One of the underlying assumptions for folks who joined the rush to claim that the UN report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus proved the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces was that only government forces had access to the refined versions of chemical weapons that the Assad regime had amassed. That aspect of the story began to crumble quickly once the accidental diplomacy kicked in and it became clear that chemical weapons inspectors would need cooperation from both the Syrian government and rebel forces to gain access to all sites where chemical weapons are present. Today’s New York Times presents the clearest indication yet that it isn’t just access routes to chemical weapons sites that the rebels control, but that the rebels control some of the sites themselves:
A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.
Somehow, though, the Times only discusses this very important piece of information in light of the need for rebels to grant access to the sites to the OPCW without noting that the rebels had direct access to chemical weapons (or their immediate precursors) previously belonging to the Syrian government. This admission by a “Western diplomat” completely invalidates the assumption that rebels had access only to crude, “home-made” versions of chemical weapons.
Today’s news fully underscores the need for a true ceasefire (as I have been shrilly pointing out for some time now):
“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. “However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”
The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters’ impeding access to chemical weapons sites. As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.
Clearly, a general ceasefire by all parties would be much better than the current, piecemeal arrangement where it appears that localized agreements are put into place for individual excursions by the inspectors.
Finally, it should also be noted that however the Obama administration got to the diplomatic route involving the OPCW, we got new details over the weekend on how the Bush administration orchestrated the removal of the previous head of OPCW because he wanted to send inspectors into Iraq in 2001-2002 to verify that Iraqi chemical weapons had been destroyed in the 1990′s:
More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired.
“He told me I had 24 hours to resign,” said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. “And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences.”
But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.
“Everybody knew there weren’t any,” he said. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”
What a different place the world would be today if Bolton and his neocon buddies hadn’t held such sway during the George W. Bush presidency.
I had seen several indications this morning that Obama planned to call for a diplomatic approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria despite the earlier indications that he intended to pursue a military strike even if the UK did not join and the UN did not provide a resolution authorizing force. I was hopeful that this new-found reliance on diplomacy would go all the way to calling for a ceasefire to provide safe conditions for the gathering and destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Alas, my hopes were once again dashed as Obama fell far short of proposing a ceasefire and he wound up delivering very convoluted remarks as he tried to maintain the fiction that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been proven to have carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack and that he favors diplomacy over military action. The quotations I will use here are from the Washington Post’s transcript of his speech.
In a move that approaches Colin Powell’s historic spinning of lies before the invasion of Iraq, Obama stated that there is no dispute that Syrian forces are responsible for the August 21 attack:
The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.
It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.
As I stated shortly after the UN report came out, the report did not show that the rockets for which they determined trajectories carried sarin. That argument is strengthened further by the subsequent realization by others that not one of the environmental samples from the Moadamiyah site came back as positive for sarin. So now one of the famous lines that cross at a Syrian military installation has to be disregarded entirely because there is no evidence of sarin at the point of rocket impact. [Look for the website and reporters for the linked post to be attacked mercilessly. Both the Global Research site I linked to in one questioning post and the Mint Press site which suggested a Saudi false flag operation have been attacked savagely as to their credibility. Remarkably, I have yet to see any of those attacks actually contradict the questions that have been raised.*]
Let’s take a look at Obama’s logical gymnastics as he tried to justify both his initial intent to attack Syria and then his rediscovery that he prefers a diplomatic approach. Early in his Syria comments, he claimed ” A peace process is stillborn.” He gave no evidence of what, if any, role the US played in the peace process. In fact, his next sentence provides a partial clue to just how the peace process died: “America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.”
You see, those moderate groups that we are arming are not able to defeat the extremists that others are arming. Sounds like a child caught fighting who says “he hit me back first”.
So that background of a stillborn peace process is why, even before the weak evidence from the UN that the US is misrepresenting came out, Obama insisted that he had to attack Assad. Obama’s ploy to support his actions approached a George W. Bush administration level of disdain for the UN itself as he supplied his rationalization: Continue reading
On July 31 of this year, President Barack Obama signed a cover letter attached to the White House release of the National Strategy for Biosurveillance (pdf). The misguided premise on which this strategy (and the underlying boondoggle of the program known as BioWatch) rests stands out clearly in the President’s opening sentence:
There is no higher priority than the security and safety of the American people.
The mass delusion that total safety is both achievable and worth the tremendous sacrifices of resources and liberties that would be needed to even get close to such a state got a huge boost in President Ronald Reagan’s watershed “Star Wars” speech of March 23, 1983, giving birth to the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was clear from the start that this program had no chance of working as Reagan dreamed it, but massive amounts of money went into the program anyway, as William Broad described last month (emphasis added):
Since the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan began the modern hunt for defenses against long-range missiles, Washington has spent more than $200 billion devising ways to hit incoming enemy warheads that move at speeds in excess of four miles per second. Critics have long faulted the goal as delusional, saying that any country smart enough to make intercontinental ballistic missiles could also make simple countermeasures sure to foil any defense.
President George W. Bush announced the program that would become BioWatch as a part of his larger Project Bioshield in his 2003 State of the Union address (again, emphasis added):
We’ve intensified security at the borders and ports of entry, posted more than 50,000 newly trained federal screeners in airports, begun inoculating troops and first responders against smallpox, and are deploying the nation’s first early warning network of sensors to detect biological attack.
I thank the Congress for supporting these measures. I ask you tonight to add to our future security with a major research and production effort to guard our people against bio-terrorism, called Project Bioshield.
The budget I send you will propose almost $6 billion to quickly make available effective vaccines and treatments against agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, ebola and plague. We must assume that our enemies would use these diseases as weapons, and we must act before the dangers are upon us.
The monitoring system that is now BioWatch is rife with problems. David Willman of the Los Angeles Times has continuously documented the many problems with and failings of BioWatch. He has informed us of the extremely high false positive rate from the currently deployed version of the system and has followed in real time the failures as DHS has forged ahead in purchasing the next generation of the technology before it is ready.
Virtually every press outlet I scan in Pakistan is reporting today that a group of at least twelve member of the House of Lords and House of Commons have written a letter variously reported as addressed to Barack Obama, the United States and to NATO, urging an end to US drone strikes in Pakistan. So far, however, I have seen no mention of the letter in the British or US press. [Update: Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism points out in comment number 1 below that the letter was sent to the London Times and provides a link to its full text.]
It appears that two major concerns are stated in the letter. First, it is claimed that the drone strikes put the UK and US at risk because the drone strikes provide justification for terrorist strikes. Second, the letter expresses concern for the killing of innocent people in the drone strikes. There is also concern that the strikes do damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Here is the description from the Express Tribune:
A squad of UK parliamentarians have written to President Barack Obama to stop drone attacks in Pakistan, Radio Pakistan reported on Thursday.
The 12 parliamentarians in a letter written to the United States said that the Britain and Western countries are under threat because drone attacks provide justification for future terrorist activities.
The letter also stated that innocent people are killed in drone strikes.
The parliamentarians said that the attacks are creating hatred for the US amongst Pakistanis and they are also harming a British allied country’s sovereignty.
George Galway, Yasmin Qureshi, John Hemming, Jeraldko Famin, Paul Flain and Simon Disnek include members of House of Commons while Lord Nazir Ahmad, Lord Hussain, Lord Steel Acowood, Lord Jad, , Lord E Escadel and Lord Eubarry are from House of Lords who have signed the letter written to the US President.
This is a very interesting development, coming just on the heels of complaints from the left in Denmark:
Danish lawmakers are levelling unprecedented criticism at the US president, Barack Obama, for his use of remote-controlled attack drones in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Radikale foreign policy spokesperson, told Politiken newspaper that Obama’s actions mirror those of the terrorists he professes to be fighting against.
“It’s terrible,” said Petersen. “The United States has no right to carry out these types of executions of suspected political adversaries. It contravenes international law.”
Petersen added that executing political adversaries within another country’s borders was tantamount to terrorism.
But there is even more:
The comments came after Søren Pind, of the opposition party Venstre, in an interview with the magazine Ræson, likened the drone attacks to “assassination”.
“I criticised George Bush for allowing torture during his presidency,” Pind told Politiken. “But what he is doing is much worse and violates the principals of the Western world.”
Finally, the article quotes “Ole Wæver, who teaches political science at the University of Copenhagen” who points out that Obama has not lived up to the expectations of Danes and that he has “used up his goodwill account.”
With the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just hours away and the nonstop coverage of the Romney gaffe-orama, it will be very difficult for the drone letter to break into the British press, but if it does, it is hard to see how the Obama administration can avoid putting out a response of some sort.
The sickness in American culture today that praises violence has seeped into college athletics in a manner that leaves me cold. I am appalled when college football or baseball teams “honor” the military by incorporating camouflage motifs into their uniforms. College sports are college sports and the military is the military. Yes, in both college sports and the military young people of the same age group are the primary participants, but sports at one time were merely entertaining pastimes and the military ultimately comes down to being about killing and maiming. Directing the team spirit of college sports toward military praise always comes off to me as an attempt to move praise of the military to a level of unquestioning support that can only have bad consequences.
