In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing.
- Human remains found at site of Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam
- They were discovered in what appears to be some type of sewage container
- Scientific analysis puts the age of death between 35 foetal weeks and 2 to 3 years
- Radiocarbon dating confirms the remains are from the time the home was in operation – many are likely to be from the 1950s.
THE COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION into Mother and Baby Homes has discovered a significant number of human remains in what appears to be a decommissioned sewage chamber in Tuam.
The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
The structure where the remains were found is long and divided into 20 chambers. The Commission is not yet clear if it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.
There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.
A second structure discovered during excavations between November 2016 and February this year appeared to be a decommissioned septic tank which had been filled with rubble and debris and then covered with topsoil.
In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.
State authorities have been asked to take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains and the North Galway Coroner has been informed. He will determine if there is to be any garda involvement in further investigations.
Speaking today, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the “sad and disturbing news” confirms rumours about the possibility of a mass grave at the site.
“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home. We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately,” she added.
Decisions have yet to be taken on whether more excavations will be required at other mother and baby home sites.
The Commission was established following a 2014 report in the Irish Mail on Sunday that 800 children died in the home and were interred in a mass grave.
Local historian Catherine Corless has spent years researching the home, even obtaining death certificates for each child who died there, in the hope of rectifying an injustice.
In a statement today, the Bon Secours order said:
“The Bon Secours sisters are fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
Call for identification
The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said that they were saddened by the news.
They said that Tuam “is not an isolated case” and reiterated their call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations.
They said that they want the government to ensure that all children who died in Tuam,a nd all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified.
In addition, they urged an Garda Siochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.
We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care’ towards these children and their mothers.
In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.
With reporting by Aoife Barry
This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
Above: incitement to hatred
The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).
Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.
At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been
But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen
By Elizabeth Butterworth (this article also appears in Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website)
Last week, the footballer Ched Evans was cleared of rape after appealing against his 2012 conviction. This does not mean that he did not rape victim X, or has “proved his innocence”, but that the jury had “reasonable doubt” about whether he had raped X or if she had consented to sex.
Reports of the trial’s proceedings suggest that the events were as such: X was engaged in sexual activity with Clayton McDonald, another professional footballer, who was acquitted of rape in the original trial. Evans then proceeded to have sex with X without having spoken to her, while Evans’s younger brother looked on from a window.
X has testified that she cannot remember any of these events due to being too drunk. Evans’s lawyers claimed that she had “directed” events by saying things like “fuck me harder”. The evidence in this re-trial apparently hinged on the testimony of two men who had had sex with the victim on other occasions, and attested that she had said similar things to them as what Evans had claimed in the original trial.
It is difficult to “prove” rape, in terms of being able to show a jury that the victim was not consenting and the defendant was aware that (s)he could not or did not consent, which is what this case rested upon. However, it is difficult to see why the Court of Appeal deemed that this evidence was compelling enough for a re-trial.
It is worrying that the victim’s sexual history was brought into the trial. The implication is obvious: that, because she’d had casual sex or drunken sex on other occasions and said things that suggested she liked having sex, it was simply a case of her having done that again. Which raises the question, do women need to police themselves to the point of not being able to have casual sex or not being able to drink, in order for men not to rape us? To which the answer is, no, men should know to leave drunk women alone and that each time someone has sex, consent must be sought first.
What I’ve read about the Ched Evans case from the perspective of criminal lawyers does not suggest wide legal implications in terms of setting new precedent. This trial, and other rape trials where there is some level of “victim blaming”, do set a cultural tone, however. In the Daily Star, their columnist Helen Wood rants, “These silly bitches who need a good slap of reality should stop and think…
“We’re all meant to get our violins out because they’ve had to change their names five times, if she’s stuck on a new name for in future, C*** would be a good one…. Hope this case has set a lesson for all the ladies out there trying to scar people for a dollar, if you drop your kecks, deal with the walk of shame, quit trying to frame.”
X has had to change her name five times and is, according to some sources, considering moving abroad due to the harassment and abuse she has suffered both on and off-line. The abuse, like Wood’s disgusting tirade (which, let’s not forget, was published by a newspaper with about 430,000 readers), centres around X being labelled a slut, a bitch, money-hungry and a liar: all classic misogynist tropes.
