With the latest hasty judgment about Tuesday’s poison-gas deaths in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, the mainstream U.S. news media once more reveals itself to be a threat to responsible journalism and to the future of humanity. Again, we see the troubling pattern of verdict first, investigation later, even when that behavior can lead to a dangerous war escalation and many more deaths.
Before a careful evaluation of the evidence about Tuesday’s tragedy was possible, The New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets had pinned the blame for the scores of dead on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. That revived demands that the U.S. and other nations establish a “no-fly zone” over Syria, which would amount to launching another “regime change” war and would put America into a likely hot war with nuclear-armed Russia.
Even as basic facts were still being assembled about Tuesday’s incident, we, the public, were prepped to disbelieve the Syrian government’s response that the poison gas may have come from rebel stockpiles that could have been released either accidentally or intentionally causing the civilian deaths in a town in Idlib Province.
One possible scenario was that Syrian warplanes bombed a rebel weapons depot where the poison gas was stored, causing the containers to rupture. Another possibility was a staged event by increasingly desperate Al Qaeda jihadists who are known for their disregard for innocent human life.
While it’s hard to know at this early stage what’s true and what’s not, these alternative explanations, I’m told, are being seriously examined by U.S. intelligence. One source cited the possibility that Turkey had supplied the rebels with the poison gas (the exact type still not determined) for potential use against Kurdish forces operating in northern Syria near the Turkish border or for a terror attack in a government-controlled city like the capital of Damascus.
Reporting by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and statements by some Turkish police and opposition politicians linked Turkish intelligence and Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists to the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds, although the Times and other major U.S. news outlets continue to blame that incident on Assad’s regime.
On Tuesday, the Times assigned two of its most committed anti-Syrian-government propagandists to cover the Syrian poison-gas story, Michael B. Gordon and Anne Barnard.
Gordon has been at the front lines of the neocon “regime change” strategies for years. He co-authored the Times’ infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, which relied on U.S. government sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support President George W. Bush’s upcoming invasion of Iraq. The timing played perfectly into the administration’s advertising “rollout” for the Iraq War.
Of course, the story turned out to be false and to have unfairly downplayed skeptics of the claim that the aluminum tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, when the aluminum tubes actually were meant for artillery. But the article provided a great impetus toward the Iraq War, which ended up killing nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Gordon’s co-author, Judith Miller, became the only U.S. journalist known to have lost a job over the reckless and shoddy reporting that contributed to the Iraq disaster. For his part, Gordon continued serving as a respected Pentagon correspondent.
Gordon’s name also showed up in a supporting role on the Times’ botched “vector analysis,” which supposedly proved that the Syrian military was responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin-gas attack. The “vector analysis” story of Sept. 17, 2013, traced the flight paths of two rockets, recovered in suburbs of Damascus back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
The article became the “slam-dunk” evidence that the Syrian government was lying when it denied launching the sarin attack. However, like the aluminum tube story, the Times’ ”vector analysis” ignored contrary evidence, such as the unreliability of one azimuth from a rocket that landed in Moadamiya because it had struck a building in its descent. That rocket also was found to contain no sarin, so it’s inclusion in the vectoring of two sarin-laden rockets made no sense.
But the Times’ story ultimately fell apart when rocket scientists analyzed the one sarin-laden rocket that had landed in the Zamalka area and determined that it had a maximum range of about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have originated from the Syrian military base. C.J. Chivers, one of the co-authors of the article, waited until Dec. 28, 2013, to publish a halfhearted semi-retraction. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]
Gordon was a co-author of another bogus Times’ front-page story on April 21, 2014, when the State Department and the Ukrainian government fed the Times two photographs that supposedly proved that a group of Russian soldiers – first photographed in Russia – had entered Ukraine, where they were photographed again.
However, two days later, Gordon was forced to pen a retraction because it turned out that both photos had been shot inside Ukraine, destroying the story’s premise. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Russian-Photo Scoop.”]
Gordon perhaps personifies better than anyone how mainstream journalism works. If you publish false stories that fit with the Establishment’s narratives, your job is safe even if the stories blow up in your face. However, if you go against the grain – and if someone important raises a question about your story – you can easily find yourself out on the street even if your story is correct.
No Skepticism Allowed
Anne Barnard, Gordon’s co-author on Tuesday’s Syrian poison-gas story, has consistently reported on the Syrian conflict as if she were a press agent for the rebels, playing up their anti-government claims even when there’s no evidence.
For instance, on June 2, 2015, Barnard, who is based in Beirut, Lebanon, authored a front-page story that pushed the rebels’ propaganda theme that the Syrian government was somehow in cahoots with the Islamic State though even the U.S. State Department acknowledged that it had no confirmation of the rebels’ claims.
When Gordon and Barnard teamed up to report on the latest Syrian tragedy, they again showed no skepticism about early U.S. government and Syrian rebel claims that the Syrian military was responsible for intentionally deploying poison gas.
Perhaps for the first time, The New York Times cited President Trump as a reliable source because he and his press secretary were saying what the Times wanted to hear – that Assad must be guilty.
Gordon and Barnard also cited the controversial White Helmets, the rebels’ Western-financed civil defense group that has worked in close proximity with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and has come under suspicion of staging heroic “rescues” but is nevertheless treated as a fount of truth-telling by the mainstream U.S. news media.
