Mainstream Media in America and Britain Repeat the Same Mistakes in Covering Iran That They Made on Iraq
In an excellent report released last month, the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) offered a thoroughly documented—and devastating—critique of mainstream media coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue. Authored by Jonas Siegel and Saranaz Barforoush, Media Coverage of Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Analysis of U.S. and U.K. Coverage, 2009-2012, see here, reviews coverage of Iran’s nuclear activities and the international controversy surrounding those activities in six major English-language newspapers: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.
To quote from the report’s executive summary (with emphasis added), the authors found that
“–Newspaper coverage focused on the ‘he said/she said’ aspects of the policy debate, without adequately explaining the fundamental issues that should have been informing assessments—such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, the influence of U.S., European, Iranian, and Israeli security strategies, and the impact of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
–When newspaper coverage did address Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, it did so in a manner that lacked precision, was inconsistent over time, and failed to provide adequate sourcing and context for claims. This led to an inaccurate picture of the choices facing policy makers.
–Government officials, particularly U.S. government officials, were the most frequently quoted or relied-on sources in coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. This tendency focused attention on a narrow set of policy options and deemphasized other potential approaches to the dispute.
–Newspaper coverage generally adopted the tendency of U.S., European, and Israeli officials to place on Iran the burden to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, failing to acknowledge the roles of these other countries in the dispute…
–Coverage of Iran’s nuclear program reflected and reinforced the negative sentiments about Iran that are broadly shared by U.S., European, and Israeli publics. This contributed to misunderstandings about the interests involved and narrowed the range of acceptable outcomes.
In general, these characteristics led newspapers to frame their coverage of Iran’s nuclear program in a manner that emphasized official narratives of the dispute and a relatively narrow range of policy choices available to officials. By not consistently describing the complex web of international relationships, security concerns, and intervening political factors in sufficient detail, newspaper coverage further privileged official narratives and policy preferences. This makes it likely that the policies enacted and under consideration by policy makers—coercive diplomacy and war—remain the most likely outcome of the dispute. In this way, news coverage of Iran’s nuclear program is reminiscent of news coverage of the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. News coverage has the potential to play a significant, constructive role in finding a lasting resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, but journalists and editors first need to address the tendencies present in their current coverage of the topic.”
We encourage all to read and ponder, hard, this important new report.
On 8 January the Financial Times published an article by James Blitz, entitled ‘Fears raised over Syria uranium stockpile’, premised primarily on the ‘fears’ and otherwise subjective ruminations of unnamed ‘official’ and ‘expert’ sources, one the two named sources being former weapons inspector David Albright (discussed further below).
The claims of Blitz’s sources rest on the argument that, because we lack proof that something is false, it must be true (an ad ignorantiam argument). For example, Blitz states that, ‘Three satellite pictures of the Marj al-Sultan site taken in October, November and December of 2012 and shown to the FT [...] appear to show the gradual clearance of a large orchard there, for no apparent reason’. And so, the clearance has triggered fears that (a) the site is ‘a secret uranium conversion facility’, and (b) that tonnes of uranium have been transferred to the site. Because we do not have proof that the orchard has not been cleared for the transfer of uranium, this is cause for concern that this may be the case, according to the article.
Blitz’s sources claim that they have legitimate concerns about a uranium stockpile in Syria, enough uranium they say ‘to provide weapons-grade fuel for five atomic devices’, which could then be transferred ‘from Syria to Iran by air’.
The overarching concern of the article is that Iran would be provided with ‘a “vital resource” [which could] possibly be used to build a bomb’. This depends on a series of speculative claims made by Blitz’s sources turning out to be simultaneously true, with the addition of Iran ‘attempt[ing] to build another secret uranium plant’ (Blitz doesn’t expand on the meaning of ‘another’). To reach this conclusion, the following must all occur:
1. Syria must be in possession of 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium. (Blitz plainly states, in the opening paragraph, that cause for concern lies with ‘up to 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium’ – the implication being that such a thing actually exists – before later backtracking to suggest uncertainty with the inclusion of the clause ‘if it exists’ in reference to the uranium.)
2. The Marj al-Sultan site must actually be a uranium conversion facility. (The report notes that such claims are alleged: ‘what [the experts] allege is a secret uranium conversion facility that the Syrian regime built at the town of Marj al-Sultan near Damascus’.)
