The Syrian parliamentary election of 13 April 2016 is demonstrative of the apparent and continuing plurality of Syrian society as manifested within the People’s Council – a parliamentary body which has often been regarded as merely a façade of legitimation for the ruling Baath Party government of President Bashar al-Assad. Plurality within the parliament is of significance insofar as it is indicative of the involvement of a range of religious communities in Syrian political life and runs directly contrary to the prevailing narrative of Syria as a dictatorship dominated by the Alawite religious community, of which the Assad family are members, and to the exclusion of the involvement of other religious communities in political activity.
Elections to the 250 member Syrian People’s Council take place every four years with the country divided into fifteen multiple seat constituencies. Since 2012 and amendments to the country’s constitution Syrian political life has been, in theory, open to participation to a wider array of political parties than the Baath and other permitted parties such as the Syrian Social Nationalist or Syrian Communist parties. Previously the Syrian Baath Party had looked likely to retain power in parliament indefinitely and indeed to dominate either directly by its own MPs or indirectly via allied parties and MPs. However, with the changes there is limitation on presidential office to seven years for any one candidate, no president can rule for more than two seven year terms, the president can now be someone who is not a member of the ruling National Progressive Front coalition, and the constitution no longer has a stipulation that the Baath Party is to be the normative and leading influence in Syrian socio-political life. Such changes may seem relatively minor and indeed the Baath Party will likely remain the de facto power in Syria for some time to come but they are indicative of President Assad’s openness to pursuing gradual reform on a model which is perceived as suitable for Syrian circumstances.
A key aspect of encouraging and maintaining societal stability in Syria since independence from French rule in 1946 has been to ensure that authoritative political leadership is combined with some type of broad representation of the plural religious and ethnic communities resident to Syria and ensure that they have a stake in determining Syria’s development. An important issue has been to ensure that those outside of the Alawite community have opportunities to take on representative roles and to know their contributions to Syrian society are valued. Criticism has focused on the Alawite strength and/or prevalence to many spheres of Syrian life but especially economically and in the security services to the detriment of others. The People’s Council appears to an extent to undermine these critiques as exemplified by the majority of seats being held by Syrians of the majority Sunni Muslim community.
Alawites and plural representation in the People’s Council
The Alawite community broadly identifies itself as part of Shia Islam having emerged in the late ninth/early tenth centuries in western Syria possibly around the figure of the eleventh Shia Imam, Hasan al-Askari. To the external observer it might seem that the Alawites are more a syncretistic movement containing aspects of Christianity and Twelver Shia Islam given, amongst other activities, they celebrate a type of Divine Liturgy including the consecration of wine alongside strong reverence for Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law and cousin of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. This combination of — or plurality of — beliefs in part explains why the Assad family has consistently supported the notion of a plural Syria and the general advancement of a paradigm of laïcité for the Syrian state and in which, in theory, no-one religion should predominate to the detriment of another.
The Alawites currently form around ten–fifteen percent of the Syrian population (c.2,000,000 people) and are concentrated in the western coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. During the French Mandate in Syria (1923–1946) the Alawites were often strong supporters of French administration as their rule was perceived as a means to secure the Alawite community in a society which was not necessarily comfortable with their presence. Although Alawites consider themselves to be part of the Islamic milieu some Muslims, especially within the Sunni community, do not and find such assertions religiously and politically challenging.
The Alawite influence in the Syrian ruling élite within post-independence Syrian political affairs arose in the early 1970s when Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) came to power as President. In general terms Hafez organised the state such that Sunnis held élite political offices and the Alawites held responsibility for the security services. The perception of the Syrian Baath establishment as a bastion of Alawite and to a lesser extent Christian power has not consistently sat well with the Syrian Sunni majority and it has been suggested that, in reality, they have been denied the opportunity to take a full part in Syrian political life. However, as I have noted, the People’s Council is predominantly Sunni and representative on a proportional level to the extent of almost matching the religious demographics of Syria:
Such a balance is important as a means to legitimise the Syrian government’s claims to being the lawful and representative body controlling the Syrian state insofar as it can affirm it represents the interests of the full range of Syrian communities but also demonstrative of Sunni willingness to commit to the existing political establishment and loyalist campaign against Da’esh and other terrorist factions.
It should be noted that within the People’s Council there is a strong diversity of MPs and whilst as might be expected Latakia and Tartus are dominated by Alawite representatives there are also Christian and Sunni MPs in these regions. Moreover, women of Shia, Sunni, Alawite, Druze and Christian background also take a full part in Syrian political life with 29 female MPs (11 percent). Such a scenario were Da’esh to have successfully occupied Syria would, of course, be unthinkable.
Critiquing the Syrian elections
It appears that whether or not the April 2016 Syrian elections were actually entirely free and fair that it is enough for claims and accusations to be advanced to ensure they are characterised as a `sham’ and not reflecting the true results and popular will of the people. Such claims do not appear to more than scratch the surface of what actually took place beyond continuing to follow the set narrative of President Assad as a dictator only interested in advancing Alawite interests and the elections as likely fraudulent with only Baath loyalists actually gaining positions in reality.
This is not to suggest that Syria’s political process and elections are necessarily more than a very basic level of democratic participation. However, the elections did take place and furthermore, the current Syrian government may be many things but it appears, at the very least, to be gradually encouraging the transition to a more representative style of political system. It may not be one which external observers approve of, or, is the ideal of those external powers seeking violent and radical change for Syria but it is a process of political development which is taking place in the Syrian context and as far as the current lawful government is concerned, is perceived as the most likely method to manage Syrian plurality and to ensure some type of peaceful if long-term change in governance can take place with the minimum of extremist political forces further damaging the mosaic of Syrian society.
It is notable that Western states can be far less critical of other Middle Eastern powers with whom they are allied and who appear to have similar political structures to Syria or limited interest in widening political participation. The Kingdom of Bahrain, for example, is a Sunni led and dominated constitutional monarchy. The monarch in effect, however, is the final deciding authority in Bahrain and, for example, directly appoints the members of the Bahrani upper parliamentary house. Moreover, the majority Shia population (65–75 percent) of Bahrain has struggled to gain a strong and active voice in Bahrani socio-political life. This is not to single out Bahrain for criticism — indeed it has, like Syria, begun to transition to a more representative type of governance — but to be aware of the comparative type of narratives which are being pursued in the region with states such as Bahrain portrayed as reliable and honourable allies of the West but the Syrian government as beyond the pale for engagement by Western and Gulf states. Accusations of impropriety in democratic processes being one of the means to continue to critique the rule of President Assad.
We might also compare the democratic representation in Western states such as the United Kingdom, which have been consistently critical of the Syrian government since 2012, with attempts to proportionately represent Syrian communities in the People’s Council. We can note, for example, following the 2015 UK General Election that despite the UK Independence Party and Green Party receiving respectively c. 3,800,000 and 1,100,000 votes both parties have only one MP in the House of Commons. Whereas, the Scottish National Party received c. 1,400,000 votes and have fifty-six MPs. The peculiarities of the UK’s `First Past the Post’ electoral system are such that these results are valid returns, nonetheless, the external observer might ask are these results just, and, do they convey and strengthen confidence in the legitimate representative nature of British democracy?
The results of the 2016 Syrian elections are suggestive of the population’s commitment to the ideal of plurality in Syria through a popular willingness to take part in the elections and gain access to some type of political representation for all Syrians. We can note that a key aspect of critiquing President Assad’s leadership is the notion that he rules as a dictator and this because he favours one section of the population over others on a confessional basis. Notwithstanding that such critiques might be more vigorously and profitably pursued against other states in the Middle East it also speaks to a lack of comprehension as to how the realities of Syria’s plural society affect the type of government and form of rule which is maintained.
Syria under the Assad-Baathist governments cannot be said to hold to a representative system which is readily appreciated or supported by external observers who are used to models found in liberal democratic capitalist societies or that the Syrian system is indeed supported by the majority of the Syrian people. Nonetheless, it is a political system which has been sustained for over half a century. If the status quo in Syria has seen Alawite predominance, other confessions have not been consistently denied the opportunity to take a part in Syrian socio-economic and political life — without at least the acquiescence of the majority of the Syrian Sunni population to Assad-Baathist rule such a paradigm could not and would not have been sustained for so long.
If we are to speak of an Alawite dictatorship or Alawite over-dominance in recent Syrian history the most apparent example is in a “dictatorship of the dead”. A disproportionate burden of Syrian Arab Army casualties in the campaigns against Da’esh and its allies have been borne by the Alawite community with up to a third of Alawite young men having been killed in the conflict. It is possible that the Alawite sacrifices in this regard are such that other Syrian communities are recognizant of the commitment which the Alawites have to maintaining Syrian plurality and sustaining some form of societal stability and peaceful social interaction which has led to Sunni, Christian, Druze and Shia continuing to support President Assad’s government and willingness to engage with the gradually reforming political process.
Kristian Girling is a freelance writer and a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of London.
In a speech at the University of Bucharest in Romania on Tuesday NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow discussed the main issues the Western alliance is facing.
He said the alliance is struggling with many complex risks apart from the “destabilizing actions” of Russia and “the tide of instability which has swept across the Middle East and North Africa.”
“We are also wrestling with other complex risks and threats to our cyber security, to our energy supplies, and in the case of international terrorism to the safety of the people on our streets,” he said.
Vershbow said NATO is doing everything to respond to these challenges, adding that “the alliance takes a 360 degree approach to deterring threats, to protecting its member nations and if necessary to defending them.”
“That presence will be rotational, multinational, and combat capable. It will thereby send a clear message to any potential aggressor that if they violate NATO’s territory, they will face strong response from the whole alliance; Americans, Europeans and home defense forces,” he said.
The NATO secretary general also said that the organization has “set up a series of small headquarters, including here in Romania, to support planning, training and re-enforcement.”
“We are intensifying our maritime patrols, exploring the need for increased military and exercises, providing support to partners like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova and encouraging efforts to strengthen energy security,” he said.
US sends F-22 Raptors to Romania
Vershbow’s comments came a day after the US sent two F-22 Raptor fighter jets to Romania as part of the commitment to NATO security.
The fighter jets, which travel at twice the speed of sound, touched down in Romania, close to the Black Sea and Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula and Russia.
A US statement said the aircraft possess sophisticated sensors which would allow pilots to track, identify, shoot and destroy air-to-air threats without being detected.
The dispatch of the fighter jets, which can also attack surface targets, came two weeks after Russian fighter jets buzzed an American warship in the Baltic Sea.
The Western military alliance has been deploying troops and equipment close to Russia’s borders since it suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014 after the Crimean Peninsula integrated into the Russian Federation following a referendum.
The United States and its European allies accuse Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine and have imposed a number of sanctions against Russian and pro-Russia figures. Moscow, however, rejects having a hand in the Ukrainian crisis.
This as Moscow has on many occasions slammed the Western military alliance’s expansion near its borders, saying such a move poses a threat to both regional and international peace.
Well-documented facts pertaining to the 9/11 wars, all supported by sustainable evidence, have barely made inroads into the collective consciousness of Western media consumers.
The War on Syria is no exception. Despite the presence of five years of sustainable evidence that contradicts the Western narratives, people still believe the “official” lies.
The consensus of ignorance is sustained by what Michel Chossudovsky describes as an “American Inquisition”. Beneath the protection of this psychological operation, the engineered enemy is Islam, and the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) has become a brand to disguise imperial wars of aggression as “humanitarian”.
Thus, huge sums of public monies are diverted from worthwhile domestic projects such as healthcare, schools, and roads to support a criminal Project for a New American Century (PNAC) that is globalizing death, poverty, and destruction as the U.S. led empire tries to impose a unilateral model of control over the world.
The U.S. is said to be “exceptional”, and therefore the rightful ruler. Manifest Destiny writ large.
Dissent is suppressed within the framework of corporate media monopolies. Predominant narratives are supported by corrupt “NGOs” – totally bereft of objectivity — and intelligence agency “fronts”. Real investigative journalism offering historical context and legitimate evidence are relegated to the fringes, far outside the domain of the broad-based “consensus of misunderstanding.”
The “Progressive Left” has been co-opted. So-called “progressives” (presumably unwittingly) support Canada’s close relationships with Wahabbi Saudi Arabia, Apartheid Israel, and even the foreign mercenaries currently invading Syria (ie ISIS and al Nursra Front/al Qaeda).
The source upon which the pretexts for war are built and perpetrated are taboo topics, despite longstanding evidence that the official narratives explaining the crimes of 9/11 – and the subsequent “Gladio B” operations — are flawed. The truth is seen as “heresy”, and fact-based narratives are derided as “conspiracy theories”.
Thus, a firm foundation of lies that serves as a sanctified justification for global war and terror, remains strong.
