Tag Archives: Ghouta

VIPS challenge official narrative and call for restraint after latest chemical incident in Syria

All sections below are quoted from VIPS (unless highlighed in purple).

Background: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.

We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:

No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.

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October 1st 2013

World attention has moved to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, but the evidence on the Aug. 21 attack [at Ghouta] near Damascus remains hidden and in dispute, causing a group of former U.S. intelligence professionals to ask Moscow and Washington to present what they have.

Memorandum to: Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

We applaud your moves toward a peaceful resolution of the Syria crisis that will lead to the destruction of all chemical stockpiles possessed by the Syrian Government.

At the same time, we strongly believe the world has the right to know the truth about the chemical attack near Damascus. We note that both sides continue to claim possession of compelling evidence regarding the true perpetrators of this crime.

We therefore call upon Russia and the United States to release all the intelligence and corroborative information related to the 21 August chemical attack so that the international community can make a judgment regarding what is actually known and not known.

We the undersigned — former intelligence, military and federal law enforcement officers who have collectively dedicated, cumulatively, hundreds of years to making the American people more secure — hereby register our dismay at the continued withholding of this vital evidence.

The issue is one of great importance, as the United States has within recent memory gone to war based on allegations of a threat that proved to be groundless. The indictment of Syria on possibly unsubstantiated claims of war crimes could easily lead to another unnecessary armed conflict that would produce disastrous results for the entire region, and indeed the entire world.

Click here to read the statement in full in Consortium News.

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Renewed appeal 2013

In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.

Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as “homemade” and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.

Neither of you responded directly to our appeal to make such evidence available to the public, although, Mr. Lavrov, you came close to doing so. In a speech at the UN on Sept. 26, 2013, you made reference to the views we presented in our VIPS Memorandum, Is Syria a Trap?, sent to President Obama three weeks earlier.

Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the “open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon,” in which we expressed similar doubt.

Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of “Intelligence Assessment” customarily used to back up such claims.

We believe that this odd lack of a formal “Intelligence Assessment” is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as was done to “justify” the attack on Iraq.

Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21.” [bold highlight added]

The VIPS statement then discusses the document leak by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem uncovering a smuggling operation run with Turkish government complicity:

Addressing fellow members of parliament on Dec. 10, 2015, Turkish MP Eren Erdem from the Republican People’s Party (a reasonably responsible opposition group) confronted the Turkish government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem referred to official reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.” Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.

The Operation

According to Erdem, the 13 suspects arrested in raids carried out against the plotters were released just a week after they were indicted, and the case was closed — shut down by higher authority. Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.”

Click here to read the statement in full as published in Huffington Post.

As an addendum below, I include a post about the leak of documents by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem, written in December 2015 but previously unpublished.

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Latest VIPS statement issued today

Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*

SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?

1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.

2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.

3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important – what they appear to believe happened.

4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?

5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.

6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”

Click here to read the statement in full in Counterpunch.

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Addendum: post from December 2015 on Eren Erdem’s document leak

Turkish MP Eren Erdem accuses his own country of assisting with sarin gas attacks on Syria

Turkish Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition member Eren Erdem says he has seen hard evidence showing of how Turkish nationals have played a vital role in the smuggling ingredients to make sarin gas used by ISIS and other Islamist groups:

On December 10, Erdem addressed Turkish parliamentarians, discussing criminal case number 2013/120, opened by Ankara’s General Prosecutor’s Office in Adana.

Evidence shows various Turkish nationals were involved in direct dealings with ISIS and other terrorist groups, supplying them with sarin gas.

Erdem explained.

“Which trucks were going to be used, all dates etc. From A to Z, everything was discussed and recorded. Despite all of this evidence, the suspects were released,” the case closed, showing high-level coverup, perhaps ordered by Erdogan.

Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals moved freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria. Erden indicated a high-level regime coverup, evidence revealing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s involvement.

Toxic chemicals were purchased from Europe,” he said. US-led Western countries “should question themselves about these relations. Western sources know very well who carried out the sarin gas attack in Syria.”

“They know these people. They know who (they) are working with. They know that these people are working for Al-Qaeda…Western (countries) are hypocrites about the situation.”

Click here to read more from Stephen Lendman’s report quoted above, which was published on Monday 14th by Global Research.

