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August 5, 2013

A Rant for Syria

What a week it has been. The Khaldiyeh district in Homs was overrun by Assad’s army, the Syrian rebels are in disarray, Syrian women forced to offer “survival sex” in Lebanon, and fatwas in Aleppo banning the croissant. Well, I have to say I am impressed with the historical knowledge and zealousness of whoever thought that one up, after all the croissant was a symbol of the second defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna. The people there were so jubilant at this victory that an enterprising baker came up with the idea of the “croissant” after seeing the crescents of the Ottomans. In all fairness the Ottomans did also give Europe the inspiration for cappuccinos in return, so we really should call it even. But that hasn’t fazed the hapless zealots who seem intent on righting every historic wrong of the past four hundred years, although I don’t really understand how right it is that the Ottomans were trying to conquer Vienna in the first place, but I guess if the Ottomans lost then that is supposed to be a bad thing, and since they were Muslims and we are Muslims then that means we lost at Vienna, right?

This is all such a farce, Syria is such a farce. Has anybody looked at Bashar al Assad? What makes me feel like crying is that anybody would think this person is a leader, let alone inspirational. He sits there and pretends to be Mr Big Man in his expensive suits, and I bet you those suits weren’t even tailored by a Syrian – even though Syrians are probably the best tailors in the world, and barbers too (it’s true). His adoring fans celebrate a great “victory” in Homs, as they did in Qusair, and pretend as if they have something to be proud of. Have they even seen what those two places look like now? For goodness’ sake any more victories and there won’t be a country left to rebuild. But they don’t listen or see, they just tell us they feel “sad”. And then we have to listen to their constant drone about how “arming” the revolution was a mistake and a betrayal. Their shooting the jaws off adolescent boys wasn’t reason enough for these jingoistic Assad fans. After all what would people say if they saw Syrians as nothing more than a dysfunctional and inbred family? And how embarrassing would it be for young Hafez and his Acton mummy to shop in London and pretend to be normal if everybody knew that they came from a country that was as unfashionable and icky as Afghanistan. No, weaponizing this conflict was a big mistake, you hear me? and all you people who supported this revolution should be ashamed of yourselves. Think how embarrassed you’ve made Bashar Assad in front of the world. After all everybody knows that even though his allies are Iran and Russia what he and his wife really want is to get “in” with the West. It’s just like with the Ottomans really. They tried to invade Europe, then tried to join it, and all they ever wanted was to be Europeans. But what did the Ottomans get? Croissants thrown right back in their face. Oh the agony.

Besides, all this revolutionary business distracts us from our sacred mission, Palestine. The rebels you see, are part of a global conspiracy but at the same time we are one and the same, family. You understand. On the radio we have alternating narratives. One narrative wishes to kill these people and squash them like cockroaches. The catchphrases on fascist Assad radio channels like Sham FM is that “God willing we are going to make Syria better than it was. We are going to take it back”. Take it back from whom exactly? And who do you mean by “we”? Oh, yes, “we” is anybody who worships that lame duck you call a president, the one whose only accomplishment in life was to be the son of Hafez Assad. At least that dictator fought his way to power – not that that would ever wipe away his crime in Hama of course.

The other narrative on those radio channels is that these people we are fighting are “our brothers” and that they can be reasoned with to put their weapons down and “reconcile”. We’ll all sit down around the fire in a bedouin camp, the elders will talk of great things and nod their heads as they drink the bitter coffee, and we will magnanimously forgo the wrongs of the past and agree to unite our ranks once again. We’ll just blame this on the Jews – who are everywhere apparently and had planned this entire Arab Spring just after writing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

People think I’m joking, but we do have Syrians in Syria who believe this stuff. I would know as I’ve met some of them – in fact some of them are even family. That’s what happens to a nation that is cut off from the outside world and stops reading and asking questions. It becomes inbred and stupid. This is the Syria that Assad is trying to defend, because it is the only Syria he can rule over indefinitely. Anything else and people start prodding and poking, sticking their noses in all sorts of things such as elections, free associations, books and other such dangerous and seditious activities. Anyway I’m tired now and I’ve had enough of writing. The only thing I found remotely inspirational and interesting this week was that Youtube video of a young Syrian officer who decided to put his weapon down and actually speak to Syrians instead of killing them. He’s dead, apparently he was killed a few months ago, and now all the pro-Assadists have mental erections because they finally found somebody in their ranks who wasn’t an animal. That’s how it always is in Syria, we never hear of good news until it’s too late.