But the stakes are high, as Western hegemony presses us closer and closer to a real prospect of widespread nuclear war. Already, the use of nuclear weapons is being “normalized” through the introduction of “mini-nukes” into the equation, and the blurring of lines between conventional and nuclear war.
Michel Chossudovsky explains in “Is the Bush Administration Planning a Nuclear Holocaust?|Will the US launch ‘Mini-nukes’ against Iran in Retaliation for Tehran’s ‘Non-compliance’?” that
“The Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations outlines the procedures governing the use of nuclear weapons and the nature of the relationship between nuclear and conventional war operations.
The DJNO states that the:
‘use of nuclear weapons within a [war] theater requires that nuclear and conventional plans be integrated to the greatest extent possible’
(DJNO, p 47. For further details see Michel Chossudovsky, Nuclear War against Iran, Jan 2006 )
The implications of this ‘integration’ are far-reaching because once the decision is taken by the Commander in Chief, namely the President of the United States, to launch a joint conventional-nuclear military operation, there is a risk that tactical nuclear weapons could be used without requesting subsequent presidential approval. In this regard, execution procedures under the jurisdiction of the theater commanders pertaining to nuclear weapons are as ‘flexible and allow for changes in the situation …’ ”
The taboos need to be lifted, and the repeated lies contradicted.
Some of the more pernicious lies covering the escalating war on the democratic republic of Syria include unsubstantiated memes that fit neatly into the propagandists’ toolbox of false representations, and of projecting the West’s crimes onto the victims (Syria and Syrians).
The War on Syria is not a “civil” war; the “uprising” was not “democratic”; Assad does not “starve his own people”; Assad, does not “bomb his own people”; Assad is the democratically-elected president of Syria, and not a “brutal dictator”.
Conclusive evidence demonstrates, and has demonstrated for years, that the war is an invasion by Western proxies, which include ISIS and al Qaeda/al Nursra Front, and that there are no “moderates”.
The initial uprisings were marred by foreign-backed violence perpetrated against innocent people, soldiers, and police. Peaceful grassroots protests were hijacked by these murderous foreign-backed elements (as was the case in Ukraine) – all consistent with “hybrid war” as elaborated by Andrew Korybko.
The illegal sanctions imposed by the West – including Canada – coupled with terrorist practices of theft and hoarding of humanitarian aid – are responsible for the starvation.
Assad is a democratically elected reformer, and hugely popular with Syrians, not a brutal dictator. Claims that he “kills his own people” were further debunked when the so-called “Caesar photos” evidence was proven to be a fraud.
Many Syrians criticize Assad for not carpet bombing terrorist occupied areas (as US occupiers did in Fallujah, for example). Syrians sometimes refer to Assad as “Mr. Soft Heart”.
Unfortunately, though, the well-documented truth is not widely accepted. We need to shatter the “Inquisition” which serves to protect the criminal cabal perpetrating and orchestrating this global catastrophe. Truth and justice must prevail over lies and crimes. Currently, the opposite is the case.
The problems of the Middle East and North Africa are being compounded by a lack of “Western involvement,” former Tory Foreign Secretary William Hague has claimed in a surprise intervention.
Hague, who headed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) between May 2010 and July 2014, said without foreign guidance the region’s booming population, as well as “religious hatred, poor governance” and a “lack of economic success,” would see Europe flooded with migrants.
Acknowledging some of the mistakes of the UK’s 2011 war in Libya and its disastrous aftermath, Hague wrote in the Telegraph : “There is a danger of drawing the wrong conclusions from this experience, and enfeebling ourselves with a reluctance to send force overseas just when we will have a vital need to do so.”
For those who oppose intervention by citing Iraq and Libya, he said: “There is a good answer: we know what non-intervention looks like, and that is Syria. Staying out of a conflict can go just as wrong as getting into it.”
Hague’s argument appears to rest on the assumption that Western intervention has not fueled the current chaos in the Syria.
It is a view that some surprising commentators have come to contest.
Challenged on the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria on CNN in October 2015, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted: “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
William’s secret war?
Further evidence suggests that far from being a purely internal issue the violence in Syria was partially fueled by clandestine Western interventions on Hague’s watch.
In June 2015, a terrorism trial at the Old Bailey collapsed when it emerged Jabhat al-Nusra – the Al-Qaeda affiliated group the accused was alleged to support – had been armed by the UK security services.
While representing the Swedish-born defendant Bherlin Gildo, Henry Blaxland QC told the court: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance, it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.”
Gildo’s solicitor Gareth Pierce later said it would have been “an utter hypocrisy to prosecute someone who has been involved in the armed resistance” given the reasonable belief that the arms used to resist had been supplied by the UK for that purpose.
Gildo was accused of received training at a Syrian terrorist camp with weapons that may have been supplied by the UK intelligence services between August 2012 and March 2013.
The case collapsed, causing huge embarrassment to the UK government and intelligence services.
Someone asked me to find war lies during the past few years. Perhaps they had in mind the humanitarian pretenses around attacking Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2014, or the false claims about chemical weapons in 2013, or the lies about an airplane in Ukraine or the endlessly reported Russian invasions of Ukraine. Maybe they were thinking of the “ISIS Is In Brooklyn” headlines or the routine false claims about the identities of drone victims or the supposedly imminent victory in Afghanistan or in one of the other wars. The lies seem far too numerous for me to fit into an essay, though I’ve tried many times, and they are layered over a bedrock of more general lies about what works, what is legal, and what is moral. Just a Prince Tribute selection of lies could include Qadaffi’s viagra for the troops and CNN’s sex-toys flag as evidence of ISIS in Europe. It’s hard to scrape the surface of all U.S. war lies in something less than a book, which is why I wrote a book.
So, I replied that I would look for war lies just in 2016. But that was way too big as well, of course. I once tried to find all the lies in one speech by Obama and ended up just writing about the top 45. So, I’ve taken a glance at two of the most recent speeches on the White House website, one by Obama and one by Susan Rice. I think they provide ample evidence of how we’re being lied to.
In an April 13th speech to the CIA, President Barack Obama declared, “One of my main messages today is that destroying ISIL continues to be my top priority.” The next day, in a speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy, National Security Advisor Susan Rice repeated the claim: “This evening, I’d like to focus on one threat in particular—the threat at the very top of President Obama’s agenda—and that is ISIL.” And here’s Senator Bernie Sanders during the recent presidential primary debate in Brooklyn, N.Y.: “Right now our fight is to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second.”
This public message, heard again and again in the official media echo chamber, might seem unnecessary, given the level of fear of ISIS/ISIL in the U.S. public and the importance the public places on the matter. But polls have shown that people believe the president is not taking the danger seriously enough.
In fact, awareness has slowly begun spreading that the side of the Syrian war that the White House wanted to jump in on in 2013, and in fact had already been supporting, is still its top priority, namely overthrowing the Syrian government. That has been a goal of the U.S. government since before U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria helped create ISIS in the first place (actions taken while knowing that such a result was quite likely). Helping this awareness along has been Russia’s rather different approach to the war, reports of the United States arming al Qaeda in Syria (planning more weapons shipments on the same day as Rice’s speech), and a video from late March in which State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was asked a question that a good ISIS-fearing American should have had no trouble answering, but which Toner found too difficult:
REPORTER: “Do you want to see the regime retake Palmyra? Or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s hands?”
MARK TONER: “That’s truly a — a — um — look, I think what we would, uh, like to see is, uh, the political negotiation, that political track, pick up steam. It’s part of the reason the Secretary’s in Moscow today, um, so we can get a political process underway, um, and deepen and strengthen the cessation of hostilities, into a real ceasefire, and then, we . . . ”
REPORTER: “You’re not answering my question.”
MARK TONER: “I know I’m not.” [Laughter.]
Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies in the Congress believe that Obama was wrong not to bomb Syria in 2013. Never mind that such a course would surely have strengthened the terrorist groups that brought the U.S. public around to supporting war in 2014. (Remember, the public said no in 2013 and reversed Obama’s decision to bomb Syria, but videos involving white Americans and knives won over a lot of the U.S. public in 2014, albeit for joining the opposite side of the same war.) The neocons want a “no fly zone,” which Clinton calls a “safe zone” despite ISIS and al Qaeda having no airplanes, and despite NATO’s commander pointing out that such a thing is an act of war with nothing safe about it.
Many in the U.S. government even want to give the “rebels” anti-aircraft weaponry. With U.S. and U.N. planes in those skies, one is reminded of then-President George W. Bush’s scheme for starting a war on Iraq: “The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.”
It’s not just rogue neocons. President Obama has never backed off his position that the Assad government must go, or even his highly dubious 2013 claim to have had proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry has compared Assad to Hitler. But it seems that dubious claims of someone possessing or using the wrong kind of weaponry don’t quite do it for the U.S. public anymore after Iraq 2003. Supposed threats to populations don’t inspire raging war fever in the U.S. public (or even support from Russia and China) after Libya 2011. Contrary to popular myth and White House claims, Qadaffi was not threatening a massacre, and the war that threat was used to start immediately became a war of overthrow. The burning need to overthrow yet another government fails to create confidence in a public that’s seen disasters created in Iraq and Libya, but not in Iran where war has been avoided (as well as not in Tunisia where the more powerful tools of nonviolence have been used).
If U.S. officials want war in Syria, they know that the way to keep the U.S. public on their side is to make it about subhuman monsters who kill with knives. Said Susan Rice of ISIS in her speech, which began with her family’s struggle against racism: “It is horrifying to witness the extreme brutality of these twisted brutes.” Said Obama at the CIA: “These depraved terrorists still have the ability to inflict horrific violence on the innocent, to the revulsion of the entire world. With attacks likes these, ISIL hopes to weaken our collective resolve. Once again, they have failed. Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the Earth. . . . As I’ve said repeatedly, the only way to truly destroy ISIL is to end the Syrian civil war that ISIL has exploited. So we continue to work for a diplomatic end to this awful conflict.”
Here are the main problems with this statement:
1) The United States has spent years working to avoid a diplomatic end, blocking U.N. efforts, rejecting Russian proposals, and flooding the area with weaponry. The United States isn’t trying to end the war in order to defeat ISIS; it’s trying to remove Assad in order to weaken Iran and Russia and to eliminate a government that doesn’t choose to be part of U.S. empire.
2) ISIS hasn’t grown simply by exploiting a war it wasn’t part of. ISIS doesn’t hope to halt U.S. attacks. ISIS put out films urging the United States to attack. ISIS uses terrorism abroad to provoke attacks. ISIS recruitment has soared as it has become seen as the enemy of U.S. imperialism.
3) Attempting diplomacy while attempting to wipe someone off the face of the earth is either unnecessary or contradictory. Why end the root causes of terrorism if you’re going to destroy the vile barbarous people engaged in it?
The points that focusing on Assad is at odds with focusing on ISIS, and that attacking ISIS or other groups with missiles and drones does not defeat them, are points made by numerous top U.S. officials the moment they retire. But those ideas clash with the idea that militarism works, and with the specific idea that it is currently working. After all, ISIS, we are told, is eternally on the ropes, with one or more of its top leaders declared dead almost every week. Here’s President Obama on March 26: “We’ve been taking out ISIL leadership, and this week, we removed one of their top leaders from the battlefield – permanently.” I consider the term “battlefield” itself a lie, as U.S. wars are fought from the air over people’s homes, not in a field. But Obama goes on to add a real doozie when he says: “ISIL poses a threat to the entire civilized world.”
In the weakest sense, that statement could be true of any violence-promoting organization with access to the internet (Fox News for example). But for it to be true in any more substantive sense has always been at odds with Obama’s own so-called intelligence so-called community, which has said that ISIS is no threat to the United States. For every headline screaming that ISIS is looming just down a U.S. street, there has not yet been any evidence that ISIS was involved in anything in the United States, other than influencing people through U.S. news programs or inspiring the FBI to set people up. ISIS involvement in attacks in Europe has been more real, or at least claimed by ISIS, but a few key points are lost in all the vitriol directed at “twisted brutes.”
1) ISIS claims its attacks are “in response to the aggressions” of “the crusader states,” just as all anti-Western terrorists always claim, with never a hint at hating freedoms.
2) European nations have been happy to allow suspected criminals to travel to Syria (where they might fight for the overthrow of the Syrian government), and some of those criminals have returned to kill in Europe.
3) As a murdering force, ISIS is far out-done by numerous governments armed and supported by the United States, including Saudi Arabia, and of course including the U.S. military itself, which has dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Syria and Iraq, blew up the University of Mosul on the 13th anniversary of Shock and Awe with 92 killed and 135 injured according to a source in Mosul, and just changed its “rules” on killing civilians to bring them slightly more into line with its conduct.
