Syria: Three Years of Lies

Posted on 21 March 2014

Diplomatic Negotiations
In April 2011, a Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/RES/S-16/1) requested “to dispatch a mission to the Syrian Arab Republic to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated”. Interestingly, this came to pass only ten days after it was revealed that the uprising had in fact been secretly backed by the United States all along. The initial stage of the uprising was punctuated by provocative acts that seemed deliberately designed to elicit a response from the Syrian government, which would in turn draw international condemnation, such as setting fire to the Palace of Justice in Deraa in March and the deployment of snipers to shoot at protesters; those snipers, incidentally, were later apprehended by the Syrian police and turned out to be Lebanese nationals. In fact, as early as March 2011, the Syrian security forces had confiscated a large shipment of weapons and explosives smuggled from Iraq.
By May 2011, most of the reports on Assad’s “brutal crackdown on the protesters” which tended to make the headlines were essentially copies coming from Associated Press and Reuters, distributed to mainstream media around the Western World – always with the caveat that the sources were unnamed activists, and that “[t]he accounts could not be independently confirmed” (see herehere). Indeed, in some cases footage shot in different countries was used and claimed to portray scenes from the Syrian uprising. This, however, was enough for US State Secretary Hillary Clinton to announce, at a press conference held in Rome, that there would be consequences for this brutal crackdown that had been imposed on the Syrian people, and that the U.S. was looking at boosting sanctions it had already imposed on Syrian leaders. Obediently, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy would support similar measures by the European Union – one-sided measures which completely ignored the acts of infiltration, sabotage and terror that the Syrian institutions had been subjected to.
In August, when it became necessary to step up the familiar propaganda to stir further public outrage against the “brutal dictator” of the month, CNN promptly released this article about babies left to die in incubators due to a power cut deliberately ordered by the Syrian regime, supposedly corroborated by images circulated online and by a number of tweets, variously placing the horrific event either in late July or early August, and in such different places as Hama, Albukamal, Bokamal… It turned out to be a complete hoax: the picture was in fact found to be part of an article published on the Egyptian newspaper al-Badil al-Jadid, denouncing the “poor conditions in the maternity ward of the al-Shabti hospital in Alexandria”
On 22 August 2011 the UN Human Rights Council, citing Syria’s non-collaboration with its fact-finding mission, decided to form a Commission of Inquiry to dispatch to the territory as soon as possible (RES-S-17-1). However, before said commission could even be put together and begin working to establish who was really responsible for what, the Obama administration was already impatiently calling for the resignation of Bashar al Assad (video and video). Which made perfect sense, considering that a new Syrian leadership to replace the current one had already been put together in NATO-friendly Istanbul, gathering various elements from the exiled Syrian elite, eager to take over: the Syrian National Council, which announced its formation on 23 August 2011, was supposed to form the structure of the new Syrian government, according to Washington. Their mantra: no negotiations with the current Syrian government, ever. Assad had to go. Full stop. Regardless of how the Syrian people might feel about it. Does that sound almost like the textbook definition of a coup d’état? But after all, why would the SNC even want to waste time in diplomacy, knowing that such powerful friends were behind them – for the time being anyway?
Throughout the Autumn, as the conflict raged and foreign mercenaries kept pouring into the country to fight against the Syrian regular army, UN Security Council and GeneralAssembly members with a vested interested in the removal of Bashar al-Assad variously tried to push for resolutions to step up sanctions against Syria, without addressing the issue of the violation of Syria’s sovereingty, security and territorial integrity by those countries that were sending weapons and fighters into the territory, all activities which had been suspected for some time and were eventually revealed in December 2011, with the news that Qatar had Created an anti-Syria mercenary force based in Turkey; predictably, the Security Council Resolutions were vetoed by Russia and China. Clearly, more propaganda was needed, and that’s when the British newspaper The Guardian stepped in with this revelation on a nuclear weapons site, from a copy it purchased, once again, from Associated Press in Washington, and whose source was identified in the headline as “UN investigators”, when in fact the article conceded it was “a senior diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations and a former UN investigator” who, needless to say, spoke on condition of anonymity.
And never mind if the article itself had to concede that “The complex, in the city of Hasakah, now appears to be a cotton-spinning plant, and investigators have found no sign it was ever used for nuclear production.”
At the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council, held in February 2012, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey successfully pushed for a resolution which exclusively condemned “the violence by the Syrian authorities against its population” – a peculiar wording, considering that Saudi Arabia had dispatched its own troops to fire at unarmed protesters in Bahrain on a number of occasions six months prior to the resolution. Later that month, those same states, visibly impatient to remove Assad no matter what, formed the loose international diplomatic group called ‘The friends of Syria’, along with – unsurprisingly – the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Egypt. When United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan presented his six-point plan, which entailed “an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”, it was apparent that this idea was not what the ‘Friends of Syria’ wanted to hear, considering how much effort was devoted by four of its members in the European Union to enable their proxy armies to continue to fight against the Syrian regular army and eventually topple Bashar al-Assad, by endeavouring to end the arms embargo on Syria, and finally provide weapons to the Western-backed militias. After all, why bother with political reforms and referenda, when you have an army to do the dirty work for you? Former White House Middle East expert Elliott Abrams – famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal – was completely behind the idea.
Nor was Kofi Annan’s plan welcome by influential US-based think-tanks, such as the Brookings Institute, busy as it was Assessing Options for Regime Change.
Be it as it may, despite President Bashar Al Assad’s launching of several political and governance reforms, including a referendum on a new Constitution, held on 26 February 2012, parliamentary elections, held on 7 May, and the appointment of a new Government, on 23 June, the opposition boycotted the elections. According to the Report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, president Bashar Al Assad did not succeed in engaging the opposition in a meaningful dialogue: the report published seemed clear enough that this was not from lack of trying. However, as a result, the elections’ outcome preserved the supremacy of the Baath party in Parliament as well as in the new Government, thus failing to bring emerging political forces into governance institutions.
Opposition groups represented in the Syrian National Council – the report continued – refused to engage with President Assad, calling for him to leave power – and not, as one might expect, for free and democratic elections: this raised serious doubts as to whether the majority of Syrians would indeed welcome a regime change in their country.
Similarly, a communiqué issued in June 2012 at the Action Group Conference on Syria (now known as Geneva I), stating the necessity to offer “a perspective for the future that can be shared by all in Syria” did not go down well with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, while purporting to support Annan’s plan, stated that the removal of Bashar al-Assad was still a priority (see 3′ 40” into this videoand 40 seconds into this one).
This was primarily justified by the Houla massacre of May 25th, in which 108 civilians had reportedly been executed, according to UN findings. Accounts accusing pro-Assad militias – known as Shabbiha – of this massacre came from the usual anti-government sources, even though several investigative reports cast doubt on this version, pointing to a possible involvement of anti-Assad Sunni militants (see herehere and here), in particular an article written by German Damascus-based journalist Rainer Hermann.
The report by the Commission of Inquiry, published in August 2012, said it was ‘unlikely’ that this atrocity had been committed by anti-government forces, although it acknowledged that, “with the available evidence” it could not rule out any possible perpetrator.
Nevertheless, this dubious evidence was sufficient for thirteen Western countries to expel the Syrian ambassadors from their respective territories.
