Saturday, July 29, 2017

Another Way of War: US Using Russia Sanctions to Cripple European Economy

Collateral Damage: U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Strike Western European Allies

by Diana Johnstone  - CounterPunch

July 28, 2017

Do they know what they are doing? When the U.S. Congress adopts draconian sanctions aimed mainly at disempowering President Trump and ruling out any move to improve relations with Russia, do they realize that the measures amount to a declaration of economic war against their dear European “friends”?

Whether they know or not, they obviously don’t care. U.S. politicians view the rest of the world as America’s hinterland, to be exploited, abused and ignored with impunity. The Bill H.R. 3364 “Countering America’s Adversaries

Through Sanctions Act” was adopted on July 25 by all but three members of the House of Representatives. An earlier version was adopted by all but two Senators. Final passage at veto-overturning proportions is a certainty.

This congressional temper tantrum flails in all directions. The main casualties are likely to be America’s dear beloved European allies, notably Germany and France. Who also sometimes happen to be competitors, but such crass considerations don’t matter in the sacred halls of the U.S. Congress, totally devoted to upholding universal morality.

Economic “Soft Power” Hits Hard

Under U.S. sanctions, any EU nation doing business with Russia may find itself in deep trouble. In particular, the latest bill targets companies involved in financing Nord Stream 2, a pipeline designed to provide Germany with much needed natural gas from Russia.

By the way, just to help out, American companies will gladly sell their own fracked natural gas to their German friends, at much higher prices.

That is only one way in which the bill would subject European banks and enterprises to crippling restrictions, lawsuits and gigantic fines.

While the U.S. preaches “free competition”, it constantly takes measures to prevent free competition at the international level.

Following the July 2015 deal ensuring that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons, international sanctions were lifted, but the United States retained its own previous ones. Since then, any foreign bank or enterprise contemplating trade with Iran is apt to receive a letter from a New York group calling itself “United Against Nuclear Iran” which warns that “there remain serious legal, political, financial and reputational risks associated with doing business in Iran, particularly in sectors of the Iranian economy such as oil and gas”. The risks cited include billions of dollars of (U.S.) fines, surveillance by “a myriad of regulatory agencies”, personal danger, deficiency of insurance coverage, cyber insecurity, loss of more lucrative business, harm to corporate reputation and a drop in shareholder value.

The United States gets away with this gangster behavior because over the years it has developed a vast, obscure legalistic maze, able to impose its will on the “free world” economy thanks to the omnipresence of the dollar, unrivaled intelligence gathering and just plain intimidation.

European leaders reacted indignantly to the latest sanctions. The German foreign ministry said it was “unacceptable for the United States to use possible sanctions as an instrument to serve the interest of U.S. industry”. The French foreign ministry denounced the “extraterritoriality” of the U.S. legislation as unlawful, and announced that “To protect ourselves against the extraterritorial effects of US legislation, we will have to work on adjusting our French and European laws”.

In fact, bitter resentment of arrogant U.S. imposition of its own laws on others has been growing in France, and was the object of a serious parliamentary report delivered to the French National Assembly foreign affairs and finance committees last October 5, on the subject of “the extraterritoriality of American legislation”.


The chairman of the commission of enquiry, long-time Paris representative Pierre Lellouche, summed up the situation as follows:

“The facts are very simple. We are confronted with an extremely dense wall of American legislation whose precise intention is to use the law to serve the purposes of the economic and political imperium with the idea of gaining economic and strategic advantages. As always in the United States, that imperium, that normative bulldozer operates in the name of the best intentions in the world since the United States considers itself a ‘benevolent power’, that is a country that can only do good.”

Always in the name of “the fight against corruption” or “the fight against terrorism”, the United States righteously pursues anything legally called a “U.S. person”, which under strange American law can refer to any entity doing business in the land of the free, whether by having an American subsidiary, or being listed on the New York stock exchange, or using a U.S.-based server, or even by simply trading in dollars, which is something that no large international enterprise can avoid.

In 2014, France’s leading bank, BNP-Paribas, agreed to pay a whopping fine of nearly nine billion dollars, basically for having used dollar transfers in deals with countries under U.S. sanctions. The transactions were perfectly legal under French law. But because they dealt in dollars, payments transited by way of the United States, where diligent computer experts could find the needle in the haystack. European banks are faced with the choice between prosecution, which entails all sorts of restrictions and punishments before a verdict is reached, or else, counseled by expensive U.S. corporate lawyers, and entering into the obscure “plea bargain” culture of the U.S. judicial system, unfamiliar to Europeans. Just like the poor wretch accused of robbing a convenience store, the lawyers urge the huge European enterprises to plea guilty in order to escape much worse consequences.

Alstom, a major multinational corporation whose railroad section produces France’s high speed trains, is a jewel of French industry. In 2014, under pressure from U.S. accusations of corruption (probably bribes to officials in a few developing countries), Alstom sold off its electricity branch to General Electric.

The underlying accusation is that such alleged “corruption” by foreign firms causes U.S. firms to lose markets. That is possible, but there is no practical reciprocity here. A whole range of U.S. intelligence agencies, able to spy on everyone’s private communications, are engaged in commercial espionage around the world. As an example, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, devoted to this task, operates with 200 employees on an annual budget of over $30 million. The comparable office in Paris employs five people.

This was the situation as of last October. The latest round of sanctions can only expose European banks and enterprises to even more severe consequences, especially concerning investments in the vital Nord Stream natural gas pipeline.

This bill is just the latest in a series of U.S. legislative measures tending to break down national legal sovereignty and create a globalized jurisdiction in which anyone can sue anyone else for anything, with ultimate investigative capacity and enforcement power held by the United States.

Wrecking the European Economy

Over a dozen European Banks (British, German, French, Dutch, Swiss) have run afoul of U.S. judicial moralizing, compared to only one U.S. bank: JP Morgan Chase.

The U.S. targets the European core countries, while its overwhelming influence in the northern rim – Poland, the Baltic States and Sweden – prevents the European Union from taking any measures (necessarily unanimous) contrary to U.S. interests.

By far the biggest catch in Uncle Sam’s financial fishing expedition is Deutsche Bank. As Pierre Lellouche warned during the final hearing of the extraterritorial hearings last October, U.S. pursuits against Deutsche Bank risk bringing down the whole European banking system. Although it had already paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the State of New York, Deutsche Bank was faced with a “fine of 14 billion dollars whereas it is worth only five and a half. … In other words, if this is carried out, we risk a domino effect, a major financial crisis in Europe.”

In short, U.S. sanctions amount to a sword of Damocles threatening the economies of the country’s main trading partners. This could be a Pyrrhic victory, or more simply, the blow that kills the goose that lays the golden eggs. But hurrah, America would be the winner in a field of ruins.

Former justice minister Elisabeth Guigou called the situation shocking, and noted that France had told the U.S. Embassy that the situation is “insupportable” and insisted that “we must be firm”.

Jacques Myard said, “American law is being used to gain markets and eliminate competitors. We should not be naïve and wake up to what is happening.”

This enquiry marked a step ahead in French awareness and resistance to a new form of “taxation without representation” exercised by the United States against its European satellites. They committee members all agreed that something must be done.

That was last October. In June, France held parliamentary elections. The commission chairman, Pierre Lellouche (Republican), the rapporteur Karine Berger (Socialist), Elisabeth Guigou (a leading Socialist) and Jacques Myard (Republican) all lost their seats to inexperienced newcomers recruited into President Emmanuel Macron’s République en marche party. The newcomers are having a hard time finding their way in parliamentary life and have no political memory, for instance of the Rapport on Extraterritoriality.

