By Jorge Martin | Hands Off Venezuela | March 31, 2015
One wonders how many mistakes, glaring omissions and biased statements can one fit in just two paragraphs of just 88 words. When it comes to Venezuela, the answer is, a lot. On Friday, 27 of March, the Guardian published a piece called Democracy behind bars: 11 opposition leaders facing jail or death”, which was “sponsored by Crown Agents”. First in the list of 11 “democratic opposition leaders” facing jail or death around the world is Venezuela’s Leopoldo Lopez.
Immediately below this headline is a big picture of Leopoldo López, giving the impression that he himself is potentially facing a death sentence. The writer is probably unaware that Venezuela was the first country in the world still in existence to abolish the death penalty, back in 1863. In contrast, in Britain it was not fully abolished until 1998 and of course in the US is still widely used. But, as they say, why let the facts get in the way of a striking headline?
The section on Leopoldo López opens with a quote from the Harvard graduate regarding a political disqualificaion which saw him banned from running for public office. A quote which is totally unrelated to the reasons why he is currently in jail. López is disqualified from standing for public office for his role in two separate corruption scandals. The first goes back to 1998, when he worked as an analyst at the state-owned oil company PDVSA and his mother, a PDVSA manager, signed a donation to the Primero Justicia NGO, which Leopoldo López was a member of (and which later became the Primero Justicia political party, of which Lopez was one of the main leaders). The second corruption scandal is related to the irregular use of funds when he was Mayor of Chacao. All that the first paragraph of the Guardian article proves, therefore, is that Leopoldo Lopez was involved in two corruption scandals and, as a result, is barred from standing for public office until 2017.
In the second paragraph, Lopez is described as “founder of the opposition Popular Will party.” While this description is true, it leaves out an important part of the story, as Lopez is also well known in Venezuela for his active participation in the April 2002 coup against the democratically elected president Hugo Chávez. During the coup, using his authority as Mayor of Chacao, he led the illegal arrest of Minister of Justice Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (report, videos and pictures). Hardly the conduct of a democrat! Charges against him for these events were dismissed by an amnesty decreed by president Hugo Chávez in December 2007.
In yet another misleading statement, the author of the article, Lauren Razavi, asserts that Lopez was arrested after calling for citizens to protest against the government. Of course, the timeline is correct, in the sense that one thing happened after the other, but the information is not complete. He did not call “for citizens to protest”, but rather called for citizens to forcefully oust the democratically elected government through street protests and barricades which saw whole communities left without access to food, water or gas, and even emergency services refused access.
In a joint appeal with Maria Corina Machado, López called on citizens to join his “La Salida” campaign (“The Way Out”), described the government as a “dictatorship” and called on Venezuelans to “rise up” emulating the example of January 23, 1958 (when a popular uprising overthrew the Perez Jimenez dictatorship). The message was clear: Venezuela was a dictatorship, the government had to be overthrown by force.
As a result of this appeal there were violent protests by their supporters, including arson attacks against public buildings, health care centres, university campuses, the use of sharp shooters to kill police officers, national guard officers and Bolivarian supporters who were removing road blockades. Opposition violence instigated by Machado and López included the setting of steel wire traps above roads which was aimed at, and succeeded in, decapitating a number of motorbike riders. A total of 43 people were killed, a majority of them as a result of the action of violent opposition protesters (see full analysis by Ewan Robertson). The violent protests, involving hired guns and vandals, as well as criminal elements, managed to alienate the majority of the population, including many of the opposition’s own supporters. Despite the escalating violence, Lopez consistently refused to respond to government requests to call off the barricades and protests. It is for his responsibility in these events that López is in jail pending trial.
Yet the article is not just misleading in its description of Lopez. Razavi also says Nicolas Maduro’s leadership has “seen Venezuela pushed into the top 10 countries in the world for corruption and homicide”. The only source she provides for this is assertion is a link to an article signed by Rory Carroll, notorious for his bias against the Bolivarian revolution.
Amazingly though, on closer inspection, Carroll’s article does not even make the claim which Razavi attributes to him. The result? A totally fabricated statistic.
Corruption is certainly a serious problem in Venezuela, but according to the most recent report by Transparency International, Venezuela does not figure amongst the 10 most corrupt countries in the world. As for the homicide rate, the source which is most commonly used is the Global Study on Homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The last time this study was published was in 2013 with data from 2012. No one would deny crime is a problem in Venezuela, but President Maduro was inaugurated in April 2013, so he can hardly be blamed for figures collected the previous year.
Two final notes on this short piece. The hook for the article is a report by Freedom House a US based government funded organisation whose current director is a former head of Bureau at the US State Department. Past board members include Otto Reich, Paul Wolfowitz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Donald Rumsfeld and other outspoken advocates of US imperialist aggression. In other words, the type of “freedom” that this house advocates is the freedom of the US to interfere in other country’s affairs.
On the other hand, the organisation “sponsoring” the article is Crown Agents. It describes its own history thus: “Our story begins in the 1700s, when colonial administrations employed agents to recruit people and procure and ship supplies to the colonies”. In other words, this is an organisation dedicated to promoting the interests of British colonialism. A perspective which is shamelessly manifest in the article itself, which cites jailed opposition leaders in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but which fails to mention political prisoners in Europe or the Unites States. For example, Basque opposition leader Arnaldo OtegiOtegi (in jail for his political ideas), or the countless political activists and whistleblowers languishing in US jails for their political ideas and defence of democracy (from Mummia Abu Jamal to Chelsea Manning).
It is beyond doubt that Crown Agents would not have sponsored an article about the achievements of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the fields of education, healthcare, housing, political empowerment, workers’ and gender rights and others.
The Bolivarian revolution has won 18 out of 19 democratic elections and referenda held in the country since 1998, yet this, it seems, will not stop Western mass media from presenting it as an “authoritarian regime”.
Letter to the Guardian:
I was disappointed to see a piece in the Guardian (Democracy behind bars: 11 opposition leaders facing jail or death) mentioning Venezuelan Leopoldo López at the top of a list of democratic opposition leaders jailed by what the article presents as authoritarian regimes. López has been disqualified to stand for public office for misuse of public funds twice. He played an important role in the 2002 coup against the democratically elected government of president Chávez, during which he led the illegal and violent arrest of the then Minister of Justice Chacín.
The reason he is in jail pending trial today, is because of his call for an uprising against the democratically elected government of president Maduro last year. His appeal directly led to violence on the part of his supporters leaving 43 people dead. Most of those were killed by the actions of violent supporters of Mr López which used arson attacks, sharpshooters and steel wires to decapitate motorbike riders.
Venezuela has had 19 democratic elections and referendums with full participation of opposition forces since 1998. All bar one have been won by the Bolivarian revolution. Democratic opposition is not a problem, attempts to overthrow a democratically elected government is a different matter.
This piece was published with contributions from Venezuelanalysis.
There is media confusion about what is going on in Yemen and the broader Middle East. Pundits are pointing out that the US is looking schizophrenic with policies that back opposite sides of the fight against al-Qaeda-style extremism in Iraq and in Yemen.
But it isn’t that hard to understand the divergent policies once you comprehend the underlying drivers of the fight brewing in the region.
No, it isn’t a battle between Shia and Sunni, Iranian and Arab or the much-ballyhooed Iran-Saudi stand-off. Yes, these narratives have played a part in defining ‘sides,’ but often only in the most simplistic fashion, to rally constituencies behind a policy objective. And they do often reflect some truth.
But the ‘sides’ demarcated for our consumption do not explain, for instance, why Oman or Algeria refuse to participate, why Turkey is where it is, why Russia, China and the BRICS are participants, why the US is so conflicted in its direction – and why, in a number of regional conflicts, Sunni, Shia, Islamist, secularist, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Iranian sometimes find themselves on the same side.
This is not just a regional fight – it is a global one with ramifications that go well beyond the Middle East. The region is quite simply the theatre where it is coming to a head. And Yemen, Syria and Iraq are merely the tinderboxes that may or may not set off the conflagration.
“The battle, at its very essence, in its lowest common denominator, is a war between a colonial past and a post-colonial future.”
For the sake of clarity, let’s call these two axes the Neo-Colonial Axis and the Post-Colonial Axis. The former seeks to maintain the status quo of the past century; the latter strives to shrug off old orders and carve out new, independent directions.
If you look at the regional chessboard, the Middle East is plump with governments and monarchies backed to the hilt by the United States, Britain and France. These are the West’s “proxies” and they have not advanced their countries in the least – neither in self-sufficiencies nor in genuine democratic or developmental milestones. Indebted to ‘Empire’s’ patronage, these states form the regional arm of the Neo-Colonial Axis.
On the other side of the Mideast’s geopolitical fault line, Iran has set the standard for the Post-Colonial Axis – often referred to as the ‘Resistance Axis.’ Based on the inherent anti-imperialist worldview of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and also as a result of US/UK-driven isolating sanctions and global politics, Tehran has bucked the system by creating an indigenous system of governance, advancing its developmental ambitions and crafting alliances that challenge the status quo.
Iran’s staunchest allies have typically included Syria, Hezbollah and a handful of Palestinian resistance groups. But today, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring counter-revolutions – and the sheer havoc these have created – other independent players have discovered commonalities with the Resistance Axis. In the region, these include Iraq, Algeria and Oman. While outside the Mideast, we have seen Russia, China and other non-aligned nations step in to challenge the Neo-Colonial order.
