The ancient Syrian Christian village of Maaloula has changed hands at least three times in the past week of fighting between government forces and al-Qaeda franchise Nusra Front—and Syria's Christians are becoming propaganda fodder in an international war of perceptions. Nusra Front issued a video clip showing a commander urging his men not to harm Maaloula's historic churches and monasteries. The Assad regime countered with images of the rebels shooting in the air and at buildings in in the village, and of a church damaged by mortar fire, Haaretz reports. The village has already suffered civilian casualties from the fighting, and local youth have organized a self-defense militia. AFP, citing local residents, reports that rebels forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another when they held the village Sept. 10. "They arrived in our town at dawn...and shouted 'We are from the al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders," AFP quoted a resident who identified herself only as Marie.
By now we've all seen the ugly meme, at least if you've got a Facebook account. A uniformed serviceman holds a hand-written sign over his face reading "I didn't join the army to fight for al-Qaeda in Syria." (In case you've missed it, it is of course flaunted by the right-wing xenophobes at InfoWars.) Hopefully, we don't have to explain how this is a shameful betrayal of the secular civil resistance in Syria—it simply denies their existence, painting the entire opposition as al-Qaeda. And you certainly don't have to be pro-intervention to recognize this. A related ugly meme shows a face-palming Obama with the caption: "That awkward moment when you realize the only allies the US can muster for a Syria attack... are the terrorists who flew planes into your buildings twelve years ago."
The latest statement from the poorly named United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is entitled "No more wars—US out of the Middle East!" The very first line reads: "The White House's June 13th announcement that it would begin directly supplying arms to the opposition in Syria is a dramatic escalation of the US/NATO war against that country." Anyone with a modicum of sophistication should see the problems with this formulation right off the bat. Let's put aside the fact that the White House promise of arms to the insurgents is a completely empty one, since the shipments have been held up by Congressional fears that war material could find its way into jihadist hands, as Reuters reports. The more important point is the assumption that Syrians' most pressing problem is the hypothetical threat of the US arming the rebels—while for two years the Bashar Assad dictatorship has been vigorously waging war against its own people, with a death toll topping 60,000, with reports of "cleansing" of Sunnis by forces loyal to the regime, and the UN Security Council urging the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes investigation.
Why now? On May 2—the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike gun-fight that landed her in prison—the FBI made veteran Black Panther Assata Shakur the first woman on its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, doubling the reward for her capture to $2 million. Shakur is in exile in Cuba, and Cuba's own right-wing exiles in Miami have campaigned for her extradition. But it's the NJ State Police that seem to have brought the pressure, with Trenton putting up the extra million dollars. "She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," State Police superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a press conference, calling the case "an open wound" for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.
The media are suddenly abuzz with reports that the CIA has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years, from which it has launched numerous strikes on purported militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in neighboring Yemen—including those that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US citizens who had never been charged with any crimes by the US government. The relevation follows the leaking to NBC this week of a confidential Justice Department memo finding that the US can order the killing of its own citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaeda or "an associated force"—even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the US.
Noah Shachtman, writing for Wired magazine's Danger Room national security blog Sept. 5, notes that while the Democrats are partying in Charlotte, and patting themselves on the back for the death of Osama bin Laden, the drone war in Yemen has gone into "overdrive"—to little notice in the US media.
29 dead in a little over a week. Nearly 200 gone this year. The White House is stepping up its campaign of drone attacks in Yemen, with four strikes in eight days. And not even the slaying of 10 civilians over the weekend seems to have slowed the pace in the United States' secretive, undeclared war...