Jul 21, 2014

Hard questions about MH-17 disaster: BUK missile video blaming Russia is debunked

Malaysian MH-17 black boxes being delivered
Below right: Black boxes being handed over to Malaysian delegation

Since the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in Ukraine's Donetsk region, questions have been raised about why the plane was flying over a war zone. MH-17's flight path on July 17 diverged from the path taken during earlier flights over Ukraine. On some previous occasions the plane flew a route further to the south, over the Sea of Azov - a route declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

According to flightaware.com on the day of the crash, MH-17's flight path diverted northward taking the Boeing directly over the Donetsk region. The following graphic illustrates the approximate distance between the different flight paths:

Flight path of MH-17

Even though approved, the specifics of MH-17's flight path on July 17 didn't come from Eurocontrol. Was the pilot directed to take a path over the Donetsk oblast by Ukrainian ground control or was the route influenced by other as yet unknown factors? Weather conditions, considerations related to fuel consumption have been cited as reasons why the flight path might have been chosen, but given reported apprehensions on the part of some crew members and the recent loss of Malaysian Air MH-370 it would seem like additional risk the airline didn't need.

Ukrainian Air Traffic Control should be able to shed light on the communications with the plane, but according to a number of sources Ukraine's SBU security service confiscated the recording between MH-17 and Ukrainian air traffic control. Given the ramifications of this disaster any chances of obtaining an undoctored version at a later point are improbable.

Even though much of the region remained open to civil aviation, prior to the crash a number of jurisdictions issued warnings about flying over parts of Ukraine, including the American FAA. In fact the FAA banned American carriers from flying below 32,000 feet in the air corridor where MH-17 went down.

Recent incidents would certainly indicate that overflying the region carries some risk. Five MI-24 Hind and two MI-8 helicopters were shot down in recent weeks. Military transport planes - an AN-2 and an AN-30 - were also shot down. A cruising altitude over the 30,000 feet mark is no insurance against surface-to-air systems such as the BUK - SA-11 Gadfly.

In addition to changes in the route, the plane's altitude was also altered. According to a report in Malaymail online, MH-17 initially filed a flight plan to fly at 35,000 feet over Ukrainian territory and was subsequently instructed by Ukrainian ground control to fly lower - at 33,000. A number of other details relating to the flight have led some to question whether MH-17 may have been set up... made a softer target than might otherwise be the case.

Malaymail online:

KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said tonight that it was told to fly low over Ukrainian airspace by ground controllers, putting it at 33,000 feet, just skimming 1,000 feet above restricted altitude.

In a statement here, MAS explained that MH17 had initially filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet above Ukrainian territory, which it described as close to the “optimum altitude”.

“However, an aircraft’s altitude in flight is determined by air traffic control on the ground.

“Upon entering Ukrainian airspace, MH17 was instructed by Ukrainian air traffic control to fly at 33,000 feet,” the national carrier said.

The decision by MH17’s pilots to skim closely to the prohibited air zone — which is 32,000 feet, according to Europe’s aviation authority Eurocontrol — has prompted numerous questions whether this may have contributed to what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity.

In the rush to blame Russia questionable "evidence" has been thrown into the mix. The videos, audio and tweets that appeared on the heels of the tragedy and seemingly implicated Russia were treated by an expert on a CNN talking heads panel with some skepticism... in his view the insta-evidence was all a little too convenient. What needs to happen is a credible international inquiry and until then the tragedy shouldn't be exploited to score cheap political points.

Some of the video "evidence" pointing the finger at Russia includes photos and video of a BUK rocket launcher supposedly being transported back to Russia after firing on MH-17. The story and photos of the launcher appeared in the UK's Daily Mail and the Drudge Report along with the observation that the launcher was missing several rockets - allegedly fired during the shoot down. The video "evidence" was even referenced by John Kerry.

In this update a Zero Hedge post describes how Russian bloggers noticed a few anomalies in the video:

... going by the billboard and other features of the scenery, Russian bloggers and news sources claim to have identified the road in the video as having been taken in or near the town of Krasnoarmeisk (“Krasnoarmiysk” in Ukrainian), which has been under Kiev’s control since May.

In fact, the billboard is supposedly advertising a Krasnoarmeisk car dealership. Also, one of the structures in the background is said to be a construction materials store on Gorkii Street, Krasnoarmeisk.