In early online versions of the Times’ story, a reaction from the Syrian military was buried deep in the article around the 27th paragraph, noting: “The government denies that it has used chemical weapons, arguing that insurgents and Islamic State fighters use toxins to frame the government or that the attacks are staged.”
The following paragraph mentioned the possibility that a Syrian bombing raid had struck a rebel warehouse where poison-gas was stored, thus releasing it unintentionally.
But the placement of the response was a clear message that the Times disbelieved whatever the Assad government said. At least in the version of the story that appeared in the morning newspaper, a government statement was moved up to the sixth paragraph although still surrounded by comments meant to signal the Times’ acceptance of the rebel version.
After noting the Assad government’s denial, Gordon and Barnard added, “But only the Syrian military had the ability and the motive to carry out an aerial attack like the one that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.”
But they again ignored the alternative possibilities. One was that a bombing raid ruptured containers for chemicals that the rebels were planning to use in some future attack, and the other was that Al Qaeda’s jihadists staged the incident to elicit precisely the international outrage directed at Assad as has occurred.
Gordon and Barnard also could be wrong about Assad being the only one with a motive to deploy poison gas. Since Assad’s forces have gained a decisive upper-hand over the rebels, why would he risk stirring up international outrage at this juncture? On the other hand, the desperate rebels might view the horrific scenes from the chemical-weapons deployment as a last-minute game-changer.
Pressure to Prejudge
None of this means that Assad’s forces are innocent, but a serious investigation ascertains the facts and then reaches a conclusion, not the other way around.
However, to suggest these other possibilities will, I suppose, draw the usual accusations about “Assad apologist,” but refusing to prejudge an investigation is what journalism is supposed to be about.
The Times, however, apparently has no concern anymore for letting the facts be assembled and then letting them speak for themselves. The Times weighed in on Wednesday with an editorial entitled “A New Level of Depravity From Mr. Assad.”
Another problem with the behavior of the Times and the mainstream media is that by jumping to a conclusion they pressure other important people to join in the condemnations and that, in turn, can prejudice the investigation while also generating a dangerous momentum toward war.
Once the political leadership pronounces judgment, it becomes career-threatening for lower-level officials to disagree with those conclusions. We’ve seen that already with how United Nations investigators accepted rebel claims about the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas, a set of accusations that the Times and other media now report simply as flat-fact.
Yet, the claims about the Syrian military mixing in canisters of chlorine in supposed “barrel bombs” make little sense because chlorine deployed in that fashion is ineffective as a lethal weapon but it has become an important element of the rebels’ propaganda campaign.
U.N. investigators, who were under intense pressure from the United States and Western nations to give them something to use against Assad, did support rebel claims about the government using chlorine in a couple of cases, but the investigators also received testimony from residents in one area who described the staging of a chlorine attack for propaganda purposes.
One might have thought that the evidence of one staged attack would have increased skepticism about the other incidents, but the U.N. investigators apparently understood what was good for their careers, so they endorsed a couple of other alleged cases despite their inability to conduct a field investigation. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “UN Team Heard Claims of Staged Chemical Attacks.”]
Now, that dubious U.N. report is being leveraged into this new incident, one opportunistic finding used to justify another. But the pressing question now is: Have the American people come to understand enough about “psychological operations” and “strategic communications” that they will finally show the skepticism that no longer exists in the major U.S. news media?
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
The German government has approved a new bill on combating hate speech and fake news, under which social networks could face hefty fines if they fail to remove offensive content promptly. Critics denounced the bill as a violation of free speech.
The bill, introduced by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, is aimed at forcing social network giants such as Facebook or Twitter to take more responsibility for the content posted by users and to make it compliant with German law.
“We do not accept the fact that companies in Germany do not adhere to the law. Therefore in future, if it doesn’t get better, we will impose high fines on these companies,” Maas told German broadcaster ARD’s ‘Morgenmagazin’ show.
“Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
Earlier, Maas had already warned that online companies that fail to delete content tagged as offensive by some users within the timeframe set in the new bill would face fines of up to €50 million (US$53 million).
Executives of social media groups also risk individual fines of up to €5 million ($5.3 million) in case of non-compliance.
The proposed legislation says that “openly offensive” content should be deleted by social networks within 24 hours after being reported by users, while content whose nature is not clearly offensive should be examined and removed within a week if its illegality is confirmed.
The legislation also stresses that the authorities should take a “cautious approach” towards fining online giants, and only in cases when they regularly fail to remove explicitly offensive content. Social networks should not be punished if the violations of the new regulations take place only in some “specific individual cases,” it states.
The list of offensive materials includes various forms of hate speech and online incitement of hatred as well as fake news, libel, and defamation, along with child pornography and terrorism-related activities.
However, the task of identifying, examining and removing such content is in fact handed over to social network administrators and the users themselves.
At the same time, the bill obliges social networks to provide users with “an easily recognizable, directly reachable, and constantly available” complaint process for “prosecutable content.”
The legislation also obliges online giants to provide reports to the German authorities concerning how many complaints they receive from users, how many offensive posts they remove and how quickly they do it.
The reports, which should be provided every three months, must also include data on how many employees are tasked with dealing with offensive content in each social network company.
Earlier, Maas admitted that an attempt to make social networks remove offensive content on a voluntary basis “has failed,” as he explained the necessity for the new measures, German media report.