4) Actually useful steps like disarmament and humanitarian aid are not being taken seriously at all, with one U.S. Air Force official casually pointing out that the United States would never spend $60,000 on a technology for preventing starvation in Syria, even as the United States uses missiles costing over $1 million each like they’re going out of style — in fact using them so rapidly that it risks running out of anything to drop on people other than the food it has such little interest in dropping.
Meanwhile, ISIS is also the justification du jour for sending more U.S. troops into Iraq, where U.S. troops and U.S. weapons created the conditions for the birth of ISIS. Only this time, they are “non-combat” “special” forces, which led one reporter at an April 19 White House press briefing to ask, “Is this a little bit of fudging? The U.S. military is not going to be involved in combat? Because all the earmarks and recent experiences indicate that they will likely be.” A straight answer was not forthcoming.
What about those troops? Susan Rice told Air Force cadets, without asking the American people, that the American people “could not be more proud” of them. She described a graduating cadet born in 1991 and worrying that he might have missed out on all the wars. Never fear, she said, “your skills—your leadership—will be in high demand in the decades ahead. . . . On any given day, we might be dealing with Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine [where, contrary to myth and White House claim, Russia has not invaded but the United States has facilitated a coup], developments in the South China Sea [apparently misnamed, as it belongs to the United States and its Philippine colony], North Korean missile launches [how, dare I ask, will an Air Force pilot deal with those, or the much more common U.S. missile launches for that matter?], or global economic instability [famously improved by bombing runs]. . . . We face the menace of advancing climate change.” The Air Force, whose jets are among the biggest producers of climate change, is going to attack climate change? bomb it? scare it away with drones?
“I know not everybody grew up dreaming of piloting a drone,” said Rice. But, “drone warfare is even finding its way into the upcoming Top Gun sequel. These [drone] capabilities are essential to this campaign and future ones. So, as you consider career options, know that [drone piloting] is a sure-fire way to get into the fight.”
Of course, drone strikes would be rare to nonexistent if they followed President Obama’s self-imposed “rules” requiring that they kill no civilians, kill no one who could be apprehended, and kill only people who are (frighteningly if nonsensically) an “imminent and continuing” threat to the United States. Even the military-assisted theatrical fantasy film Eye in the Sky invents an imminent threat to people in Africa, but no threat at all to the United States. The other conditions (identified targets who cannot be arrested, and care to avoid killing others) are bizarrely met in that film but rarely if ever in reality. A man who says drones have tried to murder him four times in Pakistan has gone to Europe this month to ask to be taken off the kill lists. He will be safest if he stays there, judging by past killings of victims who could have been arrested.
This normalizing of murder and of participation in murder is a poison for our culture. A debate moderator recently asked a presidential candidate if he would be willing to kill thousands of innocent children as part of his basic duties. In the seven countries that President Obama has bragged about bombing, a great many innocents have died. But the top killer of U.S. troops is suicide.
“Welcome to the White House!” said President Obama to a “wounded warrior” on April 14. “Thank you, William, for your outstanding service, and your beautiful family. Now, we hold a lot of events here at the White House, but few are as inspiring as this one. Over the past seven years, this has become one of our favorite traditions. This year, we’ve got 40 active duty riders and 25 veterans. Many of you are recovering from major injuries. You’ve learned how to adapt to a new life. Some of you are still working through wounds that are harder to see, like post-traumatic stress. . . . Where’s Jason? There’s Jason right there. Jason served four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home with his body intact, but inside he was struggling with wounds nobody could see. And Jason doesn’t mind me telling you all that he got depressed enough that he considered taking his life.”
I don’t know about you, but this inspires me mostly to tell the truth about war and try to end it.
David Swanson’s new book is War Is A Lie: Second Edition.
In the mid-1960s, amid growing skepticism about the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman findings on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there was a struggle inside CBS News about whether to allow the critics a fair public hearing at the then-dominant news network. Some CBS producers pushed for a debate between believers and doubters and one even submitted a proposal to put the Warren Report “on trial,” according to internal CBS documents.
But CBS executives, who were staunch supporters of the Warren findings and had personal ties to some commission members, spiked those plans and instead insisted on presenting a defense of the lone-gunman theory while dismissing doubts as baseless conspiracy theories, the documents show.
Though it may be hard to remember – amid today’s proliferation of cable channels and Internet sites – CBS, along with NBC and ABC, wielded powerful control over what the American people got to see, hear and take seriously in the 1960s. By slapping down any criticism of the Warren Commission, CBS executives effectively prevented the case surrounding the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy from ever receiving the full airing that it deserved.
Beyond that historical significance, the internal documents – compiled by onetime CBS News assistant producer Roger Feinman – show how a major mainstream news organization green-lights one approach to presenting sensitive national security news while blocking another. The documents also shed light on how senior news executives, who have bought into one interpretation of the facts, are highly resistant to revisit the evidence.
CBS News jumped onboard the blue-ribbon Warren Commission’s findings as soon as they were released on Sept. 27, 1964, just over 10 months after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. In a special report, CBS and its anchor Walter Cronkite preempted regular programming and, with the assistance of reporter Dan Rather, devoted two commercial-free hours to endorsing the main tenets of that report.
However, despite Cronkite and Rather giving the Warren Report their public embrace, other people, who were not in the employ of the mainstream media, examined critically the report and the accompanying 26 volumes. Some of these citizens were lawyers and others were professors, the likes of Vincent Salandria and Richard Popkin. They came to the conclusion that CBS had been less than rigorous in its examination.
By 1967, the analyses challenging the Warren Report’s conclusions had become widespread, including popular books by Edward Epstein, Mark Lane, Sylvia Meagher and Josiah Thompson. Thompson’s book, Six Seconds in Dallas, was excerpted and placed on the cover of the wide-circulation magazine Saturday Evening Post. Lane was appearing on talk shows. Prosecutor Jim Garrison had announced a reopening of the JFK case in New Orleans. The dam was threatening to break.
The doubts about the Warren Report had even spread into the ranks at CBS News, where correspondent Daniel Schorr and Washington Bureau chief Bill Small recommended a fair and critical look at the report’s methodology and findings. Top prime-time producer Les Midgley later joined the effort.
CBS News vice president Gordon Manning sent the proposal on to CBS News president Richard Salant in August 1966, but it was declined. Manning tried again in October, suggesting an open debate between the critics of the Warren Report and former Commission counsels, moderated by a law school dean or the president of the American Bar Association. The idea was to give the two sides a chance to make their best points before the viewing public.
One month after Manning’s debate proposal, Life Magazine published a front-page story in which the Warren Commission’s verdict was questioned by photographic evidence from the Zapruder film (which the magazine owned). Life also interviewed Texas Gov. John Connally who disagreed that he and Kennedy had been hit by the same shot, a claim that undercut the “single bullet theory” at the heart of the Warren Report.
Without the assertion that a single bullet inflicted multiple wounds on Kennedy and Connally, who was riding in front of the President, the commission’s verdict collapses. The magazine story ended with a call to reopen the case. Indeed, Life had put together a small journalistic team to do its own internal investigation.
A few days after this issue appeared, Manning again pressed for a CBS special. This time he suggested the title “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald,” with a panel of law school deans reviewing the evidence against Oswald in a mock trial, including evidence that the Warren Commission had not included. In other words, there would be a chance for American “jurors” to weigh the evidence that might have been presented against Oswald if he had lived and to make a judgment on his guilt. Again, this approach offered the potential for a reasonably balanced examination of the Kennedy assassination.
At this point, Manning was joined by producer Midgley, who had produced the two-hour 1964 CBS special. Midgley’s suggestion differed from Manning’s in that he wanted to title the show “The Warren Report on Trial.” Midgley suggested a three-night, three-hour series with one night given over to the commission defenders, one night including all the witnesses that the commission overlooked or discounted, and the last night including a verdict produced by legal experts. But the title itself suggested a level of skepticism that had not been part of the earlier proposals.
The Higher-ups Intervene
However, then CBS senior executives began to intervene. On Dec. 1, 1966, Salant wrote a memo to John Schneider, president of CBS Broadcast Group, telling him that he might refer the proposal to the CBS News Executive Committee (CNEC). According to information that a former CBS assistant producer Roger Feinman obtained during a legal hearing against CBS, plus secondary sources, CNEC was a secretive group that was created in the wake of Edward R. Murrow’s departure from CBS.
Murrow was a true investigative reporter who became famous through his reports on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s abuses and the mistreatment of migrant farm workers. The upper management at CBS did not like the controversies that these reports generated among influential segments of the American power structure. There was a perceived need to tamp down on such wide-ranging and independent-minded investigations. After all, the CBS executives were part of that power structure.
CBS News president Salant epitomized that blurring of high-level corporate journalism and America’s ruling class. Salant had gone to Exeter Academy, Harvard, and then Harvard Law School. He was handpicked from the network’s Manhattan legal firm by CBS President Frank Stanton to join his management team.
During World War II, Stanton had worked in the Office of War Information, the psychological warfare branch. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower had appointed Stanton to a small committee to organize how the United States would survive a nuclear attack. From 1961-67, Stanton was chairman of Rand Corporation, a CIA-associated think tank.
The other two members of CNEC were Sig Mickelson, who had preceded Salant as CBS News president and then became a director of Time-Life Broadcasting, and CBS founder Bill Paley, who had also served in the World War II psy-war branch of the Office of War Information and – after the war – let CIA Director Allen Dulles have the spy agency informally debrief CBS overseas correspondents.
When Salant turned the Warren Commission issue over to CNEC, the prospects for any objective or skeptical treatment of the JFK case faded. “The establishment of CNEC effectively curtailed the news division’s independence,” Feinman later wrote about his discoveries.
Further, Salant had no journalistic experience and was in almost daily communication with Stanton, whose background was in government propaganda.
The day after Salant informed CNEC about the proposed JFK assassination special, Salant told CBS News vice president Manning that he was wavering on the mock trial concept. Salant’s next move was even more ominous. He sent both Manning and prime-time news producer Midgley to California to talk to two lawyers about the project.
One of the attorneys was Edwin Huddleson, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Cooley, Godward, Castro and Huddleson. Huddleson attended Harvard Law with Salant and, like Stanton, was on the board of the Rand Corporation. The other lawyer was Bayless Manning, Dean of Stanford Law School. They told the CBS representatives that they were against the network undertaking the project on the grounds of “the national interest” and because of the topic’s “political implications.”
CBS News vice president Manning reported that both attorneys advised the CBS team to ignore the critics of the Warren Commission or to appoint a special panel to critique their books, in other words, to put the critics on trial. Huddleson also steered the CBS team to cooperative scientists who would counter the critics.
On his return to CBS headquarters, Manning saw the writing on the wall. He knew what his CBS superiors really wanted and it wasn’t some no-holds-barred examination of the Warren Commission’s flaws. So, he suggested a new title for the series, “In Defense of the Warren Report,” and wrote that CBS should dismiss “the inane, irresponsible, and hare-brained challenges of Mark Lane and others of that stripe.”
Out on a Limb
Manning’s defection from an open-minded treatment of the evidence to a one-sided Warren Commission defense left producer Midgley out on a limb. However, unaware of what Salant was up to, on Dec. 14, 1966, Midgley circulated a memo about how he planned on approaching the Warren Report project. He proposed running experiments that were more scientific than “the ridiculous ones run by the FBI.” He still wanted a mock trial to show how the operation of the Commission was “almost incredibly inadequate.”
In response, Salant circulated an anonymous, undated, paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal to Midgley’s plan, which Feinman’s later investigation determined was written by Warren Commissioner John McCloy, then Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and the father of Ellen McCloy, Salant’s administrative assistant.
In this memo, McCloy wrote that “the chief evidence that Oswald acted alone and shot alone is not to be found in the ballistics and pathology of the assassination, but in the fact of his loner life.” As many Warren Commission critics have noted, it was this approach – discounting or ignoring the medical and ballistics evidence, but concentrating on Oswald’s alleged social life – that was a fatal flaw of the Warren Report.
Despite the familial conflict of interest, Ellen McCloy was added to the distribution list for almost all memos related to the Kennedy assassination project and thus could serve as a secret back-channel between CBS and her father.
A Stonewall Defense
Clearly, the original idea for a fresh examination of the Warren Commission and the evidence that had arisen since its report was published in 1964 had been turned on its head. The CBS brass wanted a defense, not a critique.
Salant asked producer Midgley, “Is the question whether Oswald was a CIA or FBI informant really so substantial that we have to deal with it?” Midgley, increasingly alone out on the limb, replied, “Yes, we must treat it.”
As the initial plan for a forthright examination of the Warren Commission’s shortcomings was transformed into a stonewall defense of the official findings, there was still the problem of Midgley, the last holdout. But eventually his head was turned, too.