As for Macron, as minister of economics, in 2014 he went against earlier government rulings by approving the GE purchase of Alstom. He does not appear eager to do anything to anger the United States.

However, there are some things that are so blatantly unfair that they cannot go on forever.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at
More articles by:Diana Johnstone 

The Beauty of Our Weapons

“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen

by George Capaccio - CounterPunch

July 26, 2017

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst . . .  – From “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

Now in the summer of our love for the glory and greatness of the Republic, let us recall the soaring words of Mark Twain and his paean to war and its multitude of tender mercies. Let us give thanks to God and his various co-conspirators for making our nation an exceptional font of wisdom, wealth, and weapons. Let us praise the weapons makers with their bottomless thirst for profits and their pledge of allegiance to the continuation of war for which no price is too great to bear, no life too small to incinerate in the blessed pursuit of national security, global hegemony, and unchallenged control of the world’s most vital resources.

Let us bow down before the lords and ladies of the Pentagon and CIA, and their sovereign masters in the White House and legislature whose deep, uncompromising morality is clearly evident in their decision to provide billions of dollars worth of weapons to the enlightened despots of Saudi Arabia. God save King Salman and his ministers of state, presiding over shining seas of petroleum, that gooey lubricant that keeps our engines purring and our economy overflowing with the fruits of capitalist expansion and exploitation.

Now, as the world warms and the seas rise and the gods repose on cloudy cushions of greenhouse gas, let us salute our nation’s unbreakable bond of fealty to the House of Saud as the keeper of the flames that burn eternally from those precious repositories of oil in the heart of the desert. O Lord, keep those majestic wells pumping, keep the money flowing into the coffers of Raytheon, Textron, General Electric and their brothers in arms, keep our bombs and missiles falling like magical stars on the markets and mosques, villages, farms, and fields of ancient Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor. God, give us the strength and resolve to continue to support the Saudi-led coalition in its no-holds-barred onslaught on the people of Yemen and the rebellious fighters in their midst.

Above all, keep our eyes fixed on the endlessly falling cascade of tweets anointing our hands and the phones we hold so dear and dare not lay aside lest we miss the latest chirp or expose ourselves to the bitter winds twisting around us, bearing news of a world of woe. Let us never waver from our sworn duty to pillory Donald Trump at every opportunity and hold his feet to the fire for the crime of colluding with the evil empire. Let us only hear the opprobrium hurled at Trump and his cronies from the high and mighty pulpits of MSNBC and their all-seeing pundits, who see under every rock and stone and in every crevice of the national security state a slimy trace of Russian intrusion.

Grant us, O Lord, the strength to seal our hearts against those who would weaken our resolve with the corrosive acid of compassion. Like brave Ulysses resisting the song of the Sirens, let us not be tempted to heed the cries of those in need in places like Yemen where our largess, our weapons, and our diplomatic support allow the Saudi-led coalition to continue bringing a “hurricane of fire” to this poor, tortured land.

Thy will be done, O Lord. Thou hast ordained all this suffering, this dying of the flesh and of the spirit, this deliberate infliction of unrelenting pain on the people of Yemen. Truly, what is unfolding in Yemen is the fulfillment of Thy Word, what Thou hast ordained as a sign of Thy presence in the world and of the grace that flows from Thy immaculate heart. Though the people of Yemen cry out for mercy. Though millions of families have lost their homes, their livelihood, their future, their faith in a better life to come. Though famine, pestilence and death stalk the land as the bombing grows more savage with every passing day, this is as it should be, as it was written in the book of time.

O Lord our God, help us to see and accept the absolute necessity of the part we play in delivering unto the people of Yemen the gifts of Thy omniscience, for You alone understand the ultimate rightness of the war and the devastation it has wrought—with the assistance of our Congress, our President and our military. Help us to set on the path of righteousness those misguided members of our own House of Representatives who have voted to end our participation in Yemen’s civil war and our support of Saudi Arabia and its God-fearing allies. Surely, these politicos have failed to take the larger view and to grasp the sublime logic behind Thy design for Yemen and the entire Middle East.

The weeping of orphaned children, the keening of widowed mothers—are these not harbingers of greater things to come, a time when peace and plenty shall reign supreme, and the people of Yemen, finally subdued, shall harvest the blessings of Thy bounty. As it was in Iraq, so shall it be in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and every other nation in which our men and women in uniform have led the fight against tyranny and strewn the land with the priceless jewels of freedom and democracy.

Help us, O Lord, neither to oppose nor condemn our nation’s complicity in the destruction of Yemen and the creation of the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis. Help us to carry on with the burden of our daily lives and feel not even a twinge of concern for the innocent victims of our forward-thinking, strategy-minded leaders and their endless war on terror. Let us instead praise the “beauty of our weapons” and the nobility of our cause. With Thy help, O Lord, we shall succeed in employing the instruments of war to carry out Thy holy plan for peace on Earth.

The biggest fools are those who cannot see the evidence of Thy love for humanity. The arms and munitions we provide for the inspired rulers of Saudi Arabia and their regional partners are most assuredly working to advance Your most beneficent vision of what our race is capable of achieving. Behold the little children in hospital beds or their mothers’ embrace, their paper-thin bodies shriveling up in the flames of hunger and disease, while planes overhead deliver load after load of pious bombs and shrieking villagers scour the countryside for whatever remains of their loved ones. Is this not proof of Thy sweeping immanence in the affairs of men?

O Lord our God, help us to remain silent in the face of so much suffering, to avert our eyes and pretend our insignificant lives are no match for the powers that be, though history has demonstrated otherwise, and prophets from time immemorial have called upon the people to open their hearts and hear the cries of their brothers and sisters, and do whatever is in their power to feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, and put an end to war. Help us, finally, to ignore the wisdom of the ages and the admonitions of those who would oppose Thy will and the will of Thy servants in every government on Earth that calculates its greatness on the number of corpses at its feet.
George Capaccio is a writer and activist living in Arlington, MA. During the years of US- and UK-enforced sanctions against Iraq, he traveled there numerous times, bringing in banned items, befriending families in Baghdad, and deepening his understanding of how the sanctions were impacting civilians. His email is He welcomes comments and invites readers to visit his website:
More articles by:George Capaccio

Friday, July 28, 2017

Canada's Highest Court Gives & Takes Away with Indigenous Rights Rulings

Indigenous Groups Win One, Lose One in the Canadian Supreme Court 


July 28, 2017

The Supreme Court of Canada rendered two important decisions relating to indigenous rights and natural resources' exploitation. In the first decision, Clyde River (Hamlet) and Petroleum Geo-Services Inc., the Supreme Court overturned an authorization granted by Canada's controversial National Energy Board or NEB.

In this case, the NEB authorized a petroleum exploration company to conduct seismic testing in sensitive Arctic waters off Canada's coast in the far north.

In the second decision, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Enbridge Pipelines, the Supreme Court upheld a National Energy Board authorization to Canadian pipeline company Enbridge to complete its Line 9 pipeline project in the south of Canada's most populous province, Ontario. The Line 9 pipeline connecting Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec opened in 1976 with the purpose of transporting crude oil from western Canada to eastern refineries. Line nine cuts through the Chippewas of the Thames traditional territory in southern Ontario and crosses the Thames River.