The simple fact is that pretty much every woman I know has been a victim of sexual assault or rape. And has been sexually harassed countless times.
I’ve reported being assaulted to the police and had to deal with total incompetence, inertia and non-existence of resources. I went to the police after a friend was assaulted with a knife and, after hours of painful interviews, the assailant was slapped with a fifty quid fine and no criminal record. I’ve been raped, twice, by two different boyfriends. I’ve also walked down the street and been grabbed. When I shrank away and asked them to leave me alone, I was followed and called a bitch and a cunt. I’ve changed my mind and not gone through with sex, at which point the man I was seeing got extremely aggressive and I had to literally run away.
In fact, any time I have challenged men — even “nice men” — over their behaviour, they become aggressive and sometimes violent. They believe they are entitled to make lecherous comments, to look up women’s skirts, to stare down our tops and to intimidate us. And despite having had relationships with both men and women, and having been dancing in many gay clubs as well as straight, I’ve only once felt that a woman was going “too far”. The hundreds of other times have all been men.
We have a huge problem of misogyny in society. I mean actual women-hating, not just sexism. What else is it when you don’t think someone has a right to ownership over their own body and what happens to it? This is perpetrated by lots of men, who seek to show their dominance, and exert power.
And it is backed up by the internal misogyny of women like Helen Wood, who try to differentiate their womanhood from that of the “silly bitches”.
Rape is on the books as a crime. And the word and idea of “rape” is sensationalised. Yet, the reality of women’s lives is that rape is pretty “normal” and common. And due to the inertia of the police, the brutality of the courts system and the cultural bias of juries, many of us don’t see the point of reporting, let alone pursuing the case and taking rapists to court.
The victim in the Ched Evans case is my hero for reporting and taking the case to court. In the end, Evans may have been cleared, but at least this has drawn attention to the very real problems we face as a society.
Until the women are free, the people cannot be free. Until men realise that women need to be empowered at every level, we will not be successful as a movement or as a class.
Above: Chris Law: yet another SNP’er under police inverstigation
By Dale Street
Last week saw Chris Law become the third of the SNP’s 2015 intake of MPs – elected on a promise of a “new politics”, free from traditional Westminster sleaze – to be investigated by the police about their financial dealings.
Law, who owns a £140,000 Aston Martin and has just put in a bid for an “offers over £620,000” castle, spent the 2014 referendum campaign touring Scotland in a 1950s Green Goddess fire engine painted in the colours of the saltire.
It was his own personal “Spirit of Independence” campaign. Allegations of embezzlement concerning donations made to the campaign are reported as the reason for Law being questioning by the police.
Last week also saw Natalie McGarry – elected as an SNP MP but no longer holding the SNP whip – charged with embezzlement of funds from Women for Independence and her local SNP Association. A report has been sent to the Procurator Fiscal.
The third SNP MP under police investigation, Michelle Thomson, who likewise no longer holds the SNP whip, is still awaiting the outcome of the ongoing investigation into a number of property deals which she and her husband were involved in.
There were plenty of other broken SNP promises in the news last week.
Scottish Government accounts revealed that student loans are the government’s largest financial asset. They had increased by 11% over the past year and now amount to nearly £3 billions.
This was bad news for the SNP because it came to power with a promise to wipe out student debt. So, steady progress backwards on that promise.
A SNP promise of loans to farmers as a way of providing a financial cushion pending the payment of EU financial support collapsed into chaos after the SNP Government admitted that it had miscalculated loans for hundreds of farmers.
This was particularly bad news for the SNP. The loans scheme had been introduced because of an earlier SNP failure to pay out EU support on time – the result of a malfunctioning computer system bought by the SNP Government which has already gone 74% over budget.
So, two broken promises there for the (over-budget) price of one.
Other figures released last week showed an almost ten-fold increase in spending by Scottish MPs on Scotland-to-London business-class flights in 2015/16 compared with the previous year: up from £61,000 to nearly £600,000.
The explanation: Unlike their predecessors, and two of three remaining non-SNP MPs in Scotland, SNP MPs fly business-class. (The one non-SNP MP who keeps the SNP MPs company on their business-class flights is, of course, a Tory.)
In 2015 SNP candidates had promised to “stand up for Scotland” if elected to Westminster. Clearly, what they actually meant was: Sit down for Scotland in the comfiest seats.