According to a survey conducted by the Justice Ministry, Facebook deleted about 46 percent of offensive and illegal content between July and August 2016, while between February and January 2017 this figure dropped to 39 percent. Twitter reportedly removed only 1 percent of content deemed illegal in recent months. YouTube, however, deleted as much as 90 percent of such material over the same period, as reported by Deutsche Welle.
‘Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins’
The bill provoked a wave of criticism from opposition politicians, media companies and various network activists.
Renate Kuenast, the Green Party’s legal expert, criticized the legislation by saying that it would effectively limit the freedom of expression.
“My fear, and that of many others, is that in the end the version [Maas] is now presenting will limit freedom of opinion because it will simply become delete, delete, delete,” she said, as cited by Deutsche Welle.
She also said that the hefty fines envisaged in the bill would work as “almost an invitation to not only delete real insults, but everything for safety’s sake.”
Her words were partly echoed by Google representatives, who warned that the proposed legislation could lead to “overblocking.”
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called the proposed fines “a heavy burden for the [social network] platforms,” adding that “the platforms could remove content that should not be removed” out of fear of being fined, Der Spiegel reports.
The German Publishers Association (VDZ) went further and denounced the justice minister’s proposal as an attempt to create a “state-imposed private thought police.”
Even some NGOs, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which campaigns against right-wing parties, racism and anti-Semitism, said that the new bill is “in fact a limitation of the freedom of expression.”
In the comments on his new proposal, Maas acknowledged that freedom of expression “has huge significance in our democracy,” adding at the same time that “freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins” and stressing that the new bill would be only the beginning.
According to the German media, the parliament plans to pass the new bill before the summer break. Some critics explain such a “rush” by the government’s desire to make it a law before the elections in September.
The alleged chemical attack, reported yesterday, is the latest in a series of atrocities notionally carried out by the Syrian government (“The Regime”, in the partisan parlance of the press). There has not been time, as yet, to fully examine and analyse all the evidence – the claims and counter claims, the photographs and videos – but it would be a massive mistake to view it in a vacuum.
First, the situation on the ground needs to be considered. The Syrian government – with assistance from Iran and the Russian Air Force, have been making steady progress for months. Aleppo has fallen. Palmyra was retaken. The rebels are losing. So cui bono? What good does dropping chemical weapons on children do Assad, at this point? It is both strategically pointless, and a crushing blow to his international image. It would serve no purpose, unless he’s a comic-book style villain intent on being cruel for cruelty’s sake – and they don’t exist outside of cinema or the American press. Conversely, it would make all the sense in the world for cornered zealots and mercs to try to disrupt the upcoming talks (from which they are excluded).
Second, the timing. Much like a previous “chemical attack” (and subsequent BBC Panorama documentary) came on the eve of a commons vote on military intervention in Syria, this attack comes at a key moment. In two days there is a meeting in Brussels on the Syria peace process, and the future of the country. This attack will allow Western leaders – especially the European voices, increasingly separate from the US on this issue – to ride an artificial high-horse into those proceedings. Deals can be scuppered and progress refused in the wake of such “atrocities”.
Third, we have seen this all before. There was the chemical attack in Ghouta, initially pinned on the government (and still unquestioningly attributed to them in the MSM), that was revealed to be carried out by rebels. there was also the aforementioned napalm/chemical attack on a school – thoroughly debunked by Robert Stuart. We have seen the same girl rescued three different times by the White Helmets, and seen people in Egypt arrested for faking footage of bombings. The “last hospital in Aleppo” was knocked down everyday for a month, and the last doctors slaughtered bi-weekly. There is no reason, as yet, to think this is not just more of the same.
This is in fine tradition of media manipulation – from filming people on the outside of a fence and pretending they’re inside, to moving bodies for a better photograph, to deliberately removing an image’s context, and lying about it. Events are ignored, twisted, exaggerated and outright fabricated in order to push an agenda. Accordance with reality is immaterial to the process, and coincidental when it occurs.
Real or not, false flag or not – No one can deny convenience of the timing. Given the conflict the UK/EU find themselves in with the new US administration re: Syria. During the campaign Trump, unlike Clinton, totally refused to countenance the idea of no-fly zones or any kind of American/NATO backed military action against Syria and their Russian/Iranian allies. The last few weeks have seen even a softening of America’s “Assad must go” mantra. Rex Tillerson, speaking in Turkey last week, said:
I think the… longer term status of president Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,”
And the American ambassador to the UN added:
You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Though she did later clarify these remarks, after being named-and-shamed in the media.
John McCain called Tillerson’s words “one of the more unusual statements I have ever heard”, stating it would be ridiculous to let Syrians decide the fate of Syrian government (probably because they would choose wrong).
The press, of course, have not referenced any of this. They continue to cite the partisan White Helmets and completely discredited “Syrian observatory for Human Rights” as if they are reliable sources. They continue to assert gossip and rumor as if it were fact. They continue to lie, but give themselves just enough room to manoeuvre should their lies be exposed.
The Guardian view on…, one of the Guardian’s anonymous editorials (that definitely don’t come straight from GCHQ, you cynics), is a classic example. The headline reads:
The Guardian view on Syria: Assad knows he acts with impunity
A sharp, hard-edged, statement of absolute certitude… and the only sentence of conviction in the whole piece. The rest is littered with uncertain, selective language. Weasel-words and guesses. I have added the emphasis:
Tuesday’s attack in rebel-held Idlib province has forced a reaction: it is one of the worst suspected chemical attacks in the six-year war
the symptoms suggest the use of a nerve agent, probably sarin
ascertaining the agents used, by whom, is always difficult – particularly given the problems experts will face in accessing the site.
