Category Archives: al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL

PR rebranding of al-Qaeda in Syria – take three!

Back in February, Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline programme conducted an interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and commander-in-chief of its rebranded offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Jolani, who has been identified as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US State Department, currently has a $10 million bounty on his head:

The interview conducted by Frontline’s Martin Smith is essentially a “media show”—Smith’s own words—staged to whitewash the bloody history of the Al Nusra Front’s terrorism in Syria and provide Jolani with a forum for proclaiming the front’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a legitimate political force and natural ally of Washington. The terrorist designation attached to himself and his organization was “unfair” and “political,” Jolani said.

Smith asked Jolani to take a pledge: “Will you say here and now then, very clearly, that you as a former Al Qaeda leader … will not support … any attacks against the United States?” The Al Qaeda veteran readily accepted.

The HTS leader was also allowed to issue blanket denials of the widespread charges of torture, disappearances, summary executions and severe repression of any form of dissent in the territory in Idlib under control of HTS gunmen. Those who made such charges, he said, were “Russian agents” or “regime agents.”

From an article entitled “Washington brings Syria’s Al Qaeda in from the cold” published wsws.org.

In the same piece Bill Van Auken continues:

A week before the broadcast, three women and one man, accused of adultery and attempted murder, were stoned to death by HTS security forces in the Idlib city center, one of many such barbaric public executions.

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report on Syria in which it described brutal repression of Idlib’s civilian population at the hands of HTS.

“Torture and ill-treatment were widespread,” it reported. “Torture was most common in Idlib central prison and its Shahin section, in Harem central prison and Ouqab prison, with methods including severe beatings, placing detainees in a ‘coffin’ or in a dulab (tyre) or suspending them by their limbs. Victims were frequently tortured during interrogation sessions, and held incommunicado to ultimately extract confessions. Some detainees were told to write a testimony dictated to them by the interrogators, or forced to sign or thumbprint a document, with no knowledge of its content. Some detainees died as a result of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care.” The report added that “former detainees described being sexually harassed, forced to strip naked, electrocuted on their genitals and raped in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham facilities.”

And on April 5, the Syrian Network for Human Rights confirmed that “at least 2,246 Syrian citizens are still detained or forcibly disappeared in HTS’s detention centers, constituting a grave threat to the detainees’ wellbeing, given the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

Concluding:

The attempt to rehabilitate Jolani not only exposes the lies, hypocrisy and criminality of US imperialist policy in the Middle East, it is a warning that new atrocities are being prepared in Washington’s quest for hegemony over the region and entire globe.

Click here to read the full article by Bill Van Auken published on April 7th.

As part of this same public relations campaign to rehabilitate the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which rules Idlib, Syria’s last militant-controlled province – former top US diplomat James Jeffrey, who served as US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy to the International military intervention against ISIL, also acknowledged on the same PBS show that HTS is a US “asset”:

“They are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, and Idlib is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East”

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Lindsey Snell is an independent journalist who reports from across the Middle East and North Africa. In 2016, she was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria – what was then called al-Nusra Front – and held captive for ten days before escaping. Recently interviewed by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone, she was asked about her response to James Jeffrey’s endorsement of HTS:

“It was shocking but not totally shocking because a year ago he made some similar comments – something along the lines of ‘they’re not like ISIS planning international attacks; they’re just in Syria’. Just softening the image of HTS already. So it’s just been a lead up to now – you know, now [he is] explicitly saying they are a US asset.” [from 4:45 mins]

She continues:

“It’s funny because their rebranding campaign actually started when I was their captive – they changed their name for the first time and they announced that they had split from al-Qaeda when I was their captive. It of course didn’t actually change anything and to this day most of them still call themselves Nusra. People in Syria referring to them call them Nusra. I mean their split from al-Qaeda was really just a cosmetic thing, it was surface level; it wasn’t real.

“They’re still the same group. They’re still the same terrorists. They’re inflicting Sharia law on everyone in their territories. While this New York Times journalist was there a few weeks ago, they executed three people for adultery. Stoned them to death.

“They’re the same group. And so all these things that they’re doing are cosmetic. I think that the only substantive thing that they’ve done is that they’re no longer capturing foreigners. I mean they’re no longer trying to take a foreign journalist and holding them for ransom. They’re working with Turkey to allow foreign journalists to basically come and propagandise for them.” [from 5:30 mins]

The full interview is embedded below:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the first of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 27th 2019, terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time covers the BBC’s role in an earlier rebranding exercise.

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The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st 2015 in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 7

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

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Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

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1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

6 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

7 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Syria

the toppling of statues has let in some air but it won’t bring a wind of change

Four people have been charged with criminal damage after the toppling of a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June this year.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, will appear before Bristol magistrates court on 25 January for the first hearing, the Crown Prosecution Service said. 1

As reported in today’s Guardian. In response I have decided to publish an article that was composed last summer but never posted. It is accompanied by extracts drawn from four other perspectives that were published around the same time.

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A painting entitled “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner. In the background, the sun shines through a storm while large waves hit the sides of a sailing ship. In the foreground, slaves are drowning in the water, while others are being eaten by large fish

It perhaps says something of the make-up of the Anglo-Saxon mindset that the very word ‘violence’ in the English language draws no distinction between acts of grievous harm committed against people and the lesser evil of vandalising property (and yet we have no better synonym). For this reason talk of the violence in the case of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston and the other slavers is semantically correct; that said, to speak of the toppling of an effigy of a man that owes its erection as a civic monument entirely to the transportation and forced resettlement of nearly a hundred thousand African slaves, nearly a quarter of whom died unknown but horrific deaths during the genocidal ‘Middle Passage’, is also crass hyperbole. The statue of Colston wasn’t lynched, unlike many of those he had happily sold into slavery, but straightforwardly pulled down and then, in a moment of supreme poetic justice, tossed into the harbour whence his slave ships set sail three centuries ago.

Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade. (From an Abstract of Evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791.)

One of the most oft-repeated dictums from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the Party slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” On ‘Airstrip One’ in Oceania (aka Britain), such brutal reductionism has become a central feature of state control: past mistakes are expunged; Party misdeeds rendered impossible by constant reediting; the names of enemies of the state purged unless they are useful foils; and the sole purpose of historical remembrance is the maintenance of the status quo. Revisionism is thus non-stop and never-ending.

Today Orwell is routinely wheeled out by people he would have detested to justify causes that would have sickened him. So let’s understand that he had no time for preservation simply for the sake of preservation – just read what he says about Gaudi’s now celebrated cathedral the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and how “the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.” Orwell couldn’t have cared less about tearing down the odd statue, but devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

What Orwell did care about and understood better than most is the extraordinary power of symbols; most especially the ugly symbols of colonialism, a rapacious system he had experienced first-hand in Burma and despised no less than the crowd of defenestrators on the quayside in Bristol. Few have spoken more forcefully than Orwell on the abuses of Empire, and so there is little reason to suppose he would have been anything less than delighted to see Colston and the other slavers ripped from their pedestals.

Violence, in all senses of the word, is the underpainting to History’s canvass; new layers added once older ones are scraped away: for History is a study not of mere incidents, but of collective and prolonged exertions of force strewn with wilful acts of destruction. Therefore, to draw any line before the toppling of statues like Colston’s, first you must ask what else besides the sheer scale of its enterprise makes Britain’s acts of savage imperialism different at all from the savagery you do deplore, remembering of course that the offending statue of Colston had only been erected little more than a century ago; a fillip to late Victorian pride as the sun was about to set permanently on the Empire.

And when on that crisp October night three decades ago, the East Germans clambered atop the Berlin Wall and smashed it to the ground with sledgehammers, their impromptu act of vandalism opened the way for greater freedoms. We cheered them on. Likewise we cheered the toppling of statues of Stalin all across the old Soviet bloc. Should these too have been preserved as historical monuments instead? If so, then how about all of these…?

There is a tendency to think of statues as mere illustrations of famous past lives, like the solid pages from a pop-up history book. But they have plinths for good reason: to look down from. Statues – indeed all memorials – are virtue signallers. They are fundamentally didactic, presenting role models that are rather hard to repudiate: do as I have done and you shall become an immortal too. Thus Colston’s statue pays tribute to all who put greed and self-interest above human life: it glorifies profiteering and elevates the cruellest of merchants into a demigod. Be thankful that his days of lording it over the rest of us have gone.

As the words on the broken plinth set amongst the desolate ruins in Shelley’s famous sonnet declare:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 2

Foretold is the fate of all monuments, although some monuments deserve to suffer their fate more swiftly than others; and when they do, it is right that we celebrate.

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Reprinted below are extended extracts and abridged versions of four excellent articles published or republished by ‘Counterpunch’. The first two, by Jonathan Cook and Patrick Cockburn respectively, address the issue of the toppling of statues. The latter two, by Nick Turse and Rob Urie, put the recent Black Lives Matter protests into broader context; the first historically and second socio-economically. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read the articles in full.

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Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue

I did not expect to be returning to this issue so soon but I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that my last post on anti-racists toppling a statue of the notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol proved to be the most polarising article I have ever written. Given the many controversial topics I have addressed over the years, that seems noteworthy in itself.

It may not be surprising that those on the right are troubled by ordinary people challenging authority, demanding change rather than conserving what we already have, and “taking the law into their own hands”. None of this sits too easily with the conservative political worldview. But some on the left seem equally disturbed by this act of popular protest. That needs to be analysed and challenged.

I have been able to identify three main types of criticism from the left.

Cities on the back foot

The first suggests that tearing down statues is ineffective. It does not change anything, and actually conceals society’s continuing racism. These actions may make activists feel good but they fail to bring about any tangible progress.

Such arguments are obviously undermined by the fact that Bristol’s mayor and its council, which had been ignoring demands to remove Colston’s statue for decades, are finally proposing action. For the first time, the mayor has called for a “citywide conversation” about all of Bristol’s public memorials. He has promised to discuss their future with historians, presumably to identify which ones venerate people like Colston so obscenely horrible that they have no place in public squares looking down on us. Instead they should be in museums so their crimes can be contextualised and properly understood. […]

I’ve been truly staggered to find leftists who follow me on social media decrying this simply as “mob rule”. Probing their reasoning a little has tended to reveal some pretty ugly premises and a tendency to dismiss everything as hollow identity politics. That is lazy political thinking, and a position that is held easily only if one is white.

“Golliwog” racism, as I explained in my original post, was the jam generations of white children spread on their morning toast. We live with those unquestioned associations and assumptions still. It’s about time we confronted them rather than indulged them.

Overthrowing symbols

The second criticism is that toppling statues is a distraction from proper political activism, that statues are meaningless symbols, that there are much more important things to be getting on with, and that the establishment wants us to target statues to sow division or direct our energies into irrelevancies. It is claimed that tearing down Colston’s statue has detracted from the inspiration for the protests: challenging police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman in Minneapolis.

