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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebrating 40 Years of Vietnam's Independence

Forty Years ago  on 30 April 1975, a thirty-years war concluded as the Vietnamese had finally achieved victory in the struggle initiated when Ho Chi Minh read their Declaration of Independence in Hanoi on 2 September 1945. They didn't know it would take so long. In those thirty years they had to defeat the Japanese, the French and finally the Americans, and the puppet regimes set up by those imperialists. On 18 February 1948, Vo Nguyen Giap, military commander of the Vietnamese revolutionary forces declared in a letter to the troops "We will struggle ten years or longer if necessary...Until our nation regains its independence and unification...until Ha Noi becomes the capital of and independent and unified nation." It took thirty years not ten, but on 29 April 1975 that dream was realized.

Hanoi in 2009

Years before President Obama announced the Pentagon program to revise the history of the Vietnam War, I noticed a rising tide of propaganda designed to have the war remembered in imperialist terms, such as the 2005 documentary series Heart of Darkness: The Vietnam War Chronicles 1945-1975. In as much as it was a low period in mass activity, at least as far as I could see, and I was flush with money from selling the family home in Atlantic City, I set out to produce a documentary that would tell the unvarnished truth about the Vietnam War in a way that had never been done before. I wanted to highlight the fact that what we call the Vietnam War was an American made holocaust. We murdered over 3 million Vietnamese; we where not the good guys in this war.

The result was Vietnam: American Holocaust, release in November 2008. I asked Martin Sheen to narrate it because, who else are you going to call when you set out to make the ultimate Vietnam War doc?

Vietnam: American Holocaust

I was working on the sequel, Vietnam: People's Victory, which I hoped to release in 2011, when the Arab Spring broke out. Before resuming work on the screenplay the morning of 14 January 2011, I checked my email and found a message from the Electronic Freedom Foundation about the revolution taking place in Tunisia and the need for my material assistant. I put the doc work on hold and never looked back. Remembering the revolution of 40 years ago would have to wait. A new era of revolutions was just then kicking off and I planned to be fully involved.

Vietnam: American Holocaust is available from Amazon.

See also my most recent posts:
The "Left's" Crime Against Humanity
Crisis in Yarmouk: How Amy backs Assad's play
How Noam Chomsky cleans up Mummar Qaddafi

Monday, April 27, 2015

The "Left's" Crime Against Humanity

Another Left is Possible...

Sunday, 19 April 2015, CBS News' 60 Minutes did its first segment about the sarin attack that killed more than 1400 people in the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta and Moadarniyah on the morning of 21 August 2013. It failed to mention the strongest evidence of responsibility for this crime, that the sarin used came from the military stockpiles of Bashar al-Assad, according to the UN. It did report that the rockets were of a type used only by the Assad regime and that they came from an area controlled by the Assad regime, as had many conventional rockets aimed at the same targets, and it squarely fixed the blame for these criminal murders with the Assad regime, mass murders which it called "A Crime Against Humanity."

In an interview done before the broadcast, Scott Pelley explained why he thought it so important to present the images of this horror:
"If you don't see it, I don't believe the impact truly hits you. Even though people will be disturbed by what they see, it has to be seen."

Eyewitness cellphone videos, to be broadcast on 60 Minutes, show the aftermath of the 2013 sarin gas attack and the horror that victims of all ages suffered -- including seizures, vomiting, and respiratory failure.
Pelley first reported on the attack for the CBS Evening News in 2013. As images of the attack were arriving in the newsroom, he decided then to embark on a more detailed investigation of what happened for 60 Minutes.

"That's not the kind of thing you want to report on for a couple of days and then walk away and never remember again."
But that pretty much describes how the "Left" handled it. While most did nothing about the chemical murders, what the "Left" did was worst than nothing, it rushed to the defense of the killers.

First Responders...

The first response of the Assad regime and its Russian backers to the reports of the nerve agent attack in East Ghouta was a flat denial that the attack had even taken place. For three days while the regime refused the UN inspectors access to East Ghouta, Syrian State TV claimed there was "no truth whatsoever" to the reports of a chemical attack.

Democracy Now has long been a leading force on the "Left" and the way it handled this crime against humanity was typical of the way the mainstream "Left" handled it, occasional voices of dissent, like mine, excepted. Democracy Now's first reports on the "unverified Syria chemical attack," was its first report on the bombardment of Ghouta ever, even though the Assad regime had been murdering civilians there with conventional rockets for close to a year. Host and producer Amy Goodman allowed that the attack, "if confirmed," would "be the most violent incident...," noted the Syrian government denial of "the reported chemical weapons attack" and pointed out that while video of hundreds of dead and dying children had already been uploaded to YouTube, that there "has been no independent verification so far," thereby reaping propaganda value from the Assad regime's first refusal to allow independent UN access to the sites, even as it ended this brief second report by saying "The Syrian regime is reportedly continuing its bombing of Ghouta today, making any immediate visit by U.N. inspectors highly unlikely."

The Democracy Now show format is headline news followed by two or three main show segments. Two weeks would past before it dedicated one of these segments to this massive sarin attack. Two days after the attack, Democracy Now started its Syria paragraph with "The Syrian government is facing growing pressure to allow an international probe of an alleged chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus." Belittling the eye-witness testimony and video evidence that was starting to pile up, it was still the "alleged attack" and "if confirmed." She ended this doubtful Syrian paragraph two days after the chemical murder of over 1400 civilians by quoting Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, "The evidence of chemical attack seems compelling — but remember — there’s a propaganda war on." And indeed there was. Sadly, Democracy Now and most of the "Left" played the despicable role of supporting and promoting the propaganda of a fascist dictatorship and a criminal regime. That was the "Left's" crime against Humanity.

