Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Fallen Idols

I just penned a post that was highly critical of Seymour M. Hersh, a man that has always been a hero to me. When Colin Powell was the army major covering up the My Lai massacre, Seymour Hersh was the young reporter that broke the story. Yesterday, I basically called him out for trying to cover up a massacre with his attempt to blow smoke over who slaughtered people in Ghouta with sarin. Seymour M. Hersh has become just the latest addition to my list of fallen idols. Fallen because they missed the changes. Fallen because in the crucial battles of our age, they chose to stand on the wrong side of the barricades. With each one came a sharp pain and a deep sorrow. And so it is with Seymour M. Hersh. The first of note was Fidel Castro in his support for Qaddafi. That was a most deeply felt pain because before that, I don't think I had ever disagreed with Fidel on anything. But I had been closely following developments in Libya beginning a month before 17 Feb and I just knew what I knew and I knew that Fidel didn't know what he was talking about and for whatever reasons, had opted to support a fascist tyrant against his people. You can read my blogs on Libya to see what I knew. After him followed Hugo Chavez and local groups I had enjoyed good working relations with, ANSWER-LA and IAC, although, of course, they were never idols. Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich added themselves to the list, as did a number of journalists, most recently Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh. Each has come as a blow. And yet I know what I know. I don't know why they made a wrong turn, I don't know why they have chosen the fascist dictator over the people. I just know, that's not me. So I shed a tear for what they once were and move on.
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Tunisia, Egypt and the Arab Spring

Monday, December 9, 2013

Whose Seymour Hersh?