Russia Today, who broke the story, reported on Wednesday 16th that:

Ankara’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office opened the case against Istanbul MP Eren Erdem of Republican People’s Party (CHP) after his interview about sarin was aired on RT on Monday.  […]

As Turkish media reported Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office is planning to send a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday. Following that, the summary may be forwarded to the Turkish parliament, which could vote to strip Erdem of his parliamentary immunity.

Once Turkish mass-media reported the criminal investigation had been opened against Erdem, the hashtags #ErenErdemYalnızDeğildir – #ErenErdemYouAreNotAlone began to circulate in Turkish social networks.

On Tuesday, MP Erdem issued a written statement in his defense, saying he had become the target of a smear campaign because of his statements made in parliament. […]

As for his accusations about Turkish businessmen being involved in supplying Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) with the poisonous gas sarin and other reactants needed for chemical warfare, Erdem maintained this statement was made based on the results of a Turkish court investigation in 2013.

Erdem also claims that following his interview with RT he has received death threats on social media:

Eren Erdem said that the Turkish paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths has published his home address on Twitter in an effort to enable at an attack on his house.

“I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country’s prestige,” MP Erdem said.

Click here to read more from the same RT report.

So far, in the Western media, only the Belfast Telegraph, Daily Mirror, and Daily Star have carried reports of Erdem’s allegations.

The Daily Star, which also published an article on Monday 14th, runs it under the headline “TOXIC TERROR” and manages to deflect attention away from the alleged role of Erdogen and the Turkish authorities in order to play up “…fears [that] the murderous regime [ISIS] is producing chemical weapons to use against the West.”

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Additional: The Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)

Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

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

Recent historical background

In October 2011, Russia drew a line in the sand when it vetoed western intervention in Syria.

The UN security council is expected to seek a fresh resolution on Syria after Russia and China on Tuesday night vetoed a draft that threatened sanctions, a security council source said.

The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.

Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council. 1

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

In response, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, provided his own translation of the Russian statement of explanation for their veto:

The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.

Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.

In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.

The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.

The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.

The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.

The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.

This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.

As Murray points out, the validity of the Russian statement is borne out by the facts on the ground, even if the mainstream media has turned away from presenting the true horror of the atrocities that have been committed by Nato and the rebel forces in the name of freedom and democracy, most especially in the case of Sirte:

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post in full.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was one of very few independent journalists reporting inside Libya. He consistently dismissed the official story of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is what he had to say in an interview at the end of July 2011:

Without question, it has to be emphasized that the NATO-led bombings have deliberately targeted Libyan civilians and have sought to punish the civilian population in Libya. Water facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, food facilities, hotels, civilian vehicles, restaurants, homes, government office buildings, and residential areas have all been bombed. This includes the Libyan Supreme Court, a civilian bus, a Down’s Syndrome facility, a children’s vaccination centre, and Nasser University. The NATO claim that military command and control buildings are being targeted is nonsense and untrue.

The NATO goal has not been to protect civilians, but to provoke civilians into blaming Colonel Qaddafi and his regime for the war and NATO’s war crimes against the Libyan people. NATO believes that the brutality of its bombings of Libyan civilians and its strategy to create a shortage of fuel, money, medicine, food, and water would cause regime change in Tripoli by pushing the Libyan population to oust Qaddafi. 2

And here is Mahdi Nazemroaya giving an eyewitness account at a Toronto Conference for “The Truth about Libya” a few months later on Sept 9th, when he spoke passionately against the lies of the mainstream media that covered up the horrors of the NATO intervention:

Craig Murray likewise points out that: “NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties” and goes on to describe Susan Rice’s reaction to the Russian statement as ‘pathetic’:

Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse. I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently forseeable result of America’s own rash actions, was just pathetic.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post.

That Russia and China will resort to appeals to ‘humanitarianism’ only when it suits their own geostrategic agenda is true, of course. In this instance, Russian being primarily concerned to protect its interests in Syria, which includes the Tartus naval base 3. But then it’s always so much easier to see through the hypocrisy coming out of Beijing and Moscow, than when it comes from the lips of our own leaders — Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama at the time — or, more importantly, from a media that is unswervingly loyal to the same corporate and establishment interests.

War is a racket, remember that – not my words but those of Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated general in America’s history. And in his famous anti-war pamphlet of the same name, first published in 1935, he writes:

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Or, as Craig Murray rewrites it for our contemporary times:

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That is an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

If there is full scale “intervention” in Syria then we can certainly expect similar results, because, and in spite of the humanitarian justifications that will undoubtedly be given, the real motivation remains the same. A grab for power and money. As Butler says: it’s just a racket.

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Earlier chemical attacks in Syria

During the half decade in which a sustained proxy war has engulfed Syria, there have now been two alleged chemical attacks which have prompted demands for direct military “intervention” against Assad. The first happened four years ago when Obama accused the Syrian regime of “crossing a red line” following a release of sarin gas in Ghouta. Allegations which Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh afterwards refuted, challenging Obama’s claims that US intelligence possessed solid evidence proving Assad’s guilt, and more importantly, revealing that the origins of the sarin used in the attack “didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”:

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. 4

The article quoted above entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th, 2014.

In a follow up article Hersh also provided supporting evidence that the Ghouta attack was most probably carried out by al-Qaeda factions in Syria who quite definitely did have the means:

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.

And Hersh finally went on to implicate Turkey as likely collaborators in the Ghouta atrocity and other less widely reported 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. 5

Read more here and here.

Following Tuesday’s [April 4th] chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, some 30 miles south of Idlib city, Assad stands accused once again, this time by Trump, of crossing “many, many lines – beyond a red line”. On this occasion, no evidence has yet been provided aside from video footage that purportedly shows rescuers trying to resuscitate victims of an alleged aerial attack. The images are indeed extremely harrowing, but what precisely are we witnessing? The plain fact that the only footage available carries the logo of the al-Qaeda linked White Helmets is grounds alone to query the authenticity of the story.

Quoted below is the gruesome conclusion drawn by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) and associated medical experts after closely analysing similarly disturbing video footage of White Helmet responders dealing with an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015:

‘Lifesaving’ procedures on the children showed in the White Helmets videos were found to be fake, and ultimately performed on dead children. 6

In a related report Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, a prominent figure in the resistance movement against the Pinochet Dictatorship (biographical notes from his current wikipedia entry are reproduced as a footnote ), adds that:

SWEDHR took the time to get the dialogue in the White Helmet movie translated. At 1:16 the doctor in full light green and a gray & black jumper says:

”Include in the picture (meaning in the film or the frame -translators note) the mother should be underneath and the children on top of her, hey! Make sure the mother is underneath.”

Perhaps, if the video had been subtitled, the UN officials [who watched the film in the closed-door session at the UN Security Council] might have queried this overt staging of an event that one must assume, was chaotic, harrowing and stressful. Perhaps, they would have found it strange, that in the midst of a “chemical weapon” attack, one of the medics, attempting to save the lives of three Syrian children, would be concerned with the positioning of their bodies for the camera. 7

Click here and here to read the full reports from Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). [hat tip to Burning Blogger of Bedlam]

It is noteworthy that the wikipedia entry for SWEDHR may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot as it currently appears (apologies for the size but I wanted to capture the full article):

And here is a close up of the banner at the top — observe how the various “issues” are all dated April 2017:

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Lacking the legal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution or approval from Congress, it is on the basis of similarly doubtful and unsubstantiated video evidence that Trump so hastily launched his $100 million offensive – an initial salvo which is presumably set to open yet another front in the West’s ever-expanding post-9/11 warzone. Neo-con David Ignatius even made this extraordinary comparison writing in the Washington Post:

Then came those pictures of the Syrian children. With Thursday night’s action, Trump reached one of those unforeseen tipping points on which decisions of war and peace so often rest: the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the “Zimmermann telegram” of 1917, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, the Iraqi WMD delusion in 2003. What all these triggers for war have in common is that people didn’t see them coming. 8

Anyone with even a passing interest in history will recognise that what those pretexts to major wars in Ignatius’ list share in common is a good deal less superficial than “that people didn’t see them coming”. It is common knowledge that the last two examples were outright lies (not “delusions”), but serious and lingering doubts also remain over the seemingly willful negligence accompanying the separate tragedies which accelerated US entry into each of the world wars. For deceit and deception is not only part and parcel of war itself, more often than not it is a necessary catalyst to instigate war.

Above is a Mail Online report published in January 2013 that was subsequently removed.

Below is a screenshot of the CNN article by award winning journalist Elise Labott, the original link was later redirected to CNN blogs:

Click here to read more about these earlier reports at Global Research.

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As the rush to a new war quickens, here are just a few pleas for restraint – extracts from articles and interviews (the transcripts are my own) from a wide range of dissenting but considered and well-informed perspectives.

