A PERSONAL REPLY TO THE FACT-CHALLENGED SMEARS OF TERRORIST-WHITEWASHING CHANNEL 4, SNOPES AND LA PRESSE

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How about the “fact checkers” and apologists look into why the White Helmets recycled an image claiming to show a victim of “Russian airstrikes” after having previously used the same image before Russia even began bombing ISIS in Syria.

-Eva Bartlett

*republished at: The Indicter

In part 1, I wrote of the Guardian’s quite unoriginal Russophobic story cheering for al-Qaeda’s rescuers, the White Helmets. In this second part, I expose other (some serial) offenders, guilty of disinformation on the White Helmets, and war propaganda on Syria to a degree that Goebbels would be envious. They are further guilty of ignoring the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of Syrians who call a spade a spade, a terrorist a terrorist.

The Channel 4 “Fact Check” Card

In The Guardian article in question, the author began by linking to a Channel 4 News smear piece on myself which had nothing to do with the point she was asserting—whether or not the group had al-Qaeda ties—but which was issued a year ago with the sole intent to cherry-pick my words to discredit myself. Such non sequitur arguments are commonly used by those who cannot backup their statements with facts and who wish to, instead, deflect and mislead.

Had the Guardian had honest intentions regarding the White Helmets article, they might have actually investigated the many members of the White Helmets with ties to al-Qaeda and affiliated extremists. Here is but one example showing the allegiance of over 60 White Helmets members to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Regarding the Channel 4 smear which The Guardian’s own hatchet piece linked to, it followed my speaking on a December 2016 panel (over 50 minutes, with question period), with three others, including a lawyer and the head of the US Peace Council, in a press room of the United Nations.

In that panel, we spoke of many important issues, including: the illegality of this war on Syria; the need to lift the devastating sanctions on Syria; the statement of unity among over 200 organizations in the US and internationally in solidarity with the Syrian government’s fight against foreign intervention; the Syrian reconciliation movement; and the heinous acts committed against Syrian civilians by terrorists, whether from the FSA or Nour al-Deen al-Zenki or ISIS or other.

I spoke for thirteen minutes, noting that my trips to Syria have been self-funded, and that I’ve traveled widely, interacting one-on-one with Syrians, and seen wide support for their army and leadership.

I highlighted how the over 1.5 million people of Aleppo had endured sieges and the attacks of terrorists groups, which killed nearly 11,000 civilians by end of 2016, and noted being present when on November 3, 2016, terrorist attacks on Aleppo which killed 18 and injured over 200. I cited being present during the November 4 mortar attacks by extremist factions on one of the humanitarian crossroads.

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Photo by Eva Bartlett, July 2017, Aleppo countryside. See my photo essay on Aleppo and countryside.

Other points which I addressed include:

-The words of Syrians who in October 2016 escaped terrorists’ rule in an eastern area of Aleppo, noting that the “moderates” deprived them of food and imposed extremist ideology on the people.

-The unity I saw in Aleppo, between Sunni Muslims and Christians, rejecting the external sectarianism, and rejecting the corporate narrative that Sunnis in Syria are against Bashar al-Assad, and the support of civilians for their army.

-The al-Quds hospital which was not “destroyed”, not reduced “to rubble”, as per Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and as repeated by most corporate media. Admittedly, it was lexiconally-incorrect of me to have stated that the Quds hospital had not been attacked: I cannot prove it has never been lightly or otherwise attacked. The correct wording should have been “not destroyed”, and in fact this June I confirmed that the Quds hospital remained standing, intact as it was when I mentioned it in that December 2016 panel.

However, as I mentioned in December, the Dabeet maternity hospital in Aleppo was internally-destroyed by a terrorist bombing, to the silence of most media. I went there and spoke with the director, who confirmed that three women died the attack in which freedom-bringers fired a missile that landed on a car parked outside the hospital, exploding that car. The director also noted that a week later, terrorists’ mortars hit the roof of the hospital, destroying the roof and injuring construction workers.

In the panel, I also mentioned the Kindi hospital which was destroyed by al-Nusra truck bombings, a rather significant fact, given that it was the largest and best cancer treatment hospital in the region. [Incidentally, I met with Kindi’s former director in November 2016, who spoke of international silence at the destruction of his hospital. While speaking, a terrorist-fired mortar landed outside of the University hospital where we spoke.]

I presented the words of the director of Aleppo’s Medical Association, who told me that in contrast to corporate media’s assertions of “last doctors” and “last pediatricians”, there were over 4,100 active and registered doctors in Aleppo, including over 800 specialists, including 180 pediatricians.

Selective Cricitism, Whitewashing Crimes

Out of that lengthy December 2016 panel, the sole issue that Channel 4 cherry-picked was a remark I made in the question period following, on the issue of exploitation of children in war propaganda—or more specifically, whether one girl has been exploited repeatedly.

I will note that while I cannot prove definitively that one of the girls I mentioned (or those which Channel 4 piece assumed I referred to) have been used in staged videos, it is entirely feasiblethat she/they and other children have been, and is entirely worthy of serious investigative research, particularly given the western-funded, terrorist-affiliated nature of the various sources.

For example, on the issue of staged media, as I wrote in June 2017 (emphasis added):

“In December 2016, filmmakers in Egypt were arrested in the process of staging an Aleppo video with two children: the girl was meant to look injured, and the boy was to vilify both Russia and Syria.”

My article detailed the misuse of a Lebanese music video scene to claim it was Aleppo; and BBC’s endorsement of the November 2014 ‘Syrian hero boy’ clip as definitely being in Syria, “probably on the regime frontlines,” although it was filmed in Malta by Norwegian filmmakers.”

In June 2017, I also wrote about one famous boy, the “boy in the ambulance”, exploited including by Channel 4 News and the Guardian. When this June I went to Aleppo and met the boy and his father, the latter confirmed that the story pushed in corporate media was false, and that media had exploited his son. As it turns out, Mohammad Daqneesh supports the Syrian army, and was disgusted by the exploitation of his son, by media and the terrorists themselves.

Further, there is the White Helmets video in which “rescuers” seem to be fake-rescuing children, employing practices which would kill them, as outlined by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, head of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). His March 2017 article noted the opinions of Swedish medical doctors, specialists, who asserted that:

“the life-saving procedures seen in the film are incorrect – in fact life-threatening – or seemingly fake, including simulated resuscitation techniques being used on already lifeless children.”

He cites a specialist in paediatrics:

“After examination of the video material, I found that the measures inflicted upon those children, some of them lifeless, are bizarre, non-medical, non-lifesaving, and even counterproductive in terms of life-saving purposes of children”.

And a Swedish medical doctor and general practitioner:

“If not already dead, this injection would have killed the child!”

His follow-up report noted:

“The new findings…demonstrate that the main highlighted ‘life-saving‘ procedure on the infant shown in the second video of the sequence was faked. Namely, no substance (e.g. adrenaline) was injected into the child while the ‘medic’ or doctor introduced the syringe-needle in a simulated intracardiac-injection manoeuvre…”

Recall the incubator babies story sobbed by the fake-nurse daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US (endorsed and propagated by Amnesty International), which preceded and had a role in swaying public opinion prior to the 1991 US/UK war on Iraq. Regarding the White Helmets video in question, de Noli noted it was,

“shown at the UN Security Council April 16, 2015. After that meeting, US Ambassador Samantha Powers declared, ‘I saw no one in the room without tears. If there was a dry eye in the room, I didn’t see it’.

Ensuing, just four days after, on April 20, 2015, CNN broadcasted a news-program reproducing segments taken from exactly the same videos and propagated for the No-Fly Zone on behalf of “the Syrian doctors” campaigning.

This horrifying syringe-children example, and the above-listed incidents of faked footage and exploitation of children in war propaganda, are more than enough reason to warrant serious investigations into other videos produced by the White Helmets (and those of like western-funded “opposition media” in Syria, including formerly the Aleppo Media Centre [AMC]).

Channel 4 Team Mucked the Facts

Regarding the Channel 4 “fact check”, Patrick Worrall got his facts wrong in his very second sentence, which read:

“She writes a blog for the state-funded Russian media outlet Russia Today.”

Alas, the Channel 4 team didn’t do the most elementary investigative research to see where exactly my supposed “blog” on RT was. Had Channel 4 followed the link, they would find the opinion section dubbed “Op Edge”, to which 19 writers currently contribute, many of whom also contribute to numerous other publications. Many papers have such opinion sections, including The Guardian, which describes the entries there as “opinion pieces” and not “blog posts”.

Channel 4 also described the UN panel in question as “organised by the Syrian mission to the UN”. In fact, I initiated contact with the Syrian mission to request that I do what the US Peace Council had done in August 2016: to present some of what I had seen and heard in Syria. The Syrian mission did arrange for the room, as per my request. Worrall’s wording is to imply that I was merely invited to speak, whereas in fact I requested to speak, since corporate media won’t give voices like mine a fair platform.

In an attempt to legitimize the narrative of White Helmets rescuing babies or people from rubble, Channel 4 wrote that I had reported a case of someone buried alive in Gaza in 2009 who (I wrote a few weeks after his injury) emerged with “only a mere scar at his left eyebrow”.

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*Image provided by Abu Qusay.

Yet, my 2009 article clearly portrays a man with thick blood streaming down his face, who (as he explained) couldn’t walk on his own, and by his own testimony passed out and woke up in hospital. In contrast, the girl in question (number two in Channel 4’s article), supposedly buried, seemingly has no visible blood on her face, and in spite of having been pulled by her ponytail after being buried by rubble, is alert and conscious. Not such an apt comparison, Channel 4. It indeed begs the question of just how injured she was.

Of girl number 2, Channel 4 wrote:

“Someone would have had to have buried a screaming child up to their chest in rubble and carefully assembled a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her…”

Indeed. It’s funny how the White Helmets did exactly that in their “mannequin challenge” video, extracting from rubble a man who appears unable to walk… later photographs show the actor standing with his “rescuers”.

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Further, the video presented by Channel 4 regarding the ponytail-grabbed girl in no way shows “a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her”. Rather, it shows a child waist-deep in rubble, “rescuers” wiping rubble here and there, and finally the child extracted (video strangely cuts the extraction point, why is that?), the rescuer running to and beyond the waiting ambulance.

I challenge Channel 4 to find any actual doctor, medic or rescuer that would pull a child supposedly buried in rubble by her ponytail, knowing that any damage to the spine can be fatal or leave the victim paralyzed.

Terrorist-Affiliated Sources Not Credible, Even If Reuters

Later in the article, Channel 4 refers to “a Reuters photographer on the ground at one of the incidents, who was satisfied that the events he was recording were genuine.” Given that the photographer in question, Abdalrhman Ismail, was embedded in al-Qaeda areas, litters his Facebook posts with pro-“rebel” and anti-Assad propaganda, and has selfies with at least one of the member of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki terrorists who beheaded a Palestinian boy in 2016, his credibility and impartiality is shot, to say the least.

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*Abdalrhman Ismail on left, Zenki child-beheader centre.

Ismail also participated in the propaganda that the Quds hospital in Sukkari, Aleppo had been destroyed by airstrikes, which it was not.

Channel 4 cited me as saying that the White Helmets can be found carrying guns and standing on dead bodies of Syrian soldiers, but did not address these points, nor did they address the curious issue of the obscene amount of funds these “volunteers” have received. What strange omissions. Channel 4 also did not address my point about internal refugees who fled not Assad, as claimed in corporate media, but the terrorists themselves, and how these internal refugees are given housing, food, education and medical care by the Syrian government. Not important?

Clearly Channel 4 reports only that which supports the “rebels” and “revolution” narrative, whitewashing the terrorism not only of the extremists but also the governments funding and supporting them, and governments imposing sanctions on Syria.

Incidentally, Channel 4 (as I wrote) produced a report embedded with the Nour al-Din al-Zinki faction, who Channel 4 deemed “moderates,” although in July prior they had savagely beheaded Abdullah Issa. Not initially a problem for Channel 4, they did later remove the incriminating video.” This is the same Channel 4 whose reporter, when returned to Aleppo after its liberation, refused to “get into history” about his lies and war propaganda. In other words: Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru Murthy lied throughout 2016, and when confronted did not even have the dignity and integrity to admit he was wrong.

Snopes: Factually-Challenged

In December 2016, the self-professed “fact check” website Snopes also produced a smear piece full of logical fallacies on me. Interestingly, had they not, I might not have come across their article whitewashing al-Qaeda’s rescuers.

Snopes’ Bethania Palma opened with this teaser (emphasis added):

“The idea that victims of mass tragedies are ‘recycled’ is a common theme among conspiracy theorists, but there are international reports and footage of the Al Quds Hospital attack.”

In addition to the unoriginal use of “conspiracy theorists”, two different issues were conflated: That of whether people are being used in staged videos, and that of the al-Quds hospital “attack”. The conclusion following “but” has absolutely nothing to do with the first part of the sentence. This is a straw man argument, and is designed to mislead.

Snopes continued with things like “outlandish-sounding claims” and that I believe “international media are conspiring to fabricate stories of hospital bombings,” and that I refer to “all factions fighting President Bashar al Assad’s forces as terrorists.”

As it turned out, my outlandish-sounding claims were true. The al-Quds hospital was not “destroyed”, the “last doctors” theme was a propaganda ploy, as was the “last pediatrician in Aleppo,” and many other ruses. Indeed, international media did conspire to fabricate stories, such as that on Omran Daqneesh, and also on Bana al-Abed.

The international media did conspire to claim that Assad was starving civilians in Aleppo, which was laid to rest when media actually spoke to civilians (and not terrorist mouthpieces) after Aleppo’s liberation.

The international media also conspired along the same lines regarding Madaya. I went to Madayathis June and learned the same sordid realities (starvation, torture, imprisonment) that civilians endured in Aleppo, due to al-Qaeda and affiliated extremists. The international media continue to conspire, with the same tired claims.

Snopes stated, regarding Syria’s 2014 Presidential election: “Voting in that election only took place in government-held territories.”

False. Voting occurred also in neighbouring Lebanon, where I witnessed the first of two days of mass-turnout of Syrians to vote. Syrians in countries like Canada which has closed the Syrian embassy flew to Damascus airport just for the right to vote.

Snopes also neglected to mention that, in their efforts to bring “democracy” to Syria, “moderates” shelled voting stations throughout Syria on June 3, firing 151 shells on Damascus alone, killing at least 5 and maiming 33 Syrians,” in Damascus, as I wrote in 2014.

As for whether forces fighting the Syrian army and civilians are terrorists, I have heard this repeatedly from civilians in Syria themselves, like this civilian in Aleppo in June 2017. Whether FSA, al-Qaeda, al-Zenki or another shade of extremist, they all commit acts of terrorism against Syrian civilians.

Snopes then strangely pointed out the following, as if I would refute it: “Bartlett has a statement on her own web site:

‘I support Syria against a ‘civil’ war that is funded, armed and planned by the western powers and their regional allies with a view to wiping out all resistance to imperialism in the Middle East…’.”

