Thursday, December 22, 2016

US Criminal Hypocrisy at Work in Syria and Yemen

Op-ed piece submitted to us from retired Windsor County Judge William Boardman.  "US weeps for a city, all the while backing genocide for a country."

US Criminal Hypocrisy at Work in Syria and Yemen

By William Boardman
20 December 16

n December 13, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power offered up yet another stark exercise in imperial deceit, shedding crocodile tears for those suffering in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, while continuing her strategically amoral silence about much greater suffering in the country of Yemen. The basis for this unconscionable choice is simple. Russia, Syria, and Iran are attacking Aleppo. The carnage in Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia, allied with eight other Sunni Muslim states (supported by another seven countries including Canada, UK, France, and Turkey) – but this 16-state war of aggression would be impossible without the exceptional 17th enemy of Yemen, the US: there would be no genocidal war of attrition on the poorest country in the region without US approval, US weapons, US intelligence gathering, US attack planning, and constant US tactical military participation.
Ambassador Power began her lengthy remarks to the Security Council with a litany of civilian sufferings, here representing Aleppo, but indistinguishable from the attacks on civilians in Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Raqqa, or a dozen cities in Yemen. Her deployment of abstract and pitiable events was useless as evidence, but she wasn’t making an argument so much as an emotional appeal:
This is what is happening in eastern Aleppo. This is what is being done by Member States of the United Nations who are sitting around this horseshoe table today. This is what is being done to the people of eastern Aleppo, to fathers, and mothers, and sons, and daughters, brothers, and sisters like each of us here….
Referring to “Member States,” Power apparently misspoke, since the Russian Federation is the only Security Council member known to be supporting the Syrian government’s siege of Aleppo (later she added Iran and Syria, who were not at the table). Or perhaps Power, in a Freudian slip, was also obliquely referencing those Security Council members engaged in war crimes in Yemen: Senegal, France, UK, and US. Her remarks were not designed to take the moral high ground, but to execute a political hatchet job:
It is extremely hard to get information, of course, out of the small area still held by the opposition. You will hear this as an alibi as a way of papering over what video testimony, phone calls, and others are bringing us live. You will hear this invoked – that it is hard to verify. It is deliberate….
War in the Middle East is waged without much regard for the laws of warfare on any side. The norm is set by tribal customs of revenge, brutality, and extermination. What is happening in Aleppo is little different from what is happening in Mosul. Civilians get little special treatment, while the families of the fighters are targeted for execution. The patterns may vary. In Aleppo, the “rebels” (who are mostly from the ranks of al Qaeda or ISIS, even though the US backs them) keep civilians from leaving the city, using them as human shields and, when killed, as political point makers. Civilians who do escape then face reprisal from Syrian forces, including arrest, imprisonment, and torture. The US knows all about that, having shipped recalcitrant Guantanamo prisoners to Syria for “interrogation” by the Assad government (Power referred to “the same prisons where we know the Assad regime tortures and executes those in its custody,” but kept mum on how “we know” this). American rendition of victims to Assad’s care and feeding was official policy back in the days before the US decided to demonize Assad (and, by so doing, make any political settlement in Syria all but impossible without the US losing face). In Mosul, in northern Iraq, where the US-backed siege of that city has ground to a standstill after two months, it is the US playing the role of the Russians in Aleppo, as the US bombs civilians in Mosul. Mosul is still partly held by ISIS, which kills civilians when it’s not holding them as human shields. Some ISIS fighters have reportedly fled Mosul, where they were enemies of the US, and gone to Aleppo, where they get US support. Despite the chaos, Power asserted:
It would be easy for independent investigators to get in along with food, health workers, and others; but instead, the perpetrators are hiding their brutal assault from the world willfully….
This is complete obfuscation from the US Ambassador. Sure, it would be easy to send help into a city if there were no fighting. There have been numerous ceasefires. No one has honored them long. And this is only a medium-sized city, much easier to cut off and isolate than an entire country. But Yemen has been so isolated and cut off that the UN observers warn that more than half of Yemen’s population of 28 million is facing a near threat of famine. Currently, hunger in Yemen kills 1-2 people per 10,000 per day, while the official measure of famine is more than 2 people per 10,000 per day. Saudi Arabia, the US, and others have blockaded Yemen for almost two years. The Saudi-US air campaign has targeted ports and docks, all but cutting off food supplies from a country unable to feed itself in the best of times. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is collective punishment of the civilian population for no reason other than it happens to be there and can’t escape. The US does not talk about this; the US hardly admits its involvement in killing Yemenis; the US hasn’t even succeeded in blocking the sale of cluster bombs (illegal in most nations of the world) to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Power is right: “The perpetrators are hiding their brutal assault from the world willfully.” And in a three-card monte move, she said:
The regime of Bashar Al-Assad, Russia, Iran, and their affiliated militia are the ones responsible for what the UN called “a complete meltdown of humanity.” And they are showing no mercy. No mercy despite their territorial conquests – even now, no mercy….
