Category: syria

Putin calls Obama’s bluff

By Daniel Margrain

On the October 7 edition of Channel 4 News, anchor Jon Snow said of Russia’s firing of 26 cruise missiles on eleven targets in Syria from ships in the Caspian sea, as “a significant escalation in the Syrian crisis”. The reporter Jonathan Rugman belittled Putin’s attempt at cooperating with the American’s despite the fact that it was president Obama who denied the former the coordinates with which to target ISIS. Instead, Russia has reportedly attacked CIA backed rebels with the apparent aim of scuppering their hopes of toppling the Assad regime.

The context in which Russia has entered the conflict comes on the back of 3,731 coalition air strikes on Syria since August 2014, the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people in the four and a half years of the “civil war” and, as the Washington Post quoting US officials reported in June, the CIA have trained and equipped nearly 10,000 “rebel” terrorist fighters. According to Patrick Cockburn, half of the 22 million Syrians have been either displaced inside the country or are external refugees. Syria represents one of the last bastions of resistance to US power and its gateway to Iran.

The illegal US-led invasion and overthrow of the Saddam regime was the catalyst for the current wave of chaos from which Al-Qaeda and then ISIS emerged which, according to a recently declassified US intelligence report, written in August 2012, was a development the United States government welcomed.

The report also indicates that the US effectively welcomed the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an Al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies Al-Qaida in Iraq and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”,

The Pentagon report continues, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. This is consistent with the charge that the initial violence in March 2011 (on the back of the Arab Spring) in the border city of Dara’a involved covert support to Islamic terrorists by Mossad and/or Western intelligence in which radical Salafist groups (supported by Israel) played a part. Other reports have pointed to the role of Saudi Arabia in financing the protest movement. Jeremy Salt, associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University, Ankara,wrote:

“The armed groups are well armed and well organised. Large shipments of weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey. They include pump action shotguns, machine guns, Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, Israeli-made hand grenades and numerous other explosives. It is not clear who is providing these weapons but someone is, and someone is paying for them.”

This is not to say the US created Al-Qaeda- ISIS, but it has certainly exploited its existence against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western hegemony. Moreover, the Gulf states are backing other groups in the Syrian war, such as the Nusra Front. These are the groups Russia is reportedly requesting coordinates for, but which the US is refusing. The US also supports Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen which over the last few days have killed hundreds of civilians.

Obama’s policy is as weak and muddled as Putin’s is strong and clear. Syrian’s understand that ISIS and it’s affiliates won’t be defeated by the same powers that brought them to Iraq which is why they want Russia to intervene to help regain some kind of control over a situation that long ago spun out of control. They understand that prior to Iraq there was relative stability in the region and therefore prefer Assad remaining in power than the chaos the west has brought.

Peace cannot return to Syria and Iraq until ISIS is defeated which, for it’s own narrow geopolitical and strategic interests, America has no intention of letting happen. Regardless, Putin seems intent on forcing the hand of his imperialist adversary.

At his news conference on Friday, Obama said, “in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive — that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive — and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition [out], because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians. This is not a judgment I’m making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make.”

But Obama did not explain how he knew what “the overwhelming majority of Syrians” want. Many Syrians – especially the Christians, Alawites, Shiites and secular Sunnis – appear to see Assad and his military as their protectors, the last bulwark against the horror of a victory by the Islamic State or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is a major player in the so-called “Army of Conquest,” as both groups make major gains across Syria.

Obama’s inaction against the terrorists he effectively supports as part of what is now widely accepted as a policy of regime change in Syria, has been exposed by Putin for what it is. Obama adopted a similar approach toward Libya which is now a failed state. Putin’s decisive intervention in Syria is the third time he has wrong-footed Obama – the first when he called him out over the veto with regards to UN resolution 1973 in relation to Libya, and the second was his overstepping of Obama’s ‘red line’ in respect to the unproven Assad-chemical weapons allegations.

True Lies

By Daniel Margrain

In a media age in which information is filtered and people can be bought and sold like any other commodity, it can appear to be abnormal not to be suspicious of people who have a tendency to express too much truthfulness in their rhetoric. It takes time to adjust to trusting people who speak the truth – especially to power. One wise man once said that we hear so many lies until the truth sounds weird to us.

