'Anti-war' movement still betraying Syrian people

We noted over a year ago that the increasingly poorly named "anti-war" movement (more of a gaggle than a "movement," and highly selective in being "anti-war") was betraying the Syrian people by failing to even acknowledge Bashar Assad's atrocities, and portraying the opposition as all CIA pawns or al-Qaeda jihadists or both. Now that Assad is apparently escalating to genocide and the US threatens air-strikes, is there any sign that the "anti-war" forces have been chastised into a more honest appraisal? Sadly, no.

To take just a few representative examples. "We're here to say that we're against US intervention in Syria," Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre of the Syracuse Peace Council told the local Post-Standard at the vigil they launched. "We stand again on the verge of illegally going to war under false pretenses." Do you care to explain that "false pretenses" comment, Amelia? We'll be waiting. Talk about fighting the last war—to say this days after a chemical attack in which perhaps over a thousand died betrays an unthinking analogy to Iraq, overlooking obvious, overwhelming context. And this is the least reactionary "anti-war" tendency, as contrasted with those openly supporting the war criminal Bashar Assad.

At yesterday's protests in front of the White House (an AFP photo reveals it was organized by the ultra-reactionary ANSWER Coalition), the favored chant was "No war in Syria!" (as captured on a BBC sound clip and also echoed with approval by Tehran Times). Don't ANSWER's cannon fodder follow the news at all? "No war in Syria"?! Two million refugees, 100,000 dead, schools getting bombed (see this harrowing BBC footage, in case you missed it), and this is somehow deemed a logical demand? The war in Syria is a fact, regardless of whether the US intervenes.

This degree of denial isn't surprising given the unhealthy diet of dictator-dupery dished out by the "left" (sic) media. In The Guardian, Jonathan Steele (who we have had to call out before) writes a frankly absurd piece entitled "Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media"—citing an opinion poll (!) to the effect that "Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war." First, that is a rather important caveat, although the phrase "fear of civil war" bizarrely implies that there isn't a civil war yet. (He presumably means fear of the jihadists.) Second, who was "polled"? Those Syrians who still have access to a phone or the Internet (meaning, presumably, they are not hiding in a bunker or languishing in a refugee camp) are obviously far more likely to be those who support the regime. Finally: the contention is rather contradicted by two years and counting of empirical reality.

Steele also waxes outraged about allegations from ex-CIA spook Philip Giraldi (whose dubious claims we have noted before) about supposed clandestine US arming of the Syrian rebels, yet displays no such dismay over massive un-hypothetical Russian arming of the murderous Assad regime throughout the war.

Just slightly more sophisticated is a Guardian piece by Nafeez Ahmed (presumably the same who peddles 9-11 conspiracy theories) entitled "Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern." Ahmed at least acknowledges Assad's war crimes (in an opening passage of perfunctory lip service before he gets to his real point). Soon enough, he touts Seymour Hersh's typically unverifiable claims that the CIA was seeking to destabilize Syria as early as 2007. That's a somewhat counterintuitive assertion, given that at that very time the CIA was having terrorism suspects renditioned to Bashar Assad's torture chambers. We are also treated to a reprise of Gen. Wesley Clark's comments from six years ago predicting, supposedly based on a conveniently classified memo, Washington's plans to overthrow seven governments in the next five years, including Syria. (Never mind that the five years are up and Sudan, Lebanon and Iran haven't been toppled by US bombs, and in Libya the Libyan people also had a little something to do with it.) But Clark's comments are hardly relevant today. Portraying the pending Syria intervention as some arbitrary neocon conspiracy ignores everything that has happened in the intervening years: revolution throughout the Arab world, an uprising in Syria escalating to civil war because the regime repeatedly massacred peaceful protesters, and finally acts of genocide.

More factual, at least, than Clark's conjecture are Ahmed's findings that Damascus turned down a planned gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey four years ago (cited to The National, UAE, Aug. 26, 2009) and in 2011 instead signed a deal with Tehran for a gas pipeline from Iran, across Iraq, to Syria's coast (Al Jazeera, Aug. 6, 2012). (It hasn't been built, of course.) Not noted by Ahmed but being circulated by like-minded Facebook partisans, Business Inisder reported Feb. 22 that Israel had granted US company Genie Energy a license to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights—a move certain to be opposed by Damascus. (Adding to the conspiranoid titillation, Genie is said to be advised by Dick Cheney and its shareholders supposedly include Rupert Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild.)

