Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 11, 2018

Was Joseph Hansen a GPU agent? A reply to WSWS.org

Filed under: cults,journalism,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

Joseph Hansen

Last month on Leftist trainspotters, someone referred to a 4-part series of articles that appeared on WSWS.org making the case that Sylvia Callen, James P. Cannon’s secretary, and Joe Hansen, one of the long-time leaders of the SWP and Trotsky’s bodyguard in Coyoacan, were GPU agents. I wrote a brief rejoinder but did not bother to read the articles. More recently, a troll showed up on my blog to use my article on UNZ Review to bring up the same charges. He thought I had a lot of nerve “policing” Norman Finkelstein’s affiliation with the neo-Nazi website when I was a veteran of a group that was filled with agent provocateurs and finks. When I asked him to substantiate this accusation, he too brought up the WSWS.org articles.

After giving it some thought, I decided to have a look at the articles. Although many veterans of the left understand that the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is a toxic cult, many less knowledgeable—including Chris Hedges—give it respect that it does not deserve.

This is not the first time I have examined these charges since I was in the SWP in the mid-70s when they were first raised. Before getting into the particulars, a bit of background is necessary, particularly for people like Hedges unfamiliar with the internecine squabbles of the Trotskyist movement.

In the 1950s, the Fourth International was divided into two factions. The International Committee (IC) included the SWP (prevented from formal membership by reactionary laws aimed mostly at the CPUSA) and Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labor League in England. The International Secretariat (IS) was led by a man named Michel Pablo who believed that the Cold War would force the CP’s to move in a revolutionary direction.

Essentially, the Cuban revolution laid the groundwork for reunifying most parties in the IC and the IS even though Healy remained adamantly opposed to the “petty bourgeois” adaption to Fidel Castro who they considered a nationalist defending capitalist property relations. After joining the SWP in 1967, I remember members of the Worker’s League, Healy’s satellite in the USA, showing up at Militant Labor Forums in New York to denounce the “Pabloite revisionists” during the Q&A. They looked rather like Diane Arbus photos.

Before delving into the articles, I should say a few words about Hansen. While generally considering my time in the SWP as mistake, I count Hansen as a major political influence alongside Peter Camejo. He was a master theoretician and polemicist whose critique of Guevarism was a major contribution to Marxism. In the mid-70s, just around the time Healy began explaining Hansen’s alleged Pabloite revisionism as a function of his secret ties to the Soviet Union, Hansen began his defense of mass action against guerrilla foquismo strategy, including a devastating summary of how Che’s failure to understand Stalinism led to his betrayal by the CP of Bolivia. If proof that Hansen was a GPU agent rested in his defending Cuba uncritically, then he should have been found not guilty.

Meanwhile, the Workers League was going through its own turmoil about secret agents at this time. Party leader Tim Wohlforth was married to a comrade named Nancy Field whose uncle was in the OSS, a precursor to the CIA, something that had never been revealed to their comrades. This led to the two of them being grilled by Healy in intimidating circumstances of the sort endured by Soviet dissidents and members of Larouche’s cult. As it happens, a radical being the relative of an CIA officer or any other high-ranking government official was typical of what was going on the 60s. For example, Robert McNamara’s son was an antiwar activist as were many other children of officials in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations as detailed in Tom Wells’s “The War Within”.

To some extent, searching for spies was to be expected in the Trotskyist movement since Stalin had every intention of destroying what he saw rightfully as his mortal enemy. Trotsky’s assassination was just one example of this campaign that forced his followers to fend off Stalinists at the same time they were dealing with FBI harassment and infiltration.

As for the FBI, the Socialist Equality Party claims that the leadership that evolved in the early 60s around Jack Barnes is made up of FBI agents because they all attended Carleton College in Minnesota. An obvious Healyite plant in the SWP, the lawyer Alan Gelfand was expelled as a provocateur in the mid-90s. Gelfand then sued the SWP for damages on the basis that his right to political expression had been denied. So, as you can see, this stuff about agents and spies has a long and tortured history on the fringes of the Trotskyist movement. However, it is odd that WSWS.org would bother in a new assault on the SWP since for all practical purposes it is a moribund sect that is not an obstacle to the growth of the SEP. The real obstacle to their becoming number one on the far left is their own crazy sectarian politics. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

The bulk of the WSWS.org articles, which are written by Eric London, are focused on Cannon’s secretary who was known to the party as Sylvia Caldwell. After Max Shachtman and Albert Glotzer, two former leaders of the SWP who had left to form the Workers Party, heard rumors that Callen was a CP agent, they dropped in on Cannon in 1947 to urge him to conduct an investigation. One did take place that year, clearing her of all charges. One suspects that it was Cannon’s insistence that she was innocent that made the difference. Of course, this would implicate Cannon himself as an agent, a bridge too far even for conspiracy-minded sectarians. As soon as the investigation was completed, Callen resigned from the SWP and abandoned left politics altogether, either Stalinist or Trotskyist.

In 1950, ex-Communist and now McCarthyite tool Louis Budenz wrote a book titled “Men Without Faces” that was typical of the time. Like Whittaker Chambers, Budenz wrote about the CP as if it were indistinguishable from the GPU. This fed the paranoia of the witch hunt that made victimization of CP’ers so easy. Since Budenz identified Callen as a CP asset in the book, the SWP had no other recourse but to follow up and effectively re-open the investigation of 1947 even though she was no longer in the party. Cannon sent Farrell Dobbs out to speak to Callen who insisted that she was not guilty. This was enough for Cannon who wrote an article clearing her of Budenz’s charges.

The SWP continued to insist on Caldwell’s innocence even though she was named as a member of Jack Soble’s spy ring in a 1960 NY Times article. However, the Times refers to her as Sylvia Callen. That leaves open the question whether Cannon, Dobbs et al made the connection to Caldwell, Cannon’s secretary. The other curiosity is that despite being indicted, Callen never spent a day in jail. Considering the political climate 58 years ago, that is something of a mystery.

The first indication that the SWP might consider the possibility that Caldwell was a Stalinist agent occurred in 1976 when Healy’s accusations were roiling the left. In an article that appeared in Intercontinental Press defending Hansen by Betty Hamilton and Pierre Lambert, leaders of another Fourth International franchise,  the authors accepted the possibility that she might have been an agent and thought it appropriate for a new investigation to proceed. Looking back at this period, I doubt that the SWP would have found much use in establishing her guilt since Healy’s accusations only had the effect of deepening the isolation of his cult-sect. They hoped that he would hang himself on his own petard.

image

Sylvia Callen: interrogated by David North’s deputies

In 1976, the Workers League tracked down Callen to conduct their own investigation. At the time she was probably in her late 70s and appeared to have cognitive issues as this excerpt from the interview outside her trailer home would indicate:

Question: Do you have a memory block which begins after all these events supposedly took place?

Franklin: I don’t know. I wish you wouldn’t try to make me remember because I’ll have a breakdown. I can’t remember. It’s been many years, and I’ve put it out of my mind.

Question: Is it possible that you were in the Communist Party and simply have forgotten all about it?

Franklin: I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be one way. It could be the other. I can’t believe that person was me. I can’t believe that I worked in that office. That I was his secretary. I can’t believe anything.

In the view of the SEP, the SWP never held a new investigation of Caldwell because evidence about her GPU/CP connections would point in Joe Hansen’s direction. In the view of this batty sect-cult, it might have brought to light the letter that Hansen’s close friend Vaughn T. “Irish” O’Brien wrote in 1976:

In this letter, dated June 8, 1976, O’Brien recalled an encounter in the late 1940s or early 1950s—the general time frame of the control commission and the publication of Budenz’s books—with Pearl Kluger, a former member of A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party who knew Budenz personally. O’Brien wrote, “I had not seen Pearl for a considerable period of time, but she immediately said, ‘Budenz says your friend Joe Hansen worked with the GPU.’”

Wow, that’s the smoking gun, isn’t it? If Budenz said it, it must be true. For those curious about Budenz, you can find a bunch of his articles archived at the neo-Nazi UNZ Review—that should give you an idea of their provenance. As it happens, you can find O’Brien’s letter on Google books. It is exactly the opposite of what Eric London purports. O’Brien wrote the letter in order to assure Hansen that the charges against him were preposterous.

