Just over a week into the Trump Administration, the President issued an Executive Order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the Order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies, and how to pay for the operation.
As we approach the president’s deadline it looks like the military is going to present Trump with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results. Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of US troops into Syria and Iraq.
This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 US troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.
The current Syria ceasefire, brokered without US involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of US troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?
In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.
First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?
Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.
Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?
Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less US activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more. Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has proposed the formation of a forum with the participation of Persian Gulf Arab states in order to build a common goal toward overcoming problems.
“Countries in the Persian Gulf region need to surmount the current state of division and tension and instead move in the direction of erecting realistic regional arrangements. It can perhaps start with a modest regional dialog forum,” he said on Sunday.
Zarif addressed the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top diplomats and defense officials, urging Arab states to work with Iran to address “anxieties” and violence across the region.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week traveled to Oman and Kuwait to try improve ties, his first visit to the Persian Gulf states since taking power in 2013.
“On regional dialog, I’m modest and I’m focusing on the Persian Gulf. We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialog with countries we call brothers in Islam,” Zarif said.
“We need to address common problems and perceptions that have given rise to anxieties and the level of violence in the region,” he added, when asked whether Tehran would also consider a region-wide dialog.
Zarif earlier criticized four-decades of well financed “Takfiri” ideology which has its roots in Saudi Arabia and is followed by extremist groups such as Daesh, al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front.
Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed ties with Iran last January after protesters in Tehran and Mashhad attacked its diplomatic premises following the kingdom’s execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Some of Riyadh’s allies followed suit and cut or downgraded their ties with Iran.
It was choosing regional enmity, Zarif said, that had in part spawned such extremist outfits such as Daesh and al-Nusra Front.
“For nearly four decades, a well-financed global proliferation of Takfiri ideology based on division, hatred and rejection, which everybody would agree has nothing to do with Islam, has been sold as promoting a so-called ‘moderate Islam’ to confront an erroneously-framed ‘radical Iran,” he noted.
The other contributors to the rise of such groups were “the endemic problem of foreign occupation and invasion,” and their arming and financing by some states in the region, Zarif added.
‘War not the answer’
Addressing other crises in the Middle East, the top Iranian diplomat said conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain “do not have military solutions,” adding “each requires a political solution, where no genuine actor is excluded.”
As a case in point testifying to “the success of diplomacy over coercion” is the 2015 conclusion of a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, he said.
The accord, he said, held “an important political lesson: All parties concerned defined the problem in a mutually acceptable way so that they could find a solution in a mutually acceptable way.”
Zarif brushed aside new pressure from the United States, declaring that his country is “unmoved by threats” but responds well to respect.
President Donald Trump has adopted a harsh language towards Iran, threatening to “tear up” the nuclear deal, calling Iran “terrorist state number one,” and imposing new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Zarif said, “Iran doesn’t respond well to threats. We don’t respond well to coercion. We don’t respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios.”
“Iran is unmoved by threats. Everybody tested us for many years — all threats and coercions were imposed on us,” Zarif added.
The minister once again dismissed any suggestions Iran would ever seek to develop nuclear weapons. He mocked “the concept of crippling sanctions,” which he said merely ended with Iran having acquired thousands more centrifuges, used for enriching uranium.
Iran has always said it has no interest in nuclear weapons. Asked how long it would take to make one if it did decide it wanted such weapons, Zarif replied: “We are not going to produce nuclear weapons, period. So it will take forever for Iran to produce nuclear weapons.”
The Munich event discusses such issues as the future of the US-led military alliance of NATO, world order and security, terrorism, extremism, and various regional matters.
Last week, Amnesty International published a report that was severely criticised for literally fabricating evidence to support implausible accusations against the Syrian government. The report included a project of ‘Forensic Architecture’ that served in guiding the imagination as to the horrors that might be perpetrated in a building used for torture and execution. Computerised modelling of this kind may have its uses, but it clearly has limitations when it comes to determining who may have done what in a building. A computer can only simulate on the basis of inputs. The inputs come from elsewhere, and they may or may not be reliable or appropriately detailed.
This week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced that they too have been commissioning research in Forensic Architecture. This might seem a strange thing for an organisation of doctors to be doing. Still, their ostensible concern is that the bombing of hospitals – something contrary to the law of war and human morality – should not go unrecorded nor, ultimately, unpunished. An added difficulty is that ‘often, the only real redress available to MSF is to publicly denounce perpetrators of bombings in the hope that the damage to their image will incite them to modify their practices.’ Denunciations may have little enough effect, particularly when even the grounds for them is uncertain. Where there is a known threat of danger to the staff running a hospital, MSF prudently does not even attempt to operate. The organisation does sometimes offer support of some kind to medics who do work in war zones, however, like the province of Idlib in Syria.
Just over a year ago, the MSF-supported Ma’arat Al Numan hospital in Idlib province was hit by an airstrike. At the time, ‘Dr Mego Terzian, president of MSF’s French section, publicly accused the Russian-Syrian coalition of being responsible for the bombings – a conviction based on an analysis of the context, the military forces present and testimonies from Syrian civilians (some known to MSF for some time) who were at the scene.’ However, the accusation sparked ‘much heated debate within the MSF Movement. On what grounds is MSF accusing Russia and Syria? How reliable are the witness statements it is using to support its allegations?’ (See also my recent article on How We Were Misled About Syria by MSF.)