The same figures showed that nine of the ten MPs with the highest expenses claims were SNP MPs. Highest claimer of all was Michelle Thomson (£106,000). But SNP MP Steven Paterson, coming in at number five (£99,000), merits particular mention: He claimed £40 to pay for looking after a dog.
Another 2015 election promise from the SNP was: “The SNP will never stop doing our best to make Scotland’s NHS the very best. Under the SNP Scotland’s NHS has been protected and improved.”
Figures released last week revealed: just over 28% of GP posts are currently vacant; the number of posts unfilled for more than six months has nearly doubled over the past year; waiting times for cancer treatment are at their worst level since records began; and over the last five years the number of radiologists has increased by 3% but their workload by 55%.
The SNP had a chance at Holyrood last week to deliver on its promise to “protect and improve the NHS”, by voting for a Labour motion demanding that the Scottish Government “call in” for ministerial decision a series of cuts in services being proposed by local NHS Boards.
Instead, the SNP moved a wrecking amendment to the Labour motion. When that was defeated, the SNP abstained on the final vote.
The SNP, being the SNP, didn’t just make election promises to look after the sick. It also promised “security in retirement” and “better support for the most vulnerable in society and protection of pensioner benefits”.
But figures released last week showed that the SNP Holyrood government has cut £500 millions from the social care budget of Scottish local authorities, resulting in 12% of the elderly suffering a cut in the services they receive.
Sturgeon blamed the social care budget cuts on a Tory cut of 5% in funding to Holyrood. She must have attended the same accountancy course as Chris Law and Natalie McGarry: The SNP government’s cut to social care spending (11%) is more than double that.
Another promise which the SNP may come to regret was one made last week by SNP Glasgow councillor Jahangir Hanif. Speaking at a public meeting in his ward, Hanif promised that he would bring Sturgeon to see the appalling housing conditions in the Govanhill district.
But Hanif was then exposed as the landlord of a flat in one of the worst streets. According to the Daily Record:
“Hanif’s flat is at the top of a dilapidated close. It is infested with flies and has a shooting gallery for heroin addicts on the ground floor. The bannister is broken and on the verge of collapse. There is a strong stench of urine throughout the building. The walls are filthy and the stairs are caked in grime.”
Hanif, who lives in a £700,000 house in Newton Mearns, charges a family of five adults £500 a month for his two-bedroomed flat. And why Sturgeon needs an invite from Hanif is a mystery: Sturgeon is the constituency MSP.
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Five weapons Putin and Assad are using in Aleppo
Photo: Injured being treated in Aleppo, 25 September 2016, via @HadiAlabdallah
From a call with Aleppo local council yesterday:
SyriaUK: How are you?
Aleppo Council: This situation is the worst we have ever seen, a never ending nightmare, shelling is non-stop throughout the night when there’s no electricity or lights, people are unable to sleep. We also get shelled in the day, but less frequently.The bunker buster missiles used are causing massive shock waves; some buildings are collapsing without being targeted due to the effects of shock waves. These missiles are particularly designed to target underground shelters, so people have nowhere to hide. We woke up yesterday to a building that fell purely because of shock waves, forty people died.
To make matters worse, we are under siege, the markets are empty and we have nothing at all.
How can we help? What would you like us to do?
The whole world knows about what is going on in Aleppo, it is no secret. There was a special UN session about Aleppo today and world leaders kept rehashing the same lines. We know they do not care and will do nothing, but maybe if the general public are aware they would pressure their governments to do something. Make them aware how many types of bombs and missiles are being used against us. We are being shelled with five different types of bombs and missiles: napalm; phosphorous; cluster; barrel bombs; and bunker buster bombs.
SYRIAN GROUPS IN THE UK CALL FOR AIRCRAFT TRACKING, AIRDROPS, AND A NO-BOMBING ZONE
On Monday night an air attack by pro Assad forces destroyed a Red Crescent aid convoy and killed at least 12 people including Omar Barakat, Red Crescent director in Orem al-Kubra, Aleppo province.
The convoy had travelled from regime held territory into opposition territory so was known to the regime. A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence prior to the attack appears to show that the aid convoy was under Russian drone surveillance at some point before it was hit by an airstrike.
Both Russia and the Assad regime have denied responsibility.