When considering various opinions as to what is going on in Syria today, I find it extremely useful to know where the commentator stands with regards to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Does he support or oppose it? After all, whatever the conflict in Syria has become, it began in the spring of 2011 as a mass struggle to overthrow the Assad Regime. Many believe, myself included, that it remains, at heart, a struggle to overthrow this 43 year old dictatorship. None can read my blog and not know that I am a strong advocate of the overthrow of the Assad Regime. Given its totalitarian, police state methods, its wanton use of torture, rape and mass murder as tools of social control and its criminal indifference to the lives and welfare of its youngest citizens, the Syrian people can certainly build a better government. Seymour M. Hersh, on the other hand, wants to see Assad prevail in the current struggle. He told Amy Goodman as much on Democracy Now this morning while discussing his new piece in the London Review of Books, Whose sarin?:
inside the [intelligence] community, for the last year, it’s been known that the only game in town, whether you like it or don’t like it, was Bashar, because otherwise the—what we call the secular anti—the opposition to Bashar, the legitimate, non-radical, if you will, dissenters, people from within the army, people—civilians who didn’t like the lack of more social progress, etc., etc., they were overrun, even by—we know that beginning in early in the year. We knew they were being overrun by jihadists. And so, the only solution, it seemed to me, for—it seems for the government at the time, the people I know—and I’ve talked to people about this for years; it’s been more than a year of talk—is, the only solution for stability was Bashar. You have to just like it or don’t like it. Israel, which—don’t forget, Damascus is, what, 40 miles, 45 miles from the Golan Heights and 130 miles south of—north of—northeast of Tel Aviv, easily within range of any missiles. The Israelis are not going to tolerate a jihadist government inside Syria, or even any area that the jihadists will claim as an area of sharia law. They’ll hit it. The only potential for stability was to keep Bashar there, or at least to get him in a position where maybe he’d be willing to negotiate some sort of collaborative government, which seems to be the only sensible theme right now.
It would seem that many who are "not going to tolerate a jihadist government inside Syria" are more than willing to tolerate a return of the complete domination of Syria by a murderous and criminal gang in the name of "stability." What they might see as a return to stability would most likely mean a bloodbath of retribution inside of Syria, but they don't mind about that because they are outside of Syria so that kind of "12 Years a Slave" stability is just fine with them. They didn't too much mind that the Assads ran Syria as a brutal police state for four decades so long as he brought stability to the region. They've never had a problem with it and they don't have a real problem with Assad carrying on as he always has in the future. Apparently this is also Seymour Hersh's view. He agrees with Assad that the only real choice for Syria's future is between the jihadists and his regime, and given those choices, he favors the Assad Regime. It is important to understand that this is were Seymour Hersh is coming from in evaluating Whose sarin?, because, for all of Seymour Hersh's historic accomplishments, it is little more than another poorly written and poorly sourced piece designed to muddy the waters as to who is responsible for the sarin gas attack in Ghouta on 21 August this year. It was so poorly sourced that it was rejected by the Washington Post and The New Yorker before ending up in the LRB. The LRB piece makes the case that the sarin attack that killed more than 1400 people in Ghouta on 21 August could have come from the opposition and that the Obama administration cherry picked the intelligence when it came to the hasty conclusion that the Syrian military was responsible for the attack. Hersh doesn't make the claim that Assad didn't do it and he doesn't make the claim that such and such opposition force did do it. He argues that the Obama administration was about to go to war with Syria when it couldn't possibly know the Assad regime had carried out the attack.
Seymour M. Hersh's history with Bashar al-Assad
In the early months of the Obama presidency, Seymour M. Hersh wrote a piece that was sourced well enough to be published in The New Yorker, 6 April 2009. It was titled SYRIA CALLING, with the subtitle "The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace." The article argues that Obama's best chance for a Middle East peace deal is a peace between Bashar al-Assad and Israel. Hersh was one of the first to pick up on the shift in Syria policy between Bush and Obama, a shift that most of the Left is still blind to, as proven by their willingness to use Bush era statements to prove Obama policies toward Syria.
"A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. " writes Hersh: A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, “There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest.” A treaty between Syria and Israel “would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time.”
Seymour Hersh didn't miss that because he was very active in promoting it. From the article we gather that Seymour M. Hersh had direct contact with Bashar al-Assad:
President Assad was full of confidence and was impatiently anticipating the new Administration in Washington when I spoke to him late last year in Damascus
In his e-mail after the Gaza war, Assad emphasized...
In his e-mail, Assad praised the diplomatic efforts of former President Jimmy Carter.
The official Syrian position toward Iran, which Assad repeated to me, is...
Assad felt he could speak frankly with Hersh, and showed that he knew not to take Obama's verbal threats too seriously:
During the long campaign for the White House, Obama often criticized Syria for its links to terrorism, its “pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” and its interference in Lebanon, where Syria had troops until 2005 and still plays a political role. (Assad dismissed the criticisms in his talk with me: “We do not bet on speeches during the campaign.”)
Bashar al-Assad has even used Seymour M. Hersh as a conduit in his duplicitous deals:
At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights. Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal.
Seymour Hersh knows that Assad is no saint. Two years before the Arab Spring came to Syria, he wrote:
One issue that may be a casualty of an Obama rapprochement with Syria is human rights. Syrians are still being jailed for speaking out against the policies of their government. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said that Assad “has been offering fig leafs to the Americans for a long time and thinks if he makes nice in Lebanon and with Hamas and Hezbollah he will no longer be an outcast. We believe that no amount of diplomatic success will solve his internal problems.” The authorities, Whitson said, are “going after ordinary Syrians—like people chatting in cafés. Everyone is looking over their shoulder.”
And two years ago before the Arab uprising and before 126,000 Syrians died in the struggle to overthrow Assad, Seymour Hersh was channelling Assad's theme that he is a necessary evil in the fight against Islamic extremism in Syria, just as he does today. Then he said:
Assad, in his interview with me, acknowledged, “We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward.” And he focussed on what he had to offer. He said that he had a message for Obama: Syria, as a secular state, and the United States faced a common enemy in Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism.
In another New Yorker piece almost a year later, Seymour Hersh gives us a clue as to the sort of things Assad had to offer Obama. Saying "I spoke to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, this winter [2010] in Damascus," he then goes on to complain about deficiencies in the transcript:
One note: a transcript of our talk, provided by Assad’s office, was generally accurate but it did not include an exchange we had about intelligence. A senior Syrian official had told me that, last year, Syria, which is on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, had renewed its sharing of intelligence on terrorism with the C.I.A. and with Britain’s MI6, after a request from Obama that was relayed by George Mitchell, the President’s envoy for the Middle East.
So we can see that Seymour Hersh has enjoyed a long relationship with Bashar al-Assad, and his willingness to overlook a certain level of brutality towards the Syrian people because he views Assad as the only alternative to Islamist terrorism, is not new. The factual arguments that Seymour Hersh makes in Whose sarin? are plagued with very serious problems and it is ironic that he accuses the Obama administration of cherry-picking the intelligence because he cherry picks his "facts" and ignores other. His core argument is that both al Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, two al Qaeda linked groups in the Syrian opposition, know how to make sarin, US intelligence knows this and therefore the Obama administration had no business blaming the Assad regime for the attack without first ruling out the possibility that it came from the jihadists. There have been denials from US government that Hersh's information is correct and they know these groups can produce sarin. And while advocates of the view that the opposition gassed its own people want us to think sarin is easily produced, Bashar al Assad told Dennis Kucinich "anyone can make sarin in his house,” chemical weapons experts tell us this is far from the case. One source on this subject who is not afraid to backup his intelligence with his name is David Kaszeta, a former officer in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and former member of the U.S. Secret Service. Kaszeta has 22 years working with chemical weapons and he says:
That statement should be met with disbelief.
I'll refer you to this link for the details as to why he says that. Also, according to the UN report, the sarin they found was of a military grade and very unlikely to be produced outside of a government laboratory. Also Hersh ignores the defectors that have come forward to testify about Assad's use of chemical weapons, defectors from his CW special forces. Also he ignores the fact that the area that was attacked with chemical weapons was under attack by Assad forces for months both before and after the sarin attack with conventional weapons. I will leave it to others to pen a detailed critique of the "facts" and arguments Seymour Hersh makes in this latest defense of Assad. I just wanted to point out why he is going this. Seymour M. Hersh wants Assad to win.
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Secret Intel Source of Ray McGovern & VIPS Revealed!