Monday, August 26 Democracy Now reported "Syria has agreed to allow a U.N. inspection of the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people near Damascus last week," and used a Doctors Without Borders report to falsely make it sound like they were saying only 355 people had died. The next day Democracy Now did three headlines on Syria, leading with "The Obama administration is reportedly weighing a military attack on Syria following last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus."

Wednesday, Democracy Now reported that the UK was proposing a UN resolution to condemn "the Syrian government for allegedly using chemical weapons in Ghouta last week." It goes on to state that "Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem categorically denied the regime used chemical weapons." We know this must be true because Moualem also said "there is no country in the world that will use weapons of mass destruction against its people." This speaks volumes about his knowledge of history. Democracy Now also brought on "Left" commentator Phyllis Bennis, who told us "So far, no evidence has been presented as to who carried out this attack." Phyllis Bennis elaborated:
Anything is possible. It’s certainly possible the regime used these weapons. It’s also possible that part of the rebels did. We know that some of the rebel armed forces came from defectors. We have no idea whether those defectors included some defectors that might have been involved in Syria’s long-standing chemical weapons program. We also know that some of the rebels are close to al-Qaeda organizations. The Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Nusra Front, has claimed its alliance with al-Qaeda. And the idea that al-Qaeda forces may have access to these weapons is certainly a frightening but very realistic possibility. The problem is, we don’t know.
If it hadn't been born already, a whole new cottage industry in conspiracy theoryland was born with her words, and soon Democracy Now would be playing host to a great variety of theories, all designed to prove anybody but Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks against the people he had been bombing for months. Amy Goodman never fell for the 9/11 conspiracy theories but she would grow to like anything, no matter how bizarre, that let Bashar off the hook.

Thursday, 29 August Democracy Now ran three headlines related to "last week’s alleged chemical attack in Ghouta," one saying "U.S. Faces New Hurdles to Military Intervention in Syria." The main topic of the show that day was the rhetorical question "Does U.S. Have the Evidence and Authority to Hit Assad for Alleged Chemical Attack?" In this segment it had Tariq Ali on and he made the claim that Obama's evidence for the chemical attack had come from Israel. Ignoring all the Syrian voices saying otherwise, Ali goes on to tell the Democracy Now audience "virtually no one who knows the region believes that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian government." He compared it to how we "were lied to in the run-up to the Iraq War." Just ignore the dead children.

That same day Mint Press publish one of the most outlandish claims of the now budding anybody-but-Assad industry in the form of an article titled Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack by Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. They claim to have interviewed some rebel fighters who said they caused the sarin deaths [in 8 locations??] when they had an accident in a tunnel with a tank of sarin given to them by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. As ridiculous as it sounds, its amazing how much traction this story had on the "Left." AntiWar.com, FAIR, Global Research, Counterpunch, World Socialist Web Site, Occupy.com and many more gave it play, but as soon as the critics got hold of it, it began to unravel. I took it apart in my blog, a few others did the same. Soon the AP reporter on the story, Dale Gavlak, was claiming she had nothing to do with it. Retractions started rolling in, starting with AntiWar.com and FAIR. Mint Press turned out to have some very mysterious financing and family ties to Iran, and practiced what PJ Tatler called Shia 'advocacy journalism,' Upon further investigation, it appeared that this story originated from a Russian.

Friday, 30 August 2013, Democracy Now brought reports of anti-war rallies against proposed US military action in Syria. In many of these actions, important "Left" organizations like Veterans for Peace and Code Pink made common cause with Assad Regime supporters and marched with the flag of the fascist regime flying over their heads. In the main discussion on Democracy Now that day, the argument was advanced that "the United States is not qualified to do what it claims it wants to do, as a result of its own record in violating international law for a very long time and supporting dictators and rogue regimes and the apartheid state of Israel in opposition to all manners of international law." It would seem that any reason to not attack Assad was good enough for Democracy Now. The further argument was made that if there was an airstrike, "the situation can spin out of control in a very, very quick manner," as opposed to what has happened since there was no airstrike then.
The "Left" responds to the chemical murders in Damascus | 31 August 2013
Continuing with Democracy Now as our example, it wouldn't be until 3 September 2013 that they would refer to the sarin attack without questioning if it had even happened, as it finally the dropped the "alleged" and simply and accurately stated "A report presented to the French Parliament Monday concluded the chemical attack was carried out by the Syrian government." That day Democracy Now ran its first segment related to the chemical attack. It was not a report on the attack itself. Democracy Now never paid much attention to that, never ran the YouTube images like 60 Minutes. It was the first of many segments dedicated to opposing US military action against the Assad regime or attempting to exonerate Assad of responsibility.

More Smoke & Mirrors...

