation of his policy, it lay in some things he omitted to say. When you are educating a people who have been proselytized, as Americans have been, by a political cult for the better part of two decades, nothing should be taken for granted. Most Americans do not know that the fanatical Islamists, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, the Islamic State (IS) — the active and destructive revolutionary force in the greater Middle East at the moment — are called Sunni Muslims. Nor do they know that the Shia Muslims who govern Iran and who support the government of Syria have never attacked the United States.

To say it as simply as it should be said: the Shiites and Sunnis are different sects, and the Shiites of Iran are fighting against the same enemies the U.S. is fighting in Syria and elsewhere. Again, most Americans who get their information from miscellaneous online scraps have no idea that exclusively Sunni fanatics made up the force of hijackers who struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They would be surprised to learn that none of these people came from Iraq or Iran. They do not know that 15 of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia — a supposed ally of the United States. And they do not know that the Islamist warriors who brought chaos and destruction to Syria and Iraq are bankrolled in part by members of the Saudi and Qatari elite who have nothing to do with Iran. It has never been emphasized — it is scarcely written in a way that might be noticeable even in our newspaper of record — that Iran itself has carried the heaviest burden of the fight against IS.

Throughout his presidency, when speaking of Iran, Obama has mixed every expression of hope for improved relations with a measure of opprobrium. He has treated Iran as an exceptional offender against the laws of nations, a country that requires attention only in the cause of disarmament. He does this to assure the policy elite that he respects and can hum the familiar tunes. But this subservience to cliché is timid, unrealistic, and pragmatically ill advised. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did not denounce the Soviet Union when they took that country’s dictator, Joseph Stalin, as a partner in war in 1941, though Stalin’s crimes exceeded anything attributable to the Iranian mullahs. Ritual denunciation of a necessary ally is a transparent absurdity. And in a democracy, it prevents ordinary people from arriving at an understanding of what is happening.

Nuclear Deals and Their Critics, Then and Now

What are the odds that the neoconservatives and the Republicans whose policy they manage will succeed in aborting the P5+1 nuclear deal? One can take some encouragement from the last comparably ambitious effort at rapprochement with an enemy: the conversations between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Washington, and Moscow in 1986, 1987, and 1988. At the same time, one ought to be forewarned by the way that unexpected change of course was greeted. The neoconservative cult was just forming then.  Some of its early leaders like Richard Perle had positions in the Reagan administration, and they were unanimously hostile to the talks that would yield the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) of 1988. The agreement set out the terms for the destruction of 2,611 missiles, capable of delivering 4,000 warheads — the biggest step in lowering the risk of nuclear war since the Test Ban Treaty championed by President Kennedy and passed in late 1963.

But as James Mann recounted in The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan a narrative of the anticommunist president’s surprising late turn in foreign policy — all of Reagan’s diplomatic efforts were deeply disapproved at the time, not only by the neoconservative hotheads but by those masters of the “diplomatic breakthrough,” former President Richard Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; by the most widely quoted columnists of the right, George Will and William Safire; and by Time magazine, which ran a story titled “Has Reagan Gone Soft?” The Reagan-Gorbachev talks were looked upon with suspicion, too, by “realists” and “moderates” of the political and security establishment, including Robert Gates and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Why Gates? Because he was deputy director of the CIA and the Agency was thoroughly convinced that Soviet Russia and its leadership could never change. Why Bush? Because he was already running for president.

The political and media establishment of that moment was startled by the change that President Reagan first signaled in 1986, as startled as today’s establishment has been by the signing of the P5+1 agreement. This was the same Ronald Reagan who in 1983 had called the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” At the end of his visit to Moscow in June 1988, Reagan was asked by the ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson, “Do you still think you’re in an evil empire, Mr. President?”

“No,” Reagan replied. “I was talking about another time and another era.” And he stuck to that answer at a press conference the next day, adding: “I think that a great deal of [the change] is due to the General Secretary, who I have found different than previous Soviet leaders… A large part of it is Mr. Gorbachev as a leader.”

By 1987, Reagan’s popularity had hit a low of 47% — largely because of the Iran-Contra scandal — but he still retained his reputation as the most irreproachable defender of the West against world communism. Obama for his part has done everything he could — short of emulating the invade-and-occupy strategy of Bush — to maintain U.S. force projection in the Middle East in a manner to which Washington has become accustomed since 9/11. He doubtless believes in this policy, and he has surrounded himself with adepts of “humanitarian war”; but he clearly also calculated that a generous ration of conformity would protect him when he tried for his own breakthrough in negotiations with Iran.

In the end, Reagan got a 93-5 vote in the Senate for his nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union. Obama is hoping for much less — a vote of less than two thirds of that body opposed to the Iran settlement.  But he is confronted by the full-scale hostility of a Republican party with a new character and with financial backing of a new kind.

The U.S. military and security establishment has sided with the president. And though the fact is little known here, so have the vast majority of Israelis who can speak with any authority on issues of defense and security. Even the president of Israel, Reuben Rivlin, has signaled his belief that Netanyahu’s interventions in American politics are wrong. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has advised that, however reluctantly, Israel should accept the nuclear agreement and forge an understanding with the U.S. about what to do in case of its violation. To this remarkable consensus should be added the public letter — signed by 29 American scientists, many of them deeply involved in nuclear issues, including six recipients of the Nobel Prize — which vouches for the stringency of the agreement and praises the “unprecedented” rigor of the 24-day cap on Iranian delays for site inspection: an interval so short (as no one knows better than these scientists) that successful concealment of traces of nuclear activity becomes impossible.

Two other public letters supporting the nuclear deal have been notable.  The first was signed by former U.S. diplomats endorsing the agreement unambiguously, among them Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq after 2003; Nicholas Burns, who negotiated with Iran for the younger Bush; and Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served under both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. A further letter carried the personal and institutional authority of dozens of retired admirals and generals. So close an approach to unanimity on the benefits of an agreement among the U.S. military, diplomatic, and scientific communities has seldom been achieved. Even President Reagan could not claim this degree of support by qualified judges when he submitted the INF treaty to the Senate.

Such endorsements ought to represent a substantial cause for hope. But Obama’s supporters would be hard pressed to call the contest a draw on television and radio. The neoconservatives — and the Republicans channeling them — are once again working with boundless energy.  Careers are being built on this fight, as in the case of Senator Tom Cotton, and more than one presidential candidacy has been staked on it.

On the day of Obama’s speech, even a relatively informed talk show host like Charlie Rose allowed his coverage to slant sharply against the agreement. His four guests were the Haaretz reporter Chemi Shalev; the Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter; the former State Department official and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass; and the neoconservative venture capitalist, Mark Dubowitz, who has come to be treated as an expert on the nuclear policies and government of Iran. 

Haass, passionately opposed to the agreement, said that the president’s speech had been “way over the top,” and hoped Congress would correct its “clear flaws.” Shalev rated the speech honest and “bracing” but thought it would leave many in the Jewish community “offended.” Dubowitz spoke of Iran as a perfidious nation that ought to be subjected to relentless and ever-increasing penalties. His solution: “empower the next president to go back and renegotiate.” Jonathan Alter alone defended the agreement.

Planning to Attack Iran, 2002-2015

By now, the active participants in mainstream commentary on the War on Terror all have a history, and one can learn a good deal by looking back. Haass, for example, a pillar of the foreign policy establishment, worked in the State Department under Bush and Cheney and made no public objection to the Iraq War. Dubowitz has recently co-authored several articles with Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading propagandist for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In a characteristic piece in the Wall Street Journal last November, Gerecht and Dubowitz argued that the P5+1 negotiations opened a path to a nuclear bomb for Iran. President Obama, they said, was too weak and trapped by his own errors to explore any alternatives, but there were three “scenarios” that a wiser and stronger president might consider. First, “the White House could give up on diplomacy and preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear sites”; second, “the administration could give up on the current talks and default back to sanctions”; third, “new, even more biting sanctions could be enacted, causing Tehran considerable pain.” The range of advisable policy, for Gerecht and Dubowitz, begins with “crippling sanctions” and ends with a war of aggression.

These scenarios typify the neoconservative “options.” Writing on his own in the Atlantic in June 2013, Dubowitz informed American readers that there was nothing to celebrate in the Iranian presidential election that brought to power the apparently rational and moderate Hassan Rouhani. “A loyalist of Iran’s supreme leader and a master of nuclear deceit,” Rouhani, as interpreted by Dubowitz, is a false friend whose new authority “doesn’t get us any closer to stopping Iran’s nuclear drive.”

Consider Gerecht in his solo flights and you can see what made the president say that these are the people who gave us the Iraq War. They were as sure then about the good that would follow the bombing and invasion of that country as they are now about the benefits of attacking Iran. Indeed, Gerecht has the distinction of having called for an attack on Iran even before the official launch of the Bush strategy on Iraq.

It is said that Dick Cheney’s August 26, 2002, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars marked the first formal description of the War on Terror offered by a U.S. leader to American citizens. But Gerecht, a former CIA specialist on the Middle East, stole a march on the vice president.  In the Weekly Standard of August 6, 2002, under the title “Regime Change in Iran?,” he declared his belief that President Bush was the possessor of a “revolutionary edge and appeal… in the Middle East.” The younger Bush had

“sliced across national borders and civilizational divides with an unqualified assertion of a moral norm. The president declared, ‘The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world.’ America will stand ‘alongside people everywhere determined to build a world of freedom, dignity, and tolerance.’”

The analyst Gerecht took up where the evangelist Bush left off: the relevant country to attack in August 2002 — on behalf of its people of course — was Iran. Gerecht had no doubt that

“the Iranian people overwhelmingly view clerical rule as fundamentally illegitimate. The heavily Westernized clerics of Iran’s religious establishment — and these mullahs are on both sides of the so-called ‘moderate-conservative’ split — know perfectly well that the Persian word azadi, ‘freedom,’ is perhaps the most evocative word in the language now… Azadi has also become indissolubly associated with the United States.”

This was the way the neoconservatives were already writing and thinking back in August 2002. It is hard to know which is more astounding, the show of philological virtuosity or the self-assurance regarding the advisability of war against a nation of 70 million.

General prognostications, however, are never enough for the neoconservatives, and Gerecht in 2002 enumerated the specific benefits of disorder in Iraq and Iran:

“An American invasion [of Iraq] could possibly provoke riots in Iran — simultaneous uprisings in major cities that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal specialized riot-control units. The army or the Revolutionary Guard Corps would have to be pulled into service in large numbers, and that’s when things could get interesting.”

That was how he had it scored. Bush, the voice of freedom, would be adored as a benevolent emperor at a distance:

“President Bush, of course, doesn’t need National Iranian Television broadcasts to beam his message into the Islamic Republic. Everything he says moves at light speed through the country. The president just needs to keep talking about freedom being the birthright of Muslim peoples.”

Such was the neoconservative recipe for democracy in the Middle East: beam the words of George W. Bush to people everywhere, invade Iraq, and spark a democratic uprising in Iran (assisted if necessary by U.S. bombs and soldiers).

