Wednesday, June 28, 2017

To Hell & Back

Please bear with me here and read At 15 I was tortured in Assad's prisons. I escaped but thousands still suffer (Anonymous, theguardian.com) from beginning to end:

"For the 10 months I spent as a detainee in the prisons of Bashar al-Assad, I only saw my family in my dreams. At night, the screams would stop for an hour or two, and I could close my eyes and remember what it was like to be human. When I slept, I would return to my life. Today is the UN's International Day for Support of Victims of Torture. Unfortunately in Syria, there is no shortage of victims of torture. Tens of thousands of us have been thrown in Assad's prisons and tortured beyond what our bodies and minds can take. Many of us die there. Those of us who have survived will spend the rest of our lives being reminded of just how evil humanity is capable of being.

"I was only 15 when I was arrested and subjected to months of physical and psychological torture. I am lucky to have survived. There were times I wished for death. As happy as I am to return to life again, I am equally gripped by sadness and pain knowing more than 200,000 prisoners are still there. My freedom feels incomplete as long as my Syrian brothers and sisters suffer behind those high walls. I am a hostage of my memory. Aleppo is my home. I was forced to leave there in 2013 to try to escape the barrel bombs and besiegement of the city by Assad and his allies. My mother, siblings and I fled to Lebanon. At the age of 14, I had to leave school and begin working to try to sustain our family. At the end of 2014, we were forced to return to Syria because we could not afford Lebanese residence and working permits. On the way home, I was arrested by members of a political security branch in Damascus. They accused me of taking part in the peaceful demonstrations at the beginning of the popular Syrian revolution against Assad.

"This is a regime known for its oppression, its tyranny, and its corruption. But it is also a regime that stands against humanity. It is a regime that could arrest a 15-year-old, a kid, and subject him to months of torture and starvation and psychological trauma. And I am not by any means a unique story in Syria. When I was first arrested, I was taken to security branch headquarters near Damascus, where I was tortured during sessions of interrogation for 58 days straight. After 58 days of this treatment, I had no choice but to sign false confessions that the interrogator himself wrote. I put my name to offences I had never committed, and confessions about people I had never met. I was even forced to sign a document that accused my brother of being an armed rebel.

"I was held in that branch for four-and-a-half months, then moved to the political security administration in Fayha' in Damascus. Here I was tortured in even more ways. I was given electric shocks on sensitive parts of my body; suspended from the ceiling; tortured using brutal methods known as 'wind carpet', 'the wheel' and 'the bed'. This went on for another 3 months. This is when I was transferred to Saydnaya military prison. The Living Persons' Graveyard. The Human Slaughterhouse. These are names that describe Saydnaya. I spent a month there. The mornings for detainees in this place starts with death. Before sunrise, the guards would yell with hate and scorn to wake us up, and we were ripped out of our dreams where we sought sweet refuge. 'You bastards of the cell, who has a corpse?' they would yell. And we would fetch the corpses of our brothers who had left our living hell.

"We survived on scraps of rubbish for food. We became so starved that our bodies stopped looking human. We were whipped, beaten, starved, given electric shocks. We saw people taken to be hanged en masse. There are stories of guards forcing prisoners to kill their own friends and family, or be tortured or executed. Saydnaya is hell on Earth. Every day, we waited for punishment. You don't know anything, and you don't know when you're going to be tortured or killed. Saydnaya is not where you go to be tortured for information. Saydnaya is where you go to die.

"After a month of that living hell, I was transferred to Tishreen military hospital. Don't be fooled by the word 'hospital'. It was not a place of healing and care. There is a reason detainees in Saydnaya do not ask to see the doctor, and refuse to answer when nurses ask who has injuries. While in my months as a detainee I was tortured physically, the psychological torture at the military hospital was unparalleled. I was only there for two days, but that was long enough to witness the worst of humanity. I wasn't fed for 2 days. I was put in a tiny room just 3m by 3m, where dead bodies were piled over one another; one was rotting. My room had 3 tuberculosis patients. We had to carry corpses around. I saw many executions. A guard held his foot on the neck of a detainee to suffocate him to death. Another was given an 'air injection' of poison. The smell of death surrounds you.