We have been reminded recently that unquestioning support of college sports also leads to bad consequences. The debacle at Penn State was enabled in large part by the elevation of the Penn State football coaching staff to a level where they were treated as completely above the law, even when it came to sexual abuse of young boys. Unquestioning support of the military (George W. Bush: “You’re either with us or against us”) likewise has enabled it to move above the law. The Great War on Terror under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney relied heavily on the illegal practices of rendition and torture. Barack Obama, as suggested by Tom Junod, seems to have moved another large step beyond the law into extrajudicial killing:
But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama?
Listen to the announcer’s words near the beginning of this YouTube of the national anthem being played at a game at this year’s NCAA College World Series in Omaha. Why is it necessary to say “And now ladies and gentlemen, please join us in honoring America and those who support our freedom at home and abroad” at a college baseball game? Isn’t honoring the country enough? Why do we need more of a military reference beyond the military color guard? This was not a one-off event. Virtually the same script was used at every regional and super-regional game I attended here in Gainesville where teams were vying for the right to go to Omaha, so it clearly is part of the script put into place by the NCAA. Normal home games for the Gators during the regular season did not employ the language.
But now the conflation of the military and college sports has moved to a level where the symbolism is just too warped for me to allow it to go unchallenged. Last year, I was content merely to spout lots of snark on Twitter about conflating college sports and the military while the 2011 Carrier Classic was played on the USS Carl Vinson. This year, however, my Florida Gators will be playing in the game and it will be held on the USS Bataan. I have written previously on the Bataan. It has a particularly upsetting history, as I quoted Clive Stafford-Smith and the Reprieve project: Continue reading
Marcy will be along later to discuss the shiny
thong thing aspect of David Sanger’s New York Times article where he was awarded today’s transcription prize by the Obama administration and allowed to “break” the story in which the US for the first time admitted its role in cyberwarfare against Iran’s nuclear program. What I want to concentrate on here is how in putting forward the cyberwarfare story, Sanger unquestioningly accepts the administration’s framing that Iran is just a short “breakout” away from having multiple nuclear weapons.
Consider this key paragraph:
These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.
All Iran needs is “additional enrichment” for “five or more weapons”. That assumption is false on many levels. First, because Iran’s enrichment activities are closely monitored by onsite IAEA inspectors, any activity aimed at above the 20% level which is their current upper bound would be detected quickly. That statement is backed up even by David Albright, who has been busy fanning the anti-Iran rhetoric on the Parchin front. Adding further doubt to a rapid breakout of enrichment is that even in this same article, Sanger notes that Iran’s centrifuge technology is old and unreliable. Albright supports that observation as well, and notes that installation of additional capability has been slowed by technical issues that don’t seem related to cyberattacks.
The second major flaw in Sanger’s transcription above is that more than just “additional enrichment” is needed. The whole cat and mouse game at Parchin is playing out because in addition to enrichment of uranium to weapons grade, Iran will need technology for initiating the nuclear chain reaction that results in the weapon being detonated. Sanger makes no mention at all of this technical barrier for which there is no evidence that Iran has made an appropriate breakthrough.
Heck, the “enough uranium for five bombs” framing requires us to count the material enriched to only 3.5%. That makes it surprising the US and Israel aren’t claiming that Iran has enough uranium for an unlimited number of bombs if you count the uranium in the ground that they haven’t mined yet.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton railed Tuesday against Iran’s beginning of operations at its Qom uranium enrichment facility, which is buried deep within a mountain to protect it from bunker-buster bombs. Less than 24 hours later, the Deputy Director of the Natanz enrichment facility was assassinated when a bomb attached to his car exploded in northern Tehran. Iran is blaming Israel,citing similarities of this attack with two previous attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists, attacks in which Iran says the US also was complicit.
Despite the fact that Iran’s new uranium enrichment plant at Qom is designed to enrich uranium to only 20%, well short of the 90%+ that is needed for nuclear weapons, the US response to the start of operations there paints it as a highly provocative act:
“This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime’s blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country’s growing isolation is self-inflicted,” Clinton said in a statement.
“The circumstances surrounding this latest action are especially troubling,” Clinton said.
“There is no plausible justification for this production. Such enrichment brings Iran a significant step closer to having the capability to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium.”
