Aki Peritz and Tara Maller write: Of the many terrifying stories emerging from Islamic State-occupied Iraq and Syria, the violence directed toward women is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate.
The Islamic State’s (IS) fighters are committing horrific sexual violence on a seemingly industrial scale: For example, the United Nations last month estimated that IS has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls, and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that IS abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse. Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of IS fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.
IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare.
Why isn’t this crime against humanity getting more consistent attention in the West? It seems this society-destroying mass sexual violence is merely part of the laundry list for decrying IS behavior. Compare this to IS’s recent spate of execution videos, and the industrial scale of the group’s sexual assaults seems to fade into the background. Rarely do they seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counterterrorism actions against the group.
In his Sept. 10 speech laying out his plan for fighting IS, President Obama devoted just eight words to the issue: “They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.” [Continue reading...]
In an interview broadcast on NPR on Saturday, “realist” supremo, Henry Kissinger, made this extraordinary statement:
I think we would find, if you study the conduct of [the military], that the Obama administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon administration ever did. And, of course, B-52s have a different bombing pattern.
On the other hand, drones are far more deadly because they are much more accurate. And I think the principle is essentially the same. You attack locations where you believe people operate who are killing you. You do it in the most limited way possible. And I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks. [My emphasis.]
Obviously, Kissinger’s purpose in making this claim is not to portray President Obama as a war criminal. After all, Obama often acts like one of Kissinger’s most devoted students.
Kissinger wants to be seen as having done during the Vietnam war what any American in his position would have done. And since from the American public there has been little opposition to Obama’s use of drones, Kissinger hopes to liken himself to Obama and thereby shed his image as a war criminal.
There’s no doubt that Obama’s use of drones has been cynical, counter-productive, and indeed a criminal exercise in extra-judicial killing. But for Kissinger to claim that more civilians have been killed by drones than he killed by carpet bombing Cambodia is outrageous, absurd, and patently false.
The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has been the leader in documenting the effects of America’s drone wars. Its estimate of the number of casualties in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2002 is at least 571 and at most 1225 civilian deaths.
In the four-year secret bombing campaign of Cambodia which Kissinger instigated, “the U.S. dropped 540,000 tons of bombs, killing anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians.”
The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) describes how this happened:
Kissinger is now 91 and no doubt increasingly preoccupied with how he will be remembered after his death. Americans born after the Vietnam era might view him as a figure from the past (if they view him in any way at all), but no one should underestimate his enduring influence. Ironically, his realist worldview has tacitly been accepted even by people who identify themselves as anti-interventionists and opponents of war and for whom Kissinger might be one of the despised characters in American history.
In post 9/11 America, even those who are willing to argue that U.S. foreign policy should be informed by humanitarian principles also feel compelled to bow towards U.S. national interests. For instance, in as much as there was any debate about military intervention in Syria after the chemical attacks a year ago, the element in the argument that carried more weight than any other was America’s national interest. The wide consensus that America had no appetite to become entangled in another war and that getting dragged into the war in Syria would not serve our interests, overshadowed any consideration about what might serve the interests of the Syrian people. Their appeals for international support in their struggle to overthrow Assad have fallen on deaf ears among those who believe that there is no cause greater than the pursuit of our national interests.
Likewise, when it comes to a global issue such as climate change, America’s role in having precipitated the crisis and the fact that world’s poor living in flood-prone countries such as Bangladesh will suffer the worst consequences, appear to be of less influence in shaping American public opinion than are perceptions of how much the U.S. will be affected. In other words, to the extent that Americans believe this country can adapt and even prosper, the expectation that we can live while millions of others die, makes climate change look like a manageable problem.
Kissinger doesn’t have to worry about his legacy because with very few exceptions, Americans are all Kissingers now.
Fresh evidence uncovered by Amnesty International indicates that members of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) have launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions, against ethnic and religious minorities.