The suspicion is that Tuesday’s strike, like another suspected sarin attack which killed 93 people in eastern Hama in December,
Some have already drawn a link between what seems to be the use of a more deadly agent and the US shift on Syria
That’s an awful lot of “seems” and “suspecteds” to cram into 700 words. It’s a suspected attack, that seems like it might be similar to other suspected attacks, which might have happened. As of right now, it appears, we don’t who attacked, how they attacked, what they attacked with or – indeed – if anyone attacked anything at all.
Nevertheless, the nameless and completely non-partisan and objective author reassures us that:
Nonetheless, the evidence so far points in one direction,
… he just neglects to mention exactly what that evidence is, or tell us where we can find it.
Just hours later we are treated to a longer variation on the exact-same theme, this time the author doesn’t feel ashamed to put his name to it… he probably should be. But years of writing about the Guardian teaches you that Jonathan Freedland is never ashamed of putting his name to anything.
Let’s not even condemn these attacks any more – because our condemnations ring so hollow.
… he says, before condemning the attacks – at interminable length and in trite manipulative language. That these condemnations “ring hollow” might be the only honest words in the article. The level of selective blindness, historical dishonesty, and flat-out hypocrisy is astounding. Even for him,
Assad has himself broken international law, indeed broken a set of precious, century-old conventions and agreements that ban chemical weapons.
… he says, as if a) It was a proven fact and b) It was the only example. No mention of American use of depleted Uranium, Agent Orange or napalm is made. No mention of Israeli White Phosphorus or of the cluster bombs we used in Iraq, and sold to Saudi Arabia to be used on Yemeni civilians. The use of any and all of those substances is illegal under International law. America and Israel cannot be charged with a breach of The Geneva Convention, of course, because they have never ratified protocols I and II, outlawing the targeting of civilians and infrastructure and banning certain weapons.
We are all too aware of the costs of action. But the dead of Khan Sheikhoun force us to make another calculation. They force us to see that inaction too can exact a terrible price.
This could be a straight copy-and-paste job from his many articles on Libya. He made the same arguments back then, and must take partial responsibility for post-apocalyptic wasteland that he (and his colleagues in the media) helped to create. Libya is destroyed, he knows this, and if he could excuse or downplay his role in that destruction… he would do so. To ignore it, and employ the same reasoning to encourage the same fate to yet another Middle-Eastern country, displays a callousness and vanity that belies is saccharine concern for “values”.
However, no amount of faux-moral agonising and dishonesty will ever trump this:
For more than a decade, we have rightly weighed the grave consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, counting the toll in human suffering.
The tone mirrors the same tone ever-taken by members of the Western press when it comes to Iraq. “Our consciences are agony”, they scream at us. As if Iraq was all a tragic accident, fuelled by the fervor of our best intentions and naivety of our governments. They will never address the truth of it – that it was a cynical and brutal war of conquest, cheered on a by braying, controlled media, with more regard for their appearance of virtue, and their bank balances, than any idea of objective truth.
Now, the lame self-flagellation is one thing, but that it should appear alongside this:
Assad’s impunity is, at this very moment, being noted and filed away by the world’s most brutal regimes: the precedent is being set. This is what you can get away with.
… is quite another. The world is VERY aware “what you can get away with” in international law…and it’s not 70 dead in what “seems” like a gas attack. What you can “get away with” is walling up millions of people in a giant ghetto, and cutting off their water and power supply. It’s dropping carcinogens on villages, that give babies tumors 50 years later. It’s illegal sanctions that kill 500,000 children but are “worth it”.
“what you can get away with”, as the author so po-facedly admits, is the invasion of Iraq. An illegal war, a million dead, an ancient seat of civilisation reduced to a glass crater. Was anyone fired? Did anyone resign in disgrace? Has anyone faced charges in the Hague. No, the perpetrators walk free. They collect paychecks from the boards of the most powerful companies in the world, and are given column inches in the Guardian when ever they want them.
In terms of making an actual argument, he hits the exact same talking points as The Guardian view, uses the exact same phrases… and produces the exact same amount of evidence:
… we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
He doesn’t say what these “signs” are. Or link to where we can see them.
We know that the poison spread after warplanes dropped bombs
We “know” no such thing. That’s just what the White Helmets said. The White Helmets are paid by the governments of several countries… including the US and UK. They are completely discredited as a source. But this article isn’t about making an evidence-based case, it is about harnessing created public outrage in order to further a specific political agenda.
So, what is the agenda? Well, it won’t be full-blown war in Syria. Number 10 was very quick to – shall we say – shoot-down that idea. It won’t be any kind of overt NATO or American backed intervention… if the PTB had wanted that, they would have pushed harder for a Clinton victory. And Freedland’s reference to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s suggestion is laughable:
Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly of the Obama administration, suggests a single strike that would crater, say, a runway used by Assad’s warplanes – not an invasion, not a full-scale military operation, but some way of punishing Syria for what it has done.
No, the agenda being pushed here is two-fold, firstly an attack on the UN and its apparent impotence, and secondly a pre-emptive defense of the status quo.
To deal with the first point, the article launches a sidelong attack on the UN Security Council, most specifically the veto power:
In February, the UN security council considered imposing sanctions over the use of chemical weapons. Russia vetoed it, of course: it would never want to stay the hand of its murderous chum. But China vetoed it too.