Indeed, immediately after the sentence above quoting Pearl about Joe working with the GPU, O’Brien follows up with: “I replied, with great earnestness, that while I was aware of circumstances which might lead Budenz to make such a charge, it was not true.” In fact, despite Pearl’s reference to Budenz charge, Hansen is not mentioned once in his writings. Imagine that. With such a potentially juicy expose about Trotsky’s bodyguard being in cahoots with the Kremlin, why wouldn’t Budenz have mentioned it somewhere in his books or articles? Probably because it wasn’t true and didn’t want to risk being sued for libel.

O’Brien clarifies Hansen’s contact with the GPU in 1938 that features so prominently in Healy’s demagogic attacks. What Healy leaves out is that Hansen made this contact with the full knowledge of Trotsky. The only other party members who knew what was really going on were Cannon and Shachtman, the two top leaders of the SWP. All of them were privy to a money-raising scam that Hansen was going to carry out. He would tell the GPU that he had become disillusioned with the movement and would be willing to sell the only manuscript of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin for $25,000 so that he could buy himself a “nice little ranch” in Utah and retire from politics. As it happened, the GPU was not interested in the manuscript but was much more interested in the layout of Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan for obvious reasons.

Does this story sound far-fetched? To me it does but if you are going to cite O’Brien, you need to do it in a way that follows elementary journalistic standards. He was not endorsing Budenz, or at least what he was purported to have said. Just the opposite. As for journalistic standards, they went by the wayside on the very day WSWS.org was launched.

 

 

June 1, 2018

Vogue Magazine in hot water again for puff piece on Mideast tyrants

Filed under: journalism,Saudi Arabia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

NY Times, May 31, 2018
Vogue Arabia Hails Saudi Reform, Ignoring Jailed Activists
By Megan Specia

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we.”

That’s how Vogue Arabia described its June cover, which features a glamorous woman behind the wheel of a classic car, parked in the desert.

But the problem for some has been which woman the magazine decided to put in the driver’s seat in an issue that “celebrates the women of the kingdom and their wide-reaching achievements,” but makes no mention of the country’s most recent crackdown on women’s rights activists.

Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud — one of the late King Abdullah’s 20 daughters — sits behind the wheel, even as some prominent female activists who fought for the right for Saudi women to drive remain locked behind bars.

In mid-May, at least 11 activists were arrested and labeled “traitors” by the Saudi government, a move that surprised many as the country is just weeks away from allowing women to drive. Some of the activists have been released, but others remain detained.

On June 24, Saudi women will legally be able to drive for the first time. But critics say the Vogue coverage fails to highlight some Saudi women whose activism helped draw international attention to the issue, and who now face persecution.

The issue does feature Manal al-Sharif, one of the Saudi activists who took part in the 2011 protests against the restrictions and was later arrested for the action, but does not mention the latest arrests.

Twitter users were swift in their reaction, calling out Vogue Arabia for what some saw as an oversight.

Continue reading

In March 2011, Vogue magazine published, for the benefit of its 11.7 million readers, an article titled “A Rose in the Desert” about the first lady of Syria. Asma al-Assad has British roots, wears designer fashion, worked for years in banking, and is married to the dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed over 5,000 civilians and hundreds of children this year. The glowing article praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacation in Europe, foster Christianity, are at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and want to give Syria a “brand essence.”

Vogue’s editors defended the controversial article as “a way of opening a window into this world a little bit,” conceding only that Assad’s Syria is “not as secular as we might like.” A senior editor responsible for the story told me the magazine stood by it. A few weeks later, the article and all references to it were removed from Vogue’s website without explanation. In August, The Hill reported that U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James had been paid $5,000 per month by the Syrian government to arrange for and manage the Vogue article.

For all the controversy, the article’s author, former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck, did manage to spend some one-on-one time with both Asma and Bashar al-Assad, an exclusive many journalists might have killed for. Today, as the world watches for cracks in the Assad regime and in the Assad family, Buck’s interviews are an increasingly important tool for understanding the man at the top of Syria and the woman next to him.

Sadly, Vogue’s piece of the Syrian puzzle has been almost entirely scrubbed from the internet. But, somehow, the text can still be found at a website called PresidentAssad.net, a gif-filled but meticulously updated fan page to the Syrian dictator. The site is registered to a Syrian man living in Rome named Mohamed Abdo al-Ibrahim. A personal site for Ibrahim lists him as an employee of the Syrian state-run news agency.

Continue reading

April 17, 2018

Fisking Douma

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:51 pm

Robert Fisk

With Syria and Russia claiming that East Ghouta is under “full control”, we can understand why Robert Fisk would saunter in with his sleeves rolled up to do some investigative reporting for the Independent. Meanwhile, Syria says that it is “too dangerous” for OPCW to do their own investigations even if it is safe enough for Fisk or any other malleable journalist. Could Syria be buying time to cover up evidence? Who would suspect them of that unless they were for “regime change” and funded by the Rothschild Bank, I guess.

Fisk’s article is really the sort of thing that could occupy an entire semester in a journalism class as an example of what not to do. Fisk is essentially Judith Miller but in a kind of reverse-kryptonite version. Instead of being embedded with the American invasion like Miller was, Fisk is escorted around by Syrian troops. Instead of functioning as a propagandist for George W. Bush, Fisk serves another master in Damascus. Is there anything that Miller and Fisk share in common? Certainly. It is the Islamophobia that allowed both to justify their support of war crimes in the name of stopping al-Qaeda.

In an article titled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”, Fisk relies on the word of a physician named Assim Rahaibani who refers to the rebels in Douma as “terrorists”, Fisk adding that this is “the regime’s word for their enemies.” Would a journalism class question the use of relying solely on someone like this? Even Fisk has to admit, “Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?” This of course is a rhetorical question because he never had any intention of getting any other version except one that would serve Bashar al-Assad. In seven years of reporting on Syria, there has never been an attempt to get outside his pro-regime comfort zone.

Even though he was not an eyewitness to events that took place in another clinic, Dr. Rahaibani assures Fisk that no chemical attack took place there. He claims that because of a conventional bombing attack, “huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived.” (Generally, dust clouds float upwards but let’s not trouble ourselves over this rather minor defect in an article filled with Goebbels-like fabrications.) This led to an onrush of people suffering hypoxia or oxygen loss. Then after a White Helmet member on the scene shouted “Gas!”, a panic began and people started throwing water over each other. That’s what he was told by the medics in that location, in any case. Nothing more to see here. Move along, folks.

Not every doctor agrees with Rahaibani. In today’s Guardian, Martin Chulov describes what they were up against:

The head of the largest medical relief agency in Syria claims that medics who responded to the suspected gas attack in Douma have been subjected to “extreme intimidation” by Syrian officials who seized biological samples, forced them to abandon patients and demanded their silence.

Dr Ghanem Tayara, the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said doctors responsible for treating patients in the hours after the 7 April attack have been told that their families will be at risk if they offer public testimonies about what took place.

A number of doctors who spoke to the Guardian this week say the intimidation from the regime has increased in the past five days, a timeframe that coincides with the arrival in Damascus of a team from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which aims to determine whether chemical weapons were used. All the medics insisted on anonymity, citing the fear for their lives and those of their families.

“There has been a very heavy security presence on the ground ever since the attack and they have been targeting doctors and medics in a very straightforward way,” said Dr Tayara, a Birmingham-based physician, now in Turkey where he is supervising the departure from Syria of some of the Douma medics. “Any medic who tried to leave Douma was searched so vigorously, especially for samples. At one medical point, seven casualties were taken away. The Russian military police were heavily involved. They were directing things.”

Fisk has the temerity to explain the absence of OPCW investigators as if it were simply a matter of bureaucratic delay, like getting your license renewed at the Motor Vehicles Bureau:

At the same time, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently blocked from coming here to the site of the alleged gas attack themselves, ostensibly because they lacked the correct UN permits.

Russia claims that security concerns have led the UN to delay giving permission to the OPCW investigators but if you spend 5 minutes looking into this question, you will discover that this is a lie. Yesterday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma.”

Continuing in Milleresque fashion, Fisk writes:

There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.

