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Secret State 20: Britain at war with more than 1600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq

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Denials wear thin: Britain is at war with more than 1600 airstrikes in Syria and IraqDeborah Haynes, Defence Editor of the Times reports the killing of a civilian by RAF drone in Syria.

The air strike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or an airbase in the United States.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.

The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.

A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.

The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.

The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.

The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.

A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her

grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.

Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:

To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes

 

 

 

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Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?

In 2015 Max Tegmark (professor, MITT) reported, in the Future of Life Institute, that Artificial Intelligence & Robotics researchers warned in an open letter:

“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

Today (Aug. 21), Quartz reports that in a second open letter a group of specialists from 26 nations, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, as well as other leaders in robotics and artificial-intelligence companies, called for the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

In recent years Musk has repeatedly warned against the dangers of AI, donating millions to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil. He joined other tech luminaries in establishing OpenAI, a nonprofit with the same goal in mind and part of his donation went to create the Future of Life Institute.

“As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations . . .

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

The first meeting for the UN’s recently established Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems is now planned for November. It was to be held today, but was cancelled, the letter notes, “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.”

Critics have argued for years that UN action on autonomous weapons is taking too long.

The UK and the US have increased investment on robotic and autonomous systems by committing to a joint programme (announced by UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne and US Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, right).

Observers say the UK and US are seeking to protect their heavy investment in these technologies – some directly harmful and others servicing  military operations – by ‘watering down’ an agreement so that it only includes emerging technology, meaning that any weapons put into practice while discussions continue are beyond the reach of a ban.

 

 

 

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British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)

Paul Ingram, executive director of BASIC*, commented on Simon Jenkins’ statement quoted in today’s article on another website:

“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.

Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.

The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”

He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:

“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.

“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.

“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.

“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.

 

 

Will parliament stand firm again?

*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.

 

 

 

The post truth debate: an organic farmer prompts a search

Post truth: ‘for the birds’ ?

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With thanks to Tom Rigby (above) – known for his effective advocacy on behalf of farmers poisoned by use of government-required organophosphate sheep dips (latest reference) – who often offers worthwhile Twitter feeds. Today one led to a rare challenge to the widespread acceptance of assertions that we live in a “post-truth” world.  

He links to an article by Robert Fisk (‘always worth reading’) who bluntly asserts: “We do not live in a “post-truth” world, neither in the Middle East nor in the West – nor in Russia, for that matter. We live in a world of lies. And we always have lived in a world of lies”.

Rune Møller Stahl’s PhD fellow at University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science and Bue Rübner Hansen is a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark explore the subject in Jacobin: a voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture. 

Stahl and Hansen use the term ‘liberals’ in a way that needs further definition.

jacobinFar removed from the admirable political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality, an online search (including Wiki) offers the explanation that Liberal writers start from the belief that economic liberalism’s values — the right to private property, the valorization of self-interest, and formal freedom without material equality — best describe human nature.

To explain what happened in the United Kingdom and the United States this year these writers all agree that voters and politicians increasingly deny facts, manipulate the truth, and prefer emotion to expertise .They ask how voters could defy the warnings of so many pundits, wonks, and fact-checkers?

Almost unanimously, they answered that we live in an age characterized by post-factual politics and noted that, pushed by major media organizations like Forbes and the New York Times, “post-truth” recently became Oxford Dictionaries’ new word of the year.

Stahl and Hansen sardonically observe that the liberal media don’t seem to know how we entered this post-fact world or when the factual age, which must have preceded it, ended, asking “Was it in the 2000s, when the whole world debated imaginary weapons of mass destruction before being conned into war?”

Historical points made in Jacobin:

  • In the 1990s centrist technocrats like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ‘pioneered . . . a false progressivism that was premised on profitability and stopped short of any proposal the political center might object to, no matter how just’.
  • The right-wing fringe led by Fox News, conspiracy theorists, and televangelists remained marginal until 9/11/01 threw the United States — liberal and conservative alike — into a patriotic mass hysteria that culminated in two poorly planned wars.
  • But historical events started calling liberal truths into question. The 2008 financial crash revealed the failure of liberal economics. Occupy and Black Lives Matter threw light on structural problems that triangulation and managerialism not only can’t address but refuse to.

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In sum, they end that it’s time to stop blaming (the current version of) fake news and realize why so many believe it: the simple reason is that the mainstream of the political class have squandered people’s trust, by not having their best interests at heart. Stahl and Hansen believe that only a democratic revival will challenge authoritarianism and liberal managerialism and combat the regressives who now run their country – and ours.

 

 

 

Political loyalties: EU or USA? The red carpet treatment wins the day

cameron red carpet muscat

Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen in March. The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations and expediting weapons deliveries and other crucial support.

Today a Moseley reader draws our attention to the news reported by the Guardian that – eager to follow suit – David Cameron has extolled the ‘defence’ products made by BAE Systems and assured the company that every effort would be made by the UK government to support the selling of their equipment to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries.