Now, MSF tells us, ‘The Forensic Architecture team has conducted an investigation based on videos and photographs circulating on social media, taken by medical personnel, activists and ordinary citizens.’
‘While their investigation does not provide solid evidence, it does confirm MSF’s conviction as to the responsibility of Syrian and Russian forces in the bombing of the hospital in Ma’arat Al Numan.’
So, no evidence, and yet a confirmation of a ‘conviction’?
I think perhaps the research team promoting this new use of computerised modelling should make clear the limitations of its proper use. The recent case of Amnesty International appealing to the same source of non-evidence highlights an overreach that the researchers now risk seeming complicit in. The timing of the release of these dramatic pieces of non-evidence hardly looks accidental to any serious observer. Do the people at Forensic Architecture really want to be seen as partners in a continued drive to destabilise the Middle East?
As for MSF, and this goes for Amnesty International too, their publications on Syria sometimes read like the worst kind of tabloid journalism. Exaggerated headline claims backed up by no supporting evidence, and with crucial caveats, if included at all, tucked away where they are unlikely to register with any but the most cautious readers.
Is there something going on in the direction of those organisations that is not quite what ordinary supporters among the public believe?
 On the fabrication see Tony Cartalucci. The report was critically analysed by Rick Sterling as well as Moon of Alabama. The former UK Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who had earlier visited the prison in question, stated the report ‘would not stand scrutiny’. A former prisoner there, who remains an opponent of Assad, stated that while atrocious things certainly occurred, the scale of Amnesty’s claims was preposterous. Further critical discussions are cited here.
 MSF say, ‘Investigations use amateur photographs and video footage to help reconstruct the “crime scene”‘. Specifically, they add, ‘Using cartography, image analysis, and legal and architectural expertise, research agency Forensic Architecture collects and analyses images taken of a crime committed by a State to establish the facts and ascertain who was responsible.’ An obvious question concerns the difference between establishing the facts of physical changes undergone by a structure and attributing responsibility for causing them, since the latter challenge necessarily involves input of extra-architectural data.
I have never been overly sold on Owen Jones. From his platform at the Guardian, he has spent far too much time whining about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to reach out to voters rather than using his rare spot in the mainstream media to help him to do precisely that.
But this news has knocked me sideways. It was announced yesterday that Jones is lined up to give a memorial lecture in April on behalf of the Jewish Labour Movement – the same group implicated in the recent efforts of the Israeli embassy to damage a Corbyn-led Labour party with confected allegations of anti-semitism. All of this was exposed last month in an undercover Al Jazeera investigation.
The Jewish Labour Movement was effectively shown to be acting as a front for the Israeli government’s efforts to oust Corbyn over a supposed anti-semitism crisis in the party. Israel hates Corbyn because of his long-standing position in support of Palestinian rights.
The announcement of Jones’ lecture was written by Ella Rose, the former Israeli embassy official who tried to conceal her past after she became the director of the Jewish Labour Movement.
She was one of those caught on Al Jazeera’s hidden cameras – in her case threatening to beat up black-Jewish Labour party activist Jackie Walker, who has been the prime target of these phoney anti-semitism allegations. None of this is secret history. I first wrote about the Jewish Labour Movement’s role in trying to subvert Corbyn back in September.
It is not even as though we can credit Jones with some kind of live-and-let-live attitude to free speech. Remember back in 2013 he pulled out at the last minute, and without warning, as a speaker at an important Stop the War rally to prevent British military intervention in Syria. His grounds? He had come under fire from the armchair interventionists because he was to speak alongside Mothers Agnes, a Syrian-based nun who was seen as being too pro-Assad. (The reasons Syrian Christians like Mother Agnes might support Bashar al-Assad were pretty obvious even then, but are blindingly so now.)
Mother Agnes pulled out of the rally to try to salvage it, but Jones continued to refuse to take part.
I criticised Jones then over his cowardly and irresponsible behaviour. Now he needs to explain how the principles that drove him away from the Stop the War rally can allow him to support a group, the Jewish Labour Movement, that is so clearly and maliciously attempting to subvert the elected leader of the Labour party.
Owen Jones has responded to this blog post both on Twitter, calling it “tedious nonsense” in his usual, dismissive style, and with a post here that tries to deflect attention from my argument with a straw man: that a conspiracy theory is painting him as a stooge of the Israeli government.
No conspiracy is being posited here – only very, very poor judgment. I have also not accused him of working on behalf of the Israeli government. Only of assisting, presumably thoughtlessly, those who are working on behalf of the Israeli government inside the Jewish Labour Movement, including most definitely its current director, Ella Rose.
Sadly, though predictably, he has avoided addressing the point of my criticism.