It was approved and built without any consultation with the Chippewas of the Thames. In 2012, Enbridge applied to the NEB to increase the annual capacity of Line 9 from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels per day, and, most importantly, to use Line 9 for the transportation of heavy crude from Canada's tar sands. Now here to discuss these two important decisions with us are Jerry Natanine and Eugene Kung. Jerry Natanine is the former mayor of Clyde River, which is an autonomous territory of Nunavut in northern Canada. He has been leading the legal battle to protect Inuit waters from the harms of seismic testing. Eugene Kung is staff council at West Coast Environmental Law.

The Supreme Court of Canada rendered two important decisions relating to indigenous rights and natural resource exploitation. TRNN hosts a discussion with former Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine and Eugene Kung, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law

Propaganda Broadcasting System Takes a Look at "Russia"

PBS’ Anti-Russia Propaganda Series

by Rick Sterling  - Consortium News

July 27, 2017

PBS has joined the anti-Russia propaganda stampede with a five-part documentary series that recycles the false and deceptive claims that have become Official Washington’s dangerous new groupthink, reports Rick Sterling.

The U.S.-government-supported Public Broadcasting System (PBS) recently ran a five-part series dubbed “Inside Putin’s Russia”.

With a different theme each night, it purports a realistic look at Russia today.

Some of the estimated 12 million Russians who took part in 
Immortal Regiment parades across the country over three days in May 2016. (RT photo)

The image conveyed is of a Russia that is undemocratic with widespread state repression, violence and propaganda. Following are significant distortions and falsehoods in the five-part documentary.

Episode 1: “How Putin Redefined what it means to be Russian”

In this episode, the documentary:

–Claims that Russian identity is based on “projection of power.” In reality, “projection of power” characterizes the U.S. much more than Russia. For the past two centuries the United States has expanded across the continent and globe. The last century is documented in the book Overthrow: American’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. The U.S. currently has nearly 800 foreign military bases in over 70 countries. In contrast, Russia has military bases in only two countries beyond the former Soviet Union: Syria and Vietnam.

–Ignores crucial information about events in Ukraine. Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are presented as examples of “projection of power.” But basic facts are omitted from the documentary. There is no mention of the violent February 2014 coup in Kiev nor the involvement of neoconservatives such as Sen. John McCain and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in supporting and encouraging the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government. In a December 2013 speech, Nuland outlined her intense involvement in Ukraine including U.S. insistence that Ukraine choose a “European future” since the U.S. had “invested $5 billion to assist.” Days before the coup in February 2014, Nuland was captured on audio planning the composition of the coup leadership.

–Ignores Crimea’s historic connections with Russia and the Ukrainian violence. The documentary says, “In 2014 in Crimea, Russia helped install separatist leaders who rushed through a referendum that led to Crimea’s annexation.” This gives the misleading impression the decision was Russian, not Crimean.

Even the New York Times report on March 16, 2014, acknowledged that, “The outcome, in a region that shares a language and centuries of history with Russia, was a foregone conclusion even before exit polls showed more than 93 percent of voters favoring secession.”

Nazi symbols on helmets worn by members of 
Ukraine’s Azov battalion. 
(As filmed by a Norwegian film crew and shown on German TV)

The documentary fails to mention the fear of violence after Crimean travelers to Kiev were beaten and killed by Ukrainian hyper-nationalists. One of the first decisions of the Kiev coup government was to declare that Russian would no longer be an official language. A good overview including video interviews with Crimeans is in this video, contrasting sharply with the implications of the PBS documentary.

–Trivializes Russian opposition to NATO expansion. The documentary suggests Russians feel “humiliated” by NATO expanding to their borders. This distorts a serious military concern into a subjective, emotional issue. In 2002, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and started construction of missile defense systems which could be used in tandem with a nuclear first strike. In recent years, NATO troops and missiles have been installed at Russia’s borders. Imagine the response if Russian troops and missiles were placed at the U.S. border in Canada and Mexico.

–Falsely claims that coup violence in Odessa was “exaggerated.”

Screen shot of the fatal fire in Odessa, Ukraine, 
on May 2, 2014. (From RT video)

The documentary says that Russians who went to help defend civilians in eastern Ukraine were convinced by Russian “propaganda” where “dozens of pro-Russian separatists died in Odessa, Ukraine” but “Russian media exaggerated the attack.” In reality, the Odessa attack killed at least 42 people and injured 100. This video shows the sequence of events with the initial attack on peaceful protesters followed by fire-bomb attacks in the building. Fire trucks were prevented from reaching the building to put out the fire and rescue citizens inside.

Episode 2: “Inside Russia’s Propaganda Machine.”

In this episode, the documentary:

–Suggests Russians are aggressive and threatening. The documentary highlights a Russian TV broadcaster who is translated to say, “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.” And later, “If you can persuade a person, you don’t need to kill him … if you aren’t able to persuade, then you will have to kill.” We do not know the context or accuracy of these translated statements. However on the basis of my own travels in Russia and the experience of many other Americans, these statements are strange and uncharacteristic.

At the popular and government level, Russians are typically at pains to call the U.S. a “partner” and to wish for peace and better relations. With 27 million killed in World War 2, most Russians are very conscious of the consequences of war and deeply want peace. Russians vividly recall the Russia-U.S. alliance during WW2 and seek a return to friendly collaboration. The film producers must have heard this message and desire for peace expressed by many Russians many times. But the documentary only presents this uncharacteristic aggressive message.

–Inaccurately suggests that producers of a private TV network received angry public messages because they were exposing corruption. In reality, the angry public response was because the TV station ran a poll asking viewers if the Soviet Union should have surrendered to Nazi Germany to save lives during the siege of Leningrad.

–Falsely suggests that RT (Russia Today TV) typically features Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis. This is a grotesque distortion Anyone who watches RT will know that American personalities such as Chris Hedges, Larry King and Ed Schultz are regulars on RT. Interviewees on international affairs generally come from the left side of the political spectrum – the opposite of what is suggested.

–Uncritically repeats the conspiracy theory that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton emails. The findings have been disputed by the publisher of the emails, Julian Assange of Wikileaks , as well as Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. A recent forensic examination confirms that this was a leak not a hack (inside job done by local data transfer NOT a hack over the internet) and points to “Guccifer 2.0”, the presumptive “hacker,” being a hoax intentionally created to implicate Russia.

–Falsely suggests that anti-Clinton social media messaging during 2016 was significantly caused by Russian government trolls. Hillary Clinton was strongly opposed by significant portions of both the left and right. There were probably hundreds of thousands of Americans who shared anti-Clinton social media messages.

–Claims that research showing a Google search engine bias in favor of Hillary Clinton was “quickly debunked.” The documentary ignores the original article describing the potential effect of search-engine bias, which was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The author is Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine. Contradicting the claim that this research was “debunked,” this academic article estimates the effect of the Google bias and how the bias went away AFTER the election. The response from Google and very shallow Snopes ”fact check” are effectively rebutted by the lead author here. In neo-McCarthyist style, the documentary smears the findings and claims they were “laundered” after being published by the Russian “Sputnik” media.

–Suggests the “idea that President Kennedy was killed by the CIA” was “planted” by the Soviet intelligence agency KGB. Many impressive American books have been written supporting this contention, from New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s book to David Talbot’s 2015 book Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and Deep State. Claiming that this accusation is based on KGB “disinformation” is another grotesque distortion. It is not revealing disinformation; this is an example of disinformation.

Episode 3: “Why are so many from this Russian republic fighting for Isis?”

