France’s Macron admits to military’s systematic use of torture in Algeria war

The Washington Post reports:

France will formally acknowledge the French military’s systemic use of torture in the Algerian War in the 1950s and 1960s, an unprecedented step forward in grappling with its long-suppressed legacy of colonial crimes.

President Emmanuel Macron announced his watershed decision in the context of a call for clarity on the fate of Maurice Audin, a Communist mathematician and anti-colonial activist who was tortured by the French army and forcibly disappeared in 1957, during Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from France.

Audin’s death is a specific case, but it represents a cruel system put in place at the state level, the Elysee Palace said. “It was nonetheless made possible by a legally instituted system: the ‘arrest-detention’ system, set up under the special powers that [had] been entrusted by law to the armed forces at that time,” reads a statement that was to be released by Macron’s office Thursday, seen by Le Monde newspaper.

Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian of Algeria who has written more than 20 books on the subject, said that Macron’s decision represented a move away from “the silence of the father” that has characterized France’s relationship to its colonial past for decades. [Continue reading…]

3 million people with nowhere to go as Assad’s forces are about to attack

Kareem Shaheen writes:

The first thing that struck me when I saw Idlib, the rebel-held province in northwestern Syria, in April last year was how green the country was. Olive and cherry trees lined the pockmarked roads leading from the Turkish border down to the province’s towns. Smoke rose in the distance in the aftermath of an airstrike or an exploding shell, and the buildings in most towns were scarred by blows from the sky.

I had traveled to Idlib to report on the chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which killed over 80 people. I remember watching Abdulhamid al-Yousef, a father of two, hold his son and daughter before their burial; they were poisoned by the very air they breathed. According to the independent United Nations Commission of Inquiry, President Assad’s air force was responsible for the chemical gas attack, which killed Mr. Yousef’s wife and children, along with several other relatives.

A friend trying to comfort the distraught Mr. Yousef told him a story about “al-sirat,” a bridge that Muslims believe people must cross on the day of judgment. Al-sirat is believed to be thinner than a hair and leads to the gates of paradise. “On the day of judgment, those who lose their children and bear the tragedy with forbearance will be reunited with them,” the friend said. “Their children will have wings and will fly them across al-sirat to the gates of paradise.”

Mr. Yousef seemed to wake up. “And their mother too? Ahmad and Aya will be there? And Hammoudi and Ammoura?” he said. Ahmad and Aya were his children. Hammoudi and Ammoura, his nephews.

The moment still gnaws at me.

Over the past week, a gathering storm pointed to an impending assault by Mr. Assad’s regime and his Russian patrons on Idlib, with aid agencies warning of a humanitarian catastrophe that could drive new waves of refugees into neighboring Turkey. Russian airstrikes have already killed 13 people in Idlib. Mr. Assad’s forces are shelling the area, and his Iranian and Russian allies have chosen dehumanizing language and described the militants in Idlib as “this festering abscess that needs to be liquidated.” [Continue reading…]

How the U.S. government misleads the public on Afghanistan

The New York Times reports:

Seventeen years into the war in Afghanistan, American officials routinely issue inflated assessments of progress that contradict what is actually happening there.

More than 2,200 Americans have been killed in the Afghan conflict, and the United States has spent more than $840 billion fighting the Taliban insurgency and paying for relief and reconstruction. The war has become more expensive, in current dollars, than the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after World War II. That investment has created intense pressure for Americans to show the Taliban are losing and the country is improving.

But since 2017, the Taliban have held more Afghan territory than at any time since the American invasion. In just one week last month, the insurgents killed 200 Afghan police officers and soldiers, overrunning two major Afghan bases and the city of Ghazni.

The American military says the Afghan government effectively “controls or influences” 56 percent of the country. But that assessment relies on statistical sleight of hand. In many districts, the Afghan government controls only the district headquarters and military barracks, while the Taliban control the rest. [Continue reading…]

How Assad made truth a casualty of war

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

On February 22, 2012, when the British photojournalist Paul Conroy survived the artillery barrage that killed Marie Colvin, he was rushed to a place of greater danger. Bashar al-Assad’s war of repression has killed civilians indiscriminately, but its targeting of medical facilities has been systematic. Hospitals are the most endangered spaces in opposition-held areas. Of the 492 medical facilities destroyed in the war, Physicians for Human Rights attributes the destruction of 446 to Assad and his allies. The UN Commission of Inquiry has charged the regime and its allies with having “systematically targeted medical facilities… and intentionally attacking medical personnel.” With a pierced abdomen and a fist-sized hole in his thigh, Conroy was carried to hospital under a hail of mortar fire. It was the only hospital in Baba Amr, the besieged Homs neighborhood Colvin and Conroy had been reporting from—and it had no anaesthetics. As the hospital’s only doctor cut away Conroy’s torn muscles and stapled his wounds, Conroy had to dull the pain with three cigarettes.