For a final glimpse of the same “mindset,” look closely at Gerecht’s advice on Syria in June 2014. Writing again in the Weekly Standard, he deprecated the very idea of getting help from Iran in the fight against the Islamic State. “The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Enemy” declares the title of the piece, and the article makes the same point with a minimal reliance on facts. Sunni terrorists are portrayed as impetuous youngsters who naturally go too far, but it is too early to gauge their trajectory: the changes they bring may not ultimately be uncongenial to American interest. The Shiite masterminds of Iran, on the other hand, have long ago attained full maturity and will never change. Gerecht’s hope, last summer, was that substantial Iranian casualties in a war against IS would lead to the spontaneous uprising that failed to materialize in 2003.

“It is possible that the present Sunni-Shiite conflict could, if the Iranian body count rises and too much national treasure is spent, produce shock waves that fundamentally weaken the clerical regime… Things could get violent inside the Islamic Republic.”

The vision underlying this policy amounts to selective or strategic tolerance of al-Qaeda and IS for the sake of destroying Iran. 

Will the War on Terror Be Debated?

How can such opinions be contested in American politics? The answer will have to come from what remains of the potential opposition party in the war on terror. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut has been a remarkable exception, but for the most part the Democrats are preoccupied with domestic policy. If almost two-thirds of Congress today is poised to vote against the Iran settlement, this embarrassment is the result of years of systematic neglect. Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden, Tammy Baldwin, and a few others have the talent to lead an opposition to a pursuit of the war on terror on the neoconservative plan, but to have any effect they would have to speak up regularly on foreign policy.  

Meanwhile, the Republican Party and its billionaire bankrollers are playing the long game on Iran. They would like to gain the two-thirds majority to override Obama’s veto of a Congressional vote against the nuclear agreement, but they do not really expect that to happen. The survival of any agreement, however, depends not only on its approval but on its legitimation.  Their hope is to depress public support for the P5+1 deal so much that the next president and members of the next Congress would require extraordinary courage to persist with American participation.

In the Foreign Affairs column mentioned earlier, Daniel Levy concluded that the long game is also Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy:

”Netanyahu is going for a twofer — if he loses on the veto-proof super majority in Congress, he can still succeed in keeping the Iran deal politically controversial and fragile and prevent any further détente with Iran. The hope, in this case, is that the next U.S. administration can resume the status quo ante in January 2017.”

What we are seeing, then, is not simply a concentrated effort that will end with the vote by the Senate in September on the P5+1 nuclear deal. It is the earliest phase of a lobbying campaign intended to usher in a Republican president of appropriate views in January 2017.

One may recognize that the money is there for such a long-term drive and yet still wonder at the virulence of the campaign to destroy Iran. What exactly allows the war party to keep on as they do? Within Israel, the cause is a political theology that obliges its believers to fight preemptive wars without any end in sight in order to guard against enemies who have opposed the existence of the Jewish state ever since its creation. This is a defensive fear that responds to an irrefutable historical reality. The neoconservatives and the better informed among their Republican followers are harder to grasp — harder anyway until you realize that, for them, we are Rome and the Republican Party is the cradle of future American emperors, praetors, and proconsuls.

“Ideology,” as the political essayist and Czech dissident Vaclav Havel once wrote, is “the bridge of excuses” a government offers to the people it rules. Between 2001 and 2009, the U.S. government was run by neoconservatives; they had a fair shot and the public judgment went against them; but in a climate of resurgent confusion about the Middle East, they have come a long way toward rebuilding their bridge. They are zealots but also prudent careerists, and the combination of money and revived propaganda may succeed in blurring many unhappy memories. Nor can they be accused of insincerity. When a theorist at a neoconservative think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies or the American Enterprise Institute, affirms that democracy is what the Iranian people will have as soon as the U.S. cripples the resources of that country, he surely believes what he is saying. The projection seems as true to them now as it was in 2002, 2007, and 2010, as true as it will be in 2017 when a new president, preferably another young man of “spirit” like George W. Bush, succeeds the weak and deplorable Barack Obama. For such people, the battle is never over, and there is always another war ahead. They will push until they are stopped.

David Bromwich, a TomDispatch regular, teaches literature at Yale University and is the author of Moral Imagination.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 David Bromwich



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now!” “”The Danger of a Failed Iran Deal”: Could GOP Rejection of Nuke Pact Lead to War?”

ISIS Desecrates, Razes Ancient Christian Monastery in Syria

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 11:32pm

Iraq-Syria News | (Video News Report) | – –

“Yet again, ISIS violated the sanctity of Christianity in the Middle East and in Syria in particular. This time, the target was the Monastery of Mar Elian [St. Julian of the East] in the town of Qaryatain, 68 miles northeast of Damascus. ISIS posted photos on social media networking sites showing the desecration of the monastery, exhuming the remains of Saint Elian who was killed by Roman soldiers in 285 A.D. Other photos show ISIS militants adulterating this holy place as bulldozers were demolishing the compound.

Church sources in Hasaka, 326 miles northeast of Damascus, were quoted as saying that 60 Christians including women and children were abducted by ISIS militants when they seized the town of Qaryatain on August 6, 2015.”

Iraq-Syria News: “ISIS Desecrates Then Demolishes an Ancient Monastery in Syria”

The Dayr Elian archeology project has a web site with an overview and gallery. It says,

“Dayr Mar Elian esh Sharqi (the monastery of St. Julian of the East) is located to the west of the village of Qaryatayn in the Syrian desert between Homs and Palmyra. As an oasis settlement Qaryatayn has been inhabited for many millennia, as illustrated by the substantial tell south of the modern village. It is on the Damascus-Palmyra trade route on a Roman limes and so housed a garrison of soldiers to safely escort visitors across the desert – a practice that was continued until the end of the nineteenth century.”

NOAA: July 2015 was most Torrid Month on Record, caused by burning Fossil Fuels

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 11:20pm

IBTimes UK | (Video News Report) | – –

IBTimes UK: “Global warming: July 2015 was the hottest month ever recorded”


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports:

“The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°F (0.08°C).
Separately, the July globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.73°F (0.96°C) above the 20th century average. This was the sixth highest for July in the 1880–2015 record.

The July globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest temperature for any month in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in July 2014 by 0.13°F (0.07°C). The global value was driven by record warmth across large expanses of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The average Arctic sea ice extent for July was 350,000 square miles (9.5 percent) below the 1981–2010 average. This was the eighth smallest July extent since records began in 1979 and largest since 2009, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center using data from NOAA and NASA.

Antarctic sea ice during July was 240,000 square miles (3.8 percent) above the 1981–2010 average. This was the fourth largest July Antarctic sea ice extent on record and 140,000 square miles smaller than the record-large July extent of 2014.”

Israel’s Illegal blockade of Gaza based on “made-up laws”; resistance outlawed

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 11:20pm

By Azeezah Kanji | (OpenDemocracy) | – –

Israel invokes the privileges of engaging in international armed conflict but denies Palestinians their corresponding entitlements under the same body of law. This is the colonial nature of Israel’s legal logic.

One year after the onslaught of violence Israel called “Operation Protective Edge,” Gaza is still in ruins. Infrastructure, homes, and psyches destroyed by the assault remain shattered; according to Oxfam International, it could take more than 100 years to rebuild Gaza’s housing, education, and health infrastructure at the current rate of reconstruction. This state of unrepaired—irreparable—destruction testifies to the suffocating, stultifying effect of Israel’s siege of Gaza. In 2007, Israel imposed a policy of land closure on the Gaza Strip, severely restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory as a punishment for Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory. A naval blockade followed in 2009, tightening the vice on the besieged population.

Under the land-and-sea blockade, Israel has deprived the population of food, medical supplies, and building equipment—not to mention a long, sundry list of other basics items (light bulbs and baby formula, mattresses and blankets, shampoo and conditioner). The naval blockade is Israel’s legal justification for the interception of successive Freedom Flotillas carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza: interceptions which would otherwise contravene the freedom of the high seas in international law.

Legal experts have decried the unlawfulness of Israel’s blockade under international humanitarian law (the technical term for the laws of war): because it violates the restriction on blockades with the purpose or effect of civilian starvation; because it violates the prohibition on collective punishment of civilian populations during war; because it violates Israel’s obligation as an occupying power to ensure adequate supply of food and medicine to the occupied. (Israel denies that it occupies Gaza, because it formally withdrew from the territory in 2005. However, due to Israel’s continued exertion of multiple forms of power in the Gaza Strip—including control of the territory’s land crossings, territorial waters, airspace, telecommunications, and electricity; deployment of military incursions, rocket attacks, and sonic booms; management of the Palestinian Population Registry; and regular exercise of its capacity to invade Gaza, and arrest and prosecute its residents—multiple authorities have concluded that Gaza is still occupied.)

But beyond the question of legality or illegality, Israel’s appeal to international law to justify the naval blockade disturbingly, but tellingly, resembles European colonial powers’ use of international law in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: to legitimise the violence of the colonisers, and delegitimise the resistance of the colonised. In its profound asymmetry, Israel’s approach to this somewhat obscure, technical legal question illuminates something of its colonial logic.

Israel: having its legal cake and eating it

Israeli government officials claim that the sea blockade is in compliance with international law, insisting that a sea blockade is an accepted means of warfare according to the laws of armed conflict. However, international law only permits naval blockades in the context of international armed conflict, a special legal category of conflict that imposes a framework of reciprocal rights and obligations on warring parties. Under the law of international armed conflict, fighters on both sides are recognised as privileged combatants: they can legally kill opposing combatants, and can be targeted for attack; they are entitled to be treated as prisoners of war (not insurgents or criminals) if captured. And territories and populations occupied in international armed conflicts are shielded by the relatively robust rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention: occupying powers must treat the occupied civilian population humanely, and protect it from violence; occupiers can only use force necessary for maintaining law and order; and they must guarantee that occupied territories are provided with food and medical supplies.

But Israel categorically refuses Palestinians the status of legitimate combatants. Instead, Palestinian fighters are treated as “unlawful combatants”: a concocted legal category of individuals who may be targeted for assassination, but enjoy none of the rights of lawful combatants. For example, unlike lawful combatants, Palestinian “unlawful combatants” can be criminally prosecuted, and administratively detained indefinitely. And Israel has constructed this category broadly to include all active members of “terrorist organisations” (with “terrorist organisations” also defined expansively), ensnaring those who would normally be protected in international law as civilians. In international humanitarian law there are combatants—who may kill and be killed—and civilians—who may not kill and may not be targeted for killing (unless they are “directly participating in hostilities”).

To exercise right without restriction: this is the fundamental asymmetry of Israel’s colonial legal logic.

In Gaza, for Israel, there are only “terrorists”—who may be killed but may never kill, who may be subject to seemingly unlimited death and destruction but may not legally use force themselves.

And Israel disavows its obligations as an occupying power, insisting that Gaza is not occupied. Instead, Israel has labelled Gaza a non-sovereign “hostile territory”: another concocted legal category, which Israel deploys to exercise the effective control of an occupier, without the accompanying legal responsibilities or restraints. The denial of occupation enables Israel to employ massive amounts of military force in Gaza—a prerogative unavailable to occupiers, who are obligated to safeguard the welfare of occupied populations.