3. The uranium must be at the site. (‘Whether the uranium is at the site is unclear, the officials conceded’.)
4. Iran must be trying to ‘seize’ the uranium. (‘Iran, which is closely allied to the Syrian regime and urgently needs uranium for its nuclear programme, might be trying to seize such a stockpile’.)
Given that the above scenarios are at best uncertain and at worst hypothetical, the credibility given to the argument that this might result in Iran ‘building the bomb’ is questionable.
One of Blitz’s two named sources is David Albright, former weapons inspector and head of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). Put forward as a ‘leading expert’ on the Iranian nuclear programme, he is quoted as having concerns about the ‘whereabouts of this uranium’, which Blitz concedes may or may not exist. Albright’s past speculations on states he supposed had been hiding nuclear weapons is worth considering. In August 2002, eight months before the US-led invasion of Iraq, he was interviewed by The Guardian in an article entitled ‘Does Iraq have a nuclear weapon?’ Below are three quotes from the article, which highlight to some degree the lack of substance to his arguments:
‘People have argued that you could find nuclear facilities quickly as they are big, but Iraq knows how to make them small…The clock is ticking’.
‘You would think that if Iraq had a nuclear weapon, it would have done something to show it. But then you can’t be certain’.
‘Once it gets the gas-centrifuge programme, you have to assume that it could make [a bomb] in half a year’.
More recently, Albright has been the co-author of a report from ISIS entitled ‘New Satellite Image Shows Activity at Parchin Site in Iran’. The introduction to the report discusses a satellite image which ‘shows what appears to be a stream of water that emanates from or near the building’ that ‘raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building’. This and other activities at the Parchin site that have been seen in the last year on satellite images, such as the movement of lorries, and the demolishing of a building, provide the sole basis for Albright’s argument that there has been a nuclear cover-up. In the Financial Times article, Blitz’s reference to ‘the gradual clearance of a large orchard’ is in a similar vein to the speculations that ISIS have made in the past about Iran.
As Albright’s targets are generally the official ‘enemies’ of the west, he receives respectful attention from the UK media, despite an absence of any factual substance to his work.
The ‘concerns’ Blitz reports on belong to his sources, so it is their judgement, and not just his, which is premised on fallacy. Blitz, however, has based his entire argument, without criticism, on the opinions of these officials, and has further developed them into a foretelling narrative, one which doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.
When the Respectable Become Extremists The Extremists Become Respectable: Colombia and the Mainstream Media
Introduction: By any historical measure, whether it involves international law, human rights conventions, United Nations protocols, socio-economic indicators, the policies and practices of the United States and European Union regimes can be characterized as extremist. By that we mean that their policies and practices result in large scale long-term systematic destruction of human lives, habitat and likelihood affecting millions of people through the direct application of force and violence. The extremist regimes abhor moderation which implies rejection of total wars in favor of peaceful negotiations. Moderation pursues conflict resolution through diplomacy and compromise and the rejection of state and paramilitary terror, mass dispossession and displacement of civilian populations and the systematic assault on popular sectors of civil society.
The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the West’s embrace of extremism in all of its manifestation both in domestic and foreign policy. Extremism is a common practice by self-styled conservatives, liberals and social-democrats. In the past, conservative implies preserving the status quo and at most tinkering with change at the margins. Today’s ‘conservatives’ demand the wholesale dismantling of entire social welfare systems, the elimination of traditional legal restraints on labor and environmental abuses. Liberals and social democrats who in the past, occasionally, questioned colonial systems have been in the forefront of prolonged multiple colonial wars which have killed and displaced millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
Extremism both in terms of methods, means and goals has obliterated the distinctions between center left, center and rightwing politicians. Moderate opponents to policies subsidizing a dozen major banks and impoverishing tens of millions of workers are called the “hard left”, “extremists” or “radicals”.
In the wake of the extremist policies of public officials, the respectable, prestigious print media have engaged in their own versions of extremism . Colonial wars that devastate civil society and materially and culturally impoverish millions in the colonized country are justified, embellished and made to appear as lawful, humane and furthering secular democratic values. Domestic wars on behalf of oligarchies and against wage and salaried workers, which concentrate wealth and deepen despair of the dispossessed are described as rational, virtuous and necessary. The distinctions between the prudent, balanced, prestigious and serious media and the sensationalist, yellow press have disappeared. The fabrication of facts, blatant omissions and distortions of context are found in one as well as the other.
To illustrate the reign of extremism in officialdom and among the prestigious press, we will examine two case studies: US policies toward and the Financial Times and New York Times reportage on Colombia and Honduras.
