Tag Archives: Islamic State (aka DAESH; IS; ISIS & ISIL)

wanted: dead or alive — how we abandoned justice and came to love shoot-to-kill

Shortly after the 9/11 atrocity, President Bush appeared on CNN and issued the following statement:

Osama Bin Laden is just one person. He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we understand, and we will not allow them to do so… I want justice, and there’s an old poster out West that as I recall said ‘Wanted: dead or alive’.”

Sixteen years have passed since Osama Bin Laden was hunted down, but the war without end initiated under Bush grinds on of course. In those sixteen years, the small pockets of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan expanded into Iraq, Libya, Syria and well beyond. They have since splintered multiple times and been rebranded.

Daesh is the latest and reportedly most obscene of those Salafist offshoots. This is in part because its atrocities – that is, the ones it claims for itself – are routine and strike at the heart of our own cities. Like the wars that first spread the plague of ‘Islamism’, we are told that this sickness is something we have to live with forever.

In reality, of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. So consider this:

The U.S. government has prosecuted more than 800 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never committed an act of violence.

This eye-opening fact is taken from a brilliant recent article by investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson published by The Intercept. In it Aaronson relates in scrupulous detail the tragic tale of a young man called Arlem Suarez. Suarez, who had always lived at home with his mother and very likely suffers from brain damage, has just received a life sentence for his role in an ISIS plot. Except it wasn’t an ISIS plot, but one entirely concocted as an FBI sting.

As this sorry tale unfolds we learn about how Suarez was deliberately and persistently strung along by FBI ‘informants’ who at one point helped him to make a jihadi video (hilarious if it wasn’t so sad) and also encouraged him to procure items for a bomb. It is perfectly evident from the transcripts that for Suarez his ordeal starts out as a game – he is really not very smart – and indeed, as the game becomes increasingly scary, he attempts to back out, repeated times in fact. But the FBI simply won’t let go (they have invested time and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in their entrapment operation) and as Suarez frets about the danger facing his mother if he lets ‘his brothers’ down, the FBI lead him to a pick-up point and hand him a fake bomb.

As Aaronson writes:

The jury didn’t accept Suarez’s excuses and convicted him on February 1. U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, gave Suarez the maximum punishment: life in prison.

Suarez’s sentence is indicative of the increasingly harsh punishment ISIS defendants caught up in FBI stings are now facing in federal courts. While federal judges rarely gave life sentences to sting targets allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and other groups — the Fort Dix Five being a notable exception — Suarez is one of two ISIS defendants to receive a life sentence in the last year.

In each of these ISIS cases, the other being Justin Nojan Sullivan, the FBI provided the weapons in the supposed plots. Since Suarez was arrested after taking custody of the fake bomb, there’s no way of knowing with certainty what he would have done with it. 1

Click here to read Trevor Aaronson’s full account which includes an embedded video showing Suarez hapless attempt at making his jihadi video with the FBI on hand to help.

And here to read an earlier post about the FBI ‘terror’ factory entitled “the tragic tale of Sami Osmakac – or how the FBI creates a terrorist patsy” posted in 2015.

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The latest acts of senseless violence (this time in Catalonia)

Spanish police on Monday shot dead an Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van in Barcelona last week, ending a five-day manhunt for the perpetrator of Spain’s deadliest attack in over a decade.

Police said they tracked 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub to a rural area near Barcelona and shot him after he held up what looked like an explosives belt and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). The bomb squad used a robot to approach his body.

So begins a report published by Reuters on August 21st, the day of the killing of suspected van driver of the horrific Barcelona attack, the alleged perpetrator in the latest of so many terrorist atrocities. The same article continues:

“Shortly before 5 p.m., the police shot down Younes Abouyaaqoub, the driver of the van in the attack that killed 14 people in Barcelona,” Carles Puigdemont, head of the Catalonia regional government, told a news conference. He said the bomb belt turned out to be a fake one. 2

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

Being dead, Reuters and other media outlets saw fit to omit the word “alleged” or “suspected” (as I have properly inserted above) from their account of the actions of Younes Abouyaaqoub. This Moroccan with his suspiciously exotic name is the “Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van”, even whilst support for this otherwise as then unsubstantiated accusation is founded on the wholly circumstantial evidence of remarks reportedly made by unnamed “relatives”:

“The van driver, Abouyaaqoub, began showing more religiously conservative behaviour over the past year, said relatives in his native Morocco. He refused to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in March, they said.”

I find this eerily reminiscent of a scene in Albert Camus’ famous novel L’Étranger (trans: The Outsider) in which the title character, a French Algerian called Meursault, is put on trial for the murder of an Arab man. The facts of the case are clear and Meursault is indeed guilty of shooting the Arab, but at his trial the prosecutor is far more interested in directing the jury to consider Meursault’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral, than over details of the case. Eyewitnesses said he hadn’t cried apparently. As Camus writes:

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. 3

Younes Abouyaaqoub was killed four days after the attacks in a town 30 miles away from Barcelona, and the story of his escape is a complicated one. It is since reported that CCTV images captured the moment his white Fiat van came to halt on the famous Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas. Abouyaaqoub immediately got out of the van, put on his sunglasses, and continued on foot. He then walked for about an hour and a half finally reaching the Universitaria district in the north of the city where he allegedly murdered another victim, Pau Pérez, a Spanish vineyard worker, who was parking his Ford Focus. With Pérez’s body on the back seat of the car, Abouyaaqoub then rammed his getaway vehicle through a police barricade leaving one officer injured and evaded capture a second time. This occurred two hours after the van attack.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother El Houssaine and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hychami were also among the list of other suspects shot dead by police. They were three of five involved in a second incident when a different van was driven through a crowd of pedestrians at nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others. All five men were believed to have been members of a terrorist cell comprised of twelve members in total – four have been arrested (more in a moment).

This cell is said to have been led by a shady imam by the name of Abdelbaki Es Satty. It was first thought that Es Satty, a convicted drug trafficker, vanished shortly before the twin van attacks, however, suspicion soon arose that instead he had been blown up the night before the Catalonia attacks when the cell’s bomb-making factory accidently exploded. Since confirmed dead, Es Satty, the alleged ringleader, was well-known to both the security services and the police:

Es Satty appears to be the only one of the suspects whose name had already crossed the radar of the police. He was jailed in Castellón in Valencia in 2010 for smuggling cannabis, and released in 2014. It is reported that while in prison he met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 dead and about 2,000 people wounded.

More significantly, his name also appears in a report that was compiled after five men were arrested south of Barcelona, in Vilanova i la Geltrú, on charges of recruiting young men to fight in Iraq.

The imam also spent three months in Belgium before the Brussels attacks, it has emerged. The mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte, told local TV that Es Satty was in the Belgian town between January and March 2016.

The assaults on Brussels airport and a Metro station killed 32 people in March last year. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Es Satty is thought to have travelled to Belgium frequently, but he was never an official resident. Immigration and asylum minister Theo Francken said he was unknown to the foreigners’ registration service. “He has never requested or received a Belgian residence permit,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of course, he could have been in Belgium, but the immigration office has no record of him.” 4

There are so many parts of this story that appear to be missing or unexplained. Most glaring is how did this bomb-making factory with its hundreds of gas canisters not arouse greater suspicion? Also why did the authorities not react sooner after it exploded on the night before the van attacks? Although surely the most salient question is how the disreputable imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, another “known wolf”, manages to slip the security services time and again? Then lastly, why have Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla, two of the four suspects originally detained by police, since been quietly released?

A Spanish High Court judge on Thursday ordered another one of the four suspects arrested over twin attacks in Catalonia last week, Salh El Karib, to be freed on certain conditions, according to a court source. […]

El Karib will have to hand over his passport and check into court every week. The judge decided that there was not enough evidence to keep El Karib in custody, the court source said.

