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Friday, November 29, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Assad's Thankgiving Massacre in #Raqqa

A Scud missile blew up a bakery in ar-Raqqa on Wednesday. The Death toll now stands at 40 but with another 200 injured, the number killed is almost certain to rise. All told, three Scud have hit ar-Raqqa on Thanksgiving or the day before.

I feel compelled to pen this blog because nobody in the mainstream media is reporting this story and that includes Amy Goodman and Democracy Now. I also believe this massacre news blackout involves most, if not all of the "Left" and "anti-war" press. I feel compelled to report this story because nobody else is doing it and I don't think this war crime should be hidden from public view.

Unlike the poison gas attacks and other Syrian slaughters in which perpetrator has been in question, there can be no doubt who is responsible for these massacres because only the Assad regime has the big Scud missiles. Scuds are unguided missiles and they are very inaccurate. That is not important to Assad because he is targeting civilians and he is not too particular which civilians he slaughters, however using such weapons against a residential area is a war crime. Unfortunately we apparently live in a world were war crimes may be catalogued but they won't be stopped and they won't be punished, so the suffering of the Syrian people in a depraved world continues.

Thanksgiving message from people in Syria to people in the US

Since ar-Raqqa was liberated from the Assad regime's grasp last March, bombardment by the regime hasn't been its only problem. It was been re-invaded by Islamic jhadists, possibly some of the same ones Assad let out of jail, and while the Assad regime has been terrorizing them from above, these jhadists have been terrorizing people on the ground by attempt to impose their version of shari law and their vision of an Islamic Syria.

Since the Assad regime likes to present its opposition as consisting entirely of Islamic terrorists, one might assume that the bombardment was aimed that these elements, but that has not been the case. 26 November 2013 the BBC interviewed at activist named Mohammed about Raqqa who thinks the main jhadist group in ar-Raqqa, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), is in collusion with the Assad regime:
[Mohammed] claims they are working with the government to undermine the rebellion.

"[In Raqqa], they have occupied the governor's house and other former Baath Party buildings. But when the city comes under bombardment, only schools, hospitals and residential areas are hit, and not any ISIS-occupied locations," he says.
While Bashar al-Assad wants the world to think that he is locked in a war to protect a secular Syria from foreign jhadist terrorists, his real relationship with these Islamic terrorists is something else entirely. Doing the US occupation of Iraq, Assad encouraged these groups, particularly the Mahmud Gui Agasi wing of al Qaeda, and Assad ran the rat-line for them to Iraq.

These groups never face repression from either Assad or the Baathists until the US pulled out of Iraq. Then they are all thrown in jail because the Assad regime considered them a threat to the state. But once the democracy protested started up, Assad proclaimed an amnesty and all of these jhadist-terrorists were release in March 2011.

The reason for their release or the conditions of their release has never been clear. What is known is that since they have been released, they have played a counter-revolutionary role in the Syrian conflict and in that way at least, have indirectly supported the Assad regime. It has also been observed that while Assad likes to rail against the jhadists, he has not had a strong record of attacking them. Instead he seems to hold his fire for the democratic opposition and the Free Syria Army.

The International Middle East Peace Research Center said in a report on the jihadist front in Syria:
the bonds between the former Syrian jihadists and Baath’s intelligence units are still very suspicious. Especially, it is alleged that the head of National Security Bureau Ali Memluk has still contact with the organization [Nusra]. The reason of the ongoing contacts is considered as the Baath’s purpose to transform the opposition in Syria into al-Qaeda dominated movement.

The main debates revolve around how and by which power’s support Colani group[Nusra] has been armed. There are various claims on how and from where these weapons have been transferred. Since some of them assert that the weapons are from abroad, some state these groups are armed by Assad’s regime.
But I digress, this blog post is about the slaughter Assad is doing directly in ar-Raqqa.

Below is some of the material I found on-line documenting these attacks, Why is the Media and most of the "Left" giving Bashar al-Assad's slaughter a pass? Why does the world allow it to continue? What are you doing about it?

Destruction on Hisham bin Abd Al Malik St,
Raqqa from Assad shelling | 29 Nov 2013

Damage done by Assad Scud missile in Raqqa | 29 Nov 2013

Scud fell near passport & immigration bldg in ar-Raqqa | 27 Nov 2013

Scud Missile Hits Near a Media Office Car& | 27 Nov 2013

A Scud's missile attack on the province of Raqqa | 28 Nov 2013
Child has lost his eyesight by the so called 'eye doctor' Bashar Assad

Assad Scud missile on Raqqa | 28 Nov 2013
huge ISIS HQ remain untouched, as usual

Three children killed in Assad school shelling in Raqqa | 24 Nov 2013

Dad loses Family in the massacre in al Raqqa | 24 Nov 2013

From The Syrian Observer we have this report about the attempts to live life normally in Raqqa in spite of the regime attacks:
Back to School in Raqqa
Tue 26 Nov 2013
By Damascus Bureau (a civil society website)
Education came to a halt in the city when opposition forces took over some of the schools as military bases, while others became shelter for thousands of refugees

Thirteen-year-old Mahmoud was excited to return to his eighth grade classes in September in the north eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, after more than six months of closure.

“I was so happy to go back to my desk. I missed my classmates and I missed studying,” he said.

Mahmoud resumed classes at the “Mutafawiqun” School, a public school specialized in serving gifted youngsters. The school had been closed since the armed opposition seized control of the city on March 14 of this year.

Despite the fact that the Ibn Tufail vocational school in Raqqa was bombed by government warplanes on the morning of Sunday, September 29, 2013, Mahmoud went back to scheduled classes like many other students in the city.

Ibn Tufail students were massed in the front courtyard of the school, getting ready to enter, when two regime-launched missiles landed, killing 14 students.

Some students have stopped going to school, and many parents share the sentiment of one mother, who said she is waiting for “the situation to calm down.” She has kept her children home since the bombing of the Ibn Tufail school. More...
This video documents Assad's attack on that school:

Assad’s Forces Used Fuel-Air Bombs Against Raqqa School

EAWorlview reported this:
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday that the Assad regime used a weapon known as a fuel-air bomb — also called a vacuum bomb — to target civilians at a school in Raqqa on September 29.

The bombs hit the Ibn Tufail Commercial Secondary School at around 8:05 a.m. on September 29. HRW has testimony from a Raqqa resident who said that he went to the school immediately after the attack, and saw 14 bodies, including some without limbs. HRW also spoke to a doctor from National Hospital in Raqq, who said he counted 12 bodies, mostly students, and the hospital treated 25 wounded.

HRW say that the regime attack against the school was likely a deliberate targeting of a civilian area.
Reuters reported on the Assad regime attack on the school on the day it happened:
At least 16 dead as Syrian school hit in air strike: activists

BEIRUT Sun Sep 29, 2013 1:48pm EDT
Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Andrew Heavens
At least 16 people, most of them students, were killed in an air strike that hit a secondary school in the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa on Sunday, activists said.

Fighting continued across the country including in the outskirts of the capital, underlining the relentless nature of the civil war in the face of international efforts to destroy Syria's chemical arms and revive peace talks.

Raqqa in northeastern Syria has been under the control of insurgents fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad since March but the city has been regularly bombed by government forces.