A new briefing, Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq, published today presents a series of hair-raising accounts from survivors of massacres who describe how dozens of men and boys in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq were rounded up by Islamic State fighters, bundled into pick-up trucks and taken to village outskirts to be massacred in groups or shot individually. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and children, along with scores of men, from the Yezidi minority have also been abducted since the Islamic State took control of the area.
“The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser currently in northern in Iraq.
“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non- Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.”
Amnesty International has gathered evidence that several mass killings took place in Sinjar in August. Two of the deadliest incidents took place when IS fighters raided the villages of Qiniyeh on 3 August and Kocho on 15 August. The number of those killed in these villages alone runs into the hundreds. Groups of men and boys including children as young as 12 from both villages were seized by IS militants, taken away and shot.
“There was no order, they [the IS fighters] just filled up vehicles indiscriminately,” one survivor of the massacre in Kocho told Amnesty International.
Said, who also narrowly escaped death with his brother, Khaled, was shot five times; three times in his left knee and once in the hip and shoulder. They lost seven brothers in the massacre. Another survivor, Salem, who managed to hide and survive near the massacre site for 12 days described to Amnesty International the horror of hearing others who had been injured cry out in pain.
“Some could not move and could not save themselves; they lay there in agony waiting to die. They died a horrible death. I managed to drag myself away and was saved by a Muslim neighbour; he risked his life to save me; he is more than a brother to me. For 12 days he brought me food and water every night. I could not walk and had no hope of getting away and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to continue to keep me there,” he said.
He was later able to escape by donkey and rode to the mountains and then on into the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The mass killings and abductions have succeeded in terrorizing the entire population in northern Iraq leading thousands to flee in fear for their lives.
The fate of most of the hundreds of Yezidis abducted and held captive by the Islamic State remains unknown. Many of those held by IS have been threatened with rape or sexual assault or pressured to convert to Islam. In some cases entire families have been abducted. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: A Palestinian teenager says that Israeli soldiers detained him for five days last month, forcing him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed in his underwear and to search and dig for tunnels in Khuza’a, his village near Gaza’s eastern border, which was all but destroyed in the fighting.
The teenager, Ahmed Jamal Abu Raida, said the soldiers assumed he was connected to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza, insulted him and Allah and threatened to sic a dog on him.
“My life was in danger,” Ahmed, 17, said in one of two lengthy interviews on Thursday and Friday. As soldiers made him walk in front of them through the neighborhood and check houses for tunnels, he added, “In every second, I was going to the unknown.”
His assertions, of actions that would violate both international law and a 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, could not be independently corroborated; Ahmed’s father, Jamal Abu Raida, who held a senior position in Gaza’s Tourism Ministry under the Hamas-controlled government, said the family forgot to take photographs documenting any abuse in its happiness over the youth’s return, and disposed of the clothing he was given upon his release. The case was publicized Thursday by Defense for Children International-Palestine, an organization whose reports on abuses of Palestinian youths in West Bank military jails have been challenged by the Israeli authorities.
The Israeli military confirmed that troops had suspected Ahmed of being a militant and detained him during their ground operation in Gaza, noting his father’s affiliation with Hamas. A military spokesman promised several times to provide more details, but ultimately did not deal with the substance of the allegations, saying they had “been referred to the appropriate authorities for examination.”
A military statement also challenged the credibility of D.C.I.-Palestine, which accused the Israeli military of using Ahmed as a human shield by coercing him to engage in military actions. Throughout the current conflict, Israel has argued that Hamas uses Gaza residents as human shields by conducting militant activity in crowded public places.
“D.C.I.-Palestine’s report represents a perverse inversion of a truth in which Hamas persistently engages in the use of human shields, while the I.D.F.’s code of conduct rejects, in absolute terms, such behavior,” the military statement said, using the abbreviation for the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli soldiers could not have used human shields because they are all good boys who follow the rules.
What kind of imbecile in the IDF sees fit to present this line of reasoning? Israeli arrogance, in its contempt for the intelligence of others, is itself a form of idiocy.
In 2010, Haaretz reported:
The southern command military court convicted two Israeli soldiers on Sunday of using human shields during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the winter of 2008-2009.
The soldiers were convicted of offenses including inappropriate behavior and overstepping authority for ordering an 11-year-old Palestinian to search bags suspected to have been booby trapped.
The conviction is the first such conviction for what is termed in the Israel Defense Forces “neighbor procedure” – the use of human shields during searches and pursuits, which has been outlawed.
Note: this was the first conviction — not the first occurrence.
Moreover, when the report notes that the use of human shields has been outlawed, this alludes to two facts:
1. That the use of human shields was standard practice in the IDF, and
2. that even after Israel’s high court ruled that the use of human shields was illegal, the IDF tried to get the ruling overturned.
The fact that the IDF failed in that effort, does not infer that individual soldiers stopped viewing the use of human shields as serving their interests — merely that those engaging in this practice would understand that they would need to take greater effort to avoid getting caught.
Charles Davis writes: “It’s heartbreaking to see,” said US President Barack Obama of the death and destruction his government has helped the state of Israel deliver to the people of Gaza. It’s “really heartbreaking,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry of the nearly 2,000 innocent people killed by the Israeli military with weapons provided by the US government. “The loss of children has been particularly heartbreaking,” said Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, of dead little boys and girls — more than 400 of them — being stacked on top of one another in a freezer meant for ice cream because Gaza’s morgues are overflowing with corpses.
There are a lot of words that one could use to describe the collective punishment of a stateless people living in what a top United Nations official describes as an “open-air prison,” but “heartbreaking” is perhaps the most inadequate, suggesting that there’s a certain tragic inevitability to Israel’s bombardments of Gaza, to which the only proper response is a shrug and a shake of the head. It’s acceptable to lament Israel’s killing of innocents, but the repeated bombing of UN schools packed with thousands of frightened civilians is, according to the harshest respectable critics, a strategic error — a case of “good intentions” paving the way to hell on Earth for Palestinians — not a reason to withdraw support for the settler-colonial project in Palestine or to “delegitimize” the idea of a state explicitly founded on ethnic supremacy.
Israel’s brutality is, of course, tragic, and the killing of babies is never a good look, but it’s more than just heartbreaking folly. “It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Widely viewed as an ally of the US and Israel, Ban nonetheless has labeled Israel’s deliberate targeting of UN schools in Gaza a “gross violation of international humanitarian law.”
Amnesty International has likewise accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity” over its targeting of hospitals, ambulances, and first-responders, saying the state should be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. And Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of “blatantly violating the laws of war,” with the group documenting numerous instances in which Israeli soldiers went out of their way to shoot fleeing civilians. But no Western official has called the terrorizing of 1.8 million people living in Gaza an “act of terrorism,” though it is openly intended to bring about political change and punish the people of Palestine for electing the wrong leaders. And while you’ll hear the word at protests, the leading human rights organizations have refrained from calling it “genocide.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The fighting is barely over in the latest Gaza war, with a five-day cease-fire taking hold on Thursday, but attention has already shifted to the legal battlefield as Israel gears up to defend itself against international allegations of possible war crimes in the monthlong conflict.
Israel has excoriated the United Nations Human Rights Council over the appointment of Prof. William Schabas, a Canadian expert in international law, to head the council’s commission of inquiry for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The broader struggle will be over what some experts describe as Israel’s “creative” interpretation of international law for dealing with asymmetric warfare in an urban environment. More than 1,900 Palestinians were killed in the recent fighting, a majority of them believed to be civilians, while on the Israeli side 64 soldiers and three civilians were killed.
Israeli leaders view the Human Rights Council as hopelessly biased against Israel and say statements made in the past by Professor Schabas rule him out as a fair adjudicator. In one prime example, Professor Schabas was filmed in New York almost two years ago saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was his “favorite” to be in the dock at the International Criminal Court.
“The report of this committee has already been written,” Mr. Netanyahu said this week. “They have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli.”
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Hamas of a “double war crime” for targeting Israeli civilians with its rockets and, he says, using Gaza’s civilians as a human shield for its activities.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said that paradoxically, the only way Professor Schabas could prove he was worthy of the job would be by resigning from it.
Responding to the charges by telephone from London, Professor Schabas said Thursday: “Everybody in the world has opinions about Israel and Palestine. I certainly do.”
He added: “I was recruited for my expertise. I leave my own personal views at the door, as a judge does.”
Rejecting assertions that he is “anti-Israeli,” he said he had lectured in Israel often and was on the board of the Israel Law Review. “I don’t think everyone in Israel agrees,” he said. “I would fit in well there.” [Continue reading...]
Rémi Brulin writes: Appearing on CNN a few days into the current offensive in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Hamas as “the worst terrorists, genocidal terrorists.” He said they want to “pile up as many civilian dead as they can,” and, he added, to “use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”
By contrast, Israeli strikes are said to be aimed at the “terrorists,” who are by definition legitimate targets. Any civilian casualties that may result from such uses of force are unintentional, and in fact should be blamed squarely on Hamas. Indeed, Netanyahu explained, not only do they target civilians but they also “hide behind civilians,” thus committing “a double war crime.”
According to this narrative, often embraced in toto by elected officials and political commentators in the United States, “terrorism” is a very clear, non-controversial concept. “Terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes.
This discourse on “terrorism” is a deeply moral discourse, one that makes important normative claims about a given conflict and the parties to it.
It draws its power from a simple claim: what separates “us” from “them” is a fundamental conception of the value of innocent life. “We” respect innocent lives, demonstrated by our refusal to target civilians. In stark contrast, not only are “the terrorists” more than willing to hurt our civilians, but they also hope that we will kill theirs too.
The discourse on “terrorism” is thus an essentialist discourse: it claims to say something about the very essence of “the enemy” (cue recurring references to “barbarism”) and, consequently, about us (and our “civilized” values.)
On closer inspection however, this discourse fails precisely where it claims to be strongest. Israel’s actual practices, informed by its combat doctrine, are fundamentally at odds with how international law defines the concept of “civilian.” In actual fact, the discourse on “terrorism” and the practices it informs and justifies drastically erode the distinction between civilian and combatants as commonly understood in International Humanitarian Law. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Senior British lawyers have written to the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague, urging it to investigate “crimes” committed in Gaza, including the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools.
The letter was sent by Kirsty Brimelow QC, the chair of the Bar Council’s human rights committee, and was signed by a host of senior British barristers and law professors.
Addressed to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, it calls on the court to launch a preliminary inquiry into abuses committed during the conflict.
“The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords,” the letter states.
“It would bring about an end to the impunity which has prevailed in the region to date, fuelling ever increasingly brutal cycles of violence. The international community cannot continue to act simply as witness to such bloodshed and extreme civilian suffering.”
The lawyers say that it is within the ICC’s jurisdiction to act because the government of Palestine made a declaration in 2009 accepting the court’s role and the UN has since acknowledged Palestine as a non-member observer state. [Continue reading...]
Juan Cole writes: Here are the ways that the US is actively helping Israel in its war on Gaza:
1. The US shares its raw signals intelligence directly with Israeli intelligence, enhancing Israeli eavesdropping and surveillance capabilities, as Glenn Greenwald shows in a new article for Firstlook. Israel somewhat ungratefully repaid the favor by collaborating with Russia to spy on John Kerry during his failed peace negotiations.
2. The US continually replenishes Israel’s ammunition. If Washington were actually so distressed about the UNRWA school shelling, it could just stop sending the shells for a while. It did this to Egypt after the massacre at Rabi`a al-Adawiya last summer.