… Mohamed Aalla, was also released on certain conditions earlier this week while two others were remanded on charges of membership of a terrorist group and murder. 5

Could it be that there is insufficient evidence to convict the two men? Or that the available evidence, were it ever to come to light, would raise uncomfortable questions about the role played by the security services? More properly, in any case, we should insist that Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla are presumed innocent – the presumption of innocence was once the “golden thread of justice”. Alarmingly, the presumption of innocence no longer applies in cases of this kind.

Remarkably few of the alleged perpetrators of this post-9/11 spate of terrorist attacks carried out across Europe have actually been found guilty for the simple fact that they died before capture. Many of the earlier incidents were of course suicide attacks (or allegedly so) but countless others have been shot dead by police before they were able to provide testimony. There is even a convenient euphemism that helps turn reality on its head – “suicide by police”.

With no day in court, there can only be a trial by the media. Meanwhile, we have been habituated to accept the adopted though seldom discussed shoot-to-kill policy, when besides the blatant issue of human rights violations, lessons drawn from recent history ought to be cautionary.

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Lest we forget

“British justice must be in tatters after today. It’s not as if the evidence wasn’t there. The evidence had been there all the time… they had us picked out, they told us that… We were made scapegoats to appease the public and it’s been connived with right up to the very highest of levels because what they did to us, and the amount of people that’s in it, it couldn’t have been done without the help and connivance of people in high places.” 6

These are the impassioned words of Paddy Hill spoken at a press conference shortly after his release from prison in March 1991. Hill was one of a group of men who would come to be known as the Birmingham Six — Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were the others — all wrongly arrested without hours of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974 and falsely sentenced to life imprisonment. Sixteen years later they won their case in the court of appeal in what proved to be a humbling day for British justice. As former Labour MP and campaigner for their release, Chris Mullin, wrote later in his book Error of Judgement, published 1997:

The release of the Birmingham Six was a watershed for British justice. In the months that followed there was a string of further releases. At the time of writing, twenty-seven other people have either had convictions quashed or charges against them dropped after evidence from West Midlands detectives was discredited.

A number of other terrorist convictions also collapsed. In July, 1991, Mrs. Annie Maguire, five members of her family and a friend who had been convicted of making bombs had their convictions quashed. In June, 1992, the Appeal Court quashed the conviction of Judith Ward, then in the nineteenth year of a thirty-year sentence for the M62 coach bombing. The judgement was a damning indictment of the police officers, forensic scientists and Crown layers responsible for the conviction. Judith Ward’s release brought to eighteen the number of innocent people wrongly convicted of terrorist offences committed in 1974. Of these, ten would certainly have been hanged had the death penalty still been in force. So, too, would at least one of the three people wrongly convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock during a riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. Their convictions were quashed in November, 1991, amid a great deal of official wailing and gnashing of teeth. The case made legal history. For the first time anyone could recall, a British judge apologised.

Not only the Maguire Seven, but also the better remembered Guildford Four — Paul Michael Hill, Gerard Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson — also had their verdicts quashed in the months following the acquittal of the Birmingham Six. Besides the lack of evidence, it wasn’t even true to say the members of the Guildford Four fitted the profile of an IRA terrorist. Carole Richardson was an Englishwoman who lived in a squat. Yet in spite of such bizarre incongruities, rumours persisted long after their release. Here’s Mullin again:

A whispering campaign started from the moment the first convictions were quashed. It could be heard wherever two or three lawyers or police officers were gathered. The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Mrs. Maguire and her family are all guilty, it said. They were released on a technicality. Okay, maybe the forensic scientists souped up the evidence a little. Maybe the police cut a few corners, but everyone is guilty so there is nothing to worry about, nothing for which to apologise. It is a tribute to our capacity for self-delusion that there is scarcely a policeman or a judge in the country who does not believe this falsehood.

He continues:

At Blackpool 2,000 delegates of the Police Federation, meeting for their annual conference, received the news with a standing ovation. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph caught the new mood.

“Until now the received view of the Guildford Four … is that they were all innocent victims of a scandalous miscarriage of justice who spent many years in jail for crimes they did not commit. The acquittal of the three ex-policemen, and some of the new evidence heard in the course of their Old Bailey trial, suggests that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that two of the Guildford Four, Mr. Patrick Armstrong and Mr. Gerry Conlon, might have been guilty after all. This raises the disturbing possibility that the real miscarriage of justice in their case occurred when they walked free.”

There was, of course, no new evidence. The Guildford Four were convicted on the basis of confessions in police custody and nothing of any significance has since emerged. 7

Had police on the British mainland been operating a shoot-to-kill policy (as was the case in Northern Ireland 8) the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and many others might all have been gunned down in cold blood. Had this happened we would in all probability still not know the truth today.

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Mistakes were made…

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks current Brexit Secretary and former shadow Home Secretary David Davis published an article in the Guardian in which he wrote:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi [aka “Jihadi John”] after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

I reprinted these paragraphs in an earlier article on the subject, adding further names to Davis’ long list of examples of “known wolves”:

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s [subjects of interest], people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home. Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks. And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry.

A complete list indeed goes on and on and on… and please note that all the above cases have been referenced with footnotes in my original article entitled “another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

With the accused, including so many of those listed, killed during pursuit, not only is uncertainty left hanging over their own guilt, but in cases such as those above, it leaves us with questions about the role played by the security services who had kept them under close surveillance. The truth dies with them.

Zakaria Boufassil is someone who has been convicted for his role in Islamist terrorism. Last December both he and accomplice Mohammed Ali Ahmed were sentenced and jailed for handling money supplied to Mohamed Abrini who was an alleged perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attacks and also believed to be the so-called “man in the hat” filmed at the Brussels airport prior to the March 22nd bombing. Abrini, who was charged in January for his role in the Paris attacks, was (once again) known to security services 9. He is yet to face trial. However, this is what defending barrister, Dorian Lovell-Pank QC said during the Boufassil trial:

“In Zakaria’s eyes, he feels he was effectively picked up by MI5 and was pumped and dumped.

“He found himself approached by the security service and he was reluctant at first, then more gradually, he told them what he knew about Abrini and the meeting in the park.

“He was told by MI5 he wasn’t in any trouble and was told they were interested in signing him up or having him on their books.

“He feels he ceased to be of any use to them and he was effectively thrown to the wolves.”

According to the Guardian article (where the statement is reported):

The prosecution said they could “neither confirm nor deny” Boufassil’s claim, which is a standard response from MI5. 10

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him”.

As I wrote previously in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11, we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”, we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

Click here to read my earlier extended post from March 2015.

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Dead or alive

The twenty-first century turned out to be a lot simpler than the twentieth. Its defining image, a projection of Manifest Destiny as recast by the silver screen and the latest video games, is the ‘War on Terror’. In this war, Uncle Sam polices the world, while at home the good guys inside our security services work tirelessly to stop the bad guys as they connect to Daesh via the portal of the dark web. Marked out crisply in sharp lines of black and white, news bulletins provide a daily insight into this ongoing Manichaean battle between good and evil.

Bush told us that Osama Bin Laden was “Wanted: dead or alive” and dead was precisely how the world’s most wanted man eventually turned up – gunned down in Pakistan, if we accept the only available accounts. So instead of facing extradition and trial for his terrorist murder spree, the official story tells us that a team of United States Navy SEALs cornered him inside his own ‘compound’ in Abbottabad and dispatched him, then hastily buried the corpse at sea. Few respectable journalists have dared to delve into the strangeness of this tale of derring-do or to challenge the lack of tangible evidence. Why would they?