In this episode, the documentary:

–Rationalizes and almost justifies Russian Muslims traveling to join ISIS. The documentary suggests that religious repression and discrimination is a cause of ISIS recruitment and that “Dagestanis who fought for ISIS continue a decades-old legacy here of radicalism and militancy.”

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was 
executed by an Islamic State operative. 

–Ignores the role of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in promoting Islamist fundamentalism in Dagestan. As described by Robert Dreyfus in the book Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam: “the Casey-ISI (CIA and Pakistan Secret Service) actions aided the growth of a significant network of right-wing, Islamist extremists who, to this day, plague the governments of the former Soviet republics … In particular, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Liberation Party, the powerful Islamist groups in Chechnya and Dagestan.”

–Ignores the role of the US and allies in facilitating ISIS. As journalist Patrick Cockburn has written, “In the 20 years between 1996 and 2016, the CIA and British security and foreign policy agencies have consistently given priority to maintaining their partnership with powerful Sunni states over the elimination of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Isis.”

Journalist Nafeez Ahmed exposed the role of Turkey here, “A former senior counter-terrorism official in Turkey has blown the whistle on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deliberate sponsorship of the Islamic State (ISIS) as a geopolitical tool to expand Turkey’s regional influence and sideline his political opponents at home.”

Elements of the U.S. military/intelligence suggested the establishment of ISIS to “isolate the Syrian regime.” This was revealed in the classified 2012 report of the Defense Intelligence Agency that “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME”

In short, ISIS recruitment from Muslim communities in Russia and worldwide has been spurred by the policies and actions of the U.S. and allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This is what Dreyfus calls The Devil’s Game, but is ignored in the documentary.

Episode 4: “The Deadly Risk of Standing up to Putin”

In this episode, the documentary:

–Suggests that critics of Putin and the Russian government face “consequences” including death. These accusations are widespread in the West but largely based on the claims of different U.S.-supported “activists.” One of the most famous cases, and the one on which U.S. congressional sanctions against Russia are based, is that of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky’s death was the subject of a documentary, which has been effectively banned in the U.S. In the course of researching what happened, the filmmaker learned that the truth was very different than has been told in the West and promoted by hedge-fund executive William Browder. Gilbert Doctorow outlines what happens in his review of the film here:

“‘Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes’ is an amazing film which takes us through the thought processes, the evidence sorting of the well-known independent film maker Andrei Nekrasov as he approached an assignment that was at the outset meant to be one more public confirmation of the narrative Browder has sold to the US Congress and to the American and European political elites. That story was all about a 36 year old whistle-blower ‘attorney’ (actually a bookkeeper) named Sergei Magnitsky who denounced on Browder’s behalf the theft of Russian taxes to his boss’s companies amounting to $230 million and who was rewarded for his efforts by arrest, torture and murder in detainment by the officials who perpetrated the theft. This shocking tale drove legislation that was a major landmark in the descent of US-Russian relations under President Barack Obama to a level rivaling the worst days of the Cold War. 

Financier William Browder (right) with Magnitsky’s 
widow and son, along with European parliamentarians.

“At the end of the film we understand that this story was concocted by William Browder to cover up his own criminal theft of the money in question, that Magnitsky was not a whistleblower, but on the contrary was likely an assistant and abettor to the fraud and theft that Browder organized, that he was not murdered by corrupt Russian police but died in prison from banal neglect of his medical condition.”

The PBS documentary quotes an opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza, saying “We have no free and fair elections. We have censorship in the media. We have political prisoners, more than 100 political prisoners now in Russia, today.” Kara-Murza now lives in Washington “for his safety” but returns to Russia periodically. He claims to have been poisoned several times.

Opponents of the Russian government are quick to accuse but the evidence is largely hearsay and speculation. Public polls of citizens in Russia repeatedly indicate that Putin and the government have widespread popularity, in contrast with the accusations in this documentary that they rule by intimidation and violence.

Episode 5: “What Russians think about Trump and the U.S.”

Based on the content, the final episode should be titled “What the U.S. establishment and media thinks of Putin and Russia.” In this episode, the documentary:

–Features accusations by CIA Director Mike Pompeo that Russian President Putin, “ is a man for whom veracity doesn’t translate into English.” An objective documentary would take CIA claims about “veracity” with a healthy dose of skepticism. Just a few years ago, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was confirmed to have lied under oath to Congress. Former CIA chief of counterintelligence James Angleton said in his dying days, “Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you got promoted.” So it is curious to see the PBS documentary uncritically presenting the new CIA director as a judge of veracity.

Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations 
on Feb. 5. 2003, citing satellite photos which supposedly 
proved that Iraq had WMD, but the evidence proved bogus. 

–Implies that President Trump is out of line to question “the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that Russia hacked the 2016 election.” It has been recently exposed that the “unanimous assessment” was, in reality, by “hand-picked” analysts at three agencies, under DNI Clapper’s oversight, not all 17 agencies and that the National Security Agency did NOT have “high confidence” in a key finding. The “assessment,” which the Jan. 6 report acknowledged was NOT an establishment of fact, was based on the forensics of a private company, Crowdstrike, with a checkered record in this field, and the dubious Christopher Steele dossier, a collection of “opposition research” reports against Donald Trump, paid for unidentified allies of Hillary Clinton and compiled by Steele, an ex-British intelligence agent.

In March 2017, Crowdstrike was found to have made false claims in another investigation of an alleged Russian “hack.” Yet, neither the CIA nor FBI examined the Democratic National Committee’s computers. If the issue was as important as it supposedly has now become, the FBI should have issued a subpoena to do its own examination. Why the DNC rejected the FBI request, and why the FBI did not insist, raises serious questions given the enormous publicity and accusations that have followed.

–Uncritically features two US politicians making loose accusations and effectively criminalizing “contacts” with Russians. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, says President Trump is “pushing out some messages that are consistent with the Kremlin policies … there’s no question that the Russians were trying to hack into our elections.” Yet, former U.S. intelligence officers with experience in these areas recently presented evidence raising significant questions about this conventional wisdom.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia indicates the Senate investigation reached its conclusion before it began. He said, “The goal of this investigation is not only to reconfirm Russian intervention and explain that to the American public, but to also see if there were any contacts between Trump and the Russians.”

In the current environment, to have “contacts” with Russians has been criminalized. Instead of questioning the validity or wisdom of this position, the documentary presents it with seeming approval.

–Uncritically promotes false statements and reckless threats. Sen. Lankford says “We believe strongly that what Russia continues to do to be able to threaten Ukraine, threaten its neighbors, threaten NATO, to continue to pry into not only our elections, but other elections, is destabilizing, and it demands a response. They have yet to have a consequence to what they did in the election time. And they should.”

Lankford’s assertions are presented as facts but are debatable or false. For example, security services in Germany, France and the U.K. all found that – despite the international accusations – there was NO evidence of Russian interference in their recent elections.

–Justifies and promotes “punishment” of Russia. The belligerent approach of Lankford and Warner is continued by PBS host Judy Woodruff and narrator Nick Schifrin. The U.S. is portrayed as a vulnerable victim with a future that is “foreboding”. Russia is portrayed as threatening and needing some punishment soon: “The Russian government doesn’t feel like the United States government really penalized them for what happened last year…. a lot of officials here in Washington agree with that… Russia should have paid for what they did last year.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin answering questions from 
Russian citizens at his annual Q&A event on April 14, 2016. 
(Russian government photo)

This threatening talk is then followed by the following assessment from the narrator: “There are analysts in Moscow who think the only thing we can hope is that we avoid war.”