UPDATE 18 Sept 2013: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now citing the VIPS letter as part of its proof that the Assad regime didn't do it. According to RT he said in an interview:
"Besides, experts in Europe and the US, including twelve retired employees of the Pentagon and the CIA, as you know sent, an open letter to President Obama, explaining how it was all fabricated,”

On 6 September 2013 former CIA agent turned activist, Ray McGovern, speaking for Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), posted a memo to his blog that absolved the Assad Regime of responsibility for the chemical weapons attack that took place in the Damascus area on 21 August 2013. Not only does this group claim that the Syrian government did not carry out the attack, they claim it was done by the opposition with the support of agents from Qatar, Turkey and the US. I addressed their theory and challenged them to name names in My dare to Ray McGovern & VIPS on Syria CW attack, now I want to look at the source of their information. In the memo, VIPS says "that some of our former co-workers are telling us" what is really happening and then they go on to say:
Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us...
Clearly, they are implying that their sources are CIA officers currently working the Syria desk. Now, jumping ahead to the meat of their intelligence on what they say was a false-flag operation designed to precipitate military intervention in Syria, they tell us:
we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria. At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.
Now, here's where it gets weird. This same thesis and intelligence, in fact, almost the exact same words were published 5 days earlier in an article on Global Research by Yossef Bodansky, titled "Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?":
On August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and US Intelligence [“Mukhabarat Amriki”] took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Very senior opposition commanders who had arrived from Istanbul briefed the regional commanders of an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development” which would, in turn, lead to a US-led bombing of Syria. The opposition forces had to quickly prepare their forces for exploiting the US-led bombing in order to march on Damascus and topple the Bashar al-Assad Government, the senior commanders explained. The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. Indeed, unprecedented weapons distribution started in all opposition camps in Hatay Province on August 21-23, 2013. In the Reyhanli area alone, opposition forces received well in excess of 400 tons of weapons, mainly anti-aircraft weaponry from shoulder-fired missiles to ammunition for light-guns and machine guns. The weapons were distributed from store-houses controlled by Qatari and Turkish Intelligence under the tight supervision of US Intelligence.
As anyone can easily see, this isn't just the same story told from different intelligence sources. This is the same story slightly rewritten five days later. Rewritten in part, to remove obvious source give-aways, like “Mukhabarat Amriki,” the Syrian term for US intelligence. So it would appear that the source of VIPS intelligence is not active CIA case officers speaking to old colleges like Ray McGovern, Philip Giraldi, Larry Johnson and Ann Wright on the q-t, it is Yossef Bodansky writing for the pro-Assad, pro-Qaddafi, pro-Russian website Global Research. So who is Yossef Bodansky? David Kenner has done some interesting research there. What he's come up with was published this week on Foreign Policy:
Bodansky is an ally of Bashar's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad -- he pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family -- a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, "will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East."
The implication is that the real source of VIPS's intelligence is not CIA operatives chatting it up with old pals. That is just their cover story. The real source of their information on how the opposition gassed over a thousand of its own people with Obama's help is the Assad Mukhabarat, the Syrian Security Services. Guess who else likes this Bodansky/VIPS conspiracy theory that blames the rebels and lets the Assad dictatorship off the hook? Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh! On 3 September 2013, Limbaugh told his audience:
"There is evidence -- mounting evidence -- that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack, but not only that, but Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition!"
He then goes on to cite Global Research and Bodansky as his source, which actually shows more integrity than Ray McGovern & VIPS! It is a very sad day for the Left when we see Ann Wright and Rush Limbaugh united in supporting a fascist dictatorship against a popular revolution, and promoting the same lying Assad Regime propaganda to do it. The Assad Regime did kill over a thousand Syrian civilians, a third of them children, in the Damascus area on the morning of 21 August 2013. The Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Coalition, the Arab League, the governments of Turkey, US, France, UK and many other countries have found the Assad Regime responsible, as now has Human Rights Watch. The evidence is incontrovertible and overwhelming. I will show in another post, in case its not already clear, that even if Assad were somehow not responsible for the chemical deaths, he is still a brutal mass murderer that has killed thousands of civilians with his air force, artillery and ballistic missiles. He bombed hospitals with his jet planes and since the chemical attacks, he has killed hundreds in the very same areas that VIPS says he didn't use the chemicals to kill in. This is the type of mass murderer, torturer and rapist these people are trying to defend on the chemical weapons charge. In my earlier post, challenging Ray McGovern et al, I showed how they were wrong, now I think we can see that they aren't even honest. They are attempting to promote the Assad Regime with false intelligence coming from that regime and they are attempting to trade on their history as activists and their break with US intelligence to give the story more creditability than Yossef Bodansky and Global Research ever could. These people, and here I will name them, because I believe it now constitutes a roll call of shame. Below that is a reminder of what they are trying to cover up. From Consortium News, which first published the memo on 6 September 2013:
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former), Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.), Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan, Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.), W. Patrick Lang, Senior Executive and Defense Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.), David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.), Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.), Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.), Todd Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General (ret.), Sam Provance, former Sgt., US Army, Iraq, Coleen Rowley, Division Council & Special Agent, FBI (ret.), Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My dare to Ray McGovern & VIPS on Syria CW attack