While the four-night special was in production, Midgley became engaged to Betty Furness, a former actress-turned-television-commercial pitchwoman whom President Lyndon Johnson appointed as his special assistant for consumer affairs, even though her only experience in the field had been selling Westinghouse appliances for 11 years on television. She was sworn in on April 27, 1967, which was about two months before the CBS production aired. Two weeks after it was broadcast, Midgley and Furness were married.
As Kai Bird’s biography of McCloy, The Chairman, makes clear, Johnson and McCloy were friends and colleagues. But there is another point about how Midgley was convinced to go along with McCloy’s view of the Warren Commission. Around the same time he married Furness, he received a significant promotion, elevated to executive editor of the network’s flagship news program, “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.” This made him, in essence, the top news editor at CBS, a decision that required the consultation and approval of Salant, Cronkite and Stanton – and very likely the CNEC.
So, instead of a serious investigation into the murder of President Kennedy – at a time when there was the possibility of effective national action to get at the truth – CBS News delivered a stalwart defense of the Warren Commission’s conclusions and heaped ridicule on anyone who dared question those findings.
Shaping that approach was not only the influence of Warren Commission member John McCloy, an icon of the Establishment, but the carrots and sticks applied to senior CBS producers, such as Gordon Manning and Les Midgley, who initially favored a more skeptical approach but were convinced to abandon that goal.
Once McCloy was brought onboard, the complexion of CBS’s treatment of the JFK assassination changed. CBS hired consultants who were rabidly pro-Warren Report to appear as on-air experts while others would be hidden in the shadows. In addition to the clandestine role of McCloy, some of these consultants included Dallas police officer Gerald Hill, physicist Luis Alvarez and reporter Lawrence Schiller.
Officer Hill was just about everywhere in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He was at the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald worked and allegedly shot the President from the sixth floor; Hill was at the murder scene of Officer J. D Tippit, who was allegedly shot by Oswald after he fled Dealey Plaza; and he was at the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested.
Hill appeared in the CBS 1967 program show as a speaker. But Roger Feinman found out that Hill also was paid for six weeks work on the show as a consultant. During his consulting, Hill revealed that the police did a “fast frisk” on Oswald while in the theater. They found nothing in his pockets at the time, which begs the question of where the bullets the police said they found in his pockets later at the station came from. That question did not arise during the program since CBS never revealed the contradiction. (Click here and go to page 20 of the transcript.)
Physicist Luis Alvarez, who had a served as an adviser to the CIA and to the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, spent a considerable amount of time lending his name to articles supporting the Warren Report and conducting questionable experiments supporting its findings. As demonstrated by authors Josiah Thompson (in 2013) and Gary Aguilar (in 2014), Alvarez misrepresented some data in some of his JFK experiments. (Click here and go to the 37:00 mark for Aguilar’s presentation.)
The same year of the 1967 CBS broadcast, reporter Lawrence Schiller had co-written a book entitled The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report, a picaresque journey through America where Schiller interviewed some of the prominent – and not so prominent – critics of the report and caricatured them hideously.
Secretly, he had been an informant for the FBI for many years keeping an eye on people like Mark Lane and Jim Garrison, whom Schiller attacked despite discovering witnesses who attested to Garrison’s suspect Clay Shaw using the alias Clay Bertrand, a key point in Garrison’s case. The relevant documents were not declassified until the Assassination Records and Reviews Board was set up in the 1990s. [See Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by James DiEugenio, p. 388]
This cast of consultants – along with McCloy – influenced the direction of the 1967 CBS Special Report. The last thing these consultants wanted to do was to expose the faulty methodology that the Warren Commission had employed.
As in 1964, Walter Cronkite manned the anchor desk and Dan Rather was the main field reporter. Again, CBS could find no serious problems with the Warren Report. The critics were misguided, CBS said. After all, Cronkite and Rather had done a seven-month inquiry.
In the broadcast, Cronkite names the men on the Warren Commission as their pictures appear on screen. He calls them “men of unimpeachable credentials” but left out the fact that President Kennedy fired Commissioner Allen Dulles from the CIA in 1961 for lying to him about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
When Cronkite got to the crux of the program, he said the Warren Commission assured the American people that they would get the most searching investigation in history. Then, Cronkite showed books and articles critical of the commission and mentioned that polls showed that a majority of Americans had lost faith in the Warren Report.
At that point, the network special revealed its purpose, to discredit the critics and reassure the public that these people could not be trusted.
Cronkite went through a list of points that the critics had raised, including key issues such as how many shots were fired and how quickly they could be discharged from the suspect rifle. On each point, Cronkite took the Warren Commission’s side, saying Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor with the rifle attributed to him by the Warren Commission. Two of three were direct hits – to Kennedy’s head and shoulder area – within six seconds.
One way that CBS fortified the case for just three shots was Alvarez’s examination of the Zapruder film, Abraham Zapruder’s 26-second film of Kennedy’s assassination taken from Zapruder’s position in Dealey Plaza, a sequence that CBS did not actually show.
Alvarez proclaimed that by doing something called a “jiggle analysis,” he computed that there were three shots fired during the film. What the jiggle amounted to was a blurring of frames on the film (presumably because Zapruder would have flinched at the sound of gunshots).
Dan Rather took this Alvarez idea to Charles Wyckoff, a professional photo analyst in Massachusetts. Agreeing with Alvarez, at least on camera, Wyckoff mapped out the three areas of “jiggles.” The Alvarez/Wyckoff formula was simple: three jiggles, three shots.
But as Feinman found out through his legal discovery and hearings, there was a big problem with this declaration. Wyckoff had actually discovered four jiggles, not three. Therefore, by the Alvarez formula, there was a second gunman and thus a conspiracy.
Wyckoff’s on-camera discussion of this was cut out and not included in the official transcript. But it is interesting to note just how committed Wyckoff was to the CBS agenda, for he tried to explain the fourth jiggle as Zapruder’s reaction to a siren. As Feinman noted, how Wyckoff could determine this from a silent 8 mm film is puzzling. But the point is, this analysis did not support the commission. It undermined the Warren Report and was left on the cutting-room floor.
There were other problems with the Alverez-Wyckoff “jiggle” theory, since the first jiggle was at around Zapruder frame 190, or a few frames previous to that, which would have meant that Oswald would have had to be firing through the branches of an oak tree, which is why the Warren Commission moved this shot up to frame 210.
But CBS left itself an out, claiming there was an opening in the tree branches at frame 186 and Oswald could have fired at that point. But that is patently ridiculous, since the opening at frame 186 lasted for 1/18th of a second. To say that Oswald anticipated a less than split-second opening, and then steeled himself in a flash to align the target, aim, and fire is all stuff from the realm of comic book super heroes. Yet, in its blind obeisance to the Warren Report, this is what CBS had reduced itself to.
Another way that CBS tried to bolster the Warren Report was to have Wyckoff purchase other Bell and Howell movie cameras (since CBS was not allowed to handle the actual Zapruder camera.) After winding up these cameras, CBS hypothesized that Zapruder’s camera might have been running a little slow, giving Oswald a longer firing sequence.
The problem with this theory, however, was that both the FBI and Bell and Howell had tested the speed of Zapruder’s actual camera. Even Dick Salant commented that this was “logically inconclusive and unpersuasive,” but it stayed in the program.
The Shot Sequence
But why did Rather and Wyckoff have to stoop this low? The answer is because of the results of their rifle firing tests. As the critics of the Warren Report had pointed out, the commission had used two tests to see if Oswald could have gotten off three shots in the allotted 5.6 seconds indicated by the Zapruder film.
These tests ended up as failing to prove Oswald could have performed this feat of marksmanship. What made it worse is that the commission had used very proficient riflemen to try and duplicate what the commission said Oswald had done. [See Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 108]
So CBS tried again. This time they set up a track with a sled on it to simulate the back of Kennedy’s head. They then elevated a firing point to simulate the sixth floor “sniper’s nest,” though there were differences from Dealey Plaza including the oak tree and a rise in the street in the real crime scene. Nevertheless, the CBS experimenters released the target on its sled and had a marksman named Ed Crossman fire his three shots.
Crossman had a considerable reputation in the field, but – even though he was given a week to practice with a version of the Mannlicher Carcano rifle – his results were not up to snuff. According to a report by producer Midgley, Crossman never broke 6.25 seconds (longer than Oswald’s purported 5.6 seconds) and – even with an enlarged target – he got only two of three hits in about 50 percent of his attempts.
Crossman explained that the rifle had a sticky bolt action and a faulty viewing scope. But what the professional sniper did not know is that the actual rifle in evidence was even harder to work. Crossman said that to perform such a feat on the first time out would require a lot of luck.
However, since that evidence did not fit the show’s agenda, it was discarded, both the test and the comments. To resolve that problem, CBS called in 11 professional marksmen who first went to an indoor firing range and practiced to their heart’s content, though the Warren Commission could find no evidence that Oswald practiced.
The 11 men then took 37 runs at duplicating what Oswald was supposed to have done. There were three instances where two out of three hits were recorded in 5.6 seconds. The best time was achieved by Howard Donahue on his third attempt after his first two attempts were complete failures.
But CBS claimed that the average recorded time was 5.6 seconds, without including the 17 attempts that were thrown out because of mechanical failure. CBS also didn’t tell the public the surviving average was 1.2 hits out of three with an enlarged target.
The truly striking characteristic of these trials was the number of instances where the shooter could not get any result at all. More often than not, once the clip was loaded, the bolt action jammed. The sniper had to realign the target and fire again. According to the Warren Report, that could not have happened with Oswald.
There is also the anomaly of James Tague, who was struck by one bullet that the Warren Commission said had ricocheted off the curb of a different street, about 260 feet away from the limousine. But how could Oswald have missed by that much if he was so accurate on his other two shots? That was another discrepancy deleted by the CBS editors.
The Autopsy Disputes
CBS also obscured what was said by the two chief medical witnesses after the assassination; by Dr. Malcolm Perry from Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where Kennedy was taken after he was hit, and James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy examination at Bethesda Medical Center that evening.
In their research for the series, CBS had discovered a transcript of Dr. Perry’s press conference that the Warren Commission did not have. But CBS camouflaged what Perry said on Nov. 22, 1963, specifically about Kennedy’s anterior neck wound. Perry said it had the appearance to him of being an entrance wound, and he said this three times.
Cronkite tried to characterize the conference as Perry being rushed out to the press and badgered. But that wasn’t true, since the press conference was about two hours after Perry had done a tracheotomy over the front neck wound. The performance of that incision had given Perry the closest and most deliberate look at that wound.
Perry therefore had the time to recover from the pressure of the operation and there was no badgering of Perry. Newsmen were simply asking him questions about the wounds he saw. Perry had the opportunity to answer the questions on his own terms. Again, CBS seemed intent on concealing evidence of a possible second assassin — because Oswald could not have fired at Kennedy from the front.
Commander James Humes, the pathologist, did not want to appear on the program, but was pressured by Attorney General Ramsey Clark, possibly with McCloy’s assistance. As Feinman discovered, the preliminary talks with Humes were done through a friend of his at the church he attended.
There were two things that Humes said in these early discussions that were bracing. First, he said that he recalled an x-ray of the President, which showed a malleable probe connecting the rear back wound with the front neck wound. Second, he said that he had orders not to do a complete autopsy. He would not reveal who gave him these orders, except to say that it was not Robert Kennedy. [Charles Crenshaw, Trauma Room One, p. 182]
The significance of the malleable probe is that, if Humes was correct, the front and back wounds would have come from the same bullet. However, we learned almost 30 years later from the Assassination Records Review Board that other witnesses also saw a malleable probe go through Kennedy’s back, but said the probe did not go through the body since the wounds did not connect. However, x-rays that might confirm the presence of the probe are missing. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 116-18]
Location of the Wounds
On camera, Humes also said the posterior body wound was at the base of the neck. Dan Rather then showed Humes the drawings made of the wound in the back as depicted by medical illustrator Harold Rydberg for the Warren Commission, also depicting the wound as being in the neck, which Humes agreed with on camera. He added that they had reviewed the photos and referred to measurements and this all indicated the wound was in the neck.
Even for CBS — and Warren Commissioner John McCloy — this must have been surprising since the autopsy photos do not reveal the wound to be at the base of the neck but clearly in the back. (Click here and scroll down.) CBS should have sent its own independent expert to the archive because Humes clearly had a vested interest in seeing his autopsy report bolstered, especially since it was under attack by more than one critic.
The second point that makes Humes’s interview curious is his comments on the Rydberg drawings’ accuracy. These do not coincide with what Rydberg said later, not understanding why he was chosen to make these drawings for the Warren Commission since he was only 22 and had been drawing for only one year. There were many other veteran illustrators in the area the Warren Commission could have called upon, but Rydberg came to believe that it was his inexperience that caused the commission to pick him.