At the same time, Israel and its apologists use the denial of Palestinian sovereignty to delegitimise Palestinian force as non-state terrorism. The “hostile territory” and its occupants are accorded neither the powers and rights of the sovereign, nor the protections and rights of the occupied. Rather, they are expelled to a space of exception, as Lisa Hajjar and Mark LeVine write, “outside the reach of IHL [international humanitarian law] and thus open to any and all policies Israel may choose to impose, without fear of violating—at least according to Israel’s interpretations—international human rights and humanitarian norms”.

While Israel invokes the privileges of engaging in international armed conflict, such as imposition of a blockade, it denies Palestinians their corresponding entitlements under the same body of law. To exercise right without restriction, and to execute violence without vulnerability: this is the fundamental asymmetry of Israel’s colonial legal logic.

The colonial past, present, and future

Israel justifies its exceptional interpretation of international law by proclaiming that the situation in Gaza is sui generis: unique and unprecedented. However, as legal scholar Obiora Okafor warns, declarations of newness often disguise continuities with the imperial past. Israel’s interpretation of the laws of war resurrects the reasoning of European colonial powers, which used international law as an instrument to subjugate colonised peoples.

As our contemporary laws of war developed in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonisers denigrated the colonised as “savages” and “barbarians” to justify their ejection from the ambit of law. While the laws of war were applied to limit violence in conflicts between “civilised,” sovereign European states, and to protect occupied European populations, they were held inapplicable to wars against “uncivilised,” non-sovereign colonised subjects.

“The rules of International Law apply only to warfare between civilised nations, where both parties understand them and are prepared to carry them out,” the British military manual of 1907 stated. “They do not apply in wars with uncivilised States and tribes, where their place is taken by the discretion of the commander.” For as US Army lawyer Captain Elbridge Colby explained in a piece titled ‘How to Fight Savage Tribes,’ defending the bombing of Damascus by the French in 1925:

“It should be [a] clear understanding that this is a different kind of war, this which is waged by native tribes, that that which might be waged between advanced nations of western culture. Ferocity and ruthlessness are not essential; but it is essential to recognise the different character of the people”.

The war against “savage tribes” had to be total war: war in which the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, permissible weapons and impermissible weapons, were dissolved. Unrestricted colonial violence was legitimated, while the violence of the “unicivilised” colonised in response to the colonial assault was rendered illegitimate. The colonised were subject to war, but not entitled to make war; subject to aggression, but not entitled to respond with force.

Unlike colonisers of previous centuries, Israel claims to apply international humanitarian law in its exercises of colonial violence. But Israel’s invocation of law only serves to place Palestinians outside its protection. From “savages” to “unlawful combatants,” from “barbarians” to “terrorists,” from “colony” to “hostile territory”—these are the spaces of exception reserved for those represented as non-sovereign and less human. The names on the map may have changed, but the colonial legal landscape is familiar.

Israel’s legal contortions are not simply violations of international humanitarian law, but an attempt to change it—-to fortify colonial structures of exception and exclusion. In the words of former senior Israeli military lawyer Daniel Reisner, “If you do something long enough, the world will accept it. International law progresses through violations”. Indeed, several of Israel’s legal innovations (or regressions, more accurately) have been adopted by the United States in its imperial “war on terror.” The colonial nature of Israel’s legal logic reflects the colonial nature of its project, and must be resisted as such. 

Via OpenDemocracy


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Amnesty International claims Israeli military committed war crimes during Gaza conflict”

Is Israeli military using Barak in struggle w/ Netanyahu over Iran Deal?

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 11:06pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) – –

The revelations from former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s memoir keep coming. Another excerpt was broadcast by Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday.

Barak gave the interviews as background to his autobiography “Wars (Milhamot) of my Life.”

“Bibi is weak, he doesn’t…he doesn’t want to take tough steps unless he is forced to do so . . . Bibi himself is immersed in a kind of deep pessimism and has a tendency…in the balance between fear and hope, he prefers, generally, to err on the side of fear. He once referred to it as ‘worried . . .”

In an excerpt released Saturday, Barak had said that he and Netanyahu were ready to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities (at Natanz outside Isfahan) on three separate occasions in 2010-2012, but were foiled each time.

In 2010, Israeli chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi stopped them by maintaining that the military did not have the capacity for this mission. (Iran is very distant and Israel’s planes can’t get there and back very easily, nor would they be allowed to fly over Turkey or Iraq, nor would the Iranians take it lying down). In 2011, even other far right wing hard liners on the cabinet voted against. And in 2012, the US launched joint military maneuvers with Israel around the time of the planned attack, which would have made it look as though the US were behind the strike and even Netanyahu and Barak couldn’t risk Washington’s wrath.

Note that strikes on thousands of active centrifuges and stockpiled enriched uranium would have released enormous amounts of radioactive material into the air of Isfahan (pop. nearly 2 million, i.e. nearly the size of Houston, Texas), constituting a de facto dirty-bomb attack on Iran with large loss of life. Some of the radioactive fallout would have come back on Israel itself.

Apparently Barak thought that the interviews would remain background for his book and not be leaked because military censors in Israel would never approve them for publication or broadcast.

But the military censor has twice given Israel 2 radio the go-ahead to broadcast excerpts from the tapes.

While speculation rages in Israel that Barak is trying to undermine his enemies as part of a bid to come back as the head of the Labor Party and make another bid to be prime minister (Ashkenazi is a rival here), and that trash-talking Netanyahu is part of this plan, it seems more likely that he did not expect the interviews to be allowed on the air.

If this interpretation is true, then it is likely that elements in the Israeli military high command ordered the censor to allow the tapes to come out in public, and that it is they who want Netanyahu weakened.

We know that Israeli army chief of staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and many other high officers do not think Iran is the primary security threat to Israel. It is likely that they have been extremely annoyed by Netanyahu’s challenge to the Obama administration in trying to derail the Iran deal on monitoring its nuclear facilities.

The tapes would serve the Israeli military well in any struggle with Netanyahu. First, they underline that a previous chief of staff, Gaby Ashkenazi, had the ability to block the prime minister from a reckless strike on Iran in 2010. Second, Barak’s comments make Netanyahu look like an unstable combination of Hamlet and Napoleon– pessimistic, depressed, timid, and yet capable of erratically deciding to lash out at a country 10 times the size of Israel that has millions of armed allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The airing of the interviews also undermines Barak himself (a fierce opponent of the Iran deal), who is widely considered a wild card in Israeli politics. He looks like a blabbermouth and backstabber. He was never likely to come back to the helm of Labor, but now is even less so.

Netanyahu has been ruthless in pursuit of power. He openly said there would be no Palestinian state in his lifetime, tearing the tattered fig leaf from the US State Department’s standard enabler role for Israeli expansionism in Palestinian territory. He used the army as mafia hit men in Gaza, ordering rules of engagement so loose they were bound to result in high civilian casualties (Eizenkot is known not to have agreed with such an approach in the 2006 Lebanon War). He paraded around Washington boasting of his ability to veto Barack Obama’s Iran negotiations, with an open alliance with the worst elements of the Republican Party. The Israeli security establishment, which is pragmatic and level-headed, must be terrified of him.

Israeli parliamentarians are demanding an inquiry as to how in the world the military censors allowed the Ehud Barak tapes to air. How, indeed.


Related video:

Wochit News: ” Ex-Defense Minister Says Israel Aborted Plan to Strike Iran in 2012 to Prevent U.S. From Being Dragged into war”

Youth Revolts are back– Lebanon, Iraq Shaken by demand for Services, end to Corruption

Sun, 23 Aug 2015 - 1:25am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The master narrative of much Western journalism is that the youth protests of 2011 have been replaced by civil war and terrorism. But while there is plenty of both in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, in fact here and there in the region youth protests have popped up from time to time–in Turkey, Yemen, and now Beirut and Baghdad– where they have shaken up politics. The common denominator is that people are tired of their governments not providing services or working properly. While the US focuses mainly on Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), for many Arab youth it is a symptom of incompetent, corrupt and sectarian government, not a phenomenon in its own right.

In Beirut on Saturday, thousands gathered on at Martyr’s Square and Riyadh Sulh Square, shouting “You stink!” as a way of protesting the paralyzed Lebanese government’s inability to collect the garbage. (Even where trash is removed, it is often dumped in streams or the ocean or illegal landfills, becoming a threat to public health). The crowds also chanted against the “sectarian” character of the government, which has lacked a president for the past year.

The protesters were viciously attacked by security forces using live ammo, batons and military-grade tear gas. Dozens were injured. The Beirut press was shocked at the brutality of the security forces toward the protesters.

Lebanon barely has a government in the way that most people think of a government. American Libertarians would be very happy with it. But most Lebanese want their government actually to provide them with services, including garbage collection. Some of the paralysis comes from Lebanon’s peculiar “confessional” or religious-sectarian from of democracy, in which people are forced to vote on the basis of religious identity. The protesters critiqued this system and its dysfunction.

This weekend in southern, Shiite cities of Iraq, demonstrators also gathered in the thousands. Some of them are protesting the hold that sectarian parties have over the state. Others are protesting unemployment or lack of electricity (it has been scorching hot in Iraq in the past month, and frequent electricity outages have left people without air conditioning, which there is often a matter of life and death.) The Baghdad demonstrations of this movement have forced Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi to attempt to streamline the Rube Goldberg Iraqi government so as to allow him to attempt to address the problems in a systematic way.

The demonstrations have never really gone away, though in some times and places it is very dangerous to protest publicly. The Houthi tribal militia that staged a coup in Yemen from September of last year, for instance, has acted in brutal and high-handed ways that dismayed the youth activists who had gathered in 2011 at Change Square in Sanaa to demand the resignation of then president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last January when the Houthis forced out the elected president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, some 10,000 youth marched in protest in downtown Sanaa. I thought to myself that it was very brave, using urban crowd protests against a tribal militia. The latter was unlikely to listen, but the crowds showed that they could not be cowed.

In Beirut, the protests are having a political effect. If they go on, perhaps the almost fuedal power-wielders will have to engage in some real politics.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “35 injured in Beirut anti-government protest”

Slovakia Will Only Accept Christian Migrants

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 11:35pm

Jo Ankier and Jose Marcelino Orti | (TheLipTV Video News) | – –

“Slovakia announced Thursday that it will only accept Christians when it takes in refugees fleeing conflict in Syria under an EU resettlement plan as Europe deals with an influx of migrants. Muslims would not be accepted because they would not feel at home, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Ivan Netik who denied the move was discriminatory. We look at Slovakia’s exclusive approach to the migrant crisis on the Lip News with Jo Ankier and Jose Marcelino Ortiz.”

TheLipTV: “Slovakia Will Only Accept Christian Migrants”

Israel issues demolition order for mosque in Palestinian East Jerusalem

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 11:29pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli municipality officials delivered a demolition order Friday to the al-Qaaqaa Mosque, a house, and a studio apartment in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, local sources told Ma’an.

Majdi al-Abbasi, from the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, said that Israeli municipality members delivered a demolition order to the al-Qaaqaa mosque in the Ein al-Luza area of the neighborhood.

The mosque, built three years ago, is a 110 square meter space that serves 5,000 worshipers.

Al-Abbasi added that the Israeli municipality also delivered a demolition order to a studio apartment and its facilities. The studio belongs to Iyad al-Abbasi and was built 12 years ago.

A demolition order was also delivered to a home housing six people.

Earlier this week an Israeli court ruled to demolish a football field and its facilities in Silwan, a local committee said.