It is great that he wants to pay his respects to a friend’s late father, and I am sure there are responsible ways he can do that. But one of them is certainly not by adding his name and credibility to an organisation that was recently exposed by an undercover investigation to have been acting as a front for Israeli government efforts to subvert the elected leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The Jewish Labour Movement has been working to confect allegations of anti-semitism against other Labour party members. That is a serious form of verbal violence against members of Jones’ own party that has the power to do its victims great harm, personally and professionally.
Let’s not also forget, as I pointed out, that Ella Rose, who will be hosting Owen Jones’ lecture, was filmed threatening physical violence against a fellow Labour party member, Jackie Walker.
I was astounded that Jones accepted this offer from the Jewish Labour Movement. I am even more astonished that he is so casually dismissive of the very real harm caused by the actions of this organisation and its leaders.
Depressing to see that Owen Jones has now retweeted approvingly a conspiracy theory against critics like me. Apparently we are CIA-funded. Paradoxically, in Jones’ original response, he accused his critics of being “conspiracy theorists”.
That’s right readers! It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about!
It would be the most efficient, cost effective and best for the Syrian people. It is already a safe zone- UN peacekeepers are in the area and more can be deployed. Therefore displaced Syrians can be moved within Syria’s territory, back to Golan and quite easily be resettled. The land is rich. Fertile soil. Water and natural resources are abundant. No burden for the EU. Canada. The US.
The international community does NOT recognize Israel’s claim on Syria’s territorial land. Therefore the land claimed by Israel is Syrian territory! For the Syrian people!
Israel has no legal/lawful claim to the land. It is Syrian territory.
Refugee problem solved.
It’s as easy as that Donald Trump!
WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
Most of the world considers the Golan, a high plateau between northeastern Israel and southwestern Syria, to be occupied by Israel, which annexed the territory in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
Don’t do it Mr Trump-
The UN Security Council has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the annexed Golan Heights in Syria would “for ever” remain under Israeli control.
The 15-member council agreed on Tuesday that the status of the Golan, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967, “remains unchanged”, Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds this month’s council presidency said.
Liu recalled a 1981 resolution which states that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was nul and void and without any international legal effect.”
The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria due to deliberate acts of sabotage by Daesh terrorists targeting a key dam and US-led coalition air raids on the facility.
In a report seen by Reuters on Wednesday, the UN raised alarm about high water levels in the Tabqa dam, commonly known as the Euphrates dam, an earth-filled facility on the Euphrates River located 40 kilometers upstream from the Daesh-held Syrian city of Raqqah.
Water levels on the river have risen by some 10 meters since January 24 due mainly to the Daesh opening of three turbines of the dam and partly as a result of heavy rainfall and snow, the report said.
“As per local experts, any further rise of the water level would submerge huge swathes of agricultural land along the river and could potentially damage the Tabqa dam, which would have catastrophic humanitarian implications in all areas downstream,” the UN report further said.
It also noted that the US-led aerial attacks had already damaged the entrance to the dam.
“For example, on 16 January 2017, airstrikes on the western countryside of Raqqah impacted the entrance of the Euphrates dam, which, if further damaged, could lead to massive scale flooding across Raqqah and as far away as Dayr al-Zawr,” the report added.
The US-led coalition has been carrying out air raids against what are said to be Daesh positions inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate. Analysts have assessed the strikes as unsuccessful as they have led to civilian deaths and failed to counter terrorism.
Last month, Russia accused the US-led coalition of “systematically” bombing Syria’s economic infrastructure rather than oil production facilities seized by Daesh.
The UN report also accused retreating Daesh elements of having deliberately destroyed vital Syrian infrastructure, including three water stations and five water towers, just in the first three weeks of January.
Daesh “has reportedly mined water pumping stations on the Euphrates River which hinders the pumping of water and residents are resorting to untreated water from the Euphrates River,” it said.
Syrian army soldiers and allied fighters have been fighting against different foreign-backed terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the Arab country since 2011.
Over the past few months, the Syrian forces have made sweeping gains against the Takfiri terrorists, who have lately increased their acts of violence in revenge for the blows they have been suffering on the ground.
More than 5,000 rounds of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition were used in two attacks on Islamic State oil tankers in eastern Syria, the US military has confirmed. The US-led coalition previously pledged it would not use the controversial ordnance.
A spokesman for the US Central Command (CENTCOM) told Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing DU rounds were used in November 2015, during two air raids against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) oil tanker convoys in the Deir ez-Zor and Hasakah provinces in eastern Syria.
A-10 ground attack aircraft fired the projectiles from their 30mm rotating cannons, destroying about 500 tanker trucks, according to CENTCOM spokesman Major Josh Jacques.
In March 2015, spokesman for the US-led coalition John Moore had explicitly ruled out the use of the controversial ammunition, saying that “US and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.” The Pentagon explained that armor-piercing DU rounds were not necessary because IS did not have the tanks it was designed to penetrate.
Investigative reporter Samuel Oakford first brought up the use of DU ammunition by the coalition in October 2016, when a US Air Force congressional liaison told Representative Martha McSally (R-Arizona) that A-10s flying missions over Syria had fired 6,479 rounds of “combat mix” on two occasions. The officer explained that a fifth of the “combat mix” consisted of high-explosive incendiary (HEI) rounds, while the rest were DU armor-piercers.