The Corbyn phenomena is an example of this. Many of us know deep down that he speaks with an authentic voice, but so brainwashed have many of us become, often all that it takes to offset this is a repeated demonizing phrase in the media. If a lie is repeated enough times the deceit will eventually be regarded as a universal truth and so reversing it, as Orwell alluded to, becomes a subversive act. This doesn’t merely apply to what could be described as formal dictatorships but is relevant to liberal democracies too.

In these dark and surreal times, the propaganda of deceit and illusion, legitimized by a compliant corporate media machine, touches all our lives in the way advertising does. The aim of mainstream news is the consumption of infotainment – an instant gratification fix akin to consuming fast food. Edward Bernays, who invented the term, “public relations” as a euphemism for “propaganda”, predicted this more than 80 years ago.

Bernays foresaw that advertising and public relations would become an unseen power that would come to dominate the political sphere and shape the minds, tastes and ideas of the population. The aim of this “invisible government” is the conquest of us: of our political consciousness, our sense of the world, our ability to think independently, to separate truth from lies.

The latter which is promoted both consciously and subconsciously to the detriment of the former, as Chomsky and Herman acknowledged in their Propaganda Model, is systemic. Conversely, underneath the lies and spin exists a political reality implicit in truth-telling – a marginal process that has to be searched out rather like an investigator looking for the clues of a crime.

Yesterday morning on BBC television I heard Prime Minister David Cameron accusing Russia of indiscriminate attacks in Syria, as if it’s actually possible to discriminate between one set of terrorists (many supported by the CIA) from a multiplicity of others when bombing from a great height. Predictably, Cameron’s comment went unchallenged by journalists but it did make for a good soundbite. That was, of course, the point.

Later in the day, I checked out the BBC web page which ran with the headline “Cameron condemn’s Russia’s strikes in Syria”. Needless to say, there was no subsequent headline that read “UK accuses US over Afghan strikes” So how can this discrepancy not be in breach of the BBC Charter that prides itself on its supposed impartiality? The answer might have something to do with the fact that the head of the “objective” BBC News is James Harding, Murdoch’s former editor at The Times.

The implication of the BBC report is that the strikes by Russia are indicative of it being the first time a major power has bombed Syria. This is nonsense. In fact, the US-led coalition has conducted 2,579 (2,442 by the US) strikes compared to the eight undertaken by Russia two days ago. Moreover, there is also the assumption that it’s only bombs dropped by the official enemies’ of the Western powers – in this case Russia – that kill human beings and are uniquely destructive.

US and UK bombs have devastated the Middle East for over a decade, killing hundreds of thousands of people, including many thousands of children. But only after Russia started bombing Syria did the media suddenly notice that bombs kill an awful lot of civilians. But only Russian bombs, of course. British bombs are cheerful, happy and their shrapnel and blast are brilliantly engineered only to go in the direction of bad guys. The truth is, no journalist gave a toss about civilian casualties in Syria until two days ago. Neither did they give a toss about the thousands of civilian casualties caused by NATO’s bombing of Sirte in Libya which was approximately 500 times more devastating than the Russian bombings.

It’s also worth mentioning that.Russia is at least the 10th foreign government to launch airstrikes in Syria this year. Other countries other than the United States that have been involved include Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Turkey, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. According to VDC figures, the realities of using force to protect civilians in Syria has thus far resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people, hardly any of them by Russia. This is the context which is missing from all media reports.

That’s not to say that Russia has not been ruthless in its suppression of, for example, the legitimate desire for national independence of the Chechen people, as part of it’s imperial objectives. On the contrary, Russia is an imperialist power who, like the US, is motivated by geopolitical and economic strategic considerations not the protection of civilians. Nevertheless, the historical record shows it’s the American’s more than anybody who have used bombs in an attempt to solve complex political questions as part of their “exceptionalist” world view.

From the initial outbreaks of Syrian violence in March 2011, it was clear that this was not ostensibly a civil war but more of a proxy war that has escalated to become part of the complex conflict that principally involves Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, Turkey, Britain and France on one side, and Syria, Russia and Iran on the other. The fact that Syria is a proxy war for multiple external powers -.including the US and Russia –  has not been mentioned by Polly Toynbee or any of the other “experts” when discussing Syria.