The ruling includes the demolition of a 1.5 dunam (.4 acre) sports field as well as a neighboring warehouse and animal shed.

Silwan is one of many Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem that is seeing an influx of Israeli settlers at the cost of the demolition of Palestinian homes and eviction of Palestinian families.

Israeli authorities have carried out around 370 demolitions of Palestinian property in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the start of 2015, displacing an estimated 432 residents, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Thousands of Palestinian residents are at risk of losing their homes, as members of the current right-wing Israeli government continue to champion longstanding policies to obtain a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community, and four decades of Israeli policy in the area have neglected the Palestinian community while fostering the growth of Jewish settlement.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ISM Palestine from last spring: “Home demolition in East Jerusalem”

American Heroes on French Train show Courage, not Billions, needed to Face down Terrorism

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 11:16pm

Deutsche Welle | (Video News Report) | – –

“Three Americans are being hailed as heroes, after overpowering a gunman aboard a European high-speed train. Reports say the suspect was armed with an assault rifle and a knife.”

Men who subdued train attacker talk to media | DW News

How Islamic State is moving its Egyptian battle from Sinai to Cairo

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 11:14pm

By Natasha Ezrow | (The Conversation) | – –

Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for a powerful car bomb detonated outside a state security building in northern Cairo which injured 29 people, including six policemen. The Egyptian ministry claimed that: “A man suddenly stopped his car in front of the state security building, jumped out of it and fled on a motorbike that followed the car”.

The car bomb came just days after the Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, approved new counter-terrorism laws which aim to counter the growing jihadist insurgency in Egypt by granting more power to the police, restricting human rights and limiting press freedom.

IS immediately took credit for the attack. In an online message, it said its “soldiers of the caliphate were able to strike the state security building in the area of Shubra al-Kheima with a car full of explosives.”

This attack is an attempt to take the battle to the capital and to pose a more direct threat to the Egyptian security establishment – an effort that so far has been largely confined to the Sinai Peninsula.

On the march

IS’s presence in Egypt has so far been limited to a Sinai-based affiliate group, Sinai Province (SP), which first emerged on the peninsula in 2011 under the name of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem). It changed its name to SP after it pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014.

When SP initially emerged, its main priority was to attack Israel with rockets. But after Muhammad Morsi was ousted from power in 2013 and the police began a massive crackdown on his supporters, the group shifted its focus to Egypt’s security services.

SP retaliated with a series of attacks on the police and assorted high-level assassination attempts. It claimed responsibility for one such attempt on the interior minister, Muhammad Ibrahim, in September 2013. In June 2015, Egypt’s top public prosecutor was killed by a car bomb attack on his convoy, making him the most senior state official to die at the hands of militants since the Morsi government was toppled.

All the while, SP has been growing. No longer a small urban terrorist group, it has morphed into an effective insurgency with about 1,000-1,500 active members. It has access to anti-aircraft surface-to-air guided missiles with which to shoot down helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles, various improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and heavy machine guns, which have been proudly displayed in propaganda videos.

SP aims to take over the Sinai and turn it into part of IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate – and its increasingly complex and sophisticated attacks imply that it is co-ordinating closely with the IS leadership. SP attacks have involved suicide bombers supported by direct and indirect fire – tactics widely used by IS in Syria and Iraq.

Although Egypt has battled Islamic militants for decades, never has a group been able to retain territory or obtain weapons on this scale, nor to use them to such effect. On July 1, SP executed its most sophisticated wave of attacks yet, targeting 15 military and security posts. In the course of this campaign, 300 SP militants briefly occupied the town of Sheikh Zuweid.

Upping the ante

Egypt’s military operations in the Northern Sinai have yet to show much promise. More than 5,000 homes situated along Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip were destroyed to create a buffer zone, but this was interpreted as a collective punishment for families of suspects.

Instead of working with residents who had already been marginalised for years, the military has treated them as potential collaborators with SP, something that has been met with understandable resentment. The upshot is that the military has unintentionally transformed what was once a small and limited security problem into a strong insurgency with close ties to IS.

A few weeks before the attack in Cairo, SP kidnapped and decapitated a Croatian national, Tomislav Salopek, who had been working in Cairo at the time. Salopek was the first Westerner that SP had ever kidnapped from the capital – and, of course, attacks on Westerners generally draw more international attention than attacks on Egyptians.

If IS is redirecting its operations to focus on Cairo it will greatly up the ante. Until now, the majority of SP and IS attacks on Eyptian security forces took place on the coastal road between el-Arish and Rafah in the north-east of the Sinai.

Despite the lack of actual deaths in Thursday’s car bombings (or none that have been reported so far) the attack illustrates that the Egyptian security establishment’s anti-terror strategy desperately needs to be reformed.

Natasha Ezrow is Senior Lecturer at University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Natasha Ezrow is Senior Lecturer at University of Essex

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aljazeera English: “Muzzling the media: Egypt’s new ‘anti-terror’ laws – The Listening Post”

Barak– Netanyahu was on verge of Attacking Iran 3 Times 2010-12 (Why Listening to him on Iran Diplomacy is Daft)

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 1:51am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a radio interview, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was on the verge of attacking Iran on 3 separate occasions in 2010-2012, but was consistently blocked by other (even far right wing) cabinet ministers or by the military chief of staff.

Although Netanyahu consistently depicts Iran as a military aggressor, that country hasn’t attacked another in a conventional war in modern history, whereas Israel has repeatedly launched wars of aggression, including 1956, 1967, 1982, 2009 and 2014. (The 1982 Israeli act of naked aggression on Lebanon eventuated in an 18-year occupation of 10% of Lebanon, during which Lebanese Shiites formed Hizbullah to resist their oppression; Iran’s support for this resistance is typically held against it by the US and Israel as ‘support for terrorism,’ while Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s support for the illegal invasion and occupation are considered perfectly normal.)

Israel has several hundred nuclear warheads, whereas Iran has none, but Iran has been sanctioned for its civilian nuclear enrichment program for generating electricity whereas Israel thumbed its nose at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and kicked off a nuclear arms race with Iraq that led, ironically and through propaganda, to the 2003 US invasion of that country.

The Iran attack plans were previously revealed by former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan, who clearly considers Netanyahu and Barak to have a screw loose and to be terminally flaky. His allegations have been covered by Informed Comment, as below from March:

“Meir Dagan, the former head of Israeli intelligence, has long been on the outs with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Now he is actively campaigning for the Israeli electorate to dump him as prime minister in the upcoming elections. Soon after leaving office four years ago, he broke longstanding protocol to retail the story in public of how he and other security officials vetoed a hare-brained scheme by Netanyahu and former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to attack Iran.

I wrote in June of 2011:

“Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad, whose departure coincided with that of the chief of staff, the head of domestic intelligence, and other key security officials. Dagan, having become a civilian, promptly went public, lambasting Netanyahu for refusing to make peace with the Palestinians while it was still possible.

Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.” He warned that it would provoke another rocket attack on Israel by Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and perhaps by Syria as well– i.e. it could lead to a regional conflagration.

The back story that has emerged in the Israeli press is that Barak, who is a notorious war-monger and adventurist, had gotten Netanyahu’s ear and pressed for a military strike on Iran. Dagan and all the other major security officials stood against this foolhardy plan, and managed to derail it. But Dagan is said to be concerned that virtually all the level heads have gone out of office together, and that Netanyahu and Barak may now be in a position to revive their crazy plan of attacking Iran. Moreover, they may want to attack in September, as a way of creating a crisis that will overshadow Palestinian plans to seek membership in the United Nations.

Dagan and other high Israeli security officials appear to believe that Iran has no present nuclear weapons program. That is what Military Intelligence Director, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, has told the Israeli parliament. Kochavi thinks it unlikely that Iran would start up a military nuclear program.”

Dagan’s beef with Netanyahu is apparently not personal. The prime minister helped the former head of Mossad get a liver transplant. Dagan affirmed, “I have no personal issue with the prime minister, his wife, his spending and the way he conducts himself. I’m talking about the country he leads.”

Netanyahu clearly believes that he can openly side with the Republican Congress against President Barack Obama without facing any consequences at all. Dagan sees a danger that the next time the UN Security Council wants to condemn Israel for violating international law, Obama will decline to use his veto to stop sanctions.

Israel is in violation of large numbers of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its treatment of the stateless Palestinians, the status of Jerusalem, etc. etc. That Iraq was in violation of UNSC violations was given by the Bush administration as a grounds for invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iran’s economy has been deeply harmed and its oil exports cut from 2.5 mn b/day to 1.5 mn b/day as a result of UNSC sanctions, along with those of the US. Israel, in contrast, as been held harmless from Security Council condemnation and sanctions by the US veto, which has been exercised every single time the UNSC tried to condemn or sanction Tel Aviv, regardless of the merits of the case.

I have argued that any US president, including Obama, could have long since resolved the Israel-Palestinian conflict by simply declining to exercise that veto, and allowing the Israelis to be pressured into making peace by the UNSC. I think the PLO would make peace tomorrow if it could get 1967 borders and an end to Israeli land grabs, and that the real obstacle to a settlement is Israeli expansionism, which the US veto de fact encourages.

Israel is also facing significant challenges from the UN in another way. Palestine has been granted non-member observer state status there by the General Assembly. It has signed the treaties and instruments necessary to joining the International Criminal Court and gaining standing to sue Israel over its creeping annexation of Palestinian territory beyond the generally recognized 1949 armistice lines. The Rome Statute of 2002 under which the International Criminal Court operates forbids colonization of other people’s territory, prohibiting

“The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory;”

If Palestine sues in the ICC, it seems to me certain that Israel would lose. The PLO seems increasingly to be moving in this direction.

So Dagan sees a world where Israeli military action like last summer’s attack on Gaza was almost universally condemned; where Palestine may successfully take Israel to the ICC (where the US has no veto), where boycotts of Israel could grow; and where an angry US president might start declining to veto all UNSC resolutions against Israel.

Dagan said in an interview, as reported by The Guardian,

“As someone who has served Israel in various security capacities for 45 years, including during the country’s most difficult hours, I feel that we are now at a critical point regarding our existence and our security.

“Our standing in the world is not brilliant right now. The question of Israel’s legitimacy is up for debate. We should not erode our relations with our most important friend. Certainly not in public, certainly not by becoming involved in its domestic politics. This is not proper behaviour for a prime minister…”

“An Israeli prime minister who clashes with the US administration has to ask himself what the risks are. On the matter of settlements, there is no difference between the two [US] parties. And even so, they provide us with a veto umbrella. In a situation of a confrontation, this umbrella is liable to vanish, and within a short time, Israel could find itself facing international sanctions.

“The risks of such a clash are intolerable. We are already today paying a high price. Some of them I know and cannot elaborate.

“I would not have confronted the United States and its president. Netanyahu may get applause in Congress, but all the power is in the White House. What will Netanyahu gain by addressing Congress? I just don’t understand it. Is his goal to get a standing ovation? This trip to Washington is doomed to failure.”

I think it is undeniable that by making Israel a partisan GOP issue, Netanyahu risks undermining the bipartisan consensus in favor of knee-jerk support of Tel Aviv’s vast land thefts from the Palestinians.

