Syria and Iraq are clubhouses for DIY remote-controlled guns

Click on the photos for an alternative American TV version

The Syrian civil war is producing a multitude of remotely-operated, custom-made killing machines — sniper rifles and machine guns which a shooter can trigger remotely with the push of a button.

Remotely-operated guns are common in militaries around the world. The United States has thousands of them mounted on tanks and other armored vehicles. The U.S. Marine Corps is testing a smaller machine-gun robot called MAARS, and other gun-bots have appeared in South Korea, Israel and Russia.

But their adoption by rebel groups is an innovation arising from an intermingling of war, cheap personal computers and cameras. The devices typically use cables to hook up the guns to control stations. Aside from the gun, a complete setup only costs a few hundred bucks worth of off-the-shelf components and some technical skills.

After that, it’s just a matter of swiveling the now-teleoperated gun with a joystick, gamepad or a keyboard and triggering the firing mechanism…

While the weapons are hardly new to the Syrian battlefield, an August report published by the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office listed 20 distinct teleoperated weapons spotted in Iraq and Syria which can be traced to specific armed factions.

The consequences extend beyond the battlefield, as it’s usually only a matter of time before weapons of war filter back to the civilian world.

…It’s hard to see insurgents matching the scale by which states can deploy teleoperated guns. The weapons in Syria and Iraq are custom made, not mass produced. And armies have a lot more money to spend on research and development.

Still, that insurgents are nonetheless crafting their own versions is something the U.S. military should worry about as an emerging matter of fact in modern warfare.

I imagine there are stores retailing drones which can be adapted for geek death squads in just about every country in the world. Add that to the mix.

More evidence of US military burn pits causing soldiers’ illness

Click to enlarge

In 2007, shortly after vice-president Joe Biden learned that his eldest son would be deployed to Iraq, the then-presidential hopeful turned to a modest crowd at the Iowa state fair and admitted that he didn’t want Beau to go. “But I tell you what,” he said, his family lined up behind him. “I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.”

Beau arrived in Iraq the following year, and spent the next several months serving as a Jag officer at Camp Victory, just outside of the Baghdad airport, and Joint Base Balad, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though he returned home safely in September 2009, he woke up one day a few months later with an inexplicable headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body. Beau had suffered a mild stroke. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, he died at the age of 46.

Though the underlying cause of Beau’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in a new book out Tuesday suggests a possible link between his illness and service. Based on clusters of similar cases, scientific studies and expert opinions, author Joseph Hickman proposes in The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers that US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan confronted more than one unexpected enemy that followed them home. Many soldiers complain of respiratory issues relating to their burn pit exposure. But others likely developed more life-threatening conditions such as cancers, Hickman contends, because of what the burn pits were built on top of: the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program.

From the moment the US launched its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon ordered the use of open-air burn pits to dispose of the wars’ massive volume of waste. The military relied heavily upon these sprawling ditches, which burned around the clock to consume the tens or even hundreds of tons of junk generated daily. By May 2003, according to Hickman, there were more than 250 burn pits at US bases peppered across the two nations.

The Department of Defense has long recognized that burn pits pose a substantial danger, especially to the environment. Waste management guidance in 1978, for instance, said that solid waste should not be burned in an open pit if an alternative is available, like incinerators. But the department charged ahead anyway and hired contractors like Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to manage the pits. And up until 2009, the military didn’t have comprehensive standards in place governing what could or could not be burned…

❝“I’ll never forget the smell of burning shit,” said Marcus Hill, a retired US army sergeant who served in Balad between 2004 and 2007. But that was the least of his concerns. Among the other hazardous items service members recall being burned are: petroleum, oil, rubber, tires, plastic, styrofoam, batteries, appliances, electrical equipment, pesticides, aerosol cans, oil, explosives, casings, medical waste and animal and human carcasses. They also used jet fuel to stoke the fire.

These materials converged in a toxic plume that hovered over the base, and seeped into soldiers’ sleeping and working quarters, which were often a mile or less away. “Sometimes the smoke was so dense that you could breath it in and back out again, kind of like smoking a cigar,” said Hill. But for Hill and many others, the hazy cocktail didn’t initially register as a threat. “After being blown up a couple of times, you didn’t complain about stuff like that. It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It was part of our mission and we were told not to worry about it.”

As with Agent Orange in VietNam, the Pentagon, military branches and our government alike have maintained a policy of ignoring and disavowing responsibility for the death and destruction not caused by direct assault. That’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a deliberate policy choice. Not at all dissimilar from decisions made to carpet-bomb whole villages, incendiary air raids on cities full of civilians, demonstrate the genocidal potential of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

We’ve just added the maiming and death of our own forces to the sum of thoughtless murder.

Donald Rumsfeld knew what we weren’t told about Iraq

On September 9, 2002, as the George W. Bush administration was launching its campaign to invade Iraq, a classified report landed on the desk of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it carried an ominous note.

“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD,” Rumsfeld wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. “It is big.”

