Saturday, April 29, 2017

NY Times Stands On Dubious "Gas Attack" Narrative

More NYT ‘Spin’ on the Syria-Sarin Case

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

April 28, 2017

In blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the April 4 chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun, The New York Times and other Western news outlets have made a big deal out of discrepancies in the timing and other details provided by the Syrian and Russian governments.

A photo of the crater containing the alleged canister that supposedly disbursed sarin in Khan Sheikdoun, Syria, on April 4, 2017. 

 The Times and the others also have chided anyone who notes that Assad had no logical reason to undertake a sarin attack since his forces were making solid gains and he had just learned that the Trump administration was dropping the longstanding U.S. goal of “regime change” in Syria.

To those of us outside the mainstream media bubble, there seemed to be little or no military advantage to be gained. Instead,Assad would be risking more international intervention, which has ripped his country apart for the past six years. But the Times and other major outlets dismissed our logic by arguing that Assad was simply announcing his impunity in some particularly brutal Arab-sort-of-way.

However, neither the value that the Times and others placed on the Russian-Syrian timing discrepancies nor the strange explanation of Assad’s motive made any sense. After all, if Assad were making some bizarre public declaration of his impunity, why would he then deny that his forces were responsible for the chemical attack? Wouldn’t he simply say, “yes, I did it and I don’t care what anyone thinks”? Isn’t that what impunity means: that you do whatever you want knowing that no one can hold you accountable? Instead, Assad has consistently denied ordering the attack.

The gotcha observation about the time element of the bombings fails the logic test, too. Why would Syria and Russia say Syrian warplanes carried out a conventional attack on Khan Sheikhoun around noon if the actual attack occurred around 6 a.m., as it apparently did? There was nothing to be gained for them by having the timing off by six hours, since the point that Syria and Russia were making was that there were indeed airstrikes but that they were conventional bombs that may have unintentionally struck an Al Qaeda depot holding chemical weapons and thus released them. The timing element was immaterial to that point.

What this apparent timing error suggests is confusion, not “spin,” as the Times insists in a tendentious April 27 video by Malachy Browne, Natalie Reneau and Mark Scheffler, entitled “How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike.”

The Syrians and Russians appeared perplexed by what had happened. Their officials understood that a conventional airstrike had been carried out and stated what they believed the time was. The time discrepancy either meant the Syrian air-wing commander had dispatched warplanes earlier than expected or that some other entity carried out the 6 a.m. strike. But the Syrians and the Russians would seem to have no reason to lie about this detail.

The Times also makes a big deal out of Assad denying that the attack took place — and the video then shows some bombs exploding. But that is just the Times deceiving people. Assad is not denying that a bombing raid took place; he’s denying his military’s deployment of chemical weapons.

Intervention by Air

Another false assumption pervading the Western accounts on this and other chemical incidents in Syria is that only the Syrian government and its Russian allies have control of the skies. That is clearly not true. Various military forces, including those of the U.S. and its allies, as well as Israel and – to some degree – the rebels have air capabilities in Syria.

According to Syrian accounts, the rebels have captured some government helicopters and apparently used one in what United Nations investigators were told by multiple eyewitnesses was a staged chemical-weapons attack in 2014 with the goal of sticking the blame on the Syrian regime.

Further, the U.S. and its allies have been conducting airstrikes across much of Syria in campaigns against Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked terror groups, which have been supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and other Sunni-led sheikdoms. Turkey has been active, too, with strikes against Kurdish forces. And Israel has hit repeatedly at Syrian targets to promote what it regards as its interests, including destruction of Iranian weapons believed headed to the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah.

Some – if not all – of these entities had a far stronger motive to create a chemical-weapons incident in Syria on April 4 than the Syrian government did. At the end of March, the Trump administration announced that it was no longer a U.S. priority to overthrow the Assad government, an announcement that upset several of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel.

All of them – having committed resources and prestige to achieve “regime change” in Syria – had motive to overturn President Trump’s pronouncement. (Israel has had “regime change” in Syria at the top of its to-do list since at least the mid-1990s.) How better to keep that hope alive than to stage another chemical-weapons attack and blame it on Assad?(Another sarin attack in August 2013 also now appears to have been a staged incident by Al Qaeda that killed hundreds while almost tricking President Obama into ordering a massive U.S. military strike on government forces.)

Shortly after the incident at Khan Sheikhoun, I was told by an intelligence source that U.S. satellite imagery had picked up what looked like a drone in the vicinity at around the time that the poison gas was released. Despite some technical difficulties in tracking its route, the source said the analysts believed that it may have come from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base in Jordan, used to assist the rebels.

There are also other combinations of factors that should have been carefully evaluated before President Trump jumped to his Assad-did-it conclusion and fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase on April 6, but they weren’t given serious thought in the rush to blame Assad.

For instance, Al Qaeda’s clever propagandists could have again staged a chemical attack on the ground by creating a crater in the road and inserting what was purported to be a chemical-weapons canister. The Times and others have noted that the crater was not visible in earlier satellite images but that observation doesn’t mean the crater had to be created by an aerial bomb; a ground explosion or simple digging could have done the trick – with the crushed canister inserted later.

Dubious Narrative

The canister-in-the-crater story struck MIT’s technology and national security expert Theodore Postol as particularly odd because on-scene photos showed people climbing into the supposedly sarin-saturated crater wearing minimal protection and not keeling over dead. Postol also said the canister appeared to have been crushed rather than exploded.

There is also the possibility that some third party with access to sarin or other powerful chemical weapons could have delivered the poison gas by air – possibly from that drone – with the rebels either coordinating with that delivery before the fact or reacting to the opportunity after the fact.

The hard truth is that intelligence services from a number of countries could fit the bill in terms of producing sarin or some similar substance that could mimic what Syria once had in its arsenal, although those chemical weapons were supposedly destroyed in 2014 as part of an agreement hammered out by Russia and the United States.

And there are plenty of ruthless intelligence operatives on all sides who would have found the deaths of 80 or so people acceptable collateral damage to advance a geopolitical priority. The timing, so close to the Trump administration’s major announcement that Assad no longer had to go, would have represented a logical motive for such a ruse.

The other problem in assessing what has or hasn’t happened in Syria over the past six years is that all sides, but particularly those seeking “regime change,” have deployed sophisticated propaganda operations to the combat zone.

Anti-regime activists – financed and supplied by the West and the Gulf States – understand the emotional value of showing dying children. These propagandists have regular and uncritical access to major Western media outlets, from the hipsters at VICE to the neocons and liberal-interventionists at The New York Times.

In other words, what is still desperately needed in this latest chapter of the Syrian tragedy is some honest broker who could conduct a serious investigation that isn’t contaminated by all the previous propaganda-infused narratives. But the chances of finding that person or group are slim to none.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Conflict Medicine and the "Ecology of War"

Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”

by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunch

April 28, 2017 

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta is the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon. He specializes in reconstructive surgery.

What it means in this part of the world is clear: they bring you people from the war zones, torn to pieces, missing faces, burned beyond recognition, and you have to try to give them their life back.

Dr. Abu-Sitta is also a thinker. A Palestinian born in Kuwait, he studied and lived in the UK, and worked in various war zones of the Middle East, as well as in Asia, before accepting his present position at the AUB Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

We were brought together by peculiar circumstances. Several months ago I burned my foot on red-hot sand, in Southeast Asia. It was healing slowly, but it was healing. Until I went to Afghanistan where at one of the checkpoints in Herat I had to take my shoes off, and the wound got badly infected. Passing through London, I visited a hospital there, and was treated by one of Abu-Sitta’s former professors. When I said that among other places I work in Lebanon, he recommended that I visit one of his “best students who now works in Beirut”.

