Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?

Retired Gen. James Mattis earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for leading U.S. Marines into battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2004. In that assault, members of the Marine Corps, under Mattis’ command, shot at ambulances and aid workers. They cordoned off the city, preventing civilians from escaping. They posed for trophy photos with the people they killed.

Each of these offenses has put other military commanders and members of the rank and file in front of international war crimes tribunals. The doctrine that landed them there dates back to World War II, when an American military tribunal held Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita accountable for war crimes in the Philippines. His execution later was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the siege of Fallujah, which I covered as an unembedded journalist, Marines killed so many civilians that the municipal soccer stadium had to be turned into a graveyard.

In the years since, Mattis – called a “warrior monk” by his supporters – repeatedly has protected American service members who killed civilians, using his status as a division commander to wipe away criminal charges against Marines accused of massacring 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 and granting clemency to some of those convicted in connection with the 2006 murder of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi, who was taken outside his home and shot in the face four times.

These actions show a different side of Mattis, now 66, than has been featured in most profiles published since his nomination as President-elect Donald Trump’s defense secretary, which have portrayed him as a strong proponent of the Geneva Conventions and an anti-torture advocate.

Although Mattis argued against the siege of Fallujah beforehand, both international and U.S. law are clear: As the commanding general, he should be held accountable for atrocities committed by Marines under his command. Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting received no reply to messages sent to Mattis’ personal, business and military email addresses. Trump’s transition team likewise did not respond to inquiries. Mattis’ biography on the transition team’s website does not mention the battle.

“There have been credible reports that U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Mattis did target civilians, conducted indiscriminate attacks and also conducted attacks against military objectives that caused disproportionate casualties to civilians during military operations in Fallujah,” said Gabor Rona, who teaches international law at Columbia University and worked as a legal adviser at the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the time of the siege.

“All of these are war crimes,” Rona said. “Applying the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Mattis would be responsible for these misdeeds, these war crimes of troops under his command if he … either knew, should’ve known or did nothing to prevent or punish this behavior.”

Nearly 13 years later, the siege of Fallujah has receded from the headlines. But for those of us who experienced the events firsthand, the death and destruction are seared into our memories. The lack of accountability for the killing of so many civilians grates like nails on chalkboard.

Given his command responsibility, Mattis’ confirmation hearing for defense secretary, which starts Thursday, provides an opportunity to probe his role in the killings, including asking whether he committed war crimes.

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I spent parts of three years in Iraq, covering the war as an independent, unembedded journalist, including work in and around Fallujah at the time of the April 2004 siege. The year before, in May 2003, I had spent $10 to take a taxi from Baghdad to Fallujah and – as an American journalist armed only with a microphone – walked freely among the fruit and vegetable sellers, buying a Seiko watch with a fake leather band and sitting in on a Friday prayer to hear from Jamal Shakur, the city’s most strident and powerful imam.

Although AK-47s were being sold openly on the street and there already had been clashes with American troops, the imam urged nonviolence.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he preached. Do not confront the Americans, he said. Do not turn out to protest.

But as the U.S. government bungled the occupation, anti-American sentiment grew. Basic services such as electricity, knocked out during the initial invasion in March 2003, were not restored. Insurgent attacks increased, and along with them the number of civilians killed in American counterattacks. Thousands of Iraqis disappeared into Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s old lockup outside Baghdad, by then operated by the U.S. military.

A year later, Fallujah was destroyed by the Marines under Mattis’ command.

Rotting bodies in Fallujah streets

More than 12 years later, I still remember the smell of bodies left to rot in the streets for weeks because they could be buried only after the Marines withdrew. Iraqi doctors told me that when they tried to bury bodies during breaks in the fighting, American snipers on rooftops would shoot at them.

“When you see a child, 5 years old with no head, what (can you) say?” Dr. Salam Ismael, the head of Iraq’s young doctors association, told me in Baghdad at the time. “When you see a child with no brain, just opened cavity, what (can you) say? Or when you see a mother just hold her child, still an infant, with no head and the shells all over her body.”

My strongest memory of Fallujah came from the day the Marines withdrew from the city. On May 1, 2004, I watched as a team of volunteers wearing surgical masks pulled the rotting corpse of a middle-aged woman from a shallow grave in the front yard of a single-family home. The homeowner explained how the woman came to be lying dead in his yard.

An American warplane bombed her car as she fled the city with her husband, he said. The husband had been temporarily buried in the garden of the house next door, the charred remains of the car still visible a few yards from his front door.

The volunteers poured formaldehyde over the woman’s body to cut the stench, then placed her on a gurney and took her away in a small pickup truck. I was struck by the sad, intense eyes of one boy – not more than 12 – helping with the operation. He didn’t blink as he stood in the back of the open bed of the truck next to the body, which was covered with a white sheet.

The truck sped away. The boy was still standing, his hands on the side of the truck. In 10 minutes, he would be at the municipal soccer stadium helping bury the woman alongside hundreds of others who had died in the fighting.

Shooting at ambulances, refugee camp

Ismael told me Marines shot at his organization’s ambulance twice while he was in it. One time, he said, he was trying to retrieve bodies for burial. The other time, he was trying to bring aid to civilians stranded in their homes.

“I see people carrying a white flag and yelling at us, saying, ‘We are here, just try to save us,’ but we could not save them because whenever we opened the ambulance door, the Americans would shoot at us. We tried to carry food or water; the snipers shoot the containers of food.”

Proof often is elusive in a war zone. But that same week, British filmmaker Julia Guest showed me footage of a clearly marked ambulance, complete with blue flashing lights, riddled with bullet holes. The driver had a bandage around his head.

“It’s very clearly an ambulance,” she told me. “It’s carrying oxygen bottles. The damage to the ambulance was such that two of the wheels are totally wrecked. … They were left without an ambulance after that.”

At the time, the Marine Corps did not deny it was shooting at ambulances, but it blamed insurgents. In a 2004 email, corps spokesman Lt. Eric Knapp told me that his forces had seen fighters loading weapons from mosques into ambulances.

“By using ambulances, they are putting Iraqis in harm’s way by denying them a critical component of urgent medical care,” he wrote. “Mosques, ambulances and hospitals are protected under Geneva Convention agreements and are not targeted by U.S. Marines. However, once they are used for the purpose of hostile intent toward coalition forces, they lose their protected status and may be targeted.”

Both Ismael and Guest denied that the ambulances were used to ferry arms. Contacted for this story, Ismael, who now lives in England, still maintains that his ambulance should have been protected.

“We entered that area because we had been called for by civilians who were trapped,” he said.

The statement that ambulances were being used to smuggle arms was just one of the claims by Marine commanders that didn’t match up with what I heard on the ground from civilians and officials alike.

For instance, on one hand, the Marine Corps command consistently said it strategically targeted insurgent fighters. On the other, an official with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society told me outside Baghdad that the aid agency had to move a camp for civilians fleeing the violence because the U.S. kept shooting at it.

Civilians repeatedly told me they were targeted by Marine snipers who had taken up positions at high points around Fallujah, too. One 11-year-old boy, Yusuf Bakri Amash, said a sniper killed his best friend.

“Ahmed was in my class,” he said. “He was younger than me. He was standing next to the wall of the secondary school and was trying to cross the street. He was hit by a bullet. The American troops fired the bullet.”

Through it all, Mattis’ top deputies downplayed the number of civilian casualties. In one statement, Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne told reporters that 95 percent of the casualties were “military-age males.”

“The Marines are trained to be precise in their firepower,” Byrne said when confronted with an Associated Press report that 600 Iraqis had been killed, with many buried in a mass grave at the soccer stadium. “The fact that there are 600 goes back to the fact that the Marines are very good at what they do.”

In New York, a senior official with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights requested an independent inquiry, citing reports that 90 percent of the people killed in Fallujah were noncombatants. The investigation never occurred. An official Marine Corps history of the battle later would put the number of civilian deaths in the first two weeks of fighting alone at 220.
Mattis initially opposed attack on Fallujah

The official Marine Corps history says Mattis was against the assault on Fallujah, reporting that he argued, presciently, “that a large-scale operation would send the wrong message, unnecessarily endanger civilians, and ultimately fail to achieve the primary objective” of apprehending the insurgents who had killed four Blackwater security contractors.

But once it began, the official history says the Marines reporting to him carried out the assault “in a state of confusion.” U.S. military veterans of the siege, who I’ve talked to since, describe ever-shifting rules of engagement with a self-defense provision that they were encouraged to stretch to the limit.

Adam Kokesh served as a sergeant in Fallujah during the April siege. I met him four years later, in 2008, when he was one of 36 veterans who spoke at a Winter Soldier gathering of antiwar veterans in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, veterans disclosed atrocities they perpetrated or witnessed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the gathering, Kokesh showed a trophy photo of himself next to a car with an Iraqi man killed by Marines at a checkpoint he staffed. He said the Marines in his unit took turns taking pictures with the dead Iraqi, who had been killed in a hail of machine-gun fire.

According to Kokesh, a whole group of Marines “unloaded into the vehicle with a .50-caliber machine gun,” even though the car was still far away.

“The bullets started at the bumper and went up through the engine compartment, and then one round at least hit this Iraqi in the chest so hard that it broke his chair backwards, and we saw the vehicle burning in the distance,” he said. “Everybody tried to justify it and said, oh, they heard rounds cooking off in the fire, AK-47 rounds were bursting in the trunk or somewhere in the car. And they dragged the car into the area where we were sleeping the next day. And we didn’t even question that, but it was clear that there were no … holes from rounds that were cooking off in the side of this car.”

Kokesh also described how at one point during the siege, he and other men commanded by Mattis stood on a bridge over the Euphrates River and allowed women and young children to flee Fallujah but pushed back all males 14 and older.

“It took me a long time before I could think about what a horrible decision we were forcing these families to make,” he said. They “could split up and leave their husband and older sons in the city and hope a Spectre gunship round doesn’t land on their head, or stay with them and hunker down and just hope they made it through alive.”

Press on, Mattis said, as ire mounted

The decision to allow only some civilians to flee the city, which I witnessed – and other media covered as well – occurred when then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis was sent in to negotiate a ceasefire following tremendous blowback from across Iraqi society about the mounting number of civilian casualties.

The Iraqi army had refused to fight alongside Mattis’ Marines, while members of the hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council threatened to quit. The U.N.’s envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, threatened to resign.

“Collective punishment is certainly unacceptable and the siege of the city is absolutely unacceptable,” Brahimi said at the time.

But Mattis wanted to keep fighting. In his book “Fiasco,” military journalist Thomas E. Ricks writes that Mattis was against the negotiations and the ceasefire.

“If you’re going to take Vienna, take fucking Vienna!” Ricks quotes Mattis as snarling to Gen. John Abizaid, then-head of U.S. Central Command.

Mattis eventually negotiated an end to the assault, which turned over control of the city to an Iraqi-run “Fallujah Brigade” commanded by a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army, who sported a beret and wore a thick Baathist mustache. The settlement did not deliver the strategic objective announced when the assault began, namely that the killers of the four Blackwater security contractors be apprehended.