When Humes and Dr. Thornton Boswell appeared before him, they had nothing with them: no photos, no x-rays, no official measurements, speaking only from memory, nearly four months after the autopsy, Rydberg said. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 119-22] The Rydberg drawings have become infamous for not corresponding to the pictures, measurements, or the Zapruder film.
For Humes to endorse these on national television – and for CBS to allow this without any fact-checking – shows what a case of false journalism the special had become.
CBS also knew that Humes said he had been limited in what he was allowed to do in the Kennedy autopsy, a potentially big scoop if CBS had followed it. Instead, the public had to wait another two years for the story to surface at Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw when autopsy doctor Pierre Finck took the stand in Shaw’s defense. Finck said the same thing: that Dr. Humes was limited in his autopsy practice on Kennedy. [ibid, p. 115]
The difference was that this disclosure would have had much more exposure, impact and vibrancy if CBS had broken it in 1967 rather than having the fact come up during Garrison’s prosecution, in part, because the press corps’ hostility toward Garrison distorted the trial coverage.
So, in the summer of 1967, CBS again had come to the defense of the official story with a four-hour, four-night extravaganza that again endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission.
At the time of broadcast, it was the most expensive documentary CBS ever produced. It concluded: Acting alone, Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy. Acting alone, Jack Ruby killed Oswald. And Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. All the controversy was Much Ado about Nothing.
Unwinding the Back Story
In 1967, the clandestine relationship between CBS News President Salant and Warren Commissioner McCloy was known to very few people. In fact, as assistant producer Roger Feinman later deduced, it was likely known only to the very small circle in the memo distribution chain. That Salant deliberately wished to keep it hidden is indicated by the fact that he allowed McCloy to write these early memos anonymously.
As Feinman concluded, McCloy’s influence over the program was almost certainly a violation of the network’s own guidelines, which prohibit conflicts of interest in the news production, probably another reason Salant kept McCloy’s connection hidden.
In the 1970s, after Feinman was fired over a later dispute regarding another example of CBS News’ highhanded handling of the JFK assassination – and then obtained internal documents as part of a legal hearing on his dismissal – he briefly thought of publicizing the whole affair (which he eventually decided against doing).
But Feinman wrote to Warren Commissioner McCloy in March 1977 about the ex-commissioner’s clandestine role in the four-night special a decade earlier. McCloy declined to be interviewed on the subject, but added that he did not recall any contribution he made to the special.
But Feinman persisted. On April 4, 1977, he wrote McCloy again. This time he revealed that he had written evidence that McCloy had participated extensively in the production of the four-night series. Very quickly, McCloy got in contact with Salant and wrote that he did not recall any such back-channel relationship.
In turn, Salant contacted Midgley and told the producer to check his files to see if there was any evidence that would reveal a CBS secret collaboration with McCloy. Salant then wrote back to McCloy saying that at no time did Ellen McCloy ever act as a conduit between CBS News and her father.
However, in 1992 in an article for The Village Voice, both Ellen McCloy and Salant were confronted with memos that revealed Salant was lying in 1977. McCloy’s daughter admitted to the clandestine courier relationship. Salant finally admitted it also, but he tried to say there was nothing unusual about it.
So, in 1967, CBS News had again reassured the American people that there was no conspiracy in President Kennedy’s murder, just a misguided lone gunman who had done it all by himself. Anyone who thought otherwise was confused, deceptive or delusional.
However, in 1975, eight years after the broadcast, two events revived interest in the JFK case again. First, the Church Committee was formed in Congress to explore the crimes of the CIA and FBI, revealing that before Kennedy was killed, the CIA had farmed out the assassination of Fidel Castro to the Mafia, a fact that was kept from the Warren Commission even though one of its members, Allen Dulles, had been CIA director when the plots were formulated.
Secondly, in the summer of 1975, in prime time, ABC broadcast the Zapruder film, the first time that the American public had seen the shocking image of President Kennedy’s head being knocked back and to the left by what appeared to be a shot from his front and right, a shot Oswald could not have fired.
The confluence of these two events caused a furor in Washington and the creation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to reopen the JFK case.
Having become a chief defender of the original Warren Commission findings, CBS News moved preemptively to influence the new investigation by planning another special about the JFK case.
CBS’s Sixty Minutes decided to do a story on whether or not Jack Ruby and Lee Oswald knew each other. After several months of research, Salant killed the project with the investigative files turned over to senior producer Les Midgley before becoming the basis for the 1975 CBS special, which was entitled The American Assassins.
Originally this was planned as a four-night special. One night each on the JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King and the George Wallace shootings. But at the last moment, in a very late press release, CBS announced that the first two nights would be devoted to the JFK case. Midgley was the producer, but this time Cronkite was absent. Rather took his place behind the desk.
In general terms, it was more of the same. The photographic consultant was Itek Corporation, a company that was very close to the CIA, having helped build the CORONA spy satellite system. Itek’s CEO in the mid-1960s, Franklin Lindsay, was a former CIA officer. With Itek’s help, CBS did everything they could to move their Magic Bullet shot from about frame 190 to about frames 223-226.
Yet, Josiah Thompson, who appeared on the show, had written there was no evidence Gov. Connally was hit before frames 230-236. Further, there are indications that President Kennedy is clearly hit as he disappears behind the Stemmons Freeway sign at about frame 190, e.g., his head seems to collapse both sideways and forward in a buckling motion.
But with Itek in hand, this became the scenario for the CBS version of the “single bullet theory.” It differed from the Warren Commission’s in that it did not rely upon a “delayed reaction” on Connally’s part to the same bullet.
CBS also employed Alfred Olivier, a research veterinarian who worked for Army wound ballistics branch and did tests with the alleged rifle used in the assassination. He was a chief witness for junior counsel Arlen Specter before the Warren Commission. [See Warren Commission, Volume V, pgs. 74ff]
For CBS in 1975, Olivier said that the Magic Bullet, CE 399, was not actually “pristine.” For CBS and Dan Rather, this made the “single bullet theory” not impossible, just hard to believe.
Apparently, no one explained to Rather that the only deformation on the bullet is a slight flattening at the base, which would occur as the bullet is blasted through the barrel of a rifle. There is no deformation at its tip where it would have struck its multiple targets. There is only a tiny amount of mass missing from the bullet.
In other words, as more than one author has written, it has all the indications of being fired into a carton of water or a bale of cotton. If CBS had interviewed the legendary medical examiner Milton Helpern of New York — not far from CBS headquarters — that is pretty much what he would have said. [Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 69.]
Rather realized, without being explicit, that something was wrong with Kennedy’s autopsy. He called the autopsy below par and reversed field on his opinion about pathologist Humes, whose experience Rather had praised in 1967. In the 1975 broadcast, Rather said that neither Humes nor Boswell were qualified to perform Kennedy’s autopsy and that parts of it were botched.
But let us make no mistake about what CBS was up to here. The entire corporate upper structure — Salant, Stanton, Paley — had overrun the working producers and journalists, including Midgley, Manning and Schorr. And those subordinates decided not to utter a peep to the outside world about what had happened.
Not only Cronkite and Rather participated in this appalling exercise, so too did Eric Sevareid, appearing at the end of the last show and saying that there are always those who believe in conspiracies, whether it be about Yalta, China or Pearl Harbor. He then poured it on by saying some people still think Hitler is alive and concluding that it would be impossible to cover up the assassination of a President.
But simply in examining how a major news outlet like CBS handled the evidence shows precisely how something as dreadful and significant as the murder of a President could be covered up.
Much of this history also would have remained unknown, except that Roger Feinman, an assistant producer at CBS News, had become a friend and follower of the estimable Warren Commission critic Sylvia Meagher. So, Feinman knew that the Warren Commission was a deeply flawed report and that CBS had employed some very questionable methods in the 1967 special in order to conceal those flaws.
When the assassination issue returned in the mid-1970s, Feinman began to write some memoranda to those in charge of the renewed CBS investigation warning that they shouldn’t repeat their 1967 performance. His first memo went to CBS president Dick Salant. Many of the other memos were directed to the Office of Standards and Practices.
In preparing these memos, Feinman researched some of the odd methodologies that CBS used in 1967. Since he had been at CBS for three years, he got to know some of the people who had worked on that series. They supplied him with documents and information which revealed that what Cronkite and Rather were telling the audience had been arrived at through a process that was as flawed as the one the Warren Commission had used.
Feinman requested a formal review of the process by which CBS had arrived at its forensic conclusions. He felt the documentary had violated company guidelines in doing so.
Establishment Strikes Back
As Feinman’s memos began to circulate through the executive and management suites – including Salant’s and Vice-President Bill Small’s – it was made clear to him that he should cease and desist from his one-man campaign. When he wouldn’t let up, CBS moved to terminate its dissident employee.
But since Feinman was working under a union contract, he had certain administrative rights to a fair hearing, including the process of discovery through which he could request certain documents to make his case. His research allowed him to pinpoint where these documents would be and who prepared them.
On Sept. 7, 1976, CBS succeeded in terminating Feinman. But the collection of documents he secured through his hearing was extraordinary, allowing outsiders for the first time to see how the 1967 series was conceived and executed. Further, the documents took us into the group psychology of a large media corporation when it collides with controversial matters involving national security.
Only Roger Feinman, who was not at the top of CBS or anywhere near it, had the guts to try to get to the bottom of the whole internal scandal.
And Feinman paid a high personal price for doing so. Feinman’s contribution to American history did not help him get his journalistic career back on track. When he passed away in the fall of 2011, he was freelancing as a computer programmer.
[This article is largely based on the script for the documentary film Roger Feinman was in the process of reediting at the time of his death in 2011. The reader can view that here.]
James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.
A case in point is “The Assad Files,” an 11,000-word article in last week’s New Yorker that is as willfully misrepresentative as anything published about Syria in the last five years or so, which is saying a great deal.
Written by a young Columbia Journalism School graduate named Ben Taub, it tells of a Canadian political entrepreneur named William Wiley who, starting in 2012, persuaded the European Union and the German, Swiss, Norwegian, Danish and Canadian governments to give him millions of dollars so he could begin building a criminal case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
To that end, Wiley hired lawyers, translators, and analysts and sent investigators into Syria itself alongside “moderate” rebels so that they could rifle security and intelligence installations in search of incriminating evidence. Once they got what they were looking for, they either squirreled it away locally or spirited it over the border to an undisclosed location in Western Europe where the documents could be scanned, bar-coded, and safely secured.
The upshot is a 400-page legal brief that Taub says “links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coordinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives.” It is “a record of state-sponsored torture,” he adds, “that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty.”
Taub fills his article with lots of J-school-style color, informing us that Wiley is “a field guy, not an office guy”; that he “handles the considerable stress of his profession with Cuban cigarillos, gallows humor, and exercise,” and that, at age 52, “he bench-presses more than three hundred and fifty pounds.” He describes in vivid detail one of Wiley’s associates negotiating his way through 11 rebel checkpoints while transporting a truckload of captured Syrian government documents. But for all his diligence, he manages to overlook the blindingly obvious problems that Wiley’s activities raise. For instance:
–He notes that no international judicial body has jurisdiction over Syrian war crimes and that, in May 2014, Russia and China specifically vetoed a UN resolution assigning the International Criminal Court such a role. So what’s the point of a 400-page legal brief if there’s no court to present it to? Is this a genuine pursuit of legal truth or just another propaganda exercise funded by the West?
–Waving such objections aside, Taub quotes Wiley as saying: “We’re simply confident – and I don’t think it’s hubris – that our work will see the light of day, in court, in relatively short order.” But what on earth does this mean? That Wiley has inside knowledge that Assad is about to fall?
–By zeroing in on Assad alone, the investigation ignores malfeasance by other players. Arming rebels and sending them to spread terror across the Syrian countryside, for example, is a straight-out violation of the UN Charter, which declares that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Yet Wiley says nothing about such crimes even though the U.S. and Saudi Arabia commit them daily. The same goes for bombing Syrian targets without express Syrian government permission. That, too, is illegal. Yet Wiley remains silent about that as well.
–Sending investigators into Syria without express government approval is likewise a violation, which means that Wiley and his group are also complicit. Washington would not like it if Syria sent “investigators” to this country to break into FBI offices and rifle through CIA files. So what gives Wiley the right to do the same? And given the intensity of the propaganda war surrounding Syria, what weight should one give to the purported evidence?
Although you wouldn’t know it from a travesty like “The Assad Files,” the facts about Syria have long been clear. In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report stating that Al Qaeda, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood were “the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” that their goal was to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition” – which is to say Turkey, the Arab Gulf states, and the Western powers – “want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at Harvard’s Kennedy School that “the Saudis, the emirates, etc. were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda.” (See quote starting at 53:20.)
In October 2015, a New York Times editorial noted that private donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait were continuing to channel funds to ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh), while, in January 2016, the newspaper reported that Saudi aid to Islamist rebels in Syria has totaled not hundreds of millions of dollars as Joe Biden had stated, but billions.
