War reporter Marie Colvin was tracked, targeted and killed by Assad’s forces, family says

The Washington Post reports: American war correspondent Marie Colvin was deliberately targeted and killed by artillery fire in 2012 at the direction of senior Syrian military officers seeking to silence her reporting on civilian casualties in the besieged city of Homs, according to a civil lawsuit filed Saturday on behalf of her sister and other heirs.

Based on information from high-level defectors and captured government documents, the 32-page complaint alleges that the military was able to electronically intercept Colvin’s communications from a clandestine media center operating out of an apartment in the densely populated Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs. Syrian officials paired the intercepts with detailed information from a female informant to pinpoint the location of the reporter who worked for the Sunday Times of London.

Then, the suits says, military forces under the direction of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher, commander of Syrian army’s 4th Armored Division, launched a series of “bracketing” artillery attacks that came progressively closer to the media center, a classic artillery targeting tactic. [Continue reading…]

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Chilcot’s judgment is utterly damning — but it’s still not justice

George Monbiot writes: Little is more corrosive of democracy than impunity. When politicians do terrible things and suffer no consequences, people lose trust in both politics and justice. They see them, correctly, as instruments deployed by the strong against the weak.

Since the first world war, no British prime minister has done anything as terrible as Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq. This unprovoked war caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the mutilation of hundreds of thousands more. It flung the whole region into chaos, which has been skillfully exploited by terror groups. Today, three million people in Iraq are internally displaced, and an estimated 10 million need humanitarian assistance.

Yet Blair, the co-author of these crimes, whose lethal combination of appalling judgment and tremendous powers of persuasion made the Iraq war possible, saunters the world, picking up prizes and massive fees, regally granting interviews, cloaked in a forcefield of denial and legal impunity. If this is what politics looks like, is it any wonder that so many people have given up on it?

The crucial issue – the legality of the war – was, of course, beyond Sir John Chilcot’s remit. A government whose members were complicit in the matter under investigation (Gordon Brown financed and supported the Iraq war) defined his terms of reference. This is a fundamental flaw in the way inquiries are established in this country: it’s as if a defendant in a criminal case were able to appoint his own judge, choose the charge on which he is to be tried and have the hearing conducted in his own home. [Continue reading…]

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Syria: Abductions, torture and summary killings at the hands of armed groups

Amnesty International reports: Armed groups operating in Aleppo, Idleb and surrounding areas in the north of Syria have carried out a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

The briefing ‘Torture was my punishment’: Abductions, torture and summary killings under armed group rule in Aleppo and Idleb, Syria offers a rare glimpse of what life is really like in areas under the control of armed opposition groups. Some of them are believed to have the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA despite evidence that they are committing violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). It also sheds light on the administrative and quasi-judicial institutions set up by armed groups to govern in these areas.

“This briefing exposes the distressing reality for civilians living under the control of some of the armed opposition groups in Aleppo, Idleb and surrounding areas. Many civilians live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticize the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules that some have imposed,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis used financial threats to coerce UN in effort to cover up war crimes in Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations secretary general is supposed to answer to every nation on earth — and no nation at all.

So the unusually frank admission by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday that he had essentially been coerced into removing a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from an ignoble list of armies that kill and maim children was a rare window into the limits of his moral and political authority — and an object lesson for whoever succeeds Mr. Ban next year.

On Thursday, Mr. Ban told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan and Syria if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the list.

The coalition has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian and nonmilitary targets in its battle against Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than a year. The coalition, which is backed by the United States, has consistently denied the accusations.

Mr. Ban’s office issued a report last week on violations of children’s rights in war zones, and it cited deadly coalition attacks that had hit schools and hospitals. By Monday, however, the coalition was taken off the list, after lobbying by Saudi Arabia and some of its wealthiest allies who help finance United Nations humanitarian operations. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch: “The secretary-general’s decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that violations by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Allowing governments that commit abuses against children to bully their way off the list makes a mockery of the UN’s children protection efforts.”