Trump’s war crime

Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, at the UN Security Council meeting on April 7th:

Holding up an enlarged photo of Colin Powell’s “weapons of mass destruction” speech, Llorenti made an impassioned plea to hold the U.S. to account for Thursday’s unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the U.S. history of imperialist interventions in other nations, including Latin America.

“Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That’s not what international law is about.”

The Andean nation currently holds a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion (in 2003), the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found,” the Bolivian envoy told the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday.

Arguing that the U.S. acted unilaterally and in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the Bolivian envoy called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States was preparing once again and carried out a unilateral attack,” Llorenti said. “The missile attack, of course, is a unilateral action. They represent a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Click here to read the full article on telesur.

Llorenti also reminded delegates:

“After [the Iraq] invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?” [from 8 mins]

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To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.

Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.

In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.

However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?

No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Click here to read the full article by political analyst John Wight published in Counterpunch.

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Cui bono?

On Wednesday 6th in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack inside Khan Sheikhoun, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was interviewed by Sky News. He said:

Ask who benefits – clearly it’s not the Syrian regime or the Russians who are benefitting. And I believe it’s highly unlikely that either were behind what’s happened. There are different possibilities. One is that all of it is fake news: the images, the videos, the information all come from opposition sources and not from any credible independent journalists.

It’s also possible that the pictures show the aftermath of a bombing attack which happened to hit a jihadi chemical weapons munition dump. We know for a fact that the jihadi’s were storing chemical weapons in schools in Eastern Aleppo because these were seen later by western journalists. This is one distinct possibility.

We never learn, do we? Iraq’s chemical weapons – remember that one? We were stampeded. Aleppo, we were told that there was a holocaust going on – massacres – didn’t happen. Independent reporters went in afterwards and saw no evidence of massacres. What we did see were fighters being bussed out quietly. And we discovered subsequently that a lot of the footage was fake.

Asked whether western intervention in 2013 “might have changed things”, Ford replies:

Well, it’s not profitable to discuss the what-might-have-been – personally, I think it was correct in 2013 not to intervene on the side of the jihadis. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that most of the people, when they thought about it for a second, would ask themselves: well, what’s going to replace Assad and the secular regime which is protecting minorities, Christians, women’s rights? I don’t think the Islamists would have been a better bet, and that is even more the case today. Remember that in Idlib where this happened is a rats’ nest of the most extreme jihadis.

Dogs returning to their own vomit. They made all these mistakes: Iraq, Libya – they never learn and they would like to reproduce the same scenario in Syria. Fortunately, the Trump administration moved only last week – and this may be significant here – moved only last week to disown the Obama policy of trying to unseat the Syrian regime. Trump’s people said: we’re more interested in unseating ISIS – that’s our priority. And you may think it’s significant that this attack comes days after that. Now if the jihadis wanted to complicate Trump’s task of making America’s policy more sensible, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way than trying to mount a piece of fake news like this.

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The media has helped spread the war fever. New York Times columnist and Iraq war cheerleader Thomas Friedman reflexively proposed that Syria be partitioned, with U.S. troops if necessary. On CNN, correspondent Arwa Damon wept over the lack of U.S. resolve, suggesting that a bombing campaign against Damascus would somehow salve the wounds of Syria.

But there has been one issue major media outlets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. military offensive. Who holds power in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is perhaps the most inconvenient set of questions for proponents of “humanitarian” military intervention in Syria.

The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed what a leading scholar has described as a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.

Even analysts who have repeatedly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syria have described Idlib as the “heartland of al-Nusra.”

Click here to read the full article by Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton, published in Alternet on Wednesday 5th.

The same piece includes the following insightful update (with all links maintained from original):

Several hours after this article was published, the U.S. attacked the Syrian government, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, in the city of Homs. ISIS seized on the opportunity and launched an offensive against the Syrian government immediately after the U.S. strike. The attack was likewise applauded by the Salafi jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sham, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

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On Saturday 8th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Peter Oborne, Associate Editor of the Spectator magazine, and Middle East Eye columnist, who has visited Syria during the war and is about to return. Here extracts from what Oborne said:

Well the pictures are terrible – really shocking and awful. But the question is: what’s behind them; what could have created this situation; and was the Syrian government/regime involved? And I think it’s very unwise to jump to immediate conclusions. That’s what history teaches you. Intelligence agencies produce stuff which is unreliable and false: you know going back to WMD before the Iraq invasion. You got back to the reasons given for the Libyan intervention, five years after that, and then the attempts to get western involvement in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta. I just think that we need to pause.

