Tag Archives: Bashar al-Assad

Seymour Hersh conclusively debunks “Trump’s Red Line” – the gas attack was no such thing

Seymour Hersh is perhaps most highly respected investigative journalist alive today. He earned his reputation as the first to bring the world’s attention to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

During the Syrian War, Hersh has twice investigated claims that Assad crossed chemical “red lines”, first in Ghouta in August 2013, and more recently in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last April. The evidence he has uncovered disproves the official narrative of both incidents. Faced with such inconvenient truth, however, the mainstream media simply ignores him.

Here are extracts from his latest piece on the alleged sarin atrocity at Khan Sheikhoun, although I very much encourage all readers to follow the links to read the full article published in yesterday’s Sunday edition of Die Welt:

Within hours of the April 4 bombing [and alleged chemical attack], the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.

The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons. […]

Hersh says that his sources provided him with evidence “in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4”. These were part of “an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction [in which] U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter”:

Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to the deconfliction monitors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north.

The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area. […]

The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition. […]

The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.” The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.

Seymour Hersh was also able to speak at length with a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and the CIA:

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. According to intelligence estimates, the senior adviser said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist leaders, and an unknown number of drivers and security aides. […]

Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots.

At this point, the adviser said, the president’s national security planners were more than a little rattled: “No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intelligence made clear that a Syrian Air Force SU-24 fighter bomber had used a conventional weapon to hit its target: There had been no chemical warhead.

Regarding the potential fallout of Trump’s knee-jerk response, these are Hersh’s closing remarks:

The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full article entitled “Trump’s Red Line”.

And here to read an earlier post on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident entitled “illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations”, published April 10th.

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Update:

If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and pliant, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.

writes independent reporter and investigative journalist Jonathan Cook, who continues:

His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection. That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed.

The first of the “spoilers” was reported in the Guardian last Wednesday [June 28th ] as follows:

The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” for further use of the weapons. […]

The unusual public warning on Monday night appeared to be intended to deter the regime from repeating its use of chemical weapons against rebel-held cities and towns.

It may also have been aimed at the regime’s backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime’s responsibility for chemical weapons use.

Click here to read the full report written by Julian Borger.

The second involves a rehash of earlier claims made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which was reported by BBC news on Friday [June 30th] as follows:

The fact-finding mission for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based in The Hague, concluded that, after interviewing witnesses and examining samples, “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance”. […]

The new report has been circulated among OPCW members but has not been made public.

A joint UN and OPCW investigation will now investigate who was to blame for the attack.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Jonathan Cook reminds us:

There are obvious reasons to be mightily suspicious of these stories. The findings of the OPCW were already known and had been discussed for some time – there was absolutely nothing newsworthy about them.

There are also well-known problems with the findings. There was no “chain of custody” – neutral oversight – of the bodies that were presented to the organisation in Turkey, as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, has noted. Any number of interested parties could have contaminated the bodies before they reached the OPCW. For that reason, the OPCW has not concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the traces of sarin. In the world of real news, only such a finding – that Assad was responsible – should have made the OPCW report interesting again to the media.

As Cook correctly concludes:

[B]y going public with their threats against Assad, the Pentagon and White House did not increase the deterrence on Assad, making it less likely he would use gas in the future. That could have been achieved much more effectively with private warnings to the Russians, who have massive leverage over Assad. These new warnings were meant not for Assad but for western publics, to bolster the official narrative that Hersh’s investigation had thrown into doubt.

In fact, the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.

In light of the White House statement, Caleb Maupin of RT asked spokesperson for the US State Department, Heather Nauert: “Are you concerned that that could have created an opening for the terrorist groups to carry out a chemical attack… [adding] you’re not concerned even though al-Nusra, al-Qaeda groups have been using chemical weapons in Syria – that’s documented”. But Nauert prefers to answer her own question:

But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.

No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.

Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

Click here to read the full article entitled “After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria”.

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As a side note, I must draw attention to the seldom mentioned fact that Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), attended the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria as recently as June 2015. There is a clear conflict of interests when the head of an independent intergovernmental organisation for disarmament ‘privately’ attends a meeting which includes Nato top brass as well as the heads of major arms manufacturers. It raises serious questions over the impartiality of the OPCW.

You can also read full attendance list here.

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Caleb Maupin: I mean they could carry out a terrorist attack and then the White House saying, ‘oh Assad was going to do it’, that would create a cover for them to do such a thing.

Heather Nauert: Do I have to do this again? We know that Assad has used chemicals weapons on his own people, and he’s done that repeatedly, including women and children, and we have all seen the video and there is no debate about that.

CM: Didn’t Assad give up his chemical weapons in 2013?

HN: No.

CM: Are you saying that al-Qaeda has not used chemical weapons?

HN: I’m not going to get into this conversation with you about this – you want to have a debate, okay, about a hypothetical… and I’m not going to get into a debate about a hypothetical.

CM: Since you’ve announced that then they could carry out an attack and make it look like the [Syrian] government did it. Isn’t that a real possibility?

HN: If you want to try to make excuses for the Assad regime, go right ahead.

CM: I’m not talking about the Assad, I’m talking about terrorist groups – I’m talking about al-Qaeda.

HN: I’m not going to spend all our folks’ time having that conversation. We all know here in the room that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for chemical attacks on his own people, including women and children. We are not going to debate it beyond that. Al-Qaeda are horrible too but what we’re talking about right now is Assad and Syria. Next question…

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

first-hand accounts from the US Peace Council and other non-aligned observers of the ‘civil war’ in Syria

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so — Mark Twain 

In July, the US Peace Council sent a delegation to Syria for a week-long visit to meet with secular and religious leaders. They returned to the US and gave a press briefing at the UN on August 9th in which they denounced the entire US/western depiction and narrative of Syria as a propagandist lie:

“What we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. [Yet] it’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.”

I have produced a comprehensive transcript of the briefing which is attached as an addendum.

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The journey from Homs however is a profound experience, for it involves hours of travelling across expansive plains, through miles of destroyed and deserted villages and towns that had been occupied, terrorised and destroyed by Islamist fighters, and the battles that ensued. Most of the millions of internally displaced who fled to the comparative safety of government-controlled areas, and refugees who have fled the country fled early in the fighting, both because of the brutality of the rebel groups, and because of the government bombing of the enemy. But none of us realised the extent of destruction which had been done at the hands of the fighters, who would destroy the homes and factories of anyone who opposed them.

As we passed through the deserted destroyed streets of one large town, we saw graffiti insulting a local Saudi Sheikh who had preached the Wahhabi ideology, and who had encouraged the town to rise up against the secular government. Throughout our visit, people in different places told us that one of the factors leading to the uprising had been the influence of Wahhabi doctrine on the thousands of Syrians who had gone to Saudi Arabia to work and study prior to the conflict. This was an insight of which I had not been previously aware.

writes Revd. Andrew Ashdown who led an entirely separate British delegation on a visit to Syria just one month ago at the start of September. The group, which included two cross-bench members of the house of Lords: Baroness Caroline Cox and Lord Raymond Hylton, had been invited by the Grand Mufti of Syria, Dr. Hassoun; Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Armenian Archbishop of Damascus; Bishop Audo of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Aleppo;  and Revd. Harout Selimien, President of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Syria.

Following visits to Damascus and Maaloula, the party journeyed onwards to Homs and Aleppo. This is Ashdown’s account of what they found in Aleppo:

Arriving in Aleppo from the Castello Rd is a bewildering experience. After passing through miles of destroyed suburbs, (formerly occupied by ‘rebels’, but now secured by the Syrian army) the road into town very suddenly becomes like any other city. Within the space of a hundred metres, empty ruins become tree-lined, car-filled boulevards, cafes, shops, Churches and mosques. The media give the impression that the whole city of Aleppo is destroyed. This is far from the truth. Large areas are, but two thirds of the city still stands, and in this city, constantly shelled by rebel-held areas, where death and destruction is a threat from all sides, a veneer of ordinary life goes on. Arriving at sunset, less than five hundred metres from an area that looks like a scene from Armageddon, people were out in the streets and the cafes were full. This is government-controlled Aleppo, where 1.5 million people live. These people are not being bombed by Assad. Rather the Syrian Army is protecting them, no matter to which sectarian or faith community they belong. These people are very grateful that the long siege of the city imposed by the rebels, which received barely any attention in the international media is now over.

The scenes of devastation that we see on our TV screens are real, but they are only a part of the story. The narratives we hear about on our media are exclusively reported from the rebel side, where an estimated 200,000 people struggle to survive. Of those, 50,000 are fighters, many of them foreign and most belonging to extremist factions, and the remainder are mainly families of those fighters. Most of the resident population of those areas have long since fled, either to the safety of the government-held areas, or have fled the country. […]

The Syrians we met asked if the world knew what was going on in Aleppo. I could only respond that as far as people knew, the whole city was destroyed, and that the government are bombing, shelling and gassing their own people. They were both amused and exasperated. They said that the rebels had used gas, not the government. It is also an extremely common view in Syria (and often repeated by those in Aleppo themselves) that the people whom the government are bombing in the city, are not civilians, but are almost exclusively terrorists and their families. The 1.5 million civilians living in the comparative ‘safety’ of the government-held areas of the city are exhausted by the constant shelling and ‘hell-fire canon’ attacks of the rebels, and are keen for the government to win the war.

Continuing:

In the afternoon, we met with the Governor of Aleppo who told us of the efforts being made to receive what civilians are left in rebel-controlled areas.  He mentioned the many stories of people who are wanting to leave those areas, being prevented from doing so, and some being killed for wanting to do so.  He despaired of the international media’s misrepresentation of the realities on the ground.

Afterwards we were incredibly lucky to visit the Senior Doctor’s Council of Aleppo. This was a last minute arrangement, and by chance we interrupted a meeting of the Senior Executive of Aleppo Doctors. The doctors were glad to interrupt their meeting and welcomed us warmly, saying they were delighted we had come to see the situation. The group that were present included representatives of different medical specialities. The first thing we asked was about the regular media reports that there are only a few doctors left in Aleppo and that the last paediatrician was killed in a government airstrike. They laughed.

“Firstly you must understand that there is a media war against Syria, so you won’t hear about what’s happening in Government-controlled areas. Actually, there are 250 paediatricians currently active in Aleppo. The one that was killed is not on any register as a doctor of this city. Nor is the ‘Al Quds’ hospital that was supposedly destroyed known in Aleppo it all. It was probably a temporary field clinic set up by the terrorists. When they say that a ‘hospital’ has been targeted by the government, they are usually temporary field-clinics; they are not registered clinics or hospitals. Today, there are 4,260 doctors in Aleppo of which 3,150 are active. Of these, about 1,500 are specialists. Since the start of the conflict, 20 registered hospitals have been destroyed by the terrorists (these are not mentioned in the western media). But there are still 6 active public hospitals and about 40 small private hospitals in the city. At the moment we have a huge shortage of medicines and equipment in both public and private hospitals, including MRI machines. Our priorities are spare parts for equipment. Most of the aid given by the WHO and by other agencies, and all the resources given by Saudi Arabia and Turkey goes to the terrorists, not to the citizens of the city.”

Click here to read Ashdown’s full diary and a summary of the findings of his own delegation which concludes as follows:

While almost all media coverage in the West focuses on the devastating effects of military offensives by Government forces, in just one day during our visit (September 5th) the following attacks by the armed Opposition inflicting indiscriminate death and injury included:

Four car bombs at Homs with 12 killed and 30 injured; in Tartus 45 killed and 100 wounded; in the Damascus countryside, 3 killed and 12 wounded; in Hasaka, 6 killed and 20 wounded.

This is only a part of the daily toll of death and injury inflicted by Opposition forces on civilians, such as the shelling of the University in Aleppo by 4 missiles on the day we were there.

Already, we have been accused of spouting ‘government propaganda’.  No. We travelled to Syria to listen to the voices of Syrian people and we have met hundreds from across the respective communities in the country. Personally, this is my fifth visit to the country since April 2014, and the messages remain consistent and widespread. What we are sharing is not ‘government propaganda’ at all, but the voices of ordinary Syrians. Anyone who thinks otherwise is showing their ignorance!

I would repeat the cry of most Syrians we have met. Come and visit us and see the reality for yourselves. I have seriously wondered whether the enormous pressure put upon us by both government and Church figures NOT to visit Syria, is precisely because they do not want us to see and hear the truth, simply because it does not ally with the deliberate misrepresentation the international community is conveying to achieve their own agendas.

I hope and pray that any ceasefire leads to a true and lasting peace. I also hope and pray that the international community will adjust their policies to consider the real needs and wishes of the Syrian people, and that we do not use the ‘provision of aid’ as a means of rearming militant factions to further prolong the war. The goal of everyone should be the restoration of peace; the rebuilding of the country; the respect of plurality and development of reform; and the reconciliation and healing of souls, which will be the most difficult task. Enough of fuelling war. Let us end the policy of violence, and truly seek the path of peace, and listen first to the voices of the people themselves.

[bold emphasis added]

Andrew Ashdown was interviewed about his experiences by Mike Robinson for UK Column on Thursday 6th. The interview is embedded below:

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Eva Bartlett is Canadian freelance journalist and activist who spent more than three years living in Gaza documenting Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Since 2014, she has undertaken four trips to Syria and following her latest visit gave an extended interview to Sign of the Times Media [September 2nd] which is embedded below:

Click here to read more on her blog In Gaza.

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Vanessa Beeley is a British investigative journalist and photographer. The daughter of Sir Harold Beeley, Middle Eastern Advisor to Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, she too has been a frequent visitor to the Gaza Strip and campaigner for Palestinian rights.

Vanessa Beeley was a member of the US Peace Council delegation that visited Syria in July (see above). After the main contingent returned, however, she journeyed onward and continued with her own investigation. Here is an interview she gave on Liberty Report in late September shortly after returning:

Click here to read more on her blog thewallwillfall.

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Addendum: transcript of US Peace Council speaking at UN

It was quite evident to us over the several years that what we were hearing and reading from the press was obviously confusing the American people and the peace movement – the large vocal anti-war movement that exists in our country. We saw the same pattern of ever other invasion where the leadership of the country was demonised and therefore used as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs. Our organisation, US Peace Council, is a firm advocate of the United Nations Charter, with deep respect for the sovereignty of all countries; respecting the rights of the peoples of those countries to determine their own destiny.

It was our consideration that we had to reach out to the US peace movement and ask that they participate in a delegation to Syria to see for themselves what existed, to speak to both officials and non-officials, [and] civil society, to try to determine for themselves independently, the situation in Syria and the road to peace. That is our responsibility. Our responsibility is to reach out first to the US peace movement and then to the American people.

The campaign to confuse the American people has been intense. And it is our purpose to try to bring some light – some understanding – which can perhaps lead to the American people demanding an end to the intervention and peace in Syria.

We reached out to many peace organisations in our country to try to get a broad delegation to go. I would be less than honest if I did not say that some did not come because they were fearful of going into a warzone. Others demonstrated a confusion that does exist because of reading the propaganda and the barrage of, unfortunately, the media which gives such a one-sided story. We feel we have that obligation. And it is a tribute to those who went that they overcame those obstacles and agreed to go and, may I point out, paid their own way to go.

