The Quality of Mercy

The Quality of Mercy

Uncle Volodya says, "The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else.”

Uncle Volodya says, “The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else.”

“Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time everywhere”

-George W. Bush

The western press, and the political systems it serves, are rousing themselves to a frenzy of effort to stop the Syrian government forces from re-taking the Syrian city of Aleppo, which the west would very much like to see the ‘rebels’ retain as the capital of a federalized opposition state within Syria.

The Washington Post is a good example of the outage flooding the net, chucking out articles like it was a snowball fight, each vying with the last to explore new heights of this-must-not-stand noble fury at the Russian/Syrian military operation to drive Islamic State from  the last major city in Syria in which it has a significant presence. If Assad’s forces are successful, as they will be without a direct western military intervention on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliates, the IS insurgency will be reduced to terrorizing small villages and spray-painting its tags on mailboxes.

Consider Richard Cohen, figuratively dancing with rage, beside himself with fury at the Russians’ temerity in supporting Assad – who is the democratically-elected leader of Syria, who retains the loyalty of a convincing majority and who would win easily in free elections.

According to Cohen, what is going on now in Aleppo is murder, plain and simple, and that it is being allowed to continue is a symbol of American weakness. Cohen implores the United States to gird itself for battle, and issue forth and save the al-Nusra Front, Islamic State and whatever other al-Qaeda splinter groups might be in Aleppo, from defeat. Well, them, too – but he’s mostly concerned about the civilians, especially the children. Because, in the end, it’s for the kids, right?

This is not Kerry’s failure. It is Obama’s. He takes overweening pride in being the anti-George W. Bush. Obama is the president who did not get us into any nonessential wars of the Iraq variety. The consequences for Syria have been dire — perhaps 500,000 dead, 7 million internal refugees, with millions more surging toward Europe like a tsunami of the desperate.

Syria had a pre-crisis population of just over 21 million, so according to Cohen, a third of the Syrian population has either been killed or internally displaced. But the west is just now getting extra-concerned. Cohen’s anguish certainly speaks well of him; I will do what I can to put him in touch with an agency that will send a Syrian refugee family to share his accommodations. I sure hope he doesn’t live in one of the states that has refused to take Syrian refugees, especially considering the death toll appears to have doubled in less than a year; in November 2015 it was guessed to be around 250,000. But Richard has shown us how to arrive at a more sensational number – you just put ‘perhaps’ in front of it. In reality nobody has much of a clue, since the UN takes its numbers directly from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As I have pointed out many times before, this is one guy working out of his living room in England, funneling figures from his network of activists in Syria. Nobody checks anything, and the one time the UN tried to verify the numbers it was successful in doing so for less than a dozen casualties.

Nor is Cohen the only one, of course; just the Washington Post alone is alive with articles damning the Syrian government and the Russian Federation, and imploring western leaders to do something, anything, just doitnowtheresnotimeforanalysis. We’ll sort it out later, which might make a dandy epitaph for western policymaking as a whole. International news sources likewise bewail western stasis, while the French have arrived at an ecstacy of choler, a new altitude for dudgeon, and are demanding a UN resolution ordering a cease-fire – anyone who doesn’t vote for it is a war criminal. No, I’m not kidding.

Say – does anyone remember the war in Libya, when the French war criminals wereairdropping weapons to the Benghazi rebels? Without consulting any authority, or even their allies? Airdropping weapons to the outfit, eventually victorious once NATO agreed to act as its Air Force, that raised the al Qaeda flag over Benghazi the instant NATO pulled out of Libya? How’d that turn out? Prosperous western-leaning market democracy? Not so much. Oh, well; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, right, France? You cannot make ze omelette wizzout you break ze eggs, n’est-ce pas?

The serving French government is a dick pudding whose main ingredient is dick, sans doubte, and Francois Hollande has earned the right to have the next newly-discovered invertebrate named after him. The French seem to have forgotten already how the US State Department screwed them over with the Mistral Amphibious Assault Carrier sale to Russia, which cost them a quarter of a billion Euros. And then Egypt – the eventual buyer – outfitted them with new Russian helicopters. But here comes France, carrying Uncle Sam’s golf clubs again; I guess they never learn.

Well, as much fun as it would be to talk about French fumbling all day, that Cohen thing is still bugging me. General Cohen’s insistence that Washington stop futzing around and get in there and stop Putin from slaughtering innocents strikes a jangling chord with me. And I just realized why.