I think there should be an investigation: it’s very shocking what’s happened. But to immediately blame the Assad regime and then say look we’ve got to go to war is not the sensible response. […]

Matthew Rycroft [British ambassador to the UN Security Council] is a young man, and he’s probably not that experienced, and he’s probably a bit naive. Intelligence agencies need to assess in a responsible and adult way what happened. And to suddenly launch World War Three – which this potentially could become –on the back of a whole series of media reactions to a very serious and terrible event is not sensible. We need to know the truth about what happened first.

One of the questions is cui bono – who benefits? And if you look at the situation of the Assad regime now you can’t really say that it’s in their interest to go around dropping chemical weapons. They knew four years ago in 2013, the United States came very close to bombing Damascus in the wake of that [chemical incident at Ghouta]. Now do they want that to happen? I don’t think so.

From the perspective here in London, you know, it looks like the war is almost over. Do you want to reignite something absolutely terrible? […]

I can’t look into the mind of President Trump, but I was surprised. We know that there has been a constituency to go to war in Syria. In my view, to get involved in that would have made things far worse – led to far more innocent deaths, to far more deaths of children. And if the West is going to pile into Syria then it’s going to cause unintended consequences on a limitless scale, as we saw when we used the false justification of WMD in Iraq. So much better is to sit back, pause, use proper intelligence techniques to work out and analyse what did happen, and respond over time. But what we are seeing now is hysteria. […]

We don’t know how many people have died in Syria because of the terrible war which has been going on for the last four years. Is it 200,000? Is it 400,000? I don’t know. How many lives have been destroyed? How many children have died? (All the rest of it…) If any situation called for restraint, this is the one.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has just come back from Saudi Arabia. She’s trying to sell British arms, etc (I presume) to Saudi. Saudi has a long-standing determination to destroy the Assad government in Syria. And I’d just like to be clear about what Mrs May’s… you know, you need to be aware of who Mrs May talks to. It is not in the interests of humanity or the world to get involved in a new war in Syria to take it in a fresh direction on the basis of an event we know practically nothing about.

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The immediate fall out

President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.

The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.

Is that the change that Trump wanted?

As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States.  According to the New York Times:

“In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)

The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.

Click here to read the full article by Mike Whitney published in Counterpunch. The same piece also includes Mike Whitney’s transcription of part of a 14 minute interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show with former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi. It is reproduced below:

Philip Giraldi: I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t — and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.

Scott Horton: Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?

Philip Giraldi: Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.

Scott Horton: So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?

Philip Giraldi: They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.

Scott Horton: You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?

Philip Giraldi: It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”

Whitney writes:

I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time. [click here to listen]

Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)

Whitney also quotes from a recent statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media.  Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.

…Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)

“Managed chaos”. Brilliant. That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell. That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources.

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Update:

Here is US Congressman Thomas Massie challenging the official narrative on CNN to the undisguised chagrin of the anchor:

Click here to listen to former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, interviewed on Scott Horton show on April 6th.

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There is also Professor Theodore Postol’s analysis of the hastily drafted White House Intelligence Report, released on April 11th: “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria

The reports concludes:

The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.

This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.

What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

For a more comprehensive summary of the report I recommend this article by independent journalist Eva Bartlett.

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In a talk given on April 14th, Noam Chomsky directs attention to Theodore Postol’s analysis and also challenges the official White House narrative:

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Finally – perhaps not to everyone’s taste – here is James Corbett’s sardonic quick-fire dissection of the same events in four minutes flat:

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1 From an article entitled “Syria sanctions: ‘outraged’ US seeks fresh resolution after double veto blow” published in the Guardian on October 5, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/05/syria-sanctions-us-fresh-resolution

2 Taken from an interview of Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the publication Eurasia. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2011 by two Italian researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences/L’Istituto di Alti Studi in Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie (IsAG), Chiara Felli and Giovanni Andriolo. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26774

3

The Russian expansion of the Tartus would include the installation of an air defence system with S-300 PMU2 Favourite ballistic missile system that would be a virtual threat to the Ceyhan, maritime traffic, the flow of oil, and would provide an air defence shield for vital portions of Syria that are strategically important, especially in the event of a war. In essence Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Syria would be protected from either Israeli or American aerial bombardment. It is clear that the Russian aims in Syria are a symmetrical reaction to American objectives for the Middle East and part of a global chess game.

