Category Archives: US foreign policy
I haven’t posted in a while now, but this article, “Silencing the Lambs: How Propaganda Works” published 9-10-22 by veteran progressive journalist John Pilger (online at MintPress News), is too important to let slide by. Go and read it yourself in its entirety, or continue reading for my version (slightly edited for brevity and clarity).
Pilger says, “In the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she was on a photography assignment, having escaped the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer. She told me that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were successful because of what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? I asked. ‘Yes, especially them,’ she said. I think of this as I look around at the propaganda now consuming Western societies.
Of course, we are very different from Germany in the 1930s. We live in information societies. We are globalists. We have never been more aware, more in touch, better connected. Really?
Or do we live in a society where brainwashing is insidious and relentless, and perception is filtered according to the needs and lies of state and corporate power?
The United States dominates the Western world’s media. All but one of the top ten media companies are based in North America. The internet and social media – Google, Twitter, and Facebook – are mostly American owned and controlled.
In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, mostly democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenseless. It has attempted to murder, often successfully, the leaders of 50 countries. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. The extent and scale of this carnage is largely unreported and unrecognized; and those responsible continue to dominate Anglo-American political life.
As my playwright friend Harold Pinter said, ‘US foreign policy is best defined as kiss my ass or I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and as crude as that. What’s interesting about it is that it’s so successful. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, and remorseless, but few people have actually talked about them. The U.S. has exercised its power worldwide [for the benefit of elite corporate power] while masquerading as a force for good. It’s a brilliant act of hypnosis.’ I asked Pinter if the ‘hypnosis’ he referred to was the ‘submissive void’ described by Leni Riefenstahl, and he said, ‘It’s the same. We don’t recognize the propaganda, and for the most part accept and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’
In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an economic necessity, the perfect marriage of public subsidy and private profit: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after 9/11 the stock prices of the war industry soared. More bloodshed was coming – great for business. Today, the most profitable wars are called ‘forever wars’: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Ukraine – all are based on a pack of lies. Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Nato’s destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen. Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for 9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan.
Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the Taliban are – not that Joe Biden’s theft of $7 billion of the country’s bank reserves is causing widespread suffering. Recently, National Public Radio in Washington devoted two hours to Afghanistan – and 30 seconds to its starving people.
At its summit in Madrid in June, NATO, which is controlled by the United States, adopted a strategy document that militarizes the European continent and escalates the prospect of war with Russia and China. News of the resulting war in Ukraine is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, and omission. I’ve reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda [and suppression of dissenting journalists].
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border. In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kyiv that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man. Before this, American ‘defender’ missiles aimed at Russia were installed in eastern Europe, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, accompanied by false assurances all the way back to James Baker’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev in February 1990 that NATO would never expand beyond Germany. Ukraine is the frontline. NATO has effectively reached the very borderland through which Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than 23 million dead in the Soviet Union.
Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching security plan for Europe that was dismissed, derided, or suppressed in the Western media. On February 24th of this year, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and protected Ukraine. This was the final straw. On the same day, Russia invaded – according to the Western media, an infamous, unprovoked act. The history, the lies, the peace proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at Minsk counted for nothing. On April 25th, the U.S. defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, flew into Kyiv and confirmed that America’s aim was to destroy the Russian Federation – the word he used was ‘weaken.’ America had got the war it wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and armed proxy and expendable pawn. Almost none of this was explained to Western audiences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It’s a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no ‘buts,’ except one. When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kyiv regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis, labeled as ‘nationalists’ by the New York Times. Watch an ITV news report from May 2014, by the veteran reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion. ‘The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment,’ said Andreiy Biletsky, founder of the Azov Battaltion, ‘is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’ Since February, a campaign of self-appointed ‘news monitors’ (mostly funded by the Americans and British with links to governments) have sought to maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s neo-Nazis don’t exist.