There are lots of reasons why this approach is a wrong-headed.

Symbols are important. They are the illustrations to the stories we are fed about who we are and what we hold dear. Like images in the picture books our parents read to us before we could make out the letters of the text, these symbols often have more impact than the stories themselves. When we challenge symbols we begin to deconstruct the stories that they illustrate. Overthrow a symbol, and you are taking the first step on the path to overthrowing the system behind it.

After all, if these symbols weren’t so important in entrenching a sense of “national life” and “national values”, the establishment would not have bothered to erect them. That’s why the rightwing will make a battleground of protecting statues of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria. Because it is vitally important to them that we don’t tear off the mask to see for ourselves – or to show them – what really lies beneath. […]

Isn’t having the establishment fearful exactly where the left should want them? Because when the establishment is not frightened, all they do is line their pockets more deeply. They make concessions only when we raise the stakes.

If that is not obvious, recall the mass marches against the Iraq war. They failed not because they were not popular – they were some of the largest protests ever in Britain. They failed because the public could not make Tony Blair and his cabinet more frightened of us – the British people – than they were of the White House and the Pentagon. The cynical, dispiriting lesson we took away from the Iraq war was that we could never have an effect on the political class. The real lesson was that we needed to bare our teeth.

Last week the crowds in Bristol bared their teeth, and the politicians and police decided the fight – this time – wasn’t worth it. Defending a racist statue is much less of a priority for the establishment than placating the US, of course. But it doesn’t mean it is no priority at all.

The lessons of revolts through the ages are that small victories inspire crowds to larger battles. That is why the establishment usually tries to crush or co-opt the first signs of popular dissent and defiance. They fear our empowerment. It is also why it is important for those who want fairer societies to support, not diminish, the actions of those who take on initial confrontations with the establishment. They build the launchpad for bigger things.

Progress through protest

The third and seemingly most common criticism is that it is dangerous to allow the mob to win, and that once “mob rule” scores a success it will lead to anarchy and violence.

As I explained in my last post, none of the things we value today in Britain – from the vote to the National Health Service – happened without either direct protest in defiance of the establishment or the threat of such protest. It was only ever fear about the breakdown of order or of the eruption of violence that pushed the establishment to give up any of its wealth and power. […]

Those who worry about “mob rule” assume that we now live in democracies that are responsive to the popular will. I will not waste my breath again demolishing that fallacy – it has been the sole reason for my writing this blog for the past six years. We live in sophisticated oligarchies, where corporations control the narratives of our lives through their control of the mass media to make us compliant and believe in fairytales. The biggest is that we, the people, are in charge through our vote, in a political system that offers only two choices, both of them political parties that were long ago captured by the corporations. The one countervailing force – organised labour – now plays almost no role. It has been either destroyed or its leaders co-opted themselves.

Wrong about democracy

All that aside, those anxious about “the mob” have failed to understand what liberal democracy means – the model of democracy we are all supposed to subscribe to. It does not give carte blanche to the white majority to smother symbols all over the public space of people who abused, murdered and oppressed our black neighbours’ ancestors. That is democracy as the tyranny of the majority.

If this is not blindingly obvious, let me propose a hypothetical analogy. How would we judge Britain’s Jewish community if after years of failed protests they and non-Jewish supporters “took the law into their own hands” and tore down a statue in Hamstead to Adolf Eichmann? Would we call them a mob? Would we characterise what they did as vigilantism? And perhaps more to the point, can we conceive of an Eichmann statue being erected in Hamstead – or anywhere? Of course, not. So why is it even conceivable that a man like Colston who profited from the destruction of the lives of tens of thousands of Africans should still be presiding over a multicultural city like Bristol, where some of the descendants of those Africans live today?

The fact that we cannot imagine being so insensitive to the Jewish community should underscore how unbelievably insensitive we have been to Britain’s black community for many decades.  3

Click here to read the full unabridged article by Jonathan Cook entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue”.

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British leaders have no idea how bad slavery was

Conservative leaders snigger at protesters seeking the removal of statues memorialising those whose fortunes came from the exploitation of slaves.

The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, implied facetiously this week that such demands are on a par with seeking to knock down Stonehenge on the grounds that it once could have been the site of human sacrifice. He was speaking in response to a puerile question from the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne – who got into trouble last year for blacking his face – suggesting that a measure be introduced to remove “all remaining trace that there was a Roman civilisation in this island”.

The flippancy of the exchange shows that both men feel that slavery happened a long time ago and does not stand out in history as a particularly horrendous crime, and that the demonstrations against those who benefited from it amount to a passing fad that need not be taken seriously. […]

Appreciation of the savage reality of slavery is clouded among white populations by films like Gone with the Wind which emphasise sentimental attachments between master and slave. One way to understand what it was really like is to recall how Isis enslaved the Yazidis in northern Iraq and Syria in 2014, murdering men, women and children and selling thousands of women into sexual slavery.

Terrified women held in Isis jails waited to be raped and sold to the highest bidder. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror,” says a UN report on what happened in one jail. “The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by [Isis] fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.” The reference comes from With Ash on Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State by Cathy Otten.

Isis did not behave very differently from the slave traders and plantation owners in the West Indies and the US in the 18th century. The best-informed guide to what life was like on a slave plantation in the Caribbean at that time are the books written by James Ramsay, an Anglican clergymen and former navy surgeon who worked as a doctor for 19 years in the plantations on the British-ruled islands of St Kitts and Nevis. Finally forced to leave by the plantation owners because of his evident sympathy for the slaves – he let them worship in his church – he retired to Kent to describe his experiences.

Ramsay records the endless round of punishments inflicted on the slave to force them to work cutting sugar cane for 16 hours or more a day. He says that an experienced slave driver could use a cart whip “to cut out flakes of skin and flesh with every stroke”. When a surgeon refused to amputate the limb of a slave as a punishment, a cooper’s adze was used to sever it “and the wretch then left to bleed to death, without any attention or dressing”.

As in Isis-held Iraq and Syria, sexual slavery was a common feature of plantation life. Ramsay says that slave women were “sacrificed to the lust of white men; in some instances, their own fathers”. He adds that white women on the plantations, presumably members of the family of the owner, would hire out their maid servants as prostitutes. Contrary to the romantic cinematic image, the real life Scarlett O’Hara might have been paying for her ball dress with money gained from the rape of her maids. 4

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was”

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A Latter Day Lynching

[I]f you had told me that, in the span of a few months, a novel coronavirus that dates back only to last year and systemic American racism that dates back to 1619 would somehow intersect, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you had told me that a man named George Floyd would survive Covid-19 only to be murdered by the police and that his brutal death would spark a worldwide movement, leading the council members of a major American city to announce their intent to defund the police and Europeans halfway across the planet to deface monuments to a murderous nineteenth-century monarch who slaughtered Africans, I would have dismissed you. But history works in mysterious ways.

Four hundred years of racism, systemic abuse of authority, unpunished police misconduct, white skin privilege, and a host of other evils at the dark core of America gave a white Minneapolis police officer the license to press a black man’s face to the pavement and jam a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. For allegedly attempting to buy a pack of cigarettes with a phony $20 bill, George Floyd was killed at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by police officer Derek Chauvin.

At the beginning of the last century, whites could murder a black man, woman, or child in this country as part of a public celebration, memorialize it on postcards, and mail them to friends. Between 1877 and 1950, nearly 4,000 blacks were lynched in the American South, more than a death a week for 73 years. But the murders of blacks, whether at the hands of their owners in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries or of unaccountable fellow Americans in the latter nineteenth and twentieth centuries never ended despite changes in some attitudes, significant federal legislation, and the notable successes of the protests, marches, and activism of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

From 2006 to 2012, in fact, a white police officer killed a black person in America almost twice a week, according to FBI statistics. And less than a month before we watched the last moments of George Floyd’s life, we witnessed a modern-day version of a lynching when Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was gunned down while jogging on a suburban street in Glynn County, Georgia. Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old white retired district attorney, investigator, and police detective, and his son Travis, 34, were eventually arrested and charged with his murder.

Without the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s botched response to it, without black Americans dying of the disease at three times the rate of whites, without the suddenly spotlighted health disparities that have always consigned people of color to die at elevated rates, without a confluence of so many horrors that the black community in America has suffered for so long coupled with those of a new virus, would we be in the place we’re in today?

If President Trump hadn’t cheered on the efforts of mostly older white protesters to end pandemic shutdowns and “liberate” their states and then echoed a racist Miami police chief of the 1960s who promised “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” essentially calling for young black protesters to be gunned down, would the present movement have taken off in such a way? And would these protests have been as powerful if people who had avoided outside contact for weeks hadn’t suddenly decided to risk their own lives and those of others around them because this murder was too brazen, too likely to end in injustice for private handwringing and public hashtags? 5

Click here to read Nick Turse’s full article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America”.

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Police killings are a political tactic

As the spark that lit a fire, the murder of George Floyd was horrifyingly, sickeningly ordinary. According to the scant data on police killing of citizens that is available, about three people are killed by the police in the U.S. every day. And despite the protest movements Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, this number has remained about constant in recent years through Democratic and Republican administrations. This persistence stands in contrast to the political ‘branding’ of the mainstream political parties where difference is claimed, but little is evident.

The place of Mr. Floyd’s murder in the ordinary working of American governance makes it the catalyst, not the cause, of current protests. The background circumstances of economic calamity suggest that political tensions will continue to rise as unemployment and economic desperation exert a toll on social stability. The horror of Mr. Floyd’s murder should get outraged citizens into the streets regardless of broader circumstances. But with history as a guide, it is these broader factors that are creating the political moment. This highlights the urgency of acting while there is an opening.

The disproportionate targeting of blacks by the police is given needed context when the data is organized by economic class. Poor and working-class whites are arrested and incarcerated at about the same rate as poor and working-class blacks. By its nature, this data says nothing about history. But it does offer structural and political insights. To the prior, history informs the present, it doesn’t define it. To the latter, 1) the frame of race divides people who otherwise have shared class interests and 2) poor and working class ‘allies’ are struggling for their own freedom from police violence, whatever their intentions.

What this arithmetic of disparity implies is that a larger proportion of blacks than whites are poor and working class. One interpretation is that race defines economic opportunity, which is overly generous to how capitalism works. Whatever people’s sentiments, slavery, convict leasing and Jim Crow had economic explanations. Some people, call them capitalists, make themselves rich by making and keeping other people poor. Here is a dry, academic and partial explanation of how poor people are kept poor in the present. […]

With regard to the current alliance of convenience between protesters, the establishment press and national Democrats, it was only a few weeks ago that the latter were lauding the American political police — the FBI, as the saviors of freedom and democracy in the Russiagate fraud. That the FBI was behind the scenes in the murders of Black Panther Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, suggests that protecting freedom and democracy isn’t precisely its mandate. Through its Cointelpro program, the FBI worked with Richard Nixon— and subsequent administrations, to disrupt, thwart and otherwise destroy organized opposition to state policy.

