FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Biased Reporting on Syria in the Service of War

by

It has been confirmed that TV journalist Richard Engel’s kidnapping/rescue in norther Syria in late 2012 was a hoax. NBC management knew the story was probably false but proceeded to broadcast it anyway.

There are at least two good things about “Engelgate”.

* It is clear evidence of mainstream media bias in their reporting and characterization of the conflict in Syria. The kidnapping was meant to show that “bad” Assad supporters had kidnapped Richard Engel only to be rescued by the Western/Turkey/Gulf supported “good” rebels. NBC management knew the scenario was dubious but promoted it anyway.

* Engelgate is also proof that Syrian anti-government rebels consciously manipulated western media for political gain. An elaborate ruse was performed to demonize the Syrian government &supporters and to encourage more support for the anti-government rebels.

Some analysts have noted that the Engel/NBC deception is more serious than that of Brian Williams. In the Williams case a TV journalist was puffing himself up; in the Engel deception, public policy involving war and bloodshed was being influenced.

Will this confirmation of deception lead to any more skepticism about reports from and about Syria? Will there be any more critical or skeptical look at stories that demonize the Syrian government and favor the western narrative? We have a test case right now.

HRW report on “Chlorine Gas Attacks”

On April 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report “Syria: Chemicals Used in Idlib Attacks”. It begins: “Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces used toxic chemicals in several barrel bomb attacks in Idlib”. HRW Deputy Director Nadim Houry accuses the Syrian government of “thumbing its nose at the (UN) Security Council and international law yet again”.

We note that the reported chlorine gas attacks took place in the exact same area where Richard Engel was kidnapped. As shown in the map below, the Engel hoax took place near Maarat Misrin. The alleged Chlorine attacks took place in the adjacent towns of Binnish, Qmenas and Sarmin. The rebel/terrorists were aware of the political ramifications of the kidnapping and rescue hoax in 2012. And now, in 2015, they are very aware of the political implications of the use of chlorine gas.

Certainly, opposition fighters have the motive and the incentive to implicate or “frame” the Syrian government in the use of chlorine gas. Do they have the means? This area is very close to the border with Turkey. Just as opposition brought in Richard Engel and many other western journalists via Turkey, so could they bring in chlorine gas or just about any other weapon.

Eight Significant Problems with the Report

Let us now look at specific problems with the HRW report.

1. The HRW report relies heavily on testimony and video/photo evidence from a biased source known as “Syria Civil Defence”. This organization is not what one might assume. Syria Civil Defence was funded and created by UK and USA. Initial training was provided in Turkey by former British military officer and current contractor based in Dubai. In the past year Syria Civil Defence has been rebranded as “White Helmets” by “The Syria Campaign” which itself is the creation of corporate PR firm. Syrian Civil Defence (aka White Helmets) is heavily into social media and actively campaigning for a No Fly Zone. The HRW report does not include any of the preceding information on Syria Civil Defence, its origins and obvious bias. Shouldn’t “evidence” received from them be considered with a skeptical eye?

2. The photos and videos referenced in the HRW report are unconvincing. Many of the video links in the HRW report do not work. However, many of the videos can be viewed at the Syrian research wiki A Closer Look at Syria. (See the discussion page of the Alleged March 16 Chlorine Attack for video links and comments regarding anomalies in the videos.)

Video of the three dead children is tragic but it’s questionable how they actually died. Scenes from the medical clinic indicate illness but not the cause. Scenes showing the “proof” of a “barrel bomb” containing “chlorine cylinders” is highly dubious. Some of the scenes are almost comical with one person in full hazmat gear, another with mask and another casually with hands in pocket and no mask at all. Then we have someone talking to camera with a bulldozer and some scrap metal on the ground. Then there is the figure holding what they report as a container with a “red liquid”. See sample photos at bottom.

3. The HRW report includes assertions without reference or evidence. For example, “Syrian forces have previously dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas.” and “Syrian government’s previous use of chlorine, suggest this chemical.” What is the source and evidence to support these debatable assertions?

4. The HRW report includes false assertions. For example, the report says “First responders saw and filmed remains of barrel bombs, which can only be delivered by aircraft.” This is not true. Bombs can be exploded on the ground and rebel/terrorists routinely fire gas cylinders from launchers on the ground. See photo below. The implication that chlorine gas attacks can only be done from the air is, of course, nonsense. Chemical warfare and chlorine gas attacks, as excecuted in World War 1, were entirely done from ground based projectiles.

