Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It

Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: In a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policymakers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for its mass killings and aggressively enabled the genocide carried out by one of the 20th century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President Reagan, was regarded as a top-flight conservative intellectual because of her explicit defense of pro-Western, right-wing dictators, heaping praise on U.S.-supported savage oppressors such as the Shah of Iran and Nicaragua’s military dictator Anastasio Somoza on the ground that “they were positively friendly to the U.S., sending their sons and others to be educated in our universities, voting with us in the United Nations, and regularly supporting American interests and positions even when these entailed personal and political cost.” Unsurprisingly, U.S. foreign policy in the Reagan years, like the decades that preceded and followed them, was defined by economic, military, and diplomatic support for pro-U.S. dictators, death squads, and even terrorists.

Leading U.S. media outlets have long openly celebrated this pro-dictator stance. Upon the 2006 death of Augusto Pinochet — the military dictator imposed on Chile by the U.S. after it overthrew that country’s democratically elected left-wing president — the Washington Post editorial page heaped praise on both Kirkpatrick and Pinochet. While conceding that the Chilean tyrant was “brutal: more than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured,” the Post hailed “the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle,” concluding that like Pinochet, “Kirkpatrick, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”

When a right-wing coup in 2002 temporarily succeeded in removing Venezuela’s elected left-wing President Hugo Chávez, the New York Times editorial page cast it as a victory for democracy: “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.”

[As I documented several years ago: In the same editorial, the Times announced that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably thereafter revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a vital role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez,” though the paper failed to note that it had not only denied that this happened but had itself celebrated that coup.]

In 1977, Jimmy Carter attended a state dinner in Tehran for the Shah of Iran, the savage U.S.-supported despot who ruled that country for decades after the CIA overthrew its democratically elected leader. It took place shortly after Carter hosted the Shah at the White House. The U.S. president hailed the Iranian tyrant with a long toast, which began this way:

Your Majesties and distinguished leaders of Iran from all walks of life:

I would like to say just a few words tonight in appreciation for your hospitality and the delightful evening that we’ve already experienced with you. Some have asked why we came to Iran so close behind the delightful visit that we received from the Shah and Empress Farah just a month or so ago. After they left our country, I asked my wife, “With whom would you like to spend New Year’s Eve?” And she said, “Above all others, I think, with the Shah and Empress Farah.” So we arranged the trip accordingly and came to be with you.

As Carter spoke, his praise for the homicidal Iranian despot became more flowery and obsequious: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.” Two years later, those same people whom Carter claimed revered the Shah overthrew him and, to this day, loathe the U.S. because of the decades of support and praise it heaped on their dictator.

U.S. devotion to the world’s worst dictators did not end, or even recede, upon the end of the Cold War. Both the Bush and Obama administrations continually armed, funded, supported, and praised the world’s worst dictators.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually said of the murderous Egyptian dictator supported by the U.S.: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” When Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew that country’s first elected government, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, hailed him for “restoring democracy,” and as Sisi became more brutal and repressive, the Obama administration lavished him with more weapons and money. The U.S. government did the same for the human-rights abusing dictators in Bahrain.

The U.S. gave at least tacit approval, if not outright encouragement, to the 2009 military coup against Honduras’s elected left-wing government. The Clinton-led State Department then repeatedly denied abundant evidence that the coup government it was supporting was engaging in an assassination program of critics and anti-government activists. Last year, the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah examined “how [the Clinton] State Department’s role in undemocratic regime changes has contributed to violence and political instability in Honduras and Haiti today,” particularly documenting the various steps Secretary Clinton took to protect the military leaders who engineered the Honduran coup.

And then there is Saudi Arabia, long one of the most repressive regimes on the planet and one of the U.S.’s most cherished allies. U.S. devotion to the Saudi tyrants by itself negates virtually every plank of U.S. propaganda about spreading freedom and democracy, given that one administration after the next has worked tirelessly to maintain and strengthen that regime.

Obama, like Bush before him, repeatedly hosted Saudi despots at the White House. When the monstrous Saudi King died in 2015, Obama terminated his state visit to India in order to fly to Riyadh to pay homage to the close U.S. partner, where he was joined by a bipartisan cast of U.S. political stars. As The Guardian put it: “Obama has been forced to defend his unwillingness to challenge Saudi Arabia’s autocratic rulers as he led a U.S. delegation to shore up relations with its new king, just hours after lecturing India on religious tolerance and women’s rights.”

Upon the Saudi King’s death, Obama said of a despot who killed and imprisoned dissidents: “At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.” Obama’s gestures of admiration were mild when compared to those of the U.K. government, which ordered all flags be flown at half-mast to honor the deceased monarch, but Obama was not remotely shy about publicly lavishing the Saudi regime with praise.

In sum, the post-World War II foreign policy of the U.S. — independent of its massive human rights violations committed over and over around the world — has been predicated on overthrowing democratically elected governments and, even more so, supporting, aligning with, and propping up brutal dictators. This policy has been applied all over the world, on multiple continents and by every administration. It is impossible to understand even the most basic aspects of the U.S. role in the world without knowing that.

All of this history is now being erased and whitewashed, replaced with jingoistic fairy tales by the U.S. media and leading political officials. Despite these decades of flagrant pro-dictatorship policies, the U.S. media and leading political officials have spent months manufacturing and disseminating a propagandistic fairy tale that casts Donald Trump’s embrace of dictators as some sort of new, aberrational departure from the noble American tradition.

They have repeatedly claimed that the pre-Trump U.S. was devoted to supporting and spreading democracy around the world, while condemning and opposing tyranny. This is rank revisionism of the worst kind: jingoistic propaganda that should shame anyone endorsing it.

Like U.S. support for dictators, these recent bouts of propaganda are too numerous to comprehensively chronicle. Some of the more influential instances will have to suffice.

In February, the New York Times editorial page — writing under the phrase used by Jeane Kirkpatrick to demonize 1984 Democrats as unpatriotic: “Blame America First” — attacked Trump with this propagandistic garbage: “Since taking office, Mr. Trump has shown little support for America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.” Imagine what a shock it would be to the people of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Chile, Bahrain, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and the countless other countries that lived under a U.S.-supported dictator to hear about “America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.”

Perhaps the worst example yet came yesterday in a Washington Post article by its White House bureau chief Philip Rucker, who made this claim: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” He added: “In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders.”

Cultivating authoritarian leaders is everything except a “shift in American foreign policy.” Nonetheless, this propagandistic lie has now become commonplace among über-patriotic journalists eager to tell the world that the U.S. before Trump had been devoted to liberating the oppressed peoples of the world from tyranny. Here’s the New York Times political reporter Maggie Haberman — in a widely shared tweet — endorsing these jingoistic falsehoods from Rucker:

How can someone possibly be a journalist and believe that Trump’s being “uninterested in spreading small-d democracy” is a “dramatic break” from his predecessors? Yet this is now standard fare for the U.S. media, as evidenced by this segment from CNN this morning pronouncing Trump’s praise of rogue leaders to be “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

CNN took a policy that has been standard U.S. posture for decades and told its viewers that it represented “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

One would be remiss to omit this blatantly false propaganda from one of the Democrats’ most beloved members of Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff, who — in a predictably viral tweet — yesterday chided Trump for inviting to the White House the mass-murdering ruler of the Philippines and thus defacing noble U.S. traditions:

Aside from the fact that the U.S. has spent decades supporting tyrants and despots whose calling card is “extrajudicial killings” — including many who were feted at the White House — the central war on terror approach of the Obama presidency was exactly that. For years, Obama bombed multiple Muslim countries in order to kill people — including his own citizens — who his administration suspected, but never proved, had connections to terrorism. In other words, he killed thousands of people extrajudicially. It takes a special kind of propagandist to claim that this is a new Trumpian innovation.