Closer to home, the FBI was ‘deeply involved’ in the vicious police repression that was used to shut Occupy Wall Street down in an organized multi-state operation. To bring this back to Mr. Nixon’s service to capital in creating the modern carceral-police state, the FBI coordinated with the large Wall Street banks that the Obama administration was still in the process of bailing out when its assault on the peaceful protesters of OWS took place. For those who may have forgotten, Wall Street bank J.P. Morgan made a $4.6 billion contribution to the NYPD pension fund as OWS gained political strength.

Events have moved past the murder of George Floyd as establishment hacks try to extinguish the flames with ham-fisted theatrics. I had a hard time not vomiting at the sight of craven Democrats dressed in kante garb kneeling in Kaepernick fashion to show solidarity with the people they have dedicated their careers to selling out to the highest bidder. Given that ‘we’ were in a similar place in 2015, with near daily high-profile murders of unarmed youth at the hands of the police that they had empowered, and they did nothing. To save the suspense, they engage in theatrics in place of taking meaningful action, not in addition to it.

With capitalism in its deepest crisis since 2009, and possibly since the 1930s, the current political moment is fraught. As was demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the existing powers are incapable of governing. What they are capable of is massive transfers of social wealth to the already rich and political repression. If capital is perceived to be threatened, look for self-preservation to come in the form of political violence no matter which party holds the White House. One might ask what happened to Bernie Sander’s ‘coalition,’ which I supported for tactical reasons (to head off environmental calamity). Bernie Sanders is a Democrat. That is what happened. 6

Click here  to read the full article by Rob Urie entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic”

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1 From a report entitled “Four charged over damage to Colston statue in Bristol”  written by Jessica Murray, published in the Guardian on December 9, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/09/four-charged-over-damage-to-colston-statue-in-bristol

2 The name “Ozymandias” is a rendering in Greek of a part of Ramesses II’s throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The poems paraphrase the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica as:

King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.

From the current Wikipedia entry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

3 From an article entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue” written by Jonathan Cook published on June 12, 2020.  https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2020-06-12/statue-colston-bristol-power/

4 From an article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in Counterpunch on June 16, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/16/british-leaders-have-no-idea-how-bad-slavery-was/ 

5 From an article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America” written by Nick Turse, published in TomDispatch on June 14, 2020. http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176714/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_breathless_moment_in_america/#more

6 From an article entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic” written by Rob Urie published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/15/police-killings-are-a-political-tactic/

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how the Afghan ‘Bountygate’ hoax deflects from the dirty truth

On June 26th, The New York Times ran a sensational story claiming that as its headline announces in bold “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says”.

This first NYT report (one of many) begins:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Continuing:

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The first thing to note here is that the allegation itself has historical precedence:

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the mujahideen (jihadists) in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989

Quoted above is the opening passage to the current Wikipedia entry on Operation Cyclone: a clandestine Cold War initiative led by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which cost more than $20 billion in U.S. funds. What the US did in the eighties is therefore precisely what Moscow is accused of doing by these ‘sources’ and the NYT today.

The next thing to note is the absence of evidence to back this purported ‘intelligence’ and exceedingly vague claim that bounties were paid not to the Taliban but to “Taliban-linked militants”. The NYT does however shed interesting light on the origins of the claim:

The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. 1

“Interrogations” has become a familiar euphemism in our post-9/11 age, and I shall return to consider its meaning in this context shortly.

In the following week, the NYT embroidered its “suspicions of Russian bounties” (as one headline begins) with a series of follow-up pieces. To lend weight to otherwise unsubstantiated claims, evidence was now presented of sizeable transfers of money purportedly traceable to Russia:

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence. […]

The intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees. The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said. 2

This follow-up piece that appeared on June 30th proceeds from a byline with no less than five credited authors! (Safety in numbers?) In total, nine separate correspondents were seconded to work on this quickly expanding series of NYT ‘Bountygate’ articles; the account of events constantly revised as the dramatic “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops” claim was gradually walked back over the course of a few days.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote in a detailed rebuttal of the ‘Bountygate’ story:

[S]ubsequent reporting revealed that the “US intelligence reports” about a Russian plot to distribute bounties through Afghan middlemen were not generated by US intelligence at all.

Regarding the specific allegation of money transfers to “Taliban-linked militants”, Porter continues:

The Times reported first on June 28, then again on June 30, that a large amount of cash found at a “Taliban outpost” or a “Taliban site” had led U.S. intelligence to suspect the Russian plot.  But the Times had to walk that claim back, revealing on July 1 that the raid that turned up $500,000 in cash had in fact targeted the Kabul home of Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessmen said to have been involved in both drug trafficking and contracting for part of the billions of dollars the United States spent on construction projects.

The Times also disclosed that the information provided by “captured militants and criminals” under “interrogation” had been the main source of suspicion of a Russian bounty scheme in Afghanistan. But those “militants and criminals” turned out to be thirteen relatives and business associates of the businessman whose house was raided.

While on the subject of “interrogation”, Porter adds:

Furthermore, contrary to the initial report by the Times, those raids had actually been carried out exclusively by the Afghan intelligence service known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The Times disclosed this on July 1. Indeed, the interrogation of those detained in the raids was carried out by the NDS, which explains why the Times reporting referred repeatedly to “interrogations” without ever explaining who actually did the questioning.

Given the notorious record of the NDS, it must be assumed that its interrogators used torture or at least the threat of it to obtain accounts from the detainees that would support the Afghan government’s narrative. Both the Toronto Globe and Mail and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have documented as recently as 2019 the frequent use of torture by the NDS to obtain information from detainees. 3

Porter’s analysis is assiduous and I very much encourage readers to follow the link to his full article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” by The Grayzone.

On Saturday 11th, ‘Red Lines’ host Anya Parampil spoke with Gareth Porter about his latest report. Porter explains why the Afghan regime was so eager to concoct a story in fears that Trump was ready to pull out US troops to boost his own poll ratings:

But leaving aside these bogus ‘Bountygate’ claims cooked up to embarrass Putin and Trump (already joined at the hip thanks to the ‘Russiagate’ hysteria) and thereby apply leverage to “keep US troops entrenched in Afghanistan” as Porter puts it, there is actually far more to this sordid tale. In fact substantiated allegations do exist that the Taliban has been paid off in order to keep the war in Afghanistan going: evidence that forms the basis for a lawsuit. Those presently in the dock are not based in Moscow however, but representatives of businesses including US companies with their own vested interests in prolonging the war:

Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban.

“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”

From a report published by Courthouse News Service published in late December, which continues:

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. […]

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. 4

Click here to read the full report entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops”.

And here to read a report by NPR.

Hat tip to Scott Creighton of Nomadic Everyman.

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Update:

While the military is investigating the allegations, Mark Miley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says there’s no proof that Russian payments led to any US deaths. The National Security Agency says it found no communications intelligence supporting the bounty claim.

Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, says he’s not convinced that American troops died as a result of Russian bounties.

“I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he tells The Washington Post.

From an article entitled “Russia Bounty Story Falls Flat” written by Reese Erlich, published in Antiwar.com on July 18th.

The piece goes on:

Matthew Hoh, who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, tells me that the reports of Russian bounties likely originated with the Afghanistan intelligence agency.

“The mention of Russia was a key word,” says Hoh. CIA officials fast-tracked the Afghan reports. They argued that Russia’s interference, and Trump’s failure to respond, only emboldens the Russians. […]

Hoh says the alleged bounties make no sense politically or militarily. Last year, he says, “The Taliban didn’t need any incentives to kill Americans.” And this year, it has stopped all attacks on US forces as part of the February agreement.

Adding:

“There’s an entire infrastructure influencing policy,” says Hoh, who had an inside seat during his years with the government.

The Deep State is not monolithic, he cautions. “You won’t find a backroom with guys smoking cigars. But there is a notion of US primacy and a bent towards military intervention.”

And that’s what the current Russia-Taliban scandal is all about: An unreliable Afghan report is blown into a national controversy in hopes of forcing the White House to cancel the Afghan troop withdrawal. Demonizing Russia (along with China and Iran) also justifies revamping the US nuclear arsenal and building advanced fighter jets that can’t fly.

“It’s Russia hysteria,” says Hoh.

Click here to read Reese Erlich’s full article at Antiwar.com.

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1 From an article entitled “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says” written by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt & Michael Schwirtz, published in The new York Times on June 26th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/politics/russia-afghanistan-bounties.html

2 From an article entitled “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers” written by Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt & Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/us/politics/russian-bounties-afghanistan-intelligence.html

3 From an article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” written by Gareth Porter, published in The Grayzone on July 7, 2020. https://thegrayzone.com/2020/07/07/pentagon-afghan-bountygate-us-intelligence-agencies/

4 From an article entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops” written by Tim Ryan, published in Courthouse News Service on December 27, 2019. https://www.courthousenews.com/us-contractors-accused-of-funding-taliban-attacks-against-american-troops/

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voices from a half-forgotten war: Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett return to speak with Syria’s ‘wrong victims’

The following are extended extracts taken from recent reports written and published independently by journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read these excellent articles in their entirety.

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‘Wrong victims’ of Syria war left voiceless by mainstream media, condemn West for their suffering

July 24 | Vanessa Beeley

Now that the Syrian Arab Army and allies have swept much of Syria clean of the terrorist groups introduced into the country by the US interventionist alliance, the civilian trauma is surfacing and is being processed.

In 2005, playwright Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech sent shock waves around the ruling establishment. During the speech, Pinter described the US strategy of “low intensity” conflict:

“Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom.”

The West established the malignant growth in Syria and the wider region, the terrorist groups are a cancer that the Syrian Arab Army and the people of Syria have been battling to contain and cauterise before it spreads to the rest of the world. The gangrene can be perceived as the trauma, the effects of this externally-fomented conflict upon the Syrian people.

No war is without victims, but in the West we only hear about the right kind of victims, those that squeeze into the narrow, mono-dimensional frame of the Syrian conflict. A frame manufactured by the ruling globalists and their PR cohorts in their aligned media institutions who have willingly provided the coverage that conceals the obscene crimes of their own governments while inventing slogans to criminalise the Syrian government and allies.

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Habib Raaed’s son was murdered in June 2014. Terrorists embedded in the Damascus suburbs and countryside of Eastern Ghouta targeted the Al Thawra sports club and basketball court with mortars. Three children were murdered in this attack. Habib’s son Elias, Maya Wahbeh and Robert Qoozma whose legs were amputated in the French Hospital – he later died from his awful wounds on 3 July 2014.

I spoke with Habib in July 2019, he told me:

“My son, from when he was born until the day of the attack, he never hurt anyone, he never insulted anyone… he was playing basketball in this court where we are, he was hit by a shell from those monsters – the monsters created by the hostile nations – he (my son) was killed with two of his friends, many were injured, his sister was next to him but she couldn’t save him, she couldn’t do anything for him.”