With regards to the C.o.I. reports, a mention was made in it to the “alleged” presence of unspecified and mysterious “foreign advisers” (paragraph 19) fomenting the conflict and supplying arms and training to the rebels. This was more than just a marginal fact, when one considers that supporting violence against another State through aid to proxy forces which threaten its security and territorial integrity constitutes a violation of the U.N. Charter. As international jurist Curtis Doebbler informs us, an exception might be made only if the foreign-backed rebels could describe themselves as a national liberation movement, by showing that they were being oppressed to such an extent that the exercise of their right of self-determination made the use of force necessary. This was clearly not the case, as opposition forces were repeatedly offered to participate in the parliamentary elections, held on 7 May 2012. At the September session of the Human Rights Council, which this author attended, US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe’s address to the Council on 10 September left little room to doubt that, while it was all well and good to talk about Human Rights and violations thereof, what the United States government was really itching for was a good old Libya-style regime change in Syria. If anyone had trouble reading between the lines, the following quote, placed in the middle of her statement, was probably designed to help the hard of hearing see the bottom line: “Let’s not forget how we got here: it is a direct result of a brutal regime that reacted violently to peaceful demonstrations and to this day remains bent on denying its people universal human rights. There can be no doubt that the architect of this destruction is Bashar Al Assad, and his regime must end”. Quite frankly, it was not all that tricky to see that human rights protection was not exactly the top priority for the US administration: had that been the case, Barack Obama would not have officially authorised clandestine support to the rebels since June (although we do not know when said support reallybegan), in disregard of the fact that, according to the same report of the CoI, which Donahoe endorsed and repeatedly referred to, those same rebels had perpetrated war crimes and summary executions (paragraph 60), violations of the rights of the child (paragraphs 114-5), violations of International Humanitarian Law, as well as torture (paragaph 134).
Furthermore, one could at least expect some mention to the fact that, according to the report, one of the most prominent anti-government forces to gain relevance in this non-international armed conflict was “the Jabhat Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, a group allegedly linked with Al-Qaida” (paragraph 30), especially considering that (a) the statement was delivered on the eve of September 11th and (b) not a day had gone by over the preceding 11 years without some White House spokesperson reminding us of the necessity to fight Al-Qaida – “smoke ‘em out” – wherever they happened to be hiding (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia). And yet, not even a token mention on terrorism escaped the ambassador’s lips on that occasion. Was it because these were “good” terrorists?
Round about this time, when news of gruesome atrocities committed by the Western-backed ‘rebels’ was reaching the West, the US State Department suddenly decided that the Syrian National Council didn’t really represent the Syrian people after all (video).
But not to worry because, presto, a new leadership was manufactured in Doha, Qatar – of course – and given the catchy name of National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.
With the November 2012 launching of this new tool, whose scripted lines were pretty much the same as its predecessor’s – that is to say, no negotiations with Bashar al-Assad, ever – the process to derail Kofi Annan’s 6-point plan was once again on track, much to the frustration of new Syrian peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and his attempts to restore peaceful negotiations.
The war kept raging throughout the Autumn: in October, the Turkish armed forces fired artillery into Syrian territory, supposedly in retaliation to civilian deaths caused by a mortar attack originating from the area, even though, as the media reporting the incident stated: “It was unknown whether the mortar shells were fired by Syrian government forces or rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad”. In a further provocative move in January, NATO began deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey, on the border with Syria – a process which continued until February.
The same month, the Commission of Inquiry published another report. While the previous report published in August did briefly acknowledge the presence of “foreign fighters among some armed groups” (paragraph 26 and 10 of Annex I), rushing to explain that none of this was verified or significant, this new February report noted that their number had increased (paragraph 27), with a consequent exacerbation of the conflict (paragraphs 120, 134 and 168); again, this was followed by the caveat that their number was still somewhat trascurable although, apparently, relevant enough for the authors of the report to quietly drop the classification of a “non-international armed conflict”, which had appeared in the previous document (paragraphs 3 and 143). In reality, Syrian government officials pointed out – as early as November 2012 – that the number of anti-government foreign fighters in Syria exceeded 10,000, according to conservative estimates. In its methodology, this new C.O.I. report did state: “the [Syrian] Government shared a number of documents, including reports of investigations conducted by national authorities, as well as lists of casualties. Such information is reflected in the present report, where relevant ”. Well, apparently, the invasion of the Syrian territory by over 10,000 foreign mercenaries was not considered “relevant” by the Commission.