In other words, the U.S. and its Arab Gulf allies lavished immense funds on a Sunni fundamentalist rebellion from the start, they encouraged the growth of Salafist caliphate, and they stood by as private money flowed to Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
This is a scandal that people should be shouting about from the rooftops. Standing reality on its head, however, The New Yorker wants us to believe that the only person to blame for this debacle is Assad. If he hadn’t disregarded Barack Obama’s order to step down in August 2011, then America and its allies would not have been obliged to fund jihadists bent on installing a Sunni dictatorship in Damascus.
Through his obstinacy, Assad forced the U.S. to back a religious war of extermination against Alawites, Christians and other minorities, which is why Washington now has no choice but to arrest him, give him a fair trial and then find him guilty as charged.
Cooking the Books
Taub cooks the books in various ways. He devotes much of his article to a 38-year-old dissident named Mazen al-Hamada who says he spent a year in Assad’s prisons, suffering repeated beatings and emerging a broken man as a consequence.
“People went crazy,” he tells Taub of his time inside. “People would lose their memories, people would lose their minds.” Even though Hamada was eventually able to leave Syria and join his sister in the Netherlands, he spends his days agonizing over the friends and relatives he left behind.
“Where are they?” he cries. “Are they alive? Are they dead?” Every day is “misery,” he tells Taub. “It’s misery. It’s misery. It’s death. It’s a life of death.”
This is powerful stuff, especially for those who enjoy reading about evil Arab dictators. But the careful reader will notice that Hamada has no connection to Wiley’s campaign and that his role, rather, is to put flesh on the bones of Wiley’s dry legal arguments by describing what’s at stake.
Taub thus goes into painful detail about the tortures that Hamada says he endured – beatings, burnings, electric shock, and so on. It’s gruesome stuff, and, according to Taub, Hamada “sobbed desperately” in recounting it.
But what did Hamada do to merit such treatment, if indeed such abuses were inflicted? The article says only that he comes from an educated middle-class family in the city of Deir Ezzor and that members “were outspoken critics of the government, and even before the revolution they were routinely followed and periodically arrested. They were especially outraged by the government’s failure to do anything about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. ‘It was all organized to benefit the élites,’ Hamada said.”
This makes them sound like Bernie Sanders supporters. Taub adds that Hamada also organized inside a local mosque but assures us that it was just a matter of convenience.
“It was a logistical issue,” he quotes Hamada as saying. “Everyone went to the mosque on a Friday, everyone came out. … If we could have come out of churches, we would have come out of churches!”
But is that really all there is to it? In fact, Deir Ezzor is part of Syria’s wild east, a tribal region that was an Al Qaeda stronghold following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then again after the Arab Spring beginning in early 2011.
“The religious and tribal powers in the [border] regions began to sympathize with the sectarian uprising,” states the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report, written just a few months after Hamada’s arrest the following March. (emphasis added). “This sympathy appeared in Friday prayer sermons, which called for volunteers to support the Sunni’s [sic] in Syria.”
So what The New Yorker doesn’t tell us is that Hamada agitated inside mosques at a time when they were resounding with calls for holy war against Assad and his fellow Alawites. This doesn’t prove that Hamada is not a liberal, a social democrat, or some other mild-mannered sort. But it raises the possibility that he’s something else – a Salafist, perhaps, a Wahhabist, or a supporter of Al Qaeda.
A One-Sided Morality Play
If Taub seems stingy with the details, it’s most likely because he doesn’t want anything getting in the way of his simple-minded morality play about a noble dissident suffering at the hands of a cruel and vicious tyrant.
But how do we know Hamada suffered at all? How do we know he’s not making it all up? Taub summons up bits and pieces of corroborative evidence in an effort to buttress his account, none of it terribly convincing.
Hamada says that after he and his fellow prisoners were transferred to an air base at Al-Mezzeh, a few kilometers west of Damascus, guards taunted them by saying that the Americans would soon bomb the installation, killing them all.
Since Obama was threatening to retaliate against Syria for the use of sarin gas a few days earlier and “at least one of the sarin-gas rockets is believed to have been launched from the base at al-Mezzeh,” according to Taub, the story seems to make sense.
But there’s a problem: Taub’s statement about al-Mezzeh is dubious at best. In contrast to the Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack at the Ein Tarma/Zamalka area, located to the east of Damascus, the sarin-gas attack at Al Moadamiyah, located near al-Mezzeh to the west, is so poorly documented that it’s unclear whether it occurred at all.
Members of the United Nations inspection team, which gained access to the site five days later, found no evidence of sarin from their field tests, a result later confirmed by two U.N. labs, which reported no sarin or other chemical weapons agents present, although the two labs had conflicting findings on whether a trace chemical from the area might have resulted from degraded sarin.
But even that suspicion was undercut by the fact that a second rocket recovered in the Ein Tarma/Zamalka area several days later tested positive for actual sarin (though it had been exposed to the elements even longer). That crude second rocket was later determined to have a range of only about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have come from the Syrian base and more likely came from rebel-controlled territory. Later evidence, including a report by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, pointed to the likelihood that it was launched by rebel jihadists as a provocation to draw the U.S. military into the conflict on their side.
There was also the question of why Assad would have invited in U.N. inspectors to examine a prior chemical attack against his troops and then launch a large-scale sarin attack on a nearby location just as the investigative team was settling into a Damascus hotel.
As the excellent open-source “WhoGhouta” blog points out, it doesn’t make sense unless the Baathists were bent on suicide – and if there’s one thing we know after five years of civil war, it is that the Damascus regime’s goal is not suicide but survival. [See also Consortiumnews.com’s “A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack.”]
Of course, it is possible that Hamada’s Syrian guards might have anticipated a U.S. attack even if Assad’s government had nothing to do with the sarin attack. But the dubious case surrounding the sarin gas incident leaves his account sounding contrived and unsubstantiated, an example of old anti-Assad propaganda being dredged up in support of yet another round of lies and distortions.
Taub also invokes the famous “Caesar,” the pseudonym of a Syrian army photographer who caused a sensation in early 2014 by defecting with 55,000 photographs purportedly documenting the torture and killing of 11,000 detainees at the hands of the Syrian security establishment.
Where Hamada says he was assigned a four-digit identification number during his confinement, many of Caesar’s victims were also tagged with a four-digit ID, which makes Hamada seem more plausible. Where Hamada reported a pile-up of dead bodies at the hospital in which he was interned, Caesar, clicking away at the same facility, also reported a gruesome pile-up. If Caesar is believable, then Hamada is as well.
But Caesar’s tale fairly cries out skepticism. For instance:
–His publicity campaign was paid for and organized by Qatar, a key backer of Islamist rebel groups, which also engaged a London law firm to testify that the photos were genuine.
–The photos were hurriedly released just as peace talks in Geneva were about to begin, talks that Qatar and its rebel allies both opposed.
–Rather than victims of the regime, an examination by Human Rights Watch found that nearly half the pictures were of dead army soldiers, members of the security services, or victims of fires and car bombs – i.e. victims not of the government, but of the rebels.
–A further examination by the Syria Solidarity Movement found that significant numbers of photos showed fresh bullet or shrapnel wounds suggesting that the victims had died in combat rather than in prison; signs of bloating suggesting that they had also perished in conflict zones; or bandages indicating that they had died after receiving medical treatment.
Where Hamada, moreover, said that dead bodies were stored in toilets of all places – guards instructed him to “pee on top of the bodies,” he assures a credulous Taub – the bodies that Caesar photographed were stored in a morgue or in a garage bay.
Caesar’s photos thus prove absolutely nothing about the Assad regime in general or about Hamada’s experience in particular. Since their evidentiary value is nil, we have no reason to believe that he is telling the truth as opposed to filling a young reporter’s head with stuff and nonsense designed to set his editor’s pulse racing back in New York.
The result is every bit as outrageous as the articles The New Yorker ran prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq alleging collusion between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
The Christian Science Monitor, one of the few publications not to tumble into bed with Caesar and his photos, described them as “a well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar, a regime opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who have committed war crimes of their own.”
With the White House preparing to up the ante in Syria by possibly supplying the rebels with portable anti-aircraft missiles — weapons that will almost inevitably find their way into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda – is there any reason to regard “The Assad Files” as anything other than a well-timed propaganda exercise as well?
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “How The New Yorker Mis-Reports Syria.”]
Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).
Dan Illouz is an Israeli lawyer and a former legal adviser to both the Knesset’s leadership coalition and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. He is also a big fan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On April 13, he wrote an opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post entitled, “A Fresh Perspective: Understanding Netanyahu’s Mind.”
Among the many synonyms of “fresh” offered by your average on-line dictionary are “unusual” and “undeveloped.” Though Illouz would certainly not agree that these terms fit his effort to explain the Prime Minister’s consciousness, it turns out that they actually do.
For instance, there is his unusual claim that “Netanyahu is one of the deepest thinkers among world leaders.” At the same time Illouz emphasizes that Netanyahu comes from a “very ideological” background bequeathed to him by both his Revisionist Zionist father, Benzion Netanyahu, and the American neoconservative worldview. As we will see, both outlooks are undeveloped one-dimensional frames of reference.
It is true that our perceptions reflect a worldview structured by the aspects of family and society we choose to embrace, or rebel against. It could go either way. According to Illouz, Netanyahu has embraced the restricted worldview of a brand of Zionism that teaches that, if the Jews are to survive in the modern world, they must be militarily all powerful and remain unmoved by any and all calls for compromise with alleged enemies.
Also, according to Illouz, Netanyahu sees the world through the myopic lens of the American neoconservative movement, which preaches that both the United States and Israel are allies in a never-ending battle of good against evil. The unalterable consequences of compromise in such a struggle have been taught to us by the history of the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. All such compromises in this imagined struggle must end up in catastrophe, especially for the Jews.
The conclusions Illouz draws from this description of Netanyahu’s mindset are, to say the least, baffling. Not in the sense that Netanyahu is cemented into a worldview that itself is modeled on a narrow slice of history. This indeed seems to accurately describe him. But rather in the claim that by seeing the world this way, the Israeli prime minister shows himself to be a “deep thinker.”
What does it mean to be a “deep thinker”? It should entail some capacity to break free of the structural framework or the worldview we start out with. For example, a degree of independent thought that allows us to discern when the past serves as a useful guide to the present and when it does not. This all adds up to an ability to be original – to understand present circumstances in novel ways that lead to breakthrough solutions to problems, be they political, social or scientific.
That is what it takes to think deeply. Does Benjamin Netanyahu qualify? No, he does not. He is no more a “deep thinker” than George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or John Bolton. Then why does Illouz say he does qualify? Because this Israeli lawyer, who is himself no “deep thinker,” mixes up profundity of thought with a skewed notion of “prudence” – which, in this case, he interprets as a “reluctance to embrace a utopian view of the world that progressives push forward.”
Examples of such “utopian views” are peace agreements such as the Iran accord, and the notion of “unilateral withdrawals.” In other words, Benjamin Netanyahu is a “deep thinker” because, in the name of “prudence,” he shuts down all consideration of diplomatic compromise. For Illouz that also makes him one of the world’s leading “realists.”
In truth, Illouz’s assessment of his Prime Minister’s mind is itself a product of the same narrow, static worldview shared by neoconservatives and Likudniks alike. For instance, according to Illouz, Netanyahu’s refusal to withdraw from the Occupied Territories (O.T.) is stark realism motivated by a desire to “stop history from taking a wrong turn” – as it did in 1938.
The comparison of the Palestinian desire for an independent state in the O.T. and the Munich agreement of 1938 is so patently inane that I won’t waste words on it. But Israel’s absorption of the territories can be judged as the very opposite of realism – it is a utopian (actually dystopian) scheme that is in the process of doing untold damage to both Jews and Palestinians while isolating Israel from the rest of the world.
There is a contradiction between profundity of thought and the ideologically determined worldview. To be in a position to achieve the former, one must, at the very least, eschew the dogmatic aspects of the latter. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Dan Illouz are capable of doing this.
Analyzing Illouz’s presentation is not hard. His mistaken take on “deep thinking,” the lessons of history, the notions of realism and utopianism are quite obvious. This being the case one might ask why the editors at the Jerusalem Post thought it proper to print such balderdash? Perhaps because they too see the world in the same one-dimensional fashion.
If we are to believe the reports coming out of Israel, the Jewish majority there is undergoing an unchecked withdrawal into itself. The “us against the world” attitude that has always characterized some of world Jewry has now taken command in Israel. And, except for a small portion of the population that has managed to break free of this warped worldview (and as a consequence is being labeled as traitors), the mass of Israeli Jews are following their Pied Piper leaders into dangerous isolation.