Years later, Mattis referred to the withdrawal from Fallujah as one the toughest orders he ever had to follow.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said in a Marine Corps interview posted in October. “It was a decision taken for reasons that had nothing to do with the tactical situation on the ground.”

“I was concerned to a degree that the Marines would lose confidence in their leadership,” he added, noting that sailors and Marines under his command had lost comrades in the assault.

“But they didn’t,” Mattis said, recalling a slow-talking gunner who sat for a television interview and told the reporter that he wasn’t troubled by the order to pull out of Fallujah. Mattis quotes the Marine as saying: “Doesn’t matter, we’ll just hunt ’em down somewhere else and kill ’em.”
Mattis ordered wedding party carnage

As the summer of 2004 began and it was clear that Fallujah had become a haven for insurgents, Mattis again was sent in to negotiate. Those talks failed and that November, Marines would return and, in an even bloodier siege, take the entire city.

By then, Mattis was back in the U.S., having been promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia.

But before Mattis’ command in Iraq ended, he was involved in another controversial incident. On May 19, less than three weeks after his forces pulled back from Fallujah, Mattis personally authorized an attack on a wedding party near the Syrian border. The Iraqi government said the strike left 42 civilians dead, including at least 13 children.

The killings roiled Iraq, coming so soon after the carnage of Fallujah – but Mattis stood by his action, arguing the dead were insurgents.

“How many people go to the middle of the desert … to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?” he told The Guardian. “These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let’s not be naive.”

A few days later, the Associated Press obtained a videotape of the event. In it, a dozen white pickup trucks sped through the desert, escorting a bridal car decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wore a white dress and veil and was ushered into a house by a group of women, while men reclined “on brightly colored silk pillows,” the AP reported, “relaxing on the carpeted floor of a large goat-hair tent as boys” danced to tribal songs.

The video did not capture the strike itself, but soon after the footage was taken, the AP reported many, including the wedding videographer, were dead.

Mattis later told military historian Bing West that it had taken him less than 30 seconds to deliberate whether to bomb the location.
Exonerations for Haditha massacre

In media reports since Donald Trump’s nomination of Mattis for defense secretary, the now-retired general consistently has been portrayed as the adult in the room, a veteran military man beloved by his fellow Marines. He’s seen by many as a steady, well-read leader in a group that includes a national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who believes that Islam is not a religion and wrote in a book published last year that America already was “in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people.”

“There’s no doubt,” Flynn wrote, that the Islamic State is “dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

These observers took heart, for example, when Trump emerged from a meeting with Mattis in November and reported that the general had argued against waterboarding, an interrogation technique broadly condemned as torture, which Trump embraced during his campaign.

“I’ve never found it to be useful,” Trump quoted Mattis as saying. “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

But my experience as a journalist reporting on Mattis’ assault from the perspective of Iraqi civilians gave me insight into another side of the general, a man who was willing to look the other way – and even authorize attacks on civilians – when there were “fighting-aged males” nearby. While he has many aphorisms about the importance of international law and the Geneva Conventions, in the battle of Fallujah, his Marines were not sanctioned.

This pattern becomes even clearer when you look at Mattis’ behavior once he returned to the U.S. and was promoted to general in charge of all Marine forces serving Central Command.

It was there where he used his position in the Marine Corps’ justice system to wipe away charges against three Marines charged with the murder of 24 civilians in Haditha, often called the My Lai massacre of the Iraq War.

Time magazine broke the story in March 2006, four months after the killings. Reporter Tim McGirk wrote that after a popular member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb, a group of Marines “went on a rampage in the village … killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children.” Marines also shot up a car and killed a man running on a ridge. The total number of civilian dead was 24, including a man in a wheelchair.

The Marines Corps initially did not investigate the attack because no one on the ground reported it. A subsequent Department of Defense inquiry found Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents arrived on the scene only after Time published its exposé. Another military investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell found that the entire Marine Corps chain of command in Iraq ignored obvious signs of serious misconduct.

“All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics,” Bargewell wrote. “Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes.”

Mattis, then a lieutenant general stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, became the “convening authority” for the court martial – giving him ultimate authority of justice in the case. In that role, he took the rare step of writing public letters to Marines accused of murder, exonerating them for their roles in the massacre.

In his letter wiping away murder charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who stood accused of killing three Iraqi men in a home, Mattis referenced Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who served as an infantryman in the Civil War, saying, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the face of an uplifted knife.”

“You have served as a Marine infantryman in Iraq where our Nation is fighting a shadowy enemy who hides among the innocent people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war, and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians. As you well know, the challenges of this combat environment put extreme pressures on you and your fellow Marines,” Mattis wrote. “With the dismissal of these charges you may fairly conclude that you did your best to live up to the standards, followed by U.S. fighting men throughout our many wars, in the face of life or death decisions.”

After Mattis dismissed charges against three Marines, the cases against the others collapsed. In the end, only the alleged ringleader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, was held accountable, though his sentence did not include a day in prison. In 2012, more than six years after the massacre, Wuterich pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, and, as punishment, his rank was reduced to private. He told the court that he regretted telling his men to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
Mattis has his defenders – and critics

Today, the prosecution of Marines involved in the Haditha massacre is widely seen as a debacle, said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor who teaches a course at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School called “Losing Haditha.”

But Solis, like other observers, doesn’t blame Mattis, saying he was hamstrung by inexperienced prosecutors. Compounding matters further was the lack of good evidence, the result of the initial failure of Marines on the ground to report the killings. Marine prosecutors also wasted three years fighting CBS in court, trying to get the network to provide unreleased footage from a “60 Minutes” broadcast, Solis said, during which time memories faded and witness statements changed.

“I think so highly of Gen. Mattis,” Solis said, putting primary blame for the killings on the nature of the Iraq War itself. “Whenever you are involved with armed opposition groups who don’t identify themselves, civilians are going to die by the carload.”

Other observers, including Gabor Rona, the former attorney for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Mattis’ actions in the Haditha aftermath deserve renewed scrutiny with his nomination as defense secretary.

“Mattis’ role in whitewashing, if in fact that’s what he did, would be a war crime under international law, and analogous to what we prosecuted and executed Yamashita for,” he said, referring to the Japanese World War II general.

Indeed, Haditha was not the only time that Mattis used his command authority to clear Marines in a war crimes case. He also granted clemency to three Marines convicted in the 2006 killing of a disabled Iraqi man in Hamdania, freeing them from prison.

The Washington Post reported that a group of Marines went into the home of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi with a metal bar in his leg, pulled him out and shot him in the face four times. The Marines then tried to frame him by planting a machine gun and shovel at the scene, to make it look as though he were an insurgent digging a roadside bomb. Eight servicemen initially were convicted and jailed; a year later, all but one had been released.

Among the three freed by Mattis was Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to eight years.

Faded Iraq War memories

Nearly 13 years have passed since the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. More than a decade has gone by since the Haditha massacre. The murder of a disabled man in Hamdania is nearly as old.

So much time has passed, in fact, that an inquiry to the Marine Corps press office for details of service member prosecutions related to the Fallujah siege was met with confusion. I was routed in sequence to the Marine Corps History Division, the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy and eventually back to the Marine Corps’ main public affairs desk.

I told each officer I encountered that I was not aware of anyone being held accountable for atrocities, but wanted to be sure before I said so in a story.

After two weeks of phone calls and emails, a Marine spokeswoman, Lt. Danielle Phillips, offered this answer: I would have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request. The events simply were too long ago, she said.

Many of the international law experts contacted for this story likewise had forgotten the details, and I had to jog their memories with photographs, audio recordings and government documents.

With James Mattis’ nomination on the horizon, some suggest senators should press him about his actions as commanding general of one of the war’s bloodiest battles and his subsequent role in exonerating servicemen found guilty of war crimes.

At his confirmation hearing, senators should “ask about the high numbers of civilian casualties and whether there was adequate oversight and accountability,” said Beth Van Schaack, a law professor at Stanford University who served as deputy to the ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the Obama administration.

Mattis also should be asked about his “personal role as commander over subordinates who committed what appear to be war crimes against Iraqi civilians by targeting civilians or using indiscriminate force that insufficiently verified whether the targets were civilians or combatants,” Van Schaack said. “How did he supervise his troops, and what measures did he take after the fact?”

Gabor Rona, the former legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said senators should remind Mattis that commanders in Yugoslavia and Rwanda have been convicted in international war crimes tribunals for failing to prevent or punish lower-ranking war criminals, a doctrine also recognized in U.S. law through Yamashita’s case and enshrined in the Department of Defense Law of War Manual.

“Troops are between a rock and a hard place,” Rona said, “obligated to follow orders but also obligated to disobey manifestly unlawful orders” such as mistreatment of civilians or captured combatants.

Mattis’ hearing, he said, offers Congress an opportunity to put commanders on notice that they have a duty to prevent and punish abuses committed by their troops.

— source https://www.revealnews.org/article/did-defense-secretary-nominee-james-mattis-commit-war-crimes-in-iraq/ By Aaron Glantz
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Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise

Even if there comes a day when the world completely stops emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, coastal regions and island nations will continue to experience rising sea levels for centuries afterward, according to a new study by researchers at MIT and Simon Fraser University.

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that warming from short-lived compounds — greenhouse gases such as methane, chlorofluorocarbons, or hydrofluorocarbons, that linger in the atmosphere for just a year to a few decades — can cause sea levels to rise for hundreds of years after the pollutants have been cleared from the atmosphere.

“If you think of countries like Tuvalu, which are barely above sea level, the question that is looming is how much we can emit before they are doomed. Are they already slated to go under, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow?” says co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT. “It’s all the more reason why it’s important to understand how long climate changes will last, and how much more sea-level rise is already locked in.”

Solomon’s co-authors are lead author Kirsten Zickfeld of Simon Fraser University and Daniel Gilford, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Short stay, long rise

Recent studies by many groups, including Solomon’s own, have shown that even if human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide were to stop entirely, their associated atmospheric warming and sea-level rise would continue for more than 1,000 years. These effects — essentially irreversible on human timescales — are due in part to carbon dioxide’s residence time: The greenhouse gas can stay in the atmosphere for centuries after it’s been emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes.

In contrast to carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons have much shorter lifetimes. However, previous studies have not specified what their long-term effects may be on sea-level rise. To answer this question, Solomon and her colleagues explored a number of climate scenarios using an Earth Systems Model of Intermediate Complexity, or EMIC, a computationally efficient climate model that simulates ocean and atmospheric circulation to project climate changes over decades, centuries, and millenia.

With the model, the team calculated both the average global temperature and sea-level rise, in response to anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons.

The researchers’ estimates for carbon dioxide agreed with others’ predictions and showed that, even if the world were to stop emitting carbon dioxide starting in 2050, up to 50 percent of the gas would remain in the atmosphere more than 750 years afterward. Even after carbon dioxide emissions cease, sea-level rise should continue to increase, measuring twice the level of 2050 estimates for 100 years, and four times that value for another 500 years.

The reason, Solomon says, is due to “ocean inertia”: As the world warms due to greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide included — waters heat up and expand, causing sea levels to rise. Removing the extra ocean heat caused by even short-lived gases, and consequently lowering sea levels, is an extremely slow process.