I did. During that time, a pan-Arab television channel, Al-Mayadeen, was broadcasting in English, with Arabic subtitles, a long two-part interview with me, about my latest political/revolutionary novel “Aurora” and about the state of the global south, and the upsurge of the Western imperialism. To my surprise, Dr. Abu-Sitta and his colleagues were following my work and political discourses. To these hardened surgeons, my foot ‘issue’ was just a tiny insignificant scratch. What mattered was the US attack against Syria, the Palestine [hunger strike], and the provocations against North Korea.

My ‘injury’ healed well, and Dr. Abu-Sitta and I became good friends. Unfortunately I have to leave Beirut for Southeast Asia, before a huge conference, which he and his colleagues are launching on the May 15, 2017, a conference on the “Ecology of War”.

I believe that the topic is thoroughly fascinating and essential for our humanity, even for its survival. It combines philosophy, medicine and science.

What happens to people in war zones? And what is a war zone, really? We arrived at some common conclusions, as both of us were working with the same topic but looking at it from two different angles:

“The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.”

We talked a lot: about fear, which is engulfing countries like the UK, about the new wave of individualism and selfishness, which has its roots in frustration. At one point he said: “In most parts of the world “freedom” is synonymous with the independence struggle for our countries. In such places as the UK, it mainly means more individualism, selfishness and personal liberties.”

We talked about imperialism, medicine and the suffering of the Middle East.

Then we decided to publish this dialogue, shedding some light on the “Ecology of War” – this essential new discipline in both philosophy and medicine.

Ecology of War

The discussion took place April 25, 2017

in Cafe Younes, Beirut, Lebanon


Broken Social Contract In The Arab World, Even In Europe 


G.A-S: In the South, medicine and the provision of health were critical parts of the post-colonial state. And the post-colonial state built medical systems such as we had in Iraq, Egypt and in Syria as part of the social contract. They became an intrinsic part of the creation of those states.

And it was a realization that the state has to exercise its power both coercively, (which we know the state is capable of exercising, by putting you in prison, and even exercising violence), but above all non-coercively: it needs to house you, educate you, and give you health, all of those things. And that non-coercive power that the states exercise is a critical part of the legitimizing process of the state.

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta (photo Andre Vltchek)

We saw it evolve in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So as a digression, if you want to look at how the state was dismantled: the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was not to weaken the Makhabarat or the army, the aim of the sanctions was to rob the Iraqi state of its non-coercive power; its ability to give life, to give education, and that’s why after 12 years, the state has totally collapsed internally – not because its coercive powers have weakened, but because it was robbed of all its non-coercive powers, of all its abilities to guarantee life to its citizens.

AV: So in a way the contract between the state and the people was broken.

G.A-S: Absolutely! And you had that contract existing in the majority of post-colonialist states. With the introduction of the IMF and World Bank-led policies that viewed health and the provision of health as a business opportunity for the ruling elites and for corporations, and viewed free healthcare as a burden on the state, you began to have an erosion in certain countries like Egypt, like Jordan, of the non-coercive powers of the state, leading to the gradual weakening of its legitimacy.

Once again, the aim of the IMF and World Bank was to turn health into a commodity, which could be sold back to people as a service; sold back to those who could afford it.

AV: So, the US model, but in much more brutal form, as the wages in most of those countries were incomparably lower.

G.A-S: Absolutely! And the way you do that in these countries: you create a two-tier system where the government tier is so under-funded, that people choose to go to the private sector. And then in the private sector you basically have the flourishing of all aspects of private healthcare: from health insurance to provision of health care, to pharmaceuticals.

AV: Paradoxically this scenario is also taking place in the UK right now.

G.A-S: We see it in the UK and we’ll see it in many other European countries. But it has already happened in this region, in the Arab world. Here, the provision of health was so critical to creation of the states. It was critical to the legitimacy of the state.

AV: The scenario has been extremely cynical: while the private health system was imposed on the Arab region and on many other parts of the world, in the West itself, except in the United States, medical care remains public and basically free. We are talking about state medical care in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

G.A-S: Yes. In Europe as part of the welfare state that came out of the Second World War, the provision of healthcare was part of the social contract. As the welfare state with the advent of Thatcherism and Reagan-ism was being dismantled, it became important to undergo a similar process as elsewhere. The difference is that in the UK, and also in countries like Germany, it was politically very dangerous. It could lead to election losses.

So the second plan was to erode the health system, by a thousand blows kill it gradually. What you ended up in the UK is the piece-by-piece privatization of the health sector. And the people don’t know, they don’t notice that the system is becoming private. Or in Germany where actually the government does not pay for healthcare – the government subsidizes the insurance companies that profit from the private provision of healthcare.

AV: Before we began recording this discussion, we were speaking about the philosophical dilemmas that are now besieging or at least should be besieging the medical profession. Even the social medical care in Europe: isn’t it to some extent a cynical arrangement?

European countries are now all part of the imperialist block, together with the United States, and they are all plundering the rest of the world – the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia – and they are actually subsidizing their social system from that plunder. That’s one thing. But also, the doctors and nurses working for instance in the UK or Germany are often ‘imported’ from much poorer countries, where they have often received free education. Instead of helping their own, needy people, they are actually now serving the ageing and by all international comparisons, unreasonably spoiled and demanding population in Europe, which often uses medical facilities as if they were some ‘social club’.

G.A-S: I think what has happened, particularly in Europe is that there is a gradual erosion of all aspects of the welfare state. Politically it was not yet possible to get rid of free healthcare. The problem that you can certainly see in the United Kingdom is that health is the final consequence of social and economic factors that people live in. So if you have chronic unemployment, second and third generation unemployment problem, these have health consequences. If you have the destruction of both pensions and the cushion of a social umbrella for the unemployed, that has consequences… Poor housing has health consequences. Mass unemployment has health consequences.

Politically it was easy to get rid of all other aspects of the welfare state, but they were stuck with a healthcare problem. And so the losing battle that the health systems in the West are fighting is that they are being expected to cater to the poor consequences of the brutal capitalist system as a non-profit endeavor. But we know that once these lifestyle changes are affecting people’s health, it’s too late in terms of cure or prevention. And so what the European health systems do, they try to patch people and to get them out of the system and back on the street.

So if you have children with chronic asthma, you treat the asthma but not the dump housing in which these children are living in. If you have violent assaults and trauma related to violence, you treat the trauma, the physical manifestation, and not the breakdown of youth unemployment, or racism that creates this. So in order to sustain this anomaly, as you said, you need an inflated health system, because you make people sick and then you try to fix them, rather than stopping them from being sick. Hence that brain drains that have basically happened, where you have more Ghanaian doctors in New York than you have in Ghana.

AV: And you have an entire army of Philippine nurses in the UK, while there is suddenly a shortage of qualified nurses in Manila.

G.A-S: Absolutely! This is the result of the fact that actually people’s health ‘happens’ outside the health system. Because you cannot get rid of the health system, you end up having a bloated health system, and try to fix the ailments that are coming through the door.

Collapse Of The Health Care In The Middle East

AV: You worked in this entire region. You worked in Iraq, and in Gaza… both you and I worked in Shifa Hospital in Gaza… You worked in Southern Lebanon during the war. How brutal is the healthcare situation in the Middle East? How badly has been, for instance, the Iraqi peoples’ suffering, compared to Western patients? How cruel is the situation in Gaza?

G. A-S: If you look at places like Iraq: Iraq in the 80’s probably had one of the most advanced health systems in the region. Then you went through the first war against Iraq, followed by 12 years of sanctions in which that health system was totally dismantled; not just in terms of hospitals and medication and the forced exile of doctors and health professionals, but also in terms of other aspects of health, which are the sewage and water and electricity plants, all of those parts of the infrastructure that directly impact on people’s lives.

AV: Then came depleted uranium…

G.A-S: And then you add to the mix that 2003 War and then the complete destruction and dismantling of the state, and the migration of some 50% of Iraq’s doctors.

