Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 15, 2017

Ben Norton’s transparent alibi

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Initially getting the Syria war wrong, learning from past mistakes, and correcting lies

I have never seen any conflict lied about more than the horrific war in Syria.

Most of the lies have been in the interest of empire. But there has also been a fair share of lying within the camp of those who ostensibly oppose it.

I have been ceaselessly attacked from multiple sides for the evolution of my views on Syria. Some of these attacks have been warranted, I readily concede. Many others have not been.

In a recent denunciation, the blog Moon of Alabama pilloried me, Max Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, in one of a slew of nearly identical pieces that have done the same (penned by a motley crew of deranged digital stalkers with a penchant for lying, like serial impersonator Pham Binh, Photoshop-wielding demagogue Louis Proyect, and reactionary conspiracy-monger Barbara McKenzie)…

I admit I was wrong, and it was gradually from 2014 into 2015 that I began to see that. When Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra was openly leading the opposition, and yet Cliffites continued to support it (with Trotskyite writers like Louis Proyect and Michael Karadjis cheering on al-Nusra’s offensives), I was hit with the realization that I had been fooling myself.

Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek came to similar realizations on a similar timeline. The three of us are close friends and colleagues who talk frequently. We discussed the issue at length; our views evolved together organically.

(clip)


What a lying bastard this kid is. I had never met him before August 21, 2015 when he approached me after Patrick Bond’s talk at the Verso office in Brooklyn on Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” to telll me that he agreed completely with my analysis of Syria and Ukraine. He also mentioned that he was about to start a new job at Salon. I told him good luck. So if he had started to “rethink” things as early as 2014, why would he have come up to spend 10 minutes badmouthing exactly what he was already well on the road to becoming, namely a carbon copy of Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith, Gareth Porter and other tawdry apologists for the Baathist killing machine.

Besides killing and displacing Syrians, the war has taken a toll on leftist journalists. Norton is as slippery as an eel coated in vaseline and will likely end up like David Horowitz. That’s what happens when you begin to write articles relying on the Saudi media for “the truth”.

I figured out that Norton had joined the conspiracist left after reading his Salon articles. In my view, it was cash that made the difference–not having a Road to Damascus conversion after reading some book opposed to Gilbert Achcar or Idrees Ahmad. If you want to understand him politically and psychologically, I’d advise reading Norman Podhoretz’s memoir “Making It”. From my first commentary on the turncoat dated June 18, 2016:

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

 

UPDATE:

 

July 12, 2017

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton: Saudi Arabia’s snitches

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

On July 6th Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton co-authored an article for Alternet that fingered one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member, something that put not only his right to travel freely in jeopardy but also his life. Given the intensity of the “war on terror” under both Obama and Trump, such accusations might give the military or the CIA the excuse to do to him what they did to Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011—end his life with a Predator drone strike, as well as that of his teen-age son two weeks later. Not satisfied with their murder, Donald J. Trump ordered a strike on al-Qaeda in Yemen that resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8 year old daughter. So, if you are going to accuse someone of being an al-Qaeda member, you’d better be damn sure you are right.

What do these two snitches point to as proof? They write, “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.”

Habituated at this point to shoddy reporting from people like these two creeps, I clicked the link to the Al Arabiya article for more information on Kareem’s membership in a group Donald Trump is committed to exterminating. I imagine that the liberals who read Alternet on a regular basis couldn’t bother checking the article since if the Katzenjammer Kids said it, it must be true.

It turns out that the article is a diatribe against Qatar in keeping with Saudi Arabia’s recent attempt to bring the impudent emirate into line, including an ultimatum to shut down al-Jazeera. Did I mention that Al Arabiya is the Saudi news agency that was created to compete with al-Jazeera but from the royalist right?

The article is titled “Al-Nusra religious leader, prominent ISIS supporter defend Qatar” and describes Qatar as the nerve center of jihadist terror in the Middle East and Bilal Abdul Kareem as one of its key operatives. It makes a bald assertion that “What’s interesting here is that Abdulkareem had traveled to Doha for the panel [sponsored by the Brookings Institute] from the Syrian city of Aleppo. He went to Doha although he joined al-Nusra in 2012.” So, if Al Arabiya, the official propaganda arm of the Saudi monarchy, says that Kareem was an al-Nusra member, it must be true. You have to believe the Saudis, don’t you, especially when they are a major player in the war on terror.

Taking note that Kareem denied being a member, the two jihadi-hunters, second only to Pamela Geller in investigative skills, offered some more irrefutable evidence:

However, one of Abdul Kareem’s closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem’s online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq’s family in Birmingham accused him of being “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group” and declared that he “presents a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

During Abdul Kareem’s Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.

What did they used to call that? Guilt by association? This is more than guilt by association. It is guilt by association squared. Razaq has been accused? So who accused him? The fucking British authorities? How in the hell did these two stooges end up using the word of the “British authorities” to help sentence men such as this to execution by Trump’s out-of-control police state?

It turns out that the “al-Qaeda-aligned” group he was punished for joining was none other than Kareem’s On the Ground News.

Let me get this straight. Kareem is guilty because he is associating with Razaq and Razaq is guilty by associating with Kareem? Where is Franz Kafka when we really need him?

Moon of Alabama, a website that can be described as ground zero of the batshit Assadist conspiracy-mongering universe, was incensed with Blumenthal and Norton’s article. The screwball in charge wrote an item titled “Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek” that rightfully accused the two boys of reversing previously held opinions without explaining why. I don’t think it takes much brains to figure out why. They do what they do for the money. Writing articles opposing Assad won’t pay the rent. All you need to do is look at the wheelbarrows of cash that poured into the pockets of people writing salutes to Seymour Hersh’s brilliant investigative reporting that contained the totally unscientific claim that fertilizer contains organophosphates (it is phosphates). I invite anybody to find a bag of fertilizer containing the organophosphate poisons normally found in pesticides in a farm supply store. If you do, I will personally eat it.

The article basically charges Blumenthal and Norton with plagiarism, pointing out that Vanessa Beeley, one of their recommended authorities on Syria, wrote a piece for 21st Century Wire on August 4, 2016 that they obviously poached. Titled “SYRIA: CNN Normalizes Suicide Bombers and Embeds Reporters with ISIS and Al Qaeda”, Beeley’s piece is her customary Islamophobic tripe holding up Bashar al-Assad as the last best hope for civilized values in Syria. This is the kind of shit that would have made Goebbels blanch.

I don’t know what Beeley is complaining about. There’s plenty of money out there for every Assadist to make a good living. It’s like writing articles hailing the Moscow Trials in 1938. If chief prosecutor Vyshinsky was praised for his integrity in the NY Times of all places, you could sell the same kind of article anywhere.

Today, there’s nothing more scary than some guy in a beard who backs sharia law and yells “Allahu Akbar” after firing an missile that blows up a regime tank. Gee whiz, if we don’t stop them in Iraq and Syria, they might come to Bushwick and destroy our way of life.

Max Blumenthal has become a new Christopher Hitchens in his quest to exterminate Sunni jihadists, even if it requires American power. If you go to 6:50 in the Real News interview above, you’ll see what I mean. He says:

In its zeal to bleed … Russia and Iran, the National Security State has completely abrogated what should be its top mission, which is to take on these Sunni jihadist organizations, which have repeatedly attacked soft targets in the West, caused chaos—they should be fighting them. Instead they are using them as proxies in many cases to bleed Russia and Iran and Syria as well—countries which pose no…which have no intention of attacking the United States and which are active in the fight against ISIS.

I don’t think it could be much clearer than this. Blumenthal is urging the “National Security State” to escalate its war on terror. To use more Predator drones, to kill alleged al-Qaeda operatives like Bilal Abdul Kareem and Akif Razaq whose guilt is established by their willingness to interview its members, and to top it all off to achieve victory in places where the Sunni jihadists held sway. Just look at the photo of liberated Mosul to get an idea of what gets Blumenthal salivating.

Update:

Apparently, my worries about Blumenthal and Norton’s piece helping to undermine Kareem’s survival were not ill-founded.

 

July 10, 2017

Risk

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:42 pm

On July 22nd, Showtime will be premiering Laurie Poitras’s “Risk”, a deeply flawed and controversial film about Julian Assange that he has described as a “severe threat” to his freedom. Despite Assange’s words, the best way to describe the film is as a study in ambivalence. As the director of a documentary on Edward Snowden (“Citizenfour”), Poitras and Glenn Greenwald made clear that their sympathies were with the whistle-blower. In making what amounted to a companion-piece to that film, Poitras adopted a cinéma vérité style that was punctuated by her own commentary in very small but highly critical doses. The problem is that her negative feelings toward Assange are not exactly supported by the footage, which cover familiar territory. Most importantly, you are left wondering whether she agreed with James Comey and the Hillary Clinton camp that Wikileaks acted as a “cutout” for the Russians who provided hacked emails from the candidate’s campaign that supposedly elected Donald J. Trump.

As highly useful background to the film, a June 29, 2017 Guardian article  hints at why this might have been the case:

While Poitras is no fan of Hillary Clinton, she does question the timing of the Podesta emails (John Podesta was chairman of Clinton’s election campaign), thought to have been hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks in October/November 2016 just before the election.

But the major cause of her disaffection was the charges brought against Assange for sex crimes in Sweden. In one of the more disturbing scenes in the film where Assange was hung on his own petard, he is discussing a PR campaign to help his cause with a Labour Party politician named Helena Kennedy who warns him against referring to a “feminist conspiracy” for his own sake. He shrugs this off and alludes to a “tawdry, radical feminist” plot instigated by a woman who launched a lesbian nightclub. Like Bill Maher and Donald Trump, Assange seems to lack what Freud called the super-ego, a mechanism responsible for conscience. Or it could equally be the case that as Assange built up a cult around himself, he lost the capacity for self-criticism. Considering how the British SWP shot itself in the foot over a leading member’s Assange-like behavior, it appears to be a communicable disease.

Stupid enough to say these things on camera, Assange continued on his bumbling ways throughout. In one of the more grotesque scenes, we see Lady Gaga making a pilgrimage to the cult figure in the Ecuadorian Consulate where she seems a bit put off by his appearance in a suit and white shirt. Pointing to a closet with his piled up laundry, she says he should wear a “dirty, fucking T-shirt” so he’ll look like a rebel. She follows up with questions like “what’s your favorite kind of food”. It’s enough to inoculate you against Gaga, if her awful music wasn’t reason enough.

It seems that Assange has a preference for healthy food since another female sex symbol (erstwhile, admittedly) made another pilgrimage in December 2010 to bring him a vegan meal and words of support. That was Pamela Anderson, the 49-year old former star of “Baywatch” who condemned the “made up sexual allegations” against him.

Another sexual predator who has second billing to Assange in the film is one Jacob Appelbaum, a hacker who was a key lieutenant to Assange and a highly placed technician in the Tor Project that was designed to build a secure communications channel for activists. In June 2016, he was accused of sexual abuse by women working in the Tor Project. Like Assange, he has denied all the charges. Poitras mentions casually in passing that she had been “involved” with Appelbaum.

As might be expected, Assange still has his supporters, especially those who see him as a man on horseback in the geopolitical chess game that pits the West against Russia and its allies. Thomas S. Harrington, a professor of Iberian Studies in Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote a piece for CounterPunch titled “Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras that he described as “self-involved, reachingly [sic] melodramatic and filled with unfounded innuendo.” Harrington concludes that Gandhi was also a pretty awful guy in his own way but steers clear of assessing Assange politically. Since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, we might have expected WSWS.org to take up the fight against “Risk” on political grounds. They opine:

The various critics, wealthy and conservative, hardly make a secret of the fact they perceive Assange to be a disrupter of the social order and political system they hold dear. The most hostile of all are those remnants of the old protest generation, who still perhaps expressed opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003. What they can never forgive Assange is that, for all his political limitations, he did not fold his tent, like they shamefully did in the mid-2000s, and join the pro-war, pro-imperialist camp.

Did I mention that they describe the sexual charges against Assange as “voiced by a noxious alliance of feminists, pseudo-leftists, establishment media figures, right-wing tabloid scum and various mouthpieces, acknowledged or unacknowledged, for the US State Department and CIA”? Well, at least they are consistent, having written profusely in defense of Roman Polanski when fled the USA to avoid arrest for having sex with a 13-year old girl.

Unlike Poitras, I have no problems with the Russians hacking Democratic Party emails and using Wikileaks as a cutout. If American politicians don’t want to be embarrassed by things they say privately, they’d better think about what they were saying in the first place.

The USA does this sort of thing on a scale that dwarfs Putin. It unleashed the Stuxnet worm on the Iranian computers used in atomic energy research that led to infections of computers in other countries as collateral damage. After the NSA developed malware to be used against its “enemies”, hackers got a copy and used it for a ransomware attack that infected computers used in critical care applications in hospitals around the world. This is not to speak of how it interferes in elections around the world, including Nicaragua when it was governed by the Sandinistas. The NED pumped millions of dollars into their opponents’ election campaigns without even bothering to cover it up. This takes the kind of brass that not even Putin would display.

Poitras’s documentary is very much worth seeing but it doesn’t begin to penetrate into the inner contradictions of Wikileaks that would have been present even if Assange had not been such a flaming asshole and sexual predator. A documentary should be made but not in the cinéma vérité style that suited Poitras’s someone subjective needs.