From an article entitled “Russian Base in Syria, a Symmetrical Strategic Move” written by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, on July 28, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=2839

4 From an article entitled “Whose sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 35, No. 24, December 19, 2013. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

5 From an article entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 36, No. 8, April 17, 2014. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

6 From a report entitled “White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/white-helmets-movie-updated-evidence-from-swedish-doctors-confirm-fake-lifesaving-and-malpractices-on-children/ 

7

From a report entitled “Swedish Doctors for Human Rights: White Helmets Video, Macabre Manipulation of Dead Children and Staged Chemical Weapons Attack to Justify a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Syria” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/swedish-doctors-for-human-rights-white-helmets-video-macabre-manipulation-of-dead-children-and-staged-chemical-weapons-attack-to-justify-a-no-fly-zone-in-syria/ 

Marcello Ferrada de Noli had a classical liberal ideological background, influenced by his eldest brother, a lawyer with previous membership in the right-wing Liberal Party. However, he later evolved towards left-liberal and social-libertarian positions. At age 22, Marcello Ferrada de Noli was one of the founders of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. MIR was a Chilean political party and former left-wing guerrilla organization (founded on October 12, 1965) prominent in the resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship. Together with his old-time school friend Miguel Enríquez (died in combat 1974) and Marco A. Enríquez, Ferrada de Noli was an author of the Political-military Theses of MIR – known also as La Tesis Insurreccional – the first document of MIR approved in its foundation congress of 1965;[6][7][8] there he represented left-libertarian standpoints.

During the government of the Christian Democratic Party, President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared MIR to be illegal and Marcello Ferrada de Noli was posted in the nationwide published wanted-list of thirteen fugitive MIR leaders,[9] together with his friends Miguel Enríquez, Bautista van Schouwen, and others. Later captured in August 1969[10] Ferrada de Noli was acquitted without trial after having been kept in isolation[11] at Concepción prison (La Cárcel). Altogether he had been captured or imprisoned on seven occasions for his political activities in Chile during his time in the MIR but was never condemned by a Chilean court.

In the aftermath of the resistance to the military coup of 1973 Marcello Ferrada de Noli was captured in Concepción and taken first to the Stadium and later was imprisoned in Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp. After his liberation he went to Italy, where he was one of the witnesses before the Russell Tribunal which investigated human rights violations in Chile and Latin America. He then became a member of the Russell Tribunal Scientific Secretariat in Rome.[12]

8 From an article entitled “Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons” written by David Ignatius, published in the Washington Post on April 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-faces-a-moral-test-in-syria/2017/04/06/bea8bdde-1aee-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.fb0a06a21135

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Craig Murray, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, USA

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

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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.

*

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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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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what might happen next in the Syrian crisis?

We have all heard the repeated claims from Obama, Kerry, Cameron and many others that “they have no doubt that Assad ordered the chemical attack on Ghouta”. During the Commons debate we also heard lots of numbers bandied around; claims that the regime has already been responsible for five, thirteen or even fourteen previous chemical attacks (these are the numbers I recall). Meanwhile, the White House claim they have intelligence reports pointing directly to Assad’s culpability although admitting that these reports are not exactly “a slam-dunk” – their choice of language hugely revealing. Yet, and in spite of all of these repeated claims that Assad ordered these chemical weapons attacks, there is still as yet nothing substantial to support the allegations.

What we know with certainty is that chemical weapons were used in Ghouta and that it appears highly probable that chemicals of some kind have also been used in earlier attacks. However, the responsibility for each of these attacks has yet to be established. Hopefully, the UN inspectors will ultimately be able determine who was behind these attacks – and if this is not within their mandate then surely that mandate needs to be extended.

By contrast, there has been increasing and corroborating evidence coming from separate reports such as independent journalists as well as new information based on intercepts made by German intelligence sources that it was a rebel faction, and not Assad, that was behind the atrocity at Ghouta – for further details, I direct you back to my previous post, which now includes a number of recent updates.

But then news on Syria is moving quickly. And so, with Obama finding himself increasingly out on a limb, the latest move has come from the Russians, offering an olive branch with proposals for the dismantling of Assad’s entire chemical weapons arsenal. It is to be hoped that America and its partners will agree to move forward with this plan.