Ray McGovern, yesterday you presented a memo on your blog from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) asking "Is Syria a Trap?" In it you absolve the Assad Regime of responsibility for the chemical weapons attacks that took place in the Damascus area on 21 August without ever referencing the vast amount of carnage caused by aircraft, Scud missiles and heavy artillery that the Assad regime is solely responsible for. That alone, makes your chemical weapons memo a depraved defense of a mass murderer!
Instead, you blame this CW attack, which killed over a thousand in opposition communities, on "senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials" According to VIPS:
At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government
That is a pretty vast conspiracy, involving spies from three countries and rebel commanders. Hard to believe, actually. So why were the Saudis left out? Is that where the MintPress story comes in? The Saudis were so peeved at being left out of the main sarin gas conspiracy that Prince Bandar gave some of his sarin gas to the incompetents in the tunnel. It all makes so much sense now! Not! The main complaint, and it is a good one, with the US, British and French intelligence reports that say the Assad regime did the dirty deed, is that we don't have access to the raw intel data to see for ourselves. So what are VIPS sources? They cite "some of our former co-workers" which would be the juicy stuff only they would have, and "a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters" what the intel business calls "open source," stuff that we all have access to. From the closed source stuff they don't really give us any facts we can check. For example, they give us almost no information about this series of planning meetings they say took place in Antakya, Turkey 13-14 August 2013. They don't name any names. [guess it won't be publish in counterpunch] Now what could be the harm in that? So my challenge to Ray McGovern & VIPS is to, at a minimum, name "the senior opposition military commanders" who were present at these meetings. If VIPS believes they were involved in a plot that took over a thousand lives, surely they aren't interested in protecting their identities. So call them out publicly. Let us judge how senior they are and know who is collaborating with these western spies. Once you have named them, we will be able find out why they were in Antakya and asked them to respond to these charges. Without the names from you, we have only your word, and I'm sorry, but that just isn't enough anymore.
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria: It's Still a Revolution, My Friends

Republished from Fellowship of Reconciliation by Mohja Kahf
Thursday, September 5, 2013, 10:52am

No matter what your position on the potential U.S. strikes on Syria (I’m against), all I ask is, DON’T be a hater who denies the existence of the grassroots youth who began the Syrian revolution out of hope for real freedom and out of their rising expectation for real change, hope that had nearly died in the fifty-year police state that has ruled Syria. Try to remember to have some compassion for a Syrian who might be in the vicinity, before you mouth off in the abstract on the issue; we face news every day of our friends and our relatives being killed and imprisoned. Take time to get to know about a few of them, the Syrian rev youth activists who started it all, in hundreds of towns across Syria, before you speak about Syria based on what happened in Iraq or Lebanon or Country X.

In SYRIA, this is a REVOLUTION (and yes I understand it meets the technical definition of a civil war, yes it does, AND, yet, still: This is a Revolution). In SYRIA, a Revolution has been happening, and the will to freedom that began it will not simply be erased; it is a bell that cannot be unrung in the hearts of young Syrians. It is a consciousness change. That is why Syria is not now and will not become, despite all the [chaos] that has ensued inside the revolution, “like Iraq” (and by the way, I marched in the United States against the Iraq War, and over the years have written and published pages of poems based on the unimaginable sufferings narrated to me by Iraqis).

In SYRIA, a broad spectrum of twenty-somethings across every province were inspired by Bouazizi’s self-immolation, by 26-year-old Asma Mahfouz’ call to Tahrir, by the movement for Khaled Said, a young activist murdered by Egyptian police in 2010, NOT by some U.S. president’s call for regime change as in Iraq. By the will to “live like human beings,” as one after another has told me when I have met them and asked for their stories. ASK for their stories, please. They will TELL you what motivated them to risk their lives as they did. Syria’s revolution youth hit the streets out of grievances they have EXPERIENCED, in their own bodies, in their own lives; this revolution was not begun by some Syrian version of Iraq’s Chelebi, nor by established oppositionists, but by geographically widespread rural and small-town women and men of ALL sects, young people whom the CIA never even heard of, coming together in a new spirit. They are nobody’s proxies, no matter how much outside agendas want to make them somebody’s proxies.

And please, do not create a callous denial narrative that erases the masses of mainstream Syrians in this revolution, as if they don’t count, in favor of the Salafist extremists who are trying to take it over from its fringes as, thousands of miles away, you run screaming “Taliban! Al Qaeda!” wringing your hands but not knowing in the slightest the measure of their (nasty) influence. Do not abandon those revolution youth — whether they are still in the civil resistance or have joined the secular, mainline armed resistance — who are now themselves beset by the Salafists even while still fending off the brutal regime. For example, I just Facebook-chatted with a friend inside, one of the original protesters, who refuses to flee Syria, and incidentally he is Alawite, who has received death threats by name from the regime, and from the Nusra front on the other hand.

Above all, do not become so ethically ugly as to deny the massacres the regime has committed against civilians, or become a dictator-defender. Bashar is a Butcher; let’s establish that as a common fact between us, no matter your other views. I have spoken out against atrocities committed by the rebel sides; they ARE heinous, AND they in no way come close to the horrors committed by the regime, which vastly outguns all the rebel sides. So the “symmetry” thing, where you say “oh, they’re all about as bad as each other” is ethically reprehensible. If you don’t have time to educate yourself, at least refrain from that moral repulsiveness, please. Do not commit the inhumanity at this time of getting on a devastated Syrian’s last nerve, by denying our bloodied dead, or our desperate need for justice.

Here are some links for further reading:
Please write for the release of nonviolent Syrian prisoners of conscience HELD OVER A YEAR, many over two years, by cutting and pasting the text under each picture in this album, on a Revolution page that ALSO reports prisoners held by extremist groups on the rebel side.

(Photo: Rukn Eldeen, Damascus, Syria, November 20, 2012. Rallying around the nonsectarian, secular democratic values of the Syrian Revolution.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

UNAC demands "US Out of #Libya!"???

Where are these people's heads? If there is one thing that the killing of the US ambassador and three other US citizens in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 illustrates, it is the tiny size of the US presence in Libya now. The US knew there were still forces in Libya that opposed the overthrow of the Qaddafi dictatorship and opposed any US presence in the country. "No more than seven Americans were in the compound, including Ambassador Stevens", according to WikiPedia. They knew that Benghazi was the center of this armed opposition and yet the US ambassador went there with just a few US agents for protection and was forced to rely on the Libyans for their main protection force. The United National Antiwar Coalition opposed the Libya revolution as soon they became aware of it and they saw it as a repeat of Iraq and now, ignoring reality, they are still trying to stuff it into that box. But consider the differences: After the defeat of Saddam Hussein by the US military, the US had over 160,000 combat troops in the country. In the Green Zone, they built the largest US embassy in the world, and the number of US contractors of all types involved in the occupation of Iraq was incredible. Consider the contrast with Libya now. There never was a US occupation of Libya. There are no US bases, in spite of predictions that AFRICOM would be relocated there, and there are no US soldiers in Libya beyond the usual embassy marines. While the CIA undoubtedly has a presence in Libya, there is no indication that it is as large as when they were running black sites with Mummar Qaddafi. The fire power the attackers in Benghazi directed at the US forces was overwhelming and sustained. The only reason more US forces weren't killed in the Benghazi attack is that there were so few US forces there. And yet UNAC is raising in Libya the same demand that they raised in Iraq and Afghanistan, "US Out of Libya" as if by raising the same demand they can imply that the situations are parallel without proving their case with facts. Given the lack of a substantial US presence in Libya, one can only wonder what the practical implications of this "US Out of Libya" are. Are they, for example, demanding that the US close it's embassy in Libya and remove all diplomatic personnel? If that is the case, it looks like UNAC may be getting its way. From the Gulf Today we have this report
US pulls out staff from embassy in Libya
May 12, 2013 TRIPOLI: The United States on Friday announced that they were withdrawing some diplomatic staff from Libya, amid security concerns over a recent flare-up in political unrest there. Tensions have risen in Libya since ex-rebels besieged two ministries at the end of last month in a row over a law that would ban officials who served under slain ruler Muammar Qadhafi from holding office. “In light of the current unsettled conditions around major anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli, the under secretary for management has approved the ordered departure of non-emergency personnel from Libya,” said US State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell. “A handful of our staff members have, indeed, departed Libya. Our embassy in Tripoli is still open and still functioning.” Gunmen surrounded the Libyan foreign ministry on April 28 and the justice ministry two days later to demand the passing of a law excluding Qadhafi collaborators from office. More...
The US feels threatened because some of the revolutionaries are still holding on to their arms and are willing to brandish them whenever they think their revolution may be in danger, but these concerns that widespread violence was about to break out around this political struggle have proven to be over blown. Libyans all over country came out in large numbers to demonstrate against the heavy handed tactics of these militias and they convinced them to withdraw this siege and now the ministries are back at work. As is often chanted at Occupy demonstrations in the US, "This is what democracy looks like!" From the Libya Herald we have this report:
Ministries back to work after sieges end
By Ahmed Elumami. Tripoli, 12 May 2013: Staff at the Foreign and Justice Ministries went back to work today after almost a fortnight of being kept out of the buildings by armed militiamen. The latter had originally mounted the blockades in support of the Political Isolation Law. The buildings were handed over this morning to a group comprising a number of Congress members and leaders of groups that had supported the militiamen. According to the spokesman of Supreme Security Committee, Murad Hamza, the group that “received” the Foreign Ministry included its Undersecretary, Abdul-Razaq Graid, two Congressmen and a members of the Political Isolation Law coordination group. Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz and Justice Minister Salah Marghani resumed work following an agreement between Congress officials and the leaders of the gunmen had been reached, the spokesmen for the respective ministries told the Libya Herald. The reason for the formal handover, according to the militiamen, was that they wanted to show that nothing had been damaged or stolen during the period they h[e]ld the offices. Officials confirmed that was the case. “Nothing has been touched,” a member of staff at the foreign ministry this afternoon, noting that files and computers of had not been tampered with. “We’ve started working normally,” he said. More...
The truth of the matter is that US President Barack Obama showed only slightly more interest in intervening in Libya than he has shown so far in intervening in Syria. The US had to be dragged into intervening in Libya by the other NATO allies and for the first time in NATO history, it was the European allies and not the US, that played the leading role in a NATO operation. It was French planes that made the first attacks, stopping Qaddafi's tanks just as they were entering Benghazi. If not for those French planes, Qaddafi would have done to Benghazi what Bashar al-Assad has done to Homs and many other Syria cities. Obama was trying to get the "US Out of Libya" almost as soon he got in, which is why the Independent was running this story before the Libya air campaign was just two weeks old:
US to pull out of Libya air attacks
Friday 01 April 2011 The announcement, in the hope that Nato partners can take up the slack, drew incredulous reactions. The announcement drew incredulous reactions from some in Congress who wondered aloud why the Obama administration would bow out of a key element of the strategy for protecting Libyan civilians and crippling Muammar Gaddafi's army. "Odd," "troubling" and "unnerving" were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end on Saturday. More...
After NATO formally took over the air campaign over Libya, the US continued to fly the majority of the supply and refueling missions and even carried out another 60 strike sorties and 30 drone strikes as of 20 June 2011, but the majority of the strike sorties were done by the US European allies. While the US flew 25% of all sorties, they were heavily weighted towards support and refueling missions rather than strike sorties. France did the most by flying 35% of the strike sorties. Britain was also a leader. Tiny Denmark "bombed approximately 17 percent of all targets in Libya and together with Norwegian flights have been the most efficient in proportion to the number of flights involved" according to Wikipedia. This is a reference to the fact that a great many US "strike sorties" never dropped any ordinance. According to Human Rights Watch this air campaign killed 72 civilians unlawfully. The illusion that the Libyan Revolution was largely a US instigated "regime change" operation or even that the bombing of Libya was mainly a US affair is one that Leftist like those represented in UNAC must cling to because it serves their US centric narrative that the Libya conflict was basically a repeat of what happened in Iraq, but for them to still be raising the slogan "US Out of Libya" in 2013 only shows how far from reality these folks have wandered.
Click here for a list of my other diaries on Libya