How did he find these “many people”? Strolling down the street or through dating services provided by the Syrian secret police? Fisk is sure to add that he “walked across this town quite freely yesterday without soldier, policeman or minder to haunt my footsteps, just two Syrian friends, a camera and a notebook.” Odd that this being the case, he could not find a soul that opposed Assad. If you had no knowledge of East Ghouta, you would probably take Fisk at his word. But if you understood that the religiously observant and poverty-stricken agricultural belt around Damascus was the first to rise up, you’d have to be skeptical. Fisk says that “a surprising number of Douma’s women wear full-length black hijab.” Well, I am surprised that he is surprised since the city’s make-up was well known to genuine reporters like Aron Lund, whose integrity is beyond reproach:

Many inhabitants of the Ghouta and the bulging suburbs of eastern Damascus were new arrivals, escaping from drought-stricken parts of Syria to compete over low-paying, menial jobs. They bristled at the glittering wealth, the class divides and the corruption of the capital. Others were part of the Ghouta’s original population, but among them, too, anti-regime sentiment grew alongside the social crisis of the early 2000s. In conservative Sunni towns like Douma, known for its piety as “the city of minarets,” the Sunni-fundamentalist teachings of Salafism were gaining ground. The Salafists excoriated the secularism of the ruling Baath Party and its rapacious corruption as two sides of the same coin.

Well, those Salafists will no longer trouble East Ghouta. In fact, after Assad is finished with these pockets of discontent, he will be free to reconstruct Syria as a place that has been purged of the Sunni poor with their hijabs and their AK-47s. In an article titled “Creating a New Syria: Property, Dispossession, and Regime Survival” Erwin van Veen describes the coming gentrification that would have made Robert Moses green with envy. Who knows? Maybe Jared Kushner has begun consulting with Syrian investors about mega-projects co-funded by Saudi Arabia:

An additional consequence of Law no. 10 is that it will enable large-scale demographic engineering by reallocating appropriated property to new owners. This will not necessarily be sectarian in nature as the majority of both Syrians and regime-loyalists are Sunni. Rather, it will create large loyalist urban centers to underpin the regime’s power base and limit the return of refugees, who are largely not perceived as supporters of President Assad.

In addition to remaking urban centers as areas of repopulated loyalist concentration, the strategy will probably also involve undoing the existence of impoverished Sunni-belts around Syria’s main cities from which so many rebels were recruited. Insofar as these poorer suburbs are currently depopulated due to rebel recruitment, casualties, and flight, the regime is likely to use Law No. 10 to appropriate the land (in many such areas, property rights were not well established even before the war) and to then prevent their resettlement if and when refugees return. Any Sunni populations that have not fled but are still living in such suburbs at present will also be at risk of forced displacement and dispossession commensurate with the extent of their perceived disloyalty to the regime. It is clear that the regime has no problem initiating displacement on a large scale when it suits regime interests. Dealing with the suburban belts in this fashion will remove a source of resistance against the regime once and for all.

Richard Hall, a former editor at the Independent, took to Twitter to debunk Fisk’s reporting:

Robert Fisk is allowed access to Douma before OCPW inspectors are allowed in. Doesn’t speak to any witnesses of the attack, only a doctor who didn’t see it, but says everyone “knows what happened.”

Fisk seems perplexed why victims of the attack did not hang around in Douma when the government took over the area. And doesn’t seriously deal with the fact that those who stayed behind might not be able to speak freely.

Fisk is among a handful of journalists given regular access by Syrian government. He and others are shepherded in on minded trips when it is useful for the government. Journalists who do make it in and write something that counters the government narrative are not allowed back.

Fisk notes in his piece that he was granted access to the site before chemical weapons inspectors. As were a number of other journalists who — let’s be generous here — toe the government line. That feels like an attempt to muddy the waters ahead of an independent investigation.

In his own critique of Fisk, Scott Lucas of EA Worldview provides a translation of an interview that a Swedish reporter conducted with a Douma resident. Somehow the reporter managed to make it into Douma just like Fisk but without the predisposition to absolve Assad. The Douma resident stated:

We were sitting in the basement when it happened. The [missile] hit the house at 7 pm. We ran out while the women and children ran inside. They didn’t know the house had been struck from above and was totally filled with gas.

Those who ran inside died immediately. I ran out completely dizzy….Everybody died. My wife, my brothers, my mother. Everybody died.

Women and children sat in here, and boys & men sat there. Suddenly there was a sound as if the valve of a gas tube was opened.

It’s very difficult to explain. I can’t explain. I don’t know what I should say. The situation makes me cry. Children & toddlers, around 25 children.

Fisk’s reporting has gained so much notoriety over his service to the Baathist dictatorship that it has helped to coin a term: “fisking”. (I have subsequently learned that it was the rightwing that first used the term but that does not let his reporting since 2011 off the hook.) It is not just his embedded reporting from Syria that has come under scrutiny. Brian Whitaker, a long-time editor and reporter for The Guardian, is something of an expert on Fisk. This article on his personal website Al-Bab should reveal how questionable Fisk is across the board:

Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, once offered this advice to would-be journalists: “If you want to be a reporter you must establish a relationship with an editor in which he will let you write – he must trust you and you must make sure you make no mistakes.”

It was good advice, though perhaps more a case of “do as I say” than “do as I do”. Even if you disagree with Fisk’s articles or find them turgid, there’s still entertainment to be had from spotting his mistakes.

On Wednesday, for instance, anyone who read beyond the first paragraph of his column in The Independent would have found him asserting that Saudi Arabia had refused to take its place among “non-voting members” of the UN Security Council. He described this as an unprecedented step – which indeed it was, though not quite in the way Fisk imagines: the Security Council doesn’t have “non-voting” members (unless they choose to abstain). Presumably he meant “non-permanent members”.

Perhaps that is excusable, since the UN is not Fisk’s speciality. But he does specialise in reporting about the Middle East, and so we find him in a column last year informing readers that Syria had a stockpile of nuclear weapons – or, to be more precise, quoting President Obama as saying that it had:

“And then Obama told us last week that ‘given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching’.”

Obama’s actual words were: “Given the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons, we will continue … etc.”

Fisk is at his most comical when he gets on his high horse and immediately falls off. Writing with (justified) indignation about the killings in Baba Amr last year, he began:

“So it’s the ‘cleaning’ of Baba Amr now, is it? ‘Tingheef’ in Arabic. Did that anonymous Syrian government official really use that word to the AP yesterday?”

Well, no. Obviously a Syrian official wouldn’t use the word ‘tingheef’, since it doesn’t exist in Arabic.

Let me conclude with a link to an article written by Idrees Ahmad, the fearless academic who has become the subject of an investigation by the administration at the University of Stirling after Assadist Tim Hayward lodged a complaint for Idrees’s ongoing critique of Assadist propaganda. Like Whitaker, he has been following Fisk for years and has focused on his Judith Miller-style embedded reporting:

In this context when one of Britain’s more celebrated war correspondents—a person known for his acerbic diatribes against docile western journalists—enters Aleppo and sees a destroyed ambulance righteous fury is sure to erupt. And Fisk doesn’t disappoint. There is the familiar bombast of superlatives. Things are “ghostly”, “ghastly”, “frightening”, and “horribly relevant”.

But it is the object of Fisk’s fury that is a surprise. Fisk is not angry at an ambulance being bombed. Indeed, he heavily implies that the bombing was merited. Fisk devotes much of the article to implicating the Scottish charity that donated the ambulance. In his curious legal brief against medical aid, Fisk’s allies are not facts but suggestion, insinuation and innuendo. His method is insidious and part of a pattern. It merits closer scrutiny.

For the past four years Fisk has reported from Syria embedded with the regime. The regime herds him to the places it wants him to see and the people it wants him to interrogate—and Fisk appears to yield to the controlling arms of his handlers with the somnambulant innocence of a debutante. On more than a few occasions he has echoed the regime line without demur.

Take Daraya. After a horrific regime massacre, Fisk arrived at the site “in the company of armed Syrian forces” riding an “armoured vehicle” and after interviewing a few frightened survivors, wrote that contrary to “the popular version that has gone round the world”, the massacre was the outcome of a “failed prisoner swap”; the men who committed the crime “were armed insurgents rather than Syrian troops”.