Airbrushing, a term once associated with Stalin’s purges, has become a tool of mainstream journalism. In less than a decade, a ‘good’ China has been airbrushed and a ‘bad’ China has replaced it: from the world’s workshop to a budding new Satan. Much of this propaganda originates in the U.S., and is transmitted through proxies and ‘think-tanks,’ such as the notorious Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the arms industry, and by zealous journalists such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who called those spreading Chinese influence ‘rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows’ and called for these ‘pests’ to be ‘eradicated.’
News about China in the West is almost entirely about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are the 400 American military bases that surround most of China, an armed necklace that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea. The Japanese island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju are loaded guns aimed point blank at the industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official described this as a ‘noose.’
Palestine has been misreported for as long as I can remember. To the BBC, there is the ‘conflict’ of ‘two narratives.’ The longest, most brutal, lawless military occupation in modern times goes unmentioned.
The stricken people of Yemen are media unpeople. While the Saudis rain down their American cluster bombs with British advisors working alongside the Saudi targeting officers, more than half a million children face starvation.
This brainwashing by omission has a long history. The slaughter of the First World War was suppressed by reporters who were knighted for their compliance and confessed in their memoirs. In 1917, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, confided to prime minister Lloyd George: ‘If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow, but they don’t and can’t know.’
Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler, Xi Jinping Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such as the eradication of abject poverty in China, are barely known.
In recent years, some of the best journalists have been eased out of the mainstream. The spaces once open to mavericks, truth-tellers and journalists who went against the grain, have closed.The case of Julian Assange is the most shocking. When Julian and WikiLeaks could win readers and prizes for the Guardian, the New York Times, and other self-important ‘papers of record,’ he was celebrated. When the dark state objected and demanded the destruction of hard drives and the assassination of Julian’s character, he was made a public enemy. Vice President Biden called him a ‘hi-tech terrorist.’ Hillary Clinton asked, ‘Can’t we just drone this guy?’”
Pilger then mentions good news sources like “Consortium News, founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max Blumenthal’s Grayzone, MintPress News, Media Lens, Declassified UK, Alborada, Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH, Counter Punch, Independent Australia, and the work of Chris Hedges, Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone, and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them here. But when will writers stand up, as they did against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When will film-makers stand up, as they did against the Cold War in the 1940s? Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of righteousness that’s the official version of the last world war, isn’t it time those who are meant to keep the record straight declared their independence and decoded the propaganda? The urgency is greater than ever.
John Pilger has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism and has been International Reporter of the Year, News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer of the Year. He has made 61 documentary films and has won an Emmy, a BAFTA the Royal Television Society prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. His “Cambodia Year Zero” has been named as one of the ten most important films of the 20th century. This article is an edited version of an address to the Trondheim World Festival, Norway. He can be contacted at http://www.johnpilger.com.
The best article I’ve read so far on Ukraine is “The Ukraine Invasion Is Nothing Compared to Iraq” by Andrew Bacevich, posted on spectator world.com on 3-2-22. Here it is:
Of the war in Ukraine, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, “Our world is not going to be the same again, because this war has no historical parallel.” In the very next sentence, he describes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “a raw, 18th-century-style land grab by a superpower,” thereby acknowledging that the episode actually has innumerable historical parallels – just not ones that Friedman cares to acknowledge as legitimate.
Friedman figures prominently among those claiming to have divined the essential character of the present age. His key finding: tech-driven globalization has rendered old-fashioned power politics obsolete. The rules of the game have changed irrevocably. Practically speaking, nations have no choice but to submit.
In best-selling books, he describes our collective future. The subtitle of one such tome claims to offer “A Brief History of the 21st Century,” then still in its first decade. In Friedman’s “hot, flat and crowded” world governed by tech-driven globalization, superpower land-grabs should have no place. The United States would enjoy unchallenged preeminence. That Vladimir Putin has somehow not received the memo or has chosen to ignore its dictates is beyond flabbergasting. When it comes to audacity, Putin has demonstrated the sort of chutzpah that has long been a Friedman signature. But the sense of dismay akin to betrayal expressed by Friedman and other commentators is entirely manufactured.