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast featured a summary of the developing situation followed by a fierce debate between activists from both sides. Here is part of that debate:

RANIA MASRI [Lebanese-based human rights activist and professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon]:

Well, first I want to say I find it not only criminal, but also ahistoric, to imagine that a U.S. bombing campaign lobbied against Syria or any other country would actually result in something humanitarian or something peaceful or something stable. Simply study history. Start with studying history… Look at Iraq. Look at Afghanistan. Look at all others. I find it absolutely abhorrent that we would actually be calling for a larger than a limited military strike on Syria, one.

Part two, we need to recognize—and I have to continue to repeating this—yes, the Syrian army has committed crimes, but so has the so-called Free Syrian Army and the terrorists that they work with. And don’t just quote me on that or Joshua Landis, but quote the United Nations, when we have a U.N. independent panel that was released—they released a report earlier this year in which they said—and I quote—”It’s impossible to choose good guys among the groups of Syrian rebels and send weapons to them.” I think we need to stand clear here and say no to violence committed by any party.

And to do that, there is a very strong political solution. The United States can put pressure on its allies in the region—namely, the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks—to halt the flood of weapons that’s coming in from Sudan and Libya via Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan to these rebels, halt that, push the Russians to then put pressure on the Syrians, get the Syrians themselves to the negotiating table. We all agree that the only solution can be a political settlement. Kerry has said so. Secretary of Defense Hagel had said so. Any bombing campaign will only result in reducing whatever political capital there is, and providing that political settlement will only give power to extremism on all sides in Syria and will only kill more and more Syrians and result in more and more displacement. This is what we need to be calling for: a halt to the arms trade, stronger demand for political diplomacy, for political negotiations, increased support for humanitarian support for the Syrians, and absolutely no bombing of any kind, limited or expanded.

AARON MATÉ [journalist and Democracy Now! presenter]:

Rania Masri, I wanted to ask you about the comments of Alon Pinkas. He’s the former Israeli consul general in New York. And speaking to The New York Times last week, Pinkas described his take on how Israel is viewing the conflict in Syria. He said, quote, “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win—we’ll settle for a tie. Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the [strategic] thinking here.”

RANIA MASRI: Yes.

AARON MATÉ: “As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.” Are you worried that that is basically the international approach to Syria right now, is let them bleed?

RANIA MASRI: Well, I mean, I take issue with the term “international,” because we do have very different state parties here. I think it is one of the objectives of the U.S. government, yes, and of course its allies, be they in Israel or be they in the Gulf, that, yes, one of the objectives is to continue to have them, quote, “kill each other,” as was the objective of the U.S. government during the Iraq-Iran War. Yes, I do see that as being one of the objectives, the continuous destruction of Syria as a country and of its people, on all sides, yes.

But I also want to raise this issue. And I’m not just creating a debate for the objective of debate, but I’m actually understanding what’s being said by the other party. While we sit here and we’re opposed to the use of chemical weapons—and, I would argue, opposed to the use of all weapons, not just chemical weapons—it’s important to point out that according to statements made by the United Nations itself, they’ve released statements that, quote, they have “strong suspicion” that the rebels themselves have access and have used sarin gas. And these statements were made earlier this year. So, again, I just want to say that what we need to be working on is a full halt of the arms trade.

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

And then today’s Democracy Now! broadcast featured an extended interview with Noam Chomsky, who made the following comments with regards to Obama’s presidential address last night:

Well, the Russian plan is a godsend for Obama. It saves him from what would look like a very serious political defeat. He has not been able to obtain virtually any international support for this—the action he’s contemplating. Even Britain wouldn’t support it. And it looked as though Congress wasn’t going to support it either, which would leave him completely out on a limb. This leaves him a way out.

He can maintain the threat of force, which incidentally is a crime under international law, that we should bear in mind that the core principle of the United Nations Charter bars the threat or use of force, threat or use of force. So all of this is criminal, to begin with, but he’ll continue with that. The United States is a rogue state. It doesn’t pay any attention to international law.

He—it was kind of interesting what he didn’t say. This would be a perfect opportunity to ban chemical weapons, to impose the chemical weapons convention on the Middle East. The convention, contrary to what Obama said, does not specifically refer just to use of chemical weapons; it refers to production, storage or use of chemical weapons. That’s banned by the international norm that Obama likes to preach about. Well, there is a country which happens to be—happens to have illegally annexed part of Syrian territory, which has chemical weapons and is in violation of the chemical weapons convention and has refused even to ratify it—namely, Israel. So here’s an opportunity to eliminate chemical weapons from the region, to impose the chemical weapons convention as it’s actually formulated. But Obama was very careful not to say that —for reasons which are too obvious to go into—and that gap is highly significant. Of course, chemical weapons should be eliminated everywhere, but certainly in that region.