“As the heat goes into the ocean, it goes deeper and deeper, giving you continued thermal expansion,” Solomon explains. “Then it has to get transferred back to the atmosphere and emitted back into space to cool off, and that’s a very slow process of hundreds of years.”

Stemming tides

In one particular climate modeling scenario, the team evaluated sea level’s response to various methane emissions scenarios, in which the world would continue to emit the gas at current rates, until emissions end entirely in three different years: 2050, 2100, and 2150.

In all three scenarios, methane gas quickly cleared from the atmosphere, and its associated atmospheric warming decreased at a similar rate. However, methane continued to contribute to sea-level rise for centuries afterward. What’s more, they found that the longer the world waits to reduce methane emissions, the longer seas will stay elevated.

“Amazingly, a gas with a 10-year lifetime can actually cause enduring sea-level changes,” Solomon says. “So you don’t just get to stop emitting and have everything go back to a preindustrial state. You are going to live with this for a very long time.”

The researchers found one silver lining in their analyses: Curious as to whether past regulations on pollutants have had a significant effect on sea-level rise, the team focused on perhaps the most successful global remediation effort to date — the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty ratified by 197 countries in 1989, that effectively curbed emissions of ozone-depleting compounds worldwide.

Encouragingly, the researchers found that the Montreal Protocol, while designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out pollutants such as chlorofluorocarbons — has also helped stem rising seas. If the Montreal Protocol had not been ratified, and countries had continued to emit chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere, the researchers found that by 2050, the world would have experienced up to an additional 6 inches of sea-level rise.

“Half a foot is pretty significant,” Solomon says. “It’s yet another tremendous reason why the Montreal Protocol has been a pretty good thing for the planet.”

In their paper’s conclusion, the researchers point out that efforts to curb global warming should not be expected to reverse high seas quickly, and that longer-term impacts from sea-level rise should be seriously considered: “The primary policy conclusion of this study is that the long-lasting nature of sea-level rise heightens the importance of earlier mitigation actions.”

This research was supported, in part, by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and NASA.

— source http://news.mit.edu/2017/short-lived-greenhouse-gases-cause-centuries-sea-level-rise-0109
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Glia, not neurons, are most affected by brain aging

There are three types of glia cells, each providing different kinds of support to neurons: oligodendrocytes insulate, microglia act as immune cells, and astrocytes help with neuron metabolism, detoxification, among many functions.
astrocytes and oligodendrocytes shift their regional gene expression patterns upon aging, (e.g., which genes are turned on or off) particularly in the hippocampus and substantia nigra — important brain regions for memory and movement, respectively — while the expression of microglia-specific genes increases in all brain regions.
the number of oligodendrocytes decreases with age in the frontal cortex.
this likely corresponds with decreased expression of oligodendrocyte specific genes. Other types of cells had more complicated patterns of change.
oligodendrocytes disappearing but with neurons we didn’t see dramatic changes in cellular numbers except for a decrease in the largest neurons. This is of interest because those largest neurons are generally connected to neurodegenerative diseases.
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Cash Is No Longer King

As physical currency around the world is increasingly phased out, the era where “cash is king” seems to be coming to an end. Countries like India and South Korea have chosen to limit access to physical money by law, and others are beginning to test digital blockchains for their central banks.

The war on cash isn’t going to be waged overnight, and showdowns will continue in any country where citizens turn to alternatives like precious metals or decentralized cryptocurrencies. Although this transition may feel like a natural progression into the digital age, the real motivation to go cashless is downright sinister.

The unprecedented collusion between governments and central banks that occurred in 2008 led to bailouts, zero percent interest rates and quantitative easing on a scale never before seen in history. Those decisions, which were made under duress and in closed-door meetings, set the stage for this inevitable demise of paper money.

Sacrificing the stability of national currencies has been used as a way prop up failing private institutions around the globe. By kicking the can down the road yet another time, bureaucrats and bankers sealed the fate of the financial system as we know it.

A currency war has been declared, ensuring that the U.S. dollar, Euro, Yen and many other state currencies are linked in a suicide pact. Printing money and endlessly expanding debt are policies that will erode the underlying value of every dollar in people’s wallets, as well as digital funds in their bank accounts. This new war operates in the shadows of the public’s ignorance, slowly undermining social and economic stability through inflation and other consequences of central control. As the Federal Reserve leads the rest of the world’s central banks down the rabbit hole, the vortex it’s creating will affect everyone in the globalized economy.

Peter Schiff, president of Euro-Pacific Capital, has written several books on the state of the financial system. His focus is on the long-term consequences of years of government and central bank manipulation of fiat currencies:

“Never in the course of history has a country’s economy failed because its currency was too strong…The view that a weak currency is desirable is so absurd that it could only have been devised to serve the political agenda of those engineering the descent. And while I don’t blame policy makers from spinning self-serving fairy tales (that is their nature), I find extreme fault with those hypnotized members of the media and the financial establishment who have checked their reason at the door. A currency war is different from any other kind of conventional war in that the object is to kill oneself. The nation that succeeds in inflicting the most damage on its own citizens wins the war. ” [emphasis added]

If you want a glimpse 0f how this story ends, all you have to do is look at Venezuela, where the government has destroyed the value of the bolivar (and U.S. intervention has further exacerbated the problem). Desperation has overcome the country, leading women to go as far as selling their own hair just to get by. While crime and murder rates have spiked to all-time highs, the most dangerous threat to Venezuelans has been extensive government planning. The money they work for and save is now so valueless it’s weighed instead of counted. The stacks of bills have to be carried around in backpacks, and the scene is reminiscent of the hyperinflation Weimar Germany experienced in the 1920s. Few Western nations have ever experienced a currency crisis before, meaning many are blind to the inevitable consequences that come from the unending stimulus we’ve seen since 2008.

In order to keep this kind of chaos from spreading like a contagion to the rest of the world, representatives are willing to do anything necessary, but this comes at a cost. Instead of having to worry about carrying around wheelbarrows full of money, the fear in a cashless society will likely stem from bank customers’ restricted access to funds. With no physical way for consumers to take possession of their wealth, the banking interests will decide how much is available.

The level of trust most people still have in the current system is astonishing. Even after decades of incompetence, manipulation, and irresponsibility, the public still grasps to government and the established order like a child learning how to swim. The responsibility that comes with independence has intimidated the entire population into leaving the decisions up to so-called ‘experts.’ It just so happens that those trusted policymakers have an agenda to strip you and future generations of prosperity.

Some of the few hopes in this war against centralization are peer-to-peer technologies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. These innovative platforms have the potential to open up markets that circumvent state-controlled Ponzi schemes. The future development of crypto-assets has massive potential, but being co-opted is a real danger.

The greatest threat to individual freedom is financial dependence, and as long as your wealth is under someone else’s control, it can never be completely secure. Unfortunately, private blockchains are becoming increasingly popular, creating trojan horses for those just learning about the technology (in contrast, Bitcoin’s transaction ledger is public) . Without the decentralized aspect of a financial network, it is just a giant tracking database that can be easily compromised like any other.

The World Economic Forum released a report on the future of financial infrastructure. Giancarlo Bruno, Head of Financial Services Industries at WEF stated:

“Rather than to stay at the margins of the finance industry, blockchain will become the beating heart of it. It will help build innovative solutions across the industry, becoming ever more integrated into the structure of financial services, as mainframes, messaging services, and electronic trading did before it.”

The list of countries who are exploring integrating blockchain technology into their central banking system is extensive. Just to name a few; Singapore, Ukraine, France, Finland and many others are in the process of researching and testing out options.

For those who appreciate more tangible wealth, diversifying into hard assets like gold and silver is a great first step. It’s not about becoming a millionaire or getting rich quickly, but rather, using precious metals as vehicles for investment in the long-term. Regardless of what events unfold over the decades to come, the wealth preserved in physical form is more secure than any other asset. Forty years ago it was possible to save your money in the bank and accumulate interest over time, but that opportunity no longer exists. Those who fail to adapt to this new financial twilight zone will likely find themselves living as slaves to debt for years.

Control and confidence are two of the most important things in the system we live in. Once these digital spider webs have been put into place, the ability for an individual to maintain privacy or anonymity will all but disappear. Only through understanding the subversive actions being taken can people protect themselves from having to put their future in someone else’s hands. The cash that allows free transactions without tax burdens or state scrutiny won’t be around much longer. There will be many rationalizations for a cashless society in the years to come, but without fixing this broken financial system first, this will only ensure that despotism gains an even sturdier foothold.

— source theantimedia.org By Shaun Bradley

Defense Secretary Nominee Commited War Crimes in Iraq

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, faces his Senate confirmation hearing today. This comes as House Democrats are threatening to revolt over the waiver needed for Mattis to serve as defense secretary, after the Trump transition team blocked him from testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. Mattis only retired from the military in 2013, meaning he needs Congress to waive rules requiring defense secretaries to be civilians for seven or more years after leaving the military. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has said she’ll vote against the waiver for General Mattis, saying, “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

James Mattis reportedly received his nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis after leading U.S. troops during the 2004 battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He enlisted in the Marines at 19, fought in the Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, where he served as major general. In May 2004, Mattis ordered an airstrike in a small Iraqi village that hit a wedding, killing about 42 people who were attending the wedding ceremony. Mattis went on to lead the U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, but the Obama administration cut short his tour over concerns General Mattis was too hawkish on Iran, reportedly calling for a series of covert actions there. Mattis has drawn criticism over his apparent celebration of killing, including saying in 2005 about the Taliban, “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them”.

Aaron Glantz talking:

James Mattis got the nickname “Mad Dog” for his command responsibility as a general during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. This was a battle that I covered as an unembedded journalist, where the U.S. Marine Corps killed so many people, so many civilians, that the municipal soccer stadium of that city had to be turned into a graveyard. U.S. Marines there shot at ambulances. They shot at aid workers. They cordoned off the city and prevented civilians from fleeing. Some marines posed for trophy photos with the people that they killed.

And what we say in the story is that all of these events that occurred in Fallujah when James Mattis was the commanding general are the same sort of events that other commanders in other countries have been convicted of war crimes for, including General Yamashita, who was a general in World War II for the Japanese, who was tried and executed by a U.S. military tribunal, and his execution was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. We found that James Mattis likely committed similar war crimes.

He, when that assault happened—and, importantly, he argued against the attack beforehand. And he said, very presciently, that so many civilians would be killed, that it would be ultimately damaging to the U.S. military’s overall occupation effort. But once that attack was launched, that’s exactly what happened. There was massive outcry across the Arab world, including in Iraq, a rise of insurgency across the country and a complete devastation of the city. I remember walking through the city shortly after the Marines pulled out, and there were rotting bodies all over the streets, because during the actual siege, U.S. Marine snipers would shoot at anyone who was outside, so people were afraid to go and bury the dead. Shopping centers were destroyed. And this gets to an important issue of disproportionality.

This whole assault was launched because of the killing of four Blackwater security contractors. And, you know, in response, James Mattis leveled the city.