When veteran journalism Seymour Hersh had the temerity to take issue with a few minor details of the official story surrounding which agencies knew what and when, even he was not immune to mainstream opprobrium. Perhaps he would have done better just to stick by his statement made during an interview with the Guardian that the whole story was “one big lie, not one word of it is true”. 11

This wasn’t always so. In the past not all journalists in the mainstream media were so “pathetic” (Hersh’s word). For instance, back in 1988 ITV was brave enough to produce and broadcast a hugely controversial episode of their current affairs documentary series This Week entitled “Death on the Rock” that took to task the official British government account of the shooting of three members of the IRA at a filling station in Gibraltar.

Here’s a quick review of the case. The three — Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell — were all known to the authorities and allegedly preparing to detonate a bomb outside the governor’s residence. Under Operation Flavius, plain-clothed SAS soldiers opened fire on the three as they tried to evade capture. The soldiers later testified that they had acted in the belief that the suspects were reaching for weapons or a remote detonator, although it afterwards transpired that none of the three were armed and no explosives were discovered in their car. The official account was also refuted by eyewitnesses who said the three were shot without warning and with their hands up. Sound familiar?

The fallout is revealing however: although programme-makers were instantly castigated by the Thatcher government and the usual attack dogs writing for the tabloids decried this “trial by television”, the programme went on to win a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Single Documentary Award (1989) 12 from the Broadcasting Press Guild. That said, the broadcast is also “widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority [IBA]”. 13 Another repercussion was that programme-maker Thames Television lost its franchise; almost certainly in an act of revenge. Heightened political censorship is one of the many forgotten the legacies of Thatcher’s reign in office.

In only three decades all this has been turned absolutely upside-down. In today’s world shoot-to-kill – that rightly reviled criminal policy once synonymous with British forces and the RUC in Northern Ireland – has become the norm across the continent and no-one bats an eyelid. This is especially so now that, unaccountably, fake suicide vests are the de rigueur terrorist apparel. And why would a real terrorist bother to fake a suicide vest? It isn’t proper to ask apparently. This is the other side of the reversal we have seen: today no ‘serious journalist’ ever asks the awkward questions.

As the ‘War on Terror’ has exported terror and terrorism (the two are significantly different) and more widespread human rights abuses (for example inside the many CIA ‘black sites’), it has likewise paved the way for a tightening surveillance state and the trampling of civil liberties at home. But as with much else that is done in the name of preventing ‘terror’, the policy of shoot-to-kill is being introduced more insidiously. In strict legal terms nothing has changed; it is the spirit of the law that is being flouted and undermined.

After each fresh terrorist atrocity, retribution is swiftly delivered. And though this reversion to frontier justice is a subversion of the rule of law, as with the proverbial boiling frog in the pot, if you turn the heat up fairly gradually it won’t ever notice being cooked alive. Is there really any better way of destroying our lasting freedoms – the ones so detested by the ‘Islamists’ – than this?

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1 From an article entitled “The Unlikely Jihadi” written by Trevor Aaronson, published in The Intercept on September 3, 2017. https://theintercept.com/2017/09/03/the-fbi-pressured-a-lonely-young-man-into-a-bomb-plot-he-tried-to-back-out-now-hes-serving-life-in-prison/

2 From an article entitled “Spanish police track down, shoot dead Barcelona attacker” written by Angus Berwick, published in Reuters on August 21, 2017. https://in.reuters.com/article/spain-security-idINKCN1B10JQ

3 Written by Albert Camus in January 1955. Quoted in Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice by David Carroll, published by Columbia University Press. p. 27.

4 From an article entitled “Spanish police focus on Ripoll imam who vanished before terror attacks” written by Stephen Burgen, Jonathan Watts, Ian Cobain and Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on August 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/ripoll-the-small-town-home-to-the-barcelona-and-cambrils-attackers

5 From an article entitled “Second of four men arrested over Catalonia attacks released: source” published by Reuters on August 24, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-security-suspect/second-of-four-men-arrested-over-catalonia-attacks-released-source-idUSKCN1B41GQ

6 You can listen to Paddy Hill’s full statement here: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0314/774696-birmingham-six-released/

7 From “Error Of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings” written by Chris Mullin, published on March 13, 1997. Read more on his website here:  http://www.chrismullinexmp.com/recent-articles/error-of-judgement

8

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain has a case to answer in relation to allegations of an “illegal shoot-to-kill” policy in Northern Ireland.

From an article entitled “‘Shoot-to-kill’ case gets go-ahead” published by BBC news on April 5, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/702920.stm

9

Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Mr Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He was known to security services for belonging to the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

From an article entitled “Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini charged over Paris attacks, say French lawyers” written by Chris Stevenson, published in The Independent on January 30, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/mohamed-abrini-brussels-bombing-paris-attacks-france-belgium-killings-isis-islamic-state-french-a7552741.html

10 From an article entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him” written by Jamie Grierson and Duncan Gardham, published in the Guardian on December 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/12/convicted-terrorist-says-mi5-pumped-and-dumped-him

11

Don’t even get him [Hersh] started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011 [see footnote].

From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” written by Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on September 27, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

The footnote reads:

Hersh has pointed out that he was in no way suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not killed in Pakistan, as reported, upon the president’s authority: he was saying that it was in the aftermath that the lying began. Finally, the interview took place in the month of July, 2013.

12 http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/bpg-awards/1989-3/

13

1988 Government relations turn frigid when Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, which produces evidence to show three unarmed IRA terrorists had been shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Asked if she is furious Thatcher replies “deeper than that”. This is widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had a responsibility for what was broadcast.

From a Timeline entitled “How ITV got where it is today” written by Maggie Brown, published in the Guardian on March 4, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/04/how-itv-got-where-it-is-today

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, Spain, USA

John Pilger asks what the PM knew in the lead up to the Manchester atrocity

Prologue:

1. Suppression of ‘sensitive’ government report

An investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.

The inquiry commissioned by David Cameron, was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Isis into Syria.

But although it was due to be published in the spring of 2016, it has not been completed and may never be made public due to its “sensitive” contents.[…]

It comes after Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested during a leadership debate, that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are good for industry.

The Government has recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and a stream of British ministers have visited the kingdom to solicit trade, despite its ongoing involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.

Click here to read the full article published by The Independent entitled “Home Office may not publish terrorist funding report amid claims it focuses on Saudi Arabia” on June 1st.

And here to read more in a related article published by the Guardian.

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2. Nicholas Wilson tries to speak about arms sales to Saudi Arabia

At a hustings in Rye on 3 June, where I am standing as an independent anti-corruption parliamentary candidate, a question was asked about law & order. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in answering it referred to the Manchester terrorist attack. I took up the theme and referred to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia & HSBC business there. She spoke to and handed a note to the chairman who removed the mic from me.

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The following are extended extracts drawn from the opening and closing sections of an article published on June 1st by investigative journalist John Pilger – I very much encourage readers to follow links to the full article.

Pilger begins:

The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.

Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”.

The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years.

The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.

The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.

Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May?

These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology. […]

In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys”.  Implacably opposed to Mu’ammar Gadaffi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gadaffi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.

Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.

On Saturday 3rd, John Pilger discussed with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s ‘Going Underground’ the close ties between British intelligence and the LIFG jihadists, and how the Manchester atrocity was an avoidable product of UK foreign policy:

Pilger concludes:

The Manchester atrocity on 22 May was the product of such unrelenting state violence in faraway places, much of it British sponsored. The lives and names of the victims are almost never known to us.

This truth struggles to be heard, just as it struggled to be heard when the London Underground was bombed on July 7, 2005. Occasionally, a member of the public would break the silence, such as the east Londoner who walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. “Iraq!” he said. “We invaded Iraq. What did we expect? Go on, say it.”

At a large media gathering I attended, many of the important guests uttered “Iraq” and “Blair” as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly.

Yet, before he invaded Iraq, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “the threat from al-Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq… The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly”.

Just as Blair brought home to Britain the violence of his and George W Bush’s blood-soaked “shit show” [Barack Obama’s description of Cameron’s role in Libya], so David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, compounded his crime in Libya and its horrific aftermath, including those killed and maimed in Manchester Arena on 22 May.

The spin is back, not surprisingly. Salman Abedi acted alone. He was a petty criminal, no more. The extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.

Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?

In the current election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a guarded reference to a “war on terror that has failed”. As he knows, it was never a war on terror but a war of conquest and subjugation. Palestine. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Iran is said to be next. Before there is another Manchester, who will have the courage to say that?

The same article was republished by Counterpunch here.

John Pilger had also appeared on ‘Going Underground’ on May 24th when he spoke about the Manchester bombing, Saudi Arabia, Trump and wikileaks:

For further links and information, I also recommend an article written by Max Blumenthal published in Alternet subtitled “How the U.S. and the U.K. helped bring jihadists like Salem Abedi to Libya and Syria”.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Britain, John Pilger, Libya, Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bold emphasis added]

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

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

Click here to read more on her blog In Gaza.

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

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

Click here to read more on her blog thewallwillfall.

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Addendum: transcript of US Peace Council speaking at UN

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Widely attributed although unsourced.

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marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

On the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, last night’s BBC Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with a member of a Salafist terrorist faction which a mere forty days prior was officially affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Mostafa Mahamed, puffed up as “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), a rebranding of the al-Qaeda in Syria terrorist faction formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, was afforded uninterrupted airtime to claim that aside from no longer being any part of al-Qaeda, his terrorist militia is “deeply embedded in [Syrian] society and cannot be singled out in any way”. Put another way, he is saying “we are the moderates”.

[Note that: after I posted this article, BBC uploaded the report on the Newsnight youtube channel — I have therefore decided to include it in an update at the end of the article.]

Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of ISIL, soon after renamed ISIS and then DAESH, JFS are just the latest al-Qaeda franchise. Except that once ISIS had splintered from al-Qaeda, they were immediately decried as the terrorist bad boys – the worst of the worst – a portrait that took a little of the heat away from remnant factions of al-Qaeda, including allied ‘rebels’ Jabhat al-Nusra, thereby enabling some in the West to recast them in a comparatively better light. This time, however, JFS – who have been loyal al-Qaeda affiliates until July 28th – are seeking to jettison the terrorist label altogether, albeit with nothing more substantial than a name change:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani in a debut video appearance.

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

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 1

[bold emphasis added]

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

Back on BBC Newsnight, and following on from Mahamed’s more or less untrammelled JFS promo, the same report continued as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Update:

This curtailed version of the Newsnight report was uploaded on Sept 15th with the following notes:

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

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

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

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

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Where is the West’s compassion and condemnation following terror attacks in Middle East?

When other broadcasters were reporting on today’s terrorist bombings in Damascus that killed at least 50 people and injured more than hundred, BBC news at 1:00 pm was devoted instead to tributes to former radio DJ and TV presenter Terry Wogan who died from cancer aged 77.

At five o’clock (shortly before I  began reposting the article below) BBC news was still devoting almost its entire broadcast to tributes and features on Terry Wogan, whilst the victims of the Damascus suicide bombings received only the briefest mention as part of a three or four minute slot which covered the Geneva talks. Then it was back to the tributes. A stark contrast to the media outcry after atrocities are committed on the streets of Western Europe, or whenever similar numbers of innocent victims are murdered in a American shooting.

This is more than hypocrisy, it is propaganda by omission. The silence is calculated and deliberate.

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Where is the West’s compassion & condemnation following terror attacks in Middle East?

Zein Abudllah, 8, injured by shrapnel to his face in the December 12, 2015, triple terrorist bombing in al-Zahra’a, Homs. © Eva Bartlett

Report by Eva Bartlett

Facebook users were not instructed to do so, but may nonetheless wish to change their profile pictures in solidarity with the families and friends of victims of recent terrorist attacks.

A great many of the victims were aspiring university students, others were school teachers, children, infants, parents, and elderly. Their bodies were torn apart in the acts of violence, many unidentifiable.

Most of these innocent victims will go unnamed, their murders obfuscated, or largely unnoticed, in Western media.

Consider the following cycle of carnage:

On November 12, 2015, a double suicide bomb ripped through the Bourj al-Barajneh neighbourhood of southern Beirut, killing 45 and injuring 200 more, many critically so. The terrorists attacked just before 6 pm, on a narrow and crowded residential and commercial street, ensuring maximum loss of life. More would have been murdered had not a local man, Adel Termos, tackled an approaching suicide bomber. Termos lost his life in the blast, but saved countless others with his act of courage.

On December 12, 2015, terrorists car-bombed, then suicide-bombed, the al-Zahra’a neighborhood of Homs, Syria, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring over 50, according to initial reports from Syrian State media (later updates noted 20 dead and over 100 injured). The deaths and destruction from the initial car-bombing—near the Ahli Hospital—was made worse since the terrorists set off their bomb next to a natural gas delivery truck. Later, a terrorist returned to the scene and detonated his explosive vest among rescuers who had come to help the injured.

Site of the terrorist car-bombing on December 12, 2015, in al-Zahra’a, Homs.

This pattern repeated itself on December 28, 2015, in al-Zahra’a, where a car bomb followed by a suicide bomb, killed up to 30 civilians, and injured over 100, according to Syrian state media initial reports. Again, on January 26, terrorists car and suicide bombed al-Zahra’a, killing at least 24 and injuring over 100, many critically-so, according to Syrian state media.

The al-Zahra’a district of Homs had been terror-bombed many times prior to the December 12 attacks, as have other areas of Homs, including the Ekrama district, which suffered a school bombing on October 1, 2014. There, terrorists car and suicide-bombed next to the school, killed 45 people, mostly children and women, according to al-Masdar News. Video footage showed terrified, maimed and dead children being carried away from the school.

The terror attacks are not limited to Homs. Over the past 5 years of this foreign war on Syria, Western-backed militants have committed such acts of terrorism all over Syria. On December 30, 2015, members of Da’esh (ISIS) triple-bombed Qamishli, north-eastern Syria, remote-detonating explosives in three restaurants, killing at least 16 civilians. On January 24, 2016 Da’esh again terror-bombed the city, killing at least three people.

The list of terror attacks in Syria, and neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq, is an endless and long list. Yet, while the vast majority of the victims are civilians, their deaths do not merit the same front-page coverage as similar acts do in the West; the terror attacks do not merit the same statements of condemnation and outpouring of sorrow issued by Western leaders when terrorism strikes elsewhere.

Immense Suffering in Beirut and Homs

I paid a visit to Bourj al-Barajneh and al-Zahara, in November and December 2015, respectively. I witnessed firsthand their narrow roads with their destroyed buildings and homes, which emanated an immense suffering that most Western media glossed over.

The Bourj al-Barajneh tragedy occurred one day before the November 13 attacks in Paris, yet the latter attack on the French capital would make headlines for weeks following; Facebook users changed their profile photos to images of the French flag; world leaders – who were largely silent on Beirut’s tragedy the day prior, as well as the repeated terror attacks in Syria – convened in Paris to march in solidarity with the victims.

Western media’s coverage of the Beirut attack was loaded with sectarian lexicon, essentially relegating those murdered civilians as belonging to a “Hezbollah stronghold” or a “Shia neighborhood,” which to Western readers obscures the fact that – while indeed proudly supportive of Hezbollah – these are everyday humans who have been targeted by terrorism.