The destruction by US bombs several times over the course of a thirty-minute period of the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed at least 16 people, among them three children, also comes as a stinging corrective to the media pretense that Russian bombs are somehow uniquely evil and destructive.

“UK accuses US over Afghan strikes” or “US air strike kills Afghan medical staff’ are headlines that don’t appear anywhere on the BBC. Instead they went with “Air Strike kills Afghan medical staff.” When the “other” kill civilians, it’s a sickening, despicable outrage. When “we” kill them, it’s a terrible tragedy; how must the pilots feel? For the last month for which there is data available (August), there were 143 Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, the most in ten months.

What’s the media strategy that underpins all this carnage and death? – more carnage and death. The Express headlined with a part crazed propaganda piece and part press release from the arms industry: “UK must prepare for WAR with Russia” Milan Kundera’s phrase “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” is more relevant than ever..

 

Is the BBCs Ian Pannell complicit in crude anti-Syrian propaganda?

By Daniel Margrain

This is Ian Pannell’s latest BBC report on Syrian chemical weapon use (September 10) allegedly by the Syrian government. Apparently this is yet more evidence of chemical attacks.

I want to declare from the outset that I am not a conspiracy theorist. That’s not to say, historically, there have not been genuine conspiracies’ undertaken by the state against adversaries that have served the political agendas of their protagonists.These have come in many guises from false flag attacks such as the Russian apartment bombings in 1999, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and the nurse Nayirah affair in 1990.

After having studied the contents of Robert Stuart’s blog in which he has meticulously and tenaciously examined the September 30, 2013 edition of the BBC Panorama documentary, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and other related BBC news reports by presenter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway, Stuart has attempted, without much success, to negotiate around its Orwellian complaints procedure.

Pannell’s reports’ appeared peak time on BBC TV a few days after the attack in Ghouta and were seemingly intended as a propaganda tool in the prelude to war. After having studied Pannell’s work and Stuart’s detailed analysis, it’s impossible to disagree with journalist Jonathan Cook who said that we, the news consumers, “are being constantly spun by the media machine that’s the modern equivalent of “soma”, the drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World that its citizens were fed to keep them docile and happy.” 

What the Panorama documentary and related reports actually illustrate, in line with Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model, is the media’s apparent ability to be able to keep many of us in a state of perpetual hypnosis. Stuart contends that sequences filmed by BBC staff and others at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 purporting to show the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school in Urm Al-Kubra are largely, if not entirely, staged.

Scenes from the documentary were shown as part of a brief BBC News at Ten broadcast report by Pannell and Conway which contained harrowing scenes of teenage boys and young men, their skin apparently in tatters, racing into what the report describes as “a basic hospital funded by handouts” to be treated for burns. In one particularly disturbing scene a tableau of young men writhe, drool and groan, seemingly in great distress.

My first impression after having seen the film was that it was totally contrived and staffed by actors. What initially led me to this conclusion were the actions of the central figure, Mohammed Asi, who looked directly into the camera for several moments before raising his arm, at which point the group around him instantly became animated before moaning in unison.

Many other anomalies and contradictions too numerous to mention here in detail were evident throughout the Panorama documentary and the related reports’. These included conflicting and contradictory accounts, a “victim” who appeared to be grinning, implausible demeanours’ of alleged victims, questions as to the authenticity of the alleged burns to victims by experienced doctors, apparent choreographed behaviour, unconvincing injuries and testimonies’ that challenge the BBC version of events.

But perhaps the most controversial aspect of all was the participation of Dr. Rola Hallam who appeared anonymously to report on the aftermath of another attack in Syria. Her emotional call for humanitarian intervention in the shape of bombs drew parallels with “Nurse Nayirah“‘s lies to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the run up to the US vote on the 1990-91 Gulf War.

But arguably most significantly of all, in a report headlined BBC Crew returns to Aleppo on 30 September 2013, rehashed footage from the original programme was aired again. The BBC explains “In a special edition, Panorama travels with British doctors inside Syria to exclusively reveal the devastating impact of the war on children caught in the conflict”  It is a heart-rending report of the suffering of the Syrian people, made so as to demonise the Syrian government.