Colombia: The “Oldest Democracy in Latin America” versus “the Death squad Capital of the World”
Following on the heels of euphoric eulogies of Colombia’s emergence as a poster boy in an April issue of Time, and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, the Financial Times ran a series of articles including a special insert on Colombia’s political and economic “miracle”, “Investing in Colombia” . According to the FTs leading Latin American journalist, one John Paul Rathbone, Colombia is the “oldest democracy in the hemisphere” . Rathbone’s rapture for Colombia’s President Santos extends from his role as an “emerging power broker” for the South American continent, to making Colombia safe for foreign investors and “exciting the envy” of other less successful regimes in the region. Rathbone gives prominence to one Colombia business leader who claims that Colombia’s second biggest city “Medellín is living through its best of times” . In line with the opinion of the foreign and business elite, the respectable print media describe Colombia as prosperous, peaceful, business friendly-charging the lowest mining royalty payments in the hemisphere – a model of a stable democracy to be emulated by all forward-looking leaders. Colombia under President Santos, has signed a free trade agreement with President Obama, his closest ally in the hemisphere . Under Bush the trade unions, human rights and church groups and the majority of Congressional Democrats were successful in blocking the agreement on the basis of Colombia’s sustained human rights violations. When Obama embraced the free trade agreement, the AFL-CIO and Democratic opposition evaporated, as President Obama claimed a vast improvement in human rights and the commitment of Santos to ending the murder of trade union leaders and activists .
The peace, security and prosperity eulogized by the oil, mining, banking, and agro-business elite are based on the worst human rights record in Latin America. With regard to the murder of trade unionists Colombia exceeds the entire rest of the world. Between 1986-2011 over 60% of the trade unionists assassinated in the world took place in Colombia, by the combined military-police-paramilitary forces, largely at the behest of foreign and domestic corporate leaders . The “peace” that Rathbone and his cohort at the Financial Times praise is at the cost of over 12,000 assassinations and arrests, injuries, disappearances of trade unionists between January 1, 1986 and October 1, 2010 . In that time span nearly 3,000 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, hundreds were kidnapped or disappeared. President Santos was the Defense Minister under previous President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). In those eight years, 762 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, over 95% by the state or allied paramilitary forces .
Under Presidents Uribe Santos 2002 – 2012 over 4 million peasants and rural householders were displaced and dispossessed of their homes and their lands were confiscated and taken over by landlords and narco- traffickers . The terror tactics employed by the regimes counter-insurgency strategy served a dual purpose of repressing dissent and accumulating wealth. The Financial Times journalists ignore this chapter in Colombia’s “resurgent growth”. They are especially enthused by the “security” that ensued because large scale foreign investment, over $6 billion dollars, in 2012 flowed into mining and oil regions that were formerly “troubled” by unrest .
Leading drug lords, who were closely linked to the Uribe-Santos regime, and were subsequently jailed and extradited to the US have testified that they financed and elected one-third of the Congress people affiliated with Uribe-Santos party in what Rathbone refers to as Latin America’s “oldest democracy”. According to Salvatore Mancuso, ex-chief of the former 30,000 member United Self-Defense of Colombia paramilitary death squad, he met with then, President Uribe, in different regions of the country and gave him money and logistical support in his re-election campaign of 2006. He also affirmed that many national and multi-national corporations (MNC) financed the growth and expansion of the paramilitary death squads. What Rathbone and his fellow journalists at the FT celebrate as Colombia’s emergence as an investor’s paradise is writ large with the blood and gore of thousands of Colombian peasants, trade unionists and human rights activists. The gory history of the Uribe/Santos reign of terror has been completely omitted from the current account of Colombia’s “success story”. Detailed records of the brutality of the killings and torture by Uribe/Santos sponsored death squads, which describe the use of chain saws to cut limbs from peasants suspected of leftist sympathies, are available to any journalist willing to consult Colombia’s leading human rights organizations .
The death squads and military act in concert. The military is trained by by over one thousand US Special Forces advisers. They arrive in a village in a wave of US supplied helicopters, secure the region from guerillas and then allow the AUC terrorists to savage the villages, killing, raping and disemboweling men, women and children suspected of being guerilla sympathizers. The terror tactics have driven millions of peasants out of the countryside.
Allowing the generals and drug lords to seize their land
Human rights advocates (HRA) are frequently targeted by the military and death squads. President Uribe and Santos first accuse them of being active collaborators of the guerillas for exposing the regime’s crimes against humanity. Once they are labeled, the HRA became “legitimate targets” for armed assaults by the death squads and the military who act with complete impunity. Between 2002-2011, 1,470 acts of violence were perpetrated against HRA, with a record number of 239 in 2011, including 49 assassinations during the Presidency of Santos.  Over half of the murdered HRA are Indians and Afro-Colombians.
State terrorism was and continues to be the main instrument of rule under Presidents Uribe and Santos. The Colombian “killing fields” according to the Fiscalia General include tens of thousands of homicides , 1,597 massacres and thousands of forced disappearances between 2005 – 2010 .
The practice, revealed in the Colombian press, of “false positives” in which the military kidnaps poor young men, dresses them as guerrillas and then assassinates them, comes across in the respectable US print media as evidence of Santos/Uribe’s military successes against the guerrillas. There are 2,472 documented cases of military false positive murders .
Honduras: New York Times and State Terrorism
The New York Times featured an article on Honduras, emphasizing the the regime’s “co-operation” with the US drug war.  The Times writer Thom Shanker speaks of a “partnership” based on the expansion of three new US military bases and the stationing of US Special Forces in the country. 
Shanker describes the successful operation of the Honduras Special Operations forces guided and directed by trainers from the US Special Forces. Shanker mentions a visit by a delegation of Congressional staff members who favorably assessed the local forces respect of human rights, and cites the US ambassador in Honduras as praising the regime as an “eager and capable partners in this joint effort”. 
There are insidious parallels between the NY Times white wash of the criminal extremist regime in Honduras and the Financial Times’ crude promotion of Colombia’s death squad democracy.
The current regime headed by “President” Lobos- which invites the Pentagon to expand its military control over swathes of Honduran territory- is a product of a US backed military coup which overthrew an elected liberal President on June 28, 2009, a point Shanker forgets to mention. Lobos, the predator president, retains control by killing, jailing and torturing critics, journalists, human rights defenders and landless rural laborers seeking to reclaim their lands which were violently seized by Lobos’ landlord backers.
Following the military coup, thousands of Honduran pro-democracy demonstrators were killed, beaten and arrested. According to conservative estimates by Human Rights Watch 20 pro-democracy dissidents were murdered by the military and police.  Between January 2010 and November 2011 at least 12 journalists critical of the Lobos regime were murdered.
In the countryside, where NY Times reporter Shanker describes a love fest between the US Special Forces and their Honduran counterparts, between January and August 2011, 30 farm workers in northern Honduras Bajo Aguan valley were killed by death squads hired by Lobos backed oligarchs .  Nary a single military, police or death squad assassin has been judged and jailed. Coup leader Roberto Micheletti and President Lobos, his successor, have repeatedly assaulted pro-democracy demonstrations, especially those led by school teachers, students and trade unionists and have tortured hundreds of jailed political dissidents. Precisely in the same time span as the NY Times publishes its most euphoric article on the friendly relations between the US and Honduras, the death toll among pro-democracy dissidents rose precipitously: eight journalists and a TV commentator have been killed over the first 4 months of 2012.  In late March and early April of 2012 nine farm workers and employees were murdered by pro-Lobos landlords.  No arrests, no suspects, impunity reigns in the land of US military bases. The Times follows the Mafia rule of omega-silence and complicity.
Syria: How the FT Absolves Al Qaeda Terrorists
As western backed terrorists savage Syria, the Western press, especially the Financial Times, continues to absolve the terrorists of setting of car bombs killing and maiming hundreds.of civilians. With crude cynicism their reporters shrug their shoulders and give credence to the claims of the London based terrorists propaganda mongers, that the Assad regime was engaged in destroying its own cities and security forces.
As the Obama regime and its European backers publicly embrace extremism, including state terror, targeted assassinations and the car bombing of crowded cities, the respectable press has followed suit. Extremism takes many forms –from the omission of reports on the use of force and violence in overthrowing adversary regimes to the cover-up of the wholesale murder of tens of thousands of civilians and the dispossession of millions of peasants and farmers. The “educated classes”, the affluent reading public are being indoctrinated by the respectable media to believe that a smiling and pragmatic President Santos and elected President Lobos have succeeded in establishing peace, market based prosperity and securing mutually beneficial free trade and military base concessions with the US—even as the two regimes lead the world in the murder of trade unionists and journalists. Even as I read, on May 15, 2012 that the US Hispanic Congressional caucus has awarded Lobos a leadership in democracy award, the Honduran press reports the murder of the news director of station HMT Alfredo Villatoro, the 25th critical journalist killed between January 27, 2010 and May 15, 2012. 
