Should we imitate this example?
You can include left journalism as part of the collateral damage from the August 20 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs. Written to defend Syria against Obama’s war machine, a number of articles have failed to pass the smell test. There is a sense that the ends justify the means as someone put it in a Facebook discussion:
If someone wants to “write some bullshit that has as much basis in the evidence as 911 [“truther” theories],” that’s fine with me…Anything to obstruct a U.S. imperialist attack on Syria gets a green light with me.
Maybe I am the only person on the left that is not fine with telling lies to oppose American intervention. Sometimes I feel like Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” who stops dead in his tracks when he spots a bum sprawled out unconscious or maybe dead on a NYC sidewalk as others pass by in total indifference. Why should I get worked up over a little white lie that gets Bashar al-Assad off the hook? Just move along, nothing to see here.
It takes a scorecard to keep track of the bullshit that has been paraded out to clear the Syrian president’s name but here’s a go at it.
1. No chemical weapons attack took place at all.
This was the word of Bashar al-Assad himself on the morning following the attack. It was only the combination of Youtube videos of convulsing victims and bodies piling up at local hospitals that made this story impossible to accept, although I am sure that if the Syrian president had continued to defend it, there would be many good leftists willing to take him at his word.
2. An attack took place but in Latakia, not the Damascus suburbs.
This was the claim made on September 6th by VoltaireNet, a 911 Truther site that views every revolt against the “axis of good” as a CIA “color revolution” plot. It repeats the obtuse Russian Foreign Minister’s misunderstanding of how Youtube videos are dated as “proof” that the attack could not have taken place in Ghouta. Instead the visual evidence that showed up on August 21 was of Alawite children kidnapped from Latakia by jihadists weeks earlier and then killed. VoltaireNet chief Thierry Meyssan is an old hand at sniffing out such skullduggery. When Chechen terrorists held Russian schoolchildren hostage at Beslan in 2004, Meyssan told the world that they were operating under the command of the CIA that sought control of Russian oil. You get the same sort of thing nowadays with the claim that Israeli oil exploration in the Golan Heights explained Obama’s “red line” ultimatum.
3. The rebels probably did it since Carla del Ponte found them guilty of doing it in the past.
Del Ponte’s authority as a UN official has been invoked in many articles but none with more clout than the one written by long-time National Lawyers Guild leaders Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer. They took the word of former international prosecutor and current UN commissioner on Syria Carla del Ponte, who “concluded that opposition forces used sarin gas against civilians” in May. This is the same del Ponte that was viewed 13 years ago by Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair as conducting a tribunal against Milosevic as if it were “an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.” This del Ponte eventually became even too much for her bosses at the Hague who brought charges against her for harassing, bribing, and mistreating witnesses as well as tampering with evidence. Now I have no idea how del Ponte became transformed from a typical “humanitarian intervention” supporter in the early 90s to someone now committed to promoting Syrian and Russian interests but her psychological/political evolution is of less interest to me than her overall credibility. If she told me that it was going to be beautiful day, I’d hunker down in my bathtub to protect myself against a level-5 tornado, the first ever in Manhattan. Why people at the Lawyers Guild would take her at her word is puzzling to say the least, but maybe they think the same way as my FB correspondent. It is contagious.
4. The rebels had an accident.
This was the conclusion of MintPress News reporters Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. A well-known rebel they call “J” told them: “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” You have to wonder if Moe, Shemp, and Larry had joined the FSA. No attempt is made to explain how the accident, which took place in a tunnel, could have impacted eight separate villages that left others within the general perimeter unharmed. It is as if someone broke a bottle of sarin in Greenwich Village and killed people in Times Square, while leaving Chelsea unharmed. That none of this makes sense has not prevented the article from going viral. Sadly, it probably helped.
5. The rebels did it but it was no accident.
As you might expect, it takes an ex-CIA agent like Ray McGovern to sell this version on the basis of inside information. He states:
There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters… According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.