Some Facebook partisans are less concerned with facts. One suddenly popular Internet meme goes: "Syria has oil? They need more democracy and freedom." Gee, that's really cute—except that Syria doesn't have oil to speak of. It is not a major producer (here are the top 20, via CIA Factbook), and not even significant enough to be an OPEC member (see list of Member Countries). Of course the proximity of oil is part of what makes Syria strategic—but I guess that doesn't sound quite as good as a Facebook meme. Not to mention that the meme (of course) implicitly delegitimizes the Syrian freedom struggle as a mere imperialist charade.

That the US has imperial interests in the Middle East is hardly a great revelation, and certainly those interests will be a big part of the context in any military intervention. But as we've said before: If you were sitting in a Damascus suburb with Assad's missiles raining down on your head, you might have more pressing concerns than US motives. The notion that the Syrians who are eager for intervention are naive about US intentions (or are US pawns) is deeply insulting. Pointing out the obvious problems with US military intervention is entirely legitimate, but failing completely to grapple with the question of what are the world's responsibilities to the Syrians in this dark hour is not.

And of course the "false flag" thesis (also being advanced by that right-wing populist hucksterPat Buchanan) remains popular. Making the Facebook rounds is a Mint Press News piece asserting that interviewed survivors of the Ghouta attack blame the rebels and not Assad. Nobody seems to have noticed how questionably sourced the piece is. Who conducted these interviews? Are the writers on the ground in Ghouta? Has anyone ever heard of Mint Press News before? How does this square with numerous interviews with survivors by bona fide groups like Doctors Without Borders who clearly blame Assad? (See SAPA, Aug. 27)

The most honest and intelligent anti-war statement we've seen so far is from the International Marxist Humanist Organization, "Against US Attack on Syria! Against the Assad Regime and Other Reactionary Forces! For the Grassroots Syrian Revolution!" It at least acknowledges the existence of "genuinely revolutionary and democratic elements" in Syria, and recognizes our responsibilities of solidarity—but it still fails to ask what those "genuinely revolutionary and democratic elements" in Syria themselves have to say about foreign intervention...

Obama today announced that he will seek approval from Congress before taking military action (CNN)—which he didn't do in Libya, and which we suspect he is really doing as a face-saving way of not following through with air-strikes now that Assad has called his "red line" bluff. So if Congress doesn't approve action, expect this all to blow over in a matter of days, and the news cycle to move on—as Syrians continue to suffer and die...

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The latest 'anti-war' subterfuge

Well, sprouting like mushrooms all over my Facebook feed today are 100% undocumented claims that Secretary of State John Kerry "referenced" a photo of lines of white-shrouded corpses in his address on the Ghouta attack—a photo that had been retracted by the BBC. Interestingly, contrary to what you would glean from the account on the conspiranoid InfoWars, the BBC never claimed the shot was from the Ghouta attack, but from last year's Houla massacre. Actually, it was from neither; BBC admitted months ago that the shot was actually taken in Iraq in March 2003. Little context is provided as to who the dead actually were, or who killed them. We are still waiting for someone to provide documentation that Kerry "referenced" the photo, and to explain what that means exactly—and why it matters. After all, there are plenty of far more gruesome images from the Ghouta attack, if you are looking for atrocity porn. Why would Kerry (or the BBC) have to resort to subterfuge?

But once again: Never let logic get in the way of a good conspiracy theory (or Facebook meme).

Dueling atrocity porn...

It is against World War 4 Report's principles to post atrocity pornography, which is cheap and cynical exploitation of the dead and disfugured for political ends—although we did post a link to such in the above comment. It makes us feel dirty, but we felt it was mandated in this case. However, for months now I have been seeing two steady streams of atrocity porn on my Facebook feed: one from a Palestine activist, with horrific shots of Gaza victims; one from a Syrian anti-Assad partisan, with ghastly photos of the carnage in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. There was never any overlap; each apparently considered the other's victims unworthy of note.