The very important legal doctrine in the United States of America and around the world is the doctrine of command responsibility. If you have a large-scale atrocity that takes place, the commanding general of the operation is held responsible. We held General Yamashita, who was the commanding general in the Japanese Army of a number of operations in the Philippines, under this standard back in World War II, and we executed him. And his execution was upheld by the Supreme Court. Legal scholars that I’ve talked to said the same standard applies to General Mattis. And so we have to look very closely at his command of the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah, which is an event that I covered in 2004 as an unembedded journalist. And in that battle, U.S. marines, under his command, killed so many people—one U.N. estimate says 90 percent of them were civilians—that the municipal football stadium of the city had to be turned into a graveyard. Marines shot at ambulances. Marines shot at aid workers. Marines posed with trophy photos with the dead that they had killed. All of these are things that Mattis could be tried for, potentially, for war crimes. And he is Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

In addition, we also spoke about his role as the convening authority of trials for marines in other cases—the Haditha massacre, the Hamdania massacre—where he wiped away or granted clemency to people who were already convicted, freeing them from prison, for atrocities. And if a person in his kind of command responsibility allows others to get off the hook for war crimes, that’s also something that he could be held culpable for, held accountable for. And, you know, it would be my hope that in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and perhaps in follow-on hearings in the House, if they occur, regarding the waiver that he’s going to need to get to become secretary of defense, that James Mattis be asked to explain himself regarding the actions that we’ve been discussing.

He has been very vocal in saying that he supports the Geneva Convention. He has been an advocate against torture. Donald Trump emerged from a meeting with him and began to back off his support for the practice of waterboarding, after listening to General Mattis. But you also have to look at what happens when General Mattis is in the field. And what we saw in Fallujah and in other instances in Iraq is that when General Mattis is in the field, often he allows his marines to go well beyond what is normally permitted in the law of war.

In Fallujah. a wedding party that was bombed on his call in western Iraq not long after that, where he later told a Marine historian, Bing West, that he deliberated less than 30 seconds over whether to carry it out, simply because it was in the middle of the desert. And then, you know, the Associated Press later obtained footage that showed that there was indeed a wedding party, where dozens of civilians were killed. Later, as James Mattis moved up the chain of command, was no longer a field commander in Iraq, he became a convening authority in a number of tribunals involving war crimes committed by marines in the country, including the most famous massacre that occurred during the Iraq War, the Haditha massacre, where a number of marines went on a killing spree in the town of Haditha after one of their comrades was killed. They killed dozens of people in a number of houses, and charges were brought. And as the general overseeing the entire court-martial process, General Mattis dismissed charges against three of the perpetrators, and ultimately no one charged with that massacre of dozens of Iraqis was—spent a single day in prison.

when that massacre happened in 2005, nobody on the ground reported it. And it wasn’t until the story was broken sometime later by Time magazine that the Marine Corps even investigated what happened. Then, following the investigation, charges were brought against the Marine squad that committed the crimes that were described in the video. She mentioned that charges were dismissed against six of the accused. Mattis himself was responsible for three of those dismissals. Ultimately, only one person was convicted, who was the supposed ringleader of the operation, and he did not serve one day behind bars, although he did tell the court that he regretted telling the other marines to shoot first and ask questions later.

Mattis should be asked about what his marines did in Fallujah. I think that he should be asked if he was aware of the scale of civilian casualties—over 600 people killed, and, you know, official Marine Corps estimate is 220 civilians in just the first two weeks of the fighting, there was a U.N. official at the time who estimated that 90 percent of the people killed were civilians—if he’s aware of those deaths, if he thinks they’re proportional, if he thinks the destruction of the city was proportional to the killing of the four Blackwater security contractors. I think he should be asked about the other activities that I described—the shooting at ambulances, the shooting at aid workers, if he was aware of it. If he was aware of it, you know, how does he justify it? If he wasn’t aware of it as the military commander in the field with command responsibility, does he think he should have been?

And in these other cases—we talked about the wedding party, we talked about the Haditha massacre—there’s another massacre where he was also the convening authority, the Hamdania massacre, which was broken by The Washington Post, where a group of marines pulled a disabled Iraqi out of his house, shot him four times in the face and then framed him by planting a shovel and a machine gun next to him to make him look like an insurgent. In that case, General Mattis intervened to free some of the marines from prison, granting them clemency. I think he should be asked to explain himself for his actions and how all of the actions that we’ve been discussing comport with his well-known advocacy for the Geneva Conventions and international law.

James Mattis needs to be confirmed by the Senate, right? In our system of government, presidential appointees need to be confirmed by the Senate. But because he has not been out of the military for seven years, he needs Congress to change a law—and, you know, which is something that hasn’t been done since the Korean War—and allow a recently retired general to become head of the Defense Department, make an exception to our long-held belief in civilian control of the military, for him. The Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee were expecting that he would testify before the House Armed Services Committee on a hearing over whether Congress should grant that waiver. The Trump administration pulled him back, and now the members of the House on the Democratic side are very upset and saying that they may try to hold up his waiver, which would also hold up his confirmation.

If you look at somebody like General Mattis, he’s incredibly well respected within the military community. He’s a marine’s marine. They call him a warrior monk. I’ve received a lot of backlash for my article from members of the military who revere him. There is an idea, though, that we have in our government, that somebody like General Mattis, who, you know, as we’ve been talking about, in Fallujah, is a good soldier and will do anything possible to get the job done, no matter how many people end up dead, that there should be a civilian check on that in a democracy. We have made exceptions to this before. General Marshall was appointed by Harry Truman during the Korean War, and Congress granted that waiver. But it has not happened since then. And it is a big deal for Congress to consider. And the Democrats in the House said, “Look, before we approve this waiver for General Mattis, we would at least like to hear from him and be able to ask him questions.”

And there are some other questions that Democrats want to ask General Mattis, and may be asked in the Senate confirmation hearing today, that have nothing to do with the issues that we’ve been discussing around war crimes. He has expressed an opposition to allowing women in combat roles. He expressed opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military at one point.

the book that he co-edited came out very recently. The comments about women in combat also happened very recently, were given in a speech in the Marines’ Memorial in San Francisco. So, these are not statements that he made in the 1980s. You know, these are statements that he made during the Obama administration. And also, you know, we have to remember that President Obama removed him early, as you mentioned at the outset, as the commanding general of Central Command because of his very hawkish position on Iran. And it’s rare, you know, for a president to remove a general from a command before his term is up in that way. So, I would imagine that we might hear members of the Senate today, and perhaps, if he does appear before the House, members of the House also, asking him about, you know, some of his hawkish beliefs.

Of course, all of this is mollified by the fact that some of the same Democrats who are very concerned about him are even more concerned about General Michael Flynn, who is Donald Trump’s national security adviser designee, who doesn’t have to be confirmed at all and has said that, you know, ISIS wants to drink our blood and that we’re already involved in a Third World War. So, Mattis looks pretty conservative by comparison to Flynn. And that’s just the world that we live in.

Iran nuclear deal is been a little bit unclear. You know, he was—he’s critical of it in general. The more important question, I think, for us now is, going forward—and it’s the same question that we have for the Trump administration in general—you know, Donald Trump, as with many agreements signed by President Obama, has criticized it mightily. But now, you know, we’re hearing that General Mattis might be of the opinion that we might want to just hold them to it very, very aggressively, rather than throwing it out. And perhaps we’ll get some clarity on that during his confirmation hearing.

I think the veterans’ community breathed a huge sigh of relief with the appointment of Mr. Shulkin as VA secretary. This is a man who was appointed to the position of undersecretary of VA for healthcare by President Obama. He is a well-respected doctor. He’s well respected in the veterans’ community. As you mentioned, he’s not a veteran. But veterans’ groups were extremely concerned about the possibility, given Trump’s campaign rhetoric, of a wholesale privatization of the VA. And they were concerned, many of them, about the floating of the name of Pete Hegseth, who founded a group funded by the Koch brothers called Concerned Veterans of America, which was advocating towards privatization. And, you know, by and large, the opinion of veterans’ groups is, while some private care is welcome, especially when you can’t get into the VA, that a privatization of the VA system would be a disaster for veterans. And so, with the appointment of Shulkin, it seems like Trump—you know, it’s likely private care will be expanded, but possibly not at the expense of the core mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
____

Aaron Glantz
senior reporter at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

— source democracynow.org

Bush’s Vietnam

23 June 2003

Once more, we hear that America is being “sucked into a quagmire”. The rapacious adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are going badly wrong.

America’s two “great victories” since 11 September 2001 are unravelling. In Afghanistan, the regime of Hamid Karzai has virtually no authority and no money, and would collapse without American guns. Al-Qaeda has not been defeated, and the Taliban are re-emerging. Regardless of showcase improvements, the situation of women and children remains desperate. The token woman in Karzai’s cabinet, the courageous physician Sima Samar, has been forced out of government and is now in constant fear of her life, with an armed guard outside her office door and another at her gate. Murder, rape and child abuse are committed with impunity by the private armies of America’s “friends”, the warlords whom Washington has bribed with millions of dollars, cash in hand, to give the pretence of stability.

“We are in a combat zone the moment we leave this base,” an American colonel told me at Bagram airbase, near Kabul. “We are shot at every day, several times a day.” When I said that surely he had come to liberate and protect the people, he belly-laughed.

American troops are rarely seen in Afghanistan’s towns. They escort US officials at high speed in armoured vans with blackened windows and military vehicles, mounted with machine-guns, in front and behind. Even the vast Bagram base was considered too insecure for the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, during his recent, fleeting visit. So nervous are the Americans that a few weeks ago they “accidentally” shot dead four government soldiers in the centre of Kabul, igniting the second major street protest against their presence in a week.

On the day I left Kabul, a car bomb exploded on the road to the airport, killing four German soldiers, members of the international security force Isaf. The Germans’ bus was lifted into the air; human flesh lay on the roadside. When British soldiers arrived to “seal off” the area, they were watched by a silent crowd, squinting into the heat and dust, across a divide as wide as that which separated British troops from Afghans in the 19th century, and the French from Algerians and Americans from Vietnamese.

In Iraq, scene of the second “great victory”, there are two open secrets. The first is that the “terrorists” now besieging the American occupation force represent an armed resistance that is almost certainly supported by the majority of Iraqis who, contrary to pre-war propaganda, opposed their enforced “liberation” (see Jonathan Steele’s investigation, The Guardian, 19 March 2003. The second secret is that there is emerging evidence of the true scale of the Anglo-American killing, pointing to the bloodbath Bush and Blair have always denied.

Comparisons with Vietnam have been made so often over the years that I hesitate to draw another. However, the similarities are striking: for example, the return of expressions such as “sucked into a quagmire”. This suggests, once again, that the Americans are victims, not invaders: the approved Hollywood version when a rapacious adventure goes wrong. Since Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled almost three months ago, more Americans have been killed than during the war. Ten have been killed and 25 wounded in classic guerrilla attacks on roadblocks and checkpoints which may number as many as a dozen a day.

The Americans call the guerrillas “Saddam loyalists” and “Ba’athist fighters”, in the same way they used to dismiss the Vietnamese as “communists”. Recently, in Falluja, in the Sunni heartland of Iraq, it was clearly not the presence of Ba’athists or Saddamists, but the brutal behaviour of the occupiers, who fired point-blank at a crowd, that inspired the resistance. The American tanks gunning down a family of shepherds is reminiscent of the gunning down of a shepherd, his family and sheep by “coalition” aircraft in a “no-fly zone” four years ago, whose aftermath I filmed and which evoked, for me, the murderous games American aircraft used to play in Vietnam, gunning down farmers in their fields, children on their buffaloes.