Clinton rejected Iran’s assertion that it needed to enrich uranium to produce fuel for a medical research reactor, saying Western powers had offered alternatives means of obtaining such fuel but their offers had been rejected by Tehran.
Remarkably, Clinton also called for Iran to return to the “P5+1″ talks, apparently having missed Iran’s Foreign Minister stating last week that Iran is ready to return to these critical talks aimed at diffusing the tension over Iran’s nuclear technology.
It appears that the US is having a bit of trouble with message management over its actions in relation to Iran. Over at Moon of Alabama, b reports on an embarrassing incident yesterday in which transcription from a “senior administration official” in the Washington Post got a bit too candid and had to be revised. Continue reading
In late November of 2007, the world–and especially the progressive blogosphere–was shocked when the George W. Bush administration released a National Intelligence Estimate that came to the firm conclusion that Iran had suspended work on its nuclear weapon program back in 2003. This was the same Bush intelligence community that had produced the fraudulent NIE in 2002 that came to the false conclusion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and intended to restart development of nuclear weapons. The progressive blogosphere had made a regular habit of predicting new dates for when Israel, or even the US, would attack Iran under the guise of stopping its development of nuclear weapons. The rate of new predictions for attacks slowed considerably in the face of the 2007 NIE.
In September of 2009, speculation on plans to attack Iran got a new impetus, as the US announced the discovery of a previously secret uranium enrichment facility being built by Iran deep inside a mountain near Qum. Rhetoric from the US heated up considerably in response to this discovery:
Mr. Obama’s aides and a raft of intelligence officials argued that the small, hidden plant was unsuitable for producing reactor fuel that might be used in a peaceful nuclear program. Moreover, its location, deep inside an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base about 20 miles from the religious center of Qum, strongly suggested it was designed for covert use in weapons, they said.
Late Friday afternoon, preparing to return to Washington, Mr. Obama issued a stark warning about the nuclear negotiations that are to begin next week, the first direct talks between the two countries in 30 years.
“Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on Oct. 1 they are going to have to come clean and they will have to make a choice,” he said. The alternative to giving up their program, he warned, is to “continue down a path that is going to lead to confrontation.”
Shortly after the discovery of the Qum facility was announced, the Stuxnet worm was released. Continue reading
One short phrase in an article bmaz alerted me to yesterday set my blood to boiling. I fumed about it off and on through the rest of the day and even found myself going back to thinking about it when I should have been drifting off to sleep.
The phrase? “Good faith”
Here’s the phrase in the context of the article:
The U.S. Justice Department’s stepped up enforcement in the pharmaceutical industry has struck “the fear of God” in executives, a top lawyer at GlaxoSmithKline said today, addressing whether prosecutors have gone too far in building cases rooted in business conduct.
The panel’s moderator, Jonathan Rosen, a white-collar defense partner in the Washington office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, described what he called a “highly aggressive” enforcement environment.
Rosen posed questions to the panel members to explore the extent to which the government is criminalizing good-faith business decisions.
So, why would the longer phrase “criminalizing good-faith business decisions” set me off so? When I read that phrase, my mind flashed back to April, 2009 and the release of the torture memos. Here is Eric Holder, as quoted by ABC News:
“Those intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and in good faith and in reliance on Department of Justice opinions are not going to be prosecuted,” he told members of a House Appropriations Subcommittee, reaffirming the White House sentiment. “It would not be fair, in my view, to bring such prosecutions.”
But Holder left open the door to some legal action, saying that though he “will not permit the criminalization of policy differences,” he is responsible as attorney general to enforce the law.
Uh-oh. Now it’s even worse. See the additional parallel? Holder decried the “criminalization of policy differences” at the same time he said he wouldn’t prosecute those who acted in “good faith” on the torture memos. The “good faith” in the business article above was smack in the middle of “criminalizing” “business decisions”. Continue reading
Mark Knoller tweets:
A spokesman says former Pres George W Bush cancelled a speaking appearance tomorrow to avoid sharing stage with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.
Bush/43 was invited to address the YPO Global Leadership Summit in Denver tomorrow, but cancelled when he learned Assange was too.
A spksmn says Bush/43 won’t share a stage “with a man who has willfully & repeatedly done great harm to the interests of the United States.”
The Iraq War, by itself, has done far graver harm to the interests of the United States than all of the cables Julian Assange has leaked. And that’s before you consider allowing banksters to ruin our economy. And a whole slew of other things W did, like torture, that willfully hurt US interests.
It’s a wonder W can even share a stage with himself, if that’s his criteria.