– Alfred Marder, President of the US Peace Council [3:00 mins on]

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I think what Alfred said is so true: we are fighting a mass of propaganda that has demonised the Syrian government, demonised its leaders. An effort that precedes every other intervention that the United States has made over the course of many, many decades. In order to convince people that it’s okay for quote-unquote “humanitarian reasons” to overthrow a government, and to replace it with whatever. The United States prefers a government that is not independent, that is a willing participant in whatever US policy is. So what we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. It’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.

We spoke to members of industry – the chamber of industry. We spoke to leaders in the student union – the national student union. We spoke with NGOs that are involved with taking care of the orphans of those who have died in this war on both sides. They don’t discriminate. Orphans are orphans: whatever side they were fighting on these young people have to be taken care of. We spoke with an NGO that trains women (who don’t have a skill in sewing) because they lost the breadwinner in their family. We spoke to an NGO where they’re trying to deal with reconciliation and trying to make sure supplies get to the country that is under the control of the terrorists – the mercenaries.

And we make a distinction between opposition – the political opposition with whom we also met – and the terrorists and the mercenaries with whom we did not meet. We met people in Syria who work non-violently to bring about change. We learned of their efforts to bring about change working in opposition to the government, working with the government, but non-violently.

We met with government officials. We met with the Minister of Administration. We met with the Ministry of Health. We met with the Minister of Reconciliation: a whole approach to bringing back those Syrians who have for one reason or another joined the mercenaries and the terrorists. […]

We saw for ourselves the damage that was done to the university. Even while we were there a shell fell into the School of Architecture killing students and faculty. And the students themselves were rebuilding the damage. We saw villages that are basically Christian villages that have been besieged by the terrorists but have now been liberated. And the damage done to a shrine in a village called Maaloula, which is a village where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And the attacks on the Christian population.

One of the things I bring back – there are two things I want to mention finally, that we feel are really important – one is that while the United States would like to divide the Syrians up by religion, or within a religion by the different beliefs within that religion, there wasn’t a Syrian we talked to who would accept that. We spoke to the Grand Mufti and he said people ask me how many Muslims there are in Syria, and his response is always 23 million. That’s the population of Syria. And when we spoke to the bishop of one of the Orthodox churches he answered the same thing. The number of Christians is 23 million. We will not allow ourselves to be divided up the way that the United States has divided up the people of Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or so many other countries. We won’t allow that. And that unity, I believe, has led to the ability of the Syrians to withstand an invasion by the most powerful country in the world and its most powerful allies in Europe [and] its most powerful allies in the Middle East. With what is a vicious attack on the Syrian people.

The second is the sanctions. I have to admit that I did not know before I went that the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria in a way that’s similar to the sanctions the United States imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, in order to weaken that country and that government, that the United States admits killed 500,000 children in Iraq (during the 1990s sanctions). That set of sanctions means that the Syrian people cannot get medicines that they desperately need, that they cannot get factory parts that they need to maintain their economy, they can’t get infant formula and many other things. Their students cannot go abroad. Their lawyers are separated from the rest of the international legal system because of those sanctions.

These sanctions are not reported in the US media to my knowledge and we need to know about them. These sanctions are another way to weaken the Syrian government and the Syrian state.

— Henry Lowendorf, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Head of the Syria Delegation [7:30 mins on]

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I went to Syria because I thought it was important to learn from the Syrian people themselves what was actually happening in Syria because there has not been a focussed enough response by the peace movement in the United States to what’s been going on in Syria.

I can’t add a whole lot to what Henry and Al have said but I want to make this one particular point because I think it’s very important and it gets to the core of everything that’s going on. This is not a civil war in Syria. That’s probably the first thing we heard and we heard it over and over again. It is not President Assad against his own people. It is President Assad and the Syrian people all together in unity against outside forces – outside mercenary forces – terror organisations. And the names change every day, or every other day, to try to protect their identity and maybe keep the connection between the country that funded it and that group a little more nebulous. But there are groups – mercenary forces – supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, and underneath it Israel – the state of Israel. And these outside mercenary forces are the ones that are terrorising the Syrian people and are attempting to divide the Syrian people.

I remember when the US invaded Iraq. Our organisation was against it well before the invasion ever began. But once the invasion was over and the United States was setting up a government we talked to many Iraqis who said: we’re not Sunni and Shia; we’re not Sunni, Shia and Kurds; but the United States is trying to divide us that way. And we got exactly the same message when we were in Syria. We are Syrians. As Henry said before: whether you are Christian, Muslim or other you are Syrian; and that’s one of the things that enabled the Assad government to withstand five-plus years of this kind of outside attack.

When it was time for the US to unseat Saddam Hussein after years of sanctions and two wars, he fell like that [click of fingers]. When it was time the United States decided for Gaddafi to go he fell like that [click of fingers]. But when it was time the United States decided for Assad to go, he did not fall. And why? Because he has the support of 23 million Syrian people – and it was more before all these refugees were created and sent around the world.

The whole idea of regime change – the policy of regime change – is illegal under international law. The United States has no right to do that. The United States has no right to decide for the Syrian people who their government leaders should be. And so during my time there in Syria I felt over and over again “who are we?”, “why are we presuming to know what’s best for the Syrian people?”

And the other part of this that I think the people of United States need to know is that the Assad government provides free healthcare – free universal healthcare to everyone. It’s part of the government’s mission. Free education for everyone from primary school all the way through, even to university and medical school. And when we met with this one particular person from the non-violent opposition, we asked him, well tell us, what are some of your grievances with the Assad government, and he said, well, you just heard that it costs about $50 a year for people going to medical school, we think that’s too high. He was being somewhat facetious, of course, but these are the kinds of policies that our citizens here in the United States are calling for: tuition free college; universal healthcare. So the Assad government is in the business of doing this and providing this to the people. And without a doubt, even the non-violent opposition parties, who had issues with democracy or corruption prior to 2011, everyone has thrown themselves in behind the Assad government because that’s the best hope, the best bet for the Syrian people.

Lastly, I think I want to echo what Henry said, that to a person, people ask that the sanctions be lifted. While we were there someone came and said a certain pharmaceutical company which name I forget at the moment was refusing to send childhood immunisations from the United States to Syria causing great harm to Syrian people. That’s not how this country or any country should act within the world’s community. So the sanctions, as we’ve learned many times, do not hurt the governments they’re intended to hurt, they hurt people – and so, they need to be lifted.

We also heard that the border between Turkey and Syria needs to be closed so that this pipeline of trained groups – terror groups – is blocked, and no more of those groups get into Syria. And finally, that the United States needs to stop supporting some of those outside terror groups. All of the support for the outside terror groups needs to be withdrawn. And allow the Syrians to fend for themselves. The Syrian Arab Army is fighting for its life and fighting for the life of Syria, and we need as a country to acknowledge our role – what we’re doing to cause harm and destruction to the Syrian people – and we need to stop it, and we need to stop it now, and that’s one of the things I’ll be saying over and over again since my return from Syria.

— Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director of New Jersey Peace Action, Member of the Syria Delegation [16:30 mins on]

*

I have been a human rights and a peace activist as long as I can remember… I was honoured to be asked to be part of this delegation. […]

As an American citizen it is shameful for me to admit what my government is doing in the sovereign country of Syria. We have no right to impose these illegal sanctions. In fact, these sanctions, allegedly the government says, are against the government of Syria, but in fact, it’s against the people – civil society. People who are attempting to maintain the infrastructure, the healthcare, the safety of all Syrian people. One of the things that stood out to me is not only the lack of medication [but] the fact that Syrian children are dying because they can’t get chemotherapy med[icine] into the country, because of the illegal sanctions that the US and the West has imposed.

Also, they’re not allowing parts and materials to get to businesses who are trying to maintain. And they are trying to maintain for more than one reason – not just to continue to make money, but to employ people. Because when people have no way to earn a living they become desperate. And we know that some of the Syrian people who may have chosen to join the terrorists [did so] mostly for economic reasons, because they couldn’t earn a living. And their benefactors, the US and all the others who are collaborating together to fund this terrorism, are paying people very well to participate in this illegal activity against the Syrian people.

So there are so many ways – subtle ways – that the US sanctions are affecting the Syrians. And when we spoke the business people, they mentioned to us that we are desperately trying to stay in business, we’re desperately trying to keep our people employed, so they don’t become desperate, and they don’t then feel like they have no other choice.

Something else that’s very important is that we did have the opportunity to speak with civil society – not just all of the official organisations. And we met with people who have witnessed, and lived through, and shared their experiences with the mercenaries and explained unspeakable things that I’m not going to go into detail about what those were, but it was very difficult to sit in the presence of someone whose child was assassinated, whose niece was kidnapped and is still missing, whose daughter was raped – kidnapped, raped and then sent back – male and female rapes we heard about.

So this is what the US is financing. This is what the US is backing. And this is not okay. And as a citizen, beyond being a peace and human rights activist, I will not be silent about what I learned, and we have to take responsibility for what’s happening in this country, and the lack of morality when it comes to our foreign policy, and what we are doing elsewhere.

I do want to say that we had almost a two hour meeting with President Assad which we were all very grateful for. After listening to all the voices of civil society groups and officials that we met with, if you think about it, it makes no sense what the US and western media is reporting. It makes no sense that Assad, who is trying to maintain the infrastructure and look toward the future for the Syrian people, would be the one destroying hospitals, and all these places that the US media and western media is saying he is the one responsible for destroying. Just doesn’t make sense. He is interested in the future for Syria. He told us flat out, when this is over with we can have another election, [and] if they don’t want me, they don’t want me, that’s fine. But for now, I have been elected to lead this country and that is what I will do.

The last piece I want to talk about is, you know, having been a student and scholar of restorative and transitional justice for many years, I was really very, very impressed and excited about the fact that they have a Ministry of Reconciliation. That even in the middle of the trauma that Syrian people are involved with at this point, they are looking towards the future and they are dealing with people in a restorative and healing way already. So if some Syrian citizen has joined the mercenaries and if they put down their arms, they are welcomed back into Syrian society. They are fed and their families are fed and restorative justice techniques are being used so that you don’t have a group of Syrians now who are feeling outside of society. So everything I have said, I will continue to say and I will continue to share with other people. And I feel now, since I have been there, we are now capable of sharing truth that unfortunately our media has not been offering the world, and we intend not to be silent from here forward.

— Donna Nassor, Professor and Lawyer also part of US Peace Council [23:30 mins on]

*

I am reminded of the famous comment by the American writer Mark Twain who once said that it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, what gets us into trouble is what we think we know for sure that just ain’t so. And that’s what I think of when I think of my fellow Americans and what they know about Syria – and what they think they know about the war and the Syrian government and the Syrian leadership. What they think they know, just ain’t so. So we have to take that on, because we’re getting into trouble.

Our delegation came to Syria with political views and assumptions, but we were determined to be sceptics, and to doubt everything – meet everyone we could – and to confirm or disconfirm received opinion, conventional wisdom, and to follow the facts wherever they led us. I concluded a number of things from the trip: I won’t go over things that my colleagues have already mentioned.

The motive, in my opinion, of the US war is to destroy an independent Arab secular state. It’s the last secular Arab state standing, and it wants a client regime like Libya, like Iraq, like a number of other countries you could mention. The US hostility to independent Syria long precedes 2011, the beginning of the war.

US, I concluded, claims to be against ISIS, but yet has been loathed to fight a really consistent fight against terrorism. Certain privileged groups such as the al-Nusra Front – the names shift – are called ‘moderate rebels’ because they fight the Syrian government, and the US wants that. They are not moderate: they beheaded a twelve year-old boy when we were there – we saw it on youtube and on TV.

The motives of the US proxy states are somewhat different: sectarian motives and regional power rivalries affect Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Wahhabist ideology, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a sick, medieval, backward ideology, it drives the Saudi state, it motivates that state to finance this war, and Damascus by contrast promotes a socially inclusive and pluralistic form of Islam – and we met the leaders of that form of Islam and they are humane and democratic-minded people, and have every reason to join with the American people in stopping this insane support for Wahhabism, which is behind so much terrorism in the world.

Those of my fellow countrymen who are dogmatic about Assad demonisation are not going to like what I have to say now, which is that the Syrian government is popular and for that reason it is winning the war. The battle for Aleppo will probably be decided soon – relatively soon – and may be the last hurrah, in my opinion, of the foreign mercenaries. The president is popular. His government is recognised as legitimate by the UN. It contests and wins elections. The elections are monitored. There’s a parliament which contains opposition parties – we met them. There is a significant non-violent opposition, which is trying to work constructively for its own social vision. Some of it is inside the government, which in effect is a government of national unity; some of it is in the parliament – we met them. The Minister of Reconciliation deals directly with armed groups, and he’s an opposition leader.

So let me conclude. The US policy on Syria regime change is not wrong in its details, it is wrong in its fundamentals. It is wrong, root and branch. It violates the UN Charter. It violates international law. The US is bombing parts of Syria without the consent of legitimate government – that violates international law. The sanctions violate international law. […]

I think, out of our trip flows certain tasks. I think it is the task of the US anti-war movement to unite around a different vision than what it has united around thus far. Thus far it has united around a feeble vision that is partly false: that partly accepts the dominant State Department, corporate media narrative. We must directly and forthrightly challenge US policy if we are to shift US public opinion. Some organisations alas buy into the dominant mainstream media narrative. They have not covered themselves in glory by so doing.

This is a dangerous moment. Without mentioning names, apparently the leading candidate for president is surrounded by military advisors who are talking about ‘no-fly zones’, which means air-war against the Syrian airforce and the Russians, or ‘boots on the ground’ which means US invasion. If we’re not frightened by that talk, we should be (frightened by that talk). This is a dangerous moment. We have to change the basic US policy, we need a different anti-war movement, and we must begin to shift US public opinion.

— Joe Jamison, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Member of the Syria Delegation [30:00 mins on]

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Widely attributed although unsourced.

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

what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria? update: on the origins of ISIS

According to a recent survey conducted between June 10th  and July 2nd by ORB International, a U.K.-based  market research firm, that was published in the Washington Post on September 15th, 82% of Syrians questioned believe “IS is US and foreign made group”.*

So are four out of every five Syrians mistaken…?

*

This will be the longest article I have ever published and also the most intensively documented. The main assertion is that the story of the Syrian “civil war” as it has been (and continues to be) presented – periodically reframed to conceal the most glaring discrepancies in the permitted narrative – is entirely phoney. That the Arab Spring was not so much the catalyst for an uprising which opened the door for Islamist terrorists, but served as a pretext to orchestrate regime change by means of a deliberate invasion of Salafist death squads. In short, that al-Qaeda factions (ISIS is merely an allied splinter group and a later brand) were always the unwitting agent and enabling force for western expansionism in the pursuit of corporatist geostrategic interests – most obviously for the capture and control of fossil fuel resources.