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Bureau Investigation Finds Fresh Evidence of CIA Drone Strikes on Rescuers

Published on Thursday, August 1, 2013 by Bureau of Investigative Journalism

If proved, US targeting of rescuers who respond to scene of earlier explosions are clearly “war crimes”

  by Chris Woods with additional reporting by Mushtaq Yusufzai

The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosqueA field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike. The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN investigators.

The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes around a single village in North Waziristan – attacks that were aimed at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012.

The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque

Congressional aides have previously been reported as describing to the Los Angeles Times reviewing a CIA video showing Yahya al-Libi alone being killed. But the Bureau’s field research appears to confirm what others reported at the time – that al-Libi’s death was part of a sequence of strikes on the same location that killed up to 16 people.

If correct, that would indicate that Congressional aides were not shown crucial additional video material.

The CIA has robustly rejected the charge. Spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

Tactic revived

The Bureau first broke the story of the CIA’s deliberate targeting of rescuers in a February 2012 investigation for the Sunday Times. It found evidence of 11 attacks on rescuers – so-called ‘double-tap’ strikes – in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011, along with a drone strike deliberately targeting a funeral, causing mass casualties.

Reports of these controversial tactics ended by July 2011. But credible news reports emerged a year later indicating that double-tap strikes had been revived.

International media including the BBC, CNN and news agency AFP variously reported that rescuers had been targeted on five occasions between May 24 and July 23 2012, with a mosque and prayers for the dead also reportedly bombed.

The Bureau commissioned a report into the alleged attacks from Mushtaq Yusufzai, a respected journalist based in Peshawar, who reports regularly for NBC and for local paper The News.

Over a period of months, Yusufzai – who has extensive government, Taliban and civilian contacts throughout Waziristan – built up a detailed understanding of the attacks through his sources.

His findings indicate that five double-tap strikes did indeed take place again in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque. In total 53 people were killed in these attacks with 57 injured, the report suggests.

Yusufzai could find no evidence to support media claims that rescuers had been targeted on two further occasions.

No confirmed civilian deaths were reported by local communities in any of the strikes. A woman and three children were reportedly injured in one of the attacks. Yusufzai says: ‘It is possible some civilians were killed, but we don’t know’.

However a parallel investigation by legal charity Reprieve reports that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 (see below), with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.

Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar says Reprieve’s findings are based on interviews with villagers from affected areas.

‘On both occasions [in July] our independent investigation showed a high number of civilians who were rescuers were killed in the strikes,’ says Akbar.

While some 2012 double-tap strikes appear to have been aimed at al Qaeda’s Yahya al-Libi, Reprieve believes both July attacks were focused on killing another senior militant, Sadiq Noor.

Noor is deputy to militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Both men are long-time targets for the CIA because of their support for the Taliban’s Afghan insurgency. Noor had falsely been reported killed on at least two previous occasions. It is not known whether he survived either of the strikes.

Summary of the Bureau’s new findings
The Bureau’s field research finds that – as widely reported at the time – on May 24 2012 a CIA-controlled armed drone hit a mosque in the village of Hasukhel in North Waziristan, killing some worshippers. Six further people were killed in a second drone strike shortly afterwards as they took part in rescue work, according to Yusufzai’s sources.

On June 3 2012, two Taliban commanders and their men were targeted as they visited the village of Gangi Khel in South Waziristan to attend funeral prayers for a relative killed in an earlier drone strike. Despite reports that the two commanders were killed, the Bureau’s research finds both men survived and there were no fatalities.

An attack on June 4 2012 ultimately killed al Qaeda second-in-command Yahya al-Libi. Despite US claims that al-Libi alone died, Bureau research appears to corroborate multiple accounts indicating that at least 16 people, all alleged militants, died in a series of missile strikes. This reportedly included the deliberate targeting of rescuers. Congressional oversight committee staffers reportedly told the LA Times they had seen video showing only al-Libi’s death. They may have been unaware of additional strikes. The CIA told the Bureau it ‘provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

On July 6 2012, a group of alleged militants were targeted and killed as they ate dinner with local tribesmen. Another nearby mixed group who were praying were not attacked. After waiting 30 minutes rescue work began. CIA drones then returned, killing 12 others including three brothers. Legal charity Reprieve reports eyewitnesses as identifying eight civilians killed in the attack, who it names as Salay Khan; Mir Jahan Gul; Allah Mir Khan; Noor Bhadshah Khan; Mir Gull Jan; Batkai Jan; Gallop Haji Jan and Gull Saeed Khan.