Neo-Colonial Axis hits an Arab Spring wall
Today, the Neo-Colonials simply can’t win. They lack two essential components to maintain their hegemony: economy and common objectives.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the Middle East, where numerous initiatives and coalitions have floundered shortly after inception.
Once Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, all parties went their own way and the country fractured. In Egypt, a power struggle pitted Sunni against Sunni, highlighting the growing schism between two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) patrons Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Syria, a heavyweight line-up of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the US and UK could not pull together a coherent regime-change plan or back the same horse.
In the vacuum created by these competing agendas, highly-organized al-Qaeda-style extremists stepped in to create further divergence among old allies.
Western hegemons – the original colonials and imperialists – grew fatigued, alarmed, and sought a way out of the increasingly dangerous quagmire. To do so, they needed to strike a compromise with the one regional state that enjoyed the necessary stability and military prowess to lead the fight against extremism from within the region. That would be their old adversary, Iran.
But the West is geographically distant from the Mideast, and can take these losses to a certain extent. For regional hegemons, however, the retreat of their Western patrons was anathema. As we can see, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have recently rushed to resolve their differences so they can continue to design the region’s direction in this Western vacuum.
These counter-revolutionary states, however, share grandiose visions of their own regional influence – each ultimately only keen to achieve their own primacy. And the continued ascendance of Iran has really grated: the Islamic Republic seems to have moved from strength to strength during this ‘Arab Spring,’ picking up new allies – regional and global – and consolidating its gains.
For Saudi Arabia, in particular, Iran’s incremental victories go beyond the pale. Riyadh has, after all, staked its regional leadership role on a sectarian and ethnic divide, representing Arab and Sunni stakeholders against “Iranian” and “Shiite” ones. Now suddenly, not only are the Americans, British and French dallying with the Iranians, but the GCC itself has been split down the center over the issue of ‘engagement vs. confrontation’ with the Islamic Republic.
Worse yet, the Saudi efforts to participate in the overthrow of Gaddafi, squash uprisings in Bahrain, control political outcomes in Yemen, destabilize Syria, divide Iraq and conquer Egypt seem to have come to naught.
In all instances, they have yet to see cemented, meaningful gains – and each quagmire threatens to unravel further and deplete ever more Saudi funds
Today, the Saudis find themselves surrounded by the sickly fruits of their various regional interventions. They have endured recent attacks by violent extremists on their Iraqi and Jordanian borders – many of these recipients of past Saudi funding – and now find themselves challenged on a third border, in Yemen, by a determined constituency that seeks to halt Saudi interventions.
Beyond that, Syria and Lebanon have slipped out of Riyadh’s grip, little Qatar seeks to usurp the traditional Saudi role in the Persian Gulf, Egypt dallies with Russia and China, and Pakistan and Turkey continue a meaningful engagement with Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranians don’t have to do much of anything to raise the Saudi ire. Iran has stepped up its regional role largely because of the Saudi-led counter-revolution, and has cautiously thwarted Riyadh’s onslaughts where it could. It has buoyed allies – much like NATO or the GCC would in similar circumstances – but with considerably less aggression and while cleaving to the letter of international law.
The Saudis see Iranian hands everywhere in the region, but this is a fantasy at best. Iran has simply stepped into an opportunity when it arises, met the threats coming its way, and utilized all its available channels to blunt the Saudi advances in various military and political theaters.
Even the US intelligence community’s annual security assessment – a report card that regularly highlights the “Iranian threat” – concludes in 2015 that the Islamic Republic of Iran has “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”
Yet all we hear these days blaring from Western and Arab media headlines is “Shia sectarianism, Iranian expansionism and Persian Empire.”
Tellingly, the American intelligence assessment launches its section on “terrorism” with the following: “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”
And US officials admit: many of these Sunni extremists have been assisted and financed by none other than Washington allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The Yemeni theater – a final battleground?
A senior official within a Resistance Axis state tells me: “The biggest mistake the Saudis made is to attack Yemen. I didn’t think they were that stupid.”
In the past week, the Saudis have cobbled together yet another Neo-Colonial ‘coalition’ – this time to punish Yemenis for ousting their made-in-Riyadh transitional government and pushing into the southern city of Aden.
The main Saudi adversaries are the Houthis, a group of northern, rural highlanders who have amassed a popular base throughout the north and other parts of Yemen over the course of ten years and six wars.
The Saudis (and the US) identify the Houthis as ‘Shiites’ and ‘Iranian-backed’ in order to galvanize their own bases in the region. But Iran has had little to do with the Houthis since their emergence as a political force in Yemen. And WikiLeaks showed us that US officials know this too. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh notes that Yemen’s former Saudi-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh provided “false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict.”
And allegations that Iran arms the Houthis also fall flat. Another secret cable makes clear: “Contrary to ROYG (Republic of Yemen Government) claims that Iran is arming the Houthis, most local political analysts report that the Houthis obtain their weapons from the Yemeni black market and even from the ROYG military itself.”
Saleh was deposed in 2011 as a result of Arab Spring pressures, and in a twist worthy of the complicated Middle East, the wily former president now appears to be backing his former adversaries, the Houthis, against his old patrons, the Saudis.
The Houthis are adherents of the Muslim Zaydi sect – which falls somewhere between Sunnism and Shiism, and is followed by around 40 percent of Yemenis. Saleh, who fought the Houthis in half a dozen wars, is also a Zaydi – evidence that Yemen’s internal strife is anything but sectarian.
In fact, it could be argued that the Houthi – or Ansarallah movement – are a central constituency of Yemen’s ‘Arab Spring.’ Their demands since 2003 have, after all, largely been about ending disenfranchisement, gaining economic, political and religious rights, eliminating corruption, railing against the twin evils of America and Israel (a popular Post-Colonial Arab sentiment), and becoming stakeholders in the state.
To ensure the balance continued in their favor during the Arab Spring, the Neo-Colonial Axis installed a puppet transitional leader upon Saleh’s departure – an unelected president whose term ran out a year ago.
Then a few months ago, the Houthis – allegedly with the support of Saleh and his tens of thousands of followers – ousted their rivals in the puppet regime and took over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. When the Saudis threatened retaliation, the Houthis pushed further southward… which brings us to the war front amassing against Yemen today.
This is not a battle the Saudis and their Neo-Colonial Axis can win. Airstrikes alone cannot turn this war, and it is unlikely that Riyadh and its coalition partners can expect troops on the ground to be any more successful – if they are even deployed.
The Houthis have learned over the past decade to fight both conventional and guerilla wars. This relatively small band of highlanders managed in 2009 to push 30 kilometers into Saudi territory and take over several dozen Saudi towns. When coalition-partner Egypt last fought a war with ground troops in Yemen, it became Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ‘Vietnam’ and nearly bankrupted the state.
Even majority-Sunni Pakistan, a traditional pipeline for staffing GCC armies, seems wary about this conflict. It too is fighting elsewhere on the same side as the Houthis, Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis – against violent Sunni extremists inside its borders and from their bases in neighboring Afghanistan. No amount of Saudi money will quench the anger of militant-weary Pakistanis if their government commits to this Yemeni fight – against the very groups (Houthis) that are battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
And, yes, it is ironic that the United States is now providing assistance and intelligence for the Saudi-led coalition – against the Houthis, who are fighting al-Qaeda.
But as mentioned earlier, this is not Washington’s neighborhood, and it does not approach this fight with the same goals of its close ally, Saudi Arabia.
The Resistance Axis official explains:
“The Americans see all outcomes as good: If the Houthis win, they will help get rid of al-Qaeda in Yemen. If the Saudis win, well, these are still the US’s allies. And if both sides enter a protracted war, that is “not a problem either,” referring to the ever-present US interest of selling weapons in conflict zones.
Despite a global ban, the United States has sold the Saudis $640 million worth of cluster bombs over the past two years, some of which have been used to carpet bomb parts of Yemen in the past few days. The cluster munitions were part of an overall $67 billion worth of arm deals with Saudi Arabia since the Arab uprisings kicked off in 2011.
The Iranians, meanwhile, are not doing much of anything, except insisting – like the Russians and others – that the bombardment of Yemen is criminal and that Yemenis need to solve their own problems via an internal dialogue.
And why should they make any moves? The Saudis are digging their own graves right now – and hastening the demise of the entire Neo-Colonial project in the Middle East, to boot.
“Tehran realizes that the fact that Riyadh had to bring together a major coalition to fight a group that is only on the outskirts of Iranian influence is a victory in itself,” says the US-based, conservative risk-analysis group, Stratfor.
Riyadh’s move to attack Yemen has just dragged the not-so-financially-flush Kingdom into yet another military quagmire, and this time directly, bypassing proxies altogether. Every airstrike in Yemen – and it is clear in the first few days that dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed – threatens to draw more adherents to the Houthi cause.
And every day that the Houthis are tied up in this battle, AQAP gets an opportunity to cement its hold elsewhere in the country. The net winner in this conflict is unlikely to be Saudi Arabia, but it may just be al-Qaeda – which is guaranteed to draw the Post-Colonial Axis into the strategically vital waterways surrounding Yemen.
The Arab League, under Saudi Arabia’s arm-twisting, just upped the ante by demanding that only a complete Houthi surrender (laying down weapons and withdrawing) would end the airstrikes. This ultimatum leaves very little room to jumpstart dialogue, and shows shocking disregard for the normal goals of military engagement, which try to leave ‘negotiation windows’ open.
It may be that the Saudis, who have rapidly lost influence and control in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, and other states in the past few years, have decided to go to the wall in Yemen.
Or it may just be some posturing to create momentum and bolster bruised egos.
