Aletho News


A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized

By davidswanson | War is a Crime | October 22, 2013

There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways.  When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law.  On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.

Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you.  Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal.  The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself.  Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.

Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal.  Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.”  However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal.  Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.

The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information.  The UN will debate drones on Friday.  Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come).  Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good.  The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life.  However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.

The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal.  We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism.  Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending.  Remember the liberal applause for that?  Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.

(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)

We don’t need the memos.  We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder.  That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be.  But let’s stop for a minute and consider.  The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it.  We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning.  Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria.  And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.

What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning?  Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)?  Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else?  Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”?  If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue?  The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?

For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill?  Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at  Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.

It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder.  Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder.  But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?

It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway.  Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen.  Drones make everyone less safe.  As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism.  Drones also kill with friendly fire.  Drones, with or without weapons, crash.  A lot.  And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated.  When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no.  But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.

We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.

I’ll be part of a panel discussing this at NYU on Wednesday. See

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized

Russian-Turkish talks on Syrian crisis to be held at the end of next month

MEMO | October 22, 2013

The Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, reported that Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will meet Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow at the end of November, when discussions will focus on the Syrian crisis.

Hurriyet noted that Erdogan will visit the Russian capital where he will head a delegation of a large number of ministers and will preside over the meeting of the joint ministerial committee of the Turkish-Russian Cooperation Council during 21st to the 22nd November. The meeting will discuss several political, trade and investment issues between the two countries.

Deputy Russian foreign minister, Alexei Meshkv, said that the two sides will address several regional and international issues of mutual interest and will discuss ways to develop bilateral relations. In an exclusive interview with the Turkish newspaper Meshkov asserted that Russian-Turkish relations are evolving in several areas, especially in the energy field. The two sides are also cooperating on the construction of the Mersin Nuclear Power and the South Stream natural gas pipeline project, which will pass through the Black Sea.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Russian-Turkish talks on Syrian crisis to be held at the end of next month

Hamzawy: liberals displayed an incredible lack of commitment to democratic principles

Amr Hamzawy | MEMO | October 22, 2013

In an unprecedented article published in Al Shorouk newspaper on 19 October, the prominent Egyptian-American academic, Amr Hamzawy, berated Egypt’s left-wingers and liberals for their support of the 3 July coup. He said that ever since the coup at the beginning of July, democrats in Egypt have had time to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The article pointed out that the liberals and left-wingers who backed the military intervention, “isolated” the elected president and suspended the Constitution, which displayed an incredible lack of commitment to democratic principles. Communists, socialists, Nasserists and Arab nationalists have all shown us that they are unwilling to make political compromises. By agreeing to take part in the de facto government imposed by the military with total indifference to democratic legitimacy, such political groups pushed their ideologies into a long, dark tunnel. The fact that they not only keep quiet about the repression and state killings but also take part tells us all we need to know about such people; they have stripped themselves of all moral and political credibility.

On the media campaigns, the author said they had succeeded in influencing people and this probably contributed to how the Muslim Brotherhood and their religious allies were portrayed; as being irrational politically whilst being caught up in acts of violence and incitement. In turn, this pushed liberal and left-wing principles towards neo-fascism under which the return of repressive practices reminiscent of the security state became acceptable to the general public. It also prompted the use of phrases such as “war on terror,” “the security solution is the only solution,” “the need to exclude the religious right-wing,” and “human rights, civil peace, and transitional justice are luxuries Egypt cannot afford while facing terrorism,” and so on.

Such involvement in the repressive state apparatus has made it clear that democratic movements in Egypt cannot count on the left-wing and liberal politicians to help them regain the rights and freedoms that people fought and died for in the January 25 Revolution. If anyone was in any doubt about this, the rush by these politicians to back the coup leader, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as president should have confirmed it. They are indifferent to the deception being practiced on the people of Egypt; the concepts of justice and accountability are being replaced by their demands that the state should act “decisively,” as if promoting bloodshed and killing is the way to end bloodshed and killing in society and restore democracy.