Whereas previous to this Amy Goodman's Syria coverage had been sparse, now it was coming non-stop and most of it was designed to cast doubt on Assad's responsibility for the attacks. 4 September 2013 saw three headlines related to the Syria chemical attack, including an interview with McClatch journalist Mark Seibel who had just penned "To Some, U.S. Case for Syrian Gas Attack, Strike Has Too Many Holes." The rest of the show was two segments, "As U.S. Pushes For Syria Strike, Questions Loom over Obama Claims in Chemical Attack," in which they interviewed Mark Seibel who questioned the figure of 1,429 people killed in what no one would dare continue to refer to as an "alleged attack," although he thought it "quite likely that there were more than 281 people killed" and "With Focus on U.S.-Led Strikes, Global Failure to Meet Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis Goes Unnoticed" which is an ironic title given how little attention Democracy Now paid to Syria's humanitarian crisis before the need to go to bat for Bashar arose. This show also highlighted Code Pink's opposition to any military response to the chemical massacres. "We don’t want another war!" I'm sure the residents of East Ghouta would agree. Unfortunately, they weren't granted the option, and while they were pleading with Obama not to renege on his promise, Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin sought to silent their voices, telling the world "Nobody wants this war!" Then they brought up Colin Powell and the false charges that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, as if by inference, this cast suspicious on anybody who said Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, and ignoring the 1400+ dead people that marked the distance between weapons possession and weapons use, they demanded the same high standards and time consuming scrutiny be used in this case too and argued that nothing should be done to stop or punish these murders because how could we ever be 100% sure of anything?

The next day's Democracy Now headlines included four about Syria, including one that put the number at "502 Killed in Ghouta Chemical Attack." While the attack was no longer "alleged", the counting of the dead was being hotly disputed by Democracy Now, as was the responsibility for the crime. The bulk of the show was two segments about Syria, both of which argued against any military response to the chemical attacks. First, Democracy Now revealed it true internationalist spirit by embracing Rep. Alan Grayson's [I'm not my brother's keeper] opposition to any response to the chemical attacks because we can't take action "every time we see something bad in the world," never mind the promise the president made in our name. [To those who say he should have never made that promise, I say the time to have objected strongly was when he made it {I did}, not when it was time to pay up.] Grayson was on Democracy Now to promote the website he had just set up, DontAttackSyria.com. Now that Obama is attacking Assad's opposition in Syria, that site has gone dead. The second segment was an interview with Rim Turkmani, a well known regime apologist that had earlier co-chaired the "British Syrian Society" with Bashar al-Assad's father-in-law, Dr Fawaz Akhras, but for the purposes of this Democracy Now interview she was introduced as a "member of the Syrian political opposition group Building the Syrian State Current."

Friday, 6 September 2013 saw three Democracy Now headlines in opposition to Obama's "plan to strike Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack last month in Ghouta during which the administration claims the Syrian government killed more than 1,400 people." That bodycount came from the Free Syrian Army in Ghouta before it was validated by the White House, but Amy knows that "administration claims" are easier to deny than those of the people Assad has been slaughtering. The Syria segment of the show was "about how Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud — Saudi’s former ambassador to the United States — is leading the effort to prop up the Syrian rebels." To hear Adam Entous of the Wall St. Journal tell it on Democracy Now, the Syrian fighters are dupes of others:
The Saudis and the Jordanians draw on defectors, largely, from the Syrian military, which already have a good degree of military training. And they’re brought to this base, where different intel agencies train them. And the Americans are there. The Brits are there. The French are there. The Saudis, UAE is there. And they train them, and then they send them into the fight.
It is also in this segment that the role of Prince Bandar in gathering evidence of earlier Assad uses of sarin in Syria is first discussed in a sinister light. After Mint Press made Saudi Prince Bandar the man responsible for the chemical deaths in Ghouta, there was a lot of elaboration.

With a Congressional vote on striking Assad just days away, the following Monday saw six Democracy Now headlines about the Syria situation including "Report: Assad May Not Have Authorized Ghouta Attack." Truly acting like the devil's advocate, it advanced this latest defense: Let's say, for the sake of argument, that this "alleged" attack took place, and say, it can be proven that the Syrian military carried out this attack; How are you going to prove my client, the Syrian Commander and Chief, actually personally ordered the attack?

The next day a group with close ties to Veterans for Peace, Ray McGovern and his Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) presented their theory that blamed this chemical attack on "senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials." They claimed to have gotten this intel from old buddies still in The Company. Later, it was proven that much of the VIPS material came verbatim from Yossef Bodansky, an ally of Bashar's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad.

Robert Fisk, writing from Damascus with a press pass from Assad, publish his own version of Assad-didn't-do-it with "Gas missiles 'were not sold to Syria'" on 22 September. Fisk tells us that according to his Russian sources, they have identified the sarin rockets as ones they sold to Qaddafi, leading to the conclusion that the dirty deed was done by rebels who must have brought them in from Libya. Too bad his Russian sources didn't tell him sarin is not a gas and saved him that embarrassment. Co-incidentally, this new theory came just days after the UN issued a report in which they identified the rockets used in the attack as Russian. I critiqued the Fisk piece in detail here.

Los Angeles "Left" icon Blase Bopane even had Assad's nun, Mother Agnes-Mariam, on his Sunday morning  KPFK Pacificia Radio show, 10 Nov 2013. Her theory was that the kids in the photos weren't from Ghouta, they had been kidnapped by jihadists and smuggled 300 miles to the chemical site. Furthermore they weren't even dead. They were faking, pretending to sleep. She said:
I am not saying that no chemical agent was used in the area – it certainly was. But I insist that the footage that is now being peddled as evidence had been fabricated in advance. I have studied it meticulously, and I will submit my report to the UN Human Rights Commission based in Geneva.
Theories about how someone other than Assad did it were popping up on the "Left" like mushrooms after a Spring rain, few even shared common culprits, none have proved their case or stood the test of time, but then they didn't have to. With the mission of defending Assad in mind, it was only necessary to create "reasonable doubt" among people who didn't want to face the truth anyway. The goal was merely to create smoke and confusion during this critical period when it looked like serious action might be taken against Assad. That was the one thing that did what the deaths of two hundred thousand ordinary Syrians couldn't do. It forced the "Left" off the fence and into the fight.