Videos posted online by activists showed the bloody and charred remains of bodies said to have been from the air strike in Raqqa. Some of the victims appeared to be young men, possibly in their teens.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with a network of sources across the country, said the death toll was at least 16 - 10 of them students at the school - but that the number was likely to rise because some people were critically wounded. More...
And so it goes for the people of Syria. It is the worst humanitarian crisis in more than a generation. It is entirely man-made, and nobody in the so-called civilized world is doing anything to stop it.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Interview with Apatris on the Syrian revolution

Republished from Tahrircn:
The following is the English version of an interview with Leila Shrooms originally published in Apatris (a Greek anarchist newspaper). It gives a general overview of the Syrian revolution, including questions of military intervention, the situation in Kurdish areas, anarchist currents within the popular struggle and suggestions for solidarity

What was the social, economic and political situation in Syria before the uprising?
The Baath party came to power in 1963, following a military coup. At that time Baathism was a mixture of Pan-Arab, Arab nationalist and Arab socialist ideology. Hafez Al Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup and ruled for 40 years. He dismantled much of the socialist outlook of the party (the coup was against its left-wing faction) and he built up a patriotic capitalist class. Under his rule a leadership cult was formed, Syria became a totalitarian police state and there was mass persecution of political dissidents.  Whilst the Baath party formed a coalition with 6 small mainly communist/socialist /nationalist parties to make up the National Progressive Front the Baath party dominates and in effect it is a one-party state.

When Hafez died in 2000, his son Bashar inherited the dictatorship. He was originally seen as a reformist and this climate of optimism gave birth to a movement known as the Damascus Spring. It was an intellectual led movement asking for political reforms such as the release of political prisoners and the right to form political parties and civil organizations (which are either banned or subject to strict control). It also called for an end to Emergency Law, in place since 1963, which effectively suspended all constitutional rights of citizens and empowered security forces. By Autumn 2001 the key leaders of this movement were in prison and hopes for political reforms ended. Under Bashar there was wide-spread persecution of political and human rights activists. Arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances were common practice. The Kurds (9 per cent of the population) also suffered severe repression at the hands of the state. An uprising of Kurds took place in March 2004, many were killed and more than 2 thousand were arrested. Draconian measures controlled and censored both Internet and press.

Following the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, Bashar implemented wide ranging neo-liberal economic reforms. State farms were privatized, a private banking system was introduced, there was a promotion of private-sector led investment with key industrial sectors brought under private sector control, and a reduction in subsides. International investment flooded in particularly from the Gulf. These reforms were not accompanied by policies to re-distribute wealth or ensure social protection. Inequality grew between the rich and poor and the urban/rural divide was exacerbated.

Assad loyalists and the business class benefited from these policies. Bashar’s inner circle, including from his family and members of the Alawite sect to which he belongs became very wealthy. It is estimated that Bashar’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, controlled about 60% of the Syrian economy through his business interests. The Sunni and Christian bourgeois also benefited from these policies as the regime built economic ties with individuals from different communities to ensure their loyalty. Meanwhile the poor were disenfranchised and the cost of living rose. Syrians living under poverty line increased from 11 per cent in 2000 to 34.5 per cent in 2010 (7 million people) in rural areas it stood at 62 per cent. Unemployment rates were high, especially for the youth who lacked job opportunities.

Therefore which social groups were prominent in the outbreak of the revolt?
Inspired by the revolutionary wave sweeping the region, the uprising began in rural areas and cities with high poverty rates such as Deraa and Homs; those which had suffered the most from the neo-liberal project. The main Kurdish cities were also amongst the first to hold large protests.  Apart from some small and daring protests, the centers of capital (Aleppo and Damascus) failed to join uprising for months and some (regime sponsored) protests were organized in support of Bashar.

Workers (despite the difficulties in organizing because of Baath domination of Unions) have played an important role in the movement. Successful general strikes and civil disobedience campaigns throughout December 2011 paralyzed large sections of the economy. The response of the Assad regime was to lay off more than 85,000 workers and close more than 187 factories between January and February 2012 (according to official figures).[1] The regime also increased wages to public sector staff in its attempt to crush the uprising.

The core of the grassroots opposition has been and remains the youth, mainly from the poor and middle-classes, in which women and diverse religious and ethnic groups play active roles. Many of these activists remain non-affiliated to traditional political ideologies but are instead motivated by concerns for freedom, dignity and basic human rights. Their primary objective has remained the overthrow of the regime, rather than developing grand proposals for a future Syria.

What has been the role of anarchism in Syria and the Syrian Revolution?
Syrians have been at the forefront of the development of anarchism regionally. In the 19th century the main centers of Arab anarchism were Beirut, Alexandria and Cairo. The two primary periodicals for the dissemination of radical ideas in these cities were Al Hilal and Al Muqtataf, both established by Syrians. Syrian actors also brought anarchist ideas to the workers of these cities through radical theatre.

One of the leading contemporary Arab anarchists is Syrian, Mazen Km Al Maz. He has been writing regularly in Arabic on current affairs for the past decade, and has translated western anarchist literature into Arabic. Nader Attasi, is one Syrian anarchist who blogs in English under the name Darth Nader. Political organization has been restricted in Syria for decades and anarchist networks are small and emerging. Yet anarchist tendencies in the Syrian revolution have been the strongest we have seen in any of the Arab Spring countries and the experiments in autonomous self-organization outside of the boundaries of the state and independent of political or institutional leadership provide valuable lessons for anarchist organizing globally.

The main form of revolutionary organization in Syria has been through the development of local committees. Hundreds have been established in neighborhoods and towns across the country. This form of organization was inspired by Syrian anarchist Omar Aziz. He believed that it didn’t make sense for revolutionaries to participate in protests by day and then return to their lives within the authoritarian structures of the state. Aziz advocated for radical changes to social relationships and organization in order to challenge the foundations of a system built on exploitation and oppression. His ideas have had a huge impact on revolutionary organization in Syria. In the local committees revolutionary activists engage in multiple activities, from documenting and reporting on violations carried out by the regime (and increasingly elements of the opposition) to organizing protests and civil disobedience campaigns (such as strikes and refusing to pay utility bills). They collect and provide aid and humanitarian supplies to areas under bombardment or siege. The committees operate as horizontally organized, autonomous, leaderless groups, made up of all segments of the society (including minorities such as Christians, Alawites, Druze and Kurds). They have been the foundation of the revolutionary movement based on principles of cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid.

What are the external forces which are involved in the Syrian conflict?
There is a vicious geo-political struggle or proxy war being fought over Syria. On the global level this is taking place between the US and Russia and on the regional level between the Sunni axis (Gulf States) and Shia axis (Iran and Hizbullah). All of these actors are struggling to ensure that any outcome is favorable to their own interests and maintains or expands their power and hegemony in the region. There is also a violent counter revolution occurring inside Syria, with the rise of extremist Jihadi groups, many of them foreigners, who are not fighting for the liberation of the Syrian people but rather to impose their own religious agenda. None of these factors detract from the fact that there is also a popular struggle on the ground and revolutionary groups stand against both the regime and counter-revolutionary forces.

How are the rebels organized in the liberated areas?
I have explained above about the local committees being central to revolutionary organization. Also in areas liberated from the state Local Councils have been established which act as the primary civil administrative structure. These ensure the provision of basic services (such as electricity, health care, garbage disposal and water supply), coordinate with the activists of local committees and coordinate with the popular armed resistance to ensure security. They are often made up of the civilian activists that had participated in demonstrations as well as people selected for the their technical or professional abilities. Many of these people come from the middle classes in contrast to the formal opposition in exile, comprised mainly of people from richer families, which explains some of the tension between these two groups and lack of outside support. There is no one model for the Local Councils, but they mainly follow some form of representative democratic model and free local elections have occurred in areas where they have been established, something that has not happened in Syria under four decades of Baath rule. Challenges include scarcity of resources, as very little aid has come in from outside which hinders the councils in fulfilling their functions and providing for citizens. In some areas councils have also struggled to maintain independence from armed groups and in areas where militant Jihadist groups (the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jabhat al Nusra) are strong, such as parts of northern Syria, these groups have tried to set up parallel institutions such as Islamic courts.

How is the armed resistance structured?
The Syrian uprising was armed early on because the people faced a fascist regime that was prepared to use the full military force of the state to crush any opposition to its rule. Initially civilians took up arms and formed neighborhood militias to protect towns and protect demonstrators. On the 29 July 2011 the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed by officers who defected from the regime because they refused to fired on protesters.