But conflict has a way of balancing itself out – as in Syria and Iraq – by drawing other, unforeseen elements into the fray. With all the conflicts raging in the Middle East and encroaching on their borders, the Post-Colonial Axis has been forced to take a stand. And they bring to the field something their adversaries lack: common objectives and efficiency.
This is possibly the first time in the modern Mideast we have seen this kind of efficiency from within. And I speak specifically of Iran and its allies, both regional and external. They cannot ignore the threats that emanate from conflict, any more than the west can ignore the jihadi genie that threatens from thousands of miles away. So this Post-Colonial Axis moves further into the region to protect itself, bringing with it lessons learned and laser-focused common goals.
The Neo-Colonials will hit a wall in Yemen, just as they have in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Their disparate objectives will ensure that. The main concern as we enter yet another storm in Yemen is whether a flailing Empire will turn ugly at the eleventh hour and launch a direct war against its actual adversary, the Post-Colonial Axis. The Saudis are a real wild card – as are the Israelis – and may try to light that fuse. When the threat is existential, anything goes.
Yes, a regional war is as much a possibility over Yemen as it was over Syria. But this battle lies on a direct border of Saudi Arabia – ground zero for both violent extremism and the most virulently sectarian and ethnocentric elements of the anti-Resistance crowd – and so promises to deliver yet another decisive geopolitical shift in the Mideast. From Yemen, as from any confrontation between the two global blocs, a new regional reality is likely to emerge: what the Americans might call “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
And Yemen may yet become the next Arab state to enter a Post-Colonial order.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani
AVAAZ, “White Helmets”, HRW, PHR, Amnesty & More
A massive campaign in support of foreign intervention against Syria is underway. The goal is to prepare the public for a “No Fly Zone” enforced by US and other military powers. This is how the invasion of Iraq began. This is how the public was prepared for the US/NATO air attack on Libya.
The results of western ‘regime change’ in Iraq and Libya have been disastrous. Both actions have dramatically reduced the security, health, education and living standards of the populations, created anarchy and mayhem, and resulted in the explosion of sectarianism and violence in the region. Now the Western/NATO/Israeli and Gulf powers, supported by major intervention-inclined humanitarian organizations, want to do the same in Syria. Is this positive or a repeat of past disasters?
Who are the Humanitarian Interventionists?
Major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the campaign include Avaaz, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), “White Helmets” also known as “Syria Civil Defence, “The Syria Campaign” , Amnesty International etc.. These campaigns are well funded and in accord with the efforts of John McCain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others who are explicit in wanting “regime change” in Syria. Turkey continues to press for the No Fly Zone as the US and Turkey launch another round of training “moderate rebels” at bases in Turkey.
Today March 30, 2015 Avaaz is ramping up its campaign trying to reach 1 million people signing a petition for a “Save Zone” in Syria.
“Life Saving” No Fly Zone?
Avaaz organizer John Tye explained the rationale for the Syria No Fly Zone petition in a lengthy letter. He argues that a No Fly Zone (NFZ) will “save lives” and help “stop the carnage”. In sharp contrast, here is what General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM when the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya was enforced, said on “Face the Nation”
“I worry sometimes that, when people say “impose a no-fly zone,” there is this almost antiseptic view that this is an easily accomplished military task. It’s extraordinarily difficult. Having overseen imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, a force that is vastly inferior in air forces and air defenses to that which exists in Syria, it’s a pretty high-risk operation… It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.”
Recent History of No Fly Zone
The most recent No Fly Zone was that imposed on Libya in March 2011. It was authorized by the UN Security Council after a wave of media reports claiming that Libya was using mercenaries, Libyan troops were engaging in widespread violence and Viagra fueled rape, and finally that the city of Benghazi (population 700,000) were facing massacre and possible ‘genocide’.
Alarming press reports were issued by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, etc.. Avaaz launched an online “Libya No-Fly Zone” petition. These groups rallied public opinion which contributed to the UN Security Council resolution granting USA and NATO right to take over Libyan airspace. That led to a bombing campaign of nearly 10,000 attack sorties over the next eight months, the murder of Qaddafi, deaths of about 30 thousand, downfall of the government and installation of the outside appointed National Transition Council.
Since then there has been an explosion of violence, racism, sectarianism, and chaos. Libyans have experienced a huge decline in security and standards of living. The No Fly Zone which was supposed to “prevent a massacre” has led to vastly greater violence and chaos in Libya and beyond. Fighters and weapons flooded from Libya to Turkey and into Syria, expenses paid by Qatar.
As for the early reports about mercenaries, rape, viagra and looming massacre ….. these have been exposed as false. The mercenaries were fighting on the side of the “rebels”. The massacres were those that followed the NATO destruction. The entire “viagra” story was a fraud.
The details are documented in Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximillian Forte and Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell. Forte devotes one entire chapter to detailing the false manipulation of public opinion by would-be humanitarian organizations.
Avaaz Ignore Results from Libya
Despite writing the long letter in response to specific questions including Libya, Avaaz organizer John Tye avoids any reference to their “Libya No Fly Zone” campaign and the aftermath. This is perhaps understandable but raises questions about sincerity and motivation. Are many members of the public being unwittingly duped into joining the campaign?
Part 2 of this article will examine: What is the evidence of war crimes in Syria? Are the humanitarian interventionists R2P (right to protect) or R4W (responsible for war)?
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement.
The military intervention in Yemen by a US-backed coalition of Arab states will undoubtedly inflame the conflict both in Yemen, and throughout the region. It is likely to be a protracted war involving many actors, each of which is interested in furthering its own political and geopolitical agenda.
However, it is the international reaction to this new regional war which is of particular interest; specifically, the way in which the United States has reacted to this undeniable aggression by its Gulf allies. While Washington has gone to great lengths to paint Russia’s reunification with Crimea and its limited support for the anti-Kiev rebels of eastern Ukraine as “aggression,” it has allowed that same loaded term to be completely left out of the narrative about the new war in Yemen.
So it seems that, according to Washington, aggression is not defined by any objective indicators: use of military hardware, initiation of hostilities, etc. Rather, the United States defines aggression by the relationship of a given conflict to its own strategic interests. In Crimea and Ukraine, Russia is the aggressor because, in defending its own interests and those of Russian people, it has acted against the perceived geopolitical interests of the US. While in Yemen, the initiation by Saudi Arabia and other US-backed countries of an unprovoked war with the expressed goal of regime change, this is not aggression as it furthers Washington’s interests.
Language Versus Reality
On March 25, 2015 a coalition of Arab states initiated an aerial bombardment (as of writing there has yet to be a ground invasion, though it is expected) of Yemen for the purposes of dislodging the Houthi rebel government which had weeks before toppled the US and Saudi-backed puppet government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The war initiated by Saudi Arabia, along with its fellow Gulf monarchies and Egypt, was motivated purely by Saudi Arabia’s, and by extension the United States’, perceived interests.
Within hours of the commencement of the bombardment, reports from Yemen indicated that dozens, if not scores, of Yemenis had been killed in the airstrikes. Despite the immediate loss of life, to say nothing of the destruction of infrastructure, buildings, homes, and communities, the United States praised the operation as necessary for regional security. Indeed it has been confirmed that, while not providing direct military support in the form of troops or air support, the United States has been intimately involved in the operation.
Speaking directly on behalf of the White House and the Obama administration, the National Security Council spokesperson announced:
Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government… In support of GCC actions…President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support… the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition… can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.
So, in Washington’s own words, the aggressive military intervention into Yemen is both legitimate and supported by the US. Moreover, the US has openly acknowledged their direct participation in the campaign in the form of intelligence and logistical support. Exactly what is entailed in “intelligence” and “logistical support” is certainly open to interpretation. Undoubtedly, the US has its covert forces involved in the operation, likely on the ground in Yemen, to say nothing of its vast presence throughout the region.
In fact, it is universally recognized that the CIA has been intimately involved in Yemen for at least the last several years, with CIA Director Brennan having been integral in fostering the relationship. As the NY Times reported in 2012, the Obama administration’s approach in Yemen was “to employ small numbers of Special Operations troops, Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary teams and drones.” It should be further remembered that Hadi himself was handpicked by Washington in the wake of the fall of former President Saleh’s government, and that Hadi, described by the US as the “legitimate” president ran unopposed in a farcically described “democratic transition” sponsored by the US.
Taken in total then, it is objectively true that the United States has been involved militarily in Yemen since at least 2012, propping up their man in Sanaa in order to bolster their geopolitical and strategic position in the region, naturally under the aegis of “fighting terrorism.” So it stands to reason that the White House would refer to the Saudi aggression as legitimate, and praise it as such. It is equally true that the so called “legitimacy” of the military operation, and the Hadi government itself, is dependent on US interests, nothing less.
Now compare the language employed by the US vis-à-vis this war against Yemen, with the talking points endlessly repeated by all US officials, and nearly all media pundits, regarding Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. Everyone from Republican warmongers like John McCain, to State Department spokesperson (and unwitting comedic icon) Jen Psaki, have all described Moscow’s moves as “Russian aggression.” Indeed, it seems that phrase alone has become something of a mantra in Washington, and on the airwaves of its servile and compliant corporate media, framing the narrative as “clear and unmistakable aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity” and other such vacuous phrases.
But consider for a moment the objective facts. Russia’s direct military interests in Crimea, not to mention the safety and freedom of Russian-speakers, was under direct threat after the US-sponsored coup in Kiev toppled the corrupt, but democratically elected, government in February 2014. In response, Russia launched a limited military operation to secure Crimea and its interests. This is critical because this operation was carried out with no bloodshed, no airstrikes, and not a single shot fired. While this aspect may be forgotten amid the din of belligerent shouts and incredulousness from Washington, it must not be forgotten by keen political observers. In point of fact, Russia’s “aggression” in Crimea was entirely peaceful, and as is self-evident, entirely defensive.
On the other hand, the “legitimate” actions of the US, Saudi Arabia and its allies do not constitute aggression. Well, it is clear that the dozens (by now likely far more) of families who have lost fathers and sons, wives and daughters in the airstrikes would certainly call it aggression.
It should also be noted that, unlike in Crimea where the people were given the opportunity to decide their own fate democratically, the people of Yemen are being given no such opportunity. There has been a domestic insurgency for years in the wake of the civil wars and reunification of North and South Yemen, and whatever stability might have been provided by the new Houthi-led dispensation has now fallen by the wayside. Moreover, the notion that Yemen was a functioning country under Hadi would be like saying that France was a functioning country under the Vichy regime. The overthrow of Hadi opened the possibility for a truly independent nation to emerge. This Saudi Arabia and its allies simply could not abide, as it would set a dangerous precedent for its own domestic opposition which, quite correctly, sees the House of Saud as little more than a proxy of the US and Israel.
Consider also the rhetoric of “aggression” regarding Russia’s very limited support for the anti-Kiev rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. Listening to western media, one would think that Russian military had invaded en masse in those regions and was fighting a war against Kiev’s military. The reality is that, despite dozens of accusations and hundreds of news stories, there is still no evidence of any direct Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine. It is true that there are Russian volunteers and some Russian hardware, but these are hardly evidence of any invasion, let alone even military support of the scale that the US has just authorized sending to Kiev. Even a Russophobic perspective would have to admit, however reluctantly, that Russia’s presence in eastern Ukraine is minimal and indirect.
Now compare that to the outright bombardment using massive military capabilities being carried out by the Saudis and their allies in Yemen. In a matter of hours, this US-backed alliance has employed more military hardware, and wreaked more devastation, than Russia has in more than 12 months. The question of scale is critical. Russia quite correctly perceives a threat to its own borders and interests from the US-sponsored Kiev regime, and it has acted with a great degree of restraint. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which also perceives a Houthi-controlled Yemen as a threat to its borders and interests, has unleashed a massive military campaign to destroy the movement and effect its own regime change to reinstall Hadi.
It could not be clearer the level of hypocrisy from the US, its allies, and the compliant media. Russia is an “aggressor” while Saudi Arabia is a “defender.” Iran is sponsoring regime change in Yemen, while the US merely supported “democratic forces” in Ukraine. Assad must go, but Hadi must stay. Not to belabor the point, as it is obvious on its face, but legitimacy and illegitimacy is conferred by the US based on its interests, not international law or objective facts.
That this is well known in the non-Western world is undeniably true. However here in the US, and in the West more broadly, the narrative is shaped by those in power who seek to further their own agendas. They choose the words, and they dictate what is and is not acceptable. They are the Ministry of Truth, and the thought-criminals who question their narratives are dangerous subversives and propagandists. In truth however, those who question those narratives are the ones who have consistently been on the right side of history, from Vietnam to Iraq to Libya, Syria, and Yemen. And I, for one, am proud to count myself among them.
During the recent measles outbreak, the mainstream media blamed the epidemic solely on non vaccinated children, even though people who were vaccinated caught the disease and some vaccines have proven to be inefficient in the past. Without the slightest nuance, the mainstream media constantly portrays people reluctant to accept just any vaccine as “anti-vaxers”, irresponsible and misinformed people, relying on irrational fears and the one and only “fraudulent” Andrew Wakefield study linking autism to vaccines. (Watch Lina B. Moreco’s documentary Shots in the Dark, which features Dr. Wakefield and thankful parents of his young patients with autism.)
In reality, many so-called “anti-vaxers” are not ALL totally against vaccines. While some people may be totally against any kind of vaccination, many, including doctors and health specialists, question certain vaccines, ingredients in the vaccines and/or the vaccination schedule. This is not based on a survey but on my own perception resulting from the fair amount of articles on vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry that I’ve read over the last five years as a journalist. There are a large number of doctors and health specialists who have done truly independent research and who criticize vaccination based on scientific studies and solid evidence.
Why is the media so keen on portraying Big Pharma critics as crazy, uneducated, unscientific and irresponsible people?
Dr Marcia Angell worked for over two decades as editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. She was fired after criticizing the pharmaceutical industry, which had exerted an overriding and negative influence on the scientific literature. She said:
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published.”
Numerous journalists say the same goes for the mainstream media.
We bring to the attention of our readers 25 facts which constitute only part of a larger body of independent scientific research and articles on vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry. Some mainstream articles have been included as well to show how the media overlooks stories it has published in the past because they don’t fit with their “anti-vaxer” portrait.
The objective of this list is to provide independent research and sources of information on vaccination and Big Pharma, which is what the mainstream media fails to do and instead blindly promotes the narrative and agenda of Big Pharma.
(All emphasis added. Most titles are quotes from the articles they are linked to.)
25 Facts About the Pharmaceutical Industry, Vaccines and “Anti-Vaxers”
1- China has measles outbreaks but 99% are vaccinated
A recent study published in PLoS titled, “Difficulties in eliminating measles and controlling rubella and mumps: a cross-sectional study of a first measles and rubella vaccination and a second measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination,” has brought to light the glaring ineffectiveness of two measles vaccines (measles–rubella (MR) or measles–mumps–rubella(MMR) ) in fulfilling their widely claimed promise of preventing outbreaks in highly vaccine compliant populations. (Sayer Ji, Why Is China Having Measles Outbreaks When 99% Are Vaccinated?, GreenMedInfo 20 September 2014)
2- Mandatory Chickenpox Vaccination Increases Disease Rates, Study Shows
Varicella, or the chicken pox vaccination, has been mandated in South Korea since 2005. Infants from 12 to 15 months are required by law to receive a vaccination. By 2011, the country reached a near universal compliance rate, however, varicella patients did not decrease; they have increased since reaching this mandated level of vaccination.
The number of chicken pox patients reported to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has increased from 22.6 cases per 100,000 in 2006 to 71.6 cases per 100,000 in 2011. That’s a huge difference and ample proof that the vaccination program isn’t working to control the spread of the disease. (Christina Sarich, With 97% Compliance Chicken Pox Vaccine Still Causes Outbreaks, Natural Society, January 08, 2015)
3- In a 2012 measles outbreak in Quebec (Canada) over half of the cases were in vaccinated teenagers
An investigation into an outbreak in a high school in a town that was heavily hit by the virus found that about half of the cases were in teens who had received the recommended two doses of vaccine in childhood — in other words, teens whom authorities would have expected to have been protected from the measles virus.
It’s generally assumed that the measles vaccine, when given in a two-dose schedule in early childhood, should protect against measles infection about 99 per cent of the time. So the discovery that 52 of the 98 teens who caught measles were fully vaccinated came as a shock to the researchers who conducted the investigation. (The Canadian Press, Measles among vaccinated Quebec kids questioned, CBC, October 20, 2011)
4- In 1987 a measles outbreak was documented among a fully immunized group of children
In 1987, for example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) documented a measles outbreak that occurred in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the spring of 1985. Fourteen adolescent-age students, all of whom had been vaccinated for measles, contracted the disease despite having been injected with the MMR vaccine. Researchers noted that more than 99 percent of students at the school — basically all of them — had also been vaccinated, with more than 95 percent of them showing detectable antibodies to measles. (Ethan A. Huff, Measles Outbreak Documented Among Fully Immunized Group of Children, Natural News 15 February 2015)
5- Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Own Data Shows Links Between Vaccines and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
What happens when the actual evidence from the scientific and clinical literature produced by these very agencies contradicts their own vaccine policies?
This is exactly what has happened with the publication of a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics titled ,”Adverse Events following Haemophilus influenzae Type b Vaccines in the Vaccine Adverse Event ReportingSystem, 1990-2013,” wherein CDC and FDA researchers identify 749 deaths linked to the administration of the Hib vaccine, 51% of which were sudden infant death linked to the administration of Hib vaccine. (Sayer Ji, Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Own Data Shows Links Between Vaccines and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), GreenMedInfo 23 January 2015)
6- Japan banned the MMR vaccine in 1993 “after 1.8 million children had been given two types of MMR and a record number developed non-viral meningitis and other adverse reactions.”
The Japanese government realised there was a problem with MMR soon after its introduction in April 1989 when vaccination was compulsory. Parents who refused had to pay a small fine.
An analysis of vaccinations over a three-month period showed one in every 900 children was experiencing problems. This was over 2,000 times higher than the expected rate of one child in every 100,000 to 200,000. (Jenny Hope, Why Japan banned MMR vaccine, Daily Mail)
7- A study concluded nations that require more vaccine doses tend to have higher infant mortality rates.
The US childhood immunization schedule requires 26 vaccine doses for infants aged less than 1 year, the most in the world, yet 33 nations have better IMRs [Infant Mortality Rates]
Some countries have IMRs that are less than half the US rate: Singapore, Sweden, and Japan are below 2.80. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The relative position of the United States in comparison to countries with the lowest infant mortality rates appears to be worsening.”