AV: Where did they migrate?

G.A-S: Everywhere: to the Gulf and to the West; to North America, Europe… So what you have in Iraq is a system that is not only broken, but that has lost the components that are required to rebuild it. You can’t train a new generation of doctors in Iraq, because your trainers have all left the country. You can’t create a health system in Iraq, because you have created a government infrastructure that is intrinsically unstable and based on a multi-polarity of the centers of power which all are fighting for control of the pie of the state… and so Iraqis sub-contract their health at hospital level to India and to Turkey and Lebanon, or Jordan, because they are in this vicious loop.

AV: But this is only for those who can afford it?

G.A-S: Yes for those who can, but even in those times when the government had cash it could not build the system, anymore. So it would sub-contract health provisions outside, because the system was so broken that money couldn’t fix it.

AV: Is it the same in other countries of the region?

G.A-S: The same is happening in Libya and the same is happening in Syria, with regards of the migration of their doctors. Syria will undergo something similar to Iraq at the end of the war, if the Syrian state is destroyed.

AV: But it is still standing.

G.A-S: It still stands and it is still providing healthcare to the overwhelming majority of the population even to those who live in the rebel-controlled areas. They are travelling to Damascus and other cities for their cardiac services or for their oncological services.

AV: So no questions asked; you are sick, you get treated?

G.A-S: Even from the ISIS-controlled areas people can travel and get treated, because this is part of the job of the state.

AV: The same thing is happening with the education there; Syria still provides all basic services in that area.

G.A-S: Absolutely! But in Libya, because the state has totally disappeared or has disintegrated, all this is gone.

AV: Libya is not even one country, anymore…

G.A-S: There is not a unified country and there is definitely no health system. In Gaza and the Palestine, the occupation and the siege, ensure that there is no normal development of the health system and in case of Gaza as the Israelis say “every few years you come and you mown the lawn”; you kill as many people in these brutal and intense wars, so you can ensure that the people for the next few years will be trying to survive the damage that you have caused.

AV: Is there any help from Israeli physicians?

G.A-S: Oh yes! Very few individuals, but there is…

But the Israeli medical establishment is actually an intrinsic part of the Israeli establishment, and the Israeli academic medical establishment is also part of the Israeli establishment. And the Israeli Medical Association refused to condemn the fact that Israeli doctors examine Palestinian political prisoners for what they call “fitness for interrogation”. Which is basically… you get seen by a doctor who decides how much torture you can take before you die.

AV: This actually reminds me of what I was told in 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa, where I was invited to participate as a speaker at the International Conference of the Psychologists for Peace. Several US psychologists reported that during the interrogation and torture of alleged terrorists, there were professional psychologists and even clinical psychiatrists standing by, often assisting the interrogators.

G.A-S: Yes, there are actually 2-3 well-known American psychologists who designed the CIA interrogation system – its process.

AV: What you have described that is happening in Palestine is apparently part of a very pervasive system. I was told in the Indian-controlled Kashmir that Israeli intelligence officers are sharing their methods of interrogation and torture with their Indian counterparts. And of course the US is involved there as well.

Conflict Medicine

Gus Abu-Sitta: War surgery grew out of the Napoleonic Wars. During these wars, two armies met; they usually met at the frontline. They attacked each other, shot at each other or stabbed each other. Most of injured were combatants, and they got treated in military hospitals. You had an evolution of war surgery. What we have in this region, we believe, is that the intensity and the prolonged nature of these wars or these conflicts are not temporal-like battles, they don’t start and finish. And they are sufficiently prolonged that they change the biological ecology, the ecology in which people live. They create the ecology of war.

That ecology maintains itself well beyond of what we know is the shooting, because they alter the living environment of people. The wounds are physical, psychological and social wounds; the environment is altered as to become hostile; both to the able-bodied and more hostile to the wounded. And as in the cases of these multi-drug-resistant organisms, which are now a big issue in the world like the multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 85% of Iraqi war wounded have multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 70% of Syrian war wounded have it… So we say: this ecology, this bio-sphere that the conflicts create is even altered at the basic DNA of the bacteria.

We have several theories about it; partly it’s the role of the heavy metals in modern ordnance, which can trigger mutation in these bacteria that makes them resistant to antibiotics. So your bio-sphere, your bubble, your ecological bubble in which you live in, is permanently changed. And it doesn’t disappear the day the bombs disappear. It has to be dismantled, and in order to dismantle it you have to understand the dynamics of the ecology of war. That’s why our program was set up at the university, which had basically been the major tertiary teaching center during the civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion. And then as the war in Iraq and Syria developed, we started to get patients from these countries and treat them here.

We found out that we have to understand the dynamics of conflict medicine and to understand the ecology of war; how the physical, biological, psychological and social manifestations of war wounding happen, and how this ecology of war is created; everything from bacteria to the way water and the water cycle changes, to the toxic reminisce of war, to how people’s body reacts… Many of my Iraqi patients that I see have multiple members of their families injured.

AV: Is the AUB Medical Center now the pioneer in this research: the ecology of war?

G.A.-S: Yes, because of the legacy of the civil war… of regional wars.

AV: Nothing less than a regional perpetual conflict…

G.A-S: Perpetual conflict, yes; first homegrown, and then regional. We are the referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Health, referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, so we act as a regional center, and the aim of our program is to dedicate more time and space and energy to the understanding of how this ecology of war comes about.

AV: In my writing and in my films, I often draw the parallel between the war and extreme poverty. I have been working in some of the worst slums on Earth, those in Africa, Central America and Caribbean, South Asia, the Philippines and elsewhere. I concluded that many societies that are in theory living in peace are in reality living in prolonged or even perpetual wars.

Extreme misery is a form of war, although there is no ‘declaration of war’, and there is no defined frontline. I covered both countless wars and countless places of extreme misery, and the parallel, especially the physical, psychological and social impact on human beings, appears to be striking. Would you agree, based on your research? Do you see extreme misery as a type of war?

G.A-S: Absolutely. Yes. At the core of it is the ‘dehumanization’ of people. Extreme poverty is a form of violence. The more extreme this poverty becomes, the closer it comes to the physical nature of violence. War is the accelerated degradation of people’s life to reaching that extreme poverty. But that extreme poverty can be reached by a more gradual process. War only gets them there faster.

AV: A perpetual state of extreme poverty is in a way similar to a perpetual state of conflict, of a war.

G.A-S: Definitely. And it is a war mainly against those who are forced to live in these circumstances. It’s the war against the poor and the South. It’s the war against the poor in the inner-cities of the West.

AV: When you are defining the ecology of war, are you also taking what we are now discussing into consideration? Are you researching the impact of extreme poverty on human bodies and human lives? In this region, extreme poverty can often be found in the enormous refugee camps, while in other parts of the world it dwells in countless slums.

G.A-S: This extreme poverty is part of the ecology that we are discussing. One of the constituents of the ecology is when you take a wounded body and you place it in a harsh physical environment and you see how this body is re-wounded and re-wounded again, and this harsh environment becomes a continuation of that battleground, because what you see is a process of re-wounding. Not because you are still in the frontline somewhere in Syria, but because your kids are now living in a tent with 8 other people and they are in danger of becoming the victims of the epidemic of child burns that we now have in the refugee camps, because of poor and unsafe housing.

Let’s look at it from a different angle: what constitutes a war wound, or a conflict-related injury?

Your most basic conflict-related injury is a gunshot wound and a blast injury from shrapnel. But what happens when you take that wounded body and throw it into a tent? What are the complications for this wounded body living in a harsh environment; does this constitute a war-related injury? When you impoverish the population to the point that you have children suffering from the kind of injuries that we know are the results of poor and unsafe housing, is that a conflict-related injury?