The first attack took place on November 16, near Al-Bukamal in the Deir ez-Zor province, with US planes destroying 116 tanker trucks. The strike took place entirely in Syrian territory. According to CENTCOM, 1,790 rounds of “combat mix” were used during the strike, including 1,490 rounds of DU.November 16
The second attack, on November 22, destroyed 283 oil tankers in the desert between Deir ez-Zor and Hasakah. On this occasion, the A-10s fired 4,530 rounds – of which 3,775 were DU armor-piercers.
Depleted uranium is prized by the US military for exceptional toughness, which enables it to pierce heavy tank armor. However, airborne DU particles can contaminate nearby ground and water and pose a significant risk of toxicity, birth defects and cancer when inhaled or ingested by humans or animals.
The coalition’s promise not to use DU munitions in Iraq was made after an estimated one million rounds were used during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. Between Iraq and the Balkans, where they were also used in the 1990s, DU rounds have been blamed on a massive increase in cancer and birth defects.
DU is also the prime suspect in the medical condition dubbed the “Gulf War Syndrome” afflicting US veterans of the 1991 conflict and some peacekeepers deployed in the Balkans.
The situation with peace talks on Syria is currently “more favorable” for things to really get better in the war-torn country, Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov has said. Obama’s team slowed down the process, but under Trump things might improve, according to the diplomat.
“We are currently in the situation… that is much more favorable to start working on a real settlement of the crisis. We were close to it in September last year, but the Americans failed to implement an agreement which had been coordinated with us earlier, which once more confirmed the Obama’s administration inability to negotiate on many issues,” Russia’s foreign minister said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV.
“They took an agreement, and then couldn’t do anything [within it],” Sergey Lavrov said, adding that “largely because of Obama’s reluctance to have an argument with some countries in the region,” a settlement through the UN’s participation “turned to [result in] zero progress.”
Moscow could no longer rely on such dragging partnerships, Russia’s top diplomat said, adding that a decision has been made to take action in other ways, such as through Russian-Turkish relations.
“We know that Turkey has influenced and continues to influence a very considerable number of field commanders,” Lavrov said, noting that Moscow’s cooperation with Ankara resulted in a ceasefire agreement in Syria in late December last year.
“I want to make it clear: we’ve already said on different levels that we are not trying to undermine UN’s efforts [in resolving the Syrian crisis]. Although our initiative was largely based on [others’] inaction, we understand that many more sides should be involved in peace talks than those currently working on Astana [negotiations],” Lavrov told NTV. There should be more participants both from Syria and “players from the outside,” he added.
Parallel to the Astana peace process, Moscow is preparing for talks under the auspices of the United Nations, the minister said, adding that so far such a meeting has been confirmed for February 20.
Talking of Moscow’s expectations of those talks, Lavrov said that the “whims” of some Syrian opposition groups’ leaders, “especially of those who have long been living outside Syria,” should not be taken into consideration. “If it once again becomes a hindrance to hold UN talks, then the organization’s reputation will be seriously damaged,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, Russia has been actively involved in meetings on Syria in Astana, where talks with the participation of Ankara and Tehran have recently finished. The sides have generally agreed details on cease fire monitoring, the minister said, adding that the agreements reached “will soon be implemented.” Efforts to summon more fighting groups in Syria to join in talks with the Syrian government are also in the works, he added.
Saying that US representatives were present at the first meeting in Astana as monitors, Lavrov confirmed that an invitation has been sent to Washington to take part in the talks once a new team on the Middle East and Syria is formed under the incoming Trump administration.
Moscow is fully aware that relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated with Trump’s arrival in the White House, Lavrov said, but added that Russia “stands for common sense.”
“If US President Trump’s main priority on the international arena is fighting terrorism, then it should be admitted that in Syria not only the Syrian army supported by Russian Air Force are fighting ISIL [Islamic State terrorist group, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also Hezbollah groups supported by Iran [are involved in the anti-terrorist fight],” Lavrov said. “There’s a choice of priorities here.”
The minister added that while Americans are known for their “pragmatic” policies, it “wouldn’t be pragmatic to just precariously exclude Iran from the anti-terrorist coalition.” Russia, on its side, “always treats any country’s stance with respect,” he said, having expressed Moscow’s willingness to discuss any ways to solve the crisis, “even those that absolutely contradict” Russia’s views.
“I am sure that Donald Trump is absolutely sincere when he every time confirms his determination to defeat IS. We are ready to cooperate with him,” Lavrov said, having expressed hopes that cooperation between the Russian and American military in Syria “will soon start to form again.”
Amnesty International (AI) has done some good investigations and reports over the years, which has won the group widespread support. However, less well recognized, Amnesty International has also carried out faulty investigations with bloody and disastrous consequences.
One prominent example is in Iraq, where AI “corroborated” the false story that Iraqi soldiers were stealing incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the cold floor. The deception was planned and carried out in Washington to influence the U.S. public and Congress.
A more recent example is from 2011 where false accusations were being made about Libya and Muammar Gaddafi as Western and Gulf powers sought to overthrow his government. AI leaders joined the campaign claiming that Gaddafi was using “mercenaries” to threaten and kill peacefully protesting civilians. The propaganda was successful in muting criticism of what became an invasion and “regime change.”