Whether Dagan is exaggerating the risks Netanyahu is taking or not, it is significant that many figures formerly in high positions in the Israeli security sector are openly coming out against Netanyahu, whom they clearly see as unhinged and flaky and a danger to the future of Israel.”


Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Ehud Barak says he, Netanyahu drew up plan to attack Iran in 2011”

Momentum growing for Iran Deal: Obama Wins Over Jewish Democrat Nadler

Sat, 22 Aug 2015 - 12:54am

Wochit News | (video News Report) | – –

“President Barack Obama seeking to reassure a Democratic congressman who represents the most Jewish district in the nation calls the nuclear agreement negotiated with Iran a “very good deal” but pointedly refused to rule out military intervention if Tehran pursues a nuclear weapon. Nadler had been openly skeptical of the deal’s ability to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and concerned about the deal’s effect on the U.S.-Israel relationship, but said Friday morning that Obama’s letter “satisfies a number of those concerns.” Nadler’s release of such correspondence between Capitol Hill and the president is another sign that Obama is staying personally engaged in the congressional tussle over Iran in a manner that diverges from his largely.”

Wochit News: “Obama Wins Over Jewish Democrat Nadler On Iran”


Congressman Jerrold Nadler Statement on the
P5+1 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

This September, we will face one of the most serious global security decisions in our history. It is a decision that I have taken my time to consider, knowing the stakes are too high to allow for anything but clear-headed and thoughtful analysis, with an acute awareness that there are sharply divided opinions and passionate feelings on both sides.

I believe there is one overriding objective against which we must judge the P5+1 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Although we know that Iran will remain a major menace to the region and the world, even without nuclear weapons, a nuclear armed Iran would represent an unacceptable threat to the United States, to Israel, and to global security. With respect to this objective, the interests of the United States and of Israel are identical, even as there are different views on how to achieve it.

I bring to my analysis the full weight of my responsibilities as a member of Congress, and my perspective as an American Jew who is both a Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel. I have sought to ignore the political pressures, as well as the demagoguery and hateful rhetoric on both sides that I think has been harmful to the overall political discourse.

After carefully studying the agreement and the arguments and analyses from all sides, I have concluded that, of all the alternatives, approval of the JCPOA, for all its flaws, gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Accordingly, I will support the agreement and vote against a Resolution of Disapproval.

I am satisfied that the JCPOA components, including its inspections and verification provisions, are sufficient and are not based on trusting Iranian compliance. While I am concerned that many of the key elements expire in the 10–15 year timeframe, our debate must center on whether the deal is preferable to the available alternatives. The only decision that matters at this moment is whether to support or reject the agreement that is on the table now, not on whether we could or should have gotten a better deal. It has been my duty, therefore, to consider the consequences of supporting or rejecting the JCPOA, and having decided that, to continue to pursue ways to further guarantee the security of the United States and our allies.

In the last 15 years, Iran has unfortunately made substantial progress in its nuclear program. Prior to the Interim Agreement in 2013, Iran had progressed to the point where it was only 1 month away from producing enough fissionable material for a nuclear bomb. The Interim Agreement forced Iran to get rid of its 20 percent enriched uranium, moving the “breakout” timeline — the length of time it would take Iran to produce enough fissionable material for a nuclear weapon — to 2–3 months. That is where Iran is now — at the threshold of developing a nuclear bomb.

While U.S.-led international sanctions were successful in bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table, such sanctions did not stop them from moving very close to developing a nuclear weapon. While far from perfect, I believe the JCPOA is, at this moment, the best chance we have to prevent Iran from actually becoming a nuclear weapon state.

The terms of the agreement prohibit the Iranians from ever developing, or attempting to develop, a nuclear bomb. I believe the agreement, properly monitored and enforced, does a very good job of doing that, and of increasing the breakout time to over a year, for a time period of at least 12–15 years.

The JCPOA shuts off both the plutonium and uranium pathways to a nuclear bomb. By reconfiguring the Arak reactor so it can produce only minute amounts of plutonium, requiring that all spent fuel rods be shipped out of the country, prohibiting the construction of a reprocessing plant to extract plutonium from the spent fuel rods, and banning the construction of any other reactors that can produce significant amounts of plutonium, the agreement blocks all routes to a plutonium weapon. The agreement blocks the uranium pathway by requiring that the bulk of Iran’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium be shipped out of the country, reducing it by 98 percent — from 12,000kg to 300kg. Iran’s future enrichment of uranium will be limited to 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent necessary for weapons-grade material, and they will be not be permitted to exceed 300kg — far less than is needed for one nuclear bomb — for 15 years. To further guarantee this, Iran will be required to disconnect 14,000 of their 19,000 centrifuges and store them, subject to constant observation and verification, to be used solely for spare parts.

All of their nuclear facilities — reactors, enrichment plants, centrifuges, storage sites, etc. — as well as the entire nuclear supply chain, will be under 24/7 human, photographic, and electronic surveillance for 25 years. This will give the United States and our partners more access, more intelligence, more time, and more options to respond appropriately should there be any suspicion of Iran’s violation of the agreement.

International sanctions will be suspended only after Iran’s compliance with these required steps, a process that is likely to take 6–9 months. If Iran violates the terms of the deal, sanctions can be re-imposed at any time by the United States, through our veto of the continued suspension of sanctions. This so-called “snap-back” mechanism will enable the U.S. to compel sanctions unilaterally, even without the agreement of any other country.

If Iran fulfills its obligations, and sanctions are suspended, about $56 billion of Iranian funds, which are currently blocked in foreign banks, will be released to them. If Iran remains in compliance, the international weapons ban against Iran will be lifted in 5 years and the ballistic missile ban in 8 years. These provisions are the focus of many of the objections to the JCPOA. However, for reasons I will discuss, I do not believe they provide sufficient cause to reject the agreement.

There is no doubt that the Iranian regime remains a terrifying and remorseless danger to the world. Iran sponsors terrorism, threatens the destruction of Israel, backs regimes guilty of human rights abuses, and foments instability throughout the region. Unfortunately, the agreement does not provide answers to these problems, and so the United States and our allies will have to continue countering Iran’s illicit activities on numerous fronts. Yet, the JCPOA is not intended to, and cannot be judged on its ability to, solve these problems. Conventional threats must be distinguished from the nuclear threat. A nuclear-weaponized Iran is a game-changer for the region and the world. Beyond posing an existential threat to Israel, it would be more dangerous, more destructive, and more destabilizing; and deterring or countering Iran’s support for terrorism would be far more difficult. Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered this same warning to the United Nations. The key is to stop a nuclear Iran.

In order to fairly evaluate the deal, there are a number of key criticisms that must be addressed:

1. We shouldn’t lift sanctions because that would provide a multi-billion dollar windfall to Iran, much of which would be used to support terrorism and continue illicit conduct. Nor can we allow the lifting of critical bans on conventional and ballistic weapons sales to such a dangerous regime.

Saying we should never lift sanctions is saying that we should never negotiate — that any deal, whatever its terms, is unacceptable. Multilateral sanctions were imposed, with international cooperation, to force the Iranians to the negotiation table to reach a deal that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The P5+1 countries and Iran have now successfully concluded such an agreement, and Congress can either support or reject the agreement. The lifting of the sanctions was always expected if we reached a deal. If we rule out the lifting of sanctions in exchange for any deal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, there can be no conceivable incentive for Iran to agree to anything — no quid for the quo — and the only option left would be military action.

In addition, the Iranians will almost certainly get this money whether Congress approves the JCPOA or not. These funds are held in foreign banks — mostly in China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong. If the Iranians fulfill their obligations over the next 6–9 months, these countries, which are eager to do business with Iran again, will almost undoubtedly lift their sanctions in accordance with the terms of the deal, and the Iranians will get their money, regardless of Congressional support or rejection of the JCPOA. Congress can only reject the lifting of American, not foreign, sanctions.

Because of the multilateral sanctions, the Iranian economy has declined by more than 20 percent. The bulk of the money from this sanctions relief will have to be used to improve their suffering economy, lest there be popular unrest that might threaten the regime. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that some percentage of the money might be used for illicit purposes.

Similarly, we know that the lifting of the conventional weapons and ballistic missile embargos will add additional resources to an already dangerous regime.

It is clear that these are dangerous consequences. The United States will have to provide additional military and other aid to Israel and our other allies in the region. It should also be noted that the embargos on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles were established along with the nuclear sanctions. The Chinese and Russians, along with Iran, argued that, as part of the nuclear sanctions, the embargoes should be lifted after the Iranians fulfill their initial obligations in 6–9 months. This was a hotly contested issue in the negotiations, and a surprising issue for those not involved in the talks when it emerged in the final JCPOA. American negotiators, however, managed to delay the lifting of these bans to 5 and 8 years, respectively. Given the imperative of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — an existential threat that would make Iran’s conventional threats fundamentally more dangerous and difficult to counter — such sanctions relief, while a heavy cost, must be considered part of what is necessary to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.

2. We should not trust the Iranians. They will attempt to covertly develop a nuclear bomb.

This agreement is not built on trust. It is built on inspections and monitoring to verify compliance, and to detect any violations or cheating. While criticisms have been made of the monitoring and inspection provisions, they are more thorough and intrusive than in any previous agreement. More importantly, they are strong enough to guarantee that Iran will not be able to illicitly produce any fissionable material — either through uranium enrichment or plutonium production — without our knowing about it.

In addition to the 24/7 monitoring of the full nuclear supply chain, the JCPOA has two categories of inspection: declared sites and undeclared sites. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have full and complete access to all declared sites — round-the-clock human, photographic, and electronic surveillance. Inspectors will know immediately of any violations.

The agreement also provides access to any undeclared site. If the IAEA suspects that illicit activity is taking place at an undeclared site, it can demand access to that site with as little as 24-hour notice. The Iranians, under certain circumstances, can delay the inspection for up to 24 days. But if uranium enrichment were taking place at that site, and the Iranians somehow managed to remove thousands of centrifuges, miles of piping, and all of the necessary uranium handling equipment within 24 days, without being observed, there would still be, for years, un-removable trace elements and other radioactive isotopes that would expose the covert enrichment. It is almost inconceivable that the Iranians could divert thousands of kilograms of uranium and thousands of centrifuges from the supply chain unobserved, could construct a massive secret enrichment facility unobserved, could bring in the uranium and centrifuges on fleets of trucks or barges unobserved, could supply massive amounts of electricity through secret power transmission lines, and could then dismantle that plant and the transmission lines and remove all traces within 24 days, all unobserved. It is also inconceivable that the Iranians could operate a totally secret supply chain without our noticing the secret mines and mills. I am convinced, therefore, that it would be almost impossible for the Iranians to cheat on uranium enrichment.

They could not cheat on production of plutonium because this can only be accomplished in a nuclear reactor. Nuclear reactors are declared sites subject to constant inspection. Any attempt to use a potential secret reactor would be exposed because of the necessary diversion of uranium fuel for the reactor from the fully monitored supply chain.

There are certain violations, however, such as computer modeling of bomb design or other weaponization research, that would be less easily detectable. The JCPOA is not foolproof in this regard, nor could any agreement be. But as long as the limits on production of fissionable materials — enriched uranium or plutonium — are rigorously enforced and monitored, other violations cannot lead to development of a nuclear bomb.