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Syria: for #Mar15, @AmyGoodman has Assad 'regime apologist' on Democracy Now

On the second anniversary of the uprising to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, Amy Goodman finally did a Democracy Now segment on the struggle in Syria. First it should be noted that Amy, co-host Juan Gonzalez and their two guests were very careful not to say anything negative about Bashar al-Assad, Iran or Russia. There was, however, a lot of focus on Saudi Arabia "allowing the supply of arms and even the infiltration of militants" to Syria. Her guests where Reese Erlich and Rim Turkmani. Reese Erlich was introduced as a "freelance foreign correspondent" and talked mostly about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. First came Rim Turkmani, who spoke as a member of the Syrian non-violent opposition and was introduced as "an astrophysicist and member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance who’s in New York meeting with Security Council members discussing possible political solutions to the situation in Syria." So who is Rim Turkmani, when she is not representing the Syrian opposition on Democracy Now?
"There have been external actors who were supporting the arming of the opposition, and unfortunately that fueled the violence, increased dramatically the number of casualties, and turned the whole thing into more than a war, rather than a revolution."
Over a year ago Lucy Lips, writing at Hurry Up Harry, named her one of the:
Syrian Regime Apologists Posing as Oppositionists
February 29th 2012, 10:46 am Dr Rim Turkmani is a British-Syrian astrophysicist at Imperial College London and a sometime commentator on Syrian affairs. Up until recently, she was a director of the British Syrian Society, which claims to work:
“consistently and very effectively to foster relations at all levels between Britain and Syria through a wide range of social, cultural, business and other public events both in the UK and Syria which include lectures, conferences, seminars and exhibitions.”
The founding co-chairman of the Society is Dr Fawaz Akhras, a London-based cardiologist, who also happens to be Asma al-Assad’s father. As The Guardian described him about a year ago:
“Informally, Akhras plays a role as gatekeeper for Assad, vetting British journalists who wish to interview the president. He is close to the Syrian ambassador to Britain, the economist Sami Khiyami, who serves with him on the advisory board of the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews University.” ... A journalist who met him at a dinner discussion about Iraq recalled: “Akhras pulled out some written notes and began by saying he was only a humble doctor and not an expert on Middle East politics, and here was his personal opinion … what followed was a pure Ba’athist line straight from Damascus.”
According to Assad regime emails that were hacked by cyberactivist Anonymous, Akhras also believes that Mossad was responsible for 9/11. Turkmani is something of a package deal. She is very active in Arab charity groups in the UK alongside her husband Chris Doyle. Doyle is the executive director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). Together, Turkmani and Doyle serve as trustess of the Damask Rose Trust, which claims, according to the UK Charity Commission, to “support welfare and development projects in Syria and [to promote] appreciation of Syria’s cultural heritage among British audiences. Yet Damask Rose has received its “core cost donation from Gulfsands Petroleum, a UK oil company that was recently forced to clarify and then suspend its relationship with various business holdings of Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s billionaire industrialist cousin who has been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for being complicit in the regime’s violence. Makhlouf owns or owned a 5.75 per cent minority stake in Gulfsands. More...
This is the type of person that Amy Goodman found to present the Syrian opposition on the second anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. I just wanted you to be aware.
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Amy didn't say on International Women's Day