Now, in the past few days since the US has been planning air-strikes, there has been a veritable explosion of atrocity porn on my feed, with "anti-war" Facebook "friends" posting image after sickening image of Gaza victims, Hiroshima victims, deformed babies from the Agent Orange zones of Vietnam, or from Fallujah in the aftermath of bombardment with depleted uranium weapons—all with the intention of pointing out US hypocrisy on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

I have to say, there is something deeply disturbing about this propaganda. Did anyone ask the victims being thusly displayed if they wanted their images to be used this way? And it is extremely doubtful that such victims would be nearly as insensitive to those of Ghouta as the big majority of "anti-war" voices in the US have been...

Mint Press News in retreat on Ghouta claims?

After I (and presumably many others) called out Mint Press News on the fact that the story about Ghouta survivors supposedly blaming the rebels didn't even say how the reporters got their dubious quotes, they added a "clarification" claiming that one the two names on the byline (not the one with the AP creds) was in fact on the ground in Ghouta. Later still, they added: "Some information in this article could not be independently verified." I still ask: 1. If the report is credible, why did they give it to an unknown outlet rather than AP? 2. How do the claims square with numerous interviews with survivors by bona fide groups like Doctors Without Borders who clearly blame Assad? The controversy has been deconstructed by the blogs Free Cow and Unrepentant Marxist.

Mint Press Ghouta claims: dubiouser and dubiouser

Paul Woodward of the War in Context blog notes that one of the two supposed co-authors of the much-cited Mint Press piece on Ghouta—Dale Gavlak, the one who actually has Associated Press experience—has requested that her by-line be removed from the piece, stating: "I helped him [Yahya Ababneh, the other name on the joint by-line] write up his story but he should get all the credit for this." In another statement, she adds: "I did not travel to Syria, have any discussions with Syrian rebels, or do any other reporting on which the article is based. The article is not based on my personal observations and should not be given credence based on my journalistic reputation."

Looking thinner every minute. But are the legions of "anti-war" (sic) websites that have cited this story (and on the basis of Gavlak's AP background, no less) going to revisit their claims? Don't bet the rent.


NYT notes Mint Press Ghouta claims controversy

OK, now it's official. The NY Times' The Lede blog notes the controversy over the Mint Press story on Ghouta, and also notes that a Mint Press editor by the name of Mnar Muhawesh told Gavlak in writing: "We will not be removing your name from the byline as this is an existential issue for MintPress and an issue of credibility as this will appear as though we are lying." File under "uitterly pathetic."

So, all of you "anti-war" bloggers who waved this story around like the proverbial bloody shirt... How would you like your crow prepared? We'll be waiting.


Mint Press Ghouta claims: dubiouser still...

Well, now we seem to have a proverbial smoking gun pointing to the Assad regime as the source of the Ghouta attack, while the credibility of the Mint Press story is rapidly collapsing. The identity of the one previously unknown writer now still claming the piece as his own—the one without AP creds—is examined at the pan-Arab daily Al Bab, which finds that Yahya Ababneh is likely a pseudonym for Yan Barakat. Now, there's nothing wrong with using a pseudonym, but it appears that Barakat had boasted elsewhere (a comment to a piece casting doubt on the Ghouta claims in the right-wing Daily Mail!) of getting information that the rebels were behind the attack from Russians in Damascus. We may assume, either diplomats, military advisors or spies. So the Ababneh/Barakat theory (the rebels got the sarin from the Saudis and released it inadvertently because they didn't know what they were doing), which was touted by Russian officials, may have also originated from Russian officials! We're reminded of the famous Karl Kraus quote: "Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print."

Embarrassingly, among those to also tout the theory was Jim Naureckas of the "progressive" (sic) Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He's now had to add an "Update" reading: "Without Gavlak's byline, and with the allegations of unprofessional behavior on the part of Mint Press News, there's little reason to take the Mint Press story seriously. We leave this post up for the historical record."

Oops.