5. The HRW report ignores the issue of motivation and incentive. Normally an investigation will consider the issue of motivation and who benefits from an event or crime. In this case, the Syrian government has nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chlorine gas. Especially after the UN Security Council made a specific resolution regarding use of this industrial gas, why would they arouse world ire and hostility against themselves by using this weapon? Why would they do that when they have conventional explosive weapons which are more deadly? On the other hand, the ones to benefit from such an accusation against the Assad government are the armed opposition and other proponents of a No Fly Zone in northern Syria. How better to frame an adversary in the arena of public opinion? These considerations are curiously lacking in the HRW report. Perhaps that is because the conclusions of the report are at odds with common sense and objective inquiry.

6. The HRW report attempts to buttress new accusations by referring to old and discredited accusations. After the highly publicized events in Ghouta in August 2013, “Human Rights Watch concluded that the evidence strongly suggested that Syrian government authorities used the nerve agent Sarin in attacks on two Damascus suburbs”. Since that time, the HRW analysis has been effectively discredited. Seymour Hersh wrote a two part series of articles which concluded that the chemical attack in Ghouta was by anti-government rebels assisted by Turkey. Another investigative reporter with a proven track record, Robert Parry, directly addressed and discounted HRW’s analysis. Parry concisely summed up the HRW analysis as a “junk heap of bad evidence”. Even the head of the UN Inspection Team, Ake Sellstrom, has acknowledged that the early predictions of missile distance were mistaken. Why has HRW not reviewed and updated its analysis, which they rushed out ahead of the UN report? Instead, it seems they are relying on an old faulty report to justify a new faulty report.

7. The HRW report ignores history of Nusra/Al Queda usage of chemical weapons. The HRW report ignores the evidence that Nusra rebels previously used chemical weapons. For example, UN investigator Carla del Ponte reported there was “strong, concrete evidence” pointing to Nusra rebels having used sarin. There were numerous credible reports of Nusra and other rebel/terrorist organizations possessing sarin.

8. The HRW report ignores the fact that Nusra rebels had control of the major chlorine gas producing factory and stockpile in northern Syria. As reported in a Time magazine article, the major chlorine gas producing factory in northern Syria was over-run and seized by Nusra rebels/terrorists in late 2012. The owner of the factory said “ if it turns out chlorine gas was used in the attack, then the first possibility is that it was mine. There is no other factory in Syria that can make this gas, and now it is under opposition control.” The factory owner reported there were about 400 steel cylinders of chlorine gas, one Ton each, captured by Nusra/Al Queda along with the factory.

The article included the following prescient comments, delivered when chlorine gas usage was first reported: “To Faris al-Shehabi, head of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry and a strong government supporter, it was obvious from Day One that the rebels had their eyes on the gas. “Why else would they capture a factory in the middle of nowhere? For the sniper positions?” he asks sarcastically while meeting TIME in Beirut, where he is traveling for business. “We warned back then that chemical components were in the hands of terrorists, but no one listened.”

Was HRW not aware of these important facts or did they think them not relevant?

Conclusion

Hopefully the Engel/NBC hoax will increase public skepticism and critical examination of claims by Syrian “rebels” and their advocates. It should also lead to more scrutiny of media stories, human rights group reports and the words and actions of U.S.government officials.

Unfortunately, since the exposure of the Engel/NBC hoax, Western media and US diplomatic staff have not reduced their bias. A forthcoming article will expose lies and blatant bias on Syria by Robert Siegel of NPR and Ambassador Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

As for Human Rights Watch, their previous bias and “revolving door” with U.S. Government was criticized in a devastating letter to HRW from numerous Nobel Peace Laureates.

It would be a positive sign for HRW to change their staff policy as proposed by the Nobel Laurate group. It would mark another dramatic and positive sign for HRW to reconsider their report on Chlorine Gas Attacks in Syria taking into account the serious shortcomings identified in this article.

As it stands, the biased and faulty conclusions of the HRW report are much more serious than either Engelgate or the Brian William pretense. The HRW report is receiving wide coverage and is being used to justify actions which might move the region closer to even greater war and bloodshed.

Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at rsterling1@gmail.com

PHOTOS REFERENCED IN ARTICLE 

sterling1

Engel Hoax (Maarat Misrin) and “Chlorine Attack” (Binnish, Sarmin)

 sterling2

Nusra Video of “Syria Civil Defence.”

sterling3

Syria Civil Defence Evidence in HRW Report.

sterling5

Nusra Video – Tragic but what really happened?

sterling6
Syria Civil Defence: Masked, Unmasked and Hazmat viewing “Barrel Bomb Fragments”

 

sterling7

Syrian opposition loading modified gas canisters into “Hell Cannon.”

Rick Sterling is a co-founder of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It.
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail