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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Assad, US' Official Enemy, 'Worst Tyrant'?

According to the White House (see below), Syria's President Assad is the 'worst tyrant of his era' because of the casualties resulting from that country's civil war.

"White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the United States and other allies would continue to support the opposition to Assad and stressed he would eventually be removed from power. “There is no way out of this that doesn’t include a transition to a post-Assad Syria,” he said. “The Syrian people will not stand for it, and the Syrian opposition and the military opposition will continue to resist Assad and resist with the assistance of the United States and many partners and allies in the effort.”“Bashar al-Assad will now go down in history as one of the worst tyrants of his era with just a terrible amount of blood on his hands, the blood of his own people.”The White House announced in June that it would offer military aid to vetted groups of Syrian rebels."

Things are terrible in Syria, no question about that, and I have little sympathy for the governing regime and would not go into mourning should it fall. But I do have an old-fashioned belief that people should determine their own affairs, on the whole, though that principle comes under severe pressure in certain cases.

Yet, it seems pretty clear to me that the United States - specifically its ruling elite - should look closer to home and to many of their former and current allies before declaring official enemies as tyrannical - ie governing without laws. And what would be found there is a catalogue of tyrannical actions in violation of law. The aim of Carney's statement is to organise some convenient historical forgetting.

American behaviour in the period just since 9-11 hardly stands up to scrutiny if we apply a "tyranny" test. Just look at the 'dark halls of Guantanamo" detention camp, or of the Bagram facility, or several other black sites used for torturing terror suspects in the name of protecting freedom. Placing aside democratic values in such wholesale fashion in the present in order to return to them sometime in the future is a recipe for the permanent abandonment of those very values: we live in w world of serial crises, long wars, generations-long conflicts, nowadays billed as 'overseas contingency operations' by the Obama administration.

One could easily add to the above lists of tyrannical violations, the bending and breaking of laws not to mention the very spirit of those laws. Targetted assassination is back with a vengeance with drone strikes the favoured tactic and means, violating international law.

Meanwhile, those who blow the whistle on gross violations - the use of torture by the CIA or others - or the wholesale unconstitutional surveillance of citizens' emails and 'phone calls, are labelled as terrorists and stripped of their rights and dignity, referred to as 'fugitives from justice' in the normalisation of Orwellian mindsets. Edward Snowden, the former intelligence operative and whistleblower of NSA surveillance of its own population, fears taking a flight to Latin America, where 3 states have offered him asylum, because he worries that the US is likely to commit piracy and force his flight to land.

And he's right to be worried - after all, the US has form. Bolivian President Evo Morales's flight was stopped in Austria because Snowden was said to be on board. Many years ago, the US hijacked and forced to land a flight carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers who'd brokered a deal with Egypt. That action violated international law guaranteeing freedom to traverse airspace. There is real concern that the US or one of its compliant allies would do exactly the same again should Snowden try to fly out of Russia.

It is curious that the White House spokesman used the term "of his era" in referring to Assad's tyranny.Assad's been in power since 2000, since before the global war on terror. Has the civil war in Syria really been the most 'tyrannical' conflict that's occurred since 2000? Does it outrank the illegal Iraq war and subsequent occupation and civil war there? Does it outstrip in numbers of deaths, casulaties and general destruction that has been visited on Afghanistan since 9-11?

Table below shows the varying estimates of Iraq war deaths from violence since 2003:

Source Casualties Time period
Associated Press 110,600 violent deaths March 2003 to April 2009
Costs of War Project 176,000–189,000 violent deaths including 134,000 civilians March 2003 to February 2013
Iraq Body Count project 112,667–123,284 civilian deaths from violence. 174,000 civilian and combatant deaths March 2003 to March 2013
Iraq Family Health Survey 151,000 violent deaths March 2003 to June 2006
Lancet survey 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths March 2003 to June 2006
Opinion Research Business survey 1,033,000 deaths as a result of the conflict March 2003 to August 2007
Classified Iraq War Logs 109,032 deaths including 66,081 civilian deaths. January 2004 to December 2009

One aspect of any hegemon's power is to attempt to engineer historical amnesia and cover up its own violations. The White House's statement on Syria is one of the most transparent such attempts of the Obama era.


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