To argue that al-Qaeda/ISIS operate as our pawns does not mean, however, that we own them – only that (with the help of close allies) we have covertly backed them, and then manoeuvred and manipulated them to pursue our ends. This strategy is not as novel as it may sound, but tried and tested in the Cold War battle to defeat the Soviet Union when we armed and backed the Mujahideen (forerunners to al-Qaeda) during Operation Cyclone.

More than three years ago (August 7th, 2012), I published an article entitled “what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria?” in which I collated evidence of how the west and its allies were already knowingly supporting al-Qaeda fighters against Assad. Back then I wrote:

It seems then, that America are back in the business of supporting al-Qaeda. This is not as unusual as it may sound. If you wind back only as far as the Libyan intervention you’ll find that al-Qaeda was leading much of the opposition there too. Indeed, you may recall that back in November, the black flag of al-Qaeda was actually raised over the courthouse in Benghazi – the place where the Libyan revolution had first ignited

And including an appending quote taken from an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain, that reads:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.

What follows is a sequence of official admissions and mainstream articles that document the origins of ISIS in Iraq and subsequent expansion into Syria which prove beyond contradiction that the west backed the extremists since the earliest stages of the “civil war”, how the majority of the so-called “rebels” are and always have been foreign invaders and not domestic insurgents, and why the only viable long-term solution must be a political one that starts with the total isolation of all Islamist terrorist groups. For as Vice President Joe Biden confessed to us a year ago, when they were looking for opponents to fight the Assad government “there was no moderate middle”. Moreover, Biden, strangely eager to spill the beans, then went on to say:

[America’s allies] poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

[Joe Biden’s speech from October 2014 is transcribed in its entirety in the timeline below.]

However, what Biden failed to add is how both the emergence and the survival of ISIS are not solely due to Gulf state support nor merely the maintenance of supply lines running via Turkey, but more directly thanks to the clandestine activities of the CIA under the leadership of General David Petraeus and then John Brennan who spent $1 billion a year ($1 out of every $15 of the CIA budget) to train and equip some 10,000 fighters. To a considerable extent, it has been the CIA that built up ISIS:

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

Click here to read the full Washington Post report entitled “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut” published on June 12th.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Nato war against ISIS which began August last year has been an inherently phoney one. A war committed to achieving two mutually incompatible outcomes: on the one hand, the restoration of order by the annihilation of Islamist terrorists in the region, and, on the other, the defeat of the Syrian army to bring about the toppling of the government. And given these contradictory goals, how can we be sure that the primary mission has ever been to weaken ISIS, rather than an opportunity to further damage and degrade Syrian infrastructure, which is, of course, another prerequisite for regime change?

Today’s “coalition of the willing” is in any case intrinsically conflicted. For instance, when the US supported Kurdish resistance fighters in the battle to liberate Kobane a year ago, we are told that they accidentally airdropped weapons and other supplies to Islamic State fighters – which happened because “Turkey would not allow Kurdish fighters to cross its borders into Kobane to bolster the town’s defenses.” So which side is Turkey, a Nato member, on?

More recently, once Turkey had joined the ostensibly anti-ISIS coalition this July, its first action involved the launch of airstrikes simultaneously against both IS and Kurdish forces. Little surprise then, that after well over a year and around $4 billion spent conducting this undeclared air offensive there remains no end in sight at all. Meanwhile, and as with previous wars against Iraq and Libya, the civilian death toll directly resulting from the western intervention is rarely reported upon and officially denied. Our bombs are “surgical” and our killings of civilians simply don’t get counted.

Finally, ISIS really is not the invincible force we are accustomed to believe. Rather, they are affiliated gangs of thugs and murderers, who have been successfully held off and then beaten back by committed and courageous though wholly under-resourced Kurdish resistance forces in the north of Syria. However, for those who desire either to see the butchering continue in order to undermine regional stability, or else to use this threat of murderous hoards in a bait and switch where the ultimate aim is always regime change (the neo-con agenda all along, and an outcome that is furthered by chaos and instability) we should not be surprised if the propaganda tends to magnify the strength of ISIS and to exaggerate the difficulty of eradicating them. In reality, they are surrounded by enemies on many sides and if supplies of armaments, other material support and finance were shut off – with Turkey controlling its own border and with serious pressure applied to their sponsors in the Gulf States – then ISIS, as sitting ducks, would rather quickly wither away.

The greater part of this article will be based around an adaptation and extension of a timeline of mainstream articles put together and published by Kevin Borge. His aim, in part, is to reveal how instead of joining the dots, the corporate media overlooks the evidence (evidence it has actually published), in order to preserve an overarching officially sanctioned narrative which justifies all ongoing western “interventions” on the grounds of spreading “freedom and democracy” and other “humanitarian” goals.

In the same spirit as Borge I have tried to limit my own commentary so far as possible and to let the endless misdirection and duplicity within the mainstream version of events speak for itself. In contrast to Borge, I have also decided to try to prise apart the interlocking roles played by i) the United States, Nato and the other western powers; ii) the Gulf States and most especially – though certainly not exclusively – Saudi Arabia and Qatar; iii) Turkey under President Recep Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; and last but by no means least, iv) Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel.

But I will begin with what is arguably the single most extraordinary admission so far in this sorry tale…

*

When Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was interviewed in late July by Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera’s show Head to Head, Hasan pointed to a DIA report presented in August 2012 but recently declassified through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which correctly predicts: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

In other words, as Hasan points out, “the US saw ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing”

Flynn replies [from 9:35 mins]:

I think that where we missed the point – where we totally blew it – was in the very beginning. I mean we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember – I mean it’s only been a couple of years – the Free Syrian Army, that movement, I mean where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today? And how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now, we’ve allowed these extremist militants to come in…

Hasan cuts in: Why did you do that? You were the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency… Did you see this document in 2012? Did this come across your table…? So when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say “what on earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels? And what did you do about it? Did you say we shouldn’t be supporting these groups?

Flynn responds: I did. I mean we argued about these different groups that are there and we said, you know, who is that is involved here. And I will tell you that I do believe that the intelligence was very clear, and now it’s a matter of whether or not policy is going to be as clear and as defining and as precise as it needs to be. And I don’t believe it was…

Hasan: Just to clarify here, today my understanding is you’re saying we should have backed the rebels.

Flynn: We should have done more earlier on in this effort, you know, than we did…

Hasan: But three years ago, let’s just be clear – for the sake of our viewers – in 2012, your agency was saying quote: “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” In 2012, the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote “Islamic extremists”?

Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job, but… my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be. And I will tell you it goes before 2012. I mean when we were in Iraq and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean it was very clear what we were going to face.

Hasan: Well, I admire your frankness on this subject. Let me just clarify once more: you are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew those groups were around. You saw this analysis and you were arguing against it. But who wasn’t listening?

Flynn: I think the administration.

Hasan: The administration turned a blind eye to your analysis…

Flynn: I don’t think they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a wilful decision.

Hasan: A wilful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Flynn: Well, a wilful decision to do what they’re doing… you have to really ask the President, what is it that he actually is doing with the policy that is in place because it is very, very confusing. I’m sitting here today Mehdi and I can’t tell you exactly what that is, and I’ve been at this a long time.

[The transcript above is mine.]

Click here to watch the full interview first broadcast on Friday July 31st at the Al Jazeera website.

*

Before proceeding to the more closely documented timelines, some further background and additional insights are available in a Guardian article written by Nafeez Ahmed and published shortly after the Ghouta gas attack on August 30, 2013. Here are some extracts:

In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorised CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. A range of US government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had “cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations” intended to weaken the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria,” wrote Hersh, “a byproduct” of which is “the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups” hostile to the United States and “sympathetic to al-Qaeda.” He noted that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria,” with a view to pressure him to be “more conciliatory and open to negotiations” with Israel. One faction receiving covert US “political and financial support” through the Saudis was the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television:

“I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

After referring back to Wesley Clark’s notorious post-9/11 memo outlining US plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, Ahmed then continues:

Much of the strategy currently at play was candidly described in a 2008 US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War (pdf). The report noted that “the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.” As most oil will be produced in the Middle East, the US has “motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states”:

“The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized… For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources… The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.”

Adding:

The report noted especially that Syria is among several “downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow”, increasing a risk of conflict. Thus, although the RAND document fell far short of recognising the prospect of an ‘Arab Spring’, it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, US defence officials were alive to the region’s growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article.

Incidentally, and contrary to some wilder claims, there is no convincing evidence that most instrumental to igniting hostilities that then plunged the country into “civil war” was the Syrian government’s failure to respond to a severe drought:

There is no doubt that the major drought witnessed in Syria between 2006 and 2011 had a catastrophic environmental and societal impact on the country, but it is not the over-arching cause of the war.

So writes Louis Allday who was working at the British Embassy in Damascus at the time.

Click here to read his full account published on September 11th by Counterpunch.

*

i) Timeline for US, Nato and other western powers from 2006

Please note that the bold emphasis is mine throughout unless otherwise stated.

Time Magazine, December 19, 2006:

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1571751,00.html

The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that “these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists. […]

The proposal says part of the effort would be run through a foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF).

The Front includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, but now says it seeks peaceful, democratic reform […]

Money for the election-monitoring proposal would be channeled through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. According to MEPI’s website, the program passes out funds ranging between $100,000 and $1 million to promote education and women’s empowerment, as well as economic and political reform, part of a total allocation of $5 million for Syria that Congress supported earlier this year.

Reuters, April 18. 2011:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/18/us-usa-syria-wikileaks-idUSTRE73H0E720110418

The State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria, the Post said. Barada TV began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria that began last month as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad the Post said. The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after political ties with Damascus were frozen in 2005, the newspaper said. The financial backing has continued under President Barack Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad, the Post said.

Reuters, July 20, 2012:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/01/us-usa-syria-obama-order-idUSBRE8701OK20120801

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Sydney Morning Herald, September 11, 2012:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/alqaeda-now-a-us-ally-in-syria-20120910-25oby.html

In Syria, there is mounting evidence that Al Qaeda and its allies are actively deploying terror tactics and suicide bombers to overthrow the Assad regime.

Syrian citizens who prefer the secular and stable state to the prospect of an Iraqi-style sectarian state may well be turning this same question around to the US government: are you with us, or with the terrorists?

This week, head of the Salafi jihad and close ally of al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, pledged “deadly attacks” against Syria as “our fighters are coming to get you” because “crimes” by the regime ”prompts us to jihad”.

If only the Syrian uprising was as simple as the Arab Spring narrative where citizens seek democracy and freedom. But those unarmed protests have long since been hijacked by a cocktail of agendas which have little to do with Syrian democracy, and more to do with a proxy war to create a sectarian Sunni state that weakens Shi’te Iran’s main partner in the region.

[In his “historic” State of the Union address on September 20th, 2001] Bush was correct in claiming that al Qaeda “want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan” – who were all US-Israel allies at that time.

But his list stopped short of mentioning Syria or Iraq, the real targets of al Qaeda. Why does overthrowing Syria, using the same terror tactics, fail to attract the same degree of outrage?

Bush continues: “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.”

This pledge appears to have fallen on its own sword, given the funding of the jihadists in Syria. The terrorists have bred and spread across borders, which is the opposite of Bush’s prophecy.

The US administration must come clean about its financial aid. It cannot use one hand to sign a blank cheque to the rebels, and the other hand to cover its eyes to their immoral and illegal tactics. It cannot hide behind “the end justifies the means” as there are too many innocent lives at stake. […]

The US regime should be actively and publicly distancing itself from the foreign terrorists and Salafist jihadists that are proliferating within sovereign Syria.

It should be condemning al Qaeda for its militant intervention. It should be condemning the Saudi sheikhs who issue fatwas for an Alawite holocaust. […]

Perhaps the US is applying another principle that they may have learned from their pragmatic Arab allies – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Business Insider, October 9, 2012:

http://www.businessinsider.com/us-syria-heavy-weapons-jihadists-2012-10

The official position is that the U.S. has refused to allow heavy weapons into Syria. But there’s growing evidence that U.S. agents — particularly murdered ambassador Chris Stevens — were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to jihadist Syrian rebels. […]

In November 2011 The Telegraph reported that Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria. Last month The Times of London reported that a Libyan ship “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets.

Vice Presidential Debate, October 11, 2012:

http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-11-2012-the-biden-romney-vice-presidential-debate

US Vice President Joe Biden:

We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes – and he will go – there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.

[almost precisely two years later, October 2014, Biden entirely contradicts this statement – see below]

New York Times, October 14, 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. […]

The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

McClatchy, December 2, 2012:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24741022.html

Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. […]

The group’s prominence makes clear the dilemma of Syria’s revolutionaries, as well as those who might provide support to them. Though members of Nusra operate independently of the other rebel groups that have taken up arms and particularly those that are calling for elections if Assad is deposed it is increasingly clear that their operations are closely coordinated with more secular rebels.

The Guardian, March 8, 2013:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/08/west-training-syrian-rebels-jordan

Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall. […]

According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected. […]

For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism. “The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman. The US has announced an extra $60m (£40.2m) in direct aid to the rebels, including military rations and medical kits.

Reuters, March 10, 2013:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/10/us-syria-crisis-rebels-usa-idUSBRE9290FI20130310

Americans are training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, the German weekly Der Spiegel said on Sunday

New York Times, April 20, 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/world/middleeast/kerry-says-us-to-double-aid-to-the-opposition-in-syria.html

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday morning that the United States would double its aid to the Syrian opposition, providing $123 million in fresh assistance.

New York Times, April 27, 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/world/middleeast/islamist-rebels-gains-in-syria-create-dilemma-for-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries and head a court that applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce. Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

BBC News, May 6, 2013:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22424188

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

Washington Times, May 6, 2013:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/6/syrian-rebels-used-sarin-nerve-gas-not-assads-regi/

Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

The Guardian, May 8, 2013:                                             

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/08/free-syrian-army-rebels-defect-islamist-group

Syria’s main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is losing fighters and capabilities to Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist organisation with links to al-Qaida that is emerging as the best-equipped, financed and motivated force fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]

Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently. “Fighters feel proud to join al-Nusra because that means power and influence,” said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. “Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it,” he added. “They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations.” Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala’a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. […]

Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA’s al-Tawhid Lions brigade. […]

Western governments say they are aware of the al-Nusra problem, which is being monitored by intelligence agencies, but they are uncertain about its extent.

Reuters, June 19, 2013:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/19/us-syria-rebels-islamists-specialreport-idUSBRE95I0BC20130619

It’s a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists’ goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. […]

Many pledge allegiance to the notion of a unified Free Syrian Army (FSA). But on the ground there is little evidence to suggest the FSA actually exists as a body at all. […]

So far the Islamist groups have been the ones to attract outside support, mostly from private Sunni Muslim backers in Saudi Arabia, according to fighters in Syria. […]

The moderates are losing ground. In many parts of rebel-held Aleppo, the red, black and green revolutionary flag which represents more moderate elements has been replaced with the black Islamic flag. Small shops selling black headbands, conservative clothing and black balaclavas have popped up around the city and their business is booming. Reuters met several Islamist fighters who had left more moderate rebel brigades for hardline groups. One member of Ahrar al-Sham, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said: “I used to be with the Free Syrian Army but they were always thinking about what they wanted to do in future. I wanted to fight oppression now.”

Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jun/21/world/la-fg-cia-syria-20130622

CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders. The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. […]

The training began in November at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said. […]

But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.

The Telegraph, August 2, 2013:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/10218288/CIA-running-arms-smuggling-team-in-Benghazi-when-consulate-was-attacked.html

Up to 35 CIA operatives were working in the city during the attack last September on the US consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, according to CNN.” […]

The television network said that a CIA team was working in an annex near the consulate on a project to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels. Sources said that more Americans were hurt in the assault spearheaded by suspected Islamic radicals than had been previously reported. CIA chiefs were actively working to ensure the real nature of its operations in the city did not get out. So only the losses suffered by the State Department in the city had been reported to Congress.

The Independent, August 27, 2013:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/does-obama-know-hes-fighting-on-alqaidas-side-8786680.html

If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. […]

Maybe the Americans should ask al-Qa’ida for intelligence help – after all, this is the group with “boots on the ground”, something the Americans have no interest in doing. And maybe al-Qa’ida could offer some target information facilities to the country which usually claims that the supporters of al-Qa’ida, rather than the Syrians, are the most wanted men in the world.

Washington Post, September 11, 2013:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-begins-weapons-delivery-to-syrian-rebels/2013/09/11/9fcf2ed8-1b0c-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html 

The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war. […]

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.

Foreign Affairs (CFR), January 23, 2014:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2014-01-23/good-and-bad-ahrar-al-sham

“The Good and Bad of Ahrar al-Sham, An al Qaeda–Linked Group Worth Befriending”

New York Times, January 28, 2014:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/world/middleeast/rebels-in-syria-claim-control-of-resources.html

Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say. While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda.

The Independent, April 2, 2014:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/i-am-not-fighting-againstalqaida-itsnot-our-problem-says-wests-last-hope-in-syria-9233424.html

The rebel leader touted as the West’s last hope to stem the tide of extreme jihadist groups in Syria has said he will not fight against al-Qa’ida, and openly admits to battling alongside them. Speaking from a safe house on the outskirts of the Turkish town of Antakya, Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) told The Independent that the fight against al-Qa’ida was “not our problem” and admitted his fighters conduct joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra – the official al-Qa’ida branch in Syria.

The Telegraph, June 25, 2014:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/10925602/Al-Qaeda-merges-with-Isis-at-Syria-Iraq-border-town.html

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot has issued a loyalty pledge to Isis at a remote town on the Iraqi border, a monitor said.[…]

After months of clashes between the two sides, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian arm the al-Nusra Front “pledged loyalty to Isis” in Albu Kamal, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Washington Post, June 26, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-backs-us-military-training-for-syrian-rebels/2014/06/26/ead59104-fd62-11e3-932c-0a55b81f48ce_story.html?wpisrc=al_comboPN

The Obama administration asked Congress on Thursday to authorize $500 million in direct U.S. military training and equipment for Syrian opposition fighters, a move that could significantly escalate U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war. Money for the assistance, which would expand a CIA covert training program, is included in a $65.8 billion request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO.

Brookings Institute, September/October 2014 Issue:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2014/09/02-army-defeat-assad-syria-pollack

The cons begin with the simple fact that the United States has no interests in Syria itself. Syria is not an oil producer, a major U.S. trade partner, or even a democracy. […]

But there is, in fact, a way that the United States could get what it wants in Syria — and, ultimately, in Iraq as well — without sending in U.S. forces: by building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists. The United States has pulled off similar operations before and could probably do so again, and at far lower cost than what it has spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. […]

Second, any proposal must provide for the defeat of both the Assad regime and the most radical Islamist militants, since both threaten U.S. interests. […]

Recruiting Syrian army personnel would be the first task.

Bloomberg, September 25, 2014:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-25/syria-to-ukraine-wars-send-u-s-defense-stocks-to-records

Led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world. Investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Chicago-based BMO Private Bank. President Barack Obama approved open-ended airstrikes this month while ruling out ground combat. […]

Lockheed, the world’s biggest defense company, reached an all-time high of $180.74 on Sept. 19, when Northrop, Raytheon Co. and General Dynamics Corp. also set records. That quartet and Chicago-based Boeing accounted for about $105 billion in federal contract orders last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.

Washington Post, October 6, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/10/06/behind-bidens-gaffe-some-legitimate-concerns-about-americas-middle-east-allies/

During a question and answer session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last week, Vice President Biden somehow managed to anger some of the U.S.’s most vital allies in the fight against Islamic State.

Biden has now apologized to both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for the comments, but to anyone who has been following the conventional wisdom in foreign policy circles, it’s not surprising that he would think this privately (even if it is surprising that he would say so publicly). […]

The vice president’s comments may be a “gaffe” in diplomacy – and, yes, his comments do reveal a worrying habit of lumping al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in with Islamic State and not noting the difference between private and public funding at play here. But there are genuine, though complicated, concerns at the heart of this gaffe.

Here is a FULL transcription of Joe Biden’s now infamous “gaffe”:

The idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock or a James Madison beyond one sand dune.

The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was… [hesitation] there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle is made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers, made up of people who in fact have ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.

And what happened was, and history will record this because I’m finding that former administration officials as soon as they leave, write books, which I think is inappropriate. But any rate. [audience laughter] No I’m serious, I do think it’s in appropriate. At least give the guy a chance to get out of office. And what my constant cry was… was that our biggest problem was our allies.

Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [who] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera.

What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in eastern Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.

So what happened? Now, all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they have seen the lord. Now we have … been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbours, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be the aggressor. It has to be led by Sunnis. To go and attack a Sunni organization. And so what do we have for the first time?

Now Saudi Arabia stops funding. Saudi Arabia’s allowing training on its soil. American forces under Title 10 training. The Qataris have cut-off their support for the most extremist elements of the terrorist organisations. And the Turks, President Erdogan told me – he’s an old friend – said “you’re right, we let too many people through.” Now they’re trying to seal their border.

The same Washington Post article includes an oddly bowdlerised transcription of Biden’s speech which is cut short and missing the final highlighted paragraph, which it claims was lost because “the White House recording cuts out”. The article then adds:

Other accounts, however, suggest he went further. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Biden also said:

President Erdoğan told me, he is an old friend, said you were right, we let too many people through, now we are trying to seal the border.

But as you see from the video above, in actual fact Biden’s remarks are significantly different to those reported by Hurriyet Daily News (a Turkish news source). His true statement also contains embarrassing admissions that would certainly have strained US relations with its two closest Gulf allies – hence the rapid apologies and retractions.

Brookings Institute, November 7, 2014:

http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/11/07-big-questions-islamic-state-threat-hein

Rather than defeat, containing their activities within failed or near-failing states is the best option for the foreseeable future. […]

There is a parallel here between the war on Islamic extremists and the war on drugs: the absolute end-states for both may be unachievable, but that in no way diminishes the need to execute counter operations. Some wars cannot be won but still must be fought. There are other hard questions for even bigger threats in the Middle East, such as how to ensure a nuclear free Iran and how to deal with the Assad regime in Syria. For ISIS, though, we may have it right.

The Telegraph, February 17, 2015:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11419243/Moderate-Syrian-rebels-to-be-given-power-to-call-in-US-air-strikes.html

The US and Turkey have reached a tentative deal to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, according to officials from both countries, amid reports that commanders will be given authority to call in air strikes. […]

At the same time The Wall Street Journal reported that some rebels will be equipped with pick-up trucks modified with mounted machine guns as well as radios for calling in US airstrikes – an approach modelled on that used to successful effect by Kurdish forces in Kobane last month.

The Independent, February 17, 2015:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/sudans-president-claims-cia-and-mossad-stand-behind-isis-and-boko-haram-10051024.html

Sudan’s President has claimed the CIA, America’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad are behind the Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and Isis.

Foreign Affairs (CFR), March 9, 2015:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2015-03-09/accepting-al-qaeda

Since 9/11, Washington has considered al Qaeda the greatest threat to the United States, one that must be eliminated regardless of cost or time. After Washington killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, it made Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s new leader, its next number one target. But the instability in the Middle East following the Arab revolutions and the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) require that Washington rethink its policy toward al Qaeda, particularly its targeting of Zawahiri. Destabilizing al Qaeda at this time may in fact work against U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS. […]

It is certainly ironic that at this point, when the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat and Zawahiri alive.

The Guardian, June 1 2015:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/01/trial-swedish-man-accused-terrorism-offences-collapse-bherlin-gildo

The prosecution of a Swedish national [Bherlin Gildo, 37] accused of terrorist activities in Syria has collapsed at the Old Bailey after it became clear Britain’s security and intelligence agencies would have been deeply embarrassed had a trial gone ahead, the Guardian can reveal.

His lawyers argued that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was, and were party to a secret operation providing weapons and non-lethal help to the groups, including the Free Syrian Army. […]

Gildo’s defence lawyers quoted a number of press articles referring to the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, including one from the Guardian on 8 March 2013, on the west’s training of Syrian rebels in Jordan. Articles on the New York Times from 24 March and 21 June 2013, gave further details and an article in the London Review of Books from 14 April 12014, implicated MI6 in a “rat line” for the transfer of arms from Libya. […]

The attorney general was consulted about Monday’s decision. Karmy-Jones [for the crown] told the court in pre-trial hearings that Gildo had worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, a “proscribed group considered to be al-Qaida in Syria”. He was photographed standing over dead bodies with his finger pointing to the sky.

The Guardian, June 3, 2015:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/us-isis-syria-iraq

Reports were cited that MI6 had cooperated with the CIA on a “rat line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. […]

A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.

In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”, the Pentagon report goes on, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. […]

That doesn’t mean the US created Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies certainly played a role in it – as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, acknowledged last year. But there was no al-Qaida in Iraq until the US and Britain invaded. And the US has certainly exploited the existence of Isis against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western control.

Reuters, June 22, 2015:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/22/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-idUSKBN0P22BX20150622

Syrian rebels receiving U.S. military training to battle Islamic State militants are being paid $250 to $400 per month, depending on their skills, performance and leadership position, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Brookings Institute, June 23, 2015:

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/06/23-syria-strategy-ohanlon/23syriastrategyohanlon.pdf

Training opposition fighters in the safety of Turkey, Jordan, and other friendly countries would still be the first step. But it  would not over time be sufficient, either, since many opposition fighters are reluctant to leave their home territories and thereby leave their families  and  communities  unprotected in  order  to  go  abroad  for  training. The idea would be to help moderate elements establish reliable safe zones within Syria once they were able. American, as well as Saudi and Turkish and British and Jordanian and other Arab forces would act in support, not only from the air but eventually on the ground via the presence of special forces as well. […]

This type of plan may be the only realistic path forward… Moreover, while it is not without risks for the United States, the scale of military involvement envisioned is not substantially greater than what we have been doing the last year or so in Afghanistan. President Obama…. should not view Syria as a problem to hand to his successor, but rather a crisis that demands his attention and a new strategy now.

Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2015:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-many-iraqis-u-s-is-not-really-seeking-to-defeat-islamic-state-1435224647

“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” added Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who also escaped from Ramadi and now lives in the makeshift Baghdad camp that is only occasionally supplied with water. Such conspiracy theories about America’s support for Islamic State are outlandish, no doubt. But they are so widespread that they now represent a political reality with real-world consequences—making it harder for the U.S. and allies to cobble together Iraqi forces that could regain the country’s Sunni heartland from Islamic State’s murderous rule one day. […]

This spreading perception that the U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating Islamic State has undermined local resistance to the militant group in Anbar in recent months. It represents a major obstacle to recruiting local Sunni tribes—one of the U.S. strategies in the war—provincial leaders say. […]

“We don’t have any trust in Americans anymore,” said Alia Nusseif, a prominent Shiite lawmaker from Baghdad. “We now think ISIS is being used as a tool by America to divide and weaken Iraq.”

New York Times, August 25, 2015:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/middleeast/pentagon-investigates-allegations-of-skewed-intelligence-reports-on-isis.html?_r=1

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

*

ii) Timeline for the Gulf States from 2012

Saudi Gazette, February 11, 2012:

http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentID=20120207117076

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will soon recognize the Free Syrian Army as the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a high-ranking official in Bahrain told the Saudi Gazette.

The Independent, February 23, 2012:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/rebel-forces-armed-by-wealthy-exiles-7320510.html

As Syria slides towards a civil war, a wealthy Syrian exile is racing to provide additional arms and ammunition to the loosely organised bands of rebels fighting under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Abu Qotaiba, a nom de guerre, has lived for the past 19 years in a wealthy Gulf country. He told The Independent he was buying weapons from arms dealers in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and sending them into Syria, despite the cost of an AK-47 rising from about $300 to about $1,500. “Now is a chance for [dealers] to sell them at a high price,” Abu Qotaiba said. Earlier this week, US Senator John McCain told reporters that there were ways to get weapons to the Syrian opposition without direct US involvement.

“People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves,” he said. […]

The FSA has proved successful at getting hold of arms, he said. Syrian security forces can no longer go wherever they wanted in the country, especially inside cities such as Homs and Idlib because some streets were controlled by the FSA. Abu Qotaiba refused to say where the Libyan weapons came from, only denying that the arms were provided by Libya’s National Transitional Council. They came “through some revolutionaries,” he said. “There are many Libyan people trying to help. They want to return the slap to Bashar because he supported Gaddafi. They have lived our situation.”

CNN, February 23, 2012:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/23/world/meast/syria-unrest/index.html?_s=PM:MIDDLEEAST

Diplomatic sources told CNN that a number of Arab nations are supplying arms to the Syrian opposition. The sources wouldn’t identify which countries.

Al-Arabiya News, February 27, 2012:

http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/02/27/197380.html

In other news, Qatar’s prime minister said Monday he was in favor of delivering arms to the Syrian opposition that is battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said during an official visit to Norway.

Washington Post, May 15, 2012:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/syrian-rebels-get-influx-of-arms-with-gulf-neighbors-money-us-coordination/2012/05/15/gIQAds2TSU_story.html

Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. […]

Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

http://world.time.com/2012/09/18/syrias-secular-and-islamist-rebels-who-are-the-saudis-and-the-qataris-arming/

As TIME reports here, disorder and distrust plague two of the rebels’ international patrons: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The two Gulf powerhouses are no longer on the same page when it comes to determining who among the plethora of mushrooming Syrian rebel groups should be armed. The rift surfaced in August, with the alleged Saudi and Qatari representatives in charge of funneling free weaponry to the rebels clearly backing different factions among the groups — including various shades of secular and Islamist militias — under the broad umbrella that is the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Huffington Post, September 21, 2012:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/switzerland-hand-grenades-syria_n_1904516.html

An investigation has concluded that Swiss hand grenades exported to the United Arab Emirates several years ago found their way to Syria after being given to Jordan, the Swiss government said Friday.

Switzerland set up a joint commission in July with the UAE to investigate whether grenades exported to the Gulf nation were sent on to Syria. The move came after a newspaper published a photograph indicating a Swiss-made grenade was found with Syrian rebels.

