Ratko Mladic and the war crimes revisionists

Oz Katerji writes: Twenty two years after the Srebrenica massacre, Ratko Mladic has been convicted of the crime of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment in the final case of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Among those in attendance at The Hague was Fikret Alic, survivor of the Serbian-run Trnopolje concentration camp. In 1992 a photograph of Alic’s emaciated figure, published on the front cover of Time magazine, shocked the world, leading to international shock and condemnation of the atrocities unfolding in Bosnia.

Five years after that infamous photograph, a now defunct British far-left magazine known as LM (formerly Living Marxism) ran an article defending the concentration camp by one Thomas Deichmann. The article, headlined “The picture that fooled the world,” claimed that reporters from the British ITN TV news company had deliberately misrepresented the image of Alic, stating that the concentration camp was a “collection center for refugees” who were free to leave “if they wished.”

Not only was this an outrageous, unsubstantiated lie (and has echoes of the claims the Nazis made about the show camp of Theresienstadt) but it was a direct attack on the survivors of Serbian crimes against humanity.

ITN successfully sued LM for libel and were awarded £375,000 in damages, which bankrupted the publication and put it out of business.

However this was not the end of the story. The reporters involved in the fraudulent LM article refused to back down, and they were defended by high profile individuals such as celebrated left-wing academic Noam Chomsky.

In a 2006 interview, Chomsky reiterated the claim: “It was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted,” and in 2011 condemned the libel case against LM, in an email exchange in which he also said that referring to Srebrenica as an act of genocide “cheapens the word.”

A book published by Edward Herman and David Peterson called The Politics of Genocide, which claims Serb forces “incontestably had not killed any but ‘Bosnian Muslim men of military age’” carries a foreword by Chomsky and an endorsement by Australian journalist John Pilger.

Wednesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that genocide was committed in Srebrenica, and that it had been orchestrated by Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general.

But nobody should be expecting any retractions or apologies from Chomsky or Pilger, men for whom genocide denial has become a point of pride.

Today, Chomsky, Pilger and a slew of other notable left-wing academics, journalists and bloggers are applying this same war-crimes revisionism to the war in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Assad’s bombing campaign targeting Syrian hospitals

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Serbia’s brand of reconciliation: Embracing old war criminals

The New York Times reports: When a general convicted of war crimes gave a lecture last month to cadets at the military academy in Serbia’s capital, he received a warm welcome from the defense minister.

The nation should feel “proud” of veterans like the general, “the bravest of the brave,” the minister said.

So it was no surprise that after another general, Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes this week, President Aleksandar Vucic called the verdict “unjustified.”

He also told reporters, “I would like to call on everyone to start looking to the future and not to drown in tears of the past.”

The conviction of General Mladic, 75, whom the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced to life in prison for a campaign of genocide in the 1990s against Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs, was meant to close a chapter on the brutal Bosnian wars that unleashed Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II.

One of the tribunal’s goals was to foster reconciliation in the Balkans and strike a blow against impunity for the most serious human rights abuses. But Serbia — seen as the aggressor in the wars and accused by international rights organizations of atrocities on a larger and more organized scale than any of its former enemies — has never accepted responsibility for the crimes committed in the name of the Serbian people.

Serbia, political analysts say, is creeping steadily backward politically to the ominous days of the 1990s amid a groundswell of nationalist sentiment. The government in Belgrade is even welcoming convicted war criminals and associates of Slobodan Milosevic, the former dictator and indicted architect of Serbia’s genocidal program who died in 2006, back into the fold.

And as Russia pushes to expand its influence in the Balkans — Europe’s “soft underbelly,” in the words of the political scientist Ivan Krastev — it is finding a receptive ally in Serbia. This comes even as the country is likely to become the next member state of the European Union.

As Serbia pursues a closer relationship with Russia while enacting the difficult reforms demanded by Brussels, European officials have accused the government in Belgrade of playing a strange double game — pursuing both Brussels and Moscow for maximum benefit. [Continue reading…]

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Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia,’ guilty of genocide in last Balkan war crimes trial

The Washington Post reports: Ratko Mladic, a former Serb warlord who commanded forces that carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars, was found guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity by an international tribunal Wednesday.

Mladic, 74, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bloodiest chapter of European history since World War II.

His conviction on 10 of 11 counts marks the last major prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which the U.N. Security Council set up more than two decades ago.

The verdict was hailed as a victory for justice — even if it was long delayed.

“Mladic is the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” said U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. [Continue reading…]

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ICC prosecutor seeks probe into war crimes allegations against U.S. military, CIA in Afghanistan

The Washington Post reports: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authorization to investigate the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist who has been the ICC’s chief prosecutor since 2012, confirmed earlier suspicions that the United States would be implicated in the probe. The decision marks the first time the ICC under Bensouda will investigate American forces and operatives.

In a statement, Bensouda clarified that alleged “war crimes by members of the United States armed forces” and “secret detention facilities in Afghanistan” used by the CIA justified the court’s investigation. Earlier this month, she had announced that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” in Afghanistan but had declined to specify by whom.

On Monday, she named the U.S. armed forces and the CIA among a roster of probe targets that also included the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.

Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.

Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.

Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice. [Continue reading…]

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Syria, Russia slammed at chemical weapons watchdog meeting

The Associated Press reports: Syria and its close ally Russia faced harsh criticism on Thursday at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons following an investigation that blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for a sarin attack that killed about 100 people in April.

At a closed-doors meeting of the chemical weapons watchdog’s executive council, U.S. representative Kenneth D. Ward said that Russia “continues to deny the truth and, instead, collaborates with the Assad regime in a deplorable attempt to discredit” the joint U.N.-OPCW investigation.

The text of Ward’s statement was posted on the OPCW website.

Russia has denounced the results of the investigation into the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. It also vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, which expires this month. [Continue reading…]

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The forgotten victims of Agent Orange

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Richard Hughes write: Phan Thanh Hung Duc, 20, lies immobile and silent, his midsection covered haphazardly by a white shirt with an ornate Cambodian temple design. His mouth is agape and his chest thrusts upward, his hands and feet locked in gnarled deformity. He appears to be frozen in agony. He is one of the thousands of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

Pham Thi Phuong Khanh, 21, is another such patient. She quietly pulls a towel over her face as a visitor to the Peace Village ward in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, starts to take a picture of her enlarged, hydrocephalic head. Like Mr. Hung Duc, Ms. Khanh is believed to be a victim of Operation Ranch Hand, the United States military’s effort during the Vietnam War to deprive the enemy of cover and food by spraying defoliants.

Perhaps Ms. Khanh does not want strangers to stare at her. Perhaps she feels ashamed. But if she does feel shame, why is it that those who should do not?

The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as well as American soldiers, should shame Americans. Fifty years ago, in 1967, the United States sprayed 5.1 million gallons of herbicides with the toxic chemical dioxin across Vietnam, a single-year record for the decade-long campaign to defoliate the countryside. It was done without regard to dioxin’s effect on human beings or its virulent and long afterlife. Agent Orange was simply one of several herbicides used, but it has become the most infamous.

Chemical companies making Agent Orange opted for maximum return despite in-house memos that a safer product could be made for a slight reduction in profits. American soldiers were among the unintended victims of this decision: Unwarned, they used the empty 55-gallon drums for makeshift showers.

Over the years, there have been both American and Vietnamese plaintiffs in Agent Orange court cases in the United States. Possibly the only one that could be considered a victory for the plaintiffs was an out-of-court settlement of $180 million in the 1980s for about 50,000 American veterans. Many more never benefited from the case because their illnesses did not show up for years. [Continue reading…]

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UN report: Syrian government forces used chemical weapons more than two dozen times

Reuters reports: Government forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during Syria’s civil war, including in April’s deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

A government warplane dropped sarin on the town in Idlib province, killing more than 80 civilians, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said, in the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into that chemical weapon attack.

The panel also said U.S. air strikes on a mosque in Al-Jina in rural Aleppo in March that killed 38 people, including children, failed to take precautions in violation of international law, but did not constitute a war crime.

The weapons used on Khan Sheikhoun were previously identified as containing sarin, an odourless nerve agent. But that conclusion, reached by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), did not say who was responsible.

“Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children,” the U.N. report said, declaring the attack a war crime. [Continue reading…]

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We can oppose U.S. intervention, while telling the truth about Assad’s chemical attacks

Stephen Shalom writes: In late June, Seymour Hersh published an article in Die Welt claiming that the Assad government did not attack the town of Khan Sheikhoun with sarin on April 4. His argument aligns with a popular left narrative about American imperialism falsifying or exaggerating events in Syria to justify intervention and regime change.

For example, many commentators — Jonathan Cook, Uri Avnery, among others — have wondered why Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons when he was already winning the war. The attack seemed not only unnecessary but also likely to spark a harsh international response.

Soon after the Khan Sheikhoun bombing, the White House responded to these concerns. The short version appeared in a document released on April 11:

The Syrian regime maintains the capability and intent to use chemical weapons against the opposition to prevent the loss of territory deemed critical to its survival. We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure.

That same day, a senior administration official offered a longer version at a background press briefing, noting the Assad regime’s troop shortages and the danger opposition forces posed to an important airbase in Hama.

Especially given its source, this explanation demands more scrutiny, but the commentators who question Assad’s motives never address it. In fact, none even acknowledge its existence.

Indeed, as Anne Barnard reported, the sarin attack fits into Assad’s broader strategy. She writes that, since at least 2012, the Syrian government “has adopted a policy of seeking total victory by making life as miserable as possible for anyone living in areas outside its control.” These attacks are designed to let the opposition know that it remains at the regime’s mercy, that neither international law nor the international community cannot protect it, and that surrender is the only option.

Again, there may be good reasons to doubt Barnard’s analysis or her sources, but those who find it inexplicable that Assad would use chemical weapons have never responded to her argument. [Continue reading…]

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Money stolen by Russian mob linked to man sanctioned for supporting Syria’s chemical weapons program

Michael Weiss writes: An investment group that U.S. authorities say is run by Russian mobsters and linked to the Russian government sent at least $900,000 to a company owned by a businessman tied to Syria’s chemical weapons program, according to financial documents obtained by CNN.

According to a contract and bank records from late 2007 and early 2008, a company tied to a state-backed Russian mafia group, according to U.S. officials, agreed to pay more than $3 million to a company called Balec Trading Ventures, Ltd — supposedly for high-end “furniture.”

Wire transaction records seen by CNN confirm that at least $900,000 was transferred.

Both businesses are registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The company allegedly tied to Russian mafia was called Quartell Trading Ltd., and the U.S. Department of Justice claims it is one of the many vehicles into which millions of dollars of stolen Russian taxpayer money was laundered a decade ago in connection with the so-called “Magnitsky affair,” perhaps the most notorious corruption case in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. [Continue reading…]

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‘Staggering’ civilian deaths from U.S.-led air strikes in Raqqa, says UN war crimes investigator

Reuters reports: Intensified coalition air strikes supporting an assault by U.S.-backed forces on Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa in Syria are causing a “staggering loss of civilian life”, United Nations war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a U.S.-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa a week ago to take it from the jihadists. The SDF, supported by heavy coalition air strikes, have taken territory to the west, east and north of the city.

“We note in particular that the intensification of air strikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry told the Human Rights Council. [Continue reading…]

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Syria government ‘producing chemical weapons at research facilities’

BBC News reports: Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them, a Western intelligence agency has told the BBC.

A document says chemical and biological munitions are produced at three main sites near Damascus and Hama.
It alleges that both Iran and Russia, the government’s allies, are aware.

Western powers say a Syrian warplane dropped bombs containing the nerve agent Sarin on an opposition-held town a month ago, killing almost 90 people.

The United States launched a missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the incident at Khan Sheikhoun, which President Bashar al-Assad says was faked.

The intelligence document obtained by the BBC says Syria’s chemical weapons are manufactured at three sites – Masyaf, in Hama province, and at Dummar and Barzeh, both just outside Damascus. All three are branches of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a government agency, it adds. [Continue reading…]

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Why the world banned chemical weapons

Mark Perry writes: On the late afternoon of April 22, 1915—in the midst of World War I—Algerian and French soldiers in trenches along the Western Front, near the Belgian town of Ypres, noticed a yellowish-green fog drifting toward them. Believing the cloud masked advancing German infantrymen, the soldiers prepared for an attack. In fact, the cloud was chlorine gas, released by the Germans from 6,000 pressurized cylinders. The gas crept forward, then lapped into the allied trenches in a ghostly tide. The effect was immediate: Thousands of soldiers choked and clutched at their throats, unable to breathe, before falling dead; thousands more fled in panic, opening a four-mile gap in the allied lines.

The Ypres attack was not the first time gas was used in the conflict (both the French and Germans had used tear gas earlier in the war), but it was the first time in the conflict that a poisonous gas was used in mass quantities. The effects of the attack were horrific, causing “a burning sensation in the head, red-hot needles in the lungs, the throat seized as by a strangler,” as one soldier later described it. More than 5,000 soldiers were killed in this first gas attack, while thousands more, stumbling to the rear and frothing at the mouth, suffered the debilitating aftereffects for decades.

What took place earlier this month, in Syria’s Idlib province, had the same effect as the gas used at Ypres, as Syrian-flown SU-22 jets released bombs filled with sarin gas near the town of Khan Shaykhun. The attack killed dozens of Syrian civilians, including 11 children. The effects of the sarin, a deadly nerve agent, were similar to those of 1915: The victims choked and vomited as their lungs constricted, then suffered through tormenting muscle spasms and eventual death.

In both cases, the use of gas was nearly universally condemned. After the Ypres attack became public knowledge, London’s Daily Mirror issued a banner headline describing the horror—“Devilry, Thy Name Is Germany”—then repeated the theme in bold type more than 100 years later, after Khan Shaykhun: “Assad Gassing Kids Again.” The “again” was a not-so-veiled editorial comment, for Khan Shaykhun marked the second time Assad had used sarin to kill civilians; the first incident took place in August 2013, when the Syrian regime used the nerve agent in an attack on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killing an estimated 281 to 1,700 civilians (the numbers remain uncertain) while injuring thousands. The pictures of the victims, caught in the throes of their final moments, shocked the world. [Continue reading…]

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New evidence shows pattern of nerve-agent use by Assad regime

Human Rights Watch reports: New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on April 4, 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 92 people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

These attacks are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons. The attacks are widespread and systematic and in some cases have been directed against the civilian population. These two features mean the attacks could meet the legal standard required to characterize them as crimes against humanity. As part of the evidence showing these attacks have become widespread and systematic, the 48-page report, “Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government’s Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons,” identifies three different systems being used to deliver chemical weapons: [Continue reading…]

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Professor Theodore A. Postol of MIT vs. the concept of time

Elliot Higgins writes: Since the April 4th 2017 chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun a number of individuals and organisations have attempted to promote narratives that promote the idea that the attack was a false flag. One prominent voice stands out among these individuals and organisations, that of Professor Theodore A. Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Professor Postol was previously known for his work with the late Richard Lloyd on the August 21st 2013 sarin attacks in Damascus, claiming the White House version of events was false, with Postol in particular attempting to point the finger of blame at rebel groups. His status at MIT has made him particularly popular with conspiracy theorists who cite his work and credentials when promoting their false flag theories around the attack.

With the latest attack in Khan Sheikhoun Professor Postol has returned to the fray, publishing a series of reports claiming to show the version of events as described by the White House is false. This has yet again drawn much positive attention from conspiracy theorists, and even a small amount of mainstream attention. [Continue reading…]

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The Arab Spring unleashed a wave of torture and abuse

 

Nader Hashemi writes: Assad’s chemical weapons attack and the subsequent U.S. missile strike on Syria jolted our world. Most of the commentary that ensued, however, was about the West.

What are the implications for U.S-Russian relations?

Is there a strategic vision behind Trump’s new Syria policy?

What can we learn about White House palace intrigue in terms of who has the president’s ear?

What was completely ignored was a connection between these attacks and the broader politics of the Middle East.

Assad’s sarin gas attack was not a sui generis event that took place in a vacuum. It is directly related to longstanding trends that help explain the region’s turmoil. Two themes stand out: 1) the extreme measures that authoritarian regimes will adopt to retain power, and 2) the severe human rights crisis facing the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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France says analysis shows Syria regime behind sarin attack

The Associated Press reports: France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s government and shows it was responsible for the deadly assault.

According to Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, France came to this conclusion after comparing samples from a sarin attack in Syria from 2013 that matched the new ones. The findings came in a 6-page report published Wednesday.

The Kremlin promptly denounced the French report, saying the samples and the fact the nerve agent was used are not enough to prove who was behind it. Assad has repeatedly denied that his forces used chemical weapons and claimed that myriad evidence of a poison gas attack is made up.

But Ayrault said France knows “from sure sources” that “the manufacturing process of the sarin that was sampled is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories.”

“This method bears the signature of the regime and that is what allows us to establish its responsibility in this attack,” the top French diplomat added, saying that France is working to bring those behind the “criminal” atrocities to international justice.

France’s Foreign Ministry said blood samples were taken from a victim in Syria on the day of the April 4 attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in which more than 80 people were killed.

Environmental samples, the French ministry said, show the weapons were made “according to the same production process as the one used in the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb” on April 29, 2013.

Ayrault also said that French intelligence services showed that only Syrian government forces could have launched such an attack — by a bomber taking off from the Sharyat airbase. “The regime’s Air Force…. is the only one with these aerial capabilities,” Ayrault said. [Continue reading…]

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