This is not new material for the Guardian, they have been attacking the UN veto for years now – as have other liberal papers and news outlets. You don’t need to be a genius to understand the drive to undermine the only regulatory body that can put a hold on neo-liberal imperialism. But for the UNSC, Iraq would have been so much easier and Syria would have been levelled by now.
The second point is more subtle. For years the CIA et al have been seeking to remove Assad from government, most openly through supplying arms and money to the “moderate opposition” in order to wage a proxy war. Trump’s election, and his public undermining of the intelligence agencies, poses a threat to this on-going plan.
Now that this chemical attack has happened, of course, Trump’s administration can be condemned for being “soft”. Now, we can call on Trump and his cabinet to “act”… and when they refuse to change their policy, rightfully fearful of a conflict with Russia, they will be further derided and undermined in the press as “Russian agents” who are “easy on tyrants”.
All the while, the covert operations carried out by American and European alphabet agencies all over Syria will continue.
When the State Dept., the CIA and all their co-members of America’s (totally imaginary) “deep state” completely disregard the orders of their Commander-in-Chief, and continue to pursue their own agenda – continue to supply arms and funding to their mercenaries and proxies – they will be applauded in the press for their “bravery” and “resolution”.
We will be encouraged to be “thankful” that the mechanics of democracy and freedom cannot be impeded by the election of an autocratic buffoon. We will be told, with a bright smile, that our choice of leadership means literally nothing as it pertains to foreign policy.
It will be thrown in our faces that our elected officials have no real power, and we will be told to applaud the death of democracy… in the name of freedom.
CNN is calling it a “7-year-old Syrian girl’s heartbreaking plea” to stop the war in Syria, in reality it’s a fake news hoax to get the Trump administration to overthrow Assad and turn on Russia.
The top story on CNN’s front page today is a disgusting Iraq-has-WMDs-style fake news story to con America into another war.
Under the title, “7-year-old Syrian girl’s heartbreaking plea: ‘Why can’t you stop the war?’,” CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota is seen interviewing a 7-year-old Syrian girl named Bana Alabed.
Camerota asks her: “Bana, do you [a 7-year-old girl] blame President Assad for this [chemical attack]?”
Bana responds, “Yes.”
“What is your message to President Assad?” Camerota asks the 7-year-old.
“I am very sad,” Bana says, looking down and blatantly reading off a script. “A lot of died,” she says, clearly struggling to read and skipping over the word “people” or “Syrians.”
“And, oh,” she stutters, “no one help them.”
“The world is watching,” she stammers, “the world doesn’t do anything.”
It goes on for another minute with Bana struggling to read her clearly pre-written propaganda lines. Eventually she asks, “why you, why can’t you, stop the war?”
“I don’t know Bana, I don’t know why the world can’t stop the war in Syria someday,” a torn Camerota responds, ignoring how incredibly fake and staged the whole shameless stunt she just took part in is.
This is the epitome of fake news and it’s a thousand times more dangerous to our country than some schmuck in Macedonia writing about fake endorsements from the Pope.
The UN Security Council convened on Wednesday to discuss a draft resolution proposed by the US, the UK and France, which would condemn Damascus for the reported use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Tuesday.
Russia criticized the draft resolution for being unbalanced and jumping to conclusions. It said the document would have to include several amendments, such as calling on the rebels controlling the area to provide full access to UN investigators and setting an unbiased and comprehensive probe into the incident as the primary goal of the resolution.
“This draft was penned in haste and adopting it would have been irresponsible,” the Russian deputy acting envoy to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, said.
He also blamed Western members of the UNSC for unwillingness to investigate previous cases of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, where rebel groups were accused of using toxin agents.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, delivered an emotional speech that included images of children to argue in favor of swift action. The pictures were used in reporting of the alleged chemical weapons attack.
She claimed the incident carried “all hallmarks” of an attack by Damascus, adding that the toxin used in the alleged assault was “more deadly” than in previous cases attributed to the Syrian military by Washington.
US envoy to UN also accused Russia of failing to ensure that there were no chemical weapons in the possession of the Syrian government.
“The truth is that Russia, Iran and [Syrian President] Assad have no interest in peace,” Haley claimed.
The US has hinted at taking its own action in Syria unless the UN Security Council moves to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country.
“When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” the US ambassador to the UN said.
Islamic State militants have managed to steal chemical weapons from underground storage facilities in Libya that were not properly guarded and the gas has already been used, a cousin of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi told RT Arabic in an exclusive interview.
“ISIS has managed to find some of the secret underground storage facilities, still holding chemical weapons, hidden in the desert. Unfortunately, they weren’t properly guarded,” said Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam, a cousin of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who was killed in 2011.
Al-Dam, the stolen gas was then trafficked to the northern part of the country and sold.
“There are two known cases of this chemical agent being stolen. I know this from my sources in Tripoli. In the first case, seven drums of sarin were stolen, and in the second, I think it was five.”
And the destructive chemicals have already been used, said Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam, who formerly was one of Gaddafi’s most trusted security chiefs. He recalled that during the recent clashes near the Al-Quds Mosque in Tripoli, security forces discovered a vehicle loaded with sarin.
“Unfortunately, those who had driven this vehicle into the city didn’t understand the dangers of this nerve agent, and how risky it was to bring it into an urban area, let alone ever use it. I don’t want to spread panic, but that’s the reality. And the world knows this very well,” he said.
Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) has already used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, according to numerous reports.
Earlier this month, Eren Erdem, a member of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told RT that IS terrorists in Syria had received all the necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey.
The Israeli regime has proposed construction of a railroad connecting the occupied territories to Saudi Arabia via Jordan.
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said on Wednesday that Washington had also welcomed the plan, but he declined to say whether Riyadh and Amman had supported the proposal.
The link is designed to connect the Saudi port of Daman in the Persian Gulf via Jordan to the Mediterranean port of Haifa in northern Israel, according to the Israeli minister.
Katz, who has declared himself as a candidate to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the premier steps down, said the rail line would notably cut the distance needed to move goods.
The minister also elaborated on the plan, saying only a small distance of track was needed to link the current Israeli network in the north with the occupied West Bank near the city of Jenin and Jordan at Sheikh Hussein crossing.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab governments that have official diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv and host Israeli missions. The rest of the Arab governments have no diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime, and seek to portray themselves as Tel Aviv’s traditional adversaries and upholders of the Palestinian cause.
Even so, reports have indicated that some of the governments, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have had secret relations with Tel Aviv, covertly appeasing the regime.
“In contrast to the Soviet Union, the United States has always maintained its ‘right’ to carry out a nuclear first strike. This has never changed and was reaffirmed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter . . . on September 27, 2016.”
— Diana Johnstone, From MAD to Madness.
There is not much hope for the retraction of this threat. On March 21, Reuters reported “Trump has said that while he would like to see nuclear weapons abolished, he wants the United States to have an unrivaled arsenal. He also said that the United States has ‘fallen behind’ in its nuclear capabilities, even though it is in the midst of a 30-year, $1.3 trillion drive to modernize what most experts agree is the world’s most powerful nuclear force.”
An insider’s memoir, From MAD to Madness, by Paul H. Johnstone, describing the persistence of the US nuclear threat has recently been published by Clarity Press. Johnstone was a senior analyst in the Strategic Weapons Evaluation Group in the Department of Defense, directing studies on the probable consequences of nuclear war, to us and to them, and also an author of The Pentagon Papers. He died in 1981, leaving his memoir to his daughter, author (and CounterPunch contributor) Diana Johnstone. He had previously served in World War II as an evaluator of Japanese enemy targets, but as Diana says here: “Hiroshima changed the nature of targeting dramatically, and that is the story my father tells in his memoir.”
In this book Diana has finally published his “Memoir of a Humanist in the Pentagon,” along with her added commentary and a foreword by Paul Craig Roberts. Roberts expresses in a nutshell the contemporary horrific relevance of the book: “The neoconservatives in pursuit of their goal of US world hegemony have resurrected the possibility of nuclear war. The neocons have taken us from MAD to madness.”
The neocons are not some far-right fringe group; they represent the mainstream of US foreign policy in recent Democratic and Republican administrations. The political use of the nuclear threat has a long history. It was inaugurated by the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a political decision opposed by the military. Admiral Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote: “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . .” The Truman Doctrine (1947) indicated that there were no regrets. It stated in effect that any country that appeared to be adopting a communist form of government, whether through outside intervention, civil war, or ordinary elections, would be subject to whatever punishment the United States chose to inflict, not excluding nuclear attack.
Johnstone traces the “breather” in our policy characterized by MAD—the idea that Mutually Assured Destruction: a path to mutual suicide—was a deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons. This realization by our government occurred once Soviet nuclear capability became obvious. However, as Roberts notes, after the Soviet collapse in the 1990s the US “resurrected nuclear weapons as usable weapons of war. The Obama regime . . . authorized a trillion dollar expenditure for nuclear weapons, and US war doctrine elevated nukes from a retaliatory role to pre-emptive first strike.” Roberts, who was United States Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under President Reagan in 1981, maintains that Reagan and Gorbachev “eliminated the risk of Armageddon by negotiating the end of the Cold War.”
Johnstone’s exposition of US nuclear policy is sobering, and his special vantage point as an insider is a revelation about how foreign policy is concocted. The conclusions and the process are both astonishing.
Although the Cold War, often hot, was fought in many parts of the world, Johnstone’s main task was to assess the consequences of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Its probability was not a major concern for the analysts; plenty of those on our side were raring to use this super weapon.
Johnstone worked with the assistance of many teams, task forces, and committees. He noted that among those charged with divining Soviet intentions, few had any expertise on the subject: “Kennan was shunted aside. . . as insufficiently anti-Soviet.” State Department analysis or research was rarely seen or considered significant by the military or White House representatives on the committees. “Kennedy. . . seems to have depended far more on his longstanding, seat-of-the-pants notions of how to interpret Soviet intentions.”
“Almost never was there any suggestion that Soviet arms were in any way defensive, or that the Soviets feared us.” A related insider study of the decision-making process in the Kennedy White House is James C. Thomson, Jr.’s “How Could Vietnam Happen? An Autopsy.”
At the time (and now, in spades) intelligence sources were multiplex. Each of the military branches had its own intelligence division, in addition to outside contractors. There were also the agencies of the State Department, the CIA and the NSA; spies working for the Commerce and Agriculture Departments; overseas (especially Latin American) operations of the FBI; and “debriefings” of anyone who had traveled to any sensitive area, including exchange students and professors, journalists, the burgeoning INGO (International Non-Governmental Organizations) crowd, and real or fake businesspeople. In the confusion, the information that reached the senior operational people was determined by biases all along the way, including assumptions about what the President wanted to hear. An eloquent recounting of how fantasies were substituted for accurate information about Southeast Asia can be found in Ralph McGeHee’s Deadly Deceits.