Starting in November 2004 and over the course of a month and half, the British and United States military hammered the shit out of Fallujah, in Iraq. Oh, they didn’t say that, of course – they called it Operation Phantom Fury, because that sounds more organized and nest than simply blasting the city to rubble. And you know the funny thing? American accounts of the battle in the popular press do not mention civilian casualties. Or bombing hospitals. Or cutting off all electrical power, or turning back Red Crescent humanitarian aid or turning back all ‘military-age males’ attempting to flee the city. The US military served notice that everyone who was not an insurgent should get out of Fallujah, and about 80% of the population, according to some estimates, left. The remainder were treated as if they were all insurgents.

Before the offensive commenced, the population was estimated at more than 250,000. That suggests that at least upwards of 50,000 people remained in the city during the ensuing bombardment. But American reports reflect that there were at most 4000 insurgents among the population in the city. Simple mathematics resolves that if those figures are accurate, more than 45,000 civilians remained in Fallujah.

What was it like for those inhabitants, once the offensive commenced? Bear in mind that the offensive itself followed weeks of aerial bombing. But once the Marines and soldiers started going block-to-block, house-to-house, what was it like for them?

“Burhan Fasa’a, an Iraqi journalist, said Americans grew easily frustrated with Iraqis who could not speak English. “Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English. They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and shot people because [the people] didn’t obey [the soldiers’] orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English.” Abu Hammad, a resident of Fallujah, told the Inter Press Service that he saw people attempt to swim across the Euphrates to escape the siege. “The Americans shot them with rifles from the shore. Even if some of them were holding a white flag or white clothes over their head to show they are not fighters, they were all shot.” Furthermore, “even the wound[ed] people were killed. The Americans made announcements for people to come to one mosque if they wanted to leave Fallujah, and even the people who went there carrying white flags were killed.” Former residents of Fallujah recall other tragic methods of killing the wounded. “I watched them [U.S. Forces] roll over wounded people in the street with tanks… …This happened so many times.”

Preliminary estimates as of December of 2004 revealed that at least 6,000 Iraqi citizens in Fallujah had been killed, and one-third of the city had been destroyed.”

Many people will not want to believe this happened, that people who might be their neighbours could do such things. And there’s a tendency to assume the speaker must be lying, must be, because he is an Iraqi with an incentive to make the west out to be wicked and depraved. And you know what? This is the wages of deception, of constant spin and fabrication in the effort to twist public perception of events. The end result is that people will only believe what they are comfortable believing. Because there is no group or entity upon whom we can rely to tell us the truth. Here’s a great example – a video clip which most likely originates with the lyingest group of individuals in Syria – the White Helmets. It is purportedly a scene of chaos in an East Aleppo hospital, one of the few surviving, because the Russians carefully seek them out and bomb them because they love killing people. The atmosphere is chaos, with women wailing loudly and what appear to be orderlies trying to deal with the flood of casualties. Keep your eye on the guy on the right, pretending to nurse a head wound. Since he is around the corner from the ‘action’, he figures it’s safe to laugh at the absurdity of it all, until he realizes the camera is on him – whereupon he quickly adopts the mien of suffering victim.

Anyway, back to Fallujah. British officers professed themselves to be appalled at the wilful destruction carried out by American forces.

“In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. “During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city,” recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: “My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside.”

The legacy of the siege of Fallujah continued long after the battle had ended, with a 12-fold increase in cancer in children under 14, likely due to the use of depleted-uranium ammunition. After months of denials, Washington finally admitted in 2005 that its forces had used White Phosphorus (AKA ‘Willy Pete’) as an incendiary weapon against Iraqis in Fallujah, which is a war crime and was so assessed at the time although nothing – repeat, nothing – was ever done about it. If White Phosphorus makes contact with skin it will continue to burn independent of oxygen all the way to the bone. But Washington insisted it had only used it against enemy insurgents, wink, wink. Why the hedging?

Because using White Phosphorus against enemy troops is not a crime. As a matter of fact, American lawyers have penciled in an escape clause for occasions when American troops kill civilians. And it is ‘They didn’t mean to’. That’s right – how does it go, Samantha Power? “There is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective.”

Ah; of course there is. And so now you see how simple it is to argue that forces of the Syrian government and the Russian Federation always do the former – because they get a thrill out of killing civilians – while the forces of the United States and its allies always do the latter. And while proving it would be virtually impossible, proving otherwise would be just as impossible. Moral victory, United States.