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Also in 2014, George Ibrahim and his now 14-year-old son, Jean, went through the trauma of another terrorist attack upon Al Manar elementary school in the Old City of Damascus, in the Bab Touma area. This Armenian Christian school was targeted by mortars in April 2014. As the children were sitting and gathering in the playground in the morning before classes began at 8am, a mortar struck the heart of the courtyard – 9-year-old Jean was suddenly caught up in unimaginable carnage.

George Ibrahim with his son Jean – revisiting the scene of the 2014 terrorist mortar attack on Al Manar elementary school, Damascus. © Vanessa Beeley

Jean witnessed his best friend, Sinan Mtanious, murdered in front of him – the shrapnel passed through his neck, killing him instantly. Another child, Lauren Bashour, lost her legs in the attack according to the school director, Ghassan Al Issa. Ghassan showed me the exact spot the missile struck, on the steps where children gathered to talk and sit before class. Ghassan said that at least eight children suffered severe injuries, the loss of limbs or hands, multiple shrapnel wounds as the molten metal scythed through their young flesh.

When George came rushing back to the school to rescue his son he was confronted with scenes of bloodshed, shock and horror – he told me that the childrens’ bodies were everywhere, some with limbs missing, many bleeding profusely from their open wounds, but he could not find his son anywhere, his panic was overwhelming. In fact, although grievously injured, Jean had somehow managed to stagger to the school entrance and had been bundled into the first ambulance by the SAA soldiers who had rushed to help the children. When George finally found his son, it was in the nearby French Hospital where Jean begged his father to “not let him die.”

In an interview with local media, Jean later demanded to know why the terrorists had done this, why they targeted children in school. Jean warned the terrorists that he “would talk to Jesus and ask him to punish them for their crimes” – even at that age, terribly injured and traumatised, Jean knew that the Western media (the BBC had visited the hospital) would not condemn this massacre nor would they headline his appeals for justice – he was not a ‘Bana’ or an ‘Omran’ – he was altogether the wrong kind of victim.

Jean was right – despite being in Damascus during the attack and witnessing the savagery of Western-backed armed gangs, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet still managed to spin the story away from condemnation of terrorist attacks and dishonestly in the direction of Syrian government responsibility.

When George and Jean agreed to talk to me about the attack five years later, in the same school courtyard where the blood of innocents had been shed, they both broke down as the nightmarish memories surfaced and opened wounds that had never been allowed to heal.

Click here to read the full article published on July 24th on Vanessa Beeley’s The Wall Will Fall website.

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Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp belie corporate media reporting

July 4 | Eva Bartlett

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups.

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

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Credit | War on the Rocks

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that, “the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

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Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all, a claim that would later be refuted by reports from both the UN and Red Crescent.

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

“We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp: “Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

“The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said, “There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States: “Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself.

Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report first published on July 4th by Mint Press News.

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Additional:

On Tuesday 23rd, Eva Bartlett spoke with Ryan Cristian of The Last American Vagabond about her recent trip to the Middle East and specifically the US-run al-Rukban internment camp in Syria, as well as what she personally witnessed while living in Palestine, and the parallels between the two atrocities (unfortunately the sound quality is quite poor in parts):

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terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time

The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st 2015 in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 7

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

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Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

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1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

6 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

7 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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faked concern: Haley & corporate media bleating about Idlib civilians, ignore terrorists’ presence | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett | InGaza

Nikki Haley, the hypocritical US Ambassador to the UN, mistakenly thinks she can dictate – from New York City, far from the terrorists which her country supports – that the Syrian army cannot fight and eradicate al-Qaeda in Idlib.

Her, and other American figures’ words, come with faked concern over the lives of Syrian civilians.

This is particularly ironic given that the US-led coalition, illegally in Syria, destroyed the Syrian city of Raqqa and killed untold numbers of civilians along the way, in their fake fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) – a pretext which has only time and again strengthened IS in Syria. Raqqa remains uninhabitable, and even today corpses are still being unearthed.

Haley and the Western corporate media have been bleating in chorus about Idlib and the civilians there, deliberately ignoring the presence of Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists occupying the governorate and surrounding areas in Aleppo and Hama governorates.

They ignore, too, the reality of life in areas which were once occupied by these terrorists: the torture, imprisonment, maiming, assassination, and starvation endured by the civilian population at the hands of these extremists and paid mercenaries.

The other reality Haley and co-regime change mouthpieces whitewash is that once these areas are liberated of Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and the myriad other extremist terrorist groups, life gets back to normal, schools reopen, cities and towns repopulate, ancient traditions resume as they have for thousands of years in this cradle of civilization.

Occupation, Liberation, Peace and Stability

With the exception of Deir ez-Zor, and smaller hamlets throughout the Syrian countryside, I’ve been to every major city and town liberated by Syria and allies from Al-Qaeda and co-terrorists. They are all now in peace, with many of the areas thriving, rebuilding, and the other areas at least in peace without the sadistic rule of terrorists.

In June 2014, I went to the old city of Homs just one month after the reconciliation deals that saw Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army terrorists bused out of the city. This beautiful historic old city and its ancient churches were in shambles. Some of that was due to the Syrian army fighting the terrorists, but most of it was due to the terrorists burning, looting, and booby trapping the buildings they had occupied.

Indeed, a resident of the old city, Abu Nabeel, took me around, showing me the destruction, vandalization, burning and looting that terrorists did before leaving Old Homs, including leaving bombs in residents’ homes, to inflict yet more loss of life even after the terrorists had left. But also while there in June 2014, I saw residents and youth volunteers scraping the debris, painting hopeful art on walls, beginning the rebuilding process.

Also in June 2014, two months after its liberation, I went to the ancient village of Maaloula, which had been occupied or targeted by al-Qaeda and co-terrorists from September 2013 to April 2014. They systematically destroyed, looted, burned or stole ancient relics and vandalized historic buildings. In summer 2016 and more recently in September 2018, I returned to find life pulsing during the Celebration of the Holy Cross, a nearly-1700 year old celebration interrupted only during the terrorists’ occupation of Maaloula.

In December 2015, I returned to Old Homs to find that some reconstruction had occurred. Churches were partially repaired, a school was fully rehabilitated, shops had opened, and residents were putting up Christmas decorations.

In June 2017, when I returned to Homs, I saw a city pulsing with life, and peace. That June, I also went back to Aleppo, which I’d been to four times prior to its December 2016 liberation [see: Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors,  The Villages in Aleppo Ravaged by America’s “Moderate” “Rebels”, and: Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed “Rebels” Target ‘Every Syrian’, November 29, 2016, Mint Press News].

I saw eastern areas that had been occupied by Al-Qaeda, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, IS and other terrorist factions. The destruction was indeed immense, as terrorists had holed up underground, including occupying schools and hospitals. The complex housing the Eye and Children’s Hospitals was turned into a headquarters for Al-Qaeda and IS, with basements turned into prisons, prisoners’ fates decided by Sharia courts of the extremists.

I returned to Aleppo in May 2018, and spent hours at the ancient Citadel, both filming people enjoying their time around the Citadel, and later joining them at one of the cafes encircling this historic site. Talking with Aleppo MP, Fares Shehabi, we discussed how none of this had been possible under the rule of the extremists.

WATCH: Life in Old Aleppo, around the historic Citadel

WATCH: Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi on improved life in Aleppo since liberation

Indeed, in November 2016, standing near the ruins of the Carlton Hotel, tunnel-bombed by terrorists in May 2014, and looking towards the Citadel, I was told to step back due to the risk of Al-Qaeda snipers. But the Aleppo I saw in May 2018 was likewise pulsing with life, and peace.

In media campaigns to demonize the Syrian and Russian governments, Western media mentioned al-Waer, Homs, and Madaya. But few, or none, that I’m aware of bothered to go to those places after they were restored to peace. I did, in June 2017, and unsurprisingly heard what journalists in eastern Aleppo heard when those areas were liberated: the reason they had been starving was because  terrorists had stolen all the food aid that entered the town and kept it for themselves. Indeed, near a munitions workshop, I found the remnants of one such parcel, a Red Cross package. And like in eastern Aleppo, terrorists in Madaya had imprisoned civilians, and had tortured them.

When in April and May 2018 I went to various areas of eastern Ghouta, I again heard about terrorist-induced starvation. When I asked whether residents could access their farmland – as eastern Ghouta is an agricultural region – I was told that, no, they couldn’t, terrorists controlled the farmland, too, leaving them literally starving.

A few weeks ago I returned to Daraa City. I’d been there in May 2018, at a time when terrorists in Daraa al-Balad and outskirts were heavily shelling the city. At great risk, I was able to go to the state hospital, with snipers just 100 metres away from the sole route leading there. The hospital was severely damaged, with entire wards destroyed. The Children’s Hospital wing was damaged and off limits due to the proximity of terrorists roughly 50 metres away – as I would learn when I returned a few weeks ago.

In Daraa this September, there was no bombing, just the scraping of rubble as bulldozers and residents cleaned up the remnants of this foreign war on Syria.

On September 11, I went to Mhardeh, a town in northern Hama, where 13 civilians were killed by terrorists missiles targeting the town on September 7. Most of the dead were killed right away, others died slowly of critical injuries. One man lost his wife, three young children and mother to the terror attacks. He lost everything.

When I asked him how the situation of Idlib, occupied by at least 70,000 terrorists, a modest estimate – impacted him and Mhardeh, he replied that Idlib is the cause of their suffering.

WATCH: Shadi Shehda on his murdered children, mother, and wife, killed by terrorists in Idlib

The September 7 attacks on Mhardeh weren’t the first. To the contrary, the town has been relentlessly targeted for the past 7 years, its local defense commander, Simon al-Wakil, told me.

WATCH: Simon al Wakeel Speaks on Mhardeh’s National Defense Forces and Civilians Under Terrorist Attacks

So did the Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Maan Bitar, who said: “The gunmen, the terrorists, they are in all the region of Idlib, not just Idlib city. They are also two kilometers from here (in northern Hama). We’ve received more than 7,000 missiles, rockets, and mortars these past eight years. Every time the terrorists feel they are in a critical situation, militarily speaking, from the government, they shell civilians. Nobody spoke about that. For eight years, Mhardeh town is being shelled, and civilians killed, but nobody spoke of that.”

WATCH: Reverend Maan Bitar on Terrorism Against Mhardeh Civilians, and Need to Liberate Idlib

Nearby al-Skalbiyye has also been relentlessly targeted, including with 10 Grad missiles fitted with cluster bombs, as noted by British journalist Vanessa Beeley who visited the town.

Idlib Reality: an al-Qaeda safe-haven

With the Nikki Haleys and laptop media now droning incessantly about “3 million civilians” in Idlib prone to being massacred by the Syrian and Russian armies, it’s time to reflect on a number of points.