These findings demonstrate a counter-intuitive relationship: nations that require more vaccine doses tend to have higher infant mortality rates. (Neil Z Miller and Gary S Goldman, Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: Is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity?, U.S. National Library of Medicine, September 2011)
8- The U.S. has a vaccine court apparently designed to “Shield Manufacturers from Liability”
For years, the corporate media was reluctant to admit that it even existed. But the special court system designed to handle vaccine injury cases — and ultimately sweep them under the rug as quickly as possible — has hit the mainstream news for its failure to adequately and propitiously compensate families of vaccine-injured children. (Ethan A. Huff, Secretive Vaccine Court Exposed: Designed to Shield Manufacturers from Liability, Natural News, November 19, 2014)
9- Beyond admitting to fraud in a 2004 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study that exonerated the MMR vaccine, Dr. William Thompson, a CDC scientist, asserts there is a connection between mercury (thimerosal) in vaccines and autism. (Jon Rappoport, U.S. Centers for Disease Control Whistleblower: Mercury (Thimerosal) in Vaccines Causes Autism, No More Fake News, September 05, 2014)
10- Back in 2002, William Thompson was already aware of study results linking the MMR vaccine to a very large increase in autism risk among African-American children. See Brian Hooker’s published paper here, with a full analysis of the CDC’s own data revealing a 340% increased risk of autism in African-American children following the MMR vaccine. (Mike Adams, Autism Links to Vaccines: Whistleblower Reveals Evidence of Criminal Coverup by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Natural News August 26, 2014
11- According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency’s massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines — thimerosal — appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children. (Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Vaccinations: Deadly Immunity. Government Cover-up of a Mercury / Autism Scandal Rollingstone.com, 20 July 2005)
12- Instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, the officials and executives [discussed] how to cover up the damaging data. (Ibid.)
The CDC paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal, ordering researchers to “rule out” the chemical’s link to autism.
It withheld Verstraeten’s findings, even though they had been slated for immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original data had been “lost” and could not be replicated. And to thwart the Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers. By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the link between thimerosal and autism.
11- Since 1991, when the CDC and the FDA had recommended that three additional vaccines laced with the preservative be given to extremely young infants […] the estimated number of cases of autism had increased fifteenfold [in 2005], from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.(Ibid.)
Here is the CDC chart available today on its website:
An MIT researcher has linked autism to glyphosate, the chemical herbicide used in Monsanto Roundup.
12- Vaccine manufacturers […] continued to sell off their mercury-based supplies of vaccines until last year .
The CDC and FDA [bought] up the tainted vaccines for export to developing countries and allowed drug companies to continue using the preservative in some American vaccines — including several pediatric flu shots as well as tetanus boosters routinely given to eleven-year-olds. (Ibid.)
13- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has received $873,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, has been working to immunize vaccine makers from liability in 4,200 lawsuits that have been filed by the parents of injured children. (Ibid.)
14- Seasonal Flu Shots still contain thimerosal.
Look at the monographs. For example the one from Vaxigrip from Sanofi Pasteur states on page 4 the mercury-based preservative is in its multidose vial:
“Clinically Relevant Non-medicinal Ingredients: thimerosal* , formaldehyde, Triton® X-100†, neomycin”
15- Dr. Scott Reuben former member of Pfizer’s speakers’ bureau published dozens of fake study in medical journals
Dr. Reuben accepted a $75,000 grant from Pfizer to study Celebrex in 2005… His research, which was published in a medical journal, has since been quoted by hundreds of other doctors and researchers as “proof” that Celebrex helped reduce pain during post-surgical recovery. .. No patients were ever enrolled in the study!
He also faked study data on Bextra and Vioxx drugs… [T]he peer-reviewed medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia was forced to retract 10 “scientific” papers authored by Reuben… 21 articles written by Dr. Reuben that appear in medical journals have apparently been fabricated, too, and must be retracted. (Big Pharma researcher admits to faking dozens of research studies for Pfizer, Merck (opinion), Mike Adams, NaturalNews.com, February 18, 2010)
16- To this day thimerosal is still used in flu vaccines
For example, in the Vaxigrip monograph says: “The multidose vial of this vaccine contains thimerosal as a preservative. Thimerosal has been associated with allergic reactions.”
17- There are at least 97 studies showing links between vaccines and autism.
18- The CDC claims “there is no convincing evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines”, but that health authorities “agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.”
On thimerosal, the CDC website states:
“Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines. Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930′s. except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site. However, in July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.“
19- Industry-sponsored trials published in medical journals consistently favor sponsors
In view of this control and the conflicts of interest that permeate the enterprise, it is not surprising that industry-sponsored trials published in medical journals consistently favor sponsors —largely because negative results are not published, positive results are repeatedly published in slightly different forms, and a positive spin is put on even negative results. A review of seventy-four clinical trials of antidepressants, for example, found that thirty-seven of thirty-eight positive studies were published. But of the thirty-six negative studies, thirty-three were either not published or published in a form that conveyed a positive outcome.” – Marcia Angell, MD (Dr. Gary G. Kohls, Beware the Drug Companies, How they Deceive Us: “Criticizing Big Pharma” Global Research, February 16, 2015)
20- Nearly half of published articles in scientific journals contain findings that are false. (Dr. Gary G. Kohls, Beware the Drug Companies, How they Deceive Us: “Criticizing Big Pharma”Global Research, February 16, 2015)
“Six years ago, John Ioannidis, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, found that nearly half of published articles in scientific journals contained findings that were false, in the sense that independent researchers couldn’t replicate them. The problem is particularly widespread in medical research, where peer-reviewed articles in medical journals can be crucial in influencing multimillion- and sometimes multibillion-dollar spending decisions. It would be surprising if conflicts of interest did not sometimes compromise editorial neutrality, and in the case of medical research, the sources of bias are obvious.
21- Most medical journals receive half or more of their income from pharmaceutical company advertising and reprint orders, and dozens of others [journals] are owned by companies like Wolters Kluwer, a medical publisher that also provides marketing services to the pharmaceutical industry.” — Helen Epstein, author of “Flu Warning: Beware the Drug Companies” (http://aaci-india.org/COI/Flu_web_final.pdf) (Dr. Gary G. Kohls, Beware the Drug Companies, How they Deceive Us: “Criticizing Big Pharma” Global Research, February 16, 2015)
22- The FDA’s own web page admits that the drugs it certifies as safe contribute to over 100,000 deaths per year. (Constitutional Attorney on US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Corruption, Disinformation and Cover Up of Health Dangers, Activist Post, 8 February 2015)
23- The FDA routinely approves drugs over objections from its own medical reviewers. (Ibid.)
24- The FDA does zero independent medical testing of its own.
It is a system built upon conflicts of interest that leaves consumers completely in the dark about the true consequences of taking Big Pharma products. (Ibid.)
25- In 2012 GlaxoSmithKline Pleaded Guilty and Paid “$3 Billion to Resolve Fraud Allegations and Failure to Report Safety Data”
According to the US Justice Department:
The resolution is the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history and the largest payment ever by a drug company. …
GSK agreed to plead guilty to a three-count criminal information, including two counts of introducing misbranded drugs, Paxil and Wellbutrin, into interstate commerce and one count of failing to report safety data about the drug Avandia to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If two major newspapers in, say, Russia published major articles openly advocating the unprovoked bombing of a country, say, Israel, the U.S. government and news media would be aflame with denunciations about “aggression,” “criminality,” “madness,” and “behavior not fitting the Twenty-first Century.”
But when the newspapers are American – the New York Times and the Washington Post – and the target country is Iran, no one in the U.S. government and media bats an eye. These inflammatory articles – these incitements to murder and violation of international law – are considered just normal discussion in the Land of Exceptionalism.
On Thursday, the New York Times printed an op-ed that urged the bombing of Iran as an alternative to reaching a diplomatic agreement that would sharply curtail Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it was used only for peaceful purposes. The Post published a similar “we-must-bomb-Iran” op-ed two weeks ago.
The Times’ article by John Bolton, a neocon scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, was entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” It followed the Post’s op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, formerly at AEI and now a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. [For more on that piece, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Admits Plan to Bomb Iran.”]
Both articles called on the United States to mount a sustained bombing campaign against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities and to promote “regime change” in Tehran. Ironically, these “scholars” rationalized their calls for unprovoked aggression against Iran under the theory that Iran is an aggressive state, although Iran has not invaded another country for centuries.
Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, based his call for war on the possibility that if Iran did develop a nuclear bomb – which Iran denies seeking and which the U.S. intelligence community agrees Iran is not building – such a hypothetical event could touch off an arms race in the Middle East.
Curiously, Bolton acknowledged that Israel already has developed an undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal outside international controls, but he didn’t call for bombing Israel. He wrote blithely that “Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”
How Bolton manages to read the minds of Israel’s neighbors who have been at the receiving end of Israeli invasions and other cross-border attacks is not explained. Nor does he address the possibility that Israel’s possession of some 200 nuclear bombs might be at the back of the minds of Iran’s leaders if they do press ahead for a nuclear weapon.
Nor does Bolton explain his assumption that if Iran were to build one or two bombs that it would use them aggressively, rather than hold them as a deterrent. He simply asserts: “Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions.”
Pulling Back on Refinement
But is that correct? In its refinement of uranium, Iran has not progressed toward the level required for a nuclear weapon since its 2013 interim agreement with the global powers known as “the p-5 plus one” – for the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Instead, Iran has dialed back the level of refinement to below 5 percent (what’s needed for generating electricity) from its earlier level of 20 percent (needed for medical research) — compared with the 90-plus percent purity to build a nuclear weapon.