That documentary should cover matters such as how Wikileaks promoted a dump of hacked emails from Turkey that supposedly exposed wrongdoing by the ruling AKP. It turned out that no such information was present in the emails. Instead, as former Marxism list subscriber Zeynep Tukfeci pointed out, it contained “spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.”

It would also address Assange’s questionable personnel decisions such as designating Israel Shamir as its spokesman in Russia. Shamir is a disgusting pig who fits neatly into the emerging Red-Brown alliance being consolidated across Europe with generous support from the Kremlin. You have to ask yourself why Wikileaks would want to be associated with someone like Shamir who wrote an article on immigration and race that is filled with nativist trash like this: “In order to defend their policy of destroying society by influx of strangers, they invented and propagated a new blood libel, that of ‘racism’. People who resist the imposition of mass immigration are deemed ‘racists’ and precluded from participation in the scripted television discourse.”

Shamir urges immigrants to defer to the sensibilities of those whose turf they have penetrated: “Admittedly, I never tried to annoy the native inhabitants by playing loud foreign music, practicing strange customs in public, or purposely behaving in offensive ways.” When Shamir wrote a CounterPunch article 5 years ago supporting the Kremlin for cracking down on Pussy Riot for its “offensive” behavior, I answered him in my very first article on CounterPunch. As someone who first discovered himself culturally by reading William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, reading Shamir makes me wonder how such people can ever think of themselves as rebels. For me, the attitudes of people like Shamir remind me nothing more than the ignorant and racist garbage I heard from people in my very backward village that was accurately described once by Karl Marx as “rural idiocy”.

If you really want to understand Assange in political terms, the best place to look is not in the batshit crazy WSWS.org but in his first attempt to participate directly in electoral politics in the name of the Wikileaks Party that ran him for Senate in Australia in 2013. The party had a six-member executive committee that included Assange.

Another member was John Shipton who gave an interview to Sputnik News that sounded very much in line with Israel Shamir. When asked about Russia’s role in Syria, Shipton replied:

The Russian diplomatic skills are a triumph, and with the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the BRICs last year in Far East and this year Syria and the Ukraine. There is diplomatic triumph second to none, and in our view the Russian President and Foreign Ministry people wish to bring peace to allow development.

But for me the biggest problem with Wikileaks is how it has fostered the growth of conspiracist thinking on the left ever since its inception in 2010. In November, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that accurately sized up a malaise on the left attributable to the decline of Marxism:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.

What Cockburn neglected to mention, and what has been unfortunately reflected in CounterPunch all too often both under his editorial direction and Jeff St. Clair who succeeded him, is a reliance on the “smoking gun”, which is more often than not a Wikileaks cable from a US policy analyst or diplomat that supposedly proves that the Syrian revolution was hatched in Washington. You don’t need to learn political economy from Marx if you can find a cable that says something to the effect that Assad “has to go” or some such formulation. Also, how much difference is there between the “inside job” analysis on 9/11 and the “false flag” explanations of the two major sarin gas attacks in Syria? Is there that much difference between the WTC controlled demolition nonsense and Seymour Hersh blaming a bomb dropped on fertilizer for the death of 80 people and the wounding of 600 in Khan Sheikhoun?

Even a publishing house that is virtually synonymous with Marxist political economy eroded its own credentials by publishing a book like “The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire” with an introduction by Assange himself. Verso sent me an advance copy of the book that I found totally useless for understanding the US Empire since I tend to prefer the sort of class analysis found in David Harvey or the late Peter Gowan, who was a veteran of a Trotskyist groupuscule when he joined the New Left Review editorial board just like Tariq Ali, who unfortunately has succumbed to conspiracy theory himself.

You can get a flavor of this book by reading professional liberal Robert Naiman’s chapter on Syria that was reproduced on Truth-out in 2015 as “WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath”.

Showing much less interest in class relations in Syria than in US State Department cables, Naiman cites one dated December 13, 2006 that was written by William Roebuck, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. Roebuck alluded to “actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send” that will bolster the opposition to Assad, including the Saudis providing media openings to Abdul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front.

This and other such Wikileaks material leads Naiman to conclude:

We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government’s repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that “regime change” was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier.

What’s missing from Naiman’s chronology is the period immediately preceding 2011, when American policy had reversed itself from Bush’s much more aggressive policies. If you look at the two years just before the Arab Spring, there is every indication that Syria had come in from the cold.

On March 26, 2009, Robert Worth wrote an article for the NY Times titled “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” that was about as far from the spirit of Roebuck’s cable as can be imagined.

Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region. But Syria has its own priorities, and a series of upheavals here — including Israel’s recent war in Gaza — make it difficult to say where this new dialogue will lead.

It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”

At the root of these changes is Syria’s alliance with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the other major Sunni Arab nations once hoped to push Syria away from Iran through isolation, and now — like President Obama — they appear to be trying sweeter tactics. For the Syrians, the turnabout is proof that their ties with Iran are in fact useful, and accord them an indispensable role as a regional broker. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries “have great stakes in maintaining good relations between Syria and Iran, because at difficult times they will find Syria helping them,” said Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister of foreign affairs, during an interview here.

The picture accompanying the article speaks louder than a thousand words, including all of those that appeared in Naiman’s stupid article.

Finally, let me conclude with a nod to Chase Madar’s review of “Risk” that appeared in the London Times, which although behind a paywall can be read on Madar’s FB page. Madar is the author of the “The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower” and would never be confused politically with someone like me. Here is a telling excerpt:

Poitras has been filming Assange for more than six years, from his press conferences to his (elective) confinement in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, after Interpol put out a warrant to question him on sexual assault charges in Sweden. She has turned from in-house video­grapher to critical journalist who has fallen out with Assange (though as she tells it in her voiceover, he asks her not to say that they have fallen out). Poitras has now been attacked by Assange’s lawyers for not allowing their client to review the final cut and for putting him at additional risk by bringing the raw footage to the United States where it might be subpoenaed.

The main narrative arc is how Assange went from being an icon of the global Left to becoming – temporarily, and surreally – the saviour of the American Right. “I love WikiLeaks!”, candidate Donald J. Trump grinned at a campaign rally last October when reading from the emails that some hacker had stolen from the Democratic National Committee and passed on to the website. (Trump mentioned or quoted Wikileaks’s Clinton leaks some 160 times in the last month of his campaign.) Assange, once the scourge of the American nationalist Right for publishing classified logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars as well as a quarter of a million classified State Department cables, suddenly became, in eye-rubbingly oneiric scenes, the bosom ally of Fox News media figures such as Sean Hannity.