In 2002-2003, American mainstream media failed to question or challenge the assertions of the CIA and politicians pushing for the invasion of Iraq. At that time, the false pretense was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the U.S.

Much of the media and many of the same politicians are now claiming Russia is an adversary that has “attacked us.” This claim is being widely made without serious question or challenge. “Liberal” media seems to be in alliance with hawkish neoconservatives on this issue. Virtually any accusation against Russia and its leader can be made with impunity and without serious evidence.

The PBS documentary “Inside Putin’s Russia” aims to expose Russian repression, aggression and disinformation. As shown in the many examples above, the five-part documentary is highly biased and inaccurate. While it shows some features of Russia, it also demonstrates American propaganda in the current tumultuous times.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in northern California. He can be contacted at

Enfant a la Carte: Trump Revolution Eating Its Young

The Trump Revolution Devouring Its Own Children

by Gary Leupp - Dissident Voice

July 27th, 2017

Die Revolution ist wie Saturn, sie frißt ihre eignen Kinder. (Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children.)  — Georg Büchner (1813–1837), German dramatist, revolutionary

This well known pronouncement occurs in the German dramatist’s play Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death), and refers to the rapid destruction of a succession of leaders of the French Revolution: Jean-Paul Marat, assassinated in his bath 1793; Georges Danton, guillotined April 1794; Robespierre, executed July 1794. It's sometimes applied to the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and destruction of Grigory Zinoviev (executed 1936), Lev Kamenev (executed 1936), Nikolai Bukharin (executed 1938), Leon Trotsky (assassinated in exile, 1940), etc.

Or it’s applied to the Chinese Revolution, and the political fates of Peng Dehuai, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Deng Xiaoping, etc. (These were not executed but merely purged; Lin was shot down over Mongolia in 1971 as he tried to flee to the Soviet Union.)

It’s too big and dramatic a concept to apply to the electoral triumph of Donald Trump (surely not a “revolution” in a world-historical sense but nevertheless a shock to the world) and its pathetic aftermath. Still, the passage keeps occurring to me as I observe the new president’s already conspicuous penchant for humiliating, insulting and dismissing his subordinates.

Having no party apparatus firmly behind him, he sees himself as the leader of a mass movement whose dreams are embodied in his person, empowering him to act recklessly. The sudden announcement via tweet that the U.S. military would no longer allow transgender people to serve, throwing the Pentagon, which has unproblematically implemented the new rules has thousands of transgender people in uniform, into consternation. (Surely there are generals who agree with Trump, and they love the free license he gives them to bomb Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria using their own discretion—because they are “wonderful”—but they may find it disturbing that the man makes these announcements without real consultation.)

(Breaking news: Joint Chief of Staff chair Gen. Joe Dunford just announced that JCS had not been informed in advance about the surprise announcement, and would, in fact, make no changes as a result of the tweet, until further instructions.)

Louis XIV is alleged to have declared, L’état, c’est moi. (I am the state.) Trump has said more outrageous things, like he could shoot down people on Fifth Avenue and get away with it (because people love him so much). Just his strange sense of humor, you say? He is in any case ignorant of the bounds between his mind (due to those good genes he boasts of, and his awesome education) and the state. He seems confused about the division of powers established by the Constitution. His tweets support the thesis one psychiatrist has publicly asserted: he is not merely a narcissist, which is quite obvious to all, but a malignant one.

Trump’s attacks via tweets on Jeff Sessions, his own choice for Attorney General leave the latter’s survival in his post in serious doubt. He may well be replaced by someone who’s pledged personal loyalty to the president and agrees in advance to fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who’s investigating the “Russian election hacking.” Tim Wiener says this would produce a “Saturday Night Massacre” à la Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox in October 1973.

Now, having brought in Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director, an appointment opposed by his press secretary, that tragicomical Sean Spicer, now driven out, replaced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who cannot stay long at the job. SNL will savagely satirize her for taking up press conference time to read letters from 9-year-old boys to Trump, praising him. Scaramucci—not to be confused with the figure Scaramuccia (“little skirmisher”) in early modern Italian theater—is now openly revealing that the West Wing is divided, and that some people are leaking to the press.

He even suggests Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, might be leaking.

Think of the prospect of the White House Communications Director driving out the White House Chief-of-Staff. What does this tell you about Trump the executive’s personnel choices? Does he hire people to fire them because it gives him pleasure? (Arguably that’s what his Apprentice reality show was all about. Him firing people, receiving mass adoration for his tough decision-making. A businessman, role model and hero for the humble! I liken the appeal of that show to the appeal of register counter tabloids which induce normal Americans to concern themselves with details of British royals’ lives. A fascination with power by the powerless, seeking some sort of mental escape.)

Meanwhile inter-familial conflicts are perhaps emerging. Both son Don Jr. and son-in-law Jared—vital props to Trump practically and psychologically, and with Ivanka the main mediators between him and the world outside the Tower—are being questioned about that June 6 meeting last year. Jared states he never read the email from his brother-in-law with so routine a subject line as: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” but just attended the meeting at Junior’s invitation. What if their testimonies conflict? What if Kushner, unlike Don a White House official, comes under renewed scrutiny, forcing his father-in-law to fire him? How would his inseparable Ivanka respond to that?

What will Trump’s supporters think if the shriveling Trump Revolution devours his own children?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be happy if the Trump regime implodes due to its internal contradictions. I suppose it would be followed by an extremely unpopular Pence administration that will have even less support, at least from youth. In the meantime, a combination of factors have weakened the U.S. ability or inclination to wage war on North Korea, provoke confrontation in the South China Sea, ratchet up tensions with Russia in Ukraine and Syria, provoke Iran, or determine the futures of Afghanistan and Iraq (which have diversified their partnerships). The world would be a more dangerous place had Hillary won.

For the moment, let Trump be Trump. And let him devour his movement’s children in full public view. Two, three, many Spicers!

Some will love him all the more for this. (They will reason: it shows strength to fire people, even to drive out serving military because of their sexual identity.) Caligula and Nero were, after all, both popular among the Roman masses; they gave them games in the Colosseum, with lots of bloody spectacles, and infrastructure projects like public baths. You can be cruel and mentally ill and still maintain your political base.

But maybe more people will see his hiring and firing decisions, the bedrock of his media personality, as alarming and strange, indicating an unhinged, dangerous personality. 42% of those polled by Politico last week are already supporting impeachment, matched by 42% who oppose it. Most people respond instinctively against the abuse of power to sadistically intimidate subordinates. As the house of cards falls apart, more people will (perhaps) realize how delusional it was from the beginning.

The worst thing would be the ascent of a Napoleon in the wake of regime collapse, and righteous war on the world to “defend our freedoms” or something.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at:
Read other articles by Gary.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Google's Real News Censorship

New Google algorithm restricts access to left-wing, progressive web sites

by Andre Damon and Niles Niemuth - WSWS

27 July 2017

 In the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly.

On April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”

The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”

Google continued,

“Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”

Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings.

Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7 billion for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable.

The World Socialist Web Site has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70 percent.

Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate the World Socialist Web Site in Google searches.

Referrals from Google searches to the WSWS have fallen by about 70 percent

According to Google’s webmaster tools service, the number of searches resulting in users seeing content from the World Socialist Web Site (that is, a WSWS article appeared in a Google search) fell from 467,890 a day to 138,275 over the past three months. The average position of articles in searches, meanwhile, fell from 15.9 to 37.2 over the same period.

David North, chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, stated that Google is engaged in political censorship.