First of all, there is no accurate figure for the number of civilians in Idlib, much less the number of terrorists. Given that when we heard the same cries before the liberation of Aleppo, with the UN itself chiming in to claim that 300,000 civilians were trapped in Aleppo’s eastern areas – the actual number was less than half that figure – we can at least be sceptical about the current claims of 300,000 in Idlib.

Moreover, among the population in Idlib, how many are terrorists? How many are being held against their will by terrorists? How many are Syrians?

Al-Qaeda’s presence in Idlib isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s an established fact that even US State Department’s Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, made clear when he said: “Look, Idlib province is the largest Al-Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11. Idlib now is a huge problem, is an Al-Qaeda safe-haven right on the border with Turkey.

Yet, outlets like CNN whitewash their presence. While there are no definitive figures for the number of non-Syrians among those terrorists, it is a fact that there are extremists from around the world.

What Western leaders and media fail to address is the reign of terror the different extremist gangs inflict on Syrian civilians. This includes their kidnapping of untold numbers of civilians, particularly children.

Vanessa Beeley wrote this just weeks ago, noting that in a liberated area of eastern Idlib, she was told that over 600 children and adults had been kidnapped by “both the terrorist groups and the #WhiteHelmets” in the last 12 months there.

Further, it is from positions within Idlib governorate that terrorists continue to fire on Aleppo. So in spite of the liberation of Aleppo from these extremists, areas closest to them are routinely bombed.

Fares Shehabi tweeted in September about a rocket attack on Aleppo believed to have originated from Idlib.

In all of the areas I mentioned, the Syrian and Russian governments worked to offer amnesty and reconciliation to Syrians holding arms, and indeed these reconciliations enabled the return to peace in many of these areas.

The Syrian and Russian governments have again opened humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Idlib, and as with corridors opened in Aleppo, terrorists have attacked the corridor, to prevent civilians from leaving. Some updates state that Syrians have been able to exit when the corridor wasn’t being targeted, and other updates note that terrorists are preventing civilians from leaving, or demanding money from civilians who want to leave.

Syria and Russia have again offered reconciliation and amnesty. It is terrorists within Idlib who refuse this, refuse a political process, and instead continue to hold civilians hostage and occupy Syrian territory.

On September 28, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressed media the day of a General Assembly meeting, noting the US-led destruction of both Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq, also noting that Russia and Syria prevented this in Aleppo and in Eastern Ghouta.

These are all points to keep in mind the next time Nikki Haley shrilling performs for the cameras. It is time to liberate Idlib, by military or political means, and bring peace to Syria.

Click here to read the same article as it was originally posted on Eva Bartlett’s website InGaza.

A shorter version of the article was first published on October 8th at RT.com

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RELATED:

I would like to thank Eva Bartlett for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

the last casualty of war is Truth… as the White Helmets ride off into the sunset!

When members of the world’s most distinctively attired ‘rescue group’ were last weekend “evacuated” by Israel and their role in the war in Syria formally ended, the official portrait of the White Helmets as humanitarian “volunteers” and paragons of virtue was freshly asserted. By parsing a single Guardian article, my intention here is to show again how this grotesque misrepresentation of the truth has been cultivated and maintained.

For closer analysis of the corporate media’s complicity in the promotion of the White Helmets I refer you to the addendum – first published on Pier Robinson’s official website, his original article is reproduced in full at the end of this post.

*

The White Helmets and their families were evacuated by Israeli defence forces on Saturday night, crossing from northern Israel into Jordan at three points. The Israelis had initially put the numbers evacuated at 800, but later the figure was revised downwards by James Le Mesurier, a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group in Turkey in 2013.

He said on Sunday that 422 people were rescued, including 98 White Helmets. As many as 800 others did not manage to escape or chose not to do so.

Writes ‘Patrick Wintour and agencies’ [italicised as original] in a recent Guardian article.

The first point of note is that the primary source for their story, James Le Mesurier, is described simply as “a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group” following which the partially anonymous authors rather conspicuously fail to drill down into Le Mesurier’s stated ties to British intelligence. Moreover, they avoid all mention of Le Mesurier’s subsequent contract work for the US and UK governments:

Prior to his founding of the White Helmets, Le Mesurier served as Vice President for Special Projects at the Olive Group, a private mercenary organization that has since merged with Blackwater-Academi into what is now known as Constellis Holdings. Then, in 2008, Le Mesurier left the Olive Group after he was appointed to the position of Principal at Good Harbor Consulting, chaired by Richard A. Clarke – a veteran of the U.S. national security establishment and the counter-terrorism “czar” under the Bush and Clinton administrations. 1

Click here to read more about Le Mesurier in the same article written by Whitney Webb and published by Mint Press News.

It is the case and easily verified that Le Mesurier was indeed the founder of the White Helmets which he had helped form in March 2013 in Turkey. His pivotal role in the unlikely origins of the White Helmets is not remotely controversial although the authors of the article deliberately lessen the impact by stating only “is considered to have founded the group”. Quoted below is Le Mesurier’s own account of the birth of the White Helmets, proudly retold in a speech given in Lisbon in 2015:

In early 2013 I had a meeting with nine local leaders that had come out from northern Aleppo, and they painted this picture of the frequency and the intensity of the bombing that was taking place. And I was delivering programmes on behalf of the US and UK governments, and we were able to offer them some good governance training, some democratising training, and a handful of sat phones.

Several days later I was very fortunate to meet the head of Turkey’s earthquake response group, a group of people called “AKUT.” And the conversation that we had was along the lines of: “If they can rescue people from a building that has been flattened as a result of an earthquake, how possible is it to rescue people from a building that’s been collapsed as a result of a bomb?” And this led to a series of design labs. We brought a number of people out of Syria who brought building samples, and we sat down over several days merging the expertise of the Syrians that had come out from the ground (who knew the regime tactics) with my organisation that understood operating in war zones and the expertise of this organisation, AKUT, who rescue people after earthquakes. 2

[from 4:10 mins]

Embedded below is Le Mesurier’s full speech given at The Performance Theatre, Lisbon on June 26, 2015:

James Le Mesurier’s CV is so very reminiscent of former Navy Seal and founder of Blackwater-Academi, Erik Prince, that this really must raise eyebrows. For why did an ex-MI5 officer who thereafter enjoyed a boardroom position in private security firm the Olive Group – a group that afterwards merged with Prince’s Blackwater-Academi – go on to form the purportedly humanitarian White Helmets? And why did he officially name this group formed in Turkey, the “Syrian Civil Defence”, unless he fully intended to usurp extant and internationally recognised domestic civil defence organisations? Incidentally, if you search for James Le Mesurier on Wikipedia you will be redirected to the entry for the White Helmets. Unlike Erik Prince, there is no separate entry for James Le Mesurier himself who in the White Helmets entry is correctly designated its founder but briskly described merely as “former British Army officer”.

Click here to read an extended piece investigating the background to the White Helmets written by Max Blumenthal, published by Alternet in October 2016.

Wintour and the unnamed ‘agencies’ continue:

The White Helmets have operated in opposition-held areas rescuing civilians from the rubble of airstrikes, but they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House. 3

That the White Helmets have exclusively operated in regions controlled by “opposition groups” is well-known. What is only seldom reported on, however, is how they shared the same territories with proscribed terrorist groups including Jaish al-Islam (trans: “The Army/Sword of Islam”), Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra aka al-Qaeda in Syria).

Once again, this well-established fact ought to cast very serious doubt on their stated neutrality. Moreover, this admittedly circumstantial evidence of collusion on the grounds of location becomes conclusive once we consider the multiple images shamelessly uploaded on social media by White Helmet “volunteers” themselves, in which we see them cavorting with combatants of those same Islamist terrorist groups, posing with firearms, waving the black flag of al-Qaeda, and actually assisting with the clear-up of executions. Is this the image of selfless humanitarianism?

Click here to see a cache of literally hundreds more images like this one.

The authors of the Guardian piece claim “they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House”, which is another of many half-truths in this account. Saying “funded” implies that monies donated to the group were additional and a top up, when it would be far more accurate to say that the White Helmets are ‘financed’, or, better still, ‘bankrolled’ by Western governments. Here are the figures – please judge for yourself:

But the main implication in this statement is that no-one besides agents of the Russian state has ever challenged the neutrality of the White Helmets, which is outright rubbish.

For instance, here is John Pilger describing them as “a complete propaganda construct”:

Seymour Hersh has been nearly as outspoken against the White Helmets saying:

“Also, I think America was indirectly supplying some money [to the White Helmets], certainly the Brits were, and so certainly it was a propaganda organisation too.” 4

Both statements were of course made in interviews broadcast by RT, but this is because even journalists as acclaimed as John Pilger and Seymour Hersh are just not permitted mainstream airtime to impugn the heroic status of the Oscar-winning White Helmets. The neutrality of the White Helmets has become an article of faith and all who dispute it do so at the risk of becoming marginalised themselves – Hersh in particular, who is today largely restricted to publishing articles in the London Review of Books, has been roundly abused for his stance on Syria.

Embedded below is a ‘Corbett Report’ broadcast in February and aptly entitled “The White Helmets are a Propaganda Construct”. It addresses all of the points raised above and more:

As this officially sanctioned story of the White Helmets has been spun, the most troubling aspect is the astonishing lack of diligence in mainstream reporting. Aside from an abject failure to follow the money — or simply to acknowledge and report on the considerable streams of taxpayer funding — the corporate media has never once questioned the group’s humanitarianism or its purported neutrality. In consequence (at least in part), the White Helmets have since been lauded by politicians across both sides of the aisle, bolstered by some of our most influential NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, celebrated in an Oscar-winning documentary, and finally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Had the truth ever been allowed to come out, would they still have so many friends in high places?

*

Finally, I know that we are no longer expected to retain memory of events relating to periods outside the current news cycle, but that Israel is leading this rescue mission is curious isn’t it. Curious given the recent IDF massacre of more than 130 unarmed Palestinian protesters – including 25 children; given how those same forces are once again “mowing the grass” in Gaza, bombing the homes of its own refugee population; and that Israel has just passed a nation-state law to ensure the old de facto apartheid system was made de jure. Why then, we might reasonably ask Netanyahu, are the lives of some Arabs who have chosen to live within regions of Syria occupied by Islamist terrorist groups worth so much than others, closer to home, who just happen (perhaps entirely by accident) to be living under the flag of Hamas?

Netanyahu later tweeted that the evacuation by the IDF was a “humanitarian gesture”, which given Israel’s very direct involvement in the war on Syria is clearly downplaying its significance. But then, it is impossible to understand Israel’s aims in backing anti-Assad opposition without considering the bigger picture. As Brian Whitaker wrote in a Guardian article published during the lead up to the Iraq War in late 2002 and entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam”:

The “skittles theory” of the Middle East – that one ball aimed at Iraq can knock down several regimes – has been around for some time on the wilder fringes of politics but has come to the fore in the United States on the back of the “war against terrorism”.

