The best case scenario for peace in Afghanistan is US withdrawal of forces from the country and multilateral negotiations between main stakeholders to establish a national unity government, according to Professor Dennis Etler, an American political analyst who has a decades-long interest in international affairs.
Etler, a professor of Anthropology at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, made the remarks in an interview with Press TV on Saturday while commenting on a US military announcement which says the Pentagon will deploy a new task force of approximately 300 Marines to Afghanistan’s restive Helmand Province, marking the return to a region where hundreds of troops were killed in fierce combat.
The forces with a unit called Task Force Southwest will deploy this spring to advise the Afghan army and police, senior Marine officers said Friday. The deployment will last nine months and is expected to evolve into a series of similar rotations for the Marines, officials said.
Professor Etler said, “With the lame duck Obama administration quickly coming to an end the question of the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan comes to the fore.”
“The Afghan war which began in 2001 has been the longest that the US has fought. After thousands of casualties and billions of dollars Afghanistan is less secure than any time since the US invasion with one third of the country under Taliban control and a plethora of Takfiri terrorist groups infiltrating the territory,” he stated.
“As things now stand the interminable US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan appears to be headed for another round of escalation,” the analyst noted.
Will Trump follow through on his vow to leave Afghanistan?
Professor Etler said that “there is a new administration set to be installed in Washington.”
“Trump has vociferously stated time and time again that Afghanistan is a rat hole into which the US has heedlessly sent thousands of US soldiers and spent billions of dollars to little if any effect. Trump in a tweet from 2013 succinctly said, ‘Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA,’” he stated.
“The question is will Trump once he’s in the White House live up to his words? And if he does what will happen to Afghanistan? Will it become a hot bed of Takfiri terrorism like Iraq and Syria? The Taliban are an indigenous force motivated by nationalist fervor to expel foreign occupiers of whatever sort. They have demonstrated that they will unrelentingly persist in their resistance no matter how long it takes,” he said.
“The only way out is multinational negotiations in which the Taliban participate as fully vested members. Russia and China, hoping to stem the tide of Takfiri terrorism gaining a foothold on their borders, have already stepped into the breach,” he said.
“Late in 2016, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials met in Moscow calling for a flexible approach towards working with the Taliban to foster a peaceful dialogue,” the researched argued.
“The Taliban have also maintained strong links to China, having sent a delegation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in July 2016 and declaring that they will protect Chinese interests in a $3 billion copper mining project in the northern part of the country,” he stated.
“The best case scenario for peace in Afghanistan is multilateral negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban, Pakistan, Russia and China to establish a government of national unity in which the Taliban are full participants,” the analyst noted.
“As with the recently brokered ceasefire in Syria there is no need for US/NATO involvement. In fact, as Trump has previously stated, it’s time for the US to get out and go home. Let the adults resolve the issues that the US and its NATO allies have only exacerbated,” he advised.
“But will Trump do as he says? Will he let others succeed where the US has failed? Only time will tell,” he concluded.
As Donald Trump clearly signals change of course, some EU leaders – possibly including Angela Merkel – cling to their anti-Russian policies.
The French commentator Natalie Nougayrède has written an extraordinary piece in The Guardian, which hints that even if Donald Trump lifts US sanctions on Russia…
Angela Merkel will try to keep EU sanctions in place:
It’s expected that the first key test will play out in the Donbass. If Trump backtracks on sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, will the EU be able to maintain a common front? German officials privately hint this may create a transatlantic rift that they wouldn’t shy away from if Europe’s collective interests are deemed at stake. “We may need to go there” says one, quickly adding a lot will depend on the French presidential vote.
Nougayrède is a well-connected person, who was formerly executive editor and managing editor of Le Monde, and her writing does sometimes reflect fairly closely the opinions of senior EU officials. In this instance moreover she claims to have been told this by German officials, who presumably reflect Merkel’s thinking.
In reality the suggestion that the EU might persist with its anti-Russian sanctions if Trump lifts those of the US, is both breathtaking and delusional. There is already widespread opposition to the sanctions, especially in southern Europe, and the idea that Angela Merkel, with or without French support, could single-handedly keep Europe in line on the sanctions even if a Trump led US reversed its position on them, is sheer fantasy.
It is to such fantasies that those in Europe who joined the ride of the anti-Russian campaign during Obama’s second term, and who invested all their hopes and ambitions in Hillary Clinton’s election, must now cling to. Having surrendered to the US control of Europe’s foreign policy, if under Trump the US now reverses course, they will have no cards left to play, and will be obliged to follow suit.
The main goal of the whole “Russian hacking” US election narrative is a propaganda stunt aimed discrediting Trump by claiming that Russia’s Vladimir Putin personally intervened to discredit Hillary Clinton, retired CIA analyst has told RT.