Washington Post, June 15, 2013:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/private-money-pours-into-syrian-conflict-as-rich-donors-pick-sides/2013/06/15/67841656-cf8a-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html

The private funding of individual militias — some with extremist views — further complicates the task facing the Obama administration as it ventures into arming Syria’s rebels. With its decision to increase support for the Syrian opposition, Washington is seeking to influence a patchwork of militia groups with wildly different abilities and views about how Syria should be run after the war.

From Persian Gulf cities hundreds of miles from the battlefield, wealthy patrons help decide which of Syria’s hundreds of rebel groups will receive money to pay salaries and buy weapons and supplies for the fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In practice, these donors overwhelmingly back Islamist groups whose ultraconservative views reflect their own, intelligence officials and analysts say.

The Telegraph, June 19, 2013:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10131063/Syrian-rebels-get-first-heavy-weapons-on-the-front-line-of-Aleppo.html

Rebel sources said Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo. A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases. More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels […]

“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”

Brookings Institute, December 2013:

From an analysis paper entitled Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home by Elizabeth Dickinson.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground.

Haaretz, February 24, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/.premium-1.576083

U.S., Saudi Arabia and Jordan are reportedly helping rebels plan attack starting in south and spreading to Damascus. […]

According to reports in the Syrian media and on websites run by the opposition, Jordan is replacing – or perhaps has already replaced – Turkey as the rebels’ new base of operations. […]

Meanwhile, the United States is constructing runways for reconnaissance aircraft near the border between Jordan and Syria, and in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has flown weaponry and ammunition purchased in Ukraine to bases in Jordan.

Reuters, March 9. 2014:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/09/us-iraq-saudi-qatar-idUSBREA2806S20140309

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in western Anbar province, in his strongest such statement since fighting started there early this year. […]

“I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government. I accuse them of openly hosting leaders of al Qaeda and Takfirists (extremists),” he said in the interview when asked about possible Saudi and Qatari links to the violence.

Maliki has long had chilly relations with the Gulf states, who view him as too close to Iran, and has long suspected them of funding al Qaeda-linked groups in order to bring down his Shi’ite-led government.

He accused the Saudi government of allowing “commissions” there “to attract Jihadists, to lure them, to get them fighting in Iraq”.

He also blamed both countries for launching Syria’s three-year civil war through al Qaeda-linked groups that now operate on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, next to Anbar.

“They are attacking Iraq through Syria indirectly. They absolutely started the war in Iraq, they started the war in Syria,” Maliki said. ISIL has been one of the biggest fighting forces in Syria’s civil war.

“Saudi Arabia supports terrorism against the world, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.”

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an activist role in the Syria war, supporting armed groups fighting President Bashar Assad. They both deny supporting al Qaeda.

New York Times, March 24, 2014:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. […]

Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012… Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.

Raw Story, August 20, 2014:

http://www.rawstory.com/2014/08/german-minister-accuses-qatar-of-funding-islamic-state-fighters/

German Development Minister Gerd Mueller accused Qatar on Wednesday of financing Islamic State militants […]

In March, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, cited reports of Qatari backing for Islamist fighters in Syria and described this as a “permissive jurisdiction” for donors funding militants.

BBC news, September 1, 2014:

CAUTION!!! Before reading further, please note that the author of this article is Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29004253

It is true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.

This was an extremely common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.

It is also true that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, believing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon fall and that Sunni political Islam was a true vehicle for their political goals, funded groups that had strongly Islamist credentials.

Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam were just such groups, all holding tenuous links to the “bad guy” of the time – the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria. […]

So has Qatar funded Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS.

Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but as with Qatar its determination to remove Mr Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies.

Both countries must undertake some soul searching at this point, although it is doubtful that any such introspection will be admitted in public.

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29528482

“Our biggest problem was our allies,” [US Vice President] Mr Biden told students at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“The Turks… the Saudis, the Emirates, etc, what were they doing? They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”

These policies ended up helping militants linked to al-Qaeda and ultimately IS, he said.

Reuters, March 4, 2015:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/04/uk-mideast-crisis-nusra-insight-idUKKBN0M00G620150304

Leaders of Syria’s Nusra Front are considering cutting their links with al Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, sources said. Sources within and close to Nusra said that Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the group, is encouraging the group to go ahead with the move, which would give Nusra a boost in funding. […]

The Nusra Front is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and has been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. But for Qatar at least, rebranding Nusra would remove legal obstacles to supporting it. […]

But if Nusra is dissolved and it abandons al Qaeda, the ideology of the new entity is not expected to change. [The leader of Nusra, Abu Mohamad al-] Golani fought with al Qaeda in Iraq. Some other leaders fought in Afghanistan and are close al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahri.

BBC News, March 6, 2015:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31764114

Being a directly affiliated al-Qaeda group, the Nusra Front is nearer the IS end of the spectrum. Yet, while the Qatari relationship with the Nusra Front appears to be far from straightforward with some of the state’s initiatives failing, indicating some distance between the two, according to recent reports, Qatar appears to want to reform this relationship. This begs the question of why Qatar would want even loosely to associate itself with a group like the Nusra Front. […]

Secondly, the Nusra Front has pledged to concentrate its efforts on removing the Bashar al-Assad government, as opposed to attacking the “far enemy” (ie Western states)… This is why Qatar is hoping to bring the Nusra Front in from the cold.

If the state can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria. […]

But the fact remains that Qatar is a key Western ally. It hosts a critical US military base, it grafted US and UK higher-education institutions and ideas onto its education system, and has long promoted the Middle East’s most visible and powerful woman, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the Emir’s mother. These are transparently not the policies of a state with sympathies for the likes of IS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, there is no chance that Qatar is doing this alone: the US and UK governments will certainly be involved in or at least apprised of Qatar’s plans.

*

iii) Timeline for Turkey from 2011

The Telegraph, November 27, 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8919057/Leading-Libyan-Islamist-met-Free-Syrian-Army-opposition-group.html

Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, “met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey,” said a military official working with Mr Belhadj. “Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan president) sent him there. […]

The meetings came as a sign of a growing ties between Libya’s fledgling government and the Syrian opposition. The Daily Telegraph on Saturday revealed that the new Libyan authorities had offered money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad.

[bold emphasis as original]

New York Times, June 21, 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?pagewanted=all

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The Telegraph, July 12, 2012:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9396256/Al-Qaeda-tries-to-carve-out-a-war-for-itself-in-Syria.html

The Daily Telegraph has seen al-Qaeda’s flag flying openly in some areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces that straddle the borders with Turkey and Iraq and fighters in the rebel Free Syrian Army have told how representatives of the militant group have tried in past months to win control of towns and villages.

Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2012:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443343704577551281530782466

Al Qaeda in Syria (often operating as the “Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant”) is using traffickers—some ideologically aligned, some motivated by money—to secure routes through Turkey and Iraq for foreign fighters, most of whom are from the Middle East and North Africa. A growing number of donors from the Persian Gulf and Levant appear to be sending financial support, according to U.S. Treasury Department officials I interviewed.

The Globe and Mail, August 2, 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/obama-authorizes-secret-cia-support-for-syrian-rebels/article4457317/

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said. […]

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. […]

Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment. European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad’s departure.

The Times, September 14, 2012:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article3537770.ece

A Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines, The Times has learnt. Among more than 400 tons of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels.

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

http://world.time.com/2012/09/18/syrias-secular-and-islamist-rebels-who-are-the-saudis-and-the-qataris-arming/

The middlemen of the two countries [Saudi Arabia and Qatar] operate out of Turkey, the regional military power. Ankara has been quite public with its denunciation of Assad even as it denies any involvement in shuffling weapons across the border to Syrian rebels. […]

According to sources who have dealt with him, Saudi Arabia’s man in the Istanbul control center is a Lebanese politician named Okab Sakr. He belongs to the Future Movement, the organization of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which has a history of enmity with Damascus. […]

The bulk of Ahrar al-Sham’s substantial funding reportedly comes from Kuwait.

Reuters, December 7, 2012:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/07/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE8B60QX20121207

Syrian rebel groups meeting in Turkey elected a 30-member unified command on Friday at talks attended by security officials from international powers, delegates said. The 30 included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and excluded the most senior officers who had defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military, they said. […]

Another delegate said that two-thirds of the leadership had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or were politically allied with the group, a composition which resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.

Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2014:

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Islamic-State-fighter-Turkey-paved-the-way-for-us-369443

Prime Minister’s [sic] Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “AKP government has helped us a lot” since the war in Syria began, an Islamic State fighter told a Turkish journalist. […]

Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It [Turkey] showed us affection. Large number of our mujahedeen [jihadis] received medical treatment in Turkey,” he said.

Washington Post, August 12, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/how-turkey-became-the-shopping-mall-for-the-islamic-state/2014/08/12/5eff70bf-a38a-4334-9aa9-ae3fc1714c4b_story.html

Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.

And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.

In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.

“Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price,” said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey.

The Guardian, October 4, 2014:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/04/us-jets-attack-isis-syrian-town-turkish-leader-rebukes-biden

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded and received an apology from the US vice-president, Joe Biden, over comments in which Biden said the Turkish leader had admitted Turkey had made mistakes by allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.

Erdogan denied ever saying that and told reporters in Istanbul that Biden “will be history for me if he has indeed used such expressions”.

The White House said Biden spoke to Erdogan on Saturday “to clarify comments”, and said Biden apologised “for any implication” that Turkey or other allies had intentionally supplied or helped in the growth of the Isis group or other extremists in Syria.

Responding to questions following his speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday, Biden described Erdogan as “an old friend” and added: “He [Erdogan] said: ‘You were right. We let too many people through.’ Now they’re trying to seal their border.”

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29528482

Mr Biden also claimed [speaking to students at Harvard Kennedy School] that Turkey admitted it had let too many foreign fighters cross its border into Syria.

The incandescent response from Ankara and expressions of “astonishment” from the United Arab Emirates led Mr Biden to “clarify” that he didn’t mean the allies had intentionally facilitated the growth of IS or other violent extremists.

But there is little doubt about the flow of weapons, money and fighters from these countries into Syria. […]

Unlike the other rebel groups, Islamic State has its own sources of revenue, including until recently a booming business in oil smuggling into Turkey. US officials have accused Ankara of, at best, turning a blind eye to the black market trade. Pressing the government to clamp down on it was a key focus of a recent visit by the Secretary of State John Kerry.

And despite denials by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the steady flow of fighters, including foreign extremists, across Turkey’s long and porous border with Syria is well-documented.

Huffington Post, August 19, 2015:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harut-sassounian/turkeys-pays-former-cia-d_b_8002534.html

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 12 that a senior US military official accused Turkey of deceiving the American government by allowing its use of Incirlik airbase to attack ISIS, as a cover for President Erdogan’s war on Kurdish fighters (PKK) in northern Iraq. So far, Turkey has carried out 300 air strikes against the PKK, and only three against ISIS! […]

To conceal its deception and mislead the American public, within days of starting its war on the Kurds, Ankara hired Squire Patton Boggs for $32,000 a month, as a subcontractor to the powerful lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. Squire Patton Boggs includes former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, and retired White House official Robert Kapla.

The Gephardt lobbying team for Turkey consists of subcontractors Greenberg Traurig, Brian Forni, Lydia Borland, and Dickstein Shapiro LLP; the latter recently added to its lobbying staff former CIA Director Porter Goss. Other lobbying firms hired by Turkey are: Goldin Solutions, Alpaytac, Finn Partners, Ferah Ozbek, and Golin/Harris International. According to U.S. Justice Department records, Turkey pays these lobbying/public relations firms around $5 million a year. Furthermore, several U.S. non-profit organizations serve as fronts for the Turkish government to promote its interests in the United States and take Members of Congress and journalists on all-expense paid junkets to Turkey. Among the U.S. lobbyists for Turkey, perhaps the most questionable is Porter Goss, CIA Director from 2004 to 2006, who has agreed to sell his soul and possibly U.S. national secrets for a fistful of Turkish Liras.”

*

Timeline for Israel from 2007

McClatchy, October 7, 2007:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24470350.html

Nearly a month after a mysterious Israeli military airstrike in Syria generated political aftershocks from Washington to North Korea, the Israeli government lifted its official veil of secrecy Tuesday. […]

Israel lifted its ban on reporting that the attack took place after Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Israeli jets had hit an “unused military building.” But Israeli officials refused to say anything about the attack, and almost no one who’d be expected to know — from government officials to former intelligence officers — is talking.

BBC news, April 23, 2008:

The Golan Heights had been captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in June 1967 and occupied ever since – in 1981, this became a de facto annexation under the illegal Golan Heights Law. Then, in April 2008, following secret peace negotiations with Syria, reports were leaked that Israel was prepared to withdraw from occupied Syrian Golan.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7362937.stm

Israel has passed a message to Syria that it would withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace, according to a Syrian government minister.

The expatriates minister, Buthaina Shaaban, said the message had been passed on by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She said Mr Erdogan had informed the Syrian President Bashar Assad of the offer by telephone on Tuesday morning.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declined to comment.

Israel and Syria remain technically at war although both sides have recently spoken of their desire for peace.

The Syrian government has insisted that peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights, which it seized in 1967. […]

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Ms Shaaban said the offer had come from the Israeli prime minister.

“Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions, on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria,” she said. The Syrian newspaper, al-Watan, carried similar news on its website on Wednesday. […]

Mr Olmert’s office did not deny the Syrian reports, choosing only to state that they “refuse to comment on the matter”. […]

The former US President, Jimmy Carter, who held talks with the Syrian leader recently has said he believes “about 85%” of the differences between Israel and Syria have already been resolved, including borders, water rights, the establishment of a security zone and on the presence of international forces.

“[Mr Assad said] the only major difference in starting good-faith talks was that Israel insisted that there will be no public acknowledgment that the talks were going on when Syria insisted that the talks would not be a secret,” Mr Carter said earlier this week.

Mr Carter said it was now “just a matter of reconvening the talks and concluding an agreement” between the neighbouring countries.

[bold emphasis as original]

BBC news, May 21, 2008:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7412247.stm

Israel and Syria have said they are holding indirect talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said both sides were talking “in good faith and openly”.

The Syrian foreign ministry also confirmed the Turkish-mediated talks, the first since 2000. […]

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Golan up to the armistice line of 1967.

Israel has refused to comment on the claim, although a spokesman for Mr Olmert said the current talks were being carried out with the failure of the previous ones in mind, and that the talks had recently gathered momentum.

The US and the EU have welcomed news of the talks, and both have praised Turkey’s role as facilitator.

[bold emphasis as original]

Haaretz, May 9, 2010:

But then we had the three-week long air offensive Operation Cast Lead (Dec 27, 2008 – Jan 18, 2009) ostensibly to stop Palestinian rocket attacks and to disable Hamas (with their leadership ties in Syria). This so-called “Gazan War” would cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of who were unarmed civilians including many hundreds of children. The massacre also signalled the ending of peace talks with Syria. The following extracts are drawn from a thoughtful article written by Zvi Bar’el.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-missiles-are-coming-1.289149

No doubt, Israel is threatened, but so are Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It’s enough to listen to Israel’s threats to “take Syria back to the Stone Age,” “destroy Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure” or smash Hamas to understand that the style of the Israeli threat approaches that of Iran. If anyone should be waking up in the morning in a cold sweat, it’s the Lebanese, Syrians and Gazans, not the Israelis.