The respectable press’s embrace of extremism, its use of demonological terminology and vitriolic language to describe imperial adversaries is matched by its euphoric and effusive praise of state and pro-western mercenary terrorists. The systematic cover-up practiced by extremist journalism goes far beyond the cases of Colombia and Honduras. The reportage of the Financial Times Michael Peel on the NATO led destruction of Libya, Africa’s most advanced welfare state, and the rise to power of armed gangs of fanatical tribal and Islamic terrorists, is presented as a victory for a democracy over a “brutal dictatorship” . Peel’s mendacity and cant is evident in his outrageous claims that the destruction of the Libyan economy and the mass torture and racial murders which ensued NATOs war, is a victory for the Libyan people.
The totalitarian twist in the respectable press is a direct consequence of its toadying to the extremist policies pursued by the western regimes. Since extremist measures, like the use of force, violence, assassination and torture, have become routine under the incumbent presidents and prime ministers, the reporters have no choice but to fabricate lies to rationalize these crimes, to spit out a constant flow of highly charged adjectives in order to convert victims into executioners and executioners into victims. Extremism in defense of pro-US regimes has led to the most grotesque accounts imaginable: Colombia and Mexico’s Presidents are the leaders of the most thoroughly narcotized economies in the hemisphere yet they are praised for their war on drugs, while Venezuela the most marginal producer is stigmatized as a major narco-pipeline. 
Articles with no factual bases, which are worthless as sources of objective information, direct us to seek for an underlying rationale. Colombia has signed a free trade agreement which will benefit US exports over Colombian by over a two to one ratio . Mexico’s free trade policy has benefited US agribusiness and giant retailers by a similar ratio.
Extremism in all of its forms permeates Western regimes and finds its justification and rationalization in the respectable media whose job is to indoctrinate civil society and turn citizens into voluntary accomplices to extremism. By endlessly prefacing “reports” on Russia’s Putin as an authoritarian Soviet era tyrant, the respectable media obviate any discussion of his doubling of living standards and the 60% plus electoral triumph. By magnifying an authoritarian past, Gadhafi’s vast public works, social welfare programs and generous immigration and foreign aid programs to sub-Sahara Africa can be relegated to the memory hole. The respectable press’s praise of death squad Presidents Santos and Lobos is part of a large scale long term systematic shift from the hypocritical pretense of pursuing the virtues of a democratic republic to the open embrace of a virulent, murderous empire. The new journalists’ code reads “extremism in defense of empire is no vice”.
 There’s a general consensus that the respectable print media include The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
 Financial Times (FT) 5/8/12;See also FT (5/4/12)”Colombia looks to consolidate gainsin country of complexities”
 FT 5/8/12 (p. 1)
 FT ibid
 BBC News , May 5, 2012
 Renan Vega Cantor Sindicalicidio! Uncuento poco imaginativo) de Terroismo Laboral Bogotá, Feb. 25, 2012.
 Inforrme CODHES Novembre 2010.
 FT 5/8/12 p. 4.
 See the Annual Reports of CODHES, Reiniciar and Human Rights Watch
 Claroscuro Informe Aual 2011; Programa Somos Defensores Bogota 2012; Corporacion Colectivo de Abogados. Jan. – March 2012.
 Fiscalia General. Informe 2012
 Thom Shanker “Lessons of Iraq Help US Fight a Drug War in Honduras” New York Times, May 6, 2012.6
 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012
 Honduran Human Rights, May 12m, 2012.
 The notorious cover-up of the car bombing is the handiwork of the FT’s star middle east journalists. See Michael Peel and Abigail Fielding-Smith “At Least 55 Die in two Damascus Explosions: Responsibility for Blasts Disputed”, FT 5/11/12.
 Honduras Human Rights, April 24, 2012.
 Michael Peel, “The Colonels Last Stand” FT 5/12 – 13/12
 One of Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary narco traffickers described the close financial and political ties between the Colombian United Self Defense terrorists and the Uribe-Santos regime. Se La Jornada 5/12/12.
 BBC News, 5/15/12. According to the US International Trade Commission estimates the value of US exports to Colombia could rise by $1.1 billion while Colombia’s exports could grow by $487 million.
- Colombia: Obama’s Bloodiest Betrayal? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Progress or Promises? Free Trade and Labor Rights in Colombia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Mirage and Reality in Southern Bolivar (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Former Colombian minister denies paramilitary ties – Colombia news | Colombia Reports (aboriginalpress.wordpress.com)
Physicians for Human Rights Supports Tougher U.S. Sanctions
The wing of the U.S. human rights movement which targets foreign countries can wind up as a cruel business, aiding the ruthless and violent actions of the U.S. Empire, wittingly or not. For the U.S. all too often uses human rights as a cover for taking action against countries that defy the Empire’s control.
Some weeks back, I decided to look into one such group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an organization I had long refrained from joining out of skepticism. But perhaps, I thought, PHR had sidestepped the dangers inherent in this work. So I joined to find out.
Some days later I received my first email from PHR. I was floored by the heading, “Protect Syrian Citizens: Help Make Sanctions Tougher.” The word “tougher” struck me. The email read in part: “Help us impose tougher sanctions on Pres. Assad’s brutal regime. The Syria Sanctions Act of 2011, S. 1472, will target Syria’s energy and financial sectors. Contact your Senators today and urge them to back S. 1472.” The sponsor of this bill was Kirsten Gillibrand, and among the 12 co-sponsors were two neocon leaders, John McCain and Joe Lieberman, the latter hardly a human rights stalwart when it comes to Palestinians. Did that not ring alarm bells at PHR?
Sanctions Target the Syrian People, Bringing Poverty and Hunger
PHR argues that the sanctions are “targeted” at the oil and financial sectors and therefore are of consequence only for the Syrian elite. Since 25% of the revenue of the Syrian government comes from oil revenues (according to the text of the bill), expenditures providing needed relief to the population, for example, the current price supports for food, will certainly be affected. But it is not only the revenues of the Syrian government that are affected. The Financial Times reports:
The most significant sanctions are on the oil industry, estimated by the International Monetary Fund to have accounted for almost a fifth of gross domestic product in 2010. Analysts estimate that they helped contribute to a contraction of 2-10 per cent to Syria’s economy last year (2011).
The results of the sanctions should be obvious with only a moment’s thought. If the Assad regime is as nefarious as PHR claims, then certainly it will put itself way ahead of the common people as sanctions bite. Such an attitude is the norm not the exception in the world today. But even if the leaders of the human rights community could not figure this out, the impact of the sanctions on ordinary Syrians is hardly a secret, even in the mainstream press. Thus in March the Washington Post ran an article entitled “Syria running out of cash as sanctions take toll, but Assad avoids economic pain.” One did not even need to read beyond the headline to get the point. The article reports as follows:
The financial hemorrhaging has forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country, and has prompted the government to seek more help from Iran to prop up the country’s sagging currency.… Revenue from Syrian oil, meanwhile, has almost dried up, with even China and India declining to accept the nation’s crude….. At the same time, President Bashar al-Assad appears to have shielded himself and his inner circle from much of the pain of the sanctions and trade embargoes, which are driving up food and fuel prices for many of the country’s 20 million residents…
The Washington Post is not alone in this assessment. The Financial Times tells us:
A murky broader picture (emerges) suggesting that while some sanctions are hurting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the president, and its alleged associates, they are also hurting ordinary Syrians … David Butter, a Middle East economic expert, said: ‘If it’s a scrap for limited resources, the regime is still in a position to get the first rights, whether fuel or cash or food. It [the sanctions regime] hurts them but to really cripple them is going to take a long time.
And the effect desired by the U.S. is quite clear. Another article in the Washington Post with the headline “Amid Unrest, Syrians Struggle to Feed Their Families” reports that food prices have risen as the result of sanctions. As a result the Assad government in March “introduced a system of price-fixing for essential foods that has stabilized the cost of bread, sugar and meat — although they remain much higher than they were a year ago. ….. ‘ Despite efforts to mitigate the problem around half of Syrians may live in poverty, said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institute in Doha, who argued that this is increasing anti-government feeling.” Regime change is the point. And the pronouncements of Obama and Hillary make this abundantly clear.
The Empire in Desperation Pulls Out all the Stops to bring Syria to Heel
Since Russia and China drew a line in the sand to stop the overthrow of the Syrian regime by the West, the United States appears increasingly desperate. That desperation has grown since the UN-brokered cease-fire has terminated much of the fighting and killing, however imperfectly.