In Daraya, however, no one was aware of this “prisoner swap”. And even his own interviewees didn’t support his conclusions. Most gave evasive answers. And the only interviewee he cites as supporting his theory casts further doubt on it: “Although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard,” writes Fisk, “he believed that most were related to the government army”.

The record was quickly set straight by the American journalist Janine di Giovanni who sneaked into Daraya disguised as a local and interviewed survivors without the intimidating presence of regime forces. (The Free Syrian Army had left two weeks earlier.) Di Giovanni revealed in precise detail how the offensive began, what weapons were used, and how the slaughter was carried out. Human Rights Watch corroborated her report.

 

April 16, 2018

The Axis of Resistance can’t get its story right

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:00 pm

Max Blumenthal

Southfront, an Assadist website, reports:

Syrian forces have taken full control of the district of Douma thus liberating the entire Damascus subrub [sic] of Eastern Ghouta from militants, Chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing parties in Syria Yuri Yevtushenko announced on April 12. [emphasis added]

Full control, right? So you’d think that there would be no problem with OPCW inspectors trying to settle the question of whether there was a “false flag” incident.

Not so fast. The Guardian reports:

Inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog have been unable to access sites controlled by Russia and the Syrian regime in the town of Douma to investigate an attack on 7 April that killed dozens and prompted US-led missile strikes over the weekend.

The director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told a meeting of the OPCW executive council that inspectors had not been allowed to visit the town outside Damascus, the UK delegation tweeted. “Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate,” the delegation tweeted.

According to Petter Lycke, Sweden’s representative at the OPCW executive council, Syria and Russia told the inspectors that their safety could not be guaranteed. [emphasis added]

So even though the regime has FULL FUCKING CONTROL, it cannot guarantee their safety. So the Kremlin can issue such statements while its trained seals in the West like Max Blumenthal clap their flippers on cue. What a fucked up left we have.

 

April 13, 2018

Max Blumenthal’s double standards

Filed under: journalism,Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:20 am

Placards from a protest in Istanbul against the killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja.

Days after Israeli troops fatally shot a Palestinian photojournalist covering protests on the Gaza border, Israel’s defense minister alleged the photographer had served as a high-ranking member of the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas since 2011.

But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the photojournalist had passed a U.S. government vetting process for his media company to receive a U.S. aid agency grant. The U.S. does vetting to ensure grant recipients have no ties to militant organizations or activities.

The seemingly conflicting claims by Israeli and U.S. officials about the photographer’s identity are raising new questions over a killing that drew international media coverage and calls for an investigation.

On April 6, photojournalist Yaser Murtaja, 30, was shot by Israeli forces while reporting on Palestinian protests at the Gaza-Israel border, Palestinian officials and witnesses said. Images from the scene show Murtaja wearing a protective vest clearly marked “PRESS.”

U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said government vetting of Murtaja began in late 2017. The officials said that last month Murtaja’s Gaza media production company, Ain Media, became a beneficiary of a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told NPR the United States relies on Israeli intelligence to vet Palestinian organizations and individuals for links to militant groups before awarding them USAID grants. Nauert said the U.S. was looking into questions about Murtaja’s alleged Hamas affiliation.



SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

March 30, 2018

Newsbud versus Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:50 pm

Recently I learned that a relatively new Assadist website called Newsbud.com had featured a blistering attack on Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett (henceforth identified as B&B), who are arguably the most well-known propagandists for the dictatorship. In a video titled “Syria Under Siege: Guarding Against Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”, the wolves were identified by the subtitle: “Vanessa Beeley & Eva Bartlett vs. Ethical Journalism & Human Decency in the Age of Social Media Reporting”.

Drawing upon the testimony of case-hardened Assadists like Paul Larudee, Newsbud founding editor Sibel Edmonds functions as a prosecutor putting the two propagandists on trial. The main motivation seems to be the need to purge them in order to preserve the integrity of the Assadist movement, which amounts to shaving Hitler’s mustache to make him more presentable. Why this indictment in peoples court comes at this stage of the game is real question—one that I really have no definitive answers for although some of my co-thinkers write it off as a battle over spoils. Since it is obvious that the Baathist dictatorship is more than willing to fund propagandists, maybe this is just nothing more than two jackal pups fighting over access to their mother’s teats. Whatever the explanation, it is richly rewarding to see Bartlett and Beeley being discredited—amazingly enough using arguments I have made myself. Maybe the best thing would be to take them at their word. They state that it makes defense of Bashar al-Assad more difficult when people like B&B are out there making them look bad. So, they are angling to be the lesser evil.

Edmonds makes her case quite effectively, like a DA laying out the facts to a jury. Her main charges are that:

B&B make stuff up.

For example, they claimed that the White Helmets falsified evidence to make it seem like they had rescued a girl named Aya, who supposedly showed up in 3 different videos as if she was a stunt girl in a movie co-produced by the CIA and al-Qaeda. Edmonds answers them with evidence that there really were 3 different girls and, even more importantly, denies that the White Helmets were al-Qaeda operatives. I should add that this charge has also been made by Max Blumenthal who was accused by Vanessa Beeley of plagiarizing her material.

B&B label everybody as a terrorist

Edmonds defends the doctors who served in East Aleppo and is outraged that they were accused of being in league with the jihadists. Her own father was a surgeon killed by the Shah’s military after he had been forced to treat wounded guerrillas so this kind of smear makes her particularly angry. She also lashes out at them for denying that the al-Quds hospital in East Aleppo had been bombed, offering graphic evidence of a bombing taking place that killed the city’s sole surviving pediatrician.

She is also outraged that in addition to violating elementary journalistic norms such as fact-checking or issuing a retraction when an error has been made, they have been calling for the arrest of other journalists as terrorists for simply offering their own version of what is taking place in Syria. Most ominously, B&B have urged the FBI and MI6 to arrest these reporters who they accuse of being terrorist agents. To bolster her case against B&B, she calls upon a real journalist named Rebecca Baker who has no background on Syria to speak on behalf of journalistic ethics. Baker works at the Daily News and is a member of the Society of Journalistic Ethics. Her testimony is valuable even though she is apparently unaware of the shoddy reporting that can be found on Newsbud as well.

B&B are too close to the regime

Edmond calls attention to the tendency of B&B to tour Syria on the regime’s dime and especially to stay at fancy hotels far away from the conflict zones. She argues that it is incumbent for serious reporters to either raise their own money if they are free-lancers or to be funded by their employer. Needless to say, this doesn’t guarantee accuracy if you’ve read Robert Fisk lately.

It is clear that Newsbud is doing everything it can to destroy B&B. A new video has gone up reprising the same points as the one discussed above that is narrated by retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ferner. I should add that Ferner, who is on the Newsbud editorial board, is not particularly noted for having written Assadist propaganda in the past.

To give you an idea of how far Newsbud has strayed from within the Assadist comfort zone, it supplies links to articles and videos that back up their case against B&B. Among them are:

Syria Hospital Airstrike: Are The Rules Of War Breaking Down? (https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/28/476064028/syria-hospital-bombing-are-the-rules-of-war-blowing-up)

Eva Bartlett’s claims about Syrian children (https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-eva-bartletts-claims-about-syrian-children)

Syrian children’s trauma is a laughing matter—if you are Vanessa Beeley (http://orient-news.net/en/news_show/134365/0/Syrian-childrens-trauma-is-a-laughing-matter%E2%80%94if-you-are-Vanessa-Beeley)

Considering the origins of these articles, which are about as remote from SANA, Press TV, and RT.com as can be imagined, it is quite remarkable to see Assad supporters like Sibel Edmonds citing the “enemy press”.

Even more startling is the inclusion of a Youtube video that shows a Syrian solidarity activist speaking about Assad’s ties to imperialism during the Q&A at a Beeley appearance  In referring to Syria’s attacks on Fatah and its support for the CIA extraordinary rendition program, he will certainly cause at least some of Newsbud’s readers to rethink the usual talking points in favor of the dictatorship.

Leaving aside Sibel Edmonds’s ulterior motives in going after B&B, I am happy to give credit when credit is due. I was very pleased when Sukant Chandan broke with some Assadists who had lined up behind Brexit, something that he saw as a  nativist attack on the immigrants he strongly identifies with.