What’s really going on here is self-evident. Nobody remotely rational, nobody with even a fleeting understanding of U.S. history, believes that the U.S. only began supporting and heaping praise on dictators upon Trump’s inauguration. Responding to criticisms, the Post yesterday edited Rucker’s patriotic tribute to the U.S. by adding the italicized words: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office at least occasionally to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.”

But that claim is still false. Can anyone possibly believe that — even when U.S. leaders paid lip service to human rights improvements — there was anything remotely genuine about it? Condemning human rights abuses is an instrument that the U.S. cynically uses to punish adversaries. And officials admit this when being candid, as this extraordinary passage from a 2013 Washington Post article revealed:

Human-rights groups have also accused the U.S. government of holding its tongue about political repression in Ethiopia, another key security partner in East Africa.

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The Post article went on to note that the Bush administration “took the same approach,” and that while “many U.S. diplomats and human-rights groups had hoped Obama would shift his emphasis in Africa from security to democracy … that has not happened.” In fact, “‘There’s pretty much been no change at all,’ the official said. ‘In the end, it was an almost seamless transition from Bush to Obama.’”

That’s how the U.S. uses human rights advocacy: as a weapon to “ream” uncooperative countries to punish them for their disobedience. For regimes that “cooperate” with U.S. dictates, they get “at least a free pass” to abuse human rights as extensively as they want, if not outright support and funding for doing so.

What’s really infuriating those attacking Trump for doing what the U.S. government has been doing for decades — supporting and praising heinous tyrants — is that he’s denying them the ability to maintain the myths they desperately tell themselves about their own country. Being able to claim that the U.S. is devoted to spreading freedom and democracy in the world is central to their internal monologue. From the Washington Post newsroom to the corridors of the State Department, this is the fairy tale that they tell themselves every day in order to justify their position as global arbiters of the behavior of other countries.

Once that veneer is removed, once that fairy tale is dispensed with, then the harsh reality stands nakedly exposed: What they are defending is nothing more than the illegitimate and arbitrary exercise of imperial power. The loss of this fiction imperils their entire moral framework. They aren’t angry that Trump is hugging dictators, obviously. All the other presidents whom they revere did the same. It goes without saying that a political culture that admires Henry Kissinger has no objection whatsoever to embracing tyrants.

They are furious that Trump isn’t as effective or as willing to pretend that he’s not doing this. That means they can no longer pretend that the violence, the wars, the coercion, the interference, the dictator support that they routinely condone has a moral purpose to it.

The reality is that even the fiction, the pretense, of the U.S. as some sort of defender of human rights and democracy is being wildly overstated. As the above examples (and so many others) demonstrate, U.S. officials, including U.S. presidents, have openly feted and praised despots at least as monstrous as Duterte.

Just as it’s comforting to believe that Trump is the byproduct of a foreign villain rather than an American phenomenon, it’s also comforting to believe that his embrace of despots is some sort of novelty. But, especially for journalists, the fact that it feels good to believe a myth does not justify disseminating it.

Watching the U.S. media tell everyone that Trump’s predecessors were devoted to spreading democracy, and that supporting tyrants is a “dramatic break” from the U.S. tradition, is such an obvious break from reality that it is staggering to see, even for those who already view the U.S. media as principally devoted to spreading patriotic state propaganda about the U.S. government.

— source by Glenn Greenwald

Yemen’s irrigation system: invisible victim of the war

For reasons no one can explain, a war has been raging in Yemen since 2013. The culprits are clear, the solutions seem simple—just stop and do something else. But tragically no one seems to bother to resolve.

The airstrikes and ground fights have by now caused an estimated of 10,000 victims. Compare this to 350death during the struggle in the Arab Spring that preceded the war. Yet next to this number there is another tragedy – those who suffer, get sick and hungry and die from the destruction of vital infrastructure water facilities: drinking water, water treatment, irrigation.

The war has destroyed crucial services in the region. An estimated 8.5 million people, for instance, have no longer access to safe drinking water, resulting in higher morbidity. Other victim of the war has been “spate irrigation”—the use short duration flood waters to irrigate land. The ancient Yemeni practice makes use of the short terms floods in normally dry rivers to water crops and grazing areas and to recharge groundwater. It covers an estimated 200,000 hectares in Yemen.

Spate irrigation systems were attacked in the bombing campaigns. In war, however, such civil structures are not supposed to be targeted by any one. According to the 1977 Protocol Additional to Geneva Conventions[1] in Article 14, starvation as a means of combat is not allowed: ‘’it is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable for survival of the civilian population – such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, water installations, and irrigation works’’. This has not happened in war-torn Yemen: Irrigation infrastructure was targeted directly, making systems hard to operate, causing more neglect.

Agriculture is vital for food security in Yemen. More than 70 per cent of its people depend on agriculture either directly or indirectly as their economic foothold. Yet the harmless sector has been brutalised like anything else. The war damage to the agricultural sector is already more than US $16 billion.

Spate irrigation systems in the coastal red sea zone of Yemen, the Tihama, made it the food basket of the country. Tihama produced most of the grains, livestock and export fruits in the country. But water system infrastructure has been hit by the war while Tihama Development Authority’s equipment and machines stores have been directly destroyed. Below are the images of Wadi Siham branch in Waqer Area of the Tihama Development Authority that has been wilfully destroyed. In addition to the physical damage a lot of documents and computer files, containing data and studies carried out since many decades have also been lost.

The indirect repercussions of the war are even larger. Flood-based irrigation systems need to be cleaned regularly to allow the flood water to flow. The lack of maintenance due to war, however, has led to accumulation of sediments and harmful tree growth in the bottom of canals. As a result, the Wadi Sihamspate irrigation system runs at 50 per cent of its capacity, as confirmed during meetings with farmers and Water User Association members.

It is descent into poverty: half the production in the country’s food basket has gone; food prices escalated; income severed and employment opportunities disappeared.

Situation on-ground

The socio-economic situation in Tihama’s wadis is similar, where the share of land owners is less the 30 per cent. Poverty rate is more than 80 per cent, due to the scarcity of resources and the multilayered crisis in the country. We interviewed several farmers.

Here is Hasan Qadhy, one of the richest farmers in Wadi Siham. Hassan is the head of an agricultural association. He owns 109 ha of land, which he uses to cultivate mango, tobacco and fodder. But Qadhy has skipped the last two crops after floodwater supply reduced and pumping groundwater to became expensive. The war curtailed his income, but he his land provided a buffer amid increased prices And unavailability of fuel.

The second farmer we met was aAbdo Ali. He has about 0.65 ha of land and mainly cultivates fodder. He also owns three goats and fifteen sheep. His yield can supply food and fodder but for less than three months a year. Unlettered himself, Ali tries to send his sons to high school. But the war has shaken him. Producing fodder has become costly and the produce has few takers. Income from the farm is not sufficient, and Ali needs another source for income, which simply is not there. He has to borrow money or sell animals and other assets to make do.