An initial attack on a house in Dre Nishtar in the Shawal valley on July 23 2012 killed five alleged militants. Local villagers refused to assist in aid work because they feared a fresh attack. Alleged militants involved in the rescue were then targeted in a second strike, with a further seven killed and eight injured. Reprieve believes civilians may also have died in this attack, and is continuing to investigate.

No evidence could be found for a claimed attack on rescuers on May 28 2012. Instead, Yusufzai’s sources said two separate linked strikes took place. An initial 4am attack failed to destroy a truck. The vehicle was pursued and destroyed 10 minutes later as it passed through Hasukhel village, killing seven alleged militants. Four civilians including three children were also injured when a nearby house was damaged.

Similarly, the Bureau can find no evidence to support a claimed double-tap attack on June 14 2012 in Miranshah. Instead, one individual died on the building’s roof, in what Yusufzai’s sources describe as a highly precise attack causing minimal structural damage.

Special rules?

The rescuer strikes examined by Yusufzai all appear to have been aimed at very senior militants – so-called High Value Targets. Under international humanitarian law, the greater the threat a target represents, and the more imminent that threat is deemed to be, the greater the leeway for targeting. The Bureau’s findings suggest that strikes on rescuers are still permitted in certain circumstances, such as in the pursuit of a high value target such as Yahya al-Libi.

The Bureau’s original investigation into the deliberate targeting of rescuers found that a significant number of civilians had been reported killed, alongside Taliban rescuers.

It was the presence of civilians amid groups of rescuers which meant the US may have committed war crimes, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Christof Heyns noted in June 2012:

If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime.

Heyns’ colleague Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on torture, also told reporters in October 2012: ‘The Bureau has alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns… has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.’

The Bureau understands that Emmerson’s ongoing UN investigation into drone strikes is likely to engage with the issue of targeting first responders.

Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes that civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations, and are often prevented from doing so by militants. They also fear further CIA attacks, he says.

As Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes, civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations’

Sarah Knuckey is an international lawyer at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, based at New York University’s School of Law. An adviser to UN rapporteur Christof Heyns, Knuckey also co-authored the 2012 report Living Under Drones, which gathered substantial testimony in Pakistan about strikes on rescuers.

‘The threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbours and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded,’ the report noted.

Commenting on the Bureau’s latest findings, Knuckey says civilians cannot be targeted under the laws of war.

But she adds: ‘Secondary strikes are not necessarily unlawful. If, for example, secondary strikes are carried out on additional military targets who come to the area of a first strike, the strikes might comply with the laws of war. And the Bureau’s findings of no evidence of civilian harm from the 2012 strikes they investigated suggest that proper precautions in attack may have been taken for those strikes.

‘The key question around the legality of secondary strikes is: On what basis is the US making the assessment that the ‘rescuers’ are legitimate military targets? Is the US assuming that anyone coming to a second strike is also a militant, or does it have – for each rescuer – intelligence on that person’s militant status? If secondary strikes take place within 10-20 minutes of a first strike, is that sufficient time to determine militancy?’

Stark contrast

The US has not generally responded to the issue of double-tap strikes. But three months after the 2012 attacks, a senior diplomat denied that civilian rescuers were ever ‘deliberately’ targeted by the CIA.

A group of US peace activists visiting Pakistan in October 2012 were told by acting US ambassador Richard E Hoagland: ’For at least the last several years that I have been here in Pakistan and more intimately associated with the knowledge of this [drone campaign], there was never any deliberate strikes against civilian rescuers.’

The US Senate and House intelligence committees are charged with overseeing the CIA’s drone targeted killing project. But there is an unexplained disparity between an account of what committee members were shown by the CIA on a particular strike, and what other sources report.

Is the US assuming that anyone coming to a second strike is also a militant, or does it have – for each rescuer – intelligence on that person’s militant status?’
Sarah Knuckey, New York University

Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, was killed by the CIA on June 4 2012 in a strike on the village of Hassokhel in North Waziristan.