Conroy was where he wanted to be, but not in the manner he had intended. A day earlier, he had convinced Marie Colvin, the intrepid Sunday Times correspondent, that the situation in Baba Amr was too dangerous for them to stay. Colvin had agreed to leave on the condition that they visit the beleaguered hospital one more time. The day before that, Colvin had also made the fateful decision to speak to the BBC and CNN about the dire situation inside the siege. She was aware that the broadcast would reveal her presence to the regime, putting her life in danger. A Lebanese intelligence officer had earlier warned them both that regime troops had orders to execute any Western journalists on the spot. (New information suggests that Colvin was indeed actively targeted by the regime.)

The regime had failed to thwart their entry, but it was determined to prevent their exit. Early the morning after her last broadcast, the regime started its assault on the activist-run media center where Conroy and Colvin were housed. A former artillery gunner in the British Army, Conroy quickly judged that the barrage was targeted at the media center. But before he could warn Colvin, the center had taken a direct hit, killing Colvin and the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, wounding Conroy and others.

The incident was a turning point. It signaled the regime’s willingness to use deadly violence to thwart independent witness to its slaughter. [Continue reading…]

China and Russia have set a nuclear collision course with the United States

Gordon G. Chang writes:

China, the New York Times reported last week, “can now challenge American military supremacy in the places that matter most to it: the waters around Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.” Therefore, Beijing can, in the words of the paper, “make intervention in the region too costly for Washington to contemplate.”

Too costly to contemplate? Unfortunately, assessments like these, often heard in U.S. policy circles, can embolden the already arrogant Chinese and make their adventurism—and war—more likely.

Moreover, any conflict between China and the United States in the Pacific could quickly escalate to nuclear war.

China, surpassing the U.S. last year, now boasts the world’s largest navy, and it is adding to its fleet “at a stunning rate,” according to the Times. Even last year, the count was lopsided with China claiming 317 surface vessels and subs in active service and the U.S. 283.

Of course, it’s not clear how capable the People’s Liberation Army Navy is. The PLAN, as it is known, has never participated in a large-scale wartime engagement at sea, and its fleet is not, on the whole, as modern as America’s.

Nonetheless, China has a few critical advantages. Its naval assets are concentrated along its shores and U.S. forces are spread around the globe; areas of likely conflict are near China and far from America; and the PLAN has some crucial weapons that are better than those of the United States, especially anti-ship missiles. Beijing has also gone big into “asymmetric” warfare, for instance militarizing fishing fleets, enlisting the “little blue men” of what has become a maritime militia. [Continue reading…]

Why China and Russia are obsessed with vast new war games

Peter Apps writes:

As the West obsesses over Donald Trump’s legal and political challenges, Brexit and a host of other domestic crises, Chinese troops will join their Russian counterparts for Moscow’s largest military exercises in more than three decades.

Coming six months after Beijing’s biggest ever offshore naval drills, the joint war games are another reminder of how central military posturing now is to the world’s two most powerful authoritarian states. While neither likely desires or expects war with the United States or its allies, both Beijing and Moscow want to give every impression they are increasingly ready – and are relying on that message to dominate their neighborhoods and intimidate less-powerful nearby nations. Both countries also have an unambiguous message for the Pentagon – that if war should come in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea, the United States would risk serious losses if it tried to intervene.

These landmark military exercises are part of a much wider picture of investment, development and weapons trials – even if the outcome has sometimes been mixed. According to reports, Russian forces are still attempting to recover a nuclear-powered cruise missile that failed on a test flight somewhere in the Arctic last year. China, meanwhile, is reported to have suffered its own significant increase in military aircraft crashes over the last two years, particularly in the South China Sea. [Continue reading…]

A horrifying and believable path to nuclear war with North Korea

Robert Jervis writes:

Many of us believe that if nuclear missiles were to strike the United States, they would most likely come from North Korea. However, it is hard to dramatize this possibility or to make a convincing case for the exact pathway to a war. Jeffrey Lewis, a respected nuclear analyst, sets this as his task in what he calls a “speculative novel,” The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. This way of explaining events that have not yet happened is, of course, not a new invention. British writers used it to warn of invasions from the continent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the menace coming first from France and then from Germany, and Lawrence Freedman recently outlined how future wars have been seen in numerous contexts. It also follows in the tradition of the Cold War movies Fail Safe, The Bedford Incident, and the unforgettable Dr. Strangelove, which got deterrence theory right because Thomas Schelling was an adviser on the film.