But irregardless of who the "Left" may think have done it, where is the sympathy for the people? Where are the protests against the inhumanity? Where are the relief campaigns for the refugee? Sadly, they are not to be found on the "Left" where the main task emerging from the August chemical murders was a rush to the defense of those almost certainly responsible for this horror.

Deal of the Century...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013, the first Democracy Now headline was "Syria Accepts Russian Proposal to Surrender Chemical Weapons," and with that even the pretense that Obama might strike Assad could be dropped. The Syrian National Coalition charged that this accommodation would only "allow the regime to cause more death and destruction in Syria."  Looking at all that Assad has done with the likes of barrel-bombs and chlorine gas since he gave up his stockpiles of sarin, that prediction has been proven sadly prophetic. With the "Axis of Resistance" Regime safe, Democracy Now could again throttle back its attention to Syria. But the campaign to muddy the waters over who was responsible for these chemical attacks would continue on Democracy Now and on the "Left" for many months to come.

After President Obama threw his promise to the Syria people under the Congressional bus and it was clear that Assad would not face US air strikes for what he did, the mood turned celebratory on the "Left" as everybody had a party and congratulated each other over having stopped a war. The Syrians didn't attend. They were still too busy being bombed when Katrina Vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation, went on Amy's show and mused "It’s very good to see the drumbeat of diplomacy and not the drumbeat of war." 16 September 2013. The Violation Documentation Project reported 95 Syrian's killed that day.

Norm Chomsky was on Democracy Now for 9/11 and he had his own way of obfuscating the very big gap between weapons use and weapons possession. He argued that if Syria was agreeing to give up its chemical weapons in the wake of 1400+ chemical deaths, then Israel should be made to give up its stockpiles of chemical weapons too, because they are in the same region, adding "Of course, chemical weapons should be eliminated everywhere, but certainly in that region."

He talked a lot about how the "United States is a rogue state" that "doesn’t pay any attention to international law," but he leveled no such charges against the Syrian government or its Russian backers. The carnage caused by Assad, both with and without chemical weapons didn't get discussed. The main point of this Syria segment was that Norm Chomsky thought that instead of making threats against Syria in response to the chemical murders, Obama should go after Israel's chemical weapons.

A month later, Amy was still beating the "make Israel disarm too" drum when she had Stephen Zunes on to tell us "the United States blocked an effort by Syria to create a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone throughout the region" while he spoke of "the recent tragedy that took place in Syria." as if no crime had been committed. More Smoke & Mirrors, all designed so we don't see that a Crime Against Humanity had been committed and act accordingly.

Democracy Now would not visit Syria again in one of its segments until December, and again it was for the purpose of raising questions about who was really behind the 21 August sarin attack. In all this time, just as before the attack, Democracy Now never did a segment on the daily horror of regime barrel-bomb and artillery attacks that so many Syrians live under, or the squalid refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan that they have been forced into in their millions just to escape this "Death from Above." This has never been worth a segment on Democracy Now just as it has never been worth a protest to the US "Left."

Seymour Hersh, who won the Pulitzer Prize for publicizing the Pentagon press release on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, appeared on Amy's show twice to defend Assad. Sy Hersh first appeared on Democracy Now, 9 December 2013 after a hit piece he'd written finally found a home in the London Review of Books. It was titled "Whose Sarin?" and said Obama "cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad." As scandalized as that sounds, it is undoubtedly true; if you allow that "cherry-picked" is just a colorful synonym for "selected," then that's what you do, you select evidence to make a case. But the heart of Hersh's story was that the Obama administration had secret evidence that showed the rebels may have used chemical weapons against their own people. In the article and on Amy's show, Sy Hersh made the dramatic claim that the jihadist group al Nusra "had not only the capacity and potential and the know-how, how to produce sarin, but also had done some production of sarin." His most important claim was that the Obama administration knew about this and all this intelligence meant we really couldn't know who used sarin in Ghouta. Maybe al Nusra, a rebel group, did it to other opposition Syrians?

I picked it apart then, but now a time has passed since Sy Hersh has made his claims, 17 months ago, and al Nusra has been in some pitch battles all over Syria, against the Assad regime, against the Islamic State, and against other rebel groups. If they had mastered the production and use of this terrible weapon, why would they have refrained from using it in any of these subsequent battles? Why use it just once in a failed attempt to frame Assad, as many on the "Left" then claimed, and then put it back on the shelf even as they lose territory to rivals?

18 December 2013 it was Patrick Cockburn's turn to come on Democracy Now and tell the people "It is clearly a proxy war. This might have started off as a popular uprising in Syria, but by now [you have] an opposition that is fragmented and really proxies for foreign powers, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey." The Assad regime is barrel-bombing schools, dropping sarin on neighborhoods, disappearing thousands into a horrendous gulag and Patrick Cockburn is here to talk about "the criminalization of the military forces of the Syrian opposition." It's not that there's not some truth to what he is saying, its that there is a whole 'nother side to what he is saying. He also told us the Free Syrian Army "never really controlled much on the ground." There is no truth in that, in fact they were part of the opposition coalition that just freed Idlib from regime control. The problem with Patrick Cockburn's near-Left coverage of the Syrian conflict is that it is one-sided, Assad's side.

In spite of an on-going murder rate that at times was reaching 5000/month, Democracy Now wouldn't revisit Syria again until 17 March 2014. Again it was with Patrick Cockburn, but before he is introduced, Amy quickly summarizes all the news they didn't think worth covering earlier in greater detail:
More than 146,000 people have been killed since the conflict began March 15, 2011, roughly half of them civilians. The conflict has displaced more than nine million people, with two-and-a-half million refugees living outside Syria and six-and-a-half million displaced within the country.

Last week, Save the Children reported several thousand Syrian kids have died because of a drastic reduction in access to health services, losing their lives to diseases and conditions including cancer, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure. Overall, at least 10,000 children have died in violence.
Cockburn's message was a defeatist one for anyone wishing to see the end of the regime that had caused all this misery, "Well, it’s very bad for Syria and very bad for Syrians, as you’ve just been describing. There’s a stalemate on the ground, but it’s a stalemate somewhat in favor of the government."

Sy Hersh came back on Amy's show 7 April 2014 with a new theory: Turkey was behind the chemical strikes in Syria. Whereas before he said the Syrian rebels were quite capable of making their own sarin, when his claims of "kitchen sarin" were shown to be ridiculous, he now claimed Turkey gave it to them. He flat out contradicted the UN report by saying "the sarin that was recovered wasn’t the kind of sarin that exists in the Syrian arsenal," without giving the scientific basis for his claim. Sy Hersh then when on to lie about the known facts, saying sarin was easy to produce and the rockets were homemade, when sarin can not be produced outside of a major facility and the rockets were a known element of the Syrian military that had already been used many times loaded with conventional explosives. Which brings us to another important point. The murderous brutality the Assad regime has shown with conventional bombs and artillery never got discussed. This was all about defending Assad from charges that he killed with chemicals and it was clear that Sy Hersh was rooting for him. In fact Sy Hersh told us, with his great knowledge of the region, that Assad was winning and "the war is essentially over." That was over a year ago, but the fat lady hasn't sung yet. The Assad regime just lost a second provincial capital last month!

Syria in the news again...

This year Syria is making headlines again but not because of the on-going carnage caused by Assad. That would be yesterday's news if it ever was news. Syria is making headlines this year because of the role it has played and continues to play in the rise of the Islamic State or Da'ish. That's what concerns the West. It even has some now arguing for Assad as the lesser of two evils. This year Obama had no problem bombing Syria without congressional approval, and with little in the way of protest from the "Left," but the target has not been bases from which barrel-bomb attacks are launched or any part of the Assad regime, it has been primarily the IS. It has also been against some forces fighting the Assad regime.

The irony of this situation is that Obama's failure to bomb Syria in the Fall of 2013 is one of the reasons why he felt forced to bomb Syria in the Fall of 2014 and the decision that the "Left" campaigned so hard for, not to respond as promised to the chemical attack, was one of the important factors feeding the dramatic rise of Da'ish in the year after the chemical attack.

Obama's decision not to act after his "red-line" had been crossed more than 1400 times may have brought relief and celebration on the "Left," but it brought outrage and disillusionment to Syrians. Many felt neglected by the world; now they felt betrayed by the United States. The Free Syrian Army lost creditability, as did all west-leaning rebel groups. The jihadist groups that had always preached distrust of the West gained influence and membership.

My friends in the Syrian American Council told me that it is hard to over-estimate the negative effect on the morale of the opposition of Obama's failure to take military action. Jamie Dettmer, of the Daily Beast, wrote about how the "already high skepticism over American policy toward the war in Syria" among rebel groups "skyrocketed when the Obama administration failed to enforce in 2013 its “red line” against Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons."

It was not a complete coincidence that Raqqa, the first provincial capital to be liberated from regime control, it was freed by a coalition of rebel groups headed by the FSA in March 2013, fell to ISIS in mid-October after Obama reneged on his promise in September, or that 14 chiefs of the largest clans gave an oath of allegiance to ISIS Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a short time later. 5 October 2013 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi writes of "the recent ascendancy in the Syrian jihad of ISIS and its much-vaunted emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi." 21 November 2013 EAWorldView reported "many Jabhat al-Nusra fighters left to join ISIS." Along with Bashar al-Assad, Baghdadi and Da'ish gained greatly from Obama's decision not to bomb.

Actually, a good argument could be made that it was the combination of the political shift among opposition forces caused by Obama's betrayal, together with the safe haven in Raqqa provided by Assad, that allowed Da'ish to grow into the monster it has become. Now it has so threatened to gain ground in Iraq and Syria that Obama has felt forced to carry out air strikes in both those countries of the better part of a year now.

Both the Assad Regime and the Islamic State have benefited from the "me?-no?-never-mind?" attitude of the "Left" to the struggle of the Syrian people. This "Syrian Lives Don't Matter" attitude has almost certainly repelled any young person with humanitarian concerns and that has been a boon to the Right, especially to Islamic-fascists like Da'ish and al Qaeda among Muslim youth.

This "Left" of my generation has no appeal for them. It has grown fat and senile, resting on its laurels. It longs for the simplicity of the Vietnam War when the United States was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. That wasn't the case in 2014, but they missed the changes and they just don't know how to act when an enemy of the people pretends to be an enemy of western imperialism.  

Its not that everyone on the Left supports Assad, far from it, but there is so little opposition from those that don't, that the the casual observer should be forgiven for thinking the mainstream "Left" is in Assad's corner. Perhaps the "Left's" greatest crime against humanity has been how it has shared in the media coverup, failed even to publicize the daily horror a people are being subjected to by its government because that government claims opposition to Israel. The Left is suppose to be the champions of the people internationally, and instead it denied the people's struggle,  participated in the cover up, and gave comfort to the oppressor.