On 12 June, a large American force attacked a “terrorist base” north of Baghdad and left more than 100 dead, according to a US spokesman. The term “terrorist” is important, because it implies that the likes of al-Qaeda are attacking the liberators, and so the connection between Iraq and 11 September is made, which in pre-war propaganda was never made.

More than 400 prisoners were taken in this operation. The majority have reportedly joined thousands of Iraqis in a “holding facility” at Baghdad airport: a concentration camp along the lines of Bagram, from where people are shipped to Guantanamo Bay. In Afghanistan, the Americans pick up taxi drivers and send them into oblivion, via Bagram. Like Pinochet’s boys in Chile, they are making their perceived enemies “disappear”.

“Search and destroy”, the scorched-earth tactic from Vietnam, is back. In the arid south-eastern plains of Afghanistan, the village of Niazi Qala no longer stands. American airborne troops swept down before dawn on 30 December 2001 and slaughtered, among others, a wedding party. Villagers said that women and children ran towards a dried pond, seeking protection from the gunfire, and were shot as they ran. After two hours, the aircraft and the attackers left. According to a United Nations investigation, 52 people were killed, including 25 children. “We identified it as a military target,” says the Pentagon, echoing its initial response to the My Lai massacre 35 years ago.

The targeting of civilians has long been a journalistic taboo in the west. Accredited monsters did that, never “us”. The civilian death toll of the 1991 Gulf war was wildly underestimated. Almost a year later, a comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust in London estimated that more than 200,000 Iraqis had died during and immediately after the war, as a direct or indirect consequence of attacks on civilian infrastructure. The report was all but ignored. This month, Iraq Body Count, a group of American and British academics and researchers, estimated that up to 10,000 civilians may have been killed in Iraq, including 2,356 civilians in the attack on Baghdad alone. And this is likely to be an extremely conservative figure.

In Afghanistan, there has been similar carnage. In May last year, Jonathan Steele extrapolated all the available field evidence of the human cost of the US bombing and concluded that as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the bombing, many of them drought victims denied relief.

This “hidden” effect is hardly new. A recent study at Columbia University in New York has found that the spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam was up to four times as great as previously estimated. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the deadliest poisons known. In what they first called Operation Hades, then changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand, the Americans in Vietnam destroyed, in some 10,000 “missions” to spray Agent Orange, almost half the forests of southern Vietnam, and countless human lives. It was the most insidious and perhaps the most devastating use of a chemical weapon of mass destruction ever. Today, Vietnamese children continue to be born with a range of deformities, or they are stillborn, or the foetuses are aborted.

The use of uranium-tipped munitions evokes the catastrophe of Agent Orange. In the first Gulf war in 1991, the Americans and British used 350 tonnes of depleted uranium. According to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, quoting an international study, 50 tonnes of DU, if inhaled or ingested, would cause 500,000 deaths. Most of the victims are civilians in southern Iraq. It is estimated that 2,000 tonnes were used during the latest attack.

In a remarkable series of reports for the Christian Science Monitor, the investigative reporter Scott Peterson has described radiated bullets in the streets of Baghdad and radiation-contaminated tanks, where children play without warning. Belatedly, a few signs in Arabic have appeared: “Danger – Get away from this area”. At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Uranium Medical Research Centre, based in Canada, has made two field studies, with the results described as “shocking”. “Without exception,” it reported, “at every bomb site investigated, people are ill. A significant portion of the civilian population presents symptoms consistent with internal contamination by uranium.”

An official map distributed to non-government agencies in Iraq shows that the American and British military have plastered urban areas with cluster bombs, many of which will have failed to detonate on impact. These usually lie unnoticed until children pick them up, then they explode.

In the centre of Kabul, I found two ragged notices warning people that the rubble of their homes, and streets, contained unexploded cluster bombs “made in USA”. Who reads them? Small children? The day I watched children skipping through what might have been an urban minefield, I saw Tony Blair on CNN in the lobby of my hotel. He was in Iraq, in Basra, lifting a child into his arms, in a school that had been painted for his visit, and where lunch had been prepared in his honour, in a city where basic services such as education, food and water remain a shambles under the British occupation.

It was in Basra three years ago that I filmed hundreds of children ill and dying because they had been denied cancer treatment equipment and drugs under an embargo enforced with enthusiasm by Tony Blair. Now here he was – shirt open, with that fixed grin, a man of the troops if not of the people – lifting a toddler into his arms for the cameras.

When I returned to London, I read “After Lunch”, by Harold Pinter, from a new collection of his called War (Faber & Faber).

And after noon the well-dressed creatures come
To sniff among the dead
And have their lunch

And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck
The swollen avocados from the dust
And stir the minestrone with stray bones

And after lunch
They loll and lounge about
Decanting claret in convenient skulls

— source johnpilger.com

War on truth

4 August 2003

The White House sets the tone and the media echo a line that celebrates the victimhood of the invader and the evil of the Iraqis. And then London takes its cue.
We’re above nations. We control the control
I’ll eat you all in the end.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, on America

In Baghdad, the rise and folly of rapacious imperial power is commemorated in a forgotten cemetery called the North Gate. Dogs are its visitors; the rusted gates are padlocked, and skeins of traffic fumes hang over its parade of crumbling headstones and unchanging historical truth.

Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley Maude is buried here, in a mausoleum befitting his station, if not the cholera to which he succumbed. In 1917, he declared: “Our armies do not come . . . as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.” Within three years, 10,000 had died in an uprising against the British, who gassed and bombed those they called “miscreants”. It was an adventure from which British imperialism in the Middle East never recovered.

Every day now, in the United States, the all-pervasive media tell Americans that their bloodletting in Iraq is well under way, although the true scale of the attacks is almost certainly concealed. Soon, more soldiers will have been killed since the “liberation” than during the invasion. Sustaining the myth of “mission” is becoming difficult, as in Vietnam. This is not to doubt the real achievement of the invaders’ propaganda, which was the suppression of the truth that most Iraqis opposed both the regime of Saddam Hussein and the Anglo-American assault on their homeland. One reason the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan angered Downing Street was that he reported that, for many Iraqis, the bloody invasion and occupation were at least as bad as the fallen dictatorship.

This is unmentionable here in America. The tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and maimed do not exist. When I interviewed Douglas Feith, number three to Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, he shook his head and lectured me on the “precision” of American weapons. His message was that war had become a bloodless science in the service of America’s unique divinity. It was like interviewing a priest. Only American “boys” and “girls” suffer, and at the hands of “Ba’athist remnants”, a self-deluding term in the spirit of General Maude’s “miscreants”. The media echo this, barely gesturing at the truth of a popular resistance and publishing galleries of GI amputees, who are described with a maudlin, down-home chauvinism which celebrates the victimhood of the invader while casting the vicious imperialism that they served as benign. At the State Department, the under-secretary for international security, John Bolton, suggested to me that, for questioning the fundamentalism of American policy, I was surely a heretic, “a Communist Party member”, as he put it.

As for the great human catastrophe in Iraq, the bereft hospitals, the children dying from thirst and gastroenteritis at a rate greater than before the invasion, with almost 8 per cent of infants suffering extreme malnutrition, says Unicef; as for a crisis in agriculture which, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation, is on the verge of collapse: these do not exist. Like the American-driven, medieval-type siege that destroyed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives over 12 years, there is no knowledge of this in America: therefore it did not happen. The Iraqis are, at best, unpeople; at worst, tainted, to be hunted. “For every GI killed,” said a letter given prominence in the New York Daily News late last month, “20 Iraqis must be executed.” In the past week, Task Force 20, an “elite” American unit charged with hunting evildoers, murdered at least five people as they drove down a street in Baghdad, and that was typical.

The august New York Times and Washington Post are not, of course, as crude as the News and Murdoch. However, on 23 July, both papers gave front-page prominence to the government’s carefully manipulated “homecoming” of 20-year-old Private Jessica Lynch, who was injured in a traffic accident during the invasion and captured. She was cared for by Iraqi doctors, who probably saved her life and who risked their own lives in trying to return her to American forces. The official version, that she bravely fought off Iraqi attackers, is a pack of lies, like her “rescue” (from an almost deserted hospital), which was filmed with night-vision cameras by a Hollywood director. All this is known in Washington, and much of it has been reported.

This did not deter the best and worst of American journalism uniting to help stage-manage her beatific return to Elizabeth, West Virginia, with the Times reporting the Pentagon’s denial of “embellishing” and that “few people seemed to care about the controversy”. According to the Post, the whole affair had been “muddied by conflicting media accounts”. George Orwell described this as “words falling upon the facts like soft snow, blurring their outlines and covering up all the details”. Thanks to the freest press on earth, most Americans, according to a national poll, believe Iraq was behind the 11 September attacks. “We have been the victims of the biggest cover-up manoeuvre of all time,” says Jane Harman, a rare voice in Congress. But that, too, is an illusion.

The verboten truth is that the unprovoked attack on Iraq and the looting of its resources is America’s 73rd colonial intervention. These, together with hundreds of bloody covert operations, have been covered up by a system and a veritable tradition of state-sponsored lies that reach back to the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and the attendant frontier myths; and the Spanish-American war, which broke out after Spain was falsely accused of sinking an American warship, the Maine, and war fever was whipped up by the Hearst newspapers; and the non-existent “missile gap” between the US and the Soviet Union, which was based on fake documents given to journalists in 1960 and served to accelerate the nuclear arms race; and four years later, the non-existent Vietnamese attack on two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin for which the media demanded reprisals, giving President Johnson the pretext he wanted to bomb North Vietnam.

In the late 1970s, a silent media allowed President Carter to arm Indonesia as it slaughtered the East Timorese, and to begin secret support for the mujahedin, from which came the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, the manufacture of an absurdity, the “threat” to America from popular movements in Central America, notably the Sandinistas in tiny Nicaragua, allowed President Reagan to arm and support terrorist groups such as the Contras, leaving an estimated 70,000 dead. That George W Bush’s America gives refuge to hundreds of Latin American torturers, favoured murderous dictators and anti-Castro hijackers, terrorists by any definition, is almost never reported. Neither is the work of a “training school” at Fort Benning, Georgia, whose graduates would be the pride of Osama Bin Laden.

Americans, says Time magazine, live in “an eternal present”. The point is, they have no choice. The “mainstream” media are now dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television network, which had a good war. The Federal Communications Commission, run by Colin Powell’s son Michael, is finally to deregulate television so that Fox and four other conglomerates control 90 per cent of the terrestrial and cable audience. Moreover, the leading 20 internet sites are now owned by the likes of Fox, Disney, AOL Time Warner and a clutch of other giants. Just 14 companies attract 60 per cent of the time all American web-users spend online.

The director of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, summed this up well: “To justify a preventive war that the United Nations and global public opinion did not want, a machine for propaganda and mystification, organised by the doctrinaire sect around George Bush, produced state-sponsored lies with a determination characteristic of the worst regimes of the 20th century.”