Having spoken with experts and officials at the highest levels, I am convinced that the deal will stop Iran’s nuclear development from approaching weapons-grade levels for at least 15 years. Any violation will be quickly uncovered because the inspection and verification elements of the agreement are exhaustive, and, while not perfect, effective.

3. While the JCPOA may do an effective job at delaying Iran from developing a nuclear bomb for 15 years, it “paves the way” for an Iranian bomb afterwards.

The agreement certainly does not “pave the way” for an Iranian bomb. But there is cause for concern starting in the 10–15 year period. While under the terms of the deal, Iran is prohibited from ever developing a nuclear bomb and any actions clearly for that purpose would constitute a violation of the agreement, the provisions designed to enforce this will begin to be cut back after 10 years. Iran would then be permitted to install more advanced centrifuges, and the breakout timeline would begin to shrink. After 15 years, the limit of 300kg of 3.67 percent low-enriched uranium will sunset. Iran will be permitted higher levels of enrichment and greater quantities of enriched uranium overall, provided they submit an annually updated plan to the IAEA which justifies these levels and amounts for peaceful, civilian use. Legitimate civilian purposes — such as generating electricity — require no more than 5 percent enrichment, while a bomb requires 90 percent. If Iran began to produce higher grade uranium or greater quantities than necessary for civilian use, the inspectors would know it instantly.

The problem is that, in 15 years, the Iranians may be legally permitted to deploy so many advanced centrifuges — for “peaceful” purposes — that, if they then decide to develop a bomb, they could enrich sufficient uranium quickly. However, to switch from producing 5 percent uranium to 90 percent, they would first have to reconfigure the centrifuge cascades — a process that requires time to implement. We would, fortunately, observe this conversion process instantly. So, in 15 years, if Iran begins to aggressively pursue the necessary nuclear material for a bomb, the breakout timeline, after being extended to over a year by the JCPOA, would shrink back down to 2–3 months.

The only practical way, in such a short timeframe, to prevent them from developing a bomb at that point would be military action.

Critics are right in their concern about a short breakout timeline and the limited options available. This appropriately makes many people, including me, uneasy. It is why I have struggled with this decision, why I have pressed the Administration and security experts with my concerns, and why many of my colleagues are unable to bring themselves to support the JCPOA. However, the very same concern exists today, in the absence of a deal.

After examining the provisions and the shortcomings, we must decide if, on balance, the JCPOA gives us better odds of averting an Iranian nuclear bomb than any other available option.

If the agreement is adopted, it will reliably prevent development of an Iranian nuclear bomb for at least 10–15 years. Even after 15 years, the options available to a future President to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb would be, at worst, no different or more restrictive than the options available now. This conclusion follows from a sober assessment of the alternatives being suggested and the likely consequences of a rejection of the JCPOA.

If the United States rejects the agreement, there are several possibilities:

First, Iran could pull away and reject the deal. The Europeans, Russia, and China, being eager to resume business with Iran, having agreed to voluntary sanctions only in order to coerce Iran into negotiating an agreement, and having reached what they regard as a reasonable agreement only to have Congress pull the rug out from under them, would certainly not want to maintain their sanctions. As former Bush Administration Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson has stated, it is “totally unrealistic” to expect the multilateral sanctions to stay in place should the United States decide to reject the JCPOA. The agreement, therefore, and the sanctions regime, would fall apart. Iran could then resume its enrichment program, and begin the 2–3 month countdown to a nuclear weapon. We saw prior to 2010 that American sanctions alone were not sufficient to deter Iran from aggressively ramping-up its nuclear development program. That would leave military action as the only option. That is why the President warns of war as the alternative to approving the JCPOA. And our generals tell us a U.S. military strike could, at best, delay the Iranian nuclear program for 3–5 years, with a likely considerable cost in American and Israeli lives, including many civilians.

Second, Iran might accept the JCPOA without U.S. participation. In that case, the other countries might go along. In 6–9 months, all the non-U.S. sanctions would be lifted. Iran would resume doing business with most other countries, and would get its $56 billion, some of which would be used to sponsor terrorism and other illicit activities. There would be less diligent oversight, less fear of punitive action against violations, and Iran would enjoy full legitimacy and inclusion from the international community. Meanwhile, the United States — Israel’s closest ally and the only partner on the Security Council or in the P5+1 whose interests are as closely aligned in terms of preventing Iran from becoming an existential threat — would sit on the sidelines, separated from the JCPOA.

Third, Iran might initially accept the JCPOA without U.S. participation. At any time after the sanctions are lifted and after Iran pockets the $56 billion and the benefits of trade with the Europeans, China, Russia, etc., Iran could then decide that, since the United States was not adhering to the terms of the agreement, it would not either. The Iranians could then kick out the inspectors and begin enriching as much as they want. The United States would not be able to get the other countries to re-impose sanctions since our former partners would blame us, not the Iranians, for the collapse of the deal. Plus, they would have powerful economic incentives not to halt their newly resumed trade and investments. And, as we have discovered, U.S. sanctions alone are significantly less effective.

This scenario also yields a much higher likelihood of having to choose between an Iranian bomb and military action in just a few years.

The alternative being suggested by many, however, posits that the United States, after rejecting the agreement, can, through our banking system, coerce the rest of the world into unwillingly boycotting Iranian banks. This scenario envisions use of such “secondary sanctions” to force the Iranians back to the negotiating table, where we would get a better deal. In other words, we would take on essentially the rest of the world, including all our closest economic and diplomatic allies, and, by threatening to cut off their access to the American economy through our banks, would coerce them into re-imposing sanctions when they believe the United States, not the Iranians, caused the problem by rejecting the JCPOA.

When anyone says we can get a “better deal”, this is the alternative to which they are referring.

There are several problems with this scenario: First, it is far-fetched, unlikely to work, and would create an economic disaster. The countries we would have to coerce are among the biggest economies in the world. As Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a recent piece; “If we were to cut them off from the American dollar and our financial system, we would set off extensive financial hemorrhaging, not just in our partner countries but in the United States as well.”

As Secretary Lew pointed out, 40 percent of our exports go to these countries, and those exports could not survive a cut-off of U.S. connections to their banking systems. Our trading partners know that we are not going to shut down our exports — with all the job loss and economic havoc that would entail here at home — nor are we going to cut off countries that hold 47 percent of foreign-held American treasuries.

I agree with this analysis that such a threat is too risky and not credible.

Second, the Administration has stated loudly and clearly that it believes cutting off banking relations in this fashion would create an economic disaster. Because of this belief, the Administration would not do it — they will neither threaten nor carry out such an action, and this alone removes this alternative from consideration, at least for the next 18 months.

And I do not believe that any new Administration, no matter what candidates may say in an election campaign, would really run the huge risk of causing a domestic and global economic collapse.

In summary: U.S. rejection of the JCPOA would almost certainly result in a far greater likelihood of Iran developing a nuclear bomb in relatively short order. This would leave us with only the terrible choice between military action — which would still only temporarily delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program — and accepting a nuclear-armed Iran. Accepting the JCPOA is clearly preferable to accepting the consequences of its rejection. This is a conclusion I have not reached alone — the overwhelming majority of military, security, intelligence and nuclear proliferation experts agree that the Iran deal is the best course available for achieving our objective. The JCPOA prevents an Iranian nuclear bomb for at least for 15 years, and perhaps indefinitely. This is clearly in the interests of the United States, Israel, and our other Middle East allies. The alternatives are either totally unrealistic or leave us with a likelihood of an Iranian nuclear bomb well before 15 years.

While I am supporting the JCPOA as better than any available alternative, it is true that the deal has some clear weaknesses. I discussed some of the weaknesses I found most concerning with some of my colleagues and constituents, and raised these issues in a recent Op-Ed [Link]. I also discussed these concerns directly with the President, as did others. The President responded directly to the issues we raised in a letter addressed to me [Link]. I am gratified that the President’s response satisfied some of these concerns. But I recognize they do not cover every challenge in the agreement.

While I am firmly convinced that the agreement is the best course of action amongst the alternatives, I am well aware that there are those who strongly disagree. I accept there will be many who will say that the assurances my colleagues and I sought from the Administration are inadequate and that they fail to mitigate some of the most serious concerns raised with the JCPOA’s shortcomings. And there will be those who believe that my evaluation of the agreement versus its alternatives, and their respective implications, is flawed. But again, I have made this decision according to my principles, with thorough research and careful consideration. That is all I can do, and I hope it is enough for people to believe that it is a decision I reached honestly, without political calculation, and with the sole objective of protecting the United States, Israel, and the world from the menace of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Regardless of how my colleagues decide to cast their votes, I also respect their decisions and commitments to voting their consciences. And it is my assumption that all of my colleagues who care deeply about the security of the United States and of Israel, no matter whether they ultimately support or oppose this agreement, are honestly trying to reach the same objective — stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and thereby protecting countless American and Israeli lives. It is a collective desire to bring safety and security in the immediate and long-term, to curb nuclear proliferation in a region that has experienced too much violence and bloodshed already, and to stand in the way of further destabilization and bad behavior by Iran in the form of terrorism and human rights abuses. While there may be disagreement on the best course for achieving these goals, there should be no doubt that there is a shared desire to find the best course.
There is an inescapable reality with this type of complicated, life and death decision — there are many uncertainties, both as to how the agreement would play out and how, if we reject the JCPOA, the alternative scenarios would play out. No one can pretend that we are choosing between a set of flawless options. These decisions are hard, involving close calls and uncertain future predictions.

In this situation, it is inevitable that people of good conscience and common goals will come down on different sides of the issue. This is why, despite the majority of the Israeli political establishment being opposed to the JCPOA, many members of Israel’s security establishment — including former heads of the IDF, the Shin Bet, and the Mossad — agree this deal is the best option available to protect Israel. That is how both sides of the debate in America are able to produce experts for their respective views. It is no surprise that Jewish members of the House and Senate are likely to be split down the middle in voting to support or reject the agreement.

It is with this perspective that I have become increasingly disturbed by the rhetoric being used by some on both sides of the debate. We have apparently reached the point in our public discourse where, if the stakes are high enough, if emotions run deep and opinion is sharply divided, ridicule and ad hominem attacks on the character and loyalty of those who differ become acceptable in the political dialogue. I condemn this and encourage others of good will to do the same.

I am outraged that some on the Left are making anti-Semitic accusations of dual loyalty or treason when someone, particularly a Jewish member of Congress, decides to oppose the agreement. I am also deeply disturbed that some opponents of the agreement have taken to questioning the sincerity of people’s support for Israel (or their “Jewishness”, if it applies) if that person believes the JCPOA is the best option we have for protecting Israel and the world from the threat of Iran as a nuclear weapon state.

Similarly, I disagree with those who suggest that Israel’s government or people must not interfere in seeking to shape American decisions on these issues, and I see such statements as a means of silencing an important part of the discussion. Israel and Israelis have an absolutely legitimate right to be concerned, given the existential threat they face, and to articulate that concern openly within the American political debate. If Iran were allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, that would represent a fundamental threat to the existence of Israel. A single nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv could destroy the homeland of the Jewish people, causing a catastrophic and irrevocable loss of Israeli lives and threatening the existence of our most important ally in the Middle East. Without Israel raising the alarm, the world might not have prioritized this threat and we would be in a weaker position than we are in today to respond to this terrifying question.