The UN has verified that at least 785 children have been killed and 1,168 injured in Yemen during fighting in 2015, with 60 percent of the casualties attributed to the Saudi-led coalition, the secretary-general’s report said. The UN also verified 101 attacks against schools and hospitals, attributing nearly half of the attacks to the Saudi-led coalition. Nongovernmental organizations have made similar findings. [Continue reading…]

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UN includes — then removes — Saudi coalition from list of child violators in Yemen

At Human Rights Watch, Kristine Beckerle writes: Every year, the United Nations secretary-general releases a “list of shame” of government forces and armed groups that have committed grave violations against children during armed conflict. This year, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen was listed for the first time, identified as being responsible for killing and maiming children in Yemen and for attacks on schools and hospitals.

There was a six-fold increase in the killing and maiming of children in Yemen during 2015, with at least 785 children killed and 1,168 injured, according to the secretary-general’s report. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of these child deaths and injuries.

The UN recorded 101 attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, double the number of attacks recorded in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for nearly half of these attacks. Almost all caused the partial or complete destruction of facilities. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Following a vehement protest from Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen from a list of government forces that committed grave violations against children last year, pending a joint review of cases.

Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi insisted “the removal is unconditional and irreversible,” explaining that the government has no problem with a review and is confident it will conclude that the coalition was “wrongly placed on the list.”

Earlier, he asked for an immediate correction saying Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on the list was based on “inaccurate and incomplete” information. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Gordon: Justice for torturers?

If you happen to be a potential American war criminal, you’ve had a few banner weeks.  On May 9th, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter presented former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger with the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, that institution’s highest honorary award for private citizens.”  In bestowing it on the 92-year-old who is evidently still consulting for the Pentagon, he offered this praise: “While his contributions are far from complete, we are now beginning to appreciate what his service has provided our country, how it has changed the way we think about strategy, and how he has helped provide greater security for our citizens and people around the world.”

Certainly people “around the world” will remember the “greater security” offered by the man who, relaying an order from President Richard Nixon for a “massive” secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, used a line that may almost be the definition of a war crime: “Anything that flies on anything that moves.”  The result: half a million tons of bombs dropped on that country between 1969 and 1973 and at least 100,000 dead civilians.  And that’s just to start down the well-cratered road to the millions of dead he undoubtedly has some responsibility for.  Public service indeed.

Meanwhile, speaking of American crimes in the Vietnam era, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, who ran for president of the U.S. and then became the president of the New School in New York City, was just appointed to “lead” Fulbright University Vietnam, the first private American-backed school there.  Its opening was announced by President Obama on his recent visit to that country.  Only one small problem: we already know of some children who won’t be able to apply for admission.  I’m thinking of the progeny-who-never-were of the 13 children killed by a team of U.S. SEALs under Kerrey’s command and on his orders in South Vietnam in 1969 (along with a pregnant woman, and an elderly couple whose three grandchildren were stabbed to death by the raiders) — all of whom were reported at the time as dead Vietcong guerillas.

It seems that if you are a distinguished citizen of the most exceptional country on the planet, even war crimes have their rewards.  Consider, for instance, the millions of dollars that were paid for memoirs by top Bush administration officials responsible for creating an American offshore torture regime at CIA “black sites” around the world.  Must-reads all!  With that in mind, turn to TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author most recently of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, to consider what “justice” for such figures might look like in a different and better world. Tom Engelhardt 

Crimes of the War on Terror
Should George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others be jailed?
By Rebecca Gordon

“The cold was terrible but the screams were worse,” Sara Mendez told the BBC. “The screams of those who were being tortured were the first thing you heard and they made you shiver. That’s why there was a radio blasting day and night.”

In the 1970s, Mendez was a young Uruguayan teacher with leftist leanings. In 1973, when the military seized power in her country (a few months before General Augusto Pinochet’s more famous coup in Chile), Mendez fled to Argentina. She lived there in safety until that country suffered its own coup in 1976. That July, a joint Uruguayan-Argentine military commando group kidnapped her in Buenos Aires and deposited her at Automotores Orletti, a former auto repair shop that would become infamous as a torture site and paramilitary command center. There she was indeed tortured, and there, too, her torturers stole her 20-day-old baby, Simón, giving him to a policeman’s family to raise.