Not only is another Left possible, another Left is necessary!

A huge humanitarian crisis...

A huge humanitarian crisis that has made news recently, because it affects Europe, has been the drowning disasters that have taken the lives of hundreds of refugees fleeing war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East in rickety, over-crowded boats that capsize in the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU use to pay Libyan dictator Mummar Qaddafi billions to keep the African migrants at bay. He used the most brutal methods to do so, as documented in this 92-page HRW report, keeping them in detention camps or dumping them in the desert. Now that arrangement is gone and the biggest headlines of the recent crisis have been made by the big boats filled with Africans like the 900 migrants that died off the Libyan coast a week ago, but the largest group risking this "trip of death" are Syrians attempting to cross the Aegean in smaller boats like the 100 Syrian refugees rescued off the coast of Sicily on 20 April 2015, or the three Syrians killed the next day when their boat ran aground on the Greek holiday island of Rhodes. On 21 April Turkey's coastguard rescued 30 Syrians after their boat began taking on water in the Aegean Sea. On 17 April 414 migrants landed on Greece's Aegean shores. That same day, a vessel carrying four women, a man, and newborn twins.

These are people fleeing Assad's bombs and blockades. Will the world response be to help him enforce this blockade? For despicable "Left" groups like the UK-based Stop the War Coalition, the apparent answer is "Yes."  They refused to let the Syrian Solidarity Movement speak about Syria refugees at the Migrant Lives Matter protest last Saturday in London. In other news on Saturday, Angelina Jolie was joined by her brother and son Maddox as she arrived at LAX after urging world powers to aid Syrian refugees. During her powerful United Nations speech on Friday, she told them "We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world's inability to protect and defend the innocent."

Two Syrian babies are carried to safety after being rescued from a boat on the coast of Italy. All 100 of the people on board survived
A big part of this humanitarian crisis has its roots in the world's willingness to look the other way while a fascist dictator and his allies bring death and destruction to the people under them. We often discuss these things in Geo-political terms but it is humans who are affected. This poem has been shared widely in Arabic in recent days and now it has been translated into English. No one knows its true source or author. Some are saying it was written by a Syrian refugee before he drowned, but nobody knows for sure. This is brought to us by The Syria Campaign, which you should support:
I am sorry mother that the ship sunk and that I couldn’t get there and pay off the debts from the journey,

Don’t be sad mother that they didn’t find my body, for what use could it be to you now, except for the cost of transport, the funeral and burial,

I’m sorry mother that war came to us and I had to leave like the others, although my dreams were not big like theirs,

As you know, all my dreams were the size of a box of medicine for your colon, and the cost of fixing your teeth. On that note, my teeth are now green from the colour of the moss clinging to them,

Despite that, they are still more beautiful than the dictator’s teeth,

I am sorry my dear for building you a house of illusions. A wooden cottage like the ones we saw in movies. A humble cottage far away from the barrel bombs, far away from sectarianism, ethnic loyalties and the rumours of our neighbours,

I am sorry brother that I couldn’t send you the fifty Euros that I promised you at the beginning of every month so you could have a good time ahead of your graduation,

I am sorry sister that I didn’t send you the new mobile phone that has wi-fi like the one your better-off friend has,

I am sorry my beautiful home that I will never hang my coat behind your door,

I am sorry dear divers and search and rescue workers, for I don’t know the name of the sea I drowned in,

Rest easy immigration department, for I won’t be a heavy burden on you,

Thank you dear sea for welcoming us without a visa or a passport. Thank you to the fish who will share me without asking about my religion or political beliefs,

Thank you to the news channels who will report the news of our deaths for five minutes every hour for two days,

And thank you for grieving us when you hear the news… I’m sorry I drowned.

My blogs on Assad's use of CW in Syria:
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Friday, April 10, 2015

Crisis in Yarmouk: How Amy backs Assad's play

Tuesday, on Democracy Now, producer and host Amy Goodman reported on the tragedy that is happening in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp near Damascus:
UNRWA: Crisis in ISIL-Controlled Palestinian Refugee Camp
"Beyond Inhumane"

The United Nations has demanded access to a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria invaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. About 18,000 people have been trapped in Yarmouk, just a few miles outside the capital Damascus, the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There were reports of sporadic fighting Monday between Palestinian fighters and ISIL militants. ISIL is reportedly collaborating with rivals from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to maintain its siege of the camp. Before boarding a flight earlier today, Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, spoke to Democracy Now! and described the situation.
Christopher Gunness: "The situation in Yarmouk is beyond inhumane. The camp has descended into levels of inhumanity which are unknown even in Yarmouk, and this was a society in which women died in childbirth for lack of medicine, and children died of malnutrition. Now ISIS have moved into the camp and people are cowering in their battered homes, too terrified to go outside. We in UNRWA have not had access since the fighting started, so there is no U.N. food, no U.N. water, no U.N. medicine. Electricity is in very, very short supply. It is astonishing that the civilized world can stand by while 18,000 civilians including 3,500 children can face potential imminent slaughter and do nothing."
This report might lead you to think that Yarmouk has been under siege by one "al-Qaeda-linked" group and now they have been joined in that siege by the worst al-Qaeda like group, the Islamic State, and all of this dangerously close to Damascus, Syria's capital. If it does, it leads you far from reality. I have made bold the sentence above in which that lie was deftly slipped into the narrative.