“It’s designed to smear Trump. Because even the language that developed the notion that Vladimir Putin took it upon himself and instructed the intelligence organs in Russia to go out and discredit Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton didn’t need any help being discredited, she was quite effective at it herself,” Larry Johnson said.
“It was not Vladimir Putin that put the email server in her bathroom,” Johnson added.
“It was not Vladimir Putin who told Hillary Clinton to use a private email account and conduct US-government business over that account and to share classified information. And her repeated lying about it. The fact that you would just focus a story on it somehow makes you an agent of Vladimir Putin. This thing is so ridiculous. It’s amusing we have talk about, but it’s so serious because it shows just the level that the intelligence community in the United States has fallen to. They are playing and interfering in domestic policies,” he said.
The report lacks any factual evidence, because the intelligence services apparently don’t have any, Larry Johnson believes. “I don’t think they’re hiding anything because they don’t have anything. These are ‘or and how’ intelligence estimates as opposed to an intelligence analysis based on fact. There’s no fact underlying this. There are analytical assumptions,” Johnson said.
“You can tell that because whenever they use the language like ‘we assess that’ or ‘we believe that’ or ‘it’s likely that.’ That means they don’t know, because if you knew, you could say … in public ‘according to multiple sources we know that.’ You state facts,” he explained.
“This thing it’s a joke. If I’m a Russian intelligence analyst, with one of your intelligence services, I would be suspicious and think ‘What are the Americans up to? They really can’t be this stupid.’ And let me just reassure the folks on your side of the ledger – yeah, they actually are,” he added.
When the intelligence community raises such assumptions, it should be really confident and unanimous about them. It was, however, only somewhat coordinated within three of the agencies, namely FBI, CIA and NSA, according to Johnson.
“It was only CIA and FBI that ‘strongly agree’ but the NSA, who’s the only one in that group that would actually have the physical evidence of the hacking, if that existed… took a middle of the road position,” Johnson told RT.
The whole situation around the “hacking” report gives an impression of a well-staged spectacle, Johnson believes.
“Yesterday, the Arms Services Committee in the Senate holds a hearing alleging Russian hacking, about when hacks took place domestically in the United States and that Arms Services has no jurisdiction over intel side. That was entirely a propaganda ploy, and not a single journalist in the major outlets over here raised questions about that, it was an observed performance,” Johnson said.
The attack on Russian media and RT specifically, undertaken in the report despite its theme supposedly being the “hacking,” is quite understandable, according to Johnson, and emanates from hostility toward actually objective news coverage and jealousy towards RT being capable of such journalism.
“Because you’re actually a more objective news channel than Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the main stream media here in this country. I say that sincerely. I was a Fox New analyst, I’ve been on ABC, CBS, NBC, all of the cable channels … and I discovered that the kind of bias and propaganda they’ re accusing RT of engaging in is in fact what they themselves are doing.“
Repeating an accusation over and over again is not evidence that the accused is guilty, no matter how much “confidence” the accuser asserts about the conclusion. Nor is it evidence just to suggest that someone has a motive for doing something. Many conspiracy theories are built on the notion of “cui bono” – who benefits – without following up the supposed motive with facts.
But that is essentially what the U.S. intelligence community has done regarding the dangerous accusation that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a covert information campaign to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.
Just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper vowed to go to the greatest possible lengths to supply the public with the evidence behind the accusations, his office released a 25-page report that contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.
The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information – built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump.
But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses” – as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”
The DNI report admits as much, saying, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”
But the report’s assessment is more than just a reasonable judgment based on a body of incomplete information. It is tendentious in that it only lays out the case for believing in Russia’s guilt, not reasons for doubting that guilt.
A Risky Bet
For instance, while it is true that many Russian officials, including President Putin, considered Clinton to be a threat to worsen the already frayed relationship between the two nuclear superpowers, the report ignores the downside for Russia trying to interfere with the U.S. election campaign and then failing to stop Clinton, which looked like the most likely outcome until Election Night.
If Russia had accessed the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication, Putin would have to think that the National Security Agency, with its exceptional ability to track electronic communications around the world, might well have detected the maneuver and would have informed Clinton.
So, on top of Clinton’s well-known hawkishness, Putin would have risked handing the expected incoming president a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. Historically, Russia has been very circumspect in such situations, usually holding its intelligence collections for internal purposes only, not sharing them with the public.
While it is conceivable that Putin decided to take this extraordinary risk in this case – despite the widely held view that Clinton was a shoo-in to defeat Trump – an objective report would have examined this counter argument for him not doing so.