Close inspection of the two different versions reveals that there were actually two or more takes of this scene.  The easiest tell is the arm position of the man in the fluorescent jacket next to the doctor.

If Dr Rola was as “overwhelmed” as the video claims, why take time off to do multiple almost identical takes of an interview?

The BBC portrayed this as a live action piece with casualties being rushed in. But clearly this is nonsense given that it must of been rehearsed because several takes were done. Furthermore, nobody else in the courtyard is wearing a face mask. One would have thought that if the doctor had time for various takes she would also have time to take her mask off to talk to camera.

Both Panorama programmes talk of two British female doctors, “volunteers for the Charity Hand-in-Hand-for Syria“, suspected to be Dr Rola Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan. The BBC did not mention the backgrounds of either of the “charitable volunteers”. Dr Rola’s connections to the SNO and FSA and the fact that she was shilling for military action under medical/charitable/ altruistic volunteer credentials, all of which the BBC clearly understood but deliberately witheld from the viewer.

Her father is Dr Mousa al-Kurdi, a senior SNO member – who actually taught Assad at university; the Dep leader of the FSA is Col Malik al-Kurdi. Her on-site colleague is a former Captain in the British Army Medical Corps. There is plenty of other clear corroborating evidence of her support for the rebellion too.

All of it was hidden by the BBC who gave the impression she is just an ordinary doctor with selfless humanitarian concerns and plays to the Western interventionist agenda perfectly.

The BBC has not addressed any of the legitimate issues raised. All of the anomalies and contradictions call into question the authenticity of the entire alleged attack. George Galloway said:

The Bush-Blair Corporation as it became known leading up to the Iraq war has lost almost all journalistic integrity. A full inquiry must be launched into why the BBC used a piece of material that was not just wrong but was falsified…for the purpose of propelling our country into war. That’s not what the British public pays its TV license for so that it can be tricked into a war

It’s my view that it’s probable some kind of chemical attack did indeed take place but in a different location to the one depicted but the BBC embellished, fabricated and falsified the aftermath for propaganda purposes. The claims made throughout were that the Assad regime was responsible for the alleged attack despite the fact that there is no evidence supporting the assertion that he was responsible for the chemical attacks in Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus on September 16 prior to the BBC documentary.

What both Pannell’s latest BBC report and Jonathan Rugman’s recent piece for Channel 4 News before that highlight, is that once again, the British public is being conditioned for war. Two years ago, when the majority of MPs voted against intervention in Syria, would seem to suggest that MPs were sensitive to the views of a highly sceptical and hostile public. But Cameron’s cynical exploitation of the little boy found washed up dead on a Turkish beach, might change all that.

Daniel Bethlehem, ‘The Propaganda Model’ and drones.

By Daniel Margrain

In their bookManufacturing Consent The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ (Pantheon, 1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky set out their “propaganda model of media control” to examine the structural factors that lead to systematic behaviour and performance patterns within the media that are largely predicated on restricted assumptions and the dependence on an uncritical use of elite information sources helpful to elite interests.

In identifying these “structural factors”, Herman and Chomsky list five news “filters” through which “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (p.2).

Herman says:

“The crucial structural factors derive from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people (or other companies); they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media are also dependent on government and major business firms as information sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and frequently overlapping interests, cause a certain degree of solidarity to prevail among the government, major media, and other corporate businesses.

“Government and large non-media business firms are also best positioned (and sufficiently wealthy) to be able to pressure the media with threats of withdrawal of advertising or TV licenses, libel suits, and other direct and indirect modes of attack. The media are also constrained by the dominant ideology, which heavily featured anticommunism before and during the Cold War era, and was mobilized often to prevent the media from criticizing attacks on small states labelled communist. 

“These factors are linked together, reflecting the multi-levelled capability of powerful business and government entities and collectives (e.g., the Business Roundtable; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; industry lobbies and front groups) to exert power over the flow of information.”

Notice that the propaganda model is not a conspiracy theory. Herman and Chomsky write:

“We do not use any kind of ‘conspiracy’ hypothesis to explain mass media performance. Our treatment is much closer to a ‘free market’ analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces.” 

The lack of any meaningful political opposition from a legal standpoint to the killing by the UK government of two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin on,August 21 by an unmanned aerial drone in Syria, highlights the relevance of the Chomsky/Herman model in terms of the establishment acceptance of the consensus around the reconfiguration of international law that serves elite interests.

No evidence has been produced that supports the government assertion that these individuals were planning terror attacks in the UK or that they had participated in previous terror attacks. So what is the supposed legal basis for the killings?

Cameron said the UK had taken action in “self-defence”, invoking the right to do so under Article 51 of the UN charter – but Article 51 specifically states that an “armed attack” must take place against a UN member state before any such response. So where did the government base its decision to execute by drone two British men in Syria?

According to former establishment ‘insider’, Craig Murray, the decision was based on “Legal Opinion” from the Attorney-General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, a politician, MP and Cabinet Minister. But, as Murray points out, Wright’s legal knowledge comes from an undistinguished first degree from Exeter and a short career as a criminal defence barrister in Birmingham. His knowledge of public international law is virtually nil.

So Jeremy Wright’s role is as a cypher. He performs a charade. Ever since Iraq, whenever the government has needed a legal opinion in order to support a military action it has done so by utilizing the legal opinions of lawyers who are sympathetic to the government position so that the legal case can, if necessary, be adjusted to the policy. When the government don’t get the kind of legal opinion they require in order to justify an action, they ignore it or, as was the case with the Iraq debacle, they dismissed the relevant chief legal adviser which was at that time, Sir Michael Wood for declaring the Iraq war to be illegal.

The consensus from Iraq on has been to appoint legal advisers not from within the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) but to use public international lawyers from outside in order to save any government of the day that happens to be in power from any potential future embarrassment. Thus, Blair and Straw turned to Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite ‘safe pair of hands’ lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.

Murray elucidates further on one of the establishments’ most trusted liars:

Daniel Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem, who was appointed by Blair as the FCO chief legal adviser, is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.

The consensus view among the world’s leading international lawyers is that the Iraq war was illegal. Daniel Bethlehem’s contrary extremist position as outlined in a memorandum where he ‘develops’ the Caroline Principle, is one in which he posits that States’ have the right to use pre-emptive self-defence, is a minority view – the equivalent of a climate scientist arguing that man made climate change is a fraud.

It’s a minority view that’s nevertheless the consensus position within the UK political establishment. A key part of the memorandum states:

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”

“It was this minority legal ‘opinion’ that formed the basis for the Iraq invasion. Similarly, it’s almost certainly the case that the same doctrine was used as the justification to murder UK citizens by drone in Syria. The notion that men travelling in a car thousands of miles away were imminently able to wreak havoc in the UK thereby necessitating the need for them to be executed on the spot without trial is obviously ludicrous.

Craig Murray reiterates how Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model works in practice within the corridors of power:

It was New Labour, the Red Tories, who appointed Daniel Bethlehem, and they appointed him precisely in order to establish this doctrine. It is therefore a stunning illustration of how the system works, that the only response of the official “opposition” to these extrajudicial executions is to demand to see the Legal Opinion, when it comes from the man they themselves appointed. The Red Tories appointed him precisely because they knew what Legal Opinion would be given on this specific subject. They can read it in Hansard.

So it is all a charade.

Jeremy Wright pretends to give a Legal Opinion, actually from FCO legal advisers based on the “Bethlehem Doctrine”. The Labour Party pretends, very unconvincingly, to be an opposition. The Guardian, apparently the leading “opposition” intellectual paper, publishes articles by its staff neo-con propagandists Joshua Rozenberg (married to Melanie Phillips) and Rafael Behr strongly supporting the government’s new powers of extrajudicial execution. In summer 2012 Joshua Rozenberg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Secret courts, drones and international law” which consisted mostly of a fawning interview with … Daniel Bethlehem. The BBC and Sky News give us wall to wall justification of the killings.

So the state, with its neo-con “opposition” and media closely in step with its neo-con government, seamlessly adopts a new power to kill its own subjects based on secret intelligence and secret legal advice, and a very weird definition of “imminent” that even its author admits to be outside current legal understanding.