On April 14, 2015, almost two years ago, while the Saudi-American aerial blitzkrieg was only weeks old, the UN Security Council voted 14-0 (Russia abstaining) to demonize the rebel Houthis, to impose sanctions, and to ignore the early war crimes being committed by Member States, including dropping cluster bombs on civilians and blockading Yemen from importing food, medical supplies, and other basic human needs. Not until December 19, 2016, did the Saudis even admit to dropping UK-made cluster bombs on Yemen. For almost two years now, no one has shown Yemen any mercy. Despite the territorial gains in Yemen by al Qaeda and ISIS, the UN, the US, the Saudis and their allies have yet to take responsibility for their war, much less consider any mercy. While Saudi-US forces continue to attack the Houthis, the Saudi-backed overthrown government in Yemen continues to suffer attacks on its forces in Aden by ISIS suicide bombers (at least 52 soldiers killed December 18). The same day as that bombing, the US State Department issued a vapid communiqué on Yemen expressing “condolences for the deaths of Yemeni soldiers,” without mentioning ISIS and without suggesting that a peace process might be promoted by stopping the bombing or lifting the blockade. But in the world of Samantha Power there is only one atrocity worth mentioning:
Our shared humanity and security demands that certain rules of war hold, the most basic. And it is up to each and every one of us here to defend those rules. To the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran – three Member States behind the conquest of and carnage in Aleppo – you bear responsibility for these atrocities. By rejecting UN-ICRC evacuation efforts, you are signaling to those militia who are massacring innocents to keep doing what they are doing. Denying or obfuscating the facts – as you will do today – saying up is down, black is white, will not absolve you.
In effect, Ambassador Power is saying something like “up is black here.” Aleppo was once a quiet, diverse, international city with a mixed, vibrant culture (official population of 2.3 million in 2004). That began to change with the rise of Syrian rebellion against the Assad government. Rebel fighters attacked Aleppo in 2012, but controlled only half of it. East Aleppo became a stronghold of “moderate” and jihadi fighters, who also fought each other. The civilian population began to flee, when it could. In mid-2016, Assad’s forces encircled East Aleppo, putting about 250,000 people under siege. By mid-December, much of East Aleppo had been re-taken by Syrian government forces working with Syrian Kurds, who work with US support in eastern Syria. Allocating atrocities among these combat forces requires a more honest understanding of recent history and a finer moral intelligence than demonstrated by US policy or its flamboyantly falsifying spokesperson, Power.
On December 19, the Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution “demanding immediate, unhindered access for observation of monitoring civilian evacuations from Aleppo.” The meeting lasted two minutes. The resolution appears to limit its concern to an estimated 150,000 Aleppo civilians (Power estimates 30,000-60,000). Syria had an estimated population of 23 million in 2013. The UN today estimates 13.5 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance, including almost 5 million trapped in siege-like conditions other than in Aleppo, where the Russians are not involved and the US is not much interested.
And when it comes to “denying or obfuscating the facts,” who has done that more defiantly and destructively for a longer period of time than the US? Not only in Syria and Yemen, but Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Honduras, El Salvador, Gaza, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam – how far back does one need to go? Bear River, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee? Further? Stono River, South Carolina?
The US should have sought absolution years, decades, even centuries ago, but that has not been part of our national character. The US has lived for a long time believing up was down, but not that black was white. And US belief in “certain rules of war” has largely applied to others, but not to the US if inconvenient. Over the top as that passage was, Samantha Power went still higher:
Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later. Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and, now, Aleppo…. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?
That is the passage most quoted in news reports, but only occasionally challenged. Ambassador Power’s list of “events in world history that define modern evil” is strangely tame despite its murderousness. Saddam Hussein’s Arabs gassing Kurds, Rwandan Hutus slaughtering Tutsis, Serbian slavs murdering Bosnian Muslims – these are brutal ethnic cleansings with almost no relevance to Aleppo, where the dividing line is more political than ethnic. And to the extent that the fight is between Shia extremists and a more tolerant mixed society (under a dictator, to be sure), the US is on the side of the religious extremists.
As for events defining modern evil, one need not go back to the Holocaust, Coventry or Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki for mass slaughter of civilians. My Lai can stand for the myriad atrocities of Vietnam. Fallujah was one of the top war crimes in Iraq, along with the Blackwater slaughter in Baghdad. When Amnesty International documented ten atrocities that killed 140 civilians in Afghanistan, the US military did not deny it. The Pentagon merely restated its unenforced policy: “The Department of Defense does not permit its personnel to engage in acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any person in its custody.” Not in custody? Well, good luck.
Samantha Power asked the Russians, rhetorically, “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?” And the Russians mocked her for acting like Mother Teresa.
She hasn’t asked those questions of her fellow Americans. She likely knows the honest answers would be no, no, and yes. There is nothing official America will not lie about or justify. Isn’t that why we torture and imprison people more or less randomly? Isn’t that why we have presidential assassination by drone strikes? Isn’t that why we enjoy our proxy genocide in Yemen? Isn’t that how we make America great again?

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

US-Saudi Terror in Yemen Dwarfs ISIS Attacks in Europe

By William Boardman
25 March 2016

Protesters gathered at Saba’een Square, Sanaa in Yemen to denounce Saudi aggression.

“Saudi Arabia has been militarily involved and trying to manipulate political outcomes in Yemen for decades. The last time they did this in 2009, they lost militarily to the Houthis.” – foreign policy scholar Hillary Mann Leverett on CNN, early 2015

hy are two of the richest countries in the World, the United States and Saudi Arabia, engaged in unrelenting, aggressive war against one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen? 
The US-Saudi-led war on Yemen started on March 26, 2015, with the Saudi coalition’s aerial blitz, using both high-explosive and outlawed cluster bombs, against a population with no air force or other effective air defense. US-supported year of carnage has killed more than 6,000 people (no one knows for sure), most of them civilians. The US-Saudi criminal intervention in the Yemeni civil war was supposed to be quick and efficient. From the start, the US has helped plan the attacks, provided intelligence, re-fueled attacking planes, and participated in the naval blockade (an act of war) that has pushed Yemen’s 26 million people to the brink of mass starvation. The American-Saudi genocidal war has continued without significant protest around the world – no “Yemeni Lives Matter” movement – and with almost no attention from any of those who will likely inherit this illegal war as the next commander in chief. None of the candidates, despite their tough talk about ISIS, seem to care that the Saudi military focus has shifted from fighting ISIS to killing Yemenis whose primary offense is to want to run their own country. Nobody in authority seems ready to address the possibility that one of the fundamental bad actors in the Middle East is our longstanding “ally” Saudi Arabia.    
One reason the candidates can so easily ignore American war crimes in collusion with the Saudi coalition is that Yemen is not widely reported, much less analyzed. Yemen is not part of the official beltway agenda. The PBS program “Frontline” devoted an hour to Yemen in April 2015, mostly delivering the Saudi propaganda view that the Houthis are the bad guys, and omitting mention of the naval blockade. The New York Times apparently felt Yemen was not front page news till March 14, 2016, when it ran a disingenuous, seriously truncated piece that misrepresented the US role in Yemen, starting with the headline: “Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. in Yemen” (more about this below). Finding relevant, thoughtful commentary about Yemen from any presidential candidate is difficult to impossible. A sampling follows:   
Donald Trump offers wolf-in-the-woods gibberish to fear
Donald Trump doesn’t appear to have any articulated position on the Yemen War, but he does seem to think that it’s all Iran’s fault. At least that’s what he seemed to say on January 19 at an Iowa rally. In Trump’s rally remarks below, “they” – as in “they’re going into Yemen” – refers to Iran: 
Now they’re going into Yemen, and if you look at Yemen, take a look … they’re going to get Syria, they’re going to get Yemen, unless … trust me, a lot of good things are going to happen if I get in, but let’s just sort of leave it the way it is. They get Syria, they get Yemen. Now they didn’t want Yemen, but you ever see the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia? They want Saudi Arabia. So what are they going to have? They’re gonna have Iraq, they’re gonna have Iran, they’re gonna have Iraq, they’re gonna have Yemen, they’re gonna have Syria, they’re gonna have everything! 
Even at “The American Conservative,” no booster of Iran, they mock Trump surgically: “This is nonsense,… a crude, simplified version of official Saudi interventionist propaganda, which has grossly exaggerated the extent of Iran’s influence and involvement in Yemen for most of the last year.” Being American Conservatives, they stop short of denouncing a criminal American war that has received “far too little coverage,” since it is “one of the worst foreign policy blunders of [Obama’s] presidency.”
Ted Cruz and John Kasich have less to say about Yemen than Trump
In January 2015, before the US-Saudi war started, Ted Cruz was arguing that “Yemen demands our attention as the terrorism bred there has global reach.” In support of this demand, Cruz cited varyingly relevant events of 2000, 2009, and 2011, as well as the then-fact that: “Seventy-one of the 122 prisoners remaining at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are from Yemen.” Beyond more “attention,” Cruz made no policy proposal. The Ted Cruz 2016 website offers no Yemen policy, nor does it acknowledge the criminal US-Saudi war that kills civilians there almost daily, even though it does not resort to “carpet bombing” (which Cruz recommended for ISIS in Syria).   
John Kasich is as quiet as anyone on the American role in bringing Yemen to the brink of mass starvation, but in South Carolina on January 14 Kasich had some unusually harsh, semi-coherent words for Saudi Arabia’s educational initiatives, if not its war crimes:
In terms of Saudi Arabia, look, my biggest problem with them is funding radical clerics through their madrassas, that is a bad deal. Whether I'm president or not, make it clear to the Saudis, we're going to support you, we're in relation with you just like the first gulf war, but you got to knock off the funding and teaching of radical clerics who are the very people who try to destroy us and will turn around and destroy them.
Kasich’s speech to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on March 21 was titled “A Comprehensive Outline for American Security in a Chaotic World.” Kasich offered ritualistic, dishonest Iran demonizing (“Iran’s regional aggression“) and lied about the USA not being part of Gulf State cooperation, the same Saudi-led alliance waging war on Yemen. But neither his speech nor the Kasich presidential website was comprehensive enough to mention the illegal US-Saudi war in Yemen, in which Israel has participated.
The same day Kasich spoke to AIPAC, Israel managed to evacuate 19 Yemeni Jews from one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, in Yemen. During 1947-1949, after the partition of Palestine, Yemeni attacks on Jews in Yemen led most of them (about 50,000) to flee to Israel. Now, most of the remaining Yemeni Jews (about 50) live in a compound in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa under the protection of “authorities.”  
Hillary Clinton silent on war she helped make possible
Hillary Clinton’s present silence on the US-Saudi terror-bombing campaign that has killed some 3,000 Yemeni civilians since March 2015 distinguishes her from none of the other 2016 candidates. But Clinton does have the distinction of being the only candidate who contributed materially to the ability of Saudi Arabia to bomb indiscriminately, using American weapons and munitions, against which Yemen is virtually defenseless. As a hawkish Secretary of State, Clinton made arming Saudi Arabia a “top priority,”supporting more than $100 billion of dollars of arms sales (2010-2015), including F-15s and the bombs the Saudis have used to pummel Yemen for a year. Unlike the US or Canada, European countries have begun to question or block arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the horrendous and unrelenting Saudi record of human rights abuses. Code Pink and other human rights organizations say the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen “may amount to war crimes,” stopping short of naming possible war criminals. The Clinton Foundation has accepted more than $10 million from two of Yemen’s aggressors, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.  