Democracy Now has been all over the Yarmouk story ever since the Islamic State invaded and became the latest plague on the Palestinian refugees still left in the camp. Since the beginning of the month it has run five stories on the crisis, this one, U.N.: "Grave and Desperate" Crisis inside Palestinian Refugee Camp under ISIS Control on Tuesday, Islamic State Fighters Seize Large Parts of Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria on last Thursday, a new one this Thursday, Red Cross Demands Immediate Access to Besieged Yarmouk Camp in Syria, in which Amy Goodman tell us Yarmouk "is under siege by the Islamic State" and never mentions the Assad regime or its barrel-bomb dropping helicopters, and another headline today, U.N.: Yarmouk Refugee Camp in "Deepest Circle of Hell".

* all pictures are from Yarmouk prior to the IS invasion and have appeared in this blog before.

Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp reduced to rubble by Assad's bombardment
Yarmouk has been under siege by the Assad Regime for over two years. He has had it surrounded and he has been bombing it. Democracy Now has already shown more concern for the people suffering and dying in Yarmouk since IS became the story's lead, than it has shown in almost two-and-a-half years of siege and slaughter by the Assad regime. In those years, it has covered Yarmouk just a few times; 18 December 2012, when the siege was beginning, Democracy Now reported:
Syrian Military Surrounds Palestinian Refugee Camp

The Syrian military has surrounded a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus one day after launching air strikes that killed at least eight people. The standoff at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp could see new fighting between Syrian forces and rebels controlling the camp.
Bringing food into Yarmouk
Although the bombardment and siege by the Assad regime continued unabated, it took ten months for Democracy Now to revisit the camp. On 21 October 2013, Amy Goodman reported:
Syria: Clerics Permit Eating of Dogs, Cats
amid Starvation in Rebel-Held Areas

In a lesser-told side of Syria’s civil war, Muslim clerics have reportedly issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing people to eat dogs, cats and donkeys as residents of rebel-held South Damascus face starvation conditions. The Financial Times reports areas, including parts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, have faced an almost total blockade of supplies since the summer, leaving some residents to subsist on leaves, animal feed and the contents of garbage bins. Signs on pro-government checkpoints read "hunger or kneel." The area is just a short drive from where United Nations weapons inspectors are staying as they carry out an international mandate to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.
The blockade has been Assad's attempt to starve them into submission. The bombardment has been his attempt to kill them because they won't. For years now the civilized world, including Democracy Now, has stood by and done nothing while thousands of civilians including hundreds of children have been slaughtered in Yarmouk. For that matter, the same could be said about the rest of Syria.
Women come to collect food baskets in Yarmouk
The question Democracy Now doesn't address, the question that is not being addressed by many reporting this Yarmouk tragedy as the latest Islamic State horror story, is this: If the Assad regime has had Yarmouk surrounded and under siege, as it has for more than two years now, how could a thousand soldiers from the Islamic State "invade" Yarmouk without the connivance of the Assad regime? Because nobody is reporting a big battle in which IS defeated the ring of steel Assad maintains around the camp. For example, the Telegraph reported Tuesday:
After two years under regime blockade, Isil's militants arrived last week, deepening the humanitarian nightmare.
What's wrong with this picture? How did IS just "arrive" at a place that is surrounded and under siege by the Assad regime? As the article goes on to point out, coming and going to Yarmouk ain't easy:
A Syrian aid worker living near Yarmouk described his desperate search to find openings through which to smuggle the dying.
No official aid convoy has been able to break the siege since December. A spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, Chris Gunness, described the conditions as "beyond inhumane".
The article goes on to describe the crisis:
Fighting inside Yarmouk this week has largely pitted Isil against Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, a Palestinian faction opposed to Mr Assad. Local residents say the jihadists now control at least 80 per cent of the neighbourhood. Other estimates put the area the jihadists control at more than 90 per cent of the entire camp, which is one square mile in size.

According to Palestinian Network of Civil Society Organizations in Syria, the surrounding area had been hit by 23 barrel bombs and six air strikes since Saturday, as the regime has lashed out at positions held by Palestinian factions and other rebel groups.

Mr Assad's air force has focused fewer attacks on Isil targets, a Western diplomat told The Telegraph. The Syrian president has repeatedly been accused of abetting the group's rise while portraying himself as a bulwark against any jihadist takeover.
People queueing to collect food baskets in Yarmouk
We can only speculate why all these Democracy Now reports on Yarmouk could fail to mention "23 barrel bombs and six air strikes since Saturday" against Palestinians in the camp. Didn't Amy Goodman say the "Palestinian fighters" were opposing the "ISIL militants," and here we have Assad bombing the Palestinian fighters but not the ISIL militants.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have gone into great detail about the connections of the Assad regime to IS, alias ISIS or ISIL, in many posts. I would highlight these:
I would also bring the reader's attention to a new book by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror, for a very comprehensive review of the Assad regime's role in creating and managing IS.

The short story is that the regime pro-actively helped to create IS. In the past Assad used it as a tool against the US occupation of neighbouring Iraq and today he uses it as a tool against the Syrian revolution. While I don't think the regime controls IS, I think it has "influence" including Syrian security officers embedded in leading positions.

Palestinians in Yarmouk talk to reporter
Assad has always claimed that he was only fighting terrorism in Syria. When he started shooting down peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the Spring of 2011, he claimed he was only shooting terrorists. When they finally started shooting back, Assad declared all his efforts to suppress the rebellion were truly a part of the US led international war on terrorism. IS has given him a worthy target for his propaganda even while he has spared it his bombs.

Assad has also benefited from IS attacks on the rebel opposition, even while IS atrocities tarnish the Syrian revolutionary movement, so again the question has to be asked. How was IS able to "invade" this surrounded camp?

We can see how the Assad regime is playing this Yarmouk crisis for maximum benefit. Part of the deal it is selling is that there are only two choices for Syria: IS or Assad. Bashar al-Assad is using IS to scare everybody, both inside Syria and internationally, into supporting his continued rule as the only viable alternative to the monster that he helped to create.

Sadly, many in the "Left" have supported this fascist dictator from the beginning. In the past, many of the imperialists, US President Obama included, have hidden their closet support for tyranny behind the rhetoric of democracy. Now even they are becoming comfortable saying Assad must stay now that the IS threat has taken center stage.

He's choked with tears & couldn't talk just said "don't forget us in here."
Within Syria, the emergence of the IS threat has made the Assad dictatorship seem more palatable.  Seeing IS take over once liberated areas like Raqqa, and impose their own autocracy, has dispirited many of the revolutionaries and caused many ordinary people to resolve to settle for Assad.

This is Assad's grand strategy and it is working.
Diyala and Halla want to leave the camp.
Wednesday the Globe and Mail, has an article who's title, Islamic State conquers Yarmouk in macabre win for Syrian troops, shows they understand that IS is trying to do for Assad from the inside what he has not been able do with more than two years of siege from the outside. It confirms my thesis:
Remarkably, the advance of the widely feared jihadi movement that has terrorized communities across Syria and Iraq with its brutal and mass executions met no resistance from nearby Syrian military units even though IS positions now are established just a few kilometres from Bashar al-Assad’s presidential palace.

Syrian troops have set their sights on other rebel targets, it would seem, such as the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front, and are counting on Islamic State’s presence to, in effect, shore up the regime’s southern defences.
In a peculiar turn, Islamic State has indicated it prefers to refrain from attacking the Assad regime as it concentrates on building its caliphate state-within-a-state.
It is “crucial for Assad” to damage the Nusra Front’s credibility, said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

In what she describes as “a wily and tactical manoeuvre,” the Syrian regime actually facilitated IS access to Yarmouk in order to embarrass the Nusra Front leaders.
The regime is “enabling IS access to the south because this serves the regime’s aim of crushing the moderate opposition in the area,” Ms. Khatib concludes.
This is the very different story than the one Amy Goodman is telling with her tale that "ISIL is reportedly collaborating with rivals from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front." As it turns out, the story we heard on Democracy Now is exactly the one Bashar al-Assad would want to be told, one in which IS and al Nusra are partners in putting Yarmouk under siege and he and his regime are the innocent by-standers. In fact, Bashar al-Assad would likely have no complaint with Amy's handling of the Yarmouk story altogether.  She gave the years of regime siege and slaughter minimal coverage, and now that the regime is promoting the IS invasion of Yarmouk, she is all over the story but with reports that won't make Bashar blush.

Now in one of his most cynical moves to date, and that's saying a lot, Bashar al-Assad is offering to help the Palestinians fight IS in Yarmouk. The Middle East Eye reported Tuesday:
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday that it is ready to offer Palestinians firepower to support their battle with the Islamic State (IS) group in a refugee camp devastated by clashes and aerial attacks.
This is classic Bashar at his best. The good doctor first kicks dirt in your eye and then offers to pick it out. This has been his game plan with IS all along. One of the major reasons he helped the jihadist "rat-line" through Syria florish during the Iraq War was so that he could use his power to shut it down as a bargaining chip with Bush. When the Syrian Revolution threaten to take away all in 2011, he dusted the old tool off again and helped it florish, never minding that heads would roll, as long as it wasn't his. Now he offers his continued brutal rule as the indispensable remedy to the monster he help create. What we have seen in Yarmouk this month is how he plays this game on a local scale, and I find it disturbing to see how an icon of the Left is supporting his play.

Diyala and daughter Halla, "Get me out of here … save my daughter."

UPDATE: ISIS Losing in Yarmouk!

From Lindsey Hilsum at Channel 4, we have:
Islamic State 'withdraws from Yarmouk camp'

13 April 2015
They are still fighting Aknaf Beit al Maqdis, a local militia allied to Hamas, on the outskirts of Yarmouk.

"Today there are no more IS militants inside Yarmouk," said "Mustafa Ahmed", who uses a pseudonym to disguise his identity. "Most of the militants are at the frontline between IS and the Aknaf brigades in the south eastern part near the hospital."

Last Wednesday night Syrian government aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the Palestine Hospital, the only functioning healthcare facility in Yarmouk, after IS militants started to use it as a base. More...

Naharnet Newsdesk is reporting:
IS Loses Ground in Syria's Yarmuk Camp

14 April 2015
Jihadists from the Islamic State group have lost ground to Palestinian fighters in Syria's Yarmuk camp, Palestinian officials and a resident said on Tuesday.

U.N. officials in Syria said, meanwhile, they were discussing ways of getting humanitarian aid into the camp and helping residents who have fled Yarmuk.

IS fighters have retreated from much of the territory they seized in the camp in southern Damascus after entering it on April 1, a resident calling himself Samer told AFP.

"We haven't even seen any Daesh members in over three days," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The withdrawal was confirmed by an official from a pro-Syrian regime Palestinian faction fighting against IS inside Yarmuk.

"There are intermittent but ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions and IS," said Khaled Abdel Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, adding that IS had withdrawn from most of the neighborhoods it previously controlled.

IS fighters were now confined largely to the camp's southwest, with Palestinian factions -- both pro- and anti-Syrian regime -- controlling most of the east and north, Palestinian sources said. More...

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