Interservice rivalries influenced the strategy envisioned for a future war. At first the Air Force had a near monopoly on weapons, so the Army advocated for conventional warfare.
Later, all branches had nuclear delivery systems, and competing for budget allocations, advocated their use. An addition to the Navy’s arsenal was very recently announced: “The US preemptive nuclear strike capability has significantly grown. The strategic nuclear forces modernization program has implemented new revolutionary technologies to vastly increase the targeting capability of the US submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) arsenal.”
In the post-WWII period, despite all the analysts recruited for this task, there was great uncertainty in all the calculations of damage to the economic base, civilians, and the very structure of a society targeted with nuclear weapons. Assumptions were often made on the basis of earlier wars, where destruction of factories and resources was intended to disable armament production. Before nuclear weapons, the theory was that wars could be fought and won by this type of strategic bombing. However, after a nuclear attack, the military, political, and environmental consequences of initial radiation and continuing fallout, with or without shelters, could never be determined; only imagined.
Nevertheless, the military advisors on the committees had a hunch that a pre-emptive strike to destroy the USSR would be the least destructive option, so their hearts were in it. They assumed that a nuclear exchange would create millions of casualties in the US, but that “the US would continue to exist as an organized and viable nation, and ultimately would prevail, whereas the USSR would not.”
Much more attention was paid to the prospect of nuclear annihilation of the Soviet Union than the consequences of an initial or retaliatory attack on the United States. Johnstone’s sober view was that any issue that precipitated a war would be dissolved by the ensuing devastation; there could be no victor in a nuclear war.
Johnstone includes two case studies in which his Weapons Systems Evaluation Group participated: the Laos Crisis of 1960-1961 and the Berlin Crisis of 1961. In the case of Berlin, plans were prepared for stages of retaliation all the way to nuclear war in anticipation of the USSR interfering with traffic from the West into Berlin on the Autobahn. The Soviets had been requesting identification or delaying document checking in ways that the US considered unwarranted. These “microaggressions” were interpreted as merely a prelude to a showdown. As an additional indication of our resolve to protect our access to Berlin, the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that we should go to war in Southeast Asia.
At no time during these crises, or in the planning for nuclear war, did Johnstone note any concern by committee members for international law, not only its prohibitions, but also its many mechanisms for resolving disputes. War had been outlawed by the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928. The Charter of the United Nations, a ratified treaty commitment of the US, prohibits war as an instrument of foreign policy; even the threat of war is an international crime.
Article 2, Section 4: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Customary international law prohibits any weapon that does not discriminate between civilians and combatants. This was used by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 advisory opinion on the use of nuclear weapons:
It follows from the above-mentioned requirements that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.
However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1970, requires nuclear-weapon countries to undertake progressive nuclear disarmament toward the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons. This is not the direction being followed by the US, among other signatories.
Johnstone began his federal service in 1937 as a historian in the Department of Agriculture, and Diana notes that his career mirrored the changes in the US economy: “America turned from farming to bombing as the basis of its industrial economy. . .” Yet the Cold War itself, although tragically affirmed by the nuclear bombing of Japan, has a much longer history (some say it started in 1848), and includes US and allied participation in the “hot” invasion of the USSR after the 1917 Revolution and the US corporate assistance during the 1930s in creating Hitler’s war machine. This buildup proceeded apace, with the participation of the great US corporations. During the same period, the President exercised a Congressional mandate to prohibit arms trades that supported war. It was imposed on a US corporation, Curtiss-Wright, selling arms to Bolivia for its border war against Paraguay: the Chaco War. As it turned out, that was not the greatest threat to world peace.
Johnstone believed that our Cold War policies were irrational, and that we could have made friends with the anti-colonial, nationalistic revolutionary movements that our “anti-Communist obsession . . . led us to oppose.” Maybe it is a question of who is “us”?
The vast population of the US, rich in resources, inventiveness, and skilled labor could easily have co-existed with socialist societies, intent on self-development and willingly engaging in fair trade. Multinational corporations, however, were challenged by nations that wanted to expel their oil rigs, gold miners, sweatshops, cigarettes, pesticides, telephone services, chemical factories, waste dumps, and even innocent Coca-Cola.
The military and the increasingly gigantic industries equipping it wanted bases everywhere, and somewhat plausible threats that would justify annual upgrading of the lethal arsenal. Wars now and then that would enable testing and destruction of weapons were also useful for the advancement of warriors and profits of contractors. Furthermore, revolutions that were allowed to succeed and improve the lives of people might create imitators in our land of vast wealth accompanied by astounding poverty and misery.
Yet neither Roberts nor Johnstone discusses the role of multinational corporations and the military-industrial complex in motivating and perpetuating the post-WWII Cold War. They attributed major influence on US policy to anti-Soviet émigrés (Kissinger, Brzezinski and others) from Eastern Europe. A high-level Air Force intelligence “Special Studies Group,” headed by a Hungarian émigré “expert” predicted in every annual appraisal that there would be “a massive Russian land attack on Western Europe the following year.”
The worldwide cold war between capitalism and socialism continues—in Cuba, among other places—and there is now also the megalomaniac goal of world hegemony. The projected attack by the now-capitalist Russia is still awaited, despite indications that the Russians want to eliminate the specter of civilization’s total nuclear destruction. Johnstone’s sober prediction in From MAD to Madness: “there can be no victor in a nuclear war” must be given priority by the newly-awakened activists. The abolition of nuclear weapons would be a step towards sanity.
Joan Roelofs is Professor Emerita of Political Science, Keene State College, New Hampshire. She is the translator of Victor Considerant’s Principles of Socialism (Maisonneuve Press, 2006), and author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press, 2003) and Greening Cities (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996) and translator, with Shawn P. Wilbur, of Charles Fourier’s anti-war fantasy, World War of Small Pastries, Autonomedia, 2015. Web site: www.joanroelofs.wordpress.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hebron, occupied Palestine – Just days after Palestinians commemorated Land Day, a day which marks the struggle against the Israeli government’s expropriation of Palestinian land, farmers of Wadi Qana endured another mass uprooting and theft of their trees.
Speaking from his home in the Salfit district village of Deir Istiya, Palestinian activist Rezeq Abu Nasser cited the frustrating chronology, “This is the third time they took my trees. They stole them in 2013 and 2015 as well.” He then handed ISM volunteers the Arabic/Hebrew notice that he found posted on a fence he erected at a cost of over 1,000 NIS to protect his trees. Abu Nasser’s fence was also dismantled and seized along with 25 of his trees.
The notice received by four Palestinian farmers demands that they uproot their own trees or face arrest and/or fines to cover the cost of Israeli occupation forces uprooting the trees for them. Soon after, 135 trees were uprooted and stolen during the small hours of morning. Several bulldozers entered the valley, hauled large stones into the road to block the entryway and rammed through part of a 40 meter stone wall to access the trees.
Citing environmental justifications for these aggressive acts of theft, an Israeli government spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territory was quoted as saying that the trees were uprooted due to their “damaging the natural view and value of the nature resort.” Claiming the act to be one of protection of the view of a lush valley from the sight of trees is even more absurd, given that the Israeli forces left a partially demolished stone wall and broken tree limbs scattered atop a small field of holes where the trees once took root.
While speaking to the Mayor of Deir Istiya, his office produced copies of the issued warrants for the threatened trees and the generations old British land deeds affirming the farmers’ rights to their ancestral land. The Mayor of Deir Istiya described arriving at the Wadi Qana immediately after being alerted to the uprootings in progress, only to find the road blockage Israeli forces left to keep farmers and residents from defending their land. As for the stone wall, he claimed,”This is a new experience for us that they demolished the stones.”
The farmers who lost their trees, tantamount to their livelihood, plan to continue their struggle against these incursions by furthering their cases with the local municipality. As for Abu Nasser, “I’m going to replant them again.”
A Labour Party committee upheld the charges leveled at Ken Livingstone for his comments about the links between Hitler and Zionism last year, but did not expel the former mayor of London from its ranks. The time-limited sanction has provoked outrage from Jewish groups.
Following two days of legal and historical deliberations behind closed doors, the National Constitutional Committee found the 71-year-old, who had been suspended from the party since April 2016, guilty of three counts of conduct that is “prejudicial or… grossly detrimental to the party.” Livingstone, who says that he has no plans to return to frontline politics, is barred from holding any position in the party, or running as a Labour candidate until April 2018.
In the wake of the hearing, an unrepentant Livingstone told the media that proceedings resembled “sitting through a court in North Korea,” and complained that “natural justice” had not been done, and said that those who called him “anti-Semitic” and a “Nazi apologist” should have gone in front of the panel instead.
“If I’d said Hitler was a Zionist, I would say sorry. You can’t apologize for telling the truth. I apologize for the offence caused by those Labour MPs who lied,” insisted Livingstone, who said that he was smeared due to his connections with Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, by the latter’s political opponents.
‘Hitler-Zionist collaboration’ controversy
In his original remarks last year, made in defense of Naz Shah, a Labour MP also accused of anti-Semitism, Livingstone claimed that Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Instead of retracting his comments, Livingstone, who led the Greater London Council in the 1980s and served as the city’s mayor between 2000 and 2008, has tried to clarify his views, focusing on the 1933 Haavara agreement between Zionist German Jews and the Nazi authorities, which enabled some to emigrate to present-day Israel, and transfer some of their assets out of the country.
“[Hitler] didn’t just sign the deal. The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go [to Palestine] could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there,” Livingstone said last month.
“He passed a law saying the Zionist flag and the swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany… Of course, they started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army. So you had right up until the start of the Second World War real collaboration.”
Suspension a ‘slap on the wrist’
The Jewish Labour Movement, which had submitted a 178-page report to the panel challenging Livingstone’s version of history and criticizing his “disparaging, inaccurate and out-of-context comments,” said that Tuesday’s decision was a “betrayal” of the party.
“This punishment is totally insufficient. They don’t match the leadership’s commitment to zero tolerance on anti-Semitism. They imply a revolving door policy in which you can revise the history of the Holocaust, sit quietly for a year then come back and do it all again,” said Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.
“Mr Livingstone’s inaccurate and antagonistic comments including over the past 40 years have had a huge impact on the Jewish community,” said Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council.
In excess of 20 Labour MPs, who had called for Livingstone to be expelled, expressed their unhappiness with the suspension, with Anna Turley calling it “weak and shameful” and Lisa Nandy calling the decision a “sad day” for the Labour Party.