The FSA has two main components:
Former generals and soldiers of the regime. There are many different battalions and they are connected from local battalions to regional military councils, the FSA leadership and ultimately to the Syrian National Coalition (mainstream opposition in exile).

Parts of the civilian population that are against the regime. Many of these operate outside of the formal chain of command and are organized according to local affiliations. Some are openly critical of the FSA leadership and SNC leadership abroad.

There are FSA battalions that consist of Alawite muslims, Kurds, Christians as well as Sunni muslims. There are also women only battalions. These groups are united in the goal of overthrowing Assad and establishing a democratic state and the FSA leadership has a secular agenda.

There has also been a rise of more hardline Islamic or Salafi brigades which are not part of the Free Syrian Army structure. They are becoming an increasingly dominant presence in the armed opposition and recently the Islamic Front was formed bringing together the largest Islamist battalions. Whilst I see this as a worrying development despite the clear military advantages to creating unity amongst fighting forces, it still remains to be seen how the Islamic Front engages with the (overwhelmingly secular) civil resistance, FSA and political processes.

Is it true that the FSA is dominated by Al Qaeda?
There are two major militant Jihadi/Al-Qaeda linked groups operating in Syria; Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). They are a counter-revolutionary force, which are not fighting for the liberation of the Syrian people but rather to establish a global Islamic Caliphate based on their puritanical interpretation of Islam. These groups have much more sophisticated weaponry than the FSA, mainly supplied by private donors from Gulf countries. They have consolidated their hold on some northern areas and tried to impose their strict interpretation of Islam on the population. They have committed many abuses such a detention of opposition activists, executions and sectarian killings.

The civilian resistance against such groups is strong and we have seen wide-spread protests against them in cities where they are dominant such as Al Raqqa and Aleppo. The FSA is also engaged in battles with Al Qaeda affiliated groups and they were notably excluded from the Islamic Front. Whilst such groups will cause havoc in Syria and the region for a long time to come, I think the assumption that they can impose their vision on Syria in the future is grossly overstated. They are small in number, comprised mainly of foreigners and have no popular support base. Of course, the longer conflict occurs in Syria, the more they could increase in strength.

How are things right now in Syrian Kurdistan?
The Kurdish people have been denied their right to self determination and faced brutal repression by the state for decades. Since July 2012 the Syrian government left the majority of the Kurdish areas and there is now autonomous Kurdish government. Kurdish areas are governed by the Kurdish Supreme Committee which is an alliance between the main political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which dominates, and the smaller Kurdish National Council (KNC).  There are major political divisions within the Syrian Kurdish community and rivalries between the main factions. The PYD has  faced criticism for its authoritarian policies and specifically repression against Kurdish activists including pro-revolutionary youth activists and political activists from opposing parties.  The PYD has also faced accusations of collaboration with the Assad regime.

Kurds have joined the FSA in the fight against Assad and others are part of Salafist brigades/the Islamic Front. But the strongest Kurdish militia is the YPG linked to the PYD. Periodically the YPG  has  been engaged in  clashes with the FSA.  Kurdish fighters have also been fighting militant Jihadi groups as Kurdish areas have suffered brutal assaults by such groups in recent months.

The mainstream opposition in exile has sidelined the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people, but the popular civil resistance has vocally supported the Kurdish right to self- determination. Kurds have played an active role throughout the uprising and there are many initiatives where Kurds and Arabs have joined together in their opposition to the Syrian regime and to fight against increasing sectarianism. For example in August, joint protests were held in the Ashrafieh district of Aleppo calling for unity and an end to assaults carried out by extremist Jihadi groups. Recently, a campaign has been launched called “Khorzeh-Ana Akhuk” which in Kurdish and Arabic means “I am your brother” to promote unity and co-existence between Arabs and Kurds.

It is a fact that the Western forces have not essentially helped the rioters, while officially the Syrian regime has been blacklisted by them. Why do you believe this happened?
We should not expect support to be given to the popular resistance on the ground. No state has an interest in seeing a popular revolutionary movement succeed. The West, as well as Turkey and the Gulf States have recognized the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as the “legitimate” representatives of the Syrian people. They hope to influence the SNC in a way which is favorable to their long-term interests. It is important to note that the SNC has little legitimacy amongst revolutionaries inside Syria. It is often referred to as “the five star hotel opposition” and is criticized for being detached from realities on the ground, unable to unify to bring about meaningful change on the revolutions key demands, and influenced by outside agendas. Promises of support to the opposition from the West (including military support to the FSA) has been mainly empty rhetoric. There has been little will to find a political solution to this conflict or even take relatively simple actions such as giving adequate humanitarian assistance to the more than 2 million people living in squalid conditions in refugee camps across the region. No one nowadays is seriously talking about regime change. We expect a solution will be forced on the people where Assad goes but the regime stays in place.

Do you think their will be foreign military intervention in Syria?
Personally I don’t believe the West has any real desire to get involved militarily in Syria. Syria is still a powerful state and has powerful allies. We heard talk of airstrikes for three weeks following the chemical attacks in Ghouta. I believe Obama was backed into a corner because he made his ‘red line’ conditions and did did not want it to look like the US is becoming irrelevant in the region. The reality is US power is declining.

There already is foreign military intervention in Syria, and apart from the Al Qaeda affiliated militant Jihadis mentioned above, the intervention has mainly been on the side of the regime. Russia has given massive military support to Assad and there are Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria. Thousands of Shia Jihadi militants from Hizbollah are also fighting and have been involved in brutal attacks such as on the town of Qusair. Incidentally, Greek fascists from Black Lilly are also in Syria fighting for the regime. This is where anti-war and anti-intervention activists should focus their attention.

Finally, how can Greeks best stand in solidarity with the Syrian Uprising?
It is important that visible solidarity from outside is given to those in Syria that are still struggling to overthrow the tyranny of the regime and anarchists can give support to libertarian tendencies within the broader movement. After two and a half years of struggle and in the face of the regime’s brutality and an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation, it is easy to understand that revolutionaries in Syria are tired. Over 130,000 have been killed, entire civilian neighborhoods destroyed, 2.2 million have fled the country, and tens of thousands are rotting in Assad’s prisons. This is compounded when faced with the idiotic debates surrounding their struggle that has come from a section of the left. It is important to challenge the simplistic binary narrative that we have to choose between the Assad regime and Al Qaeda. There are no chocolate box revolutions. In the course of any revolutionary process numerous competing actors will emerge, many of them reactionary. We have to stand in solidarity with those whose vision we share, right up until the last person left and there are many positive initiatives to support in Syria.

In terms of Greece specifically, many Syrian refugees have been coming to Greece and we have also witnessed tragic incidents of them drowning at sea. It is important to challenge the Dublin Regulation which Greece has signed and the practices of border police including the illegal detention of refugees and mistreatment in detention. There have also been reports of armed special units firing on and threatening Syrian refugees to prevent them from landing in Greece. These people are fleeing unimaginable violence and conditions in Syria and have the right to be granted asylum and treated in a dignified and humane way. Once in Greece, solidarity can be given to Syrians, and refugees from other countries, to ensure they have housing and other basic needs provided.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mother Agnes Updates: The Choir Strikes Back

Mother Agnes-Mariam's press conference scheduled for 3 December in Montreal, Canada has been cancelled. The HEAR MOTHER AGNES MARIAM SPEAK IN MONTREAL! link on the tour's central website, the pro-Assad Syria Solidarity Movement, returns "Oops! That page can’t be found." But no explanation for their mistake is offered.

This is just the latest success in a campaign, being spearheaded by the Syrian American Council and Syrian Christians for Peace, to expose Mother Agnes-Mariam as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Assad Regime.  In a press release last month they said:
The Syrian American Council (SAC) joins Syrian Christians For Peace (SCP) in protesting the pro-Assad regime group “Syrian Solidarity Movement” for organizing a multi-city tour for Mother Agnes, a nun who is proclaiming to the world that the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus suburbs, were “staged” and the videos “fabricated.”
Mother Agnes is promoting Assad's views as her own on this tour. The campaign has the aim of getting venues to either dis-invite her or provide for an opposing view. In many cases, she has been able to wrangle venues based on her religious affiliation from those unaware of her controversial stands, like absolving the Assad regime of responsibility for the Ghouta sarin gas attacks that killed more than 1400 people and embellishing the regime story that the opposition gassed its own supporters. Owen Jones of The Independent, talks about her response to the Ghouta gas attack as well as Mother Agnes's 2011 claims that there never were any peaceful demonstrations against Assad in Damascus:
Mother Agnes is perhaps most infamous for publishing a 50-page report claiming that the video footage of the Ghoutta massacre was faked, that the children suffocating to death had been kidnapped by rebels and were actually sleeping or “under anaesthesia”. This was the most striking, crank-like example of Mother Agnes blaming what were widely accepted atrocities on the rebels, and therefore her detractors regard her as a mere mouthpiece for the Assad dictatorship.

Syrian Christians for Peace have previously attacked Mother Agnes for publicly claiming that there had been no peaceful demonstrations in Damascus, despite been seen witnessing one herself. They further claimed that they had never received any money she had raised, and even called for her to be “excommunicated”.

A Jesuit priest named Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was been exiled by the Assad dictatorship and is now imprisoned by ISIS, an al-Qaeda group, has denounced her for being “consistent in assuming and spreading the lies of the regime, and promoting it through the power of her religious persona. She knows how to cover up the brutality of the regime.”
While Assad and his supporters continue to claim the regime had nothing to do with the chemical slaughter in Ghouta, there is no doubt that the regime was behind the attack. I have written about that in some detail at Linux Beach, most notably:

        Who Used Sarin in Syria?
        Why would Assad use CW with UN Inspectors in Syria?
        Secret Intel Source of Ray McGovern & VIPS Revealed!
        Why did Assad Regime first Deny CW Attack if Blameless?
        Assad Knows: Chemical Attacks Kill Children First!
        1300+ Dead after Obama "Green-lights" new CW attack in Syria
        Where Robert Fisk's defense of Assad falls down
        More on ex-journalist Robert Fisk's defense of Assad
        The Courage of Ghouta in a Craven World

AP also thinks the regime did it and reminds us that the recent poison gas attack was not the first time Mother Agnes claimed the videos were fake:
The nun was skeptical of the 2 1/2-year-old Syrian uprising from the start.

She claimed much of the footage of anti-Assad demonstrations posted to social media networks was faked, along with video of Syrian forces beating and killing protesters.
She simply refuses to believe her own eyes!

I have gone into Mother Agnes's history and the many reasons people see her as an Assad stooge in my first post on this campaign Syrian American Council takes on Agnes-Mariam and I also reported on the biggest win of this campaign so far: Mother Agnes-Mariam was forced to withdraw from Saturday's International Anti-War Conference Conference.
It was entirely proper that she withdrew because she is anything but anti-war. She speaks only of opposition violence, and exaggerates that, when the lion's share of the civilian slaughter is being done by Assad's war machine. For example, just yesterday one of Assad's Scuds killed 40 and injured 200 when it hit a bakery in Raqqa, one more in a long string of attacks on people waiting in breadlines, but you will hear nothing of such massacres from Mother Agnes.

In fact the only people who claim that Mother Agnes is not pro-Assad are adamantly pro-Assad themselves and now they are livid that their mouthpiece won't speak at the Stop the War Coalition's anti-war conference.

From the Choir: ad hominem ad nauseum

At RT, Neil Clark calls those opposing the Mother Agnes show "liberal hawks and serial warmongers" and accuses us of having "a collective hissy fit" about "this elderly lady, who is working tirelessly for peace and an end to the bloodshed in Syria." He continues:
Mother Agnes has been subject to a vicious internet campaign of character assassination, smears and defamation.
But he doesn't address any of the things I and others that oppose her have said about her.

Blogger Phil Greaves calls it a "Zionist-led smear campaigns." Richard Edmondson at Fig Trees and Vineyards has a similar take on those who oppose this tour, saying "it[s] been obvious to me for a while now that the attacks on Mother Agnes are Zionist motivated." Since I oppose Assad, I must be a Zionist? Is this what passes for critical thought with these people?

Those that have been following this story already know that the withdrawal of Mother Agnes from the Stop the War Coalition event was given a big boost when two of the leading speakers at the event, journalist and filmmaker, Jeremy Scahill and The Independent writer Owen Jones, announced that they would refuse to share a stage with Mother Agnes, and so now the Mother Agnes supporters reserve a special kind of vitriol for them. William Bowles @ [dis]Information Clearing House calls them "a couple of rogues" and "these two buffoons."

 Jeremy Scahill sent out this tweet:
Which William Boardman, writing for the pro-Russian Global Research, called "his blackmail note to an established anti-war organization." He also accused Scahill of "flogging a movie," which is his way of putting a negative spin on what a filmmaker with a new film should be doing.

Owen Jones has also been subjected to much abuse by this pro-Assad crowd. He gave a good description of the problem in his blog:
There is a section of the left that is incapable of accepting a disagreement within its own ranks. They refuse to believe that an opponent can disagree with them on the basis of principle; it has to be on the basis of bad faith. In other words, I am a careerist, or a closet supporter of Western intervention, or I am part of some sinister conspiracy against Mother Agnes.
Apparently all those that are outraged because Scahill and Owen spoke out against Mother Agnes aren't satisfied with exercising their free speech rights in response. Owen tells us that both he and Scahill were subjected to "a cyber-attack involving hundreds of spam-bots." Personally, I think it smells like an attack by Assad's Syrian Electronic Army.

Mother Agnes was able to find another venue to speak at in London, an event called “Save the Children of Syria” but blogger Stephen Sizer complained:
The meeting was disrupted by Syrian activists opposed to the message of reconciliation
By which he means reconciliation with fascism. Thanks to Abdulaziz Almachi we now have some video from this meeting. Roll tape [Video 3: Discussion & 1st challenge 4:21] [Video 4: Main challenge 9:54] [Video 5: Meltdown 1:54]

Preaching to the Choir?

It is interesting to note that just about everyone on the Mother Agnes side of this struggle also believes, as she does, and as he claims, that Assad has not been responsible for a single poison gas attack in Syria. As far as they are concerned, it has always been the opposition, which like Assad, and Mother Agnes, they refer to as terrorists. Nevermind that yesterday's Scud that took 40 lives in Ragga clearly came from Assad.

And while these writers may allow that they are Assad supporters, they insist that Mother Agnes is as neutral as the day is long.

William Boardman says:
It’s hard to find any evidence that Mother Agnes has committed anything worse than what others consider thought-crimes and politically incorrect observations, some of which are actually correct.
What makes her controversial to people around Stop the War Coalition is their perception of her as a supporter of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Clear reasoning behind this perception is hard to come by.
Of the charge that she is a regime apologist, William Bowles says:
No proof was offered for this opinion, nor has any emerged since then as far as I know that Mother Agnes is an ‘apologist’ for the Assad regime.
Phil Greaves calls the attacks on her "baseless conspiracy theories."

They simply refuse to believe their own ears!

So nevermind what Linux Beach, Not George Sabra, Democratic Revolution, Pulse or any of the other radical blogs have had to say about Mother Agnes. They don't even acknowledge them so they don't have to answer them, but this is what AP had to say about Mother Agnes:
Mother Superior Agnes-Mariam of the Cross has thrust herself into the role of go-between and publicist, arranging cease-fires, organizing pro-government media trips and conducting speaking tours as perhaps the country's most prominent critic of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian government heavily restricts foreign reporting on the fighting. But Agnes-Mariam organized pro-government media tours, using her connections to obtain visas for journalists.
Speaking of a deal struck by Mother Agnes to get civilians out of the besieged town of Moadamiyeh, AP said:
The truce failed several times, but over a series of days, some 5,000 people were evacuated.

Activist Qusai Zakariya, however, accused of nun of breaking her word by allowing Assad's security forces to seize men suspected of being armed rebels as they left. Zakariya said she bears responsibility for their fate if they were tortured or killed in custody.

The nun said the men were taken to determine their status as civilians or fighters. She said that two men disappeared but that volunteers were trying to locate them.

George Kallas, an official at the Beirut-based Greek Catholic Patriarchate, which oversees Agnes-Mariam's convent, would not comment directly on her work and said her statements do not reflect the opinion of the Greek Catholic Church.
Michael Weiss was able to talk to Zakariya about these events in Damascus, this is his report back:
I have just got off a Skype interview with Quasi Zakarya, a rebel spokesman in the besieged and starved town of Moadamiyah, Damascus, as well as a local doctor who would only give me his first name, Omar.

According to both, yesterday the regime allowed the “evacuation” of 800 civilians from Moadamiyah, which has been subjected to a terror-famine for months. Those let go included women, children, adult males, and the elderly; their number estimated at 1,800. However, as was the case with previous evacuations, as many as 300 men between the ages of 15 and 50 were arrested upon their flight from the town. Some were taken to the Fourth Armored Division’s Mezze Airbase in Damascus, while others were detained in Qudsaya in a facility the regime claimed to have requisitioned to provide medical treatment and dispense badly needed food to civilians. “Instead, the civilians there are being interrogated,” Zakarya said.

“We also have information from officers inside the Assad army that they are now being forced to join the army or the shabiha,” he added.

The fate of children, who were arrested weeks ago by the regime during the first evacuation of Moadamiyah, is still unknown, Zakarya said.
As with previous regime-orchestrated evacuations, Mother Agnes Mariam was enlisted yesterday as the liaison. “She is the big, strong media face for the Assad regime,” Zakarya said. According to a “very reliable source inside the regime,” the Catholic cleric meets daily with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, and Jamil Hasan, the head of Air Force Intelligence who was rumored to have been killed in August 2012 by the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade of the Free Syrian Army. Al Dunya, the Syrian state television network, denied the assassination the same day. “Yes, he is still alive,” Zakarya said.
Freedom of Speech or Platform to Deceive?

[Dis]Information Clearing House accuses the anti-war movement of "effectively censoring Mother Agnes because two men objected." Global Research accuses us of "suppressing the truth." RT called us "anti-free speech bullies."

Speaking about "the debate about the inclusion of Mother Agnes at a Stop The War Coalition event in London," the Solidarity Collective said "although not all of us in the collective would endorse the views of Mother Agnes we defend her right to express them." If the Solidarity Collective is split over the question of which side of the barricades it stands on, it certainly has its work cut out for it.

They claimed to have studied all the available material carefully and that they too "could find nothing to suggest she is pro-Assad," and even if she was "she still has the right to her opinion." But it's not her opinions that are in dispute, it's her "facts." Finally they get to their position, including, naturally, another ad hominem attack:
We are saying that there is clearly a pro-intervention/pro-war agenda at work and we cannot stand by and not raise our voices to support the right of Freedom of Speech.
So this is how they are now attempting to frame the opposition to Mother Agnes. So now it is a Freedom of Speech issue and we are opponents of Freedom of Speech. This is completely laughable when you see how these Mother Agnes events are run when they are in control. As I reported earlier, at the Mother Agnes event in Los Angeles, 9 November 2013, hosted by Arab-American for Syria, another pro-Assad group, I wasn't even allowed in the door because of my known sympathies for the revolution. They wouldn't even take my $10, nevermind being allowed to speak. Nor was any opposition view heard from the program that evening or at any event when they can prevent it. They don't believe in free speech in Syria and truth-be-told, they don't like it here too much either, but now it is a convenient argument and a way of throwing more dust into the conversation. I think Owen Jones wrote well when he answered that charge on his blog:
The first claim is that I have attacked Mother Agnes’ freedom of speech. This is an issue which was very well covered by blogger Steve Doran in a witty YouTube video, which I recommend you watch. The obvious point is that Mother Agnes is free to say what she wants: well, that is clearly not true in Syria, but nothing that I have done prevents her from expressing herself. My detractors are effectively claiming that I should be forced to attend a conference, because a consequence of me pulling out is that Mother Agnes is no longer speaking on a platform. In other words, I no longer have any right to my own political conscience: I must be forced to speak on a platform against my will.

It should also be pointed out that freedom of speech does not mean the right to a platform. If the Independent suddenly cancelled my contract, they have not attacked my freedom of speech, they have simply stopped me broadcasting my views on their platform. If a radio phone-in does not put somebody through on-air, they haven’t attacked their freedom of speech either. Mother Agnes has not been prevented from saying what she wants in any way.
Exactly, she can tell her story walking...

Magpie's Nest has just published and important new investigative piece in the Mother titled The Many Faces of Agnes-Mariam of the Cross. Many new facts. I highly recommend you give it a read.

This video is entitled "An appeal for Peace and Reconciliation" and in it Agnes-Mariam calls on NGOs not to provide aid to the refugee camps outside Syria because they contain "the families of fighters" and the aid will be used to buy weapons. 2:00 onwards

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Renfrey Clarke on the Libyan militias

There has been a lot going on in Libya and I simply haven't had the time to write about it. Louis Proyect brought this piece to my attention and Renfrey Clarke has done an excellence job of framing the role and possibilities the Libyan militias in the overall context of the class struggle within the Libyan Revolution. This piece was taken from the conversation on Green Left @ Yahoo Groups :
There's no way shooting unarmed demonstrators can be anything but a reactionary act, and it's very clear that once this happened in Tripoli weeks ago, the masses of the local population lost what tolerance they'd had for the out-of-town militias under whom the threat to life and limb in the city was spiralling up toward Washington DC levels. As Chris indicates, the fact that the Misrata and Zintan militias have been withdrawn represents a victory for the popular will.

Now the people of Tripoli will get to see if the government's new police force, which has taken over the primary security role in the city, can do it any better.

Someday there'll be lengthy PhD theses written on the history and politics of the Libyan militia movement, whose complexities are indeed mind-bending. But if we keep in mind our Marxist conceptions of class and state, it's possible to grasp the overall thrust of what's occurring.

A warning, though: to make any sense of what's going on, we need to erase from our minds the reporting in the Western mainstream media, even in more liberal organs such as the Guardian. This reporting is not only superficial, but also highly ideological. The message it sets out to impart is that if you don't have a capable, no-nonsense bourgeois state with a tough army and police, you have mob rule, crime, chaos, mayhem...

I recommend the English-language Libya Herald, which Chris cites. Still bourgeois journalism, of course, but informative and quite professional. It's produced for diplomats and business types who can't use bullshit.

Just to provide a sense of the misreporting, some things you wouldn't have guessed. What were the out-of-town militias doing in Tripoli? Well, they'd been sent there in August by the government, in the persons of the President of the Congress, the Minister of Defence, and the new army Chief of Staff. This step was taken after the government acknowledged that its attempts to set up a new army and police force were proceeding unsatisfactorily, and that the soldiers and police who'd been trained to that point weren't up to scratch.