Indeed, I did have it on my blog, and one can still see it among my Facebook cover photos. Thanks for sharing that, Snopes! Incidentally, Qatar’s former PM admitted this as well, noting Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey had been coordinating with America and sending weapons to militants since events began in 2011. What a dang conspiracy theorist the former Qatari Prime Minister is! Almost as conspiratorial as the former French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, who noted (video here):

“I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria.

This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate.

Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me….This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

Otherwise, in their “fact check” Snopes repeated points I’ve already addressed above, including about the Quds hospital, which Snopes neglected to mention that MSF had said was “destroyed”. Thus, the explanation that it was somehow risen from the rubble and working anew in September is simply illogical. It was “destroyed”, remember? Reduced “to rubble”, said MSF.

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How Neutral is Snopes?

Snopes completely avoided investigating my mention that the White Helmets “can be found carrying guns and standing on the dead bodies of Syrian soldiers”, although she did cite me as having said it.

Near the beginning of her article, Snopes’ Palma mentioned that I was billed as an “independent Canadian journalist,” immediately following with: “She is also a contributor at RT, a news site funded by the Russian government.”

As noted in part one (and also on my blog), I contribute to a number of sites, RT just one among them, and do so precisely because these independent websites, and RT, allow me to write exactly what I believe, with zero censorship.

In any case, is Snopes as independent, neutral and apolitical as claimed to be, and as an impartial fact checking group must be?

June 2016 article (albeit by the Daily Caller) looked at the politics of some of Snopes’ “fact checkers”, noting “Snopes’ “fact-checking” looks more like playing defense for prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton.”

Another article noted Snopes’ “spinning for (Hillary) Clinton”, as well as occasions where Snopes patently lied.

Forbes had an interesting article on the matter, looking at a sensationalistic Daily Mail exposethat one of Snopes’ founders “embezzled $98,000 of company money and spent it on ‘himself and prostitutes’.” While the Forbes author was initially sceptical of the Daily Mail piece, after corresponding with Snopes’ founder David Mikkelson, he became sceptical of the site’s lack of transparency and the competency of fact checkers.

The myth of Snopes as a reliable, neutral, fact checker is as dead as the myth of the White Helmets as neutral, volunteer, rescuers in Syria.

Canadian Yellow Journalist

Following in the footsteps of Snopes and Channel 4 was a poor attempt at discrediting me by a Canadian corporate hack. I am addressing this feeble smear article solely because Agnès Gruda was an apologist for the terrorists which destroyed Libya, and silenced honest reporting on Iraq.

In January 2017, Montreal, Canada, I was part of a panel on Syria. During the shared panelI spoke for over half an hour, highlighting the need to question the veracity of media reports and of videos produced by the al-Qaeda affiliated White Helmets and other compromised Western-funded sources based solely in terrorist-occupied areas.

Following the question period, two Canadian journalists approached demanding an interview, camera already filming. One of the journalists, Alexandra Szacka of Radio Canada, had been persistently messaging me two weeks prior, expressing what she claimed was an interest in hearing my perspective on Syria. A look at her Twitter feed revealed her real interests and allegiances: towing the Western narrative on Syria.

alexandra and agnes while i mention carla del ponte and rebels sarin khan al assal

Agnès Gruda and Alexandra Szacka while I refer to Carla del Ponte’s comments regarding the complicity of  “rebels” in the Khan al Assal chemical weapons attack.

However, based on the request of a mutual contact to grant the interview, I did. Prior to agreeing to the interview with Szacka and sister Agnès Gruda, of La Presse, I pointed out that for the past hour I had given numerous examples of corporate media fabrications, lies, and obfuscations. They pledged to be different. Gruda lied.

Since much of the content of Gruda’s piece is unsurprisingly very similar to prior smears, I’ll address only points not already made, noting, that Gruda also unsurprisingly failed to address a single one of the numerous points I made in that January panel.

As for the December 2016 panel at the UN, Gruda, in her haste to taint the event, wrote that “it was held in fact inside the offices of the Syrian delegation to the UN.”

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Screenshot from Gruda’s article.

False. The panel was held in an official press room at the United Nations Headquarters, in an entirely different building complex than (and two blocks away from) the offices of the Syrian mission to the UN.

UN press room location

She correctly, however, stated that I’ve never set foot on the “rebel” side. I’m not keen on being beheaded. Veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn even wrote:

They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom. … all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.”

But anyway, when was Gruda in Syria…?

With this sort of “never set foot” on the terrorists’ side comment, war propagandists like Gruda negate the very real suffering of Syrians in government-secured areas being targeted by mortars, rockets, car and suicide bombings and more. It is disingenuous to imply that by visiting the many and vast government-secured areas in Syria one cannot get an accurate idea of the will of Syrian people and their experiences.

Going to population hubs like Damascus, Latakia, Tartous, and Homs, one encounters Syrians from all over the country, from all faiths (see examples from my extensive travels in summer 2016), some of the at least 7 million internal refugees.

In Latakia alone, there are over 1 million internal refugees, including many who have come from areas of Aleppo formerly occupied by militants and terrorists. One can hear their testimonies by visiting shelters for refugees, or even encountering these displaced people in commercial areas, including many internal refugees who have left everything behind, fleeing the terror of western-backed ‘rebels’ for the safety of government-secured areas.

Regarding my four Aleppo  visits in 2016, the areas and routes we took involved frequent potential exposure to ‘rebel’-terrorist sniper fire or shelling.

Had Gruda been present on the November 2nd visit to extremely dangerous areas, in some instances less than 100 metres or even less than 50 metres from al-Qaeda snipers, she would have overheard the bombastic corporate journalists (who would later distort truth on their visit) complaining that they didn’t feel comfortable visiting those areas—areas where we were seeing first-hand the effects of terrorists’ bombings on civilians, and where we were speaking with brave Syrians who had refused to leave, victims of terrorists’ sniping.

Gruda wrote that I relied heavily on this particular trip with mostly corporate journalists (I was interested to see how they would spin truth in their reports) when speaking of Aleppo. In fact, I spoke of my own completely independent visit in July, subsequent independent visit in August, and my other independent visit in November, returning to the city roughly a week after I’d been there with the delegation.

aleppo visits discussed in montreal talk

Screenshot of folder used in my January presentation.

Finally, and again predictably, Gruda attempted to imply I am financed by Russia or Syria, was sceptical that readers who appreciate my efforts donate to me. On that note, please follow me on Patreon or support me via Paypal. This is what truly enables me to survive while fully committing my time to anti-war, anti-occupation, anti-nuke-the-DPRK efforts.

However, on Gruda and her employer, Canadian journalist and author, Yves Englerasked:

“…Does Gruda describe herself as an employee of the billionaire Desmarais family that is heavily involved in Canadian and other countries’ politics? How does Gruda describe journalists who’ve written for Al Jazeera, which is owned by a Qatari monarchy that has backed armed opposition to Assad? Or how about the BBC, CBC and other media outlets owned by governments?

Or, does she mention journalists’ ties when they have freelanced for Radio Canada International, a “Canadian government propaganda arm”? Initially focused on Eastern Bloc countries, beginning in 1945 RCI beamed radio abroad as part of “the psychological war against communism”, according to external minister Lester Pearson. Early on External Affairs was given a copy of the scripts used by commentators and it responded to criticism of Canada’s international policies. Into the 1990s RCI’s funding came directly from External Affairs. Highlighting Russia’s “propaganda system” to a Canadian audience without mentioning the one at home indicates either a journalist’s ignorance or that she is part of it.

I’d say the latter.

Gruda’s Track Record of Supporting Terrorism

While Gruda fails in the ethics department, she is at least consistent: she also cheerled the destruction of Libya, and Iraq prior, romanticizing the militants in Libya as “rebels”, even posing while holding the weapon of one.

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Gruda: “No journalist worthy of the name will say to support any regime whatsoever, or any faction whatsoever. And will not show the symbols of one or the other part …”

Jihadi Agnès, in her article, took issue with my wearing a bracelet with the Syrian flag on it.

But I guess her Brega, Libya, gun-toting pose in a “rebel”-terrorist area is completely professional.

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A very neutral and professional Agnès Gruda in Libya 2011.

More revealingly, Jooneed Khan, an international affairs journalist for 40 years who formerly worked at La Presse, told me of Gruda’s censorship of his honest reporting.

“I spent 3 months of 2003 in Iraq, before, during and after the bombing and the occupation. I was in Baghdad in April 2003 reporting for La Presse. On the day following the toppling of the statue of Saddam in Firdaus Square, I wrote a 1,400 word piece saying Iraqis did not welcome the GIs as ‘liberators’, that armed check-points were going up all over the city, that tension was rising. She, and others, massacred my text, cut in down to 400 words, made it say the opposite of what it said, and published it with my by-line. In 40 years that is the worst case of censorship I met at the hands of my bosses.

Gruda’s Sectarian Slant

Had Gruda wished to speak with Syrians from greater Aleppo, I did offer to connect her with actual accredited doctors working in Aleppo, as well as Sunnis in the city. But, Gruda seemed to prefer approaching her ‘reporting’ from a sectarian perspective and only wished to speak with Christians at the January Montreal event, though many Sunni Syrians were present.

A Bossalinie Armanazi who attended my lecture later messaged me to say that although Gruda was encouraged to interview him, a Sunni, Gruda suddenly didn’t have time. Armanazi wrote to me:

“She had a storyline and needed the right cast with specific characteristics to fit the story. Apparently, I got disqualified because my religious sect and political views did not fit in the story she wants to tell.

I am among the Sunni Muslims that do not support the so-called ‘revolution’ and stand with the Syrian state in addressing and resolving this conflict. I, like many others, did not see any positive change coming out from the so-called rebels, which are nothing but radicalized barbaric groups flowing from all over the world and given political, logistical, financial and weaponry support to fight on behalf of another group of states/kingdoms that have offered nothing but destruction.”

Indeed, the panel’s organizers confirmed that they had encouraged both Agnès Gruda and her sister Alexandra Szacka to interview the many Sunnis present that day. They were not interested.

What Gruda, Channel 4, Snopes, and others issuing smear pieces have done is to concoct articles which negate all valid points I have made, in their attempt to discredit me, and others like me who have gone to Syria and shared the voices and realities of Syrians.

When any of these sites make an error, or lie, (and they do), what is the response? A simple retraction in passing that few will notice anyway. Please recall that the BBC claimed a photo taken in Iraq depicted Houla, Syria. When called out by the photographer, the BBC issued an non-retraction statement of having included that the photo could not be independently verified.

Also recall that the BBC was filming in an area held by extremists, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, and in December 2013 normalized the terrorist group as a “Syrian rebel” group. Robert Stuart has exposed the BBC’s lies in “Fabrication in BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’”. These are not one-offs, these are examples of systematic war propaganda.

When flooded with over 1000 messages/emails in December 2016, I did at least manage to see and address the email from a Toronto-based Buzzfeed writer in December 2016. His smear piece was cookie cutter perfect.

More will follow, and they will follow the CIA memo, and other smear tactics. But after this rebuttal, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Deconstructing the White Helmets’ Apologists

Regarding the issue so covered up by these various authors–the White Helmets, al-Qaeda’s rescuers–I refer now to a number of excellent articles debunking of the recent Guardian story.

-Ridiculous Guardian Smear Piece Results In Epic Satire, Dec 19, 2017, Brandon Turbeville, Activist Post
-What The Guardian Is Afraid Of When Attacking Honest Syria Reporters?, Dec 20, 2017, Adam Garrie, Oriental Review
-The Guardian’s Attempt to Save the White Helmets, Dec 20, 2017, John Wight, Sputnik
-Understanding The Guardian’s Latest ‘Russia-White Helmets’ Conspiracy Theory, Dec 20, 2017, 21st Century Wire
-UK Column Deconstructs Olivia Solon’s ‘Russia-White Helmets Conspiracy’ Guardian Article, Dec 21, 2017, 21st Century Wire

Veteran journalist John Pilger described the White Helmets as “a complete propaganda construct.

On November 30, 2016, Gareth Porter wrote of the White Helmets, focusing on one particular incident which blew their credibility. He wrote:

“…The highly political role played by the White Helmets in relation to foreign press coverage was dramatically demonstrated after the attack on a Syrian Red Crescent truck convoy in the rebel held area of Urum al-Kubra, just west of Aleppo on September 19. The assault took place immediately after a ceasefire agreed to by Russia, the U.S. and the Syrian government was shattered by a deadly U.S. air attack on Syrian army forces battling ISIS around the city of Deir Ezzor on September 17.

…In the days following the attack, news media coverage relied heavily on accounts provided by the White Helmets. The head of the organization in Aleppo, Ammar Al-Selmo, was offering them a personal on-the-scene account. Selmo’s version of the story turned out to be riddled with falsehoods; however, many journalists approached it without an ounce of skepticism, and have continued to rely on him for information on the ongoing battles in and around Aleppo.”

Porter went on to detail Selmo’s self-contradicting claims, as well as the contradictory statements of another White Helmet member, Urum al-Kubra WH director Hussein Badawi, whose own words contradicted those of Selmo’s claims.

More recently, Porter commented in an interview on RT:

“The White Helmets have been lionized by the news media, and treated as simply heroes of the Syrian war. There has been no criticism really allowed in the media of the White Helmets, in terms of other aspects of what they do that may be less attractive. They have been assigned the job of basically being the propaganda arm of those authorities (al-Qaeda). …It’s a matter of public record. It’s not denied that this organization gets its funding from the United States, from the UK, in the 10s of millions of dollars.”

In his November 2016 article, Porter noted:

“The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.

The Guardian, Channel 4, Snopes, and Agnès Gruda are indeed guilty of journalistic malpractice, and war propaganda of the most heinous kind.

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A Personal Reply to the Fact-Challenged Smears of Terrorist-Whitewashing Channel 4, Snopes and La Presse

A Personal Reply to the Fact-Challenged Smears of Terrorist_Whitewashing Channel4, Snopes and La Presse

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How about the “fact checkers” and apologists look into why the White Helmets recycled an image claiming to show a victim of “Russian airstrikes” after having previously used the same image before Russia even began bombing ISIS in Syria.

-Eva Bartlett

republished at: The Indicter

In part 1, I wrote of the Guardian’s quite unoriginal Russophobic story cheering for al-Qaeda’s rescuers, the White Helmets. In this second part, I expose other (some serial) offenders, guilty of disinformation on the White Helmets, and war propaganda on Syria to a degree that Goebbels would be envious. They are further guilty of ignoring the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of Syrians who call a spade a spade, a terrorist a terrorist.

The Channel 4 “Fact Check” Card

In The Guardian article in question, the author began by linking to a Channel 4 News smear piece on myself which had nothing to do with the point she was asserting—whether or not the group had al-Qaeda ties—but which was issued a year ago with the sole intent to cherry-pick my words to discredit myself. Such non sequitur arguments are commonly used by those who cannot backup their statements with facts and who wish to, instead, deflect and mislead.