Today, Tuesday, the United Nations suspended all aid convoys across Syria, including to Madaya which has been denied food and medical aid for months, and is suffering an outbreak of meningitis.
Also on Monday, Assad regime 4th Division forces at checkpoints were accused of spoiling food aid for the besieged town of Moadamiyeh.
Monday’s aid delivery to besieged Talbiseh was followed by pro Assad air attacks that killed at least three people and injured fifteen.
The only area to receive UN aid today Tuesday was regime-held Deir Ezzor by World Food Programme airdrop. Deir Ezzor has received regular airdrops for months now (107 WFP airdrops up to 31 August) while no opposition held area has received a single one despite a UK-proposed and ISSG-agreed deadline of 1 June for airdrops and air bridges to several besieged communities.
The events around yesterday’s aid convoy bombing show the need for aircraft tracking, airdrops, and a no-bombing zone in Syria.
ON AIRCRAFT TRACKING, we have recently been briefing Foreign Office and DfID officials on this option. The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The need for this is clearly illustrated by Russian and Assad regime denials over yesterday’s aid convoy bombing.
ON AIRDROPS, the UK has the experience and the capacity to airdrop food and medical aid to besieged communities from its bases in Cyprus. The UK has the military might to deter attacks on its aircraft. Suitable partners on the ground are available through UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and others to coordinate drop zones and aid distribution.
ON A NO-BOMBING ZONE, it is approaching a year now since Jo Cox set out the case in Parliament for ‘deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.’
A no-bombing zone does not require boots on the ground; does not require air patrols in Syrian airspace; does not require bombing Syrian air defences; does not require coming into armed conflict with Russia.
A no-bombing zone requires giving the Assad regime an ultimatum to stop air attacks against civilians, and then answering any subsequent air attacks with carefully targeted strikes against Assad regime military assets. It is a measured, proportionate proposal to save countless lives and open the door to peace.
We have heard the ‘no military solution’ mantra repeated about Syria for over five years. We need a political solution, but diplomacy without pressure has failed again and again to deliver a political solution, and all that time the Assad regime backed by Russia has continued military action against Syria’s civilian population, driving people to flee and destroying any hope for an inclusive political settlement.
It is time to learn from over five years of failure and act to end the killing in Syria.
Syria Solidarity UK
Rethink Rebuild Society
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
UN Aid Convoy Hit By Airstrike, Head Of Syrian Red Crescent Killed; Drone Footage Shows Convoy Before Attack
UN suspends aid convoys in Syria after hit, ICRC warns on impact
Homs: 15 killed, wounded in regime air strikes on Talbiseh
Syrian Arab Republic – 2016 UN Inter-Agency Operations as of 31 August 2016 (PDF)
Showing 107 World Food Programme airdrops to regime held Deir Ezzor and 82 World Food Programme airlifts to Quamishli, and zero airdrops or airlifts to opposition held areas under siege.
House of Commons adjournment debate on civilians in Syria, 12 October 2015
The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Read more (PDF)
Total silence and inactivity from …
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By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016
Originally published at The International Business Times, republished by The Syrian Intifada
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
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The man accused of murdering Jo Cox gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. As he (allegedly) shot and stabbed the MP to death he cried “Britain First” or “Put Britain First”.
It is now established that he had links with the far-right. It seems very likely that he is mentally ill. We do not know to what extent the anti-Europe campaign fuelled his murderous hatred, but those of us who believe that political rhetoric inevitably has practical consequences are obliged to point out that the poisonous, racist campaign for Brexit has created precisely the political context for murderous violence of this kind. Just a few hours before the murder, Farage unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia as though this was a threat to the UK: a clear incitement to racial hatred:
I’m not Owen Jones’s biggest fan, but on this occasion I can completely understand his anger and frustration at the refusal of Sky News presenter Mark Longhurst to recognise this as a homophobic attack. Longhurst told him “you cannot say this is a worse attack than what happened in Paris”, which Jones did not say. Eventually, Jones walked out, and good for him:
The US Socialist Worker (no longer related to the UK organisation/paper of the same name) at least makes an attempt at a serious analysis, but is not entirely coherent and verges, towards the end, on a version of “blow-back”.
Donald Trump is all too predictable … and loathsome.
Owen Jones explains himself at greater length here
Leave.EU has wasted no time in cashing in:
Above: the remnants of one of the pubs immediately after the blast
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