Now: a disagreement with Chris. The power of the militias isn't arbitrary, in the sense that they operate as they choose. On their home turf, where they're normally located, they're an expression of local power relations, not mini-regimes in themselves. While the militias have their own social base, for the most part they can be said to answer to local civic and tribal leaders, who wield a much more real authority in Libya than any instructions coming from the nominal government.

At the same time, the militias are popular organisations in the sense that (again, when on their home turf) they're embedded in the local masses and reflect popular interests, hopes and prejudices. The fact that the prime political influence on them is generally local elites is an obvious contradiction.

What's the relationship between the government and the militias? Actually, the great majority of the militia forces are technically part of the army and under the formal authority of its officers. Most of the militia members are on the government payroll. The plan is that they'll eventually be integrated into the regular army and police.

How do the militias take to this idea? They mostly profess to like it (there's the promise of permanent jobs and wages, after all). Back in August a spokesperson for the Supreme Revolutionaries Council, one of various networks linking militia groups, told the Libya Herald: "We agreed that the army should be the first priority now and that the brigades would dissolve as soon as the new Chief of Staff takes concrete steps towards forming a strong national army."

Note the implied reservation. What the militias, broadly speaking, consider to be a legitimate national army (or state, for that matter) is one in which no former ranking member of Gaddafi's army or bureaucracy comes within a whiff of power. That undoubtedly reflects a deep-rooted sentiment in the popular layers from which the militia members stem, and implies major disagreements with the current government at some point down the track.

Libya's government is dominated by the National Forces Alliance (NFA). This is the party of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, and in the 2012 congressional elections it gained 48% of the popular vote. Its key leader is former interim PM Mahmoud Jibril, a US-educated economist. Jibril was for a time Gaddafi's head of planning, but broke with the regime in the first days of the 2011 revolt.

A German foreign policy think-tank describes the NFA's congressional deputies as coming from "an economically privileged class and prominent families," going on to depict the party variously as "a rallying-point for parts of the establishment" and as "an unideological electoral coalition of those parts of the elites that remained in Libya during the Gaddafi era, and for this reason had to find some kind of accommodation with the regime."

While the NFA mouths promises of social welfare and a minimum wage, its economic practice is neo-liberal. One expression of this is the government's push to start privatising the country's large public sector. Initial plans include selling off one of North Africa's largest steel plants, located in Misrata.

Zeidan and his government are broadly despised, and reportedly are tolerated in office only because the strongest opposition bloc, the Moslem Brotherhood, is even more widely disliked. In what remains a lively and open political scene, popular antipathy to Zeidan and his ministers is certainly going to coalesce and find organisational forms.

In the immediate term, and at least until privatisation comes onto the immediate agenda, this political opposition is unlikely to centre on class-based demands. Outside the oil industry, Libya has few sizeable enterprises. Labour organising was impossible under Gaddafi, and the trade union movement remains numerically small.

An important focus of class-struggle consciousness exists, however, in the oil industry workforce. The oil workers have an effective trade union and over the past year or so, a history of vigorous strike activity.

Significantly, there hasn't been notable antagonism between the oil industry militants and the militias. In fact, the militias entrusted by the government with guarding the oil installations have regularly made common cause with the oil workers.

The government is now under pressure from the IMF to press ahead with its plans for privatisation. If this occurs, drastic job cuts are predicted to follow - in a country where unofficial estimates of unemployment already range as high as 30 per cent. Such a development could see class-struggle ideas spread rapidly, including among Libya's huge cohort of jobless youth.

It's difficult to imagine that large numbers of militia members - with plenty of historical reasons to detest the Zeidan government and the social layers on which it rests - wouldn't move in behind a substantial class-based radicalisation.

For the present, though, no such radicalisation is under way, and popular political thinking in Libya remains primitive and contradictory. While a sense of economic injustice is clearly pervasive, large numbers of Libyans view the causes of this injustice in regional (and in some cases, ethnic) terms. The prominent themes of current political struggles include the (not unjustified) demand for a fairer split-up of oil revenues and for a greater devolution of formal authority from Tripoli to the Libyan regions.

In the near term, we can expect that this situation will tend to keep militia members aligned with local bourgeois elites rather than with workers and the unemployed. But we're talking tendencies and alignments here, not firm authority. The militia members have minds of their own, and at the crunch, their popular-plebeian allegiances are quite likely to prevail over vague attachments to local bourgeois patrons.

In necessarily condensed and schematic form, this is the social configuration that sits on top of a lake of sweet light crude, which the imperialists would love to control and exploit without encumbrance. No wonder the Western mainstream press is campaigning for the implanting of a conventional bourgeois state, with a monopoly on the power of coercion.

Are we in the international left under any obligation, ideological or moral, to help the imperialists get their wish? It would seem axiomatic that we have no principled brief to support the creation of strong, coherent bourgeois states. But let's go back a little and consider some basics.

In circumstances where workers are compelled to endure bourgeois rule, we demand that this rule be bourgeois-democratic. That implies a demand that the bourgeois government use the power of its state, which the workers aren't yet in a position to overthrow, to defend the ability of the proletariat to organise and to carry on trade union and political activity.

That's not, of course, why the National Forces Alliances government is trying to build a conventional military. The key tasks for which the government's army is being prepared are those of enforcing privatisation, to the benefit of imperialism and the dignitaries of the NFA, and of crushing popular opposition to this process.

If the Libyan militias were simply marauders with a taste for shooting demonstrators, then for workers to agree that the bourgeoisie should build its army and use it to dismantle the militias would make a certain amount of sense. But the militias arose out of an overwhelmingly popular mass uprising (I can demonstrate this, if anyone's interested) and in their great majority are not homicidal. Nor, on the whole, do they deserve to be characterised as reactionary. As noted,
sections of the militia movement have already supported oil industry strikers, openly defying the government in the process. How the militia organisations will respond to the projected pillage of the Libyan public sector is at least an open question.

Workers who engage in struggle need to be careful who they look to for support. But the Libyan militias have the weapons and organisation to block the government's privatisation plans. As members of the popular classes, the individual militia members share with workers an interest in stopping the plunder going ahead. Consequently, it may be completely appropriate for workers to campaign to draw militia organisations into the struggle to defend public ownership of the enterprises involved, and to preserve the jobs that are under threat.

A political campaign along these lines could have the effect of breaking militia organisations from their alignments with local elites, and substituting an affinity for politically active sections of the proletariat. It would perpetuate the situation, essentially advantageous for the working class, in which the Libyan bourgeois state remains weak and ill-equipped to discipline worker activists.

None of this is to say that crimes by specific militias or their members should be ignored. In my view the members of the Misrata militias who shot demonstrators in Tripoli, and who harassed and murdered displaced Tawerghans in their camps on the city's outskirts, should face criminal charges.

But an alliance between workers in struggle and militia bodies points toward a longer-term situation in which the armed plebeian masses in Libya would come increasingly to take their ideology and political lead from class-conscious sections of the proletariat. That would be a militia movement that shunned attacks on the population, instead using its weapons to enforce the popular interest. The Libyan revolution, phase II.

Such are my hopes. But even in present circumstances, the international left needs to abandon its dominant discourse on Libya, which apart from mangling history, in large measure recycles the poison in the bourgeois media - with the occasional minus substituted for a plus. In place of the rants, we need painstaking political sociology, informed at a basic level by class analysis.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Obama has supported Assad's gas murder always

Adam Entous, Nour Malas and Rima Abushakra published a piece of first rate journalism in the Wall St. Journal on Friday, 22 November 2013. It is one of the most comprehensive reports on events surrounding the sarin gas attack that took more than 1400 lives in the Damascus suburbs in the morning hours of 21 August 2013. With this report, which I recommend everyone read in full, they have connected many of the dots and filled in some of the gaps in the story as it has emerged so far. For example, for all those who have asked just how the US government came up with the precise number of 1429 people killed in the gas attack, they provide this answer:
To calculate the death toll, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency counted the bodies using computer programs that analysed images of the dead. Analysts loaded more than 100 videos from YouTube into the system, which scanned each image for unique features and then compared the images to ensure bodies weren't double-counted.