In fact, Putin has acted in accordance with geopolitical imperatives that predate the modern era. Nation-states compete against one another to advance their own interests. Pursuant to that competition, they employ various means, with suasion typically the preferred option. Given the uncertainty inherent in war, along with the likelihood of unintended consequences and higher than expected costs, violence tends to be a last resort. But last resort does not mean never. In international politics, these are the enduring facts of life.
The frequently heard charge that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine violates ostensibly sacred international “norms” holds no water. No such norms exist – at least none that a great power will recognize as inhibiting its own freedom of action. For proof, we need look no further than the recent behavior of the United States, which has routinely demonstrated a willingness to write its own norms while employing violence on a scale far exceeding anything that Russia has done or is likely to do.
Nothing that Putin has done in Ukraine pursuant to securing what he defines as vital Russian interests should be cause for surprise. Implicit in the shock expressed by observers like Friedman is a belief that Europe has become an eternal “zone of peace” in which the triumph of liberal democracy had made the “end of history” a reality. Preserving this illusion requires imagination. It means classifying the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as an anomaly, forgotten as soon as the shooting stopped. But it also requires sustaining the pretense that Europe matters more than the rest of the world, that developments there possess greater significance than developments in, say, the Middle East or Africa.
This intellectual framing according to which events occurring in proximity to the Rhine and the Danube possess greater inherent importance than events near the Tigris or the Nile dates from the age of Western imperialism. It underwrites the inclination of observers like Friedman to treat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as utterly beyond the pale while events such as the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and America’s various post-9/11 military interventions are either forgotten or written off as unfortunate lapses in judgment.
Russian actions in Ukraine deserve universal condemnation. But as crimes go, Putin’s aggression pales in comparison with the human toll exacted by Saddam Hussein’s US-supported war against Iran. As for the calamitous results of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the impact of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine rates as trivial by comparison. The point is not to measure relative iniquity in a balance, but simply to note that while the ongoing events in Ukraine may be tragic, they’re not all that unusual. The professed surprise of pundits and politicians stems either from wishful thinking or willful ignorance.
History hasn’t ended. The global triumph of democratic liberalism is a mirage. As the old radio serial had it, “Evil lurks in the hearts of men,” even in an era of Google, Apple, 5G, Uber and Grubhub. What may be most difficult for the beneficiaries of global US hegemony is this: the American Century has ended. The world conjured up by Thomas Friedman has not taken its place.
What Friedman ought have written is this: “By invading Ukraine, Russia has demolished what little remained of the lucrative line of bullshit that I have been peddling for the past twenty or so years.” But don’t count on any such admission to be forthcoming.
Please go to http://www.democracynow.com today, 11-16-21, to view or read its headline story of a massive famine beginning in Afghanistan because of US economic sanctions. This important topic wasn’t anywhere in the New York Times today, whose coverage, even on the World link, is all US-oriented.
US economic sanctions of various kinds harm and kill even more people than our wars and drone strikes, and achieve nothing.
Afghans are fleeing into Iran, which also suffers from US sanctions, and then, along with Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and others, all suffering from “First World” policies, are trying to get into Europe. They’re being forcibly turned away, most notably at the Belarus/Polish border, just like Mexicans and Central Americans are turned away at our southern border.
These are human beings, trying to live, and protect their children. We Americans and Europeans, more privileged by the luck of where we were born, need to welcome and help them, and stop our government from harming them in the first place. This is what Jesus taught. Are we really going to celebrate his birth in another month with food and material gifts while children are freezing and starving to death because our governments think we’re better than they are?
The World Socialist website (wsws.org) can be doctrinaire, but it often gives excellent analysis of current events, as in today’s article by Barry Grey, “Image of drowned father and daughter sparks global outrage against US anti-immigrant rampage,” 6-27-19. Here’s my edited/shortened/and-added-to version of it:
The photo of a young Salvadoran worker and his 23-month-old daughter washed up on the shore of the Rio Grande has gone viral on social media and sparked world-wide outrage against the sadistic assault on immigrants being carried out by Trump, with the full assistance of the Democratic Party. The photo of Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Angie Valeria, taken Monday by journalist Julia Le Duc, encapsulates the human toll of the fascistic and dictatorial policies being carried out by the Trump administration. The two victims succumbed to the powerful currents of the swollen river one day after having sought to apply for asylum, along with Oscar’s wife Tania Vanessa Avalos, at the legal port of entry between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas.
