The Syrian scenario, as concocted in Washington with some help from London and Paris, is proceeding with almost comical predictability. Amnesty International has just issued a report accusing government forces of “crimes against humanity” and calling on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. The report, “All-Out Repression: Purging Dissent in Aleppo, Syria,” is a textbook example of Western quasi-NGOs engaging in intervention advocacy. By accusing the “international community” of failing to act – in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, or in Libya last year – they feign indignation, but in reality perform on their funders’ cue by reinforcing the political and media elite consensus that decisive and robust action is necessary and justified.
Based entirely on unsubstantiated claims by anti-government activists, devoid of any political or military context, and compiled by unnamed Amnesty “delegates” and “field researchers,” the latest report could have been written at the Department of State. It accuses security forces and pro-government militiamen, known as shabiha, of the entire gamut of crimes, from firing on peaceful protesters and bystanders, including children, to targeting medical teams and torturing their members. Members of the Syrian army and security forces are presented as brutal, mindless demons who cherish inflicting death and pain per se, regardless of political and military consequences. Their alleged victims are presented as peaceful, moderate, and innocent. The moralizing tone is well familiar by now:
The international community has before it ample, credible documentation of the scale and gravity of violations committed, but it has so far failed to put any meaningful pressure on the Syrian authorities to halt their onslaught against civilians suspected of protesting or supporting the opposition. The UN Security Council squandered over a year in political wrangling, while the Syrian government responded to mass protests that were largely peaceful with unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.
Amnesty’s demand for the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is particularly indicative of the likely course of events in the weeks to come. As confirmed by Qaddafy’s indictment in May 2011, a key purpose of the ICC is to provide retroactive justification for an illegal and unprovoked act of military aggression. If and when an ICC “warrant” for Bashar al-Assad’s arrest is issued, it can be used by the Obama Administration as a substitute – however legally dubious – for the UN Security Council resolution authorizing intervention, which Russia and China will not accept. As I commented a day after Qaddafy’s “arrest warrant” was issued, the power of the ICC prosecutor to act without third-party restraint and to claim universal jurisdiction offers the scope for considerable pseudo-legal creativity, depending on the will of the prosecutor’s political masters. The transparent predictability of the process is comical in a dark way, but derisive laughter is out of place because its outcome may be yet another war.
The Manichean caricature of the Syrian conflict provided by the Western NGOs would be unworthy of comment were it not for the fact that Amnesty and its ilk (Human Rights Watch, Transparency International) are fully paid-for subsidiaries of the U.S. Government, its European satellites and quasi-independent fellow-travelers, such as George Soros and his Open Society Institute. Amnesty & Co. were not nearly as vocal when, less than a decade ago, the CIA delivered suspected terrorists to Syrian police specialists, detained at U.S. government’s request, and subjected to certain interrogation practices that make Guantanamo look like a summer camp.
The Amnesty report is an example of our tax dollars at work in pursuit of the warmongers’ interests. At a technical level, their modus operandi was revealed on July 12, when yet another “massacre of civilians” – supposedly committed by the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian village of Tremseh (Traymseh) – briefly dominated the mainstream Western media. The New York Times claimed the killings in Tremseh were “unlike any massacre that has previously occurred in Syria.” All of the leading MSM organs joined the fray, relying on anonymous “opposition activists” and rebel sources for the claims. “People had their throats slit,” an alleged witness told Agence France Presse, which also reported the presence of pro-Bashar graffiti on the blood-stained walls. London’s Guardian quoted an opposition activist who claimed that “Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Tremseh after its rebel defenders pulled out and started killing the people… Every family in the town seems to have members killed.” The Daily Telegraph claimed – incorrectly – that most recent massacres have involved Sunni villages dominated by the Alawite minority.
Within hours the politicians used media reports to demand action against Damascus. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the killing of “more that 200 people” a “shocking and appalling atrocity.” He insisted the incident should increase the pressure for a united response from the international community, including Russia and China, which have resisted UN Security Council resolutions authorizing intervention. Only hours later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement of her own, saying she was “deeply saddened and outraged to learn of reports of yet another massacre committed by the Syrian regime that has claimed the lives of over 200 men, women, and children.” According to Clinton, “Credible reports indicate that this unconscionable act was carried out by artillery, tanks, and helicopters—indisputable evidence that the regime deliberately murdered innocent civilians.”
Mrs. Clinton’s “credible reports” thus rapidly turned into “indisputable evidence,” and duly produced new threats of punishment and more nonnegotiable demands. By now, however, it has become obvious that there is less than meets the eye. The “massacre” in Tremseh appears to have been a replay of nearby Houla six weeks earlier, in other words a Racak-like stage-managed deception where dead rebel combatants were presented as civilian victims. More recent reports, even those based on anonymous “opposition activists,” suggest that fewer than 100 people had died, and that almost all of the dead were military-aged men, rather than “women and children.” A subsequent AFP report revealed that in the final count “the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven,” while the rest were members of the “Free Syrian Army.” The BBC and other MSM outlets subsequently reduced the estimates of the dead and the qualification of the event itself, but in the meantime Mrs. Clinton has moved on, to Aleppo and the alleged brutality of government forces in Syria’s most populous city.
The atrocities are committed by both sides. Those committed by the Syrian rebels are well documented and widely available. When pressed to explain the curious fact that most alleged government crimes occur just ahead of major UN Security Council meetings, a spokesman for the “Syrian National Council” blithely claimed that “Assad doesn’t really care about the international community.” This statement is untrue: Assad is no fool, and his government has repeatedly warned that the rebels were preparing stage-managed massacres some days in advance of their taking place.
In the meantime, as Robert Fisk points out, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them: “President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan’s dark ages.” The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria, Fisk concludes. And we should believe that Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
Right now nobody wants democracy in Syria, least of all Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A democratic Syria would need to develop a system of checks and balances guaranteeing equal rights for its Kurds and Arabs, for the majority Sunnis and minority Alawites and Christians. The only party historically able and willing to guarantee such rights has been the Baath Party. If Assad falls – which is the firm objective of the Obama Administration – Washington’s latest protégés, the Sunni fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, will win. Everyone else will be killed or exiled. The result will be a mono-ethnic, mono-confessional theocracy, part-Gaza and part-Saudi Arabia. A grim prospect, indeed, for the American interest and for American ideals.