Sky News and the Western Press Have Once Again Failed Syria

By Vanessa Beeley
Source

Recent storylines from the Western press on the “Idlib” narrative, particularly the extraordinary spate of “on-the-ground” reports from Sky News reporter Alex Crawford, have failed to paint an accurate picture of the reality faced by Syrian civilians.

Brett McGurk – the U.S. government’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL — described Idlib as “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” adding that the presence of Al Qaeda in Idlib was a “huge problem” and had been so “for some time.” Mint Press journalist Whitney Webb covered McGurk’s statements and U.S. policy in Idlib in late 2018.

McGurk’s statement seems to have been forgotten by both corporate media and “human rights” commentators alike since the Syrian Army’s military campaign to liberate areas of Idlib began in earnest a few weeks ago. In fact, there seems to be an ongoing campaign by the Western press to normalize militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

On May 27, 2019 a headline in a Reuters article read “Idlib government chief urges defense against Assad attack” (emphasis added). The “head” of the Idlib “Salvation Government,” Fawaz Hilal, was calling upon Turkey to intervene on their behalf to protect them from SAA military advances.

While Reuters openly admits that the Salvation Government is heavily backed by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS)/Al Qaeda, there is minimal reference to the daily war crimes committed by armed groups against civilians in Syrian government-secured territory as a valid reason for the uptick in Syrian military operations to liberate areas of Idlib province.

The reader is ultimately left with the impression that the Salvation Government is legitimate Syrian “opposition” rather than an Al Qaeda construct established with the involvement of the notorious Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani.

Idlib Syria Media

Even the partisan Crisis Group, which tends to lean heavily in favor of the U.S. Coalition, described the Salvation Government’s clear Al Qaeda affiliations and its role in securing financing for the violent, extremist organization. A January 2019 Crisis Group report concluded:

The centrepiece of HTS’s project is the ‘Salvation Government,’ formed in November 2017 … For HTS, the Salvation Government seems to be both a political project and a money-making tool.”

Supposed to be a safe place

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and former European director of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC:

Idlib was supposed to be a safe place. Where war should not be, so it has to end. We cannot have war take place in what is essentially a refugee camp.”

Egeland “disappeared” the estimated 120,000 terrorist fighters controlling the majority of Idlib province and pockets of northern Hama. Aleppo MP and head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, Fares Shehabi, told the BBC in September 2018 that 100,000 extremist fighters were controlling Idlib, 40,000 of whom were “hard-core radicals.”

Shehabi has since told me that he believes the numbers to have increased to 120,000 extremist fighters, with up to 50,000 hard-core radicals that Shehabi says includes large numbers of foreign mercenaries, hardline soldiers from around the world. While these numbers may be on the high side, it is clear that the size of the Al Qaeda-dominated force in Idlib is alarming.

Idlib Syria Media

Considerable numbers of “hard-core” extremists were bused to Idlib after the liberation of East Aleppo, Homs, Eastern Ghouta and southern provinces of Syria from December 2016 through July/August 2018 as part of Syrian government amnesty and reconciliation deals.

By whitewashing the role of the Idlib mercenaries and extremist groups — which include Jaish Al Islam, who ruled Douma with a regime of torture, execution, slave labor and imprisonment — the Western press has acted as de facto protection racketeers for the very forces exploiting civilians as human shields in Idlib and preventing their exodus via the Russian/Syrian-established humanitarian corridors.

Embedded video

This is a familiar pattern that was seen previously during the liberation of East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, when extremist groups would shell or snipe fleeing civilians, often blaming the crimes on advancing SAA forces.

A narrow escape?

Sky News’ Alex Crawford first produced a story from inside Idlib, claiming her team had been “deliberately” targeted by Syrian government forces. Crawford and her team said a Syrian drone had zeroed in on them, relaying their location to the SAA.

Crawford Idlib

Syria: Sky News witnesses horrors of Syria’s last rebel outpost

Sky’s Alex Crawford says the crew was attacked with tank shells, as an activist they were travelling with was hit by shrapnel.

news.sky.com

Crawford most likely entered Idlib via the Turkish border and was being escorted by the HTS fighters on motorbikes, which were visible in a longer video published by Sky News. Under these circumstances and in the midst of an ongoing military campaign, traveling with a known extremist group through their enclave while they were actively engaged in combat with the Syrian Army would indicate that the SAA was not targeting journalists, but instead the extremists with whom they traveled.

The military drones — which Crawford alleges were used to “pinpoint” her team’s location prior to a “deliberate” attack — were never shown in the video produced by Sky News, nor is there any sound of drone activity in the video. This reporter has heard drones in action in Gaza during the 2012 Israeli offensive and their sound is very audible, particularly when they descend to attack or close-surveillance altitude.

Idlib Syria Media Sky News

Crawford and the Sky News team also don’t appear to be wearing “Press” tabards or helmets in their video report, although it is difficult to distinguish much at all in the report, save a lot of confusion and expletives from Crawford.

Idlib Syria Media Sky News

Crawford’s Sky News report carried the headline: “Syria: Sky News witnesses horrors of Syria’s last rebel outpost” (emphasis added), reducing HTS — an established terror group — to simply “rebels.”

The “civilian activist” described by Crawford  in her report is none other than Nusra Front acolyte Bilal Abdul Kareem, who is (by his own admission) on the U.S terrorist “kill list.” In a July 2018 Rolling Stone article, Kareem claimed that he was tipped off by a Turkish source that “he had been put on a list of targets at Incirlik Air base, a launching pad for American drones.

Bilal Abdul Kareem | Syria

Crawford’s working with Kareem, while wearing a “long black abaya” without any press identification in HTS-held territory, was not only a foolhardy enterprise, but a very risky endeavor in a time of war.

Sky News is not the first media outlet to collaborate with Kareem. In a July, 2017 article for Mint Press News, journalist Whitney Webb delved into Kareem’s working relationship with CNN when Kareem assisted in the making of the Clarissa Ward award winning documentary, “Undercover in Syria”.

Kareem was responsible for organising access to the extremist-held territory for the CNN team. In the article, Webb highlights the armed group members who were interviewed by journalist Max Blumenthal – who “confirmed that Kareem was a well-known member of al-Nusra and was commonly referred to as the “American mujahid.”

Was Crawford unaware of Kareem’s ties to Al Qaeda when the Sky News team chose him as their “activist” escort and fixer?

According to its report, Sky News retreated to the town of Khan Sheikhoun, another Nusra Front/HTS stronghold in Idlib. The ease of movement with which Sky News was able to traverse Idlib territory, which is amongst the most densely populated by Al Qaeda offshoots and extremist underling groups, without threat of kidnap or worse is perplexing. Journalists are regularly targeted or kidnapped by terrorist groups operating in Syria.

The last “last hospital”

When challenged on the veracity of her maiden report from Idlib, Crawford resorted to a tried and tested rallying cry for Western journalists still clamoring to paint Syria’s opposition forces as legitimate anti-government resistance – the last hospital.

Crawford expressed outrage at the alleged targeting of “hospitals” by the Syrian government and its allies. The “last hospital” narrative, previously used heavily in East Aleppo, comprised repeatedly recycled sensationalist headlines that the Syrian government and its allies were deliberately targeting the last remaining hospital in a given area during the final stages of liberation from armed groups — a narrative discredited by independent journalists reporting on the ground in Aleppo during the final stages of the military campaign to liberate East Aleppo from the grip of international terrorism.

Idlib Syria Media

I covered the “last hospital” narrative in a separate article for MintPress, where I highlight how this narrative is deployed by many in the Western press as a distraction from the reality in Syria. It was previously brought into play — as the SAA were sweeping East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta clean of the occupying sectarian gangs — in order to effectively protect the extremist militants who had ruled these areas for more than five years, inflicting their brutal, violent ideology upon captive civilians. The narratives served to effectively delay the release from occupation for these civilians, who were desperate to escape to the safety of government-held areas.

Idlib reality succinctly described

Peter Ford, former U.K. ambassador to Syria, explained the current operations in Idlib very succinctly:

In brief, what is happening at the moment is not a full-scale assault by Syrian government forces aimed at liberating the whole of Idlib. Rather it is a limited operation, the main goal of which is to chip away at the southern fringes of what is effectively the Al Qaeda caliphate.”

The reporting from the likes of Alex Crawford and Sky News does not convey this reality nor does it reveal the existence of the Al Qaeda caliphate described by Ford. Crawford has entirely disappeared the extremist group’s aggression against the border towns and villages which has been ongoing since the establishment of the “deconfliction zones” in September 2018 and which entirely validates the Syrian military response to defend civilians against further bloodshed to halt those violations.

It must also not be forgotten that another of the Sochi agreement terms was the freeing up of the M5 highway that links Idlib to the rest of Syria and ultimately serves as the main trade route from Turkey to Syria and on into Jordan, whose trade borders with Syria have been successfully reopened after liberation of the south of Syria from the armed-group’s occupation.

Idlib Syria Media

The HTS control of significant areas of the M5 route has prevented this agreed-upon development and is another reason for the recent intensification of Syrian allied military activity in Idlib — again ignored completely by the majority of the Western press, whose selective coverage plays into the hands of these extremist groups.

Were Sky News to adhere to true journalism ethics, it would identify Turkey, a member of NATO, as the cause of the recent military confrontation that is threatening civilian lives on both sides of the Idlib/Hama border. As Peter Ford states:

The jihadis have been bolstered with arms supplied by Turkey (including tanks and deadly U.S.-made TOW anti-tank weapons) and paid for by Qatar, which also pays salaries. As long as Turkey continues to prop up the jihadis and Qatar to fund them, fighting is likely to continue, with the [Syrian] government continuing to put its faith in softening up with aerial bombing and artillery shelling rather than risk its sparse ground forces.”

Ford even offers a pragmatic solution in Idlib, never presented or even examined by the Western press:

The only way realistically to limit the fighting is for Turkey to withdraw its support for the jihadis and let them melt back into the Turkish border zone where they could affiliate with the Turkish-controlled militias there. This would still leave a problem for later but Idlib could breathe.”

A deliberate attempt to mislead

There is no nuance to the Sky News reports, no analysis of complexity, no diverging opinions or context. Therefore, in my opinion, this is not journalism; it is a deliberate intent to mislead a gullible public fed a media diet of “war on terror” fear and insecurity for years. It is information bias and cynical misdirection of narratives designed to support U.S. military adventurism in Syria and the region.

After Crawford was taken to task by educated Twitter accounts, she put out a Tweet stating:

Sometimes, just sometimes, twitter and some on it, make me want to explode with frustration at the unregulated untruths and constant misrepresentation of facts without check.”

No, Ms. Crawford, what is happening is that people who inform themselves no longer accept unregulated untruths and constant misrepresentation of facts without check from media channels whose public trust has been irreparably eroded by years of falsification and obfuscation of “facts” in relation to the U.S. Coalition war waged against Syria since 2011.