“The World Socialist Web Site has been in existence for nearly 20 years,” he said, “and it has developed a large international audience. During this past spring, the number of individual visits to the WSWS each month exceeded 900,000.

“While a significant percentage of our readers enter the WSWS directly, many web users access the site through search engines, of which Google is the most widely used. There is no innocent explanation for the extraordinarily sharp fall in readers, virtually overnight, coming from Google searches.
“Google’s claim that it is protecting readers from ‘fake news’ is a politically motivated lie. Google, a massive monopoly, with the closest ties to the state and intelligence agencies, is blocking access to the WSWS and other left and progressive web sites through a system of rigged searches.”

In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.

A broad range of left-wing, progressive, and anti-war sites have
had their traffic rankings fall in recent months

According to Google Trends, the term “fake news” roughly quadrupled in popularity in early November, around the time of the US election, as Democrats, establishment media outlets and intelligence agencies sought to blame “false information” for the electoral victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

On November 14, the New York Times proclaimed that Google and Facebook “faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome,” and they would be taking measures to combat “fake news.”

Ten days later, the Washington Post published an article, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” which cited an anonymous group known as PropOrNot that compiled a list of “fake news” sites spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The list included several sites categorized by the group as “left-wing.” Significantly, it targeted, which often reposts articles from the World Socialist Web Site.

After widespread criticism of what was little more than a blacklist of anti-war and anti-establishment sites, the Washington Post was forced to publish a retraction, declaring,

“The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.”

On April 7, Bloomberg News reported that Google was working directly with the Washington Post and the New York Times to “fact-check” articles and eliminate “fake news.” This was followed by Google’s new search methodology.

Three months later, out of the 17 sites declared to be “fake news” by the Washington Post ’s discredited blacklist, 14 had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent, and some sites saw their global reach fall by as much as 60 percent.

“The actions of Google constitute political censorship and are a blatant attack on free speech,” North stated.

“At a time when public distrust of establishment media is widespread, this corporate giant is exploiting its monopolistic position to restrict public access to a broad spectrum of news and critical analysis.”

Collateral Raqqa: An American War on Syrian Civilians

Burning Raqqa: The U.S. War Against Civilians in Syria

by Laura Gottesdiener - TomDispatch

July 27, 2017

It was midday on Sunday, May 7th, when the U.S.-led coalition warplanes again began bombing the neighborhood of Wassim Abdo’s family.

They lived in Tabqa, a small city on the banks of the Euphrates River in northern Syria. Then occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS, also known as Daesh), Tabqa was also under siege by U.S.-backed troops and being hit by daily artillery fire from U.S. Marines, as well as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

The city, the second largest in Raqqa Province, was home to an airfield and the coveted Tabqa Dam. It was also the last place in the region the U.S.-backed forces needed to take before launching their much-anticipated offensive against the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.

His parents, Muhammed and Salam, had already fled their home once when the building adjacent to their house was bombed, Wassim Abdo told me in a recent interview. ISIS had been arresting civilians from their neighborhood for trying to flee the city. So on that Sunday, the couple was taking shelter on the second floor of a four-story flat along with other family members when a U.S.-led airstrike reportedly struck the front half of the building. Abdo’s sister-in-law Lama fled the structure with her two children and survived. But his parents and 12-year-old cousin were killed, along with dozens of their neighbors, as the concrete collapsed on them.

As an exiled human rights activist, Wassim Abdo only learned of his parents’ death three days later, after Lama called him from the Syrian border town of Kobane, where she and her two children had been transported for medical treatment. Her daughter had been wounded in the bombing and although the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led troops had by then seized control of Tabqa, it was impossible for her daughter to be treated in their hometown, because weeks of U.S.-led coalition bombing had destroyed all the hospitals in the city. 
Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The Wrath of the U.S. Along the Euphrates River

You would barely know it, living in this country, but the essence of modern warfare is what our military tends to call “collateral damage”: the killing or wounding of civilians, not combatants. The Global War on Terror -- more than 15 years later a no-name set of conflicts still spreading across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and now the Philippines -- has been typical of this. Civilians have died in startling numbers, both directly and thanks to the hardships these conflicts have brought on. Vast populations have been uprooted from their homes -- at one point more than a million people from the Iraqi city of Mosul alone -- and often sent fleeing across borders. In other words, from Afghanistan to Libya, the war on terror has (not to mince words) been murder on civilian populations.

In mainstream news coverage, real attention is paid from time to time (and quite rightly) to the continuing brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the civilian deaths caused by their insurgency. And that’s even more the case with the civilian carnage caused by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. When it comes to the U.S. role in civilian deaths, however, it’s been another matter. Clearly, it’s a subject the Pentagon would prefer that we not think about and yet the human toll is all too real. As I wrote back in 2015, “In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published studies based on scientific surveys of ‘excess Iraqi deaths’ since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticized figure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped. More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000 in 2013 to one million or 5% of the Iraqi population [in 2015].” The latest range of figures offered by the independent website Iraq Body Count for “documented civilian deaths from violence” since the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country is 177,941-199,231 (a conservative figure, given that word “documented,” and yet far higher than the one for combatants). And keep in mind that that’s just Iraq.

From the beginning, TomDispatch has made an effort to focus its attention regularly on the “collateral damage” from our conflicts. It’s been our conviction that we Americans should feel some responsibility for such carnage in a war that so infamously began with the “collateral” deaths of almost 3,000 innocent American civilians and shows no signs of ending in our lifetime. This website may, for instance, be the only news source that bothered to keep track of the number of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air power since 100 or more revelers were wiped out in a village in Eastern Afghanistan by B-52 and B-1B bombers as 2001 ended. The total: at least eight weddings in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), including brides, grooms, and even musicians hired to play at the ceremony.

In the same spirit, TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener, who covered the destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan by U.S. air power for this site back in 2015, turns to the American war against ISIS in Syria and the civilian mayhem taking place on the road to the “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa. Tom

Burning Raqqa: The U.S. War Against Civilians in Syria

by Laura Gottesdiener

A War Against Civilians

Islamic State fighters have now essentially been defeated in Mosul after a nine-month, U.S.-backed campaign that destroyed significant parts of Iraq’s second largest city, killing up to 40,000 civilians and forcing as many as one million more people from their homes. Now, the United States is focusing its energies -- and warplanes -- on ISIS-occupied areas of eastern Syria in an offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates.”

The Islamic State’s brutal treatment of civilians in Syria has been well reported and publicized. And according to Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the U.S.-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the battle to "liberate" these regions from ISIS is the "most precise campaign in the history of warfare."

But reports and photographs from Syrian journalists and activists, as well as first-person accounts from those with family members living in areas under U.S. bombardment, detail a strikingly different tale of the American offensive -- one that looks a lot less like a battle against the Islamic State and a lot more like a war on civilians.

These human rights groups and local reporters say that, across Syria in recent months, the U.S.-led coalition and U.S. Marines have bombed or shelled at least 12 schools, including primary schools and a girls’ high school; a health clinic and an obstetrics hospital; Raqqa’s Science College; residential neighborhoods; bakeries; post offices; a car wash; at least 15 mosques; a cultural center; a gas station; cars carrying civilians to the hospital; a funeral; water tanks; at least 15 bridges; a makeshift refugee camp; the ancient Rafiqah Wall that dates back to the eighth century; and an Internet café in Raqqa, where a Syrian media activist was killed as he was trying to smuggle news out of the besieged city.

The United States is now one of the deadliest warring parties in Syria. In May and June combined, the U.S.-led coalition killed more civilians than the Assad regime, the Russians, or ISIS, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that has been monitoring the death toll and human rights violations in Syria since 2011.

“This administration wants to achieve a quick victory,” Dr. Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights recently told me, referring to the Trump White House. 
“What we are noticing is that the U.S. is targeting and killing without taking into consideration the benefits for the military and the collateral damage for the civilians. This, of course, amounts to war crimes.”

And nowhere is this war against civilians more acute than in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, where trapped families are living under dozens of airstrikes every day.

Hotel of the Revolution

Located at the confluence of the Euphrates and Balikh rivers in northern Syria, Raqqa was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. By the late eighth century, it had grown into an imperial city, filled with orchards, palaces, canals, reception halls, and a hippodrome for horse racing. Its industrial quarters were then known as “the burning Raqqa,” thanks to the flames and thick smoke produced by its glass and ceramic furnaces. The city even served briefly as the capital of the vast Abbasid Empire stretching from North Africa to Central Asia.

Toward the end of the thirteenth century, wars between the Mongol and Mamluk empires annihilated Raqqa and its surrounding countryside. Every single resident of the city was either killed or expelled. According to Hamburg University professor Stefan Heidemann, who has worked on a number of excavations in and around Raqqa, the scorched-earth warfare was so extreme that not a single tree was left standing in the region.

Only in the middle of the twentieth century when irrigation from the Euphrates River allowed Raqqa’s countryside to flourish amid a global cotton boom did the city fully reemerge. In the 1970s, the region’s population again began to swell after then-President Hafez al-Assad -- the father of the present Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad -- ordered the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates about 30 miles upstream of Raqqa. Wassim Abdo’s father, Muhammed, was an employee at this dam. Like many of these workers and their families, he and Salam lived in Tabqa’s third neighborhood, which was filled with four-story apartment flats built in the 1970s not far from the dam and its power station.

Despite these agricultural and industrial developments, Raqqa remained a small provincial capital. Abdalaziz Alhamza, a cofounder of the watchdog group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is made up of media activists from Raqqa living in the city as well as in exile, writes that the local news normally didn’t even mention the city in its weather forecasts.

In the mid-2000s, a drought began to wither the local cash crops: cotton, potatoes, rice, and tomatoes. As in other regions of Syria, farmers migrated from the countryside into the city, where overstretched and ill-functioning public services only exacerbated long-simmering dissatisfaction with the Assad regime.

As the 2011 rebellion broke out across Syria, Wassim Abdo and thousands of others in Raqqa, Tabqa, and nearby villages began agitating against the Syrian government, flooding the streets in protest and forming local coordinating councils. The regime slowly lost control of territory across the province. In March 2013, after only a few days of battle, anti-government rebels ousted government troops from the city and declared Raqqa the "first liberated provincial capital" in all of Syria. The city, then the sixth largest in Syria, became “the hotel of the revolution.”

Within less than a year, however, despite fierce protests and opposition from its residents, ISIS fighters had fully occupied the city and the surrounding countryside. They declared Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State.

Despite the occupation, Wassim’s parents never tried to flee Tabqa because they hoped to reunite with one of their sons, Azad, who had been kidnapped by ISIS fighters in September 2013. In retirement, Muhammed Abdo opened a small electronics store. Salam was a housewife. Like tens of thousands of other civilians, they were living under ISIS occupation in Tabqa when, in the spring of 2017, U.S. Apache helicopters and warplanes first began appearing in the skies above the city. U.S. Marines armed with howitzers were deployed to the region. In late March, American helicopters airlifted hundreds of U.S.-backed troops from the Kurdish-led militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to the banks of the dammed river near the city. Additional forces approached from the east, transported on American speedboats.

By the beginning of May, the Abdos' neighborhood was under almost daily bombardment by the U.S.-led coalition forces. On May 3rd, coalition warplanes reportedly launched up to 30 airstrikes across Tabqa’s first, second, and third neighborhoods, striking homes and a fruit market and reportedly killing at least six civilians. The following night, another round of coalition airstrikes battered the first and third neighborhoods, reportedly killing at least seven civilians, including women and children. Separate airstrikes that same night near the city’s center reportedly killed another six to 12 civilians.

On May 7th, multiple bombs reportedly dropped by the U.S.-led coalition struck the building where Muhammed and Salam had taken shelter, killing them and their 12-year-old grandson. Three days later, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced that they had fully seized control of Tabqa and the dam. The militia and its U.S. advisers quickly set their sights east to the upcoming offensive in Raqqa.

But for the Abdo family, the tragedy continued. Muhammed and Salam’s bodies were buried beneath the collapsed apartment building. It took 15 days before Wassim’s brother Rashid could secure the heavy machinery required to extract them.

“Nobody could approach the corpses because of the disfigurement that had occurred and the smell emanating from them as a result of being left under the rubble for such a long period of time in the hot weather,” Wassim told me in a recent interview.

That same day their bodies were finally recovered. On May 23rd, his parents and nephew were buried in the Tabqa cemetery.

“In Raqqa There Are Many Causes of Death”

A few days after the Abdos' funeral, the U.S.-led coalition began dropping leaflets over Raqqa instructing civilians to flee the city ahead of the upcoming offensive. According to photos of leaflets published by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the warnings read, in part, “This is your last chance... Failing to leave might lead to death.”

ISIS fighters, in turn, prohibited civilians from escaping the city and planted landmines in Raqqa's outskirts. Nevertheless, on June 5th, dozens of civilians heeded the coalition’s warnings and gathered at a boat stand on the northern banks of the Euphrates, where they waited to be ferried out of the city. Before the war, families had picnicked along this riverbank. Teenagers jumped into the water from Raqqa’s Old Bridge, built in 1942 by British troops. A handful of river front cafés opened for the season.

“The river is the main monument of the city, and for many people there’s a romantic meaning to it,” Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, currently co-writing Brothers of the Gun, a book about life in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, told me.

But on June 5th, as the families were waiting to cross the river to escape the impending U.S.-backed offensive, coalition warplanes launched a barrage of airstrikes targeting the boats, reportedly massacring as many as 21 civilians. The coalition acknowledges launching 35 airstrikes that destroyed 68 boats between June 4th and June 6th, according to the journalistic outlet Airwars. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend later boasted about the tactic, telling the New York Times: “We shoot every boat we find.”

The day after the attack on fleeing civilians at the boat stand, the long-awaited U.S.-backed ground offensive officially began.

After three years of ISIS rule, Raqqa had become one of the most isolated cities in the world. The militants banned residents from having home internet, satellite dishes, or Wi-Fi hotspots. They arrested and killed local reporters and banned outside journalists. On the day U.S.-backed troops launched their ground offensive against the city, ISIS further sought to restrict reporting on conditions there by ordering the imminent shutdown of all Internet cafés.

Despite these restrictions, dozens of Syrian journalists and activists have risked and still risk their lives to smuggle information out of besieged Raqqa -- and their efforts are the only reason most Western reporters (including myself) have any information about the war our countries are currently waging there.

Every day, these media activists funnel news out of the city to exiled Syrians running media outlets and human rights organizations. The most famous among these groups has become Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which won the 2015 International Press Freedom Award for its reporting on the ISIS occupation and now publishes hourly updates on the U.S.-backed offensive. All this news is then compiled and cross-checked by international monitoring groups like Airwars, whose researchers have now found themselves tracking as many as a half-dozen coalition attacks resulting in civilian casualties every day.