Amongst the litany of abuses that characterize the Syrian conflict, rape has emerged as a defining element of the displacement crisis.
Yesterday, 8 March 2013, was International Women's Day and Amy Goodman quite correctly dedicated her entire show, Democracy Now, to the topic of violence against women, but she said very little about the plight of women in Syria where more than two millions Syrians have been displaced in their own country and another million have been forced to flee to the relative safety of neighbouring countries, and rape is being systemically used as a weapon of war by the Assad regime. In fact she said nothing. Zero! Nada! The Syrian women didn't exist as far as her show was concerned. Syria was never even mentioned! Now, Monsanto's tonic seeds may indeed be a form of violence against women, as one of Amy's guests complained, but it is nothing when compared with murder by shoving a live rat up a women's vagina. So while I lack the resources and staff of Democracy Now, this is something I feel strongly about while apparently this is not the case with Amy Goodman, who AFAIK has never done a segment on this question, or for many other organizations on the Left, so having just finished my first blog on my new site, I feel a great need to fill you in on some of what Amy, out of ignorance or indifference, failed to raise in her International Women's Day program focused on violence against women. So here are some of the latest writings from those who are reporting on it: Salon, this morning, asked the same question I am posing to Democracy Now except they asked it of all US media. My question is why is the so-called progressive Amy Goodman no better than the rest on this question:
Why is the U.S. media ignoring rape in Syria?
Saturday, Mar 9, 2013 3:30 PM UTC By Soraya Chemaly There's plenty of American news coverage about the Syrian refugee crisis. But most of it is missing the real horror The past several weeks have been filled with news reports about the catastrophic proportions of the Syrian refugee crisis. One news report after another describes disintegrating communities, lack of water and electricity, and the multidimensional hardships refugees face as they struggle to survive. With very few exceptions, however, these reports ignore rape and sexualized violence as a component of the crisis. An International Rescue Committee report issued in January included surveys of Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan identifying “rape as a primary reason their families fled the country.” Less than two weeks ago, Erika Feller, assistant high commissioner for protection of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, explained while reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, “This displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children, and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.” She specifically added, “Reports are revealing that the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war to intimidate parties to the conflict destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities.” The IRC, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Syrian Human Rights Committee consistently report that the role that rape and sexual assault play in this evolving disaster is significant; however, you would never know this by reading most mainstream U.S. media reporting. Despite the difficulties of gathering and verifying data regarding sexualized violence, there is no shortage of available data. The Women Under Siege Project, which tracks the incidence of rape in militarized zones, has been collecting and mapping incidents of rape and sexualized violence taking place in Syria since April 2012. Women Under Siege is not suggesting that rapes have been ordered by the Assad regime (although the Syrian Human Rights Committee has documented rapes being ordered), but documenting rape and sexualized violence via detailed submissions gathered by journalists, researchers, doctors and activists. According to Lauren Wolfe, director of the Women Under Siege Project and an award-winning investigative journalist, victims range in age from toddlers to men in their 50s. Eighty percent of them are girls and women – many of whom are attacked in homes, at checkpoints and elsewhere in public. Men and boys are more likely to be assaulted in detention. One report describes the treatment for rape of more than 2,000 Syrian girls and women in Damascus, including some as young as 7. While anecdotal, stories like these are corroborated by first-person refugee accounts made to the International Rescue Committee, the Syrian Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Watch. More...
Forceable rape is one form of violence against women that is a camp follower in every war, prostitution is another. While I have written about rape in Syria a number of times before, I didn't realize that a large number of Syrian women were also being forced to prostitute themselves because of the circumstances that have been forced upon them by an uncaring world until I saw this AP piece yesterday. From AP on International Women's Day:
Desperate, some fleeing Syria turn to prostitution
8 Mar 2013 Jamal Halaby ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) - Walk among the plastic tents in one corner of this sprawling, dust-swept desert camp packed with Syrian refugees, and a young woman in a white headscarf signals. "Come in, you'll have a good time," suggests Nada, 19, who escaped from the southern border town of Daraa into Jordan several months ago. Her father, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and a traditional red-checkered headscarf, sits outside under the scorching sun, watching silently. Nada prices her body at $7, negotiable. She says she averages $70 a day. Several tents away, a clean-shaven, tattooed young Syrian man, who says he was a barber back in the city of Idlib, offers his wife. "You can have her all day for $70," he promises. He says he never imagined he would be selling his own wife, but he needs to send money back to his parents and in-laws in Syria, about $200 a month. More...
Brookings published this on International Women's Day:
Syria's Unseen Crisis: Displaced Women Face Rape, Insecurity, Poverty