The Shia/Sunni Lebanese area is also home to many Christian and Palestinian residents. Visiting in the evening, as when the November 12 attacks occurred, I saw heavy pedestrian, motorcycle and automobile traffic along the narrow streets and lanes that host a number of shops and stalls.

Commercial and residential streets in the Bourj al-Barajneh area of Beirut which was double terror bombed November 12. © Eva Bartlett

At the site of the second explosion, residents had erected a memorial and large poster of Adel Termos, the young man who gave his own life to prevent further loss of lives. On the school door opposite, a photo of a Rawan Awad, a young teacher who was killed in the attacks. A local woman pointed to second-story windows, telling me, “the blood reached the windows up there, flesh, too. The blast was huge.” It was said to be the biggest explosion in Beirut for years.

Along the memorial were photos of other victims of these terror attacks: elderly, children, young men and women, victims of Western-backed terror and Western hypocrisy. Their lives didn’t merit worldwide sorrow and solidarity.

Adel Termos, the hero who prevented further loss of lives.

Je Suis… Blind and Deaf

The sting that the Lebanese people felt when the world’s attention was focused on Paris, the day after the massacre in Beirut, is a sting that Syrians have known deeply over the past five years.

Take the example of Homs’ al-Zahra’a. Any Western media reporting that does cover the repeated terrorist bombings of the neighborhood does so in sectarian and biased lexicon.

The neighbourhood is described as: “an Alawite” area; a “government-held” area (AP).

But it is not described in terms of its reality, a district comprising a majority of Alawis, but also significant numbers of Christians, Sunnis, and Shia, many of whom are Internally Displaced Syrians who have moved to this “government held” area after fleeing the terrorists’ violence in their own home areas of Aleppo, Idlib, and elsewhere.

The depiction of al-Zahra’a merely as “an Alawite” district is in line with the NATO alliance’s sectarian project in Syria, a sectarianism which the vast majority of Syrians continue to refuse. Depicting al-Zahra’a merely as a “government held” area feeds into the Western narrative of obfuscating on the vast amount of support for the Syrian president, and further confuses readers as to the civilian suffering at each terrorist attack in al-Zahra’a.

This human suffering I saw on a December 15, 2015 visit to the neighbourhood, meeting with family members of the dead.

On the second story of what was the shell of his home, teenager Yousef Abdullah walked me through the ruins of the three story home housing two families, outside of which the car bombing had occurred just days prior. It was he who carried out the body of his 17 year old cousin, Caroline, crushed under rubble on the ground level.

The small clothing shop on ground level belonged to Anaya Abbas, a 50, killed in the bombing. Her son, Alaa al-Hamwi, had only days prior returned to see his family. One of the Syrian soldiers defending the Kuweires airbase against terrorist attacks, the al-Hamwi family suffered doubly, from worry over their long absent son, and now from the murder of Anaya Abbas.

Visiting al-Zahra’a one sees a vividly different face, a tormented face, than that which the corporate media allows. Many human stories abound, if journalists care to convey them. The sad hypocrisy is that when terrorist attacks occur on Western soil, these human stories are conveyed, ad nauseam.

Homes opposite the terrorist car bombing blast in al-Zahra’a, Homs © Eva Bartlett

UN Selective on Terrorism

Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry has repeatedly issued letters to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requesting that such acts of terrorism in Syria be officially condemned, and that action be taken against those states supporting, financing, and enabling terrorism in Syria, namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The letters specify that the terrorism being committed in Syria is not only by Da’esh (ISIS) but also by other terrorist groups, including “Jebhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Islam, al-Jabha al-Islamiya, Jaish al-Fateh, Ahrar al-Cham,” and the so-called “Free Syrian Army”.

These letters are routinely ignored by UNSC and the Secretary-General, although they are based on the tenets of UN resolutions pertaining to terrorism.

In its latest letters, following the January 24, 2016 terror-bombings in al-Zahra’a, the Ministry noted the significance of their timing with respect to the upcoming Geneva talks.

Following the December 12, 2015 attacks, the Syrian Ministry sent their standard letters, requesting condemnation of the terrorism. The request was supported by Russia, with their own draft statement, which was rejected at the UNSC.

In the Face of Terror… You’re on Your Own

When the majority of the above-listed terror bombings have been claimed by Da’esh (ISIS), whom the West claims to be fighting, the glaring lack of condemnation of the Homs bombings, and the one-off condemnation of the Beirut bombings, reveals again the blatant hypocrisy of Western leaders.

In his November 13, 2015 address, President Obama, unsurprisingly, made no mention of either Beirut or Syria’s suffering under western-backed terrorists. Instead he called the Paris situation “heartbreaking” and uttered: “…we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism.”

Not to be outdone, Vice President Biden offered his “deepest condolences” and called the attacks “heartbreaking” “outrageous” and “tragic” and vowed, “We will look out for one another. We will stand together. We will never bow. We will never break. …We will respond. We will overcome. We will endure.”

In his November 21, 2015 address, Biden, in his opening remarks did actually mention the name “Beirut”, and commented, “in the face of terror we stand as one.” Yet, his address focused primarily on Paris—the “simple human acts” carried out by Parisians post Paris attack—and made no other mention of Beirut, nor the “simple human acts” carried out there. Like Beirut residents rushing to donate blood, post-attacks, for example.

Rather than addressing Beirut’s humanity, or even deigning to mention terror attacks carried out on Syrians throughout Syria, Biden used the rest of his address to talk about Syrian refugees and the “rigorous screening”, “fingerprinting” and background checks refugees go through to enter the US. In other words, he used his platform to negate true suffering in Syria, and instead subtly indoctrinate his audience into equating Syrians with terrorism.

Obama issued a proclamation “Honoring the Victims of the Attack in Paris” on November 15, 2015, ordering the US flag to be flown “at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts,”… and so on.

In a search of the Whitehouse.gov website, using key terms like: “Bourj Barajneh”, “Burj al-Barajneh”, “Beirut”, “Zahra”, “Zahraa”, “Homs” + bombing, I came up with just one match, aside from the above-mentioned November 21VP Biden’s uttering of the name “Beirut” before his ode to Paris.

The entry was a Statement by NSC Spokesperson Ned Price, on the day of the Bourj al-Barajneh attacks. Neither Obama, nor Biden, deigned to personally make this statement.

One paragraph, the statement “condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific terrorist attacks in Beirut, Lebanon that killed dozens and wounded hundreds more. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and other loved ones of those killed and injured in this violence. The United States will stand firm with the Government of Lebanon as it works to bring those responsible for this attack to justice….”

Compare the fiery rhetoric in the Paris statements with this meek Beirut statement. Little sorrow was expressed, nor unwavering solidarity, nor “fighting against extremism.”

Such is Western hypocrisy towards those murdered by Western-supported death squads.

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Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist who has lived in the Gaza Strip since late 2008. She was aboard the Dignity, one of five Free Gaza missions to successfully sail to the Strip in 2008. Eva rode in ambulances during the 2008/2009 Israeli attacks on Gaza, and documented from a central Gaza hospital during the November 2012 Israeli attacks. She has worked extensively with Gaza’s fishermen and farmers, accompanying them as they come under fire from the Israeli army. She keeps a blog In Gaza. This report was also published by Russia Today on Jan 30, 2016.

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Last week Eva Bartlett did an interview with Brendan Stone on his programme, Unusual Sources. Their introduction:

“Guest: Eva Bartlett, Canadian journalist, who has visited Syria four times in the past three years.

Mainstream media reporting and NGO social-media posts about starvation in the Syrian village of Madaya are designed to elicit an emotional response and build support for military intervention in Syria. Reality on the ground there, and elsewhere in Syria is ignored.

Agitation about Madaya is propaganda in its purest form – telling part of the truth in order to obscure a larger picture. Falsehoods were definitely spread about Madaya, and citizens in the West need to start asking questions about the stories and reporting surrounding Madaya and other Syrian villages. That is, if we are serious about breaking the cycle of war propaganda justifying intervention in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.”

Listen HERE

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

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

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

more lies, more war: plus ça change…

Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:

Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1

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The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2

As reported by the Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.

Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).

Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”

Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.

In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3

Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.

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I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.

International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.

To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.

Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!

And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.

It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.

ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.

Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate  habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.

For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.

Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.

The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”.  Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.

Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.

When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.

It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.

Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.

And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.

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Additional:

In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:

Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

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Update:

On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:

Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’  Here’s what Kerry said:

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”

There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”

The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?

No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?

Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:

Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:

“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”

Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:

“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”

In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….

Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a  ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:

It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.

Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.

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1

Read more here: http://nsnbc.me/2013/06/16/dumas-top-british-officials-confessed-to-syria-war-plans-two-years-before-arab-spring/  

2 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

3 From an article entitled “Chancellor George Osborne says UK has ‘got its mojo back’ with air strikes” written by Iain Macwhirter, published in Herald Scotland on December 8, 2015. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14129765.Osborne__UK_has__got_its_mojo_back__with_air_strikes/

4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:

When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Further proof is available from the White House archives: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030324-4.html

5 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.

Cockburn writes:

Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-lies-damn-lies-and-reports-of-battlefield-atrocities-2299701.html

Sadly, al-Jazeera was not the only news outlet presenting similarly unsubstantiated rumours as truth. You can read a further analysis here: http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/08/26/lies-war-and-empire-nato%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Chumanitarian-imperialism%E2%80%9D-in-libya/ 

7 In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:

Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.

http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-146-2012/?searchterm=noam%20chomsky

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray, Iraq, John Pilger, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Saudi Arabia, Syria

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

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

So are four out of every five Syrians mistaken…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flynn replies [from 9:35 mins]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flynn: I think the administration.

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

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

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

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

[The transcript above is mine.]

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding:

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

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article.

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Time Magazine, December 19, 2006:

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters, April 18. 2011:

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

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

Reuters, July 20, 2012:

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

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

Sydney Morning Herald, September 11, 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Insider, October 9, 2012:

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

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

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

Vice Presidential Debate, October 11, 2012:

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

US Vice President Joe Biden:

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

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

New York Times, October 14, 2012:

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

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

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

McClatchy, December 2, 2012:

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

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

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

The Guardian, March 8, 2013:

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

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

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

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

Reuters, March 10, 2013:

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

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

New York Times, April 20, 2013:

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

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

New York Times, April 27, 2013:

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

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

BBC News, May 6, 2013:

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

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

Washington Times, May 6, 2013:

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

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

The Guardian, May 8, 2013:                                             

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters, June 19, 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013:

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

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

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

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

The Telegraph, August 2, 2013:

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

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

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

The Independent, August 27, 2013:

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

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

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

Washington Post, September 11, 2013:

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

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

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

Foreign Affairs (CFR), January 23, 2014:

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

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

New York Times, January 28, 2014:

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

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

The Independent, April 2, 2014:

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

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

The Telegraph, June 25, 2014:

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

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

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

Washington Post, June 26, 2014:

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

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

Brookings Institute, September/October 2014 Issue:

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

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

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

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

Recruiting Syrian army personnel would be the first task.

Bloomberg, September 25, 2014:

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

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

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

Washington Post, October 6, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brookings Institute, November 7, 2014:

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

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

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

The Telegraph, February 17, 2015:

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

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

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

The Independent, February 17, 2015:

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

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

Foreign Affairs (CFR), March 9, 2015:

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

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

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

The Guardian, June 1 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian, June 3, 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters, June 22, 2015:

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

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

Brookings Institute, June 23, 2015:

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

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

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

Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2015:

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

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

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

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

New York Times, August 25, 2015:

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

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

*

ii) Timeline for the Gulf States from 2012

Saudi Gazette, February 11, 2012:

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

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

The Independent, February 23, 2012:

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

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

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

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

CNN, February 23, 2012:

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

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

Al-Arabiya News, February 27, 2012:

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

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

Washington Post, May 15, 2012:

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

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

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

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

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

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

Huffington Post, September 21, 2012:

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

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

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

Washington Post, June 15, 2013:

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

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

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

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

The Telegraph, June 19, 2013:

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

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

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

Brookings Institute, December 2013:

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

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

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

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

Haaretz, February 24, 2014:

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

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

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

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

Reuters, March 9. 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times, March 24, 2014:

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

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

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

Raw Story, August 20, 2014:

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

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

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

BBC news, September 1, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

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

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

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

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

Reuters, March 4, 2015:

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

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

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

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

BBC News, March 6, 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

*

iii) Timeline for Turkey from 2011

The Telegraph, November 27, 2011:

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

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

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

[bold emphasis as original]

New York Times, June 21, 2012:

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

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

The Telegraph, July 12, 2012:

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

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

Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2012:

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

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

The Globe and Mail, August 2, 2012:

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

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

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

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

The Times, September 14, 2012:

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

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

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

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

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

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

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

Reuters, December 7, 2012:

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

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

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

Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2014:

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

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

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

Washington Post, August 12, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian, October 4, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huffington Post, August 19, 2015:

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

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

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

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

*

Timeline for Israel from 2007

McClatchy, October 7, 2007:

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

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

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

BBC news, April 23, 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bold emphasis as original]

BBC news, May 21, 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bold emphasis as original]

Haaretz, May 9, 2010:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times of Israel, July 1, 2013:

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

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

The Jewish Press, February 24, 2014:

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

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

Haaretz, March 16, 2014:

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

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

The Times of Israel, August 13, 2014:

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

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

Haaretz, December 7, 2014:

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

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

The Guardian, December 7, 2014:

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

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

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

The Times of Israel, June 29, 2015:

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

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

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

*

Update:

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

Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

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

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE, USA

the sole difference between me and an extremist is that I’m not extreme

Before reading my own thoughts on Cameron’s latest “anti-terror” initiative, I very much encourage readers to follow the link to read Nafeez Ahmed’s “Open Letter to Britain’s Violent Extremist” which begins as follows:

It is with deep disappointment that I read excerpts of your speech provided by Downing Street to the press, purporting to set out a five-year strategy to tackle fundamentalist terrorism, which — whatever its intentions — is thoroughly misguided, and destined to plunge this country, as well as the Middle East, into further chaos and misery.

I am writing this open letter to request you, as a matter of urgency, to abide by your obligations as a human being, a British citizen, a Member of Parliament, and as our Prime Minister: to undertake proper due-diligence in the formulation of Britain’s foreign, counter-terrorism and security policies, based on the vast array of evidence from scientific and academic studies of foreign policy, terrorism and radicalisation, rather than the influence of far-right extremist ideology, and of narrow vested interest groups keen to profit from war and fear. 1

Click here to read the whole of Nafeez Ahmed’s informed and impassioned response to David Cameron.

*

EDOs: a brief introduction

“Theresa May will also announce that the Conservative manifesto will contain pledges to introduce banning orders for extremist groups and extremism disruption orders for extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws.” Conservative briefing note.

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. [bold highlight as original]

That comes from a Guardian article published nearly a year ago after ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ (EDOs) were first announced by Home Secretary, Theresa May, at the Conservative Party’s Birmingham conference. May had told an enthusiastic audience that they would feature as a central part of the party’s 2015 election manifesto.

The article continues:

So what would an “extremism disruption order” involve? The police will be able to apply to the high court for an order to restrict the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder or even a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or the vague-sounding “threat to the functioning of democracy”. These are very low thresholds. The restrictions would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or in print. Taking part in public protests or speaking at any public event would also be banned.

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

Here is BBC news reporting on May’s announcement on the same day:

Under the Tories’ new proposals, groups that cannot currently be proscribed could be subject to banning orders should ministers “reasonably believe” that they intend to incite religious or racial hatred, to threaten democracy or if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm, either from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.

The granting of a ban, which would be subject to immediate review by the High Court, would make membership or funding of the organisation concerned a criminal offence.

The police would also be given new powers to apply to a court to impose extreme disruption orders on individuals, using the same criteria.

This could result in those targeted being stopped from taking part in public protests, from being present at all in certain public locations, from associating with named people, from using of conventional broadcast media and from “obtaining any position of authority in an institution where they would have influence over vulnerable individuals or children”.

Breach of the restrictions – which would be time limited – would be a criminal offence.

And though as the Guardian was keen to point out, “the Liberal Democrats blocked the plan’s immediate introduction on free speech grounds”, as the BBC added:

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not think some of the measures were sufficiently tough, and called on Mrs May to reintroduce powers to relocate terror suspects to other parts of the country.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Please note that I added the above section with a view to better framing the latest “anti-extremism” initiatives. The post originally opened with the quote from and link to Nafeez Ahmed’s article (as above) directly followed by my own views below.

*

On Monday [July 20th], David Cameron set forth the government’s ‘five-year strategy’ to tackle what he calls the “struggle of our generation”. During a long-winded and propagandistic pep talk, he drilled the nation on our collective need to face up to the threat posed by Islamic extremism:

[Our effort “to confront and defeat this poison”] begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine.

And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.

The real sickness, Cameron informed us throughout, is its subversive and “sick worldview”.  Although in place of “worldview” (the term he returns to six times) he might instead have substituted Weltanschauung – “worldview” in German – a word that has a dreadful history all of its own. A dreadful history that is distressingly pertinent.

For the parallel Cameron tacitly draws between Islamist extremism and Nazism is clear enough, not that Cameron was first to draw it. With the black uniforms, the love of militarism, and the longing to return to the strict social order of a golden age, not to mention such unquenchable thirst for blood; if Nazism was a religion founded upon hatred of the other, which it was (and still is), then al-Qaeda and ISIS might be regarded as its identical twin nemesis.

However, in calling for a clampdown not upon terrorists themselves, but upon on a “subversive worldview” (words repeatedly applied by Cameron and conjoined by me), Cameron is setting his sights far beyond the violent extremists of al-Qaeda and its offspring ISIS and casting the net much wider again:

But you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.

Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.

Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.

Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.

And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.

And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether fascist or communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it. We need to understand why it is proving so attractive. 2

Yet, in spite of Cameron’s claims to seek to “understand” the attraction to ISIS (limited as it is in reality – the vast majority of Muslims despise it as much as the rest of us), he presents no “understanding” whatsoever. Instead, what he does is to conflate everything he finds disagreeable beneath a single label. The Islamists, the far-right, the far-left, along with anyone who disavows the official narrative of certain pivotal terrorist events; all are “extremists”.

Following which he speaks of “confronting groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative.” Indeed, if we listen more carefully to Cameron it begins to sound like every act of violent extremism stems from… well, read for yourself:

… we should together challenge the ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists. The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services aren’t behind terrorist attacks; our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme.

In fact that duty will empower parents and teachers to protect children from all forms of extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi.

We should challenge together the conspiracy theories about our Muslim communities too and I know how much pain these can cause.

We must stand up to those who try to suggest that there is some kind of secret Muslim conspiracy to take over our government, or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible.

People who say these things are trying to undermine our shared values and make Muslims feel like they don’t belong here, and we will not let these conspiracy theorists win.

Or there is this (again from his speech):

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too. Being tough on this is entirely keeping with our values. We should challenge every part of the hateful ideology spread by neo-Nazis – so why shouldn’t we here?

And this (also from his speech):

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination.

Do you remember when cannabis was talked about as “the gateway” to harder drugs? This was once given as the primary justification for its criminalisation. Well, here Cameron is saying that an “extremist world view is the gateway” to “violence”. So ought we therefore to infer that he intends to see the “extremist world view” criminalised too? – thoughtcrime prosecuted in order to fight the “war on terror”, just as dope smokers were jailed as we intensified our futile and reprehensible “war on drugs”.

It is little more than six months since the pen-waving spectacle of Je Suis Charlie, with Cameron and the rest of the leaders of the ‘free world’ hailing our inalienable right to have freedom of speech, and already Cameron is asking us to reconsider:

Ask yourself, how is it possible that when young teenagers leave their London homes to fight for ISIL, the debate all too often focuses on whether the security services are to blame? And how can it be that after the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, weeks were spent discussing the limits of free speech and satire, rather than whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?

When we allow the extremists to set the terms of the debate in this way, is it any wonder that people are attracted to this ideology?

So does Cameron really believe that we need to have some kind of a debate on “whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?” No, that’s a rhetorical question – his rhetorical question. He is telling us to shut up.

To reiterate: “you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.” That’s according to Cameron remember. So what according to our current legislation makes an extremist, an extremist?

Following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, the UK government produced its own definition in a report produced by a newly formed Extremism Task Force chaired by Cameron. The report, released in December, also outlined the government’s reformulated definition of “the ideology of Islamic extremism”:

Islamist extremists deem Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a ‘war on Islam’, creating a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’. They seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Shari’ah as state law, rejecting liberal values such as democracy, the rule of law and equality. Their ideology also includes the uncompromising belief that people cannot be Muslim and British, and insists that those who do not agree with them are not true Muslims. 3

[bold emphasis added]

I have highlighted the opening section not only to underscore the unremitting hypocrisy of our “war on terror”, which is hinged upon a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’ as declared by George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but also because this statement usefully redefines how combatants of today’s ever-murkier battlefield are distinguished and identified. Some factions of the Islamists denounced and bombed (like AQAP and ISIS) whilst other factions are differentiated as “moderates” (Jahbat al-Nusra perhaps the best example), not because they refrain from the massacre of unbelievers or from committing atrocities like beheadings and crucifixions, but simply because the western powers feel able to do business with them – temporarily, at least.

cartoon by Brian Gable

Returning to Cameron’s official report, and we read how extremism, more generally, has been conveniently redefined as follows (and in full):

“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”. 4

[bold emphasis added]

Beyond this definition the document then adds:

There is a range of extremist individuals and organisations, including Islamists, the far right and others.

Note that “…and others.” Reflect upon it.

On BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today, Theresa May has also recently argued [May 13th] that the British government’s strategy to tackle extremism was to combat people who are “seeking to divide us”. When pressed she added that “the key values that underline our society are being undermined by extremists”. Once again, and in strict accordance with the government’s redefinition, May returned to the refrain that, “extremism” becomes identifiable once it challenges our “fundamental British values”. In response, veteran interviewer John Humphrys described the new definition as ‘woolly’, but in view of historical precedents a better word would surely be ‘sinister’:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r8z20/player

Since then, and in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Chattanooga shooting, when asked by msnbc news anchor Thomas Roberts “how do we fix self-radicalised lone wolfs domestically” (a leading question if ever there was one), General Wesley Clark replied:

Well we’ve got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalised. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning. There are always a certain number of young people who are alienated – they don’t get a job, they lost a girlfriend, their family doesn’t feel happy here – and we can watch the signs for that, and there are members of the community who will reach out to those people and bring them back again and encourage them to look at their blessings here.

Reading between the lines, here is another chilling statement. “Cut[ting] this off at the beginning” by “identify[ing] people who are most likely to be radicalised” might have come straight out of Science Fiction thriller Minority Report, with its specialised PreCrime police units. Not that the idea of PreCrime is quite as novel as it may sound, but just the renaming of an old pseudoscience tracing back to Late Victorian Social Darwinist notions of criminal atavism.