In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
So basically this is the same story as Mint Press but unlike the negligent homicide version, we now have first-degree murder. One imagines that McGovern got his information by calling up one of his pals from the old boys network of current or former CIA spooks who are like the character Robert Redford played in “Three Days of the Condor”. Actually, the source of this fable has more in common with Danny DeVito’s Penguin as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reported:
The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.
Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from DailyKos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations—with none affected in areas in between—somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified.”
What of VIPS’s “numerous sources in the Middle East,” then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s “numerous sources in the Middle East”—the sentence is plagiarized.
6. The attack was mounted by rebels but not against their own people as a “false flag” operation. Instead it was a military operation against Christians.
This is the argument put forward in an article by Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil titled—without a trace of irony–‘Flooding the Zone’ with Bullshit on Syria. While starting off giving the expected salute to Carla del Ponte and the Mint Press accident theory, they come up with something that is breathtakingly inventive:
Ghouta is home to a number of Christians, a population which is frequently targeted by al-Nusra and other extremist groups. That is, far from being a “rebel-held area,” those who died in the Ghouta attack were the type of people whom the rebels wish dead. They are exactly the sort of civilians whom the rebels have a history of targeting.
So you see, dear readers, there was never a “false flag” operation to begin with. The dead people were Christians who the rebels punished for backing Bashar al-Assad and rejecting Muhammad. So what if the suburbs were being shelled daily by the Baathist military? What do you expect from our authors, a coherent story? Don’t you know that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?
My first reaction, silly me, was to check my usual sources to verify the story. (Although I play a fact-checker on the Internet, I am actually a professional actor.) I started with a search on “Christian” and “Ghouta” on Nexis, a database of newspaper articles going back 30 years or so. Nothing turned up there or in JSTOR. A search on Sunni instead of Christian did turn up something interesting in Nexis, however. Long before the chemical weapons attack, back on January 30, 2012 when the revolt was not even a year old, the Guardian reported that Ghouta was a stronghold of Sunni resistance to al-Assad:
The insurgency, which is raging in towns and cities across Syria – with further protests in Aleppo yesterday – has now reached the capital. The suburbs are made up of conservative Sunni Muslim towns, surrounded by countryside and farmland, known as the al-Ghouta.
The area has seen large demonstrations demanding the overthrow of Assad and his minority Alawite regime. The Alawite sect has traditionally dominated Syria’s government and armed forces.
One activist in Saqba suburb said mosques there had been turned into field hospitals and they were appealing for blood supplies.
“They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating,” he said.
I was so impressed with the audacity of Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil in concocting such a tale that I could not resist finding out a bit more about the two lads who are students at the University of Arizona and work with a campus-based think-tank called the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC). The director is Dr. Leila Hudson, a vigorous supporter of an American attack on Syria (“military intervention must be decisive.”) Among the academic board of advisers is one David Dunford, who worked in Baghdad as Senior Ministerial Liaison to Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You also have retired army Brigadier General John Adams who worked in military intelligence. But I guess my favorite is Charles Mink, “a former Army interrogator” whose research includes U.S. counterterrorism policy in the Mid East during the 21st Century. Although Mink struck a rueful note about failed policy objectives in Iraq, he told the student newspaper that he plans “to become an interrogation instructor working with U.S. allies in the Middle East after he graduates.”
So how do our two intrepid journalists fit into such a toxic stew? I have a theory. Hear me out. I was told by a source in Turkey (don’t tell anybody, but it was my brother-in-law Hasan who was in military intelligence 20 years ago but now is an agent for belly dancers) that Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil are actually on Mossad’s payroll, a couple of Jewish guys whose real names are Aaron Goldstein and Myron Rabinowitz. Israel told them that in order to grease the slids for a war on Syria they had to come up with such a wild cock-and-bull story that it would discredit the antiwar movement and make Obama seem reasonable by comparison.
That’s my theory. If you don’t like it, go read some other blog. Who needs you?