But the DNI report was not driven by a desire to be evenhanded; it is, in effect, a prosecutor’s brief, albeit one that lacks any real evidence that the accused is guilty.
Further undercutting the credibility of the DNI report is that it includes a seven-page appendix, dating from 2012, that is an argumentative attack on RT, the Russian government-backed television network, which is accused of portraying “the US electoral process as undemocratic.”
The proof for that accusation includes RT’s articles on “voting machine vulnerabilities” although virtually every major U.S. news organizations has run similar stories, including some during the last campaign on the feasibility of Russia hacking into the actual voting process, something that even U.S. intelligence says didn’t happen.
The reports adds that further undermining Americans’ faith in the U.S. democratic process, “RT broadcast, hosted and advertised third-party candidate debates.” Apparently, the DNI’s point is that showing Americans that there are choices beyond the two big parties is somehow seditious.
“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham,’” the report said. Yet, polls have shown that large numbers of Americans would prefer more choices than the usual two candidates and, indeed, most Western democracies have multiple parties, So, the implicit RT criticism of the U.S. political process is certainly not out of the ordinary.
The report also takes RT to task for covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reporting on the environmental dangers from “fracking,” topics cited as further proof that the Russian government was using RT to weaken U.S. public support for Washington’s policies (although, again, these are topics of genuine public interest).
Behind the Curtain
Though it’s impossible for an average U.S. citizen to know precisely what the U.S. intelligence community may have in its secret files, some former NSA officials who are familiar with the agency’s eavesdropping capabilities say Washington’s lack of certainty suggests that the NSA does not possess such evidence.
For instance, that’s the view of William Binney, who retired as NSA’s technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and who created many of the collection systems still used by NSA.
Binney, in an article co-written with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, said, “With respect to the alleged interference by Russia and WikiLeaks in the U.S. election, it is a major mystery why U.S. intelligence feels it must rely on ‘circumstantial evidence,’ when it has NSA’s vacuum cleaner sucking up hard evidence galore. What we know of NSA’s capabilities shows that the email disclosures were from leaking, not hacking.”
There is also the fact that both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have denied that the purloined emails came from the Russian government. Going further, Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.
In response, Clapper and other U.S. government officials have sought to disparage Assange’s credibility, including Clapper’s Senate testimony on Thursday gratuitously alluding to sexual assault allegations against Assange in Sweden.
However, Clapper’s own credibility is suspect in a more relevant way. In 2013, he gave false testimony to Congress regarding the extent of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans. Clapper’s deception was revealed only when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the NSA program to the press, causing Clapper to apologize for his “clearly erroneous” testimony.
A History of Politicization
The U.S. intelligence community’s handling of the Russian “hack” story also must be viewed in the historical context of the CIA’s “politicization” over the past several decades.
U.S. intelligence analysts, such as senior Russia expert Melvin A. Goodman, have described in detail both in books and in congressional testimony how the old tradition of objective CIA analysis was broken down in the 1980s.
At the time, the Reagan administration wanted to justify a massive arms buildup, so CIA Director William Casey and his pliant deputy, Robert Gates, oversaw the creation of inflammatory assessments on Soviet intentions and Moscow’s alleged role in international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Besides representing “politicized” intelligence at its worst, these analyses became the bureaucratic battleground on which old-line analysts who still insisted on presenting the facts to the president whether he liked them or not were routed and replaced by a new generation of yes men.
The relevant point is that the U.S. intelligence community has never been repaired, in part because the yes men gave presidents of both parties what they wanted. Rather than challenging a president’s policies, this new generation mostly fashioned their reports to support those policies.
The bipartisan nature of this corruption is best illustrated by the role played by CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton but stayed on and helped President George W. Bush arrange his “slam dunk” case for convincing the American people that Iraq possessed caches of WMD, thus justifying Bush’s 2003 invasion.
There was the one notable case of intelligence analysts standing up to Bush in a 2007 assessment that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, but that was more an anomaly – resulting from the acute embarrassment over the Iraq WMD fiasco – than a change in pattern.
Presidents of both parties have learned that it makes their lives easier if the U.S. intelligence community is generating “intelligence” that supports what they want to do, rather than letting the facts get in the way.
The current case of the alleged Russian “hack” should be viewed in this context: President Obama considers Trump’s election a threat to his policies, both foreign and domestic. So, it’s only logical that Obama would want to weaken and discredit Trump before he takes office.
That doesn’t mean that the Russians are innocent, but it does justify a healthy dose of skepticism to the assessments by Obama’s senior intelligence officials.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
The undisguised and clearly politically motivated report on the alleged 2016 US “election hack” displays a severe lack of “professional discipline” in the intelligence community, former NSA technical director and whistleblower William Edward Binney told RT.