The main purpose of these imagined histories is to generate a self-denying prophecy by alarming readers. By showing what could happen, these books seek to energize people to make the effort necessary for it to not happen. This seems to be Lewis’ motive. I infer that he believes that if the United States stays on its current trajectory (or rather the trajectory it was on when he wrote the book, which was when tensions were particularly high following the North Korean nuclear and missile tests and President Donald Trump’s belligerent reaction to them), the likelihood of war will remain dangerously high. This does not tell us what should be done, however, since multiple alternative policies are possible. British authors in the early 20th century were urging more vigilance against Germany and what we would now call a more vigorous containment strategy. Readers of Lewis’ book will take different lessons from it. Some could perhaps be persuaded to support a preemptive strike. I assume this is not Lewis’ intent. His main thrust is toward policies, presumably more conciliatory ones, based on a better understanding of Kim Jong Un’s hopes and fears. He also hints at the virtues of, or at least the necessity for, abolishing nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]

As the world stands by, Assad and Putin are ready to crush the last of the Syrian revolution’s democrats

Leila Al-Shami writes:

The Syrian regime is determined to reconquer all of the territory it has lost. Aided by Russian bombers and Iranian troops, and emboldened by its success in terrorizing the populations of Ghouta and Daraa into submission, President Bashar al-Assad’s government is now preparing to attack Idlib, the last remaining province outside of his control. Idlib is home to some three million people, about half of them displaced, or forcibly evacuated, to the province from elsewhere. Many are crowded into unsanitary camps or sleeping in the open.

In recent days, regime troops have massed on Idlib’s border and leaflets have been dropped on residential areas calling on Syrians to accept “reconciliation” or face the consequences. Meanwhile, Russia has been sending reinforcements to its naval base in Tartus.

The Syrian troika — Russia, Iran and Turkey — designated Idlib a “de-escalation zone” last year. But what happens there next could potentially undermine the so-far mutually beneficial agreement among the three countries. [Continue reading…]

‘Time for this war in Afghanistan to end,’ says departing U.S. commander

The New York Times reports:

When American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr. survived by chance. That morning, as dozens of his colleagues were killed, he was moving house and wasn’t at his desk — which he said was 100 feet from the nose of the plane.

Nearly 17 years to the day, now a four-star general departing as the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, he stood under the shade of pine trees in Kabul on Sunday, and delivered an emotional farewell.

The general, who spent 31 months at the helm of a quagmire of a mission that has shaped his career over four tours of the country and has cast a shadow on a generation of American military leaders, said he wanted to speak from the heart.

“It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end,” General Nicholson said.

The general called on the Taliban to “stop killing your fellow Afghans,” but he also referred indirectly to regional players — particularly Pakistan, where the militants enjoy sanctuary — who have complicated the fight.

“Whose voices are important?” he asked. “The outsiders who are encouraging you to fight, or the voices of your own people who are encouraging you to peace?”

Naming the first and the last American soldier killed under his command and praying for the hundreds in between, the general demonstrated little of the chest-thumping of previous commanders and put aside his own sometimes rosy assessments of the situation for a more of a somber reality that seems to be dawning on the American military leadership. [Continue reading…]

Microwave weapons are prime suspect in attacks on U.S. embassy staff in Cuba

The New York Times reports:

During the Cold War, Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.

More recently, the American military itself sought to develop microwave arms that could invisibly beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads. The aims were to disable attackers and wage psychological warfare.

Now, doctors and scientists say such unconventional weapons may have caused the baffling symptoms and ailments that, starting in late 2016, hit more than three dozen American diplomats and family members in Cuba and China. The Cuban incidents resulted in a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington.

In 2016, diplomats at the United States Embassy in Havana were mysteriously stricken. Was it an attack? There is no official explanation, but the episode has played a big role in America’s current political disengagement with Cuba.Published OnApril 18, 2018
The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury. [Continue reading…]