Don’t jump to conclusions about deaths in Syria

Robert Parry authored an excellent look at the alleged poison-gas attacks in Syria. Headlined “Another Dangerous Rush to Judgment in Syria”, Parry’s piece details how journalists and politicians were quick to blame the deaths on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Before a careful evaluation of the evidence about Tuesday’s tragedy was possible, The New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets had pinned the blame for the scores of dead on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. That revived demands that the U.S. and other nations establish a “no-fly zone” over Syria, which would amount to launching another “regime change” war and would put America into a likely hot war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Even as basic facts were still being assembled about Tuesday’s incident, we, the public, were prepped to disbelieve the Syrian government’s response that the poison gas may have come from rebel stockpiles that could have been released either accidentally or intentionally causing the civilian deaths in a town in Idlib Province.

One possible scenario was that Syrian warplanes bombed a rebel weapons depot where the poison gas was stored, causing the containers to rupture. Another possibility was a staged event by increasingly desperate Al Qaeda jihadists who are known for their disregard for innocent human life.

None of this means that Assad’s forces are innocent, but a serious investigation ascertains the facts and then reaches a conclusion, not the other way around.

However, to suggest these other possibilities will, I suppose, draw the usual accusations about “Assad apologist,” but refusing to prejudge an investigation is what journalism is supposed to be about.

Update 4/6/17: Check out this short interview with Philip Giraldi.

Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, says that “military and intelligence personnel,” “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, say that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham,” instead endorsing the Russian narrative that Assad’s forces had bombed a storage facility. Giraldi’s intelligence sources are “astonished” about the government and media narrative and are considering going public out of concern over the danger of worse war there. Giraldi also observes that the Assad regime had no motive to do such a thing at this time.

Muslims actually do condemn terrorism

This article in The Guardian profiles a project began by Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old Muslim college student who was tired of hearing that Muslims don’t object to terrorism. What began as a spreadsheet on Google Docs is now a full-fledged website at which people can submit their own examples of Muslims condemning terrorism.

Hashmi’s project isn’t just designed to prove that Muslims are constantly condemning terrorism; she made it to demonstrate how ridiculous it is that Muslims are constantly expected to offer apologies for terrorist acts. Muslims, notes Hashmi, are “held to a different standard than other minorities: 1.6 billion people are expected to apologise and condemn [terrorism] on behalf of a couple of dozen lunatics. It makes no sense.” After all, Hashmi, says, “I don’t view the KKK or the Westboro Baptist church or the Lord’s Resistance Army as accurate representations of Christianity. I know that they’re on the fringe. So it gets very frustrating having to defend myself and having to apologise on behalf of some crazy people.”

Are we in an evidence-free zone?

David Swanson wrote an excellent piece comparing the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the case for Russian hacking of Democratic party emails.

His point is that while the evidence for Iraq having WMD was suspect, the Bush administration at least felt compelled to produce some sort of evidence. That standard appears gone, and too many of us are eager to simply believe the CIA on faith when it says that Vladimir Putin was behind the hacking and release of information to WikiLeaks.

The conduct of the Obama administration illustrates how the expectations seem to have changed.

When Obama has made unproven and implausible claims about looming massacres in Libya or Iraq, or chemical weapons use in Syria, or airplanes shot down in Ukraine, or coups in Ukraine, or “moderate” terrorists, or Iranian nukes, or drone war success in Yemen, or the nature or legality of drone murders, there has been no general request for evidence. Even with the claims about Syrian chemical weapons in 2013, the public and Congress said no to escalating the war in a visible manner, but did not focus on demanding evidence for claims.

Swanson posits that impeaching George W Bush would have helped prevent the situation we’re in now.

The point of impeaching and removing Bush would not have been to make Dick Cheney president, any more than the point of studying history is that your school has assigned that class to the football coach.

The point of impeaching Bush would have been to create a President Cheney in fear of being impeached, followed by other presidents in fear of being impeached.

Why can basketball announcers grasp that Duke’s Allen Grayson might not be tripping opponents this year if he’d been suspended for a game or two when he did it last year, but political analysts can’t grasp that if Bush had been impeached, or even an effort made to impeach him, we might not now — like India — have a twitter-loving right-wing nationalist preparing to create Muslim registries and enforced flag worship?

So, here’s an idea. We can’t go back in time. But we can start now. Trump is going to violate the Constitutional bans on domestic and foreign presents and “emoluments” on day one, and likely begin piling up original as well as familiar impeachable offenses during his first week.

But just as the only conceivable way to get Trump into office was to nominate Hillary Clinton, the surest way to derail an impeachment campaign against Trump will be to load it down with dubious claims about Russia.

See if you can predict what the Democrats will do.

Obama’s insistence on looking “to the future”

One of my great disappointments in President Obama is his refusal to investigate any members of the Bush administration for torture.

He made the assertion that doing so would be looking to the past, and he’d rather look to the future. With this attitude, why even have a criminal justice system? Every day, people stand trial in criminal court, and in every single case, it is for an alleged crime that took place in the past. I doubt an accused murderer would get away with telling a judge, “Let’s not look at the past. I will make sure I don’t murder anybody in the future. You should be happy with that.”

A cynic would posit that the likely reason Obama, and most other presidents, would hesitate to prosecute their predecessors is because they intend to break the law themselves, and don’t want to set a precedent that could be used against them in the future.

Setting aside the absurdity of refusing to investigate torture because we only want to look forward, it could be strongly argued that the United States is obligated under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to investigate, and punish if found guilty, those accused of torture.

As far as we know, Obama has ended the use of torture by American agencies. He had a chance to set a strong precedent by holding accountable those who ordered and/or directly engaged in torture in the past. They can call it whatever they want, such as “enhanced interrogation”, but torture is an international crime and should be treated as such by the highest public official in the nation. Holding anybody accountable for a crime is not merely “looking to the past”. It’s setting a strong example for the future.

A hammer in search of a nail

What exactly are we (the U.S.) up to around the world? In a riveting documentary called “Dirty Wars”, Jeremy Scahill sheds light on some of the American involvement in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. The movie prompts another round of the same questions some of us have been asking for years:

Regardless of how many people are killed, will the so-called war on terror ever end as long as there are American politicians willing to continue it, and voters willing to keep electing those politicians?

Is this so-called war making America, and the world, more or less stable and safe?

Did we help create problems that we can’t simply kill our way out of?

If the answers to the above questions are obvious to us, why aren’t they obvious to more people?

One of the more chilling quotes was made regarding Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

What we have essentially done is created one hell of a hammer, and for the rest of our generation, for the rest of my lifetime, this force will be continually searching for a nail.

This comment was offered by a Somali warlord.

America knows war. They are war masters. They know better than me. So when they’re funding a war, they know how to fund it…. They know very well. They are teachers, great teachers.