[Read more…]

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War crimes in Aleppo and Daraya

Amnesty reports: Armed groups surrounding the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo city have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks – possibly including with chemical weapons – that have struck civilian homes, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians, and have displayed a shameful disregard for human life, said Amnesty International today.

Two of the armed groups conducting attacks on Sheikh Maqsoud – Ahrar al Sham and Army of Islam – have sent representatives to the UN-brokered negotiations on Syria in Geneva, while the others have approved delegates to represent them at the talks.

There are around 30,000 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud, a district controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces, and the area has come under sustained attack from opposition armed groups who control areas to the north, east and west of the district.

Among the weapons used by the armed groups are unguided projectiles which cannot be accurately aimed at specific targets, including home-made “Hamim” rockets and projectiles fitted with gas canisters known as “hell cannons”.

Amnesty has obtained the names of at least 83 civilians, including 30 children, who were killed by attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud between February and April. More than 700 civilians were also injured, according to the local field hospital. Video evidence seen by Amnesty shows artillery shelling, and rocket and mortar attacks carried out by the Fatah Halab (Aleppo Conquest) coalition of armed groups in the area, targeting YPG forces. [Continue reading…]

Vice News reports: Omar’s daughter is two months old, but he still hasn’t met her. He lives in Daraya, a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus that’s besieged by the Syrian regime. His wife and child live just a few kilometers to the west, in the neighboring rebel suburb of Moadamiya. The Syrian army cut the road between the two enclaves in January shortly before his daughter was born.

On Thursday, Omar eagerly awaited the arrival of an international aid convoy that was scheduled to bring medicine and baby formula into Daraya. The Syrian government agreed to the delivery, and it was organized by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

It would have been the first convoy to reach Daraya since it was first besieged in 2012 — but the trucks didn’t make it to the town.

According to the ICRC, it was turned away at the last checkpoint outside of Daraya. Just minutes after the convoy was sent back, the Local Council of Daraya — a committee that operates as the local government — reported that the Syrian army had shelled a group of civilians who’d gathered to receive the aid. A father and son were killed and five other civilians were injured, the council said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had fired into the town.

After the shelling, Omar rushed to a nearby field hospital where the wounded were being treated.

“The people are now filled with frustration and anger,” he told VICE News via messaging app. “To be honest, at this point we no longer trust the international community or the UN.”

Though it’s just a 20-minute drive from the center of Damascus, Daraya is one of the most isolated places in Syria: it’s been under siege for over four years, and it’s one of the few areas where no aid convoys have ever been permitted to enter. According to residents interviewed by VICE News, people survive on meager meals of lentil and rice soup that are often fortified with weeds or grass. The water supply was cut off two years ago. [Continue reading…]

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UN investigators tell states to stop Syria war crimes

Reuters reports: States backing Syria’s peace process must stop the warring parties from attacking unlawful targets such as hospitals and other civilian sites, U.N. war crimes investigators said in a statement on Wednesday.

Air strikes, shelling and rocket fire had been consistently used in recent attacks on civilian areas, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a statement.

“Failure to respect the laws of war must have consequences for the perpetrators,” its chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, said. [Continue reading…]

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In Aleppo, we are running out of coffins

Osama Abo El Ezz writes: Last week, Syrian or Russian jets bombed Al Quds hospital, in the eastern part of the divided city of Aleppo. At least 50 people lost their lives, and some 80 more were injured.

Among those killed in the attack was my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Muhammad Wassim Mo’az, a kind man who cared deeply for his patients and his community. He slept in the hospital in case there was an emergency and he had to rush to treat babies and children. He was the last pediatrician in Aleppo.

Another friend, Dr. Mohammed Ahmad, was also killed in the airstrikes. Dr. Ahmad was beloved by colleagues and Aleppo residents. He used to volunteer with children, teaching them how to prevent dental disease during wartime. He was one of the 10 dentists remaining in eastern Aleppo.