Assange’s flirtation with the American Right didn’t stop there. His Twitter feed passed on the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophilia ring in the basement of a Washington, DC pizzeria and he oxygenated rumours that Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee intern who was murdered in an apparent botched robbery, had been the source of the DNC leaks – and paid for it with his life. This was eagerly taken up and, despite explicit entreaties to stop spreading the rumour from Rich’s grieving family who had to fend off the vigilante “help” of conspiracy loons, the “story” continued. The story of Julian Assange is in some ways a depressing study in how quickly Enlightenment heroes can turn into conspiracy-freak sideshow acts.

July 8, 2017

Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

The Assadist narratives on the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident of April 4, 2017 have fallen into two categories. The first, similar to that put forward around the East Ghouta attack of August 21, 2013, claims that it was a “false flag” incident in which rebels gassed their own supporters to open the door for a “regime change” operation. The second, which has been put forward by various agencies and individuals such as Seymour Hersh, was that a legitimate bombing attack on a jihadist headquarters accidentally struck some materials that produced toxic fumes that killed 80 people and injured 600. For some such as Hersh, the materials were either relatively benign such as chlorine used to cleanse corpses in keeping with Islamic burial guidelines or fertilizers containing organophosphates—the same chemical compound that sarin gas is based on. (It happens that Muslims use soap and that it is pesticides that contain organophosphates, not fertilizers.) Others claim that the jihadist warehouse was a chemical weapons factory that incorporated phosphorus-based chemicals that were never intended to be used as pesticides or fertilizer but only to kill people—sarin gas on the cheap, so to speak.

When I noticed Hersh’s gaffe about fertilizer that his fact-checker Scott Ritter somehow managed to gloss over, I decided to take a closer look at the phosphorus/phosphate/organophosphate question since it is easy to get confused over the differences.

The first reference to organophosphates was made by ex-military intelligence Colonel Patrick Lang just three days after the attack and hewed closely to Hersh’s account. Lang said that the Russians briefed the USA that the attack would take place and that it was aimed at jihadist headquarters. Lang states:

The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians. [emphasis added]

Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell who we are supposed to trust because he “learned” hard lessons from his boss’s role in fostering a “false flag” narrative about Saddam’s WMD’s, told essentially the same story but with a fudge factor:

And this warehouse was alleged to have ISIS supply [sic] in it and indeed it probably did. And some of these supplies were precursors for chemicals (or possibly an alternative they were phosphates for fertilizing)… Conventional bombs hit the warehouse and the wind dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.”

If they were “phosphates for fertilizing”, there was about as much possibility of transforming them into nerve gas as there was an alchemist turning lead into gold.

Then there is Scott Ritter, an WMD inspector who rose to glory for his opposition to Colin Powell’s bogus warnings. Unfortunately, he is turning in his own Powell-like performance to defend wrongly a Baathist dictator. Maybe he learned how to sling the bullshit from studying Powell’s UN speech that greased the slids for the invasion of Iraq.

In an April 9, 2017 Huffington Post article, Ritter wrote that the jihadists were building their own WMD’s with a combination of white phosphorus and chlorine that had been used already when they controlled East Aleppo. So when a bomb was dropped on their lair, it accidentally produced a toxic cloud from chemicals they had planned to use against the pluralist and democratic government in Damascus that has received an average of 98 percent of the vote ever since Hafez al-Assad seized power in a coup.

It is not exactly clear why white phosphorus would kill anybody in sarin gas like fashion since when it is not used to burn people through aerial bombardment, it is used mainly to produce smoke that can help to conceal troop movements. GlobalSecurity.org states that “Casualties from WP [white phosphorus] smoke have not occurred in combat operations” and that “irritation of the eyes and irritation of the mucous membranes are the most commonly seen injuries.”

As far as Ritter’s claim that rebels used white phosphorus/chlorine gas weaponry in East Aleppo, that is one only made by Syria, Iran and Russia. So it is not very surprising that he takes their word over what Trump calls “the fake news”.

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Let’s assume that in his confusion that Hersh meant to say “in many pesticides” rather than “in many fertilizers” in his Die Welt article.

The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.

That still doesn’t pass the smell test as a chemistry PhD student specializing in biochemical weapons argued on BellingCat: “The most potent organophosphate pesticide, TEPP, is 10x less toxic than sarin. Parathion/E605 is 100-1000x less toxic. Neither is stored in bulk because neither is needed in huge quantities to cover an entire field.”

While I am no chemist by any stretch of the imagination, I would encourage others to spend several hours as I did trying to sort out the differences between all these terms that include “phos”.

  1. Phosphorus: This is an element that is key to human health. In fact, it is the second most prevalent element in your body next to calcium. In nature it exists in two forms: white and red. White phosphorus emits a slight glow when it is exposed to oxygen and hence has the prefix “phos”, which means light in Greek. As it is the second most common element in the human body, a German alchemist Hennig Brand extracted it from urine in an experiment in 1669. Even if he was an alchemist by profession, he was ten times as rigorous as the charlatans alluded to above.
  2. Phosphates: These are chemical compounds that contain phosphorus and are one of the key ingredients of fertilizers (the others are nitrogen and potassium compounds). It is also being used in Flint, Michigan to reduce the amount of lead that can get into pipes by building up what is called “mineral scale” that inhibits lead build-up.
  3. Organophosphates: This group of chemicals includes sarin gas as well as one called chlorpyrifos that was marketed by Dow Chemical under the brand names Lorsban (for agriculture) and Dursban (for residences) until the EPA banned it in 1996 because it was found to cause nerve damage to children. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the new head of the EPA has overruled the ban and that is now legal again. The NY Times wrote that the ruling is more consequential than his “rolling back Obama administration rules related to coal-burning power plants and climate change”. With Dursban now for sale again in the USA and Trump giving Russia free rein in Syria, it won’t be long before chemically-induced fatalities will spike in both countries.
  4. Phosphines: The most practical use of phosphine is as a fumigant to get rid of rats and in minute quantities as a doping agent in electronic circuitry. Don’t interpret my reference to rats and doping to reflect on Gareth Porter.

Finally, in terms of whether bombing a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun could have killed 80 people and wounded 600 as a result of a bomb dropped on pesticides containing organophosphates, it is worth mentioning that an accident such as this did occur not so long ago:

On November 1, 1986 there was an explosion and fire in the Sandoz chemical company in Basel, Switzerland that contained a virtual  cornucopia of organophosphates, tons of the stuff including propetamphos, parathion, disulfoton, thiometon, etrimphos and fenitrothion–all in pure form rather than the diluted commercial pesticides that were presumably stored in the Khan Sheikhoun warehouse. A huge cloud ascended over the city. Casualties? None. Fourteen firefighters were treated for exposure to the chemicals in a local hospital. Not a single one died.

July 6, 2017

“Trotskyists” put down red carpet for obscure Stalinist blogger

Filed under: Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:53 pm

Jeff Mackler

On Friday, July 14th at the Solidarity Center in NYC, Stephen Gowans will be speaking on “Washington’s Long War in Syria“, his new pro-Assad book. Solidarity Center is the HQ of the International Action Center, the antiwar front of the Workers World Party, a group that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement after the founder decided to back the Soviet tanks rather than the Hungarian workers in 1956. They are essentially Stalinists–much more so than the Communist Party.

Among the sponsors of the meeting is something called UNAC, the United Antiwar Coalition, that has a steering committee that is a mixture of WWP’er Sarah Flounders and independent Stalinists like Phil Wilayto.

But the largest party representation is from Socialist Action, a tiny sect led by Jeff Mackler. After splitting from the SWP, Mackler and other party veterans formed SA in the early 80s to rebuild a purified Trotskyist group. It has failed abjectly but like the group it split from, it soldiers on in the foolish notion that it is to the USA that Lenin’s party was to Russia. Mackler is on the steering committee as is Marilyn Levin and Christine Gavreau, who like Mackler are in their seventies. I can’t say for sure if they are still in SA but I strongly suspect that they are. This is definitely not a formation that is going to compete with the DSA for fresh young blood.

Gowans is a piece of work. With a straight face, he writes things like this:

The US Library of Congress country study on Syria refers to “the  socialist structure of the government and economy,” points out that  “the government continues to control strategic industries,” mentions that “many citizens have access to subsidized public housing and many basic commodities are heavily subsidized,” and that “senior regime members” have “hampered” the liberalization of the economy.

https://www.liberationnews.org/syrias-uprising-in-context-html/

Meanwhile, Bassam Haddad, no friend of the Syrian rebels, wrote this:

By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.

http://www.merip.org/mer/mer262/syrian-regimes-business-backbone

None of this ever entered the ideological cocoon of the Marcyite wing of the American left that now includes Socialist Action. Indeed, nothing that took place within Syria held even the slightest interest for them. These are people who get their ideas from ZeroHedge, Moon of Alabama, Global Research, Information Clearing House and other bottom-feeding click-bait outlets of the lunatic left.

Sad, really.

July 4, 2017

The War Show

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:51 pm

WATCH NOW

July 2, 2017

When Seymour Hersh was interviewed on Infowars

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

This week, when a Facebook friend referred to a Seymour Hersh appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars, I did a double-take. Could that be possible? I understand that his judgement is poor but nobody with an ounce of sense would agree to be interviewed by arguably the worst rightwing demagogue in the USA. It turns out that he spoke with Jones on December 30, 2015–timed with his LRB article about how American Generals sidestepped Obama to provide critical intelligence that the Russians and Assad used against the opposition. Not only did Hersh consent to the interview, it was about as amiable an encounter as Barack Obama being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Is it possible that this shows signs of senility? That might be one way of explaining the inexplicable. You saw similar behavior from another elderly celebrity of the left. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Ryan Dawson did a podcast with MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol on August 25, 2014 in order to blame the rebels rather than Assad for using Sarin gas in East Ghouta a year earlier. Much of the show consisted of Postol crediting the Syrian Girl for help on clearing Assad’s name. Also known as Partisangirl, Maram Susli is a fascist (I use the word advisedly) who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show. It’s a small world when it comes to Assadism, senility and fascism apparently.

In making the case for Bashar al-Assad as a big improvement over the opposition, Hersh says that the mass murderer was responsible for major reforms. One of them is that now “you can bank there”. There are ATM machines everywhere. There were 30 different foreign broadcasts on TV as well.

So you can understand why with all those ATM’s and foreign broadcasts, a revolution in Syria would be unnecessary. Yes, it’s true that back in 2011 there might have been some “moderate” rebels but in no time at all, the rebels became fanatical supporters of Sharia law and determined to oppress Christians and Alawites if they took over. With such an analysis, it makes perfect sense why Hersh would accept an invitation to speak on a podcast hosted by a fanatical Islamophobe.

Hersh admits to Jones that Assad was a dictator but the opposition was worse. Hersh states that ISIS executed 200 of his soldiers in one fell swoop. On the other hand, Amnesty International reported that 13,000 prisoners have been secretly hanged in Assad’s prisons but you can’t believe a word that they say since they are a tool of imperialism (except when they are reporting on rebel war crimes). Same thing with Doctors Without Borders. When they claim that Assad bombs hospitals, they are lying but when they report on Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen, they are telling the truth. How postmodern.

Hersh understood the value of Alex Jones, at least on his own terms. In the old days, it was the NY Times and the Washington Post that controlled the agenda but now because of the Internet and what guys like Jones do, the word gets out there automatically. In his view, “that’s good” because now we have more and better communications. So let’s applaud Infowars, Breitbart News, Global Research, Al-Masdar News, Duran, 21st Century Wire and SOTT for providing a much needed alternative. Along with WBAI, we can now get an alternative to the mainstream news. As far as I know, Jones does not give away Gary Null tapes.

Just this week Alex Jones made the news by both inviting and appearing to take seriously a guest who charged NASA with operating a child slave colony on Mars. Largely through his connections to the Donald Trump campaign, Jones has become infamous in the last year or so as a close ally of the emerging alt-right. But for those who have been aware of Jones for the past decade or so, the NASA slave colony stuff comes as no big surprise since Jones is a major league conspiracy theorist whose attorney even defended him as a purveyor of entertainment rather than a reporter. Taste, they say, is largely in the mouth.

Would Hersh have had agreed to be interviewed by someone like Jones if he knew in advance that he was obviously so deranged? Maybe Jones hadn’t come up with something so outrageous back in December 2015 but it didn’t take much research to find out that he had already described the Sandy Hook Massacre as “staged”.This is not to speak of Jones’s long-standing affiliation with the 9/11 Truther movement.Why would a “legendary” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter want to even take part in a podcast interview conducted with someone that detached from reality? Would he have gone on the David Duke show? I really have to wonder.

This week I have seen repeated credit given to Hersh by people who should know better. For example, Jeff St. Clair touted his Die Welt article as a “landmark piece of investigative reporting”, while the Monthly Review website has linked to the article as well as one Ray McGovern’s wrote in support of Hersh’s article that also appeared on CounterPunch. Does John Bellamy Foster, who has devoted many hours reading about soil chemistry in conjunction with his research on the “metabolic rift”, believe that it is possible to create a toxic cloud that killed 58 people and wounded 300 by dropping a bomb on fertilizer? What about Fred Magdoff, the son of the late editor that Foster replaced after his death? Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. What if one of his students wrote a paper that made such a claim? What kind of scientific evidence would Magdoff expect from his student? Wouldn’t he be as exacting with a journal edited by his respected father? Would the fact that they must have deemed it a waste of time discomfit him? They must have figured that anything written by Seymour Hersh didn’t have to be read with a critical eye. As Donald Trump would say, how sad..

The other day Paul Street, a guy I have a lot of respect for, posted a link on Facebook to a CounterPunch article by Jonathan Cook along the same lines. When, probably to his surprise, a number of people became indignant over this, he understandably didn’t try to defend Hersh (which would have required defending the idea that a bomb dropped on fertilizer can have the same effect as Sarin gas). Instead, he fretted over how the left can become so divided over “foreign” affairs and urged the need for a united front against the capitalist class in the USA. Surely that will be necessary as I tried to indicate in my defense of a Jill Stein vote in 2016.

However, there is something that Paul probably didn’t quite grasp. In the six years of leftist propaganda for Assad, the truth has become less and less important. I first noticed this on CounterPunch articles about East Ghouta that motivated me to resign in 2013. It was not just disagreeing over how to assess Assad. It was how so many people were willing to argue along the lines that it was “illogical” for Assad to carry out such an attack since he was winning the war and since UN inspectors were in the area.

I always wonder why people who raise such cavils never seem nearly so interested in what was in the minds of the rebels they accuse of mounting a “false flag”. Between the two Sarin gas attacks blamed on the rebels by Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, et al, 1800 supporters of the rebels were killed and 5000 wounded. What are we to make of men who are so heartless as to kill their own supporters, including many family members, on a gamble? And if they are so heartless, why haven’t they used such a deadly weapon a single time in 6 years of war on Assad’s military, his government bureaucracy or his wealthy supporters who could be reached by sarin-weaponized artillery in the Damascus suburbs that Postol blamed for the East Ghouta massacre. None of this makes any sense, of course.

There’s a real danger when the left embraces such lies in order to pursue “anti-imperialist” goals. As Leon Trotsky points out in “Their Morals and Ours”, the ends do justify the means but under no conditions would a revolutionary socialist like Trotsky accept telling lies to further justifiable ends. The more we bend the truth to support a political agenda no matter how laudable (giving support for Assad the benefit of the doubt), the greater the danger it will finally break.

 

June 28, 2017

Seymour Hersh’s jumbo-sized shit sandwich

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 4.46.00 PM

On June 26th Die Welt published an article by Seymour Hersh that made the case that the Syrian military was not responsible for a Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 6th. Instead, what supposedly took place was the unfortunate collateral damage of a leakage of toxic material when a guided missile struck a building where jihadists were meeting. Without exactly revealing how he got the information about what was stored there, Hersh points to supplies of chlorine in the basement that the jihadists dispensed to the locals when they needed to clean the bodies of the dead before burial as well as fertilizers used for growing crops. When a bomb hit the building, it created a Bhopal type disaster. The symptoms displayed by the victims was “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

I found the business about using chlorine to cleanse bodies most intriguing, especially since every Muslim website I could find about burial rituals stresses the need for clean water. For example, Al-Islam stipulates:

It is obligatory to bathe a dead body thrice. The first bathing should be with water mixed with “Sidr” (Ben) leaves. The second bathing should be with water mixed with camphor and the third should be with clean water.

Well, who knows? Maybe it was the camphor that killed 58 people and wounded 300. Camphor is used in mothballs, after all. If you had sufficient camphor stored in the building—a couple of tons of the stuff—it might have killed 58 people, right? Or at least, a shitload of moths. As far as organophosphates being used in many fertilizers, I suspect that Hersh might have been referring to bug and weed killers rather than fertilizers. If you check Wikipedia, it says that they are the basis of many insecticides and herbicides but there is no mention of fertilizers. An innocent mistake, I suppose. Maybe if the New Yorker had decided to publish Hersh’s article, they would have caught it but then again the magazine had declined to publish anything by him on Syria since the articles didn’t pass the smell test.

Instead, he has published his crap in the London Review of Books until now. This is a journal that has been a prime outlet of Assadist propaganda going on five years now, making room for Hersh, Hugh Roberts, Tariq Ali and Patrick Cockburn to make the case for Assad being a lesser evil. But apparently, his latest “investigating reporting” didn’t make the LRB grade as Dirk Laabs points out in a companion piece to Hersh’s article:

Hersh had also offered the article to the London Review of Books. The editors accepted it, paid for it, and prepared a fact checked article for publication, but decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable [sic] to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in Khan Sheikhoun.

Let me tell you something. If LRB nixes something because it takes the side of the Syrian and Russian governments, it has to be pretty fucking bad.

While I have no idea how Hersh learned about chlorine in the basement or organophosphate fertilizers upstairs, he does make sure to impress the reader with the “inside” information that backs up his reporting:

Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.

Well, that cinches it, I guess. If Russian intelligence says so, it must be true. Why would they lie? So what if some people believe that the first casualty of war is truth. That couldn’t possibly apply to the Russians. The only problem I have with taking them at their word is their apparent reluctance to share the evidence that supports their findings. Hersh writes:

The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, I bought a Mavic Pro camera drone for $1000 that could have recorded all of these goings on. For that matter, ISIS has purchased off-the-shelf amateur type drones and equipped them with explosives to slow the advance of the Iraqi army. You mean to tell me that the Russians couldn’t have made such evidence available to all their stooges in the West, from Vanessa Beeley to Eva Bartlett? Either they are getting soft or they were just lying. You be the judge.

Another companion piece to Hersh’s article got my eyebrows raised so high that I began to fear that they would take wing and fly off. Titled “We got a fuckin ‘problem“, it purports to be an electronic chat between a security adviser and an active US American soldier on duty on a key operational base about the events in Khan Sheikhoun.

American Soldier: We got a fuckin‘ problem

Security-Adviser: What happened? Is it the Trump ignoring the Intel and going to try to hit the Syrians? And that we’re pissing on the Russians?

AS: This is bad…Things are spooling up.

SA: You may not have seen trumps press conference yesterday. He’s bought into the media story without asking to see the Intel.  We are likely to get our asses kicked by the Russians.  Fucking dangerous.  Where are the godamn adults? The failure of the chain of command to tell the President the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not, will go down in history as one of our worst moments.

AS: I don’t know. None of this makes any sense. We KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That’s it. They did not conduct any sort of a chemical attack.

Sounds like lines from Oliver Stone’s next movie, doesn’t it?

If you want to read a good take-down of Hersh’s crap, I recommend Elliot Higgins who wrote a piece titled “Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack”. Like Theodore Postol who couldn’t get his years straight, Hersh doesn’t seem bothered by the inconsistencies between his timeline and those of the regimes he seeks to defend. He writes, “The target was struck at 6:55 a.m” but the Syrian foreign ministry held a press conference after the attack that dated the incident at 8:30 a.m. Oh well, what’s 90 minutes between friends, least of all 80 year old investigative reporters who can’t be bothered with such details.

If I were Seymour Hersh, I would have retired long ago. In fact, posterity will not look kindly on these elder statesmen of the left who have lent their good name to defending the Baathist dictatorship. Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Chomsky—all of them.

Indeed there were signs a decade ago that Hersh was “slipping”. (That’s the word my mother’s friend used to alert me to my mom’s behavior once she hit my age. She was losing her temper a lot and was driving erratically. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes me as well.)

In 2007, Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star, a Lebanese daily, started his Counterpunch article with words that opened with words indicate little respect for the “legendary” reporter:

It’s become a habit to greet whatever journalist Seymour Hersh writes with reverence. However, after his ludicrous claim last summer that Israel’s war in Lebanon was a trial run for an American bombing of Iran – an accusation undermined by postwar narratives showing the confused way Israel and the United States responded to the conflict – my doubts hardened.

The gist of Hersh’s article was that the Bush administration was lining up with Sunni extremists in Lebanon, something that Michael Young found untenable:

What about Hersh’s belief that the Bush administration is illegally hiding aspects of its pro-Sunni regional strategy? “The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution of the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process.” The administration’s point man in this endeavor is purportedly Vice President Dick Cheney.

This revelation is noteworthy, but when we turn to the final part of Hersh’s text in which he addresses congressional oversight issues, we find little meat.

Little meat? That’s being generous. I’d say that Hersh had written a jumbo-sized shit sandwich and continues to do so.

 

 

June 14, 2017

Hell on Earth: the Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:10 pm

“Hell on Earth: the Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS” is now the third full-length documentary I have seen on Syria and the one I now regard as the best introduction to the conflict. Unlike “Return to Homs”, “City of Ghosts” and “Last Men in Aleppo” that were directed by Syrian partisans of the revolution, “Hell on Earth” is co-directed by Sebastian Junger, an American, and Nick Quested, a Briton, whose emphasis is primarily on the humanitarian disaster but within the context of a powerful attack on the Baathist dictatorship. They made the wise choice of drawing on analysis from Robin Yassin-Kassab who offers a running commentary in the film on how Assad used extreme violence and sectarianism to help subdue a popular movement. Yassin-Kassab co-wrote “Burning Country” with Leila al-Sham, a book that is the film’s counterpart. If I were asked by someone trying to puzzle out the six year war in Syria, I would recommend both “Burning Country” and “Hell on Earth”, a film that is now available as VOD (sources at the end of the review.)

The film provides extensive evidence of the mass character of the protest movement in Syria that began in March 2011, with a close look at the victimization of 15 teenage boys who were arrested after painting graffiti on the walls of Daraa, a city widely viewed as the birthplace of the revolution: “As-Shaab / Yoreed / Eskaat el nizam!”, which means “The people / want / to topple the regime!” One of the youths walks through the streets of Daraa showing where they had used spray paint to demand Assad’s fall. He, like the others, had been tortured in jail for a month and then released to his parents who were part of the Sunni tribal network that was the sinew of Daraa. Their suffering, including having their fingernails torn out, incensed their parents and most of the city’s residents who began to protest in the streets raising the central demands of the movement: for justice, for dignity and for freedom. As could have been expected, Assad’s snipers began firing on the demonstrations, footage of which is included in the film.

This pattern was repeated across Syria–in Homs, in Aleppo, in Hama and in the suburbs of Damascus. Continued armed attacks on peaceful protests finally reached the breaking point when soldiers began to defect and form militias to defend the people both in the streets and in their homes. We hear from a number of the men who helped to form the FSA in 2011, an armed movement that had no political agenda except to “topple the regime” as the 15 boys from Daraa had hoped.

Within two years, the regime had adopted genocidal-like tactics including barrel bombing and other forms of aerial attacks against which the rebels had no defense. Syria was rapidly becoming a hell on earth, as Yassin-Kassab put it at one point in the film, hence its apt title.

In August 2013, the dictatorship used sarin gas against the people of East Ghouta, a Damascus suburb composed mostly of the Sunni working poor, many of whom were formerly small farmers driven to leave drought-stricken land when government support dried up as well. The film takes a close look at Obama’s failure to take action against Assad despite his “red flag” warnings. While it is reasonable to assume that Junger and Quested would have agreed with John McCann and Dennis Ross, who are among the film’s imperialist-minded enemies of Assad, that Obama betrayed the Syrians by not following through with a military intervention, there was likely little chance of this happening. By this point, Obama was well on his way to developing rapprochement with Iran and the last thing he needed was to deploy American power on behalf of the “former farmers or teachers or pharmacists” he derided. All that was really needed was to remove the CIA agents from the Syrian border who had been stationed there to prevent the shipment of MANPAD’s from Libya to the rebels who needed them desperately. I am sure that a pharmacist with sufficient training could have put a Russian-made SA-7 to good use taking down the helicopters that were dropping barrel bombs on hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and everything that moved in places like East Aleppo.

What sets “Hell on Earth” apart from the standard Frontline type documentary on PBS is the inclusion of two brothers and their families who had fled East Aleppo to get away from the constant onslaught of Syrian and Russian aerial bombardment. Radwan and Marwan Mohammed were given video cameras by Junger and Quested so they could describe what it was like to be part of the half of the Syrian population that had been displaced from their homes. Crowded into what looks like a concrete shed, they are caught in limbo since they are now in ISIS territory. Like the Syrian refugees in “Lost in Lebanon”, they are motivated primarily by the need to survive rather than to take part in an armed struggle. (The film explicitly refers to the war as a necessary step taken by Assad to preempt the possibility for peaceful reforms.)

The two brothers are probably like most Syrians today, people longing for peace and normalcy. In choosing to impose the law of the jungle on a preeminently civilized and peaceful society, Assad has nearly won but at what price? He has carried out what Tacitus once described: “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”

The second half of the film deals with the rise of ISIS and is exceptionally good. It is the first attempt I have seen to describe the origins of the death cult in terms of the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq. “Hell on Earth” comes pretty close to the version of events presented in Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan’s book on ISIS.

If the beheadings carried out by ISIS in the Middle East and the knife attacks by its supporters in Europe lend themselves to hysterical news reports in the West, the film reminds us that torture and ghastly executions took place in civilized England as well. If you were convicted of treason in 13th century England, punishment took the form of hanging (almost to the point of death), emasculation, disembowelment, beheading and being chopped into four pieces. The remains of the body were often displayed on London Bridge. Maybe that’s where the ISIS supporters got the idea for stabbing people at random on the same bridge.

Drawing upon ISIS’s own recruitment videos, “Hell on Earth” makes it clear that the message is much more evocative of video games and Hollywood action movies than Wahhabist theology. In fact, even though the film does not specifically state this, you can only conclude that the jihadists must have studied the recruitment commercials for the Marines that crop up during football games. For an 18 year old man, testosterone speaks much louder than longings for a Caliphate.

Director Sebastian Junger is a capable writer as well as a filmmaker. “The Perfect Storm”, his book about swordfish fishermen killed in a freak gale, was a best-seller and made into a very good film starring George Clooney. He also directed “Restrepo”, a documentary about the futility of the American intervention in Afghanistan, where “isolationist” Donald Trump has provided a blank check to the military to increase its numbers.

To watch “Hell on Earth”, there are various options. If you have basic cable, go to the National Geographic website and play “full episode”. You will then be prompted to sign in to your cable provider, such as Verizon, and watch the film for free.

If you don’t have cable, you can now buy the film for $9.99 on iTunes or Youtube and for $11.99 on Amazon. ITunes states that the film will be available for rent on June 20th, which probably means $4.99. I assume that it will be rentable on Youtube and Amazon on that date as well. In any case, this is a film you should recommend to friends and co-workers who have not really been following events there for the past 6 years. While the film is not agitprop by any stretch of the imagination, you will be left with the conclusion that Assad, Putin and their allies in Iran and Hizbollah are carrying out the dirtiest war of the 21st Century. How things will eventually play out in Syria cannot be determined at this point but it is in the interests of peace and social justice for as many Americans to know the truth about Syria just as it was for us to know about the origins of the war in Vietnam just over a half-century ago. The days of the teach-in might be long gone but a film like “Hell on Earth” serves the same purpose: to educate people so they can take intelligent action.

 

May 20, 2017

DDTea takes on the Assadist trolls

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:15 pm

It is really amazing that despite the vast network of pro-Assad websites that can be relied on to put forward “false flag” narratives on the sarin gas attacks in East Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun, there is still an obvious organized effort to discredit the articles on Bellingcat that put the blame on Assad. Bellingcat was launched by Elliot Higgins in 2014, just two years after he started the Brown Moses blog to counteract the “axis of resistance” propaganda that dominated the coverage of various hot spots, especially Syria and Ukraine.

Elliot’s specialty was using “open source” material from the Internet, including Youtube videos, satellite images as well as social media including Facebook and Twitter accounts by those on the scene.

Early on Elliot began to rely on the analysis of Dan Kaszeta, the managing director of Strongpoint Security Ltd who lives and works in London and who has 26 years experience in how to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Dan was instrumental in bringing to bear the evidence of hexamine in the soil of East Ghouta as proof that Assad was responsible for the attack. As Kaszeta explained, hexamine is a key ingredient in weaponizing sarin gas. No matter how strenuous the efforts of Assadist trolls to discredit this testimony, they never managed to explain why Assad surrendered 80 tons of the stuff after a deal was brokered by Russia in 2013 to prevent Obama from punishing Assad, which never was his intention in the first place.

Since the Khan Sheikhoun attack has generated a virtual repeat of the troll attack on Bellingcat that took place in 2013, Kaszeta reminded Elliot’s readers why it was used in the first place in an article titled “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…”. As might be expected, the trolls have been active trying to undermine the analysis found in the article, which is always connected by necessity to a “false flag” explanation.

They have their work cut out for them now that a commenter who calls himself DDTea has become a regular at Bellingcat drawing upon his considerable expertise. As a PhD student in chemistry who does not use his real name for obvious reasons, DDTea is not only a walking encyclopedia of the chemistry of sarin gas and other such weapons but is a formidable polemicist like Kaszeta. The two of them in combination with Elliot Higgins are like a trio of Van Helsings that are more than a match for the Assadist Draculas who bare their fangs on Bellingcat on an ongoing basis.

Here is DDTea’s latest reply to them under Dan’s article. Priceless.

I’ve posted this elsewhere, but people are repeating the same, tired claims that, “this seems suspicious.” Yet nobody can offer an alternative theory to explain the evidence, so I’ve gone ahead and proposed one myself. You will see it is far more plausible than the specious notion that a government aircraft dropped a bomb of Sarin. This theory is based on the reports of experts who should be trusted without further thought.

The Syrian regime bombed an Al-Nusra warehouse full of sarin, which was being delivered to and used by ISIS in Iraq [1]. However, this sarin did not poison anybody: instead, a cloud of burning plastic may have disseminated in the air [2], which caused symptoms remarkably similar to Sarin poisoning—especially the foaming mouths. Simultaneous with this air bombardment on a warehouse, Al-Nusra detonated a bomb on top of a pipe full of Sarin [3] to create a crater, thus giving the illusion of an airstrike that didn’t actually happen. They chose not to recover the tube to conceal their evidence when they went back to “tamper” with the crime scene–while recording it from multiple camera angles and releasing footage online, no less. As others have speculated (even here on bellingcat), this tampering may have involved spreading sarin and degradation products around the crater to create the illusion of a sarin attack, even though they already dispersed sarin.

But this Sarin didn’t poison anyone either! Instead, Al-Nusra took a bunch of Christians and gassed them with carbon monoxide or cyanide or other “rubigenic toxin” [4] in a basement. They then drove their victims to the hospital, where they were drugged with something to cause miosis [4]. Simultaneously, a bunch of collaborators were sent to Turkish hospitals to convey a false flag cover story about a regime airstrike with poison gas. To this date, they are still repeating the same false story–conspiring down to the finest details of their story when questioned separately. The OPCW was in on it, and agreed to falsify evidence together with the Turks—providing false witness to compromised blood samples. Then the rebels went back and tampered [5] with the crater and Sarin tube. The crater has since been filled in so that nobody would find the evidence they planted to frame the regime.

And everyone who disagrees with this version of the truth is a neoconservative imperialist NATO troll who supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

(For the record: Bhopal was caused by methyl isocyanate, not plastic combustion products)
[1] https://www.rt.com/news/383522-syria-idlib-warehouse-strike-chemical/
[2]http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/russian_explanation_of_the_mass_poisoning_in_syria_could_be_true_20170426
[3] https://www.scribd.com/document/344995943/Report-by-White-House-Alleging-Proof-of-Syria-as-the-Perpetrator-of-the-Nerve-Agent-Attack-in-Khan-Shaykhun-on-April-4-2017#from_embed
[4] O’Brien, Denis. “The Apr04|17 incident at Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. A series of inquiries. KS Post #1: Analysis of the Shajul Islam video .
” April 5, 2017. http://logophere.com/Topics2017/17-04/17_015-BLA-ShajulIslam.htm
[5] http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/addendum-dr-theodore-postols-assessment-white-house-report-syria-chemical-attack.html

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