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On May 15th, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that an important expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be on the agenda at its upcoming summit in Astana in Kazakhstan on June 15th. If the expansion is approved, India and Pakistan will join China, Russia and the Central Asian republics as full SCO members, and Afghanistan will join Iran and Mongolia as a new SCO "observer".
The US media seem to have missed this news, but future historians will be unlikely to ignore it as an important turning point in the history of Afghanistan, the United States and the world. The original Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), who met in 1996 to sign a "Treaty on Deepening Trust in Border Regions", formed the SCO in 2001 with the addition of Uzbekistan and a commitment to greater cooperation in military and economic affairs.
Paul Pillar, a senior CIA analyst who worked on the 25-page "summary of intelligence" presented to Congress in 2002, later told PBS, "The purpose was to strengthen the case for going to war...I regret having had a role in it." (see page 79 of my book, Blood On Our Hands). Now the former Director General of Britain's Defense Intelligence Staff has told the Chilcot Inquiry that Blair's "dodgy dossier" was fabricated in a similar fashion and with the same purpose. If our leaders ever told the truth in making a case for war, how would we know?
Alastair Campbell's claim that the Iraq dossier was not about putting the case for war was strongly denied by a top intelligence officer.
April has been a bloody month for US forces in Afghanistan, with 45 Americans killed, compared to only 20 last April. And now the Taliban has announced the start of a "spring offensive" that may soon draw comparisons to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. Meanwhile US allies are doing less and less of the fighting in Afghanistan, reducing their share of casualties from 37% in early 2010 to only 25% so far this year. America is gradually being left to fight its war on its own - or not...
President Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, killed at least 800 civilians in a major expansion of drone strikes in Pakistan, joined a new war in Libya with the U.K. and France, and expanded US Special Forces operations from 60 countries to 75 since he took office. As well as 9,000 JSOC forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, another 4,000 are deployed in other countries, but only Yemen, the Philippines, Colombia, Somalia and Pakistan have been named, leaving us to scratch our heads over the other 68 'secret' deployments.
Once again, the peace movement is being challenged to offer an alternative to a violent intervention with inherently indiscriminate and destructive air-launched weapons. We know that 20%+ of these weapons are probably missing their targets and killing civilians, but proponents of Western intervention frame the issue with the perennial straw man of "doing nothing" or "allowing Gaddafi to massacre his people".
Here is an alternative strategy that was proposed in a letter to the Security Council on March 16th by Louise Arbour and the International Crisis Group. Louise Arbour is the former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, a former Supreme Court Justice in Canada and the former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. We may each disagree with some of the particulars of Ms. Arbour's proposal, but it makes the point that there were and are real alternatives to the course chosen by our leaders:
"In a war that's being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi (read Libyan) people, you can't afford to kill any of them. But you can't drop bombs and not kill people. There's a real dichotomy in all of this."
- Rob Hewson, Editor of Jane's Air Launched Weapons, April 1st 2003.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Larry Korb told the BBC today that Libya has about 50 air defense sites and that most of them are located in populated areas. If U.S. planes dropped only two "precision-guided" bombs on each of them, the chances are that at least 20 of those bombs would miss their targets and hit something or somebody else.
On December 2nd, a group of very high-level European ex-officials wrote to the President of the European Council to urge that the EU take much stronger action to hold Israel accountable for violations of international law, including the construction of settlements on occupied land, which is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The list of signatories includes former Presidents and Prime Ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Ireland and Latvia, as well as other senior officials like Chris Patten and Javier Solana. They advocate a European boycott of products made or grown on Israeli settlements and sold as "Made in Israel" (in Section 4). "We consider it simply inexplicable that such products still enjoy benefits under preferential trade agreements between the EU and Israel."
There are two names that must be remembered in relation to Sweden's extradition request against Julian Assange: Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery. In 2001, they were both in Sweden seeking political asylum from their native Egypt. On December 18th 2001, Agiza and al-Zery were picked up by Swedish police, handed over to masked American CIA and Egyptian agents at the airport in Stockholm and flown to Egypt on a Gulfstream V plane registered to Premier Executive Transport of Massachusetts. They were tortured in Egypt using extreme cold, severe beatings and electric shocks.