This, despite the European parliament’s vote in favour of an EU-wide ban on arms being sold to Saudi Arabia in protest at its heavy aerial bombing of Yemen, which has been condemned by the UN.

According to a BBC report, Houthis – aka Shiite Muslim rebels – are seeking change from weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, unemployment, high food prices, limited social services and large-scale displacement.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.

yemen bombing

Death and destruction: the fruits of Saudi, UK, USA labour

 

As US politics faces a ‘tidal wave of money’, UK gears up for the 2015 elections

New World: After Watergate campaign finance laws were passed to cut out corruption

us supreme court

Now, Justice Clarence Thomas, formerly employed by Monsanto, voted with the majority as the US Supreme Court struck down a cap on political donations, on the grounds that this is a restriction on free speech. Under the new rules, a single individual may now spend $3.6m per election on candidates, their parties’ committees and various political committees.

Justice Thomas also delivered a separate opinion saying all such limits on donations should go.

As Richard McGregor in Washington writes in the FT, overnight this has handed greater power to wealthy political patrons.

Old World

DEFRA minister Owen Paterson using a particle gun used in the testing of GM crops

DEFRA minister Owen Paterson using a particle gun used in the testing of GM crops

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has actively promoted the introduction of GM technology, despite public opposition in Britain and the fact that 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and most countries in Europe have either banned GM crop production outright, or put in place tight restrictions on the production and use of GM products.

 

The Monsanto connection will be continuing to work hard behind the scenes for an outright Conservative victory in Britain, funding an army of lobbyists and PR firms; an overall majority would allow them to introduce GM crops.

US & UK: rising use of GM herbicides, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia, autism etc

Is it a coincidence, that – as the use of glyphosate rises – so does the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, senile dementia, childhood autism, prostate cancer and many other conditions?

Glyphosate was first marketed in 1976 and its use has greatly increased since 1995, when it was first used with genetically engineered crops. GE crops absorb glyphosate through direct application, and from the soil. It cannot be washed off, is found in rivers, streams, air, rain and food (according to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Note that most recording and research comes from American sources

glyph soy parkinsons graph

Graphs of death rates for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and senile dementia have been plotted against glyphosate applications to U.S. corn and soy crops. Dr Swanson notes that the correlations are quite strong. American deaths due to Alzheimer’s have been rising since 1980, but there was a sharp spike in 1999.

glyph soy senile demetia graphDr Swanson points out that correlation does not necessarily imply causation and there are now a host of other chemicals in our food and our environment.

glyph soy autism graphAutism data: U.S. Department of Education, Crop data: U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Britain: an increasing number of cancers and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease and MS – and glyphosate in rivers and drinking water

In a new review paper written by Dr. Rosemary Mason (MB, ChB, FRCA) – medical doctor and naturalist – and submitted to the Scottish Parliament, glyphosate is shown to destroy both human health and biodiversity. She has compiled information from a global network of independent scientists, toxicologists, beekeepers, Industry, environmentalists, governments and regulators, noting that:

“UK has an increasing number of cancers and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease and MS. We have just had our drinking water analysed in Germany and we have glyphosate in it and in our rivers! Wales, like Scotland has epidemics of type 2 diabetes, obesity and autism”.

This water testing was a private initiative – in Scotland the water is not tested – see a FOI response to Graham White.

Dr Mason says: “We asked the Environment Agency why the most used herbicide and the most used insecticide isn’t being measured in groundwater and they said it wasn’t necessary”.

Though the presence of glyphosate in other British waters is also not tested for/recorded, Monsanto has commissioned a report on removal methods by Swindon-based Water Research Centre: WRc Ref: UC7374/14690-0 July 2007: WRC General Report – Roundup.

Her paper can be downloaded here: Glyphosate – Destructor of Human Health and Biodiversity

Dr Mason notes that agrochemical corporations wield tremendous control over the British and American governments and influence the formulation of pesticide regulations – effectively controlling human health and biodiversity.  She presents a Cancer Research UK graph recording the incidence of prostate cancer in Britain; to the untutored eye the trajectory looks chillingly similar to the American graphs.

glyph soy prostate cancer graph

Lucrative symbiosis: agrochemicals damage, then Big Pharma treats

Rosemary Mason looks at one example of investment in the medical sector and political funding:

“Syngenta is one of several chemicals companies which market biotech seeds and pesticides; AstraZeneca, its parent company, manufactures six different anti-cancer drugs mainly aimed at breast and prostate cancer.

“AstraZeneca’s Oncology Website predicts: “Cancer claims over 7 million lives every year and the number continues to rise. Deaths are estimated to reach 12 million by 2030.”

“Michael Pragnell MA MBA, founder of Syngenta, was appointed a Trustee of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in March 2010 and Chairman in November 2010. CRUK is donating £450 million/year to the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences – see the relevant government website, page 9. #

Dr. Nancy Swanson received her Ph.D. in physics from The Florida State University and then worked as a staff scientist for the United States Navy. She  taught physics at Western Washington University and holds five U.S. patents. She is the author of over 30 scientific publications and two books on women in science. More detail here.

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