Nevertheless, even though Syria has suffered military blows from Israel, it continues to act “impudently,” and Lebanon, which was pounded in war, has stepped up its threats. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza did not stop Hamas from arming itself. And in the West Bank, the occupation forces have not completely neutralized the threat. […]

“[Syrian President Bashar] Assad wants peace but doesn’t believe [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Baidatz told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But his words were lost in the alarming description of the number of missiles in Hezbollah’s hands. Because even though we understand weapons, and we consider Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah a household name, and we assemble and dismantle centrifuges every day, we lose our way when it comes to the peace process.

Baidatz didn’t explain how it’s possible to gain Assad’s confidence, and he wasn’t asked, just as he wasn’t asked whether returning the Golan Heights to Syria under agreed conditions could neutralize the Syrian-Lebanese-Hezbollah threat. These questions are too dangerous to ask to someone from the army – he just might propose a diplomatic solution.

The Times of Israel, July 1, 2013:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/we-have-no-beef-with-israel-syrian-islamist-rebel-group-says/

A Syrian rebel group operating along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights said it has no quarrel with Israel, and that its fight is with President Bashar Assad, not the Jewish state — and it will remain that way.

The Jewish Press, February 24, 2014:

http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/report-commander-of-syrian-rebels-trained-in-israel/2014/02/24/

Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, the new commander of the Free Syrian Army, secretly trained in Israel last year after being admitted into to the country for medical treatment, according to the Arabic language Al-Ahd website. He was transferred to a hospital in Israel after he was wounded in a military operation. Rumors spread that he died and was buried in Syria, allegedly to distract attention from his training in Israel.

Haaretz, March 16, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.580169

The Syrian opposition is willing to give up claims to the Golan Heights in return for cash and Israeli military aid against President Bashar Assad, a top opposition official told Al Arab newspaper, according to a report in Al Alam.

The Times of Israel, August 13, 2014:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/syrian-rebel-commander-says-he-collaborated-with-israel/

A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.

Haaretz, December 7, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.630359

Reports by UN observers in the Golan Heights over the past 18 months reveal the type and extent of cooperation between Israel and Syrian opposition figures. The reports, submitted to the 15 members of the UN Security Council and available on the UN’s website, detail regular contacts held on the border between IDF officers and soldiers and Syrian rebels.

The Guardian, December 7, 2014:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/07/israeli-jets-bomb-syria-says-damascus 

Syria accused Israeli jets of bombing two installations inside the country on Sunday, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border. […]

Israel has carried out several air strikes in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated weapons to its ally Hezbollah. In June, Israel struck targets inside Syria, including a military installation, following a cross-border attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel said at the time that it had struck nine military targets inside its northern neighbour and had confirmed “direct hits”.

The Times of Israel, June 29, 2015:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/yaalon-syrian-rebels-keeping-druze-safe-in-exchange-for-israeli-aid/

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that Israel has been providing aid to Syrian rebels, thus keeping the Druze in Syria out of immediate danger. […]

“We’ve assisted them under two conditions,” Ya’alon said of the Israeli medical aid to the Syrian rebels, some of whom are presumably fighting with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

*

Update:

On the day Russia launched air strikes [Wed Sept 30th] the WSJ published the following:

Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2015:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-seeks-parliaments-approval-for-use-of-force-outside-russia-1443600142

Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and said he raised U.S. concerns about attacks that target regime opponents other than Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In Syria’s multi-sided war, Mr. Assad’s military—aided by Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah—is fighting both Islamic State and opposition rebel groups, some of which are supported by the U.S. and its allies.

Mr. Kerry said the U.S. and Russia need to hold military talks as soon as possible and Mr. Lavrov said he agreed. […]

Among seven areas that Syrian state media listed as targets of Russian strikes, only one—an area east of the town of Salamiyah in Hama province—has a known presence of Islamic State fighters. The other areas listed are largely dominated by moderate rebel factions or Islamist groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

In other words, “rebel” factions or “Islamic groups” now deemed “moderate” include al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front).

*

The timelines above are abridged and rearranged versions of the single line produced by Kevin Borge. The ones above also include a number of additions and extensions to Borge’s original.

Click here to read the original timeline for the Syrian War published by Global Research on August 29th.

 

* Here is a graphic showing polling figures for a range of ten questions taken from the same Washington Post article:

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Seymour Hersh on last August’s sarin attack on Ghouta and possible Turkish connections

Back in December, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article questioning the Obama administration’s claims that Assad had crossed a “red line” after launching a chemical attack on Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus. In his report, Hersh explained how:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

The article entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th.

Hersh has more recently produced a follow up article that provides additional evidence supporting the view that Ghouta attack was most probably launched by al-Qaeda factions in Syria:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

Seymour Hersh also talked about his latest report on Monday’s [April 7th] Democracy Now!:

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In his recent article [also published April 7th] entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh implicates Turkey as possible collaborators in this and other chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’ […]

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’ […]

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

And “the rat line”? Well, that brings Hersh back to the Benghazi attack of September 2012 which led to the death of US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. He draws attention [halfway down the following paragraph] to “a highly classified annex” to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the incident – distribution of which was apparently “limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress”:

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.) […]

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Click here to read the full version of Seymour Hersh’s latest article [April 6th] also published in the London Review of Books.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Turkey, USA

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

*

Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

 *

Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

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Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

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George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

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Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

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And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

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Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

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1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan

Seymour Hersh on Obama’s “red line” and the role of the media

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

So begins a Guardian article based around an interview which world-renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh gave at City University in London’s summer school last July. Hersh, who according to the article “is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush” believes that “confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11”:

“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?” he asks.

A Pulitzer Prize-winner himself, Hersh says:

“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.

“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?

“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate. Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”1

More recently, Hersh has challenged the Obama administration’s claims that they knew the Assad regime was responsible for the gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21st. In an article published in December’s London Review of Books, he argues the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad”, adding that al-Nusra had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”

On December 9th, Hersh was interviewed by Democracy Now! regarding his latest allegations. He first explained the more technical details behind how he knew that Obama “was willing to go to war, wanted to throw missiles at Syria, without really having a case and knowing he didn’t have much of a case”:

The fact is that the United States has a very, very sophisticated sensor system that we’ve put up, just as we also had in Iran, which helped us to conclude — I wrote about this for years at The New Yorker — that we pretty much were pretty sure there was no secret underground facility in Iran, even though the press still talks about that possibility. We looked at it hard. We have sensors that were very, very good. America has great technical capability. And the same thing happened inside Syria. We have sensors. […]

Nobody keeps sarin. It’s a very volatile, acidic poison that degrades quickly. You keep the chemicals that make sarin. They’re what are called precursors. There’s two chemicals, when mixed, poof, alacadabra, you have sarin. So, the Syrian arsenal, the reason you can get rid of it pretty easily, as the report heard they’re doing it, is because there’s two inert substances that could be disposed independently. One is even an alcohol. You could just flush it. But the point being that the sensors monitor not only when the—when sarin or the chemicals are moved; more importantly, they’re capable of monitoring when the Syrian army begins to mix the stuff. And once they mix the stuff, it’s—as I wrote, it’s a use-it-or-lose-it process. You have to use it quickly, because it degrades quickly. It doesn’t stay long in the shells; it erodes the shells. And not only that, the Israelis are right there with us on this sensor system. And so, it’s like a fire alarm, early warning system. You know, it’s—an alarm goes off, and the Israelis know about it, as we know about it, right away. […]

So, this system said nada, nothing, on the 21st, the 22nd [of August]. I write about the fact there’s internal reports. It wasn’t until the 23rd, when the American internal—the secret government and, you know, the secret intelligence community began writing internal reports for the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, saying that we’ve got a problem here in Syria. For days, we didn’t know, because—and what does that mean? What that means is that if—if chemical warfare was used on the 21st, it didn’t come from that arsenal, because there was no warning of any mixing. That doesn’t mean something else could have happened, that some renegade group got some and did something. But the main warning system we had was quiet. That’s a clue. That’s a big clue that at least you should consider something other than the Syrian army when you begin an investigation.

Asked why this new evidence is significant today, given that “Obama chose not to strike Syria because the American people just overwhelmingly said no”, Hersh interrupts:

He didn’t—I’m telling you, he didn’t do it because the American people said no. He knew it because he didn’t have a case. And there was incredible opposition that will be, one of these days, written about, maybe in history books. There was incredible operation from some very, very strong-minded, constitutionally minded people in the Pentagon. That’s the real story. I don’t have it; I could just tell you I know it. […]

But the fact of the matter is that this president was going to go to a war because he felt he had to protect what he said about a red line. That’s what it was about, in the military’s point of view. And that’s not acceptable. You don’t go to war, you don’t throw missiles at a country, when there’s no immediate national security to the United States. And you don’t even talk about it in public. That’s wrong, and that was a terrible thing to do.

And that’s what this story is really about. It’s about a president choosing to make political use of a war crime and not do the right thing. And I think that’s—to me, Amy [Goodman], that’s a lot more important than where it was published and who told me no and who told me yes. I know the press likes to focus on that stuff, but that’s not the story. The story is what he was going to do, and what it says maybe about him, what it says about that office, what it says about the power, that you can simply—you can create a narrative, which he did, and you know the mainstream press is going to carry out that narrative.

Coming back to the role of the media, Hersh adds:

I mean, it’s almost impossible for some of the mainstream newspapers, who have consistently supported the administration. This is after we had the WMD scandal, when everybody wanted to be on the team. It turns out our job, as newspaper people, is not to be on the team. You know, we’ve got a world run by a lot of yahoos and wackos, and it’s our job as reporters to do the kind of work and make it hard for the nincompoops that run the world to get away with some of the stuff we’re doing. That’s what we should be doing more and more of. And that’s just—you know, I don’t think there’s any virtue in it; it’s just the job we have.

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Update:

On December 22nd, in light of Seymour Hersh’s revelations, James Corbett and Professor Michel Chossudovsky published their own analysis of the media’s role in manipulating public opinion in favour of war on Syria. A video of their full report is embedded below, as are their opening and concluding remarks:

The architects of our modern system of manufactured consent and official propaganda have long known the importance of the mass media in framing public opinion on any given event. To the pathocrats who blazed the trail toward our modern era of information warfare and opinion control, facts themselves were malleable, subject not to objective reality but to the way they were perceived and internalized by a credulous public. As Ivy Lee, the man that the Rockefellers hired to invent the modern PR industry after the Ludlow massacre, put it:

“It is not the facts alone that strike the popular mind, but the way in which they take place and in which they are published that kindle the imagination…Besides, what is a fact? The effort to state an absolute fact is simply an attempt to… give you my interpretation of the facts.”

This disdain for the public and the psychopathic ease with which elected officials lie to their electorate is nowhere more apparent than when a democracy attempts to rally its citizens to support a war of aggression abroad.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Syrian war coverage of the mainstream media is not its underlying bias—that was always to be expected—but how remarkably ineffective that coverage has been in convincing the public of the need for military intervention in the country. After nearly three years of relentless propaganda attempting to convince the public of the virtue of the terrorist insurgency and the incomparable evil of Assad, the seemingly inevitable march toward war in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attack faltered after public opinion overwhelmingly came down on the side of non-interventionist policies.

Perhaps reading public sentiment, many mainstream outlets even took to pointing out the media bias on the war and trying to retroactively position themselves against military intervention. This has to be credited to a remarkable, global, grassroots phenomenon of independent citizen media breaking through the layers of propaganda to provide true, cogent analysis of the situation on the ground in Syria. In the face of generations swayed by the mass media manipulation of Ivy Lee and his ideological progeny, this alternative media movement is setting the foundation for an alternative paradigm in which Lee’s cynical rhetorical question “What is a fact?” has a very different answer than that which the ruling classes would want us to believe.

Click here to read the full report at Global Research.

1 From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” published in the Guardian Media Blog on September 27, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

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further reasons to doubt Assad regime was behind Ghouta attack

The GCHQ listening post on Mount Troodos in Cyprus is arguably the most valued asset which the UK contributes to UK/US intelligence cooperation. The communications intercept agencies, GCHQ in the UK and NSA in the US, share all their intelligence reports (as do the CIA and MI6). Troodos is valued enormously by the NSA. It monitors all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East, ranging from Egypt and Eastern Libya right through to the Caucasus. Even almost all landline telephone communication in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage, picked up on Troodos.

Troodos is highly effective – the jewel in the crown of British intelligence. Its capacity and efficiency, as well as its reach, is staggering. The US do not have their own comparable facility for the Middle East. I should state that I have actually been inside all of this facility and been fully briefed on its operations and capabilities, while I was head of the FCO Cyprus Section in the early 1990s. This is fact, not speculation.

writes former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist, Craig Murray, in an article he posted on Saturday [August 31st].

Why is this important? Well, as Murray goes on to explain:

It is therefore very strange, to say the least, that John Kerry claims to have access to communications intercepts of Syrian military and officials organising chemical weapons attacks, which intercepts were not available to the British Joint Intelligence Committee.

On one level the explanation is simple. The intercept evidence was provided to the USA by Mossad, according to my own well placed source in the Washington intelligence community. Intelligence provided by a third party is not automatically shared with the UK, and indeed Israel specifies it should not be.

But the inescapable question is this. Mossad have nothing comparable to the Troodos operation. The reported content of the conversations fits exactly with key tasking for Troodos, and would have tripped all the triggers. How can Troodos have missed this if Mossad got it? The only remote possibility is that all the conversations went on a purely landline route, on which Mossad have a physical wire tap, but that is very unlikely in a number of ways – not least nowadays the purely landline route.

His own conclusion?

The answer to the Troodos Conundrum is simple. Troodos did not pick up the intercepts because they do not exist. Mossad fabricated them. John Kerry’s “evidence” is the shabbiest of tricks.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

There is also more direct evidence in the form of an eyewitness report from Yahya Ababneh (who was on the ground in Ghouta) and who published an article in collaboration with Dale Gavlak, herself a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press for two decades and someone has also worked for National Public Radio (NPR) and written articles for BBC News.

They wrote on Thursday [August 29th]:

Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.

The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”

However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

I recommend reading the full article but in short, Ababneh says that he was told that release of chemical agents was the result of an accident after at least 13 rebels “were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion”:

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.1

It should be noted that the website on which the story originally appeared, Mint Press, is a legitimate media organization based in Minnesota. Indeed, the Minnesota Post did a profile on them last year.

Click here to read the full article.

Incidentally, Bandar bin Sultan, or Prince Bandar if you insist, is a member of the ruling House of Saud and former Saudi ambassador to the United States, who has had extremely close ties to a number of American presidents, but most notably the two George Bushs – and apparently it was George W who gave him the creepy nickname “Bandar Bush”.

As current head of Saudi intelligence he has also made it into the news more recently for other reasons:

Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

Prince Bandar, head of Saudi intelligence, allegedly confronted the Kremlin with a mix of inducements and threats in a bid to break the deadlock over Syria. “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” he said at the four-hour meeting with Mr Putin. They met at Mr Putin’s dacha outside Moscow three weeks ago.