Bodies showing gaping wounds or that were covered by bloody sheets weren't included, because intelligence analysts assumed they might have been killed by conventional weapons. The CIA's final tally came to 1,429
The WSJ piece begins:
As Syrian Chemical Attack Loomed, Missteps Doomed Civilians
Miscalculations by the Syrian regime, opposition groups and U.S. government left them all unprepared for the Aug. 21 gas attack.

As Syrian troops battled rebel forces in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 18, U.S. eavesdropping equipment began picking up ominous signals.

A special Syrian unit that handles chemical weapons was ordered closer to the front lines, officials briefed on the intelligence say, and started mixing poisons. For two days, warning signs mounted until coded messages went out for the elite team to bring in the "big ones" and put on gas masks.
The facts and history described in this article reveals a US government that had come to accept the routine "tactical" use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against his opposition, and indirectly supported their effective use both by denial of basic protective devices to those being gassed and by a public denial of the fact that they were being gassed. This story reveals a damning history of US government complicity with the Assad Regime's gas murder and its biggest flaw is that it tries to excuse this trail of evidence as "missteps" and "miscalculations."

You might just as well call carrying a loaded weapon into a bank a "misstep" after you have been caught trying to rob it, or the killing of hostages in an attempt to bargain a "miscalculation" after you have been captured.

What the WSJ piece lacks is the context of the relationship between the Obama administration and the Assad regime that goes back to presumed presidential nominee Obama adviser Daniel Kurtzer's meetings in Damascus in June 2008, continued with a delegation he sent to Damascus a week after he won the election and the appointment of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy two days after his inauguration. It them intensified with multiple meetings in Damascus and elsewhere, mostly secret, between US officials, especially John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad and other Baathist officials that continued even as democracy protests were breaking out.

I have documented all this and more in some detail in Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad. That history tells us just how much Obama's, and Kerry's, overall Middle East strategy has been predicated on Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. While they may have manoeuvred to use the fight with his opposition to weaken him and thus gain a better settlement in negotiations, they have never wanted to replace him. Contrary to the gospel according to Assad, Putin and all those on the Left and Right who parrot them, Obama has never been in favor of "regime change" in Syria. That is why it is far too kind to characterize his underhanded "good cop" support for Assad as "missteps" and "miscalculations"

When President Obama laid down his infamous "red-line," warning Assad against using "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" on 20 August 2012, I said he was giving a green light to Assad's continued slaughter by more conventional means, a slaughter that then had already taken 40,000 lives, just a third of the 120,000 lives that many sources estimate the death toll has reached since then.

I also questioned why he included that "whole bunch of" loophole in his ultimatum. Now we know that Obama was giving his blessing to the small amounts of chemical weapons his CIA believed Assad was already using against the opposition. The WSJ reports:
That July, [2012] American and Israeli spy agencies for the first time intercepted fragmentary intelligence about regime forces using chemical weapons on a small scale.
The White House responded by attempting to cover up the regime's use of chemicals and then issuing an oblique threat designed to warn Assad not to create a mass casualty event through his chemical warfare. For those of us that didn't know that Assad might already be guilty of gas murder, the "whole bunch of" comment might have seemed an "inept" slip, but Assad knew exactly what it meant. He was already using tanks, heavy artillery, helicopter gunships, jet aircraft, cluster bombs, jellied gasoline, barrel bombs and even a little gas against civilian targets and Obama was telling him "Steady as she goes."
Then-White House Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough and other officials told their agency counterparts that the top-secret information shouldn't be made public, but congressional committees were briefed, according to officials. Mr. McDonough also decided to restrict the distribution of such "raw" intelligence inside the government because of its sensitivity, these people say. White House officials didn't want to set off a chain reaction that would restrict their ability to decide how active a role to play, senior U.S. officials say.

The following month, on Aug. 20, President Barack Obama said the regime would cross the U.S.'s "red line" if it started moving or using "a whole bunch of chemical weapons."
In December, after intelligence came in that Assad was moving his chemical weapons around, Obama reissued his "red-line" warning but dropped the prohibition against moving them. WSJ continues:
U.S. and Israeli officials say Mr. Assad settled into a pattern of using small amounts of chemical weapons, believing the West wouldn't intervene. "The regime was using chemical weapons on a small scale to terrorize and warn," says Ziad Issa, a Syrian doctor based in France who worked frequently in northern Syria.
And so the small scale use of chemical weapons continued to grow and as evidence started to surface about this use, the Obama administration engaged in a pattern of cover-up on Assad's behalf, claiming "Assad didn't use chemical weapons in Syria" as I wrote in a post on 15 January 2013. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports they were working hard behind the scenes with their "bad cop" partners trying to keep things from getting out of hand:
Last December, the U.S. intercepted an unusually complete communication in which Syrian officials spoke about a potentially larger-scale chemical attack involving aircraft. The White House sent private messages to the Russian government, which in turn asked Iran to lean on the Syrians to scrap the plan, according to current and former U.S. officials involved in the matter. Iran did just that, the officials say. A spokesperson for Iran's U.N. mission said Iran had made it clear it opposed the use of chemical weapons.
This illustrates how the international "good cop", "bad cop" game is played behind the scenes and how these world powers have collaborated to manage a war that is now killing it's second hundred thousandth.  

While deterred from massive gas attacks, the Assad regime continued to deploy chemical weapons in a variety of new ways deemed not to have crossed any red-lines, WSJ reports:
On March 19,[2013] Syrian activists in Aleppo reported chemicals had been used in a missile strike on the government-held town of Khan Aasal, drawing international attention. State television said it was the rebels who had deployed the chemicals. Later, the Aleppo forensics chief defected to Turkey and claimed the government was responsible.
The pace of the chemical strikes was increasing all this year but the evidence was also mounting. This was making it increasing difficult for the Obama administration to continue its cover up. WSJ continues:
A month after the Khan Aasal strike, on April 13, an attack in Aleppo killed several people. Again doctors collected blood and other samples and delivered them to representatives of the U.S. embassy in Turkey. This time, administration contacts told rebel doctors and opposition activists they believed the regime had used poison gases, but that it didn't constitute a mass killing—implying that Mr. Assad hadn't crossed the "red line," according to opposition sympathizers who recalled the conversations.

Under pressure from allies, the U.S. made its findings public on April 25, saying American intelligence agencies "with varying degrees of confidence" believed that the Syrian government had used sarin.
Following a pattern familiar to those that have watched the Assad regime introduce one killing system after another into its routine of suppression, like with the introduction of Migs and Scuds, a little bit, then a little more, see how the world reacts and then full on, the pattern was repeating itself with chemical weapons while the Obama administration looked on:
On April 29, a small bomb dropped from a helicopter landed in the garden of a home in Saraqeb, in Idlib province, killing one. A Syrian doctor carried two tubes of blood from the victim to Turkey, where Dr. Pitti put them in a cooler and flew them to Paris. Tests confirmed the use of sarin.
According to the WSJ, that is why they were caught by surprise by the size of the gas attack on 21 August. They had intel pointing to the preparation for three days but nobody had bothered to translate it. Perhaps they don't understand how Google Translates can be programmed to automatically translate things and send alerts on keywords like "sarin" or perhaps they really didn't want to know in a timely fashion. In any case, this bit of missed intelligence cost 1429 people their lives according to the intelligence agency that missed it. One can only wish they were as adept at using technology for saving the living as they are at using it for counting the dead.

The Obama administration had been closely monitoring Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile since the conflict began in 2011, and had watched the regime carry out about a dozen small-scale chemical attacks before the big one, U.S. officials say. Even if they had translated the intercepts before the Aug. 21 strike, these officials say, they likely wouldn't have acted because there were no indications it would be out of the ordinary.
The Obama administration, with the complicity of the Media, and the Left, I must add, has allowed the Assad Regime to move us into a world where mass poison gas attacks are no longer considered "out of the ordinary." This is a great historic tragedy and should be the real headline here.

The WSJ piece is also wrong when it claims that the large number of deaths caused by the 21 August attack came as a surprise and may have been the result of "miscalculation."
In the earlier, smaller-scale attacks, U.S. officials say, Syrian units appeared to assess population densities and weather forecasts to hold down death counts. These officials now believe Syrian forces may have simply gotten sloppy on Aug. 21, misjudging the weather or the number of people in the line of fire.
What this line of reasoning overlooks is that on the morning of 21 August something like 18 poison gas rockets were targeted at seven locations. It was a much more intense attack than any of the earlier ones.

The Obama administration also denied protections to the victims

Not only did Obama attempt to cover up Assad's crimes and acquiesce to his use of chemical weapons time and time again after Obama made his empty "red-line" proclamation, Obama also did what he could to see that Assad's victims were left defenceless. Revolutionary leaders say that before the big gas attack in August, every request for gas masks, protective gear or antidotes for Assad's chemical weapons was denied. WSJ reports:
Syrian opposition leaders made their first formal appeal to the U.S. for protection from chemical weapons back in June 2012. At a meeting in Washington, opposition representatives handed administration officials a request for various non-lethal supplies, including 2,500 gas masks, say people who attended.
The request was denied. These appeals for masks and other protective chemical gear were repeated often and with greater urgency in the following year. I reported on this and how these denials seemed especially egregious because the US government had tens of thousands of sarin capable chemical kits rotting in warehouses all over the region, shipped there to prepare for Iraqi WMD attacks that never came in the Iraq War.

The WSJ continues:
In February, U.S.-based representatives of the opposition stepped up their requests for protection, asking top Pentagon officials for a supply of the penlike auto-injectors carried by American troops, diplomats and spies to treat sarin exposure. They argued the devices were easier and quicker to use than conventional syringes. The answer was no.
And so it went all the way up until 21 August:
Rebel leaders and their allies in the U.S. government say the White House failed to act on requests for gas masks, antidote injectors and other protective gear until it was too late.
Fortunately for Assad's would be victims, the French had a better response to the situation, WSJ reports:
In late June, the French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, accompanied a convoy of 16 tons of drugs, including 40,000 units of atropine, to the Syrian border.
And I have already reported how the French were preparing a unilateral military response, jets warming up on the runway, to Assad's Damascus gas attack before Obama pulled their chain and made them call off the raid. I guess he couldn't stop them from making the medical deliveries.

So now, while the Assad regime continues to deny any responsibility for any of the chemical attacks, he is given a pass because he has promised to declare all he has and allow it to be destroyed.

In return for this. He is apparently being allowed to continue his war against his own people by every other means at his disposal. This is what he has been able to do to the children lately without resorting to the use of chemicals.

Mortar in Jobar hits children, being interviewed about their war experience | 23 Nov 2013

The BBC reported yesterday:
Syria conflict: Children 'targeted by snipers'

More than 11,000 children have died in Syria's civil war in nearly three years, including hundreds targeted by snipers, a new report says.

Summary executions and torture have also been used against children as young as one, the London-based Oxford Research Group think tank says.

The report says the majority of children have been killed by bombs or shells in their own neighbourhoods. More...
CNN is reporting today:
More than 11,000 Syrian children killed in civil war, report says

CNN) -- More than 11,000 children have been killed in the nearly three-year civil war in Syria, including young boys and girls who were tortured and executed, according to a report from a London-based think tank.

The Oxford Research Group said that most of the 11,420 children reported dead were killed in explosions, and many others were shot to death.

Teenage boys were most likely to be the victims of targeted killings, according to the report, entitled "Stolen Futures: The Hidden Toll of Child Casualties in Syria." More...
The horror stories of regime abuse continue to trickle out, like this one about child torture published today:
A Mom and her three children from Daraa, Syria - two boys ages 4 and 7 and an infant - came into the clinic in Ramtha.

Her husband is in the FSA (Free Syrian Army) fighting the brutal Assad regime. In order to find his whereabouts (as if the Mom would know EXACTLY where her husband was fighting) the Assad regime ARRESTED CHILDREN - her two week old infant, and her two other sons, as well as her mother-in-law and her sister-in-laws. You read that right.

The two boys were tortured and the Mom showed us scars on the back of the neck of the middle son from cigarettes the soldiers used the burn them. Unbelievably still, Assad’s thugs put heroin in the infant’s formula.

The three children were imprisoned for three months. Mom went to the UN and other organizations in an effort to get help getting her family back - especially her children. She got the attention of Al Arabiyaa TV who interviewed her. With that and the help of the UN she got her children released on the condition that she leave Syria. But her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law are still imprisoned. Prayers for their safety for I can not imagine the horrors that likely are being visited upon them. More...
and the killing goes on unabated with the connivance of most of the world and most of the Left.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Friday, November 22, 2013

The shot that killed Kennedy escalated the Vietnam War

"Since November 22, 1963, a curse has fallen upon this country. . . . Since this tragic date, the mainland breaks have gradually worsened, and the ground swell has been relegated to the ranks of the unlikely. Cities burn, schools are sieged and overseas commitments increase. It's only a matter of time before this upheaval shall reach endeavors such as surfing."
                                                    -- Miki Dora, legendary Malibu surfer ~ 1965
President John F Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today. Since that date there has been a lot of speculation about who killed him and why, and there has been a lot of doubt with regards to the official version of events. I don't have any answers but I still have many questions and one of the first ones I ask in all such circumstances is "cui bono?" Who benefits?

Beyond all the conspiracy theories, this is what we do know: On 15 November 1963, one week before Kennedy was assassinated, following an October prediction by his Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara that all US troops would be gone from Vietnam by the end of 1965, General Harkins announced that the first one thousand of the then fifteen thousand five hundred US 'advisors' would come home by Christmas.

As we know, this is not how things worked out.

Lyndon B Johnson replaced John F Kennedy as president on 22 November 1963 and just four days later, on 26 November 1963, he issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 273 which outlined a policy of escalation in Vietnam that would see more than half a million US troops in Vietnam before the Johnson presidency was over.

Millions died in the Vietnam War, including more than 58 thousand Americans, but $$$ Billions were made by the Military-Industrial Complex.

These are the facts. Was there a connection? Who can say? But like I always say: Cui Bono!

Martin Sheen isn't just a great actor. He is also a true student of history and was a strong supporter of President Kennedy, a role he tried to emulated in his long running TV show Westwing. When I produced and directed Vietnam: American Holocaust in 2008, Martin Sheen did more than just narrate. He also wrote a piece about this connection between the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War, which I included as one of five special added features on the DVD.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, I have released this feature to the Linux Beach You Tube channel so that it will be more generally available for free:

Kennedy Wants Out - written & narrated by Martin Sheen, directed & edited by Clay Claiborne

On the day after President Obama has secured an agreement that will extend the war in Afghanistan past 2014 and US imperialism threatens other new wars all across the globe, the true history of the Vietnam War and its era become even more important. This is more so in light of Obama's plans to give the history of the Vietnam War a 13 year, multimillion dollar makeover in the hopes that future generations can be convinced that it was a good war.

There is much more in the DVD, including the hardest-hitting, most brutally honest documentary that anyone has ever made on the Vietnam War, which is precisely why Martin Sheen agreed to narrate it.

Now it is more vital than ever. Purchase your copy today from Linux Beach or Amazon. Show it to your friends. Put it in your libraries and schools. A battle is brewing over our collective memory of this great tragedy and it is a battle that we can't allow the war mongers to win!