Or you have children now who have work-related injuries, because they have to go and become the main breadwinners for the home, working as car mechanics or porters or whatever. Or do you also consider a fact that if you come from a country where a given disease used to be treatable there, but due to the destruction of a health system, that ailment is not treatable anymore, because the hospitals are gone or because doctors had to leave, does that constitute a conflict-related injury? So, we have to look at the entire ecology: beyond a bullet and shrapnel – things that get headlines in the first 20 seconds.

AV: Your research seems to be relevant to most parts of the world.

G.A-S: Absolutely. Because we know that these humanitarian crises only exist in the imagination of the media and the UN agencies. There are no crises.

AV: It is perpetual state, again.

G.A-S: Exactly, it is perpetual. It does not stop. It is there all the time. Therefore there is no concept of ‘temporality of crises’, one thing we are arguing against. There is no referee who blows the whistle at the end of the crises. When the cameras go off, the media and then the world, decides that the crises are over. But you know that people in Laos, for instance, still have one of the highest amputation rates in the world.

AV: I know. I worked there in the Plain of Jars, which is an enormous minefield even to this day.

G.A-S: Or Vietnam, with the greatest child facial deformities in the world as a result of Agent Orange.

AV: You worked in these countries.

G.A-S: Yes.

AV: Me too; and I used to live in Vietnam. That entire region is still suffering from what used to be known as the “Secret War”. In Laos, the poverty is so rampant that people are forced to sell unexploded US bombs for scrap. They periodically explode. In Cambodia, even between Seam Reap and the Thai border, there are villages where people are still dying or losing limbs.

G.A-S: Now many things depend on how we define them. It is often a game of words.

AV: India is a war zone, from Kashmir to the Northeast, Bihar and slums of Mumbai.

G.A-S: If you take the crudest way of measuring conflict, which is the number of people killed by weapons, Guatemala and Salvador have now more people slaughtered than they had during the war. But because the nature in which violence is exhibited changed, because it doesn’t carry a political tag now, it is not discussed. But actually, it is by the same people against the same people.

AV: I wrote about and filmed in Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, on several occasions. The extreme violence there is a direct result of the conflict implanted, triggered by the West, particularly by the United States. The same could be said about such places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It has led to almost absolute social collapse.

G.A-S: Yes, in Jamaica, the CIA played a great role in the 70’s.

AV: In that part of the world we are not talking just about poverty…

G.A-S: No, no. We are talking AK-47’s!

AV: Exactly. Once I filmed in San Salvador, in a gangland… A friend, a local liberation theology priest kindly drove me around. We made two loops. The first loop was fine. On the second one they opened fire at our Land Cruiser, with some heavy stuff. The side of our car was full of bullet holes, and they blew two tires. We got away just on our rims. In the villages, maras simply come and plunder and rape. They take what they want. It is a war.

G.A.-S: ICRC, they train surgeons in these countries. So the ICRC introduced war surgery into the medical curriculum of the medical schools in Colombia and Honduras. Because effectively, these countries are in a war, so you have to train surgeons, so they know what to do when they receive 4-5 patients every day, with gunshot wounds.

AV: Let me tell you what I witnessed in Haiti, just to illustrate your point. Years ago I was working in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They say it is the most dangerous ‘neighborhood’ or slum on Earth. The local wisdom goes: “you can enter, but you will never leave alive”. I went there with a truck, with two armed guards, but they were so scared that they just abandoned me there, with my big cameras and everything, standing in the middle of the road. I continued working; I had no choice.

At one point I saw a long line in front of some walled compound. I went in. What I was suddenly facing was thoroughly shocking: several local people on some wooden tables, blood everywhere, and numerous US military medics and doctors performing surgeries under the open sky.

It was hot, flies and dirt everywhere… A man told me his wife had a huge tumor.

Without even checking what it was, the medics put her on a table, gave her “local” and began removing the stuff. After the surgery was over, a husband and wife walked slowly to a bus stop and went home. A couple of kilometers from there I found a well-equipped and clean US medical facility, but only for US troops and staff.

I asked the doctors what they were really doing in Haiti and they were quiet open about it; they replied:

“We are training for combat scenario… This is as close to a war that we can get.” They were experimenting on human beings, of course; learning how to operate during the combat…”

G.A-S: So, the distinction is only in definitions.

AV: As a surgeon who has worked all over the Middle East but also in many other parts of the world, how would you compare the conflict here to the conflicts in Asia, the Great Lakes of Africa and elsewhere?

G.A-S: In the Middle East, you still have people remembering when they had hospitals. Iraqis who come to my clinic remember the 80’s. They know that life was different and could have been different. And they are health-literate. The other issue is that in 2014 alone, some 30,000 Iraqis were injured. The numbers are astounding.

We don’t have a grasp of the numbers in Libya, the amount of ethnic cleansing and killing that is happening in Libya. In terms of numbers, they are profound, but in terms of the effect, we are at the beginning of the phase of de-medicalization. So it wasn’t that these medical systems did not develop. They are being de-developed. They are going backwards.

AV: Are you blaming Western imperialism for the situation?

G.A-S: If you look at the sanctions and what they did to their health system, of course! If you look at Libya, of course! The idea that these states disintegrated is a falsehood. We know what the dynamics of the sanctions were in Iraq, and what happened in Iraq after 2003. We know what happened in Libya.

AV: Or in Afghanistan…

G.A-S: The first thing that the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or the Nicaraguan Contras were told to do was to attack the clinics. The Americans have always understood that you destroy the state by preventing it from providing these non-coercive powers that I spoke about.

AV: Do you see this part of the world as the most effected, most damaged?

G.A-S: At this moment and time certainly. And the statistics show it. I think around 60% of those dying from wars are killed in this region…

AV: And how do you define this region geographically?

G.A-S: From Afghanistan to Mauritania. And that includes the Algerian-Mali border. The Libyan border… The catastrophe of the division of Sudan, what’s happening in South Sudan, what’s happening in Somalia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai Desert, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, even Pakistan including people who are killed there by drones…

AV: But then we also have around 10 million people who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 1995 Rwandan invasion…

G.A-S: Now that is a little bit different. That is the ‘more advanced phase’: when you’ve completely taken away the state… In the Arab world Libya is the closest to that scenario. There the oil companies have taken over the country. The mining companies are occupying DRC. And they run the wars directly, rather than through the Western armies. You erode the state, completely, until it disappears and then the corporations, directly, as they did in the colonialist phase during the East Indian Company, and the Dutch companies, become the main players again.

AV: What is the goal of your research, the enormous project called the “Ecology of War”?

G.A-S: One of the things that we insist on is this holistic approach. The compartmentalization is part of the censorship process. “You are a microbiologist then only look what is happening with the bacteria… You are an orthopedic surgeon, so you only have to look at the blast injuries, bombs, landmine injuries…” So that compartmentalization prevents bringing together people who are able to see the whole picture. Therefore we are insisting that this program also has social scientists, political scientists, anthropologists, microbiologists, surgeons… Otherwise we’d just see the small science. We are trying to put the sciences together to see the bigger picture. We try to put the pieces of puzzle together, and to see the bigger picture.

AV: And now you have a big conference. On the 15th of May…

G.A-S: Now we have a big conference; basically the first congress that will look at all these aspects of conflict and health; from the surgical, to the reconstruction of damaged bodies, to the issues of medical resistance of bacteria, infectious diseases, to some absolutely basic issues. Like, before the war there were 30,000 kidney-failure patients in Yemen. Most dialysis patients are 2 weeks away from dying if they don’t get dialysis.

So, there is a session looking at how you provide dialysis in the middle of these conflicts? What do you do, because dialysis services are so centralized? The movement of patients is not easy, and the sanctions… One topic will be ‘cancer and war’… So this conference will be as holistic as possible, of the relationship between the conflict and health.

We expect over 300 delegates, and we will have speakers from India, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, from the UK, we have people coming from the humanitarian sector, from ICRC, people who worked in Africa and the Middle East, we have people who worked in previous wars and are now working in current wars, so we have a mix of people from different fields.

AV: What is the ultimate goal of the program?

G.A-S: We have to imagine the health of the region beyond the state. On the conceptual level, we need to try to figure out what is happening? We can already see certain patterns. One of them is the regionalization of healthcare. The fact that Libyans get treated in Tunisia, Iraqis and Syrians get treated in Beirut, Yemenis get treated in Jordan. So you already have the disintegration of these states and the migration of people to the regional centers.

The state is no longer a major player, because the state was basically destroyed. We feel that this is a disease of the near future, medium future and long-term future. Therefore we have to understand it, in order to better treat it, we have to put mechanisms in place that this knowledge transfers into the medical education system, which will produce medical professionals who are better equipped to deal with this health system. We have to make sure that people are aware of many nuances of the conflict, beyond the shrapnel and beyond the bullet.

The more research we put into this area of the conflict and health, the more transferable technologies we develop – the better healthcare we’d be allowed to deliver in these situations, the better training our students and graduates would receive, and better work they will perform in this region for the next 10 or 15 years.

AV: And hopefully more lives would be saved…

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.
More articles by:Andre Vltchek

Ron Paul Interviews Julian Assange

Ron Paul Interviews Julian Assange: “The CIA Has Been Deeply Humiliated”

by Ron Paul - via

April 29, 2017

Having blasted the Trump administration for their hypocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals:

Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

North Korea War Bluff, Or Just Bluster?

No US War on North Korea: An optimistic perspective on a scary crisis

by Dave Lindorff  - This Can't Be Happening

April 28, 2017  

North Korea is threatening to destroy the US with its thus far largely undeliverable and sometimes unexplodable nuclear weapons, while the US, after an embarrassing navigational "mishap" that saw it steaming in the opposite direction, has successfully dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group to a position reportedly within "strike range" of North Korea (but actually still in the South China Sea near the Philippines, some 1200 miles distant from North Korea), and now President Trump is threatening a possible attack on that country if it won't halt its nuclear weapons program.

(Pictured: The USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian Ocean)

So is the Korean War, which never really ended, going to be reactivated, as scare stories are now warning?

While I often find myself the pessimist in these kinds of crises, given the penchant for US presidents to turn to war as a default foreign policy option, I'm guessing that won't happen in this case, and for the same reason I that do not think we will see US troops confronting the determined ethnic Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

It's clear that for years now, the imperialist policy of the US government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has been to create chaos in regions of the world from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America, the better to control uppity countries like Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, whose leaders try to buck or stand up to US dictates. But it's one thing to overthrow a government and decapitate its leadership in a place like Libya or Syria, where no powerful state is located nearby to defend that country. It's altogether another to take on a country that lies right on the border of another nuclear power, as does Ukraine and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

There was nobody to come to Col. Ghaddafy's aid when US-led NATO forces attacked his government, backing rebels seeking his overthrow, and left the country a chaotic mess, which it has remained now for six years. And until Russia stepped in, the same was true of US backing for Islamic rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Basher Al-Assad. Ukraine was something of an exception, with the US backing a coup in 2014 that ousted the country's elected pro-Russian president, installing in his place a pro-US regime, despite its bordering Russia. My sense is that US warmongers still thought Russia was a backwards mess in 2014, incapable of standing up and with a disfunctional military. When Russia acted, though, and made it clear, with the annexation of Crimea and with material support of ethnic Russians in breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk, that it would brook no departure of Ukraine into NATO's fold, the US backed off, despite plenty of bluster from the Obama White House and its laughably inept Secretary of State John Kerry.

I'm predicting that the same thing will happen in the case of North Korea. The Trump administration may threaten to attack, but the bottom line is that a US attack on North Korea, or even a so-called surgical strike on its nuclear weapons development facility or a special forces attack on its leader, Kim Jong-un, would be viewed by China's government as a mortal threat to their country's national security, just as Russia views any effort to turn Ukraine into a US puppet and NATO member as a mortal threat to itself.

Actually, there are a number of good reasons to doubt that the US will attack North Korea, nuke test or no nuke test. The first is that China, which is reportedly already moving crack Peoples Liberation Army troops and equipment up to the North Korean border, will not allow the US to conquer and occupy North Korea, the first being that such a move would put US military forces right up on China's border. The second is that US policymakers, even those neo-conservatives who might like the idea of challenging China in principle, know they really have no idea how the North Korean people would react to a US occupation, following an air attack. It's not common knowledge in the US, but the reality is that during the Korean War, US bombers dropped, over a period of a couple of years, a tonnage of bombs on North Korea equal to all the bombs dropped in the Pacific Theater during WWII, killing a third of the country's population. Virtually every North Korean has at least one family member who was killed by American bombers during the brutal onslaught, which was so intense that towards the end US pilots were reportedly dumping their bombs in the ocean before returning to base so they could land safely, because they could find no more targets to hit in the North.

Given that history, and the generations of anti-US propaganda since then in the country, no one could say for certain that American soldiers fighting their way into North Korea today would be viewed purely, or even by some people, as "liberators." (In that sense, the experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq is probably still in the minds of the actual Pentagon brass, if not in the minds of the armchair generals at the White House.)

Even South Korea, effectively a US colony since the end of World War II, has to be taken into consideration. Most South Koreans are aghast that the US would consider attacking the north. For one thing, the capital of South Korea, Seoul, is so close to North Korea that it is in range of thousands of large cannons, many of them well hidden and protected in tunnels in the north, which could rain down powerful shells on the city as devastating as any aerial bombardment campaign, and the people of Seoul still recall how their city was destroyed during the back-and-forth battling of the Korean War in the 1950s. For another, many South Koreans have relatives in the north, and don't want to see them killed or injured in another round or war on the peninsula. Finally, South Korea itself has a long history of popular resistance to both the country's corrupt and often autocratic compradore government and to the US military's occupation of the country and its dominance over South Korea's sown military. How such a populace would react to a new war on the Korean people of the north would be hard to predict in advance.

Any way you look at it, a US-launched war against North Korea would be a very messy and probably long-running affair whose consequences could quickly include an armed conflict between US and Chinese troops, as happened the first time around with dreadful consequences, and that was before China had nuclear weapons and had sfar fewer ICBMs capable of putting them down on US cities from New York to Los Angeles.

So for all these reasons, I'm betting that what we're hearing and seeing from the Trump White House is only bluster. Perhaps President Trump will find some face-saving way to cut a deal with China in which he'll target some missile launching site in North Korea, which would be warned in advance of an attack so most people could clear out of the area, and then it would be hit by a barrage of Tomahawk missiles launched by the Carl Vinson battle group, should his naval "armada" ever reach its destination in the Yellow Sea or Sea of Japan. Those missiles that manage to reach their targets would wreak some photogenic damage he could distribute to the domestic media and his remaining supporters, much as he did with his pre-approved airport raid in Syria.

I hope I'm right on this. If I'm wrong, it won't much matter, though.

Monbiot on Guard for Dubious Gas Attack Claims

A disavowal of George Monbiot’s witch-hunt 

by Jonathan Cook

28 April 2017
George Monbiot is again on one of his intermittent witch-hunts against “the left” – on this occasion, against anyone questioning whether the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this month.

In a post on his website, called simply “Disavowal”, he dismisses those who have raised doubts about the official western narrative – such as MIT weapons expert Ted Postol; former UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter; and former US military and government insider Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state – as a “few contrarians”.

I remember a time when Monbiot was a contrarian himself, on the environment and climate change. Then, he would have proudly embraced such a denunciation as proof of his independence and critical thinking. Now it is a weapon to use against his critics.

On foreign policy matters, Monbiot has regularly shown poor judgment. Since the attack on Iraq, he has posed not as a cheerleader for intervention but as a weary onlooker, reluctantly conceding that whatever US, British and other western intelligence agencies say – and the largely uncritical reports of these statements by liberal media like his own newspaper the Guardian – should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The fact that these official assurances have so often turned to mush on closer inspection, whether in Iraq, Libya or now Syria, never strengthens his resolve to maintain more critical distance next time. Nor does it seem to raise any concern that, by failing to adopt a posture of rigorous scepticism, he is inadvertently conspiring in the promotion by the west and its allies, like Saudi Arabia, of their right to meddle in and attack official “enemy” states.

Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.

Noam Chomsky made this point in a different context in the book Understanding Power:

So when American dissidents criticize the atrocities of some enemy state like Cuba or Vietnam or something, it’s no secret what the effects of that criticism are going to be: it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the Cuban regime, for example, but it certainly will help the torturers in Washington and Miami to keep inflicting their campaign of suffering on the Cuban population [i.e. through the US-led embargo]. Well, that is something I do not think a moral person would want to contribute to.

It perhaps goes without saying that, as Monbiot has become less and less of a “contrarian”, he has turned his fire on those who insist on the right to be one. A few years ago that finally included Chomsky too, as I have previously discussed here.

One of the problems with Monbiot’s latest “disavowal” – presumably from the leftists he castigates in his short piece – is that it offers no justification for what it claims to be justifying.

In less than 48 hours after the attack in Idlib, Monbiot was tweeting that the evidence appeared to show Assad was responsible, while suggesting that anyone who doubted the Syrian regime’s role was likely driven by nefarious motives.

A day later, he was “99%” sure Assad’s government was responsible. Trump’s illegal attacks on Syria were only “symbolic” – a symbolic war crime, presumably – and would allow Assad to “carry on as before”. Did he mean Trump needed to launch more than a symbolic attack? That he needed to ratchet up the violence to stop Assad “carrying on as before”? It is this kind of irresponsibly ambiguous language – from a journalist skilled in the use of words – that can serve only to aid an agenda Monbiot says he opposes.

Then weapons expert Ted Postol muddied the waters. He offered a critique of the only real evidence for the attack that is publicly available – Youtube videos, photos and a White House report.

Neither I nor Monbiot are chemical weapons or missile experts, so we have little to contribute to the technical arguments. But we can maintain a critical distance while others do, and weigh the evidence they produce.

But that is not what Monbiot did. He was sure of Assad’s responsibility for the attack before there was any evidence that hadn’t been supplied by western intelligence agencies and western news outlets – the latter depending on local sources from an area controlled by violent, ruthless jihadist groups. There is a good reason why independent experts, western journalists and neutral parties are not operating in these areas, after all.

Now Monbiot wants to point to recent critiques of Postol’s analysis as evidence for why he was right to blame Assad at the outset; and why, further, those who have refused to jump to conclusions, as he did, are exposed as Assad apologists.

Even if we assume the criticisms of Postol’s work are based in evidence and factually right (and neither he nor I are in a position to know that), he did not wait for Postol’s analysis, or for the subsequent critiques of Postol’s work, to reach his own conclusions. In short, Monbiot’s mind was made up from the beginning. That – and only that – is what he is being reprehended for by the vast majority of his critics .

But there is an even more important issue here, at least for anyone who is really interested in getting to the truth of what happened, and wants to stop official narratives being abused to promote greater western military intervention (and suffering) in Syria.

We need more of an engaged debate about evidence, not less of it. Postol, Blix and Ritter may all be wrong. But they should have a fair hearing and their arguments should be fully engaged with in the mainstream – especially, in supposedly liberal media outlets like the Guardian. Anyone who wants to understand what happened in Idlib must also want a vigorous and open debate that most members of the public will have access to.

So how much coverage have these counter-narratives received in the corporate media? Precisely zero coverage in the UK media, as Media Lens have pointed out. The evidence marshalled by the doubters has been shunted – as ever – into the corners of the internet, which is exactly where US, British and French officials want it.

Is Monbiot protesting the lack of engagement with these counter-narratives and the evidence the experts – and they are experts, whether he likes it or not – have proffered? Is he demanding that his paper, the Guardian, give a hearing to Postol, Blix and Ritter? No, he most definitely isn’t. In fact, he has been doing the precise opposite. He has discredited the doubters, and even those who simply want the debate to take place, as Assad apologists.

This is the behaviour of a propagandist, not a free thinker. I disavow too.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weapons Claims a New Spin on Old "Axis of Evil" Narrative

New Spin on North Korea/Syria "Axis of Evil" Points to US War

by Finian Cunningham - RT

April 27, 2017

US media reports this week blamed North Korea for having a dastardly role in an alleged chemical weapons massacre in Syria. As if the two countries could not be demonized enough.

The latest spin of the “axis of evil” suggests Washington is hell-bent on war.

Demonize, dehumanize, destroy. That’s the logic being throttled by the Trump administration toward both North Korea and Syria.

This week war hawk US Senator Lyndsey Graham after a dinner with President Trump referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a “nutjob,” while Trump earlier labeled Syrian leader Bashar Assad an “animal.”

Now the two “evil dictators” are bonded in US media reports for complicity in the alleged chemical weapons attack earlier this month in Syria’s Idlib Province, where it is claimed Assad’s armed forces dropped toxic munitions on civilians, killing up to 80.

The supplier of the alleged chemical weapons in Syria is the “Kim Jong-un regime” in North Korea, according to US reports.

USA Today claimed:

“The horrors of the civil war in Syria have proved a blessing for North Korea. The regime of Kim Jong-un has made a killing from selling arms and ammunition to the regime of fellow dictator, Bashar Assad.” 

It goes on to cite claims that a “key supplier” of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is the northeast Asian nation.

Another publication, Defense One, headlined: “Syria’s war has been a goldmine for North Korea.”

Both outlets rely heavily on one source, Professor Bruce Bechtol, from Angelo State University, Texas, who is described as a “North Korea expert.”

Bechtol is quoted as saying:

“I would be stunned, I would be surprised if the nerve agent used by the Assad regime on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun [Idlib Province] was not supplied by North Korea.”

In other words, this so-called “expert” doesn’t really know. Professor Bechtol is making a conjecture. Reference to his past research on the subject of North Korea/Syria military links, in 2015, make sweeping assertions about how the two nations have collaborated on developing chemical weapons.

Tellingly, the US “academic” makes a prominent citation of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in his assessment of North Korea and Syria’s military connections.

Last week, Fox News accused the countries of having a “long history” of sharing chemical weapons technology, without providing any corroborating details.

Meanwhile, a search in the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – a recognized authority on global weapons trade – finds there is scant transfer of military technology, including chemicals, between North Korea and Syria.

In any case, claims chemical weapons were deployed by the Syrian government also ignore earlier reports by United Nations agencies that all such munitions had been completely destroyed under a Russian-US brokered decommissioning deal in 2013.

Media speculation Korean leader Kim Jong-un had some role in facilitating the death of civilians in Syria – due to alleged supply of lethal toxins appear to be orchestrated with the aim of demonizing. All the better, from the US propaganda point of view, because it brings him into the same target scope as Syria’s Assad, whom Washington has been trying to oust for the past six years in a proxy regime-change war.

The game of “evil dictator association” is a reboot of the “axis of evil” narrative first announced by former US President G.W. Bush in 2002. In the wake of the 9/11 terror incidents, the Bush administration fingered six states as state terror-sponsors and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. The alleged “axis of evil” unveiled by Bush comprised: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba.

Of course, there were good grounds to suspect the narrative as a propaganda device, dutifully assisted by Western news media, as a way to target “rogue regimes” for American military attack. Iraq and Libya have been “dealt with.” Evidently, North Korea and Syria (as well as Iran) are a “work in progress” for Washington.