Bernie Sanders has no public opinion on Yemeni ethnic cleansing
In early 2015, Bernie Sanders expressed a vague Middle East policy that called for Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to take the lead in fighting terrorism, with the US in more of a support role. What the Saudi-coalition is doing to Yemen fits this framework, except for the terrorism part. The US-Saudi war on Yemen has actually made Yemen safer and more secure for both ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In November 2015, almost eight months after Yemen was attacked, Sanders offered this oblique but accurate assessment:  
Saudi Arabia, turns out, has the third-largest defense budget in the world,… Yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
By omission, this amounts to a kind of blessing of that genocidal war. It also reveals an uncritical acceptance of the false Saudi version of reality (“Iran-backed Houthis”). With no relevant comment on the official Sanders website, the Yemen war remains an issue-cluster he has yet to address directly, never mind thoroughly and accurately, any more than anyone else.   
After a year of US-guided terror bombing in Yemen, in a Saudi-led campaign primarily against the Houthis’ tribal homeland – an assault that is effectively a multinational campaign of ethnic cleansing – it is a sad measure of the seriousness of the candidates for president that they have nothing critical to say of an effort that has more than 24 million victims, most of them innocent, all held hostage in a food-deprived country sealed off by a naval, air, and land blockade imposed primarily by the US, UK, and Saudi Arabia. That’s why you don’t see a flood of Yemeni refugees comparable to those escaping from a smaller (23 million) Syria: because the US is helping to keep them there till they kill each other, get bombed to bits, or starve.   
What you don’t know about is less likely to disturb the status quo
Mainstream media coverage of Yemen continues to be spotty, limited, incomplete, and mostly incoherent. The New York Times article mentioned above is perhaps a sign of increased official attention, but it is no harbinger of completeness or coherence.  The premise of the story is fundamentally dishonest, as expressed in the inside headline: “Quiet Support for Saudi Allies Entangles U.S. in a Bloody Conflict in Yemen.” What the story makes clear is that, in March 2015, the Saudi ambassador pitched the White House on starting a new war in Yemen. The ambassador promised a quick campaign to re-install the Yemeni government that had fled to Saudi Arabia. The ambassador hyped his pitch with the standard exaggeration of Iranian involvement (which has actually been all but nil). Despite concern by “many” advisors that “the Saudi-led offensive would be long, bloody, and indecisive,” President Obama bought the pitch and authorized the Pentagon to support the Saudi-coalition’s attacks on Yemen. Somewhat contradictorily, the Times story also reports:
American intelligence officials had long thought that the Saudis overstated the extent of Iranian support for the Houthis, and that Iran had never seen its ties to the rebel group as more than a useful annoyance to the Saudis. But Mr. Obama’s aides believed that the Saudis saw a military campaign in Yemen as a tough message to Iran.
How do you vote for accountability when no candidate’s for it?  
Taken altogether, that leaves the reader wondering why the president listened to one set of advisors more than another, and especially why he listened to the ones not supported by either intelligence officials or evidence on the ground.  According to the Times, two of those most in favor of war on Yemen were Secretary of State John Kerry (as way to ameliorate Saudi annoyance with US-Iran talks, sacrifice some Yemenis) and UN Ambassador Samantha Power (arguing preposterously that US involvement might mean fewer civilian casualties). Even now, the White House official in charge of Middle East policy (Robert Malley) claims, “This is not our war.” He doesn’t explain how this war could have happened without the US.   
In other words, there was no conscientious analysis leading to a measured decision by the White House as to what would be the best course in Yemen. Doing nothing was apparently not an option, since doing nothing would likely have meant no war there at all (except civil war). The White was already morally compromised by the US drone program that had significantly added to instability (and anger at the US) in Yemen, so how much worse could unleashing an illegal war of aggression be? A year later, we’re finding out. 
So the White House needs a cover story, the White House needs plausible deniability of its willingness to commit war crimes. Enter the Times with something of a cover story: the official version of events is that US participation in and “quiet support” for an aggressive war, in violation of international law, isn’t a big deal as long as the US doesn’t get “entangled.”
That’s not a particularly persuasive argument. But President Obama’s de facto pardon of Bush White House operatives for all their Iraq-related war crimes and crimes against humanity pretty much set the stage for the current absence of any serious call for accountability for any abuse of authority. Little wonder that none of the president’s would-be replacements are challenging the ability to exercise power without personal risk.   