Wikileaks is gradually revealing a world in which the United States government knows no bounds of morality or law. Its renunciation of the binding jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in 1986 was a point of no return. Now it operates strictly in terms of what it can get away with, up to and including mass murder, and it regards every response of outraged humanity as nothing but a public relations problem.
But the wise men of our strange suicidal tribe understood all this long before Wikileaks, and none more clearly than Harold Pinter. When the always fearful and political Nobel committee finally took its heart in its hands and awarded him the Literature Prize in 2005, he seized his moment like none before or after him in a speech titled "Art, Truth and Politics". Here's what he said:
America has been lied into war over and over again. The gullibility of the American public is an essential and perennial factor in our leaders' ability to credibly threaten other countries with the use of force and to fulfill its illegal threats. When President Obama and Wolf Blitzer tell us that Iran or North Korea must be attacked, will we once again play the part of Homer Simpson, wondering what is this fiery place and what are we doing in this hand-basket, or will we have sufficient knowledge of our own history and the reality at hand to say, "That's not true", and organize effective resistance?
Last January, Carl Conetta of the Commonwealth Institute’s Project for Defense Alternatives wrote a paper titled “An Undisciplined Defense: Understanding the $2 Trillion Surge in US Defense Spending.” (http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/1001PDABR20.pdf) Conetta looked at the doubling of U.S. military spending since 1998, and concluded that only about half of the increase was linked to the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or to terrorism. Remarkably, this left over $1 trillion of extra U.S. military spending over the past 12 years unaccounted for -- not justified by any policy or strategy that U.S. political leaders have explained to the American public or to the rest of the world.
The documents on the U.S. War in Iraq published by Wikileaks contained data on 15,000 Iraqis killed in incidents that were previously unreported in the Western media or by the Iraqi Health Ministry, and therefore not counted in compilations of reported Iraqi war deaths by Iraqbodycount.org. The Western media are dutifully adding these 15,000 deaths to their so-called "estimates" of the total numbers of Iraqis killed in the war. This is deceptive. What the unreported deaths really demonstrate is that the passive methodology of these body counts is a woefully inadequate way to try and estimate the number of deaths in a war zone. These 15,000 deaths are only the tip of an iceberg of hundreds of thousands of unreported Iraqi deaths that have already been detected by more serious and scientific epidemiological studies, but the U.S. and British governments have successfully suppressed these studies by confusing the media and the public about their methods and accuracy.
This is the peace plan for Afghanistan drawn up by Hezb-e-Islami (led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), which has effective control of 5 provinces. Daoud Abedi of HEI is in the United States negotiating with U.S. diplomats. He presented the plan to the Afghanistan Study Group and CISS on September 17th, and it appears to be the basis for serious negotiations. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are acting as intermediaries with the Taliban. The Saudis are holding out for "honorable treatment" of Al Qaeda in any settlement, aiming for a global peace accord. Military industrial interests in the U.S. would prefer a strategy that divides "moderate" and "extremist" resistance forces, to shift the balance of forces without actually undercutting their justification for war and militarism.
Please read this great article by Melody Kemp about the effect of unexploded cluster-bombs in Laos: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/LI04Ae01.html
In its secret war against Laos, the U.S. dropped a ton of bombs for each man, woman and child in the country, more than all the bombs dropped on Germany and Japan combined in World War Two, without ever acknowledging it was even at war. 30% of cluster munitions failed to explode, and at least 20,000 people have died horrible deaths and thousands more have suffered amputations (often without anesthetics) when the bomblets exploded years later.
President Obama's position on war crimes committed during the Bush administration has been defined in American political discourse by rhetoric about "looking forward". But that only applies to American war crimes.
On the other hand, at Guantanamo Bay, a young man who was extra-judicially kidnapped by U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen and illegally transported to almost a decade of legal limbo in Cuba, is now set to stand trial in the first war crimes prosecution under the Obama administration.
Omar Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed one American, apparently based on a confession extracted by sleep deprivation and threats of rape. George W. Bush launched an illegal war of aggression that probably killed more than a million people. The whole world knows it. Even Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, recently referred on the floor of the House of Commons to the "illegal invasion" of Iraq.