This state of detachment has led to a series of policy decisions that are anything but realistic. The continuing expansion of illegal settlements and destruction of Palestinian houses, the resulting ethnic cleansing, the utter barbarism of Israeli policy toward Gaza, and the labeling as terrorist behavior all reactions against these policies, mark an official, and internally popular, worldview that is increasing detached from reality.
Dan Illouz’s piece in the Jerusalem Post is a clumsy effort to rationalize this way of thinking and seeing.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.
The National is an English language publication owned and operated by Abu Dhabi Media, the government-run media organization of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is no press freedom in the UAE. Government media report the government point of view, which rarely includes criticism of the government.
On March 26, the first anniversary of the UAE’s unprovoked attack on Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states, the UAE’s official media published a document about the carnage in Yemen illustrative of George Orwell’s observation: “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” The truth about the war in Yemen is a largely unreported secret. The UAE officially hides that truth from itself in an editorial in The National (which follows in its entirety, section by section). It begins with the headline:
“After a year in Yemen, our resolve is firm”
After a year in Yemen, the US/Saudi coalition has managed to reduce the region’s poorest country to an almost unthinkable condition, where some 20 million Yemenis – about 80% of the population need humanitarian assistance. In a country both under attack and on the verge of mass famine, what does “our resolve is firm” really mean if not continued crimes against humanity? The UAE editorial’s first sentence has no discernible meaning at all.
The start one year ago of Operation Decisive Storm comes as a reminder of the importance of the war in Yemen.
The anniversary of an aggression – that the Saudis proclaimed would be brief and decisive – is important mostly for its irony. An official Saudi press release of March 25, 2015, quoted the Saudi ambassador to the US saying: “The operation will be limited in nature, and designed to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis. A violent extremist militia.” By then the “legitimate” government of Yemen had fled to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Not only has more than a year of US/Saudi-led war failed to achieve any significant military success, it has produced collateral damage on a massive scale, making the country of 25 million people perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. This reality makes a mockery of the UAE editorial’s next assertion.
The UAE joined the Saudi-led coalition campaign driven by its commitment and dedication to maintaining security and establishing peace in the region.
This is, almost literally, Orwellian in its “war is peace” mindset. From the start, the US/Saudi aggression has violated international law and committed war crimes against Yemeni civilians, using cluster bombs made in the USA (and sold to the Saudis with US taxpayer subsidies). The recently-released US State Department annual human rights report on Saudi Arabia for 2015 soft-pedals the allies’ slaughter of civilians in Yemen, and omits Saudi-dropped US cluster bombs entirely (perhaps because their lingering impact killing children over years and decades is deucedly hard to assess accurately, whereas profits can be tallied almost immediately). The full despicability of the Obama administration’s position on these inhumanities is revealed in its official unwillingness to speak on the record about the blatant hypocrisy of its morally indefensible defense of the murder of civilians for profit as reported in The Intercept.
A State Department spokesperson, who would only comment on background, pointed out that the U.S. has called on both sides of the conflict to protect civilians. He also claimed that the use of cluster munitions is not a human rights violation because the United States has not signed the ban on cluster munitions.
The State Department spokesperson did not acknowledge that only one side bombs civilians (in schools, hospitals, markets, and homes) with US-made planes dropping US-made munitions. This follows a years-long US campaign in Yemen to kill civilians with US-made drones (still in use from outside the country).
Yemen is drawn as a coherent state on maps, but most of the Yemeni-Saudi border has never been officially defined. Yemen has an ancient culture in the western part of the country, but it has never been a coherent state. The Saudis and Yemenis have engaged in sporadic, armed conflict for decades. In particular, the Saudis and the Houthis have fought over northwest Yemen and neighboring southwest Saudi Arabia, which is home to a large Houthi population. Security in the region is not directly threatened by the Yemeni civil war. For any Arab state to talk like the UAE of establishing “peace in the region” is fundamentally hilarious.
The UAE has long been a source of support for the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh), as have Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait – all part of the coalition waging war on Yemen. Editorially, the UAE cloaks itself in the mantle of state legitimacy.
The coalition responded to the call by Yemen’s president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to restore his internationally recognised government to power.
To call the Hadi government “internationally recognized” is to fudge the reality that the Hadi government has only limited recognition among Yemenis. Hadi came to power through what US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called, somewhat falsely, the “peaceful, inclusive, and consensus-driven political transition under the leadership of the legitimate President of Yemen, Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.” One problem with this US formulation is that Hadi’s “legitimacy” derives from his being installed as president by an international diplomatic coup, followed by his election in a race in which he was the sole candidate. Essentially, there is no legitimate government of Yemen and has not been for decades at least. The present war of aggression by outside powers intervening in a multifaceted civil war relies for its justification on a variety of dishonest fictions. The Houthis are a sub-group of the Shi’ite Zaidis, who number about eight million in Yemen. The Zaidis governed northwest Yemen for 1,000 years, until 1962. The UAE editorial invents a different historical identity.
Houthi rebels had captured the capital of Sanaa, with the support of Iran and loyalists to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and were advancing towards the southern city of Aden. On the way, they had killed civilians and destroyed neighbourhoods, leading to a vast humanitarian crisis.
Iran is widely scapegoated as a nefarious influence in Yemen, but there is little or no evidence of Iranian involvement on a scale that could possibly make a difference on the ground in Yemen. Iran’s support of the Houthis, their fellow Shi’ites, has been largely diplomatic, political, and presumably financial. Former president Saleh, who has a wide following of non-Houthis, was deposed in the coup that installed Hadi. When Saleh was president of Yemen, he also fought a Houthi insurrection. While there is little doubt that all sides in the Yemen civil war (including al Qaeda and ISIS) have committed war crimes of various degree, only the US/Saudi coalition has bombed defenseless civilian populations. There is a special deceit in the UAE suggestion that the Houthis in 2015 are the cause of the Yemen humanitarian crisis in 2016. A year of largely indiscriminate bombing by the US/Saudi forces is the more proximate and powerful cause, as is the year-long US/Saudi naval blockade that keeps Yemenis caught in the bomb range while at the same time denying them food, medicine, and other essentials for survival. Nevertheless, according to the UAE editorial, the Houthis – who have suffered attacks by ISIL – are somehow responsible for ISIL attacking coalition forces in the south.
The Houthis’ disregard for Yemen’s security created fertile ground for extremism to thrive, leading to the latest attacks by ISIL that killed 20 people in Aden on Friday.
Whatever “security” Yemen has had in recent years has been largely illusory. The US drone program in Yemen spent years creating insecurity and killing civilians until the US withdrew just ahead of the fall of the Hadi government (president Saleh had also sanctioned the lethal US military presence in Yemen). And why was the US there? Because Yemen was already “fertile ground for extremism,” in particular AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which now controls roughly half of Yemen’s southern coast, about 370 miles including the port city of Mukalla, with a 500,000 population. The effective allies in the US/Saudi war on the Houthis include not only the UAE and other coalition members, but also al Qaeda and ISIS – not in the sense that these “allies” share the same goals, but in the sense that the US/Saudi genocidal obsession with the Houthis has allowed and helped both ISIS and especially al Qaeda to expand and solidify positions in Yemen.
All the same, the UAE tries to blame the ISIL (ISIS) suicide bomb attacks in Aden on March 14, 2016, on the Houthis, when Aden is more or less under the military control of the Hadi government. Saudi and UAE forces have been deployed to Aden at least since July 2015, in limited numbers, to protect the Hadi government. The UAE has also secretly deployed hundreds of Colombian mercenary soldiers to Yemen, along with other mercenaries from Panama, El Salvador, and Chile, frequently commanded by Australians. During this same time period, neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE deployed any troops to fight ISIS in Syria. UAE troop strength in Yemen reportedly peaked in the fall of 2015 at about 5,000 troops of one nationality or another. Currently the UAE is estimated to have about 2,500 troops in Yemen as well as other deployments in Libya and Afghanistan. The UAE, with a population of about 6 million, has a military of some 65,000 active frontline personnel.
The UAE’s editorial summary of its year of war-making in Yemen relies on an imaginary threat of a wider war that would somehow have magically emerged from the possibility that the Houthis might secure their own country, or just part of it.
The precarious situation last year required swift intervention to guard against a wider conflict in the region. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies, including the UAE, realised that the security of Yemen was critical for the Arabian Peninsula at large and that a military operation would be required. Iran, which has a history of meddling in regional affairs, has been backing the Shiite Houthi group to fulfil its own nefarious agenda of expanding its footprint in the Middle East. Quite simply, unless we had taken firm action, our security would have been at risk. This has come at a great cost, including the lives of more than 80 UAE martyrs.
More than a year after collaborating in an aggressive war against Yemen, the UAE can cite no credible or rational or legal basis for joining the attack – unless “a nefarious agenda” turns out to be an obscure casus belli under international law. Worse, the UAE doesn’t even acknowledge, much less try to justify, the criminal brutality of its war.
This criminal brutality has been documented over and over by non-governmental organizations. Most recently, on April 7, Human Rights Watch issued a report centered on the war crime of bombing a civilian market, killing 97 civilians, 25 of them children. This is no isolated incident. The responsibility and guilt for these atrocities extends to those who sell the weapons as well as those who use them. As Human Rights Watch reported in part:
Since March 26, 2015, the UN and nongovernmental organizations have documented numerous airstrikes by coalition forces that violate the laws of war. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, established under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 (2013), in a report made public on January 26, “documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations” of the laws of war.
Human Rights Watch has documented 36 unlawful airstrikes – some of which may amount to war crimes – which have killed at least 550 civilians. Human Rights Watch has also documented 15 attacks in which internationally banned cluster munitions were used in or near cities and villages, wounding or killing civilians…. The coalition has used at least six types of cluster munitions, three delivered by air-dropped bombs and three by ground-launched rockets….
None of these war crimes could possibly be committed by the Houthis and their allies, since they have no air force. Whatever the atrocities committed by Houthis, Saleh’s forces, or others, the humanitarian suffering in Yemen is overwhelmingly the responsibility of the US/Saudi coalition, however the UAE editorial may spin it.
The UAE has also contributed greatly to humanitarian efforts in Yemen, especially as Operation Restoring Hope got under way. More than Dh1.6 billion has been spent on infrastructure and aid programmes to provide our brothers and sisters there with electricity, food, health services, water, sanitation, fuel and transport. We will continue to help the civilian population. Of course, the ultimate goal is a political solution that restores the legitimate government.
In late April a year ago, the Saudis announced that Operation Decisive Storm was over and had achieved its goals. Saudis also announced the beginning of Operation Restoring Hope which included airstrikes and other military actions, as well as some relief missions.
The claim that the UAE has spent more than 1.6 billion Dirham ($436 million) in and on Yemen is misleading. In 2015, the UAE apparently contributed that amount to United Nations humanitarian programs in Yemen, an amount exceeded only by Saudi Arabia. A contribution in the hundreds of millions of dollars appears generous, but represents only a couple of days of the cost of the war. Saudi Arabia is reportedly picking up most of the cost of the war: $200 million per day ($6 billion per month).
Joining a military campaign is never an easy decision to make, but in this case it was a necessary one. As the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said on Friday, the UAE is more powerful today with the sacrifice of its martyrs, and history will remember the important role Operation Decisive Storm has played in drawing “a line between acceptance and submission, and determination and will.”
So ends the official UAE version of its Yemen adventure, a version that imagines with complete falsity that the Houthi rebellion somehow put the UAE under threat of having to accept and submit. Accept and submit to what? The Houthi rebellion was a thousand miles from the UAE and has yet to go beyond Yemeni borders (except for the sporadic fighting along the Saudi border in the northwest). In reality, the US/Saudi coalition has long demanded that the Houthis accept and submit to domination by their Sunni enemies of a thousand years. Now, in mid-April 2016, an open-ended ceasefire of sorts is settling over Yemen, with the Houthis still in control of much of the country, and the Saudis continuing to bomb at will. Ironically, if anyone has so far shown true determination and will, it is the Houthis, in their resistance to a ruthless and relentless international coalition.
As for “joining a military campaign,” which the UAE officially says is “never an easy decision to make,” the UAE has apparently managed the difficult choice once again. Now the UAE has reportedly asked the US for significant increases in military support in order to escalate the war in Yemen against AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Officials in the US and the UAE refuse to comment on the report, which would be an expansion of fighting long under way. According to Iranian Press TV, tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE emerged after the UAE withdrew large numbers of troops following defeats in late 2015, leading to a recent plan by the Saudis to replace UAE troops with Jordanians.
On April 15, despite the five day old truce, US drone strikes and US-made apache helicopters attacked the city of al-Houta, near Aden in south Yemen. Coalition officials said al Qaeda forces had withdrawn and the government controlled the city, with five soldiers reportedly killed in an operation that took four hours.