The recently published documentary, The Veto, a collaboration between Syrian journalist Rafiq Lutf and this correspondent, exposes the depth of media complicity in sustaining the Syrian conflict and the level of fabrication by CNN and other mainstream channels that have heavily influenced public opinion against the Syrian government since the early days of the campaign to topple President Bashar Al Assad from power and to destabilize the country.

The true frustration explosion is the public response to the conversion of their media into a fifth column for power and the resulting mayhem, bloodshed and misery it brings to the peoples of countries targeted for regime change or resource plundering by the U.S. and allied globalist nations — powers that have zero regard for “human rights” when it comes to achieving their aims and no qualms about usurping any government or population that stands in their way.

We live in an unprecedented age of media and state deceit and the expression of frustration is a natural reaction when we wake up to this gaslighting abuse. Crawford and other establishment journalists who have effectively served the abusers — the state mind-controllers — need to be aware that the long-time victims are finally turning against them. They have two choices: to continue serving power or finally becoming agents of the people. Which will it be?

BBC’s Business of Strategic Information Warfare

See Behind The Veil

Well, well, well.  There goes the British Broadcasting Corporation again!

BBC’s news story titled “Uncovering Pakistan’s secret human rights abuses” was published on June 2, 2019 by the Corporation’s native correspondent in Islamabad M. Ilyas Khan – a “proud Edwardian chasing stories among a resilient people in a sorry dominion”.  And subsequently raised a reasonably livid response from the Pakistan’s military.

Interestingly one keen look at the webpage carrying the story reveals how artfully the norm of providing links to related articles has been utilized to further the impact of the new endeavor.  Nothing unusual on the face of it – yet once you look at related links you cannot help realize the deliberation of design.  ‘A protest Pakistan wants to hide from the world’ (February 7, 2019), ‘The young tribesman rattling Pakistan’s Army’ (April 23, 2018), ‘Pakistan’s undeclared war’(September 10, 2004) and ‘Will Pakistan mends its…

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Robert Stuart vs the BBC: One Man’s Quest to Expose a Fake BBC Video about Syria

By Rick Sterling
Source

Robert Stuart BBC eb2f5

It’s a David vs Goliath story. A former local newspaper reporter, Robert Stuart, is taking on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Stuart believes that a sensational video story about an alleged atrocity in Syria “was largely, if not entirely, staged.”  The BBC would like it all to just go away. But like David, Stuart will not back down or let it go.  It has been proposed that the BBC could settle the issue by releasing the raw footage from the event, but they refuse to do this. Why?

The Controversial Video

The video report in controversy is ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘. Scenes from it were first broadcast as a BBC news report on August 29, 2013 and again as a BBC Panorama special in September. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced by BBC reporter Ian Pannell with Darren Conway as camera operator and director.

The news report footage was taken in a town north of Aleppo city in a region controlled by the armed opposition. It purports to show the aftermath of a Syrian aerial attack using incendiary weapons, perhaps napalm, killing and burning dozens of youth.  The video shows the youth arriving and being treated at a nearby hospital where the BBC film team was coincidentally filming two British medical volunteers from a British medical relief organization.

The video had a strong impact. The incident was on August 26. The video was shown on the BBCthree days later as the British Parliament was debating whether to support military action by the US against Syria.  As it turned out, British parliament voted against supporting military action. But the video was effective in demonizing the Syrian government. After all, what kind of government attacks school children with napalm-like bombs?

The Context

‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced at a critical moment in the Syrian conflict. Just days before, on August 21,  there had been an alleged sarin gas attack against an opposition held area on the outskirts of Damascus. Western media was inundated with videos showing dead Syrian children amidst accusations the Syrian government had attacked civilians, killing up to 1400.  The Syrian government was assumed to be responsible and the attack said to be a clear violation of President Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons.

This incident had the effect of increasing pressure for Western states or NATO to attack Syria. It would be for humanitarian reasons, rationalized by the “responsibility to protect”.

The assumption that ‘the regime’ did it has been challenged. Highly regarded American journalists including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh investigated and contradicted the mainstream media. They pointed to the crimes being committed by the armed opposition for political goals.  A report by two experts including a UN weapons inspector and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity also came to the conclusion that the Syrian government was not responsible and the attack was actually by an armed opposition group with the goal of forcing NATO intervention.

Why the Controversial Video is Suspicious

After seeing skeptical comments about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ on an online discussion board, Robert Stuart looked at the video for himself. Like others, he thought the hospital sequences looked artificial, almost like scenes from a badly acted horror movie.

But unlike others, he decided to find out. Thus began his quest to ascertain the truth. Was the video real or was it staged?  Was it authentic or contrived propaganda?

Over almost six years his research has revealed many curious elements about the video including:

* Youth in the hospital video appear to act on cue.

* There is a six hour discrepancy in reports about when the incident occurred.

* One of the supposed victims, shown writhing in pain on a stretcher, is seen earlier walking unaided into the ambulance.

* The incident happened in an area controlled by a terror group associated with ISIS.

* One of the British medics is a former UK soldier involved in simulated injury training.

* The other British medic is daughter of a prominent figure in the Syrian opposition.

* In 2016 a local rebel commander testified that the alleged attack never happened.

Support for Robert Stuart

Robert Stuart’s formal complaints to the BBC have been rebuffed. His challenges to those involved in the production have been ignored or stifled.  Yet his quest has won support from some major journalistic and political figures.

Former Guardian columnist Jonathan Cook has written several articles on the story. He says,  “Stuart’s sustained research and questioning of the BBC, and the state broadcaster’s increasing evasions, have given rise to ever greater concerns about the footage. It looks suspiciously like one scene in particular, of people with horrific burns, was staged.”

Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray has compared scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ with his own harrowing experience with burn victims. He says, “The alleged footage of burn victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.”

Film-maker Victor Lewis-Smith has done numerous projects for the BBC. When learning about Stuart’s research he asked for some explanations and suggested they could resolve the issue by releasing the raw video footage of the events. When they refused to do this, he publicly tore up his BBC contract.

Why it Matters

The BBC has a reputation for objectivity. If BBC management was deceived by the video, along with the public, they should have a strong interest in uncovering and correcting this.  If there was an error, they should want to clarify, correct and ensure it is not repeated.

The BBC could go a long way toward resolving this issue by releasing raw footage of the scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.  Why have they refused to do this? In addition, they have actively removed youtube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. If they are proud of that production, why are they removing public copies of it?

Has the BBC produced and broadcast contrived or fake video reports in support of British government foreign policy of aggression against Syria? It is important that this question be answered to either restore public trust (if the videos are authentic) or to expose and correct misdeeds (if the videos are largely or entirely staged).

The issue at stake is not only the BBC; it is the manipulation of media to deceive the public into supporting elite-driven foreign policy. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is an important case study.

The Future

Robert Stuart is not quitting.  He hopes the next step will be a documentary film dramatically showing what he has discovered and further investigating important yet unexplored angles.

The highly experienced film producer Victor Lewis-Smith, who tore up his BBC contract, has stepped forward to help make this happen.

But to produce a high quality documentary including some travel takes funding. After devoting almost six years to this effort, Robert Stuart’s resources are exhausted. The project needs support from concerned members of the public.

If you support Robert Stuart’s efforts, go to this crowdfunding website.  There you can learn more and contribute to this important effort to reveal whether the BBC video ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ showed true or staged events. Was the alleged “napalm” attack real or was it staged propaganda?  The project needs a large number of small donors and a few substantial ones to meet the June 7 deadline.

As actor and producer Keith Allen says,” Please help us to reach the target so that we can discover the facts, examine the evidence, and present the truth about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. I think it’s really important.”

Liberate Syria’s Idlib, precisely for the civilians that America fakes concern over — In Gaza

May 25, 2019, RT.com -Eva Bartlett Western media and politicians are crying for Al-Qaeda in Syria again. It doesn’t get much more absurd than this! After years of brutal occupation by terrorists from various groups and now overwhelmingly Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (aka Al-Nusra, aka Al-Qaeda in Syria), Idlib governorate will eventually, by political or military means, be liberated. […]

via Liberate Syria’s Idlib, precisely for the civilians that America fakes concern over — In Gaza

The Unreported Realities of Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment

By Jeremy Salt
Source

Marie Colvin 38d62

Familiar with Muslim culture, the American journalist Marie Colvin always took off her shoes when entering a Muslim household. On February 20, 2012, she traveled from Beirut to the Syrian border, where she and photographer Paul Conroy were taken to the outskirts of Homs by minders from the Free Syrian Army. From there they were led into the Baba Amr district through a stormwater drain.

Guided into a ‘rebel’ media center Colvin took off her shoes. Two days later she and Conroy awoke to the sound of intense shelling.  They were led outside with other foreign journalists and told when to run to safety across the street.  According to media reports, Colvin was running back to retrieve her shoes after one explosion when there was a second, killing her and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

Beginning in May 2011, Homs had been infiltrated by armed groups. Towards the end of the year, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was able to tighten its hold on the Baba Amr district. No quarter was given to captured soldiers or civilians identified as supporting the government.  In December 2011, FSA fighters stood 11 Syrians they accused of being shabiha (pro-government paramilitary fighters) against a wall and shot them dead.

The army intensified its operations but it was only after the killing of 10 soldiers at a government checkpoint on February 2, 2012, that it decided to do what was necessary to drive the ‘rebels’ out of Baba Amr. The bombardment of the district was scaled up. Colvin was killed on February 22 and 10 days later the FSA abandoned Baba Amr.

On January 31, 2019, a federal district court in Washington ruled that the Syrian government was responsible for Colvin’s death and should pay $302.5 million compensation to her family.

The plaintiffs were Marie Colvin’s sister Cathleen and a nephew and niece. The defendant, the summons served through the Czech embassy in Damascus, was the Syrian government; It did not respond and was not represented in court. The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, ruled that the plaintiffs’ brief was so comprehensive that an evidentiary hearing, in which a judge hears testimony and documentary evidence from both sides can be reviewed, was not necessary.

The plaintiffs’ evidence included a declaration by ‘Ulysses’, the pseudonym of someone claiming to be a defector from the Syrian government’s intelligence services; a statement by David Kaye, a former adviser to the US State Department and now a rapporteur with the UN; and an affidavit by Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who in 2011 broke diplomatic protocol – and a Syrian government ban on diplomats leaving Damascus – by visiting the centres of street protests.  Accused of incitement by the Syrian government, he was withdrawn in October.

Ruling that the Syrian army had fired the artillery shell that had killed Colvin, Judge Jackson concluded that her death had been a ‘targeted murder.’  She did not mention that Colvin and Conroy had entered Syria illegally but she did note that the US government had designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism on December 29, 1979, following its support for the Iranian revolution. Given government and media hostility to Syria since that time, the outcome of the Colvin court action was never likely to be anything other than a finding for the plaintiffs.

Colvin was an experienced war correspondent. She had lost an eye while reporting the Sri Lankan civil conflict from the side of the Tamil Tigers. She had reported from East Timor, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, amongst other theatres of war, before going to Syria. As correspondents do, she had witnessed terrible things. The death of civilians, especially children, affected her deeply.