Its roots can be traced, at least in part, to a paper published in 1996 by an Israeli thinktank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Entitled “A clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm”, it was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Binyamin Netanyahu. As the title indicates, it advised the right-wing Mr Netanyahu to make a complete break with the past by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism …” […]

The paper set out a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment”, beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad.

With Saddam out of the way and Iraq thus brought under Jordanian Hashemite influence, Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and “roll back” Syria. Jordan, it suggested, could also sort out Lebanon by “weaning” the Shia Muslim population away from Syria and Iran, and re-establishing their former ties with the Shia in the new Hashemite kingdom of Iraq. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them”, the paper concluded. 5

[Bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full article written by Brian Whitaker.

A strategy for Israeli expansion which includes the “weaken[ing] and ‘roll back’ [of] Syria” can be further traced back to the so-called Oded Yinon Plan – Yinon was an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Published back in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation’s publication Kivunim, it had called for the Balkanisation of Iraq and Syria. Both nations have since been ravaged by war and Iraq is already partitioned. The permanent division of Syria may yet follow. If it does, it will not have happened by chance.

Click here to read more about ‘The Clean Break’ and the ‘Yinon Plan’ in an extended post on the subject.

*

Additional: Peter Ford responds to the ‘evacuation’ of the White Helmets

Former Ambassador to Syria 2003 – 2006, Peter Ford responds to the UK Government statement by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt on “exceptional” Israeli evacuation of the UK/US Coalition intelligence construct, the White Helmets:

Following a joint diplomatic effort by the UK and international partners, a group of White Helmets volunteers from southern Syria and their families have been able to leave Syria for safety.

They are now being assisted by the UNHCR in Jordan pending international resettlement.

The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own. Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work – trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians. White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection. We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible.

We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.

Peter Ford responds:

The government statement contains two bare-faced lies.

The White Helmets most definitely have not assisted all sides in the conflict. From the beginning they have only ever operated in rebel-held areas. Government controlled areas have the real Syrian Civil Defence and Syrian Red Crescent. This is quite a big whopper on the government’s part. It goes without saying that the media will not pick up on it.

Secondly the White Helmets are not volunteers. They are doing jobs for which they are paid, by Western governments. They have a press department 150 strong, bigger than that for the whole of the UK ambulance service. Their claims of saving over 115,000 lives have never been verified. The co-location of their offices with jihadi operation centres has been well documented.

Apparently the government are lying because they are nervous of being accused of importing into this country scores of dangerous migrants who have many times been reported to be associating with extremists (social media is rife with self-propagated videos of their misdeeds such as participation in beheadings and waving ISIS and Al Qaida flags), and wish to whitewash them.

The White Helmets’ dramatic exfiltration leaves many questions unanswered

1. Why was it deemed necessary to evacuate this particular group in the south when other groups of White Helmets simply got on the buses to Northern Syria when military operations concluded in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, and when similar exodus by bus has been arranged for rebels in Deraa?
2. Why should White Helmets be considered to be more at risk than combatants, many of whom have either ‘reconciled’ or been bussed out? In the demonology of the government side the White Helmets are not seen as worse than other jihadis.
3. Might the British government have been afraid of this particular group being caught and interrogated, revealing perhaps the truth about alleged chemical weapon incidents?
4. Will they now be foisted on to areas of the UK already struggling to absorb migrants, or will they go to places like Esher and Carshalton?
5. Will local councils be informed about the backgrounds of these fugitives? Will local councils be given extra resources to absorb them and cope with resulting security needs, bearing in mind that Raed Saleh, leader of the White Helmets, was refused a visa to the US in 2016?

Click here to read the same post originally published by Vanessa Beeley on her website The Wall Will Fall.

*

The following is a comment by writer and photographer Bryan Hemming appended to Peter Ford’s statement on TheWallWillFall:

From our living room window, here on the tip of Southern Spain, we can see the North African coast. Every day we hear news of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean. They are fleeing the violence, hunger and destruction that is a direct consequence of wars instigated by Western governments funding, training and arming religious fanatics and terrorist groups determined to impose tyranny.

This morning’s news told of another thousand or so new arrivals over the weekend. We see videos of the blurred out women holding the lifeless bodies of babies that didn’t survive the trip. With the extremely hot weather, most died of dehydration. As if from ironic perversity, a few died from drowning in salt water.

A walk along the beach at any time of year can reveal a tiny shoe, a pair of soaked jeans, or the sorry remains of a deflated rubber dinghy, whose passengers didn’t make it to shore .

In the art market in Conil de la Frontera, where we sell our work, Javier, a painter, tells me of the times he’s called out. He’s a Red Cross volunteer on standby. On call 24/7 he gives up his time to welcome and look after the survivors, handing out food, water and blankets along with a little bit of care and love. Last week was particularly busy, he told me, with two or three helicopters searching for survivors of dinghies that sank. Many launches were also out hardly knowing where to look, as there were so many in need of help.

The Anglo corporate media won’t be reporting that, they are too busy worrying about the White Helmets. Seems a good time for someone to come down here and see what’s really happening.

*

Addendum: Pier Robinson on media complicity

The recent Guardian article by Olivia Solon attacks those investigating and questioning the role of the White Helmets in Syria and attributes all such questioning to Russian propaganda, conspiracy theorizing and deliberate disinformation. The article does little, however, to address the legitimate questions which have been raised about the nature of the White Helmets and their role in the Syrian conflict. In addition, academics such as Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson have been subjected to intemperate attacks from mainstream media columnists such as George Monbiot through social media for questioning official narratives. More broadly, as Louis Allday described in 2016 with regard to the war in Syria, to express ‘even a mildly dissenting opinion … has seen many people ridiculed and attacked … These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views: instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations’. These are indeed difficult times in which to ask serious and probing questions. It should be possible for public debate to proceed without resort to ad hominem attacks and smears.

It is possible to evaluate the White Helmets through analysis of verifiable government and corporate documents which describe their funding and purpose. So, what do we know about the White Helmets? First, the ‘Syria Civil Defence’, the ‘official title’ given to the White Helmets, is supported by US and UK funding. Here it is important to note that the real Syria Civil Defence already exists and is the only such agency recognised by the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO). The White Helmets receive funding from the UK government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the US government’s USAID, Office of Transition Initiatives programme – the Syria Regional Program II. The UK and US governments do not provide direct training and support to the White Helmets. Instead, private contractors bid for the funding from the CSSF and USAID. Mayday Rescue won the CSSF contract, and Chemonics won the USAID contract. As such, Chemonics and Mayday Rescue train and support the White Helmets on behalf of the US and UK governments.

Second, the CSSF is directly controlled by the UK National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, while USAID is controlled by the US National Security Council, the Secretary of State and the President. The CSSF is guided by the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which incorporates UK National Security Objectives. Specifically, the White Helmets funding from the CSSF falls under National Security Objective “2d: Tackling conflict and building stability overseas”. This is a constituent part of the broader “National Security Objective 2: Project our Global Influence”.

The funding background of the White Helmets raises important questions regarding their purpose. A summary document published online indicates that the CSSF funding for the White Helmets is currently coordinated by the Syria Resilience Programme. This document highlights that the core objective of the programme is to support “the moderate opposition to provide services for their communities and to contest new space”, as to empower “legitimate local governance structures to deliver services gives credibility to the moderate opposition”. The document goes on to state that the White Helmets (‘Syria Civil Defence’) “provide an invaluable reporting and advocacy role”, which “has provided confidence to statements made by UK and other international leaders made in condemnation of Russian actions”. The ‘Syria Resilience CSSF Programme Summary’ is a draft document and not official government policy. However, the summary indicates the potential dual use of the White Helmets by the UK government: first, as a means of supporting and lending credibility to opposition structures within Syria; second, as an apparently impartial organisation that can corroborate UK accusations against the Russian state.

In a context in which both the US and UK governments have been actively supporting attempts to overthrow the Syrian government for many years, this material casts doubt on the status of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organization. It is therefore essential that investigators such as Vanessa Beeley, who raise substantive questions about the White Helmets, are engaged with in a serious and intellectually honest fashion. The White Helmets do not appear to be the independent agency that some have claimed them to be. Rather, their funding background, and the strategic objectives of those funders, provide strong prima facie grounds for considering the White Helmets as part of a US/UK information operation designed to underpin regime change in Syria as other independent journalists have argued. It is time for the smears and personal attacks to stop, allowing full and open investigation by academics and journalists into UK policy toward Syria, including the role of the White Helmets, leading to a better-informed public debate.

Click here to read the same article published on Pier Robinson’s official website.

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Update:

On August 4th, RT broadcast a special episode of its news show Going Underground featuring interviews with head of the White Helmets, Raed Al Saleh, and investigative reporter Vanessa Beeley:

*

1 From an article entitled “James Le Mesurier: The Former British Mercenary Who Founded The White Helmets” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on July 31, 2017. https://www.mintpressnews.com/james-le-mesurier-british-ex-military-mercenary-founded-white-helmets/230320/

2 Transcript modified from show notes to “Episode 330 – The White Helmets Are A Propaganda Construct” (Feb 9, 2018) written and published by James Corbett on The Corbett Report website. https://www.corbettreport.com/whitehelmets/

3 From an article entitled “UK agrees to take in some White Helmets evacuated from Syria by Israel” written by Patrick Wintour and agencies published in the Guardian on July 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/22/israel-evacuates-800-white-helmets-in-face-of-syria-advance

4 http://thepeacereport.com/investigative-journalist-exposes-propaganda-of-the-white-helmets/

5 From an article entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam” written by Brian Whitaker, published in the Guardian on September 3, 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/03/worlddispatch.iraq

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illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2

Reposted below before my own thoughts and analysis is the full statement released today by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition.

Gesture Bombing – the Causes and Consequences of a Pointless Airstrike

Theresa May’s cynicism is so deep it’s hard for us comprehend. There was quite simply no possible good outcome from this bombing in the Middle East, even from our rulers’ warped perspective. People will surely have died, the war will be prolonged, it will have done nothing to control chemical weapons and tensions with Iran and Russia will have risen. International law is unambiguous that these strikes were illegal too.

But no matter, Trump has been obeyed and May thinks she looks tough on the world stage. Not really though. It’s too obvious she is frightened of parliament, which is reconvening on Monday and that she is taking orders from Washington. It is also clear that the US’s position in the world is weakening.

Deadly Decline

This action has been shaped by the failure of Western policy in the Middle East. It is not true that the West has been doing nothing in Syria over the last few years. Britain was involved in covert ops before 2015 and regular bombing raids since the vote in 2015. According to Airwars, the West has been involved in more than 50,000 bombing raids in Syria in the last four years, killing thousands of civilians. But their basic plan, to use the Syrian opposition to secure regime change by arming them and providing them with military back up, has been unsuccessful. The project of getting rid of Assad has been abandoned for the time being.