Going far beyond a United Nations Security Council resolution to “protect civilians,” NATO launched sustained air attacks and toppled the Libyan government leading to chaos, violence and a flood of refugees. AI later refuted the “mercenary” accusations but the damage was done.
Now, on Feb. 7, Amnesty International released a new report titled “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison,” which accuses the Syrian government of executing thousands of political prisoners, a set of accusations that has received uncritical treatment in the mainstream news media.
Like the Iraq/Kuwait incubator story and the Libyan “mercenary” story, the “Human Slaughterhouse” report is coming at a critical time. It accuses and convicts the Syrian government of horrible atrocities against civilians – and AI explicitly calls for the international community to take “action.” But the AI report is deeply biased and amounts to a kangaroo-court conviction of the Syrian government.
AI’s Standards Ignored
The Amnesty International report violates the organization’s own research standards. As documented by Professor Tim Hayward here, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, claims that Amnesty does its research “in a very systematic, primary, way where we collect evidence with our own staff on the ground. And every aspect of our data collection is based on corroboration and cross-checking from all parties, even if there are, you know, many parties in any situation because of all of the issues we deal with are quite contested. So it’s very important to get different points of view and constantly cross check and verify the facts.”
But the Amnesty report fails on all counts: it relies on third parties, it did not gather its information from different points of view, and it did not cross-check with all parties. The report’s conclusions are not based on primary sources, material evidence or AI’s own staff; the findings are solely based on the claims of anonymous individuals, mostly in southern Turkey from where the war on Syria is coordinated.
Amnesty gathered witnesses and testimonies from only one side of the conflict: the Western- and Gulf-supported opposition. For example, AI consulted with the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which is known to seek NATO intervention in Syria. AI “liased” with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an organization funded by the West to press criminal charges against the Syrian leadership. These are obviously not neutral, independent or nonpartisan organizations.
If AI were doing what its Secretary General claims the organization always does, AI would have consulted with organizations within or outside Syria to hear different accounts of life at Saydnaya Prison. Since the AI report has been released, the AngryArab has published the account of a Syrian dissident, Nizar Nayyouf, who was imprisoned at Saydnaya. He contradicts many statements in the Amnesty International report, the type of cross-checking that AI failed to do for this important study.
Amnesty’s accusation that executions were “extrajudicial” is exaggerated or false. By Amnesty’s own description, each prisoner appeared briefly before a judge and each execution was authorized by a high government leader. We do not know if the judge looked at documentation or other information regarding each prisoner. One could argue that the process as described was superficial, but it’s clear that even if AI’s allegations are true, there was some kind of judicial process.
Amnesty’s suggestion that all Saydnaya prisoners are convicted is false. Amnesty quotes one witness who says about the court: “The judge will ask the name of the detainee and whether he committed the crime. Whether the answer is yes or no, he will be convicted.” But this assertion is contradicted by a former Saydnaya prisoner who is now a refugee in Sweden. In this news report, the former prisoner says the judge “asked him how many soldiers he had killed. When he said none, the judge spared him.” This is evidence that there is a judicial process of some sort and there are acquittals.
The Amnesty report includes satellite photographs with captions which are meaningless or erroneous. For example, as pointed out by Syrian dissident Nizar Nayyouf, the photo on page 30 showing a Martyrs Cemetery is “silly beyond silly.” The photo and caption show that the cemetery doubled in size. However, this does not prove hangings of prisoners who would never be buried in a “martyrs cemetery” reserved for Syrian army soldiers. On the contrary, it confirms the fact which Amnesty International otherwise ignores: Syrian soldiers have died in large numbers.
The Amnesty report falsely claims — based on data provided by one of the groups seeking NATO intervention — “The victims are overwhelmingly ordinary civilians who are thought to oppose the government.” While it’s surely true that innocent civilians are sometimes wrongly arrested, as happens in all countries, the suggestion that Saydnaya prison is filled with 95 percent “ordinary civilians” is preposterous. Amnesty International can only make this claim without facing ridicule because AI and other Western organizations have effectively “disappeared” the reality of Syria.
Other essential facts, which are completely missing from the Amnesty report, include:
–Western powers and Gulf monarchies have spent billions of dollars annually since 2011 to recruit, fund, train, arm and support with sophisticated propaganda a violent campaign to overthrow the Syrian government;
–As part of this operation, tens of thousands of foreign fanatics have invaded Syria and tens of thousands of Syrians have been radicalized and paid by Wahhabi monarchies in the Gulf to overthrow the government;
–More than 100,000 Syrian Army and National Defense soldiers have been killed defending their country. Most of this is public information yet ignored by Amnesty International and other mainstream media in the West. This “regime change” operation has been accompanied by a massive distortion and cover-up of reality.
–Without providing evidence, Amnesty International accuses the highest Sunni religious leader in Syria, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, of authorizing the execution of “ordinary civilians.” While the Grand Mufti is a personal victim of the war’s violence – his son was murdered by terrorists near Aleppo – he has consistently called for reconciliation. Following the assassination of his son, Grand Mufti Hassoun gave an eloquent speech expressing forgiveness for the murderers and calling for an end to the violence.