Mint Press digs hole deeper

Mint Press now (at last!) releases a statement on the controversy, "Official Statement On Dale Gavlak’s Involvement In Syria Exclusive." Still touting the story as an "exclusive" and full of cryptic ruminations such as: "Dale is under mounting pressure for writing this article by third parties." And: "Yahya has recently notified me that the Saudi embassy contacted him and threatened to end his career if he did a follow up story..." They state that despite Gavlak's request they are refusing to remove her name from the by-line, on the utterly hilarious grounds that "this would violate the ethics of journalism." After all their corner-cutting and back-pedalling, Mint Press invokes journalistic ethics to weasel out of admitting that they went with an utterly specious and incorrectly credited story. The mind boggles.

Please note Gavlak's initial public statement on the by-line controversy, preserved for posterity at Brown Moses Blog, dated Sept. 20:

Mint Press News incorrectly used my byline for an article it published on August 29, 2013 alleging chemical weapons usage by Syrian rebels. Despite my repeated requests, made directly and through legal counsel, they have not been willing to issue a retraction stating that I was not the author. Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author of the Mint Press News piece. To date, Mint Press News has refused to act professionally or honestly in regards to disclosing the actual authorship and sources for this story. 

Yes, such sterling commitment to "journalistic ethics."

Mint Press implosion continues

Further deconstructions of the bogus Mint Press report are provided by the Syrian American Council and the Christian Science Monitor's Security Watch blog, which notes that Human Rights Watch did address the Mint Press theory in its report (without mentioning the source by name). HRW wrote:

Human Rights Watch has investigated alternative claims that opposition forces themselves were responsible for the August 21 attacks, and has found such claims lacking in credibility and inconsistent with the evidence found at the scene. Claims that the August 21 deaths were caused by an accidental explosion by opposition forces mishandling chemical weapons in their possession are inconsistent with large numbers of deaths at two locations 16 kilometers apart, and documentation of rocket attacks on the sites that morning, as evidenced by witness accounts, the damage visible on the rockets themselves, and their impact craters.
 

Semour Hersh still betraying Syrian people

Seymour Hersh has a piece in this week's London Review of Books, "Whose Sarin?," loaning legitimacy to utterly baseless speculation that the rebels, or someone other than the Assad regime, was behind the August sarin attack. As usual, it is entirely based on anonymous, unverifiable sources that we are asked to accept on blind faith. Among those who assail the attack as "a ruse" that "was not the result of the current regime" are "one high-level intelligence officer," "a former senior intelligence official," and "a senior intelligence consultant." The piece includes not one reference to the findings of Human Rights Watch.

Why is this joker afforded any legitimacy at this point, and why does LRB see fit to print this irresponsible and transparent garbage?

Semour Hersh shills for Assad —openly!

Hersh's shameless LRB piece is called out by the Linux Beach blog, which provides some context on why he is desperately attempting to deflect blame for the Ghouta chemical massacre from the regime, even at this late date. It seems Hersh this morning told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now (emphasis added; atrociously garbled syntax in original):

Inside the [intelligence] community, for the last year, it’s been known that the only game in town, whether you like it or don’t like it, was Bashar, because otherwise the—what we call the secular anti—the opposition to Bashar, the legitimate, non-radical, if you will, dissenters, people from within the army, people—civilians who didn’t like the lack of more social progress, etc., etc., they were overrun, even by—we know that beginning in early in the year. We knew they were being overrun by jihadists. And so, the only solution, it seemed to me, for—it seems for the government at the time, the people I know—and I've talked to people about this for years; it's been more than a year of talk—is, the only solution for stability was Bashar. You have to just like it or don't like it.

The usual disgraceful propaganda: Either Bashar or the jihadists—the same jihadists we were all told were heroic freedom fighters in Iraq, of course! Apres Bashar le deluge. Not only do the heroes of the contemporary "left" loan no solidarity to the secular resistance in Syria—they deny that it even exists. And cheer on the dictator.

Eliot Higgins of the famous Brown Moses blog has a more in-depth deconstruction of the LRB piece, "Sy Hersh's Chemical Misfire," on the Foreign Policy website.

Hersh denialism on Ghouta 'corrobrated' —not!

So Turkish news outlet Today's Zaman on Oct. 21 runs claims from opposition CHP deputies that their "investigation" had uncovered evidence of the "false flag" thesis, asserting that the sarin had been supplied to an "al-Qaeda militant" by Turkey's parastatl Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (