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Amnesia at the UN: the Massacres Samantha Power Conveniently Forgot to Mention

So there was Samantha Power doing her “shame” bit in the UN. “Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit?”, America’s ambassador to the UN asked the Russians and Syrians and Iranians. She spoke of Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica “and, now, Aleppo”.

Odd, that. For when Samantha talked about “barbarism against civilians” in Aleppo, I remembered climbing over the dead Palestinian civilians massacred at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, slaughtered by Israel’s Lebanese militia friends while the Israeli army – Washington’s most powerful ally in the Middle East – watched. But Samantha didn’t mention them. Not enough dead Palestinians, perhaps? Only 1,700 killed, including women and children. Halabja was up to 5,000 dead. But Sabra and Chatila certainly “creeped me out” at the time.

And then I recalled the monstrous American invasion of Iraq. Perhaps half a million dead. It’s one of the statistics for Rwanda’s dead. Certainly far more than Srebrenica’s 9,000 dead. And I can tell you that Iraq’s half million dead “creeped me out” rather a lot, not to mention the torture and murders in the CIA’s interrogation centres in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. It also “creeped me out” to learn that the US president used to send innocent prisoners off to be interrogated in… Assad’s Syria! Yes, they were sent by Washington to be questioned in what Samantha now calls Syria’s “Gulags”.

Funny old world. Samantha, God bless her, didn’t mention Gaza, where quite a lot of Palestinian children have been killed by the Israelis. Nor Yemen, where America’s head-chopping allies are now dissing the Shiites and have killed almost 4,000 civilians. Nor the mass killings by Isis in Mosul. Nor – most oddly of all – did Samantha mention 9/11. Here, surely, was an international crime against humanity worthy of mention in Samantha’s roll call of shame. 3,996 innocent dead. A must-be, you’d think, for throwing at the Syrians and the Russkis and the Iranians.

But no. For there’s a wee bit of a problem there, isn’t there? Because the 9/11 bloodbath was carried out by al-Qaeda. And al-Qaeda in Syria has changed its name to al-Nusra and then to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and – well, it’s al-Sham (alias Nusra, alias al-Qaeda) that’s been fighting against the Syrian regime in eastern Aleppo. A bit difficult, you see, for Samantha to express her horror over the most terrifying attack on her country in recent history – talk about “barbarism against civilians” –  when the very criminal “jihadi” organisation which committed this outrage is, yes, in eastern Aleppo fighting against the Syrian army.

So Samantha has to throw the dead of 9/11 into the trash bin in order to tell us how “creeped out” al-Qaeda’s enemies should be at their behaviour in Aleppo. Out, too, go the Christians murdered or deported by Isis in Mosul, those Yazidis subject to Isis’ “ethnic cleansing” – a subject of which Samantha was quite an expert when it was taking place in Bosnia. In fact, Isis simply gets deleted from Samantha’s narrative. They get, in effect, a clean bill of health.

And we journos are going along with all this. What was the last time you read of Isis’ catastrophic return to the Syrian city of Palmyra last week – surely a victory for those we are supposed to be defeating in Mosul? And some of the Palmyra attackers actually came from Mosul! How did they do that when Mosul is surrounded by the Iraqi army and their allies and all those American “advisers”? And for that matter, what was the last time you heard about Mosul, surrounded by a government army trying to smash its way into the city against its “jihadi” defenders – with even more civilians besieged than in Aleppo?

So here we go again on the familiar semantic trail down which all critics of Syria’s enemies (and America) must tramp. Yup, Bashar is a dictator, his elections a farce, his militias killers, his army ruthless, his prisons so barbarous that Washington sent its captives there for a bit of brutal interrogation. I have actually seen an account of one such session in which the Syrian interrogators concluded that the guy sent over from the US was completely innocent. But seriously, if we were all so “creeped out” – like Samantha – then we would, would we not, have intervened militarily in Syria (despite the Russians) and come to the rescue of the Syrian opposition?

But there’s another odd element to our western outrage – and the clue lies in Samantha Power’s choice of atrocities. For the gassing of Halabja’s Kurds was committed by Saddam’s air force, who were Arabs. And the Rwandan genocide was commited by Rwandans. And the Srebrenica massacres were committed by Milosevic’s militias who were Serbs. We may have “stood idly by”, as the saying goes – it, is after all, what we are doing and going to do over Aleppo – but neither we nor our allies actually committed these atrocities. Samantha stayed on safe ground, didn’t she?

And this is what we in Europe are doing. The French president and the British parliament – where the former Chancellor George Osborne did his “woe is me” bit – all lamented that they had done absolutely nothing about the suffering of Aleppo. And didn’t intend to do anything; hence all the empty seats at the Westminster debate.

And I think I know why – because this is one of the very few times when our fingers are not bathed in the blood of the Middle East. For once, neither we nor our allies – except for the lads from al-Nusra who are supported by Qatar and our other Gulf chums but who are the “good guys” in all this – are guilty of anything more than indifference. Which was exactly the same problem at Halabja, Rwanda and Srebrenica. We didn’t do it, guv’. It wasn’t us this time.

So shame upon the Syrians and the Russkis and the Iranians. Creeps you out just a little bit, doesn’t it?

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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