Edmonds has an interesting background. Shortly after 9/11, she went to work for the FBI translating material from Turkey. (Her father was Iranian and her mother was Turkish, she lived in both countries.) She was fired in 2002 after accusing the FBI of having prior knowledge of the attacks. She continued to make news as a whistle-blower. In 2005, she accused Congressman Dennis Hastert of being paid by the Turkish government to promote its interests, including opposition to anything favoring Armenian claims on genocide.

The fallout from her attack on B&B has already begun. An Assadist named James Corbett released a video yesterday that offered a point-by-point refutation of Sibel Emonds’s video titled “Fact checking Newsbud’s ‘Syria Under Siege’ Video” (https://www.corbettreport.com/fact-checking-newsbuds-syria-under-siege-video/). Since Corbett is a 9/11 Truther, I just didn’t feel motivated to get his side of the story.

I wonder if some of Newsbud’s editorial team will be comfortable where she is going with this. Included there are Kurt Nimmo, a former editor at Infowars, James Petras who lost his mind about 25 years ago or so, and F. William Engdahl, a former member of LaRouche’s cult who told RT that the 2011 Egyptian Revolution was orchestrated by the Pentagon to facilitate Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy and that the Arab Spring was a plan “first announced by George W. Bush at a G8 meeting in 2003”.

It is hard for me to believe that they will be happy with this.

February 11, 2018

Newsweek: the death of a corpse

Filed under: journalism — louisproyect @ 7:48 pm

David Jang: the cult leader who owns Newsweek

This week Newsweek Magazine, a journal that usually doesn’t show up on my radar screen, caught my attention. The NY Times reported on February sixth that “Two top editors and a reporter at Newsweek were fired on Monday, and two other reporters left in limbo, in a purge that targeted employees involved in coverage of the company’s financial and legal troubles.”

This was fall-out from an editor’s decision to assign reporters to cover an incident that occurred on January 18th when investigators for the NY District Attorney raided Newsweek’s offices. The Newsweek article that led to the firings stated:

A grand jury investigation of Newsweek Media Group, formerly known as IBT Media, has been ongoing for at least 17 months, according to a source familiar with the matter. The probe was likely looking at loans the company took out to purchase the servers.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment on the probe.

The company has a rocky financial history. Digital publisher IBT Media bought Newsweek from IAC, an internet and media company, in 2013, and it missed payroll and laid off large numbers of employees in 2016.

Both Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, the IBT founders who bought Newsweek in 2013 and still own parts of Newsweek Media Group, also appear to have large debts, according to public records. The Internal Revenue Service filed a $1.2 million lien against Uzac in December 2017, while the IRS filed an $800,000 lien against Davis in October that year, public records show.

IBT Media has faced questions about its relationship with David Jang, a South Korean pastor who leads a Christian sect called “the Community” and founded a small Bible college called Olivet University, according to a 2014 Mother Jones report.

The Mother Jones report portrayed David Jang as being cut from the same cloth as fellow Korean Sun Myung Moon, the deceased cult leader of the Unification Church that launched the Washington Times in 1982 to promulgate his reactionary views. Like Moon, Jang, who was formerly a key figure in Moon’s cult, portrayed himself as a godlike figure–the Second Coming Christ. Jang’s cult is organized as the Community, a project that also includes the Olivet colleges in the USA. Newsweek’s top executives, including Uzac and Davis, are long-standing members of Jang’s cult.

Unlike Moon, Jang has describes his media goals as one of promoting business news objectively rather than propaganda. Notwithstanding the stated goal, he claims that everything he is involved with is designed to promote the Kingdom of God. Jang’s first foray into the media business was something called the International Business Tribune (IBT) that at first blush seems legitimate. Peter Goodman, a top editor at Huffington, was hired to be editor-in-chief. The main problem wasn’t content but shady business practices behind the scenes.

Like most Internet based publications, IBT was dedicated to traffic, just as is Newsweek now. The bosses demanded that every article generate 10,000 hits or else you’d get fired. And like other electronic publications, the articles tended to be virtual plagiarisms with IBT in Japan publishing 302 articles constructed of patches lifted from Japanese media that were combined in “collage-style”.

A Guardian article on IBT/Newsweek dated March 28, 2014 reported:

A former editor at 33 Universal said “full-time freelance” writers who did much of the writing were paid $8 per article for pieces aiming to ride the crest of that day’s wave of popular news search terms. “You wrote at eight articles a day minimum, sometimes more,” said one former writer for 33 Universal websites.

Even I couldn’t keep up with such a pace.

Like Jacobin that falsified the number of its Twitter followers to convince Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write an article for them, Newsweek was not above juggling the books. A full report on their fraudulent traffic statistics can be read at Social Puncher, a website dedicated to exposing such manipulative practices.

While some of the staff has been fired, others have left in protest. One of them is David Sirota, a very capable reporter who I used to read in Huffington Post. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and described himself as a “democratic socialist”.

But even more disconcertingly, I discovered a couple of days ago that Patrick Hilsman, a FB friend and occasional email correspondent on matters such as the LaRouche cult, had tweeted that he too had quit. However, it did not take the post-January 18th turmoil to convince him to leave. He quit the same day he started work:

Like me, Patrick Hilsman has been one of those stiff-necked people who refuse to hoist Bashar al-Assad on our “anti-imperialist” shoulders. To show you how much things have changed at Newsweek, an article written by one Ian Wilkie has been making the rounds in the Max Blumenthal/Consortium News/Global Research propaganda network. Titled “Now Mattis admits there was no evidence Assad used poison gas on his people”, it rehashes all of the “false flag” narratives promoted equally by “leftists” like Seymour Hersh and not so leftists like David Duke and Pamela Geller.

Saving me the trouble of wading through Wilkie’s manure, Eliot Higgins donned his hip boots and did his usual yeoman job on Bellingcat:

Wilkie also repeats one of the popular theories among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that people filmed at the impact site of the Sarin bomb after the attack would have died from Sarin exposure, stating “these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.” This is based on the popular misconception among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that Sarin is a persistent agent, in that it remains in the environment in lethal quantities long after an attack has occurred.

Naturally enough, Wilkie describes himself as a “terrorism expert”, which is ultimately the perspective of Consortium News, Global Research, LaRouche’s EIR, et al. It does not recognize the class origins of the Syrian civil war and has no other interest than in preventing another 9/11, as if bombing hospitals in Idlib will serve as a prophylactic. Wilkie is a contributor to Tracking Terrorism, a website based on a $500 subscription. I was considering taking out a trial subscription just to see what lurked beneath but was persuaded not to bother when I checked what its editors had written about the mass murder in Las Vegas last year:

My guess is that Wilkie’s article does not indicate that Newsweek is going to read anything like Consortium News that was started by the late Robert Parry, a former Newsweek reporter himself. Throughout 2017, there were articles at odds with Wilkie’s op-ed piece such as “Assad Regime is Still Making Chemical Weapons in Syria: Report”. Perhaps the only explanation is that the magazine saw Wilkie’s piece as prime clickbait since it is well-understood that there are many people attracted to such slop as might be obvious from Breitbart News offering up much of the same.

Centrist political opinion is quite upset with developments at Newsweek. Jonathan Alter, a former Newsweek pundit, wrote “The Death of Newsweek” for Atlantic, a prime dispenser of centrist politics.

Newsweek was always the scrappy, risk-taking underdog, Avis to Time’s Hertz. As Don Graham, his mother’s successor, liked to say, “We’re the pirate ship and they’re the stately ocean liner sailing off.” Pirates had fun—not raffish newsroom amusement (our offices looked more like an insurance company) but a spirit of adventure every week. “Scramble the jets!” our late editor, Maynard Parker, would shout, and all over the world dozens of correspondents and editors swooped and dove on a Friday afternoon to cover the big, late-breaking story of the week. Within 24 hours, we could produce a polished 7,000-word cover package with arresting, often-exclusive reporting from far-flung locales, fresh columns and sidebars, classy photos and spreads, and—especially if someone like Peter Goldman, Evan Thomas, or Jerry Adler was writing—exquisite narrative “tick tock.” The features and criticism in the “back of the book” were also as good or better than those in more intellectual publications, even if it wasn’t cool in New York to admit that about a middlebrow magazine.