In other words, rather than challenging the “red line” of uranium refinement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew during a United Nations speech in 2012, the Iranians have gone in the opposite direction – and they have agreed to continue those constraints if a permanent agreement is reached with the p-5-plus-1.
However, instead of supporting such an agreement, American neocons – echoing Israeli hardliners – are demanding war, followed by U.S. subversion of Iran’s government through the financing of an internal opposition for a coup or a “colored revolution.”
Bolton wrote: “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
But one should remember that neocon schemes – drawn up at their think tanks and laid out on op-ed pages – don’t always unfold as planned. Since the 1990s, the neocons have maintained a list of countries considered troublesome for Israel and thus targeted for “regime change,” including Iraq, Syria and Iran. In 2003, the neocons got their chance to invade Iraq, but the easy victory that they predicted didn’t exactly pan out.
Still, the neocons never revise their hit list. They just keep coming up with more plans that, in total, have thrown much of the Middle East, northern Africa and now Ukraine into bloodshed and chaos. In effect, the neocons have joined Israel in its de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia for a Sunni sectarian conflict against the Shiites and their allies. Much like the Saudis, Israeli officials rant against the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]
Since Iran is considered the most powerful Shiite nation and is allied with Syria, which is governed by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, both countries have remained in the neocons’ crosshairs. But the neocons don’t actually pull the trigger themselves. Their main role is to provide the emotional and political arguments to get the American people to hand over their tax money and their children to fight these wars.
The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the U.S. decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
The New York Times’ star neocon columnist Thomas L. Friedman ventured to the edge of madness as he floated the idea of the U.S. arming the head-chopping Islamic State, writing this month: “Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS?”
I realize the New York Times and Washington Post are protected by the First Amendment and can theoretically publish whatever they want. But the truth is that the newspapers are extremely restrictive in what they print. Their op-ed pages are not just free-for-alls for all sorts of opinions.
For instance, neither newspaper would publish a story that urged the United States to launch a bombing campaign to destroy Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal as a step toward creating a nuclear-free Middle East. That would be considered outside responsible thought and reasonable debate.
However, when it comes to advocating a bombing campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, the two newspapers are quite happy to publish such advocacy. The Times doesn’t even blush when one of its most celebrated columnists mulls over the idea of sending weapons to the terrorists in ISIS – all presumably because Israel has identified “the Shiite crescent” as its current chief enemy and the Islamic State is on the other side.
But beyond the hypocrisy and, arguably, the criminality of these propaganda pieces, there is also the neocon record of miscalculation. Remember how the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end with Iraqis tossing rose petals at the American soldiers instead of planting “improvised explosive devices” – and how the new Iraq was to become a model pluralistic democracy?
Well, why does one assume that the same geniuses who were so wrong about Iraq will end up being right about Iran? What if the bombing and the subversion don’t lead to nirvana in Iran? Isn’t it just as likely, if not more so, that Iran would react to this aggression by deciding that it needed nuclear bombs to deter further aggression and to protect its sovereignty and its people?
In other words, might the scheming by Bolton and Muravchik — as published by the New York Times and the Washington Post — produce exactly the result that they say they want to prevent? But don’t worry. If the neocons’ new schemes don’t pan out, they’ll just come up with more.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries.
The report was part of a broader historical analysis meant to establish the “causes and violence aggravators” of the 50-year-long conflict between the government and rebels that’s presently being negotiated to an end. As Colombia Reports (3/23/15) would spell out:
In his report, the historian [Renan Vega] cited one 2004 case in the central Colombian town of Melgar where 53 underage girls were sexually abused by nearby stationed military contractors “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”
According to Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, the victims of the sexual abuse practices were forced to flee the region after their families received death threats.
Other Americans stationed at the Tolemaida Air Base allegedly committed similar crimes, but possibly also never saw a day in court due to an immunity arrangement for American soldiers and military contractors agreed by Washington and Bogota.
One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.
Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.
However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.
Thus far, however, these explosive claims seem to have received zero coverage in the general US press, despite having been reported on Venezuela’s Telesur (3/23/15), the British tabloid Daily Mail (3/24/15) and Russian RT (3/25/15).
But why? These aren’t fringe claims, nor can the government of American ally Colombia be dismissed as a peddler of Bolivarian propaganda. Indeed, the Miami Herald (9/3/09) documented the case of US Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz in 2009:
The US government has made little effort to investigate a US Army sergeant and a Mexican civil contractor implicated in Colombia in the raping of a 12-year-old girl in August 2007, according to an El Nuevo Herald investigation.
The suspects, Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz, were taken out of Colombia under diplomatic immunity, and do not face criminal charges in the United States in the rape in a room at Colombia’s Germán Olano Air Force Base in Melgar, 62 miles west of Bogotá.
So why no coverage? Certainly one of Washington’s stanchest Latin American allies co-authoring a blistering report about systemic US military child rape of a civilian population should be of note–if for no other reason than, as the report lays out, it undermined American military efforts to stop drug trafficking and fight leftist rebels:
However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.
The case has caused major indignation among Colombians for years….
The special envoy will possibly have to deal with the role of the US military and its members in the alleged victimization of Colombians.
Yet here we are, over 72 hours since the Colombian and foreign press first reported on the allegations, and there’s a virtual media blackout in America over the case. Nothing on CNN, nothing on MSNBC, nothing in the New York Times or Miami Herald. Nothing in Huffington Post. Nothing in Fusion or Vice. Why?
As UK authorities and NATO officials stress the importance of clamping down on “false Russian” narratives in the media, perhaps our own media could stop providing a shining example as to why such anti-Western narratives are so often the only outlet for certain ugly truths.
This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention. However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.
The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.
The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).
A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).
Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.
The Houla massacre
After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.
The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).
Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).
Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:
‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).
These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:
‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).
This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.
Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.
Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.
Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.
The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:
‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).
All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).
A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:
‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:
‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.
First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).
Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:
‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47). The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).
German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:
‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).
Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:
‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:
‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.
Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:
‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).
The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).
Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called
‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said: ‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).
Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’ (ANNA 2012).
Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived, ‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).
Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station. ‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.
|TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports|
|Source/report||Method and conclusion|
|Mother Agnes Mariam||FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government|
|Most western media reports||Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’|
|British and French government||Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks|
|UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood||Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.|
|UN HRC Commission of Inquiry||Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)|
|FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere||Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.|
|Syrian Government, state news agencies and television||Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families|
|German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER||Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families|
|German journalist Rainer HERMANN||Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families|
|Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN||Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs|
|Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA||Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families|
|Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson||Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.|
Dissent at the UN
The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said
‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’
The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.
The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.
Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.
The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.
The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
Adams, Simon (2012) ‘The World’s Next Genocide’, New York Times, 15 November, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/opinion/the-worlds-next-genocide.html
AINA (2012) ‘Sunni Rebels Occupying Churches, Homes of Syrian Christians’, Assyrian International News Agency, 29 July, online: http://www.aina.org/news/2012072912019.htm
Al Akhbar (2012) ‘Boycott and breaches mar Syrian vote’, 7 May, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/syria-votes-against-backdrop-violence
Alexander, Harriet and Ruth Sherlock (2012) ‘The Shabiha: Inside Assad’s death squads’, The Telegraph, 2 June, online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9307411/The-Shabiha-Inside-Assads-death-squads.html
ANNA (2012) ‘Показания свидетеля-боевика по резне в Аль Хула с привязкой на местности’ [Summary report of interviews], online in Russian at: http://anna-news.info/node/6359; ‘Показания свидетеля-боевика по резне в Аль Хула’ [Arabic interviews dubbed in Russian], online: http://video.yandex.ru/users/news-anna2012/view/25 ; also ‘Witnesses to al-Houla Massacre in Syria’ [English subtitles by Syriaonline], 1 June, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68TjaXP84wM
AP (2012) ‘’Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face consequences’: Clinton issues warning to Syrian regime as she says Assad must go’, Associated Press, Daily Mail UK, 2 April, online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2123853/Syria-Hillary-Clinton-says-Assad-go.html
Barnard, Anne (2012) ‘U.S. and Turkey to Step Up ‘Nonlethal’ Aid to Rebels in Syria’, New York Times, 25 march, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/world/middleeast/us-and-turkey-to-step-up-nonlethal-aid-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0
Benotman, Noman and Emad Naseraldin (2012) ‘The Jihadist Network in the Syrian Revolution, A Strategic Briefing’, Quilliam Institute, 20 September, online: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/press-releases/quilliam-releases-concept-paper-the-jihadist-network-in-the-syrian-revolution/
Blanford, Nicholas (2011) ‘Assad regime may be gaining upper hand in Syria’, Christian Science Monitor, 13 May, online: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0513/Assad-regime-may-be-gaining-upper-hand-in-Syria
CNA (2012) ‘Syrian violence drives 50,000 Christians from homes’, Catholic News Agency, online: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/syrian-violence-drives-50000-christians-from-homes/
Correggia, Marinella; Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL, May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html
Cowan, Jane (2012) ‘UN Security Council condemns Syrian regime’, ABC, 28 May, online: http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2012/s3512153.htm
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Haidar, Ali (2012) Syria’s Ali Haidar: Both Sides Have Extremists’, Al Akhbar, 13 July, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/9716
Hauben, Ronda (2012) ‘Why is the UNSMIS Houla Report Missing?’, 28 November, Netizenblog, online: http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2012/11/28/why-is-unsmis-report-missing/
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Hermann, Rainer (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html
HRC (2012a) ‘Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, Human Rights Commission, 26 June, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/OralUpdateJune2012.pdf
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HRC (2012c) ‘The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent killings in El-Houleh’, Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council S-19/1, Human Rights Council, United Nations, 4 June, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/SpecialSession/Session19/A-HRC-RES-S-19-1_en.pdf
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LRC (2012) ‘Germany’s FAZ paper Follow-up on Houla Hoax’, The LRC Blog [translation of the FAZ article from German], 16 June, online: http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/113737.html
Marchfifteen (2012) 11-year-old Houla Massacre Survivor’, marchfifteen’s YouTube channel, 28 may, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POEwEiqTavA
Malas, Nour (2013) ‘As Syrian Islamists Gain, It’s Rebel Against Rebel’, Wall Street Journal, 29 may, online: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323975004578499100684326558.html
Marcus, Jonathan (2013) Gruesome Syria video pinpoints West’s dilemma, BBC, 14 May, online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22521161
Mood, Robert (2012) ‘Houla massacre, 2 versions – UNSMIS Robert Mood, June 15’, Adam Larson YouTube site, 16 September, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ViUVJYGT_8
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Musin, Marat (2012b) ‘THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government’, Global Research, 1 June, online:
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In the same week that The Economist lauded Ukraine’s “commitment to European values,” Kiev’s current regime kicked out Euronews. Who do they think they are kidding?