What does it say about Amnesty International that it makes specific personal accusations, against people who have personally suffered, yet provides no evidence of guilt?
In the report, Amnesty uses sensational and emotional accusations in place of factual evidence. The title of the report is “Human Slaughterhouse.” And what goes with a “slaughterhouse”? A “meat fridge.” So, the report uses the expression “meat fridge” seven separate times, presumably in an attempt to strengthen the central metaphor of a slaughterhouse.
Even the report’s opening quotation is hyperbolic: “Saydnaya is the end of life – the end of humanity.” The report is in sharp contrast with fact-based objective research and investigation; it appears designed to manipulate emotions and thus create new public support in the West for another escalation of the war.
Yet, Amnesty International’s accusations that the Syrian government is carrying out a policy of “extermination” are contradicted by the fact that the vast majority of Syrians prefer to live in government-controlled areas. When the “rebels” were finally driven out of East Aleppo in December 2016, 90 percent of civilians rushed into areas under government control.
In recent days, civilians from Latakia province who had been imprisoned by terrorists for the past three years have been liberated in a prisoner exchange. [This video shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife meeting with some of the civilians.]
The Amnesty report is accompanied by a three-minute propaganda cartoon that reinforces the narrative that Syrian civilians who protest peacefully are imprisoned and executed. Echoing the theme of the report, the animation is titled “Saydnaya Prison: Human Slaughterhouse.” Amnesty International appears to be in denial that there are tens of thousands of violent extremists in Syria, setting off car bombs, launching mortars and otherwise attacking civilian areas every day.
Given the national crisis – with so many violent jihadists to confront – it makes little sense that Syrian security or prison authorities would waste resources on non-violent civilians although that does not mean that the Syrian government has clean hands either. Mistakes and abuses surely happen in this war like all wars.
But the AI report is more like the propaganda that has surrounded the Syrian conflict from the beginning, lacking in balance and reminiscent of the “perception management” used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the West’s assault on Libya in 2011. AI’s hyperbole is also contradicted by the fact that Syria has many opposition parties that compete for seats in the National Assembly and campaign openly for public support from both the right and left of the Baath Party.
AI’s claim that Syrian authorities brutally repress peaceful protests further ignores the Syrian reconciliation process. For the past several years, armed opposition militants have been encouraged to lay down their weapons and peacefully rejoin society, a program largely unreported in Western media because it contradicts the “black hat” narrative of the Syrian government. [A recent example is reported here.]
The Amnesty report cites the “Caesar” photographs as supporting evidence for its “slaughterhouse” accusations but ignores the fact that nearly half those photographs show the opposite of what was claimed. The widely publicized “Caesar photographs” was a Qatari-funded hoax designed to sabotage the 2014 Geneva negotiations as documented here.
While the Amnesty report makes many accusations against the Syrian government, AI ignores the violation of Syrian sovereignty being committed by Western and Gulf countries. It is a curious fact that big NGOs such as Amnesty International focus on violations of “human rights law” and “humanitarian law” but ignore the crime of aggression, also called the crime against peace.
According to the Nuremberg Tribunal, aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and former President of the U.N. General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, is someone who should know. He says, “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.” Amnesty International ignores this reality.
Background and Context
The co-author of this Amnesty International report is Nicolette Waldman (Boehland), who was uncritically interviewed on DemocracyNow! on Feb. 9. The background and previous work of Waldman shows the inter-connections between influential Washington “think tanks” and the billionaires’ foundations that fund “non-governmental organizations” – NGOs – that claim to be independent but are clearly not.
Waldman previously worked for the “Center for Civilians in Conflict,” which is directed by leaders from George Soros’s Open Society, the Soros-funded Human Rights Watch, Blackrock Solutions and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
CNAS may be the most significant indication of political orientation since it is led by Michele Flournoy, who was expected to become Secretary of Defense if Hillary Clinton had won the election. CNAS has been a leading force behind neoconservative and liberal-interventionist plans to escalate the war in Syria. While past work or associations do not always define new or future work, in this case the sensational and dubious accusations seem to align with those political goals. [Soros’s Open Society has also provided funds to Amnesty International.]
So what to make of Amnesty International’s new report? The once widely respected human rights organization has, in the recent past, let itself be used as a propaganda tool to justify Western aggression against Iraq and Libya, which seems to be the role that AI is playing now in Syria.
The Amnesty International report is a mix of hearsay accusations and sensationalism that tracks with the Western propaganda themes that have surrounded the Syrian war from the start. Because of Amnesty’s undeserved reputation for independence and accuracy, the report has been picked up and broadcast widely. Liberal and supposedly progressive media outlets have joined in dutifully echoing the questionable accusations.
Little or no skepticism is applied when the target is the Syrian government, which has faced years of foreign-sponsored aggression. If this report justifies another escalation of the conflict, as Amnesty International seems to want, the group will again be serving as a rationalizer for Western aggression against Syria, just like it did in Iraq and Libya.
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amnesty International is inextricably compromised in its stated duty to hold nations accountable for human rights violations through its direct connections with Western political interests and their use of the organization as a tool of geopolitical influence and coercion.