3. The US State Department actively helps Israel to economically blockade the civilians of Gaza. It even pressures Egypt to uphold the blockade (which is why it is silly to say that Egypt is also responsible for the siege of Gaza; Egypt doesn’t have a choice in this policy that is made from Tel Aviv and promulgated from Washington). [Continue reading...]
The Daily Beast reports: The regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is holding 150,000 civilians in custody, all of whom are at risk of being tortured or killed by the state, the Syrian defector known as “Caesar” told Congress on Thursday.
According to a senior State Department official, his department initially asked to keep this hearing—in which Caesar displayed new photos from his trove of 55,000 images showing the torture, starvation, and death of over 11,000 civilians—closed to the public, out of concerns for the safety of the defector and his family. Caesar smuggled the pictures out of Syria when he fled last year in fear for his life. Caesar’s trip had been in the works for months.
There was no audio or video recording allowed at the hearing; the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that decision was made in consideration of Caesar’s safety. He sat at the witness table disguised in a baseball cap and sunglasses, with a blue hoodie over his head. “We recommended to Congress a format for today’s briefing that would have allowed press access while addressing any security concerns,” said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman. A committee staffer alleged State had tried to prevent the hearing from happening at all.
The packed committee room sat in silent horror as new examples of Assad’s atrocities were splashed on the large television screens on the wall and displayed on large posterboards littered throughout the hearing room. Caesar spoke softly to his translator, Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian American Task Force, a Washington-based organization that works with both the Syrian opposition and the U.S. State Department.
“I am not a politician and I don’t like politics,” Caesar said through his translator. “I have come to you honorable Congress to give you a message from the people of Syria… What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre that is being led by the worst of all the terrorists, Bashar al Assad.” [Continue reading...]
Amnesty: The US government must immediately end its ongoing deliveries of large quantities of arms to Israel, which are providing the tools to commit further serious violations of international law in Gaza, said Amnesty International, as it called for a total arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.
The call comes amid reports that the Pentagon has approved the immediate transfer of grenades and mortar rounds to the Israeli armed forces from a US arms stockpile pre-positioned in Israel, and follows a shipment of 4.3 tons of US-manufactured rocket motors, which arrived in the Israeli port of Haifa on 15 July.
These deliveries add to more than US$62 million worth of munitions, including guided missile parts and rocket launchers, artillery parts and small arms, already exported from the USA to Israel between January and May this year. [Continue reading...]
Colum Lynch reports: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon directly accused Israel of shelling a U.N.-protected shelter housing more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza as part of what he said was an “outrageous” and “unjustifiable” strike that left at least 16 civilians dead and lent urgency to the need for an “immediate, unconditional cease-fire.”
In a scorching rebuke from the normally mild-mannered diplomat, Ban charged that Israel’s action constituted a “reprehensible” assault on civilians and demanded that those responsible for the strike be held accountable. The shelling of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School marked the fifth time since the conflict began on July 8 that a U.N.-protected shelter has been hit with incoming fire, but the incident is the first time that Ban has directly blamed Israel. That leaves open the possibility that some of the other facilities were hit by Hamas rockets. Israeli officials have said the militant group stores weapons in U.N. facilities and uses them to fire rockets into the Jewish state.
“This morning, yet another United Nations school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack. All available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause,” Ban said during a stop-off in Costa Rica. “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.” [Continue reading...]
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said: Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.
We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.
The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection; the last being at ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling. [Continue reading...]
I remember being shocked by Syria's devastation. What I saw today in Gaza's Shejaeih area was virtually indistinguishable
— Hugh Naylor (@HughNaylor) July 26, 2014
When Bashar al-Assad proceeded to destroy Homs and other Syrian cities, President Obama and other Western leaders declared, “Assad must go.”
When Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF to destroy Shujaiyah while killing hundreds of Palestinians across the Gaza Strip, President Obama and other Western leaders declared, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
In its response to the suffering of the people in Gaza and in Syria, the West has once again shown its impotence and moral bankruptcy.