My own experience with Newsweek was ambivalent to say the least. Back in the stone ages when there wasn’t an Internet, households such as ours relied on Time and Newsweek much more than the N.Y. Times. The magazine was tabloid sized and the articles were written for someone with a high school education or presently in high school, as I was. It was in Newsweek where I discovered the beat generation, foreign films and contemporary classical music.

Between 1965 and 1967, Newsweek published ten articles about the US war in Vietnam that focused almost exclusively on the advances produced by firepower. Typically, such magazines only devoted 3 percent of its coverage on the toll B-52s and other killing machines were taking on civilians.

By 1967, the malfeasance of Newsweek and much of television reporting was enough for me to break with the system and become a revolutionary socialist. I stopped reading Newsweek or any other capitalist print publication and relied strictly on the radical press, especially the SWP’s, and the NY Times that can be very useful if you read it critically.

Eleven years later, when Reagan was trying to make the Nicaraguans cry uncle at the same time I was recruiting engineers, programmers, skilled tradespeople, and medical professionals to volunteer to help keep the revolution alive, Newsweek was writing the kinds of articles that are now being written about Venezuela. The government was repressive, the economy sucked, etc. But none of the articles really explored the American role in creating such a dire situation. This article was typical:

In the battle over contra aid, the administration was set to open a new offensive. Congress has become increasingly skeptical about the Nicaraguan rebels’ military capabilities, and the peace plan signed by five Central American leaders last August isolates the contras politically. But U.S. officials had a new weapon: Maj. Roger Miranda, a high-ranking Sandinista defector with stories of secret Cuban and Soviet pacts and of links to other leftist guerrillas. Last week Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams allowed several news organizations to interview the defector. Then, learning that reporters planned to publish Miranda’s revelations, Nicaraguan Defense Minister Humberto Ortega launched a pre-emptive strike. Speaking at a gathering in Managua, he confirmed some of Miranda’s most damaging disclosures.

Among the revelations:

* Manauga [sic] has made secret agreements with the Soviet Union, Cuba and East-bloc nations. Ortega said the pacts, which Managua has never before acknowledged, call for assistance in helping the Sandinistas arm and train 600,000 Army troops and civilian militia by the mid-1990s. According to one U.S. official, the goal is to make any U.S. invasion prohibitively costly. With that kind of troop strength and arsenal, it would take four divisions and massive air strikes to oust the Sandinistas.

* Nicaragua has “several hundred, a few thousand” officers taking courses in Cuba and the Soviet Union in the use of sophisticated weapons, Ortega admitted for the first time last week.

* The Sandinistas are training Salvadoran rebels to use ground-to-air missiles; the shoulder-launched weapons could sharply escalate the eight-year-old war.

Oh, did I mentioned that Robert Parry was one of the three Newsweek staffers who co-wrote the piece?

 

February 5, 2018

Fact-checking the latest propaganda rolling off the Assadist assembly-line

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Judith Miller and Christopher Hitchens: forerunners of today’s Assadist propagandists

One of the most off-putting things about Assadist propaganda is that it advertises itself as a corrective to the “mainstream media” even as its purveyors adopt the journalistic norms of Judith Miller. What explains the cavalier attitude toward the truth? To a large extent, it is a function of deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

Two recent examples illustrate how low the Assadist left has sunk. The first is an article in Viewpoint by Patrick Higgins titled “The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria” that invokes Karl Liebknecht’s call for opposition to WWI. Hasn’t Higgins any idea that opposition to WWI in the USA back then would land you in prison as Eugene V. Debs discovered? Today, opposition to a Bush-style American intervention in Syria is universal, spanning from Higgins on the left to Henry Kissinger and David Duke on the right.

As is customarily the case, as long as Higgins writes about American foreign policy exclusive of Syria, there is not much to quibble with. Most of it is what you’d read in Noam Chomsky or Alexander Cockburn. Or, for that matter, what I wrote about Vietnam, Nicaragua, Palestine or Iraq over the years.

It is only when he gets to Syria that the propaganda kicks in.

Higgins argues that the war in Syria is the culmination of a policy that began during Eisenhower’s administration to contain Arab radicalism, particularly of the type Nasser represented. Making the case that the Baathist state is inimical to American interests in the region would by necessity omit any reference to Hafez al-Assad becoming part of the coalition to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. The Baathist dictator’s support for American imperialism paid dividends as the Chicago Tribune reported:

A year ago Syria, which always has aspired to a leadership role in Arab affairs, was isolated and resented by most of its neighbors. Now it has forged an alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and has joined with Egypt in providing the bulk of the troops for a new Arab peacekeeping force in the Persian Gulf region.

It has received about $2.5 billion in assistance from the Gulf States and Japan, and its role in the peacekeeping force promises another sizable windfall.

So, imagine that. Assad the father cuts deals with Mubarak and the Saudis in cahoots with the USA and this is what “Arab radicalism” amounts to? Oh, did I mention that Kuwait is not mentioned once in Higgins’s article?

Like many others who profess support for the Palestinian cause, Higgins credits the Syrian dictatorship for backing Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel in 2006 even if it is impossible for him to sweep under the rug how it allied with Israel against the PLO in Lebanon.

Once again, this is a highly selective version of Syrian-Palestinian relations. Search for a reference to Gaza or Hamas in his article and you will come up empty just as was the case with Kuwait. He cannot admit that Hamas has condemned Russian and Syrian war crimes in East Aleppo. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.” Unlike Higgins, Hamas was not persuaded by the need to bomb hospitals because they were treating 4-year olds with broken bones who might grow up one day to become “terrorists”. When Syria dropped leaflets in East Aleppo to demand that the citizenry repudiate terrorism in the way that IDF did in Gaza City, Hamas could not help identifying with the victims of the “war on terror”.

In a journalistic maneuver that would have been too crass for Judith Miller to employ, Higgins claims that weaponry supplied to rebels in Syria were “diverted” to al-Nusra. As is often the case when I click the link to an article such as this, it is not what it was supposed to be saying. Maybe Higgins did not read past the Reuters article headline: U.S.-trained Syrian rebels gave equipment to Nusra: U.S. military. However, when you continue reading the article, you will learn that the weapons were surrendered in order to gain safe passage. This is like saying shopkeepers used to “give” protection money to the Mafia as if the consequences for refusing such payments would have been nothing but a slap on the wrist rather than a bullet in the head.

To make the case that the rebels were “Salafists” from the beginning, Higgins cites a Pentagon report that appears on the rightwing Judicial Watch website and that has been cited by a thousand other Assadist propagandists. However, in 2012 the dominant force in Syria was the FSA that would soon begin to clash with ISIS as it had with al-Nusra on occasion. To really make sense of the relationship of forces in Syria, you’d have to do more than write a brief report that was never official policy and that was also heavily redacted.

In May of 2013, the Center for American Progress issued a report estimating that the FSA had 50,000 fighters as opposed to al-Nusra’s 6,000. Another report from Charles Lister around this time estimates ISIS and al-Nusra’s combined forces to be 12,000 (I would have put ISIS into a separate category altogether since it had little interest in the goals of the Arab Spring, even less so than al-Nusra), while all other rebel groups amounted to 88,000. Perhaps Higgins has his own estimates but I doubt that someone who relies on the specious Judicial Watch report has any interest in that.

Higgins has the audacity to compare US bombing in Syria to that which occurred during the Vietnam war. This is truly astonishing. The USA dropped more than 3 times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it dropped during all of WWII. And what was an example of US bombing in Syria? The only examples that Higgins could dredge up was a mortar attack on a trade fair in Damascus last August that killed 6 people and a suicide bombing there 3 months earlier that killed 31. This is on one side of the ledger and on the other you have artillery, missiles, barrel bombing and Sarin gas attacks that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Talk about putting your fingers on the scales of justice.

As it happens, Higgins wrote essentially the same article for Jacobin in 2015 before it switched gears editorially to oppose Assad. To a large extent, Max Ajl was responsible for Assadist propaganda when he was a member of the editorial board. That kind of garbage disappeared after he got the boot. Now that he is on Viewpoint’s editorial board, we can expect the same kind of Islamophobic junk to appear. We might even assume that he will recruit the same scoundrels he used to line up for Jacobin.

On December 2, 2017, I wrote about Ajl’s conversation with fellow Assadist Justin Podhur about his departure from Jacobin. The oddest thing about their wound-licking session is their outlandish exaggeration of the power that is wielded by people like me, Gilbert Achcar, the ISO, New Politics and the new Jacobin over the Syria debate. Podhur put it this way:

And I think that feeling is something that I have personally been feeling for a really long time – guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria, and it’s been really confusing for me. And so for you to write that…I felt a lot of relief reading that somebody else felt that way.

This is truly astonishing. You have Alternet, Truthdig, CommonDreams, The Nation, the Boston Globe (via Stephen Kinzer), the LRB, the NYRB, 90 percent of the articles on CounterPunch, and countless other bloggers and websites making the same arguments as Ajl and Higgins and they feel “silenced”? Maybe what is irking them is that there are still a few lonely voices that don’t buy their crap. It wasn’t enough that Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton were bribed into write Assadist propaganda. Speaking for myself, I’d rather be water-boarded than justify bombing hospitals.

Unlike Higgins, who was an obscure graduate student with little to show either as a journalist or activist, Daniel Lazare has written some important stuff, including two books on the American constitution. But like all these good people from Seymour Hersh to Patrick Cockburn, he turned into Mr. Hyde after 2011.

In a Truthdig article titled “Jacobin Is Fueling the Lies About Syria”, Lazare hyper-ventilates on the post-Ajl Jacobin:

Syria has generated more lies than any United States action since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That’s why Jacobin Magazine, the self-proclaimed “leading voice of the American left,” is so important. Readers need it to help cut through the dense fog of mendacity billowing forth out of Washington.

Correction: That’s why Jacobin should be important. In fact, the magazine/website has echoed U.S. propaganda on Syria and in some cases even exceeded it.

Like Higgins, Lazare makes claims that are not backed up by the articles he links to in support of those claims. For example, he writes that “Jacobin has attacked the Assad regime for dwelling excessively on rebel atrocities against Christians, Shiites and other minorities” but when you go to the article in question, which is an interview with Yasser Munif, you can find nothing remotely connected to this. Just go to the article and look for anything about the Assad regime being attacked in such a manner. If you can find it, I will donate $1,000 to the Moon of Alabama’s next fund-drive.

Lazare misses the good old days when Jacobin was publishing Patrick Higgins. That’s a laugh. His 2015 article was even a worse case of yellow journalism than his Viewpoint piece. I would refer you to my commentary on it here. He tells his readers that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the beginning, referring to a BBC article that connects them to the death of 120 Baathist cops in 2011. What he fails to tell you, however, is that the BBC was simply reporting what state television said. Covering this up is just what you’d expect from a shameless propagandist like Patrick Higgins.

Lazare is upset that Jacobin questioned whether Obama was for “regime change”. Maybe he hadn’t read the October 22, 2013 N.Y. Times article that made this crystal clear, written when worries over a looming war with Syria were at their height. It stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

This is not to speak of the Atlantic Magazine interviews that Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with Obama in 2016. Once again the clash with Samantha Power is cited:

At the outset of the Syrian uprising, in early 2011, Power argued that the rebels, drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens, deserved America’s enthusiastic support. Others noted that the rebels were farmers and doctors and carpenters, comparing these revolutionaries to the men who won America’s war for independence.

Obama flipped this plea on its head. “When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …” He paused. “The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” The message Obama telegraphed in speeches and interviews was clear: He would not end up like the second President Bush—a president who became tragically overextended in the Middle East, whose decisions filled the wards of Walter Reed with grievously wounded soldiers, who was helpless to stop the obliteration of his reputation, even when he recalibrated his policies in his second term. Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

Lazare explains Syria’s war as the outcome of religious Sunni resentment toward a leader who even Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami considered “genuinely popular” with most Syrians. These are the co-authors of “Burning Country” whose meeting at Columbia University was trolled by Lazare. I suppose that Lazare assumed that people would not go out and buy their book to judge the accuracy of his citation. As it happens, the book—happily—can now be read online and in the context that Lazare slyly omitted. The authors were referring to the hopes of some that Assad would respond positively to the earliest protests in 2011:

Some even thought the popular protests would be welcomed by Bashaar as ammunition in his presumed struggle against regime hardliners. After all, the man was genuinely popular. Perhaps – after allowing  non-sectarian and non-ethnic parties to operate openly – he could  even have won a real election, and gone down in history as hero of  the democratic transition.

In other words, the authors were referring to what some thought. I suppose by this criterion, Assad was the most popular president in modern history, routinely getting 98% of the vote. That “some” might have been 25% of the country or maybe even 40% but we’ll never know since door to door polling would have been about as possible as a television station that challenged a system that relied on prison, torture, murder and beatings for a stability based on fear.

For Robin Yassin-Kassab’s reaction to Lazare’s intervention, I recommend this:

We heard some strange things, but were only once confronted by a highly aggressive, profoundly ignorant and prejudiced white man. This was during our talk at Columbia University, New York. This character was the first to put up his hand after our presentations. He’d been glaring, particularly at Leila, throughout the talks.

He was almost spitting with anger. How could Leila describe Iran as a prime generator of sectarianism, he wanted to know, when everyone knew it was Saudi Arabia? He himself knew for sure that Syria’s 2011 protest movement was entirely made up of Sunnis, and that they were calling for the blood of the Alawis and Christians from the first day. He knew that all the Christians and Alawis and Druze had demonstrated for Assad. He named a French commentator as evidence for this (Fabrice someone?), and expressed admiration for Patrick Cockburn, who I’d criticised in my talk.

And so he encapsulated some of the worst characteristics of this pro-fascist ‘left’ that has run so badly aground. The lack of detail, and useless binarism, of the Iran/Saudi comment; the orientalism and Islamophobia of the rest; the anger born of a sense of entitlement to narrate other people’s struggles; and the reliance on French and Irish commentators rather than on Syrian revolutionary voices. Neither Leila nor I claim to be Syrian revolutionary voices, but we have interviewed many Syrian revolutionaries, including many from Christian and Alawi backgrounds, who were part of the protest movement from the start. In my answer I mentioned them, and also towns like Yabroud, with a very high proportion of ‘religious minorities’, which liberated themselves from Assad’s forces and set up free local councils and Free Army militias instead. The angry man tutted and spat through my answer. At least two Syrian Christians were in the room, rolling their eyes as he spat.

Leila was disturbed by him. I told her not to dwell on it. The man was so emotionally overwrought he probably had mental problems, like so many in this city. But afterwards we learnt that the angry man is a Stalinist ‘intellectual’, that he writes for the ugly magazine Jacobin, and that his name is Daniel Lazare.

If Lazare’s analysis rests on shaky foundations, his writing is just as badly in need of a watchful editor that the well-endowed Truthdig’s editors were unable to catch. He cites a book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam” as proof of the U.S.’s evil intentions. The author? None other than Richard Dreyfus [sic, it is actually Dreyfuss], the star of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who was recently charged with sexual harassment? Nope. Lazare meant Robert Dreyfuss, who is as hysterically obsessed with al-Qaeda as Lazare or Higgins.

Like Higgins’s 2015 Jacobin article, Lazare insists that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the start:

The claim that protesters turned to violence only after the regime used deadly force is belied by an Israeli TV report in March 2011 that protesters had killed seven soldiers in Dera’a and set fire to the local courthouse and Baath Party headquarters.

Naturally, Lazare fails to mention that four protestors were killed and another 100 were wounded days before the retaliation took place. If you want to see why peaceful protestors decided that they had enough, watch this:

Naturally, Lazare begins to wind down his article with an endorsement of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Syria, where he has  been continuously embedded with the Syrian army just as CNN was embedded in the U.S. military during the war in Iraq. Fisk’s reporting has been so atrocious that the word “Fisking” was invented to describe his habitual distortions and lies.

On February 2nd, Fisk told his Independent readers: “I have to say, however, that after a 2,000-mile tour over much of Syria, I have – for the first time in recent months – seen neither a single Hezbollah member or Iranian revolutionary guard. And since Western leaders believe Syria is swamped with Iranians, this is interesting.”