While the report is full of allegations, it clearly lacks proof and even the wording used in the report points out that the authors have been playing a guessing game, Binney believes.
“I see a lot of allegations in what I’ve read so far of the report, but certainly it’s kind of light on proof of anything… They should’ve included at least some evidence of what they are asserting. And they haven’t done any of that, ” Binney said.
The motivation behind the report is a desire of some in US political circles to incite a “new cold war,” with Russia, according to Binney. The intelligence agencies are eager to push an anti-Russian agenda simply because a big confrontation promises a funding bonanza, the former NSA Technical Director said.
“My thinking all along is that there has been a move over here by members, some of the members in Congress, and by others, primarily I think the Democratic Party, but the Republicans are a part of this too, trying to start up a new Cold War,” Binney told RT.
“And the reason of course they want to do that is because [then] the military, industrial, intelligence complex get more money. That simply means that if you start a new Cold War that means trillions of dollars being taken from taxpayers to pay for advanced weaponry, more spying, more spies, all kinds of activities by these intelligence agencies.”
The report veers off the “hacking” narrative and rather surprisingly, but flatteringly, focuses on RT and its activities in social media especially, which supposedly somehow helped Donald Trump to win the election.
“It’s another attempt to prejudice the issue for the American public. It’s the whole point of it I think. Otherwise they would have presented evidence like if there were things that RT reported that weren’t true, then they should have said that this is not true, and show what is true,” said Binney. “But they’re not even doing that. And in fact the whole idea is not really looking for truth and facts …”
It is a part of the “repetition from multiple directions until it’s believable” tactic used against Russia and Russian media. The repetition usually comes simultaneously from multiple “supposedly authoritative sources,” such as Congressmen, MSM citing anonymous security sources, intelligence agencies, until everyone stops questioning it, Binney believes.
The whole situation is dangerous for the US itself, since it exposes serious immaturity in the intelligence services, which have basically lost the ability to perform their primary duties.
“Basically it means that our intelligence community has lost the professional discipline of an intelligence function. And this is very dangerous. That’s why I’m an advocate for what president-elect Trump is doing by challenging what they are saying, because they need to be challenged,” Binney told RT.
“Because they are not being professional and disciplined in what they’re doing. That’s why they can’t stop any of these terrorist attacks. They are really good, the FBI is anyway, in entrapping people but it’s not in stopping real attacks.”
Virtually all corporate owned or supported broadsheets, magazines, other published material and electronic news reek of anti-Russia fake news – Americans carpet-bombed with it daily.
You’d think by now the vast majority would know they’re being lied to. Yet no matter how often they were fooled before, they’re largely easy marks to be deceived again.
Imagine how many were duped to believe the Reuters fake news story, headlined “US intel report identifies Russians who gave emails to WikiLeaks – officials,” saying:
“The CIA has identified Russian officials who fed material hacked from the Democratic National Committee and party leaders to WikiLeaks at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin through third parties, according to a new US intelligence report, (unnamed) senior US officials said on Thursday.”
Fact: The claim is fake news because no evidence suggests Russian US election hacking, let alone Putin ordering it. The scheme aims to delegitimize Trump’s election and make it hard for him to work cooperatively with his Russian counterpart.
Reuters : “The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Central Intelligence Agency and others have concluded that the Russian government escalated its efforts from discrediting the US election process to assisting President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign.”
Fact: When claims aren’t backed by credible evidence, they’re baseless fake news. The fake Russian hacking story has legs because media scoundrels keep pushing it.
Is the neocon WaPo story any more credible, headlined “US intercepts capture senior Russian officials celebrating Trump win,” saying:
“The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials… contributed to the US intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.”
Fact: No specifics were provided to give the above claim substance, including names, places, and what celebratory activities went on.
Was the story concocted, fake anti-Russia news following so many previous vilifying Big Lies? Undoubtedly Russia was pleased with the election’s outcome. The risk of US preemptive war was reduced significantly, a clear reason for joy with war goddess Hillary’s defeat.
During a television interview, I was asked what I thought of the election’s outcome. I said I was ecstatic Hillary lost. Millions of Americans and Russians feel the same way.
A Friday Wall Street Journal piece headlined “Ash Carter Says Putin Is Making It Harder for US to Work With Russia,” saying:
“Russia has done nothing to help defeat Islamic State forces in Syria and has adopted a strategy of ‘explicitly thwarting the US’ elsewhere.”
Fact: Outgoing US defense secretary Carter has his facts Ash backwards (a derogatory pun intended). America created and supports terrorists groups, ISIS among them.
Fact: Russia is the only world power courageously combating the scourge Washington and its rogue allies aid with weapons, munitions, funding, training and direction.
Fact: Carter is a bald-faced liar. He won’t be missed. Nor will other neocons infesting Obama’s administration – notably the neocon-in-chief, a menace to humanity at home and abroad throughout his despicable tenure.
The above three stories are a drop in an ocean of anti-Russia fake news, media scoundrels proliferating it daily.
In a Friday morning telephone interview with The New York Times, Trump called the alleged Russian hacking story a “political witch hunt,” nothing substantive backing it, made up stuff alone – fakery, not facts.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
A highly-anticipated declassified US intelligence report, aimed to prove that Russia supported Donald Trump, has turned out to be a huge embarrassment. The annex that contained factual material that was thought to provide evidence of RT influencing the American public was compiled in December 2012, right after the reelection of Barack Obama.
The report focuses on television shows and interviews that took place four years before Trump was elected, and well before he was even a politician.
In Annex A of the report, intelligence agencies claim that “Kremlin’s TV Seeks To Influence Politics, Fuel Discontent in US.” Buried at the bottom of that page is a note stating, “This annex was originally published on 11 December 2012 by the Open Source Center, now the Open Source Enterprise.”
Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections Intelligence Report Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections Intelligence Report The report notes that two RT shows, “Breaking the Set” and “Truthseeker”, focused on criticism of US.
The problem is, both of these shows were off air before the 2016 election season began.
The report goes on to detail programming in 2012 about voting booth irregularities, which, again, would have been during Obama’s campaign. Despite being an old report, the topic became largely relevant once again during the Democratic primaries when voters found themselves purged from voting rolls, and hundreds of thousands of ballots went uncounted.
Perhaps most shocking of all, the dastardly RT network dared to host third party debates, as they were not allowed participation in the main debates.
“In an effort to highlight the alleged ‘lack of democracy’ in the United States, RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a sham.”
Apparently, the intelligence communities do not agree that some of the people they serve may not fit perfectly into the two neat and tidy political boxes of Republicans and Democrats.
The report states that the network aired a documentary on Occupy Wall Street, an obviously left-wing movement, in 2012. Again, this was the year Obama was elected, so perhaps the Russians actually won HIM the presidency.
They presented evidence that Russian media often reports on infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use. While these issues are all popular topics of discussion in left-leaning media, RT’s reporting in 2012 was clearly part of a long-running plot to elect Trump, right?
“RT has also focused on criticism of the US economic system, US currency policy, alleged Wall Street greed, and the US national debt. Some of RT’s hosts have compared the United States to Imperial Rome and have predicted that government corruption and ‘corporate greed’ will lead to US financial collapse,” the report notes. It is unclear if they will next name Bernie Sanders as a Russian spy.
It gets worse, as the report details how RT has the gall to report on fracking, while “highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”
In a bizarre turn of events, US intelligence now presents this report, compiled just after the reelection of Barack Obama, as ‘proof’ of Russia pushing Donald Trump’s candidacy. However, if the report is true and RT the Almighty was swinging votes in 2012, the only beneficiary of the coverage was the now-outgoing president of the United States, who won a landslide victory over Republican Mitt Romney. Four years ago Trump was not thought of as a politician and it remains a mystery how RT’s 2012 coverage could propel him. A mystery, that even a classified version of the report would have a hard time explaining.
I have unbounded admiration for the doctors who volunteer for the invaluable and often dangerous work of Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF). The question concerns MSF’s policy of ‘bearing witness’. MSF will speak out – even against governments – when it thinks a humanitarian situation could and should be dealt with differently by those it holds responsible. It has done so in Syria. But if none of MSF’s international doctors have been on the ground in Syria’s war zones since 2015, how can MSF claim to bear witness for what is happening there?
MSF has relayed reports from the rebel-held areas to which, exclusively, its supplies and support have been dispatched. The reports – including allegations of government attacks on hospitals and civilians – come from people working with the permission and protection of such groups as Al Nusra, Isis and other foreign jihadis and mercenaries. These anti-government forces are known to exercise a rule of terror and to be not overly concerned about ordinary citizens’ access to medical attention. That is precisely why the MSF doctors withdrew from the areas under their control. So there is scope to ask who the medics on the ground were, and who they were treating.
My question, though, simply concerns the reliability of uncorroborated witness statements coming from potentially compromised sources. For while press statements have been issued from various MSF offices around the world, it appears MSF had no independent access to verifiable information from Syria.
In fact, the public unavailability of detailed or verified information is a matter of record: even John Kirby of the US State Department could only assert that ‘relief agencies that we find credible are levelling these accusations’.