But is not the Assad government to blame for the failures of the cease-fire? If so, it is certainly not alone. Recently the NYT reported: “An explosion killed at least three people in Aleppo, and two blasts hit a Damascus highway on Saturday in further signs that rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad are shifting tactics toward homemade explosives. Syria’s state news agency said three people had been killed, one of them a child, and 21 had been wounded by a booby-trapped car in the northern city of Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Humans Rights, an opposition group based in Britain that relies on information from Syrian activists, said the blast destroyed a carwash in Tal al-Zarazeer, a poor suburb, and killed five people. A member of the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying that the carwash was used by members of a pro-Assad militia.”
A car wash is hardly a target that is focused on the military. And today The Guardian and others reported that a Syrian military convoy protecting the UN observer mission was hit by a roadside explosion, injuring six Syrian soldiers, three badly. When Russian officials accuse the Syrian opposition of “terrorist tactics,” it appears that they have a point.
PHR has certainly done some good things in the past; for example, documenting human rights violations and medical abuses in Gaza and the West Bank – although this work is now solidly in the hands of the Israeli division of PHR, meaning, among other things, that it will get less attention in the U.S. And at no point has PHR called for boycotts against Israel, a regime that has killed untold thousands of Palestinians in what amounts to a long slow genocide. In the eyes of PHR it would appear that official enemies of the U.S. Empire deserve sanctions, whereas allies who violate the most basic human rights get an investigation and a tongue lashing – at most.
In fact, sanctions are the work of our imperial government; and when a “human rights” organization gets into the business of supporting them, it is de facto in the business of supporting the Empire and its drive for domination. 1 Token ruminations about human rights violations by U.S. “allies” or clients do not alter this fact. Such ruminations serve as little more than a cover for the real use of these groups to the Empire. Whether the PHR policy makers understand this or not makes little difference.
So what was this PHR member to do in the face of such a stance by his organization? This writer called the Boston office, the home office, to complain about the decision to back the Sanctions bill. I was given to understand by one staffer that I was not the only member to register dissatisfaction. I inquired who made this decision and how it was made. Initially I was told that such decisions were not made in the home office but at a smaller office in Washington, which works closely with Congress. In a subsequent email I was told that “the policy and program decisions are made by our Executive Management team.” Who is the “Executive Management Team”? This member does not know and has not been told. Furthermore the PHR web site does not contain any information about the Executive Management Team, as far as I can see. Are personnel of the U.S. government consulted in such deliberations? (The PHR membership clearly is not.) And should not such an important decision at least have some input from the members?
But PHR is not alone in providing cover for the designs of the Empire. They are but one example. Other human rights organizations appear to be jumping on the bandwagon. And, of course, the U.S. government is happy to have their support. Syria is clearly the gateway to Iran – and both countries have refused to one degree or another to submit to the will of the U.S. So regime change for both countries is high on the agenda of the West. That is the way of Empire.
PHR started out at its founding in 1978 documenting the abuses of the Pinochet government, a client of the Empire. Today it has descended into an instrument for justifying an attack on one of the official enemies of the U.S. That is the danger of a “human rights” approach if uninformed by an understanding of the designs and ruthlessness of the Empire.
The core of the physicians’ credo is “First do no harm.” Starving a people for the sake of “human rights” as part of a campaign that serves imperial machinations for regime change hardly fits into that injunction. And certainly PHR knows that diseases arising from privation and hunger fall most heavily on non-combatants, children and the elderly especially. That is no secret either. Perhaps PHR is echoing the judgment of Madeleine Albright on Iraq that the human carnage of the sanctions is “worth it.” However, from an ethical viewpoint, that judgment does not belong to citizens of the Empire living in comfort far from the victims in Syria.
- It is interesting to read what is necessary for such sanctions to be lifted once imposed. The bill states the following:“Termination will occur “on the date the President submits to Congress a certification that the government of Syria is democratically elected and representative of the people of Syria and a certification under the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 that the Syrian government has:
- ceased support for international terrorist groups;
- ended its occupation of Lebanon;
- ceased development and deployment of ballistic missiles and biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons and agreed to verification measures; and
- ceased all support for, and facilitation of, terrorist activities in Iraq.”
Given that one of the named “terrorist groups” is Hamas, which is the duly elected government in Gaza, and given the murkiness of the other requirements, this is a tall order indeed
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.