But on January 3rd, Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah was quite clear that his troops were in Syria.

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said on Wednesday the Syrian war, now in its seventh year, will be finished in one or two years at most.

In an interview with Lebanon’s pro-Iran al-Mayadeen channel, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said Israeli strikes on Hezbollah positions in Syria did not, and will not, prevent supplies of weapons reaching the group.

You can read the whole thing here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/five-things-you-may-have-missed-nasrallah-s-interview-372610417.

So, if Robert Fisk didn’t see any Hezbollah fighters in Syria, maybe he should get checked for cataracts. As for Daniel Lazare and Patrick Higgins, they are clearly beyond help.

January 29, 2018

Taking stock of Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Yesterday, Nat Parry announced the death of his father Robert Parry on Consortium News, a website he created in 1995 as an alternative to the mainstream news. While Robert Parry had announced to his readers on December 31, 2017 that a stroke would inhibit his ability to provide the kind of content to which they had become accustomed, the underlying ailment responsible for his untimely death was cancer of the pancreas that he had unknowingly been suffering from for the past 4 to 5 years.

Nat Parry’s article summarizes his father’s considerable accomplishments that date back to Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas. I recommend it as an indication of a career that any journalist could be proud of, as long as the cut-off date is 2011 or so.

He credits his father with digging beneath “the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013” and for defying the mainstream media’s consensus on Putin and the war in Ukraine. We are told that:

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This reduction of the parameters of the discussion on these matters to Robert Parry on one side and the NY Times and Washington Post on the other is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. As bad as the bourgeois press is with its inside-the-beltway mindset, are we any better off with the inside-the-Kremlin orientation of a whole range of highly respected leftwing reporters since 2011, including Parry, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Stephen Kinzer? Neither the mainstream media nor the “anti-imperialist” websites like Consortium News could take the trouble to learn and write about the people Obama dismissed as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting”. Obama, his supporters in the bourgeois press, and Robert Parry all failed to engage with the humanity of those who find themselves on the opposite side of the barricades from Putin or Assad.

I have my own ideas of how that should have been done and credit my friend Anand Gopal with doing the kind of reporting that never would have occurred to the much more well-known figures above. Harper’s published Gopal’s article “Welcome to Free Syria” in August 2012 . Unlike Cockburn or Fisk, he was not embedded in the Syrian army. Instead, he was transported from Turkey into Syria in a car that “avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads.” With his mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about government troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

The pay-off was being able to interview people who Obama never had any intention of putting into power. Just consider how they saw themselves and how similar they were to those rising up in the Arab Spring as well as the Occupy movement in the USA:

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

Except for Anand Gopal’s article and those written by the Syrian left, including Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila al-Shami, and Joseph Daher, this was a perspective utterly missing in Parry et al. Instead, we were expected to choose between the mainstream media that featured articles on Assad’s brutality and Parry’s attempts to minimize or deny it. Syrian voices were omitted.

Parry could have been less interested in the people of a shithole like Binnish. Like most men who had made careers at Newsweek, Time, the NY Times, and the Washington Post, his focus was on “foreign policy”. Syria was just some real estate that the USA and its rivals were quarrelling over. On April 29, 2013, he expressed dismay over Obama’s failure to enter negotiations with Assad:

In 2012, there appeared to be a chance for a breakthrough both in talks with Iran over its nuclear program and with Syria’s Assad regime over a power-sharing arrangement with the country’s disaffected Sunni majority. Some people involved in those initiatives thought that after the U.S. election, a victorious Obama would have the political space to make concessions as well as demands. Then, when nothing happened, some thought he was waiting to install a new national security team and didn’t want to risk Senate obstruction of his nominations.

That disaffected majority was hardly worth Parry’s consideration since it was made up of “murderous Sunni fundamentalists.” How did he know that the Sunnis were so evil? Well, he read it in the N.Y. Times. So, you see, the mainstream media is to be shunned unless it serves your own ideological preconceptions.

Only five months after he wrote his article, he became just another Assadist propagandist claiming that Assad was innocent of the charge of killing over a thousand people in East Ghouta in a sarin gas attack. Shockingly enough, Parry backed up his claims by citing Carla Del Ponte, a UN functionary that Alexander Cockburn charged with running a kangaroo court to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. If that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel, Parry sunk even lower to rely on the allegations found in former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof’s article for World Net Daily (WND), which alleged that the rebels used sarin gas on their own supporters. I guess you can say that WND.com is an alternative to the Washington Post but what kind?

WND was founded in 1997 by “birther” Joseph Farah as part of the Western Journalism Center that he formed 6 years earlier. Besides WND, the Western Journalism Center created NewsMax, another ultraright outlet. If you are looking for comparisons, they should be grouped with Breitbart News. Besides Maloof’s dubious reporting on sarin gas, WND had run a six-part series claiming that soybean consumption causes homosexuality as well as one that pointed to a secret 20-point Muslim plan “for conquering the United States by 2020.”

As for Maloof, a Mother Jones investigation revealed that he was key to providing a fake story that helped paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. When Maloof worked for the neoconservative warmonger Richard Perle, he cooked up evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. And this is the guy that Robert Parry wanted us to trust?

Turning to Ukraine, it is just as bad—maybe worse. This time it was the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine. He even tied the two “false flag” incidents to each other:

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.

Like Seymour Hersh, Parry refers to unnamed spooks in the “intelligence community”. Who knows? Maybe the aforementioned F. Michael Maloof was one of them.

Demonstrating a laughable departure from the rigorous norms of investigative reporting, Parry wrote:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. Those Ukrainian troops were just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”. They must have gotten loaded and shot down a civilian airliner.

Parry also casted doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching the plane. Supposedly, they had MANPAD’s that were only capable of bringing down low-flying airplanes or helicopters. But in fact, just days before the Flight 17 shoot-down, a separatist missile had brought down a Ukrainian military transport, an AN-26 that was flying four miles above the ground and well beyond the reach of a MANPAD.

All of this demonstrates that one of the greatest collateral damages of the past seven years of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, besides the loss of lives, is its tendency to turn accomplished investigative reporters into shoddy propagandists.

After Trump’s election, Parry posed the question whether Trump would decide to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge. I am not sure whether Parry’s illness had some effect on his ability to clearly assess Donald Trump but it had already been established by then that Trump was a shameless liar who treated his workers like slaves. In 1980, he used undocumented Polish workers to clear the future site of Trump Tower, forcing them to work 12-hour shifts in unsafe conditions and paying them $4 per hour. To imagine that someone with a record like Trump could have been anything like FDR was as much a failure to do the proper job of an investigative reporter as was his articles on sarin gas and Flight 17. If Parry had read David Cay Johnson, he could have never considered this in the realm of possibility.

It is too bad that Parry did not retire in 2011. A book could be written about the decline of investigative journalism over the past 6 years. Let’s hope that the next generation of reporters can take their cue from Anand Gopal who is continuing in the tradition of the pre-2011 Robert Parry as well as all the other journalists who I held in great esteem until the awful assault on the truth and humanity that began under the combined power of Assad and Putin’s air force and their respective propaganda machines.

November 1, 2017

Ben Norton and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

I sometimes wonder if people hate Ben Norton for his Assadist propaganda or more for his careerist “Road to Damascus” conversion that turned him into the kind of ideologue he once denounced. After taking a job with Salon in 2015, he dumped previously held positions opposing Assad and soon became one of his most fervent supporters in partnership with Max Blumenthal who went through the same kind of evolution.

To cover his tracks, he systematically deleted all traces of the old Ben Norton. However, like all criminals, he left a clue behind:

That’s dated November 29, 2015 and clearly endorses the analysis of Yassin al-Haj Saleh.

But this year he sings a different tune:

Of course, Twitter is the perfect medium for slandering people. Saleh is an exceedingly obscure figure in the Western media despite Norton’s attempt to turn him into something like Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya who was frequently cited as an Iraqi supporting regime change in 2002.

As for Erdogan’s “leftist paradise”, who knows what Norton is trying to say here. The implication is that Saleh is some kind of supporter of the AKP. Naturally, when you write a bunch of bullshit in 140 characters, you can always claim that people misread what you wrote. Just ask George Cicariello-Maher or Donald Trump.

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