The most prominent relief agency, and visible in all video footage linked to the alleged bombings, is the White Helmets. It is a matter of record that the White Helmets are funded by the NATO and Gulf states whose avowed aim is regime change in Syria; it is generally believed that they work closely with terrorist organisations (how else could the Netflix documentary have shown them roaming so freely in a zone where MSF and Western journalists dared not set foot?). Their independence and integrity are widely questioned.
So while MSF has often been cited as an independent source of support for White Helmet testimony, its press statements have in fact merely repeated White Helmet claims!
Whether intending it or not, MSF thereby became complicit in purveying a particular narrative that suffused the Western media during the period from 22 September to 22 December 2016. Before September, the media had been perfectly clear that the citizens of eastern Aleppo were being held captive, effectively as human shields, by forces dominated by jihadist terrorists. That changed following the uncompromising statement by Samantha Power to the UN Security Council, in which she invoked the White Helmets as victims and witnesses of Russian and Syrian aggression.
Western governments and media re-designated the terrorist groups as ‘moderate rebels’. Concurrently, anti-government activists like Lina Shamy started tweeting in English, the celebrated twitter account in the name of the child Bana was created, and there followed a flow of ‘famous last webcams’ from purported ordinary civilians voicing fears of impending massacre by the Syrian government.
Those of us in the West who were uncertain about the authenticity of all this social media activity in a zone lacking basic infrastructure, let alone wifi, were coaxed to accept the mainstream narrative because a respected organisation like MSF apparently bore witness to it. Few of us realised that MSF was merely repeating White Helmet testimony, not independently verifying it.
The consistent testimony now coming from the people who have been liberated in eastern Aleppo suggests a quite different story from the one that Netflix and our media have promoted. The Helmets themselves appear to have melted away with the departure from Aleppo of the jihadists and mercenaries. If there were any genuinely independent doctors working with them in Aleppo, they too have yet to be heard from. But most telling, in view of White Helmet claims to have saved some 70,000 lives (or whatever exact number we are invited to believe), is that not a single person interviewed in liberated Aleppo has thanked them.
So, in seeking to bear witness against the Syrian government, MSF has made claims on a basis that is uncertain and contested. By so publicly associating itself with the White Helmets and their narrative it may have risked compromising the reputation it relies on to attract international doctors.
Those of us who deeply appreciate the service to humankind of MSF’s international doctors are left to hope the organisation coordinating their work can be more sure to avoid bearing false witness.
The problem with the false narrative is no trivial one, for it perpetuates a fundamental misrecognition of the causes of the war – and thus of all the casualities the doctors have to deal with. A false narrative not only gives impunity to the guilty but it supports them in moving ever onwards with their murderous designs. It distracts from the ethical truth, too, that the jihadis and the states supplying them with arms and opportunity are in fundamental breach of the law and morality of just warfare.
 The background for this founding principle – of témoignage (‘bearing witness’) – is cited on their website: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people died in the Biafran war because of a deliberate government policy. On their return from the region, a group of young French doctors were frustrated and outraged by the inability of the Red Cross to say publicly what had happened.’
 ‘MSF Voice from the Field in Syria: Dr. Nathalie Roberts’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61cmnPLk6uE  Dr Nathalie Roberts has described how in the earlier days of the war in Syria, MSF had followed its usual working procedures in opposition-held areas but with the arrival of Islamic State group that became impossible: “they were not allowing all the patients to access the hospital”, they then started appropriating MSF supplies and even kidnapping MSF staff. They could not continue to work in a place where the occupying groups would not allow the doctors to do their medical job. (Dr Roberts interviewed on 13 March 2015)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oQVUssxK-U  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/us-spokesperson-loses-temper-with-rt-journalist-over-syria-bombing-questions-a7423146.html  I personally first became curious about the White Helmets from viewing the Netflix documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wj4ncIEDxw), and the question I mention in the text here is the one I simply could not get past. I was therefore not surprised to find that others had already offered powerful critiques of the organisation.I also had trouble imagining how people working in such desperate conditions would have the leisure to keep up with the latest Western craze of the Mannequin Challenge, and also the insensitivity to do a facsimile rescue for the purpose. The video of this PR own goal was quickly removed by the White Helmets’ promoters but remains available elsewhere at time of writing, e.g.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgl271A6LgQ . A discussion of it is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8bIupYSZeU
 The critical sources now on the internet are far too numerous to mention, but indicative examples include:
http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/  The spokespersons bearing MSF witness to the public are quite numerous and remote from Syria. They seldom make explicit the source of their information, but when they do we find it is the White Helmets. Sam Taylor, for instance, who is Syria communications coordinator for MSF and is based in Jordan, uncritically reproduced White Helmets material: ‘The civil defense, also known as the White Helmets, said the hospital and adjacent buildings were struck in four consecutive airstrikes.’ ‘Video posted by the White Helmets showed lifeless bodies, including children, being pulled from a building and loaded into ambulances amid screams and wailing. Distraught rescue workers tried to keep away onlookers, apparently fearing more bombs.’