The father and his daughter were among the many thousands of Central American workers fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, the legacy of a century of US imperialist subversion and exploitation. The young family was prevented from applying for asylum as a result of Trump’s “metering” policy, which effectively strips immigrants of their internationally guaranteed asylum rights by forcing them to wait in Mexico for weeks or months in sordid, prison-like camps. This is why the family decided to risk the dangerous river crossing. Vanessa Avalos could only watch in helpless horror from the Mexican side as her husband and daughter drowned.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a denunciation of the Trump administration, comparing the photo to the picture of the three-year-old Syrian refugee child, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean and whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. The comparison underscored the international character of the attack on immigrants being carried out by capitalist governments across Europe and elsewhere. This includes Mexico, where Mexican President Lopez Obrador has mobilized 20,000 national guardsmen to serve as Trump’s anti-immigrant enforcers on the Mexican side of the border. Commissioner Filippo Grandi said, “The deaths of Oscar and Valeria represent a failure to address the violence and desperation pushing people to take journeys of danger for the prospect of a life in safety and dignity.”
Also on the weekend, US Border Patrol agents found four bodies along the Rio Grande in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, about 55 miles west of Brownsville: one toddler, two infants, and a 20-year-old woman.
In the most recent fiscal year, there were 283 deaths across the US southern border, according to US authorities. The real toll is much higher. US border patrol agents have apprehended 664,000 people along the southern border so far this year, a 144% increase from last year. Some 14,000 unaccompanied immigrant children remain in US concentration camps.
The Democratic Party has responded to the escalating war on immigrants by voting overwhelmingly to grant Trump another $4.5 billion dollars to build more detention facilities, shore up the US military presence on the border and otherwise strengthen Gestapo-like anti-immigrant agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On the same day the photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter was published, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $4.5 billion funding bill that allocates $788 million for new CBP facilities to hold asylum-seeking families and children. It provides $866 million for facilities run by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) where unaccompanied children are sent after they are released from CBP jails. It also includes $128 million for ICE.
In the vote on the House bill, all but four voting Democrats voted “yes” (the four who voted “no” were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib). Of the four House members who didn’t vote, three were Democratic presidential candidates – Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Eric Swalwell (California) and Tim Ryan (Ohio), in Florida preparing for the debates. The Senate passed its $4.59 billion version of the bill on Wednesday by a bipartisan vote of 84 to 8, with eight senators not voting, and Democrats giving overwhelming support to the Trump administration. Only six Democrats voted against the bill. Seven of the eight non-voters were Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand. The “nay” voters were Hirono D-Hawaii, Lee R-UT, Markey D-MA, Menendez D-NJ, Merkley D-OR, Paul R-KY, Van Hollen D-MD, and Wyden D-OR. The Senate bill is even more overtly repressive than the House version, including fewer restrictions on the brutalization of immigrants and an additional $145 million for US military operations on the border, a tacit legitimization of Trump’s illegal and indefinite deployment of active duty troops to aid police actions within the borders of the US.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telephoned Trump to assure him that the House Democrats were prepared to accept most, if not all, of the Senate bill’s provisions in order to avoid a threatened presidential veto. The Democrats are eager to secure a deal before the week-long Fourth of July recess, which begins on Thursday. As the Senate was passing its bipartisan version, Pelosi told reporters, “There are some improvements that we think can be reconciled.” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said, “We could quickly have a conference, talk about those four changes, try to get them in the bill, finish this quickly and I hope that’s what will happen.”
The Democrats are rushing to give Trump his blood money under the absurd pretext that the measure is a “humanitarian” effort to help the children and families caught up in his anti-immigrant campaign. Last Friday, Pelosi telephoned Trump to plead with him to delay his plan to carry out deportation raids against 2,000 immigrants in cities across the US, assuring him that she would push through a border funding bill in the House. She and the rest of the Democratic Party are petrified at the prospect that such military-style raids in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities will spark mass protests and resistance that could spiral out of control. Trump agreed to wait two weeks while Pelosi and Schumer did his bidding in Congress. He also wasted no time shattering the lying pretexts about defending human rights, making clear what millions around the world already know: that he has no intention of using a penny of the money allocated by Congress to back off from his brutalization of immigrants. On the contrary, he intends to escalate the attack as a central part of his reelection campaign and the axis of his efforts to mobilize his fascistic base of support.
On Tuesday, CBP announced that it had returned 100 children to the holding facility in Clint, Texas it had evacuated the previous day after reports of squalid conditions and rampant disease aroused mass indignation. The same day, while the House Democrats were preparing to vote for the administration’s border war money, acting CBP Commissioner John Sanders resigned and Trump officials let it be known that the White House had selected acting ICE Director Mark Morgan to replace him. Morgan, who served as assistant commissioner of CBP under Obama, has made no bones about his hatred for undocumented immigrants and desire to drive them out of the country. As acting head of ICE, Morgan authored the plan for mass raids in US cities that Trump’s postponed. He spent 11 years in the Marine Corps and 20 years in the FBI, and while out of government appeared regularly on Fox News. He’s also boasted of looking into detained children’s eyes and seeing that they are “soon-to-be MS-13 gang members,” and defended far-right border vigilantes who’ve illegally detained hundreds of immigrants points and removed emergency supplies, including water, left for migrants by humanitarian groups.
According to Wikipedia, Mara Salvatrucha, popularly known as MS-13, is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and 1980s. Originally set up to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other gangs in the Los Angeles area, over time, the gang grew into a more traditional criminal organization. The US government deported many MS-13 members to El Salvador after the close of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992, and the gang is currently active in many parts of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Most members are Central American, Salvadorans in particular. In 2018, the gang accounted for less than 1% (10,000) of total gang members in the United States (1.4 million), and a similar share of gang murders.The gang is often referenced by the Republican Party to advocate for anti-immigrant policies…This is how US policies, including propping up dictatorships in Latin America to the detriment of democratic movements, lead to suffering in those countries, resulting in increased efforts at migration. It’s called “blowback,” the classic case of which was US support for the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union during the 1980s, which led directly to the formation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We should pay reparations to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and encourage democratic governments in the area, not only for moral reasons, but so that people will be content to remain in the countries of their birth.
The world is complicated, and the mass media won’t help you if you’re trying to understand much of what’s happening in it. I knew civilian demonstrators had overthrown longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, and that they were battling with the military forces that took over the government after al-Bashir fled. The situation gained background and three-dimensionality for me only after I read “Sudan: Behind the Massacre in Khartoum,” an article published 6-14-19 on the Crimethinc website.
Here’s my edited version of it:
In December 2018, massive protests and unrest organized by labor organizations and neighborhood committees across Sudan toppled longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir. Utilizing ancient Nubian imagery and mythology, as well as contemporary slogans and tactics, the revolutionaries expressed a diverse groundswell of rage in their efforts to escape the ethnic and religious conflicts of the past two decades. After Al-Bashir fled office, riots, blockades, and protests continued against the Transitional Military Council that seized control of the government, promising to coordinate elections in 2020. In early 2019, paramilitary groups associated with the Council began to carry out fierce attacks on student protests in Khartoum, culminating in a massacre on June 3rdwhen they brutally evicted an occupation from Al-Qyada Square. In response, a general strike gripped much of Sudan from June 9thto 11th. Some revolutionaries have pledged to continue their fight from in hiding despite the violence from these nomadic paramilitary groups.
All around the world today, we see the same three-way conflicts. In the United States and the European Union, this takes the form of a contest between centrists like Emmanuel Macron and Hilary Clinton, far-right demagogues like Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, and social movements for liberation. In North Africa and the Middle East, this often manifests as a struggle between dictators like Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, militant Islamist groups, and social movements seeking democracy and egalitarianism. Since we see our own struggle in the social movements in Sudan; we should learn all we can about the adversaries they’re facing and the processes that produced them. Many believe that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates are implicated in encouraging the bloodbath with which the current rulers of Sudan sought to put an end to the social movement that toppled Al-Bashir and occupied Al-Qyada Square, emphasizing the global stakes of the conflict. If the Sudanese demonstrators are crushed, the blow will resound throughout the Mideast and the world; if they survive and persist, they’ll give hope to millions.
The following text, translated and adapted from the Sudanese-French project Sudfa, explores the origins of the janjawids, the paramilitary force behind the massacre of June 3rd. In the process, it offers a chilling glimpse of how the border regimes we experience in the United States and European Union function on the other side of the global apparatus of repression, in the zones designated for resource extraction and the containment of the so-called surplus population. It also affords some insight into the conditions that produce the sort of mercenaries that can slaughter social movements; if we fail to address the needs of the disaffected and desperate populations displaced by war and neoliberal development, nationalists and other authoritarians will take advantage of them to advance their own agendas.
For more information: check out “Call for Solidarity with the Rebellious People of Sudan” at https://blackautonomynetwork.noblogs.org/post/2019/06/07/call-for-solidarity-with-the-rebellious-people-of-sudan/. This blog post presents a persuasive argument for why we should concern ourselves with the movement in Sudan and offers an array of informative resources. See “New Histories for an Uncharted Future in Sudan,” a blog post at africaisacountry.com, for some background on the protest movement. https://africasacountry.com/2019/05/new-histories-for-an-uncharted-future-in-sudan
The Janjawids in Power(the Sudfa text)
The janjawids are literally “men on horses with guns.” This phrase appeared in the 1980s, when pan-Arab partisans, expelled from Chad by US- and France-backed forces, fled into western Sudan to rebuild their movement and pursue the development of a pan-Arab movement in the region. In 2003, at the beginning of the war in Darfur, when the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) advanced on several cities provoking a massive inter-ethnic insurgency against the security forces, Omar Al-Bashir’s government called on these Arab tribes to halt the progress of the rebels. To this end, he armed groups of men from these tribes to control the region and fight the rebel forces.
As noted in the Wikipedia article on Darfur, “a famine in the mid-1980s disrupted many societal structures and led to the first significant modern fighting among Darfuris. A low-level conflict continued for the next fifteen years, with the government co-opting and arming Arab Janjaweed militias against its enemies, most of whom identify as black. The fighting reached a peak in 2003 with the beginning of the Darfur conflict, in which the resistance coalesced into a roughly cohesive rebel movement. By March 2014, human-rights groups and the UN had come to regard the conflict as a horrific humanitarian disaster, with 480,000 dead and over 2.8 million, many of them children, displaced. Nearly two-thirds of the population continues to struggle to survive in remote villages. Virtually no foreigners visit the region because of the fear of kidnapping, and only some non-governmental organizations continue to provide assistance. Since 2015 the UN has been in discussion with the government of Sudan over the withdrawal of UNAMID, the largest peacekeeping force in the world.”
The janjawids come from Arab tribes; many are from outside Sudan, mostly originating from Chad, Niger, and Mali. A recent video shows one of the participants explaining that he originally came from Chad, went to fight the war in Yemen, and is now at Khartoum to “liberate” the capital. Various testimonies from survivors of the massacre confirm this. The Sudanese people continue to call them “janjawids,” though this name is not recognized by the government. Their official name is “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF, or Rapid Aid Forces). Ordinary people have noted that the Janjaweed speak French, indicating that they are foreigners from West Africa (the Sudanese don’t speak French).
The government refuses to acknowledge that it was involved in the origin of the Rapid Support Forces. However, after 2008, it acknowledged the use of Rapid Support Forces in the “pacification” of the Darfur region, in order to “stop the chaos, protect the people, and protect the institutions.” In 2014, in a government effort to standardize these forces, they were attached to the powerful NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service). Thus, they’re officially a mobile paramilitary militia, associated with the national Security Service. This militia, predominantly coming from rural areas in the west of Sudan, has strong ties with Chad and the Sudanese government. For example, the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, married the daughter of Musa Hilal, the chief of the Janjawids at the time of the Darfur genocide in the 2000s.