It’s because of this work that we know the Raqqa offensive officially began on June 6th with a barrage of airstrikes and artillery shelling that reportedly hit a school, a train station, the immigration and passport building, a mosque, and multiple residential neighborhoods, killing between six and 13 civilians. Two days later, bombs, artillery shells, and white phosphorus were reportedly unleashed across Raqqa, hitting -- among other places -- the Al-Hason Net Internet café, killing a media activist and at least a dozen others. (That journalist was one of at least 26 media activists to be killed in Syria this year alone.) Other bombs reportedly hit at least eight shops and a mosque. Photos also showed white phosphorus exploding over two residential neighborhoods.

White phosphorus is capable of burning human flesh to the bone. When exposed to oxygen, the chemical ignites reaching a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so flammable that its burns can reignite days later if the bandages are removed too soon.

U.S. military officials have not denied using white phosphorus in the city. The Pentagon has, in fact, published photos of U.S. Marines deployed to the Raqqa region transporting U.S.-manufactured white phosphorus munitions. Its spokesmen claim that the U.S. military only uses this incendiary agent to mark targets for air strikes or to create smoke screens and therefore remains in accordance with international law. But in the days after the reported attack, Amnesty International warned: “The US-led coalition’s use of white phosphorus munitions on the outskirts of al-Raqqa, Syria, is unlawful and may amount to a war crime.” (Amnesty similarly accused the U.S. of potentially committing war crimes during its campaign against ISIS in Mosul.)

Following the reported white phosphorus attacks on June 8th and 9th, Raqqa’s main commercial and social avenue -- February 23rd Street -- reportedly came under three straight days of bombing. Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, who grew up in that city, recalls how that street had once been lined with cafés, entertainment venues, and shops. Its western edge runs into Rashid Park, one of the city’s main public spaces. Its eastern edge stretches to the ancient Abbasid Wall.

Between June 9th and June 11th, as many as 10 civilians were killed in repeated bombings of February 23rd Street and its major intersections, according to reports compiled by Airwars. (These sorts of air strikes, ostensibly aimed at limiting the mobility of ISIS fighters, were also employed in Mosul, parts of which are now in ruins.) On those same days, four adults and four children were reportedly killed in airstrikes on Raqqa’s industrial district, another 21 civilians were killed in the west of the city, and at least 11 more civilians, again including children, when airstrikes reportedly destroyed homes on al-Nour street, which is just around the corner from the al-Rayan Bakery, bombed less than two weeks later.

On that day, June 21st, a Raqqa resident named Abu Ahmad was returning from getting water at a nearby well when, he later told Reuters, he began hearing people screaming as houses crumbled. He said that as many as 30 people had died when the apartment flats around the bakery were leveled. “We couldn't even do anything,” he added. “The rocket launchers, the warplanes. We left them to die under the rubble.” Only a few days earlier, coalition warplanes had destroyed another source of bread, the al-Nadeer bakery on al-Mansour Street, one of Raqqa’s oldest thoroughfares.

In July, the U.S.-led coalition bombed the ancient Abbasid Wall, and U.S.-backed troops breached Raqqa’s Old City. U.S. advisers began to operate inside Raqqa, calling in more airstrikes from there.

More and more names, photographs, and stories of the coalition’s victims were smuggled out by local journalists. According to these reports, on July 2nd, Jamila Ali al-Abdullah, her three children, and up to 10 of her neighbors were killed in her neighborhood. On July 3rd, at least three families were killed, including Yasser al-Abdullah and his four children, A’ssaf, Zain, Jude, and Rimas. On July 5th, an elderly man named Yasin died in an airstrike on al-Mansour Street. On July 6th, Anwar Hassan al-Hariri was killed along with her son Mohammed, her daughter Shatha, and her toddler Jana. Five members of the al-Sayyed family perished on July 7th. Sisters Hazar and Elhan Abdul Aader Shashan died in their home on July 12th, while seven members of the Ba’anat family were killed on July 13th, as was Marwan al-Salama and at least ten of his family members on July 17th.

Hundreds more were reportedly wounded, including Isma’il Ali al-Thlaji, a child who lost his eyesight and his right hand. And these are, of course, only some of the reported names of those killed by the U.S.-led coalition.

“In Raqqa, there are many causes of death,” the journalists at Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently wrote. These include “indiscriminate airstrikes by international coalition warplanes, daily artillery shelling by Syrian Democratic Forces, and ISIS mines scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.”

For those who survive, conditions inside the city only continue to worsen. Coalition bombing reportedly destroyed the two main pipes carrying water into the city in the 100-degree July heat, forcing people to venture to the banks of the Euphrates, where at least 27 have been reportedly killed by U.S.-led bombing while filling up jugs of water.

A Coalition in Name Only

The United States has launched nearly 95% of all coalition airstrikes in Syria in recent months, meaning the campaign is, in fact, almost exclusively an American affair. “The French and British are launching about half a dozen strikes a week now,” Chris Woods, director of Airwars, explained to me. “The Belgians maybe one or two a week.” In comparison, in Raqqa province last month the U.S. launched about twenty air or artillery strikes every single day.

In June alone, the U.S.-led coalition and U.S. Marines fired or dropped approximately 4,400 munitions on Raqqa and its surrounding villages. According to Mark Hiznay, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, these munitions included 250-pound precision-guided small diameter bombs, as well as MK-80 bombs, which weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds and are equipped with precision-guided kits. The bombs are dropped by B-52 bombers and other warplanes, most taking off from the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, or the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier stationed off Syria’s coast in the eastern Mediterranean.

Hundreds of U.S. Marines, most likely from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are also positioned outside Raqqa and are firing high explosive artillery rounds into the city from M777 Howitzers. In late June, the Marines’ official Twitter feed boasted that they were conducting artillery fire in support of U.S.-backed troops 24 hours a day.

The result of this type of warfare, says Airwars’ Chris Woods, is a staggering increase in civilian casualties. According to an analysis by the group, since President Trump took office six months ago, the U.S.-led campaign has reportedly killed nearly as many civilians in Syria and Iraq as were killed in the previous two and a half years of the Obama administration.

And for surviving civilians, the conditions of war don’t end once the bombing stops, as life today in the city of Tabqa indicates.

As of mid-July, according to Wassim Abdo, Tabqa still has neither running water nor electricity, even though displaced families have begun returning to their homes. There’s a shortage of bread, and still no functioning schools or hospitals. The Tabqa Dam, which once generated up to 20% of Syria’s electricity, remains inoperable. (U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reportedly damaged the structure repeatedly in February and March, when they burned the main control room, causing the United Nations to warn of a threat of catastrophic flooding downstream.) The U.S.-backed troops in Tabqa have, according to Abdo, banned the Internet and U.S. officials admit that children in the area are being infected by diseases carried by flies feeding off corpses still buried in the rubble.

Meanwhile, less than 30 miles to the east, the battle for control of Raqqa continues with tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the besieged city. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend has indicated that the U.S.-led coalition may soon increase the rate of airstrikes there yet again.

From Wassim Abdo’s perspective, that coalition campaign in Syria has so far killed his parents and nephew and ruined his hometown. None of this, understandably, looks anything like a war against ISIS.

“My opinion of the international coalition,” he told me recently, “is that it’s a performance by the international community to target civilians and infrastructure and to destroy the country.” 
And this type of warfare, he added, “is not part of eliminating Daesh.”

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and a news producer with Democracy Now! Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and frequently at TomDispatch. Special thanks on this piece go to Alhasan Ghazzawi.

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Copyright 2017 Laura Gottesdiener