The report itself states clearly (emphasis added): As such, reports like its most recent titled, “Syria: Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison, Syria,” begs belief. The report begs belief not just because of the systematic campaign of disinformation and war propaganda Amnesty International has been engaged in against Syria specifically, or the many fallacious reports it has published targeting Washington, London, and Brussels’ political enemies elsewhere, but particularly because of the report’s own admitted methodology.
The research for this report took place between December 2015 and December 2016. Amnesty International interviewed 31 men who were detained at Saydnaya (also spelt Sednaya) between 2011 and 2015.
The report also admits (emphasis added):
Amnesty International also interviewed four prison officials or guards who previously worked at Saydnaya; three former judges, one of whom served in the Military Court in the al-Mezzeh neighbourhood of Damascus; three doctors who worked at Tishreen Military Hospital; four Syrian lawyers; 17 international and national experts on detention in Syria, such as investigators, analysts and monitors; and 22 family members of people who were or still are believed to be detained at Saydnaya. The majority of these interviews took place in person in southern Turkey. The remaining interviews were conducted by telephone or through other remote means with interviewees still in Syria, or with individuals based in Lebanon, Jordan, European countries and the USA.
In essence, Amnesty International admits to having no actual, physical evidence. It also is admitting it never stepped foot on Syrian soil, let alone anywhere around or in the prison their 48 page report covers. The report itself admits:
Despite repeated requests by Amnesty International for access to Syria, and specifically for access to detention facilities operated by the Syrian authorities, Amnesty International has been barred by the Syrian authorities from carrying out research in the country and consequently has not had access to areas controlled by the Syrian government since the crisis began in 2011. Other independent human rights monitoring groups have faced similar obstacles.
So distant was Amnesty International from actually obtaining physical evidence, their only images of the prison itself included in their report are satellite photographs taken from outer space. The only other photographs included are of three alleged prisoners, before and after their alleged detention, attempting to illustrate not torture, but weight loss.
Admittedly, Amnesty International interviewed members and organizations of the Syrian opposition, including those operating out of southern Turkey where much of the war was organized and launched against Syria from.
Despite these admissions, the Amnesty International report claims:
We therefore conclude that the Syrian authorities’ violations at Saydnaya amount to crimes against humanity. Amnesty International urgently calls for an independent and impartial investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya.
Yet guilt cannot be established or assigned based solely on the witness accounts of individuals and organizations, let alone those that have a history of deceit and fabrications, and with clear motivations to deceive and fabricate accusations again regarding this latest report.
Without actual, physical evidence, Amnesty International’s report is merely another in a large pile of unverified accusations, or now verified fabrications, produced by both it and the many other organizations pursing a politically motivated agenda merely under the guise of advocating human rights.
A Matter of Timing
Reuters in its February 5, 2017 article, “Russia’s Lavrov backs renewal of U.N.-led Syria talks,” would report:
Russia said on Sunday that it supports the continuation of Syria peace talks under United Nations auspices, long-running negotiations which had been thrown into doubt by separate, Moscow-backed peace talks launched last month.
The latest round of U.N. talks had been planned to begin in Geneva on Feb. 8 but Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that they had been postponed.
Thus, the familiar pattern of US and European interests, through the use of their “human rights advocates,” continues with this latest, unsubstantiated report, attempting to place political pressure upon Syria and its allies to grant itself additional leverage at the negotiating table.
That Amnesty International has attempted to use its own carefully constructed reputation in an “appeal to authority,” further reflects on the organization’s true motives, methods, and mission.
It was also in late 2016 when the organizations Amnesty International collaborated with for this latest report, were caught fabricating the number of civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo before the Syrian military and foreign media moved into previously militant occupied districts to verify their claims as false.
Another crucial matter of timing includes the frame in which Amnesty International’s interviews were conducted, between December 2015 and December 2016. It was within this year that the tide of Syria’s long conflict finally, unquestionably turned in favor of Damascus and its allies. It was December 2016 when finally Syria’s northern city of Aleppo was fully freed from occupying militants.
The purpose of these fabrications was to give militants and their foreign sponsors leverage ahead of negotiations meant to prolong both their occupation of the city and the wider regional war. There is no reason to believe this latest apparent fabrication serves any other purpose.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that Moscow has been mediating talks between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds to help maintain Syria’s sovereignty and statehood, in an interview with Russia’s Izvestia daily.
Russia “makes efforts to establish a common understanding between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds for the sake of a united Syria,” the minister told Izvestia in an interview he gave ahead of Diplomat’s Day, a Russian holiday celebrated on February 10.
Lavrov went on to say that four rounds of negotiations, brokered by Russia and including direct contact between the Damascus delegation and “representatives of the political and public structures of the Syrian Kurds,” had already taken place between June and December in 2016. In addition, the gatherings also involved indirect talks between the two sides.
The Russian foreign minister also confirmed that the Syrian government had held talks with the leaders of the Syrian Kurds’ armed militia units, the YPG.