I have personally experienced this dangerous dynamic of poisonous rhetoric before, at another moment when opinion was sharply divided and some people placed politics and emotion above clearheaded thinking. When I voted against approving the use of force in Iraq, I did so not only because I was unconvinced by the justifications or arguments being made by the Bush Administration, but because of my understanding of the history and dynamics in the region. As I said at the time, Iran — not Iraq — was the real threat, and if we removed Iraq as a buffer to Iranian influence and expansionism, Israel and the United States would be left to suffer from the consequences. Suffice it to say, I took a lot of criticism for my vote, and both my American patriotism and my commitment to Israel were questioned. What made it even more difficult was the fact that the attacks on 9/11 centered in my district. And while history has proven my decision to have been the right one, the demagoguery is an unfortunate stain on that period.

It was wrong then and it is wrong now to question loyalties or motivations. A decision to support the JCPOA does not make someone anti-Israel. My decision to support the JCPOA is based on my conclusion that the JCPOA makes both the United States and Israel safer. I have been an extremely vocal and unrelentingly strong supporter of Israel for my entire career. I will continue to be so, and refuse to allow anyone to question my long record or my commitment. It is, in large part, because of my support for Israel that I have made the decision I am convinced is the best option for achieving our overriding security imperative.

Just as we can all agree that we must not let Iran become a nuclear state, we also can all agree that the JCPOA is not perfect. As I have said before, there are parts of the deal that are good and parts that are not. This is why it has been such a difficult decision for me and for so many of my colleagues. After the votes are taken, we must come together to advance our shared goals and security objectives. The stakes are simply too high. Going forward, the President, Congress, and all those concerned will need to work together to fill the gaps and strengthen the defenses of our Middle East allies. Poisonous rhetoric and scorched earth politics weaken our ability to do so. I look forward to working with my colleagues and other stakeholders on both sides of this decision in the critical days, months, and years ahead.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler

Representing parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I serve on the House Judiciary + Transportation & Infrastructure committees. Follow me at

Syria: Impose Arms Embargo on Regime Following Deadly Airstrikes

Fri, 21 Aug 2015 - 11:51pm

Human Rights Watch | – –

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government following the government’s repeated air attacks on Douma’s popular markets and residential areas on August 16, 2015. The attacks killed at least 112 people, whom witnesses and first responders described as overwhelmingly civilian.

The Syrian air force conducted four airstrikes within minutes of one another on the main street vendor markets in Douma, the most populous town in besieged eastern Ghouta, an area under the control of opposition armed groups. Human Rights Watch spoke to four witnesses who said that there were no military targets nearby and that the nearest base or combatant front line was at least two kilometers away. Syrian authorities did not comment directly on the strikes other than to criticize the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who had called the strikes on Douma “devastating” and “unacceptable.”

“Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks.”

Witnesses and first responders told Human Rights Watch that the four airstrikes hit the crowded markets, known locally as the al-Hal, al-Houboub, and al-Ghanam markets, at about noon. All three markets are within 500 meters of one another. Two first responders described a chaotic scene, with the dead and injured scattered on the streets. They said they found about 70 bodies and large numbers of wounded as they arrived. About five minutes after the four airstrikes, government forces fired mortars and rockets into the area, killing six more people, the witnesses said.

Later that afternoon, airstrikes hit a residential area in Douma known as Masaken, or Abed al-Raouf. One Masaken resident told Human Rights Watch that the strikes killed at least 30 people and that government forces opened fire later in the day on those trying to bury relatives in the cemetery. “We had to run 400 meters to the cemetery under the sniper’s bullets to bury my cousin,” he said. “On our way back, mortars started falling again and two people were injured from shrapnel while burying the victims. They do not even want us to bury our martyrs.”

Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians. This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks. — Nadim Houry, Deputy Middle East Director

The Douma Local Council reported that the August 16 attacks killed a total of 112 and injured 550 civilians, 40 percent of them children, as well as 8 women. The Unified Medical Office of Douma, which coordinates medical care in the area, reported that doctors performed 116 surgeries on the wounded, including 9 amputations.

These were not the first midday attacks on busy markets in eastern Ghouta. Amnesty International investigated air strikes on the market in Hamouria on January 25 shortly after Friday prayers that it said killed more than 40 civilians, and on the market of Kafr Batna on February 5 at about 1 p.m. that it said killed 45 civilians.

According to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), a local monitoring group, government aerial and shelling attacks killed at least 462 civilians and 16 fighters in eastern Ghouta between January and June.

Armed groups operating in eastern Ghouta have also indiscriminately shelled civilians living in nearby government-held territory. A March Human Rights Watch report documents indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and markets by armed groups and called on the Security Council to impose a suspension of all military assistance to parties implicated in widespread or systematic violations.

The latest flare-up between government forces and armed groups in eastern Ghouta began on August 12, when armed groups launched mortar shells on several areas in Damascus hours ahead of a visit by the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, killing 11 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Shortly afterward, government warplanes unleashed a wave of airstrikes on several opposition-held suburbs of the capital, including Douma, killing 37, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

On February 22, 2014, the Security Council demanded that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment,” in its resolution 2139. On August 17, one day after the Ghouta attacks, the Security Council issued a presidential statement reiterating its demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians as well as any indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas.

UN Security Council members, including Russia, which has shielded the Syrian government from sanctions and accountability, should take immediate steps to enforce that demand, Human Rights Watch said. In addition to an arms embargo, the Security Council should apply the same level of scrutiny it has put in place for chemical attacks to all indiscriminate attacks by monitoring these attacks, attributing responsibility for them, and sanctioning those responsible. The Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The Security Council should also demand that the government lift the unlawful siege on eastern Ghouta, which restricts civilians, the wounded, and the sick from being able to leave the area and impedes the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance and goods needed for survival.

“How many more lives will be lost before the Security Council enforces its own words?” Houry said. “The Security Council should bring the same commitment to ending indiscriminate strikes on civilians as it has to chemical attacks.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “Airstrikes In Syrian City of Douma Kill Over 110 Civilians”

Iran Pres. Rouhani criticizes Hardliners, is slapped down by Revolutionary Guards

Fri, 21 Aug 2015 - 11:38pm

By Golnaz Esfandiari | ( RFE/RL) | – –

Iran’s Guardians Council, long accused of being a tool for hard-liners in factional power struggles, is at the center of a new war of words among top state officials.

The exchange comes ahead of elections early next year for parliament, which is currently controlled by conservatives and hard-liners, and for the Assembly of Experts, which oversees and appoints the country’s supreme leader.

It could signal a sharpening of stances with the February votes looming, the first since Iran and world powers reached a nuclear agreement that limits Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

This week, President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, questioned the role of the Guardians Council, suggesting it has a “supervisory role” rather than “an executive one.”

“It is the government which actually executes the task, and in some cases it has the necessary means to prevent election disorder and possible fraud,” Rohani said in an August 19 speech.

He added that the future parliament would not be controlled by any single party or group.

“We have no place in this country for disqualifying experienced, caring people who want to use their knowledge in the service of the country, whatever political affiliation they may come from,” he said.

The comments hint at concern that reformists and moderates who are supportive of Rohani’s policies might be prevented from running.

The powerful Guardians Council supervises presidential and parliamentary elections and can veto candidates whose views are deemed out of line with the Islamic establishment or insufficiently loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The council also vets legislation passed by parliament for compliance with Islamic laws and the constitution.

The Iranian leader directly appoints six clerics to the 12-member Guardians Council. The other six, all jurists, are chosen from a field of candidates nominated by the head of Iran’s judiciary, who is himself selected by Khamenei.

The council has over the years prevented many reformist and moderate figures (and others) from running for parliament or the presidency, including famously banning a former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and a former presidential aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, from the presidential race in 2013.

One day after Rohani’s speech, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari hit back with a stark warning.

Such comments weaken the “effective pillars of the revolution,” namely the Guardians Council, and damage “national unity,” he said.

Without naming Rohani specifically, Jafari noted that Iran’s president must also undergo screening by the Guardians Council, which is seen by its critics as a major obstacle to free and competitive elections in Iran.

“Those who have had the opportunity to emerge on the country’s management arena through this council and due to its nonfactional and generous nature should use their words more wisely,” Jafari said.

He referred to comments by some officials as the start of the “erosion of the independence and dignity” of the Islamic establishment.

Criticism also surfaced via the influential hard-line daily Kayhan, which said Iran’s constitution gives the Guardians Council the authority to supervise elections and neither the government nor any other body has a right to interpret the constitution.

Iran’s constitution states that the Guardians Council has “the responsibility for supervising” elections. It also says that “the authority of the interpretation of the constitution is vested in the Guardians Council.”

Critics accuse the council of overstepping its legal boundaries and controlling the election process by acting based on political motivation.

Conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli said he was surprised that Rohani, who has a law degree, had questioned the role of the Guardians Council.

“However, this is nothing new; it was also discussed under the previous president,” Tavakoli said in an August 20 interview with the hard-line Tasnim news agency.

He advised Rohani not to follow the footsteps of presidential predecessor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who eventually fell out of favor for repeatedly challenging the Iranian establishment.

“Ahmadinejad had a phrase that led to his [downfall]. He would say, ‘I don’t accept a certain law,'” Tavakoli said.

Guardians Council members and other hard-line officials have in recent months warned that “seditionists” — a term commonly used for political opponents who protested Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009 — will not be allowed to win seats in parliament or the Assembly of Experts.

The warnings come amid signs that the reformists, who have been largely sidelined for over a decade, are poised for a political comeback in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Khamenei’s representative within the IRGC, Ali Saeedi, warned in June against a change in the political composition of the conservative-dominated parliament.

Saeedi told the hard-line Fars news agency that such a development would represent a “threat against the ideals of [Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini], Khamenei, and the interests of the establishment.”

Therefore, he said, the Guardians Council should fulfill its duties and potential candidates should have revolutionary credentials.


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Rouhani: Iran will never use its strength against regional countries”

Global Warming: Humans made California drought 15-20% worse by Burning Coal, Gas, Oil

Fri, 21 Aug 2015 - 11:10pm

By Park Williams | (The Conversation) | – –

With each passing year, human-caused global warming bullies California for more water. Each year, the heat squeezes more moisture from soils and ecosystems.

This is because, as the atmosphere warms, its demand for moisture rises. Just as a puddle evaporates more quickly on a warm day, soils dry out more quickly during warmer years, which are becoming increasingly frequent in most locations globally.

Currently, California is in the grips of a severe drought, which motivated my colleagues and me to conduct a study to determine how much of this drought can be blamed on natural climate variability. And how much can be blamed on the global warming shakedown? Our answer is 8%-27%.

This finding, done using a model built on historical data, sheds light on California’s future and the effect higher temperatures have on the natural forces that drive California’s droughts.

California of buckets

Global warming is an emerging background effect on the year-to-year variations in drought caused by natural climate variations, such as El Niño and La Niña. This is especially true in California, where year-to-year precipitation varies wildly.

During most years, when natural climate variations cause wet or near-average conditions, the demands of the increasingly greedy atmosphere are still met with relative ease. During the last few years, however, natural climate variations have caused precipitation totals to be low and temperatures to be high. Human-caused warming, meanwhile, demands additional atmospheric moisture, at a time when water resources for natural and human systems are already in short supply.