Somebody was so reluctant and unintentional about killing 21 people in Fallujah, whose bodies were unearthed from a mass grave found in Al-Maadhidi cemetery, that they took the trouble to blindfold them, tie their arms and legs, shoot them and then place the corpses in body bags with English letters and numbers on them and bury them. The mayor and the Chief of Police both said the bodies were from the 2004 Fallujah offensive, and that they had been killed by US forces. But the aforementioned US forces declined to comment, so I guess nobody knows.

US forces unintentionally and reluctantly bombed a Red Crescent maternity hospital in Baghdad, unintentionally killing some civilians, including those who burned to death in their cars.  The US Air Force reluctantly bombed a chicken shack in Baghdad with four satellite-guided ‘smart bombs’, but they must not have been top of their class, because they hit houses near the restaurant and killed 8 civilians, including 3 children. None of them were Saddam Hussein and his two sons,  whom a tipster had apparently told the US military were inside enjoying a chicken dinner. I hope that’s how it went, and that they were not just guessing. At any rate, the super-high-precision bombs missed the restaurant, only blowing out its windows with the blast. The people it did hit were pretty dead, though.

Anyway, you see how it works. You just make up the name of some bad guy you were trying to get, and you can safely bomb the shit out of anything you want, while keeping your moral authority unsullied. You didn’t mean to. The USA always has an excuse (bad people have celebrations, too) when it kills civilians in the pursuit of some military objective, but it will accept no excuses whatsoever from its enemies when they kill civilians in pursuit of a military objective, and their intent to deliberately kill civilians is consistently assumed.

Let’s put this in perspective. The United States not only had no business in Iraq at all, it deliberately fabricated the excuse it used to invade Iraq. Various studies estimate Iraqi deaths in the Iraq war at 1 million. The US Defense Secretary characterized the resistanceto American conquest as ‘a few pockets of dead-enders’, probably not more than 10,000 fighters. Either the USA killed each of them 100 times over, like something out ofBlackadder Goes Forth, or  it killed a lot of civilians. You can minus off a few who were likely killed by other Iraqis, but the main target of Iraqis was US forces. You can cut the figure down by, let’s say, 100,000, for Iraqi soldiers who were killed in the initial war, while there still was an Iraqi Army. That still leaves about 850,000 unexplained civilian deaths. The USA announced that it was in total control of Iraq, and exulted over the way the Iraqis had to coordinate everything with their American occupiers. After the Fallujah offensive commenced, US forces fired indiscriminately into the city although it still contained thousands of civilians, used prohibited weapons against the civilian population and did not provide safe exit corridors for those fleeing the barrage. The US military cut the power to the city so that medical facilities which did not have a generator capability had no electricity.

Syria is fighting a foreign-backed insurgency in Aleppo, in which many of the fighters are Islamic extremists recruited from abroad who are not Syrians. It is a war to return Syria to the unified, secular country it was before the western-instigated regime-change effort commenced. Syrians who lay down their arms and surrender may be amnestied under Syrian law, and even foreign fighters may leave by safe corridors, with their weapons. Those civilians who fled Aleppo are being housed and provided for as best the government can manage under the circumstances, and will be provided with assistance to return to their homes when the fighting is over if their homes are not destroyed in the violence. The Islamic extremists Syria and Russia are fighting are trained, armed and supported by Washington and its allies, and Washington refuses to differentiate between ‘moderate’ rebels and al Qaeda affiliates as it has agreed to do in cease-fire agreements. The USA is in Syria at its own insistence, ostensibly to fight Islamic State, although circumstantial evidence demonstrates it is actually supporting  extremist groups as proxy forces in the hope they will topple the Syrian government. Anyone who doubts this should read theinterview between the German newspaper Focus and the commander of al Nusra, published two days ago.

Richard Cohen sees Aleppo as Guernica, because – he claims – Guernica, like Aleppo, was bombed by fascists deliberately seeking to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible. Let’s be clear; Washington does not give a tin weasel about civilian casualties except for those killed by its enemies, and has written legalese which guarantees civilians killed by American forces will always have been killed as a result of a reluctant accident. Those killed by Washington’s foes will always have been murdered for no justifiable reason. Fallujah was more like Guernica, but those deaths don’t matter, because nobody meant to kill them.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

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