The bombing of Libya in 2011– an intervention most strongly promoted by Britain and France – was clearly a catastrophe. Sold as a humanitarian operation, it ended with 50,000 dead, brutal regime change and complete state failure. Even Barak Obama has said later he regretted sanctioning it. Before that there was Iraq. The invasion and occupation did untold damage to the country and the wider region. That intervention more than anything is the root cause of the current chaos in the Middle East. But it was also a failure from the point of its main protagonists in Washington and Whitehall.

The West’s failure to pacify and secure the country allowed the US’s main enemy in the region, Iran, to strongly increase its reach and influence. Its demonstration of the limits of US power has encouraged other powers to flex their muscles in the region. The resulting interventions in Syria by Russia, Turkey Saudi Arabia and others have of course only increased the death and destruction.

Calculated Killing

So, angry but more and more impotent, the Western powers this time have settled for gesture bombing, and gestures don’t impress anyone. But periods of imperial decline are inherently dangerous. There is no way the US is going to passively accept reduced influence in the Middle East. In so far as there is a Western strategy, it is the attempt to roll back Iranian influence through support of the emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus to reassert control over the region. Assad’s consolidation is only going to encourage a vigorous pursuit of this project. Next time Trump and his most loyal ally are likely to get more serious.

Domestic Damage

Back home this irresponsible and pointless attack will further undermine what is laughingly referred to as May’s authority. What is so heartening – and something that has limited her options from the start – is that the vast majority of people have complete contempt for this kind of calculated killing. All the opinion polls published so far show big opposition to these strikes despite almost blanket support for them in the mainstream media.

The crucial thing is that we continue to build on and to mobilise this opinion. Once again people have shown their willingness to stand up against war. Many thousands have lobbied their MPs, in Stop the War we were notified of 30 protests around the country on Friday – there were no doubt many many, more. A crowd of hundreds closed Whitehall in London. This Monday night in London from 5.30pm we will be back on the streets outside Parliament the day it reconvenes. There will be other protests around the country. Tell your friends, neighbours and workmates protests matter. No to war – yes to democracy.

Click here to read the same article on the Stop the War Coalition website.

*

One year ago, America rushed to judgment to condemn Assad for an alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun:

On April 11, the White House released a declassified four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belated justification for the Tomahawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.

The report, which was authored not by US intelligence agencies but by the White House under the supervision of national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, says that “The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.” 1

Given the undue haste to pin the blame on Syrian forces, many were justifiably suspicious of US claims. Veteran investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Seymour Hersh; former CIA case officer, Philip Giraldi; former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford all spoke out as you can read in this previous post. Meanwhile, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National-Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, who had previously served as a scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon produced a painstaking analysis of the White House report. Here is more from the same The Nation article quoted above:

Postol’s exhaustive critique of the White House report notes that “The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.” And yet, according to Postol, “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft. In fact, the report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.” […]

“In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report.” Postol concludes that the “report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR [White House Report] could not possibly be true.”

The Nation spoke to Postol over the weekend.

“What I think is now crystal clear,” he said, “is that the White House report was fabricated and it certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ.”

“My best guess at the moment is that this was an extremely clumsy and ill-conceived attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Syria without any intelligence evidence that Syria was in fact the perpetrator of the attack…. It may be,” he continued, “that the White House staff was worried that this could eventually come out—a reckless president acting without regard to the nation’s security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia, and a breakdown in cooperation with Russia that would cripple our efforts to defeat the Islamic State.”

“If that is not an impeachable offense,” Postol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”

Click here to read the full report written by James Carden published in The Nation.

Since this time there has been the UN OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) report which claimed to be “confident” that Syria had been responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun. On the face of it then, the US were correct in their original assessment, and this is how the incident is now reported on. What is seldom reported on is how experts were not permitted to visit the site, and so the JIM report relied instead on samples gathered by the very militants that controlled the area. It is vital to understand that no independent experts ever visited the site.

Back in 2013, Reuters reported that:

Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

Luhan adds:

 “The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

So we see how just four years on, the OPCW was quite clearly in breach of its own technical standards with respect to ensuring a chain of custody. Furthermore, as the OPCW itself made clear in its legal framework to the mission to Khan Sheikhun:

The scope of the FFM [OPCW Fact Finding Mission] mandate does not include the task of attributing responsibility for the alleged use. 3

Other criticisms of the report are based on technical details that are explained in detailed reports here  and here.

In short, last year’s allegations that Syrian forces released sarin gas at Khan Sheikhun remain unsubstantiated. In any case, allegations of Assad’s use of sarin have since been quietly dropped by the US administration, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis conceded as recently as February this year:

The U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports from aid groups and others that the Syrian government has used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday [February 2nd].

“We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “We do not have evidence of it.” 4

Click here to read the full AP report entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says”.

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Last Thursday [April 12th], the same James Mattis was called by Congress to speak before the House Armed Services Committee. In his testimony he said that the US and its allies “don’t have evidence” to support the latest allegations although “we certainly have a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used”.

What he had seen in other words is that same footage we have all seen. Video showing people – mostly very young children – being hosed down with water in an unknown location, and also the more macabre roving camera footage showing close-ups of corpses lying on top of one another inside what appears to be an apartment.

All of this video footage along with initial reports appeared quite suddenly on social media platforms having been uploaded by a small assortment of “pro-opposition” sources: the al-Nusra front terrorist-affiliated White Helmets and the so-called Douma Media Centre as well as the more grandiosely named Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) which is closely associated to USAID and is US State Department funded. It was SAMS that reported on Saturday April 7th:

“Amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighbourhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases – the majority of whom are women and children – were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”.

This lack of credible sources presents us once again with reasonable grounds for doubt. But even leaving aside the questionable origins of the material, it is not at all clear what we were actually seeing or even whereabouts these events took place.

I shall not dwell on the details of the videos but it is evident the children shown are obviously in distress. They may well be in shock from conventional airstrikes or possibly suffering from smoke inhalation due to subsequent fires. We simply don’t know. More chillingly, it is also possible that these children are the victims of those who appear to be first responders – certainly it would not be the first time that children have been used as props in staged events:

What we do know for certain, however, is that the area under attack was under the control of the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (“Army of Islam”), a terrorist faction that is responsible for committing many atrocities including the execution and torture of prisoners and the alleged use of chemical weapons. It is also known that Jaish al-Islam – a group that is well known for using hostages as human shields – held literally thousands captive in its basement prisons:

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters.

Furthermore, the targeted area where the alleged attack took place was literally on the brink of recapture by government forces:

An agreement has been reached to release all prisoners held by Syrian rebels controlling the eastern Ghouta city of Douma in return for the fighters’ leaving the city, Syrian state television reported on Sunday, citing an official source.

According to the agreement, Jaish al-Islam fighters will leave Douma for the northern city of Jarablus, near the borders with Turkey, within 48 hours, the source added.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which control the city. 5

Indeed, almost immediately after the video footage had been released the area was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces who entered the site without protective gear. And though reports that the Red Crescent likewise confirmed it found no evidence of chemical weapons were later retracted, as Antiwar.com points out:

That the Red Crescent operates a hospital in a city supposedly inundated with wounded and didn’t get a single patient with confirmed exposure, however, is very noteworthy. 6

A detailed overview of the sources which first broke the news of this alleged attack was put together by independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

She comments:

So to be clear, we’re being asked by these people to believe that Bashar al-Assad launched a “mass casualty chemical attack”, the thing which would provoke the wrath of the US war machine, just as Trump was seeking a withdrawal from Syria and just as Assad was approaching victory in Douma. We are being asked to ignore the fact that the area is crawling with actual, literal terrorists, to ignore the western empire’s extensive history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military aggression, to ignore the extremely suspicious western funding and terrorist ties of the White Helmets who are circulating these photos and information, and to ignore the fact that Syria has been a target of imperialist regime change for many years. We are being asked to ignore all that and believe instead that Assad spontaneously began acting against his own self-interest so that he could kill children for no discernible reason.

It says so much about the power of western media psyops that this has a strong chance of being believed. 7

Click here to read the full article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects”.

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On Tuesday 10th, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was afforded a live interview with BBC Radio Scotland. Here’s what he told presenter Gary Robertson:

Gary Robertson: There’s a lot of tough talk on both sides here. I wonder where you think it will lead us.

Peter Ford: Well I greatly fear it will lead us to the edge of Armageddon. It’s time to take a deep breath and consider where we’ve got ourselves into as a result mainly of hysteria and distortion.

The worst case is that Trump does launch off with some very unwise multiple attacks on Syria. And given that Russian forces are deeply embedded with Syrian forces – in particular air defence – it’s highly likely that scores of Russian soldiers will be killed. If anyone thinks that Russia will take that just lying down I think they need to think again. Russian planes in the last twelve hours have been buzzing UD destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Please – I think everybody needs to take a deep breath before something truly horrible occurs affecting the security of us all including in this country. We have forces in Syria. The government don’t like to talk about this, but one was sadly killed two days ago revealing the extent of our existing military involvement in Syria. So at the very least our own forces would be exposed to grave danger.

GR: Indeed it’s not just the UD President though who’s appalled by what they’ve seen in terms of these pictures coming from Douma. We’ve had condemnation from President Macron, likewise from Prime Minister Theresa May too. If it isn’t the sort of military action that you’ve just outlined there, what should be the response to this use of chemical weapons if it’s proved.

PF: The correct response is obviously – and I think a child could see this – to get inspectors on to the alleged site of the alleged offences. And in fact in the last few hours Russia has offered to provide military escorts for inspectors from the recognised body in this field: the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare.

GR: And if it’s proved then what – because, of course, we know that Assad has form on this. We’ve had investigations previously and there has been fairly conclusive proof that chemical agents have been used.

PF: I don’t think that Assad is in the least worried that the inspectors would find out his guilt because he’s probably not guilty at least on this occasion. I mean we have to engage our brains as well as our emotions here. Not be stampeded by those videos which are described as being unverified but which by dint of being repeated over and over and over again come to acquire a spurious credibility.

We have to ask ourselves what are the sources of the information on which we’re in this stampede to war. They are twofold – and I’m sorry but the media are falling down on the job of investigating this – the sources are the Syrian American Medical Society, which is a pro-Islamist propaganda outfit based in the United States…

GR: So are you saying these pictures are being staged? Are you saying that people haven’t died?

PF: Yes, yes, in all probability the incidents have been staged. Come on, we know how easy it is to fake images for the internet. Look at the images – anybody could stage those. And then the second source is supposed to be the so-called first responders. Who are the first responders? In this case they are the White Helmets, which is another pro-Islamist jihadi propaganda outfit.

GR: This is an awful lot of effort to discredit Assad isn’t it?