"I then returned to Saydnaya, where I stayed for one final, brutal month. One day I was beaten so harshly I passed out - simply because I happened to be born on a street under opposition control. In October 2015, after 10 months of detention, I won my freedom. But my mind will never be free. I am free, but I've been taken hostage by the cries of my fellow prisoners, the groans of their wounds, the screams of their torture, their secret prayers, their emaciated bodies and their deaths once they could bear life no more. My story is like hundreds of thousands of other stories, but I ask you to look past the numbers and think: what if this happened to you? Or to your brother, or sister, or father, or mother, or child, or friend? Would you support the continued leadership in Syria of the man responsible? I have escaped the prisons, and escaped Syria's borders, but I have no future. I have no signs of hope. Assad has ruined the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. If our children and our children's children have any hope in Syria, Assad cannot remain. As long as he is in power, his forces will continue to crush the spirit of anyone who dares to want freedom." (27/6/17)

***

Now this sounded familiar.

Where had I heard it before? Then it all came flooding back to me, down the years; four men, Yorkshire men to be precise, in dinner suits, sitting round a table, sharing a drop of the finest... and a few - ahem - memories:

Ahh... Very passable, this, very passable.

Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier, eh Josiah?

You're right there, Obadiah.

Who'd a thought 30 years ago we'd all be sittin' here drinking Chateau de Chassilier?

Aye. In them days, we'd a' been glad to have the price of a cup o' tea.

A cup o' COLD tea.

Without milk or sugar.

OR tea!

In a cracked cup, and all.

We never had a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.

But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, 'Money doesn't buy you happiness.'

'E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN'. We used to live in this tiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all 26 of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing and we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

You were lucky to have a ROOM! We used to have to live in a CORRIDOR!

Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

Well when I say 'house' it was only a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.

We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were 150 of us living in a shoe box in the middle of the road.

Cardboard box?

Aye.

You were lucky. We lived for 3 months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at 6 in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for 14 hours a day, week in week out, for sixpence a week. When we got home, Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!

LUXURY! We used to have to get out of the lake at 6 o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, work 20 hours a day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and our Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle - if we were Lucky!

Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoe box at 12 o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half 2 bits of cold gravel, worked 24 hours a day at mill for sixpence every 4 years, and when we got home, Our Dad would slice us in 2 with a bread knife.

Right. I had to get up in the morning at 10 o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work 29 hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad AND our Mum would kill us and dance about on our graves singing, Hallelujah'.

And you try and tell the young people today that... and they won't believe ya'.

They won't.

***

Well, you live and you learn, as they say. I had absolutely no idea that the lads from Monty Python had done Syria! Thanks, Guardian.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why Do I Get the Feeling?

OMFG, Jonathan Freedland's Guardian is so bloody depressing.

I've just taken a peek, God help me, at the 1,000+ torrent of (overwhelmingly) garbage and bile, aka comment, on its website following Gabrielle Chan's article, Bob Brown endorses action against Lee Rhiannon as Greens turmoil deepens (26/6/17).

What vile, stagnant swamp, I wonder, breeds these sadsacks and mental defectives? Is it any wonder we've got swamp monsters like Abbott, Trumble, Shorten, Dutton, Hanson and the like plaguing us?

In over a thousand 'comments' only one got why the admirable Senator Lee Rhiannon has come under fire from the know-nothings (di Natale) and has-beens (Brown) in her party:

"Why do I get the feeling that Lee's strong stand on the atrocities happening to the Palestinians is behind the hostility to Lee? The Greens may not accept corporate donations, but that does not mean that there are not forces behind the scene pulling strings."

Whoever you are, you have that feeling because you know what's going on.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rogue State, Rogue President

Seymour Hersh on the chemical attack that wasn't:

"On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the US intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.

"The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all US, allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

"Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president's determination to ignore the evidence. 'None of this makes any sense,' one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. 'We KNOW that there was no chemical attack... the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth... I guess it didn't matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.'

"Within hours of the April 4 bombing, the world's media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition. The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad's 'heinous actions' as being a consequence of the Obama administration's 'weakness and irresolution' in addressing what he said was Syria's past use of chemical weapons." (Syria: Trump's red line,welt.de, 25/6/17)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Israel Can't Fool All of the People All of the Time...

Even in Trumpland:

"An unprecedented [IRmep] poll reveals the gaping void between American identification with Israel and the official position taken by both major political parties. A majority of American adults - 70.3% - do not consider themselves Zionists when defined as 'A Zionist is a person who believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. Only 24.9% say, 'I consider myself a Zionist' while 4.8% provided other responses." (Poll: Most Americans aren't Zionists, Grant Smith, antiwar.com, 20/6/17)

Some other interesting excerpts from the above:

"... 80 million Christian evangelicals provide a nationwide multiplier at the voting booth, the result of decades of intense Israel lobby cultivation. This critical to the Israel lobby since according to Pew research, 82% of Jewish Americans do not belong to Jewish organizations, 70% are only somewhat or 'not at all' attached to Israel, while 44% think settlement building is a bad idea. This suggests that Jewish supporters involved in the Israel lobby number only around 774,000..."