The extract taken from an article published by The Telegraph on Tuesday [August 27th] then goes on to outline a little more detail on the sort of “deal” Bandar was proposing:

The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.

As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”2

Click here to read the full article published in The Telegraph.

Revelations that certainly lend further credibility to the version of events reported on by Gavlak and Ababneh. So might it have been Saudi Arabia then who actually armed rebels with the chemical weapons that killed so many at Ghouta?

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Additional:

Here is Dale Gavlak being interviewed by Henry Peirse for GRNlive from June 2012. She shares her thoughts particularly with regards to the developing situation in Jordan where she has worked as a foreign correspondent for many years:

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Update:

On Monday [Sept 2nd], the news group McClatchy released a detailed article entitled “To some, US case for Syrian gas attack strike has too many holes”.

It begins:

The Obama administration’s public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining U.S. efforts this week to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad’s regime.

The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.

Click here to read the full article.

One of the joint authors of the piece, Mark Seibel, was also interviewed on Wednesday’s Democracy Now! which you can listen below. I have also included parts of the transcript to offer just a flavour of what Seibel had to say:

The holes that we identified in the piece really have to do with contradictions between what Secretary of State Kerry has said in his public announcements and what other partners, if you use that phrase, in the Syrian issue have also reported. And, basically, what we identified is that when it came to questions of the efficacy of a U.N. investigation or the number of people killed in the conflict, or even the U.S. rendition of what happened in what order, there are contradictions. Do they completely undercut the case? I don’t know. If you believe that conclusions are based on facts, then the question becomes, do we have the facts? And that’s—you know, that’s an issue.

Well, you know, we’ve been told that a chemical attack took place, and the evidence seems to be that some sort of attack took place. We don’t actually know what the chemical was. The U.S. has said that it was sarin. There’s every reason to think that might be true, but we don’t know what the chemical test was that led them to conclude that it was sarin. We don’t know how the evidence was obtained. We don’t know what lab it was worked in. We actually don’t know how they arrived at that conclusion so quickly. You know, they announced it Sunday. But, you know, according to—again, to the secretary of state, it will take the U.N. two, three, maybe four weeks to reach that same determination in very modern labs in Europe. So there’s an awful lot we don’t know about that. And because we don’t know it—because we don’t know the details, at least in the public case—and again, you know, we’re not sitting in the classified briefings, but we don’t really know. We are being asked to—excuse me—to trust the assertion that it was sarin and that we know that, but, here again, it’s—we’re asked to make a leap of faith.

Well, you know, the problem we see for our correspondents going in is that it’s not as safe to be there in areas that we used to think were safe, and it’s largely because of the presence of al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which are two al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations that we’ve seen their influence grow from closer to the border with Iraq, across the northeast and northern Syria, where they’re now very, very active in Idlib province and were responsible for fighting in Latakia, which is on the Mediterranean coast, though the fighting was not on the coast. And so, we’ve actually seen Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq—we’ve seen their influence grow in the last few months, and it’s one of the reasons that news organizations now are not sending correspondents into Syria in the way they used to, because it is not safe to be there.

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Further update:

McClatchy also reported on Monday 9th, citing information first released by the major German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, that “Intercepts caught Assad rejecting requests to use chemical weapons…”:

The report in Bild am Sonntag, which is a widely read and influential national Sunday newspaper, reported that the head of the German Foreign Intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, last week told a select group of German lawmakers that intercepted communications had convinced German intelligence officials that Assad did not order or approve what is believed to be a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people in Damascus’ eastern suburbs. […]

The newspaper’s article said that on numerous occasions in recent months, the German intelligence ship named Oker, which is off the Syrian coast, has intercepted communications indicating that field officers have contacted the Syrian presidential palace seeking permission to use chemical weapons and have been turned down.

The article added that German intelligence does not believe Assad sanctioned the alleged attack on August 21.

Click here to read the full article.

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And more evidence…

Furthermore, a Belgian journalist, Pierre Piccinin da Prata, who was held hostage with Italian reporter, Domenico Quirico, for five months says that he overheard his rebel captors admit that President Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the Ghouta massacre. The two reporters had been kidnapped while working in the war torn country back in April and were released over the weekend.

Following his release, Piccinin gave the following interview on Belgian RTL:

And here is a more extended interview Piccinin has also since given:

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1 From an exclusive report entitled “Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack”, written by Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh published by Mint Press on August 29, 2013. http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

2 From an article entitled “Saudi’s offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in The Telegraph on August 27, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10266957/Saudis-offer-Russia-secret-oil-deal-if-it-drops-Syria.html

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, Cyprus, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, USA

Syria’s ‘red line’ was always a green light for the military-industrial complex

Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly for capture and bringing to justice of Osama Bin Laden, our western war machine has been grinding along in a very high gear. Smoking out new enemies (almost all of whom were former allies) and claiming fresh justifications for expanding in new directions; this first spate of twenty-first century wars has left a thick trail of blood across Asia and North Africa. War in Iraq. War in Yemen and Pakistan (by means of drones as well as more conventional weaponry). War in Libya. And now the drums are beating still more loudly again. More loudly than they have been at any time in the two years since our “military intervention” in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi.

Putting aside the questions of morality and legality for a moment, and merely judging the various attacks and invasions by outcomes alone, and what do we find? Afghanistan torn to pieces and in a state of perpetual tension, Iraq, the same if not worse, Libya, little better. Assessing this endless policy of war then, and in terms purely of expediency, we have to judge that it has been an abject failure. A political failure, that is, in terms of bringing order and stability – the vital foundations to stated aims of genuine and lasting “freedom and democracy” – to any of the chosen victim nations, as well as an horrific failure for the millions unlucky enough to be visited by its terrifying wings of death and destruction. Aggressive and continual warfare does not bring peace and harmony, but then who ever said it does?

Of course, what war does reliably produce, aside from the immediate and inevitable chaos and carnage, is a tremendous opportunity for making money. New contracts for oil and gas reserves, contracts for reconstruction of the very infrastructure so artfully destroyed, not to mention the huge rolling contracts for those directly invested in maintaining the war machine itself. Profiteering from war being for the most part what war is all about.

But the conflict in Syria is markedly different, some will argue. The country being already in the grip of a terrible civil war with many thousands displaced, seriously wounded or having already lost their lives in the conflict. Still there is no end in sight and only a more fully committed western intervention can save lives and ultimately rescue a failing state. On top of which, this is a war against an oppressive regime (which it is – not that this mattered at all when Assad was in favour) and so we are compelled to take sides and back the opposition forces. The argument is a familiar one…

Prior to the aerial assaults on Libya – the establishment of the so-called “no-fly zone” which quickly opened the way for a more fiercely aggressive campaign, ending with the deliberate bombardment of the civilian population in Sirte – we heard the same justifications. Just as we heard those justifications when it came to expanding the war in Iraq once the primary excuse of Saddam’s WMDs was shown to be a lie. The warmongers certainly know how to pull our strings and each time they do so we are in the habit of forgetting about the previous lies and deceptions.

Almost exactly one year ago, on August 20th 2012, speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, President Obama said:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus […]

We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.

It is a significant statement for two reasons. Only the second time mainstream attention had been diverted towards Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal – at this time there had still been no evidence whatsoever of any use of chemical weapons by either side in the conflict – as well as the first mention of that “red line” which the Syrian government were forbidden to cross. Of course use of chemical weapons against a civilian population is already a war crime under international law, but Obama is actually saying something altogether more ambiguous.

What he says, to reiterate, is that if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized” then this is a “red line for us”. His emphasis is not at all on which side is doing the moving around or the wielding.

In saying this, of course, he has presented the military-industrial complex with their hope of yet another green light, establishing an important pretext for escalating US involvement towards full-blown war in Syria. As the Washington Post reported:

The president’s remarks represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. In July, he warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

On Monday, an administration official said that Obama did not intend to flag any change in policy in his latest remarks and that the appetite for military intervention remains low.

But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.1

Click here to read the full Washington Post article.

Just short of a year later, on May 16th 2012, the BBC news reported that “US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence”:

President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.

However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. […]

“Our militaries are constantly sharing information. We have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside Syria,” he said.

“Those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as [that of] our allies and friends and neighbours.”

However, he added that “more specific information” was needed.2

Click here to read the full article on the BBC news website.

Possibly in response to Obama, and just a few days later on May 19th, Patrick Cockburn wrote an article for The Independent entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons”. Drawing an inevitable but nevertheless important comparison between the on-going claims and counter claims of Syrian WMDs with “the fiasco over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” he wrote that:

Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s.

It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated.

Cockburn further adding:

Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight.3

About two weeks prior to all of this, on May 6th, the BBC had also reported that Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of a UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria gave a statement on Swiss TV claiming there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebel forces had used the nerve agent sarin:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

“According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

The article went on the add:

Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.4

Click here to read the full article.

Her statement was controversial, of course, and the same UN commission then quickly issued a press release saying it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

Click here to read the UN press release also from May 6th.

And then on June 14th, CNN reported on a rather less equivocal statement made by the White House:

Syria has crossed a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels, a move that is prompting the United States to increase the “scale and scope” of its support for the opposition, the White House said Thursday.

The acknowledgment is the first time President Barack Obama’s administration has definitively said what it has long suspected – that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.

The evidence according to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was sufficient to justify an “increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council)” and even if, as the same article further admitted:

… many of the rebel fighters are militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies, the same stripe of militants America has battled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They include an group called the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that the United States says has links to al Qaeda.5

Meanwhile, at the end of July, the Assad government finally allowed access to international UN chemical weapons inspectors:

Syria has agreed to allow UN investigators to visit three sites where chemical weapons have allegedly been used, the UN has said.

The inspectors will go “as soon as possible”, a statement from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said.

They are expected to investigate three locations of suspected use, including one in Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo.6

Then a week ago [Sunday 18th] that team arrived in Syria:

The 20-member team of UN weapons inspectors and public health specialists checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus on Sunday, but declined to speak to reporters on their arrival.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press news agency that Syria will “fully cooperate” with the team.7

Just days later, on Wednesday [August 21st], and almost a year to the day after President Obama had first laid down the US “red line”, there was a chemical attack that could no longer be disputed. With images so terribly shocking because they were irrefutably real. Hundreds at least, and more likely thousands, of bodies of adults and children killed by poisoned gas.

And the finger of blame was very easy to point, with bellicose French foreign minister Laurent Fabius characteristically quick out of the blocks:

France’s foreign minister has said a “reaction with force” could be needed if Syria is proved to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

Laurent Fabius’s comments come a day after Syrian activists said hundreds of people died in such attacks in the Ghouta area of the capital, Damascus.8

And not to be outdone, William Hague, who says he doesn’t need verification from any UN inspectors because he is quite certain Assad was behind the chemical attack, was promptly rattling the British sabre:

“I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria,” said Mr Hague.

“I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”9

Hague’s position is seemingly the straightforward one. That with all of the victims trapped inside rebel controlled Eastern Ghouta, it is self-evident that the attack must have been launched by government forces. For why would the rebels attack their own people?

We might speculate on this in a moment, but first let’s ask a related but different question – and this is a hard question to ask because it is a question that is inevitably cold and calculated. However, the question itself is simple enough; it is cui bono? Just who is likely to gain the most from this atrocity?

For it is well known that the rebel forces have been in retreat, and so why would Assad or anyone else in his regime authorise attacks of this kind given that they are fully aware of the very serious repercussions? By crossing Obama’s “red line”, Assad is, presuming that he called for the attack, in all likelihood opening the door for an all-out Nato intervention. So aside from being an horrific war-crime, for which he may very well be made personally accountable at a later date, permitting such a massacre would also be tantamount to committing strategic suicide.

So what then of the rebel forces? Certainly they have much to gain strategically from orchestrating such an attack (assuming they had the means to do so). With the help of direct military assistance from western forces they might reverse their recent losses and finally oust Assad. But are they really callous enough to attack their own people to achieve such ends?

The sorry and for many unpalatable truth is that the Syrian civil war now involves a great many factions and that within those factions comprising the so-called “rebels” there are many fighters who are undoubtedly this callous. Foreign fighters who have crossed the border from war-torn Iraq or else flown in from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even parts of Europe, and who are openly pro-al Qaeda. They did not arrive with the objective of securing “freedom and democracy” for Syria but in efforts to impose a hardline Islamist regime of their own design. Bands of terrorist death squads who are known to behead their enemies and eat their hearts. Now does it seem plausible that a gang of such thugs, provided with the means to do so, might poison the innocent victims of Ghouta?

Here is Patrick Cockburn writing on Wednesday [August 21st] in the immediate aftermath of the chemical attacks :

Like the Iraqi opposition to Saddam, who provided most of the evidence of WMDs, the Syrian opposition has every incentive to show the Syrian government deploying chemical weapons in order to trigger foreign intervention. Although the US has gone cold on armed involvement in Syria, President Obama did say a year ago that President Bashar al-Assad’s use of such weapons was “a red line”. The implication is that the US would respond militarily, though just how has never been spelt out.

But the obvious fact that for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons would be much against their own interests does not prove it did not happen. Governments and armies do stupid things. But it is difficult to imagine any compelling reason why they should do so since they have plenty of other means of killing people in Eastern Ghouta, such as heavy artillery or small arms, which they regularly use. Every day, Damascus resounds to the sound of outgoing artillery fire aimed at rebel strongholds.

And Cockburn reminds us:

In June, the US said it has conclusive evidence for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and would therefore give aid to the rebels. The US action was most likely precipitated by the government’s loss of the town of al-Qusayr and a fear that the Damascus government might be starting to dominate the battlefield. Chemical-weapons experts expected the US to go out of its way to prove its conclusions were correct by being open about the origin of tested materials and the means by which they reached laboratories in the US. They also wanted details of the laboratory testing but little of this was produced.10

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

There is a lurking danger whenever it comes to talking of “humanitarian intervention” and meaning war, because, and at the very least, it is an approach that deliberately places ends above and wholly beyond means. So just when will the peace dividends become redeemable in places like Iraq and Libya? And how much more war must it take before we can finally straighten Syria out?

Unlike William Hague, I certainly believe that we should wait for the expert verdict of the UN inspectors. If they find that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack on Ghouta then under international law those responsible (whoever they are) must be brought to justice. Air strikes are another matter entirely, however, since even if Assad and his cronies are deposed in such a fashion, then how do the Syrian people benefit from victory by a pro-al-Qaeda opposition intent on holy war? The lessons of Iraq and Libya have obviously not been learned, but then the military-industrial complex has no desire for learning that war doesn’t pay – to the victors, the spoils: this is the only thing they’ve ever needed to understand.

And how can anyone still believe Obama (or his supporters) when he calls for another “humanitarian intervention” in one place whilst in another he is bombing families and children with drone attacks? Rather, it is the justification to be used when that other justification of WMDs doesn’t wash. A fig leaf that has consistently been used to disguise the greater ambition which was first publicly laid out by the notorious neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century: the urgent call for neo-imperialist hegemony and “full spectrum dominance”. This has always been the real post-9/11 agenda, and even if the principal actors have changed that agenda has not.