Please note that this town is (very roughly) 120 kilometers from the Russian border and 80 kilometers from where the Malaysian 777 went down. And again, it has been under Kiev’s control since May.

At least one other clip of the “Russian Buk” that has been made available also suggests that the Ukrainians are showing their own equipment. I’m still working on researching that one for you.

The American libertarian Ron Paul provides more food for thought on the allegations against Russia in a recent article entitled What the Media Won't Report About Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.

The Russians contend that a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet was in the vicinity of MH-17 before the crash, and claim they have evidence to back up their assertion. At a news conference Lt-General Andrey Kartopolov said: “[We] would like to get an explanation as to why the military jet was flying along a civil aviation corridor at almost the same time and at the same level as a passenger plane... The SU-25 fighter jet can gain an altitude of 10km, according to its specification... It’s equipped with air-to-air R-60 missiles that can hit a target at a distance up to 12km, up to 5km for sure.” Kartopolov claims the presence of the SU-25 fighter can be confirmed by video shots made by the Rostov monitoring center.

Kartopolov also made the claim that MH-17 was shot down within the operating range of the Ukrainian army's surface-to-air BUK missile systems. The Russian military has satellite shots that show Ukrainian Buk missile defense units in the Dontesk region. When MH-17 crashed an American satellite was passing over eastern Ukraine. Russia's Defense Ministry has urged the US to release any photos and data captured by their satellite.

Over and above the question of who gave the order that brought down MH-17, there is the larger issue of the conflict in Ukraine that made the tragedy possible in the first place. US/EU interference in Ukraine's internal affairs and the push earlier in the year to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected government in Kiev threw the country into strife. The subsequent conflict in the south-east has led to extensive loss of civilian life, the destruction of infrastructure, a growing army of refugees and now the downing of a civilian airliner with the tragic deaths of foreign nationals. These tragedies are a direct consequence of the American-backed "regime change" in Kiev earlier in the year and the regional conflicts that it sparked... events in which Washington and its EU partners played a key role.

Jul 16, 2014

Israeli propaganda and spin seeks to justify Gaza attack: yet another civilian bloodbath

Israel attack on Gaza
Top: Wounded Palestinian girl following strike in northern Gaza strip 
Below: Israeli strike on buildings in Khan Younis / Palestinian boy with 
wounded sibling upon learning family was killed in a strike

Yet another bloodbath in Gaza. One of the most powerful militaries on the planet is once again turning its US-supplied weaponry on an enclave about the size of Manhattan. Palestinian civilians are paying a heavy price in this grotesquely unequal contest: to date Palestinian dead stands at over 200...  Israeli dead 1.

The stark contrast between the military power of Israel and the resources of beleaguered Gaza was spelled out by Noam Chomsky in reference to an earlier Gaza invasion and still applies:

Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.

Despite the massive imbalance in power and resources, we are once again hearing the familiar refrain from Israeli spokespersons with their justifications and presentation of Israel as the victim - as though there isn't anything about Israel's toxic society and system that needs to be called into question.

Netanyahu was keen to whip up some action this time around after being stung by the unity deal between Hamas and the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority. He hyped the accusations against Hamas, accusing them of being behind the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens - an accusation that has never been proven. The killings stirred up a toxic climate... hate that contributed to the murder of Palestinian teen Muhamed Abu Khdeir at the hands of Israeli settlers. They doused Khdeir with gasoline and forced him to drink gas before setting him on fire. It's hard to conceive of a more despicable crime.

 Muhamad Abu Khdeir

No doubt it is inconvenient for Israelis to have to rush to shelters when alarms go off warning of an incoming rocket, but errant rocket fire can't be compared to the carnage being wreaked in Gaza. Israel's "iron dome" and the rockets' poor levels of accuracy results in many of the incoming missiles either being taken out or veering off-target. In contrast to the low numbers of Israeli casualties - just one dead - eighty percent of the dead in Gaza are civilians - including a rising toll of women and children.

It's impossible to ignore history when it comes to the intractable issues that lie embedded in this conflict. Israel is a colonial settler state established on the back of stolen land. It is a country that brokered in bad faith on the so-called 2-state solution... a country that continues to build illegal settlements and responds to international condemnation with obduracy and defiance. Many of the Palestinians who are being hammered in Gaza are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land now claimed by Israel - driven out to make room for incoming European Zionists.