PF: Please let me finish this important point. The witnesses to these terrible events are people who themselves were involved in beheadings: literally picking up the body parts. And we choose to give credence to testimony from these alleged first responders.

GR then interrupts before PF is allowed to continue.

You don’t allow. The BBC does not allow questions of important details to be addressed.

GR: We have a short period of time. I’m trying to probe what you’re saying. The point surely is that Assad’s reputation is already dented. What would be in the interest of these people to stage these events?

PF: Is that not obvious? A child can see that the intention was to produce the hysteria and now the military action that we are on the point of taking, risking our own safety. What the jihadis have done is jerk our leash.

And frankly for one I think it’s pretty disgusting that we are allowing ourselves to have our own leash jerked by these Islamist fanatics. This is what’s going on and ask yourself how has it profited Assad?

Please engage with your brain. Answer the question: how has Assad benefitted from all this mayhem? In fact it’s rebounded against him. Why would he do such a thing when he was already winning [and] the battle for Eastern Ghouta was virtually over? Why would he choose this moment to do the one thing that was guaranteed to pluck defeat for him from the jaws of victory?

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On Wednesday 11th, erstwhile political opponents Peter Hitchens and George Galloway discussed the build up to war in Syria and the potential repercussions:

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So just why did Trump, Macron and May launch a barrage of cruise missiles towards Damascus at a cost of multiple millions that might otherwise have been usefully invested in our terribly underfunded public services at home? The corporate media which has been screaming for “a response” wants us to believe that it is because these leaders care so much about the people of Syria and especially the children. Opinion polls in Britain, however, reveal that only a minority are quite so easily deceived.

If Trump and May really wanted to perform a grand humanitarian gesture then they would have been far better served in ending support to the Saudi regime’s murderous assault and blockade of Yemen that is now causing widespread famine and the most terrible outbreak of cholera. Instead they recently welcomed the Crown Prince in extended visits before signing new contracts for arms sales. Alternatively, they might have sanctioned Netanyahu’s government, forcing it to bring a halt to the massacre taking place on the border with Gaza where more than a thousand of peaceful protesters have been wounded and dozens more killed by the live ammunition of Israeli snipers. But instead of taking the moral high ground they chose predictably to bomb an already war-torn country to the sole benefit of western defence contractors and the arms industry, and for furthering shared Anglo-American-Saudi-Israeli geopolitical interests.

The corporate media do not want you to worry about the geopolitical context. They want you to overlook the fact that when the very same western powers carried out the illegal “shock and awe” campaign to oust Saddam they shamelessly led the propaganda offensive. That they also cheered on Nato as it provided air cover for terrorist militia that quickly swarmed across Libya. And obviously they hope everyone forgets about Wesley Clark’s infamous statement of Pentagon plans to bring about regime change in “seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Yesterday’s fireworks over Damascus achieved nothing at all for peace, but did transfer a little more wealth from the public purse (the poor) into the hands of the arms manufacturers and other defence contractors (the rich). It also left people across the entire world a little less safe than before.

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Additional: the return of John Bolton

Until now Trump has proved himself to be the great blusterer and for this we ought to be grateful. Yes, he talked tough to North Korea, but instead of following through with his threats he eventually gave way to Kim Jong Un and agreed to negotiate instead. Thus, the coming war with China was back on ice and all who care about the already perilous state of world affairs could breathe a small sigh of relief. Likewise, having unleashed a nearly atomic-sized explosion, the so-called MOAB (“Mother of all Bombs”), on the villagers and goatherds of Afghanistan, with this vile experiment completed, Trump returned to overseeing his country’s conventional and everyday devastation by drones. And again, following last year’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, Trump instantly launched a tremendous barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase. Then, having publicly beaten his chest to the satisfaction of the corporate media, he left the US military to continue its pursuit of regime change by less overt means. Under Trump, in other words, it has been business as usual regarding the “war on terror”, occasionally interspersed by a few more exceptional and shocking instances of long-distance slaughtering. However, all this happened before John Bolton returned to the White House again.

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 8, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 9

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Aside: Incidentally, although al-Qaeda and Iraq were both separately accused of perpetrating the post-9/11 anthrax attacks it was later discovered that the strain originated from a US defence lab. After wrongly suspecting bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill who was afterwards awarded damages of $5.82 million, the FBI turned attention to senior bioweapons scientist Bruce Edwards Ivins. No formal charges were ever filed against him and no direct evidence has been uncovered but while under investigation Ivins apparently committed suicide.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 10

Click hear to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 11

Bolton’s admirers say he is a foreign policy realist akin to Kissinger and so different to the bona fide neo-cons who refrain from dropping American bombs unless in the service of spreading human rights and democracy. And if you think I’m joking then read this extract taken from an article published by the Henry Jackson Society:

For Bolton, the liberation of Iraq was coincidently about universal moral concerns, usually a ruinous basis for any state’s foreign policy (look at Somalia, he says). Fundamentally, Saddam was destroyed because he posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security – a risk that could be lessened. The democratisation of his one, long-time fiefdom is undertaken because the odds of a democracy threatening U.S. security are far less. The enfranchisement of women across the Middle East may well be a happy consequence of his removal but it is not an issue that keeps Bolton awake at night. William Kristol, on the other hand, a far more eager intervener, wants us to believe that women’s rights are basic to America’s global mission. For sure, Kristol likes Bolton, but this does not make Bolton a neocon. 12

So according to the Henry Jackson Society, the preeminent British neo-con foreign policy think tank, Bolton correctly foresaw that Saddam “posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security.” Again, who actually believes this nonsense? And who beyond the corridors of the neo-con/humanitarian-bomber establishment has swallowed any of the lies of such hypocrites as Kristol or Blair? Aside from associates of HJS, scarcely anyone believed the cant that set the stage for the downfall of Saddam even though the media did its utmost to manufacture public consent by uncritically repeating the lies long before Bush and Blair took us to war anyway.

Today another war is looming and Bolton has the ear of Trump. Trump who blusters and tries to look tough in vain attempts to prove to a disconnected audience that the US Commander-in-Chief is in control and knows what he’s doing. He is neither. On foreign policy as on domestic issues, he is quite obviously clueless and in the thrall of the corporate elite, and now with Bolton behind him, the chickenhawk neo-cons are ruling the roost.

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1 From an article entitled “The Chemical-Weapons Attack In Syria: Is There a Place for Skepticism?” written by James Carden, published in The Nation on April 19, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-is-there-a-place-for-skepticism/ 

2 From an article entitled “’Evidence’ of Syria chemical weapons use not up to U.N. standard” written by Anthony Deutsch, published in Reuters on April 26, 2013. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemical-weapons/evidence-of-syria-chemical-weapons-use-not-up-to-u-n-standard-idUSBRE93P0UG20130426

3 https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Fact_Finding_Mission/s-1510-2017_e_.pdf

4 From an article entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says” written by Robert Burns, published by AP News on February 2, 2018. https://apnews.com/bd533182b7f244a4b771c73a0b601ec5

5

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters. Five prisoners were released on Wednesday, after earlier departures by Jaish al-Islam fighters.

From a report entitled “Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma in return for releasing prisoners published by Reuters on April 8, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-negotiati/jaish-al-islam-to-leave-douma-in-return-for-releasing-prisoners-idUKKBN1HF09Z

6 From an updated article originally entitled “Red Crescent Says No Evidence of Chemical Attack in Syria’s Douma” written by Jason Ditz, published by Antiwar.com on April 9, 2018. https://news.antiwar.com/2018/04/09/red-crescent-says-no-evidence-of-chemical-attack-in-syrias-douma/

7 From an article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects” written and published by Caitlin Johnstone on April 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/new-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-being-reported-by-all-the-usual-suspects-bb52e9a4f982

8

“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

9 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

10 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

11 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

12 From an article entitled “John Bolton is not a neocon” written Tim Lynch and published by the Henry Jackson Society on July 20, 2005. http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2005/07/20/john-bolton-is-not-a-neocon/

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House of Saud: the West’s favourite despots

On Tuesday [January 23rd] BBC broadcast the final episode of its 3-part series “House of Saud: A Family at War”, which, according to the blurb, “looks at the challenges facing the new Crown Prince, 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to transform the country.” In fact the series is considerably more hard-hitting than that.

Episode one is slow burning and it takes about half an hour to get to the real point. Eventually, however, we are introduced to incontrovertible proof that the Saudis have been directly arming and funding both ISIS and countless “rebel” factions in Syria including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), which is described by an anonymous member as “a Saudi organisation more than it is a Syrian one.”

None of this is revelatory, of course. News that the Gulf States have been covertly backing terrorist militia in Syria leaked out throughout the duration of the war. Neither is it the first time that disturbing footage of women in cages driven through the streets of Damascus as human shields (from 2015) has been reported in the mainstream.

The departure comes more in the way the evidence is presented. In this episode — as in the subsequent ones that explore corruption and human rights abuses respectively — the main narrative freely castigates the Saudi ‘government’ for its crimes and likewise condemns a select few of the West’s co-conspirators (Tony Blair is always an available villain) – disappointingly though unsurprisingly the more pejorative term ‘regime’ is held back. Where it fails most egregiously however is by perpetuating the claim that old-style Saudi despotism may be on the cusp of transformation. That arguably the most corrupt and backward regime on earth is somehow about to mend itself.

So I am recommending this series in all three parts but with firm reservations. As far as BBC’s reporting on Saudi Arabia goes this is a refreshingly frank and daring condemnation of the kingdom, and yet underlying the opprobrium is a repeated message to overlook and forgive Saudi’s diabolical human rights record and its pivotal role in the spread of Salafist terrorism because it remains a ‘vital ally’ and a ‘key partner in the fight against terror’. The BBC opens the way for this doublethink by allowing a platform to such apologists as former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, Ali Shihabi of the Arabia Foundation, Michael Stephens of RUSI and former CIA Director and RUSI award-winner General David Petraeus, who once recommended US support for al-Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra.

My advice is watch all parts (each one is a damning investigation) mindful that all countervailing opinion is provided by sources closely aligned with the arms industry.

To watch episodes 1 (available for 14 days), 2 (21 days) and 3 (28 days) of BBC’s “House of Saud: A Family at War” on iplayer click here, here and here.

Click here to read an extended post detailing the origins of ISIS with timelines entirely collated from mainstream sources.

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Petition: Cancel the invitation to Saudi Crown Prince to visit UK

We call on the Prime Minister to withdraw the invitation for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to visit the UK. The Saudi Arabian regime has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture and arbitrary detention are widely documented. In 2017 alone, over 100 people were executed.

The Crown Prince has directed the bombardment of Yemen. Tens of thousands have been killed or injured. There is widespread famine and cholera, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Yet, the UK still sells arms to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime has supported repression in Bahrain, where its military intervened to end peaceful protests in 2011.

The lives of people in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are more important than arms sales. Stand up for human rights and cancel the visit.

Click here to add your name to petition the UK government.

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