Musa Hilal directed the special janjawid Border Intelligence Brigade in the north of Darfur, and in 2008, he was also the minister of Sudanese Federal Affairs. He’s the symbol of the atrocities committed in Darfur and is sought for his crimes by the International Criminal Court. These forces were known to be “ready, rapid, and brutal.”
The janjawids are from the Arab tribes of the region; for example, Musa Hilal comes from the Baggara tribe (an Arab tribe that raises cows, hence their name); Hemedti, a member of the Transitional Military Council tasked with overseeing new elections, comes from the Al-Abala, another Arab tribe that raises camels. Originally, the janjawid forces were created at Al-Misteriha, a city situated in the north of Darfur. These pastoral peoples have been in conflict with non-Arab farmers over land and other resources.
The janjawids have used rape as a weapon of war, systematically assaulting women during their attacks on villages. They burn houses and farms, and kill the men and children. They arrive on horses or in cars and raze a village in a few hours, with military planes and helicopters overseeing the operation. During these attacks, some survivors are able to flee, for example by following the wadis(streams) and hiding in nearby camps. They are often recaptured by groups waiting outside the villages. The displaced people end up in camps throughout the whole country, and in huge shantytowns surrounding the cities, where the Security Services and the janjawids continue to torment them.
The principal victims of the janjawids are the Fur population, as well as the Massalit, Zaghawa, and other darker-skinned tribes termed “African” or “non-Arab,” whose populations have been decimated and displaced. The Janjawids have been accused of genocide against these populations.
The janjawids are financed by the Sudanese government. They also control gold mines in the Darfur region, and during the Darfur war they stole money and goods as well as the livestock and harvests of the wealthier inhabitants. They attacked places for economic aims as well as to carry out ethnic cleansing: certain Fur populations with land and livestock were easy and profitable targets. The janjawids laid claim to land and houses, settling and occupying the zones they emptied. Disguised under the name RSF and acknowledged as a paramilitary force, the janjawids have also profited from the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia pressured the Sudanese government to send troops to Yemen to participate in the war there. Janjawid troops were consequently deployed in Yemen and received money and arms from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to their military involvement in the conflict since 2016, their influence and power in Sudan have greatly increased. They’ve become better organized and many young people have joined them, in particular young people from Arab tribes.
The militia is able to recruit thanks to several factors, but chiefly because their salaries are relatively high and can offer a much-needed income stream for impoverished families. They recruit a large number of child soldiers by convincing families of this.
The demonstrators see those who lead and finance the Janjawids as wrongdoers who must be brought down like Al-Bashir. The government has thus launched an effort to change the image of the RSF in the media. They named a spokesperson and have attempted to present these forces as a regular national armed force. To this end, the janjawids were established in barracks and military camps in the big cities with the soldiers of the army. Upon returning from Yemen, members of the RSF said that children made up around 40% of the Sudanese troops. They often go on six-month missions, after which the men return to Sudan and participate in government missions. The children receive almost no training (about one and a half months of basic physical and arms training) before they are sent to the front line in Yemen to serve as human shields. The Rapid Support Forces have been responsible for the massacres of the Houthi population in Yemen, including arbitrary murders of civilians and children.
Russian and Belgian arms distributed to the government are reallocated to the militias. Several dozen Chinese-made tanks and bombers have been brought into Sudan since 2004. China has built arms factories for the Sudanese government around the capital Khartoum. This factory produced the majority of the bullets and munitions used in the Darfur war and the repression of the demonstrators today. China is now the principal seller of arms to Sudan, providing the majority of tanks, planes, and trucks.
Another of their income sources is racketeering and extortion, including the taxes they demand on vehicles and convoys of displaced people on the route between Al-Fashir and Khartoum. If the vehicles or convoys refuse to pay, groups step in to attack them and steal the products and shipments on the trucks. Since this is the only route that connects the West to the capital, drivers have no choice but to comply.