“We believe that such intra-Syrian dialog is useful,” Lavrov said, stressing that there is “significant potential for reaching agreements” between Damascus and the Kurds, as the sides have found many areas of common interest and their negotiations are developing positively.
Lavrov emphasized that “the Kurdish issue” is one of the “key” factors in maintaining Syrian statehood and contributing to the stabilization of the situation in the entire Middle East. He also drew attention to the fact that Russia is continuing its efforts to find compromises between various ethnic and religious groups in Syria, as it is interested in restoring peace and stability in the warn-torn country and defeating international terrorist organizations entrenched in some areas there.
Regarding Syria’s potential federalization, Russia’s top diplomat neither denied nor confirmed that the issue was discussed during the talks between the Syrian government and the Kurds.
The minister’s statements come as Russia also seeks to launch a peace process between the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups together with Turkey and Iran.
In December 2016, a nationwide ceasefire came into force in Syria. It was brokered by Moscow and Ankara and endorsed by the UN Security Council. While in late January, negotiations took place between official representatives from Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as a delegation from the Syrian opposition in the Kazakh capital, Astana. However, the Syrian Kurds were not represented at the talks.
During the gathering, Russia submitted a draft document to serve as a “guide” for the Syrian constitution. The paper stressed that Syria’s territory is “inviolable and indivisible,” suggesting that restructuring of internal borders and proclaiming autonomous regions within Syria should be done only with respect to the country’s own laws. The rights of minorities were another key element of the draft.
In his interview with Izvestia, Lavrov also discussed other pressing issues in modern international politics. He once again criticized the NATO military buildup on Russian borders but expressed hope that Western politicians would eventually understand that Russia “poses no direct threat to NATO” and is a “peaceful country.”
Russia seeks “immediate de-escalation of the military and political situation in Europe” but is ready to defend its borders, Lavrov stressed.
He also went on to express his regret over the recent escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and urged Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements, noting that there is no other way to resolve the crisis.
Touching upon the issue of US-Russian relations, Lavrov again confirmed that Russia is ready to work with the administration of new US President Donald Trump on a broad range of issues, yet “on the basis of mutual respect.”
We learned a few days ago that 19 rabbis were arrested in NYC during a protest at Trump International Hotel. The Rabbi operates within the T’ruah organisation, a rabbinical human rights group that was formed (in 2002) to convey an image of Judaic ethical and universal awareness.
patch.com reports that the rabbis sat down in the street in front of the Trump Hotel in an act of protest against Trump’s executive orders affecting Muslim immigrants and refugees. But T’ruah do not just oppose Trump’s policy as ordinary human beings or American patriots. They actually operate as ‘Jews.’
Chutzpah, as we know, is a Jewish invention and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah’s executive director, has a lot of it in her disposal. “It makes a statement when we (Rabbis) are willing to put our bodies on the line.” she said. Perplexed Goyim may wonder how exactly Rabbi Jacobs puts her ‘body on the line’ (sitting down on the street in the middle of Manhattan)? The rabbi must have realised how ridiculous her statement was, as she then corrected herself. “Right now the people whose bodies are really on the line are people trying to get to America, and risking death to do so. The least that we can do is put our bodies a little bit on the line…to bring attention to the situation of refugees.”
Rabbi Kleinbaum also added a statement concerning rabbinical heroism. “I’m risking arrest today because America welcomed my own immigrant family to its shores, as it did millions of families before us who fled persecution.” But if Rabbi Kleinbaum is actually talking as an American Patriot who cares for American universal values, why is he protesting ‘as a Jew’? He should really protest as a proud American.
“As Jews, who know what it means to be targeted by discriminatory laws, we stand firmly with refugees fleeing war, persecution, and economic strife,” T’ruah Rabbis said in a statement.
Along the years I have developed an allergy to “as a” statements in general and “as a Jew” proclamations in particular. For one reason or another, rather often ‘as a Jew’ constructions happen to be grossly duplicitous. If Jews know so much about persecution how come their Jewish State is institutionally racist and discriminatory towards minorities and gentiles? If Jews are pro immigration, how come their Jewish State is vile in its attitude towards illegal immigration. If the Jews ‘stand firmly with refugees’ isn’t it about time their Jewish State invites millions of Palestinian refugees to return to the land that belongs to them and them alone? Do T’ruah rabbis openly support the Palestinian right of return? If they do, they manage to keep quiet about it.
But let’s take it further, can the T’ruah rabbis report to us how many Syrians have found a refuge in Jewish homes? How many refugees are living in rabbi Kleinbaum’s and Jacobs’ spare bedroom? Considering the war against Islam was a Zio-Con project, can the Rabbis tell us when is the last time they sat down in the street in front of Paul Wolfowitz’ or Bernard Henri Levy’s homes? After all, Henri Levy claimed that ‘as a Jew’ he ‘liberated’ Libya. Shouldn’t the T’ruah rabbis at least occupy the streets in front of the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC offices? After all, it was Israel and its lobby that pushed for war in Syria. It was Israel and its lobby that are directly involved in the creation of the refugee crisis in Syria.
I kindly advise T’ruah and other Jewish human rights groups to be slightly more economical with their duplicity. By now, the Goyim know. They see it all and their patience is about to run out.