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
 Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.


A message to the world from the 27 million people of Yemen  

A young Yemeni girl’s extraordinarily moving essays on her blog:  The Ambiguous Odyssey

The War in Yemen Explained in 5 Minutes
  Journalist and political analyst Caleb Maupin speaks

It's all about oil, Wall Street.


  1. We have arrived at an unprecedented number of worldwide tipping points, and we need to work together to correct them, so we absolutely must not succumb to fear.

    It is hard not to be afraid, but fear will only make everything worse. That is the thrust of “terrorism” as a policy changer. People who use terror usually have no other weapon and very much need us to be afraid of them and their behavior. Our government has done much to encourage “terrorism” since 9/11, and we are naturally showing the signs of victimization from it.

    But we must stop all that and make peace everywhere. The “terrorism” we have created with the Saudis in Yemen is vastly greater than anything ISIS can do or has done in Syria. Watching United States’ efforts to combat progressive popular movements in Venezuela and other parts of South and Central America, we see ourselves moving in the wrong direction. Our neocon-driven military-industrial complex can never create peace by starting more wars. It is critical that we reverse this terrible disease we have fallen into.

    We have still a little time to make things work, and our cooperation is essential to our survival. In my view, our best chance comes from each of us making every effort we can toward decency and fearlessness.

  2. "His name shall be Ishmael, and he shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand shall be against him." (Did this from memory, sorry if I misquoted slightly) Written thousands of years ago, still true today. Although the U.S. can be blamed for a good bit of the trouble in the Middle East and North Africa, I wouldn't be too quick to blame us for everything. There has been slaughter going on in these regions for thousands of years, only modern weapons make it worse. People who believe in "world peace" are dangerously naive, in my opinion, but where would we be without them? Just don't hold your breath waiting for it. Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi (to name only a few) all tried; two out of those three were killed for doing it. The world is an ugly, nasty, twisted mess. I think the best each of us can do is to not emulate it.


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