The European Union and its member states have made many partnership agreements with Sudan, notably the agreement called the “Khartoum process” in 2014, reinforced by a new 2015 agreement. In the context of Sudan’s economic crisis following the separation of South Sudan and the loss of essential oil revenues, European agencies help to regulate the border, a great boon to the regime in Khartoum. Equipment and revenue seized at the border is earmarked for the police and picked up by the janjawids, who control the Libyan border as well.
Even if the EU denies direct supporting the militias, several reports, such as Suliman Baldo’s English-language report, “Border Control from Hell,” shows that the computer hardware, vehicles, and other equipment provided by the EU are obtained by the RSF via their collaboration with the police and the Security Services. The EU relies on Sudanese police to reinforce the eastern and northern borders and to regulate the passage of Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other migrants. The RSF is the principal forced mobilized at the borders, which the government uses to implement the political objectives of the EU, carrying out its acts of terror and chaos against the population and migrants. The janjawids thus find themselves with a special budget, which strengthens their power.
The janjawids have been sent throughout the country as a mobile force, notably in the regions of the Blue Nile, Jebel Al-Nuba, and Kordofan, where they have terrorized civilians and carried out looting, rape, massacres, and persecution. In Damazin in 2013 and in Kassala in 2018, all these regions’ civilians were accused due to their ethnic origin of supporting or participating in rebel forces like SLA (Sudan Liberation Army), SPLM (Sudan Popular Liberation Movement), or JEM (Justice and Equality Movement).
In May 2019, isolated groups of the RSF attempted to evict the demonstrators in the Plaza. On May 13th, they killed four demonstrators and wounded thirty more with bullets. The demonstrators clearly identified the assailants as janjawids. After these events, Burhan, the president of the Military Council, promised to “open an investigation” of the members of the RSF responsible for the murders. But the Security Forces then arbitrarily arrested six Darfurian soldiers, demanding they confess on national television and imprisoning them, even though some of them weren’t in the neighborhood of the attack when it happened. People denounced this deception on social media networks.
Several other attacks were led by RSF members around the entry points of the Plaza, especially around May 25th; they killed many people and wounded and arrested others. The government officially acknowledged these attacks and justified them, saying that the location was occupied by prostitutes and drug dealers.
On June 3rd, the 29thday of Ramadan, columns of RSF vehicles entered the capital with Security Service cars and removed the regular police and military. They represented a convoy of more than 10,000 members sent to the capital from all the regions of Sudan. They began to shoot bullets into the crowd around 6 AM, burning the tents in the Plaza and arresting demonstrators and throwing them into pickup trucks. They used the Khartoum University and mosque buildings to hold people for three days, beating and torturing them. Some died due to the horrible conditions of this detention. Survivors have offered chilling testimony about the treatment they suffered. Many other people were killed or wounded by bullets; the health ministry has admitted to 61 deaths on June 3rd, while credible sources report over 100 fatalities, including 19 children. The janjawids also raped dozens of women, attempted to rape dozens more, and posted triumphant videos on social media networks. Altogether, more than 500 people were wounded among the inhabitants of Omdurman and Khartoum, including many beaten, struck down, and left for dead in the middle of the street. Those who tried to assist them were also struck down.
The RSF also entered other neighborhoods in Khartoum and Omdurman, attacking civilians at random. They destroyed stores, pharmacies, and cars. Stray bullets killed some people in their houses. They entered hospitals, beating doctors and threatening them with death if they treated demonstrators, raping women and striking the wounded. They arrested the opposition, including Yasser Saïd Arman, leader of a branch of the SPLM. The members of the office of the Sudanese Professional Association have been in hiding since then.
The day after the massacre, the Military Council announced the nullification of all the agreements and gains from the negotiations up to that point with the Sudanese Professional Association and suspended all further negotiations. They announced that there will be elections in 2020, and we already know what the results will be if they’re controlled by Burhan and Hemedti.
The Sudanese continue to demonstrate, closing routes and roads, erecting barricades and burning tires; the capital is the scene of a civil war.
After 20 years, the janjawids are accustomed to using brutal force to massacre large numbers of people. This militia is financed by the Gulf countries and the European Union and poses the threat of imminent civil war in Sudan.