The spring of 2013 did not bring many positive developments for the agenda of the ‘Friends of Syria’ and their public relations machine that had been trying to give the anti-government fighters a positive branding: first, there was a chemical attack on Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, which turned out to be perpetrated by the jihadidsts. Then, in a sweeping counter-offensive, the regular Syrian army, with the aid of Hezbollah troops, managed to recapture the city of al-Qusayr, which had been under rebel siege for a year. Needless to say, this wasn’t framed as a ‘liberation’ by Western media and think-tanks. In fact, in the June session of the Human Rights Council, dismayed to see their boys being defeated, Western representatives who could barely pronounce the city’s name of al Qusayr, promptly put on a sad face and denounced the event by calling it a siege.
All their statements were directly or indirectly informed by yet another report by the Commission, whose methodological flaws were the same as ever: namely, their sources, which were almost entirely made up of members of the armed opposition, Local Coordination Committees, deserters, “activists”, and their families and supporters, not to mention the fact that the C.o.I. accepted – and still accepts – testimonies from anonymous witnesses, delivered, as usual, via phone and Skype connection with their office in Geneva. In other words, unsubstantiated claims from dubious and unverified sources, something that no true international criminal court could even remotely consider as admissible. All this same criticism could also apply to numerous YouTube videos the C.o.I. relied on as evidence, much like as did so many International Non-Governmental Organisations. These videos, even when they did show effects and victims of the atrocities, did not reveal the perpetrators.
After the regular Syrian army recaptured al Qusayr, the opposition armed rebels, the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’ was no longer looking like a viable tool to get rid of Assad. In the aftermath, Gen. Salim Idriss himself, chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army at the time, admitted in an interview: “We, as FSA, acknowledge that we cannot face up to the regime’s regular army when it is in full-strength […] The best way for us to fight this regime is by guerilla warfare or hit and run tactics without holding on to territory [emphasis added]. Clearly, it looked like the Free Syrian Army needed the aid of a much more powerful military machine, which had in fact been waiting in the wings for some time. All that was needed was a pretext.
And, sure enough, with the chemical attack in Ghouta, which took place on August 21st, the group of state actors impatient to remove Assad from power had exactly what they needed to start whipping up public support for a military intervention led by NATO forces, at which point the White House could now relax and quietly drop the familiar line of Assad having to step down in Syria, now that they could finally abandon diplomacy and count on military might to do the job.
And never mind if the perpetrators of the horrific attack were not yet identified, and if past evidence pointed to the Western-funded rebels to be the most likely culprit. The drums were beating once again, for yet another humanitarian war (see, for instance, Joe Biden, 9′ 4” into this Democracy Now video].
US Vice-President Joe Biden was evidently hoping on his audience’s defective memory, considering that, as early as December 2012, the news that US forces were training the rebels to secure and use chemical weapons had already been in the public domain, and that in January, those same rebels, obviously eager to start using those chemical weapons, had released a disturbing video where they demonstrated the lethal effects of the gas in their possession on some rabbits. Not to mention the fact that in March the jidaists had been found guilty of a chemical attack in Khan al-Assal, in May Commissioner Carla del Ponte had uncovered evidence of the rebels’ use of nerve gas and that the Turkish police had seized 4 Kilos of sarin gas from a group of Al-Nusrah rebels based in Turkey. Apparently the public was asked to forget all this and undewrite a “surgical bombing” on Syria, whatever was meant by that. At that point, any diplomatic solution was pretty much discarded as Western powers were looking forward to reshape the country to their liking through military means.
However, despite all the best propaganda efforts, the public was not fooled. on August 30th , the British Parliament voted against joining US-led strikes. A few days later, as the White House seemed to start panicking at the prospect of a defeat in Congress, State Secretary John Kerry had the temerity of announcing that the President, as leader of the Free and Democratic World, was contemplating the idea of going to war regardless of how Congress might vote and regardless of how the American people might feel about it. Because, after all, this was the removal of a war-mongering dictator in the name of democratic values, right? (video and video).
Luckily, the Barack Obama administration was wise enough not to go ahead with the military strikes;instead, a compromise proposed by the Russian Federation was accepted whereby the Assad government would agree to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. This must have been considered a viable solution by US-based global planners, represented by the Obama administration, who knew from Iraqi experience that you have to render a country defenceless and must strip it of all its deterrents before you can attack it.
Therefore, this temporary solution must have been viewed as a postponement of the inevitable military attack, whenever the next opportunity might arise. At this point, the approach changed, turning into a game of setting unrealistic deadlines for Assad, with the idea of then portraying him as a clever manipulator who had fooled the International Community and managed to buy himself more time, while not even remotely wanting to comply. For instance, on September 9th, John Kerry demanded that Assad hand over his chemical stockpile within a week: a very odd demand, when one considers that the USA itself had failed to meet the final, extended deadline for the destruction of its own chemical weapons stockpiles, which should have been destroyed in 2007, as per Convention on theProhibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, which mandated signatory states to do so within ten years of the treaty’s entry into force. In fact, as of October 2013, the Nuclear Threat Initiative reported that a facility set up by the United States government for that purpose, the Pueblo Chemical Agent Destruction Facility, would not be able to complete disposal of its chemical agents before 2019. This was the same country that was now putting pressure on Assad to destroy its own chemical arsenal within a week.
In October 2013, an enraged Saudi Arabia announced its rejection of a seat at the UN Security Council, in protest of the United States’ failure to go to war against Syria. Clearly, in many diplomatic circles among the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’, a sort of panic was being felt at the prospect that the conflit might have a diplomatic solution after all, leading to a possible democratic transition, as opposed to the military aggression the ‘Friends of Syria’ were looking forward to. Shortly after, a second Action Group Conference on Syria was announced: this came to be known as Geneva 2 (you might need the video); attempts to disrupt it came from various sides almost immediately. First, Free Syrian Army Commander Salim Idriss said that his men would take no part in the Geneva II conference and would not cease fire during the period in which the conference would be held. The United States Congress, after arrogating the right to decide who could and could not join, protesting at Iran’s possible participation at the negotiation table, did not waste a minute in stepping up aid to the anti-government forces. Meanwhile, the practically defunct Syrian National Council quit the Coalition in protest of its decision to participate to Geneva 2. If this wasn’t enough to discredit the conference and paint it as doomed to fail, a shocking report was released by London-based law firm Carter Ruck, alleging the systematic mass killing and torture of detainees by the Assad regime in Syria. The report was commissioned and paid for by – that’s right – Qatar. It was claimed that the source of this report was an anonymous deserter, named ‘Caesar’, who had supposedly worked as a photographer for the Syrian police for 13 years, photographing dead bodies of detainees killed by police forces. The authors of the report claimed to have 55,000 photographs in their possession, of which they only released ten. A detailed exposition of the background of the authors of the report, and of its many dubious aspects would be beyond the scope of this analysis, and will have to be postponed to a later study. Suffice it to say that, although mainstream media almost universally accepted the report as genuine, many inconsistencies became immediately apparent.
When the Geneva 2 talks finally did take place, they were promptly described as showing no progress, a failure, and an exercise in futility. And a failure they were indeed, for those parties who were in a rush to form a transitional government without Assad. During the conference, the Syrian delegation submitted a political communiqué which rejected terrorism and all forms of extremism and racism, and asked countries to stop supplying terrorist groups with arms and training, in accordance with international resolutions relevant to combating terrorism.
Needless to say, both the US representatives and the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces refused to acknowledge the communiqué.
To be continued…
At the time of writing, a new report by the UN Commission of Inquiry is being made publicly available. It will form the basis for a Human Rights Council resolution on the last week of March 2014. Its many flaws and inconsistencies have been documented in a paper written by investigative journalist Marinella Correggia, and available at this link.

The Role of the BBC in the Syrian Conflict

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