Dr. Wassim and Dr. Ahmad join hundreds of my Syrian colleagues who have been killed during the last five years of civil war. Physicians for Human Rights has counted at least 730 murdered medical professionals. Deliberate attacks on hospitals and medical workers have become the norm. Just one day after the bombing of Al Quds hospital, a primary care center that treated more than 2,000 people a month was destroyed by another airstrike. In the last week, schools, clinics and mosques have been deliberately bombed, too.

As one of the few remaining doctors in Syria, I have watched the “cessation of hostilities” that was agreed on in February crumble. Imperfect though it was, it offered Syrian civilians a brief respite from five years of violence. People had begun to recover during the truce, to get their lives back. But we are now seeing a level of destruction that will leave an already battered city in ruins. [Continue reading…]

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UK’s claim Saudi Arabia hasn’t breached humanitarian law in Yemen adds to ‘anything goes’ attitude, say MPs

The Guardian reports: The British government’s claim that Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen has not breached international humanitarian law is “deeply disappointing” and contributes to an “anything goes” attitude from the opposing sides in the conflict, the international development select committee has said.

The finding comes as a rebuke to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who made the assessment despite a UN-sponsored report and many charities presenting evidence to the contrary. The Conservative-dominated committee said the Saudi inquiry into the Yemen campaign, supported by the Foreign Office, was inadequate and called for an independent inquiry.

“It is deeply disappointing that the UK government does not accept that breaches of international humanitarian law have taken place in Yemen,” the committee said in a report. “The failure to hold parties to the conflict to account for their actions appears to have contributed to an ‘anything goes’ attitude by both sides to this conflict.” [Continue reading…]

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A moral debt for bombing the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz

In an editorial, the New York Times says: The torrent of mistakes that led an American military gunship to obliterate a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last October, killing 42 innocent people and wounding dozens, resulted from gross negligence, judging from the findings of a report the Pentagon released on Friday.

And yet, military officials have refused to identify the individuals responsible for the disaster and to explain what type of punishment each will face. The Pentagon also appears to have ruled out the possibility of holding them accountable in a court of law for one of the most egregious war zone blunders in recent history.

Those decisions are deeply troubling. Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of the military’s Central Command, or Centcom, told journalists on Friday that the service members who made the mistakes would not face criminal prosecution because investigators determined that their errors were unintentional.

According to the report, the gunship crew failed to locate the intended target and fired on the Doctors Without Borders hospital assuming that it was a building occupied by Taliban fighters. Senior officers approved the strike despite having the coordinates of the hospital. Equipment and communication failures that night contributed to the catastrophe, and the airstrike did not stop immediately after Doctors Without Borders alerted the United States government of the error.

Gen. John Campbell, the commander of American troops in Afghanistan at the time, concluded that some service members had flouted the rules of engagement and violated the law of armed conflict, Centcom said in a statement. However, Pentagon officials determined that they would not face criminal charges because of their lack of intent.

Human rights advocates and Doctors Without Borders rightly point out that under the American military code and international laws of war, fatal mistakes that result from recklessness and gross negligence can constitute crimes. [Continue reading…]

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Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan: The world’s most-needed hospitals are under attack

The Washington Post reports: The al-Quds hospital in Aleppo targeted in Wednesday night’s attacks was one of 150 hospitals supported by Doctors Without Borders in Syria. The organization directly runs six in the country, but provides funding and medical supplies to other medical facilities.

The international charity group, also referred to as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in French, said the medical facility was directly hit and reduced to “rubble.” The organization has condemned the overnight attack, which also claimed the life of one of the area’s last pediatricians.

“Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?” said Muskilda Zancada, the MSF head in Syria, in an online statement.

The United Nations estimates that at least half of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed, and the spark of attacks on hospitals is an especially disturbing trend. In armed conflict, hospitals are protected by international law. Yet the facilities supported and run by the Nobel Prize-winning organization have frequently come under attack. And it’s not only medical structures. The group said five rescue workers from the Syrian Civil Defense organization have also been killed. [Continue reading…]

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