The allegation of chemical weapons from North Korea to Syria is a transparent attempt at a frame-up.

For a start, the alleged incident on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun has relied solely on dubious videos sourced from terrorist-affiliated militants and their media agents, known as the White Helmets.

Several respected weapons authorities, such as MIT Professor Theodore Postol, dispute the claims asserted by Western governments and the media that Sarin gas was used. These authorities have also voiced concern that the whole incident was a propaganda stunt or false flag instigated by Western-sponsored militants in order to discredit the Assad government and justify US military intervention.

Three days after the April 4 incident, amid much sensational Western media accusations against the Syrian government, US President Trump launched 59 cruise missiles on the country. It is a matter of doctrinal thought that Assad committed a war crime with chemical weapons. According to Washington and its allies, attacking Syria with missiles is not an act of aggression, it is an act of “righteous revenge.”

“Gas a baby, and you can expect action,”declared Trump’s White House spokesman Sean Spicer unburdened of any legal standard.

This is while the US, Britain, and France have blocked a formal request from Russia, Iran, and Syria for an impartial, on-site investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun incident. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Western powers showed they do not want to find out the truth of what really happened because their priority is pushing the agenda for regime change in Syria.
The alleged connection to North Korea makes the propaganda drive even more seductive. Not only is Syria demonized without any proof, but now North Korea can also be vilified for having a dastardly role in “gassing beautiful babies,” as Trump would have it.

The US targeting of North Korea with nuclear-capable submarines, warships, and intercontinental ballistic missiles has taken provocative threats against Pyongyang to a reckless level. Trump and his top officials have repeatedly warned recently that the US is ready to launch pre-emptive strikes on North Korea.

It is arguable that US conduct amounts to acts of aggression. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program may have breached international sanctions, but the actions of the US and its allies holding war exercises are insanely disproportionate. The world is being put on a hair trigger for war, at Washington’s initiative.

The Trump administration, given free rein by supine news media, is making the incendiary claim that “it fears time is running out” on stopping Kim Jong-un from obtaining a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US.

If the US launches a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, it will probably be devastating, as the Trump administration has warned. The extraordinary dropping of the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan earlier this month seems to have been a macabre rehearsal for what would otherwise be seen as a horrific attack on North Korea.

Smearing the North Korean leader with alleged atrocities by chemical weapons in Syria is another grim pointer that the US is preparing to commit a catastrophic crime. By a process of demonizing and dehumanizing, it is creating a license to destroy.

However, such demonic US behavior should actually turn world attention to who exactly is the real axis of evil and number-one threat to peace.

Hunger and the Prisoners of Palestine

Prisoners Show the Way

by Mazin Qumsiyeh -

April 27, 2017

Today all of Palestine is on strike in solidarity with the fasting prisoners and tomorrow is a day of indignation, demonstrations, and confrontations with the occupiers.

Bethlehem is a ghost town and all shops and public transportation are closed and Israeli helicopters are in the skies.  

[Volunteers came to museum and we are taking a group on tour of the wall and impact of settlements on the environment because this is not work but resistance].

Tomorrow is a day of demonstrations and confrontations. In this message I just want to reflect on why this is very important.

Every day we encounter greedy people focused on their own needs and unhealthy desires. How many cheated us? How many come around us because they have some material interest?

How many corrupt politicians do we know? How many people we know turn out to be kinder and gentler and more self-sacrificing than we thought? How many turned out more mean, more selfish, more sadistic? Looking at the world in this fashion (some would claim it is seeing reality) can be truly dispiriting. It can remove any remaining humanity in many people. But then comes a prisoner hunger strike! It sounds small but it touches a cord in human beings bigger than any other and I will argue it is the way to reclaim our humanity.

Today, Palestinians and their friends around the world show solidarity with over 1800 Palestinian political prisoners who are on their 11th day of hunger strike. Salt and water is all they will take until their just and rightful demands are met (basic decent treatment in prison based on international law). It sounds simple but this is a profound even in Palestinian and human history. The price one pays for resistance is injury,
death or imprisonment. It is the antithesis of selfishness and greed.

800,000 Palestinians tasted life in prison and today almost 7000 are there in the colonial apartheid Israeli prisons. While everyone knows this, the hunger strike brought the prisoners' message home to all - rich and  poor, greedy and self-sacrificing, honest and liar. This message is nothing short of that we humans must reconnect to our humanity and that caring for others is the way to save humanity. In this 21st century with weapons of mass destruction and climate change, we cannot afford as a species to do otherwise. Prisoners show us the way like many decent human beings showed us the way before (think of Jesus and prophets and revolutionaries like Che Guevera).

But the alarm bells for us are now alarm bells for a dying species unless we act. It is more urgent than ever in our short history on earth. We really have a choice to make and it is both an individual and a collective choice. That choice is to either accept war and greed as "natural" and follow the other human lemmings over the cliff OR resist and give of ourselves as a way to save humanity. Mahatma Gandhi used hunger strike to refocus people away from greed and selfishness to caring for each other.

Hunger is painful and people will die sooner or later unless we all act. What is at stake is very high: our own self-respect (dignity) as human beings. But as the world changed, the danger is that we can also go extinct as a species unless we manage to collectively transcend a huge baggage of greed, colonialism, and capitalism that cannot be sustained in the 21st century. Palestinian prisoners by their silent deeds of self-sacrifice have shown us the way.

As did martyrs like Basil Al-Araj who simply noted that in his extremely short last words on paper: there is no more eloquent speech than the deed of the Martyr.

Kkalil Gibran wrote in "The Prophet" 1923:

“You give but little when you give of your possessions; it is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And what is fear of need but need itself.” 

The prisoners and the martyrs gave silently of themselves. For the rest of us, where we stand today and tomorrow will say a lot about who we are.

Here is a relevant article I wrote seven years ago "The Savior in Each of Us"

Stay human

Mazin Qumsiyeh
A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor and (volunteer) Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine
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Consortium News: Supporting the News We Need

Wrapping Up Spring Fund Drive

by Robert Parry - Consortium News

April 27, 2017

From Editor Robert Parry:

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The Prisoner's Tale: Talking with Patrick McGoohan

Numbered Man: An Analysis of the Prisoner

by Jay Dyer

July 5, 2015

1960s spy fiction is some of my favorite fiction.

Developing its own unique aesthetic, from Bond to The Saint to Harry Palmer, the vivid, flamboyant style of both the spies and their cinema incarnations created an iconic pop phenomena that survives still (as 007 is still going strong).

Everyone knows 007, but few are aware of the more philosophical, science fiction based British cult show, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.

McGoohan not only starred in the show, but is also the series’ co-creator, following his successful Danger Man series, and reportedly passed over the role of Bond in Dr. No and The Saint due to moral qualms with 007’s ethics (McGoohan was a professing Roman Catholic).

Regardless, The Prisoner remains one of the most fascinating presentations of the dark side of international espionage, combining the esoteric, philosophical, geopolitical and the fantastical, as well as functioning as a critique of the most foundational assumptions of modern, “progressive” man.

For this, it most certainly warrants an analysis.

[For complete article, please see source here.]

Modernity involves the belief that nature (including human nature) is infinitely malleable, open to the endless manipulation and “improvement” of science. In a 1977 interview with Canadian journalist Warner Troyer, McGoohan said,

“I think we’re progressing too fast. I think that we should pull back and consolidate the things that we’ve discovered.”

Pushing the Nuclear Weapons Envelope: Breakthroughs Endangering Our Existence

These Nuclear Breakthroughs Are Endangering the World

by Conn Hallinan - FPIF

April 26, 2017

How a growing technology gap between the U.S. and its nuclear- armed rivals could lead to the unraveling of arms control agreements — and even nuclear war. 


