Sen. John McCain played 'VIP Poker' on his iPhone as colleagues debate bombing Syria

Making the media rounds as America formalizes a decision to go to war against Syria, this photo by Melina Mara at The Washington Post:
Senator John McCain plays poker on his IPhone during a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing where Secretary of State JohnKerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testify concerning the use of force in Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Tuesday, September 3, 2013.

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Britain denies selling "nerve gas chemicals" to Syria after civil war began

The Sunday Mail claims that a British company was given an export license to sell chemicals to Syria that could be used to make chemical weapons. The government says the licenses were revoked, the chemicals never made it to Syria, and that they could not be used for that purpose in any case. [BBC] Read the rest
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NYT public editor on skepticism over NYT's past US war coverage

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, writes about skepticism surrounding the paper's Syria coverage given the paper's shameful role in the run-up to the Iraq war. It's a thoughtful piece, with only one quote that suggests itself as an easy target for snark: NYT managing editor Dean Baquet's. “The press’s coverage of Iraq always lurks in the background. But it was a long, long time ago.” Read the rest

German pundits on Syria: 'Humanitarian wars are also wars.'

"Humanitarian wars are also wars. Those who jump into them for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message and demonstrate conviction, but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. Neither can a "we'll see" bombardment. There has to be a strategic motivation behind the moral one, and it demands perseverance." The business daily Handelsblatt, from a roundup of German pundits in der Spiegel. Read the rest

Transcript of Obama’s remarks on Syria--“limited, narrow act” under consideration

President Obama says he is considering a “limited, narrow act” against Syria, but has not made a final decision on a possible military attack following the Syrian government's reported use of chemical weapons against civilians. Full transcript at Read the rest

A brief history of US military intervention in Syria: "The Baby and the Baath-water"

At BBC News, Adam Curtis has a compelling look at how the US intelligence and military services have botched regime change and justice-by-bombs in Syria, over the past 65 or so years. Read the rest

Report: U.S. had intel on Syria's chemical attack before it happened

Foreign Policy reports that American intelligence agencies "had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people," which set the stage for what now appears to be a likely U.S. military strike on Syria. "What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?" Read the rest
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Transcript of Secretary of State Kerry’s remarks on Syria, Aug. 30

Today, US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered these remarks at the State Department on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. It seems likely that the US will soon launch air strikes against Syria, in retaliation. [WaPo]. Here's the video. [CSPAN]. Read the rest

Here are the US and UK intel and legal docs on Syria

At, the documents released by the United States and United Kingdom which "outline their legal position and a summary of their intellgence assessment on the alleged chemical weapon use by the Syrian government." Read the rest

Some historical context for America's next bombing campaign

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect points out that nearly every American president eventually bombs something. And on average, we've bombed another nation at least once every 40 months since 1963. "If you're wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go." [via MoJo] Read the rest

British MPs vote against Syria action

The government was defeated 285 to 272. Read the rest

Obama: Syria Strike Will Have No Objective

“Let me be clear,” he said in an interview on CNN. “Our goal will not be to effect régime change, or alter the balance of power in Syria, or bring the civil war there to an end. We will simply do something random there for one or two days and then leave.” Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker. Read the rest

US will initiate missile strikes on Syria 'as early as Thursday' to 'send a message'

Quoting unnamed officials within the Obama administration, NBC reports that a military assault against Syria could be launched “as early as Thursday.” The US is organizing an "international response" to the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against civilians. Read the rest

Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees. The aftermath was a mess of death and confusion, where nobody knew exactly how many people had been murdered, how many had simply vanished, or who was to blame.

“The numbers had floated around between 20,000 and 30,000 people killed and disappeared,” says Daniel Manrique-Vallier. “But nobody knew what the composition was. Non-governmental organizations were estimating that 90% of the deaths were the responsibility of state agents.”

Manrique-Vallier, a post-doc in the Duke University department of statistical science, was part of a team that researched the deaths for Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their results were completely different from those early estimates. Published in 2003, the final report presented evidence for nearly 70,000 deaths, 30% of which could be attributed to the Peruvian government.

How do you find 40,000 extra dead bodies? How do you even start to determine which groups killed which people at a time when everybody with a gun seemed to be shooting civilians? The answers lie in statistics, data analysis, and an ongoing effort to use math to cut through the fog of war. Read the rest

How many people have died in the Syrian civil war?

In the fog of war, it's not easy to figure out how many people die. Even in the cleanest combat, accurate records are not really a common military priority. Worse, there are often incentives for one side or the other to play up the death counts (or play them down), alter the picture of who is doing the killing and who is dying, and provide evidence that a conflict is getting better (or worse).

All of that creates a mess for outside observers who want to see accurate patterns in the chaos — patterns that can help us understand whether an evenly matched war has turned into a bloodbath, or a genocide. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is an organization that takes the messy, often conflicting, information about deaths in a warzone and tries to make sense of it. Today, they released an updated version of a January report on documented killings in the Syrian civil war.

They say that there were 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013. That number is extremely high, and tragic. But the number alone is maybe not the most important thing the data is telling us. Read the rest

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