Almost all media reports at the time placed the death toll at 15-18. Sources including the Washington Post said rescuers were targeted and killed at the scene.

But the US has consistently denied this. ‘American officials said that Mr Libi was the only person who died in the attack, although others were present in the compound,’ the New York Times noted.

In July 2012, the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of the workings of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. According to reporter Ken Dilanian, staffers from both committees visit CIA headquarters once a month, where they watch video and review other evidence relating to drone strikes.

‘The BBC and other news organisations quoted local officials saying that 15 “suspected militants” were killed in the June 4 Pakistan strike that killed al Libi,’ Dilanian reports. ‘But the [CIA] video shows that he alone was killed, congressional aides say.’

The Bureau’s findings are in stark contrast, appearing to confirm original news reports that rescuers were indeed targeted at the time and that many more died.

According to Yusufzai’s sources, an initial 4am attack on a small house in the village of Hassokhel killed five. A dozen people ‘including Arabs, Turkmen and local tribesmen’ then started rescue work.

But as they were removing bodies, the CIA’s drones reportedly struck again – killing 10 more, including Yahya al-Libi, ‘who was observing the rescue operation when he too came under missile attack,’ the source said.

Neither the House nor Senate intelligence committees were prepared to comment on the disparity between these reports.

The Bureau approached the CIA for comment on the latest sequence of rescuer strikes. While declining to comment on most questions, spokesman Edward Price robustly denied the suggestion that the oversight committees may have been misled.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

source

‘Double Tap’ Strikes On First Responders Still In Use Overseas

Sorry this is a wrong link to the Young Turks video, please read the following post about this issue

 

A field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in
Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of
deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike.
The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN
investigators.

The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes
around a single village in North Waziristan — attacks that were aimed
at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was
finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012.”*

Cenk Uygur breaks it down.

*Read more: https://www.commondreams.org/headline…

Arab atheists inch out of shadows despite persecution in Mideast

Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press
When 23-eyar-old Rafat Awad of the United Arab Emirates told his devout Muslim parents that he was an atheist, they brought home clerics to try to bring him back to the faith.

The Associated Press

Published: 03 August 2013 07:17 PM

Updated: 03 August 2013 07:17 PM

Rafat Awad fervently preached Islam at his university, encouraging his fellow students to read the Quran and pray. But throughout, the young Palestinian-born pharmacist had gnawing doubts. The more he tried to resolve them, the more they grew.

Finally he told his parents, both devout Muslims, that he was an atheist. They brought home clerics to talk with him, trying in vain to bring him back to the faith. Finally, they gave up.

“It was the domino effect — you hit the first pin and it keeps on going and going,” Said Awad, 23, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates and lives there. “I thought: It doesn’t make sense anymore. I became a new person then.”

Being openly atheist is an extreme rarity in the Arab world, where the Muslim majority is on the whole deeply conservative. It’s socially tolerated to not be actively religious, to decide not to pray or carry out other acts of faith, or to have secular attitudes. But to outright declare oneself an atheist can lead to ostracism by family and friends, and if too public can draw retaliation from Islamist hard-liners or even authorities.

Still, this tiny minority has taken small steps out of the shadows. Groups on social media networks began to emerge in the mid-2000s. Now, the Arab Spring that began in early 2011 has given a further push: The heady atmosphere of “revolution” with its ideas of greater freedoms of speech and questioning of long-held taboos has encouraged this opening.

One 40-year-old Egyptian engineer, born a Muslim, told The Associated Press he had long been an atheist but kept it a deep secret. The 2011 uprising in Egypt and its calls for radical change encouraged him to look online for others like himself.

“Before the revolution, I was living a life in total solitude. I didn’t know anybody who believed like me,” he said. “Now we have more courage than we used to have.”

His case illustrates the limits on how far an atheist can go. Like most others interviewed by The Associated Press, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, harassment or troubles with his family. His “going public” is strictly online.

Even the Internet is not entirely safe. In most Arab countries, being an atheist is not in itself illegal, but there are often laws against “insulting religion.”

Last year, Egyptian Alber Saber, a Christian who identifies as an atheist, was arrested after neighbors complained he had posted an anti-Islam film on his Facebook page. Though he denied it, he was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion. Released on bail during appeal in December, he moved to France.

Similarly, a Palestinian atheist, Waleed al-Husseini, was arrested in 2010 in the West Bank town of Qalqilya for allegedly mocking Islam on the Internet. He was held without charge for several months, and after his release also fled to France.

Still, the online space is flourishing. There are some 60 Arabic-language atheist Facebook groups — all but five of them formed since the Arab Spring. They range from “Atheists of Yemen” with only 25 followers, to “Sudanese Atheists” with 10,344 followers.

There are pages that appear dormant, but most maintain some activity. An “Arab Atheist Broadcasting” outfit produces pro-atheism YouTube clips. There are closed groups, like an atheist dating club in Egypt.

Some draw strong negative comment. One responder, calling himself Sam, maintained that “attacking Islam has become the cheapest flight ticket to Europe,” a reference to those who have fled their Muslim homelands. Writing on the website Elaph, Sam referred to Westerners who convert to Islam, saying “We Muslims take the best of them and they take the garbage from us.”

It is impossible to know the number of atheists in the Arab world, given their secrecy. It is not clear whether the increasing online activity reflects that numbers have risen or simply that more are emerging from isolation. Over a dozen interviews with atheists suggest both. In any case, atheists remain a tiny minority. The Arab Spring uprisings fueled the debate in the region over the role of religion in society and politics, but even secular activists are quick to distinguish themselves from atheists.

Disillusion with the post-revolution rise of Islamists, who demand strict implementation of religious rules, has also prompted some to reassess their beliefs.

Watching the changes pushed Fadwa, an 18-year-old Tunisian woman, from detached agnostic to atheist.

“Before the revolution, people didn’t see Islam as the problem, but after the revolution, they saw what political Islam was — and what Islam is,” she said.

She says she is now involved in online groups and talks to her friends at university about being an atheist. Because of her beliefs, rumors have been spread around campus that she’s promiscuous, she said. But she worries worse could happen, such as being targeted as an apostate — one who has renounced Islam.

Some Muslim theologians say that’s a capital offense, but no one is known to have died in recent times for being an atheist. Other sages say atheists should only be punished if they proselytize. Others yet say ex-Muslim atheists should be tolerated, citing the Quranic verse, “There is no compulsion in religion.”

Most scholars “differentiate between somebody who has an opinion, and others who disturb the peace of society” by spreading their views, said Jerusalem-based Muslim theologian Mustafa Abu Sway.

Even harder is the social cost. Declaring oneself an atheist can mean breaking from family and friends and networks that determine a Muslim’s entire social life.

The online venues give those questioning their faith a space to go through what can be a traumatic process. Many describe years of depression and isolation. The atheists interviewed by AP said online access to like-minded people gave them courage. All said they were surprised to discover other ex-Muslims out there. They also said reading articles online by prominent Western atheists like Britain’s Richard Dawkins pushed them along the path.

Theologian Abu Sway said he sees no possibility atheism will spread among Muslim communities. What’s happening today is “a phase rather than a serious position,” he said. “It could be an expression of dissatisfaction with traditional institutions. We don’t have the Richard Dawkins type. We don’t have our own serious contender. It’s not something systematic.”

Mohammed, a 26-year-old Egyptian, says his family still has no idea he considers himself an atheist, even though he has participated in some of the earliest Arab atheist forums online.

“There are people who say we should be brave and speak out. That’s just talk,” said Mohammed. “I could fight to say what I think, but I won’t be able to stay with my family.”

He said he was devout as a teenager but grew confused over questions about whether God allows free will — a debated topic in Islamic theology. That, along with science studies, unraveled his faith, he said.

“I couldn’t control my thoughts anymore. I began to be divided into two: between my brain and my faith,” he said.

The Mideast was once a more tolerant place for questioning religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, secular leftists were politically dominant. It wasn’t shocking to express agnosticism. There were even a few vocal atheists, including Abdullah al-Qusseimi, a Saudi writer who died in the 1990s and is revered by Arabs who quit Islam.

But the region grew more conservative starting in the 1980s, Islamists became more influential, and militants lashed out against any sign of apostasy.

Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back, said al-Husseini, the Palestinian atheist now in France.

“I think many people were afraid, but now they see there’s people like them. They find courage,” he said. “They exist on the internet — they might have fake names, but they are there.”

source

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