Had the Guardian had honest intentions regarding the White Helmets article, they might have actually investigated the many members of the White Helmets with ties to al-Qaeda and affiliated extremists. Here is but one example showing the allegiance of over 60 White Helmets members to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Regarding the Channel 4 smear which The Guardian’s own hatchet piece linked to, it followed my speaking on a December 2016 panel (over 50 minutes, with question period), with three others, including a lawyer and the head of the US Peace Council, in a press room of the United Nations.

In that panel, we spoke of many important issues, including: the illegality of this war on Syria; the need to lift the devastating sanctions on Syria; the statement of unity among over 200 organizations in the US and internationally in solidarity with the Syrian government’s fight against foreign intervention; the Syrian reconciliation movement; and the heinous acts committed against Syrian civilians by terrorists, whether from the FSA or Nour al-Deen al-Zenki or ISIS or other.

I spoke for thirteen minutes, noting that my trips to Syria have been self-funded, and that I’ve traveled widely, interacting one-on-one with Syrians, and seen wide support for their army and leadership.

I highlighted how the over 1.5 million people of Aleppo had endured sieges and the attacks of terrorists groups, which killed nearly 11,000 civilians by end of 2016, and noted being present when on November 3, 2016, terrorist attacks on Aleppo which killed 18 and injured over 200. I cited being present during the November 4 mortar attacks by extremist factions on one of the humanitarian crossroads.

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Photo by Eva Bartlett, July 2017, Aleppo countryside. See my photo essay on Aleppo and countryside.

Other points which I addressed include:

-The words of Syrians who in October 2016 escaped terrorists’ rule in an eastern area of Aleppo, noting that the “moderates” deprived them of food and imposed extremist ideology on the people.

-The unity I saw in Aleppo, between Sunni Muslims and Christians, rejecting the external sectarianism, and rejecting the corporate narrative that Sunnis in Syria are against Bashar al-Assad, and the support of civilians for their army.

-The al-Quds hospital which was not “destroyed”, not reduced “to rubble”, as per Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and as repeated by most corporate media. Admittedly, it was lexiconally-incorrect of me to have stated that the Quds hospital had not been attacked: I cannot prove it has never been lightly or otherwise attacked. The correct wording should have been “not destroyed”, and in fact this June I confirmed that the Quds hospital remained standing, intact as it was when I mentioned it in that December 2016 panel.

However, as I mentioned in December, the Dabeet maternity hospital in Aleppo was internally-destroyed by a terrorist bombing, to the silence of most media. I went there and spoke with the director, who confirmed that three women died the attack in which freedom-bringers fired a missile that landed on a car parked outside the hospital, exploding that car. The director also noted that a week later, terrorists’ mortars hit the roof of the hospital, destroying the roof and injuring construction workers.

In the panel, I also mentioned the Kindi hospital which was destroyed by al-Nusra truck bombings, a rather significant fact, given that it was the largest and best cancer treatment hospital in the region. [Incidentally, I met with Kindi’s former director in November 2016, who spoke of international silence at the destruction of his hospital. While speaking, a terrorist-fired mortar landed outside of the University hospital where we spoke.]

I presented the words of the director of Aleppo’s Medical Association, who told me that in contrast to corporate media’s assertions of “last doctors” and “last pediatricians”, there were over 4,100 active and registered doctors in Aleppo, including over 800 specialists, including 180 pediatricians.

Selective Cricitism, Whitewashing Crimes

Out of that lengthy December 2016 panel, the sole issue that Channel 4 cherry-picked was a remark I made in the question period following, on the issue of exploitation of children in war propaganda—or more specifically, whether one girl has been exploited repeatedly.

I will note that while I cannot prove definitively that one of the girls I mentioned (or those which Channel 4 piece assumed I referred to) have been used in staged videos, it is entirely feasible that she/they and other children have been, and is entirely worthy of serious investigative research, particularly given the western-funded, terrorist-affiliated nature of the various sources.

For example, on the issue of staged media, as I wrote in June 2017 (emphasis added):

“In December 2016, filmmakers in Egypt were arrested in the process of staging an Aleppo video with two children: the girl was meant to look injured, and the boy was to vilify both Russia and Syria.”

My article detailed the misuse of a Lebanese music video scene to claim it was Aleppo; and BBC’s endorsement of the November 2014 ‘Syrian hero boy’ clip as definitely being in Syria, “probably on the regime frontlines,” although it was filmed in Malta by Norwegian filmmakers.”

In June 2017, I also wrote about one famous boy, the “boy in the ambulance”, exploited including by Channel 4 News and the Guardian. When this June I went to Aleppo and met the boy and his father, the latter confirmed that the story pushed in corporate media was false, and that media had exploited his son. As it turns out, Mohammad Daqneesh supports the Syrian army, and was disgusted by the exploitation of his son, by media and the terrorists themselves.

Further, there is the White Helmets video in which “rescuers” seem to be fake-rescuing children, employing practices which would kill them, as outlined by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, head of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). His March 2017 article noted the opinions of Swedish medical doctors, specialists, who asserted that:

“the life-saving procedures seen in the film are incorrect – in fact life-threatening – or seemingly fake, including simulated resuscitation techniques being used on already lifeless children.”

He cites a specialist in paediatrics:

“After examination of the video material, I found that the measures inflicted upon those children, some of them lifeless, are bizarre, non-medical, non-lifesaving, and even counterproductive in terms of life-saving purposes of children”.

And a Swedish medical doctor and general practitioner:

“If not already dead, this injection would have killed the child!”

His follow-up report noted:

“The new findings…demonstrate that the main highlighted ‘life-saving‘ procedure on the infant shown in the second video of the sequence was faked. Namely, no substance (e.g. adrenaline) was injected into the child while the ‘medic’ or doctor introduced the syringe-needle in a simulated intracardiac-injection manoeuvre…”

Recall the incubator babies story sobbed by the fake-nurse daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US (endorsed and propagated by Amnesty International), which preceded and had a role in swaying public opinion prior to the 1991 US/UK war on Iraq. Regarding the White Helmets video in question, de Noli noted it was,

“shown at the UN Security Council April 16, 2015. After that meeting, US Ambassador Samantha Powers declared, ‘I saw no one in the room without tears. If there was a dry eye in the room, I didn’t see it’.

Ensuing, just four days after, on April 20, 2015, CNN broadcasted a news-program reproducing segments taken from exactly the same videos and propagated for the No-Fly Zone on behalf of “the Syrian doctors” campaigning.

This horrifying syringe-children example, and the above-listed incidents of faked footage and exploitation of children in war propaganda, are more than enough reason to warrant serious investigations into other videos produced by the White Helmets (and those of like western-funded “opposition media” in Syria, including formerly the Aleppo Media Centre [AMC]).

Channel 4 Team Mucked the Facts

Regarding the Channel 4 “fact check”, Patrick Worrall got his facts wrong in his very second sentence, which read:

“She writes a blog for the state-funded Russian media outlet Russia Today.”

Alas, the Channel 4 team didn’t do the most elementary investigative research to see where exactly my supposed “blog” on RT was. Had Channel 4 followed the link, they would find the opinion section dubbed “Op Edge”, to which 19 writers currently contribute, many of whom also contribute to numerous other publications. Many papers have such opinion sections, including The Guardian, which describes the entries there as “opinion pieces” and not “blog posts”.

Channel 4 also described the UN panel in question as “organised by the Syrian mission to the UN”. In fact, I initiated contact with the Syrian mission to request that I do what the US Peace Council had done in August 2016: to present some of what I had seen and heard in Syria. The Syrian mission did arrange for the room, as per my request. Worrall’s wording is to imply that I was merely invited to speak, whereas in fact I requested to speak, since corporate media won’t give voices like mine a fair platform.

In an attempt to legitimize the narrative of White Helmets rescuing babies or people from rubble, Channel 4 wrote that I had reported a case of someone buried alive in Gaza in 2009 who (I wrote a few weeks after his injury) emerged with “only a mere scar at his left eyebrow”.

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*Image provided by Abu Qusay.

Yet, my 2009 article clearly portrays a man with thick blood streaming down his face, who (as he explained) couldn’t walk on his own, and by his own testimony passed out and woke up in hospital. In contrast, the girl in question (number two in Channel 4’s article), supposedly buried, seemingly has no visible blood on her face, and in spite of having been pulled by her ponytail after being buried by rubble, is alert and conscious. Not such an apt comparison, Channel 4. It indeed begs the question of just how injured she was.

Of girl number 2, Channel 4 wrote:

“Someone would have had to have buried a screaming child up to their chest in rubble and carefully assembled a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her…”

Indeed. It’s funny how the White Helmets did exactly that in their “mannequin challenge” video, extracting from rubble a man who appears unable to walk… later photographs show the actor standing with his “rescuers”.

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Further, the video presented by Channel 4 regarding the ponytail-grabbed girl in no way shows “a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her”. Rather, it shows a child waist-deep in rubble, “rescuers” wiping rubble here and there, and finally the child extracted (video strangely cuts the extraction point, why is that?), the rescuer running to and beyond the waiting ambulance.

I challenge Channel 4 to find any actual doctor, medic or rescuer that would pull a child supposedly buried in rubble by her ponytail, knowing that any damage to the spine can be fatal or leave the victim paralyzed.

Terrorist-Affiliated Sources Not Credible, Even If Reuters

Later in the article, Channel 4 refers to “a Reuters photographer on the ground at one of the incidents, who was satisfied that the events he was recording were genuine.” Given that the photographer in question, Abdalrhman Ismail, was embedded in al-Qaeda areas, litters his Facebook posts with pro-“rebel” and anti-Assad propaganda, and has selfies with at least one of the member of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki terrorists who beheaded a Palestinian boy in 2016, his credibility and impartiality is shot, to say the least.

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*Abdalrhman Ismail on left, Zenki child-beheader centre.

 

Ismail also participated in the propaganda that the Quds hospital in Sukkari, Aleppo had been destroyed by airstrikes, which it was not.

Channel 4 cited me as saying that the White Helmets can be found carrying guns and standing on dead bodies of Syrian soldiers, but did not address these points, nor did they address the curious issue of the obscene amount of funds these “volunteers” have received. What strange omissions. Channel 4 also did not address my point about internal refugees who fled not Assad, as claimed in corporate media, but the terrorists themselves, and how these internal refugees are given housing, food, education and medical care by the Syrian government. Not important?

Clearly Channel 4 reports only that which supports the “rebels” and “revolution” narrative, whitewashing the terrorism not only of the extremists but also the governments funding and supporting them, and governments imposing sanctions on Syria.

Incidentally, Channel 4 (as I wrote) produced a report embedded with the Nour al-Din al-Zinki faction, who Channel 4 deemed “moderates,” although in July prior they had savagely beheaded Abdullah Issa. Not initially a problem for Channel 4, they did later remove the incriminating video.” This is the same Channel 4 whose reporter, when returned to Aleppo after its liberation, refused to “get into history” about his lies and war propaganda. In other words: Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru Murthy lied throughout 2016, and when confronted did not even have the dignity and integrity to admit he was wrong.

Snopes: Factually-Challenged

In December 2016, the self-professed “fact check” website Snopes also produced a smear piece full of logical fallacies on me. Interestingly, had they not, I might not have come across their article whitewashing al-Qaeda’s rescuers.

Snopes’ Bethania Palma opened with this teaser (emphasis added):

“The idea that victims of mass tragedies are ‘recycled’ is a common theme among conspiracy theorists, but there are international reports and footage of the Al Quds Hospital attack.”

In addition to the unoriginal use of “conspiracy theorists”, two different issues were conflated: That of whether people are being used in staged videos, and that of the al-Quds hospital “attack”. The conclusion following “but” has absolutely nothing to do with the first part of the sentence. This is a straw man argument, and is designed to mislead.

Snopes continued with things like “outlandish-sounding claims” and that I believe “international media are conspiring to fabricate stories of hospital bombings,” and that I refer to “all factions fighting President Bashar al Assad’s forces as terrorists.”

As it turned out, my outlandish-sounding claims were true. The al-Quds hospital was not “destroyed”, the “last doctors” theme was a propaganda ploy, as was the “last pediatrician in Aleppo,” and many other ruses. Indeed, international media did conspire to fabricate stories, such as that on Omran Daqneesh, and also on Bana al-Abed.

The international media did conspire to claim that Assad was starving civilians in Aleppo, which was laid to rest when media actually spoke to civilians (and not terrorist mouthpieces) after Aleppo’s liberation.

The international media also conspired along the same lines regarding Madaya. I went to Madaya this June and learned the same sordid realities (starvation, torture, imprisonment) that civilians endured in Aleppo, due to al-Qaeda and affiliated extremists. The international media continue to conspire, with the same tired claims.

Snopes stated, regarding Syria’s 2014 Presidential election: “Voting in that election only took place in government-held territories.”

False. Voting occurred also in neighbouring Lebanon, where I witnessed the first of two days of mass-turnout of Syrians to vote. Syrians in countries like Canada which has closed the Syrian embassy flew to Damascus airport just for the right to vote.

Snopes also neglected to mention that, in their efforts to bring “democracy” to Syria, “moderates” shelled voting stations throughout Syria on June 3, firing 151 shells on Damascus alone, killing at least 5 and maiming 33 Syrians,” in Damascus, as I wrote in 2014.

As for whether forces fighting the Syrian army and civilians are terrorists, I have heard this repeatedly from civilians in Syria themselves, like this civilian in Aleppo in June 2017. Whether FSA, al-Qaeda, al-Zenki or another shade of extremist, they all commit acts of terrorism against Syrian civilians.

Snopes then strangely pointed out the following, as if I would refute it: “Bartlett has a statement on her own web site:

‘I support Syria against a ‘civil’ war that is funded, armed and planned by the western powers and their regional allies with a view to wiping out all resistance to imperialism in the Middle East…’.”

Indeed, I did have it on my blog, and one can still see it among my Facebook cover photos. Thanks for sharing that, Snopes! Incidentally, Qatar’s former PM admitted this as well, noting Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey had been coordinating with America and sending weapons to militants since events began in 2011. What a dang conspiracy theorist the former Qatari Prime Minister is! Almost as conspiratorial as the former French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, who noted (video here):

“I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria.

This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate.

Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me….This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

Otherwise, in their “fact check” Snopes repeated points I’ve already addressed above, including about the Quds hospital, which Snopes neglected to mention that MSF had said was “destroyed”. Thus, the explanation that it was somehow risen from the rubble and working anew in September is simply illogical. It was “destroyed”, remember? Reduced “to rubble”, said MSF.

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How Neutral is Snopes?

Snopes completely avoided investigating my mention that the White Helmets “can be found carrying guns and standing on the dead bodies of Syrian soldiers”, although she did cite me as having said it.

Near the beginning of her article, Snopes’ Palma mentioned that I was billed as an “independent Canadian journalist,” immediately following with: “She is also a contributor at RT, a news site funded by the Russian government.”

As noted in part one (and also on my blog), I contribute to a number of sites, RT just one among them, and do so precisely because these independent websites, and RT, allow me to write exactly what I believe, with zero censorship.

In any case, is Snopes as independent, neutral and apolitical as claimed to be, and as an impartial fact checking group must be?

A June 2016 article (albeit by the Daily Caller) looked at the politics of some of Snopes’ “fact checkers”, noting “Snopes’ “fact-checking” looks more like playing defense for prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton.”

Another article noted Snopes’ “spinning for (Hillary) Clinton”, as well as occasions where Snopes patently lied.

Forbes had an interesting article on the matter, looking at a sensationalistic Daily Mail expose that one of Snopes’ founders “embezzled $98,000 of company money and spent it on ‘himself and prostitutes’.” While the Forbes author was initially sceptical of the Daily Mail piece, after corresponding with Snopes’ founder David Mikkelson, he became sceptical of the site’s lack of transparency and the competency of fact checkers.

The myth of Snopes as a reliable, neutral, fact checker is as dead as the myth of the White Helmets as neutral, volunteer, rescuers in Syria.

Canadian Yellow Journalist

Following in the footsteps of Snopes and Channel 4 was a poor attempt at discrediting me by a Canadian corporate hack. I am addressing this feeble smear article solely because Agnès Gruda was an apologist for the terrorists which destroyed Libya, and silenced honest reporting on Iraq.

In January 2017, Montreal, Canada, I was part of a panel on Syria. During the shared panel, I spoke for over half an hour, highlighting the need to question the veracity of media reports and of videos produced by the al-Qaeda affiliated White Helmets and other compromised Western-funded sources based solely in terrorist-occupied areas.

Following the question period, two Canadian journalists approached demanding an interview, camera already filming. One of the journalists, Alexandra Szacka of Radio Canada, had been persistently messaging me two weeks prior, expressing what she claimed was an interest in hearing my perspective on Syria. A look at her Twitter feed revealed her real interests and allegiances: towing the Western narrative on Syria.

alexandra and agnes while i mention carla del ponte and rebels sarin khan al assal

Agnès Gruda and Alexandra Szacka while I refer to Carla del Ponte’s comments regarding the complicity of  “rebels” in the Khan al Assal chemical weapons attack.

However, based on the request of a mutual contact to grant the interview, I did. Prior to agreeing to the interview with Szacka and sister Agnès Gruda, of La Presse, I pointed out that for the past hour I had given numerous examples of corporate media fabrications, lies, and obfuscations. They pledged to be different. Gruda lied.

Since much of the content of Gruda’s piece is unsurprisingly very similar to prior smears, I’ll address only points not already made, noting, that Gruda also unsurprisingly failed to address a single one of the numerous points I made in that January panel.

As for the December 2016 panel at the UN, Gruda, in her haste to taint the event, wrote thatit was held in fact inside the offices of the Syrian delegation to the UN.”

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Screenshot from Gruda’s article.

False. The panel was held in an official press room at the United Nations Headquarters, in an entirely different building complex than (and two blocks away from) the offices of the Syrian mission to the UN.

UN press room location

She correctly, however, stated that I’ve never set foot on the “rebel” side. I’m not keen on being beheaded. Veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn even wrote:

They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom. … all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.”

But anyway, when was Gruda in Syria…?

With this sort of “never set foot” on the terrorists’ side comment, war propagandists like Gruda negate the very real suffering of Syrians in government-secured areas being targeted by mortars, rockets, car and suicide bombings and more. It is disingenuous to imply that by visiting the many and vast government-secured areas in Syria one cannot get an accurate idea of the will of Syrian people and their experiences.

Going to population hubs like Damascus, Latakia, Tartous, and Homs, one encounters Syrians from all over the country, from all faiths (see examples from my extensive travels in summer 2016), some of the at least 7 million internal refugees.

In Latakia alone, there are over 1 million internal refugees, including many who have come from areas of Aleppo formerly occupied by militants and terrorists. One can hear their testimonies by visiting shelters for refugees, or even encountering these displaced people in commercial areas, including many internal refugees who have left everything behind, fleeing the terror of western-backed ‘rebels’ for the safety of government-secured areas.

Regarding my four Aleppo  visits in 2016, the areas and routes we took involved frequent potential exposure to ‘rebel’-terrorist sniper fire or shelling.

Had Gruda been present on the November 2nd visit to extremely dangerous areas, in some instances less than 100 metres or even less than 50 metres from al-Qaeda snipers, she would have overheard the bombastic corporate journalists (who would later distort truth on their visit) complaining that they didn’t feel comfortable visiting those areas—areas where we were seeing first-hand the effects of terrorists’ bombings on civilians, and where we were speaking with brave Syrians who had refused to leave, victims of terrorists’ sniping.

Gruda wrote that I relied heavily on this particular trip with mostly corporate journalists (I was interested to see how they would spin truth in their reports) when speaking of Aleppo. In fact, I spoke of my own completely independent visit in July, subsequent independent visit in August, and my other independent visit in November, returning to the city roughly a week after I’d been there with the delegation.

aleppo visits discussed in montreal talk

Screenshot of folder used in my January presentation.

Finally, and again predictably, Gruda attempted to imply I am financed by Russia or Syria, was sceptical that readers who appreciate my efforts donate to me. On that note, please follow me on Patreon or support me via Paypal. This is what truly enables me to survive while fully committing my time to anti-war, anti-occupation, anti-nuke-the-DPRK efforts.

However, on Gruda and her employer, Canadian journalist and author, Yves Engler, asked:

“…Does Gruda describe herself as an employee of the billionaire Desmarais family that is heavily involved in Canadian and other countries’ politics? How does Gruda describe journalists who’ve written for Al Jazeera, which is owned by a Qatari monarchy that has backed armed opposition to Assad? Or how about the BBC, CBC and other media outlets owned by governments?

Or, does she mention journalists’ ties when they have freelanced for Radio Canada International, a “Canadian government propaganda arm”? Initially focused on Eastern Bloc countries, beginning in 1945 RCI beamed radio abroad as part of “the psychological war against communism”, according to external minister Lester Pearson. Early on External Affairs was given a copy of the scripts used by commentators and it responded to criticism of Canada’s international policies. Into the 1990s RCI’s funding came directly from External Affairs. Highlighting Russia’s “propaganda system” to a Canadian audience without mentioning the one at home indicates either a journalist’s ignorance or that she is part of it.

I’d say the latter.

Gruda’s Track Record of Supporting Terrorism

While Gruda fails in the ethics department, she is at least consistent: she also cheerled the destruction of Libya, and Iraq prior, romanticizing the militants in Libya as “rebels”, even posing while holding the weapon of one.

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Gruda: “No journalist worthy of the name will say to support any regime whatsoever, or any faction whatsoever. And will not show the symbols of one or the other part …”

Jihadi Agnès, in her article, took issue with my wearing a bracelet with the Syrian flag on it.

But I guess her Brega, Libya, gun-toting pose in a “rebel”-terrorist area is completely professional.

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A very neutral and professional Agnès Gruda in Libya 2011.

More revealingly, Jooneed Khan, an international affairs journalist for 40 years who formerly worked at La Presse, told me of Gruda’s censorship of his honest reporting.

“I spent 3 months of 2003 in Iraq, before, during and after the bombing and the occupation. I was in Baghdad in April 2003 reporting for La Presse. On the day following the toppling of the statue of Saddam in Firdaus Square, I wrote a 1,400 word piece saying Iraqis did not welcome the GIs as ‘liberators’, that armed check-points were going up all over the city, that tension was rising. She, and others, massacred my text, cut in down to 400 words, made it say the opposite of what it said, and published it with my by-line. In 40 years that is the worst case of censorship I met at the hands of my bosses.

Gruda’s Sectarian Slant

Had Gruda wished to speak with Syrians from greater Aleppo, I did offer to connect her with actual accredited doctors working in Aleppo, as well as Sunnis in the city. But, Gruda seemed to prefer approaching her ‘reporting’ from a sectarian perspective and only wished to speak with Christians at the January Montreal event, though many Sunni Syrians were present.

A Bossalinie Armanazi who attended my lecture later messaged me to say that although Gruda was encouraged to interview him, a Sunni, Gruda suddenly didn’t have time. Armanazi wrote to me:

“She had a storyline and needed the right cast with specific characteristics to fit the story. Apparently, I got disqualified because my religious sect and political views did not fit in the story she wants to tell.

I am among the Sunni Muslims that do not support the so-called ‘revolution’ and stand with the Syrian state in addressing and resolving this conflict. I, like many others, did not see any positive change coming out from the so-called rebels, which are nothing but radicalized barbaric groups flowing from all over the world and given political, logistical, financial and weaponry support to fight on behalf of another group of states/kingdoms that have offered nothing but destruction.”

Indeed, the panel’s organizers confirmed that they had encouraged both Agnès Gruda and her sister Alexandra Szacka to interview the many Sunnis present that day. They were not interested.

What Gruda, Channel 4, Snopes, and others issuing smear pieces have done is to concoct articles which negate all valid points I have made, in their attempt to discredit me, and others like me who have gone to Syria and shared the voices and realities of Syrians.

When any of these sites make an error, or lie, (and they do), what is the response? A simple retraction in passing that few will notice anyway. Please recall that the BBC claimed a photo taken in Iraq depicted Houla, Syria. When called out by the photographer, the BBC issued an non-retraction statement of having included that the photo could not be independently verified.

Also recall that the BBC was filming in an area held by extremists, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, and in December 2013 normalized the terrorist group as a “Syrian rebel” group. Robert Stuart has exposed the BBC’s lies in “Fabrication in BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’”. These are not one-offs, these are examples of systematic war propaganda.

When flooded with over 1000 messages/emails in December 2016, I did at least manage to see and address the email from a Toronto-based Buzzfeed writer in December 2016. His smear piece was cookie cutter perfect.

More will follow, and they will follow the CIA memo, and other smear tactics. But after this rebuttal, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Deconstructing the White Helmets’ Apologists

Regarding the issue so covered up by these various authors–the White Helmets, al-Qaeda’s rescuers–I refer now to a number of excellent articles debunking of the recent Guardian story.

-Ridiculous Guardian Smear Piece Results In Epic Satire, Dec 19, 2017, Brandon Turbeville, Activist Post
-What The Guardian Is Afraid Of When Attacking Honest Syria Reporters?, Dec 20, 2017, Adam Garrie, Oriental Review
-The Guardian’s Attempt to Save the White Helmets, Dec 20, 2017, John Wight, Sputnik
-Understanding The Guardian’s Latest ‘Russia-White Helmets’ Conspiracy Theory, Dec 20, 2017, 21st Century Wire
-UK Column Deconstructs Olivia Solon’s ‘Russia-White Helmets Conspiracy’ Guardian Article, Dec 21, 2017, 21st Century Wire

Veteran journalist John Pilger described the White Helmets as “a complete propaganda construct.

On November 30, 2016, Gareth Porter wrote of the White Helmets, focusing on one particular incident which blew their credibility. He wrote:

“…The highly political role played by the White Helmets in relation to foreign press coverage was dramatically demonstrated after the attack on a Syrian Red Crescent truck convoy in the rebel held area of Urum al-Kubra, just west of Aleppo on September 19. The assault took place immediately after a ceasefire agreed to by Russia, the U.S. and the Syrian government was shattered by a deadly U.S. air attack on Syrian army forces battling ISIS around the city of Deir Ezzor on September 17.

…In the days following the attack, news media coverage relied heavily on accounts provided by the White Helmets. The head of the organization in Aleppo, Ammar Al-Selmo, was offering them a personal on-the-scene account. Selmo’s version of the story turned out to be riddled with falsehoods; however, many journalists approached it without an ounce of skepticism, and have continued to rely on him for information on the ongoing battles in and around Aleppo.”

Porter went on to detail Selmo’s self-contradicting claims, as well as the contradictory statements of another White Helmet member, Urum al-Kubra WH director Hussein Badawi, whose own words contradicted those of Selmo’s claims.

More recently, Porter commented in an interview on RT:

“The White Helmets have been lionized by the news media, and treated as simply heroes of the Syrian war. There has been no criticism really allowed in the media of the White Helmets, in terms of other aspects of what they do that may be less attractive. They have been assigned the job of basically being the propaganda arm of those authorities (al-Qaeda). …It’s a matter of public record. It’s not denied that this organization gets its funding from the United States, from the UK, in the 10s of millions of dollars.”

In his November 2016 article, Porter noted:

“The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.

The Guardian, Channel 4, Snopes, and Agnès Gruda are indeed guilty of journalistic malpractice, and war propaganda of the most heinous kind

Pro-Terror Groups Create Fake “Atrocities,” News Stories For Anti-Assad Twitter Campaign

Source

Brandon Turbeville — Activist Post Jan 11, 2018

syria-chem-weapons-propaganda-1024x562-1-1024x562

As the Syrian military makes massive gains across the Idlib governorate, the last major bit of territory controlled by Western-backed terrorists, mainstream media is once again alight with “Assad is bombing his own people” stories. It is the exact same playlist that was used when the Syrian government liberated Homs, Deir ez-Zour, and Aleppo only this time it is updated for Idlib. Soon, we should be hearing stories of how Assad and Putin personally ordered the bombing of the “last hospital in Idilb.” No doubt there will be a lot of hospitals in Idlib since we may hear the story ten times before the region is liberated just as we did in Aleppo.

In this current propaganda campaign against the Syrian military’s operation in Idlib, a recent article by Sarah Abed reveals a terrorist-based group which has organized a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #Outrage4Idlib in order to denigrate the Syrian military operation and to push fake “atrocities” committed by the Syrian military.

In her article for al-Sura, (Syrian Opposition Groups Fabricate ‘Atrocities’ For Media Campaign In Idlib) Sarah Abed writes,

As the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) makes some vast advances in liberating Idlib and the surrounding areas, groups supporting Syrian Al Qaeda (HTS) take to twitter to ramp up a propaganda campaign against the SAA. A mass produced list of pre-made tweets highlighting ‘atrocities’ that are yet to happen was posted by opposition groups to garner support for Syrian Al Qaeda currently in Idlib fighting Syrian government forces.

Entirely fictitious tweets such as these serve the purpose of promoting anti-Syrian government sentiments across social media, in hopes of prolonging the devastating war which has claimed the lives of over half a million Syrians and displaced millions in almost seven years.

The archive of pre-made tweets states “Today ( January 9th) a list of suggestions of pre-made tweets will be released. All you have to do is click to tweet to join the campaign and invite people to join us. Please use this site to tweet: RT are not counting in the trend, only originals tweets count.”

Al-Sura itself tweeted a screenshot of some of the tweets that contain premade headlines and headlines of atrocities and events that have yet to happen. Other tweets contain headlines of events that were reported years ago but are being falsely attributed to the current military operation in Idlib.

 

No doubt, the propaganda machine will be ramping up for the last battle to eliminate Western-backed terrorists from a major city in their largest concentration in Syria. The discovery of the tweet campaign just demonstrates the nature of Western pro-terrorist propaganda and should serve as a warning to distrust anything coming out of the mainstream corporate press and “activist” twitter storms during the liberation process.

Brandon Turbeville writes for Activist Post – article archive here – He is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President, and Resisting The Empire: The Plan To Destroy Syria And How The Future Of The World Depends On The Outcome. Turbeville has published over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

This article may be freely shared in part or in full with author attribution and source link.

How the Mainstream Media Whitewashed Al-Qaeda and the White Helmets in Syria

By Eva Bartlett

Global Research, January 06, 2018

In Gaza

 

On December 18, 2017, The Guardian issued a shoddily-penned hatchet piece against British journalist Vanessa Beeley, Patrick Henningsen and his independent website 21st Century Wire, Australian professor and author Tim Anderson, and myself.
Many insightful writers have since deconstructed the lies and omissions of the article, which I will link to at the bottom of my own.
Judging by the scathing comments on The Guardian’s Facebook post, the general public didn’t buy it either. The Guardian, like Channel 4 News and Snopeswhitewashes terrorism in Syria, employs non-sequitur arguments, promotes war propaganda, and simply gets the facts wrong: 
As the purported theme of The Guardian‘s story was the issue of rescuers in Syria, I’ll begin by talking about actual rescuers I know and worked with, in hellish circumstances in Gaza.
In 2008/9, I volunteered with Palestinian medics under 22 days of relentless, indiscriminate, Israeli war plane and Apache helicopter bombings, shelling from the sea and tanks, and drone strikes. The loss of life and casualties were immense, with over 1,400 Palestinians murdered, and thousands more maimed, the vast majority civilians. Using run-down, bare-bones equipment (as actual rescuers in Syria do), Palestinian medics worked tirelessly day and night to rescue civilians.
There was not a single occasion in which I ever heard the medics (in Sunni Gaza) shout takbeeror Allahu Akbar upon rescuing civilians, much less intentionally stood on dead bodies, posed in staged videos, or any of the other revolting acts that the White Helmets have been filmed doing in Syria. They were too damn busy rescuing or evacuating the areas before another Israeli strike, and usually maintained a focused silence as they worked, communicating only the necessities. The only occasion I recall of screaming while with the medics, were the screams of civilians we collected and in particular the anguished shrieks of a husband helping to put the body parts of his dismembered wife onto a stretcher to be taken to the morgue. The medics I knew in Gaza were true heroes. The White Helmets, not a chance. They are gross caricatures of rescuers.
oli 5
A White Helmets member. “Unnarmed and neutral”?
Reply to The Guardian 
In October, a San Francisco-based tech (and sometimes fashion) Guardian writer named Olivia Solon (visibly with no understanding of Middle East geopolitics) emailed myself and Beeley with nearly identical questions filled with implicit assumptions for a Guardian “story” we were to be imminently featured in. My own correspondence with The Guardian’s Olivia Solon is as follows:
In brief, I’ll address Solon’s emails, including some of her most loaded questions:
-Who is the “we”, Solon mentions? Her mention of “we” indicates this story isn’t her own bright idea, nor independently researched and penned. Parts of the article—including the title and elements I’ll outline later in my article—seem to be lifted from others’ previous articles, but that’s copy-paste journalism for you.
-It isn’t just that I believe the mainstream media narrative about the White Helmets is wrong; this narrative has been redundantly-exposed over the years. In September 2014, Canadian independent journalist Cory Morningstar investigated hidden hands behind flashy PR around the White Helmets. In April 2015, American independent journalist Rick Sterling revealed that the White Helmets had been founded by Western powers and managed by a British ex-soldier, and noted the “rescuers” role in calling for Western intervention—a No Fly Zone on Syria. (more on these articles below). This was months before Russian media began to write about the White Helmets.
Since then, Vanessa Beeley has done the vast amount of research in greater detail, doing on-the-ground investigations in Syria, including: taking the testimonies of Syrian civilians who had (often brutal) experiences with the White Helmets; establishing that the Syrian Civil Defense exists and has existed since 1953, but are not the White Helmets—which has misappropriated this name; establishing that the international body, the International Civil Defence organisation in Geneva, does not recognize the White Helmets as the Syrian Civil Defence; establishing that men now White Helmets members looted vehicles and equipment from the Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo—and belongings from civilians; and establishing that White Helmets shared a building in Bab Al Nairab, eastern Aleppo with al-Qaeda and were present as al-Qaeda tortured civilians, among other points.
It is hard to believe that in the span of the two months between her contacting Beeley and myself that Solon, in her certainly deep investigations, has not seen this video, clearly showing uniformed White Helmets members with supporters of Saudi terrorist, Abdullah Muhaysini. Not quite “neutral” rescuers. But then, perhaps she did. She was willing to write off the presence of White Helmets members at execution scenes, standing on dead Syrian soldiers, and holding weapons, as a few bad apples sort of thing.
-As to The Guardian’s interest in my “relationship” to the Syrian government: No, I have not received payment, gifts or other from any government. To the contrary, I’ve poured my own money into going to Syria (and have fund-raised, and also routinely received Paypal donations or support on Patreon by individuals who appreciate my work). See my article on this matter.
As to how my visits to Syria and North Korea came about, this is another transparent attempt to imply that I am on the payroll of/receive other benefits from one or more of the governments in question.
One of The Guardian’s questions in the emails was regarding my following: “That you attract a large online audience, amplified by high-profile right-wing personalities and appearances on Russian state TV.” (emphasis added)
What following I do have began exactly one year ago, after I requested to speak in a panel at the United Nations, as the US Peace Council had done in August 2016. It is as a result of a short interaction between myself and a Norwegian journalist, which went viral, that my online audience grew. In fact, I deeply regret that what went viral was not the important content of the three other panelists and my own over twenty minutes report on conditions in Aleppo which was then still under daily bombardments and snipings by what the West deems “moderates”.
However, given that so many people responded positively regarding the interaction—which dealt with lies of the corporate media and lack of sources—it seems that the public already had a sense that something was not right with corporate media’s renditions on Syria.
-Regarding The Guardian Solon’s question: “That you think that Assad is being demonized by the US as a means to drive regime change.” Of course I do, as do most analysts and writers not blinded by or obliged to the NATO narrative. As Rick Sterling wrote in September 2016:
“This disinformation and propaganda on Syria takes three distinct forms. The first is the demonization of the Syrian leadership. The second is the romanticization of the opposition. The third form involves attacking anyone questioning the preceding characterizations.”
Boston Globe contributor, award-winning foreign correspondent and author, Stephen Kinzer wrote in February 2016:
“Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.”
Countering corporate media’s demonization campaigns, I’ve written on many occasions—notably including the words of Syrians within Syria—about the vast amount of support the Syrian president enjoys inside of Syria and outside.
In my March 7, 2016 article, I cited meeting with internal, unarmed, opposition members, including Kurdish representative, Berwine Brahim, who stated,
We want you to convey that conspiracy, terrorism and interference from Western countries has united supporters of the government and the opposition, to support President Bashar al-Assad.”
In that same article, I wrote:
“Wherever I’ve gone in Syria (as well as many months in various parts of Lebanon, where I’ve met Syrians from all over Syria) I’ve seen wide evidence of broad support for President al-Assad. The pride I’ve seen in a majority of Syrians in their President surfaces in the posters in homes and shops, in patriotic songs and Syrian flags at celebrations and in discussions with average Syrians of all faiths. Most Syrians request that I tell exactly what I have seen and to transmit the message that it is for Syrians to decide their future,that they support their president and army and that the only way to stop the bloodshed is for Western and Gulf nations to stop sending terrorists to Syria, for Turkey to stop warring on Syria, for the West to stop their nonsense talk about ‘freedom‘ and ‘democracy’ and leave Syrians to decide their own future.”
In my May 2014 article from Lebanon, having independently observed the first of two days of Syrians streaming to their embassy to vote in presidential elections, I cited some of the many Syrians there with whom I spoke (in Arabic):
“’We love him. I’m Sunni, not Alawi,’ Walid, from Raqqa, noted. ‘They’re afraid our voices will be heard,’ he said….’ I’m from Deir Ezzor,’ said a voter. ‘ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is in our area. We want Bashar al-Assad. The guy walks straight,’ he said, with a gesture of his hand.”
No one escorted me in a Syrian government vehicle to that embassy, by the way. I took a bus, and then walked the remaining many kilometres (the road was so clogged with vehicles going to the embassy) with Syrians en route to vote.
In June 2014, a week after the elections within Syria, I traveled by public bus to Homs (once dubbed the “capital of the revolution”), where I saw Syrians celebrating the results of the election, one week after the fact, and spoke with Syrians beginning to clean up and patch up homes damaged from the terrorist occupation of their district.
When I returned to Homs in December 2015, shops and restaurants had re-opened where a year and a half prior they were destroyed. People were preparing to celebrate Christmas as they could not do when terrorists ruled. In Damascus, attending a choral concert I overheard people asking one another excitedly whether “he” was here. The day prior, President Assad and the First Lady had dropped in on the practising choir, to their surprise and delight. And although the church was within hitting distance of mortars fired by the west’s “moderates” (and indeed that area had been repeatedly hit by mortars), the people faced that prospect in hopes of a re-visit by the President.
These are just some of many examples of the support Syria’s president sees and the attempts to vilify him and other Syrian leadership. Even Fox News acknowledged his support, referring to the 2014 elections:
…it underscored the considerable support that President Bashar Assad still enjoys from the population, including many in the majority Sunni Muslim community. …Without Sunni support, however, Assad’s rule would have collapsed long ago.”
Regarding war crimes, Syria is fighting a war against terrorism, but corporate media continues fabricating claims, and repeating those fabricated, uninvestigated, accusations. For example, the repeated claim of the Syrian government starving civilians. In my on the ground investigations, I’ve revealed the truth behind starvation (and hospitals destroyed, and “last doctors”) in Aleppo, in Madaya, in al-Waer, in Old Homs (2014). In all instances, starvation and lack of medical care was solely due to terrorists—including al-Qaeda—hoarding food (and medical supplies). Vanessa Beeley has in greater depth exposed those lies regarding eastern Aleppo.
Regarding chemical weapons accusations, those have long been negated by the investigations of Seymour Hersh (on Ghouta 2013; on Khan Sheikhoun 2017) and the UN’s own Carla Del Pontewho said:
“…there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.”
Regarding convoys allegedly bombed, see my own article on one such claim.
Regarding whether the White Helmets have done any good work rescuing civilians: they are working solely in areas occupied by al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists, so no one can prove whether they have actually done any rescue work of civilians. However, we have numerous on the ground witness testimonies to the contrary, that the White Helmets denied medical care to civilians not affiliated with terrorist groups.
In September 2017, Murad Gazdiev (instrumental in his honest reporting from Aleppo during much of 2016) documented how the White Helmets headquarters in Bustan al-Qasr, Aleppo, was filled with Hell Canons (used to fire gas canister bombs on Aleppo’s civilians and infrastructure) and remnants of a bomb-making factory. The headquarters was in a school.
“…the last two families I met told me that they helped the injured terrorists first and sometimes left the civilians in the rubble. When the camera was spinning everyone was agitated, as soon as the camera extinguished, the lives of the people under rubble took less importance…. all the videos you’ve seen in the media come from one or the other. Civilians couldn’t afford cameras or 3G internet package when it was already difficult to buy bread, only armed and partisan groups.”
Vanessa Beeley took testimonies from civilians from eastern, al-Qaeda-occupied Aleppo, in December 2016 when the city was liberated. Beeley later wrote:
“When I asked them if they knew of the “civil defence”, they all nodded furiously and said,“yes, yes – Nusra Front civil defence”. Most of them elaborated and told me that the Nusra Front civil defence never helped civilians, they only worked for the armed groups.”
Beeley also wrote of the White Helmets’ complicity in the massacre of civilians (including 116 children) from Foua and Kafraya in April 2017.
Credentials, Please: What Is Journalism?
Regarding The Guardian’s question on my competency as a journalist, I note the following.
I began reporting from on the ground in Palestine in 2007, first blogging and later publishing in various online media.
In 2007, I spent 8 months in the occupied West Bank in occupied Palestine, in some of the most dangerous areas where Palestinians are routinely abused, attacked, abducted and killed by both the Israeli army and the illegal Jewish colonists. There, I began blogging, documenting the crimes in print with witness testimonies, first person interviews, my own eye-witness experiences, photos and videos.
After being deported from Palestine by the Israeli authorities in December 2007, in 2008 I sailed to Gaza from Cyprus and documented not only the daily Israeli assaults on unarmed male, female, elderly and child farmers and fishers, but also the effects of the brutal Israeli full siege on Gaza, Israel’s sporadic bombings and land invasions, and of course two major massacres (Dec 2008/Jan 2009 and Nov 2012).
In the 2008/2009 war against Palestinian civilians, I was on the ground in northern Gaza with rescuers—actual rescuers, no acting, no staging—under the bombings, and under heavy sniper fire. I was also on an upper floor of a media building in Gaza City that was bombed while I was in it. And otherwise, I remained in Gaza after the slaughter had ended, taking horrific testimoniesdocumenting Israel’s war crimes, including Israel’s: assassinations of children, widespread use of White Phosphorous on civilians; holding civilians as human shields; andtargeting (and killing) of medics.
See this link for a more detailed description of this documentation, with many examples, and my further documentation during the November 2012 Israeli massacre of Palestinians, as well as detailed accounts of my reporting from seven trips, on the ground, around Syria.
While questioning my credentials as an investigative reporter in the Middle East, The Guardian casually assigned the story to a San Fransisco based writer specializing in fluff piecesfashion and Russophobic analysis, who visibly has little to no understanding of what is happening on the ground in Syria.
Addressing “the propaganda that is so often disguised as journalism,”award-winning journalist and film maker, John Pilgersaid (emphasis added):
Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote about an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. He was referring to journalism, the media. That was almost 80 years ago, not long after corporate journalism was invented. It’s a history few journalists talk about or know about, and it began with the arrival of corporate advertising.
As the new corporations began taking over the press, something called ‘professional journalism’ was invented. To attract big advertisers, the new corporate press had to appearrespectablepillars of the establishmentobjectiveimpartialbalanced. The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalists. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media.
The whole thing was entirely bogus. For what the public didn’t know, was that in order to be professional, journalists had to ensure that news and opinion were dominated by official sources. And that hasn’t changed. Go through the New York Times on any day, and check the sources of the main political stories, domestic and foreign, and you’ll find that they’re dominated by governments and other establishment interests. That’s the essence of professional journalism.
On a publicly-shared Facebook post, journalist Stephen Kinzer wrote:
“I happen to agree with Eva’s take on Syria, but from a journalist’s perspective, the true importance of what she does goes beyond reporting from any single country. She challenges the accepted narrative–and that is the essence of journalism. Everything else is stenography. Budding foreign correspondents take note!!”
In The Guardian’s smear piece, Solon employed a tactic used to denigrate the credibility of an investigative journalist by dubbing he/she merely a “blogger”. In her story, Solon used “blogger” four times, three times in reference to Vanessa Beeley (who contributes in depth articles to a variety of online media).
In the latter case, she quoted executive director of the Purpose Inc-operated “Syria Campaign” PR project, James Sadri saying:
“A blogger for a 9/11 truther website who only visited Syria for the first time last year should not be taken seriously as an impartial expert on the conflict.”
Remind me when either Sadri or Solon was last there? Seems to be 2008 for Sadri, and never for Solon. But they are “credible” and someone like Beeley who has since her first 2016 visit to Syria had returned numerous occasions, in the country at pivotal times—like during the liberation of Aleppo, speaking with Syrian civilians from eastern areas formerly occupied by al-Qaeda and co-extremists—is not?
As for bloggers, there are many insightful writers and researchers self-publishing on blogs (for example,  this blog). However, that aside, it is amusing to note that Solon on her LinkedIn profile list her first skill as blogging. Is she a mere blogger?
oli blogging