The report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew—or more importantly didn’t know—about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”

Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA…Instead, the report disappeared…

While the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq was at the heart of the administration’s case for war, the JCS report conceded: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely — perhaps 90% — on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”

The rationale for the invasion has long since been discredited, but the JCS report, now declassified, which a former Bush administration official forwarded in December, nevertheless has implications for both sides in the 2016 presidential race, in particular the GOP candidates who are relying for foreign policy advice on some of the architects of the war, and the Democratic front-runner, who once again is coming under fire from her primary opponent for supporting the invasion.

For these two sets of reasons RTFA. Corrupt policies are repeated many times in the history of our nation because an ignorant electorate may as well be uncaring. We trust too much, too often, in the truthfulness of elected and appointed officials. Often, in more than one administration supposedly in principled opposition.

Years of waste and fraud in Afghan – and ready to waste more

With Washington set to send billions of dollars in fresh aid to Afghanistan despite the military drawdown, the U.S. official in charge of auditing assistance programs says “it’s not too late” to address the fraud and mismanagement that has bedeviled the 14-year effort to rebuild the country.

The military intervention launched after the Sept. 11 attacks has cost the United States $1 trillion, including some $110 billion in aid aimed at rebuilding one of the poorest, most violent and most corrupt countries on earth. To this day Afghanistan relies on foreign aid as it battles an increasingly potent Taliban insurgency.

But John Sopko, who has spent more than three years probing U.S.-funded projects as the special investigator general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the U.S. government is partly to blame for the misused funds.

“What I’m identifying are not just Afghan or Afghan-related problems, they are problems with the way the United States government operates,” he said.

He said the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development suffer from corruption as well as poor planning, oversight and accountability. He said they often fail to coordinate with one another or measure programs’ effectiveness…

Since it was created in 2008, SIGAR has identified more than $1 billion in potential savings to U.S. taxpayers and published hundreds of reports, including 50 audits of reconstruction projects.

“The money that’s been wasted has been wasted,” Sopko said. “But we have still got $10 billion that has been authorized, appropriated but not yet spent. And we’re probably going to put in $6 billion to $10 billion a year, for years to come — because if we don’t, the Afghan government will collapse.”…

Sopko said it’s time to “hit the reset button and take a look at what worked and what didn’t work.”

The biggest failure of the reconstruction effort, he said, was the outlay of nearly $8 billion since 2001 to eradicate poppies, the main ingredient in heroin and Afghanistan’s chief export. The crop is worth some $3 billion a year and is a key source of income for the Taliban…

SIGAR found last year that the U.S. had spent $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2001. Opium production has dropped by 50 percent this year, not because of eradication efforts, but because of drought, pests and other environmental factors, Sopko said.

“Any metrics you give — price, purity, addiction rates, production — the only improvements we have seen have been caused by Mother Nature,” he said.

BTW, Lindsay Graham and John McCain, two of our most backwards Republican warhawks have just proposed that everything we did in Afghanistan and Iraq – should now be done in Syria. Starting with sending in 20,000 American soldiers.

These stupid little minds who bear a significant portion of responsibility for helping an ignoranus like George W. Bush get us into this mess – would perpetuate the same bureaucratic farce, the same incompetence that eight years of Obama hasn’t turned around – all in the name of protecting the United States.

The nation where self-proclaimed good Christians with guns have killed more people than any foreign terrorist cabal.

Agent Orange linked to cancer precursor

Veterans exposed to the powerful and toxic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War have a significantly increased risk of the precursor state for multiple myeloma, a prospective cohort study now shows.

Exposure to Agent Orange doubled the risk of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), as compared with veterans who were not exposed.

The herbicide was used from 1962 to 1972 to destroy vast stretches of jungle canopy, missions known collectively as Operation Ranch Hand…

Agent Orange contained several herbicides, including 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a known human carcinogen, as reported online in JAMA Oncology by Ola Landgren, MD, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center…

“To our knowledge, our findings provide the first direct scientific evidence for an association between the multiple myeloma precursor, MGUS, and exposure to Agent Orange/TCDD among (Operation) Ranch Hand veterans,” the authors wrote.

“Our observations are important in that they add support to a previous finding that certain pesticides play a role in the development of MGUS,” they added…

In an accompanying editorial, Nikhil C. Munshi, MD, of VA Boston Healthcare System and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, noted that the study "now provides further evidence of an association between Agent Orange exposure and development of plasma cell disorder."

"Although this study associated risk of MGUS with Agent Orange exposure, the fact that all multiple myeloma cases originate from MGUS provides the first scientific evidence for a direct link between multiple myeloma and Agent Orange exposure," Munshi wrote.