The ceasefire that started April 10 has continued to remain in effect around most of the country, despite some violations. In the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, more than 100 miles north of al-Houta and still under Houthi control, tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out on April 15 for peaceful protest against continued airstrikes by the US/Saudi coalition.
The UN special envoy leading the peace talks scheduled to begin in Kuwait says peace has never been as close as it is today. Those talks include only “government” and “rebel” representatives. Most of the belligerents, including the US/Saudi coalition, al Qaeda, and ISIS, will not be taking part.
Only 6 percent of Americans surveyed in a new national poll say they have a lot of confidence in the media — a result driven by a widespread perception that news stories are one-sided or downright inaccurate. That finding came to mind as I heard New Yorker editor David Remnick introduce an April 17 segment on Syria on the New Yorker Radio Hour.
“For the last five years Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has framed the revolution in his country as a conspiracy fueled entirely by foreign powers,” Remnick claimed. “His security agencies have . . . killed hundreds of thousands and displaced possibly half of the entire country.”
The New Yorker is famous for its fact checkers, but Remnick evidently failed to consult them. Even a casual listener might have questioned his remarkable attribution of Syria’s entire death toll and refugee crisis to Assad’s security agencies, as if ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other rebel forces were mere innocent bystanders.
In fact, the dead include somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 pro-government forces, comparable to the number of opposition fighters killed, and human rights organizations report that “Opposition armed groups in Syria have indiscriminately attacked civilians in government-held territory with car bombs, mortars, and rockets.”
But what about Remnick’s claim that Assad’s crackdown was driven by paranoia about foreign conspiracies? Like a feature article in his magazine’s April 18 issue, Remnick’s shorthand attempt to portray Assad as insane as well as ruthless fails the test of good journalism.
The article by Ben Taub, which describes efforts by international rights activists to smuggle government documents out of Syria for future war crimes trials, says that Assad “declared his intention to suppress dissent in the brutal tradition of his father” during an address to the Syrian nation on March 30, 2011, shortly after the outbreak of anti-government demonstrations in several cities.
Taub makes his point with a few choice quotes from the speech: “Syria is facing a great conspiracy, whose tentacles extend” to foreign powers that were plotting to destroy the country, [Assad] said. “There is no conspiracy theory,” he added. “There is a conspiracy.” He closed with an ominous directive: “Burying sedition is a national, moral, and religious duty, and all those who can contribute to burying it and do not are part of it.” He emphasized, “There is no compromise or middle way in this.”
The quotes are accurate, but the missing context tells us important facts both about the origins of Syria’s violent conflict and what’s wrong with much advocacy journalism today. Assad certainly did see foreign conspiracies at work in Syria, but he was not paranoid. Unlike most of Taub’s readers, Assad knew that the first military coup in Syria’s modern history was instigated in 1949 by agents of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency.
That was not the last foreign covert intervention in Syria. In 1957, according to official papers summarized by The Guardian, “[Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan and President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria’s pro-western neighbours, and then to ‘eliminate’ the most influential triumvirate in Damascus. . .
“Although historians know that intelligence services had sought to topple the Syrian regime in the autumn of 1957, this is the first time any document has been found showing that the assassination of three leading figures was at the heart of the scheme.”
In 2005-6, as I documented previously in ConsortiumNews, Washington and Saudi Arabia began secretly backing Syria’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood with the goal of ousting Assad. Further details of that covert operation emerged just weeks after Assad’s March 30 speech, when the Washington Post reported that “The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country.”
The recipients were described in State Department cables as “moderate Islamists” and former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The paper continued:
“The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad . . .
“The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. . . .
“Syrian authorities ‘would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,’ read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time.”
In his March 30, 2011 address, Assad referred explicitly to the challenges his regime faced in 2005 and to recent anti-government violence incited by “satellite TV stations” — an obvious reference to Barada TV. So when Assad complained in his speech that “our enemies work every day in an organized, systematic and scientific manner in order to undermine Syria’s stability,” he was not merely delusional.
But Assad also took care to acknowledge Syria’s genuine internal problems and overdue reforms, “so that satellite T.V. stations will not say that the Syrian president considered all that has happened a foreign conspiracy.” Toward the end of his speech, Assad reiterated, “Since some people have short memory, I will refresh their memory once again by saying that not all of what is happening is a conspiracy, because I know that they are on the ready in their studios to comment.”
Despite Assad’s best efforts, Taub and Remnick evidently never got the message.
“We all discuss, criticize, and have our disagreements because we have not met many of the needs of the Syrian people,” Assad further conceded. “That is why it was easy to mislead many people who demonstrated in the beginning with good intentions. We cannot say that all those who demonstrated are conspirators. This is not true, and we want to be clear and realistic.”
Assad devoted much of his speech to explaining why reforms had moved so slowly since he took office in 2000. His message disappointed many Syrians, especially political critics living abroad. But, to the applause of other Syrians, he promised over the course of the following month to “identify the measures that need to be taken” for reform.
Unmentioned by Taub, Assad followed through with some significant steps. He fired unpopular governors of two provinces, named a new prime minister and cabinet, dismantled his unpopular National Security Court, and lifted the emergency law.
On April 16, Assad spoke to ministers of his new government, telling them that the most effective way for Syria to resist regime change was to carry out reforms and attend “to the needs of the Syrian population.”
Sounding not at all like a ruthless dictator, he also decried the loss of life during recent anti-government demonstrations, saying “the blood which has been spilled in Syria has pained us all. . . . We are sad for the loss of every Syrian and for all those who have been injured. We pray to God to provide solace to their families and friends.”
Assad discussed plans to lift the country’s state of emergency. He called for better training of police to help them “cope with the new reforms” and “protect demonstrators” while still preventing “sabotage.” He cited detailed proposals for improving the fight against public corruption. And he stressed the need for economic reforms to reduce unemployment and the despair felt by young people with no prospects.
Said Joshua Landis, a leading U.S. academic authority on Syria, Assad’s speech “was about as good” as he could have made it, and a big improvement on his March 30 address. “For those who continue to believe in the possibility of reform and not regime-change, this speech was reassuring.”
But anti-government demonstrators took Assad’s limited reforms as a challenge, not an opening. As I recounted previously, protesters declared one major city a “liberated zone,” prompting a massive crackdown by Assad’s security forces and gun battles between soldiers and armed opponents. Key opposition leaders also rebuffed national dialogue meetings sponsored by the Assad government in June and July of 2011, when the death toll was still low.
As Landis later commented, “Western press and analysts did not want to recognize that armed elements were becoming active. They preferred to tell a simple story of good people fighting bad people. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the opposition was peaceful and was being met with deadly government force and snipers. One only wonders why that story could not have been told without also covering the reality that armed elements, whose agenda was not peaceful, were also playing a role.”
The New Yorker, like much of the Western media, still prefers telling simple stories of good and evil when it comes to Syria. But quality journalism requires more than story-telling. It requires factual accuracy, context, and nuance, professional attributes needed more than ever during passionate times.
A less biased look at Assad’s words and actions would not absolve him of repression and war crimes, but might suggest that Syria’s opposition had peaceful alternatives to civil war.
We’ll never know, of course. But we do know for certain that by demanding nothing less than “regime change,” Assad’s opponents and their foreign backers contributed along with Assad’s own actions to one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time.
Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).
Isabel Kershner in The New York Times reports that Israelis are suffering from “a sense of vulnerability” after a bus bombing in Jerusalem this week. The event, she reports, sowed fear and anxiety in a population “already on edge” after a series of attacks over the past several months.
Although there were no reported deaths from the bombing, she writes that Israelis were reminded of the second Palestinian uprising “when suicide bombers blew up buses in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, killing scores.”
Missing from her account is any mention of Palestinian fear or vulnerability in spite of data showing that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli fatalities by a factor of five or more, depending on the time frame. The second intifada, for instance, which Kershner takes as her reference point, left 5,904 Palestinians dead compared with 1,163 Israelis.
She notes that “about 30” Israelis have died in the past six months in contrast to “more than 200” Palestinians, a rate of more than six to one. But this fact has not inspired her to look into Palestinian anxieties. Instead she once again attempts to place the blame on Palestinians, writing that they reportedly died in “attacks or attempted attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.”
Nothing is said of the frequent charges that Israeli troops have carried out “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no threat to them or others. (See TimesWarp 3-25-16.) Likewise, nothing is said about the crippling effects of the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the crucial background for this conflict.
Kershner entirely omits the context here while focusing on every possible source of Israeli angst: the bus bombing, the recent discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel, a belligerent statement by Hamas and the lone-wolf knife and vehicular attacks by Palestinians.
Discerning readers may ask why Palestinians are using kitchen knives and automobiles as their weapons of choice, but the Times is not about to address the question. It would underscore the fact that Palestinians are the vulnerable party, an unarmed and virtually helpless population contending with one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.
In fact, Palestinians face daily threats from Israeli weapons, ranging from bulldozers to drones to live fire. Gaza farmers tending their fields near the border with Israel and fishermen at sea are frequently targeted by Israeli bullets and shells. West Bank communities confront the threat of land confiscation, settler attacks and demolitions that destroy homes and livelihoods.
And unarmed protesters in Gaza and the West Bank have been injured and killed during non-violent demonstrations. In fact, Israeli security forces injured a shocking number of Palestinians last year, a total of 14,925. As of April 11 this year, troops had already wounded 1,627.
According to United Nations data, Israeli forces have injured an average of 109 Palestinians each week in 2016. By comparison, Palestinians are wounding an average of four Israelis weekly. Yet it is Israeli “vulnerability” that takes center stage in the Times.
Kershner writes that “the threat of the tunnels continues to sow fear in Israeli communities along the border,” but she fails to say that not a single Israeli civilian has been harmed because of the tunnels. During the 2014 attacks on Gaza, they were used solely for targeting Israeli troops.
Palestinians, on the other hand, have reason to feel vulnerable, and they have reason to build tunnels as one of the few means of defense when they are under attack from Israeli weapons, but the Times has no interest in reporting this. It is only Israeli angst that matters here.
Israelis may have to deal with their fears, but Palestinians have to face much more: the loss of land, water, mobility, security and dignity. They have concrete and verifiable casualties, and they have to contend with their own defenselessness and fears, but in spite of all the evidence, the Times has turned its back on their narrative, joining Israel in blaming the victim.
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America resembles a banana republic. Its sham political process has no legitimacy, democracy in name only, voters with no say whatever.
Democrat party bosses intend nominating Clinton at their July convention – rigging primaries to assure it, perhaps the tainted NY one the latest example.
Republican counterparts want anyone but Trump, despite overwhelming GOP voter support he enjoys.
America’s political process is rigged, too debauched to fix, a vital issue media scoundrels ignore. Instead they pretend US elections show democracy works – for the privileged few alone, excluding most others.
A same day article asked if Clinton stole the NY primary, explaining it was rife with irregularities, including disenfranchising over 125,000 NYC voters and various other disturbing practices.
Media scoundrels airbrushed Tuesday electoral irregularities from their reports. The New York Times headlined “A Homecoming, and a Triumph, for Hillary Clinton in New York” – instead of explaining electoral irregularities too serious to ignore, tainting Democrat primary results, questioning their legitimacy.
The Times suppressed dirty politics, diverting attention from what’s most important, saying Clinton “danced the merengue in Washington Heights.”
“She slammed down a mean game of dominoes in East Harlem (and) d(ug) into an ice cream concoction named the Victory.”
The entire article was an unabashed Clinton commercial. Times editors endorsed her earlier, shill for her repeatedly, outrageously call her “the most broadly and deeply qualified (aspirant) in modern history.”
They ignore her pure evil, the greatest threat to world peace among all the deplorable candidates – none worthy of any public office, let alone the nation’s highest.
The neocon Washington Post was no better, highlighting Clinton saying “(t)here’s no place like home,” the Democrat party nomination “nearly within her grasp…”
WaPo quoted her hawkishness, risking possible global war if elected, saying “at a time when terrorists are plotting new attacks and countries like Russia, China and Iran are making aggressive moves, protecting America’s national security cannot be an afterthought.”
“Our next president has to be just as passionate about defending our country as she is about fixing our economy.”
No WaPo explanation about America facing no threats except ones it invents. Nothing about Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, war-profiteers and other corporate favorites.
Not a word about likely NY primary electoral rigging, voter rolls purged, other disturbing irregularities, or explaining America’s sham political process.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted Clinton, saying “(t)he race for the Democratic (sic) nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight.”
The fix is in to hand it to her, the nation’s highest office likely following after November elections.
She represents monied interests, not popular ones, supports endless wars of aggression, not world peace and stability.
She’s the greatest threat to humanity’s survival, more than any other presidential aspirant in US history. If elected in November, WW III may follow.
Media scoundrels ignore what’s most vital to hammer home to readers and viewers without letup. Instead they support what demands condemnation.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”