Weapons inspectors find undeclared sarin and VX traces in Syria – diplomats

Reuters: International inspectors have found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Friday.

Samples taken by experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition and Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in December and January tested positive for chemical precursors needed to make the toxic agents, the sources told Reuters on the condition of anonymity because the information is confidential.

“This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,” one diplomatic source said. “They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.”

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‘Kill anything': Israeli soldiers say Gaza atrocities came from orders for indiscriminate fire

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The IDF’s new tactics

Neve Gordon writes: Several months ago, a young woman working in Kibbutz Dorot’s carrot fields noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground with a short inscription in Arabic. It looked like a treasure map. She put it in her pocket. Some time later, she gave it to her friend Avihai, who works for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who collect testimony from Israeli soldiers to provide a record of everyday life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Avihai was in the middle of interviewing soldiers about their experiences during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip last summer. He recognised the piece of paper as a leaflet that had been dropped by an Israeli plane above Palestinian neighbourhoods in the northern part of the Strip; the wind had blown it six miles from its intended landing point.

The leaflet helps explain why 70 per cent of the 2220 Palestinians killed during the war were civilians. The red line on the map traces a route from a bright blue area labelled Beit Lahia, a Palestinian town of 60,000 inhabitants at the north edge of the Strip, and moves south through Muaskar Jabalia to Jabalia city. The text reads:

Military Notification to the Residents of Beit Lahia

The IDF will be undertaking forceful and assertive air operations against terrorist elements and infrastructure in the locations from which they launch their missiles at the State of Israel. These locations include:

From east Atatra to Salatin Street. From west [unclear] to Jabalia Camp.

You must evacuate your homes immediately and head toward southern Jabalia town along the following road:

Falluja Road, until 12 noon, Sunday 13 July 2014.

The IDF does not intend to harm you or your families. These operations are temporary and will be of short duration. Any person, however, who violates these instructions and does not evacuate his home immediately puts his own life as well as the lives of his household in danger. Those who take heed will be spared.

‘The significance of this leaflet,’ Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, told me, ‘cannot be appreciated fully without reading our new report.’ The report is made up of 111 testimonies, provided by around seventy soldiers who participated in the fighting.

One thing is immediately clear from the interviews: the IDF’s working assumption was that once the leaflets were dropped, anyone who refused to move was a legitimate target: [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: Relentless airstrikes that have left hundreds of civilians dead must be investigated

Amnesty International: The killing of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, and the injury of thousands during the relentless Saudi Arabian-led campaign of airstrikes across Yemen must be urgently investigated, said Amnesty International, one month after the strikes began.

“The month-long campaign of air strikes carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies has transformed many parts of Yemen into a dangerous place for civilians,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Millions of people have been forced to live in a state of utter terror, afraid of being killed at home. Many feel they are left with no choice but to move away from their destroyed villages to an uncertain future.”

According to the UN more than 550 civilians have been killed including more than 100 children since the military campaign began on 25 March.

Amnesty International has documented eight strikes in five densely populated areas (Sa’dah, Sana’a, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Ibb). Several of these strikes raise concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.

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The 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria

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A century of chemical warfare

The Associated Press reports: As a spring breeze wafted into his trench, commander Georges Lamour of the French 73rd infantry saw something almost surreal drift his way. A yellow-green cloud.

He barely had time to react. “All my trenches are choked,” Lamour cried into the field telephone to headquarters. “I am falling myself!”

These were the last words heard from Lamour. World War I, and warfare itself, were never the same.

Chlorine gas — sent crawling in favorable winds over Flanders Fields from German positions — sowed terror and agony for the first time on April 22, 1915. The era of chemical weaponry had dawned. The weapon of mass slaughter came to symbolize the ruthlessness and, many say, futility of the 1914-1918 Great War.

“It is a new element in warfare. It is indiscriminate,” said Piet Chielens, curator at the In Flanders’ Fields Museum in nearby Ypres. And what’s more, he said, “you create psychological terror.”

Foaming at the mouth, crazed and blinded, the French soldiers fled in all directions — sucking for oxygen, finding poison instead. The chlorine seeped into body fluids and ate away at eyes, throat and lungs. Some 1,200 French soldiers were killed in the chaos of that first 5-minute gas attack and the fighting that followed. Lamour, like scores of comrades, was never found.

“You drown in your own lungs,” Chielens said. [Continue reading…]

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Horrifying videos shown at UN display carnage of suspected chlorine attacks in Syria

Vice News: Hours after doctors from Syria offered testimony about a chlorine gas attack in the country’s northwest to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, reportedly bringing its members to tears, they informed VICE News that their hospital had just received victims of what appeared to be another chemical weapon strike.

At the meeting, the doctors showed council members footage taken by a field hospital in Sarmin, in Idlib Province, on the night of March 16. The video, which was provided to VICE News, depicted frenetic efforts to resuscitate three young children exhibiting symptoms of chemical exposure. The children were inside their basement home along with their parents and grandmother when a crude barrel bomb landed on the building’s air shaft, trapping them inside a cloud of toxic vapor. All members of the family died.

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Chlorine attacks continue in Syria with no prospect of Assad being brought to account

By Brett Edwards, University of Bath and Mattia Cacciatori, University of Bath

For more than a year, there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This includes reported incidents which occurred in late March, as thousands of Syrians fled the city of Idlib in the face of a government-rebel stand-off. According to witnesses, chemical weapons were used.

These allegations come on the heels of a year’s worth of similar incidents in which rebel and government forces stand accused of using industrial chemicals such as chlorine against civilians and troops alike. A recent report has found with a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine attacks took place in three Syrian villages in the summer of 2014. A UN Human Rights Council Inquiry into Syria also found that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that government helicopters carried out chemical attacks during this period.

The international response has been superficially demonstrative. At the beginning of March 2015, almost a year after those attacks, the UN Security Council finally adopted a resolution that condemns the use of chlorine as a weapon. Steps such as these are to be welcomed for reaffirming the abhorrence of these weapons and the importance of the international prohibition against them.

But resolutions do not imply immediate action. The use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria goes on – and there is so far little evidence that the world’s major powers have the wherewithal to bring those responsible to justice.

[Read more…]

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Assad’s atrocities turned into an exhibition at the U.N.

Josh Rogin writes: The rise of Islamic State has distracted many from the murderous assaults by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own citizens. Now advocates for those victims are attempting to shock world leaders into action with a novel approach: Gruesome photos of civilians tortured and murdered while in the custody of the Syrian regime are going on display Tuesday in the halls of the United Nations.

Almost a year after the Syrian defector known as Caesar escaped Syria with 55,000 photos documenting the systematic torture and murder of more 11,000 civilians, there has been little progress in holding the perpetrators accountable. Although the U.S. State Department has called Assad’s “machinery of death” the worst since the Nazis — and evidence emerged that as many as 10 European citizens were among those killed in custody — no prosecutions have moved forward.

So Caesar’s supporters will unveil a display showing atrocities committed by 24 of the regime’s security branches, which UN diplomats will see on their way to and from work each day. It comes just as a UN commission is threatening to release the names of Syrian government officials who are implicated in war crimes, a step toward their prosecution. [Continue reading…]

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Assad denies using barrel bombs in Syria

Jeremy Bowen: What about barrel bombs, you don’t deny that your forces use them?

Bashar al-Assad: I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots.

Bowen: Large barrels full of explosives and projectiles which are dropped from helicopters and explode with devastating effect. There’s been a lot of testimony about these things.

Assad: They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets… There is [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.

Just to be clear about how crude barrel bombs are, watch the way they get dropped:

And the results:

And to the whataboutists who say, “But what about America’s use of drones and the civilians they kill?” I would respond: If you are appalled by the unnecessary loss of life and destruction caused by CIA drones, that’s all the more reason to be appalled by the Assad regime’s indiscriminate violence.

Those who are outraged by the fact that the U.S. has killed hundreds of innocent civilians through drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and yet for whom the vastly more extensive carnage in Syria has somehow become little more than background noise in a world at strife, might ask themselves what became of their humanitarian impulses?

There comes a point at which selective outrage shuts down the very thing out of which it was born: empathy.

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Obama administration cuts funds for investigating Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes

Foreign Policy reports: The U.S. State Department plans to cut its entire $500,000 in annual funding next year to an organization dedicated to sneaking into abandoned Syrian military bases, prisons, and government facilities to collect documents and other evidence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its proxies to war crimes and other mass atrocities during the country’s brutal civil war, according to the recipient of the assistance and a senior U.S. official.

The move, which has not previously been reported, comes as the Obama administration is stepping up funding to collect evidence of war crimes in Iraq by the Islamic State, an extremist Islamist organization that has horrified the world with its mass killings, enslavement of women, and beheadings of ethnic minorities, foreign aid workers, and journalists, including two American reporters who were executed in recent months. The funding shift has raised concern among human rights advocates that the United States and its allies are reducing their commitment to holding the Syrian leader accountable for the majority of Syria’s atrocities because the interests of Washington and Damascus are converging over the fight against the Islamic State.

For the past two years, the U.S. State Department has channeled a total of $1 million in funds to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a group of international war crimes prosecutors that sends local researchers, lawyers, and law students into Syrian battle zones to collect and extract files and other evidence that can help map the Syrian command structure and identify the military orders authorizing illegal activities, including barrel bomb campaigns, the starvation of besieged towns, and a spate of mass murders that have pushed the conflict’s death toll past 190,000 since March 2011.

The materials are part of a growing storehouse of evidence being collected inside Syria and then transported outside the country for safekeeping in the event that a court is set up at some time in the future for war crimes trials for senior regime officials. The commission has served as a critical plank of an American strategy aimed at assembling enough evidence to hold some of Syria’s worst violators of human rights accountable for their crimes at some point in the future.

But in an abrupt reversal, Obama administration officials recently notified the commission that the State Department would be eliminating its $500,000-a-year contribution, according to the group. [Continue reading…]

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Humiliation replaces fear for the women kidnapped by ISIS

The Guardian reports: They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

“A 50-year-old man with a dark beard came to buy me,” she recalls. “From that day on, I didn’t want to live any more.”

Amsha is one of hundreds of Yazidi women from northern Iraq captured during Islamic State’s rapid advance this year. Interviews with women who escaped reveal that Isis corralled the women into halls and other detention centres and gradually sold them off to fighters as the spoils of war.

Isis said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS holding thousands of women and children as slaves in Iraq and Syria

Emily Feldman reports: The Islamic State is currently holding thousands of people hostage inside ISIS territory, having taken members of the minority Yazidi sect captive this summer during a brutal campaign across northern Iraq.

While the United Nations has put the number of captives at about 2,500, other estimates are as high as 7,000. And prospects for any rescue are bleak.

Even as the U.S. and its allies bomb ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, the group has managed to hold on to key cities where it is reviving the practice of slavery.

The latest edition of Dabiq, an ISIS magazine, includes an impassioned argument for the practice as well as an account of how the Yazidi women from the Sinjar region of Iraq were distributed among the fighters.

“The Yazidi women and children were divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operation…to be divided as khums,” a kind of tax.

“The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers.”

The magazine also warns “weak-minded and weak-hearted” ISIS followers who might question or object to the practice of slavery.

“Enslaving the families of the [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah,” the article says. “If one were to deny or mock [it], he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Quran.”

The article’s description of how prisoners were dealt with closely mirrors accounts from the few who have escaped or managed to contact their loved-ones by phone.

Women were sold at slave markets, forced to marry and imprisoned in the homes of ISIS fighters across both Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Iraq: Evidence of war crimes by government-backed Shi’a militias

Amnesty: Shi’a militias, supported and armed by the government of Iraq, have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these war crimes, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq provides harrowing details of sectarian attacks carried out by increasingly powerful Shi’a militias in Baghdad, Samarra and Kirkuk, apparently in revenge for attacks by the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of deliberate execution-style killings.

“By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart. Iraqi government support for militia rule must end now,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.

The fate of many of those abducted by Shi’a militias weeks and months ago remains unknown. Some captives were killed even after their families had paid ransoms of $80,000 and more to secure their release. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Bashar Assad’s torture chambers

Yahoo News reports: The State Department has obtained 27,000 photographs showing the emaciated, bruised and burned bodies of Syrian torture victims — gruesome images that a top official told Yahoo News constitute “smoking gun” evidence that can be used to bring war-crimes charges against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The photos are “horrific — some of them put you in visceral pain,” said Stephen J. Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, in an interview. “This is some of the strongest evidence we’ve seen in the area of proof of the commission of mass atrocities.”

The photos — a small number of which will be put on public display for the first time on Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Museum — were smuggled out of Syria by an official regime photographer who has since defected and is known only by his code name, Caesar.

They were shown at a closed-door session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July where Caesar, wearing a hood, testified. They are now being analyzed at Rapp’s request by the FBI in part as an effort to determine whether any U.S. citizens may have been among the victims — a finding that could be the basis to bring criminal charges in the U.S. against officials of the Assad regime. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS may have used chemical weapons against Kurds in Kobane canton in July

Huffington Post reports: The Islamic State militant group may possess chemical weapons that it has already used to extend its self-proclaimed caliphate, according to photos taken by Kurdish activists and examined by Israeli researchers.

The group, making gains in Iraq and Syria, may have captured chemical agents in Iraq in June and used them in July to kill three Kurdish fighters in the strategically important region of Kobani in northwest Syria, according to suggests a report released Sunday by the Global Research in International Affairs Center, a branch of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.

If verified, Islamic State’s possession of unconventional weapons could make international efforts against it more urgent, and bolster claims that the world has not responded quickly or powerfully enough to the threat. The group, also known as ISIS, has intensified its effort to conquer Kobani over the past month, and battles there have attracted global attention as the region’s defenders — both Kurds and U.S.-backed rebels — have urged international help.

Jonathan Spyer, author of the report, uses photographic evidence provided by Kurds in Kobani and a 2007 CIA report about the Iraqi chemical weapons production facility captured by ISIS in July to suggest that “on at least one occasion, Islamic State forces did employ some form of chemical agent, acquired from somewhere, against the [Syrian Kurdish forces] in Kobani.” He said Israeli chemical weapons experts examined the Kurds’ photographs. In response to questions from The Huffington Post, he declined to give their names.

“The probable possession by the Islamic State of a [chemical weapons] capability is for obvious reasons a matter of the gravest concern, and should be the urgent subject of further attention and investigation,” Spyer says.

The report accuses the Islamic State of using chemical weapons in a July 12 battle in an eastern part of Kobani during a previous offensive into the Kurdish enclave. The site of the battle is now controlled by ISIS. Spyer cites signs of a chemical weapons attack mentioned by the health minister of Kobani to the Lebanese online news outlet Al-Modon four days after the attack. In Spyer’s telling, the minister said that the corpses of three Kurdish fighters exhibited “burns and white spots … [that] indicated the use of chemicals, which led to deaths without any visible wounds or external bleeding.” The bodies had not been hit by bullets, the minister added.

Spyer’s report includes gruesome photographs of the bodies now circulating on social media alongside appeals for more help for the Syrian Kurds in Kobani.

In emails to The Huffington Post, Spyer said he had been given the pictures by Kurds in Kobani, whose identities he could not reveal. He said he takes them seriously because they were provided to him weeks ago — not to boost the case for international help to Kobani, but to spur an investigation by international authorities. [Continue reading…]

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The ISIS campaign of mass sexual violence

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…]

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Kissinger still at work covering up his war crimes

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.]

kissingerObviously, 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.

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