These maps rank the three-year drought severity during 2012-2014 compared to all other consecutive three-year periods since 1901. The map on the left is calculated from the observed climate records. The map on the right is calculated after removing the global warming trend from the temperature records.
Park Williams, Author provided

Unlike natural climate variation, which only sometimes produces extreme conditions, the amount of additional moisture demanded by the atmosphere due to global warming increases each year as the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide rises ever higher. The squeeze that global warming is putting on California’s water balance is therefore becoming increasingly detectable.

My colleagues and I quantified the effect of global warming on the recent California drought using a computational soil-moisture accounting approach. In this approach, we treat California as if it is a grid of 24,000 buckets laid side by side, each about seven square miles in area, and we simulate monthly changes in the amount of water held in each bucket from 1901 through 2014.

Precipitation causes the buckets to fill up and potentially overflow, and evaporation causes the buckets to empty out. We calculated the evaporation from monthly records of temperature, humidity, wind speed and net radiation. Annual changes in the water content of the buckets during the summer months indicate annual changes in California water balance and can therefore be evaluated to determine the severity of the current California drought.

Dry weather versus higher temps

Because these drought calculations are all done mathematically using historical climate data, we can repeat our calculations over and over again while holding certain variables constant. This method allows us to isolate the relative contributions of specific climate processes, such as a lack of precipitation or the occurrence of extreme heat to the current California drought.

Performing these calculations, we find that about 70% of the California drought severity during 2012-2014 was attributable to a lack of precipitation, and the other 30% is attributable to increased atmospheric evaporative demand, which was mainly driven by very warm temperatures.

Change in California’s annual temperature and atmospheric evaporative demand during 1896-2014. The grey lines are the observed annual records and the smooth dark red lines are the trends caused by global warming (averaged across the various global warming trends we considered). Values in these graphs indicate departures from the 1931-1990 mean conditions.
Park Williams, Author provided

We next calculated how much of this temperature effect on drought was due to human-caused global warming and how much was due to natural temperature variability. We determined this by repeating our calculations using temperature records that exclude year-to-year temperature variations and only contain the long-term warming trend.

We found that one-half to two-thirds of the temperature influence on drought conditions during 2012-2014 can be blamed on the warming trend, depending on the climate datasets considered. In other words, in the absence of global warming, the recent drought would have been approximately 15%-20% less severe.

Running the numbers

It is important to acknowledge that we cannot be positive what portion of the long-term warming trend in California is related to human-caused global warming versus natural climate variability, so there is a fairly wide range of uncertainty surrounding the 15%-20% estimate.

Higher temperatures are contributing to an active forest fire season in the West.
Mike McMillan – USFS, CC BY-NC

For example, has the effect of global warming on the California drought been steadily rising each year? Or has the effect increased in recent decades due to accelerating greenhouse gas concentrations? Or did regulations to remove air pollutants in the latter half of the 20th century affect the warming rate due to increasing greenhouse gases?

To address this uncertainty, we considered four alternate long-term warming trends, derived from actual temperature measurements and from temperature records simulated by climate models. Collectively, these warming scenarios are very likely to encompass the full range of possibilities. Considering the range of warming trends and all combinations of climate data sets used in this study, we concluded that global warming contributed between 8% and 27% to the severity of 2012-2014 California drought.

Natural variability still dominant

This result means that global warming is already having an important impact on California drought, but also that natural climate variability is still dominant.

During 2012-2014, naturally low precipitation totals and high temperatures were mainly caused by a persistent high pressure system off the US West Coast that blocked storms from making landfall in California. Combined with the increased evaporative demand due to global warming, this naturally occurring drought event produced record, or near record, drought throughout much of California.

While there have been other three-year periods in the past when statewide drought severity has been similar to that observed in 2012-2014, drought conditions during 2012-2014 have received much more attention than previous droughts partly because of where the most intense conditions were focused. Record-breaking drought conditions occurred in California’s Central Valley, which is important for agriculture, the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, which is important for human water resources, and the southern and central coastal areas, which is where a large proportion of the population resides.

Given that natural climate variability still dictates when the dry and wet periods occur in California, it is highly likely that wet conditions will return to the state in the next few years.

Also because of natural climate variability, drought conditions are sure to return again and again, and each time the atmospheric bully and its high temperatures will demand an extra moisture payment, increasingly enhancing the likelihood of severe droughts with increasing duration. If California finds itself struggling with this drought, serious planning needs to take place in order to be resilient to a future where it’s increasingly likely that the current drought will look like child’s play.

Park Williams is Assistant Research Professor of Bioclimatology at Columbia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Park Williams is Assistant Research Professor of Bioclimatology at Columbia University

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS LA: “Report: Climate Change Is Making Our Historic Drought Worse”

Crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan: Attacked by ISIL & Turkey; and Now Leaderless

Thu, 20 Aug 2015 - 11:36pm

Honar Hama Rasheed | Erbil | ( | – –

As the issue of Iraqi Kurdistan’s vacant presidency heats up, delegations from the US, Turkey and Iran have all visited to have their say. But what do they really want?

The current Iraqi Kurdish presidency officially ended yesterday. Massoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, has held the post for a decade now. For eight of those years he was a legally elected representative and for the past two he has served after his term was extended by the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq and has its own borders, military and parliament and the Barzani family are in charge of many aspects of the region’s system.

Despite this – or perhaps because of this – the issue of Barzani’s ongoing presidency is an extremely sensitive one, not least because Iraqi Kurdistan purports to be a democracy. If Barzani stays in power, all those claims that Iraqi Kurdistan is actually his fiefdom or a sultanate will be hard to argue with.

Politicians inside Iraqi Kurdistan are trying to resolve the issue. Other than Barzani’s own KDP, one of the two most popular and powerful parties in the region, all other political actors want him to step down.

Barzani’s party, the KDP, has 38 seats in the 111-seat [Kurdistan] Parliament here and they say the President should stay on until elections are held and Iraq’s security crisis has ended; the region needs a strong leader at a time like this, they argue. However all other major parties – the Change movement with 24 seats, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with 18 seats, the two Islamic parties with 16 seats together – think Barzani should go.

But of course, who runs Iraqi Kurdistan is also of importance to the region’s neighbours, Iran and Turkey, and other foreign powers like the US. And in the space of less than two months, there have been visits by delegations from Iran, Turkey and the US, ostensibly to discuss this issue and to encourage a solution that benefits the visitors best.

Turkey has many interests inside the region, related to security and the economy. Unofficial estimates put the volume of trade between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey at around more than US$12 billion. And from a strategic point of view, Turkey believes that Iraqi Kurdistan can be it’s gateway to the Middle East and it has put a lot of effort into increasing its influence there; Turkey also competes with Iran along these lines.

It is well known that Turkey is closer to the KDP than any other Iraqi Kurdish political party and that it considers the areas of Dohuk and Erbil, its spheres of influence. Its second-best political friend is the Kurdistan Islamic Union, or KIU, a smaller islamic party in Iraqi Kurdistan. In fact, some insiders say Turkey has been encouraging the two parties to join forces on the issue of the presidency.

At the end of June, a delegation from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Feridun Ihsanoglu, was in Iraqi Kurdistan for two days. Insiders say their purpose was to discuss the presidency. They met with Barzani, his nephew Nechirvan Barzani, the region’s Prime Minister and the head of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Mohammed Faraj. They then headed to Sulaymaniyah – which is not as much within the Turkish sphere of influence because it is mostly controlled by Kurdistan’s other ruling party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK – where they met senior members of the PUK and another party, the Change movement.

The PUK is closer to it’s Iranian neighbours than it is to Turkey. And although the PUK’s influence has been waning over the past few elections for various reasons – including the illness of the party’s leader and senior members breaking away to form the Change movement – Iran is still hoping to cement it’s influence in the Iraqi Kurdish region through the PUK.

And Iran has been trying particularly hard to ensure that the PUK gets a larger share of power both during and after decisions are made about the future of the presidency. There have been two delegations in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past month, although one was apparently less official.

The first delegation was led by Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Danaii Fir, and arrived in early August. During the two-day trip the delegation met with senior members of the same parties that the Turkish delegation had met with; the KDP, KIU, PUK and the Change movement.

Following this visit there was another more clandestine delegation, this time led by none other than the infamous Qasim Soleimani, a senior military commander who is known as one of Iran’s most secretive, most influential envoys. The visit wasn’t announced in local media and Soleimani’s delegation quietly met with the Kurdish President, the Prime Minister and a delegation from the PUK party.

“The main reason for the visits was to discuss the presidency,” confirms Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim, the coordinator of diplomatic relations for the Change movement. “During the meetings with the Iranian and Turkish delegations, we discussed this particular issue.”

It would appear that Turkey wants the issue resolved in the interests of the KDP while Iran wants a solution that doesn’t harm or degrade the PUK’s interests.

“The Iranian and Turkish delegations have taken two directions,” Abu Bakr al-Karawani, a local political analyst, told NIQASH. “The first direction sees them interfering in the internal affairs of the region to protect their own interests and the second direction has them pushing their favourite political parties in the region.”

These neighbours have always played a significant role in Iraqi Kurdistan, al-Karawani concludes, and they continue to do so today.

In turn, the US also wanted to have a say on the matter. On August 6, a delegation that included US Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, the US Ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones, and the new US Consul General in Erbil, Matthias Mettmann. This delegation met the same officials that the Iranian and Turkish delegations had met earlier.

Sources inside the meetings told NIQASH that all of the delegations had said they did not want to interfere in Iraqi Kurdistan’s affairs and especially not on this topic. All of the delegations stressed that Kurdish political parties should debate the issue and come to a decision and that all of the countries concerned would respect their decision.

Some Iraqi Kurdish media have published articles saying that insiders told them the delegations had come out in favour of one solution or another. But those who were actually in the meetings say that none of the delegations actually specified whether they wanted Barzani to stay on as President, or whether they wanted him to go. Other reports confirmed this.

“None of the delegations asked us to retain Barzani as president,” confirms Emad Ahmad, a senior member of the PUK and a spokesperson for the party. “From what I know, the Iranian, Turkish and US delegations all wanted one thing: They don’t want the issue of the presidency here to have an impact on security inside Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“They do not want the issue of the presidency to cause problems between the different parties,” agrees Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim, the coordinator of diplomatic relations for the Change movement.

The PUK and the KDP have a long and chequered history – at one stage, the two parties were fighting for control of Iraqi Kurdistan and even today the region is basically split into two zones of influence, with the PUK in charge of the area around Sulaymaniyah and the KDP in charge of the areas around Erbil. If there is a political power struggle, there are some fears that those old enmities will be revived.

Al-Karawani believes that this is exactly why all Iraqi Kurdistan’s friends and neighbours have been showing up for talks; all of them have important interests in the area and nobody wants that jeopardised.

“This is why other nations are trying to find a solution for all the parties, instead of splitting them further apart,” al-Karawani argues.

Whether such external influence is good for Iraqi Kurdistan is another question, he notes. Then again, it seems unlikely that political parties with such oppositional and black and white views – should Barzani stay or go? – would be able to come to an agreement without some pressure from outside.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Iraq’s Kurdistan region without a president”