Most of the lies were channelled straight to Downing Street from the 24-hour Office of Global Communications in the White House. Many were the invention of a highly secret unit in the Pentagon, called the Office of Special Plans, which “sexed up” raw intelligence, much of it uttered by Tony Blair. It was here that many of the most famous lies about weapons of mass destruction were “crafted”. On 9 July, Donald Rumsfeld said, with a smile, that America never had “dramatic new evidence” and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz earlier revealed that the “issue of weapons of mass destruction” was “for bureaucratic reasons” only, “because it was the one reason [for invading Iraq] that everyone could agree on.”

The Blair government’s attacks on the BBC make sense as part of this. They are not only a distraction from Blair’s criminal association with the Bush gang, though for a less than obvious reason. As the astute American media commentator Danny Schechter points out, the BBC’s revenues have grown to $5.6bn; more Americans watch the BBC in America than watch BBC1 in Britain; and what Murdoch and the other ascendant TV conglomerates have long wanted is the BBC “checked, broken up, even privatised . . . All this money and power will likely become the target for Blair government regulators and the merry men of Ofcom, who want to contain public enterprises and serve those avaricious private businesses who would love to slice off some of the BBC’s market share.” As if on cue, Tessa Jowell, the British Culture Secretary, questioned the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

The irony of this, says Schechter, is that the BBC was always solidly pro-war. He cites a comprehensive study by Media Tenor, the non-partisan institute that he founded, which analysed the war coverage of some of the world’s leading broadcasters and found that the BBC allowed less dissent than all of them, including the US networks. A study by Cardiff University found much the same. More often than not, the BBC amplified the inventions of the lie machine in Washington, such as Iraq’s non-existent attack on Kuwait with scuds. And there was Andrew Marr’s memorable victory speech outside 10 Downing Street: “[Tony Blair] said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both those points he has been proved conclusively right.”

Almost every word of that was misleading or nonsense. Studies now put the death toll at as many as 10,000 civilians and 20,000 Iraqi troops. If this does not constitute a “bloodbath”, what was the massacre of 3,000 people at the twin towers?

In contrast, I was moved and almost relieved by the description of the heroic Dr David Kelly by his family. “David’s professional life,” they wrote, “was characterised by his integrity, honour and dedication to finding the truth, often in the most difficult circumstances. It is hard to comprehend the enormity of this tragedy.” There is little doubt that a majority of the British people understand that David Kelly was the antithesis of those who have shown themselves to be the agents of a dangerous, rampant foreign power. Stopping this menace is now more urgent than ever, for Iraqis and us.

— source johnpilger.com

Saddam Hussein Was Focused on Writing Novel, Not WMDs

10 years ago this week, on December 30th, 2006, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed. Hussein was toppled soon after the U.S. invasion began in 2003. U.S. President George W. Bush launched the invasion on the false premise that Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al-Qaeda. The invasion destabilized Iraq and the region, leaving over a million people dead. And the fighting continues in Iraq and Syria.

A stunning new book about the Iraq War has just come out from a perspective we have not yet heard from. It is written by John Nixon, the CIA analyst who interrogated Saddam Hussein after his capture 13 years ago. Nixon reveals that much of what the CIA believed they knew about Saddam Hussein at the time of the invasion was wrong. During his interrogation, Hussein revealed that by 2003 he had largely turned over power to his aides so he could concentrate on writing a novel. There was no program of weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein was also deeply critical of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups inspired by Wahhabism. In fact, Hussein told Nixon that he felt the United States and Iraq were natural allies in the fight against extremism. During the interrogation, Saddam Hussein also had a warning for the United States about Iraq. He said, “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq. You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind,” Saddam Hussein said.

John Nixon talking:

it’s one thing to be—to see somebody on a TV screen or a film or in pictures, but when you actually meet them up close and then you start talking to them, it’s an entirely different thing. And, you know, instead of finding the “Butcher of Baghdad,” I found myself talking to this aging Iraqi grandfather. And one of the things that really struck me was, in talking to him, he said to me, he said, “You know, I’ve been working on this novel.” And the delegation of power was something that we at the CIA really hadn’t been aware of. We still thought of Saddam as the master manipulator and someone who was always pulling the strings. But really, he had given that power, the day-to-day running of the country, to some of his more senior aides.

I had studied Saddam Hussein ever since joining the agency in 1998. And I think a lot of people knew me in the intelligence community as sort of a go-to person on Saddam. Now, when I was—went to Baghdad in 2003, I was asked to fill in for the—we had an HVT-1 analyst in the station, and their job was to work with the military in trying to locate him.

I replaced him and began working with the military. And I began to despair that we would never find him. And then, right around Thanksgiving time, things started to heat up. And then, into the first week of December, it became very clear we were going to find him. And the night of the capture, I was brought into the station chief’s office and asked how would I identify him, and then I was asked to go out and identify him. And I told them that, you know, I would look for certain markings, certain tribal tattoos. And I was brought out there. You have to understand, the U.S. government was under a lot of—well, we were under a lot of pressure from Washington to find him and also to verify it’s him, because we didn’t want to then turn—say we’ve caught him, and then find out it wasn’t him. And there was also this persistent myth about body doubles, which were never really true to begin with. So, I went out there, and despite the fact that I was looking for these markings, I have to admit, the first time that I even laid eyes on him, I knew it was him.

And one of the interesting things about that first time was, you know, Saddam was sitting there with the military all around him, and he sort of acted like he was the host, that he was the person like every—he came here every Saturday night and had an audience with people, and that we were just guests. And, you know, we had a very—a sort of a confrontational interrogation that night, because it was just, again, about identifying him, although, in my head, it was clear. After that, we had—we began debriefing him. And that’s when—one of the surprising things about Saddam was he was one of the most charismatic individuals I have ever met in my life. I mean, when he walked in a room—even in his diminished status as a prisoner, when he walked in a room, you could feel a change. In the beginning, he was very smart, very polite, very nice, self-deprecating in his humor.

we had—in the room, it was myself, a polygrapher, an interpreter provided by the Army, and Saddam. polygrapher, but he also served as a sort of a facilitator, as a person who would sort of start the conversation off. And in the beginning, it was very—we weren’t sure if Saddam was going to cooperate, and we had really no way to kind of get him to cooperate. So we appealed to his vanity, and we also appealed to his sense of history. And we said to him, “You know, this is your opportunity to set the record straight. This is your opportunity to take all the lies that have been said about you, and what you say will be read by the highest levels of the government,” meaning the president.

weapons of mass destruction. He said he stopped his program years ago. And, you know, one of the things with Saddam was he was also one of the most suspicious people I’ve ever met, and he always answered questions with questions of his own. And one of the problems from that was, when we would ask about weapons of mass destruction, he would say, “Oh, well, I stopped that in 1989.” And then you would say, “But, Saddam, right up into the first Gulf War, we found that you had a program that was close to being near completion.” He said, “Oh, well, yes, yes. But after the Gulf War, I stopped it.” And then we would say, “Well, what about 1995, when Hussein Kamel defected, and you showed us all those documents that were on his chicken farm?” He said, “Oh, of course, of course. But after ’95.” So, you were never sure sometimes what he was saying was the truth or not. But based on talking to him, talking to a number of his advisers, and all of the captured documentation and the fact that we never found anything, I came to the conclusion that he was not going to start another program.

one of the arguments made for the war was that he had used weapons of mass destruction on his people. And when I talked to him—and he got very upset, probably the angriest he ever got with me during my time with him. He said that he did not order weapons to—chemical weapons to be used in Halabja against the Kurds. I have to admit, I didn’t believe him at the time. When I went back to Washington, I started looking into this a lot more deeply. I started reading some of the debriefings of other senior government aides. They corroborated that story. And then we found documentation from the Iraqis that also corroborated that. It was a battlefield decision made by an Iraqi commander at the scene. And Saddam actually was angry at the commander for having made that decision, largely because the use of the chemical weapons was in PUK territory. They were allied with Iran. And he was afraid that Iran would make hay out of this with the international media.

he thought we were natural allies in this. And he thought that 9/11 was going to bring the United States and Iraq closer together. And, you know, he—at one point he said to me, he said, “Didn’t you read the letter that I sent, you know, that I sent to you?” And I said, “What letter are you talking about?” He said, “The letter I gave to Tariq Aziz. Didn’t you read it?” And then I said, “Well, I think I’ve—you sent a couple of letters.” And he said, “Well, this one went to Ramsey Clark. You know, didn’t you read it?” And then I told him that, you know, a lot of people in the media tend to dispel what Ramsey Clark says, and the fact that it was coming from you may have been even harder for people to believe. Saddam Hussein did not have a good understanding of America. He didn’t have a good understanding of international relations.

– the response of the CIA in the information? The response of President Bush

All they really wanted to know about was WMD. And when we—when we didn’t have the answer that they wanted, they kind of lost interest. And that’s all it was about, I think. And it was very disappointing and disillusioning, because we could have learned a great deal more from Saddam and about his country. And I felt I did, when I was talking to him.

this undercut President Bush’s justification for this war.

It’s almost like, in January of 2004, President Bush’s attitude was, you know, “I’m done with Iraq. Let’s move on. You know, this is a solved problem.”

clearly, it isn’t, 10 years. More than 10 years later.

Back in 2002, 2003, I believed that if we removed him from power and then made Iraq a better place, that the Iraqis would—you know, that would be better for Iraq and that we could help turn the country into a functioning, hopefully democratic, country that, you know, would be as good as what the Iraqi people deserved.

change that view hundred percent. When people ask me, you know, “Was it worth taking him out of power?” I say, “You know, look around you. Show me something that is positive that happened.” Iraq, right now, is a country that has 2 million displaced people. Parts of its territory are held by ISIS. You have a dysfunctional government that is probably more corrupt than Saddam’s government was. And if ask the average Iraqi—Sunni, Shia or Kurd—you know, “Were things better back then? Were services better? Did the government do more for you?” I think they would say yes. I can’t find one thing. And if you said, “Well, maybe, what about the Kurds? They’re almost independent now,” that was happening already. I can’t find one thing positive that came out of his removal from power.

We finally were asked to brief the president in 2008, which was five years after Saddam’s removal from power. the FBI came out and said in early 2008 that Saddam said he was going to reconstitute his weapons program, which was not true. And then, all of a sudden, the White House came to the CIA and said, “You never told us this. What else did he say?” And we had to kind of walk this all back and say, “Listen, he never said that.” The FBI’s assertion was based on a statement that Saddam said—he was asked by the special agent about weapons of mass destruction: “Were you going to reconstitute your program?” And Saddam gave the answer, “I will do what I have to do to protect my country.” And that was the basis upon which the FBI established that he was going to reconstitute the weapons program. The problem is, Saddam gave that answer to just about everything. And, you know, something—Saddam was deliberately ambiguous in his statements. And it’s one thing to say that, but we found no evidence whatsoever of any plans on the part of Saddam or his government to reconstitute his weapons program.

– How difficult was it to put this into print?

it was a chore. And it was—it took far too long. I originally submitted the manuscript in 2011. I got it back from them, and then I took a year or two, because I was working abroad, and I didn’t necessarily want to identify myself as a former CIA person. But when I came back in 2014, I immediately gave it back to them, and I didn’t receive it back until October of this year. And it was—and the things they took out were kind of ridiculous.

there were some really great anecdotes. And, you know—but, for example, they took out—we had a certain phrase that we used to describe the building that we worked in. I can’t say that, you know, because they say it’s classified.

in Iraq, where the CIA station was, the kind of vehicles we drove around, which, you know, I can tell you right now they weren’t Toyotas, you know, Camrys. And they took that out. Then there were some—there were a few—as I said, some anecdotes that I thought really gave color to the story. And for reasons that are beyond my understanding, they took them out.

– meeting in 2008 with President Bush in the Oval Office.

that was in February of 2008. And I had actually gone there to brief about something else, about Muqtada al-Sadr. And then, the DNI had said, “Mr. President, this is also the man who was the first to debrief Saddam Hussein.” And he just kind of looked at me, and he said, “How many of you fellas debriefed him? Huh, I mean, there’s been a whole lot.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know who you’ve spoken to, Mr. President, but I was the first one, first one from the CIA.” And then he said, “Well, what kind of man was he?” And then I explained it to him.

he could be very charming. He could be very nice. But he could also be very mean-spirited and vicious and a little scary at times. There were kind of—he was sort of a jumble of contradictions, in that sense. And then I said—he said to me, he said, “Did he know he was going to be executed?” I said, “Yes, Saddam—Saddam knew that somehow this whole process was going to end in his death.” And he said—and I said that he was—he was at ease with that. He was—he felt that, you know, he was at peace with himself and God. And so, that’s when President Bush went—he sort of smirked and went, “Huh! He’s going to have a lot to answer for in the next life.” I said, “Well, OK. I’m sure he’s not the only one.” And then he said—oh, when we were leaving—and this really kind of set me back. And I had heard that President Bush sometimes liked to use humor at inappropriate moments. But we were done, and we were walking out of the Oval Office, and then he turned back to me. He said, “Hey, he didn’t tell you any—where any of those vials of anthrax were, did he?” And, of course, everybody broke up. And I said, “No, sir. You’d be the first to know if that was the case,” and left.

– Saddam Hussein saying there was a letter that he sent to President Bush

He basically expressed sorrow over 9/11. And largely, it was a letter that just said, you know, “I grieve with you, and I grieve for the American people, and that terrorism is a bad thing. Iraq has also been the victim of terrorism”—words along those lines. But it was not the first time that Saddam had reached out to the U.S. government. Even during the Clinton years, Saddam had made entreaties to the U.S. government and said, “Listen, we can help in this battle against Sunni extremism.” He had offered to help—help with our finding the people who were responsible for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. However, you know, I think our government interpreted this as a sort of a ploy for a quid pro quo, that somehow if we got this, then we would give—we’d let him out from underneath sanctions. And largely, his pleas were ignored, I mean, not even answered. And I think that, in hindsight, you know, these were missed opportunities. And it speaks to this issue about sometimes—sometimes countries have got to—we all do terrible things, but sometimes countries have got to let bygones be bygones and work constructively, because we can achieve things through dialogue rather than just by—through enmity and trying to destroy one another.

– to remove what are essentially secular authoritarian leaders and then not being able to deal with the consequences. Saddam Hussein saying, “You’re going to fail, because you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the history of this area, and you don’t understand the Arab mind.”

It sent chills down my spine. Yeah, I have to be honest with you. When I was talking to him, there were times when he would say things, and I would—I would just be—you know, this is terrible, because he’s making so much sense. And even 10 years later, when I was going through my notes, I was really struck by some of the things he said. And you know it’s a bad day when Saddam Hussein is making more sense than your own president of the United States. And, you know, he—I believe that when it came to understanding Iraq and Iraqis, he knew his country like the back of his hand, and he knew it far better than we.

When we came back to the United States in 2004, all hell was breaking loose in Iraq. And I think that they just decided that, OK, we didn’t find the WMD. It’s—nobody wanted to revisit this. You know, when you say something about President Bush, one of the things that really struck me—there was another session I had with Bush, where, you know, he made this statement that I thought was just unbelievable, especially in light of what’s happening. And this was at a 2008 meeting in May. And I told him that maybe we should—you know, he said, “Well, what do we do about Muqtada al-Sadr?” And I said, “Well, maybe we should let Sadr be Sadr, and he’ll do things against himself. He’ll make mistakes.” And then, Bush said—he cut in, and he just said, “Well, you know something? They said I should let Saddam be Saddam, and I proved them wrong.” And so, even by 2008, he still thought that this was a success, that this—

– Did you torture Saddam Hussein to get information?

Absolutely not. You know, if talking to me is torture, that’s one thing. But, you know—but, no. And to be honest, a member of—the head of my team originally wanted to use enhanced interrogation techniques on him, and that was quickly shut down. And thank God. It would have served no purpose. There was no immediate threat information that we were looking for from him. And, you know, so we didn’t use that. He did claim later, though, that we did.

President-elect Trump, I would just say, I believe, having worked on debriefing prisoners, that it simply doesn’t work. There are better methods to use to get information. And if Donald Trump really is hell-bent on torturing people, he might have to do it himself, because I don’t—after what has happened over the last 10 years and what people went through at the CIA, how are you going to actually find somebody who’s going to be wanting to like cut their own throat by torturing for you and then find themselves the subject of some investigation and legal action?

– CIA, over the past couple of decades, has been increasingly corrupted into an agency that provides the intelligence that the current president wants, rather than what they need to hear.

It’s what I call the cult of current intelligence. And current intelligence are these sort of short, pithy memos that get produced every day and tell a story about a certain important topic. And it becomes like—the policymakers become very addicted to this, because they want to know the latest and the greatest as they go into every meeting. But the thing is, in the analytic cadre at CIA, it creates a mentality of being so focused on the here and now that you can’t see the larger picture. And you don’t have time to study the larger picture, because you’re constantly churning out these sort of—and over time, you go back and you look at these current intelligence pieces, and, A, they’re overtaken by events, so they’re not really useful; B, some areas, they’re just wrong; and, C, it’s sort of like having—being thirsty and—being thirsty for a Coke, and then, all of a sudden, three months later, you go back for the Coke, and you drink it, and it’s flat, and you don’t want it.

One of the other great lessons that we should have learned from Iraq is that it is very important for us to have a presence in the country, and a presence through an embassy. And you know something? Our sources of information came from émigrés and all sorts of people outside the country. And it was—you know, some of it was good, and some of it was terrible. And the thing is, nothing can replace your ability to be—have your feet on the ground there and see what’s going on for yourself.

there’s a passage in my book where he talks about, you know, saying that Sunni jihadism is going to—Iraq is a playing field for this, and it’s—now that he’s out of power, it’s going to be made worse, and that we’re going to have to deal with this issue. He was very concerned. Saddam was not afraid of almost anything, but he was very concerned about the threat that Sunni jihadists had for his regime, largely because they came from within his own community, and it was harder to sort of get—through tribal networks, it was harder to kind of root them out than it would be if they were from the Shia or the Kurds. And also, he understood that this current of Wahhabism that emanated from Saudi Arabia had been infiltrating Iraq for some time, and he was less and less powerful to do something about it. And he also knew that—Saddam was not a jihadist himself, and he didn’t have any alliances with al-Qaeda or—you know, or Sunni fundamentalists.

I even asked him about this, and he just—he just kind of laughed. And he said, “You know, these people are my enemies. And, you know, why would you think that I’m allied with”—and then he would use this counterfactual. He’d say, “Well, who was on the plane that flew into the World Trade Center? How many Iraqis were on that plane? But who were they? There were Saudis. There were Egyptians. There was an Emirati. Those are all your friends. Why do you think that they’re doing that?” And then he would also say—one of the things that was most compelling was he would say, “You know something? When I was a young man, everybody admired America. Everybody wanted to go to America.” You know, he used to say he would see at the American Embassy in Baghdad people lining up to get visas. And he said, “And now, look at you. Look at—you know, no one likes you. No one trusts you.” And that was based on the policies of our government.

– execution of Saddam Hussein

It was chilling. It was—and it was—I knew that it was going—that he was going to be executed. And I thought that this would at least give—he would be tried, he would be—the verdict would be rendered, and then he would be executed, and that maybe this would give the Iraqi people closure, and they could move on, and they would know that the rule of law had been established. But instead what we had was a mob lynching in the middle of the night, where he was taken into the basement of a ministry building and taunted by his executioners. And Saddam looked like the most dignified person in the room.

– then you see, from a cellphone video his throat slit and a gaping wound, head twisting sharply to one side.

it was really awful. And I remember thinking it’s like—”Is this what we fought this war for?” You know? And then, subsequently, every time I went back to Iraq, it just kept getting worse and worse. And I remember thinking, “This is—this is ridiculous. This is not what we—this is not what we expended 4,000 lives for.” Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died.

I don’t believe that these methods work, and I think they’re barbaric, and I would not want to—and I would not participate in anything like that. If Mike Pompeo wants to say that for political reasons, fine. I hope that he—when he’s confirmed as—if he’s confirmed as CIA director, that he does not try to institute anything like that, because, again, he’s not going to find any takers, because I don’t think anybody wants to do this.

– Zarqawi hunt in 2006.

I worked on the—actually, on the portion of the hunt that led to his eventual finding and death by bombing. And it was—I remember thinking to myself, after having interviewed a lot of Baathists, the al-Qaeda in Iraq people made me think like the Baathists were like the royal family in Great Britain, you know, because these people were absolute killers and thugs. And it was something that I said to myself, I remember, “This is what happens when we remove Saddam from power. It’s like ripping the manhole cover off the sewer and seeing what crawls out.” And that was what al-Qaeda in Iraq was like.

– why wrote this book

From the very moment I saw him, I knew I was going to write something someday. But having said that, I would say that I—two things. I began to see the memoirs coming out and the sort of gibberish that were in the memoirs of the principals that were—

President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet—and talking about Saddam. And talking about Saddam and also talking about the debriefings and then some of the things that happened in Iraq. And I remember thinking, you know, this—there has to be sort of a more accurate record.

– Did they lie about what you found?

yeah, absolutely. For example, one of the first things I worked on was the—this reporting that said that Saddam was going to send—was sending hit squads to the United States to kill George W. Bush’s daughters, Barbara and Jenna—I think that’s their names. Now, we now know Saddam couldn’t even get good reception on his radio, let alone be sending hit squads from his intelligence service to America to kill anyone. And yet, in the memoirs of Bush and Tenet and Rumsfeld, they all talk about this as if it was real, as though this is a justification that they’re holding onto. And you know something? It’s not real, and it’s not truthful.

I see, for the foreseeable future, it being kind of similar to what it is now: a dysfunctional mess, in which you have—it does not achieve its potential, it is dominated by Iran, and it is just sort of a failed state.

– Do you think it can recover from the U.S. invasion?

I think that it would take a great deal to sort of put the genie of sectarianism and sectarian feelings that have been loosed by Saddam’s removal back in the bottle. And I’m not sure if it can.

– Do you think the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a catastrophe for Iraq?

Yes, absolutely. There is not—there is not a shred of doubt in my mind about that.

– Do you think it was a catastrophe for the United States? And for the Middle East?

Yes. We should—we should never have gone in there. And you know something? If the Iraqi people wanted to remove Saddam, that was for the Iraqi people to do, or for God to do. You know? And there should have been an Iraqi solution to what came next, not an American solution.

My biggest regret, in terms of Iraq, was the damage that was done to that country by my country and my own participation in this. And I wish there was some way we could—we could help the Iraqi people and help them rebuild what they—what they may have had. And, you know, it’s a great country with great people, and they have a lot going for them, and there is no reason why it should be failing like it is.
____

John Nixon
former CIA analyst and author of the new book, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.

— source democracynow.org

Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s

4 October 2004

Even before the 2003 war, we were attacking Iraqi civilians with our inhumane economic sanctions. Yet where were the media protesting against this injustice?

In October 1999, I stood in a ward of dying children in Baghdad with Denis Halliday, who the previous year had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations. He said: “We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We’re targeting civilians. Worse, we’re targeting children . . . What is this all about?”

Halliday had been 34 years with the UN. As an international civil servant much respected in the field of “helping people, not harming them”, as he put it, he had been sent to Iraq to implement the oil-for-food programme, which he subsequently denounced as a sham. “I am resigning,” he wrote, “because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”

Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, another assistant secretary general with more than 30 years’ service, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, followed them, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Their collective action was unprecedented; yet it received only passing media attention. There was no serious inquiry by journalists into their grave charges against the British and American governments, which in effect ran the embargo. Von Sponeck’s disclosure that the sanctions restricted Iraqis to living on little more than $100 a year was not reported. “Deliberate strangulation”, he called it. Neither was the fact that, up to July 2002, more than $5bn worth of humanitarian supplies, which had been approved by the UN sanctions committee and paid for by Iraq, were blocked by George W Bush, with Tony Blair’s backing. They included food products, medicines and medical equipment, as well as items vital for water and sanitation, agriculture and education.

The cost in lives was staggering. Between 1991 and 1998, reported Unicef, 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died. “If you include adults,” said Halliday, “the figure is now almost certainly well over a million.” In 1996, in an interview on the American current affairs programme 60 Minutes, Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN, was asked: “We have heard that half a million children have died . . . is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.” The television network CBS has since refused to allow the videotape of that interview to be shown again, and the reporter will not discuss it.

Halliday and von Sponeck have long been personae non gratae in most of the US and British media. What these whistle-blowers have revealed is far too unpalatable: not only was the embargo a great crime against humanity, it actually reinforced Saddam Hussein’s control. The reason why so many Iraqis feel bitter about the invasion and occupation is that they remember the Anglo-American embargo as a crippling, medieval siege that prevented them from overthrowing their dictatorship. This is almost never reported in Britain.

Halliday appeared on BBC2’s Newsnight soon after he resigned. I watched the presenter Jeremy Paxman allow Peter Hain, then a Foreign Office minister, to abuse him as an “apologist for Saddam”. Hain’s shameful performance was not surprising. On the eve of this year’s Labour party conference, he dismissed Iraq as a “fringe issue”.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, wrote in the New Statesman recently that some journalists “consider it bad form to engage in public debate about anything to do with ethics or standards, never mind the fundamental purpose of journalism”. It was a welcome departure from the usual clubbable stuff that passes for media comment but which rarely addresses “the fundamental purpose of journalism” – and especially not its collusive, lethal silences.

“When truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenceless country. Yes, there was plenty of media noise prior to the invasion, but Blair’s spun version dominated, and truth-tellers were sidelined. Scott Ritter was the UN’s senior weapons inspector in Iraq. Ritter began his whistle-blowing more than five years ago when he said: “By 1998, [Iraq’s] chemical weapons infrastructure had been completely dismantled or destroyed by Unscom . . . The biological weapons programme was gone, the major facilities eliminated . . . The long-range ballistic missile programme was completely eliminated. If I had to quantify Iraq’s threat, I would say [it is] zero.”

Ritter’s truth was barely acknowledged. Like Halliday and von Sponeck, he was almost never mentioned on the television news, the principal source of most people’s information. The studied obfuscation of Hans Blix was far more acceptable as the “balancing voice”. That Blix, like Kofi Annan, was playing his own political games with Washington was never questioned.

Up to the fall of Baghdad, the misinformation and lies of Bush and Blair were channelled, amplified and legitimised by journalists, notably by the BBC, which defines its political coverage by the pronouncements, events and personalities of the “village” of Whitehall and Westminster. Andrew Gilligan broke this rule in his outstanding reporting from Baghdad and later his disclosure of Blair’s most important deception. It is instructive that the most sustained attacks on him came from his fellow journalists.

In the crucial 18 months before Iraq was attacked, when Bush and Blair were secretly planning the invasion, famous, well-paid journalists became little more than channels, debriefers of the debriefers – what the French call fonctionnaires. The paramount role of real journalists is not to channel, but to challenge, not to fall silent, but to expose. There were honourable exceptions, notably Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian and the irrepressible Robert Fisk in the Independent. Two newspapers, the Mirror and the Independent, broke ranks. Apart from Gilligan and one or two others, broadcasters failed to reflect the public’s own rising awareness of the truth. In commercial radio, a leading journalist who raised too many questions was instructed to “tone down the anti-war stuff because the advertisers won’t like it”.

In the United States, in the so-called mainstream of what is constitutionally the freest press in the world, the line held, with the result that Bush’s lies were believed by the majority of the population. American journalists are now apologising, but it is too late. The US military is out of control in Iraq, bombarding densely populated areas with impunity. How many Iraqi families like Kenneth Bigley’s are grieving? We do not experience their anguish, or hear their appeals for mercy. According to a recent estimate, roughly 37,000 Iraqis have died in this grotesque folly.

Charles Lewis, the former star CBS reporter who now runs the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, DC, told me he was in no doubt that, had his colleagues done their job rather than acted as ciphers, the invasion would not have taken place. Such is the power of the modern media; it is a power we should reclaim from those subverting it.

— source johnpilger.com

Baby Teeth of Iraqi Children Tell Troubling Tale of War’s Toxic Impacts

In an effort to learn more about the impacts of long-term exposure to heavy metals and other toxins associated with warzone bombardments and military installations, a new study released Friday examined a sample of donated teeth and discovered that the children of Iraq are suffering from alarming levels of such substances, specfically lead.

The study—entitled Prenatal Metal Exposure in the Middle East: Imprint of War in Deciduous Teeth of Children—focused on Iraq, invaded by the U.S. and coalition forces over thirteen years ago, due to the amount of bombing its population has witnessed over the last thirteen years and the troubling level of cancers and birth defects now evidenced in the population that could be related to that relentless violence. The Iraqi teeth were compared to donated samples from both Lebanon, which has seen a more moderate level of bombing and warfare during the same time period, and Iran, which has experienced relative peace since the end of the Iraq/Iran War in 1988.

“In war zones,” the abstract of the study explains, “the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment. The Middle East is currently the site of heavy environmental disruption by massive bombardments. A very large number of US military bases, which release highly toxic environmental contaminants, have also been erected since 2003. Current knowledge supports the hypothesis that war-created pollution is a major cause of rising birth defects and cancers in Iraq.”

Scientifically known as a person’s “deciduous teeth,” what are also called “baby teeth” are useful to study, the researchers explain, because they “originate in fetal life and may prove useful in measuring prenatal metal exposures.” The researchers say their findings confirm the hypothesis that in war-torn Iraq the levels of contaminants found were much higher than in those countries that have seen markedly less violence.

“Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research,” reads the study. “Lead levels were similar in Lebanese and Iranian deciduous teeth. Deciduous teeth from Iraqi children with birth defects had remarkably higher levels of Pb [lead]. Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran.”

To further explain the context and implications of the newly-published researchers, it is worth quoting the study at length:

In war zones, the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment, adding to the burden of childhood exposures. Recent studies in Iraq indicate widespread public exposure to neurotoxic metals (Pb and mercury) accompanied by unprecedented increases in birth defects and cancers in a number of cities (Savabieasfahani 2013). Current knowledge supports the hypothesis that war-created pollution is a major factor in the rising numbers of birth defects and cancers in Iraq.

The Middle East has been the site of a massive environmental disruption by bombardments. In 2015 alone, the USA dropped over 23,000 bombs in the Middle East. Twenty-two thousand bombs were dropped on Iraq/Syria (Zenko 2016). US military bases also produce and release highly toxic environmental pollutants in the Middle East. Though our knowledge is limited, a recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) offers a conservative estimate of two million killed in the Middle East since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Around one million people have been killed in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan. A total of around 1.3 million, not included in this figure, have been killed in other recently created war zones such as Yemen and Syria (Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)).

It may seem callous to focus on the “long-term” effects of war while these horrific consequences of war are here and now. Nevertheless, long-term public health consequences of war need to be better examined if we are to prevent similar wars in the future (Weir 2015). To that end, here we report the results of our last samples from a growing war-zone.

Deciduous teeth of children from Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran can show a continuum of high to low war-related-exposures in children. Measurements of environmental samples in the areas of our interest are rare in the literature. Therefore, we deduce that a continuum of high to low war-related exposures can be detected in children of the selected areas based upon the knowledge of the number and length of wars fought in each country in modern times. We do know that Iraq continues to be the target of repeated bombings and military activity, that Lebanon has been the site for multiple wars, and that military activities have occurred in Lebanon intermittently up to 2016 (Haugbolle 2010). In contrast, Iran has been the site of only one war in modern times, which ended in 1988 (Hersh 1992). Our aim is to evaluate deciduous teeth for their suitability to serve as markers of prenatal exposures to neurotoxic heavy metals.

Metals are one of the main components of bombs, bullets, and other weaponry. Buncombe (2011) offers a historic account of the very large number of bombs and bullets that were dropped in the Middle East post-2003. Additionally, 1500 US military bases and facilities—with their associated toxic pollutants—have been erected in the Middle East since 2003 (Nazaryan 2014; Vine 2014). It has been suggested that US military bases are among the most polluting operations on earth (Nazaryan 2014; Broder 1990; Milmo 2014).

In Iraq, there are currently over 500 US military bases (Kennedy 2008; Vine 2014). Pollutants released from these bases have reportedly harmed human health (Institute of Medicine, IOM 2011). Metals are released in the environment in large quantities during and following wars, either by direct bombing or as a result of waste generated and released by military installations (IOM). Metals are persistent in the environment (Li et al. 2014), and their adverse effects on health—especially the health of sensitive populations (i.e., pregnant mothers, fetuses, growing children)—have been established (Parajuli et al. 2013; Grandjean and Landrigan 2014). Public exposure to war-related pollutants intensifies as wars become frequent and as the environmental release of waste associated with military bases increases. Metal exposures and toxicity are frequently reported in children, particularly those living in areas of protracted military attacks in the Middle East (Alsabbak et al. 2012; Jergovic et al. 2010; Savabieasfahani et al. 2015).

“As prenatal exposures become more severe and common in war zones,” the authors write, “the accurate measurement of those prenatal exposures becomes more urgent. The use of deciduous teeth, which originate in fetal life, as a biomarker of prenatal exposure, is worthwhile if we are to protect children from such exposures in the future.”

— source commondreams.org