Clark then goes on to justify the need for the introduction of more draconian measures on the grounds that we are already at war – and pay close attention to his choice of language throughout:

But I do think on a national policy level, we need to look at what self-radicalisation means, because we are at war with this group of terrorists; they do have an ideology. In World War Two if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp. They were prisoners of war.

“Self-radicalisation” means what precisely? That this person – this “lone wolf” – became “radicalised” because they read a few pamphlets and (most importantly) visited some internet sites. This formed their extremist ideology, complete. Somehow they were alienated and indoctrinated in a perfectly isolated bubble. Society had little to no influence, and therefore, takes little to no blame.

Additionally, the “lone wolf” is particularly hard to find and to track. They lie low and strike when you least expect it. It follows therefore that we must heighten surveillance. Indeed, what better case for mass surveillance could anyone make? Although, given how the cause of their radicalisation was contact with an extreme ideology then we must also restrict access to sources of those ideologies. So what better justification could there be for placing restrictions on the internet, and on freedom of speech more generally? But then perhaps I am an extremist for distrusting the motives of the powers-that-be…?

Of course, this war Clark speaks of is the very same “war on terror” that Bush Jnr declared as the rubble of the Twin Towers still lay smouldering. Ostensibly, the goal had been to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, although the ensuing war was destined instead to bring political instability to almost the entire Middle East region as well as North Africa, as the flames were steadily fanned such that this first war of the Twenty-First Century might go on forever and ever.

But then, this spread of wars across the Middle East and beyond had been the true neo-con intention from the outset, as Wesley Clark famously told us; leaking to the world that notorious hit list of ‘seven countries in five years’. Back then, Clark was eager to distance himself from The Pentagon’s loonier inner circle, and so he said that he was shocked by what he’d heard. Evidently Clark is now back with programme, and keen to push ahead all guns blazing:

So, if these people are radicalised, and they don’t support the United States, and they’re disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine that’s their right – it’s our right and our obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this. Not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain and German and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

[bold emphasis added]

For as the new hundred years’ war (on terror) serves as the excuse for neo-imperialist adventuring in perpetuity, the threat posed by those “self-radicalised lone wolf domestic terrorists” provides rationale for the steady erosion of our rights, which is why presumably, as Cameron announced his new ‘five-year strategy’ to deal with the “struggle of our generation”, he reminded us again of the official root cause of this never-ending battle:

Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I call the grievance justification, must be challenged.

So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War. 5

As with Nazism, the poisonous doctrine of Islamism has only been able to grow in strength and thrive because of perceived injustices, both real and imagined. As with Nazism (and fascism more broadly), support for such extremist ideologies bursts forth not from nowhere and for no reason, but out of political vacuums created by regional instability. To state the obvious, says Cameron, is to offer “grievance justification”.

Instead, the important point is to be afraid, be very afraid… of the terrorists. And to forget all about Saddam’s yellowcake and those missing WMDs in Iraq (the falsification of which involved conspiracies at the highest levels) because the attacks of September 11th permit every evil inflicted by the western powers – and always will. So says every neo-con and so parrots David Cameron.

Meanwhile, if you are in any doubt about who the ‘domestic extremists’ really are – since both David Cameron and Theresa May are unable to provide clear definitions, whereas Wesley Clark says only that those who “don’t support the United States” need to be “segregate[d]… from the normal community for the duration of the conflict”– then I refer you to a presentation given by our City of London police:

The presentation, which was obtained by the Guardian following a Freedom of Information request, is part of an expanding City of London police initiative dubbed Project Fawn.

It is aimed at preparing nursery and school staff for the possibility that London could be hit by attacks such as on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Mumbai and the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, which it names. However, it also refers to domestic extremism, student protests and climate issues.

The presentation – which gives advice on dealing with bomb threats, screening mail and hostile reconnaissance – covers the threat posed and methodologies used by Isis, al-Qaida, so-called lone actors and dissident Irish Republicans.

Under the heading of domestic extremism, it also refers to “xrw” and “xlw” (apparent acronyms for extreme left and right wing), as well as single issue groups, animal rights and politics. 6

Click here to read the full report in last weekend’s [July 19th] Guardian.

As we enter a phase of worsening hardships due to the never-ending economic broadside called “austerity” piling up our agonies at home whilst unremitting wars unleash horrors abroad, the officially sanctioned “clash of civilisations” narrative serves both as an excuse for the latter and a wonderful distraction from the former. Furthermore, whilst the violence inflicted by our own western forces is routinely legitimised with euphemisms such as ‘surgical’ and ‘humanitarian’, by stripping ‘terror’ out of ‘terrorism’ the violence of the other has been decontextualised, and made to appear as if it erupts volcanically without real justification or good cause. But Cameron now goes further saying, in effect, how dare our opponents hold grievances over “historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship” when we are their liberators! And though it is sheer madness to try to destroy any ideology whatsoever by simply blasting it with bombs, we keep on bombing because as Wesley Clark reminds us “we are at war”.

Meanwhile, those who dare to oppose the official line too vehemently – irrespective of religious, political or other affiliations – might be lumped together under this loose categorisation of “domestic extremist”. As I say, according to the definitions given, as one who opposes the official line in so many ways, I am certainly an extremist – a proud one. Since you are reading this, you very possibly qualify as an extremist too.

I am extremist whenever I point to how the Islamist cause has been furthered not only as a consequence of “blowback”, but due to the backing of our Gulf State allies. When I point out how Nato’s role in the bombing of Libya prepared the way for the Islamist factions to get a foothold in North Africa. If I add that Turkey has further enabled Islamist fighters free access across its porous border into Syria. Or that by training “the rebels” who fight in Syria, we deliberately enabled the Islamist fighters to gain an advantage over the forces of the Syrian army?

For now at least, Cameron wishes to lay the blame for all of the hatred and the violence at the door of the “conspiracy theorists” – and in his speech he returned to this theme no less than eight times. It is a theme he borrowed directly from neo-con lawyer Cass Sunstein, the husband of US Ambassador to the United Nations and pre-eminent warmonger, Samantha Power.

Sunstein proposed cognitive infiltration as the best method for undermining such subversive beliefs and opinions, whereas Cameron, May and Wesley Clark are intending now to criminalise dissident voices altogether. If they succeed, then soon we will all become “domestic extremists” – all of us who disagree, that is. Those of us who refuse to adopt the authorised Weltanschauung as our own. And the more loudly we speak out against the sanctioned “worldview”, the more extremist we shall be!

A full transcript of Cameron’s speech was reprinted by the Independent.

*

Update:

If suggested parallels with the PreCrime units in the movie Minority Report sound far-fetched then please reflect upon this story entitled “London child aged THREE in terror alert of radicalisation” published by the London Evening Standard on July 27th [the day after I posted]:

A three-year-old child is among hundreds of young Londoners who have been identified as potential future extremists or at risk of radicalisation.

The same article continues:

Although most counter-extremism schemes focus on older children and adults, primary or nursery age youngsters can also be referred under the Prevent scheme because of concerns about the conduct of their families. Police have used the family courts 30 times to bring care proceedings to protect young children. Measures include removing the children’s passports.

Click here to read more about the ‘Prevent’ scheme.

*

1 From “An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron” written by Nafez Ahmed, published in INSURGE intelligence on July 20, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/an-open-letter-to-britain-s-leading-violent-extremist-david-cameron-abb568861784

2 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

3 From Section 1.3 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

4 From Section 1.4 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

5 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

6 From an article entitled “City of London police put Occupy London on counter-terrorism presentation with al-Qaida” written by Ben Quinn, published on July 19, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/19/occupy-london-counter-terrorism-presentation-al-qaida

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, USA

another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

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I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

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Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

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1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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