March 8, 2013 By: Megan Bradley In the past week, the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed headlines around the world as the number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad reached one million. But there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding inside Syria. Syria’s internally displaced population passed the two million-mark months ago – by some estimates, there are more than three million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls. International Women’s Day is a chance to give these consequences the attention they deserve, but have lacked so far. In a bleak irony, today – International Women’s Day – is also a public holiday in Syria, commemorating the 1963 coup that brought the Baathist party to power and saw Hafez al-Assad take over as commander of the Syrian air force. Assad eventually became president of Syria and, for all his sins, was a proponent of equal rights for women. Under the rule of his son, Bashar al-Assad, however, Syria has become a living hell for its women, particularly for the millions who have had to flee their homes since the country’s crisis began two years ago. Amongst the litany of abuses that characterize the Syrian conflict, rape has emerged as a defining element of the displacement crisis. The International Rescue Committee, a leading aid agency, reports that among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, rape was a primary motive for their flight. Inside Syria, increasing incidents of sexual violence suggest that rape is being used as a weapon of war. As the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported recently to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the displacement crisis is “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.” Attacks are often carried out in public, compounding the humiliation and stigma endured by those who survive More...
Here is another report from the Daily Beast back in August:
Syrian Army Accused of Vicious, Systematic Rape
Aug 13, 2012 2:58 PM EDT Jamie Dettmer reports from inside Syria on allegations of vicious sexual violence by the Syrian Army. She speaks haltingly. Telling the story isn’t easy for the 38-year-old Syrian Sunni Muslim, and she won’t be explicit about the physical details that suggest her friend had been raped before dying. Coaxed by her husband, and with her 4-year-old daughter fidgeting by her side, Saima talks quietly of the slaughter of her husband’s first wife, of her own near-death, and of the rape of a friend in their hometown of Homs in west Syria. Her story adds to mounting allegations that Syrian forces—most especially the pro-government Shabiha civilian militia, the ultraloyal enforcers of embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime—are using sexual violence and rape to terrify and punish rebels, adding to the cruelty of an 18-month-long conflict that has seen the government shoot unarmed civilians, including children, and shell populated areas, and has seen the rebels torture and execute captured Shabiha militiamen. “Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women, and boys,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Soldiers and pro-government armed militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.” The stigma of sexual assault runs deep in Syrian culture as it does across the Middle East; rape is shaming and casts dishonor, and it is especially difficult for Salma to speak of such things with a male stranger, making her testimony that much more significant and plausible. Dressed in black, her head covered by a hijab, Saima displays her scarred hand. She’d raised it instinctively as bullets were flying to shield her daughter when the Shabiha stormed their home and started shooting randomly. More...
Here are some other blogs I written about violence against women in Syria: Rape in Syria: Woman dies after encounter with rodent Assad's systematic use of Rape in Syria Why did this Syrian mother try to kill her own child?
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
UPDATE: 10 March 2013: Rape is an ongoing problem in Syria. The Daily Beast published this piece today, so I'm adding it as an update to yesterday's blog:
Teen Activist Speaks Out On Rape In Syria’s Prisons
by Kristin Deasy Mar 10, 2013 4:45 AM EDT A teen activist speaks out about the abuse she saw in Assad’s prisons. At 2 in the morning in a Syrian prison, teen detainee Khetam Bneyan woke to the sound of summons from President Bashar al-Assad’s security guards. But they had not come for her. Instead, they led away a fellow prisoner whose subsequent treatment, Bneyan said, embodied her worst nightmare: Rape. Bneyan’s fellow prisoner was tied down and forcibly penetrated during questioning that night, according to the 19-year-old, whose “biggest fear” during detainment was, she later said, similar treatment at the hands of her jailers. It is not clear how often rape occurs behind bars or elsewhere in Syria, but Bneyan’s story testifies to its use as a weapon of intimidation. Bneyan was paranoid about it but had become “less worried” after surviving nearly three weeks in jail without being threatened or seeing anyone else threatened, she said--that is, until she glimpsed the “yellow” face of her fellow prisoner, a young woman believed married to a man working for the anti-government rebel forces. “You could tell that something had happened to her,” Bneyan told me through an interpreter over Skype, saying the woman came back from questioning wearing different clothing and then spent hours in the bathroom, which she said was against protocol. Bneyan said that the woman told her she was raped by a Syrian army military captain, who forced her onto a bed and tied her arms and legs to keep her down. “When he started to rape her, she started to scream,” Bneyan said, detailing the conversation she said she had with the woman and one other detainee hours after the alleged crime: “He said, ‘no one will help you.’ And then he opened the door, so everyone [other prison guards] could hear. He said, ‘See? No one's going to help you.’ He then said, ‘let the FSA [rebel Free Syria Army] help you.’ He then said, ‘you must confess and you must help us. Confess.’ This was after the first time." Bneyan said the 25-year-old woman described being raped twice, but “when she got to this point [in describing the first rape] in the story, the girl broke down." More...
Al Arabia has this piece on violence against women in Syria:
Thousands of Syrian women are detained, kidnapped and tortured: watchdog
Saturday, 9 March 2013 The Syrian Human rights network has found that 4257 women have been killed by the Syrian regime security forces since the start of the revolution in March 2011. As for female detainees, there are at least 6400 women, including 1000 university students. However, authorities continue to refuse handing out or revealing any information on the fate of the detained women or their locations. In addition to this, 1200 women were kidnapped by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, according to the watchdog network. Most of the women who disappeared were in the areas of Homs, Latakia and Damascus. The Syrian network has also said, those kidnapped were subject to systemic torture and ill-treatment during their capture. The network mentioned more than 700 women were raped inside the security branches. Women in Syria were subject to other types of sexualized violence, ranging from verbal abuse to direct sexual harassment. This would take place while regime forces were strip searching them at the checkpoints within cities that were still under the regime’s control, or during raids executed by Assad’s forces. The Syrian human rights network stated in its report that the fear around sexualized violence is one of the main reasons why hundreds of thousands of Syrian women have sought refuge in neighboring countries.