In an Independent article - The true Gaza back-story that Israelis aren't telling - Robert Fisk provides some background on who the Palestinians of Gaza actually are:

... how come all those Palestinians – all 1.5 million – are crammed into Gaza in the first place? Well, their families once lived, didn’t they, in what is now called Israel? And got chucked out – or fled for their lives – when the Israeli state was created.

And – a drawing in of breath is now perhaps required – the people who lived in Sederot in early 1948 were not Israelis, but Palestinian Arabs. Their village was called Huj. Nor were they enemies of Israel. Two years earlier, these same Arabs had actually hidden Jewish Haganah fighters from the British Army. But when the Israeli army turned up at Huj on 31 May 1948, they expelled all the Arab villagers – to the Gaza Strip! Refugees, they became. David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister) called it an “unjust and unjustified action”. Too bad. The  Palestinians of Huj were never allowed back.

Later in the article Fisk takes on the comparisons and linkages Israel has been making in the process of justifying its attack on Gaza. One justification being offered by Israeli spokespersons is that 'no country in the world would put up with being the target of rocket attacks.' Fisk notes that on the contrary, during The Troubles in N. Ireland when the border town of Crossmaglen was under rocket fire from the Irish Republic, the "RAF didn't bomb Dublin in retaliation, killing Irish women and children."

Fisk's point can be taken further. Nationalist communities in Derry and Belfast that were considered IRA strongholds could have been targeted in a more draconian fashion, but even Thatcher understood that there are some lines you don't cross. A line was crossed in 1972 when members of the British Parachute Regiment (1 Para) opened fire in Derry's Bogside killing  26 civil rights protesters and bystanders. The atrocity in Derry pales next to the slaughter of civilians in Gaza, but in a number of respects Bloody Sunday drew more outrage - a point driven home when you read the rationalizations and efforts at so-called "balance" offered by some outlets as they attempt to paint the Gaza outrage in terms of a war. Gaza can't offer any counter-force to Israel's America-powered military machine that is even marginally comparable. What is happening in Gaza isn't war... it is militarized murder.

Another false linkage being promoted by Israeli media spokespersons is that Hamas is like ISIS and Boko Haram or even Hezbollah. This is an attempt by Israeli propagandists to present their assault on Gaza as a defense of "Western values" in the face of Islamic radicalism. It's a position they believe will play well with Western Islamophobes... so why not smear Hamas with the same brush used for ISIS and Boko Haram.

This is Fisk's take on it:

... Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman... told Al Jazeera that Hamas was “an extremist terrorist organisation not very different from Isis in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Boko Haram…” Tosh. Hezbollah is a Shia militia now fighting to the death inside Syria against the Sunni Muslims of Isis. And Boko Haram – thousands of kilometres from Israel – is not a threat to Tel Aviv.

But you get the point. The Palestinians of Gaza – and please forget, forever, the 6,000 Palestinians whose families come from the land of Sederot – are allied to the tens of thousands of Islamists threatening Maliki of Baghdad, Assad of Damascus or President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. Even more to the point, if Isis is heading towards the edge of the West Bank, why is the Israeli government still building colonies there – illegally, and on Arab land – for Israeli civilians?

Meanwhile the killing continues. In an al-Monitor article Daoud Kuttab makes a few observations worth repeating. He also notes George Galloway's fully warranted response to shameful BBC coverage - or lack of:

One sacred Israeli narrative is that the Palestinians celebrate rocket attacks against Israel, while Israel regrets every missile that misses its alleged military target. A July 9 image that went viral on social media demolished this argument. The photo shows Israelis in the south sitting on beach chairs while watching the bombing of Gaza with glee.

Of course, the actual results of the attacks belie Israeli assertions. By Saturday, more than 150 Palestinians, most of them non-combatants, with many children among them, had been killed by Israeli fire, and more than 1,000 had been injured. No Israeli has been killed as a result of the unsophisticated home-grown Palestinian rockets. George Galloway, the maverick British member of Parliament, was so offended by the BBC's coverage of the current crisis that he tweeted his decision not to pay the license fees to the British public broadcaster.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the bloodbath in Gaza, are the children who have been wounded and killed. I'm including a selection of photos of Palestinian child victims in the current assault on Gaza. These are tough to look at - if you wish to proceed click 'read more.' I've also posted the video of George Galloway's speech at the demo outside the Israeli embassy in London.

Jul 11, 2014

Atrocities committed by Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine: video footage you won't find in mainstream media


According to the accompanying blurb this video and others like it have been "the object of censorship." It also notes that "...in the media's coverage of unfolding atrocities directed against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, the words Nazi, Fascist or Neo-Nazi are a taboo. They have been eliminated from the anthology of investigative reporting."

Hardly surprising given the one-sided narrative in mainstream media... in some cases a deafening silence with respect to the crimes that have been committed against civilians in the course of Kiev's military campaign in the east. A number of these crimes have been attributed to the National Guard which has recruits from the fascist Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) organization in its ranks.

I've been able to cross-reference a number of the occurrences covered in the video via other sources and can attest to the reliability of those incidents. Other content is more difficult to verify, but even given some disputed content the video accurately portrays many of the events as reported - and not only by Russian sources.

The opening scene showing the Azov Battalion - with its many Right Sector recruits - appeared on Poroshenko's own Channel 5 TV station on June 3, a week after he was elected president. To view that footage link here.

My purpose in posting the video is to increase awareness of what is happening to civilians in eastern Ukraine who are not active combatants, and to draw attention to what amounts to war crimes on the part of the Kiev regime.

There is some disturbing graphic content - caution advised.

Kiev's brutal military campaign in eastern Ukraine creating humanitarian crisis

Kiev's offfensive in eastern Ukraine

The Kiev regime's military campaign in eastern Ukraine has Washington's backing. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki voiced support for Kiev's right to press its assault - an assault that includes the use of air strikes and shelling that have devastated civilians and created growing ranks of refugees, many of whom have sought sanctuary in Russia.

Artillery, tanks and planes have been used in attacks on urban areas with large civilian populations. Heavy weapons deployed by Kiev forces include Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRLs) which aren't known for their accuracy. There are allegations that cluster bombs have been used. Reports have surfaced of killed and wounded civilians, traumatized families, thousands of refugees, infrastructure destroyed. Reports of atrocities have also been surfacing, such as the claim that wounded were murdered in a Krasnyi Lyman hospital.

In checking out a cross-section of commentary online it's evident that more than a few pundits continue to view the Washington-backed, fascist-led coup in Kiev as a "revolution" and the military operations in the east a necessary response to unify the country. Some odd disconnect has enabled them to lionize the so-called "revolutionaries" of Maidan, many of whom were far-right nationalists and fascists (or protesters in league with them) while downgrading the demands and legitimate concerns of ethnic Russians standing up for their rights in the south and east of the country.

There are a few voices unafraid to log considered objections in the face of Kiev's brutal military campaign. One such is Stephen F. Cohen who makes his case in a recent article in The Nation.  A number of Cohen's points are worth repeating because they speak directly to the roots of the conflict and address what is happening on the ground with the type of candor that has been lacking in some quarters:

For weeks, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold-war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the independent scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not already done so.

Cohen notes how Kiev's "anti-terrorist" campaign has escalated into what we are witnessing today... artillery bombardment of towns and cities and terrorizing of civilians.

Initially, the “anti-terrorist” campaign was limited primarily, though not only, to rebel checkpoints on the outskirts of cities. Since May, however, Kiev has repeatedly carried out artillery and air attacks on city centers that have struck residential buildings, shopping malls, parks, schools, kindergartens and hospitals, particularly in Slovyansk and Luhansk. More and more urban areas, neighboring towns and even villages now look and sound like war zones, with telltale rubble, destroyed and pockmarked buildings, mangled vehicles, the dead and wounded in streets, wailing mourners and crying children...

Another effect is clear. Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” tactics have created a reign of terror in the targeted cities. Panicked by shells and mortars exploding on the ground, menacing helicopters and planes flying above and fear of what may come next, families are seeking sanctuary in basements and other darkened shelters. Even The New York Times, which like the mainstream American media generally has deleted the atrocities from its coverage, described survivors in Slovyansk “as if living in the Middle Ages.” Meanwhile, an ever-growing number of refugees, disproportionately women and traumatized children, have been fleeing across the border into Russia. In late June, the UN estimated that as many as 110,000 Ukrainians had already fled to Russia, where authorities say the actual numbers are much larger, and about half that many to other Ukrainian sanctuaries.

Read the full article on The Nation website - here.

Behind the fold are photos and video that witness to the carnage in Slavyansk and elsewhere.

Chocolate King productions

Chocolate King and the conflict in Ukraine