Ah, The Economist. Without question, it’s is the best informed news magazine in the world… except on subjects I know something about. Take Ukraine for instance, throughout the country’s current crisis, The Economist has been weaving a web of fantasy to its readers. The narrative has continuously blamed Russia for all Ukraine’s misfortunes while painting its post-Maidan oligarchic rulers as being somewhere near God’s right hand.
After wholeheartedly backing last year’s coup, the windy weekly has been unwilling to admit the severity of Kiev’s economic malaise. Instead, it has maintained the pretence that throwing money at its pro-NATO regime will solve all its problems. Anybody who knows the first thing about Ukraine acknowledges that the lion’s share of the dough would be pilfered.
The problem is that a great number of the Western world’s most powerful people take The Economist seriously. The magazine appears both authoritative and credible, and never misses a chance to emphasize its own importance. However, this is “lipstick on a pig” territory. On subjects I’m reasonably informed about (Ireland, Europe, Britain, the ex-USSR for example), The Economist is more often wrong than right. Viewed through that prism, I’m extremely skeptical of the rag’s accuracy on topics I know little of.
In 2005, The Economist announced that Ireland had the highest quality of life in the world. I clearly remember reading the edition in downtown Dublin and that my first thought concerned the quality of the drugs the magazine’s editors were taking. Oddly, I’d penned a column a week earlier for the Ireland On Sunday newspaper predicting a deep recession for my homeland, which was rapidly losing its industrial base as credit-fuelled property madness raged.
Two years later, Ireland’s economy collapsed and a half decade of misery began. Incidentally, the periodical currently lists Melbourne as the best place to reside on earth. If you are in Melbourne right now, given The Economist’s track record, it’s probably best to emigrate before the inevitable happens.
Russia’s strong, determined President
Guided by its pro-interventionist and pro-neo liberal principles, the weekly doesn’t restrict itself to making a dog’s dinner of fiscal forecasts. Indeed, it frequently enters the realm of geopolitics to tackle countries and governments that don’t conform to its worldview. Russia is a case in point. In the 90’s, when Russia was on its knees, The Economist couldn’t get enough of the place. In fact, it broadly welcomed Vladimir Putin’s election in 2000, calling him a “strong, determined man.” By 2002 it trumpeted that “relations between Russia and the West have (sic) rarely been better.”
Now, the same Vladimir Putin is The Economist’s public enemy Number 1 and Russia the re-incarnation of Hitler’s Germany. Moscow’s crime? Standing up for itself and rejecting the Western liberal consensus. Essentially, refusing to pauperize the country to suit a bunch of ideologues in London.
In order to wage its anti-Russia campaign, The Economist pretends to care about Ukraine. The London-based magazine is far from alone in this. Last weekend, it hailed Kiev’s commitment to European values.
“European values like free speech and a commitment to truth remain potent,” it boldly declared. The reason I keep writing ‘it’ is because the article was unsigned, written under the pseudonym ‘Charlemagne.’ The Economist’s journalists don’t sign their work, which is probably for the best considering the kind of rubbish they pen.
The Menace of cliques
The diatribe quotes a scaremongering report written by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, two activists connected to the shadowy UAE-backed Legatum Institute. Legatum’s Director of Communications is the former Catholic Herald editor, Cristina Odone, who just happens to be married to Edward Lucas, a senior Editor at The Economist. Mr. Lucas has previously advocated the use of Brezhnev-era KGB methods against RT.
Repeating the canard of “lavishly financed Russian media,” The Economist claims that “cash-strapped, fractious Europe will always struggle.” This is pure hokum. Only last month, Germany increased the budget of its Deutsche Welle news agency to $332 million. Meanwhile, BBC’s World Service has $406 million to splurge in 2015, and that’s just for radio/web. Additionally, France 24 spends around $130 million annually. By what stretch of the imagination is European media financially struggling here?
Snooze and you lose Euronews
Nevertheless, in the same week that The Economist was promoting Ukraine’s adherence to “European values,” Kiev revoked the license for the Ukrainian version of Euronews, suddenly claiming the current arrangement was “disadvantageous”. Now, I can’t think of a less offensive outlet. Euronews is so bland, so insipid that you could leave it on at an Israeli-Palestinian arm wrestling extravaganza and nobody would object.
While a private company, Euronews has received significant funding from Brussels over the years and is widely perceived, rightly or wrongly, as EU TV. The Ukraine edition was previously owned by an Egyptian, Naguib Sawiris, but reports suggest that it’s now controlled by Dymtro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch and rival of fellow-billionaire, Petro Poroshenko. Some use the label ‘pro-Russian’ to describe Firtash, but I find that Ukraine’s ultra-rich are usually just pro-themselves.
The Ukrainian President has his own TV network, Channel 5, and apparently objected to competition from Firtash, who he evidently sees as a threat. So, it looks like he used his political power to muffle the voice of Euronews. “European values,” how are you?
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish writer and commentator focusing on Russia and its hinterlands and international geo-politics. Follow him on Facebook
Israel has been accused of feeding secret information on the Iran 5+1 nuclear talks to senior US lawmakers in an effort to scupper the negotiations, a new report says. The accusation was met with sharp denial in Tel Aviv.
The allegations were revealed in a Wall Street Journal investigation, and come from dozens of interviews with officials past and present, who are familiar with the nuclear discussions.
Israel, for its part, claims that this was not accompanied by any official accusations by the White House, according to Haaretz.
According to the sources, it came as no surprise to the White House that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was continuing on his mission to derail a much sought-after agreement with Iran, as Tel Aviv remains implacably opposed to a nuclear Tehran, and has in recent past tried to involve the US Congress to impede a diplomatic solution offered by the 5+1 talks.
However, it came as a surprise to Washington that Tel Aviv would feed the secret information to US lawmakers to drain support from a deal with Tehran. Washington and Tel Aviv have vastly different notions on how to deal with Tehran and how regional peace is to be secured.
“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” a top US official close to the situation told WSJ.
Israel’s alleged role in passing on information to US lawmakers emerged after US intelligence was snooping on the Israelis and heard information they claimed could only have come from the closed-door talks.
Tel Aviv denied this, saying that they had acquired the information by different means, such as routine spying on communications with Iran.
“These allegations are utterly false,” Netanyahu’s office told reporters. “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
WSJ’s sources said that Israel tops the list of close US allies trying to spy on it, and that more US counterintelligence resources are spent on Israel than any other partner.
Netanyahu has been trying to drum up support against the Obama administration’s push for rapprochement with Tehran from within the US government, as well as trying to sway US lawmakers.
The fresh allegations of meddling by Israel could alienate US officials, many of whom are expected to be around after Obama’s term finishes.
Last month, Obama’s cabinet accused Israel of “selective sharing of information” and “cherry-picking” as it publicly voiced its discontent with the ongoing talks. “Not everything you’re hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate depiction of the talks,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
On the same day, The New York Times revealed that Obama had warned his European partners in the 5+1 talks (France, Germany and the UK) not to share too much information with Israel, “because whatever we say may be used in a selective way.”
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu attempted to cancel a briefing for of a delegation of six US senators, Netanyahu’s idea of involving Congress in the matter would all but derail any deal with Iran. Eventually, Netanyahu had to back down and allow the briefing to take place.
Tensions between Tel Aviv and Washington are already running high after Netanyahu delivered a controversial address to the US Congress, organized with Republican lawmakers but not the White House or the US State Department, in which he struck out at Iran, but, in Obama’s opinion, offered few alternatives to his previous line of aggressive engagement.
The rift deepened further after Netanyahu said in his re-election campaign that Palestinian statehood would never happen on his watch.
The White House said shortly afterward: “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”
Relations cooled with Tel Aviv in 2012, when Obama decided to talk to Iran without Israel’s involvement – something Netanyahu reportedly did not appreciate.
With these latest allegations of Israeli meddling in US politics, “people feel personally sold out,” one US official said.
Israel appeared to be counting on a handful of Democrats in Congress to block the deal with Iran, the WSJ source said. “[T]hat’s where the Israelis really better be careful, because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possible the next one as well,” the US official said.
Over the past several years mainstream news outlets have conveyed a litany of cyber doomsday scenarios on behalf of ostensibly credible public officials. Breathless intimations of the End Times. The stuff of Hollywood screenplays. However a recent statement by the U.S. intelligence community pours a bucket of cold water over all of this. Yes, Virginia, It turns out that all the talk of cyber Armageddon was a load of bunkum. An elaborate propaganda campaign which only serves as a pretext to sacrifice our civil liberties and channel an ocean of cash to the defense industry.
Looking back the parade of scare stories is hard to miss. For example, in late 2012 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.” Former White House cybersecurity official Paul B. Kurtz likewise spoke of a threat which he referred to as a “cyber Katrina.” Former NSA director Mike McConnell claimed that a veritable Cyberwar was on and chided the public “are we going to wait for the cyber equivalent of the collapse of the World Trade Centers?” Yet another NSA director, Keith Alexander, described cyberattacks as constituting “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” And finally, Vanity Fair magazine published a hyperbolic article entitled “A Declaration of Cyberwar” wherein the NSA’s Stuxnet attack against Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities was likened to a cyber “Hiroshima.”
Yet the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. intelligence community submitted recently to the Senate Armed Services Committee has explicitly conceded that the risk of “cyber Armageddon” is at best “remote.” In other words, it’s entirely safe to ignore the hyperbolic bluster of the Cult of Cyberwar. Despite what we’ve been told the Emperor is naked.
What society has witnessed is what’s known in the public relations business as threat inflation. It’s a messaging tool that’s grounded in human emotion. Faced with ominous prophecies by trusted public servants the average person seldom pauses to consider the likelihood of ulterior motives or perform a formal quantitative risk assessment. Most people tacitly cede to the speakers’ authority —given that most speakers are, or were, high-ranking officials— and accept their graphic worst-case scenarios at face value.
The American public saw threat inflation back in the 1950s when American leadership hyperventilated over the imaginary Missile Gap. We saw it once again before the invasion of Iraq when President Bush spoke of a nuclear “smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” And after reading through the various cyber metaphors described earlier it’s hard not to recognize the fingerprints of threat inflation at work.
The goal of threat inflation is to stir up anxiety, to foment a profound sense of apprehension so that the public is receptive to marketing pitches emerging from the defense industry. Studies conducted by accredited research psychologists demonstrate that anxious people will choose to be safe rather than sorry. In the throes of an alleged crisis, anxious people aren’t necessarily particular about the solution as long as it’s presented as a remedial measure; they don’t care much about the ultimate cost or the civil liberties they relinquish. They’re willing to pay a steep price to feel safe again.
So it is that American intelligence services have raised a global panopticon and in doing so engaged in clandestine subversion programs that span entire sectors of the economy. Speaking to the public our leaders justify mass surveillance in terms of protecting the American public against terrorists. Speaking to each other intelligence officers disparage iPhone users as ‘zombies’ who pay for their own monitoring. This sharp contrast underscores an insight provided by whistleblower Ed Snowden in an open letter to Brazil. In particular Snowden stated that “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
This process, of capitalizing on deftly manufactured emotional responses, has been called securitization and it puts the economic and political imperatives of corporate interests before our own. An allegedly existential threat like cyber Armageddon can presumably justify any cost in the throes of a crisis mentality. This is exactly what powerful groups are betting on.
But just because there are several types of insurance doesn’t mean consumers should go out and buy all of them. Prudent buyers won’t pay any price to be safe, they purchase coverage strategically. There are prices that clear-headed people won’t pay. Something to remember when the term “national security” appears in public debate.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
A central piece of the West’s false narrative on the Ukraine crisis has been that Russian President Vladimir Putin “invaded” Crimea and then staged a “sham” referendum purporting to show 96 percent support for leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia. More recently, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland claimed that Putin has subjected Crimea to a “reign of terror.”
Both elements have been part of the “group think” that dominates U.S. political and media circles, but this propagandistic storyline simply isn’t true, especially the part about the Crimeans being subjugated by Russia.
Consistently, over the past year, polls conducted by major Western firms have revealed that the people of Crimea by overwhelming numbers prefer being part of Russia over Ukraine, an embarrassing reality that Forbes business magazine has now acknowledged.
An article by Kenneth Rapoza, a Forbes specialist on developing markets, cited these polls as showing that the Crimeans do not want the United States and the European Union to force them back into an unhappy marriage with Ukraine. “The Crimeans are happy right where they are” with Russia, Rapoza wrote.
“One year after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea, poll after poll shows that the locals there — be they Ukrainians, ethnic Russians or Tartars are all in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine,” he wrote, adding that “the bulk of humanity living on the Black Sea peninsula believe the referendum to secede from Ukraine was legit.”
Rapoza noted that a June 2014 Gallup poll, which was sponsored by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, found that 82.8 percent of Crimeans said the March 16 referendum on secession reflected the views of the Crimean people. In the poll, when asked if joining Russia would improve their lives, 73.9 percent said yes and only 5.5 percent said no.
A February 2015 poll by German polling firm GfK found similar results. When Crimeans were asked “do you endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” 93 percent gave a positive response, with 82 percent saying, “yes, definitely.” Only 2 percent said no, with the remainder unsure or not answering.
In other words, the West’s insistence that Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine would mean violating the age-old U.S. principle of a people’s right of self-determination. It would force the largely ethnic Russian population of Crimea to submit to a Ukrainian government that many Crimeans view as illegitimate, the result of a violent U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych.
The coup touched off a brutal civil war in which the right-wing regime in Kiev dispatched neo-Nazi and other extremist militias to spearhead a fierce “anti-terrorism operation” against resistance from the ethnic Russian population in the east, which – like Crimea – had supported Yanukovych. More than 6,000 Ukrainians, most of them ethnic Russians, have been killed in the fighting.
Despite this reality, the mainstream U.S. news media has misreported the crisis and distorted the facts to conform to U.S. State Department propaganda. Thus, many Americans believe the false narrative about Russian troops crushing the popular will of the Crimean people, much as the U.S. public was misled about the Iraq situation in 2002-03 by many of the same news outlets.
Or, as Forbes’ Rapoza put it: “At some point, the West will have to recognize Crimea’s right to self rule. Unless we are all to believe that the locals polled by Gallup and GfK were done so with FSB bogey men standing by with guns in their hands.” (The FSB is a Russian intelligence agency.)
The GfK survey also found that Crimeans considered the Ukrainian media, which has been wildly anti-Russian, unreliable. Only 1 percent said the Ukrainian media “provides entirely truthful information” and only 4 percent said it was “more often truthful than deceitful.”
So, the people at the frontline of this conflict, where Assistant Secretary Nuland, detected a “reign of terror,” say they are not only satisfied with being restored to Russia, which controlled Crimea since the 1700s, but don’t trust the distorted version of events that they see on Ukrainian TV.
Some of the reasons for the Crimean attitudes are simply pragmatic. Russian pensions were three times larger than what the Ukrainian government paid – and now the Ukrainian pensions are being slashed further in compliance with austerity demands from the International Monetary Fund.
This month, Nuland boasted about those pension cuts in praising the Kiev regime’s steps toward becoming a “free-market state.” She also hailed “reforms” that will force Ukrainians to work harder and into old age and that slashed gas subsidies which had helped the poor pay their heating bills.
Last year, the New York Times and other U.S. news outlets also tossed around the word “invasion” quite promiscuously in discussing Crimea. But you may recall that you saw no images of Russian tanks crashing into the Crimean peninsula or an amphibious landing or paratroops descending from the skies. The reason was simple: Russian troops were already in Crimea.
The Russians had a lease agreement with Ukraine permitting up to 25,000 military personnel in Crimea to protect the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. About 16,000 Russian troops were on the ground when the Feb. 22, 2014 putsch occurred in Kiev – and after a crisis meeting at the Kremlin, they were dispatched to prevent the coup regime from imposing its control on Crimea’s people.
That Russian intervention set the stage for the March 16 referendum in which the voters of Crimea turned out in large numbers and voted overwhelmingly for secession from Ukraine and reintegration with Russia, a move that the Russian parliament and President Putin then approved.
Yet, as another part of its false reporting, the New York Times claimed that Putin denied that Russian troops had operated inside Crimea – when, in fact, he was quite open about it. For instance, on March 4, 2014, almost two weeks before the referendum, Putin discussed at a Moscow press conference the role of Russian troops in preventing the violence from spreading from Kiev to Crimea. Putin said:
“You should note that, thank God, not a single gunshot has been fired there. … Thus the tension in Crimea that was linked to the possibility of using our Armed Forces simply died down and there was no need to use them. The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in. We did this, it was the right thing to do and very timely.”
Two days after the referendum, which recorded the 96 percent vote in favor of seceding from Ukraine and rejoining Russia, Putin returned to the issue of Russian involvement in Crimea. In a formal speech to the Russian Federation, Putin justified Crimea’s desire to escape the grasp of the coup regime in Kiev, saying:
“Those who opposed the [Feb. 22] coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.
“Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.”
But to make it appear that Putin was denying a military intervention, the Times and other U.S. news outlets truncated Putin’s statement when he said, “Russia’s Armed Forces never entered Crimea.” The Western press stopped there, ignoring what he said next: “they were there already in line with an international agreement.”
Putin’s point was that Russian troops based in Crimea took actions that diffused a possibly violent situation and gave the people of Crimea a chance to express their wishes through the ballot. But that version of events didn’t fit with the desired narrative pushed by the U.S. State Department and the New York Times. So the problem was solved by misrepresenting what Putin said.
But the larger issue now is whether the Obama administration and the European Union will insist on forcing the Crimean people – against their will – to rejoin Ukraine, a country that is rapidly sliding into the status of a failed state and a remarkably cruel one at that.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).