The other things that he said were not unusual, but nevertheless kind of shocking to anyone not familiar with U.S. political discourse, at least. So he described the United—he said that for seven decades the United States has been “the anchor of global security.” Really? Seven decades? That includes, for example, just 40 years ago today, when the United States played a major role in overthrowing the parliamentary democracy of Chile and imposing a brutal dictatorship, called “the first 9/11” in Latin America. Go back earlier years, overthrowing the parliamentary system in Iran, imposing a dictatorship; same in Guatemala a year later; attacking Indochina, the worst crime in the postwar period, killing millions of people; attacking Central America; killing—involved in killing—in imposing a dictatorship in the Congo; and invading Iraq—on and on. That’s stability? I mean, that a Harvard Law School graduate can pronounce those words is pretty amazing, as is the fact that they’re accepted without comment.

So what he said is I’m going to lie like a trooper about history; I’m going to suppress the U.S. role, the actual U.S. role, for the last seven decades; I’m going to maintain the threat of force, which is of course illegal; and I’m going to ensure that the chemical weapons convention is not imposed on the region, because our ally, Israel, would be subjected to it. And I think those are some of the main points of his address. 

NOAM CHOMSKY: The appropriate response would be to call for imposing the chemical weapons convention in the Middle East—in fact beyond, but we’ll keep to the Middle East—which would mean that any country that is in violation of that convention, whether it has accepted it or not, would be compelled to eliminate its chemical weapons stores. Just maintaining those stores, producing chemical weapons, all of that’s in violation of the convention, and now is a perfect opportunity to do that. Of course, that would require that U.S. ally Israel give up its chemical weapons and permit international inspections. Incidentally, this should extend to nuclear weapons, as well. […]

The United States is a violent military state. It’s been involved in military action all over the place. It invaded South Vietnam, practically destroyed Indochina, invaded Iraq, elicited a Sunni-Shia conflict, which is now tearing the region to shreds. I don’t have to run through the rest of the record. But the United States moves very quickly to military action, unilaterally. It can—sometimes can get some allies to go along. In this case, it can’t even do that. And it’s just a routine. The United States is self-immunized from international law, which bans the threat or use of force. And this is taken for granted here. So, for example, when President Obama repeatedly says all options are open with regard to Iran, that’s a violation of fundamental international law. It says we are using the threat of force, in violation of international law, to which we are self-immunized. There’s nothing new about this. Can you think of any other country that’s used military force internationally on anything remotely like the scale of the United States during these seven decades when, according to Obama, we’ve been the anchor of global security?

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

That there are many still determined to push for strong military action is clear enough. That those pushing most aggressively to ensure such direct intervention include the US and Israeli administrations (not to mention our own less significant warmongers and others especially in the French government) is also obvious. However, with their urgent plans for war significantly stymied by this latest Russian initiative, the danger unfortunately shifts again. For instance, what would happen if the next target for a chemical attack was Israel?

The following is taken from an article published by Russia Today, claiming that multiple sources have confirmed plans for just such a chemical attack on Israel:

A chemical attack may be launched on Israel by Syrian rebels from government-controlled territories as a “major provocation,” multiple sources told RT.

The report comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed that Syria puts its chemical weapons arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction in order to prevent a possible military strike against the war-torn country.

Obviously many will dismiss this story as propaganda – pointing out that Russia Today is a state-controlled broadcaster, and perhaps trusting only in stories which are first given credence by our own state-controlled BBC. And, hopefully, it is indeed pure propaganda… for what will we think in the event that Israel is subjected to an attack of precisely this kind?

Do we automatically rally to support Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Assad, and the further calls for a major offensive by America and its allies, even in the knowledge that Israel has already targeted Syria with numerous air strikes during this conflict and that the Syrian government has made no reprisals until now? Or do we ask the question yet again: cui bono? Since if Israel is hit by a chemical attack then what on earth would Assad have to gain from it? So I suggest that we consider these questions carefully and now, in order that we might have some better answers in the event of such a tragedy.

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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.

*

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.

*

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:

*

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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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.

*

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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