Munshi pointed out that the Institute of Medicine has identified a predisposition to seven types of malignant neoplasms in veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Four of these, including the one reported by Landgren et al, are B-cell lymphoid neoplasms…

Of course, this means nothing to the reactionary fools who stand around, nowadays, and blather that folks shouldn’t even bring up the name of George W Bush and responsibility for the ever-expanding disaster that now is the Middle East. If newspapers and TV talking heads are willing to forget our nation’s responsibility for death and destruction in the last decade or so – why even bring up our slimy behavior from fifty years ago?

American conservatives have become a breed apart from their own history. There was a time when man-made disasters were worth considering in the intellectual lexicon of politics. Not anymore, man. The murder of tens of thousands stretching from Southeast Asia through Iraq and beyond mean nothing to fools with no conscience. The additional social burden of the slow murder of our own veterans is ignored as collateral damage from the heroic task of American justice.


Psychologists end collaboration with “national security” interrogations

So, why is Gitmo an exception?

The American Psychological Association…overwhelmingly approved a new ban on any involvement by psychologists in national security interrogations conducted by the United States government, even noncoercive interrogations now conducted by the Obama administration…

The vote followed an emotional debate in which several members said the ban was needed to restore the organization’s reputation after a scathing independent investigation ordered by the association’s board.

That investigation, conducted by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer, found that some officers of the association and other prominent psychologists colluded with government officials during the Bush administration to make sure that association policies did not prevent psychologists from involvement in the harsh interrogation programs conducted by the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

The ban was approved by the association’s council by a vote of 156 to 1. Seven council members abstained, while one was recused…

The final vote was met by a standing ovation by many of the council members, as well as the large crowd of observers, which included anti-torture activists and psychology graduate students who had come to the meeting to support the ban. Some wore T-shirts proclaiming “First, Do No Harm,” a reference to the physicians’ Hippocratic oath.

RTFA for all the gory details. I think it stands as mute testimony for the sentiment solidly rooted in many Americans that war criminals like George W Bush and Dick Cheney should stand trial for their crimes.

Members of the APA have been expelled for their role in torture. I think that body would support their prosecution. I hope so, anyway.

Psychologists are also still assigned at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they oversee “voluntary” interrogations of detainees.

A brave American soldier who testified against war crimes

Jess Cunningham tried to stop the murder of Iraqi detaineesPhotograph/Jonas Fredwall Karlsson

Cunningham was now a pariah.

He says warnings spread through Alpha Company to be careful about what was said around him. Thirteen men had been present at the killings at the canal site, and Cunningham was the one who could take them all down. For Cunningham it was a dangerous position to be in.

Critics later blamed him for not coming forward at once, but the army has no mechanisms in place that would have whisked him away and protected him. For precisely that reason, war crimes are more common than is generally supposed: they are simply too dangerous to report. A related truth is that some number of soldier suicides in combat zones are not suicides at all—they are murders committed to cover up crimes.

At the highest level, American military leaders must be aware of the pattern. They could begin to remedy the problem if they chose to—just as they have in the case of sexual assaults within the ranks, where immediate protections are offered to accusers. But war crimes are different. The United States takes a serious hit every time one is reported. It seems that the leadership would rather not know about them than have to deal with every one that takes place. The consequence, however unintentional, is that soldiers who report war crimes are put in harm’s way.

Had Cunningham come forward in Baghdad, he would have been exposed to a battlefield where there were a hundred ways to die. Even silent dissent was tricky for him now.

RTFA from the beginning. Long – and worth every word. Once again VANITY FAIR does the world journalistic service.

The tale is too real. Ignorant blind patriotism taken down to the gangbanger level. A command structure, military incompetence from the grunt level up to a White House that rejected global treaties and standards of conflict that respected the value of human life.

Jess Cunningham deserves the gratitude of the portion of this nation that stands for justice and honor. The remainder hate people like Cunningham for supporting justice over gang pride.

ISIS turns captured Humvees into a suicide bomber’s dream

More than two-thirds of the Humvees the US supplied to Iraq to fight terrorists have ended up in the hands of Islamic State militants.

And the Islamic State…has not wasted any time in converting those vehicles into one of its deadliest and most nightmarish tools: suicide car bombs.

According to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, ISIS controls about 2,300 armored US Humvees. Most of those vehicles were seized after ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014.

In addition to being used in further attacks against Iraqi forces, these vehicles were sent over the border to Syria to help ISIS solidify its foothold there.

The Humvees were specifically created by the US to be able to carry heavy loads and to sustain small-arms fire — qualities ISIS has found make the vehicles perfect for suicide bombings

ISIS has used these bomb-laden Humvees in waves of suicide bombings across both Syria and Iraq, targeting strategic locations including Syrian military bases and the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi, which fell to the militants at the end of May. The Kurds are increasingly concerned that they will face a wave as well.

Even though they have an inventory of at least 2000 at hand to build more suicide car bombs, they’re not likely to run out. Between Republican hawks like Tom Cotton and his Blue Dog Democrat counterparts – like Bob Menendez – there are more than enough idiots prepared to stack up American and Iraqi bodies with a matching flow of arms and vehicles capable of keeping ISIS in business for decades.