These accumulated experiences took a heavy personal toll. She began to drink heavily, she was having nightmares and she had been treated at a clinic for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) before heading off to Syria. Once in Homs, her employer, the London Sunday Times, ordered her to leave but she refused. The paper later came under criticism for letting her go in the first place, given the fragile state of her mental health.

These aspects of her life were depicted in the recently released biopic, A Private War, woven around an account of her life written for Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner (‘Marie Colvin’s Private War,’ August 2012).

On the day of Colvin’s death, she was described in an online article for Vanity Fair as having ‘died as a martyr …. a martyr for truth and the standards of civilization … she died because she wanted the world to know the full extent of the barbarism practiced by President Bashar al Assad’s forces against his own people.’ (Henry Porter and Annabel Davidson, ‘Remembering War Correspondent Marie Colvin: 1957-2012,’ Vanity Fair, February 22, 2012).

Truth, of course, is the first casualty of war. The Greek dramatist Aeschylus apparently first coined the phrase, which has been repeated many times by many people over the centuries. As for civilization, it has been used to justify every war of aggression launched in the Middle East by the US and European powers for the past 200 years.

In this region, the standards of civilization, as we imagine them to be, consisting of civilized behaviour, justice, fairness, respect for human life and respect for the law, have not been upheld but violated in brutal and inhumane fashion by the very governments that repeatedly invoke them as justification for the crimes they are committing.

No doubt Marie Colvin was reporting the truth as she saw it but how much could she see of anything in the space of two days, effectively trapped in a war-scarred building under heavy bombardment by the Syrian army?

In her final despatch for the Sunday Times, she talked to women in what she called the ‘widows’ basement’ and she watched (apparently on a video feed from a clinic, contrary to the impression she gave that she was actually there) a baby dying from a shrapnel wound. Asked on CNN why she thought showing the image of the dead baby was important Colvin replied: ‘That baby will move more people to think ‘What is going on and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day.’

Colvin said 300 women were in the basement, a figure which, from other reports, seems to have been wildly exaggerated.  Who these women were was not clarified, but seeing that that Baba Amr was controlled by the FSA, many of the dead husbands were probably fighting men.

When Colvin said that 28,000 civilians were trapped in Baba Amr she had to be repeating what she had been told by her FSA minders.  She had no way of knowing how many civilians remained trapped in Baba Amr and the figure seems to have been a gross overestimate, aimed no doubt at further dramatizing the plight of civilians trapped in what the media was misleadingly calling the ‘siege of Homs.’

Colvin and Conroy first entered Syria on February 13. They were taken to Baba Amr on February 15. The next day Colvin was able to visit a makeshift field hospital set up in an apartment building as well as civilians sheltering in a basement storage depot but on hearing rumors of an impending army offensive and a ‘possible gas attack’ (as claimed by Judge Berman, without any such credible claim having been made at the time) they fled in the evening.  This was all Colvin was able to see for herself outside the ‘rebel’ media center during her two visits to Baba Amr.

Baba Amr constituted about 15 percent of the city and had a pre-war population of about 100,000. Most civilians in the district fled to the 80-85 percent of the city controlled by the government once the armed groups launched their assault on Baba Amr.

Colvin said Homs was being bombed by ‘a murderous dictator.’  Talking to CNN from Baba Amr she said ‘there are no military targets here. There is the FSA, heavily outnumbered and outgunned – they have only Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. But they don’t have a base. There are more young men being killed, we see a lot of teenaged young men but they are going out just to try to get the wounded to some kind of medical treatment. It’s a complete and utter lie that they’re only going after terrorists.’

What Colvin actually saw was true. A baby did die and the women in the basement were suffering but by 2012 Syria was a land of suffering women and dead babies, killed not by the ‘murderous dictator’ but by ‘rebels’ supported with money and arms by outside governments.

It was not true, however, there were no military targets in Baba Amr. Colvin’s definition of a valid target seems to have been an actual military base. There was not one, of course, but the armed groups who had infiltrated Baba Amr and killed many Syrian soldiers and civilians in the process were no less an equally valid military target.

The FSA was certainly outgunned, as any insurgent force must be when challenging a regular army, but already early in 2012, outside governments were stepping up supplies to reduce the gap.

In March 2013, the New York Times reported that several governments, with help from the CIA, had begun airlifting weapons to the ‘rebels’ in early January 2012.  Over a year more than 160 cargo flights had taken an estimated 3500 tons of weapons to Ankara airport and other airports in Turkey and Jordan for delivery to ‘rebels’ across the border.  As the ‘rebel’ group of choice, the bulk of these weapons would have gone to the FSA, even if they eventually ended up in other hands.

Colvin’s reference to young men running into the streets to rescue the wounded and not fight is not something she could have known. In fact, young men were the backbone of all armed groups as they were of the Syrian army.

The Syrian army was not shelling ‘Homs’ but only part of a city which had been taken over by armed groups.  The government in Damascus – Syria’s legitimate government and the representative of the country’s interests at the UN – had the constitutional responsibility of driving them out.

The civilians trapped in Baba Amr were certainly at risk but what Colvin was seeing – or reporting rather than actually seeing for herself – was only a small corner of a very large picture of human suffering.  The general civilian death toll was beginning to rise sharply in 2012 as the armed groups – including the group sheltering Colvin and Conroy – launched attacks across the country.

Many of these attacks were completely indiscriminate, as for example when mortars were fired into the middle of Damascus or a rigged car was exploded outside a government ministry.

As civilians are always going to die in war, the critical question is one of responsibility.  Whatever the failings of the Syrian government, it was support by outside governments for these armed groups that brought Syria to its knees and not the attempts by the Syrian government to prevent the country from being bled to death.

The publicity given to the death of Marie Colvin has now been revived by the publicity given to the film of her life and to the court ruling against the Syrian government. The film returns Colvin and the ‘murderous dictator’ to a news cycle which had largely lost interest in Syria since the defeat of the armed groups it had been supporting as ‘rebels’ until Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops.

At the same time, the publicity is an opportunity to examine Colvin’s role in the context of a media which uniformly misreported the war in Syria as it had only recently misreported the war in Libya and before that the invasion of Iraq in 2004.  The canons of responsible journalism were all junked.  There was no balance, no reporting of the Syrian government’s version of events except for nominal references to its denial of atrocities in such a way that the reader was invited to disbelieve them.

The narrative was entirely built around the claims of ‘rebels’ and activists and sources far from the scene, such as the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.  Whatever they cared to say, no matter how wild and improbable, would be reported without any attempt being made by the media to uncover the truth.

Anything that would damage the Syrian government was regarded as fit to print, anything that would support its claims would be suppressed, or as far as possible turned against the government. Knowing this, the activists developed an industry based on lies and deceit to serve the corporate media’s needs.

This is the media environment in which Marie Colvin operated. Perhaps she had private doubts, but from what she said in her few reports from Syria she had swallowed whole the mainstream media narrative of rebels standing against a brutal dictator who was killing his own people.

All critical elements were missing from the news cycle. In March 2011, during ‘peaceful’ protests in Dara’a, the media headlined the alleged arrest and beating of children for scrawling graffiti on walls, while ignoring the evidence of arms stockpiled in a mosque and the slaughter of soldiers and police by bands of armed men.

Gunmen shooting into crowds from rooftops were part of what was clearly a well-planned revolt.  While the media insinuated that they were Syrian state agents, the far greater likelihood is that they were agents-provocateurs but nowhere in the media mainstream was there any follow-up. Only the accusation, not the proof, was important, an approach which was to characterize the media narrative.

Similarly, June 2011, the massacre of about 120 Syrian soldiers and civilians in the northern town of Jisr al Shughur was presented as a civilian response to government oppression and torture rather than what it was, a carefully planned attack on government offices by well-armed takfiri groups.   Video clips – never shown in the media mainstream – showed bodies being taken in a pickup truck to a high bridge over the Assi (Orontes) river and being pitched into the water over the railing to cries of ‘Allahu akbar.’  Later, mass graves were also uncovered.

Colvin’s role must begin with who brought her into Syria. She was not the only ‘western’ journalist funneled into Baba Amr from the Lebanese border.  A pipeline had been set up, with the online activist network Avaaz liaising with FSA ‘rebels’ to smuggle western journalists into the city.

Avaaz had also been supplying the ‘rebels’ with medical supplies, satellite modems and cell phones with cameras.  With the help of an ‘activist’ called Wael Fayez al Omar (a source for the plaintiffs in the court case against the Syrian government), it organized the transport of Colvin and her photographer, Paul Conroy, to the Syrian border.  The FSA then took over and moved them to Baba Amr, first on February 13 and again when they decided to return on February 20.

Formally established in July 2011, the FSA quickly won the support of Turkey, which provided it with a camp from which it was soon organizing attacks across the Syrian border.  Turkey also backed the FSA’s political arm, the Syrian National Council, an exile body which had no known support inside Syria, providing it with money and offices in Istanbul.  The FSA itself was never a proper army but rather a brand name for a ‘rebel’ collective involving numerous armed groups who responded to their own leaders, rather than the injunctions of the FSA leadership in Turkey.

The early actions for which the FSA claimed responsibility included the explosion inside the Syrian national security headquarters in July 2011, which killed several senior military and government personnel, including the defense minister and two of his deputies.

By this time the FSA was already launching attacks in many parts of Syria. Insofar as Homs was concerned, ‘rebel’ groups, including the FSA, penetrated the city in May, 2011, and succeeded in taking control of the Baba Amr district by the end of the year after overrunning military checkpoints.

By 2012 the FSA was operating at peak strength across Syria. It was killing soldiers, police and civilians and sabotaging oil pipelines and other infrastructure. In May, several months after the FSA had been driven from Homs, the Houla district, about 30 kms northwest of Homs and largely under the control of the FSA, was the site of the massacre of 108 men, women and children.

While the Syrian government was automatically blamed by ‘western’ governments and the corporate media, accounts pieced together later by journalists on the scene indicated that villages in the Houla region had been attacked by a joint force of about 700 takfiris, including a contingent of about 250 FSA fighters.

Their targets were Sunni Muslims who supported the government or, reportedly, had converted to Shia Islam.  The victims’ houses were hit by rocket-propelled grenades but most of the killing seems to have been done with small arms and knives.

In November, 2012, a mass grave of soldiers and civilians killed by FSA fighters was found at Ras al Ayn, just over the Turkish border.  In August, 2013, an attack was launched on Alawi villages in Latakia province by the FSA, Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic State and other takfiri groups.  The FSA commander Salim Idris said the FSA had participated in the assault ‘to a great extent.’

Hundreds of those who took part in the assault were foreigners.  This was a sectarian assault aimed at cleaning the landscape of the despised Alawis. Up to 190 men, women and children were killed and hundreds more women and children kidnapped.  There are unconfirmed reports that some of the children were taken to Damascus to be used as props in the chemical weapons attack of August 21, 2013, blamed on the Syrian government but carried out by ‘rebels’ working in conjunction with foreign governments, with the aim of pushing Barack Obama across his self-declared chemical weapons ‘red line’ so that he would order an air attack on Syria.

On other occasions, the officially-sanctioned FSA ‘rebels’ cooperated with the officially-designated ‘terrorists’ in attacks on government positions.  In October, 2014, the FSA joined forces with the Islamic State, and Jabhat al Nusra in an attack on Idlib city in which 70 Syrian army soldiers, including senior officers, were beheaded.

Many other FSA atrocities can be added to these episodes.  Most of them had not happened when Marie Colvin was in Homs but FSA brutality had clearly been demonstrated in the year before she arrived.

The minders who moved Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy to Homs from the Lebanese border were not just FSA but armed members of one of its most brutal units, the Faruq Brigade.  It had captured Baba Amr and held it in a ruthless grip.

The takfiri element was already strong in the ranks of the Faruq Brigade and only strengthened after its ejection from Homs.  Interviewed by the French journalist Mani in September, 2012, members of the brigade spoke of relatives in Homs who they alleged were being butchered by Alawis and Shia.  They were determined to take their revenge. As one of them remarked, ‘It’s not about the army any more or toppling the regime. It’s a sectarian conflict now.’

Clearly unknown to Colvin and Conroy, the brigade was taking its captives to a burial ground at night and cutting their throats.  According to one of its members interviewed by a Der Spiegel reporter in March, 2012, nearly 150 men had been executed in this fashion since the previous summer.  This period covered the two occasions Colvin was in Baba Amr.

One of the Faruq Brigade commanders in Baba Amr was Khalid al Hamad, nom de guerre Abu Saqqar.  After fleeing Baba Amr, Abu Saqqar set up his own fighting force, the Omar al Faruq Brigade.

Variously described as a street vendor from Homs and a bedu with ‘a wild stare’ (Paul Wood of the BBC), Abu Saqqar was shown in a video released in May, 2013, but apparently filmed in March, calling on ‘the heroes of Baba Amr’ to slaughter the Alawis, remove their hearts and eat them.

He himself proceeded to cut open the body of a dead Syrian soldier, who he claimed had a mobile phone in his pocket showing the soldier raping a woman and her daughters.   Abu Saqqar removed various organs before lifting the heart to his mouth and appearing to bite off a piece.  Later joining Jabhat al Nusra, he was ambushed and killed in 2016 by members of a rival Takfiri group, reportedly Ahrar al Sham.

In conclusion, did Marie Colvin die as a ‘martyr to truth’ or did she die not just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time but because she was keeping the wrong company? She was a well-known journalist for a leading British newspaper and therefore a prize catch for the ‘rebels.’  They were only going to tell her what they wanted her to believe, and feed into the corporate media news cycle.  Trapped in a bombed-out building, she would not have the opportunity to investigate the truth for herself, especially in the two days she had before she was killed.

Colvin called for intervention to save the trapped civilians of Baba Amr. ‘Why is no-one stopping the murder in Homs?’, she asked. In fact, the US and its allies had already been laying the groundwork for military intervention.

An Arab League resolution tabled at the UN Security Council on February 4 called on the Syrian army to withdraw from the towns and cities it was defending from attack by armed groups.  Russia and China supported the Syrian view that the resolution constituted a gross infringement of Syria’s sovereignty and vetoed it.  Had the resolution been passed, non-fulfilment of the conditions laid down could have opened the way to military intervention, probably an air campaign far more devastating than the seven-month assault that destroyed Libya.

Thwarted at the UN, the US and its allies then formed a collective calling itself the ‘Friends of the Syrian People.’  Their intervention in the form of support for armed groups led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and almost destroyed Syria.

The point of this article is not to denigrate Marie Colvin.  She has been described as foolhardy because of the risks she took but she was a person of great courage.  She was deeply affected by the death of civilians, especially children.  Her insistence that the media show the images of the baby killed by shrapnel was justified but it was not just the alleged victims of the ‘murderous dictator’ her readers and television viewers needed to see but the victims of the armed groups.

They were being slaughtered across the country, soldiers who were fighting for their country (not the ‘regime’) and civilians who supported their government, but as any telling of their fate or the suffering of their families would have disrupted a narrative based on the crimes of the dictator and his ‘regime’ and perhaps prompted people to ask ‘what is going on? Why is no-one stopping this murder?’, as Colvin had asked in Baba Amr, their voices had to be suppressed.

The Syrian government accused Colvin of working with terrorists.  Its own definition of the word would include not just the armed men but the ‘activists’ and ‘media centers’ that were their propaganda extensions.  It was with these people that Marie Colvin was sheltering when she was killed.

There has never been any evidence that any of the armed groups commanded anything more than miniscule support in Syria, including genuine support from civilians who lived in fear under their rule.  When the takfiris were driven out of Homs and Aleppo and the two cities were whole again, their citizens celebrated in the streets, not that corporate media consumers were likely to have seen such scenes.

Support for Bashar al Assad was strong at the start of the war and would be stronger now.  Every election held in the past few years – held fairly and under the watch of outside observers – proves the point.

The renewed attention to Marie Colvin’s death is an occasion to cast an eye over the state of the corporate media.  When Seymour Hersh cannot get published in his own country it is clear that journalism, as we knew it until it was fully corporatized, is in a parlous state.  Far from defending the right of the citizen to know, the media has been complicit in enabling governments to deceive.  Syria is only the latest in a chain of misreported wars, with the assault on Venezuela shaping up as the next one.

The corporate media had already made up its mind about Syria in 2011.  Marie Colvin did not have the time to develop her own narrative about Baba Amr and what was happening in Syria generally but no-one ever gets everything right.   Her role model, Martha Gellhorn, was good on Spain and Vietnam but terrible on the Middle East. In her article ‘The Arabs of Palestine’ (The Atlantic, October 1961) she extolled Israel and its kibbutzim, racist institutions by any measure, and put the Palestinians down in a manner that was itself bordering on racist.

In a better state of mental health and with more time to get behind the propaganda passed off as news about Syria, Marie Colvin might have seen through the deceits and exposed them.  The bleak reality, however, is that she spent her last assignment under the protection of a violent armed group which despised the personal freedom and the values she was sure to have cherished.

Dirty little secret: ‘Think tanks’ are among top culprits in media disinformation crisis

By Bryan McDonald
Source

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Most consumers are unaware off the mainstream media’s dirty little secret. Think tanks are increasingly taking advantage of tight news budgets to influence the press agenda in favour of their sponsors.

Decades ago, these outfits generally operated as policy advisories. Although, some were comfortably enumerated ‘retirement homes’ for distinguished public servants or intellectuals. However, in modern times, they have become indistinguishable from lobbying firms. With the budgets to match.

On the Russia (and broader Eastern European) beat, think tank influence is becoming increasingly dangerous and malign. And it’s leading to a crisis in journalistic standards which nobody wants to acknowledge.

Two cases this week highlight the malaise.

Right now, Hungary and Ukraine are embroiled in a standoff regarding the rights of ethnic Hungarians in the latter country. The disagreement is entirely local, with roots in the 20th century carving-up of Budapest’s territory after it found itself on the losing side in both World Wars. As a result, lands were dispersed into other nations – former Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.

There are tensions, to varying degrees, between Hungary and pretty much all the successor states housing its lost diaspora. Especially since nationalist Viktor Orban started handing out passports to compatriots stranded on foreign soil.

Until recently, most of the focus was on disagreements with Slovakia, but now attention has switched to Ukraine.

Let’s be clear. This is a mess of Kiev’s making. In a bid to appease “patriotic” fundamentalists, it began moves towards restrictive language laws, which has especially alienated the small band of Hungarian speakers on its western frontier.

Predictably, Budapest rushed in to defend its “people,” and now we have a nasty little imbroglio with headbangers on both sides entrenched.

One thing it’s not about is Russia. But Western media, egged on by think tank “experts,” keeps banging this drum. And here is a case in point this week.

The Los Angeles Times sent a correspondent to Uzhgorod, a Ukrainian border city. And rather than merely report from the ground, the writer spends a huge amount of the article referring to Russia and intimating that Orban is operating in lock-step with Moscow. Which is laughable to anybody who understands the Hungarian PM’s political methods. And which reeks of disinformation.

And who is used to “back up” these assertions? Only one Peter Kreko, “director of the Political Capital Institute, a Budapest think tank,” who is concerned Orban’s moves “help Russia hamper Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

Now, isn’t that a weird sort of thing for a Hungarian analyst to be worrying about? Well, it wouldn’t be if the LA Times were transparent and disclosed Kreko’s funding. You see, here’s who bankrolls the “Political Capital Institute, a Budapest think tank.”

  • Institute of Modern Russia (plaything of disgraced former 90’s oligarch and Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky)
  • National Endowment For Democracy (a US neoconservative outlet dedicated to “regime change” and promoting a pro-US outlook in Eastern Europe, whose chair has dubbed Ukraine “the big prize”)
  • Open Society (George Soros, who needs no introduction)

And here are some of the “most important international and domestic professional partners” of the Political Capital Institute:

  • Atlantic Council (NATO’s propaganda wing)
  • European Values (a Soros-funded Prague lobby group which smeared hundreds of European public figures as useful idiots for appearing on RT. Including Jeremy Corbyn and Stephen Fry).
  • German Marshall Fund of the United States (proprietors of the infamous ‘Hamilton 68’ dashboard)

Thus, the agendas at play are pretty clear here. Yet, the LA Times keeps its readers ignorant of Kreko’s paymasters. Which is especially interesting when you see RT, almost always, referred to as “the Kremlin-funded Russia Today,” or some version thereof, when described in Western media. And this is fine, because it’s true, but when the same rules don’t apply across the board, the bias is obvious.

The second case comes courtesy of “the Rupert Murdoch controlled Times of London” (see what I did there?) This week, it alleged around 75,000 Russians in London alone are Kremlin informants. All based on an “investigation” by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a neoconservative pressure group which seems to have successfully mounted a reverse takeover of the once venerable paper. With its leader writer, for instance, being a founding signatory of the concern.

Anyway, HJS, apparently based on a mere 16 interviews, with unnamed sources, concluded that “between a quarter and a half of Russian expats were, or have been informants.” And the Times splashed it.

However, it “clarified,” with comment from an anonymous “dissident,”how, in reality, “it was about half.” So, only the 32,500 odd ‘agents’ in London then. Which, if true, would means the walls of the Russian Embassy would have to be made from elastic to house the amount of handlers required to keep tabs on their information sources.

Look, it’s hardly a secret that standards at the Times are low. After all, the main foreign affairs columnist, Edward Lucas, is literally funded by US weapons manufacturers.

No, this is not a joke. Lucas is employed as a lobbyist at CEPA, a Washington and Warsaw-based outfit, which promotes the arms manufacturer’s agenda in Central and Eastern Europe. Namely, the likes of Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, FireEye, and Bell Helicopters.

Of course, The Times doesn’t make this conflict of interests clear to its readers. Another example of how the ‘think tank’ tail is wagging the mainstream media dog these days.

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