Worst still is the fate of the many tenants and farm workers, who constitute 70 per cent of the agricultural population. Sharif and his family of six, were poor to start with. Now his options as farm worker have shrunk. In the farms of rich farmers, some economic ventures have stopped—cultivation of fodder (not profitable) or tobacco (cannot afford to pump groundwater).

Come July, a new flood season will start in Wadi Sihamm. The period used to be of anticipation and blessing, but this year will be different. Flood may bring little respite with ill-prepared systems. They may instead suffer from the sediment-laden floodwater running across them.

We hope that the energies put in a senseless war are directed to end the conflict. We should enactArticle 14 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

— source by Frank van Steenbergen

More than 5 million children need urgent humanitarian aid in Iraq

More than 5 million children are in urgent need of aid in Iraq, the United Nations said on Thursday, describing the war on Islamic State as “one of the most brutal” in modern history. “Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence,” the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement. More than 1,000 children have been killed and more than 1,100 wounded or maimed since 2014, when the ultra-hardline militants seized large swathes of Iraq, it said. Over 4,650 children have become separated from their families.

— source

There’s No Strategy Behind Trump’s Wars — Only Brute Force

Trump’s wars are now all over the map. The peace movement can fight back by joining already thriving intersectional campaigns.

These are awesome days for headline writers. So many global settings, such an abundance of weapons, such a wealth of choices!

On the morning of April 14, the New York Times led with “A Giant U.S. Bomb Strikes ISIS Caves in Afghanistan,” matched by CNN’s “US Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs.’” The Washington Post chose Syria, where “Errant U.S. Strike Kills 18: Victims in Syria Were Allied Forces.” By mid-afternoon that same day, the Associated Press had shifted to the horn of Africa, where the “U.S. Sends Dozens of Troops to Somalia, 1st Time in Decades.”

And as the Friday rush hour began in Washington, Fox News opted to head to the north Pacific, leading with an aircraft carrier: “The ‘Powerful’ USS Carl Vinson Steams Towards North Korea.”

A few days earlier the most popular choices were various versions of CNN’s “U.S. Launches Military Strike Against Syria.” (That headline described something new only because the strike officially targeted a Syrian government military site, while ignoring the not-so-new reality that the U.S. has been attacking alleged ISIS targets in Syria with drones, bombing raids, and special forces for almost three years.)

A couple of weeks before that, coverage of the Trump wars focused on a devastating U.S. airstrike on Mosul, which a Los Angeles Times headline described as “One of the Deadliest Attacks on Civilians in Recent Memory.” And just before that, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism highlighted “Nine Young Children Killed: The Full Details of Botched U.S. Raid in Yemen.” (No headlines, however, told the full story of the U.S. role in Yemen. That one might’ve read “U.S.-Backed Saudi Bombing Has Killed Thousands, Worsened Famine Facing Millions in Yemen.”)

Around the globe, as these headlines testify, Donald Trump has been cavalierly deploying troops and weapons, claiming such military actions are designed to send political messages.

He’s threatened a preemptive strike against North Korea, considered a major escalation in Yemen, and turned loose his military commanders to bomb wherever, however, and with whatever they choose, weakening even further the already insufficient restrictions Obama had put in place to try to minimize civilian casualties. Deaths of civilians under both U.S. drones and conventional airstrikes have escalated.

For those who thought that military restraint was part of Trumpian isolationism, think again.

Raw Power

Not one of these actions was necessary. Not one will make people in this country — let alone the Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis, or others — any safer. Neither was any of these actions sanctioned by Congress: All violated the War Powers Act, and indeed the Constitution itself, which puts the power to declare war in the hands of the people’s representatives.

Furthermore, not one of them fulfilled the minimal United Nations Charter requirements for the legal use of military force — either Security Council authorization or immediate self-defense. Thus they all violated international law.

And even beyond the illegality, not one could claim a strategic, legitimate, or moral justification.

Of course, the U.S. has been at war in various combinations of Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya and Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond since George W. Bush declared the global war on terror just after the 9/11 attacks of 2001. In some of these countries, the U.S. was at war even before that. But Trump’s actions represent major escalations in every one of those devastated nations. According to the British human rights monitor AirWars, well over 1,000 civilians may have been killed by U.S.-led forces just in Iraq and Syria in March alone, the highest monthly total they’ve ever tracked.

What we see in these attacks is not a strategy, but a new way of communicating raw power.

How does it work? Instead of sending diplomats to help get all warring parties involved in negotiations, you drop the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on one of the world’s poorest countries. Instead of supporting UN efforts to create incremental ceasefires, you send special forces. Instead of investing money, time, and high-level attention to help shift regional conflicts from the battlefield to the negotiating table, you send armed drones to drop more bombs.

And, of course, instead of increasing funding for diplomacy, you strip 29 percent of the State Department budget, and nearly zero out humanitarian aid, and hand it all over to the Pentagon as part of a $54 billion increase in military spending.

None of this is in service of any actual policy, just a unifying theme: War trumps diplomacy. Bullies rule. It’s a shock-and-awe attack — many shock-and-awe attacks, actually — to drive home a message aimed not only at troops on the ground or militants holed up in a cave, but also at the populations as a whole, across Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and beyond. The goal seems to be ensuring that no question remains as to where and with whom the ultimate power resides.

It’s also a message to a domestic audience here in the United States, designed to shock if not surprise: The bully in the White House is calling the shots.

Invigorating the Peace Movement

The question now isn’t what Trump — or the generals and billionaires filling his cabinet — will do next. It’s what will we do next, as opponents of these wars?

In short, we need to integrate opposition to these wars into the very core of the movements already rising so powerfully against racism, for women’s and LGBTQ rights, for climate and economic justice, for Native rights, for immigrant rights and refugee protections, for Palestinian rights, and much more.

We know that some approaches from earlier efforts are needed once again. Building ties with and privileging the voices of people facing the consequences of U.S. actions, dying under the bombs or reeling under brutal sanctions, remain crucial. Lifting up anti-war veterans provides entre to important new audiences. Reminding people of how U.S. wars are too often fought for resources — as well as for the expansion of power, for military bases, for regional and global domination, and how racism informs all of Washington’s wars — are all key to popular education.

What we do know is that everyone — from Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, and Yemenis to those of us in this country — needs diplomacy to win out over war. We’ve faced wars for decades now, but we’ve also had some victories where negotiations triumphed over force — in Cuba, in Paris at the climate talks, and most especially in the Iran nuclear deal.

We know what diplomacy looks like, and we know how to fight for it.

We’ll need new strategies, new tactics — but we continue to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Our country is waging war against peoples across the globe, indeed waging war against the earth itself. But we are still here, challenging those wars alongside those who guard the earth, who protect the water, who defend the rights of those most at risk.

The great historian Howard Zinn reminds us of it all: Our country’s history began in the genocide of indigenous nations and the enslavement of Africans brought here in chains. But from that beginning it also became a country of people’s movements against genocide and slavery, against racism and misogyny and Islamophobia, of movements for justice, for internationalism, and yes, for peace.

— source by Phyllis Bennis

Yemenis Are Facing Twin Terrors of Aerial Bombings and Starvation

The United Nations is warning the risk of mass starvation is rapidly rising in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. On Wednesday, U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards said a preventable humanitarian catastrophe is “fast becoming an inevitability.”

Earlier this year, the U.N. appealed for $4.4 billion to prevent famine, but has received only about one-fifth of those funds. The U.N. warning came as a group of 55 U.S. lawmakers wrote to President Trump warning the president needs congressional approval if he seeks to expand U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign and blockade of Yemen.

Kathy Kelly talking:

this fast originated, I think, because some of us who had seen President Trump’s address to the Congress, in which he gave a great tribute to a Navy SEAL officer, Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owen, who had been killed, and there was a four-minute standing ovation with applause for the widow of that man—never mentioned in what country he was killed. And had there been any context, had the country been mentioned—it was Yemen—had there been any context whatsoever, I don’t think people could have possibly stood up and applauded this situation. It’s a horrific situation that’s unfolding in Yemen.

And the United States’ response has been one of militarism, support for the Saudi blockade of the vital port of Hudaydah, support for Saudi airstrikes, which have already taken out five cranes essential for the food to be imported into Yemen, and the United States itself waging airstrikes within Yemen. And, you know, we felt that this was so similar to what we had seen in Iraq when a state of siege primarily afflicted children and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five. And as was the case in Iraq, they were importing 90 percent of their food before the United States insisted on the maintenance of this 13-year blockade. Well, in Yemen, that port, Hudaydah, alone, is the entry for 70 percent of the food for the country. And Yemen imports 90 percent of its food.

So when you have a denial of not only food, but also gasoline, the means to transport food, people are running out of water—I mean, Iona Craig bravely reported that refugees, trying to find their way to a place where they might receive aid, were actually eating the trees. And when they got to where they thought they were going, there was no humanitarian aid, there was no water, there was no food. And so, children are dying of preventable diseases, dying of hunger, dying of thirst.

We’ve seen that the United Nations has said there’s got to be attention paid to this preventable near-famine condition. And our president has slashed the budgets that would have possibly given some of the needed assistance. And we can’t cooperate with this, so we’re on a fast. You know, we’re simply six days of going without food, knowing that we’re reflecting on the reality for people who have gone for months and face the terror, the real terror, that they could be bombed and die that way, or they could be starved.

people say they want security and are so anxious about security for people within the United States. But we’ve long believed that our security is founded in, based in, being able to extend a hand of friendship to other countries and share resources, and not continue to bloat the coffers of one of the greediest, most dangerous institutions in the world. And that’s, of course, the United States military and the Pentagon, and the military-industrial complex, all of the corporate groups that are experiencing great rises in their stocks. You know, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles produced by Raytheon get launched, and Raytheon stocks go up. This is the kind of thing that enrages other people all around the world.

I’ve had so much respect for the bravery of people like Iona Craig, reporting for The Intercept and the Pulitzer Foundation. You know, we, in some ways, have wondered, would there be any possibility to go into Yemen or to, in some way, accompany people in that very, very, very dangerous waterway. Forty-two Somalis were recently attacked and killed by an Apache helicopter. And we shouldn’t limit our imagination, but at this moment our accompaniment has really been through trying to pay attention and speak up.

– U.S. military attack in Yemen on January 29th that killed, it’s believed, about 29 people, more than half of them women and children. This is the attack that President Trump mentioned in his address to the joint session of Congress and had the widow of Ryan Owens there, who was the U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed. His father, William Owens, refused to greet President Trump at Dover Air Base, because he was so enraged at this catastrophic raid that his son was sent on and killed. The U.S. military presence in Yemen, can you talk about when we know about casualties and when we don’t? We certainly knew about the terrible tragedy of Ryan Owens, but rarely the mention of the Yemeni casualties.

the parlance for the drone operators after a strike is to speak of those who run away, who might be survivors, as “squirters.” And then there’s an effort to attack those people. And so, I think about the description that Iona Craig gave of a family that heard the explosion, and the mother tried to bundle up her children and run. And then, she and her children were among the casualties. And these night raids are enormously terrifying for people. I mean, some of the most professional warriors in the world, armed with heavy-duty weaponry, burst into homes. And it turned out in this case that the fighters in the region thought, at first, that this was an attack from a hostile tribe. Then they realized, with the planes overhead, that this was indeed the United States or Saudi Arabia. But they fought back, and I guess a helicopter was destroyed. But the lives of people in that area are put in such jeopardy, and people will feel fear and trauma for the rest of their lives. I mean, war isn’t over when it’s over. And this, of course, raises the likelihood that others will say, “Well, we’re going to find guns, pick up guns, be paid to carry guns.”

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: There is an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen. Why? Well, it’s because though the Saudis are actually dropping the bombs from their planes, they couldn’t do it without the United States. It’s our munitions, sold to the Saudis. It’s our planes that are refueling the Saudi jets. And it’s our intelligence that are helping the Saudis provide their targeting. We have made a decision to go to war in Yemen against a Houthi rebel army that poses no existential threat to the United States. It’s really wild to me that we’re not talking more about this in the United States. The United States Congress has not debated a war authorization giving the president the power to conduct this operation in Yemen.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Congress may have a chance to weigh in, in September, because the Saudis need more bombs, and so they need the Congress to reauthorize a new sale of weapons. So Congress can step in and say enough is enough.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: If you talk to Yemenis, they will tell you that inside Yemen, this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign, this is perceived to be a U.S. bombing campaign. What’s happening is that we are helping to radicalize the Yemeni population against the United States.

So it’s really not acceptable to say that our main goal would be that the Congress be given the chance to authorize these kinds of strikes, because we think it’s very possible that this Congress would authorize the strikes. We want to say that there has to be a silencing of all guns, that the United States shouldn’t pick any side in this terrible civil war. The United States should end all military aid to Saudi Arabia and end its own military strikes against Yemen.

across from the United Nations every day, people have donned the papier-mâché masks and black gowns that some of these people were wearing in 2001, when the United States first invaded Afghanistan. We’re joined by Catholic Workers, by CodePink activists, by Veterans for Peace, by people with Pax Christi, by many people who have made a long-standing commitment to end wars. We were so glad to greet people from Okinawa who came to join us on our first day. Yemenis have turned out regularly, as well. And so, we have a huge responsibility to try to connect different groups across the country. In Washington, D.C., CodePink people and friends went to the ambassador from Yemen’s office and delivered a letter, had a two-hour conversation with him. These are initial steps. And we acknowledge it’s too little and too late for many people in Yemen, but it doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to try, and, of course, to connect the dots with the massive bombing in Afghanistan today.

Kathy Kelly
co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

— source

The West’s ‘dirty wink’

12 February 1994

In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. Like Saddam’s attack on Kuwait, the occupation was declared by the UN to be illegal. But no action ever followed. In the last 18 years a third of the East Timorese population has been killed, while Western governments have remained silent, or, like Britain, have sold arms worth hundreds of millions to Indonesia…

Ghost gum trees rose out of tall grass; then without notice this changed to a forest of dead, petrified shapes and black needles through which skeins of fine white sand drifted like mist. Such extraordinary landscape reminded me of parts of central Vietnam, where the Americans dropped ladders of bombs and huge quantities of chemical defoliants, poisoning the soil and food chain and radically altering the environment. In East Timor this is known as the ‘dead earth’.

It is an area whose former inhabitants are either dead or ‘relocated’. You come upon these places on the plateaux and in the ravines of the Matabian mountains, in the east of the island, where the Indonesian pilots in their low-flying US and British fighter aircraft have had a bonanza. “They made the rocks turn white,” said a man who lived here and survived. On the rim of these places, which lie like patches of scar tissue all over the body of East Timor, are the crosses.

There are great black crosses etched against the sky and crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides, crosses beside the roads. In East Timor they litter the earth and crowd the eye. Walk into the scrub and they are there, always, it seems, on the edge, a riverbank, an escarpment.

The inscriptions on some are normal: those of generations departed in proper time and sequence. But look at the dates of these normal ones, and you see that they are prior to 1975, when proper time and sequence ended. Then look at the dates on most of them, and they reveal the extinction of whole families, wiped out in the space of a year, a month, a day. ‘RIP. Mendonca, Crismina, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Filismina, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Adalino, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Alisa, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Rosa, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Anita, 7.6.77 . . .’

I had with me a hand-drawn map showing the site of a mass grave where some of those murdered in the 1991 massacre of 250 people in Dili, the capital, had been dumped; I had no idea that much of the country was a mass grave, marked by paths that end abruptly, and fields inexplicably bulldozed, and earth inexplicably covered with tarmac; and by the legions of crosses that march all the way from Tata Mai Lau, the highest peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, down to Lake Tacitolu where a Calvary line of crosses looks across to where the Pope said mass in 1989 in full view of a crescent of hard salt sand beneath which lie, say local people, countless human remains.

What has happened in East Timor is one of the world’s great secrets. “Does anyone know where East Timor is'” asked Alan Clark, the former Defence Minister, on Channel 4 not long ago. When I repeated this to him recently, he said, “I don’t really fill my mind much with what one set of foreigners is doing to another.” It was a typically blunt Clark riposte, which itself was instructive, for it allowed a glimpse of how the unthinkable was normalised: how decisions taken at great remove in distance and culture had unseen and devastating effects on whole nations of people, albeit foreigners.

East Timor, half of an island 300 miles north of Australia, was colonised by Portugal 450 years ago. The Portuguese partly Latinised and insulated the territory from the upheavals of the western half of Timor, which was part of the Dutch East Indies that became Indonesia in 1949. In 1974, the old Salazarist order in Lisbon was swept aside by the ‘Carnation Revolution’ and Europe’s last great empire began to disintegrate virtually overnight. With the Portuguese preoccupied by events at home, the Indonesian military dictatorship of General Suharto invaded East Timor in december 1975, and have illegally and brutally occupied it ever since. The result: some 200,000 Timorese dead, or a third of the population.

Few places on the planet may seem more remote than East Timor. Yet none has been as defiled and abused by murderous forces and as abandoned by the ‘international community’, whose leaders are complicit in one of the great unrecognised crimes of the 20th century. I write that carefully: Not even Pol Pot succeeded in killing, proportionately, as many Cambodians as the Indonesian generals have killed East Timorese.

Britain’s role is also little-known. As the minister responsible for ‘defence procurement’ under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Alan Clark approved a sale of ground attack aircraft to Indonesia, valued at more than pounds 500 million. At the time he told Parliament, “We do not allow the export of arms and equipment likely to be used for oppressive purposes against civilians.” When I asked him how this worked, he explained that it applied to “police-type equipment (such as) riot guns, CS gas and anti-personnel stuff”, but that “once you get into military equipment, you’re into a different category of decision”.

I said, “Hawk low-flying attack aircraft are very effective at policing people on the ground.” He replied, “No, they’re not . . . aircraft are used in the context of a civil war. Now depending on which side you support in the civil war, you tend to regard the other people as being oppressed or repressed.”

“But,” I said, “East Timor isn’t a civil war. This is an illegal occupation, which the British Government acknowledges to be an illegal occupation.”

“I’m not into that. I don’t know anything about that.”

“Well you were the minister.”

“Yeah, but I’m not interested in illegal occupations or anything like that . . . I mean you call it illegal . . .”

“No, the United Nations does.”

I said ministers had often talked about receiving guarantees from the Indonesians that the Hawks would not be used in East Timor.

“Well, I never asked for a guarantee. That must have been something that the Foreign Office did . . . a guarantee is worthless from any government as far as I’m concerned.”

When Jonathan Aitken, who today has Alan Clark’s job at the Ministry of Defence, was asked in Parliament: “How many dead or tortured East Timorese are acceptable to the Government in exchange for a defence contract with Indonesia?” he replied, “That is a ridiculous question.” But of course it was not.

Eyewitnesses have now described in detail Hawk aircraft attacking civilian areas. Jose Gusmao, presently exiled in Australia, said, “I watched a Hawk attack on a village in the mountains. It used its machine-guns and dropped incendiary bombs. The Hawk is quite different from the American planes; it has a particular nose. You can tell it anywhere.”

Other eyewitnesses, who cannot be identified, spoke about the distinctive noise made by the Hawks, and of people being trapped in rockfalls during bombardment.

“I first saw the Hawks in 1984,” said Jose Amorin. “They were standing at the airport at Baucau, where they are based. They are a small aircraft, not at all like the OV-10 Bronco and the Skyhawk from the US. They are perfect for moving in and out of the mountains. They have a terrible sound when they are coming in to bomb, like a voice wailing. We immediately go to the caves, into the deepest ones, because their bombs are so powerful. They fly in low . . . and attack civilians, because the people hiding in the mountains are civilians. Four of my cousins were killed in Hawk attacks near Los Palos. Most people in East Timor know about the British Hawks. Why doesn’t the British Government send a fact-finding mission and ask the people?”

The British connection with the horrors of East Timor is a scandal arguably as great, if not greater, than any – including the Scott Inquiry – currently appearing on the front pages. Shortly before the massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, on November 12, 1991, Douglas Hurd urged the EC to “cut aid to countries that violate human rights”. Shortly after the massacre the British Government increased its aid to the Suharto regime to pounds 81 million, a rise of 250 per cent. The Minister for Overseas Aid, Baroness Chalker, claimed in Parliament that this was “helping the poor in Indonesia”. In fact, a large proportion of all British aid to Indonesia is made up of Aid for Trade Provisions (ATP); and much of this is the supply of weapons: British Aerospace, maker of Hawk aircraft, is among the British weapons companies helping Indonesia’s poor. (In January last year, the Armed Services Minister, Archie Hamilton, claimed that the sale of Hawks was “providing jobs”. British Aerospace has since laid off 4,000 workers.)

The British war industry has provided a vital prop for the Suharto dictatorship since 1978, when Foreign Secretary David Owen dismissed estimates of East Timor-ese dead as “exaggerated” and sold the Indonesian generals eight Hawk aircraft. Britain has since sold, or agreed to sell, a further 40 Hawks. These are in addition to Wasp helicopters, Sea Wolf and Rapier SAM missiles, Tribal Class frigates, battlefield communications systems, seabed mine disposal equipment, Saladin, Saracen and Fernet armoured vehicles, a fully-equipped Institute of Technology for the Indonesian army and training for Indonesian officers in Britain. In 1992, Margaret Thatcher received an Indonesian award for ‘helping technology’. She said, “I am proud to be one of you.”

James Dunn, the former Australian consul in East Timor and adviser to the Australian parliament, has made a study of census statistics since the Indonesians invaded. “Before the invasion,” he told me, “East Timor had a population of 688,000, which was growing at just on 2 per cent per annum. Assuming it didn’t grow any faster, the population today ought to be 980,000 or more, almost a million people. If you look at the recent Indonesian census, the Timorese population is probably 650,000. That means it’s actually less than it was 18 years ago. I don’t think there is any case in post-World War Two history where such a decline of population has occurred in these circumstances. It’s incredible; worse than Cambodia and Ethiopia.”

Where are all these missing Timorese? The estimate of 200,000 dead was first made in 1983 by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in East Timor. A report last month by an Australian parliamentary committee referred to ‘at least’ 200,000 deaths.

How they died has been Indonesia’s and its allies’ great secret. Western intelligence has documented the unfolding of the genocide since the first Indonesian paratroopers landed in the capital, Dili, on December 7, 1975 – less than two months after two Australian television crews were murdered by the Indonesian military, leaving just one foreign reporter, Roger East, to witness the invasion. He became the sixth journalist to die there, shot through the head with his hands tied behind his back, his body thrown into the sea.

As a result, in the age of television, few images and reported words have reached the outside world. There was just one radio voice at the time of the invasion, picked up in Darwin, Australia, 300 miles to the south, rising and falling in the static. “The soldiers are killing indiscriminately,” it said. “Women and children are being shot in the streets. We are all going to be killed. I repeat, we are all going to be killed . . . This is an appeal for international help. This is an SOS. We appeal to the Australian people. Please help us . . .”

No help came. According to the historian John Taylor, people were subjected to ‘systematic killing, gratuitous violence and primitive plunder’. The Bishop of Dili, Costa Lopez, said, “The soldiers who landed started killing everyone they could find. There were many dead bodies in the street – all we could see were the soldiers killing, killing, killing.”

At 2pm on December 9, 59 men were brought on to the wharf at Dili harbour and shot one by one, with the crowd ordered to count. The victims were forced to stand on the edge of the pier facing the sea, so that as they were shot their bodies fell into the water. Earlier in the day, women and children had been executed in a similar way. An eyewitness reported, “The Indonesians tore the crying children from their mothers and passed them back to the crowd. The women were shot one by one, with the onlookers being ordered by the Indonesians to count.”

As in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the first to die were often minorities. The Chinese population was singled out. An eyewitness described how he and others were ordered to “tie the bodies (of the Chinese) to iron poles, attach bricks and throw the bodies in the sea”. On the north-west coast, the Chinese population was decimated. The killing of whole families appeared at first to be systematic, then arbitrary. Soldiers were described swinging infants in the air and smashing their heads on rocks, with an officer explaining, “When you clean the field, don’t you kill all the snakes, the small and large alike?” ‘Indonesian troops,’ wrote John Taylor, ‘had been given orders to crush all opposition ruthlessly, and were told they were fighting communists in the cause of Jihad (holy war).’

Western governments knew in advance details of virtually every move made by Indonesia. The CIA and other US agencies intercepted Indonesia’s military and intelligence communications at a top secret base run by the Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) near Darwin. The information gathered was shared under treaty arrangements with MI6. Moreover, leaked diplomatic cables from Jakarta, notably those sent in 1975 by the Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott, showed the extent of Western complicity in the Suharto regime’s plans to take over the Portuguese colony.

Four months before the invasion, Ambassador Woolcott cabled his government that General Benny Murdani, who led the invasion, had ‘assured’ him that when Indonesia decided to launch a full-scale invasion, Australia would be told in advance.

In a remarkable cable sent to Canberra in August 1975, Woolcott argued Indonesia’s case and how Australian public opinion might be ‘assisted’. He proposed that “(we) leave events to take their course . . . and act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia of their problems.” He added, “We do not want to become apologists for Indonesia. I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about . . .”

There was not a word of concern for the interests or the fate of the East Timorese, who were, it was apparent, expendable.

Sir John Archibald Ford, the British Ambassador, recommended to the Foreign Office that it was in Britain’s interests that Indonesia should “absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible”. The US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, having recently watched US power and his own ambitions humiliated in the ‘fall’ of Saigon, indicated to Jakarta that the US would not object to the invasion. Kissinger and President Ford arrived in Jakarta on December 5, 1975, on a visit which a State Department official described to reporters as ‘the big wink’. Two days later, as Air Force One climbed out of Indonesian airspace, the bloodbath in East Timor began.

On his return to Washington, Kissinger sought to justify continuing to supply them by making the victim the aggressor. At a meeting with senior State Department officials, he asked, “Can’t we construe (East Timor as) a communist government in the middle of Indonesia as self defence?”

Told that this would not work, Kissinger gave orders that he wanted arms shipments ‘stopped quietly’, but secretly ‘started again’ the following month. In fact, as the killing increased, US arms shipments doubled. According to the Centre for Defence Information in Washington, had it not been for the supply of Western arms to Indonesia, the East Timorese resistance movement, Fretilin, might have beaten off the Indonesians.

Five days after the invasion, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that ‘strongly deplore(d)’ Indonesia’s aggression and called on it to withdraw its troops ‘without delay’. The governments of the US, Britain, Australia, Germany and France abstained. Japan, the biggest investor in Indonesia, voted against the resolution. Ten days later, as Western intelligence agencies informed their governments of the scale of the massacres, the Western powers reluctantly supported a Security Council resolution that unanimously called on ‘all States to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor’.

The Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, dispatched an envoy to East Timor, who was so restricted by the Indonesian military that his visit was worthless. The Portuguese offered the UN a warship in which to take the envoy to a Fretilin-held part of the island. ‘The Indonesians,’ signalled the CIA, ‘are considering whether to sink this vessel . . .’

This was enough to frighten away the UN. In striking contrast to action taken against Iraq in 1991, neither the Secretary-General nor the Western powers uttered a word in condemnation of Indonesia for failing to comply with a Security Council resolution, and for violating almost every human rights provision in the UN Charter.

On the contrary, in a secret cable to Kissinger on January 23, 1976, the Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, boasted about the “considerable progress” he had made in blocking UN action on East Timor. Later, Moynihan wrote, ‘The Department of State desired that the UN prove utterly ineffective. This task was given to me and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.’

Since 1949, when Indonesia won its independence from the Dutch, its ‘potential’ as an ‘investors’ paradise’ has been an article of faith in the West. “With its 100 million people, and its 300-mile arc of islands,” declared Richard Nixon, “Indonesia contains the region’s richest hoard of natural resources (and is) the biggest prize in South East Asia.” Indeed, in the seabed off Timor lies one of the world’s great oil and gas fields.

In the bloody events that brought Suharto and the generals to power in the mid-Sixties, estimates of the number killed range from 300,000 to almost a million, most of them landless peasants accused of being members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The then US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, said that America was prepared to back a “major military campaign against the PKI”. This was passed on to the generals by the US ambassador in Jakarta who told them that Washington “is sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing”. In 1990 a former US official in Jakarta disclosed that he had spent two years drawing up a ‘hit list’ for the generals. The bloodshed of Suharto’s coup almost 30 years ago was a precursor of the genocide in East Timor.

Thereafter, events proceeded with an unshakeable, terrible logic. In 1974, after Portugal decided to leave its colony, the prime minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, met Suharto and told him that East Timor was “economically unviable” to be independent and should become part of Indonesia.

As the fate of the Timorese was being decided by others, the Portuguese literally stepped aside, retreating to nearby Atauro Island, the aptly named ‘Isle of Goats’. The infant independence movement was left to decolonise itself and to defend the nation against one of the largest military powers in Asia.

Almost a year after the invasion, Gough Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, flew to Jakarta. He said his government now “acknowledged the merger”, but “only for purely humanitarian reasons”. Fraser was accompanied by the managing director of BHP, Australia’s biggest corporation. BHP had recently acquired a controlling share in the Woodside-Burmah company, which had been drilling for oil on and offshore East Timor – a country recently dismissed as ‘economically unviable’.

Other Western governments vied with each other to ‘sympathise with Indonesia’s problems’ by selling Jakarta arms – which, not surprisingly, were used in East Timor. When Foreign Secretary David Owen signed the first deal with Indonesia for Hawk aircraft, he said that not only were the estimates of the killings “exaggerated”, but that “the scale of fighting . . . has been greatly reduced”.

The opposite was true. The genocide was then at its height. Eyewitnesses to the onslaughts in East Timor spoke of scenes reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. ‘After September (1978),’ wrote a priest, ‘the war intensified. Military aircraft were in action all day long. Hundreds of human beings die daily, their bodies left as food for the vultures. If bullets don’t kill us, we die from epidemic disease; villages are being completely destroyed.’

With film director David Munro, cameraman Max Stahl and aid worker Ben Richards (the last two are pseudonyms), I filmed secretly in East Timor shortly before Christmas. By remaining most of the time in the mountains, David Munro and I avoided the main military routes. At first, people seemed absent; but they were there. From the highest crest the road plunged into a ravine that led us to a river bed, then deserted us. The four-wheel drive forded the river and heaved out on the other side, where a boy sat motionless and mute, his eyes following us.

Behind him was a village, overlooked by the now familiar rows of whitewashed slabs and black crosses. We were probably the first outsiders the people here had seen for a very long time. The diffident expressions, long cultivated for the Indonesians, changed to astonishment.

The village straddled the road, laid out like a military barracks with a parade ground and a police post at the higher end. The militia were trusted Timorese. The remoteness might have explained this; the Indonesians remain terrified of the guerrillas of Fretilin, the nationalist resistance still fighting on without any help, after 18 years. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, famine claimed many thousands of lives in such camps, as people were denied adequate land on which to grow subsistence crops. Although we saw no starvation, most people were terribly malnourished.

After we had turned south, we saw other camps where many of the faces were Javanese: the produce of a ‘transmigration programme’ aimed at unravelling the fabric of Timorese life and culture, and reducing the indigenous population.

A curious militarism seemed to invade all life. Traffic stopped for marching schoolgirls, jogging teachers and anthem-singing postmen (‘Tanah Airku: My Fatherland Indonesia’). Signs announced the ‘correct’ way to live each day ‘in the spirit of Moral Training’. In an Orwellian affront to the Timorese, one sign told them, ‘Freedom is the right of all nations,’ quoting Indonesia’s own declaration of independence.

“It is the Indonesian civilisation we are bringing (to East Timor),” said the Indonesian military commander in 1982. “And it is not easy to civilise backward people.” Timorese occupy few jobs other than as drivers, waitresses, broom-pushers and, of course, officials in the puppet administration. The teaching of the Timorese language is banned. “Before the invasion we lived a typical island life, very peaceful,” said Abel. “People were always very hospitable to foreigners. The Portuguese mostly let us alone.

“It is difficult to describe the change since then, the darkness over us. Of 15 in my immediate family only three are left: myself, my mother and a brother who was shot and crippled. Up until 1985 or 1986, most of our people were concentrated in what they called the central control areas; we lived in concentration camps for a long, long time. Only in the last three or four years have some of us been allowed to return home, but we can be moved again at any time. Indonesians use local people to spy on the others. People usually know who the spies are and they learn to deal with it. Certain things are not to be said widely even within the family.

“You see, we have got to pretend that everything is okay. That is part of finding a way to survive for the next day. But a human body and mind have limitations and can only take so much. Once it boils over, people just come out and protest and say things which mean they will find themselves dead the next day. I suppose you can compare us to animals. When animals are put in a cage they always try to escape. In human beings it’s much worse. I mean, we the people in East Timor call it the biggest prison island in the world. You must understand that. For us who live here, it’s hell.”

Was it Primo Levi who said that the worst moment in the Nazi death camps was the recurring fear that people would not believe him, when he told them what had happened, that they would turn away, shaking their heads’ This ‘radical gap’ between victim and listener, as psychiatrists call it, may well be suffered en masse by the East Timorese, especially the exiled communities. ‘Who knows about our country?’ they ask constantly. ‘Who can imagine what has happened to us?’

In 1989, Bishop Carlos Belo, head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, appealed directly to the world in a letter to the then UN Secretary-General, Perez de Cuellar. ‘We are dying as a people and as a nation,’ he wrote. He received no reply.

Today there are probably no more than 400 guerrillas under arms, yet they ensure that four Indonesian battalions do nothing but pursue them. Moreover, they are capable of multiplying themselves within a few days, for they are the focus of a clandestine resistance that reaches into every district and has actually grown in strength over the years. In this way they of course continue to deny the fact of ‘integration’ with Indonesia.

Domingos is 40 and has been in the jungle since 1983. “My wife was tortured and burnt with cigarettes,” he said, “She was also raped many times. In September this year (1993), the Indonesians sent the population of her village to find us. My wife came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to see your face because I have been suffering too much . . .’ At first I thought she was rejecting me, but it was the opposite; she was asking me to fight on, to stay out of the village and not to be captured and never to surrender. She said to me, ‘You get yourself killed and I shall grieve for you, but I don’t want to see you in their hands. I’ll never accept you giving up!’ I looked at her, and she was sad. I asked her if we could live together after the war, and she said softly, ‘Yes, we can.’ She then walked away.”

Domingos and his wife came from a village now known by the Timorese as the ‘village of the widows’. During the summer of 1983, almost 300 people were massacred here. Their names appear on an extraordinary list compiled in Portuguese by the church. In a meticulous script, handwritten in Portuguese, everything is recorded: the name, age of each of the murdered, as well as the date and place of death, and the Indonesian battalion responsible.

Every time I pick up this list, I find it strangely compelling and difficult to put down, as if each death is fresh on the page. Like the ubiquitous crosses, it records the Calvary of whole families, and bears witness to genocide . . . Feliciano Gomes, aged 50, Jacob Gomes, aged 50, Antonio Gomes, aged 37, Marcelino Gomes, aged 29, Joao Gomes, aged 33, Miguel Gomes, aged 51, Domingos Gomes, aged 30 . . . Domingos Gomes, aged 2 . . . ‘shot’.

So far I have counted 40 families, including many children: Kai and Olo Bosi, aged 6 and 4 . . . ‘shot’ . . . Marito Soares, aged one year . . . ‘shot’. . . Cacildo Dos Anjos, aged 2 . . . ‘shot’. There are babies as young as three months. At the end of each page, a priest has imprinted his name with a rubber stamp, which he asks ‘not to be used in the interests of personal security’. In handwriting and with a typewriter whose ribbon had seen better days, he introduced the list with an eloquent, angry appeal to the world.

‘To the commercial governors,’ he wrote, ‘Timor’s petroleum smells better than Timorese blood and tears. So who will be the one to take the truth to the international community’ Sometimes the press and even the international leaders give the impression that it is not human rights, justice and truth that are paramount in international relations, but the power behind a crime that has the privilege and the power of decision. It is evident that the invading government would never have committed such a crime, if it had not received favourable guarantees from governments that should have a more mature sense of international responsibility. Governments must now urgently consider our case!’

We drove into Dili in the early afternoon. It was too quiet: not the quiet of a town asleep in the sun but of a place where something cataclysmic has happened and which is not immediately evident. Fine white colonial buildings face a waterfront lined with trees and a promenade with ancient stone benches. The beauty of this seems uninterrupted. From the lighthouse, past Timor’s oldest church, the Motael, to the long-arched facade of the governor’s offices and the four ancient cannon, the sea shines all the way to Atauro island, where the Portuguese administration fled in 1975. Then, just beyond a marble statue of the Virgin Mary, the eye collides with rusting landing craft strewn along the beach. They have been left as a reminder of the day Indonesian marines came ashore and killed the first people they saw: women and children running down the beach, offering them food and water, as frightened people do.

Moving east, we reached Baucau in darkness. Baucau is a former Portuguese resort that once claimed a certain melancholy style and where holiday flights used to arrive from Australia. (‘Come and get a whiff of the Mediterranean,’ says an old Trans-Australia Airways brochure.) Today, the airport is an Indonesian air force base and Baucau a military ‘company town’, surrounded by barracks. On the seafront stands the Hotel Flamboyant. We climbed the long staircase in darkness and called out. A Timorese man emerged from the shadows limping and coughing terribly. “What do you want?” he asked. “A room?” I said. He turned and struggled along a deserted colonnade and flung open two doors. There was no water, a fan that turned now and then, a mattress coated with fungus and a window without glass. He left us with our echoes. The Hotel Flamboyant was, until recently, a torture centre.

“My father was tortured several times,” said Mario. “He refused to join the new administration. They took him to the police headquarters, then sent for me and my sisters and brothers to see him being tortured. They said to us that if we followed our father’s example, this is what would happen to us. They beat him with iron bars at first, then they did something to him that you learn in karate. They put their hands on his stomach and manipulated his organs and intestines. Indonesian soldiers are trained in these methods. They did this to him in four sessions.”

Back in Dili, an old man approached me in the hotel courtyard, asking me in a whisper to contact his family in exile in Australia. I walked away at first, then turned back and drew him into a passageway. “All my children are in Darwin,” he said, “I sent them out. It cost a lot in bribes. Now I long to see them.” I asked him if he had ever tried to leave. He shook his head and ran a finger across his throat. “Will you take a letter for me?” he asked. “Post it anywhere but here. They open everything. I have not had a letter for eight years.” I agreed to collect the letter that evening.

The massacre of mostly young people who marched peacefully to the Santa Cruz cemetery on November 12, 1991, remains like a presence in Dili. They had set out to place flowers on the grave of a student, Sebastiao Gomes, who had been shot dead at the church two weeks earlier. When they reached the cemetery, they themselves were shot down by waiting troops, or they were stabbed or battered to death.

What was different about this massacre was that foreigners were present, including the very brave British cameraman, Max Stahl, who hid his videotape among the gravestones and has been back to East Timor to film with us. In our documentary, Death Of A Nation, we will show that a second, unreported massacre took place, that day and the following day.

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Gareth Evans, described the 1991 massacre as “an aberration”. There is remarkable film of Evans and his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, toasting each other in champagne flying over the Timor Gap oil fields, having just signed a treaty to exploit East Timor’s oil and gas. When asked about the moral basis of the treaty, he replied, “What I can say is simply that the world is a pretty unfair place.” Within two months of the Dili massacre, 11 contracts were issued under the Timor Gap Treaty.

According to Professor Roger Clark, a world authority on international law at Rutgers University in the US, the Timor Gap Treaty also has a simple analogy in law. “It is acquiring stuff from a thief,” he said. “If you acquire stolen property from someone who stole it, you’re a receiver. The fact is that (the Indonesians) have neither historical, nor legal, nor moral claim to East Timor and its resources.”

Hours before I left East Timor, I met the old man who wanted me to post a letter. After all the years of separation, he said, with tears in his eyes, he had not been able to compose his thoughts and put them on paper in time for my departure. Instead he gave me a telephone number in Darwin for Isabella, his eldest daughter. I telephoned the number when I got to Bangkok. A recorded voice said it had been disconnected.

None of these terrible events had a place in the vision of those who fought and died to free Indonesia from European colonial oppression. Their struggle for independence from the Dutch produced great popular movements for democracy and social justice. For 14 years Indonesia had one of the freest parliamentary democracies in the world. Today many Indonesians understand this and are silent out of necessity. But for how long? The slaughter in East Timor is unworthy of such a nation.

As to the future, the US has, as ever,pivotal power. A proposed Congressional action to ban arms sales represents a perceptible change in American outlook and understanding. In 1993 the UN Human Rights Commission called on Indonesia to allow international experts on torture, executions and disappearances to investigate freely in East Timor. This month, the UN Commission will summon Indonesia into its dock. There are fragments of hope, which public opinion, directed at Jakarta’s sponsors and arms suppliers, can transform into real action. By all accounts, the Timorese resistance should have been wiped out years ago; but it lives on. Recent opposition has come most vociferously from the young generation, raised during Indonesian rule. It is the young who keep alive the nationalism minted in the early Seventies and its union with a spiritual, traditional love of country and kinship. It is they who bury the flags and maps and draw the subtle graffiti of a sleeping face resembling the tranquil figure in Matisse’s The Dream, reminding the Indonesians that, whatever they do, they must one day reckon with a Timorese reawakening.

When Amelia Gusmao, wife of the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, was forced into exile, young people materialised along her route to the airport and stood in tribute to her, then slipped away. The enduring heroism of the people of East Timor, who continue to resist the invaders even as the crosses multiply on the hillsides, is a vivid reminder of the fallibility of brute power and of the cynicism of others.

— source

Mother of All Bombs Hit CIA-Built Tunnels

The tunnels used in Afghanistan by the Islamic State group that were blown up on Thursday by the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb were built by the CIA, according to whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks tweeted out a screenshot and a link from a 2005 article from The New York Times which explained how the intricate tunnel networks of the Tora Bora in Northern Afghanistan were used by former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“Those tunnels the U.S. is bombing in Afghanistan? They were built by the CIA,” WikiLeaks tweeted with the screenshot.

The article, written by Mary Anne Weaver, detailed how the Tora Bora tunnel networks dated back to the Cold War battle between the Soviet Union and Afghan mujahedeen fighters, whom bin Laden was previously a part of.

During the 1980s, the CIA sent huge amounts of military aid and training to Afghan forces pitted against the Soviet military in an attempt to halt the spread of Soviet power in the region. Part of this CIA support for the mujahedeen included building tunnel complexes complete with bunkers and base camps that were built deep into the Tora Bora mountains of Eastern Afghanistan.

The tunnel networks had later been used by the Taliban and in 2001 as part of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. forces targeted the complex with the belief that bin Laden and al-Qaida troops were hiding deep within the tunnels.

Now the U.S. believes that the Tora Bora caves were being used by other Islamic militant groups, most notably the Islamic State group, and was used as justification for Thursday’s drop of the “mother of all bombs” on the Achin district of the Nangarhar province.

“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the media after the attack.

The bomb which was used for the first time in battle, “targeted a system of tunnels and cave that ISIS fighters use to move around freely,” Spicer continued.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan claim that in dropping the US$16 million bomb, they took “every precaution to avoid civilian casualties.” On Thursday evening, the Afghan Defense Ministry said that 36 Islamic State group militants were killed in the attack and that there were no civilian casualties.

The huge blast from the 21,600-pound GPS-guided bomb was likely to be felt by at least 95,000 people and locals recounted a deafening blast and earthquake-like tremors. Other reports citing locals said that the area was no long under the control of Islamic State group militants.

In other tweets, WikiLeaks noted that amid the hype of the MOAB being dropped, in 2016 the Obama administration on average per day dropped more bombs than the weight of a MOAB.

— source