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/airstikes-aleppo-hospital-1.3556632 Taylor does mention another authority: ‘Shortly after midday Thursday, new airstrikes in rebel-held areas killed at least 20 people in two neighbourhoods, the Syrian Civil Defense and the Observatory said.’ By ‘Observatory’, he presumably means the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Although this sounds like an independent organisation, it is in fact a single individual named Rami Abdulrahman (sometimes referred to as Rami Abdul Rahman) living in Coventry in the UK; and he is presumably as independent as one can expect from an opposition exile whose small network of informants in Syria consists largely of anti-government activists.
Certainly, he is no more directly a witness than is MSF’s spokesperson. Needless to say, the Observatory’s credibility and independence is disputed:
Despite this lack of verified independent evidence, Taylor was prepared to state on behalf of MSF that a hospital attack ‘was deliberate’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebrpj689Ib8. While the basis for the accusation is not given, the cumulative effect of this sort of public statement is evident. Pablo Marco Blanco, MSF’s Operations Manager for the Middle East in Barcelona, effectively endorsed the accusation, while admitting that the basis of the information was unconfirmed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI5KMAvfYDU. Similar communications came from Muskilda Zancada, ‘MSF head of mission in Syria’ in Barcelona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4s9uEp6Ujs). Zancada also stated that ‘civilians are targeted’ http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-update-airstrike-al-quds-hospital. Paul McPhun, Executive Director MSF Australia, speaking from Australia (10 October 2016) likewise makes categorial statements about targeted bombings in Aleppo, but without indicating the source of his knowledge. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHyPtcG5a6M It is even possible that the accusations are true. Yet it is also possible that they are not. The fallibility of MSF sources has been illustrated by how Teresa Sancristoval, Head of MSF’s Emergency Unit for Aleppo, was clearly being fed her information in Barcelona from people with an oppositional stance towards the Syrian Government because they were ‘afraid of the retaliations they can suffer’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades (see note 7).
While I have no doubt that all MSF statements are made from a standpoint of agonised human sympathy, and in good faith, they take on a life of their own when picked up by the media and disseminated for further purposes.
In the end, it is clear that what matters from the humanitarian point of view is that the bombing should stop. When MSF call for all sides to stop, they can claim to speak for humankind. When they complain of ‘targeted and indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian and Russian armed forces’ (http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-crisis-update-28-november-2016) they create unnecessary controversy: if bombing both targeted and indiscriminate is to stop on the government side, that is as much as to say – from the government’s perspective – that it should simply allow the ISIS and Al Nusra terrorists free rein over the people and sovereign territory that it has a duty to defend. MSF do not want to say exactly this, I assume, but my point is that the organisation seems not to have a firm enough grip on its communications policy or a sufficiently coherent approach to defining its extra-medical mission.
 MSF statements from Syria condemning the Syrian and Russian governments have been demonstrably lacking in certainty or detail. For instance, in relaying reports of attacks on hospitals around Aleppo in May they note that ‘one was the MSF-supported al Sakhour hospital in Aleppo city, which was forced to suspend activities after being bombed at least twice on consecutive days.’ (https://www.msf.org.uk/country/syria) An inexact statement like this – being equivocal as to whether the number of bombings was two, three, or some other number – may or may not be true; it cannot claim to have been properly verified, since a verification would make clear whether or not a third or further bombings had occurred.MSF uncritically accepted the veracity of the ‘famous last webcams’ coming out of besieged eastern Aleppo. As late as 14 December 2014 MSF wrote on their own website: ‘Whatever hope remained is rapidly dissipating. People are terrified, almost certain that their own deaths are near. Messages in which they say goodbye to their love ones are proliferating.’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades ]
MSF do not appear to have known as much as one might hope or expect about the doctors they supported in terrorist-held Aleppo and whose words they relay to the public. The doctors communicating from terrorist-held Aleppo whose testimony the MSF publicly cited just prior to the liberation of Aleppo were apparently not looking forward to the end of the siege, and MSF even believed that their forebodings were shared by the ordinary people of Aleppo: ‘Like the rest of the population, “doctors are terrified and losing hope,” says Teresa Sancristoval, Head of MSF’s Emergency Unit for Aleppo. “They are afraid of the retaliations they can suffer. For the last two days, our exchanges have been more about goodbye messages and requests for evacuation than anything else. They feel abandoned to their fate and with no way out.”’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades
 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/02/us-syria-policy-tatters-moderate-rebels-disband  As Stephen Cohen has pointed out, the sea change came with the breakdown of negotiations between Obama and Putin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPp8eKBjcyA&t=974s The view was then forcefully asserted against Obama by Samantha Power. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/22/syria-obama-us-president-putin-russia In her speech to UN Security Council she singled out the White Helmets as victims and witnesses of Russian and Syrian attacks. She declared: ‘This is not the day, this is not the time to blame all sides, to draw false equivalencies. It is not the time to say that “airstrikes took place,” or “civilians were killed.” It is time to say who is carrying out those airstrikes, and who is killing civilians.’ https://usun.state.gov/remarks/7453  Some insights into the unreliability of the mainstream narrative have occasionally been heard from within mainstream media outlets. For instance:
‘Tulsi Gabbard tells the truth about Syria’ on CNN’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1B2xFqfEgY
‘Carla Ortiz Speaks about her Experience in Aleppo and The Little Syrian Girl’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAE3WawgOX0&feature=shareCriticisms have of course been extensive in the Russian media. Since promoters of the Western narrative do not regard the Russia Today (RT) channel as a reliable source, I mention just a couple of interviews that they might concede have some credibility – one from a Church of England clergyman and one from a former UK ambassador to Syria:
‘Consistent stories of brutality at the hands of the Syrian rebels’ – Rev. Andrew Ashdown’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8iM_eY2viQ
‘U.S. effectively siding with Al-Qaeda in desire to get rid of Assad – former UK ambassador to Syria’ https://www.rt.com/news/345636-us-siding-al-qaeda-ford/
 Common sense scepticism on this point is supported by the first hand testimony of Carla Ortiz about trying to get internet connections in Aleppo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il7I1FTRSwY.  I have seen MSF cited as a source to discredit the account of Syria given to the UN by Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uap0GwBYdBA). In fact, I was first prompted to do the research that led to writing this blog because a respected and well-informed friend on Facebook invoked MSF as a refutation of Bartlett’s claims. I believe it has since become clear that events have entirely vindicated Bartlett.  Some examples of interviews with newly liberated citizens in Aleppo:
https://www.sott.net/article/338019-Bolivian-actress-Carla-Ortiz-exposes-what-went-wrong-with-Western-media-coverage-of-Syrian-conflict  Stronger criticism of MSF than I am making is found in Miri Wood’s ‘Guide to Understanding How ‘Unhospitals’ Cannot Be Bombed’ http://www.syrianews.cc/guide-understanding-unhospitals-cannot-bombed/ ; MSF’s relationship with the Syrian Government is known to be an uneasy one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12161437/Medecins-Sans-Frontieres-run-by-French-intelligence-says-Assad-regime.html  MSF takes a certain pride in fostering debate and allowing some plurality of political views to be aired within the organisation: it does not attempt, as ICRC does, to hold a single public line. (Rony Brauman, ‘Médecins Sans Frontières and the ICRC: matters of principle’, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 888, 31 December 2012: https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/review-2012/irrc-888-brauman.htm)Yet the public hears MSF-branded messages and thinks they represent the honest and considered position of a respected organisation. They are encouraged to do so by the fact that press releases and comments are issued by the organisation and not as independent opinions of particular members.
While it is not my place to tell MSF how to conduct its affairs, I would say that their internal plurality of opinion is not necessarily a virtue: if they cannot agree on certain matters of principle about bearing witness, then the wise option might be simply to refrain, as ICRC do. At any rate, some of their internal philosophical debate strikes this reader as unhelpfully verbose and analytically unclear. More specifically relating to Syria, it is reasonable to believe that the geopolitics of the region and the machinations of its various protagonists are as complex and challenging, in their way, as are the medical emergencies in a war zone. Even the most judicious political analyst would not be much use in dealing with the latter. The people in MSF offices might reflect on whether the converse does not also apply.
We are not in a position to know if Syria or Russia should answer any charges in respect of the conduct of war. We do know that their enemies must, and, more crucially, that they face the more fundamental charge of having attacked Syria and its people without just cause.
I find a rather bitter irony in the MSF position that they distinguish themselves from the ICRC in not being willing to patch up victims simply in order to make possible further harm to them; for that could be said to be what they are doing by wishing that a sovereign people should not use full lethal force against merciless invaders on its soil.
Tim Hayward is a Professor of Environmental Political Theory, founding Director of the Just World Institute and the Ethics Forum, Convenor of the Fair Trade Academic Network, and Programme Director of the MSc International Political Theory.