Regarding Solon’s use of the “truthers” theme, did she recycle this from an article on Wired peddled eight months ago? Her use of “truthers” is clearly to paint anyone who investigates the White Helmets as Alex Jones-esque.
Is she capable of originality?
castello
Nov 4, 2016: Less than 100 metres away, the second of two mortars fired by terrorist factions less than 1 km from Castello Road on Nov. 4. The road and humanitarian corridor were targeted at least seven times that day by terrorist factions. Many of those in corporate media had retired to the bus, and donned helmets and flak jackets. I was on the road without such luxuries. Read about it here.
Guardian Uses CIA “Conspiracy Theory” Tactic
In addition to using denigrating terms, The Guardian threw in the loaded CIA term “conspiracy theorists”.
As Mark Crispin MillerProfessor of Media Studies and author, noted in a June 2017 panel (emphasis added):
“Conspiracy theory was not much used by journalist for the decades prior to 1967, when suddenly it’s used all the time, and increasingly ever since.
And the reason for this is that the CIA at that time sent a memo to its station chiefs world wide, urging them to use their propaganda assets and friends in the media, to discredit the work of Mark Lane… books attacking the Warren Commission Report. Mark Lane’s was a best seller, so the CIA’s response was to send out this memo urging a counter-attack, so that hacks responsive to the agency would write reviews attacking these authors as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and using one or more of five specific arguments listed in the memo.”
Guess Solon got the memo.
Professor James Tracy elaborated:
Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.”
Researcher and writer Kevin Ryan noted (emphasis added):
““In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.
“…Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which ‘conspiracy theorists’ were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events. President George W. Bush and his colleagues often used the phrase conspiracy theory in attempts to deter questioning about their activities.”
In her piece for the Guardian, Solon threw in the Russia is behind everything clause.
Scott Lucas (whom Solon quotes in her own article) in August 2017 wrote (emphasis added):
“Russian State outlets have pursued a campaign — especially since Moscow’s military intervention in September 2015.”
Solon’s article? (emphasis added):
“The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015…”
But I’m sure this is a mere coincidence.
Initial Investigations Into The White Helmets Precede Russia’s 
As mentioned earlier in this article, in 2014 and early 2015, long before any Russian media took notice, Cory Morningstar and Rick Sterling were already countering the official story of the White Helmets.
Morningstar on September 17, 2014, wrote:
“The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices [3], The Syria Campaign [4] and March Campaign #withSyria. …The message is clear. Purpose wants the green light for military intervention in Syria, well-cloaked under the guise of humanitarianism – an oxymoron if there ever was one.”
This is where the White Helmets step in.
Rick Sterling’s April 9, 2015, article looked at the White Helmets as a PR project for western intervention in Syria. He wrote (emphasis added):
“White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria. Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.
Since her initial scrutiny into the White Helmets in September 2015, by October revealing their ties to executioners in Syria, Vanessa Beeley has relentlessly pursued the organization, and the lies and propaganda around it, their funding of at least over $150 million, far more than needed for medical supplies and high-tech camera equipment.
As 21st Century Wire pointed out (emphasis added):
“Note that The Guardian and Olivia Solon also claim that the White Helmets are only “volunteers” – a foundational misrepresentation designed to generate sympathy for their employees. One could call this a gross lie when you consider the fact the White Helmets are paid a regular salary (which the Guardian deceptively call a ‘stipend’) which is in fact much higher than the national average salary in Syria – a fact conveniently left out in the Guardian’s apparent foreign office-led propaganda piece:
Guardian informationists like Solon would never dare mention that the White Helmet’s ‘monthly stipend’ is far in excess of the standard salary for a Syrian Army soldier who is lucky to take home $60 -$70 per month.”
The Guardian Whitewashes the White Helmets
What are some things The Guardian could have investigated, had Solon’s story not been predetermined and had she approached with an honest intent to investigate the White Helmets?
-Solon very misguidedly chose to highlight the White Helmets’ “mannequin challenge” video, writing that the video was “stripped of its context”. What was the context? That the White Helmets, supposedly frantically, full-time rescuing civilians under the bombs, took time to make a video simulating a heroic rescue scene? The video reveals the patently obvious point that the White Helmets can clearly stage a very convincing “rescue” video. But Solon ignores this point, it doesn’t fit her factless, Russophobic story. Further, I cannot imagine any of the Palestinian rescuers I worked with wasting a moment of precious time for such an absurd video.
-That in spite of the White Helmets’ professed motto, “To save a life is to save all of humanity” they willingly participated in executions of civilians. But Solon wrote those extremist-affiliated White Helmets who hold weapons or stand on dead bodies or chant with al-Qaeda off as “isolated” and “rogue” actors, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Best part? It wasn’t Russia which photographed them, it was from their own social media accounts, where they proudly displayed their allegiance to terrorists.
In her attempt to defend the “rogue” assertion, Solon brings in White Helmets leader, Raed Saleh, who she doesn’t mention was denied entry to the US in April 2016, and deemed by the State Department’s Mark Toner to have ties to extremists.
Here’s one poignant example of a rogue actor who was dealt with by White Helmets’ leadership:
“Muawiya Hassan Agha was present at Rashideen, and he later became infamous for his involvement in the execution of two prisoners of war in Aleppo. For this rogue bad appleness he was supposedly fired from the White Helmets, although he was later photographed still with them. He has also been photographed celebrating ‘victory’ with Nusra Front in Idlib.”
-The soldiers which The Guardian calls “pro-Assad fighters” are actually members of Syria’s national army. Lexicon is important, and by denigrating members of the national army, The Guardian is playing a very old, and once again lacking in originality, lexicon card worthy of some UN member states who violate UN protocol and in the UN call the Syrian government a “regime” (as Solon also does…) instead of government.
-That it is not the entire UNSC which believes that Syria has committed the crimes Solon repeats, it is some members with an admitted vested interest in toppling the Syrian government.
The Chemical Card
In an attempt to validate the White Helmets, and delegitimize those who question them, The Guardian article presented as fact claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, that the White Helmets provided valuable documentation to the fact, and stated that Beeley and myself were some of the “most vocal sceptics” of the official narrative.
But so was the British and US media:
“The following Mail Online article was published and subsequently removed.
Note the contradictory discourse: “Obama issued warning to Syrian president Bashar al Assad”, “White House gave green light to chemical weapons attack”.
From the horse’s mouth: CNN
Amusingly, according to the article on the Qatari-owned channel, Al Jazeera, which The Guardian provided to back up their assertion of the Syrian government’s culpability (instead of providing the September 2017 UN report, itself questionable, and a much longer read for Solon), (emphasis added):
“All evidence available leads the Commission to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe Syrian forces dropped an aerial bomb dispersing sarin in Khan Sheikhoun.”
Reasonable grounds to believe is not exactly a confirmation of evidence, it’s just a belief.
The same article noted the investigators had not been to Syria and “based their findings on photographs of bomb remnants, satellite imagery and witness testimony.”
Witness testimony from an al-Qaeda-dominated area? Very credible. The White Helmet leader in Khan Sheikhoun, Mustafa al-Haj Yussef, is an extremist showing allegiance to the actions of al-Qaeda. As Vanessa Beeley wrote:
“Yussef has called for the shelling of civilians, the execution of anyone not fasting during Ramadan, the murder of anyone considered a Shabiha, the killing of the SAA and the looting of their property. …He clearly supports both Nusra Front, an internationally recognised terrorist group, and Ahrar Al Sham…Yussef is far from being neutral, impartial or humanitarian.
The initial analysis (of an April 2017 White House statement on Khan Sheikhoun) by Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, found (emphasis added):
“I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.
Postol’s analysis concludes that the alleged evidence
“points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4,” and notes that “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft.”
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh also looked at the official accusations, noting that claims made by MSF contradicted the official accusation of the Syrian government bombing the area with sarin. Hersh wrote (emphasis added):
“A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, treating victims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clinic 60 miles to the north, reported that ‘eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.’ MSF also visited other hospitals that had received victims and found that patients there ‘smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.’ In other words, evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”
The second article to which Solon linked was a NY Times article which called the report a “politically independent investigation”. This should make readers pause to guffaw, as the investigating mechanism includes the questionably-funded OPCW, and among those which the investigators interviewed were al-Qaeda’s rescuers.
Regarding the report, Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli (founder and chairman of Swedish Professors and Doctors for Human Rights) in November 2017, refuted it as “inaccurate” and “politically biased”. Points he made included (emphasis added):
-“The same JIM authors acknowledge that rebels in Khan Shaykhun have however destroyed evidence by filling the purported impact “crater” with concrete. Why the “rebels” have done that – and what consequences that sabotage would have for the investigation of facts is not even considered by the panel.”
-“By acknowledging that Khan Shaykhun was then under control of al-Nusra, the JIM report exhibits yet another methodological contradiction: That would mean that al-Nusra and its jihadists allies, by having control of the area, they were also in control of the ‘official’ information delivered from Khan Shaykhun on the alleged incident. This would imperatively call for a questioning of the reliability/credibility (bias) of main sources that the panel used for its allegations.”
Twitter user @Syricide picked up on one of the JIM’s most alarming professed irregularitytweeting:
Syricide
Even the Nation in April 2017 ran a piece stressing the need for actual investigation into the chemical weapons claims, citing the research of Postol, as well noting the following (emphasis added):
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA case officer and Army intelligence officer, told radio host Scott Horton on April 6 that he was “hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available, who are saying the essential narrative we are hearing about the Syrians and Russians using chemical weapons is a sham.”
Giraldi also noted that ‘people both the agency [CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented’ what had taken place in Khan Sheikhun. Giraldi reports that his sources in the military and the intelligence community “are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the US media.”
The same article included the words of the former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who noted:
“It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no military advantage.” Ford said he believes the accusations against Syria are “simply not plausible.”
So, in fact, no, some of the most vocal and informed sceptics were neither Beeley nor myself, but MIT Professor Emeritus Theodore Postol, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, former UK ambassador Peter Ford, and former CIA and Army intelligence officer Philip Giraldi, not exactly “fringe” voices.
Investigative journalist Robert Parry in April 2017 wrote of a NY Times deflection tactic (one which Solon employed), emphasis added:
“Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.
To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.”
That sounds familiar. Solon wrote:
“Beeley frequently criticises the White Helmets in her role as editor of the website 21st Century Wire, set up by Patrick Henningsen, who is also an editor at Infowars.com.”
Infowars is Alex Jones’ site, and Henningsen is for many years no longer affiliated.
Solon followed this with another non sequitur argument about Beeley and the US Peace Council meeting with the Syrian president in 2016, a point irrelevant either to the issue of the White Helmets or the alleged chemical attacks. But irrelevance is what corporate media do best these days.
The Guardian story-writer has done literally zero investigative research into the fallacies she presents as fact in her article.
Integrity-Devoid Sources Solon Cited
In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, it is quite interesting to note some of the other sources Solon quoted to fluff her story:
Scott Lucas, whose allegiance to Imperialists is evident from his twitter feed, a textbook Russophobe, Iranophobe. Lucas relied on the words of terrorist-supporter, Mustafa al-Haj Youssef, for his August article on the White Helmets (the one Solon seemingly plagiarized from). Solon relied on Lucas’ smears to dismiss the work and detract from the integrity of those Solon attacked. That, and being a token professor to include in attempt at legitimacy, was Lucas’ sole function in the Guardian story.
-Amnesty International, the so-called human rights group which as Tony Cartalucci outlined in August 2012, is “US State Department Propaganda”, and does indeed receive money from governments and corporate-financier interests, including “convicted financial criminal” George Soros’ Open Society.
It’s not just “conspiracy theorists” like Cartalucci who have written on Amnesty’s dark side. Ann Wright, a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserve Colonel and a 16-year U.S. Diplomat serving in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, who “resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war,” and “returned to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2010 on fact-finding missions,” has as well. Her co-author was Coleen Rowley, “a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003, and a whistleblower “on some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures.” Together, in June 2012, they wrote about “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars”.
Professor of international law, Francis Boyle, who himself was a member of the US board of Amnesty, wrote of the group’s role in shilling for war. In October 2012, he wrote of Amnesty’s war mongering regarding Iraq—endorsing the dead incubator babies story told by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter—and his own attempts to inform Amnesty “that this report should not be published because it was inaccurate.” He noted:
“That genocidal war waged by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, inter alia, during the months of January and February 1991, killed at a minimum 200,000 Iraqis, half of whom were civilians. Amnesty International shall always have the blood of the Iraqi People on its hands!”
Boyle’s parting words included:
“…based upon my over sixteen years of experience having dealt with AI/London and AIUSA at the highest levels, it is clear to me that both organizations manifest a consistent pattern and practice of following the lines of the foreign policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel. …Effectively, Amnesty International and AIUSA function as tools for the imperialist, colonial and genocidal policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel.”
-Eliot Higgins, of whom award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote:
“Eliot Higgins is a non-resident fellow of the militantly anti-Russian, State Department-funded Atlantic Council, and has no technical expertise on munitions.
British journalist Graham Phillips wrote in February 2016 on Eliot Higgins. Answering his question on who is Eliot Higgins, Phillips wrote:
“He never finished college, dropping out of the Southampton Institute of Higher Education. When asked…what he studied at university, his answer was, Media…I think.’ Higgins has always been completely open about his lack of expertise.”
The Guardian’s Russia Obsession
By now it should be clear that the intent of Solon’s December 18th story was not to address the manifold questions (facts) about the White Helmets’ ties to (inclusion of) terrorists in Syria, nor to question the heroic volunteers’ obscene amount of funding from Western sources very keen to see Syria destabilized and its government replaced.
Rather, the intent was to whitewash this rescue group, and to demonize those of us highlighted, and especially to insert more Russophobia (although Russia’s military intervention in Syria is legal, unlike that of the US-led coalition, of which Solon’s UK is a part).
Since our last early October communication until the long-awaited publishing of her slander-filled piece, Solon produced (or co-produced) 24 stories for the Guardian, nine of which were blame-Russia! sort of stories, including such lexicon as “Russian operatives”, “Russian interference”, “Russian trolls”, “Russian propagandists”, and “Russian bots.
Is Baroness Cox, of the UK House of Lords, who recently spoke in support of Russia’s (invited) intervention in Syria, a “conspiracy theorist”, a Russian operative” or Kremlin-funded? She said (emphasis added):
“And the fourth point that I would like to make particularly to you is the very real appreciation that is expressed by everyone in Syria of the support by Russia to help get rid of ISIS [Daesh] and get rid of all the other Islamist religious groups.”
Cox, who went to Syria, is probably not a Kremlin or Assad agent. She probably just listened to the voices of Syrians in Syria, like the rest of us Russian propagandists who have bothered to go (repeatedly) to Syria and speak with Syrian civilians.
This is the first part of a longer article. Part II is forthcoming.
Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist with extensive experience in the Gaza Strip and Syria. Her writings can be found on her blog, In Gaza.

Iran protests: Western salivation, agitation & desperation

December 31, 2017

by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker blog

Iran protests: Western salivation, agitation & desperation

I am on vacation and trying to stay away from politics to recharge my batteries, but a sane voice on Iranian politics in English is almost impossible to find, so….

Despite the Western media’s slobbering at the minor protests in Iran, there is no need to fear that Iranian democracy is about to “fall”. Allow me to get right to the heart of the matter and prove why:

What did the 2009 protests prove?

Firstly, that opposition to the Iranian system is obviously a minority, which was immediately indicated back then by the fact that the pro-Ahmadinejad counter-protests were larger – a rarely reported fact. Today there are major pro-government counter-protests now planned all over Iran, but good luck hearing much about that either.

Secondly, and more importantly – and this cannot be disputed whatsoever:

Exactly like in Venezuela this year – there is a hardcore, GRASSROOTS system of citizen supporters who will defend the Iranian Revolution with their lives…because they feel the Iranian Revolution (like Chavismo) has benefited the average citizen so very much. That’s why Venezuelan democracy didn’t fall – it was due to the common person attending a counter-protest, maybe even wielding a garden tool. This is what preserved Venezuelan democracy – not state military action – and this is also what happened in Iran in 2009.

So Iran 2009 and Venezuela 2017 proved that Mao was wrong when he said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” – if you have enough of the People, all you really need is a makeshift club.

Because true politics – which is far different from pathetically snarky discussions on TV – is ultimately about People Power, and Iran’s government has the People clearly on their side. 2009 proved that if you push the Iranian People to the brink, you will be confronted with their power. (Iran is NOWHERE near the brink right now, of course.)

Iran’s Basij Resistance Bases – or volunteer militias, in Western terms – are far more deeply embedded in all levels of society than Chavismo colectivos. They are more more akin to the Chinese Communist Party (minus the formalised and incredibly rigorous testing and selection policy) as they compose perhaps 11 million people in an 80-million person country. Strikes are basically the only way to get any revolution going, but good luck getting an unjust strike past the Basij branches which are set up among unions, professional organizations, civil servants groups, student groups, industrial workplaces, etc.

And most of these members are unpaid. And they have families who likely feel similarly. And they have friends who clearly aren’t opposed to them…because they are still friends, after all.

So, you see…we are not talking about a “group” – we are basically talking about half of Iran.

Now you can ignore the ironclad reality of such grassroots (i.e. popular democratic) support all you like, but you will never defeat them internally. Never.

For that, as Libya proved, you need NATO bombs. There was huge internal support for the Libyan system: I was there when it started, and I witnessed pro-Ghadaffi protesters, and I was awed by their intensity – but they were overwhelmed by US and French bombs, 40 tons of illegal arms drops by France, a naval and air blockade spearheaded by the UK, Canada and all of Western Europe, etc.

So the analysis above should answer the question on every idiot Western commentator’s lips regarding a possible “fall” of Iran. I simply say: How do you account for the already-proven massive number of people willing to forget about political niceties/compromises and fight FOR Iran’s government?

This is not “tough talk” or “nationalistic talk” on my part – this is reality, and it must be accounted for in any discussion which claims to be serious (or worth having).

Foreign interventions and false flags – also not a worry for Iran

What must also be remembered is that Iran already had their “NATO intervention” – it was called the Iran-Iraq War. For 8 horrible years the West foisted Iraq on Iran, supplied Iraq with weapons, turned a blind eye to the worst chemical weapons atrocities since World War One, and did all they could to create, prolong and influence the deadliest war in the last quarter of the 20th century.

And it was still not enough.

A 2nd phony Western war would also totally backfire in 2018 – have no doubt about that. The Iran-Iraq War created a nationalist unity which Libya did not have; Libya’s revolution did create the highest standard of living in Africa and fewer poor people than the imperialist Netherlands (and free loans, education, health care, etc.), but it was never really tested. Syrians, on the other hand, will soon enjoy a nationalist unity also forged in the crucible of a horribly unjust war.

So there are simply not the type of divisions in Iranian society which the West was able to exploit in Libya. A 2nd phony Western war would undoubtedly be met with a largely-unified response to expel the invaders and Iran would never be fooled by their phony promises; this is evidenced by massive popular support for our right to nuclear energy, even though it is (allegedly) the main source of inhumane sanctions. The Iran-Iraq War not only “made the bones” of the Iranian system, but it is remembered and feared – a return to that will be wildly, massively opposed.

Iran is, in this sense, like Cuba and China: a revolutionary country full of many revolutionaries. There is no irony in their politics, nor any going back.

Iran is definitely one step ahead of Venezuela in another way: their government is not revolutionary, after all, but based on a democratic support for Chavismo that is fundamentally bourgeois (West European democracy). I am not denigrating Venezuela, but they have never instituted the fundamental, wholesale changes which countries like Cuba, China, Vietnam, Eritrea and others have implemented. This commitment to “playing by the rules” of a bourgeois democratic system leaves them very vulnerable and almost welcoming of the very forces which want to destroy the gains democratically won by Chavismo.

And it was not enough in Venezuela, too – Chavismo is still standing. It’s bruised, bloodied and shaky, but it’s still there despite the vast US-led effort against it. The source of the reactionary-foreign capitalist pact against Venezuelan socialism was because Chavistas are, correctly, starting to implement Cuban-style changes to their governmental structure in order to become less bourgeois and more poplar democratic.

What’s a more realistic fear? A Ukraine-style false flag operation.

recently re-broadcast a totally-ignored Italian report on 3 snipers who admitted they were paid to shoot at both sides at Ukraine’s Maidan. That caused the killing of 100 people, massive chaos, the subsequent discrediting of the government and then what still reigns today – horrible civil war.

However, Ukraine is no revolutionary society. The Iranian government would not, and should not, permit an encampment like at Ukraine’s Maidan. Iran is a country which has been besieged by foreign forces for decades, and is no position to allow an “Occupy” type of protest at Zuccotti Park in New York City (razed at night after less than 2 months, with more repression to prevent their return; that’s a slightly better democratic score than other Occupy protests in the US which were stopped much sooner; and a far better score than France, who rousted out their Nuit Debout protesters in Paris every single night, forcing them to rebuild the following day.) because we all know that it would be filled with 10 times more foreign operatives than in Ukraine, i.e., it cannot possibly be as democratic is it would claim to be. There would be Mossad, CIA, MKO, Al-Qaeda, ISIL, Mi5, DGSE and truly the worst of the worst in the world. You cannot compare the US and Iran; Iran is fighting for its life and its sovereignty, while the US government fights to preserve its capitalist inequality.

However, all those foreign, murderous groups will have no problem creating a sort of false-flag which kills hundreds and hundreds of innocent Iranians if it means installing a compliant billionaire puppet like in Ukraine – Iran is far, far richer than Ukraine, after all. And Iran is also the only thorn in the side of Western imperialist capitalism in the Muslim world.

With great power comes great responsibility, and thus Iran’s government is not about to allow a Ukraine-style Maidan to occur. Staggeringly, Iran has seen 17,000 people killed by terrorists since 1979; during this year’s ISIL attacks there was no overreaction such as installing a 2-year state of emergency like in France. Iran both does not mess around with risks and does not needlessly antagonise their own people (which actually means to make another risk).

Two people have died in the protests, and the government declared that security forces fired no bullets, and attributed the death to foreign agents. Given what has happened in Ukraine (and hundreds of other places over the years), and given the massive democratic support the government has…it would be insane and illogical to rush to judgment against the government.

Of course, this is exactly what the Western media is doing. They will desperately blow this out of proportion. They will salivate at the protests, dissimulate regarding their own hypocrisies, agitate for war, and all because they are so desperate to push their anti-Iranian agenda. This is textbook, and the historical modus operandi, and it will not change when the Western calendar turns to 2018 in around 12 hours.

It will likely work to great effect outside of Iran, but inside? No way. Iran is too busy trying to repair our issues – which every society has because humans are not perfect – to be fooled by tabloid journalism.

Are Iranians not permitted to have normal protests?

These protests are economic. Have you not noticed that these have swept much of the world for the past decade?

You might have an insane MKO cult member willing to burn a poster of Khamenei – giving the Western media the chance to blow that out of proportion – but this is an economic protest. But these are not a fruit-seller setting himself on fire, like in Tunisia, to desperately protest corruption, harassment and everyday brutality.

Protests are not unknown in Iran society: Has your country pulled off a silent march larger than Iran in 2009? Remember the silent marches of 2009? 1979 saw more than a small bit of protesting too, let’s remember. These protests are akin to the 3-500 protests per day in supposedly-undemocratic China: more effective government policies are being called for, not a whole new government!

Because these protests are economic, I will insist that the West give the Iranian government as much leeway as they take for themselves when confronted with similar demonstrations.

Waitaminut…I sure hope Iran is not THAT bad!

Because during the age of austerity I have been tear gassed too many times to count while covering economic protests in France. Only because I am a foreign journalist, I have not been among the thousands of arrested pro-democracy protesters; there have been hundreds of banned protests (how many more chilled into silence and thus strangled in the cradle?); plenty of harsh jail sentences of leading activists; countless people hurt by batons and water cannons amid total Western media silence; countless protesters cowed by invasive searches by riot police and the guarantee of rough treatment.

But where were the Western calls for “regime change” in France, like which are pouring from the mouths of Western commentators?

When Hollande and Macron forced through by executive order the widely-opposed capitalist laws which sparked the anti-government protests, where are their accusations of “authoritarianism”?

Of course there were none.

Ugh. I just remembered I’m on vacation…I shouldn’t be wasting me time trying to point out that Iran’s government doesn’t needs to defend their actions to Westerners….

But the crimes of capitalism do not take a vacation

The truth is that Iran’s economic policies – like China, Cuba and everyone else – have been negatively tainted by the anti-socialist and neoliberal ideas which swept the world after the fall of the USSR.

While Iran has implemented an army of pro-socialist ideas which have undeniably redistributed wealth in an amazingly effective fashion, they have also pursued some pro-capitalist and pro-neoliberal ideas – this trend has spared no nation since 1991. The recent economic choices of Cuba and China are no different, but even though Marx said we must use the tools of capitalism in order to create socialism…that necessarily creates economic problems.

Now without a doubt, the main problem with Iran’s economy is simple: international blockade. It is deranged to believe otherwise.

However, the protests can be interpreted as evidence that experimentations with capitalism have not worked – indeed, they never have and never will. Neoliberalism has led to what it always does – inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

These protests are the same as in France: against decreased purchasing power and unemployment. Can’t we have a “normal” protest, LOL? It is sad, but many have been led to believe that Iranians are aliens, but our problems are actually the same as yours!

But Iran does have much better alternatives, however: Khamenei’s pushing of a “resistance economy” – meaning a nationalist economy which rejects capitalism – is in direct opposition to neoliberalism. But – NEWS FLASH – Iran is a democracy; Khamenei is not anything close to an absolute ruler (the translated title of “supreme leader” is quite misleading, LOL); there are supporters of capitalism in Iran.

Thankfully, supporters of capitalism are a minority, as Iran follows what I have termed “Iranian Islamic Socialism”. These protests will lead to economic changes which implement more Islamic and socialist economic principles.

As we all know, these are two things which the Western media hates.

And thus, the Western media wants to ignore these complaints – which reflect near-universal economic hardship amid the Great Recession (even in non-blockaded countries) – and portray all protesters as pushing for the downfall of the Iranian system.

That’s nonsense, and it won’t happen. The reason why is simple: there is widespread democratic support for Iran and the popular, democratic revolution which set up the current system. Again, I am on vacation and I won’t waste more time telling people that the sky is blue – stick your head out the window and if you still disagree: it must be nighttime, you blockhead.

A minor point: a common Western trope is that these protests are in response to the “wasted resources” caused by lending support and solidarity to places like Palestine, Syria and Iraq. However, polls of Iranians show there is massive support for giving material and military support to these countries. (“In general, to what degree do you support or oppose Iran providing help to”: Hezbollah (71% approve), government of Assad (66% approve), Hamas (70% approve) Shiites and Kurds in Iraq fighting ISIL (88% approve), Iran should send military personnel to Syria(63% approve)) Clearly, the naysayers are in the minority: therefore, changing these policies would be undemocratic. Of course, the West would be ecstatic if Iran was no longer around to thwart their imperial projects. However, Iran’s politicians work in a democracy: if they want to win re-election, they will continue with these popular policies.

A final point: Why are democratic protests for policy reform a “sign of a vibrant and healthy democracy” when they occur in the West…but “an indicator people want to bring down the system” whenever they occur in non-Western countries? Ultimately, these protests will be heeded and, like all genuine protests, will make Iranian democracy stronger and the country better.

But as far as believing the Western media’s coverage of Iran’s protests – which is both uninformed and not remotely objective (and capitalist-imperialist, of course) — I suggest following my lead: enjoy your vacation instead.

Happy Western New Year to all!

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

Iranians Commemorate Epic 2009 pro-Islamic Republic Rallies

December 30, 2017

iran

Millions of Iranians across the country are commemorating the anniversary of the 2009 mass rallies that were held in support of the Islamic Republic and put an end to post-election unrest back then.

On Saturday, people from all walks of life took part in demonstrations and ceremonies in several Iranian cities to mark the “Dey 9 epic,” which refers to the historic rallies held on the ninth day of the Persian calendar month of Dey.

In the capital, Tehran, people gathered at the the Imam Khomeini Grand Prayer Grounds, while other cities were the scene of demonstrations to mark the occasion.

On December 30, 2009, millions of Iranians held nation-wide protests to condemn the foreign-orchestrated unrest, which had erupted following the presidential elections earlier that year.

People were especially angered by incidents that had taken place days earlier in Tehran, where a group of demonstrators offended the sanctities of the nation on the day of Ashura, the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Shia Imam.

The unrest was orchestrated by Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Musavi, two of the candidates who had lost the election, claiming that the results had been rigged. Both remain under house arrest on charges of provoking the public and harming the national security.

SourcePress TV

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Flashback to 2011: Asma Assad: A Rose in the Desert

[ Ed. note – The article below was initially published in Vogue Magazine in early 2011. I am re-posting it here as it provides a striking look back at Syria as it was just prior to the outbreak of the neocon-instigated regime-change war which so devastated the country.

Asma Assad, the wife of President Bashar Assad, is a woman of grace and beauty, and it’s probably not surprising that a fashion magazine would have decided to publish an article on her. But after the article appeared, Vogue, along with Joan Juliet Buck, the writer of the piece, were attacked by certain mainstream media outlets, such as The Atlantic, presumably for not sufficiently demonizing the Syrian government.

“Asma al-Assad has British roots, wears designer fashion, worked for years in banking, and is married to the dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed over 5,000 civilians and hundreds of children this year,” wrote Max Fisher in a sarcastically-worded lead paragraph for The Atlantic.

Fisher also criticized Vogue’s “fawning treatment of the Assad family and its portrayal of the regime as tolerant and peaceful,” noting that this treatment had “generated surprise and outrage in much of the Washington foreign policy community.”

The article by Buck had appeared in Vogue’s February 2011 issue. The Syrian regime-change operation got underway in March, a month later, when protests broke out in Daraa. And the timing of the two probably was nothing more than coincidental.

But of course the neocons in the State Department would have already begun executing their scheme, and a media vilification campaign would have been deemed necessary, or at any rate helpful, in greasing the wheels–and the sudden appearance of the Vogue article (the magazine reportedly has over 11 million readers) probably was looked upon as something of a monkey wrench in the plans. You could think of it as one of the rare moments that a mainstream media organ stepped out of bounds.

Fisher, who now holds a position with the New York Times, went on to kvetch that “the glowing article praised the Assads as a ‘wildly democratic’ family-focused couple who vacation in Europe, foster Christianity, are at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the ‘safest country in the Middle East,’ and want to give Syria a ‘brand essence.’”

It is of course true that the Assads “foster Christianity,” as Fisher contemptuously puts it (indeed–you can go here to see a video I posted two years ago of the first couple attending a Christmas service at a church in Damascus in 2015), but of course it would not do to have this kind of information put out in the mainstream just before the launch of a long-planned regime change operation.

Other mainstream media attacks upon Vogue came from Gawker, where writer John Cook also accused the publication of “fawning”; the New York Times, which published a piece headlined “The Balance of Charm and Reality“; and Slate, whose writer, Noreen Malone, damned Vogue for paying “besotted compliments” to the Assads and for “unwittingly exacerbating” a “modern day Marie Antoinette problem.”

Buck should now be proud of the mainstream media attacks upon her work–but aside from this, her article, as I say, is important also in that it provides a valuable glimpse into life in the country just before the outset of the war.

Syria, she notes, was known as “the safest country in the Middle East.” Buck was roundly excoriated for making this observation, but certainly at the time, in 2011, it was true in spades: Syria was eminently safer than either US-occupied Iraq or Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Buck also notes that Syria is “a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings”–which would have run completely counter to the narrative of Assad being the ubiquitous “brutal dictator who kills his own people” and who serves as a “magnet to jihadis”–but perhaps most noteworthy of all are Buck’s revelations about programs set up for children in the country.

When I visited Syria in 2014, one of the things I heard about were Asma Assad’s charity efforts on behalf of children, so it was not surprising for me, upon reading the Vogue article, to learn of Massar, an organization founded by the First Lady and “built around a series of discovery centers,” or to learn that at these centers children and young adults, ages five to twenty-one, were taught “creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility.”

Buck also tells of Asma’s jaunts around the country visiting local schools and interacting with children in what seems to have been a very life-fulfilling manner.

All of this, of course, would have come to a dramatic halt, or a dramatic curtailment at any rate, when the nightmare began and the country suddenly found itself invaded by armies of US-backed terrorists.

Another fascinating aspect of the article is what it reveals regarding Asma’s contributions toward safeguarding Syria’s cultural heritage. While in Syria I attended, along with several members of the staff of Veterans Today, an anti-terrorism conference held at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus. Among the subjects discussed at the conference were the ongoing attacks upon cultural heritage sites.  It was disclosed that at the outset of the conflict, the country’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), in anticipation of terrorist looting of cultural heritage sites, had begun securing priceless artifacts by placing them in secure storage sites around the country.

The effort was a herculean one, involving DGAM’s 2500 employees spanning out across the country, and while most of the credit has gone to Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director of DGAM, it would appear, if Buck’s article is any indication, that Asma Assad played a role in the effort as well:

There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”

The reference to works of art being “hidden in storage” would suggest that already at that time–February of 2011–Syrian officials had begun to anticipate the hellfire that was about to be unleashed upon their country.

One other thing I might mention is a small criticism I have of Buck’s piece. She speaks of “minders” who she claims accompanied her throughout her visit, commenting as well that “on the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.”

All I can say in response to this is that I never experienced anything of the like during my own visit to Syria. I stayed at the Dama Rose Hotel–the location where the conference was held–and while I occasionally went out for strolls through the neighborhood, I never once was followed by any “random series of men in leather jackets.” Yes–there were Syrian soldiers in the streets. But they were stationed at certain locations, busy street corners for instance, and they did not begin tailing me suspiciously after I had passed them by. They remained at their posts. Moreover, their presence, rather than threatening, was a comforting assurance I would not be attacked or kidnapped by terrorists, at least while the soldiers were around.

Lastly, I would also mention that Vogue succumbed to the withering barrage of criticism and removed Buck’s article from their website. Less than a year later, the only trace of it that remained on the Internet was at a pro-Syrian site called PresidentAssad.net–something which was made note of in a January 3, 2012 article by Fisher at The Atlantic.

The PresidentAssad.net site is still around, but for some reason the Vogue article seems to have gotten dropped over the years. However, it has re-surfaced–at Gawker. There you may find it (at least for the time being) along with a link back to the attack piece I mentioned above, written by Cook and posted in February of 2011. ]

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Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert

By Joan Juliet Buck

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary. The country’s alliances are murky. How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah? There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.

Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.

“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad.

It’s also a neighborhood intoxicatingly close to the dawn of civilization, where agriculture began some 10,000 years ago, where the wheel, writing, and musical notation were invented. Out in the desert are the magical remains of Palmyra, Apamea, and Ebla. In the National Museum you see small 4,000-year-old panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl that is echoed in the new mother-of-pearl furniture for sale in the souk. Christian Louboutin comes to buy the damask silk brocade they’ve been making here since the Middle Ages for his shoes and bags, and has incidentally purchased a small palace in Aleppo, which, like Damascus, has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.

The first lady works out of a small white building in a hilly, modern residential neighborhood called Muhajireen, where houses and apartments are crammed together and neighbors peer and wave from balconies. The first impression of Asma al-Assad is movement—a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles. Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green. She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun. Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: “I was, like. . . .”

Asma Akhras was born in London in 1975, the eldest child and only daughter of a Syrian Harley Street cardiologist and his diplomat wife, both Sunni Muslims. They spoke Arabic at home. She grew up in Ealing, went to Queen’s College, and spent holidays with family in Syria. “I’ve dealt with the sense that people don’t expect Syria to be normal. I’d show my London friends my holiday snaps and they’d be—‘Where did you say you went?’ ”

She studied computer science at university, then went into banking. “It wasn’t a typical path for women,” she says, “but I had it all mapped out.” By the spring of 2000, she was closing a big biotech deal at JP Morgan in London and about to take up an MBA at Harvard. She started dating a family friend: the second son of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar, who’d cut short his ophthalmology studies in London in 1994 and returned to Syria after his older brother, Basil, heir apparent to power, died in a car crash. They had known each other forever, but a ten-year age difference meant that nothing registered—until it did.

“I was always very serious at work, and suddenly I started to take weekends, or disappear, and people just couldn’t figure it out,” explains the first lady. “What do you say—‘I’m dating the son of a president’? You just don’t say that. Then he became president, so I tried to keep it low-key. Suddenly I was turning up in Syria every month, saying, ‘Granny, I miss you so much!’ I quit in October because by then we knew that we were going to get married at some stage. I couldn’t say why I was leaving. My boss thought I was having a nervous breakdown because nobody quits two months before bonus after closing a really big deal. He wouldn’t accept my resignation. I was, like, ‘Please, really, I just want to get out, I’ve had enough,’ and he was ‘Don’t worry, take time off, it happens to the best of us.’ ” She left without her bonus in November and married Bashar al-Assad in December.

“What I’ve been able to take away from banking was the transferable skills—the analytical thinking, understanding the business side of running a company—to run an NGO or to try and oversee a project.” She runs her office like a business, chairs meeting after meeting, starts work many days at six, never breaks for lunch, and runs home to her children at four. “It’s my time with them, and I get them fresh, unedited—I love that. I really do.” Her staff are used to eating when they can. “I have a rechargeable battery,” she says.

The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”

In 2005 she founded Massar, built around a series of discovery centers where children and young adults from five to 21 engage in creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility. Massar’s mobile Green Team has touched 200,000 kids across Syria since 2005. The organization is privately funded through donations. The Syria Trust for Development, formed in 2007, oversees Massar as well as her first NGO, the rural micro-credit association FIRDOS, and SHABAB, which exists to give young people business skills they need for the future.

And then there’s her cultural mission: “People tend to see Syria as artifacts and history,” she says. “For us it’s about the accumulation of cultures, traditions, values, customs. It’s the difference between hardware and software: the artifacts are the hardware, but the software makes all the difference—the customs and the spirit of openness. We have to make sure that we don’t lose that. . . . ” Here she gives an apologetic grin. “You have to excuse me, but I’m a banker—that brand essence.”

That brand essence includes the distant past. There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”

In December, Asma al-Assad was in Paris to discuss her alliance with the Louvre. She dazzled a tough French audience at the International Diplomatic Institute, speaking without notes. “I’m not trying to disguise culture as anything more than it is,” she said, “and if I sound like I’m talking politics, it’s because we live in a politicized region, a politicized time, and we are affected by that.”

The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, was there: “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region. ”

Damascus evokes a dusty version of a Mediterranean hill town in an Eastern-bloc country. The courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque at night looks exactly like St. Mark’s square in Venice. When I first arrive, I’m met on the tarmac by a minder, who gives me a bouquet of white roses and lends me a Syrian cell phone; the head minder, a high-profile American PR, joins us the next day. The first lady’s office has provided drivers, so I shop and see sights in a bubble of comfort and hospitality. On the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.

“I like things I can touch. I like to get out and meet people and do things,” the first lady says as we set off for a meeting in a museum and a visit to an orphanage. “As a banker, you have to be so focused on the job at hand that you lose the experience of the world around you. My husband gave me back something I had lost.”

She slips behind the wheel of a plain SUV, a walkie-talkie and her cell thrown between the front seats and a Syrian-silk Louboutin tote on top. She does what the locals do—swerves to avoid crazy men who run across busy freeways, misses her turn, checks your seat belt, points out sights, and then can’t find a parking space. When a traffic cop pulls her over at a roundabout, she lowers the tinted window and dips her head with a playful smile. The cop’s eyes go from slits to saucers.

Her younger brother Feras, a surgeon who moved to Syria to start a private health-care group, says, “Her intelligence is both intellectual and emotional, and she’s a master at harmonizing when, and how much, to use of each one.”

In the Saint Paul orphanage, maintained by the Melkite–Greek Catholic patriarchate and run by the Basilian sisters of Aleppo, Asma sits at a long table with the children. Two little boys in new glasses and thick sweaters are called Yussuf. She asks them what kind of music they like. “Sad music,” says one. In the room where she’s had some twelve computers installed, the first lady tells a nun, “I hope you’re letting the younger children in here go crazy on the computers.” The nun winces: “The children are afraid to learn in case they don’t have access to computers when they leave here,” she says.

In the courtyard by the wall down which Saint Paul escaped in a basket 2,000 years ago, an old tree bears gigantic yellow fruit I have never seen before. Citrons. Cédrats in French.

Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”

“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.

“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”

The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”

There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.

Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

A grid is drawn on a blackboard, with ticks for each member of the family. “We were having trouble with politeness, so we made a chart: ticks for when they spoke as they should, and a cross if they didn’t.” There’s a cross next to Asma’s name. “I shouted,” she confesses. “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”

“The first challenge for us was, Who’s going to define our lives, us or the position?” says the president. “We wanted to live our identity honestly.”

They announced their marriage in January 2001, after the ceremony, which they kept private. There was deliberately no photograph of Asma. “The British media picked that up as: Now she’s moved into the presidential palace, never to be seen again!” says Asma, laughing.

They had a reason: “She spent three months incognito,” says the president. “Before I had any official engagement,” says the first lady, “I went to 300 villages, every governorate, hospitals, farms, schools, factories, you name it—I saw everything to find out where I could be effective. A lot of the time I was somebody’s ‘assistant’ carrying the bag, doing this and that, taking notes. Nobody asked me if I was the first lady; they had no idea.”

“That way,” adds the president, “she started her NGO before she was ever seen in public as my wife. Then she started to teach people that an NGO is not a charity.”

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

After lunch, Asma al-Assad drives to the airport, where a Falcon 900 is waiting to take her to Massar in Latakia, on the coast. When she lands, she jumps behind the wheel of another SUV waiting on the tarmac. This is the kind of surprise visit she specializes in, but she has no idea how many kids will turn up at the community center on a rainy Friday.

As it turns out, it’s full. Since the first musical notation was discovered nearby, at Ugarit, the immaculate Massar center in Latakia is built around music. Local kids are jamming in a sound booth; a group of refugee Palestinian girls is playing instruments. Others play chess on wall-mounted computers. These kids have started online blood banks, run marathons to raise money for dialysis machines, and are working on ways to rid Latakia of plastic bags. Apart from a few girls in scarves, you can’t tell Muslims from Christians.

Asma al-Assad stands to watch a laborious debate about how—and whether—to standardize the Arabic spelling of the word Syria. Then she throws out a curve ball. “I’ve been advised that we have to close down this center so as to open another one somewhere else,” she says. Kids’ mouths drop open. Some repress tears. Others are furious. One boy chooses altruism: “That’s OK. We know how to do it now; we’ll help them.”

Then the first lady announces, “That wasn’t true. I just wanted to see how much you care about Massar.”

As the pilot expertly avoids sheet lightning above the snow-flecked desert on the way back, she explains, “There was a little bit of formality in what they were saying to me; it wasn’t real. Tricks like this help—they became alive, they became passionate. We need to get past formalities if we are going to get anything done.”

Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi. Just before it begins, Bashar and Asma al-Assad slip down the aisle and take the two empty seats in the front row. People clap, and some call out his nickname:

Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.”

Brass bells are handed out. Now we’re all singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” 1,331 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying, and laughing.

“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”


The Damask Rose

It’s interesting that the title of the Vogue article would have contained the words “Rose of the Desert.” Syria, of course, is a major cultivation center of the Damask rose, a species of flower highly prized for its fragrance and used in the production of rose oil and rose water.

Below is a report on the rose harvest in Syria posted by China TV earlier this year. The reporter makes a good point: “Life and light are stronger than death and darkness.”

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