"Many prospective candidates for national office must present position papers on Israel to regional AIPAC officials before being allowed to tap a national network of single issue issue pro-Israel donors for the seed-funding necessary to launch political campaigns. Any subsequent divergence from an essentially Zionist narrative or voting record can result in loss of this financial support, primary challenges and ousting from office."

"It is a testament to the lobby's harmful propaganda campaigns that in 2014, as it battled the Iran nuclear deal, most Americans believed Iran already possessed nuclear weapons. A plurality of Americans - in contrast to much of the world - believe Palestinians occupy Israeli land and not the reverse."

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Next One

While any advance...

"The South Australian Parliament today passed a landmark motion calling on the Australian Government to recognise the State of Palestine just as it recognises the State of Israel." (Motion to recognise Palestine passed in South Australian Parliament, Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA)' Press Release, 22/6/17)

... is always better than no advance, may the next AFOPA media release read:

The Australian Government today passed a landmark motion calling on Israel to end its criminal occupation of the West Bank and blockade on Gaza, repeal all apartheid legislation denying full equality between Israel's Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens, and welcome the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their Palestinian homeland.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meet Israel's South Syrian Army

Remember Israel's late, unlamented South Lebanon Army (SLA)? They were a proxy sectarian militia led by General Antoine Lahad and strutted their stuff  - which included a notorious torture centre in the Lebanese town of Khiam - in an Israeli-declared 'security zone' north of the Israeli-Lebanese border in the 1980s and 90s. Well, as the Lebanese (particularly Hezbollah) resistance to Israel's occupation of south Lebanon grew in the 1990s, Israel's 'security zone' became its 'insecurity zone' and it was finally forced to withdraw in 2000.

And its SLA proxy? So sad:

"... there were mass arrests of collaborators with Israel who, after interrogation by Hizbullah's security apparatus, were turned over to the Lebanese authorities. More than 1,250 militiamen with their families crossed into Israel before the Israeli pullout was completed on May 27, 2000. The refugees, who were being housed in a camp near Lake Tiberias, complained about the squalid living conditions and expressed their anger at Israel. 'Israel betrayed us... We could have continued to fight Hizbullah for ten years without the Israeli army, but they handed them victory,' said Etian Sakhr, known by Lebanese as 'Abu Arz,' the leader of the Lebanese Cedar Party." (In the Path of Hizbullah, Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, 2004, p 95)

Well, meet the South Lebanon Army's contemporary Syrian counterparts, the South Syrian Army:

"Israel has been providing Syrian rebels near its [!?] border in the Golan Heights with a steady flow of funds, medical supplies and humanitarian assistance, with one group receiving roughly $5,000 per month, according to rebel fighters quoted in a newspaper report. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing interviews with half a dozen rebel leaders and three persons familiar with Israel's undeclared policy, that the Jewish State is helping these forces, which are opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian, Lebanese and Russian allies, in an effort to help set up a buffer zone on its [!?] border with forces friendly to Israel. According to the report, Israel set up a special military unit in 2016 to oversee and coordinate the transfer of the aid, which helps the groups pay salaries and buy weapons and ammunition... Israel has dubbed this operation in the Golan Heights the 'Good Neighborhood' policy... 'Israel stood by our side in a heroic way, a spokesman for the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan, or Knights of the Golan, Moatasem al-Golani, told the Journal. 'We wouldn't have survived without Israel's assistance'." (Israel provides steady flow of cash, aid to Syrian rebels, says WSJ report, timesofisrael.com, 19/6/17)

I sure hope there's still some room left in that squalid 'refugee' camp near Lake Tiberias for Israel's Knights of the Golan...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Coming Russo-American War?

"US, Russian, and Iranian military forces have all been involved in the Syrian War for some time now, and all with differing agendas. As they all increase their involvement, those fights have become less separated, and particularly in the case of the US and Russia, the threat of direct clashes is growing. After several incidents in which US warplanes attacked Syrian pro-government targets, the US yesterday had its biggest attack, shooting down a Syrian Su-22 bomber inside Syrian airspace. The US insisted the attack was 'collective self defense' meant to protect the Syrian Kurds. Russia has responded to the US attack by announcing they're going to start treating US warplanes operating in much of Syria as potential targets for their advanced air defense systems. This comes as Iran increases its own involvement in Syria, firing missiles at ISIS targets." (US, Russia, and Iran edging closer to all-out war in Syria, Jason Ditz, antiwar.com, 19/6/17)

So downing a Syrian plane - in Syria of all places - is just Uncle Sam defending himself...