So if we do see an American-led or Nato attack against Syria then the dangers are obvious enough. With Syria being the close ally both of Iran and Russia, the onward march towards the unthinkable, a full-blown world war, might become unstoppable. For reasons of simple expediency therefore it is very unwise to attack Syria, but then neither should we attack Syria for any purported reason of “humanitarianism”. Enough of war altogether – if we really want peace in the Middle East as elsewhere then we have to begin with negotiations.

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Update:

On Tuesday [Aug 27th], Russia Today spoke with Hans Blix, who headed the UN’s weapon inspection team to Iraq before and during the 2003 US -led invasion. He told them:

I think that the public opinion and the media in the west will be pressuring their governments to do something. They say that this is such a horrible thing that there must be punishment, there must be action. You cannot sit with your hands just folded. So the public say that, you know, we call for police – we call for a world police – but the question is who is the world police? Is it the United States? Is it Nato? It should be the security council.

And after an intervention, which could take place – I don’t exclude that it’s going to happen – what will they do? Will it just have been a punch on the nose and then telling the belligerents in Syria that they go back and continue [to] fight the war?

The mandate [for the UN inspectors] is to establish whether chemical weapons have been used or not. And the way they go about that is that they go to sites and they may take samples of dust and of water and they will have to analyse that and send it to independent laboratories – to laboratories. They cannot just accept samples given to them from some rebels or from some side. That will not tell them who committed the attack, but at least it will be able to tell them that yes, chemicals were used.

We see it in the main as a contest between rebels and the government in Syria, but of course the intervention is [already] there – it is in large measure a wrestling match between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And on that wrestling match, the US is on the side of Saudi Arabia, because they would like to isolate Iran.

Certainly Saudi Arabia is not in Syria to work for human rights. It is there because they want to weaken Iran. That’s the main purpose.

Yes, I think you’re right in saying that Iran and the US and Russia ought to get together and to try to sort out and to get a solution for Syria – it might even make it less difficult to solve the nuclear problem concerning Iran.

1 From an article entitled “Obama issues Syria a ‘red line’ warning on chemical weapons” written by James Ball, published by the Washington Post on August 20, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-issues-syria-red-line-warning-on-chemical-weapons/2012/08/20/ba5d26ec-eaf7-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html#no_link1

2 From an article entitled “US has seem Syria chemical weapons, says Obama” published by BBC news on May 16, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372

3 From an article entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on May 19, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-has-no-reason-to-use-chemical-weapons-8622335.html

4 From an article entitled “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’” published by BBC news on May 6, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188

5 From an article entitled “White House: Syria crosses ‘red ine’ with use of chemical weapons on its people” written by Barbara Starr, Jessica Yellin and Chelsea J. Carter, published by CNN on June 14, 2013. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/13/politics/syria-us-chemical-weapons

6 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit Syrian sites” published by BBC news on July 31, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23524536

7 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Syria” published by BBC news on August 18, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23747375

8 From an article entitled “Syria ‘chemical’ attack: France says force may be needed” published by BBC news on August 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23795088

9 From an article entitled “William Hague believes Assad behind chemical attack” published by BBC news on August 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23812398

10 From an article entitled “The evidence of chemical attack seems compelling – but remember – there’s a propaganda war on” written by Patrick Cockburn published in The Independent on August 21, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-evidence-of-chemical-attack-seems-compelling–but-remember–theres-a-propaganda-war-on-8778918.html

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

what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria?

A week ago [Mon 30th July] the Guardian newspaper published a report entitled “Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria”. The strapline read:

In his latest exclusive dispatch from Deir el-Zour province, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad meets fighters who have left the Free Syrian Army for the discipline and ideology of global jihad

The article begins:

As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.

But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida.

Continuing:

They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.

According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.

And it turns out, at least to judge from Abdul-Ahad’s report, that the alliance with al-Qaeda was just what the opposition was needing. Here for example is the opinion of Osama, introduced to us as “a young jihadi from Abu Khuder’s unit with a kind smile”:

“They were committed,” said Osama. “They obeyed their leader and never argued. In the FSA, if you have 10 people they usually split and form three groups.” The jihadis, by contrast, used their time “in useful things, even the chores are divided equally”.

Osama joined the group. “He [the Saudi commander] is a very good man, he spends his days teaching us. You ask him anything and he will answer you with verses from the Qur’an, you want to read the Qur’an you can read. You want to study bomb-making he will teach you.”

The conflict in Syria, the media constantly remind us, is complicated, which is undoubtedly true, although this situation is totally compounded by the media’s overall lack of responsible coverage – and here I strongly recommend reading Charlie Skelton’s investigative report into the political connections behind some of the main Syrian opposition sources. To begin, however, and since it often helps in understanding complex problems to ask some simple questions (as any scientist will confirm), let’s ask the most obvious and immediate one: just why are America still actively supporting an armed uprising that is increasingly under the control of their arch-enemy al-Qaeda?

Here’s an answer of sorts offered by Abdul-Ahad as a meditative endpoint to his report, courtesy of the words, not of Osama, but “a young doctor working for the revolution”:

“They are stealing the revolution from us and they are working for the day that comes after.”1

Overall, Abdul-Ahad’s article leaves one under the distinct impression that perhaps the Western powers aren’t fully aware of the level of al-Qaeda infiltration amongst the Syrian rebels, and yet as Hillary Clinton had revealed in an interview with the BBC‘s Kim Ghattas as long ago as February:

“We have a very dangerous set of actors in the region: al-Qaeda, Hamas, and those who are on our terrorist list to be sure, supporting – claiming to support – the opposition.” [20 seconds from start]

Click here to watch the full interview.

And if ignorance were the reason then surely articles like Abdul-Ahad’s might raise some fresh security concerns. Seeing that the Syrian uprising is in the process of being hijacked, the Western powers would surely be less than unreserved in their continuing support for the opposition forces. Well, here’s what Barack Obama did on Thursday [August 2nd]:

Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorising US support for Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad government, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence finding broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust President Bashar al-Assad.2

The article continues:

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of arming the rebels directly, even though some US allies are.

But US and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by western officials, who previously characterised Assad’s opponents as a disorganised, chaotic, rabble.

It is an assessment that chimes very much with that of Osama, the young jihadi with the kind smile.

Not that Obama made his commitment on Thursday apparently:

Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorisation, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.

The full extent of support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.

Yes, everything is unclear – one might even say complicated.

Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Friday, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

“I do not ever comment on intelligence matters but I can say that we are helping elements of the Syrian opposition, but in a practical and non-lethal way,” he said.

“We have helped them with communications and matters of that kind, and we will help them more.”

Hague leads us implicitly to believe that the British government would only knowingly support the good rebels and that the West would never intentionally give support to insurgent terrorist gangs, least of all those associated with al-Qaeda. But this is errant nonsense, of course, as former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had famously pointed out in a Guardian article written in the immediate aftermath of the London Bombings in July 2005:

Bin Laden was [though] a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.3

Click here to read the full article by Robin Cook.

It seems then, that America are back in the business of supporting al-Qaeda. This is not as unusual as it may sound. If you wind back only as far as the Libyan intervention you’ll find that al-Qaeda was leading much of the opposition there too. Indeed, you may recall that back in November, the black flag of al-Qaeda was actually raised over the courthouse in Benghazi – the place where the Libyan revolution had first ignited:

The flag, complete with Arabic script reading “there is no God but Allah” and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website Vice.com.

The flag was said to be flying over the building alongside the Libyan national flag but the National Transitional Council has denied that it was responsible.4

Whilst a report from CNN at the end of last year revealed that:

Al Qaeda’s leadership has sent experienced jihadists to Libya in an effort to build a fighting force there, according to a Libyan source briefed by Western counter-terrorism officials.

The jihadists include one veteran fighter who had been detained in Britain on suspicion of terrorism. The source describes him as committed to al Qaeda’s global cause and to attacking U.S. interests.5

Inevitably, the repercussions for many of the Libyan people have been terrible. Last month’s report released by Amnesty International entitled “Libya: Rule of Law or Rule of Militias?” putting the situation into a humanitarian context:

The militias initially took up arms to overthrow Colonel al-Gaddafi or to fill the security vacuum left after his state collapsed. They quickly accumulated their own caches of weapons and consolidated control over entire neighbourhoods and areas. Many refuse to disarm or join the army or police, and do not answer to the central authorities.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) and the government it appointed have appeared unable or unwilling to confront the militias. Officials frequently cite security concerns and the widespread availability of weapons to justify their approach of negotiating with the militias rather than confronting them, and to explain delays.

As for human rights since the fall of Gaddafi, the AI report continues:

Since March 2011, Amnesty International has visited over 30 places of detention in Libya, including official, semi-official and unrecognized ones. Follow-up visits in 2012 to several facilities confirmed that while treatment generally improves for longer term detainees, new arrivals continue to suffer abuse. In May and June 2012, Amnesty International found evidence of recent abuses, including torture, in 12 of 15 detention facilities where it was allowed to interview detainees in private.

Precisely what “semi-official and unrecognized” places of detention actually means is left unclear, although if Libya were now a country governed by the rule of law then all such detention centres would surely be deemed “illegal”. Inside these black holes torture is regularly meted out. I will not detail the kinds of torture, the methods being all-too familiar in any case, but will return to Amnesty International‘s question regarding what has happened to the rule of law in Libya:

Despite releases and the referral of some suspects to relevant civilian or military prosecution offices, progress in charging detainees with recognizably criminal offences has been extremely slow. Some detainees have been held without charge for a year. […]

The Ministry of Justice told Amnesty International that by June 2012, 164 people had been convicted in common law cases since the end of the conflict. To Amnesty International’s knowledge, by early June, only three trials have begun in civilian courts in relation to crimes committed in the context of the conflict, leaving thousands of people detained without trial.

Click here to read the full Amnesty International report.

Since Gaddafi was ousted the factional fighting between well-armed tribal militias – many linked to al-Qaeda – is continuing. The country appears to be falling apart. Meanwhile, there has, of course, been no direct ‘Nato-led’ military intervention in Syria, which is often given as the reason for the escalating violence. And it’s the Russians and the Chinese who are frequently singled out for dragging their heels at the UN, even in spite of the fact that the Russians, unlike the Western powers, have been consistent in their support of Kofi Annan’s diplomatic UN mission to find a peaceful settlement in Syria.

After Kofi Annan resigned last Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke to Charles Glass, former ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent, and author of the soon to be reissued book on Syria, “Tribes with Flags”. Glass said:

The French, like the British and The United States and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have never supported a negotiated settlement. They demanded a regime change through violence from the very beginning. So, if Annan has been undermined, he’s been undermined by those parties themselves. So, it is not surprising that they accept his resignation with such equanimity, and the logical conclusion being that the Syrian conflict will be resolved by force of arms. And they, along with other Western and Arab powers and the Turks, are supplying those arms to one side, while Russia supplies arms to the other side. In the long run, all of Syria will suffer as a result.

And regarding the British government’s role in the uprising, Glass says:

Prime Minister Cameron, like the Russians and like U.S., has been pushing for a violent solution all along. He had not done anything to encourage Kofi Annan’s mission nor had he done anything to promote dialogue between the opponents regime, which Britain and others are supporting, and the regime itself. The whole impetus of this conflict since it began in March of last year, from the outside and many inside, has been to militarize it and to leave no possibility of a diplomatic solution. It’s not surprising that he’s saying it’s failed, but he is one of those who helped it to fail.

So is the conflict in Syria really as complicated as it is still being presented? With the Western powers “demanding regime change from the very beginning”, and with “Western and Arab powers… supplying those arms to one side, while Russia supplies arms to the other side”.

Surely it’s time for the rest of the media to catch up. To admit that what’s really happening in Syria has nothing to do with humanitarianism, the ‘civil war’ being but the latest proxy war in a Cold War that never actually ended. The superpowers Russia and America locking horns in yet another fight to secure their own geostrategic interests. Certainly this accounts for why Washington is more or less openly supporting al-Qaeda again.

Here is Charles Glass’s assessment:

Well, I think that the opposition groups in The Free Syrian Army and the others who are fighting the war are pleased to have American support, want more American support, and would ultimately like American intervention. Whether in the form of a no-fly zone or an invasion, there are disagreements amongst them.

But for the other opposition, the people who actually started this, people who had done time in prison over the years, who were prisoners of the Assad regime who wanted popular demonstrations, who wanted civil disobedience, who wanted negotiations with the regime, to have a transition — a peaceful transition, in which there would ultimately be free elections in which the regime could win or lose — those people’s voices are being drowned out in the cacophony of artillery and rifle fire all around Syria at this time.

These people, I think they are disenchanted with the United States and see that The United States, or believe that The United States, has a different agenda from theirs. Their agenda is to bring democracy to Syria. They feel the United States agenda is to eliminate a regime which is too friendly to Iran, particularly at a time when Israel and the U.S. are contemplating a potential attack on Iran. It would be better for them to either weaken Syria or eliminate the regime that’s been allied to Iran before any attack took place, and those people in the peaceful opposition do not want to become pawns in a superpower game.

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

As violence in Syria continues to grow, the rhetoric for a more widespread war is being ramped up again. Tragically, the people in the peaceful Syrian opposition have always been the “pawns in a superpower game”, from Washington’s point of view, Syria being little more than a stepping stone in a longer term strategy of waging war on Iran.

Click here to read an excellent overview and analysis of the Syrian crisis entitled “Regime change in Syria by civil war”, written by Sami Ramadani and posted on the Stop the War Coalition website.

*

Additional:

Posted on August 6th on the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) website:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.

This is the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain.

*

Update:

On October 30th, the Australian channel SBS discussion show Insight featured a “passionate and at times volatile” debate between those on different sides of the conflict:

Click here to read further details about the show on the SBS website.

*

1 From an article entitled “Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria – In his latest exclusive dispatch from Deir el-Zour province, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad meets fighters who have left the Free Syrian Army for the discipline and ideology of global jihad”, published by the Guardian on July 30, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/30/al-qaida-rebels-battle-syria

2 From an article entitled “Obama signs order supporting Syria’s rebels, reports say – US government source acknowledges that US is collaborating with a secret ‘nerve centre’ operated by Turkey and its allies” from Reuters published in the Guardian on August 2, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/02/obama-order-supporting-syria-rebels?newsfeed=true

3 From an article entitled “The struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means: The G8 must seize the opportunity to address the wider issues at the root of such atrocities”, written by Robin Cook, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/jul/08/july7.development

4 From an article entitled “Libya: Al Qaeda flag flown above Benghazi courthouse: The black flag of Al Qaeda has been spotted flying over a public building in Libya, raising concerns that the country could lurch towards Muslim extremism”, published by The Telegraph on November 1, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8861608/Libya-Al-Qaeda-flag-flown-above-Benghazi-courthouse.html

5 From an article entitled “Al Qaeda sends fighters to Libya”, written by Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank, published by CNN on December 30, 2011. http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/30/al-qaeda-sends-fighters-to-libya/

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