At a time of growing tensions between nuclear powers — Russia and NATO in Europe, and the U.S., North Korea, and China in Asia — Washington has quietly upgraded its nuclear weapons arsenal to create, according to three leading American scientists, “exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Matthew McKinzie of the National Resources Defense Council, and physicist and ballistic missile expert Theodore Postol conclude that “Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program,” the U.S. military has vastly expanded the “killing power” of its warheads such that it can “now destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos.”

The upgrade — part of the Obama administration’s $1 trillion modernization of America’s nuclear forces — allows Washington to destroy Russia’s land-based nuclear weapons, while still retaining 80 percent of U.S. warheads in reserve. If Russia chose to retaliate, it would be reduced to ash.

A Failure of Imagination

Any discussion of nuclear war encounters several major problems.

First, it’s difficult to imagine or to grasp what it would mean in real life. We’ve only had one conflict involving nuclear weapons — the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — and the memory of those events has faded over the years. In any case, the two bombs that flattened those Japanese cities bear little resemblance to the killing power of modern nuclear weapons.

The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a force of 15 kilotons, or kt. The Nagasaki bomb was slightly more powerful, at about 18 kt. Between them, they killed over 215,000 people. In contrast, the most common nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal today, the W76, has an explosive power of 100 kt. The next most common, the W88, packs a 475-kt punch.

Another problem is that most of the public thinks nuclear war is impossible because both sides would be destroyed. This is the idea behind the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, aptly named “MAD.”

But MAD is not a U.S. military doctrine. A “first strike” attack has always been central to U.S. military planning, until recently. However, there was no guarantee that such an attack would so cripple an opponent that it would be unable — or unwilling, given the consequences of total annihilation — to retaliate.

The strategy behind a first strike — sometimes called a “counter force” attack — isn’t to destroy an opponent’s population centers, but to eliminate the other sides’ nuclear weapons, or at least most of them. Anti-missile systems would then intercept a weakened retaliatory strike.

The technical breakthrough that suddenly makes this a possibility is something called the “super-fuze”, which allows for a much more precise ignition of a warhead. If the aim is to blow up a city, such precision is superfluous. But taking out a reinforced missile silo requires a warhead to exert a force of at least 10,000 pounds per square inch on the target.

Up until the 2009 modernization program, the only way to do that was to use the much more powerful — but limited in numbers — W88 warhead. Fitted with the super-fuze, however, the smaller W76 can now do the job, freeing the W88 for other targets.

Traditionally, land-based missiles are more accurate than sea-based missiles, but the former are more vulnerable to a first-strike than the latter, because submarines are good at hiding. The new super-fuze does not increase the accuracy of Trident II submarine missiles, but it makes up for that with the precision of where the weapon detonates. “In the case of the 100-kt Trident II warhead,” write the three scientists, “the super-fuze triples the killing power of the nuclear force it is applied to.”

Before the super-fuze was deployed, only 20 percent of U.S. subs had the ability to destroy re-enforced missile silos. Today, all have that capacity.

Trident II missiles typically carry from four to five warheads, but can expand that up to eight. While the missile is capable of hosting as many as 12 warheads, that configuration would violate current nuclear treaties. U.S. submarines currently deploy about 890 warheads, of which 506 are W76s and 384 are W88s.

The land-based ICBMs are Minuteman III, each armed with three warheads — 400 in total — ranging from 300 kt to 500 kt apiece. There are also air and sea-launched nuclear tipped missiles and bombs. The Tomahawk cruise missiles that recently struck Syria can be configured to carry a nuclear warhead.

The Technology Gap

The super-fuze also increases the possibility of an accidental nuclear conflict.

So far, the world has managed to avoid a nuclear war, although during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis it came distressingly close. There have also been several scary incidents when U.S. and Soviet forces went to full alert because of faulty radar images or a test tape that someone thought was real. While the military downplays these events, former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues that it is pure luck that we have avoided a nuclear exchange — and that the possibility of nuclear war is greater today than it was at the height of the Cold War.

In part, this is because of a technology gap between the U.S. and Russia.

In January 1995, Russian early warning radar on the Kola Peninsula picked up a rocket launch from a Norwegian island that looked as if it was targeting Russia. In fact, the rocket was headed toward the North Pole, but Russian radar tagged it as a Trident II missile coming in from the North Atlantic. The scenario was plausible. While some first strike attacks envision launching a massive number of missiles, others call for detonating a large warhead over a target at about 800 miles altitude. The massive pulse of electro-magnetic radiation that such an explosion generates would blind or cripple radar systems over a broad area. That would be followed with a first strike.

At the time, calmer heads prevailed and the Russians called off their alert, but for a few minutes the doomsday clock moved very close to midnight.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the 1995 crisis suggests that Russia does not have “a reliable and working global space-based satellite early warning system.” Instead, Moscow has focused on building ground-based systems that give the Russians less warning time than satellite-based ones do. What that means is that while the U.S. would have about 30 minutes of warning time to investigate whether an attack was really taking place, the Russians would have 15 minutes or less.

That, according to the magazine, would likely mean that “Russian leadership would have little choice but to pre-delegate nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command,” hardly a situation that would be in the national security interests of either country.

Or, for that matter, the world.

A recent study found that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan using Hiroshima- sized weapons would generate a nuclear winter that would make it impossible to grow wheat in Russia and Canada and cut the Asian Monsoon’s rainfall by 10 percent. The result would be up to 100 million deaths by starvation. Imagine what the outcome would be if the weapons were the size used by Russia, China, or the U.S.

For the Russians, the upgrading of U.S. sea-based missiles with the super-fuze would be an ominous development. By “shifting the capacity to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles,” the three scientists conclude, “the U.S. military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos.”

The U.S. Ohio class submarine is armed with 24 Trident II missiles, carrying as many as 192 warheads. The missiles can be launched in less than a minute.

The Russians and Chinese have missile-firing submarines as well, but not as many, and some are close to obsolete. The U.S. has also seeded the world’s oceans and seas with networks of sensors to keep track of those subs. In any case, would the Russians or Chinese retaliate if they knew that the U.S. still retained most of its nuclear strike force? Faced with a choice committing national suicide or holding their fire, they may well choose the former.

The other element in this modernization program that has Russia and China uneasy is the decision by the Obama administration to place anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, and to deploy Aegis ship-based anti-missile systems off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. From Moscow’s perspective — and Beijing’s as well — those interceptors are there to absorb the few missiles that a first strike might miss.

In reality, anti-missile systems are pretty iffy. Once they migrate off the drawing boards, their lethal efficiency drops rather sharply. Indeed, most of them can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But that’s not a chance the Chinese and the Russians can afford to take.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Forum in June 2016, Russian President Valdimir Putin charged that U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and Romania were not aimed at Iran, but at Russia and China. “The Iranian threat does not exist, but missile defense systems continue to be positioned.” He added, “a missile defense system is one element of the whole system of offensive military potential.”

Unraveling Arms Accords

The danger here is that arms agreements will begin to unravel if countries decide that they are suddenly vulnerable. For the Russians and the Chinese, the easiest solution to the American breakthrough is to build a lot more missiles and warheads, and treaties be dammed.

The new Russian cruise missile may indeed strain the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but it is also a natural response to what are, from Moscow’s view, alarming technological advances by the U.S. Had the Obama administration reversed the 2002 decision by George W. Bush’s administration to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the new cruise might never have been deployed.

There are a number of immediate steps that the U.S. and the Russians could take to de-escalate the current tensions. First, taking nuclear weapons off their hair-trigger status would immediately reduce the possibility of accidental nuclear war. That could be followed by a pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.

If this does not happen, it will almost certainly result in an accelerated nuclear arms race.

“I don’t know how this is all going to end,” Putin told the St. Petersburg delegates.

“What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves.”

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at: and