They also act as if stability is achieved when the state uses force and violence rather than justice and the law. These dark voices control the public arena and insist on silence or vocal support; no dissent is allowed as Egyptian politics joins the ranks of the fascist elites of the past. Contemporary norms around the world, ironically in the Western countries which have condoned the coup, promote negotiation, tolerance and respect in order to build civil society and democracy. Egypt today indulges in violence and “security solutions” while promoting hatred and exclusion.

Hamzawy noted that new initiatives have already borne fruit, such as the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” group. Self-criticism is leading to the rebuilding of links between rights and freedoms, elections and referendums, legislative and executive institutions subject to responsibility and accountability, as well as between those in the security forces who are neutral and stick to the rule of the law and citizens whose dignity is preserved and who can participate in the management of public affairs.

Since 3 July, the pro-democracy movement’s acknowledgment of the need to distance itself from the parties and movements that failed the 2013 exam has been matched by the economic, financial and media elites’ lack of commitment to the principles and values of democracy. Out of pure self-interest, the latter have restored a repressive regime against the interests of the people of Egypt.

The way forward for the pro-democracy movement, according to the author, is to learn from the lessons of the past couple of years. The future will be difficult, but their success will depend on how well they can re-boot themselves based on this invaluable, if painful, experience.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , | Comments Off on Hamzawy: liberals displayed an incredible lack of commitment to democratic principles

Israel and the erosion of democracy: an Australian story

By Samah Sabawi | World Observer | October 18, 2013

A few months ago I signed my name as co-defendant to a possible legal action threatened by an Israeli law firm, Shurat HaDin, targeting two Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) academics – Professors Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees for publically refusing to co-operate with Israel’s Hebrew university. Almost two thousand Australian and international academics, writers, human rights activists and other members of civil society have since joined this unprecedented historic act of solidarity signing as co-defendants along with the two targeted professors.

Jake Lynch was practicing a basic democratic right when he made a moral and ethical decision to refuse to collaborate with an academic representing Hebrew university. Part of Hebrew university campus and dormitories were built on illegally annexed Palestinian land in contravention of the four Geneva Conventions. The university also sponsors the archeological digs in the Occupied Territories, appropriating Palestinian historical artifacts, preventing Palestinians from accessing those sites and displacing them from there – an act considered to be plundering under International Humanitarian Law. There is a long list of other violations by Hebrew university such as its links to Elbit systems – one of Israel’s largest military security and surveillance companies that monitors and maintains Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land. But this story is not just about Jake Lynch or Hebrew University, it is a story about how democracy functions.

Defending the rights of academics to express their views on controversial issues is a basic tenant of democracy. Given that democracies are a work in progress, it is up to us as citizens within democratic nations to use our voice to protect our civil liberties. Part of this means we have to empower those who have been disempowered and stripped of their basic human rights, both at home and abroad. This does not bode well for Israel – a state criticized by UN bodies and reputable human rights organizations for its flagrant human rights violations.

Israel’s supporters react to criticism in two ways. The first is by intimidating and slandering critics claiming they are anti-Semitic and/or terrorist sympathizers. The second is by attacking and eroding our democratic rights thus destroying the tools by which we are able to expose its abuses and war crimes.

Academic freedom is hindered when governments interfere with their citizens’ right to form and express independent political views.

In this case, Israel’s network of supporters has launched all the fire power at their disposal, slandering the academics while pressuring the Australian government to erode our democratic right to dissent. CPACS is now faced with the real threat of losing federal government funding for programs unrelated to the campaign “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS), solely on the basis of the political views held by the Centre’s director Jake Lynch.

Academic freedom is hindered when governments interfere with their citizens’ right to form and express independent political views. Last year following lobbying by the National Tertiary Education Union, the former Gillard government introduced a proposal to reform the objectives of the Higher Education Support Act making it a condition of funding that higher education institutions uphold academic freedom. Jeannie Rea, the National Tertiary Education Union president told Sydney Morning Herald, ”these changes…are an explicit acknowledgment that university staff has a right and a responsibility to exercise free intellectual inquiry, including the right to expression of controversial or unpopular opinions without being disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

The significance of this reform was lost on Australia’s new government. Before winning the elections, the now Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop promised to deny funding for projects by all academics who voice support for boycotting Israel regardless of whether or not these projects are related to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

But make no mistake about it, this policy of repression will not only target pro-Palestine supporters or critics of Israel, it will impact all sectors in Australian civil society. PM Tony Abbott has plans to re-prioritize about $900m in annual Australian Research Council (ARC) grants ensuring that only projects that are deemed worthy by the Liberal government and in line with their ideological beliefs will receive funding. The National Tertiary Education Union was amongst the first to criticise this infringement on democracy. Other condemnations followed from many peak bodies in the sector including the Deans of Arts, the Council for Humanities Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), Science and Technology Australia (STA), Social Sciences and Humanities, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and Universities Australia.

I asked Jake Lynch to comment on the possibility that he may find himself without funding for his research. This was his response:

“Julie Bishop’s attempts to stifle dissent on a key issue of foreign policy amount to an abuse of office and reflect badly on the integrity of Australian public life. I fully accept that I am entitled to no public money to pursue or publicise the academic boycott of Israel, and indeed I have never sought, nor received any. But Ms Bishop’s threats to withhold government research funding even for unrelated topics is an attack on intellectual freedom, aimed at intimidating others from engaging critically with Australian government policies on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

At the end of this month we will find out if Professor Jake Lynch will be denied funding for a Discovery Project grant from the Australian Research Council because of his critical views regarding a foreign state; views that are shared by notable human rights advocates world-wide including the Rev. Desmond Tutu. In the meantime, the list of co-defendents will continue to grow as more of us rise to say no to Israel’s bullying tactics that threaten our basic democratic right to non-violently oppose its racist violations of intentional humanitarian law.

Israel is indeed good for western democracies but not for the reasons it claims; it is good because it exposes the hypocrisy and faults that are inherent within other democratic systems. If we cannot openly debate controversial issues within university campuses or hold controversial views on a foreign government then our democratic rights and freedom of expression are in peril.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Israel and the erosion of democracy: an Australian story

Pope Francis will not meet with Netanyahu

MEMO | October 212013

A “diplomatic embarrassment” has arisen following the refusal of Pope Francis I to meet with Israel’s prime minister at short notice. Benjamin Netanyahu’s office had already announced that a meeting would take place during his visit to Italy, reported Haaretz, but the pope has no plans in this regard.

1b13c2f37b1a3e86e43d2d7b03aa0773_XLPalestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met the Pope during his recent visit to Rome where he received a pen as a gift, with the wish that he will use it to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

According to Haaretz, the Vatican became aware of Netanyahu’s visit to Rome and his supposed meeting with Pope Francis through the media. “The Prime Minister’s Office worked hard to hold the meeting and to avoid any embarrassment but to no avail,” claimed the newspaper.

The Vatican informed Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon, on Sunday that the prime minister will not meet the Pope; Netanyahu’s advisors are said to be “outraged”. Gilon said that the Vatican protocol for meetings is very complex. “To arrange for such a meeting within a week is regarded as an insult, so it has never happened,” he explained.

Israel Radio reported that a new date for a meeting is to be set “as soon as possible”.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Israeli settlers steal Palestinian olives in West Bank

Palestinian lady with her olive trees

MEMO | October 21, 2013

On Monday morning at dawn, Israeli settlers stole ripe olives from Palestinian farms in different areas of the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, Israeli forces detained a Palestinian citizen at a moveable military checkpoint in Nablus.

Witnesses and farm owners told the Al-Quds Network that the settlers stole significant amounts of ripe olives from different farms. They also said that the settlers were hindering the arrival of many farmers who were heading to their farms in order to pick the olives.

Palestinian sources said that the settlers stole the olives from the neighbourhoods of Fara, Tal-Farata and Amateen. The sources also confirmed that the settlers were preventing farmers from approaching their farms, despite the farmers’ cooperation with Israeli officials in this regard.

Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces invaded the Palestinian city of Nablus and detained Aboud Soboh, a Palestinian from the neighbourhood of Ras Al-Ein.

Witnesses reported that after invading the city, Israeli forces set up moveable checkpoints and then they arrested Soboh at one of these checkpoints.

Two of Soboh’s brothers are currently detained in Israeli jails.

Images from

October 22, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Comments Off on Israeli settlers steal Palestinian olives in West Bank